BEHIND THE SCENES
SEASON 2

 

HALF SICK OF SHADOWS
THIRTEENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

Catherine woke up after another restless night and sat up in bed, rubbing at her temples, trying to will away a dull but persistent headache. She sighed aloud as her thoughts turned to Vincent.

It had been four weeks since he had sent her away, then left in the middle of the night to be alone. She missed him desperately and couldn’t help her constant state of worry. She knew he was struggling with the fact that he’d caused the deaths of the intruders. She also knew that what had happened really had been out of his control.

She blamed herself. If she had only listened to him and stayed Above ...

She shook off the train of her thoughts. She would have no regrets about that day. She knew that given the same circumstances, she would once again head Below to try to help in any way she could. Everyone who lived there had become like a family to her, and she cherished their lives more than her own. She would never be able to stay away from them if there was something in her power she could do to help.

Impulsively, she grabbed the phone and dialed the office. “Hey, Carrie. It’s Cathy.”  She waited for a response, then plunged ahead. “Can you tell Joe I’ll be late this morning? I’ve got some research I need to do ...”

She cringed at the little white lie, then waited for the answer before she hung up the phone. After a deep cleansing breath, she headed to the bathroom to take a shower. She finished in record time and grabbed her keys on the way out the door, then took the elevator to the basement level.

She walked the familiar path towards the home tunnels. Around every bend, she expected to see Vincent walking towards her, and she quickly became discouraged when it didn’t happen.

Lost in her thoughts, she frowned when she walked into a dead end. She gasped in surprise as she turned around, then looked back at the wall in front of her.  “I can’t believe I took a wrong turn ...” she grumbled as she back-tracked her way through the tunnel.

She came to a familiar junction and cocked her head quizzically. “I was right ...” she said aloud as she stared back at the way she’d just come.

A noise behind her had her spinning around, and her thoughts immediately jumped back to the intruders. She could see nothing behind her, but she constantly looked over her shoulder as she took a different path. Several more times she stopped and listened carefully to the sounds around her. She kept imagining she heard footsteps.

She stopped at Vincent’s chamber and frowned when she saw it was dark and cold. “Vincent ... come back to me ...” she murmured aloud.

Once again a strange noise had her frowning curiously as she made her way to the library.

“Catherine?!” Father greeted her warmly.

She looked over at him with a weak smile. “Hello, Father.” She looked behind her and then back at him before she shook her head and walked the rest of the way inside.

Father was concerned about her curious behavior and set down the book in his hands. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s silly I know ... but I keep hearing strange noises around me.”

Father frowned and nodded his head. “We all feel that way. It’s been an ordeal since the intruders were ...” He stopped himself and cleared this throat. “Well ... um ... we’re just now starting to relax again.” He motioned to an empty chair, and Catherine gratefully sat down and watched him pour her a cup of tea. He looked at her as he handed her the steaming cup.

“He’s still not back.”

Catherine chewed her bottom lip. “Do you think he’s okay?” she asked as she pinned him with a level stare.

Father looked away from her and sighed. “I know he’s ... physically fine. Mouse takes supplies to a way-station every few days. Each time he goes back, the supplies are missing.”

“How do you know it’s Vincent who's taking them?”

Father smiled for the first time. “He’s left a few brief notes. They don’t give me much indication of his thoughts and feelings, but at least I know he’s alive.”

He reached over to the drawer on the side of his desk and brought the notes out for Catherine to see. She opened the first one, and tears sprang to her eyes as she reverently ran a finger over the familiar scrawl: Arrived safely. V.

“That’s it?! That’s all he wrote?” Catherine grumbled as she opened the next note. I’m well was the next one, and Need more time, don’t worry was on the third. By the time she got to the fourth, she was starting to realize how alone he must truly feel. She let the tears fall when she saw his last note: I am working my way through it all slowly. V 

Father handed her a box of tissues, and she smiled gratefully as she took one and dabbed at her eyes. “The last one is more encouraging ...”

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you think it means he’ll be coming back soon?”

Mary walked in to overhear the last part of their conversation. “Let’s hope so, dear!”

“Hi, Mary.”

“Catherine,” Mary said as she hugged her. “It’s good to see you here again.”

“It’s good to be here again.” Catherine grew thoughtful, then chuckled. “I almost didn’t make it. I got lost and had to try a few different ways until I found a path that went all the way through.”

Father reddened with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry, Catherine. I’d forgotten about the extra measures we took when Vincent left. I never even thought about ... I mean ... I just didn’t realize ...”

Father was stammering, and Mary patted his shoulder affectionately. “Now, Father ...” She turned to Catherine and giggled. “He’s trying hard not to admit he forgot about you.”

Catherine had figured it out for herself and giggled along with Mary. “I suppose I could try to forgive him ... unless you think he did it on purpose?” she said with a wink.

Father looked horrified. “I would never do such a thing! It’s just that I have always taken for granted that Vincent would tell you ... what ... and with all the changes happening here Below ... and Vincent gone missing ...”

He seemed to be truly sorry and quite flustered, and Catherine couldn’t keep up her teasing any longer. She came over and impulsively kissed his cheek. “I was just teasing!”

He looked relieved as the two women sat down. Mary took Catherine’s hand and squeezed it affectionately. “You sounded so anxious earlier. You must miss him horribly.”

“We all miss him!” Father pointed out.

Mary ignored him and smiled at Catherine. “Do you need him back sooner for something? You could write him a letter and send it with Mouse ... I know he’d love to hear from you.”

Just then some of the children ran into the room.

“Look, Father!” cried Kipper. He was dressed as a pirate as he waved a sword in the air.

“I’m a mad scientist!” declared Eric with a smile on his face.

Samantha rolled her eyes as she walked up in a gown. “I’m Juliet.”

Catherine smiled. “Who’s Romeo?”

Samantha’s face fell as she looked at the ground. “I was hoping it would be Vincent, but I guess he won’t be back in time for Halloween.”

Geoffrey walked into the room dressed as Romeo and took Samantha’s hand. “I said I was sorry and that I’d try harder!”

“You’re only doing this ‘cause you lost the bet!” Samantha hollered.

“That’s not true!”

Mary had seen Catherine’s expression darken earlier, and she shooed the children out the door. “Go now and get out of those costumes before you ruin them. Halloween is only a few days away, and we won’t have time for repairs!”

Father hid his smile as they marched out. He caught Mary’s look and frowned as he looked back at Catherine.

Mary took Catherine’s hand again. “Were you hoping he’d be back for Halloween?”

Catherine wished she hadn’t been so transparent with her feelings. “We had such a beautiful time Above last year ... I guess I was just hoping ... My God! You must think I’m so selfish!”

Mary shook her head vehemently. “Not at all, dear. It’s only right that you want the one night Above that you can share safely.”

Father exploded. “Safely! There is no safety for Vincent in the world up top! I, for one, am glad to say that he won’t be going Above this year.”

Catherine sighed and looked down. “It’s just that entire night seemed so magical. We walked everywhere together and just talked and talked. My favorite part of the whole night was the carriage ride through Central Park ...”

Father gasped. “You let him get into a carriage? Did the driver look at him closely?”

Once again the two women ignored his outburst as Mary gushed. “Oh, Catherine, that’s so romantic!”

Catherine looked tentatively at Father, then back at Mary who was anxious to hear more. “The moon was out, and it cast such a beautiful glow on everything! I think Vincent truly enjoyed himself. ”

Father softened as he thought back to Vincent’s state of mind when he came back that next morning. Father had lectured him, but Vincent was in such a glorious mood the usual comments rolled off his back. Father shook his head in disbelief as he smiled coyly at Catherine. “You took him on a carriage ride in Central Park?”  

Catherine shrugged indifferently. “We were there and the thought just popped into my head and I asked Vincent to go with me.” She glanced at Father. “The driver was really nice, and we had no problems. I promise you ... I would never put Vincent in danger.”

Father was touched at Catherine’s attempt to ease his concern, but he was more touched that she had shown Vincent a wonderful time ... that Catherine had been able to have Vincent experience the kinds of things Father always deemed too dangerous.

Catherine continued on. “It was only one night, and I would gladly give it up if I knew Vincent was all right ...” She pulled herself away from her thoughts. “I’m sorry to trouble all of you. I’ll ... just wait to hear from him.”

Tears filled her eyes, and she looked away. Father grimaced again and touched her arm. “Dear, you’re always welcome to come Below and visit, even if Vincent is not around.”

Catherine blinked through her tears. “It’s hard to be here without him. I keep looking for him to walk into the room. I think I’ll just ...” She stood suddenly and grabbed her purse.

Mary stood and grabbed her hand. “Catherine, as soon as he gets back, we’ll send word.”

Catherine looked at Father, who nodded his confirmation. “Yes, of course.”

Catherine sighed. “Then I ... guess I better go to work today ...”

She hugged Mary, then Father, and headed back Above.

 

****************************************

 

It was now close to six weeks since Vincent disappeared. Catherine knew if he had returned Father would have kept his word and sent a message to her. She couldn’t remember how many times these past few weeks she had debated about taking a leave of absence and making Mouse go with her to find Vincent and bring him back. Each time, she calmed herself with the knowledge that, when Vincent had worked through all that happened, he would come back to her.

 

*****************************

Vincent spent all day slowly making his way back up from the lower tunnels. It was late, but he still headed directly to the library.

“Father.”

Father looked up, and his face held a mixture of relief and joy as he stood and went to Vincent to hug him fiercely. “It’s good to see you, son.”

Vincent lowered his head. “It’s good to be home, Father. I’m sorry you worried.”

Father kissed Vincent’s forehead. “You’re back now. That’s all that matters.”

Mary came into the room and smiled. “Vincent?!”

Vincent turned and held his arms out. Mary walked into them and gave him a hug.

She stepped back and shook her head. “I hardly recognize you! Look at you. You’re starting to fade away. You have shadows under your eyes, and I bet you’ve lost at least twenty pounds!”

Vincent hid his grin as he listened to Mary ramble on. He knew she would be fussing over him, and he was grateful she cared. “I’m fine, Mary.”

Mary shook her head. “You’re exhausted and malnourished and ...” She wrinkled her nose. “Dirty. You go take a bath this instant! You can visit with Father tomorrow.”

Vincent rolled his eyes. He had just bathed this morning and put on fresh clothing, but he decided to play along. “I would like to bathe in warm water for a change.”

Mary pushed on his back. “Good. I’ll take your duffel bag to the laundry room and then I’ll get you a tray from William. That should give you plenty of time to take a bath.”

Vincent looked at Father, who smiled in amusement. “Better listen to her, son.”

Vincent nodded and headed to the bathing chamber. In no time at all, he’d washed his hair and his body and dressed. He was sitting in his chamber when Mary brought in his tray of food.

“Now eat all of this, and brush your teeth before you go to bed.”

Father walked into the room and laughed. “Mary, you’ve been saying that to him for over thirty years! I think he knows the routine by now.”

Mary blushed with embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I’m so used to mothering the children ... I guess I forgot who I was talking to.”

Vincent smiled. “Yes, but I haven’t forgotten how nice it is to have someone who cares about you taking the time to make sure you’re all right.”

Mary smiled. “Oh, that reminds me. You need to send word to Catherine that you’re back. The poor girl was beside herself with worry. I’m sure she’ll race right down here to see you.”

Vincent looked away guiltily. “Perhaps tomorrow ...”

Mary’s hands went to her hips in indignation. “Tomorrow! Why on earth can’t you take a minute to write a few lines right now ...”

Father wondered at Vincent’s strange reaction. “Mary!” he warned.

Mary stopped immediately. “Um ... I should check on the children. Kipper and Eric have both had the sniffles ...” She left, and Vincent sat there, looking forlorn.

Father clasped a hand on his shoulder. “Son, have something to eat before it gets cold.”

Vincent looked at the tray. Even though his stomach had clenched into knots at the mention of Catherine, he knew he couldn’t allow the food to go to waste. He sat down and began to eat. Six weeks of light meals had taken its toll, and he ended up devouring the meal in front of him.

“Good!” Father smiled weakly. “That should set you on a path to a full recovery.”

“Father ... please don’t worry so ... I’m fine ... really. I’m just ... tired.”

Father knew there was more going on inside Vincent’s head, but he was unwilling at this point to push the issue. “Well, then I’ll leave you to your sleep ...”

“Goodnight, Father.”

“I’ll send word that you’re back, but not to be disturbed for any reason.”

“Thank you.”

“Sleep well, Vincent.”

Father left the room and tapped a message to Pascal, who in turn sent it out over the pipes.

******************************

Father was in his chamber getting ready for bed when Mary walked in.

“Father, I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“That’s all right, Mary. What is it? One of the children?”

“Yes, but not one of the younger ones.”

“Who, Mary?”

“Vincent. Something’s dreadfully wrong.”

Father sighed and sat on the edge of his bed. “I know.”

“He should be contacting her, going to her.”

“I know.”

“Did he say anything to you? Give any indication as to why he didn’t go to see her immediately upon his arrival ...”

“No.”

Mary began to pace. “It’s not like him. Before the ...well ... before ... he would have gone to her no matter what time of night it was.”

“I know.”

“Father, this is inexcusable! That poor girl loves him more than life itself. For him to treat her so coldly is the cruelest ...”

“Mary!” Father again interrupted her. “I know.”

Mary stopped her tirade and sat down on the bed next to him. “Catherine deserves better. Not just for what she means to Vincent, but what she means to the whole tunnel community. She has become an important part of all of our lives.”

“I know.”

“Then do something about it.”

Father shrugged. “What would you have me do? What would you have me say?”

“Something more helpful than I know to say or do.”

Father smiled and reached over and took her hand, then squeezed it lightly. “Tomorrow. I’ll speak to Vincent tomorrow, first thing.”

“Will you send word to Catherine?”

“Yes.” She looked at him uncertainly, and he nodded. “I promise you, Mary. If Vincent won’t send word, I’ll get a message to Catherine.”

Mary smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.” Suddenly she realized where she was, and she got up quickly from the bed.

“Goodnight, Mary.”

“Night, Father.”

******************************

The next morning, Father made his way towards Vincent’s chamber. He was surprised when he saw Vincent sitting up in a chair with young Amy on his lap. Vincent was reading from a Dr. Suess book, and Amy was giggling and squirming on his lap.

Father smiled, then quickly put on a stern face. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Father,” Vincent said.

“Mornin, Fadder.” Amy smiled.

Father found a chair and sat down by them. “Amy, I’m surprised to see you here this morning.”

Amy put her finger in her mouth. “Vincent wanted to read to me.”

Vincent hid his smile as Father looked away quickly to hide his own smile. His face was stern once again when he looked back. “Vincent wanted to read to you?”

“Uh huh.”

“And how did you know this?”

“I shooked his arm and asked him.”

Father nodded seriously. “You shooked his arm, and he got up from a sound sleep and said he wanted to read to you.”

Amy frowned thoughtfully. “It wasn’t a sound sleep. He was making lots of noise like this ...” Amy imitated a snore, and Vincent covered his face to hide his laughter.

Father bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, but his eyes sparkled as he looked at her. “That’s a noise people make when they are sleeping.”

“But he wasn’t asleep,” Amy protested. “I called his name, and his eyes were open.”

“Yes, because you woke him up.”

Amy’s bottom lip stuck out and began to quiver as she looked at Vincent. “I wokeded you up ... I sorry.”

Vincent hugged her gently. “It’s okay, Amy. It was time for me to get up anyway.”

Father looked at her quizzically again. “Amy, didn’t you see the sign outside Vincent’s door.”

“Yes.”

“Well, it says do not disturb.”

Amy frowned again. “But I can’t read.”

“I know, that’s why I had Pascal send ...”

“Father?” Amy interrupted.

“Yes, dear.”

“I have to go potty. Bad ...”

Father rolled his eyes. “Okay, hurry then.”

Amy shot off Vincent’s lap and ran to the door as Father called out directions. “Go get dressed and then get ready for breakfast ...”

Vincent chuckled at him. “I’m not sure she heard you.”

Father sighed. Years of experience taught him that the girl had heard his orders. “She heard. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Better. I slept well.”

“Felt good to be back in your own bed?”

“Yes.”

Father looked away nervously. “Um ... I was wondering if you are planning to send word to Catherine today?”

Vincent sighed and grabbed the candle in front of him and started to fiddle with the drips of dried wax. “I’ve ... decided to ... limit my contact with Catherine.”

“What?!” Father gasped.

“I don’t think I’ll be spending as much time with her as I have in the past.”

“Oh ... I see.” Father said. The shock of the words settled in his mind. “Can I ask what brought this on?”

“I’ve given it a lot of thought, Father. Catherine deserves someone better than me, someone who is not so ... flawed.”

Father knew if Catherine were here she would explode in anger. “You’re not flawed, Vincent.”

“I’m not normal either. I’ve thought about this for a while. It’s already been a few months now. She’s used to me not being in her life. The transition should be easier.”

Father looked down, knowing that it wouldn’t be any easier on Catherine. A small part of him agreed with Vincent, but an even bigger part of him thought Vincent was making a huge mistake. “It’s up to you, Vincent. I’ll stay out of it.” Vincent’s relief was short lived as Father spoke again. “But ... Catherine has become an important part of our community, and I will not let her feel as if she has been cast aside. The last time she was here I promised I would send word upon your return.”

Vincent nodded as he stood and nonchalantly shrugged. “Then you must keep your word.”

Mouse chose that time to run into the chamber. Father frowned with anger. “Mouse! Did you not get the message from Pascal or see the note in the tunnel way?”

“Leave Vincent alone ... right?”

“Yes!” Father said angrily.

Mouse waved his hand dismissively. “Not mean Mouse. Vincent’s my friend.”

Vincent jumped at the chance to change the subject. “Yes, you are Mouse. It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you ... eat now?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, breakfast sounds wonderful right now.”

Father watched the two men leave, and he shook his head with worry. He walked back to his chamber, composed a note to Catherine, then sent it by messenger. His heart was heavy as he slowly made his way to the dining chamber.

During breakfast, Vincent visited with the tunnel community. It seemed like everyone had a kind word to express their relief that he was back among them again. Later, Vincent went into the library to borrow a book. He suddenly felt a coldness sweep through his body. He shrugged off the feeling and went back to his chamber to read.

 

************************************

 

Catherine went to work, but her thoughts, as usual, were of Vincent. She went to court with Joe, and at lunch break they headed out to find something to eat.

“Italian?” Joe asked, but Catherine shook her head.

“Mexican?” he asked.

She wrinkled her nose. “Had that two nights ago.”

“Chinese?” Joe asked hopefully.

She grimaced. “Last night. Sorry.”

“Geez, Chandler. Don’t you cook?”

“Not often.”

“Well, there’s a little diner around the corner. We could grab a burger.”

Catherine ignored him. She gazed through a store window, then impulsively walked towards the door. She had been searching for the right gift to present to Vincent. She had hoped to take his mind off of the horrendous incident with the intruders, and although deep down she knew the memory could never be erased, she hoped it would gently nudge it to the back of his mind.

“Cathy! This is a book store, not a burger joint!”

“I’ll only be a minute, Joe.”

The shop owner came forward to talk to Catherine. Joe groaned aloud – she was going to be a while. He left her alone to shop while he went to get something to eat.

Mr. Smythe, the shop owner, listened to her requests, then directed her towards the English poetry section. Catherine was glancing from title to title when a rumpled looking man suddenly appeared and handed her a book. Catherine looked at him quizzically, but realized upon opening the book that it was absolutely perfect. Just what she wanted. When she looked up to thank him, the man was gone. She looked down the aisles as she made her way up to the register, then shrugged the incident off, paid for the book, and left with Joe.

Discouraged by another set-back in the case, Joe and Catherine hurried to the elevator to get to their office only to become separated. Joe headed up in the crowded elevator, leaving Catherine to wait for the next car. Before it arrived, she was approached by the very man who had recommended the book she bought at the bookstore.

He told her he was a painter, and Catherine was surprised when he asked her to model for him. He gave her a business card that he quickly took back when she declined his offer.

Later on, she was immersed in work when her phone rang.

“Catherine Chandler. Can I help you?”

“Hey, Cath. It’s me.”

“Hey, Jen! I was just thinking about you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I thought we could meet for a drink after work.”

“Ooh ... a nice big margarita?”

“If that’s what you want ...”

“That’s what I’d order if I could come.”

“Aww, Jen. Really? You can’t make it?”

“No, I’ve got some deadlines coming up, and there is no way I’m getting out of here before ... I don’t know ... tomorrow. But what’s up? Tell me why you’re so anxious to see me.”

“I met a guy today ...”

“It’s about time! You’ve been single since you dumped Tom. Is he cute?”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Not that kind of guy. Just a regular guy.”

“So ... Is he cute?”

“Yeah I guess ... in a rumpled shirt, baseball hat, hasn’t shaved in a week kinda way.”

“Oh,” Jenny said with disappointment. “Not quite up to standards of the guys you normally date.”

“I am not dating him! I just met him. He found a book I was looking for in a book store.”

“Well ... that means he can read. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“He must have followed me from the bookstore to my office. He’s an artist, Jen. He asked me to model for him.”

“Oh, no!”

“Yes!”

“Are you sure he’s telling you the truth?”

“He showed me his business card ... right before he took it back.

“And this took place at your work? You’re kidding me!?”

“Would I kid you, Jen? Right down in the lobby.”

“Then he took back his card?”

“Yes, he said it was his only one.”

Jenny laughed. “He sounds like an artist all right!”

Jenny went on to tell Catherine how she had once posed nude for an old boyfriend, only to discover, when he was finished, that she wasn’t even in the picture.

Joe came up and Catherine ended the call with Jenny. He had overheard the conversation and warned Catherine about posing for the guy. He pried Kristopher Gentian’s name out of Catherine, then nonchalantly walked away.

With a quick glance to see if Catherine was paying attention to him, he went to see Rita.

“Escobar, I need a favor.”

“Yeah, Joe.”

“Dig up any information you can on a Kristopher Gentian.”

“Isn’t he that artist guy Cathy met?”

Joe flushed guiltily. “Maybe.”

“You’re asking for trouble, Joe.”

“Not if I find out anything bad about him. Just do it, okay.”

“You’re the boss.”

“Look, Rita, I just want to make sure he’s on the up and up.”

“Okay,”

“Thanks, and keep this quiet, okay? I’ll hear about it later from her.”

 

*************************

 

Catherine came back from getting files from Rita when she saw a sandwich on her desk. She raced over and dug out the note she knew would be enclosed.

Joe was walking over, and she quickly hid the note under a file. “Hey, Joe.”

“Hey Radcliffe ...” He noticed the sandwich on her desk. “Never mind. I was gonna ask if you wanted to grab a bite, but I see you already got lunch.”  He looked around for the deliveryman. “Great, now I missed the chance to buy something too.”

“Joe, I brought leftovers from dinner last night. Take it,” she said as she held up the sandwich.

“Why’d you buy this then?”

“I didn’t,” Catherine said mysteriously.

Joe frowned, then grabbed the sandwich. “Thanks. Let me buy you a Coke.”

Catherine nodded. “Okay. Make it a diet though.”

“Geez, really?”

“What?”

“You’ve had a diet pop every day for lunch since you started work here, but I’m glad you told me what you like.”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “You know me so well ...”

“I know everything about you, Chandler,” he said quietly, as he walked away.

Catherine grabbed the note from under the file. “Not everything ...”

She hid her disappointment when she noticed it wasn’t Vincent’s handwriting.

Catherine,

He returned last night. All seems well ...

Father

With relief, Catherine sat back in her seat, though tears formed in her eyes. Joe walked up again, and Catherine quickly blinked them away.

Joe frowned. “You all right, Cath?”

“Yeah, I ... um … yawned.”

“Huh. Thanks for lunch.”

Joe left, and Catherine grabbed her purse and headed for the bathroom. She locked herself in a stall as the tears fell from her eyes and thoughts raced through her mind.

I can’t believe he came back last night but didn’t come to see me. Now Father sends me word of his return. What can he be thinking? My God, what did he go through down there? Oh, Vincent. Please come to me tonight ...

Over the next few nights, Catherine slept with a light on and the curtains open. Throughout the night, she would awaken when she thought she heard footsteps, and she would race to the balcony. By the third day, she was exhausted and thought she saw shadows moving in her living room. When she went to look, she found the room empty.

On the fourth day, Catherine broke down and wrote Father a note.

Father,

Thank you for the news. I’ve been waiting patiently for him to come to me, but to no avail.

Please tell him I will be at the park entrance tonight at 10:30.

Love, Catherine

She sent it by messenger first thing in the morning and extracted a promise from Benny that it would be delivered by noon. 

 

***************************************

 

Father received the message, sat back in his chair, and nodded gratefully. He should’ve known Catherine would come through for him. He should’ve known she would not sit idly by. He should’ve known she would demand a face-to-face confrontation with Vincent.

This could be just the ticket, he thought. Vincent had moped around for four days. Sure, he’d gone back to performing all his old duties: teaching, sentry duty, tunnel maintenance. He did them all automatically; the spark seemed to be gone from his life. The smiles he gave never quite reached his eyes, and a constant sadness could always be seen in them.

Vincent walked into the library.

“Ah, Vincent! I was just coming to find you.”

“What is it, Father?”

“I ... uh ... just received a note from Catherine.”

Vincent hid his face as he looked down.  “Yes.”

“She asked me to convey a message to you. She’ll be at the culvert entrance in the park tonight at 10:30.”

“Father, please send her word that I won’t be able to come,” Vincent pleaded.

“No!” Vincent looked up in shock as Father crossed his arms in front of his chest. “If you want to break her heart, you’ll have to do it yourself.”

“Father!”

Mary walked into the room. “Whose heart is getting broken?” she said, as she set a basket of clothes on the table for Father.

Father sighed. “Catherine’s.”

Mary whipped around. “Oh, Vincent. Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Poor Catherine,” Mary gushed unhappily. “She seems like such a sweet girl. Whatever’s happened between you two can surely be resolved.”

“It is resolved, Mary. I only asked Father to let her know I won’t be able to come to a meeting she hoped to arrange.”

“And I told you no, Vincent. I won’t. That girl deserves better than what you’re doing to her!”  

Mary nodded. “He’s right, Vincent. If you no longer want to see her, then tell her that yourself. Don’t leave her hanging on to false hope.”

Vincent sat down heavily in a chair. “I can’t.”

“You must!” Father demanded.

Tears formed in Vincent’s eyes as he looked up and pleaded with them. “I can’t.”

Father exploded with anger. “Put aside your personal relationship with Catherine for a moment. She is a well-loved helper of this community who deserves to be heard. She’s asked to speak with you, and as leader of this community I demand that you take the time to hear what she has to say. Now, will you go to see her?”

Vincent’s head hung until he finally nodded. “Yes.”

“Thank you.”

Father turned back to Mary, and the two started to discuss the children’s upcoming physicals. Vincent quietly slipped from the room. 

Mary noticed his departure and looked worriedly at Father. “You’re forcing him to go ...”

“Yes.”

“Why, Father? You’re making him see her. Don’t you think it will be too hard for him to do? I’m worried about his mental state.”

“I am too, Mary. That’s why I’m making him see her.”

Mary looked at him quizzically, then smiled at him knowingly. “You know he won’t be able to break it off with her.”

Father nodded. “He loves her too much.”

“So, when he sees her, he’ll be reminded of that and ...”

“And all will be well again.” His smile turned to a frown. “Hopefully! I can only pray that I’m making the right decision.”

“That’s the beauty of it, Father. You’re not making the decision. Vincent is … with just the gentlest of pushes.”

Father chuckled. “Let’s pray it works out.”

“It will. I just can’t wait to see the sparkle in his eyes again.”

“Me too.”

 

*********************************

Catherine arrived at 10:20 and slowly paced around the front of the entrance. Twenty minutes later, she walked inside the culvert and stood in front of the steel gate. She struggled with the decision of going in or not. This is the only world he has. I can’t just … invade … it if he doesn’t want to see me. She walked back outside and paced again for another ten minutes. She finally gave up and leaned against the wall and waited. Ten minutes later, she glanced at her watch. He was thirty minutes late. With a sigh, she shoved off from the wall and began to walk away.

She’d only walked a few steps when she turned at a sound behind her. Vincent came out of the shadows, his face partially hidden beneath his hood. Catherine felt no warmth from him, and the bond remained silent.

She looked at him tentatively. “It’s been so long. I was afraid ...”

“That I might not come,” Vincent interrupted her. “I was ... away. There’s a place ... miles beneath the city, a nameless river that runs through the darkness. Sometimes I go there.”

Catherine wanted to ask why he still hadn’t come to see her, but instead she stepped forward tentatively. “I wanted you to have this.”

Vincent took the gift and looked at it. “Tennyson,” he said as he flipped through the first few pages. “First edition.”

“I’ve always loved Idylls of the King. I even knew some of it by heart. Some nights I dreamt of Camelot ... and Lancelot.”

Vincent knew how expensive and hard to come by first editions were, and he secretly cherished the gift. He felt his heart beginning to soften, and he knew he had to stay strong if he wanted to set her free. “Lancelot was fatally flawed,” he said. “Destined never to find the grail.”

“Still, he was the greatest knight of all.”

Over the course of the weeks he spent in solitude, Vincent had convinced himself she would look at him again and the only thing he would be able to see in her eyes would be disgust. Now, he chanced a look over at her and saw only her love and acceptance. He felt the coldness melt from his heart. In its place was only uncertainty.

Catherine felt the change in him and bravely stepped forward. She embraced him and sighed in relief when she felt his arms enclose her. They hugged tightly as the bond filled once again with feelings of love. Catherine leaned back and saw the love in his eyes, then touched her forehead to his before they hugged even tighter.

Vincent pulled away and lowered his face in shame. “Catherine ... I’m ... sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“I came here tonight fully intending to set you free. But … I don’t have the strength to do it. Forgive me.”

Catherine felt his words pierce her heart, but she admired his honesty. “I’m glad you don’t have the strength. I wouldn’t either. I don’t want whatever we have to end. I won’t let you set me free.”

“But there is so much more you can do with your life ...”

“My life and my heart are here with you, Vincent. Always.”

They hugged again, and Catherine leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Vincent backed away and looked up at the stars.

“I haven’t been Above since ...”

Vincent stopped and Catherine held his hand. For the first time she noticed the night. “It’s beautiful tonight.”

“Yes. I should ask you to come Below, but it’s so nice to be back outside.”

“Would you like to take a walk?”

He looked uncertainly into the park and thought of the dangers that lurked in the shadows. Knowing he was not ready to play the role of protector, he shook his head. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet, but I could read for awhile ...” he said shyly.

“I’d love to listen.”

Vincent began to read, and Catherine let the sound of his voice wash over her. She felt the tension between them melt away as they both fell under the spell of the story. Suddenly, a voice carried to them from nearby. She pushed Vincent into the culvert, then quickly walked away.

She was shocked to find out the person whom they overheard was Kristopher. She angrily stomped away, but he followed behind her like a lost puppy.

Catherine fought to keep her anger going when she realized Kristopher was a very likeable person. He begged her to go get coffee with him. Wondering how clearly he’d actually seen Vincent, she relented and agreed to go with him, hoping to find out how much he knew.

 

******************************

 

Below, Vincent hid just inside the sliding door, waiting for any sign that Catherine was in trouble. He felt her fear, then relief, followed by anger, and now … amusement. With a shake of his head, he headed to the library.

“Vincent?” Father said in surprise as Vincent walked in. “You’re back already?”

“Yes.”

“Did you meet with Catherine?”

“Yes.”

Father frowned as he tried to read his son’s emotions. “So ... um ... how did things go?”

Vincent seemed to notice him for the first time. “Things are fine, Father.”

“Everything’s back to normal? You two have ... made up?”

Vincent balked at the unfamiliar term “Yes, we ... made up.”

“Where is she now? Did she have to leave?”

“No ... Yes ... I ... Something happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was reading aloud when a voice carried through the trees. It was a man, and he continued the story Catherine and I were reading.”

Father gasped. “Did he see you?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps a glimpse.”

“A glimpse? And if he thinks about what he saw, if he wonders about it? Vincent, do you realize the risk?”

“I’ve lived with that risk all my life. Do you think I could ever forget it?”

“I think sometimes ... you grow careless ... especially of late. You and Catherine lose yourselves in the moment.”

Vincent scoffed. “And in the night and the stars ...”

“And in each other ...”

“No! That is not how it was. I heard all of the stirrings of the city: the distant sound of traffic, the wind rustling in the foliage, someone skipping stones across the lagoon.”

“So how could this man creep up on you unawares?”

“I don’t know!”

“Well, there must be a rational explanation.”

“Fine! Tell me what it is.”

“I ... don’t know. Was Catherine followed?”

Vincent shrugged. “She pushed me inside the culvert. I felt her fear for the briefest of time, then her disbelief and anger. Now ... she seems relaxed.”

“So it’s possible that it’s someone she knows. She should be able to run interference for you. Perhaps you’ve gotten lucky and not been seen.”

“Father, I’m sure if there was any danger, Catherine would get a message to me.”

Father nodded, knowing Vincent was right. Catherine had proven herself time and time again, and Father knew she would protect Vincent with her dying breath. “I agree. Let’s just hope she’s able to protect you this time.” Father sat down heavily and looked back at Vincent. “So things are ... cleared up between you two?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Catherine is a fine woman, Vincent.”

Vincent looked at him quizzically. “I thought you didn’t approve of my relationship with Catherine.”

“It’s not that I don’t approve of it so much as it … scares me.”

“Scares you? Why?!”

“I’m afraid of where it might eventually lead.”

Vincent knew he was referring to a sexual relationship. He blushed. “Father ...”

“Hear me out, Vincent. Catherine is a healthy woman, who at one time has been with other men. I can see you two growing closer every day! What will you do when the time comes to ...”

Vincent sighed. “I’ll deal with it then. Right now, I’m just happy she’s back in my life.”

“Me too.” Father smiled weakly.

“I’m going to bed, Father. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Vincent.”

 

*******************************

 

Vincent walked towards his chamber, stopping only long enough to grab his cloak. He headed to Catherine’s apartment and waited patiently on her balcony. Although he was anxious to see her, he enjoyed looking out into the city. An hour passed before he finally heard her key in the door.

Catherine saw his familiar outline and headed outside. “Vincent.” She ran into his arms and hugged him. 

“I was worried. I felt your fear, but it quickly went away. I knew you were all right. Did you know the man?”

“Sort of. I met him in the bookstore. He gave me the book I bought for you. When I looked up to thank him, he was gone. I didn’t think anything of it until later on when he approached me at my office building.”

“He followed you?”

“I guess. He seems harmless enough. His name in Kristopher Gentian. He’s an artist. He asked me to model for him.”

“Model for him?”

“Nothing bad, just sit in a chair, let him sketch my face.”

Vincent frowned suspiciously. “And you trust this man?”

Catherine giggled. “I didn’t until he told me I could bring my boyfriend along to protect me.”

Vincent found the humor in that and smiled at her. “That could be interesting.”

“That’s exactly what I said!”

Vincent grew serious. “Still, I think you should be cautious.”

“I will, Vincent.”

Catherine went into his arms for a brief hug. She smiled as she pulled away, then offered him a quick kiss. “It’s late.”

“Goodnight, Catherine.”

“Night, Vincent. See you soon?”

“Yes,” he said and disappeared over the wall.

***************************************

 

Something woke Catherine from a sound sleep. She sat up in bed and thought she saw a shadow dart into her kitchen. She slipped from beneath the covers and quietly dug her gun out of her nightstand, then slowly made her way into the kitchen. Her heart beat wildly as she flicked on the light and looked into the empty room. She glanced around the room, then at her front door where all of her locks were in place.

With a frown, she headed back to bed, only to wake an hour later when she felt someone was in her bedroom. She let her eyes open just a slit and saw what she thought was a shadow in her bathroom. She lay there and stared at the door, then, when no one came out of her bathroom, she again got the gun out and headed to the bathroom. Again, a flick of the light switch revealed no one in the room.

 

****************************************

 

Vincent was walking through the tunnels that night, but stopped often to look around. He kept hearing what sounded like footsteps. He cocked his head and tried to hear the sounds again, but they never came. But when he would resume walking, he would hear it again. A few times he whirled around, only to see the shadows on the wall playing tricks with his eyes.

He couldn’t shake off the feeling of being watched as he walked into his chamber. He frowned when he noticed the room had a different ‘feel’ to it, but he shrugged and climbed into bed where he promptly fell asleep. Several times throughout the night, he woke up, a feeling of coldness surrounding him. He pulled up another blanket and, after a quick glance around the chamber, went back to sleep.

 

*************************************

 

Catherine was thinking about Kristopher the next day at work.

Joe came up and questioned why she hadn’t completed the paperwork for one of her cases, and she admitted she was out with Kristopher. Joe came clean and admitted he’d had him investigated.

Catherine blew up with anger, but it was short lived. She realized Kristopher had lied to her. He wasn’t who he claimed to be.

A thought suddenly crossed her mind and she gasped. Why hadn’t it registered sooner? He had been begging her to go for coffee with him, and he promised not to talk about Vincent! How could he have known Vincent’s name? She tried to hurry through the files Joe wanted so she could take off at lunch and warn Vincent.

But instead of heading Below, she decided to ask the bookstore owner a few questions. She walked into Joe’s office. “Joe, going back to the bookstore.”

“Goody for you, Radcliff.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve got me curious. I thought I would ask the store owner a few questions about Kristopher.”

Joe looked up from his file. “Are you going alone?”

Catherine snorted sarcastically. “No, I have a call out to the Marines to meet me there.”

Joe rolled his eyes. “You’re real funny, Radcliff. Did it ever cross your mind that the old man and this Kristopher guy could be doing something illegal?”

“Kristopher?” Catherine asked with surprise. “I’m sure he’s okay, Joe.”

“What about the old man?” Catherine had no answer. Joe pushed back his chair and stood. “You won’t mind if I go along with you?”

Catherine threw up her arms in surrender. “No. Let me get my purse.”

Joe and Catherine walked to the bookstore.

“Geez, Cathy. All of this because you’re just too damned trusting.”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Not everyone you meet is a serial killer, Joe.”

“No! But a guy who comes up to you on the streets of New York and asks you to model for him should send up red flags.”

“It did! That’s why I’m going to ask the bookstore owner if he knows Kristopher.”

“Five will get you ten he doesn’t come clean about it.”

Catherine made a face at him and entered the bookstore. Not ten minutes later, she had to admit Joe was right. The man didn’t know anything about Kristopher.

Catherine frowned as she made her way back to the office. Kristopher knew of Vincent, and she needed to find out how. She needed to find Kristopher.

Back at work, she headed over to Rita’s office.

“Hey, Rita. I need a favor. Can you run a check on a Kristopher Gentian?”

Rita handed her a file and held up her hands. “Joe already asked me to do it. I told him you’d be mad.”

Catherine smiled. “I know he did it because he cares. I do need to know what you found out though.”

Rita told Catherine all about Kristopher’s death. She also went on to explain that the owner of a bookstore, a Mr. Smythe, had to identify Kristopher’s body.

Catherine knew then that Mr. Smythe had lied to her!

********************************

 

All day long, Vincent felt as if he was being watched. He kept looking around, but there was never anyone there.

He finally gave up and went to the library. “Father.”

Father looked up from his ledger. “Yes, Vincent what is it?”

“I have the strangest feelings lately.”

“What kind of feelings?”

Vincent began to pace. “Like I’m being watched. Like someone is always behind me or lurking in the shadows up ahead.”

Father frowned. “Vincent, I can tell you that many of us felt like that for weeks after ... the intruders. You’ve only just returned home. Give it awhile, and I’m betting things will be back to normal.”

Vincent nodded at the plausible explanation. “Yes, perhaps you’re right.”

“It happens mostly when you’re alone, right? You imagine you hear a strange shuffle or even a footfall directly behind you ...”

“Yes!”

“All normal reactions of people who have been through the kind of ordeal we were put through.”

“You went through this as well?”

“For a few weeks ...”

Vincent sighed. “I slept poorly last night. I think I’ll go lie down awhile and rest before my sentry duty tonight.”

“Good idea.”

Vincent went to his chamber and tried to rest. He was starting to relax when he heard a strange grating sound in his chamber. He listened carefully and heard it again. Getting up out of bed, he grabbed a candle to investigate the source of the sound.

Mouse ran into the room.

Vincent asked him to tell Father that he was going to see Narcissa.

 

Narcissa saw Vincent coming long before he showed up. She also saw a spirit walking alongside of him. Alarmed, she chanted quietly as she peered closer into the waters and saw it meant no harm.

When she heard his footfall, she called out. “Vincent! Come.”

Vincent looked surprised. “You heard me approach?”

“I saw you in the waters ...” Narcissa felt his disbelief. “Oh yes, child, come look.”

“All I see is ripples and reflections ... the flame of the candle.”

“You are your father’s son.”

“What do you see?” Vincent wondered.

“Da past, da future, faces of da dead. Spirits seek their own level too, Vincent, like the waters ... But I am a crazy old woman. Ask the Father. Did he tell you ghost stories when you were young, child?”

“I ... fled the headless horseman, rode in Kipling’s phantom rickshaw. Yes, I remember Marley’s ghost.”

“Bound by chains he forged in life ... But there are other kinds of chains, Vincent. Fear, love, hate ... dreams.”

Vincent was again surprised that she knew why he was coming to see her, but his biggest concern was for Catherine and what she ... what they ... were experiencing. “Your world has room for spirits, Narcissa. Catherine lives in another world, a world where ghosts walk only in stories.”

“Are you so sure, child? Come here ... look again ... Open your eyes ... look deep ... Could such a being as this walk the world your Catherine lives in?”

The waters stilled, and Vincent could clearly see his reflection. “I don’t know what to believe.”

“Da spirits are not there to harm. Sometimes dey need our help.”

“How, Narcissa? How can I help?”

“Listen ... learn ... open you’re mind to the possibilities ... Help him with his dreams.”

Vincent's mind wandered as he lowered his head. He knew all about dreams and possibilities. “I’ll do as you say, Narcissa.”

“Good, child. When the chains to life are broken, the spirit can finally be at rest.”

“What if the spirit doesn’t want to be at rest?”

Narcissa smiled as she chuckled. “There may be hope for you yet, Veencent. Ask the spirit ... He’ll tell you what he wants.”

Vincent was confused, but knew, in time, all she spoke of would be revealed. He picked up a basket from the table and handed it to her. “This is a package from William. Please accept it with my gratitude.”

“Ah ... food for da body. But I have my own nourishment, Veencent.”

“Yes, but William has sent some of those cakes you like so well and some of his stew.”

Narcissa lifted the towel from off the top of the basket and let the aromas fill the air. “He has labored much to make this ... I will take it and send with you my thanks.”

“Narcissa, I’ll come see you again soon. Please send a message if you need anything.”

Narcissa had returned to putting herbs and spices in her water. “Go, child. Help Kristopher with his dream.”

As Vincent walked back to the home tunnels, his head filled with images from the dreams he’d been having lately. Over and over, he saw a young boy locked inside of a trunk, scribbling circles in coloring books. He stopped suddenly when Narcissa’s words came back to him.

“Help Kristopher with his dream?” he said aloud, as he puzzled over the odd comment. He shook his head in confusion as he started to walk again.  

Again, several times, he felt as though he wasn’t alone and would turn around to find no one there. With a sigh, he quickened his pace. Once he was near the home tunnels, he felt a pull in another direction. He followed it blindly, and as he got closer, the need to hurry became more urgent.

 

************************** 

 

After work, Catherine angrily confronted Mr. Smythe at his bookstore. He sheepishly admitted he hated talking about Kristopher’s ghost.

Catherine questioned him further and discovered that Kristopher’s paintings were still in a warehouse, and she realized that she was being used for publicity purposes. She could already see the headlines: DA’s Office Finds Stolen Art.

“What’s the address?”

Mr. Smythe reluctantly handed it to her, and Catherine left to go see if she could find the art. She parked in front of the warehouse and saw that the door was locked with a heavy padlock. She got back in the car, and, as her headlights hit the lock, she saw it open in front of her. Curious, she got out of the car and made her way inside.

Walking through the dark warehouse, Catherine nervously kept her eyes peeled for anyone. She startled when her flashlight suddenly went out. She tapped its side. It came back on, and she jumped when it shone on Vincent’s face.

Relief flooded instantly through her when she saw him. “Vincent! For a minute there I thought ... Thank God it’s you! I’ll tell you I’m ...”

“Half sick of shadows?” he finished for her.

“Yes! I’ll tell you, I was ready to give up before you unlocked the door.”

“Catherine ... I didn’t unlock any doors.”

“Then ...”

A noise behind them had Vincent whirling and taking off in hot pursuit of a figure. Vincent caught up to Kristopher and whirled him around to face him.

Kristopher gave him an endearing smile. “Hi.”

Vincent stepped back and realized for the first time in his life what it was like to meet someone new who showed no reaction whatsoever to his unusual features.

Catherine accused Kristopher of faking his own death, as the man led them through the warehouse. His possessions were tucked away in a back corner. Vincent helped Kristopher move the chest he’d seen countless times in his dreams. It was filled with coloring books and crayons. Vincent wondered silently why these meager possessions were so important.

Soon enough, Kristopher’s paintings were revealed. Catherine and Vincent marveled over their beauty until Vincent looked up and realized Kristopher had disappeared.

“Oh, Kristopher, these are wonderful! Where on ...” Catherine began. She looked around and saw he wasn’t there anymore. “I hate it when he does this.”

“He’s gone, Catherine. I have no sense of him.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Is it?”

“Well, he must be hiding somewhere. Maybe there’s another door.”

“Or a magical one.”

“I don’t believe in magic.”

“Then … what is all this?”

Catherine sighed. “I don’t know!”

“Kristopher’s life revolved around his work. Perhaps he needs our help to show the world his talent.”

“I don’t know what to do with them. They’re too beautiful to leave sitting in a forgotten warehouse.”

“Perhaps you can find a way to sell them?”

“Me?!”

“He trusts you.”

“Kristopher?”

“Yes. That’s the reason he keeps coming back to you. He knows you can help.”

“I could use his advice on how I’m supposed to do that!” she said loudly to the empty room, hoping Kristopher would hear.

“We’ll find a way. I’ll ask Father. Perhaps there are some helpers who can offer advice.”

Catherine nodded. “There’s a foreclosure sign on the front of the building. I’ll call around in the morning and try to find out who owns this place.”

“Come. I’ll walk you out.”

Vincent held out his hand and Catherine took it. She glanced back at the paintings. “Vincent, help me cover these back up. I don’t want them damaged.”

Vincent bent over and took the tarp and threw it over the tops of the paintings. Together they straightened out the sides to ensure everything was protected.

Catherine took his hand again with a smile. “Lead the way.”

Vincent led her through the warehouse and out to her car. “I’ll come to see you tomorrow night to discuss what we’ve found.”

“If I know you’re coming, I’ll try to get home early.”

Vincent smiled shyly, pleased she was anxious to see him again. “I’ll come as soon as I can.”

Catherine nodded as she walked into his arms. Vincent hugged her briefly, then released her.

“No! Not yet, please?!”

He chuckled as he pulled her back into his embrace. She sighed contentedly when his arms tightened around her.

“I missed this, Vincent ... so much!” she murmured into his chest.

“I missed it as well, Catherine.”

Catherine stepped back and looked up at him. “Please don’t shut me out of your life again. I’m here for you, always.”

He touched his forehead to hers. “I know. But sometimes...”

He couldn’t go on, and Catherine tried to be understanding. “It’s okay. Just know that I’m here for you. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Catherine.”

 

*****************************************

The next morning, Catherine headed straight to Rita’s desk. “Good morning.”

“Hi, Cathy.”

“Can I ask a favor?” She handed Rita a sheet of paper with an address on it. “This property’s in foreclosure. Can you find out which bank owns it and who I need to speak to about it?”

Rita made a face at the unusual request, but she nodded. “Yeah, but it’s gonna be awhile. The banks aren’t open yet.”

Catherine smiled as she walked away. “I’ll be at my desk. Just let me know.”

Forty minutes later, Rita walked up to her desk. “Here it is. I don’t think you’re going to like it,” she said as she handed Catherine a sheet of paper.

Catherine read the file. “The bank owned it until two days ago, when it was bought by Burch Construction ...” She groaned aloud. “Great!”

“Sorry.” Rita smiled knowingly.

Catherine knew Rita knew about her past with Elliot. “It’s okay. I think I can find a way around it!”

Rita left as Catherine picked up the phone. “Hello, Jonathon Thompson speaking. Can I help you?”

“Hey, John. It’s Cathy.”

“Cathy Chandler? The girl who dumped me for a surfer boy with a convertible?”

Catherine rolled her eyes at her childhood friend’s teasing. “That was almost eighteen years ago!”

“Yes, but the pain still lingers in my heart.”

Catherine laughed aloud. “I bet Kelly would love to hear that!” she said, referring to John’s wife.

“It’s a secret I’ll take to my grave.”

“I bet! How is Kelly?”

“Big as a house!”

“John!”

“What? She’s due any day now.”

“She’s pregnant again? This will be number four, right?”

John sighed aloud. “Number four and five. We’re expecting twins.”

Catherine laughed. “Oh, no! Or should I say congratulations?”

“Oh, yeah! Most people think we’re nuts. Five kids under the age of eight ... But even though it wasn’t planned, we’re finally prepared for it. Well, at least mentally. It’s gonna be a lot of work ...”

Catherine had a mental image of holding her baby to her breast while Vincent sat behind her, holding them both, “Yes, but a lot of love as well.”

“Yeah. But hey, you didn’t call here to ask me about my kids. What’s up?”

“John, your bank owned a warehouse at 8th and Wilcox ...”

“Yeah, we just sold it to Elliot Burch.”

“I know, but I was wondering if you knew what he was planning on doing with the building?”

“He’s tearing it down, Cath. He’s trying to buy up the surrounding blocks. He’s got at least three of the five properties he wants.”

Catherine frowned. “What about the things stored inside the warehouse?”

“He’s trashing it. Some guy used to collect the leftovers from evicted tenants and store them there. I guess he thought he could resell the stuff and make a profit. Funny thing is, he lost the property in foreclosure. Payback, I guess.”

“John, I have a friend who has some personal items in there, memories from his childhood. I want to help him out. Do you know if I could purchase the stuff inside the building?”

“What the hell are you gonna do with all that extra junk?”

“Donate it to a charity. I know of a community that puts to use almost everything you donate.”

John leaned forward in his chair. “Charity, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Look, Elliot Burch said he would pay us to empty out the place. Cathy. If you can get the contents out by next week, you can have everything inside for free.”

“Really, John?!”

“Yeah! You’re saving me the trouble of babysitting a clean-up crew.”

“You’re an angel!” Catherine gushed.

“Yes, I am. Just have that place emptied by– Uh, oh! Kelly’s calling. I gotta go.”

“Tell her I said congratulations and good luck.”

The phone went dead, and Catherine smiled for her friend’s good fortune. She made a note in her planner to send them baby gifts, then picked up the phone again.

She called Jenny and asked for her to arrange an art auction. Jenny balked at the short notice, but promised to pull some strings and see what she could do.

She jotted a quick note to Vincent saying she would come to him since she needed to speak to Father as well, then sent it to Benny for delivery.

Finally, she turned her attention to work and immersed herself in files. Refusing to stop for lunch, she continued diligently so she could leave early.

Six o’clock came, and she looked out her window to see the night sky. She stood and gasped at the amount of work she had accomplished, then grabbed her purse and coat.

“Hey, Joe. I’m out of here.”

Joe glanced up from his desk. “So early?!”

Catherine grinned. “Yeah, it’s not even 10:00 yet!”

“You do the breakdown on the Tanner case?”

“Gave it to Krista three hours ago. You should have it by now.”

Joe hid his smile. “Yeah, what about the Rodriguez witness?”

“Spoke to her. I have a 6:00 breakfast appointment with her.”

“A.M?!”

Catherine shrugged. “It’s the only time she could see me.”

“Go. Have a good night.”

“Thanks!” Catherine said over her shoulder.

 

**********************************

 
Traffic was heavy, and it was almost seven o’clock before she got dropped off in the park. She made her way to the tunnels and was pleased to be greeted by Vincent.

“You’re tired.” He reached for her bag, then took her hand to lead her Below.

“Yes, but it’s a good tired. I got a lot accomplished today.”

“I’m glad.”

“I think I found a way to help Kristopher. My girlfriend, Jenny, is going to call in some favors and try to arrange a show.”

“How can you get the paintings from the warehouse?”

“That’s what I have to talk to Father about.”

They were near the library, and Vincent dropped her hand. “Go speak with Father. I imagine you’re hungry. I’ll get you a dinner tray from William.”

Catherine smiled and nodded. “I am hungry. Thank you.”

Vincent left her, and she walked by herself the short way to the library.

Father looked up and smiled. “Catherine, come in ... sit down.” Catherine did as he said, then took the cup of tea he offered. “Vincent said you had something you needed to speak with me about?”

“Yes. I found a way to help out our artist friend.”

“Good! I tried to contact several of our helpers today, but each one said they really had no idea what they could do to help.”

“That’s okay. I have a friend who’s working on arranging a show, and I was able to come up with a way to get all of the paintings for free.”

“That’s wonderful news. Tell me.”

Vincent walked in with a tray and set it down in front of her. “She can tell us while she eats.”

Father smiled. “Of course. Please, Catherine, dig in.”

Catherine took a few bites of her meat and smiled. “Ooh, this is wonderful. I forgot to each lunch, and now I’m starving!”

Father frowned. “Catherine, it’s not good to skip meals, it–”

Vincent leaned over and smiled as she ate. “Never tell a doctor you’ve skipped meals. Now he’ll lecture you for twenty minutes about the nutritional content of various foods and explain to you how the human body processes food.”

Father became flustered as he realized he was going to do just that. “I’m merely pointing out that–”

Vincent interrupted. “That three square meals a day is an important factor in achieving good health.”

Catherine giggled as she watched their exchange, all the while consuming the various vegetables and fruits on the plate.

Father watched her and pointed at her plate. “She, at least, has the sense to eat all of her vegetables.”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “Father, I am not eating Brussels sprouts! I’d rather be sentenced to hard labor.”

Catherine giggled as she wiped her mouth. “Speaking of hard labor...” she said, changing the subject. “That’s why I’m here.” Both men looked at her curiously as she continued. “I have been able to secure the entire contents of the warehouse for free.”

Father frowned. “But ...”

“But I have to have it cleared out by next weekend.”

“So you need our help?”

“I only want the paintings. I thought everything else could come Below to be used here.”

Father smiled. “That’s very generous of you, Catherine.”

“It’s not mine to give, Father.”

“Still ... What types of things are in this warehouse?”

Vincent answered his question. “I saw all types of furniture and hundreds of boxes. It will require a lot of work.”

Father grabbed a notebook and handed it to Vincent. “Why don’t you take Cullen, Mouse, and Jamie with you, inventory the warehouse, and come up with some type plan to move it all. We’ll have everyone clear their schedules to start this weekend. I’ll contact our helper and see if we can use his elevator to bring it Below.”

“I’ll rent a truck for you if you need it,” Catherine added.

Vincent smiled. “I’ll let you know.”

Catherine stood and stretched her arms into the air. “Now that I’ve eaten, I’m starting to realize how tired I am.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Vincent offered.

Catherine bent to kiss Father’s cheek. “Thank you for being so willing to help.”

“Dear Catherine. Thank you for sharing once again.”

Catherine smiled as she made her way out the door.

“I won’t be long,” Vincent said as he followed behind her.

Catherine dragged her feet on the way home. She yawed and leaned against Vincent’s shoulder. He put his arm around her and cradled her against his side.

“Sometimes the threshold seems so far.”

“Yes,” Vincent agreed.

They reached the threshold, and Vincent held her briefly. Catherine buried her face in his neck and kissed him lightly before he backed away.

“Sleep well, Catherine.”

“You too!”

Catherine climbed the ladder and hopped onto the elevator. She let herself into her apartment and automatically hit the message button on the answering machine.

“Hey, Cath. I got good news and bad news! I called in a favor, and I got a gallery to showcase Kristopher’s work. The bad news is, I need it by this weekend so the owner can take a look at it and see which clients to invite. Call me first thing, okay?”

Catherine smiled broadly. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Jen!”

That night, Vincent and his crew sorted through the various piles and came up with a solid plan to move the merchandise. He was pleasantly surprised that more than half of it could be put to use Below. The rest would be given to a helper who had a thrift store. 

 

*********************************************

 

The next morning, Catherine called the gallery and arranged to have the art picked up.

Later that day, Catherine received a message at work from Peter.

Hi, Cathy. We need two moving vans for four hours on Saturday morning. I’ll meet you at the car place. I’ll be your second licensed driver. Call me when you know the time.

Catherine made the arrangements, and Saturday quickly arrived.

 

She stood and marveled at the efficient way the merchandise was removed. Crews were set up on both ends, and the vans hauled the treasures from one warehouse to another.

At the second warehouse, Mary and Sara sorted through the boxes before they were taken Below, so they could be routed exactly where they needed to go.

Father shook his head gratefully as each elevator load came down filled with boxes of usable items. “So much, Vincent?”

Below, Vincent was in charge of unloading the elevator. “I knew there was a lot. I didn’t realize there was this much.”

For the next four hours, Peter and Catherine continued driving back and forth between the two places. Often times, they would wave as they passed each other on the street, one with a full load, one empty.

Catherine drove the last load of items, along with warehouse crew, back to the helper’s warehouse. They all got out and helped sort the remaining items. Catherine and Peter returned the vans.

Peter was called away to deliver a baby, and Catherine headed Below. She pitched in once again, and finally everything was in its respective chambers.

The dining chamber was strangely quiet while the exhausted members of the community ate their meals. Finally, Father stood.

“I want to thank everyone for their help today. It just goes to show how good our community works together when there is a need. Tomorrow is another big day, and I would suggest we all get a good night’s rest. I’d also like to extend my thanks to Catherine, without whom this day would not have been possible.”

Catherine blushed as each member started to applaud. “You’re welcome.”

The chamber started to empty out as the members retired to their personal chambers.

Vincent walked Catherine home, and they said a short goodnight at the threshold.

 

**************************************

Two weeks later, the art gallery put Kristopher’s artwork on display. Catherine could tell that the art was well received, and she introduced Mr. Smythe to the owner of the gallery … in case any future paintings should happen to appear.

She was leaving when the art gallery owner ran up to her and handed her a large package. He explained that it was wrapped and marked for her. He had kept it off to the side to make sure she received it.

Catherine was baffled, and she had carried the painting only a block when saw Vincent standing in an alleyway up ahead.

“Vincent?!”

“I’m here.”

“Thank, God. I need your help.”

Vincent stepped from the shadows and took the painting from her. “You were supposed to be selling the artwork, not buying it.”

“I didn’t buy it. It had my name on it already. It was found in the warehouse that way.”

“Hmm ...”

“Would you help me carry it Below?”

“Below?”

“I want us both to be able to enjoy it.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.”

Vincent took her hand and turned. “Come.” He led her to a back door in a building across the street. From there, they took steps down to the basement, then another set of stairs led to the tunnels.

Vincent walked into his chamber and propped the package up against the table. He and Catherine carefully removed the cloth cover from the front.

Vincent gasped as he looked upon the beautiful painting. The portrait was of him … with his arms wrapped protectively around Catherine while she gazed on lovingly.

“Catherine!”

Catherine stood in awe at his side. “It’s beautiful.

“How could one man have accomplished something this great?”

“He had his sketch of me to work from, I suppose, but he must’ve painted you from memory. Astonishing, isn’t it?”

“You might even say … magical.”

“Now you’re starting to sound like Kristopher.”

“Am I?” Vincent said. He reached for the far corner of the painting and gently ran his thumb over it. “Hmmm ...”

“Why are you smiling?”

“Kristopher worked only in oils.”

“Yes.”

“Oils take months to dry completely, Catherine. Sometimes years. This canvas ...”

Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Don’t say it! I have to hold onto some of my certainties, don’t I?”

Vincent looked at her, then back at the painting. They stood side by side, gazing at the beauty of the portrait in front of them. Eventually, Catherine leaned into him and laid her head in the crook of his neck. Vincent lowered his cheek to rest on her head.

“Vincent?” Catherine whispered.

“Yes,”

“It just seems ... right … doesn’t it?”

“I’m not sure what you mean ...”

Catherine looked up at him. “Me, being held in your arms. It just looks like that’s where I belong.”

Vincent lowered his head shyly as he nodded. “Yes, that is what the painting shows.”

“Vincent ... I think, somewhere in this great city, a soul has finally been laid to rest.”

 

THE END