BETWEEN THE LINES
HE SAID I WAS BEAUTIFUL
Two weeks ago, a glorious picnic was held in the world Below. Catherine’s idea had taken flight, and everyone helped to make the day a great success.
Now she was heading Below for yet another Sunday, and she had a surprise under her belt. Once again, she had to enlist the help of William, but she thought it would be well worth the trouble to see the happy faces when the surprise was revealed.
As usual, Vincent met her at the threshold, and the two walked leisurely through the tunnels catching up on the events of the past week. Catherine was surprised as they entered the library. The place was filled with all of the members from the tunnel community.
Father motioned for her as she entered. “Catherine, my dear, please come here.”
She smiled as she made her way though the room, then looked at him curiously. “Father, what’s going on?”
Samantha ran up to her. “It’s our surprise!” Father looked at her ruefully, and Samantha looked down, quite embarrassed by her outburst. “Oops!”
Father shook his head and chuckled while Samantha skipped away. He cleared his throat and looked at Catherine. “Yes, well...the children loved the picnic so much that they wanted to find a way to thank you for your part in making it happen.”
Catherine smiled. “Oh, Father, that’s so unnecessary. I loved doing it. Besides, it was the people Below who made it happen.”
Vincent came up beside her. “Yes, but the idea was yours, and the children have created a play to express their gratitude.”
Zachh came out on the balcony and clapped loudly to get everyone’s attention. “The play is about to begin. Please find a seat.”
The people Below rushed to find comfortable seating.
Jeffrey came over and grabbed Catherine’s hand. “We have a seat for you up front.” Catherine let him lead her to a seat of honor in front of the stage. Jeffrey looked behind him and realized Vincent and Father hadn’t followed. “Oh, you, too! Sorry!”
Vincent and Father walked up and eyed the small couch. Father grimaced. “Perhaps I should find another place...”
Catherine giggled and leaned in to whisper to him. “We don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’ll be tight, but I think we can fit!”
Father sat at one end and Vincent sat at the other, then eyed the small spot between them. Father shook his head adamantly. “See, I told you. Let me just…”
Catherine plopped down happily between the two of them as Father scooted to give her more room on the seat. Catherine smiled as she leaned closer to Vincent. “If you put your arm around me, there’ll be more room...”
Vincent did so, and she snuggled closer to him. She glanced at Father to see if he was comfortable. “See, I told you. There’s plenty of room.”
He chuckled ruefully at her. “Yes, I guess you’re right.”
Little Amy came over and stood in front of Vincent. “I don’t have no where to sit.”
Vincent automatically corrected her grammar. “I believe you mean you don’t have anywhere to sit?”
Her hands flew to her little hips in indignation. “Yes, that’s what I just said. I don’t have no where to sit!”
Catherine giggled while Vincent sighed.
Amy looked at him hopefully. “Can I sit wiff you?”
Father leaned forward. “Amy, I don’t think there’s enough room.”
Amy pointed towards Vincent. “I sit on Vincent’s lap.”
Catherine reached out her hand to Amy. “I think there may be room for you there. Come on.”
Amy’s face broke out into a grin. She took Catherine’s hand and clamored up onto Vincent’s lap. Vincent helped her scoot over onto his opposite leg. Amy leaned comfortably back against Vincent’s chest and stuck her thumb into her mouth. Catherine reached over and smoothed Amy’s hair away from her eyes.
Father observed the little domestic scene that played out in front of him. Catherine and Vincent would’ve made wonderful parents, but they would never be able to see that dream realized. His heart clenched at the thought of another thing in the world he wished his son could have, but knew he would he would never be able to obtain. His eyes filled with tears as he looked away.
The play began and all eyes turned to the stage.
The children put on a whimsical, funny play. They each pretended that they were one of the adults in the community. Zachh did a fabulous job of portraying Father as he wobbled around with a cane barking out orders. Samantha played Mary, and there were more than a few chuckles at her unusual costume. To represent the many children, Samantha had dolls hanging off all sides of her dress. Mary clasped her hands together in delight and laughed loudly. Eric came in and did a beautiful job as William, forcing food upon all the actors.
Michael did an awesome job mimicking Vincent. He spent his time walking around and constantly spewing quotes from Shakespeare. Brooke was blessed with the task of being Catherine. She had found a beautiful evening gown and trudged around the tunnels in high heels.
Vincent cast a quick glance over at Catherine. He was relieved to see that she was laughing hysterically. He turned back to watch the play, knowing he should have realized that Catherine would not be offended and would find humor in the acting.
The play’s plot followed the last few weeks of life Below. Zachh, as Father, let loose with an outburst of anger regarding expenses for the picnic. He had everyone in stitches as he hollered loudly, then hid behind a napkin to enjoy his chicken and ribs. Brooke, as Catherine, smiled coyly as she pretended she didn’t know where the money came from.
Ellie, Kipper, Eric, and a few of the others from that age group represented all of the other adults. They kept running backstage and changing hats or shirts and coming out with props. Each time they came back on stage, they quoted a line which left no doubt as to whom they were supposed to be.
The final act, all the children stood together and sang a thank you song to Catherine. It went along to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb, but they had changed the words. The audience gave them a standing ovation.
Catherine smiled to herself. She was impressed that the play was so well written and that the children had each memorized their parts with only a few whispers of lines being made to them from behind the curtain.
She chuckled and turned around. “Do you need some help?”
Catherine bent over and carefully picked Amy up off his lap. Amy wrapped her arms and legs around Catherine and put her head against her shoulder and fell back asleep.
Mary came over quickly. “The poor thing. She had a nightmare last night and must just be exhausted. Let me take her, Catherine.”
Mary tried to get her, but Catherine shook her head. “Mary, she’s holding on so tightly. Why don’t you go on ahead? Vincent can show me where Amy’s bed is and I’ll get her settled.”
Mary looked at her uncertainly. “If you’re sure...” Catherine nodded, and Mary smiled. “Sara or Rebecca should be in there if you have any problems.”
Vincent guided her through the crowd as they left the room.
Mary looked over at Father sadly. “If only that dream could come true for him as well...”
“The dream of fatherhood.”
Father grimaced. “Yes, well, unfortunately, that is one dream that can never come true!”
Mary sighed. “Yes, but both of them would make such fine parents. I bet their children would be beautiful...”
“We’ve had this discussion before. With Vincent’s chemistry, I just don’t think it’s possible…”
Father scowled at her as he interrupted. “Mary! We mustn’t think of it. Come now, let’s head for dinner.”
Vincent and Catherine got Amy settled into her bed, then headed to the dining hall where they each made up a tray of food. They sat and had a nice dinner with Kanin and Olivia and Rebecca and Matthew. Afterwards, some of the children started coming over to their table.
Ellie walked up first. “Rebecca, Samantha and I promise to be early tomorrow to help you make candles.”
Rebecca smiled. “Good. I need to start on them right away. You girls don’t mind the extra chores?”
Ellie shrugged. “Eric and I always had chores to do while we were growing up. It’s just like home.”
Catherine put her arm around Ellie and leaned over to kiss her. “I’m glad you’ve found happiness here.”
Ellie smiled. “It’s not my mom and dad’s house, but you know what? It’s the next best thing.”
Catherine beamed. “I’m glad I brought you here then. It was the right choice.”
“It sure was!”
Catherine squeezed her shoulder. “You kids did a great job with the play. Ellie, you pulled off each of your characters with ease.”
Ellie shrugged shyly. “I wanted to play you, but with Michael imitating Vincent so well, we decided to have Brooke play you instead. She’s much prettier than I am anyway, and we needed someone who could try to be as beautiful as you.”
Catherine kissed her cheek again. “Thanks for the compliment, but you know what?” Ellie looked up at her quizzically, and Catherine grinned ruefully and scrunched up her nose. “I was a pretty gangly kid at one time. I just grew up and things changed.”
Ellie thought for a second. “Like the ugly duckling?”
Catherine smiled. “Yes, exactly like the ugly duckling.”
“So there’s still hope for me to change?”
Catherine sat back and looked directly into her eyes. “Ellie, I think when you’re all grown up, you are going to be absolutely gorgeous!”
Ellie grinned. “Thanks.”
An impatient Samantha grabbed her arm. “Come on, Ellie! You said we were going to find Eric and Geoffery.”
William came in and rang a bell, and everyone turned to listen to him. “Friends, we have a special treat tonight provided by an anonymous helper.” He turned to Catherine and winked, leaving no doubt as to whom the donation was provided by. The kitchen crew began to carry out huge trays of strawberry shortcake piled high with whipped cream.
The kids ran off to their seats, and they and the adults all ate dessert and visited for awhile longer. They ended up talking about musicals, and Vincent listened while Catherine told stories about concerts in the park that she had been able to see. An idea crossed his mind, and he debated back and forth about approaching her with it.
Eventually, Catherine stood up and looked at her friends. “I don’t want to leave but it’s getting late.”
Everyone started to say their goodbyes. Ellie unexpectedly ran up to Catherine and offered her a hug.
“Thank you, Catherine!”
Catherine hugged her warmly, then stepped back to look at her. “You’re welcome, Ellie.”
Vincent noticed Ellie’s eyes were filled with unshed tears. He frowned, then reached for her hand to squeeze it lightly as he bent over to look her in the eye. “What is it, Ellie?”
Vincent cocked his head to the side curiously. “It’s unlike you to become so excited about a special dessert.”
The tears started to fall from her eyes, but Ellie smiled through them. “The last dessert my mom served us was strawberry shortcake. It was always one of her favorites.”
Catherine hugged Ellie tenderly. “It was always one of my mom’s favorites too! I was about Eric’s age when she died, but I still have many wonderful memories of her. It’s nice to let myself go back and think of those good times.”
Ellie smiled at Catherine, grateful that she seemed to truly be able to understand. “My mom and dad used to take us skating every year in the park. Maybe I’ll be able to do that when it gets cold enough.”
Catherine reached out and smoothed Ellie’s hair. “I promise to go with you. My mom and dad used to take me skating as well, and in the summer we would go to see the concerts.”
Samantha walked up and looked at Ellie expectantly. “Are you ready to go?”
Catherine giggled as they said goodbye and ran into the tunnel. She turned to Vincent with a bemused expression on her face. “They’re such great kids. How does your community do it?”
Vincent took her hand and led her out the door as he answered her simply. “Love.”
They started the walk toward her threshold. Vincent was especially quiet, and Catherine looked at him curiously a few times, but he never offered to tell her what was on his mind.
At the threshold, she turned to him. “Are you okay?”
He looked at her hesitantly. “I…um…”
“Vincent, what is it?” She thought that he had something to ask her and she shrugged her shoulders in confusion. “You know you can ask me anything.”
He shyly looked at the ground. “There’s a concert in the park on Friday. I thought that perhaps...”
He was unable to continue, so Catherine reached out with her hand and touched his arm, then smiled excitedly. “If you’re asking...I’d love to go with you.”
He looked up at her hopefully. “You would?”
She giggled. “Why wouldn’t I? You know I love to spend time with you.” A look of confusion crossed her face. “Wait...how can we attend a concert in the park? Where can we sit that we won’t be seen?”
He smiled shyly. “If you meet me here around 7:00...I know of a place...”
She grinned at his evasiveness and nodded. “Okay, I’ll be here.”
Catherine hesitated, but he didn’t step towards her. She was disappointed, but she came forward and offered him a hug. He lovingly returned it, but cut it short. Catherine gave him a brief look, then turned and headed Above.
It was late in the afternoon the next day at work; Joe looked up at a knock on his door. “Yeah!”
He stood when an older distinguished gentleman walked in. “Joe Maxwell?”
Joe stepped around his desk and walked towards the man with his hand extended. “Yes, you must be Dr. Alcott.” The man nodded, and Joe motioned for him to take a seat. “Thank you for coming down here, sir.”
Peter chuckled. “Please, call me Peter. I’m sorry it had to be so late. One of my patients called with false labor pains, and I had to spend some time with her.”
Joe waved his hand dismissively. “I never leave here before 7:00, so this is perfect. Thanks for coming at all.”
Peter nodded. “I must say what you told me over the phone has me intrigued. I wanted to come down and see if I could help you sort it out.”
Joe looked over at Catherine’s desk and frowned. He wanted to get a woman’s perspective on the whole Schaefer case, and he really wanted her to be available to talk to the doctor he had just brought in, but he guessed that she was still at the tombs and might not get back on time.
With a sigh, he turned back to Peter. “I want you to know we appreciate it. I was hoping we could be joined by one of my investigators, but I don’t see her at her desk. I guess we should just start without her.”
Peter nodded. “Okay, I’m ready. What questions do you have?”
Joe opened his notes. “Darlene Schaefer had a baby. Two and a half months later, she shot her husband through the back of the head with his new gun.”
Peter shook his head in disbelief as he frowned. Joe misinterpreted the gesture and smirked. “Yeah, real winner, huh?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of what a tragedy it was.”
Joe lowered his head, clearly embarrassed. “Oh. Sorry. Hazards of the job I guess. It’s kind of a coping mechanism.”
Peter waved his hand dismissively. “I know…Doctor’s have their own coping techniques, and they aren’t always understandable by the general public. So tell me, why do you need medical advice?”
Joe showed him the report on Darlene. “Defense is claiming...” He looked at the file to recheck with the term then looked up again. “Here it is... Post partum depression. They claim the long hours with no sleep and the chemical changes and hormonal changes may have prompted her to do it. They say she shouldn’t be held accountable for her actions. I need to know if this claim could be true. Could post partum depression be this bad?”
Peter sighed as he nodded. “For some women it can be.”
Joe sat back in his chair filled with shock. “No way! You’re kidding me right? My sisters have five kids between the two of them, and neither one of them ever took out one of their husbands!”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but some women do experience intense mood swings. That coupled with the lack of sleep and everything else could in fact have contributed to her erratic behavior.” Peter frowned as he looked down and read the lab results. “Except some of her levels don’t make sense...” He looked up. “Joe, this blood work was done on the 14th. What day did she shoot her husband?”
Joe double-checked his file. “The 12th. Why?”
Peter handed him the page back. “I would order a complete drug work up on her. I don’t want to say for sure, but I think she may be using some kind of recreational drugs.”
Joe frowned. “She’s nursing! I can’t believe she’d...”
Peter shook his head again as he interrupted him. “Unfortunately, some women don’t care, and they do.”
“Damn!” Joe said, as he furiously scribbled notes to remind himself to order more testing.
“You may want to have the baby checked as well.” Peter scribbled on a note pad and handed the sheet of paper to Joe. “Here’s the number of a friend of mine. He’s an excellent pediatrician and I highly recommend him. Dr. Wilson works with these types of cases and has seen more than the average doc.”
Joe took the paper and nodded. “Thanks.”
The two men stood and made their way to the door as they talked. Peter glanced across the room and was quite surprised at who he saw.
Catherine was getting ready to leave for the day and was finishing up some last minute details with Rita.
She turned when she heard someone call her name, then gasped in surprise when she saw his familiar face. “Peter!” She walked up to where he was standing with Joe.
Joe smirked at Rita, who had followed Catherine over. “Five will get you ten they know each other.”
Peter nodded happily. “You’d win that bet. First time I met Catherine she was stark naked!”
Catherine rolled her eyes at the embarrassing story and looked at Rita and Joe who were standing and looking at her with their mouths open and their eyes widened in shock. She elaborated on the story. “You might want mention that I was also upside down and screaming at the top of my lungs!”
“What and spoil a good story! Susan will be delighted that I ran into you. She asks about you all the time.”
Catherine thought of Peter’s daughter Susan, whom she had grown up with. “Will you send her my love? I really wanted to get to Santa Fe for the wedding, but you know how it is...”
Peter turned to Joe with a mock scowl. “You work this girl too hard.”
Joe protested at his pretend anger. “Well, don’t blame me; I don’t chain her to her desk.”
Rita laughed as she played along. “That’s not what she tells me!”
Catherine came forward and kissed Peter’s cheek. “It won’t be so long next time, I promise.”
Peter furrowed his brow as she walked away from him. He wondered just what was going on with her. He quickly turned to Joe and shook his hand. “I’m just going to catch up to her and share an elevator. You know how to reach me if you have any further questions.”
“Thank you,” Joe said to Peter’s back as he walked away.
Out in the hallway, Peter quickened his step. He saw Catherine up ahead and called out. “Cathy!” She sighed and turned and waited for him. He caught up and took her hand. “I thought we could share the elevator.”
Catherine put her arm through his and smiled. “Sure, let’s go.” They walked and Catherine looked over at him. “So, is Joe using your expertise on one of our cases?”
“He is. I was surprised when he called, but one of my patients is involved in an investigation, and I promised to help. I came over right after work. I was sure surprised to see you here so late.”
Catherine chuckled. “It’s still early! I’m usually here for a few hours more.” Peter frowned at her, and she rolled her eyes as she chuckled. “What, Dad...I know that look. You may as well tell me what’s on your mind.”
Peter was her father’s closest friend, and Catherine knew he would take her sarcasm lightly. She had also been his patient literally from the time she was conceived. He felt more than comfortable telling her how he felt.
“Well, you know I have dinner with your Dad once a week?” Catherine nodded and he continued. “He told me he’s worried about you. About the hours you keep. He said that you’re rarely available, and that you’ve quit going to any social functions.” He chuckled. “That was enough to capture my attention. The Cathy I knew would never give up a chance to purchase a ball gown and new shoes.”
Catherine nodded ruefully at his teasing. “I was a little spoiled wasn’t I?”
Peter and she laughed about her past life. But he quickly got serious again. “Honey, is everything all right with you? Is there something you need to talk about that you maybe can’t say to your father?”
Catherine felt bad that she had caused such undo worry. “Oh, Peter, no! I’m fine, really. I guess that after my attack, my priorities changed.”
Peter nodded knowingly as they reached the lobby. “I don’t suppose you have time to have a cup of coffee with an old man.”
Catherine hesitated briefly. She wanted to give her standard excuse, but he looked at her so hopefully, she couldn’t disappoint him. “Luke’s is a little diner that’s close by. I was heading for something to eat.”
Peter smiled. “That sounds fine”
Catherine grabbed his arm again, and they happily headed to the restaurant. Once they were seated and they’d ordered, she looked over at him. “So, Peter, tell me what’s new in your life.”
He laughed out loud. “I was just going to ask you the same exact thing!”
Catherine looked around the room. “Well, I eat too many meals here, and other than that, work consumes most of my time.”
“You don’t get to see your dad much anymore?”
“No, I need to start to make a real effort to see him. He came over not too long ago...”
“Ahh, the anniversary. It was always such a hard day, for both of you. Your mother was a beautiful, wonderful woman.”
Catherine nodded. “I wish I could remember more about her.”
“Some day I’ll have to have you and your dad over to see my old movies. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day. There are some good shots of your mom and dad, and even you, although you were just a baby.”
Catherine chewed her salad, but smiled. “That would be wonderful! I promise to get in touch with my dad and make that happen.”
Peter nodded. “Anytime. Maybe we could spend a whole Sunday together.”
Catherine’s thoughts turned to Vincent and her Sunday’s spent Below. She frowned, but quickly recovered and nodded evasively.
Peter caught the look and narrowed his eyes. “Unless ,of course, Sundays are bad you. Do you spend that day with someone special?”
Catherine blushed and looked down. “Um...no, Sunday is fine.”
Peter touched her hand. “Honey, is there someone special in your life?”
“Um...” She stammered as she looked up at him and shrugged her shoulders.
He laughed and shook his head. “I’m as bad as your father. Here I am grilling you for information. Pretty soon you won’t talk to me.”
She giggled. “You’ll never get rid of me that easy.”
Catherine finished her salad. Peter ate his sandwich and drank coffee. The bill came and Peter snatched it. “My treat.”
Catherine shook her head. “I no longer live on my Dad’s allowance, Peter. I can pay for my own dinner.”
“I just want to show my appreciation for such wonderful company.” He paid the bill, left a generous tip, and they left the restaurant together. Peter called a cab, and they shared it to the front of her apartment. Catherine dug into her purse for her portion of the fare. Peter stopped her and closed her purse.
“Don’t be silly.”
She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thank you. It was good to see you again.”
“You too, sweetie. Don’t be such a stranger.”
“I won’t. Goodnight.”
The cab pulled away, and Catherine headed upstairs. She opened her door, saw a shadow on her balcony, and raced through the apartment.
He turned at her voice. “I just came by to say hello. I have to make a delivery across town, so as long as I was out...”
Catherine smiled and offered him a hug. “Hello.”
He returned it and stepped back. “You’re late tonight...”
“I had dinner with an old friend of the family. I haven’t seen him since my surgery.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“That’s what I thought when I first saw him! He came by my office to consult with Joe regarding one of the cases, and I realized that I hadn’t seen him in forever...I felt like I had to go with him.”
“It’s good to reconnect with old friends.”
She nodded. “He and my dad still go out once a week for dinner. I’m glad they’ve been able to remain so close over the years.”
Vincent nodded. “It’s late. I should go.”
Catherine watched as he scaled the balcony wall and headed out.
Vincent made his delivery and walked home via the waterfront. He gasped in surprise when he heard a noise out on the water and saw a small rowboat being steered down the dock front. He quickly hid in the shadows and watched as the men on the boat scanned the water clearly looking for something. They quickly left, and he observed a third man swimming towards the dock and trying to crawl up onto it. He was exhausted and couldn’t pull himself up and slipped back into the water. Vincent feared he would drown, and he reached in and pulled the man out. He was unconscious, and Vincent picked him up and carried him to a remote warehouse not too far from the waterfront.
The man slowly regained consciousness. He was scared and worried about being caught. Vincent assured him they were in a safe place, then began to ask more questions. The man told Vincent his name was Dmitri and that the men on the rowboat were looking for him because he had abandoned his ship.
Dmitri tried to stand to walk but collapsed against the wall and Vincent helped him back to bed. Dmitri got his first good look at Vincent and scuttled away from him fearfully. Thinking Vincent wasn’t real, he looked around the room. “I’m dead!”
Vincent was used to people’s reactions to his appearance, but Dmitri’s almost made him laugh. He waited a second then looked back at Dmitri. “You’re alive...safe...among friends. My father’s a doctor. Would you like me to take you to him?”
Dmitri looked uncertainly at Vincent. Having no alternative and getting weaker by the minute, he decided to trust him. He nodded, and Vincent reached over and helped him to his feet. He threw Dmitri’s arm over his shoulder, and the two men started down a tunnel way.
Dmitri was able to gather the strength to walk on his own. He pulled away from Vincent. “You say your father is doctor?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes.”
“He is like you then?”
Vincent frowned. “If you mean in looks...no...I was abandoned as a baby and brought to him. He helped raise me.”
“How,” Dmitri pointed at Vincent’s face. “....do you know?”
Vincent sighed. “No, I only know that I lived and ended up being raised in a loving community. I’m taking you there now. I trust you know the importance of keeping a secret.”
Dmitri nodded and chuckled. “Yes, I do.”
Vincent smirked and looked away. He had instantly liked Dmitri. He knew he could be counted on to keep their world a secret, and maybe Vincent would get an opportunity to sit and learn about Russia.
Dmitri looked around as they neared the home tunnels. He was surprised when they passed several people and most of them offered a warm smile, then went about their business.
He was coughing quite profusely when they walked into a large room covered from wall to wall with books.
Vincent walked down the steps first. “Father, I’m back.”
Father was back in the stacks of books and began to walk towards them. “Yes, I can hear. Who is with you that is coughing so vigorously?”
He came to an abrupt stop at the sight of the tall stranger. He looked over with alarm at Vincent. Vincent held up his hand towards Dmitri. “Father meet Dmitri. Dmitri this is Father.”
Dmitri stepped forward with his hand extended. “It is good to meet you, yes?”
Father nodded at the young foreigner and took his hand. “Yes, Dmitri it is good to meet you as well.”
Dmitri began to cough harder, and Vincent poured a glass of water and handed it to him. “Father, Dmitri is in need–”
Father scowled as he interrupted and responded dryly. “Of medical attention. I hope you weren’t planning on pointing that out. Amazingly enough, my eight years in medical school have paid off. I figured that much out for myself.” He turned to Dmitri. “Come on. Let’s get you to the hospital chamber so I can get a good look at you. While we’re doing that, my son can catch me up on how you came to be here in the first place.”
Dmitri sat on a bed in the hospital chamber while Father examined him. He gave Dmitri some cough medicine and aspirin to bring down his fever. Father looked up at Vincent expectedly.
Vincent sighed and told his story. “I made the delivery to Dave’s and decided to walk home by way of the waterfront.” Father rolled his eyes as Vincent grinned. They both knew the waterfront was not on the way home and that he had gone out of his way to go to one of his favorite spots. Vincent shrugged and continued. “I saw some men in a rowboat scanning the water. When they left, I saw Dmitri struggling to get ashore. He slipped under the water again, so I reached in and pulled him to safety. When he woke up, I could see that he needed help...”
Father shook his head ruefully and hid a grin. “So naturally you brought him to me! Hrumph...” He turned his attention back to Dmitri and pointed. “Well, at least this one isn’t in as bad of shape as the last one you brought home.”
Vincent hid his grin. He knew that Father referred to Catherine. As he walked to a nearby closet, he shuddered when he thought of how close she had come to death that night and how grateful he was that Father had been able to save her life.
Vincent brought over a pair of pants for Dmitri to wear, and as he was changing, Father noticed a huge scrape on his arm.
He pointed. “How on earth did you get that?”
Dmitri gasped at the long gash. “I don’t know.”
Vincent shrugged. “I pulled him out of the East River. Perhaps he was cut on some of the steel there.”
Father frowned. “Dmitri, have you ever had a tetanus shot before?”
Dmitri frowned in confusion, and Father gave him one immediately. With a sigh, he brought out antiseptic and clean bandages. “Well, let’s get this cleaned up.” While he was cleaning, he asked some questions. “What exactly were you looking for in the East River?”
Dmitri stumbled for the word. “Lou-ve.”
Father looked up with confusion. “Hmmm?”
Dmitri tried again. “Love...It’s not for politics...I show...” He brought out a picture of a woman and showed it to Father. “For Anna.”
Father glanced at it politely and smiled. “Oh, yes...she’s very beautiful.”
Dmitri told them he was a Russian escapee who came to America to find his Anna. They had both tried to come to here years ago, but only Anna was allowed to enter the country. Dmitri tried for four years, but was always denied, and Anna finally gave up hope that he would come, and she told him that she was going to marry another man.
Over the next few hours, Father took care of Dmitri. He assumed he had caught the flu or that his sickness was due to the fact that he had consumed so much water on his swim to the shore.
The next morning, Ellie stopped in to the hospital chamber to deliver some clean linen. She looked at Dmitri and smiled.
“Hello, my name is Dmitri.”
“Hi, I’m Ellie.”
Dmitri held out his hand. “It is nice to meet you, Ellie.”
She reached for his hand and he brought it to his lips and kissed it. She blushed as he released it and she cradled it against her chest.
“The doctor…Father…he’s not here.”
She shrugged. “I just needed to deliver the sheets.”
Dmitri smiled. “You are good worker as well as beautiful?”
She blushed and looked away. Eric and Kipper chose that moment to enter.
Eric raced up to Ellie. “We’re going to play hide and seek. Are you coming?”
Ellie looked at Dmitri in horror then back at Eric. “That’s a child’s game.”
Eric ignored her and smiled at Dmitri. “I’m Eric.”
Dmitri held out his hand and Kipper came forward first and shook it. “I’m Kipper.”
Eric cocked his head. “You talk funny. Is that what an accent sounds like?”
Dmitri chucked as he started to cough. Ellie immediately poured water into a glass and handed it to him. “Thank you, Ellie. ‘Tis right, Eric. I’m from Russia.”
Eric’s eyes grew round at the exciting news. “Cool!”
Samantha and Zachh came in followed by Amanda, Debbie, Amy, and Joshua. Ellie introduced everyone, and Dmitri smiled warmly.
“Tell us about Russia!” Eric begged.
“You want to hear stories about my country, or I tell you about my ocean journey here.”
The children were reading about pirates and insisted that Dmitri tell them about the journey. He spent over an hour relating adventures about ghost ships and sea creatures. Father finally came in and chased the children away. He cleaned and checked all of Dmitri’s wounds again. Vincent eventually came in and Dmitri told them about Anna.
“Her name is Anna Macova...She live here...in Brooklyn. You find...I go to her. Please.”
Father smiled indulgently. “We’ll do our best, Dmitri, but Brooklyn is a very large place. Even if we get her address, it could take us some time to find her.”
Dmitri shook his head. “I have faith. I come so far already. You find today, maybe, and I see my Anna soon. I know these things.”
Vincent sighed. “I have a friend who lives Above. I’ll tell her the story and ask her to help.”
Dmitri looked worriedly at him. “You trust this friend?”
Vincent chuckled. “With my life. She won’t let us down.”
Father nodded. “Her name is Catherine. She works for the legal department and has access to many records.”
Dmitri grew alarmed and shook his head worriedly. “No law! They send me back before I find my Anna.”
Vincent sat down beside him. “Catherine will understand your story and will find your Anna. You’re secret is safe.”
Dmitri watched as Vincent’s eyes softened when he spoke of Catherine. He smiled knowingly. “You love...like I love my Anna. I trust your Catherine, too. Please tell.”
Vincent went to go to see Catherine while Father challenged Dmitri to a came of chess.
Catherine got home that night and was surprised to see Vincent there. She walked hurriedly outside.
“Two nights in a row...lucky me!”
Vincent hung his head shyly. “Good evening, Catherine.”
“I didn’t know you were stopping by or I would have come home sooner.”
“I didn’t know I was coming either. I...came here to ask for your help.”
She nodded. “Sure. What is it you need me to do?”
“I need you to find a woman for me.”
Catherine eyebrows rose with surprise. “Excuse me?” This was the last thing in the world she had expected him to say. She quickly realized he couldn’t possibly have meant what she was thinking. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, knowing she was probably just tired and had misinterpreted what he said. She reached out and touched his arm. “I mean...who is she?”
Vincent was oblivious to the turmoil inside her. “Her name is Anna Macova. She is a Russian immigrant who came here about four years ago. I pulled her fiancé out of the water the other night. He’d almost drowned.”
“What was he doing in the water?”
Vincent looked out over the city as he sighed. “He jumped from his ship.”
Catherine eyes narrowed as she became suspicious. “Why would he do a thing like that?”
Vincent was still unable to look at her. “He defected from Russia.”
Catherine groaned and closed her eyes. “I shouldn’t have asked.”
Vincent knew by rights that Catherine should have Dmitri deported, so he rushed to explain the story. “He’s tried for four years to come here to see Anna, and each time he was denied passage. She wrote to him and told him she’d given up hope of his ever coming. She also told him she had plans to marry another. He grew desperate and came here the only way he could.”
Catherine looked up at Vincent and nodded. “I can understand wanting to see someone so badly that you break the law.”
Vincent related all that Dmitri had said about Anna.
“I’ll do my best to find her, Vincent.”
“I know you will, Catherine. I have a picture, it may help.”
Catherine took the picture from his hands and looked at it carefully. “She’s beautiful.”
“If only you can hear the love in his voice when he speaks of her...He crossed half the world, risked his life, left everything and everyone behind him, all for Anna.”
Catherine looked at Vincent as she realized what Dmitri had given up. “He can never go back, can he? He’s burned his bridges home...all for a dream.”
“He comes from a land of dreamers.”
“He must love her very much. Does he know where she is?”
Catherine frowned. “Brooklyn is a big place.”
Vincent’s eyes showed his amusement. “This is what Father is trying to explain to him.”
Catherine looked at the photo again and knew they had to try. “We’ll find her for him, Vincent. I know we will.”
He turned to leave and she reached out for his arm. She smiled as she looked at him excitedly. “I can’t wait until Friday.”
Vincent nodded shyly “Yes.”
She wrinkled her nose. “So, you’re not going to tell me any more than that?”
He smiled. “It will ruin the surprise.”
She stepped up and hugged him. “Okay, I can wait.”
He returned her hug, then without another word, scaled the wall and was gone.
Vincent came Below and told Dmitri that Catherine agreed to help and that she was looking for Anna. It was only a matter of time before they found her. Dmitri insisted that he head Above, and Vincent led him out only to have to bring him back to the hospital chamber. He still wasn’t strong enough to make it to Anna.
Father drew blood and started to conduct tests to see how sick Dmitri actually was. He frowned as he looked up from his microscope. He felt his stomach churn with dread as he wondered if his findings were correct.
Meanwhile, Vincent was in the library in search of something to read aloud to Dmitri when Ellie came in looking for Father. She told Vincent that some of the kids were sick, and together they headed for the hospital chamber. When Ellie lagged behind, Vincent noticed she was sick as well and sent her back to her room.
He walked in to the hospital chamber and saw Father sitting with Dmitri. “Three children are ill...” Father didn’t seem to hear him, so he tried again. “...they need your attention....” Vincent was wondering what was wrong with Father. He was unresponsive and oblivious to his comments. He looked down at Dmitri lying on the cot. “Dmitri…is he worse?” It was then that Vincent noticed the Dmitri wasn’t breathing and realized he was dead. He gasped in shock. “But...how?”
Father was finally pulled from his thoughts. “I’m not sure. I’ve been sitting here with him.”
“But he was so strong, so determined to get well...to go to Anna...”
“Strong or weak...young or old...makes no difference. We desperately need vaccines, antibiotics, IV’s...Oh, dear God...the children...I knew it was serious but I had hoped against hope...”
Vincent was pulled from his musings by the worry in Father’s voice. He knew Father had some terrible news to give. “Tell me!”
“Plague. Untreated the fatality rate is almost 100%...even with drugs...Dear God, help us all.”
Vincent’s heart sank. “Are you sure, Father?”
“I conducted the tests myself. Without the proper equipment, I can’t be 100 percent conclusive but I believe my diagnosis is correct.”
They were so vulnerable to diseases in the tunnels. The plague could possibly destroy their world. Vincent stood up abruptly. “Father, we must have a community meeting, immediately!”
“Yes, I know. Dmitri’s body...”
“I’ll see to his burial.”
Father scowled as he shook his head. “Normally he would be buried, but knowing what we know about his disease, I fear he is going to have to be put into the Abyss.”
Vincent nodded. “I understand, Father. I will take care of Dmitri. It’s my responsibility; I brought him here and exposed everyone.”
“Vincent, it’s my fault as well. I thought he had the flu. Some doctor I am.”
Vincent hugged him. “Father, you’re an excellent doctor. Go call an emergency meeting. I’ll be there shortly.”
Father jotted a quick note to his colleague who was in charge of getting the medical supplies Below. He sent it by messenger, then headed towards the meeting.
Father left, and Vincent carefully wrapped Dmitri’s body tightly in blankets. He heard Father tap out the message and knew he had about a half an hour before everyone could make it to the library.
He picked up Dmitri’s body and headed to the Abyss. Luckily, he encountered no one and he was able to stop at the side, offer a prayer, then send the body plummeting over the edge. He looked at the bottomless hole with tears in his eyes. “Goodbye, Dmitri.” He turned and ran to the library and made it just in time for the meeting.
Father frowned as he looked up at Vincent curiously. Vincent knew that Father wondered if he had been able to dispose of Dmitri’s body, and he nodded then continued making his way through the room.
The level of noise was high as everyone gathered and talked, trying to figure out what the meeting was about.
Father raised his hands and the din settled. “I have some terrible news to share with all of you. Dmitri has died.”
All around the room people started talking, and Father once again had to raise his hands to get silence. “Please, everyone. There is so much more to tell you. When Dmitri first came in I thought he had the flu. Unknown to us, he, in fact, had a form of pneumonic plague.”
The kids looked around in confusion, but the adults exploded into conversations that flowed around the room.
Dmitri stood up. “Like the plague we read about in History?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, Geoffrey.”
Debbie held her sister Amanda’s hand. “Didn’t lots of people die?”
Father nodded slowly. “Yes, but they didn’t have the medicine available to them the way that we do.”
Amanda asked. “Yeah, how will we know if we’re getting sick?”
Father’s voice carried through the crowd. “Fever, coughing, chills, even simple fatigue. Anyone with any symptoms must be isolated immediately. Now, I cannot express this too strongly.”
Mary came forward. “Is there a vaccine?”
Father answered her. “Well, most of us have been exposed already. It’s too late for the vaccine. However, there are certain drugs which may help, and supplies of these drugs are being arranged.”
Zach piped in. “Will there be enough?”
“Zach, our friends Above have never let us down, before but we must isolate ourselves. The pneumonic form of this plague is highly contagious.”
Jamie stepped forward. “I’ll go tell Pascal to send the word out.”
Father frowned at her. “Use the pipes. You’ve been exposed, Jamie; Pascal has not. We cannot risk any spread of the contagion.”
Mouse wanted to help too. “Have to bring medicine down, fast!”
“You’ll need a nurse,” Mary offered.
The community as a whole started to offer their help. Father did his best to reassure everyone and then he noticed Ellie. He knew immediately that she was sick and told her to get to the hospital chamber. Eric didn’t want to let her go alone, and the two siblings had a heated argument. Father tried to offer Ellie comfort as he took her to the hospital chamber. The rest of the community organized themselves into work details.
Vincent looked out over the community and was racked with guilt. He had brought this terrible sickness upon them, and he, alone, was responsible for everyone’s well being. Steeling himself for battle, he headed to the hospital chamber to do whatever he could to help anyone who had become sick.
In the world Above, Catherine, sitting at her desk, was insistently handed a sandwich from a new delivery man. Realizing his behavior was especially odd, she took it and peeked inside and discovered a small note. Joe, who had been fighting with the delivery man for Catherine’s sandwich, looked at her oddly when she left the uneaten sandwich on her desk and headed out the door for lunch.
Catherine had quickly read the address on the note, then got to the meeting place early and waited around inside the seldom-used warehouse. She turned around as a black van roared into the building. She could see that it was a man who got out and came around to the back of it.
She gasped in surprise when she recognized the driver. “Peter!”
Peter stopped uncertainly, then looked at her in confusion. “Cathy, what on earth are you doing here?”
Catherine gave him an odd look and answered hesitantly. “The message said to meet...a helper.”
It was Peter who was surprised this time, and he immediately realized that the Catherine who he had been hearing about all this time was in fact the Cathy whom he knew. “You? No wonder you’ve been so secretive this past year!”
“Peter, how long have you been involved?” Catherine asked wondrously.
“From the beginning. Jacob and I went through medical school together. Someday I’ll sit down and tell you all about it, but right now there are more pressing matters.” He hurriedly opened the van as he talked. “I brought as much as I could; the rest I’ll get as soon as possible. It’s not easy to get these amounts without a lot of questions...”
Catherine looked at the boxes. “What is all this?”
“Streptomycin, tetracycline, IV’s. It’s hard to find enough sulfa drugs to...” He stopped as she looked at him with alarm, a question in her eyes. “My God, you don’t know what’s going on down there, do you?”
“Tell me...what is it?”
“It’s very bad. It’s an epidemic...Cathy, its pneumonic plague.”
Catherine gasped as she slammed the door closed and went to get into the driver’s seat. “I’ll get them the drugs right away.”
Peter scowled. “You don’t understand...they’ve sealed themselves off. It’s a strict quarantine.”
She put on her seat belt. “You vaccinated me for plague when I went to Asia.”
“That was two years ago! Without booster shots... No, it’s impossible!”
Catherine raced from the warehouse to the delivery sight. Thankfully, when she brought the supplies for the picnic they had a few weeks ago, she had learned about the elevator they used to haul larger things Below. Mouse and Jamie came to meet her.
Catherine frowned as they backed away from her worriedly. She insisted they let her help, and she carried boxes Below with everyone else who was still able to carry.
“Jamie, how many people are sick?”
Jamie looked back over her shoulder as she walked. “At least thirty.”
Catherine gasped. “That many?”
Jamie nodded. “It’s mostly the kids. They had the most exposure because they sat and listened to Dmitri tell them stories.”
Father watched in relief as box after box was carried in. He gasped when he saw Catherine carrying one as well. “Catherine! You shouldn’t have come here!”
“How could I have stayed away?”
He grew angry at her. “Pneumonic plague is the most contagious form of this disease. The risk...”
“...is mine to take!” she interrupted angrily.
He looked down in defeat. He was grateful for her help. At this point, an extra pair of hands would be welcomed. “Cathy, thank you.”
She reached forward and touched his hand. “Father, I wanted to be here to face this crisis with all of you.”
Father drew back the curtain and Catherine entered the hospital chamber. She was startled to see so many patients. There were people lying on cots all over the room.
Father stood by her side. “Dmitri is dead.”
She realized instantly that she didn’t see Vincent. “Vincent?!” she asked worriedly.
“Oh, he’s all right. He appears to be immune, thank God!”
Catherine took off her coat and rolled up her sleeves. “Tell me what I can do...”
“Just...” Father shook his head in dismay and shrugged. “Go to any patient and find a way to make them comfortable. Keep them hydrated, cover them up, wipe their brow...”
Catherine nodded as she walked away. She looked around as she realized that they must be piping heat somehow into this room, because she was quite comfortable when normally she needed a jacket Below.
She came to Geoffrey’s bedside first and frowned He was shivering uncontrollably, and she adjusted his blankets tightly around him.
He smiled weakly. “Thanks, Catherine.”
“You’re welcome, Geoffrey.” She sat and took a cloth from his bedside table and dipped it into the cold water. She laid it against his fevered brow and he sighed in relief. She smiled at him. “Is that better?” He nodded and she continued. “Can you take a sip of water for me?” He refused and she prompted him again. “Please, just a few sips?”
Geoffrey opened his eyes and nodded. “Okay.”
Catherine put the glass to his lips and tilted it. Geoffrey drank a good amount and she was proud of him. “Good job, Geoffrey. Thanks.” She flipped the cloth on his forehead and noticed that it was already warm. She dipped it into the water again and rung it out, then placed it back on his forehead. Geoffrey smiled and closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep.
Catherine stood and walked to the next patient. “Hi, Rebecca.”
“Hi, Catherine. You shouldn’t be down here.”
“I wanted to help.”
Rebecca smiled. “Not one of our better times.”
Catherine patted her hand and then reached to rewet the rag on her forehead. “That’s the time when you need the most help...when the chips are down.”
Rebecca moaned as Catherine set the cool cloth on her forehead. “Oh, that feels wonderful. Catherine, did I ever tell you how happy I am that Vincent has you in his life?”
Catherine adjusted her blankets for her. “No, you didn’t. But that’s one of the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“Well it’s true! Everyone feels the same way that I do.”
“Everyone?!” Catherine said ruefully as she thought about Father.
“Vincent’s like a brother to me and Pascal, Winslow, Olivia. All of us have been through a lifetime together, and, trust me, he deserves someone as good as you.”
Catherine rewet the cloth again with cool water. As she placed it back on Rebecca’s forehead she smiled. “Thank you.”
Rebecca smiled as her eyes drifted closed. “Welcome...” she mumbled as she drifted to sleep.
Catherine went into the next room and sat with Matthew. She rewet his cloth and placed it back on his head.
He woke up from his sleep. “Catherine?!”
“Oh, Matthew, I’m sorry. I thought I could do it without waking you up.”
He shrugged. “Unfortunately, you don’t really sleep, you just kind of hover there, you know...”
He looked at her hopefully. “Have you seen Rebecca? How is she?”
“I just left her. She’s around the corner. She seems comfortable, about the same as you I guess.”
“Matthew, can I get you anything?”
“Some soup, broth maybe...”
Catherine’s brow furrowed. “I’m not sure where...”
He nodded behind her. “By the door, over the fire.”
Catherine stood up and walked to the kettle. Sara filled a cup and handed it to her. “Who’s this for, Catherine?”
“Matthew. Is it okay? He asked for it…”
Sara nodded and wrote his name. “That’s a good sign if they ask. Maybe he won’t be as bad as some of the others.”
Catherine cocked her head. “I’ll go give this to him and then maybe I can see some others. Who are some of the worst cases?”
Sara shook her head sadly. “Cullen’s not doing so great. Vincent’s with him in one of the back rooms. And little Ellie...”
Catherine looked up with alarm. “Where’s Ellie?”
Sara pointed. “Through the door, by Matthew and to the left.”
Catherine turned and walked up to Matthew. She stood there with the cup of broth and a spoon and smiled. “I’ve got it. Can I help feed you?’
Matthew chuckled. “Vincent would love to see that, and normally I would let you just to irritate him, but I’m okay. I can do it myself. See if anyone else needs help.”
Catherine stood and Matthew grabbed her hand. “Catherine...” She stopped and looked down at him. “You’re a good woman, I’m glad Vincent found you. If you ever get tried of him...”
She rolled her eyes at the implication of his words then chuckled. “And you are a flirt! If you’re not careful, I’m telling Rebecca.” He chuckled as she walked away.
Catherine realized she could feel the sweat running down her back. She walked through the door Sara indicated and quickly found Ellie.
She gasped when she realized that Ellie was in the worst shape of any of the patients she had seen so far. Ellie’s head rolled back and forth. She was delirious from the high fever. Catherine sat and swabbed the sweat off of Ellie, then covered the shivering girl. She kept a constant stream of cool cloths on her forehead and finally the fever came down.
Ellie woke briefly. “Catherine?”
“I wanted to help. Besides I couldn’t let my favorite girl be sick and not come see her.”
Ellie smiled. “Thanks, but you could get sick too.”
Father looked over from changing an IV to hear Catherine’s answer.
“Nah, I went to Asia a few years ago and got a shot to protect me. I can’t get sick.”
Father frowned and looked away. He knew that without a booster there was still a chance she could get sick, but he was happy that the risk was greatly diminished. He cast a grateful glance her way, then stood and went to check his next patient.
Ellie’s eyes drifted shut, then popped open as tears flowed down her cheeks. “Catherine, Dmitri died.”
Catherine wiped the tears from Ellie’s eyes. “I know. Father told me.”
“He was so...nice.”
Catherine smiled as she realized that Ellie had developed a crush on Dmitri. “I’m glad. Was he handsome, too?”
“He was...His eyes were so...brown...”
Catherine was glad Ellie didn’t see her raise her eyebrows and chuckle. Ellie began to cough and Catherine offered her water. She drank and then started to drift to sleep again before she woke again and asked about Eric.
Catherine had seen Eric and reported to her that he still showed no signs of being sick. She marveled at Ellie’s courage to be so sick and still be concerned about her brother. She made a mental note to see Eric for a few minutes before she went home. She lovingly held Ellie’s hand and sang her a lullaby.
Vincent came from the back room to carry back more cold water and turned curiously to see who was singing.
He stopped in his tracks and looked with surprise. Catherine was the one singing. His eyes softened and his heart skipped a beat as he realized how much he loved this woman. He indulged himself for a few more minutes, then turned and went to help another patient.
He came upon Father in the other room. “How long has Catherine been here?”
Father shrugged. “A few hours, maybe.”
“How did she get past the sentries?”
Father chuckled. “She made Mouse and Jamie let her help bring the medical supplies down.”
Vincent shook his head. “I’ll speak to Mouse about this later.”
“Let it rest. Mouse is sick in a bed in the other room. Besides, you of all people should know how persuasive Catherine can be. Mouse didn’t stand a chance.”
Vincent shook his head. “I’ll never forgive myself if she gets ill, Father.”
“I heard her tell Ellie that she was given a shot a few years back. She could still catch it, but her risk is greatly diminished.” Father looked up. “She was concerned about you. Have you seen her yet?”
Vincent shook his head. “I’ve been so busy.”
“Well...you should take a minute...”
Father walked away and Vincent delivered the cold water to Old Sam in the back room. He mopped Sam’s brow, then left him as the old man drifted back to sleep.
Ellie had fallen asleep and Catherine had taken the opportunity to rinse out some of the towels she had used. She watched as Vincent came up to her and leaned against the table. It seemed silly to greet her now that she’d been here so long, but he looked at her warmly. “I watched you with Ellie a moment ago.”
Catherine smiled ruefully. “My mother used to sing that song to me...I haven’t heard it since. I think she must’ve made it up.”
Vincent stared at her, the love in his eyes showing clearly. “You’re remarkable!”
She chuckled. “I hope you’re not talking about my singing.”
“No...about how much you give to all of us.”
“To be able to give...is what all of you have given to me.”
He lowered his head. “Catherine, I have no words that are adequate enough to thank you for helping. Father is exhausted, as well as the ones who aren’t sick yet. We’ve been taking care of everyone for close to eighteen hours. For you to come Below and risk becoming ill yourself to help us take care of our sick...”
“Vincent, I wanted to help. Besides, I was immunized a few years ago. I won’t get sick, I promise.”
Little Amy came into the room crying, Catherine bent to pick her up, but she shook her head and stood in front of Vincent.
He bent over and picked her up. She laid her head against his chest.
Catherine touched her lips to Amy’s forehead. “Vincent, she’s burning up.”
He frowned and reached up with his hand and felt her head as well. “Yes, she is.” He walked through the rooms searching for an empty cot.
Catherine followed behind him and shrugged. “Vincent, I don’t see one.”
Matthew saw them threading their way through the cots. He sat up in his bed. “Vincent?”
Vincent made his way over. “Matthew, what is it? Did you need something?”
Matthew tried to stand. “Let Amy have my bed.”
Catherine rushed to help him. “Matthew, you’re still weak. We’ll find someplace else for Amy.”
Matthew held onto Catherine as he steadied himself. “There is no other place. I heard Pascal send a message that all beds are accounted for. Look, I’m feeling a lot better. If one of you could get a chair for me, I can park it over by Rebecca and sleep there.”
Vincent reached for Matthew’s arm. “Are you sure? Amy’s small enough we may be able to have her bunk with one...”
“No,” Matthew interrupted. “It’s fine, really.”
“Vincent, let me hold Amy. You can go get a chair for Matthew.” Catherine offered.
Vincent handed a reluctant Amy to Catherine, who swayed back and forth while she hummed quietly. He quickly got Matthew settled in a chair and came back to Catherine’s side.
“Let me get these blankets off this bed and give them to Matthew. I’ll bring fresh ones in for Amy.”
Vincent returned quicker than Catherine thought he would. He efficiently made up the bed and then turned to Catherine. “You can lay her down now.”
Amy began to cry and reached out to Vincent. He sighed and took her from Catherine’s arms, then sat on the cot and rocked her, trying to get her to sleep. Catherine’s mind wandered as she pictured him doing this with their little girl – a little girl with long blond hair and her father’s unusual face.
She shook her head to dispel the thoughts as she turned to check on the other patients. She followed the same routine and did whatever she could to offer comfort to anyone. She noticed Amy was asleep and Vincent was once again helping make people comfortable for the night. It was getting late, and people had started to fall asleep.
Catherine was with Father holding an IV bag for him when she heard Ellie cry out. “Catherine...Catherine...” She raced to see what she could do.
Ellie stared unseeingly into the air. Catherine grabbed her hand as Ellie breathlessly called out. “He said...I was beautiful...”
Catherine frowned as Ellie suddenly stopped talking..” “Ellie...no.” She grabbed her and cradled her against her chest. Her instincts told her that Ellie had just died, but her mind wouldn’t believe it happened. “No...no! You can’t!”
Vincent felt the turmoil in Catherine and quickly came over.
Catherine felt Father rush up behind her. She moved back so he could take care of Ellie. He gently held Ellie’s head in his hand as he reached out to her wrist to find a pulse. He already knew the answer, but a part of him was desperate to prove his theory wrong. Realization set in as he lightly laid her back on the bed. He couldn’t feel her pulse. “Dear God! I’ve lost her!”
In disbelief and sorrow, Catherine backed away until she bumped up against something solid. She felt Vincent’s arm encircle her waist before Father confirmed Ellie’s death. Catherine turned to bury her face in Vincent’s shirt as she broke down and cried. Vincent’s arm automatically came around her and cradled her as he tried to comfort her and come to terms with all that had just happened.
Peter suddenly walked in the door. “Jacob, I was able to get you more of the supplies you needed. It took me a while, but I’m here now to do whatever I can to help.”
He looked with surprise at Catherine, who was crying in Vincent’s arms. Vincent had dropped his head against hers and his hair draped around them, hiding their faces from view. Peter eyebrows rose in surprise at their closeness as he thought to himself, I guess I shouldn’t have asked if there’s someone special in her life. He shook his head as he chuckled. I wonder how long that’s been going on. He dismissed the thought as he reached over and gently shook Father’s shoulder.
“Jacob...” He followed Father’s gaze and quickly assessed the situation. He reached up and closed Ellie’s eyes, then covered her face with the sheet. He turned back to Father. “Jacob!”
Father blinked and looked up at his friend with surprise. “Peter, you’re here?”
Peter nodded, then pointed at the door. “Jacob, Go! I’ll handle this.”
Catherine pulled away from Vincent after hearing Peter’s voice. She wiped the tears from her face as she turned. “Hi, Peter.” She walked into his arms and he hugged her warmly.
She stepped back and he dried the fresh tears that sprang up. “Hi, Sweetie. I don’t need to ask how you’re doing.”
She smiled. “I’ve had better days.”
Father blinked in surprise. “You two know each other?”
Peter smiled warmly. “Since before she was born.”
Catherine backed up and stood by Vincent again. Peter looked from one to the other, then finally to Father again. “All three of you look exhausted.”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, but there’s still work to be done. I’m going to run a load of dirty linen to the laundry chamber.”
She left and Father went back to changing IV bags, while Vincent went to check on Cullen.
Peter gently wrapped Ellie in her blankets, then carried her out a back way. He didn’t want to upset any of the sicker patients, but he needed to get her out of the area. He tapped a message to Pascal, and Keith, one of the sentries, came to him.
“Keith, I need a guide to the catacombs.”
“We can go now. Do you want some help with...” Keith nodded towards his arms.
Peter sighed. “No, I can handle her.”
Keith frowned knowingly. “Peter, the bundle looks small...Which one of the children?”
Keith gasped. “She was so vibrant in the play. It’s hard to believe...”
Peter frowned as he gently prompted. “Keith...I have to get back as quickly as I can.”
Keith shook his head. “Look, I’ll take her. I have some plastic I can wrap her in. I’ll be protected from her and you can help take care of the rest of the patients. Father’s exhausted, and the climb down to the catacombs isn’t easy. Not to mention how long it will take...”
Peter held up his hand with a smile. “Stop right there. Thank you. I trust your word. Wear gloves and a mask and bury them with her, got it?”
Keith ran and came back within minutes with a plastic tarp. He gently wrapped the body and then lovingly took her from Peter. “I’ll take care of her, don’t worry.”
While Peter was headed back towards the hospital chamber, Mary came in and told Father that Eric was waiting to see Ellie. Vincent offered to handle it and had the daunting task of trying to explain to Eric that Ellie was gone. Eric didn’t believe him and lashed out, pummeling Vincent with his tiny fists. He turned and ran and hid himself away in a storage chamber.
Vincent followed him and eventually found him hiding in a closet. Nothing Vincent could say would comfort Eric or make him come out. He eventually gave up and went in search of Father.
Meanwhile, Peter came back and walked up to Father. He gently took the IV bag from his hands. “Jacob, go lie down for awhile. I’ll handle this.”
Father sighed and turned to his friend. “Okay, I’ll...go...but just for a little while.” He walked over to an empty cot in a secluded corner of the room.
Vincent had come back inside the hospital chamber to look for Father. He blinked back tears as he glanced at the empty cot that Ellie had once occupied.
He continued on and found Father lying down on a cot in the back room. He tried to console him. As Father blamed himself for the loss of Ellie, Vincent reminded him about all the lives he was able to save. Father asked about Eric and Vincent admitted he had no luck in consoling him. Once Vincent pointed out that Eric needed him, Father got up to see if he could help.
Vincent showed Father where Eric was hiding, and Father sat outside of the closet and was able to come up with an idea as to how Eric could get his message to Ellie. He told Eric that he, too, wanted to send Ellie a message, and Eric gave him a sheet of paper to write on.
Vincent smiled when Eric slowly opened the door to the cabinet and peered around its edge.
“Father, do you think Ellie will get this right away?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Should we send them now?”
Father was exhausted, but he would never disappoint this poor boy. “If you’d like, Eric, we can send them now.”
Eric nodded. “You said we were gonna build a big fire, and then we would put our letters in the fire and they’ll float up to Ellie who can read them.”
Father nodded. “Yes, that’s what I said.”
“Well, if we do it now, then Ellie won’t be all the way up to heaven yet, and she can read them on the way. This way she can see my mom and dad right away, but she’ll know how sorry I am.”
Vincent stepped forward. “I’ll see about building that fire right now, Eric.”
Eric straightened up to his full height and extended his hand. “Thank you, Vincent. I’m sorry I hit you earlier. I was just mad. I didn’t hurt you did I?”
Vincent took Eric’s hand. “No, Eric, you didn’t hurt me. I understand that you were angry. I’m glad we can still be friends. If I may, I would also like to write Ellie a letter.”
Father struggled to stand, and Vincent helped him to his feet. Father grimaced and walked towards Eric. “You know, Eric. Ellie was a well-loved member of our family. Would you mind if others wrote letters to Ellie as well?”
Eric took a moment to think. “As long as she reads mine first, I don’t mind if anyone else sends her one.”
Father took Eric by the shoulder and led him out the door. Vincent quickly tapped out a message, and the community sprang into action. One of the sentries had a pile of wood set up so they could start the fire, and several of the older kids sat with the younger ones and helped them write their letters.
Catherine looked oddly at everyone as she made her way back to the hospital chamber. She wondered why everyone was suddenly writing letters.
Peter walked over and stopped her as she walked into the chamber. “Catherine, everyone in here is asleep for the night. Did you hear the announcement over the pipes?”
She shook her head. “I’m not very good at the whole message thing, yet. I can only tap Vincent and Catherine.”
Peter smiled. “Give it time. Vincent went to his chamber to write a letter, and Jacob and Eric are headed for the library. Everyone is to meet later. Jacob gave Eric the idea to burn his letter so the ashes would float to Ellie and she could read them on her way to heaven.”
Catherine’s eyes filled with tears. “What a wonderful idea.”
Peter tapped the end of her nose. “Now, don’t you cry! It is a wonderful idea! I’m amazed Jacob could come up with it, as tired as he is.”
She smiled lovingly. “He’s an amazing person.”
Catherine turned and headed to Vincent’s chamber. She walked in and observed him sitting in his chair. He held his hand over his eyes. He almost looked like he was asleep, but Catherine thought he could be crying. She stepped forward and smoothed her hand down the length of his hair and drew his head to her chest. “Vincent?”
He sighed. “She was such a special little girl. It’s my fault her life was cut short.”
Catherine lifted his face and looked at his eyes. “No! Don’t you dare blame yourself!”
“I brought Dmitri Below...I alone bear the responsibility of her death. I wish I could do it all over again...”
“And what? Would you leave Dmitri alone this time? Let him die by himself?” Vincent shook his head while she continued. “Vincent, Ellie would never blame you for this, but if you need to apologize, tell her in your letter that you’re sorry.”
Vincent looked up at her wistfully. “I don’t think it will work, but I’ll try.”
She smiled and pushed a stray wisp of hair off his face. “I’m going to write a letter too. Will you give me a sheet of paper?”
Vincent handed her paper and a pen, and they sat side by side writing their letters. Catherine sniffled often and Vincent put a box of tissues in front of her. They finished close to the same time, and Vincent stood, took her hand, and led her to where the rest of the community waited.
Father spoke for a while, then, one by one, people came forward and put their letters into the flames.
Afterwards, Mary came and led Eric towards his chamber. He was exhausted and didn’t put up much of a fight.
Father, Catherine, and Vincent headed to the library. They were surprised to see Peter sitting there waiting for them. They joined him and sat down around the table.
Peter leaned forward. “Everyone seems to be resting comfortably right now. How’d it go?”
Father shrugged. “Good, I think. Eric seemed to feel better after his message was sent.”
“I’m glad. Look Jacob, I think you’ll have enough supplies now to last throughout the coming days. Once I got that first batch to Cathy to deliver, I called in some favors and got the rest. It’s going to take me awhile to pay for everything I brought down here.”
“We’ll do whatever we can to help work off our debt, Peter.” Vincent offered immediately.
Peter smiled. “I know.”
Catherine leaned forward and looked over at Father. “Please, let me use Margaret’s money. What could possibly count as a bigger emergency?”
Father sighed in resignation. “Okay, you can reimburse Peter. Thank you.”
Peter looked baffled. “Margaret’s money? Jacob, surely you don’t mean your Margaret’s money?”
Father nodded. “It was Catherine who was instrumental in bringing Margaret Below. Towards the end, Margaret contacted Catherine and left the bulk of her estate to her with the stipulation that the money be used Below.”
Peter was incredulous. “Jacob! Margaret was an extremely wealthy woman! Your people should never have to do without again.”
Father scowled. “Peter, we will not change our values and lead an extravagant lifestyle!”
Peter rolled his eyes as he objected. “Well, you don’t need to be dripping in diamonds and pearls, but you can certainly afford meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Perhaps Catherine could go to the helpers and increase things gradually.”
Father looked at Catherine pointedly. “I believe that’s all ready been done, hasn’t it?”
Catherine blushed guiltily, then raised her chin defiantly. “Um...yes! It has.”
Peter laughed out loud. “Good for you, Cathy! You wait around for this old coot to approve anything and the money will triple from interest.”
Catherine looked relieved to have an ally at last. “And now, I know of someone else I can get listed as a signature on the account.”
Vincent sat quietly, then finally turned quizzically in his seat to look at Peter. “Peter, I’m still wondering how you found out about Catherine?”
Catherine shrugged indifferently. “I got a message in a sandwich delivered to my work. All it said was I was supposed to meet a helper.”
Peter laughed aloud. “And all I was told is that a helper would meet me and deliver the supplies for me. I got out, came around the side of the van, and there she stood.”
Catherine giggled. “It was pretty shocking, for a half a second I was unsure if I should admit I knew anything.”
Peter smiled and patted her hand. “I’m glad you did. I’ve been worried about you all this time for no reason at all.”
Catherine squeezed his hand. “It’s been hard to keep the secret.”
“It gets easier. Now you have no reason to avoid me, and we’ll be able to see each other more often.”
Catherine chuckled. “Maybe I’ll even go out to dinner with you and my dad once in awhile.”
Peter smiled. “That would make him very happy.”
Catherine nodded sadly. “I know. We’ve been growing apart, and there doesn’t seem to be a way for me to stop it.”
“Well, now that you have me on your side, we’ll be able to cover your tracks together. And who knows, I’ve been wanting to tell him forever about this world. Maybe it’s about time that I do.”
Vincent looked over at Father. They both remembered a conversation not too long ago when Vincent told Father that Catherine swims the same dangerous river that he does but there was no one on her side to watch out for her. They nodded knowingly at one another, realizing that for Catherine that was no longer true.
Catherine yawned and nodded.
Peter knew they were all tired and stood up. “Look, Jacob, go get some sleep. I’ll handle the night shift.”
Peter left, and Catherine went to grab her coat, then came back and stood in front of Father. “It was a beautiful thing you did for Eric.”
Vincent was standing behind him, and he reached out and touched his father’s shoulder. “It was for all of us.”
Catherine stepped forward and kissed Father’s cheek, then moved to leave. “Goodnight, Father.”
Vincent turned back. “I won’t be long.”
Father knew Vincent was seeing Catherine home and nodded, then turned and headed to bed.
They hadn’t walked far when Catherine leaned over and put her arm around Vincent’s, then leaned her head up against his arm. They walked slowly and conversation was nonexistent.
Catherine thought about the walk home. “Vincent, I’m so tired I don’t think I can walk up all those steps.”
He knew she referred to the large circular staircase. “Perhaps I can carry you.”
She shook her head. “You’re as tired as I am. You can’t carry me up all those stairs. Maybe I should go out the park entrance and grab a cab.”
“Catherine, it’s a bad time of the night to be in the park alone. It’s dangerous, and I don’t think there will be many cabs available.”
She sighed. “You’re right. But Vincent, there’s no reason why you need to walk me all the way home. You’ve been at this a lot longer than I have. Why don’t you go back and get some sleep? I can make it the rest of the way.”
He shook his head. “I’ll see you home; it’s only a little further.”
They grew silent, and it seemed like forever before they were at the threshold.
Vincent walked ahead of her and leaned back against the wall. “Catherine, I don’t know how to thank you for all that you did today.”
“You could hold me for little while.”
He spread his legs apart and she leaned into his chest for a hug while Vincent’s arms surrounded her. She nestled against him, and they lightly caressed each other. Vincent’s head dropped down, and it wasn’t long before they were both asleep.
Twenty minutes later, Vincent felt Catherine sliding in his arms. He grabbed her tightly and called to her. “Catherine.”
“Catherine...we fell asleep, wake up.”
Catherine’s head rolled to one side as she dreamed. “Vincent, honey, go to back to sleep.”
Vincent shook her lightly. “Catherine!”
She startled awake and looked at him with wide eyes. “I’m awake!”
“We fell asleep. You should head up and get a good night’s rest.”
Catherine turned towards the ladder and grumbled. “I would have slept better with you. Goodnight, Vincent.”
He barely choked out an answer at the implication she just made. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
Catherine slept late the next morning and didn’t get to work until well past 11:00.
She walked in and Joe came out to see her. “Radcliffe, where the hell did you go, yesterday?”
Catherine had forgotten she left work at lunch and never came back. She quickly searched for an excuse. “I ate lunch and then went to interview the cab driver from the Newbury case. He never showed up and then I didn’t feel good. I thought I might have had food poisoning. I actually went and saw Peter Alcott. I could get a note from him if you want...”
Joe rolled his eyes. “I don’t think I need proof, Cathy. You’re feeling better today, right?”
She nodded. “Yep!”
“Could you do me a favor? Check with Escobar on some information on that Chadwick case. Its gong to trial early...”
“Okay, I’ll get right on it.”
Catherine put in extra long hours to compensate for leaving early the day before. She got home late and went right to bed.
Vincent stopped by, but he could see through the windows that she was sleeping so he quietly left her trying not to disturb her.
Two days later, they stood together on her balcony.
“He’s better. He misses Ellie terribly, but he’s starting to heal. He’s not alone much, and the other kids have been good to him.”
Catherine smiled. “I’m glad. I don’t think I ever got a chance to tell you, but I found Anna.”
Vincent shook his head ruefully. “I told Dmitri you wouldn’t disappoint him.”
“Well, you’re wrong there. I walked up to an apartment and knocked at the door. When the door opened, I saw Anna was standing there in a wedding dress, celebrating.”
Vincent sighed at the irony. “She did get married then.”
“Yes,” Catherine nodded as she thought about Dmitri. “Poor man, to come so far only to have his dream turn to ash in his hands... Even if Dmitri had lived he would have found his Anna too late.”
“Perhaps he knew that even when he received her first letter.”
“And he came anyway?!”
“One either moves towards love or away from it, Catherine, there is no other direction.”
Catherine looked up and him and, at the same time, they reached for one another. Catherine melted into his embrace and Vincent tightened his arms around her.
A thought struck her suddenly and she leaned back to look him in the eyes. “Is that what we’re doing, Vincent? Moving towards love?”
“I…” Vincent’s heart began to pound. He was unsure how to answer the question, so he stayed silent as his mind raced with the possibilities.
Catherine slowly backed away from him and decided to change the subject. “The concert in the park...this Friday?”
He nodded shyly, grateful for the subject change. “Yes.”
“Will you feel up to it?”
“I’m well rested. Most of the people Below are back to good health. There are a few who still tire easily, but they’re back in their own beds and don’t need extra care.”
“So do you still want to go?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Catherine smiled. “Then I guess I should be ready for you to pick me up.”
“I’ll be here at 7:00.”
Vincent cocked his head as he looked at her curiously. “Catherine, I thought that you were looking forward to going. Now...you seem sad.”
Catherine sighed. “Vincent, I can’t wait to go with you. I just remembered Ellie singing and dancing in that last play.”
Vincent sighed as well. “She was good.”
“She seemed so happy.”
“She was happy, Catherine. She found a level of peace here and was able to be a child again. You gave her that gift.”
Catherine thought about his words, then smiled and reached out to touch his arm. “Thank you. I know she loved being here.”
“It was her home. She felt safe here.”
Catherine walked into his arms. “Yes, I know the feeling.”
Vincent returned her hug then stepped back. “Friday.”
She nodded. “Yes.”