BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
IT’S NOT YOUR DECISION
Elliot Burch rolled over in bed and groaned aloud as he put his arm over his eyes to shield them from the early morning sun. He desperately tried to fall back asleep to recapture his dream.
....He and Catherine were asleep in their king-sized bed. As the sun was rising in the sky, he rolled over and gathered her in his arms and gently caressed her awake. She responded and they made glorious love as dawn broke over the city.
Catherine collapsed on top of him, her shoulders glistening with perspiration from the exertion of straddling him while they loved.
Elliot rolled her to her side and covered them up as she lay back, trying to catch her breath.
She smiled at him with a look of pure satisfaction. “Elliot, that was wonderful!”
He caressed her arm lightly as he smiled. “Yes, the best is yet to come.”
She giggled. ‘What more could I want? We live in this beautiful penthouse overlooking Manhattan. I feel like a princess...”
“Sweetheart, I want you to feel like a queen.”
He reached underneath his pillow and brought out a small square box. Catherine opened it and gasped at the beautiful ring inside of it.
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes...yes of course, Oh, Elliot, it’s beautiful!”
“Nothing’s too good for you.”
He took the ring out and placed it on her finger. It fit perfectly but Catherine began to giggle.
“I love it but it’s huge, it almost takes over my whole hand, Elliot!”
“It’s only 6 carats. Besides...” He moved over the top of her. “I want to show you what else I have that is huge!”
Catherine giggled and flung her arms around his neck as he entered her.
Elliot sighed and reached down and pushed on the evidence of his arousal. He grumbled loudly, threw off the covers, and headed to take a cold shower. The cold water had its desired effect and, shivering, Elliot quickly turned the hot water on to complete his shower.
As he finished his morning rituals, he thought of a plan of contacting Catherine and getting her back in his life.
He completed his shower and, with a skip in his step, headed to work to implement his plan.
Father and Vincent were sitting quietly in the library when Mouse came running in.
“New tower…too big! Explosions growing louder!”
Vincent stood up and walked over to Mouse. “Mouse, calm down; tell us slowly what you mean.”
“Up top, new tower being built...digging deeper than most. Been digging for weeks but now...shaking walls down there.”
Father grew concerned. “Where were the walls shaking, Mouse?”
“By Elizabeth. Took her paint - needed yellow, and blue, and...”
Vincent interrupted him. “And the walls near Elizabeth were shaking?”
Mouse nodded. “Yes, felt it...saw cracks too!”
Father looked at Vincent with alarm. Knowing what he was already thinking, Vincent nodded as he reached for his cloak. “I’ll go look into it.”
Mouse and Vincent left and walked to see Elizabeth. It wasn’t long before Vincent felt the tremors of the latest blast from Above. He looked around in concern and stared up at the ceiling to see if it was stable enough for Elizabeth to stay there. Five minutes later, another huge blast knocked Mouse to his knees and had Vincent holding onto the wall for support.
Vincent helped Mouse stand and dusted off his back. “Mouse?”
“See? Big blasts,” Mouse exclaimed as he looked at Vincent.
Vincent looked around worriedly. “Yes, Mouse. We need to call a council meeting right away.” Vincent ran to the closest pipes and tapped out a message calling for an emergency council meeting.
Father frowned at his desk. He was already sorting through all types of messages that were coming from the sentries in that area. He knew that Vincent must have been able to verify Mouse’s story, plus the reporting from the sentries indicated that they had a huge problem on their hands.
Mary sat waiting for all the members to arrive. “It seems like just when one crisis ends, another one begins!”
Father nodded. “Yes, it does seem like we’ve had an abundance of bad luck lately.”
Jamie chose that moment to enter the chamber. “Father, Mouse says you wanted to see me…”
“Yes, Jamie, come in, please.” He waved his hand and indicated she should take a seat.
Jamie did as he asked but looked at him nervously.
Jamie sat back and looked relieved. “Good! I thought I may have done something wrong.”
Mary smiled and patted her hand. “No, dear. We’ve had to call an emergency council meeting.”
Father shook his head. “No, Jamie, you’re needed here.” At her look of confusion, he continued. “Jamie, you have taken over many of the security duties in the past year. You apprenticed closely with Winslow and, in view of the recent tragedy, we thought we would ask you to sit in on the council meetings in an advisory position.”
Jamie’s jaw dropped open. “Me? Father, are you sure?”
He patted her hand warmly. “Winslow told me not too long ago that you have good instincts, and you are able to work closely with Mouse. The pair of you make as good a security system as we’ve ever had. By the way, those were Winslow’s words, not mine.”
Jamie looked at him with tears in her eyes. “I never knew he thought so highly of me.” She sniffled loudly. “I can’t believe my last words to him were in anger.”
Mary put her arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “Winslow knew that you wanted to help. Your intentions were good but I think he knew that the tunnels would be vulnerable without Vincent, and so he left them in the hands of the person he thought would do the best job until he returned.”
Jamie let the tears flow freely. “I won’t let him down.”
“Yes, of course! I would be honored.”
The other members started to filter in. Vincent walked past Jamie, squeezed her shoulder, and offered his support. “Welcome, Jamie.”
Mouse sat next to her and whispered in her ear, “Best to leave...council meeting now.”
Jamie smiled at him. “I know, Mouse. I’ve been asked to sit in and give advice about security issues.”
“Good. You’re good at watching. Me, you…work good...”
Father smiled warmly. “Yes, Mouse. I believe that you and Jamie will be able to work closely together to ensure our safety.”
Mouse nodded smugly. “That’s what Mouse just said.”
The others entered, and Pascal, who was the last one to arrive, put an unlit lantern out in the hall, indicating they were not to be disturbed.
The council sat in the library discussing the newest dilemma. Father, Mary, Vincent, William, and Pascal served on the current council. In the aftermath of Winslow’s death, they had recently added Mouse, and now Jamie.
Father addressed everyone. “In view of the recent blasts that have been disturbing our community, we felt the need to convene and discuss options for our evacuation from the current tunnels.”
“We must decide what we are going to do,” Father said.
Mary nodded. “We should start moving the children into the lower tunnels immediately.”
William shook his head in disagreement. “If we move to the lower tunnels, we will have an impossible time bringing food Below, not to mention trying to cook it. The manpower alone needed to haul even one day’s worth of groceries...”
Father grimly nodded in agreement. “And if something serious happened to one of the children, we would be too far from any emergency help.”
“Mouse could stop machines from digging,” Mouse added helpfully.
Vincent smiled at Mouse as he reprimanded him lightly. “No, Mouse, that is unfortunately not an answer. You must not think about trying anything...but it was good of you to offer an idea.”
Father wondered aloud how quickly they needed to act on a decision. “How soon do you think they will break through to our level, Mouse?”
Mouse shrugged. “Don’t know. Been drilling…a week, maybe two now. Gone deep so quick Maybe another week.”
Father turned to Vincent for confirmation. “Vincent?”
Vincent sat nodding his head. “I think that’s a pretty good estimation, Mouse.”
“A week?” Mary gasped.
Jamie worriedly interrupted. “Father, what will happen to us?”
Father sighed in defeat. As much as he hated to be the one to say the words, he was never one to hide the truth from these people. “If we don’t come up with a viable solution, it may be the end of this world as we know it.”
The council sat for at least another hour, poring over ideas. Each new idea presented a whole new set of problems.
Father raised his hand. “Enough. Let’s take a break for a while. Everyone gather their thoughts; we’ll meet again tomorrow.”
Father ordered teams of men into the tunnels to search for chambers in the lower tunnels that they could possibly start moving to. Everyone left to go to their various duties except for Vincent.
Vincent knew he was Father’s primary consideration in trying to save their world. “Father, you must think of everyone else’s welfare before mine.”
Father shook his head. “Vincent...”
Thinking of Winslow’s sacrifice, Vincent interrupted him. “No, Father, I will not lose more friends because they have put themselves into danger for me. The others can make new homes in the world Above. I have no other home to go to but this one. If I am to lead a solitary life then so be it.”
“Not a solitary life, Vincent. You are my son; where you live, so do I.”
“No, Father. The lower caverns are impossibly hard terrain to walk in, and it is damp and cold. That is no life for you!”
Father protested, “Or for you!”
“But it is my life!”
“No, it isn’t. You’re not some animal that is going to slink away and live alone. You are an important part of this community, and you’re also my son!”
“I won’t allow you or anyone to sacrifice themselves for me. Father, your health would deteriorate quickly in the lower chambers...then what? How am I to help you?” As Father turned his face away to hide from the truth in his statement, Vincent continued, “No! I won’t allow it. If our world as we know it ends, I will disappear, and no one will ever see me again.”
Vincent got up swiftly and walked from the library, effectively ending the discussion.
Catherine sat at work, staring unseeingly at a file. She was thinking of Vincent, and her mind went back to just three weeks ago and her adventure Below.
She smiled as she remembered coming back to work after missing a Thursday and Friday. She thought about how lucky she was that Paracelsus had her kidnapped on a Wednesday night. She had laughed as she walked in and headed to her desk, wondering how she could find anything good about Paracelsus’ plan.
Joe peeked his head out his door. “Morning. Can you come in here for a second?”
Catherine walked over and closed his door behind her. “Good morning, Joe.”
“Where the hell have you been, Chandler?!”
Catherine grimaced at his tone. She could hardly tell him she was abducted from her apartment by a giant who hauled her deep into the earth - a place far below the city and at least a three days’ walk away. She hated this but she had no choice but to lie.
“Joe, I’m sorry. I tried to call before I left but my phone was out. I had to go out of town. I had a sick friend in Connecticut.”
Joe’s anger turned to sympathy. “Oh, sorry to hear that!”
His sympathy made her feel even guiltier. “Thanks.”
“How’s your friend...better?”
“No, not yet, but she will be soon.”
“Well, can you pull it together long enough to try to catch up on your cases today?”
Catherine nodded. “Of course. Which case are you looking for?”
“The Doyle case.”
Catherine smiled. She was happy now that she had taken the time and finished it before she went on her evening run, especially since Erlik kidnapped her right after that. “It’s already done; it’s in my briefcase.”
Joe looked surprised. “Good. What about the Simpson case?”
Catherine had stayed up until two in the morning to finish the brief. She put eye drops in this morning to hide the evidence of the late night.
She smiled at him again. “That’s done, too.”
Joe looked suspicious. “The Lionel case?”
Catherine knew he was teasing her; the Lionel case wasn’t due for two weeks. “I’ll have it ready by lunch.”
Joe smirked. “Don’t bother. You know, I wasn’t mad you took off...j ust concerned.”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “I know. Thanks, Joe.”
She was interrupted from her musings and looked up abruptly as Joe dropped files on her desk. “No time for daydreaming, Radcliffe!”
She rolled her eyes as she looked at him. “I’m entitled to a 15-minute break, you know...”
Joe laughed. “You just had a two-day break.”
“That was three weeks ago!”
“Give her an inch and she takes a mile... Here’s the Lionel case. It went to trial and the judge wants more information. Get it done ASAP, please!”
Catherine groaned. “Great, but what does this have to do with me?”
Joe shrugged. “Nothing. Moreno just asked that you and I sit in on the meeting.”
Joe was ready for an argument and was pleased it hadn’t come. “11:00.”
“All right, I’ll be there.”
Catherine started looking through her files. Edie and another woman walked over with a stack of paperwork for her.
Edie had been gone for three weeks on a job search. Her mother had taken ill and Edie was moving to California to take care of her.
Catherine looked up with a smile. “Hey, stranger!”
“Hey, how was California?”
“It was good.”
“Any luck finding a job?”
Edie smiled with relief. “Moreno called the DA’s office there. He hired me at the same job with the same pay and same seniority. I can start in two weeks.”
Catherine clapped her hands happily. “Great! I’m going to miss you though.”
Edie pointed to the woman next to her. “I came to introduce my replacement. Ronni, this is Cathy Chandler. Cathy, this is Ronni Wilkes.”
Catherine extended her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Ronni.”
Ronni smiled. “Edie warned me about you.”
Catherine laughed. “I’ll take it easy on you for a while.”
Edie rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Come on, I have some more introductions to make.”
Catherine stopped her. “Edie, are you too busy this week? Can you do dinner?”
Edie smiled. “Sure, I can fit you in. My sister is coming in to help me make the move. What about Wednesday?”
“Wednesday it is!”
Edie and Ronni left and Catherine glanced at her watch and sighed. Only one hour to go before the meeting with Elliot.
Catherine sat in the meeting with Joe, Moreno, Elliot and his lawyer. Elliot was asking for their help with Luz Corrales, an attorney who headed an organization trying to stop the production of his tower.
He accused Luz of associating with Max Avery, the man who the DA’s office was able to bring up on charges of extortion because of Elliot’s help. Elliot accused Avery and his goons of sabotaging his equipment.
Moreno agreed to investigate the charges Elliot voiced against Avery and Luz The meeting was over and Elliot stopped Catherine and asked her for a chance to show her his tower plans. She said she owed him that much and agreed to meet him at his office later that night.
Joe came up as Elliot was leaving. “What was that all about, Cathy?”
Catherine blinked at him. It wasn’t often that he called her Cathy; normally it was Radcliffe. She smiled when she realized that he was trying to protect her. He was worried about Elliot hurting her again.
“Nothing, Joe. He just thanked me for asking you to let him speak.” She frowned. “Then he asked for a chance to show me his plans for his new tower.”
Joe snorted. “That’s a lame pick-up line! ‘Wanna see my tower?’”
Catherine chuckled. “Elliot knows our relationship is over. For some reason he wants my blessings on this project.”
“Yeah, like he’s gonna stop production on it because you say no! I’m telling you, Cathy...he’s handing you a line. Don’t go see him.”
“I have to, Joe. I owe him one.” At the look of surprise on Joe’s face, Catherine continued, “He got me out of a jam a while back. I’m going to go to his office and look at his plan, that’s all. But thanks for caring.”
Catherine walked away and Joe shook his head as he turned around and headed to his office, grumbling to himself, “Women. They never listen to a man’s advice. Try to keep them from getting hurt and they head right back into the frying pan...then they come out crying and hurt and wonder why.”
Catherine walked into Elliot’s office late that night. He greeted her and escorted her over to a seat. He turned on an overhead projector, and on the screen flashed the current New York skyline. Elliot asked if she could point out three of his buildings; when she shrugged “no” he laughed because neither could he.
He flashed to the next picture. It showed a big black imposing castle-like tower. It stood stories above the surrounding buildings. Catherine gasped at the austerity of the tower and turned to look at Elliot.
He seemed oblivious that she was still in the room as he stood staring at the tower with a look on his face that caused her to shudder. Pride, love, power all flashed in his eyes. Catherine left his office shaken and confused over how a simple building could mean so much to a person.
On Sunday, Catherine had made plans to spend time with Vincent. She got up early, took her shower, and headed Below, meeting him at the threshold. She smiled brightly as she climbed down the ladder. “Hi!”
Catherine walked into his arms and he quickly surrounded her with his embrace.
“I’ve missed you so much this week, Vincent.”
“I’ve missed you, as well.”
She stepped up and looked into his eyes then fell back against his chest and gave him another hug. He smiled into her hair and caressed her with his cheek.
She blushed. “I’m starving. I forgot to eat dinner last night, and I grabbed a banana and ate it while I dressed this morning.”
“Why didn’t you take the time to eat something a little more substantial?”
She shrugged. “I told you I missed you this week. I was in a hurry to come Below!”
He took her hand. “Come, let’s see what William has made for breakfast this morning.”
“Have you eaten already, Vincent?”
He shook his head and lowered it shyly. “No, I too was anxious to see you. I’ve been waiting here for almost an hour.”
Catherine followed Vincent and they each shared the happenings of their week apart.
The trek to the dining hall was made quickly and they walked in together.
The children ran to Catherine, anxious to get her attention. Eric ran up and took her hand. “Come, look what we have for breakfast today!”
He dragged her over to the food table and Catherine gasped at the amount of food.
Kipper smiled. “We have bacon and sausage!”
Zac grinned as he piled his plate with a serving of eggs. “And real eggs!”
Samantha nodded. “Father said he can’t remember the last time we had such an abundance of food. He had steak with his eggs!”
Ellie took another jelly doughnut. “I haven’t had a jelly doughnut in forever!”
Catherine groaned in hunger and Vincent looked at the children. “Catherine and I would like to eat some of this wonderful food. Perhaps we could visit after our breakfast?”
The children nodded and skipped happily away. Vincent and Catherine made trays and headed to Father’s table.
Mary was sitting there and smiled at their approach. “Good morning, Vincent. Catherine, it’s always good to see you.”
Vincent nodded and Catherine smiled widely. “Good morning, everyone. Sorry to intrude on yet another meal. I was anxious to come Below today.”
Father looked at her suspiciously. “Oddly enough, today there seems to be an overabundance of fine food.”
Catherine blushed and took extra time buttering her toast, pretending an innocence she didn’t feel. “You don’t say...”
Mary shot Father a disapproving look and he turned his attention back to his steak. He placed a piece in his mouth. “This is wonderful steak; you should try it, Vincent.”
Vincent nodded then swallowed. “I have, it’s very good.”
Catherine drank her juice and started to eat her fruit. “This fruit is wonderful. It tastes so fresh.”
Mouse had been sitting quietly, wolfing down his meal. “Yeah, hard to get this time of year, usually get canned.”
Catherine blushed again and looked down at her plate. Vincent nudged her with his leg and shook his head imperceptibly, letting her know that her generosity was appreciated. Catherine smiled at him and took a piece of her bacon.
Conversation was light around the table. Father always insisted that business matters not be discussed at meal time. The community needed the time to unite and visit as a real family would.
The meal was nearing the end when Catherine turned to Vincent. “So, what magical place do you have planned to take me to today?”
“I thought we could take a walk. I’d like you to see the Painted Tunnels.”
Catherine was intrigued. “Painted Tunnels?”
Mary gushed, “What a wonderful idea. Catherine, they are beautiful. You’ll love them.”
Father nodded. “Better than a museum. There is a woman Below: Elizabeth. She paints pictures on the walls of the tunnels. Their beauty is inspiring.”
“Then I’d like to see them.”
Seeing Catherine was done with her meal, the children ran over to be with her.
Samantha smiled. “Yes, you promised to show us how to French braid our hair!”
Eric rolled his eyes. “That’s stupid girl stuff! Can you read to us for a while?”
Catherine wanted to spend time alone with Vincent but she knew they would have the rest of the day. She looked at Vincent for approval and he shrugged, leaving the decision up to her.
The kids nodded eagerly.
Catherine smiled. “Meet me in the library in 10 minutes.”
They took off running and Father shook his head. “Catherine, you’re spoiling them.”
She smiled. “They deserve to be spoiled. I wish you could know how well behaved they are compared to the other kids I know from the world Above. Your world is doing an exceptional job in raising these kids.”
Vincent took her hand. “We try. Now, we should make our way to the library if we have any hopes of getting out of there in less than two hours.”
Mary shook her head. “Catherine told them one hour, and I will make them stick to it!”
Catherine followed Vincent as he led her to the library.
When they arrived at the library, they were surprised to see several other kids had joined the original group. Vincent groaned, knowing that each of them would have comments or questions about the reading. He realized that his “two hours” prediction was going to be correct.
Catherine began the reading and managed to get almost halfway through the book that Kipper had given her. Vincent stopped her at the appropriate time and they sat and answered the kids’ questions. It took them two hours and twenty minutes to still the children’s comments.
Most of the kids left, except for Ellie and Samantha. Samantha came forward with a brush and some hair ribbons. “Catherine, could you still teach us how to French braid our hair?”
Vincent sighed and Catherine nudged him with her elbow. “It’ll only take ten minutes.”
She turned to Samantha and called Ellie over to watch her technique. Ellie watched in fascination while Catherine taught her how to do it. Mary watched also and sighed, knowing she would be expected to learn it as well. Samantha’s hair was done, and she and Ellie switched places. Samantha watched while Catherine taught her on Ellie’s hair. It took half an hour but both girls were beaming with pride at their new hairstyles.
Brooke came in and gasped. “Cool, can I have my hair done like that?”
Vincent stood up. “Catherine has just taught Ellie and Samantha. Perhaps they could practice their new skill on you.”
Brooke smiled. “Okay!”
Catherine smiled as she took Vincent’s hand, and he led her quickly from the room.
Vincent slowly led Catherine through the tunnels. They walked hand in hand, quietly enjoying each other’s company. Moments like this were so few for them; their lives were always so hectic.
Eventually, they came upon the walls Vincent had described. Catherine gasped in wonder. Vincent was right, Elizabeth did paint beautifully. Catherine caressed the painting of an infant Vincent nestled snuggly in a blanket and being held by a younger version of Father, whose eyes were beaming with pride. She also enjoyed the other scenes depicting lives of the tunnel dwellers as well as significant milestones in the world Above.
Vincent proudly showed the work. “Your world and mine, she tells our stories on these walls, reminds us that we are all a part of one great city.”
Catherine agreed. “It’s lovely, Vincent!”
Vincent smiled, grateful that she found enjoyment in the beauty of the art. She moved closer and put her arm around him. Following her lead, he reached out and held her in the same way. They walked and viewed more of the pictures.
Catherine looked at her surroundings in wonder. “She must be an extraordinary woman to take bare gray walls and fill them with so much color and beauty.”
“Elizabeth is a mystery even to us. No one knows when she left the world above or why. She refuses to speak of such things.”
They continued to walk when a blast suddenly rocked the walls and floor of the tunnels. Catherine stumbled and would have fallen but Vincent’s quick reflexes allowed him to grab her around the waist, steadying her.
Catherine gasped. “What was that?”
“For weeks these explosions have grown louder and closer. Most excavations stop well above our level but this new tower sinks its roots deeper into the earth that any building has ever gone before.”
“The Burch Tower?”
Vincent nodded. “Mouse estimates that they’ll break through in less than a week. We’re helpless to stop this tower but if it’s not stopped...Father thinks it could be the end of our world.”
Catherine looked at him in horror and remained speechless. “We can’t let that happen!”
“The council has struggled for a solution. For hours we have searched over different ideas presented, and each one has its share of insurmountable problems, especially where the children are concerned.”
“Then there must be a solution that no one has thought of yet.”
He shrugged his shoulder in a helpless gesture. “If there is, it has eluded us.”
“Vincent, what will you do?”
He looked down dejectedly. “I can live nowhere else, Catherine. I’ll have to move deeper into the tunnels and live whatever life I can, alone.”
She went into his arms and held him tightly, offering her comfort. He closed his arms around her and sighed.
“I won’t let that happen, Vincent. We’ll come up with another solution. I promise.”
The pleasantness of the day was ruined as another blast rocked through the world.
“I can’t believe I’ve never heard this before!”
“When you’re Below, it’s normally at night or on weekends. They usually blast during the day. I’m surprised they’re working on a Sunday.”
Catherine shook her head. “Why didn’t you tell me? If I hadn’t come here today, I would never have known.”
Another blast rocked the walls. Vincent held his footing and reached to steady Catherine once again. “Catherine, even if you had known sooner, there would still be the struggle to find the solution.”
Catherine had tears in her eyes as she angrily looked at him. “Your answer is certainly no solution! You can’t give up...any of you! You must find a way to keep your world intact!”
“We have spoken about ideas for weeks, and still no answer has arisen.”
Catherine ranted her frustration. “So you’re going to give up?! You’re going to slink off and live a solitary life deep in the center of the tunnels?!”
Vincent knew that Catherine was upset at not being able to come up with a way to fix their latest dilemma. “Catherine, perhaps I should take you home.”
Catherine was still in shock, her mind racing. “Okay, Vincent, if you want to.”
“I don’t want to but we have to have another council meeting today.”
They walked and Catherine reached out again to walk arm in arm with him back to her threshold. She needed Vincent’s strength to help her come to terms with what he had just told her.
Several times, Catherine came to a stop and presented Vincent with ideas. Each idea she came up with was one that they had already thought about and investigated, with no feasible way to make it work for them.
At the threshold, Vincent turned Catherine to face him, looking at her intently. “Catherine, I will send word to you or come to see you but the next time you try to come Below, we may not be here.”
“Don’t say it or even think it, Vincent! We will come up with a solution. We have to!”
They embraced again, seeking comfort in their love. She turned and left, and Vincent went to see Elizabeth. He tried to warn her about the dangers of staying in the painted tunnels. He said she was welcome to come live with them, and she refused, saying her paintings were her life.
The next day, Catherine had her old classmate Luz investigated. The organization she headed was opposed to the building of Burch Tower. They had also been getting huge donations lately, and the DA’s office feared they were coming from Max Avery. Catherine knew Luz would have heard of Max through the media. She made a split-second decision and asked Luz to stop by her apartment for a friendly chat.
When Luz came over that night, Catherine told her of their suspicions, and Luz promised she would look into them, she didn’t like being used. Catherine knew Luz thought she was a spoiled little rich girl; she would be surprised to realize that Catherine backed her one hundred percent. She hoped Luz would succeed and be able to stop the construction on the tower.
Catherine spent every minute racking her brain, trying to come up with any solution that could help the world Below. Their world had become more important to her than her own world, the people Below like her family and friends, and Vincent...her feelings for him were beyond explanation; she didn’t know if she could live without him.
Vincent was packing up items in his chamber, anticipating the move, when Father walked in.
He looked at his son hopefully. “Vincent, Jamie has just returned. She tells me she’s found a whole series of chambers six hundred feet down near the Whispering Gallery. Maybe we should go and take a look.”
Vincent looked at him sadly, hating to wreck his excitement. “I know those chambers; when the rains are heavy, they are likely to flood.”
“Oh, my God!” Father fell dejectedly into a nearby chair. “And of course, if we get below the level of the pipes, we’ll have no communication.” Father stared off into the distance. “It’s all being taken away from us, Vincent. The work of lifetimes, everything we built....lost.”
Vincent tried to remain positive. “What’s lost can be found again...built again. As long as we have each other, our world will survive.”
“I wish I could believe that.”
“We must find a solution. We will come up with an answer. Don’t lose hope, Father.”
Father smiled at his son, wishing he had his faith, his strength.
Meanwhile, Mouse visited Elizabeth again to deliver some paints. While he was there, another blast shuddered through the tunnels. Mouse promised Elizabeth he would put a stop to it, and he left and made his way to the world above.
Elizabeth, worried about Mouse, made her way to Father’s study. She wanted to tell him what the boy had said.
Vincent was there listening to Elizabeth relate her story, and he left and tried to catch up to Mouse. He wasn’t able to catch up to him in time, and he watched as Mouse was caught by the security guards on the Burch construction site.
With a sigh, Vincent ran to Catherine’s balcony to request her help. He tapped on the window, effectively waking her, and paced on the balcony waiting for her to come out.
Catherine knew something was wrong and went quickly to his side.
Dispensing with niceties, Vincent launched into his explanation. “Burch’s men are holding Mouse. They caught him at the excavation. He was trying to help stop the tower.”
“Was he arrested?”
“There were no police.”
Catherine ran inside to get dressed and find Mouse.
Elliot was working late at the office when he got a call from the job site.
“Mr. Burch, we caught one of the troublemakers tonight.”
“Is he admitting who he works for?”
“Well, that’s just it; the guy is kind of…different….”
“He can’t tell us his full name…calls himself Mouse.”
“Here’s the next odd thing…he keeps asking for Catherine Chandler.”
The guard chuckled. “Yeah, he’s trying to lawyer up and thinks he’s going to scare us off, name-dropping someone from the DA’s office.”
“Keep him there until you hear from me.”
Catherine raced to Elliot’s office and begged him to release his prisoner. She promised it wouldn’t happen again. He wanted answers from her but she still refused to tell him anything. She had made a promise and couldn’t offer any explanation. She asked him to trust her. Elliot looked at her then ordered Mouse’s release to Catherine’s care. Catherine thanked him and went to pick up Mouse.
The security guard on the site walked to the gate. “Can I help you, Miss?”
“I’m Catherine Chandler.”
He looked at his partner and gestured with his head. “Open it.”
The other man opened the gate to allow her car inside. She saw the lights on in the construction trailer and quickly drove to it.
She got out and walked up to the door and knocked. The head guard let her in.
The man down the hall opened a door to a back office. “Come on.”
Catherine smiled as Mouse walked slowly out and came into the light. He looked at her excitedly. “Catherine!”
She smiled and stepped forward. “I’m here, Mouse. Please don’t say anything until we get into my car.”
Mouse hung his head in shame as she looked over at the guard. “Can you take off the handcuffs, please?”
The man scowled and did as he was told. The head guard stepped forward. “We see him on site again and we’ll call the police. Then no one will be able to call in favors and get him released.”
Catherine ignored him and motioned for Mouse to go to her car. He followed, and they were soon settled and leaving the site.
A block away, Catherine pulled over. “Mouse, are you okay?”
He nodded. “Yes. Good you came.”
She sighed tiredly. “Yes, it is good I came. Please promise me that you won’t go back there.”
Mouse rolled his eyes. “Promise. Won’t go back.”
Catherine thought about Elliot the whole time she drove towards the park. She knew he had released Mouse to her just because of their past relationship. She felt horrible inside; she hated feeling like she was using him.
Vincent left Catherine’s balcony and raced Below to bring the news of Mouse’s arrest.
As he walked into the library, Father looked up at him and knew instantly he was not going to like what he was going to hear. “This can’t be good news.”
“Mouse has been caught Above by guards on the tower construction site.”
Father shook his head in disgust. “I told him weeks ago not to go Above and do anything! I warned him about what would happen if he were caught and he assured me it wouldn’t happen. Now this.”
Vincent cocked his head hopefully. “I told Catherine; she’s trying to help.”
Father sighed. “And if she can’t...”
“Let’s see what happens.”
One of the sentries reported that Catherine was on her way Below.
Vincent and Father started to make their way to meet her and they talked about the possibilities.
“I wonder what she’s discovered,” Father grumbled.
Vincent shrugged. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
“Can you tell how she feels?”
“Tired, but she does seem relaxed.”
“Hmmm…” Father continued to come up with ideas. “Well, first thing we have to do is take whatever steps are necessary to raise the bail money. We all have items of some value which we can exchange for money in the world Above, and we will call upon our helpers. Yes...”
Vincent interrupted confidently. “Catherine will not fail us.”
“You know, I blame myself for this, Vincent. I should have been stricter. Mouse has such a wild spirit. There’s no telling how much damage will occur to him in one of their jails.”
“Whatever happens, Mouse will survive. He survived for years by himself, a shadow moving among us, taking bits of food, watching us.”
“Until you caught him. I remember the way he kicked and screamed...”
Catherine walked up behind them and Vincent turned when he felt her presence.
Father turned to her. “Oh, Catherine, what’s happened to Mouse?”
Mouse timidly came out from around the corner. “Here.”
Father could see Mouse was fine and he turned to her, smiling warmly. “Cathy, we have to thank you.”
Father took Mouse aside and reprimanded him while Vincent walked over to Catherine.
He reached out his hand to help her down the steps; she took it, walked towards him then looked up at him, clearly distressed.
He looked at her knowingly. “Your heart is full of turmoil.”
She sighed. “It’s Elliot.” She turned and they walked towards her home. She knew Vincent would follow her. “It was so easy when I thought I was falling in love, and even easier when I was certain he was evil, but now....”
Vincent sympathized with her. “Now you see him as he truly is: good and bad, strong and weak, capable of great deeds and great wrongs - a human being.”
“Yes, with human feelings. I feel like I’m trading on his feelings.”
They continued to walk in silence. Vincent sighed; he had no words of comfort to offer to her. Twice she had gone to Elliot to help someone from his world, and twice she had to hide their secret and use Elliot’s trust and friendship. It was his fault she felt this way. Catherine sighed and Vincent reached for her hand. “Tell me.”
“Well…I marched into his office and demanded he have Mouse arrested then I threatened to sue him for false imprisonment.”
“He called my bluff.”
“He knows you well,” Vincent said quietly.
“I begged him to release Mouse and I promised he wouldn’t cause any more trouble.”
“And he couldn’t deny your request.”
“No…” Catherine whispered.
“Because he loves you.”
“I know, that’s why I feel so bad about all of this.”
They reached her threshold and stopped. Vincent spoke quietly. “Catherine, all I can say is thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Vincent.”
“I know that everyone is grateful to you, especially Mouse.”
She shook her head ruefully. “What was he thinking, trying to sabotage their equipment?”
“I think he believed he would solve all our problems.”
Catherine grimaced. “How did your council meeting go?”
“We’ve had several meetings, and an answer still eludes us.”
Catherine reached her hand out to touch his arm. “You can’t give up!”
“I won’t, Catherine.”
“Be safe, Vincent.”
He nodded and she hugged him briefly.
“Goodnight,” they said simultaneously.
Catherine took the elevator up to her apartment, and was shocked to see Elliot sitting in a chair outside her door, waiting for her. She looked at him in surprise. “Elliot, what are you doing here? Do you know what time it is?”
“Uh...almost dawn. That’s okay...I mean, as long as it’s not too late. I...um...couldn’t sleep. I need to talk.”
Catherine invited him in and made some coffee. They ended up on her balcony. Elliot tried to show her where the tower would be. Catherine looked at him. She was tired and wanted him to get to the reason he was at her apartment. “Elliot, you’re not here to talk about the tower. What is it?”
“Uh...I never quite felt like this before. After I released your friend, my security chief called me up and politely asked me if I’d lost my mind.”
“You did the right thing.”
“Yeah, I seem to be making a habit of that because of you…” He took a deep breath and jumped into the real reason he was there to see her. “Cathy, I’m in love with you. I’ve had other relationships but from the very first moment that I set eyes on you I knew you were different, and then, when you walked out of my life, that was really different, and I wanted you twice as much.”
“Because you couldn’t have me. That’s obsession, Elliot, that’s not love.”
“At first, yes, but then, when you came to me and you needed my help, right then and there I knew that I could make you mine. I know desperation when I see it. When somebody has something I want, I take it. I mean, I go for the win, it’s what I do, it’s what I am....no...it’s what I’ve become. But not that day. Why?”
“Because you’re a decent man who couldn’t turn his back on a friend.”
Elliot chuckled. “I don’t have any friends, Cathy. Somewhere on the way up, friends became inconvenient,” he offered.
“Love can be pretty inconvenient too.”
“You don’t have to tell me that. Do you think I want to be this out of control? I feel like a fourteen-year-old boy - confused, awkward and scared. I’m never scared, Cathy. I don’t allow myself to be scared. You know, despite everything, I’d rather be here now with you than anyplace else on earth. There’s nothing that I can do about the past but there’s something we can do about the future together. Cathy, I’m asking you to marry me.”
She looked at him, shocked and concerned. She didn’t want to hurt him. “Elliot...”
“Don’t say anything, not now. All I ask is that you think about it, seriously, after you’ve had a little sleep.”
She shook her head, thinking of Vincent. “Sleep won’t change anything...”
“It might. Give me that much, at least. I didn’t ask for this, Cathy, but it is real and I do love you, and I’d do anything in the world to make you happy if you just give me the chance.”
Elliot kissed her goodbye and left her to her thoughts.
Catherine went to work early. The dilemma Vincent’s world faced occupied her every thought. If the construction on the tower wasn’t halted, the world Below would no longer exist.
Catherine was deep in thought when Luz stormed up to her desk. She knew Catherine and Elliot had a past relationship, so she assumed Catherine was the one spearheading the smear campaign against her organization with a bogus investigation. Luz congratulated Catherine on giving Elliot Burch his tower. Joe stepped in and told Luz her recent donations had ties to Max Avery. Luz stormed out, assuming Joe was siding with Catherine.
The shock of Luz’s statement hit Catherine hard. She knew there would be no hope now of Luz’s group stopping construction on the tower. It was up to her.
Elliot said if she married him he would do anything in the world to make her happy, but would he stop building the tower?
Vincent tried to sense her feelings as he walked up. “What is it, Catherine?”
“I have bad news. My friend was heading up the group that was opposing the tower. It’s now under investigation by our office for possibly taking bribe money. Their other donations are starting to dwindle away.”
Vincent sighed. “The council will have to continue to search to come up with another solution.”
“Have there been any new ideas presented?”
Vincent shook his head. “Father and Mary are making plans to start sending the children and the few elderly we have to the homes of different helpers. We hope to have them all in place before the beginning of next week.”
He shook his head. “Catherine, the children must be protected at all costs. The adults can fend for themselves but the children... They’ll need someone to care for them.”
“What about the older ones?”
Vincent shrugged. “Many of them came from group homes and have said that they refuse to go back but the council has been unable to come up with an alternative.”
“Well, then, I’m the only one left who can stop this tower.”
He looked at her in confusion. “What do you mean, Catherine? How can you stop the tower?”
She looked up at him and sighed sadly. She knew he was not going to like what she said. “Elliot was waiting for me last night when I went home. He asked me to marry him.”
“He proposed…” Vincent sighed quietly.
Catherine shrugged indifferently. “He said he would do anything for me. So I’m going to tell him if he’ll agree to halt construction on the tower, I’m going to accept his proposal.”
Vincent felt his world shatter and leaned against the wall in shock. “Catherine, no!”
“I have to! It’s the only way! With Luz discredited, nothing stands in the way of the tower. Elliot leaked the story, I’m sure of it. Luz stood in his way, so he removed her, and used me to do it.”
“But how can you even consider a union with such a man?”
Tears formed in her eyes as she felt the pain flowing through the bond, but with steely determination she looked at him bravely. “He’s a human being, strong and weak, good and bad - you said so yourself - and he loves me, as much as a man like Elliot can love.”
“But you do not love this man.”
“No! But there’s more at stake than just me here: the Painted Tunnels, Elizabeth, Father and Mouse, all the children who have found safety here Below, and you...you most of all. Vincent, you have risked your life for me a hundred times. How can I stand by and watch your world be destroyed when I have the power to save it?”
He grasped for anything to stop her. “I can’t allow you to sacrifice yourself in such a way.”
“I’m sorry, Vincent. It’s not your decision. I’m going to marry him. I have to.”
Catherine walked towards the ladder that would take her to the world Above.
Vincent sank to the floor, overwhelmed with pain. He put his head back and his roar echoed through the tunnels.
Catherine gasped at the pain flowing over the bond then turned away with tears in her eyes.
Unknown to both of them, Mouse had observed their exchange.
He followed behind a distraught Vincent, who walked in the direction of the Whispering Gallery. He heard a message come over the pipes and he slammed to a stop. “Oh, no...forgot meeting! Mouse in trouble...” Mouse thought as he ran full speed to the library - late, of course.
Father looked angrily at an extremely agitated Mouse. “Now, Mouse, you know how important these meetings are. Where have you been, and where on earth is Vincent?”
“Vincent going towards Whispering Gallery.”
“The Whispering Gallery? For God’s sake, doesn’t he know he should be here? We must come up with a solution to our problem.”
“Catherine found one,” Mouse announced.
Mary clapped her hands together. “Oh, that’s wonderful news!”
Mouse shook his head. “Maybe…think it’s bad news...”
“How can that be bad news?” Jamie wondered.
“Worse than worse,” Mouse assured her.
William leaned forward in his chair. “Let us determine that. What was the solution Catherine came up with? What’s the bad news?”
Mouse looked from person to person. “Catherine’s stopping the tower.”
Father smiled as the others looked relieved. “But Mouse, that’s good news, very good news, indeed....”
Mouse shook his head. “Not good…Catherine’s getting married......belongs with Vincent.”
“What?” Jamie gasped.
“Mouse, are you sure?” Mary wondered.
“You must have heard it wrong, Mouse. Catherine loves Vincent. She would never...” Jamie said.
“Not wrong. I know what I know,” Mouse said confidently.
Hoping to clear up this mess, Father turned to Mouse. “Mouse, come and sit down, please, and start at the beginning.”
Mouse nodded and did as he was told. “Heard Catherine call for Vincent over pipes...never thanked Catherine for helping Mouse…ran to see her.”
Father prompted, “Yes, yes, Mouse, that was nice of you, go on.”
“Heard Vincent...sounded upset...listened, didn’t mean to...” He looked at Father timidly, not wanting to get another lecture on eavesdropping.
“It’s okay, Mouse,” Jamie encouraged.
“Heard Catherine say she was going to stop tower…marry someone named Elliot...for Vincent, for all of us. Heard Vincent say no, but Catherine said it wasn’t his deci...deci....”
“Decision?” William prompted.
“Yes. Catherine walked away crying, Vincent walked away crying. Don’t understand any of it!”
Mary reached over and touched Father’s arm. “Oh, Jacob. We must do something. That poor couple has been through enough.”
“What would you have me do, Mary?” Father sat heavily in his chair, wondering why, when one problem was solved, a worse problem had to present itself.
“Father, maybe you could talk to Catherine?” Jamie asked hopefully.
Father knew Vincent would be furious if he interfered. “I don’t know if I should. It’s not my place...”
“Father, you could try,” William pleaded.
He shook his head. “Really! This is none of my business!”
Mary stood and looked at him angrily. “That girl loves your son, and you’re going to allow her to marry someone else to save our world!”
Father grimaced as he looked at the other faces. “I....”
Mary pointed at the door. “I’ll go see Vincent and you go speak to Catherine.”
Father knew he was outnumbered and sighed in resignation. “Okay, I’ll go right away.”
Catherine sat on her couch crying; her heart was broken. She didn’t want to marry Elliot but it was the only way to save Vincent and the world Below.
She heard a knock at the door and dried her tears. Trying to compose herself she called out. “Who is it?”
“Catherine, it’s Father. May I speak to you?”
She was shocked that he was here, and her thoughts immediately flew to Vincent, and she worried something bad had happened. She flung open the door. “Is it Vincent? Is he all right?”
He nodded and she showed him inside.
He took in her swollen eyes and red nose and lightly reprimanded her. “I imagine my son looks much the same as you.”
She bravely ignored the fact that he could tell she’d been crying and addressed him formally. “Father, what can I do for you?”
He looked at her and grimaced at her false bravado. He decided to tell her the truth. “Mouse came to thank you earlier and inadvertently overheard a conversation between Vincent and yourself...”
“Oh, great,” she thought. She knew he must be exhausted from the walk and waved her hand at her couch, indicating he should sit. “Go on.”
Father sat down next to her. “Mouse, being Mouse, hears things differently sometimes. I thought I’d ask you if what he heard is true.”
“Why not just ask Vincent?”
Father shrugged. “He’s gone Below. I don’t know if I can reach him.”
Catherine let out the breath she’d been holding. “What did Mouse say he overheard?”
Father looked at her. “Mouse tells me that you told Vincent you were getting married?”
She tried to appear happy but failed miserably and looked down at her shaking hands. “Yes, that’s right.”
Father’s heart sank when she confirmed the news. “I guess congratulations are in order.”
“I guess,” Catherine mumbled.
“Vincent never mentioned that you were involved with someone else. In fact, with all the time you’ve been spending Below lately, I’m surprised you’ve had the time to see other people.” Catherine sat there quietly but blanched under his watchful eye and dropped her head down, hiding her expression. “How like Vincent,” he thought to himself.
Father frowned. “So, you love this new man in your life?”
She wouldn’t look at him as she answered defiantly, “I’m marrying him, aren’t I?”
He reached for her chin and lifted it so he could look into her eyes. “That’s not what I asked, my dear.”
Fresh tears had formed in her eyes and were beginning to fall. He took her hands and held them gently.
She shook her head. “No, you know who my heart belongs to…”
“Oh, Catherine…” He wondered why, already guessing that what Mouse said was true but still wanting Catherine to say the words aloud. “Then why are you marrying this man?”
She sighed and released his hands and began to pace the room. “Because I have the power to stop the tower from being built, but to do that I would have to marry Elliot.”
Father watched her gravely as the truth of her statement sank in. “Thus saving Vincent’s world from ruin.”
Catherine nodded as fresh tears fell from her eyes. “His and everyone else’s.”
Father shook his head. “Catherine, I can’t allow you to do that.”
Catherine got angry and shot to her feet as she waved her arms around animatedly. “What is it with you and Vincent? You can’t stop me from marrying Elliot any more than Vincent can.”
“I won’t let you throw your life away!”
Catherine flashed him an angry look. “Then stop me! Tell me that you and the council have come up with a better idea! Has someone solved the problems presented by using the lower tunnels? Did Pascal come up with a way to communicate where there are no pipes?”
Father’s face fell as he looked away. Catherine felt herself soften but she continued her tirade. “Have you stopped trying to find helpers that will take on all the children? Are you going to be able to make the walk to the lower tunnels with Vincent so he isn’t left alone for the rest of his life?” Catherine crossed her arms across her chest as she sighed. “I don’t have any answers but I do know that if I can stop this tower from being built, I will marry Elliot. Vincent will have a safe place to live.”
Father shook his head in defeat. “How is Vincent supposed to feel about you sacrificing yourself for his well-being?”
The fight quickly left her and she shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”
Father quietly looked down at the floor. “It’s killing him.”
Her resolve broke and she began to cry. “What do you think it’s doing to me?! He’ll get over it and be able move on.”
“But at what price?”
Catherine’s false front broke down and she crumpled to the floor as she sobbed. Father came over to her and held her while she cried. He walked her to her sofa and settled her down upon it. Catherine clung to him and cried deep, gut-wrenching tears. If he ever had any doubt as to how much she loved his son, all of it was wiped away in this instant.
Catherine finally got control of herself. “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to break down.”
“You’re hurting. It’s understandable. Vincent’s hurting too.”
“I know. If there was a way to stop his pain, I would but...” Her voice became thick with tears and she stopped.
Father nodded. “But you can’t stop your own pain.”
Catherine nodded and looked at him gratefully for understanding.
He looked at her red-rimmed eyes and splotched features and shook his head at the beauty that still shone on her face. “Is there nothing more I can say to stop you?”
She shook her head. “No. I’m going to marry Elliot. I’m going to stop this tower.”
Father stood up to leave and as he walked to the door, Catherine called out to him. “Father, promise me if you need anything...anything at all, you will let me know. You know I have the means, and I still have Margaret’s money saved for all of you. Please contact me if you need it. I can send it by messenger.”
He looked at her. “You won’t come Below again?”
Catherine got up to walk him out. “It would be too hard. You have to understand, Father, I’m not sure I could see Vincent and not want to stay with him!”
He nodded and hugged her goodbye and walked back Below.
Catherine went to the bathroom to wash her face then reapply her makeup. She made up her mind to go see Elliot and give him her answer.
Meanwhile, Mary walked to the Whispering Gallery and came upon Vincent. He glanced up briefly then hung his head again. She walked up behind him and placed her hand on his head, gently caressing his hair. She walked around and tried to sit down next to him. He held her hand and helped her sit down. She looked at the man who was so much like a son to her. His eyes held the same look they had when he was a young boy and suffered some great injustice done to him by the older kids.
Mary patted his hand. “What is it, Vincent?”
His voice was rough from crying as he sighed and shook his head. “She’s lost to me.”
“I know....but I also know she is doing this because she loves you.”
Vincent didn’t ask how she knew about the conversation he had with Catherine. “That only makes it hurt worse. That she would sacrifice herself to save my world....”
Mary interrupted him. “...is exactly what you would do to save hers, isn’t it?”
Vincent couldn’t answer as fresh tears fell from his eyes.
Mary caressed his hair and gently pulled him down to her shoulder, holding him as she had when he was a child. She whispered nonsensical soothing words until his tears were spent.
Eventually he stopped and sat up wiping his eyes. “Thank you, Mary.”
“You’re welcome, son. I know what you’re going through, Vincent. All I can offer is that time will make it better...but let’s not give up hope. This isn’t over yet.”
She hoped Father was making headway with Catherine.
Catherine walked purposefully into Elliot’s office. He was surprised to see her so soon.
“Cathy, you didn’t take very long. I didn’t expect you...”
“Yes, Elliot, I’ll marry you.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! You won’t be sorry.” Elated, he smiled as he kissed her. “Listen, we’ll go anywhere you want in the world for the honeymoon, once I finish the tower....”
Catherine jumped at the perfect opportunity to voice her conditions and she dropped the bomb. “I want you to halt construction on the tower.”
He looked at her incredulously. “Stop the tower? If this is a joke...”
“No joke. You say you love me, you’ll do anything for me...”
“Cathy, you don’t understand. The tower is the most important thing in my life besides you, and the two of us up on the top watching dawn break over Manhattan, together with you beside me...”
Catherine interrupted him. “No, it can’t be.”
“It’s just a building, Elliot! People are more important than buildings, more important than dreams even, and if you pick up that phone and stop the tower right now then I know you believe that too, and then I’ll marry you...trust you.”
He shook his head in disbelief as he wavered uncertainly. Unable to give up his dream and unwilling to pay such a high price, he shook his head sadly. “I can’t.”
She hugged him to her before she stepped back slightly. “I understand,” she said, and then turned and walked out the door.
The next day, she walked into the office with her thoughts centered on Vincent. He had sacrificed himself so many times for her, and she was ready to sacrifice herself for his world, and Elliot couldn’t give up on a stupid building. She was not mad at him, only saddened that he never found someone to truly love.
She sat down and tried to clear her mind. Ronni came up with the news that she had found two hundred people that had been paid to sign up with Luz Corrales’ group. Catherine was confused. Their office had frozen Max Avery’s assets. There was no way it was him paying these people.
Thoughts suddenly popped into her head and Catherine knew instantly what had happened. She furiously flew to Joe’s office. She told him they’d been conned. It wasn’t Max Avery trying to ruin Luz’ organization, it was Elliot. Joe started the injunction against Burch Tower.
Catherine stopped pacing when her thoughts turned instantly to Vincent. His world would be saved...he would be all right.
Joe was on hold when Catherine looked over at him. “Joe, I’ve got to get a message to a friend. I’ll be back in a little while.”
“Radcliffe, take the damn day off, you deserve it!”
She ran into her apartment and started stripping off her work clothes and changing into something warmer. As she headed to her basement, she stopped herself for a second to decide if she was doing the right thing. She had thought about sending a note by messenger but she wanted Father to know from her that her office was able to stop the construction. She was afraid to take a chance on a lost message, or one that didn’t arrive in time.
She got on the elevator and made it to her basement. She climbed down the ladder and started to walk through the tunnels when she thought about the children being sent Above. With a yelp, she began to jog to the library.
Jamie stopped her at the first sentry point. “Oh, Catherine, it’s just you.”
Catherine breathlessly smiled. “Hi. I’ve got to get to the library to see Father.”
“He’s really busy right now, Catherine. They’re separating the kids and deciding who should go to which helpers.”
“No! Jamie, you’ve got to stop them!”
Jamie could tell by her urgency that Catherine must have news. She started to tap a message on the pipes and Catherine gasped as she realized that there were no other messages being sent and that the pipes were silent.
Jamie turned back to her. “Okay, they’re waiting for us. Let’s go!”
The two women took off at a jog to get there as quickly as they could.
Vincent could feel Catherine’s excitement and assumed she had told Elliot she would marry him. He pictured their private celebration and groaned as he looked at his reflection in the Mirror Pool.
An hour later, he was still sitting there when Pascal happened by.
“Vincent, what are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the message?” Pascal chuckled as he hit himself in the forehead. “What am I saying, of course you didn’t, there are no pipes down here.”
Wanting to be alone, Vincent sighed at the interruption. “What was the message, Pascal?”
“Catherine’s Below. She has an announcement to make to everyone. I’m on my way to the library right now. We should hurry...”
Vincent’s head sank further. “I know of her announcement, Pascal. You go ahead.”
Pascal frowned and left him alone as he headed to the library.
Catherine ran into the room and excitedly approached Father and smiled as she took his hands and squeezed them. “We’ve been able to stop the tower construction! No one needs to leave here.”
The room erupted in a chorus of cheers. The children started to dance happily around the room, and the adults were hugging Catherine and congratulating her.
Father told everyone to head to the dining hall to begin a celebration. After the majority of them left, he turned to Catherine and frowned. “I wish that there had been a better way. For you to sacrifice your happiness...”
Catherine realized he still thought she was marrying Elliot, and she quickly interrupted him. “Father, I’m sorry! I thought you understood. When I said we, I meant our office. I’m not marrying Elliot!”
Father broke into a grin. “You’re not!”
“No!” Catherine began to laugh derisively. “Actually, he turned me down. He chose the tower over me.”
Mary smiled and hugged her warmly. “So, how were you able to stop construction then?”
Catherine sighed. “Elliot tried to sabotage the group that opposed him and we found out. We were able to use the information to get an injunction against the tower.” Catherine inconspicuously tried to look around the room. She knew she had hurt Vincent badly, and if he couldn’t forgive her, she would try to understand, but she wasn’t sure how she would go on from there.
Pascal caught her looking around and stepped forward. “He’s by the Mirror Pool. I can take you there if you want.”
Catherine assumed Vincent knew about her announcement but still chose not to come. She had hurt him badly and she wondered if perhaps he couldn’t forgive her. “Maybe I should just go home.”
Mary shook her head. “No! You must come and celebrate with the entire community.”
“Mary, I don’t think...”
Jamie stepped forward. “Please, Catherine. Everyone wants to get a chance to thank you. Don’t take that away from them.”
Catherine looked at Father, who nodded at her. “We would like to be given that chance.”
Catherine allowed Jamie and Mouse to lead her into the dining hall where the celebration was taking place. The children raced up to offer her hugs and bombard her with questions.
Mary looked at over at Father. “Who’s going to talk to Vincent, you or me?”
Father sighed. “I will; you go ahead to the celebration.”
Father looked at Vincent while he sat and stared at his reflection in the rippling water. He cleared his throat as he came closer. “Catherine came Below to make an announcement.” Vincent nodded but remained silent as Father continued. “It seems she was able to shut down the construction of Burch Tower.”
“That’s good news,” Vincent whispered quietly.
“Yes. I mean, what luck, considering Burch said ‘no’ to the conditions of her proposal. Thankfully, her office was still able to stop it.”
Vincent cocked his head instantly. “What?”
“The DA’s office was able to stop construction on the tower.”
“Not that part, Father, the proposal part!”
Father nodded. “Oh, yes, the proposal part. Catherine told Elliot that if he halted construction on the tower, she would marry him, and I understand he promptly turned her down.” Vincent remained quiet. Father furrowed his brow as he wondered at Vincent’s lack of emotion. “She’s Below in the dining chamber celebrating with everyone else. Perhaps...”
Suddenly, Vincent stood up and looked at him hopefully. “I’m...afraid to see her.”
Father looked at his son’s unusual appearance and his immense size. He thought of Catherine and her petite stature and chuckled. “I think you’ll be all right. I’ll be there to protect you.”
Father chuckled as he hugged him then they turned and made the trek to the dining chamber.
Catherine had waited for over an hour and Vincent never showed up. She began to lose hope, and borrowed paper and jotted down a quick note then gave it to Mary. “Can you please see that Vincent gets this?”
“I’m not sure what’s taking them so long. Perhaps Pascal should have made the walk and told Vincent...”
“It’s okay.” Catherine shrugged and, with a heavy heart, said her goodbyes and headed home.
Vincent and Father came into the room ten minutes later.
Mary rushed to see Vincent. “You just missed her! She left this note.”
Vincent took the note and looked at it worriedly.
Mary frowned at him. “Just open it, son!”
Vincent opened it then smiled and took off at a run.
Mary turned to him with a grin. “I wonder what it said.”
Father shrugged as they joined the party.
Vincent felt his heart leap when he thought again about her note.
I know I’ve hurt you badly, and if you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I’ll be waiting for you.
With All My Love,
Vincent increased his speed and was almost a blur as he ran through the tunnels.
Catherine had walked slowly, hoping that he would come for her. As tears fell unchecked from her eyes, she turned and started to climb up the ladder.
She was half way up when she felt hands circle her waist.
She smiled as she let go of the bars and fell into his outstretched arms. He cradled her to his chest and she flung her arms around his shoulders as his arms encircled her waist. She slid down the length of his body and tightened her embrace then buried her face in his neck as his arms tightened around her, bringing her closer. She caressed his hair as he moved his hands gently up and down her back. She gently kissed the front of his chest and he gasped and moved away from her.
She smiled and looked up at him, knowing he had forgiven her. “You got my note?”
“I got your note.”
She began to cry. “Vincent, I’m so sorry I hurt you.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t think of any other way...”
He brought her back to his chest and cradled her against him. “Shhh. You found another way, and you’ve saved my world.”
She sniffled as she looked up at him. “Our world.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Catherine dried her eyes and looked at him hopefully. Unwilling to keep her from her life Above, he took a few steps back. “I just wanted to see you. I shouldn’t keep you any longer.”
“But you left the party, you were heading home.”
“Only because you weren’t there. I wanted to be with you!”
He smiled back at her. “Where would you like to go? Back to the party?”
“How about the Painted Tunnels? I’d love to see the rest of them.”
They walked arm in arm and, although it was painful, Catherine told him her conversation with Elliot, and then relayed the details of the investigation that stopped the tower.
“I thought I would never see your face again. When you walked away, there was such resolve in your heart.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“And the noblest.”
“Every step was like a knife inside me. All my love for you was calling me back...”
“But a greater love drove you onward. Your strength saved us all.” He looked at her curiously. “Yet I feel your melancholy.”
“I was just thinking of Elliot. Vincent, you helped me find the best part of who I am, but Elliot…he’s lost more than his tower, he’s lost himself.”
“Then all we can do is pray that one day he will find himself again.”
Catherine had been holding his hands in hers then released them, leaned into him, and hugged him warmly. His arms came around her and they embraced.
She smiled. It felt good to be back with him.