BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
IT IS NOT ME
A month had passed since Catherine had the rug pulled out from under her when she discovered the true man that Elliot Burch was. He had tried to contact her several times over the first few weeks of their breakup, then slowly the flowers and phone called diminished. The last of the flowers showed up today on Catherine’s desk.
Joe curiously watched as she took them from her desk and put them in the break room. She never went in there, but the others seemed to enjoy the brightness they brought to the normally dreary room.
Joe shook his head in exasperation as he went to his office. He was surprised that it was taking her this long to get over Elliot. “She must’ve had it bad for him,” he thought.
It was late that Friday night and Catherine was packing up her files when Joe’s head appeared around the corner. “Hey, Cathy, a bunch of us are heading down to Hooligan’s for some drinks, you wanna come with?”
Catherine wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “No thanks.”
Joe came around the corner and sat on the corner of her desk. “Got some big plans already, huh?”
Catherine chuckled derisively. “Yeah, something like that.”
Joe grinned. “Hey, I understand. You go sit at your fancy dinner function tonight while the rest of us poor slobs fight for the last bar stool. No sense in you going slumming with us.”
Catherine looked up with a hurt expression and quickly covered it up, but not before Joe had a chance to see it. He grimaced as he realized he had hurt her feelings. He quickly searched for some way to change the subject. “Why are you packing up case files?”
With a sigh, she shrugged. “I thought I would go over these at home this weekend.”
Joe frowned as he took the files from her and set them back on the corner of her desk. “Radcliffe, you don’t have to prove yourself anymore, we all like you just the way you are.”
Catherine smiled at him. “Thanks, Joe. But maybe if I finish these you’ll give me some cases with some substance to them instead of the cases any intern could handle.”
Joe blushed and looked at the floor. Catherine knew she had hit the nail on the head and looked sympathetically at him. “You know what? I think I’m gonna take you up on your offer and come out for a few beers.”
Joe brightened up immediately and then couldn’t help but tease her. “I didn’t know you knew what a beer was!” Catherine rolled her eyes as Joe grabbed her arm. “C’mon, I’ll even buy you your first one.”
Her laughter rang out in the office. “You’re on!”
She grabbed her briefcase and followed Joe to the local bar. It was standing room only, but one of the men offered Catherine his seat, and she sat and enjoyed visiting with her colleagues. Most of them were surprised to see her there, but Catherine’s disposition soon had her fitting in with the crowd. She was certain she changed a few opinions about herself that night.
Catherine drank her beer quickly, and Joe gasped in surprise when she ordered two more for them. She stayed for almost an hour and a half, then a few of the men started to get flirty with her. She stood and announced she needed to leave, and Joe saw her to a taxi.
He opened the door to the cab for her. “Hey, Radcliffe, thanks for coming out tonight.”
Catherine smiled. “Thanks for asking. I had a lot of fun.”
“Why are you leaving early then? Was it because Henderson started hitting on you?”
Catherine frowned and decided to be honest with him. “Partly, I’m just not interested in dating anyone right now.”
“You gotta get over him sometime, Cath.”
Catherine blinked in surprise. “Who?”
He looked at her tentatively. “Burch.”
“I was over Elliot the second he betrayed me, Joe. I can’t be with someone I don’t trust.”
“I agree, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
“True.” Catherine sighed and nodded. “Goodnight, Joe.”
She impulsively kissed his cheek then hopped in the taxi. Joe sighed and went back to the bar.
That night, Catherine sat alone in her apartment. She was tired after a hard week at work, and she thought she may have had a little too much to drink. She sat on the couch, gathered a blanket around her, then moaned as she propped her sore feet up next to her and opened up a new book she had just bought yesterday.
She was in the middle of the first chapter when she heard a soft tap at the window in her bedroom. She rose from the couch and smiled as she walked through her bedroom to the balcony doors. She saw a familiar figure standing there as she gathered her robe closer around her, opened the door, and went outside.
She approached Vincent sheepishly. She hadn’t seen him in over a month. She knew she had hurt him, inadvertently, yes, but she had still hurt him. “Vincent, it’s been so long…”
He hung his head, hating to bring up the painful memories of her time with Elliot. “Yes…I thought I’d give you some time alone to heal.”
She smiled and reached to touch his arm, squeezing it lightly. “I would never need time away from you, Vincent. There isn’t a day when I wouldn’t welcome seeing you here.”
He looked up at her, surprised at her words. He stood an arm’s length away, and she moved in closer to him, leaning her head against his solid chest and hugging him tightly. He slowly tightened his embrace around her.
Catherine backed away. “I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you.”
Vincent looked up shyly. “I’ve... missed you. Have you been well?”
Catherine smiled. “I’m okay. How have you been?”
Vincent shrugged. “I’ve been well. How’s your work going?”
“Exhausting, but things are going well, I finally feel like a part of the team. It took a while, but people are coming around, they’re finally starting to accept me.”
Vincent looked at her curiously. “Why did you feel that you weren’t accepted by your colleagues, Catherine?”
She shrugged in indifference. “You know same old stuff. New kid trying to prove herself, jealousy, teacher’s pet... ”
Vincent’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Teacher’s pet?”
Catherine chuckled, realizing he probably never heard that expression outside the classroom. “Joe, my boss, gives me a hard time. Nothing bad. He teases me a lot, but I can tell he likes me. I think people are jealous because he and I work so well together.” He nodded in understanding. Catherine looked at him and smiled. “Would you like to come in? I can get us something to drink?”
Vincent looked nervously inside. “No, you were relaxing. I... shouldn’t take up anymore of your time.”
Catherine shook her head dismissively. “I was starting to read a new book. We could sit on the couch and read it together?” Catherine noticed the odd look that flitted across his face. She wondered why her simple request bothered him, then immediately added, “... Or I could go get it and we can read out here. Will you stay if I get it?”
Vincent nodded in relief and Catherine ran to her living room and retrieved the book. She grabbed a warm blanket and headed back to the balcony. They settled onto the floor and she read to Vincent until she was too tired and then he read to her.
Vincent was just finishing a chapter when Catherine stifled a yawn. He marked the page and closed the book. She looked at him through half closed eyes while he smiled indulgently. “Catherine, you should rest.”
She shrugged. “I am tired but this has been such a wonderful evening I don’t want it to end.”
Vincent got to his feet and stood over her. He offered her his hand to help her up. “It’s late. Perhaps we can continue the book another time.”
Catherine nodded but reached out and touched his arm. “Promise, Vincent? Promise me you’ll come back?”
He blinked in surprise at the urgency in her voice then lowered his head shyly. “I promise, Catherine. The book is very good. I don’t read many mysteries.”
Catherine smiled. “It is pretty good…and…the company is pretty nice, too.”
She came close to him and opened her arms. He shyly welcomed her embrace as he tentatively tightened his arms around her.
She smiled as she felt the pressure from his arms. “He’s finally starting to return my hugs,” she thought.
She backed away. “Be careful.”
He nodded. “Be well, Catherine.”
Vincent turned and scaled up the side of the balcony. Catherine gasped in wonder as she saw his feet disappear over the top. She shook her head in exasperation, she was positive she didn’t want to know how he got eighteen stories up to her balcony.
With a smile, she went inside and went to bed.
A few days later, Catherine looked up as Edie walked up to her desk and handed her a pile of papers. “Thanks, Edie.
Edie smiled as she dropped off the latest research project Catherine had her working on. “Anything for you, girlfriend. Hey, by the way, Joe wants to see you.”
Catherine nodded and grumbled. “Great, now what?”
Edie pretended to be angry. “He said to tell you this one has more substance but something tells me that means it’s sure to bring me more work! I haven’t gotten compensated for the last rush of work!”
Catherine smiled, ready to pay back her debt. “That’s right, I still owe you lunch. What are you doing today?”
Edie laughed. “Is it more vending machine food? I don’t think my stomach’s up for that today.”
Catherine shook her head. “Nope, no vending machines for you. How would you like some real food?”
Edie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What have you got in mind?”
“What do you have a taste for?”
Edie looked up hopefully. “Italian?”
“You got it! We’ll go to Salvino’s at 11:30.” Catherine picked a popular restaurant that was known for quick service and excellent food.
“Mmmm... Sounds good. I can’t wait!” Edie smiled.
Catherine watched happily as Edie walked away. Once she got over her misconception of Catherine being a spoiled little rich girl, Edie had become a good friend. Catherine enjoyed her lively banter, and Edie, to her credit, was excellent at research and had yet to disappoint Catherine with her findings.
Catherine walked into Joe’s office. Eyeing a huge stack of file folders, she hesitantly asked, “I have a horrible suspicion these are for me?”
“Bingo Radcliffe and it’s your own fault. First thing I learned in the army…never volunteer…..and this is an ugly one.” Catherine opened the top folder and started looking at the pictures within it. “Take a good look. Seventeen and sixteen…they looked like they tried to go a round with a tiger, only this animal walks around on two feet and half the city thinks he’s a hero.”
As she viewed the pictures from the brutal attack that had taken place on the subway, Joe saw the color drain from her face. She looked like she was going to be physically ill. He felt sorry for her. He was sure this was the first time she ever had to view anything so grisly.
Joe caught her eyes. “You sure you got the stomach for this?”
“I’m sure.” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat trying to hide the feeling of dread that had washed over her. “What do you want me to do?”
He picked up the stack of folders. “Our Subway Slasher knows how to take care of himself. So what do you got here? You got your karate schools, kung fu instructors, self-defense classes….be the first deb on your block to collect the whole set.” With a smirk, he dumped the whole stack into her waiting arms.
Catherine took the files from him with a half smile.
He offered her tips about the case. “Now, you know the profile we’re looking for…recent crime victim, maybe someone who’s lost a family. Flag anything subway related.”
As she left his office, he couldn’t resist once last dig. “Oh….” he said as she turned around. “You have heard of the subway, right?”
Catherine smiled at his teasing and walked away. She continued smiling as she walked to her desk. She loved that Joe took the time to tease her. She must have proven herself to him for him to feel so comfortable with her. In her opinion, working with Joe was like how she imagined it would be to have a brother.
Joe came over not five minutes later. “Hey Cathy, this just came over from research. It’s the file on the first person that the Slasher killed Tuesday.”
Catherine took the offered file. She opened it and looked at a similar photo to the ones she had just seen. This victim was killed in much the same way. She paled again, then looked up at Joe and silently nodded. “Thanks.”
Joe narrowed his eyes in thought but turned and walked away.
With a deep breath, she sat at her desk and reopened the file of the two teenaged victims and viewed the pictures once again. Her earlier smile quickly faded; there was nothing humorous about these pictures. They brought to mind the first time she had ever seen something this horrendous. It was in her friend’s brownstone…three men had killed her star witness, then, after she discovered the woman lying dead on the floor, those same men came after her. Vincent had come to her rescue and ended up killing them. She remembered the screams of the men as they died and the growls emanating from Vincent. She also remembered the frightening silence when it was all over. She had glanced at the men on her way to Vincent and her stomach rolled as she realized their wounds looked the same as the ones in the images in front of her.
She sat and stared at the pictures and wondered who did this. She knew Vincent was capable of doing to these boys what had been done. She knew he possessed great physical strength. Each slash with those deadly claws had enabled him to quickly and efficiently kill. The men he had killed were the scum of the Earth; each had a long rap sheet, so she had justified the killings in her mind because what had been done had been in defense of her life. He had saved her from certain death.
Catherine swallowed hard against the nausea building in her. These kids on the subway were killed in a very similar manner. Her mind raced, “Could Vincent have done this? Is he the vigilante? Was he helping another person again? My God, does he kill often? Is he out of control, unstable? NO! NO!” Her mind screamed. “How can I believe any of this? Vincent is the most caring and gentle person I know. I cannot believe he shredded these kids like this.”
Doubts began to creep back into her mind. “He is capable of doing this! He has done this before you’ve seen him do it.” She had witnessed the wrath he evoked. “STOP! It can’t be him!”
She took another deep breath and settled her racing thoughts as she opened the file on the self-defense classes. Looking at the list of instructors, she rolled her eyes. If she wasn’t so wrapped up in thinking of Vincent, she would have thought of Isaac herself. Isaac was her trainer and her friend. He would help her through this. “Pull it together Chandler! You should have come up with his name immediately!”
Edie came to her desk at 11:25 for lunch.
Catherine looked surprised then glanced at her watch. Not really in the mood for lunch but not willing to go back on her invite, Catherine weakly smiled.
“Yep, time to pay my debt!”
They laughed as they walked to Salvino’s for lunch, ordered quickly, and sat back to enjoy the atmosphere.
Edie looked over at a somewhat withdrawn Cathy. “C’mon, tell me about him?”
Catherine looked up in surprise. “What?”
“Any time a girlfriend’s got that kind of a look on her face you know her man is doing something wrong. Wanna tell me about it?”
Catherine chuckled. “I hate to disappoint you, but I was just thinking about the case Joe gave me.”
“You mean the Subway Slasher case?”
Catherine again looked surprised. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
Edie grinned. “Girl, you need to look up from those files once in awhile. Everyone’s talking about Joe giving you that case.”
“Why?” Catherine wondered aloud, then looked at Edie with alarm. “Don’t they think I can handle it?”
Edie shook her head. “Heck no, that’s not it at all. They know you can handle it. They’re wondering why Joe would stick you with one of the nastier cases. They don’t usually do that to someone so new.”
“Oh, well, I told him I would give it my best shot.”
Edie grimaced. “The way those guys were killed? Pretty gruesome, huh?”
Catherine wrinkled her nose and nodded. “Yeah, not exactly lunch conversation.”
“Hey, I’m sorry. When you’ve been here as long as I have you become immune to it. But you’re right, not lunch talk. Girl, did I get a chance to tell you about the guy I met the other night at the laundromat?”
Edie talked about her newest fling, and Catherine’s mind wandered back to the case. She was able to respond to Edie’s story at the appropriate times and soon tore her mind away from her problems and concentrated on Edie and her crazy antics.
They had a wonderful time, finished their lunch, and headed back to the office. Edie thanked Catherine and the two headed for their different departments.
After lunch, Catherine met with Isaac at his gym. She asked him questions about the subway killings. Despite being friends with her, Isaac was unsure of where her loyalties lie. He knew she was a good person, he also knew she worked for the DA’s office and he was worried that it was tainting her view.
In his opinion, whatever happened to those kids was their own fault. They were not innocent victims. They were attacking an older woman when the Subway Slasher stepped in and protected her. The boy’s deaths were unfortunate, but were they unwarranted?
Isaac told Catherine he had a place he wanted to show her. He took a quick shower and walked back into the gym where Catherine was patiently waiting.
Catherine pleaded emphatically to him. “Isaac, I’ve got to find out who killed these kids.”
“Why is this case so special to you? Why do I get the feeling that this is not just another case?” He tried to gauge her reaction.
She shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “I can’t explain it.”
“You know you can trust me.”
She sighed and nodded. “I know I can, but I’m not sure, so until I am, I’d like to keep it to myself.”
He gazed at her curiously and nodded. He wondered if she was going to come clean with her thoughts. He trusted her and knew she had her reasons for keeping quiet. With a shrug, he led her out the door.
Instead of answering her questions, Isaac took her to meet one of his friends. Jason Walker, the leader of the Protectors, a group of individuals who wore white hats to identify themselves as they helped fight crime.
Jase, as he liked to be called, showed Catherine people who were in training in his gym. They were older people, victims of various crimes, in fear for their lives, trying to come up with any means they could to feel safe. Jason told her that their system of justice was inadequate, that the vigilante was a hero to most of the people in the city. People needed to believe in the existence of this guy. Jase and Isaac showed her many things that day, and being a victim herself, she began to empathize with their view.
After Catherine and Isaac left the building, she turned to Isaac while they were walking. “You gave me a lot to think about.”
“That was the whole point.”
Catherine paused a second and thought about what she was saying before she continued. “Isaac? If you thought… even suspected this vigilante was someone you knew… a friend… what would you do?”
Catherine looked up at him with a worried and confused look. “You keep saying him…talk to him…ask him. You think it’s a man responsible for the killings?”
Isaac shrugged. “Whoever it is… is strong, really strong. One of those teenagers was a pretty good-size kid, yet he was taken out with no signs of a struggle.”
Catherine paled and looked at the ground.
Isaac looked at her curiously. “Cathy, do you really think you know who’s responsible for the killings?”
With a sigh, she shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
He could tell she wanted to speak but was holding back. “Look, I’m not going to ask again, you have your right to privacy but this Slasher is a dangerous person. Be careful, you could get hurt.”
“I don’t think... ”
Isaac interrupted her. “Yeah, but you’re not sure. That’s what this is all about. You’re not sure what to think. You want me to go with you?”
She looked at him and shook her head, resolve clearly showing on her face. “No. I have to do this alone.”
“Okay, but you remember everything I ever taught you... you walk in there with every one of your senses on the alert... friend or no friend... you walk in there ready for a fight.”
She looked at him and nodded slowly. She really didn’t believe she would have to worry about Vincent hurting her, but she would heed his warning and be careful.
Isaac moved closer to her and took her hand. “You’re a good friend, Cathy. I want you to be extra careful. Whatever he says, whatever he does, don’t let him get too close to you and don’t let your defenses down… you got it?”
“I won’t Isaac. I promise.”
She gave him a brief hug. “Thank you.”
With a look of worry etched on his face, Isaac watched her walk away.
Catherine went back to work and put in several more hours. Her mind was occupied with thoughts of the killings. She reflected again on the memories of Vincent killing the three men as he was trying to protect her. She remembered how he lashed out with his arm killing the first man in seconds. She shuddered as she thought of the sound of the second man’s neck as it snapped under Vincent’s powerful hands, and she remembered how he threw the third man to the floor then leapt on his back and dug his claws into his sides, mauling him to death.
She frowned at the train of thoughts her mind had taken and composed herself to finish her work. It would do her no good to speculate. She needed to get home early tonight. She needed to speak with Vincent, and she planned to go to her threshold and summon him on the pipes.
Joe walked out of his office to refresh his coffee and noticed Catherine’s odd behavior. He wondered if the case was too much for her. He knew she was “green” when it came to these types of cases and he remembered how her face paled when she first viewed the photos. He began to feel guilty throwing her into this gruesome of a case when she was still so new. “Maybe I should pull her from this... let her ease into the work,” he wondered as he walked towards her desk.
“You okay, Radfcliffe?”
She looked up in surprise. She hadn’t even noticed that he’d walked up. She didn’t want him to think she couldn’t handle the work. “Yeah Joe, I’m fine... Why?”
“I was wondering if you want me to give the subway killings case to Jerry.”
Catherine looked at him quizzically. “No, why?”
He shrugged. “Look Cathy, this case is definitely not a pretty one. It’s probably one of our more gruesome investigations and I feel bad throwing you into it. You’re still pretty new. I know you haven’t seen a lot of this yet. If you want, I can assign it to Jerry?”
Catherine felt a stab of fear in the pit of her stomach. She did not want to be removed from this case. It was way too personal and she didn’t want anyone else stumbling across evidence that might lead to the world Below. She needed to be the one to handle this investigation. Vincent must be protected at all costs. Catherine shook her head. “No, Joe. I can handle it! Please! Let me do it.”
Joe nodded in understanding. He was proud of her for not backing down and taking the easy way out. She was trying to prove herself and everyday she came in and took everything he threw at her without complaint. His personal opinion of her was definitely on the rise. “Hey, it’s okay, you can have the case. I just thought that maybe, you know, you might want to cut your teeth on something a little less... grisly.”
“No, I’m okay, really. I had an appointment this afternoon with my old self defense instructor.”
“Isaac?” At her nod. Joe continiued. “He’s a good place to start. Isaac’s got his ear to the grindstone all the time. What did he have to say?”
“He gave me a lot of things to think about… warned me to be careful.”
Joe narrowed his eyes. “He’s a smart man. You need to be careful on this one, Cathy. This guy, whoever he is, is dangerous. He killed those kids without a second thought.”
“I know. I saw the pictures, Joe. Just don’t take me off of it, let me do the investigation, okay?”
“You got it, if you change your mind and need some help, don’t hesitate to come to me.”
“Thanks, I won’t.” She beamed back at him, relieved to still be on the case and grateful for his trust.
Joe blanched at her bright smile, nodded then turned and walked away. “God, she’s beautiful!” he thought to himself as he walked back into his office. He took a quick look back but her head was already down and she was back to being immersed in her work. He closed the door with a sigh. “What? Did you think she’d be watching you? Idiot!” he grumbled to himself.
Below, Vincent and Father were reading through the latest papers brought to them by a helper. Father was bent over a particularly compelling article when he caught his breath in disbelief.
Vincent wondered at the change in his Father’s demeanor. “What is it Father?”
Father shook his head. “It’s... nothing.”
Vincent reached over and held his hand out. “It’s not... nothing. If it were nothing, you would not be distressed. Show me.”
With a sigh, Father handed the paper to him and indicated the article. Father was worried about the graphic descriptions the reporter had given regarding the deaths of two teenage boys.
Vincent quickly read through it and realized why Father was upset. He sat there quietly and Father wondered how to speak to him about it. Both of them had memories about the few times that Vincent had been called upon to protect their world. They realized how similar these killings were to the ones Vincent had been a part of.
Father cleared his throat. “It says the deaths are being investigated by the District Attorney’s Office. Do you think your friend Catherine might be involved with the case?”
“Perhaps… It might explain her behavior lately.”
Father looked at him startled. He hadn’t realized Vincent was visiting her again. “Her behavior... have you seen her?”
“I stopped by her apartment a few nights ago. We shared a new book she’d bought.”
“Did she seem normal then?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, we had a pleasant time. We read several chapters until she became too tired, and I left. She seemed happy then but, lately, I can sense her heart is in turmoil.”
“How do you mean?” Father wondered, still in awe of the bond his son shared.
“I don’t know if I can describe it. Her feelings change so rapidly and sometimes I sense... fear… but not the kind that would indicate she’s in danger... almost like a feeling of intense distrust.”
“Small wonder with the environment she lives in.”
“No… I… think it’s something else. Father, I know I’m probably imagining it but it seems like the thought of me provokes her fear.”
Father tried to offer his comfort. “Perhaps you are mistaken.”
“Perhaps, but she saw me kill men in much the same way as these boys have been killed.”
“You did what was necessary, surely Catherine knows that.”
“Yes... ” Vincent shook his head. “... no... I don’t know. I’m sure she probably wonders if it was me who killed these boys on the subway.”
Father was becoming angry. “You told me that you killed those men saving Catherine’s life. Was that not true?!” Vincent nodded, so Father continued. “Then I’m sure Catherine knows what you did you did for her. She knows you well enough to know you wouldn’t randomly kill people.”
Vincent merely shrugged and pretended to go back to his reading. Father nodded and followed his lead, realizing that he would not speak any more on the matter. He was certain Vincent was mistaken but had to wonder. Anyone that knew Vincent had a certain amount of fear of him. Father himself was afraid when Vincent was “not himself.” He often wondered when Vincent was “lost” if he would lash out at those he loved. Father didn’t believe so but in Vincent’s “other” state he was unpredictable. He turned back to his reading, his thoughts still troubled.
A few hours later, Father watched as Vincent raised his head to listen to a message that came from Catherine over the pipes. Father’s eyes narrowed as he watched Vincent ignore the call. He wondered just what was going on in his son’s head but he wisely remained silent.
Catherine had gotten home that night and ate a quick supper. She changed her clothes and then went Below. She banged on the pipes just like Vincent had taught her. She banged and waited… banged and waited… banged and waited but he never came. She eyed the tunnel-way but thought better of trying to see him. She turned toward the ladder and with a heavy heart, left. She really wanted to talk to him. “Why hadn’t he answered her? Had he heard her call? Why had no one else come? Was he okay?” she wondered.
Later that night, she waited for him on the balcony. She had hoped that when she called for him earlier, he had just been too busy to see her. Maybe he would come to her tonight. She sat outside in a chair waiting and eventually fell asleep.
Her sleep was troubled as her dreams took her back to her own attack and she relived the horror of that night. Then just as swiftly, her dreams took a more sinister turn…Vincent came to her in her sleep. In her dream, she was sitting on a chair on her balcony when he scaled over the wall. Happy to see him, she walked to him and flung her arms around him. She hugged him with all her strength, but something was wrong. When he didn’t return her embrace, she looked up at him, a question in her eyes. His face appeared normal, serene, before he turned into a snarling beast. She backed away from him and he grabbed her wrists, stopping her retreat. When she continued to pull away, he grabbed her arms for a better hold, pulling her closer and turning his head as if to bite her. Her scream was enough to wake her from her nightmare.
She scanned the balcony and realized it was all a dream. She dropped her head into her hands as she felt the horror of her dream leave her. She recognized the fear she had of Vincent for what it was; fear… not of him but of what he was capable of doing. She also recognized the shame she felt for feeling this way about him. She knew deep down she should trust him but the images of those men continued to linger and spread doubt.
In the world Below, Vincent was lying in his bed feeling guilty for ignoring her summons. When she started to thrash around in the throws of her nightmare, he shot up to a sitting position in his bed. He cocked his head trying to ascertain her feelings. When the fear left her, he felt the remorse spread quickly through her. He frowned as his imagination led him to believe the dream was about him. Knowing he wouldn’t sleep, he scooted to the end of the bed. He put on his shoes and grabbed his cloak and headed to go and walk the tunnels while he tried to come to terms with his feelings.
The next day, Catherine decided to interview Beatrice Dalby, the cleaning lady who was saved by the vigilante. The woman told her she worshiped the man who saved her. She wished everyone would just leave him alone. Catherine explained to her the reason she was so desperate was because it was personal and that she thought she knew someone who was involved. She begged the woman for a description. Beatrice told Catherine the man didn’t have hands, he had claws, and his face... was like an angel, a terrible angel come to save her. Her description fit Vincent perfectly and Catherine felt her fears had been confirmed.
Catherine knew she would never get anywhere with her investigation until she spoke to Vincent. She had to ask him about the killings.
She decided to go call him again over the pipes. If he wouldn’t answer her message, she would just go and find him herself. She had to talk to him. She had to confront him.
She left work and went Below with a flashlight. She banged on the pipes and when Vincent didn’t come, she set out to find him. Some of the tunnels looked familiar but it wasn’t long before she was hopelessly lost. She sat down on a huge boulder and contemplated what to do next. Should she keep going or sit here hoping Vincent would find her? What if he never came? Would he justleave her down here? What if she couldn’t find her way home?Her flashlight chose that moment to start to flicker and she began to panic.
Vincent was conducting a class when he suddenly cocked his head. He had felt Catherine begin to panic but he didn’t feel her fear. He stood for several minutes before he decided that what he was feeling was real then he gasped in disbelief, Catherine was Below in the tunnels.
He walked over to a pipe and quickly tapped out a message and asked if anyone had seen Catherine. He heard the sentry at Outpost 7 report that he had seen Catherine but he assumed she knew her way so he ignored her presence in the tunnels. He reported that it was about twenty minutes ago.
“We’ll have to continue this class tomorrow,” Vincent announced as he grabbed his cloak and headed towards the door. “Catherine is lost in the tunnels.”
“We can help look too, Vincent,” Michael offered.
Vincent thought for a second and realizing they would find her quicker together, nodded to is class. “Go in pairs and be careful…” he warned as he took off in the direction he believed her to be. The kids in his class split up and left immediately in all directions to help him look for her.
Vincent could tell Catherine was Below but her feelings were so jumbled he couldn’t pinpoint her location. He ran at full speed towards Outpost 7, hoping her progress would be slow enough that she wouldn’t have gotten too far. He slowed when he heard a message tapped from the sentry at Outpost 12 reporting that she had passed by only a few minutes earlier. That sentry, too, assumed she knew her way and ignored her presence. One of the children had happened by and the sentry sent him to catch up with Catherine.
Vincent sighed with relief at the good news. He backtracked to the tunnel that would take him to her. As he walked, he frowned with concern when he thought about how far Catherine had gotten into the tunnels with no warnings being issued.
Catherine was still sitting on the rock waiting. Her mind was racked with indecision and she was starting to become really worried about the predicament she had gotten herself into. Every few minutes she had turned off her flashlight and sat in the dark until her fear got the better of her and she could no longer stand it.
She had just turned the flashlight off again and looked up as a young boy approached her.
“Are you Catherine?”
“I figured. Got lost, huh?”
“I sure did!”
“Come on, I’ll take you to Vincent. He’s looking for you.” He turned and walked in the other direction from where she was heading.
She quickly caught up to him. “Oh Boy! I wasn’t even close to going the right way. Was I?”
The boy looked down shyly and shook his head. “No, but in this tunnel you would have run into a dead end eventually.” He stopped at a pipe and tapped out a message. After a brief pause, he listened, nodded then continued walking.
He looked up at her and returned her smile. “Kipper.”
At that moment, Catherine’s flashlight finally went out. She pounded on the side and tried to no avail to get more life from it. She looked at the boy as he observed her and smiled at him ruefully. “Well Kipper, I can’t thank you enough for helping me. I know now I shouldn’t have tried this on my own.”
“It’s harder than it looks. The sentry’s would have stopped you sooner had we known that you didn’t know your way. Sorry.”
“I’m just grateful that you found me so quickly. Five more minutes and I would have been sitting alone in the dark with a dead flashlight.”
He nodded as he looked down at her dead flashlight. “Torches work better. Candles burn out too easily in the winds and flashlights, well their batteries go dead too fast.”
“So I’ve learned.”
“You should’ve sent an SOS out on the pipes.”
Catherine frowned when she realized she should have spent her time tapping some kind of a message and hoping someone would eventually realize she needed help. “I… don’t know the code.”
Kipper raised his eyebrows with surprise. “That’s the first thing anyone who comes Below learns. I’m surprised Vincent didn’t teach you?”
“I’m sure he thought I’d be smart enough not to try to find my own way down.”
“I’ll teach you.” Kipper stopped and took her hand and started to tap a series on her hand.
Catherine concentrated then nodded. “Can you do it again?”
Kipper repeated the taps and smiled. “Your turn.”
Catherine took a deep breath and tapped it out perfectly onto Kipper’s wrist.
“That’s all it takes!” Kipper smiled proudly.
“Well, now everyone will know I’m in trouble but how will they know where I am?”
Kipper shrugged and began to walk. “Vincent will find you. If not, Pascal can usually tell which direction a person is tapping from.”
“He’s kind of like our phone operator…”
Kipper knew they were taking too long and not wanting to be reprimanded by Vincent for dawdling, increased their pace. “C’mon we’re almost to Vincent’s chamber. He’s waiting there for us.”
Things started to look familiar to Catherine. A subdued Vincent met them on the threshold of his chamber.
Catherine smiled at him ruefully. “Hi, Vincent.”
Vincent nodded before he looked down at the boy. “Where was she?”
Kipper frowned. “Almost to the abyss.”
Vincent scowled that she had gotten that far and no one had stopped her. He looked again at the boy. “Thank you Kipper, please tell the others Catherine’s been found.”
“Sure thing, Vincent!” He smiled and took off running.
He left so fast, Catherine felt guilty for not being able to thank him herself.
“Come inside, Catherine.” Vincent stepped aside to allow her to pass.
As she entered his chamber, she looked around. She hadn’t been here since her accident. It brought back fond memories of the times she and Vincent shared here.
Vincent came in behind her. Sensing that she was cold, he leaned over to the bedside and picked up a blanket. He stepped behind her and wrapped it around her shoulders.
She flinched but smiled back at him weakly. “Thank you, I didn’t think to wear a jacket.”
Vincent had seen her reaction and frowned at her response but chose to ignore it. “When you come to the tunnels you should always be prepared for emergencies.”
He took the flashlight from her hands and went to his desk. He replaced the batteries with fresh ones and handed it back to her.
Catherine blushed at having been caught so unprepared. “I wasn’t thinking clearly… I’ve been so upset… I needed to ask you about a case I’m working on.”
“The subway killings?” When she looked at him with surprise, he continued. “I read about it in the papers.”
Catherine nodded at his explanation but kept a watchful eye on him. “I... wanted to ask you about them. I took a chance on coming here... ”
“And became seriously lost.” He said as he paced the room. He must’ve gotten too close and could feel her insides quaking with fear. He backed away as he looked at her. “It’s a good thing we found you, Catherine.”
“I thought I’d remember. I must’ve gotten turned around somehow. Everything seemed so different, strange.”
“The ways change, Catherine. For every safe road there are a hundred paths that lead only to darkness.”
“I had to come. I had to see you. I was afraid... ”
“You didn’t come. I called. I banged on the pipes. You never came,” she said accusingly.
He looked at her solemnly. “I could feel your fear Catherine. Even now, I frighten you.”
She took a tentative step towards him. “You taught me to face my fears, always. Vincent, tell me.”
“What should I tell you? That I am not this shadow, this mad monster that you hunt. Must you hear the words before you trust?” Seeing the answer in her face staring back at him, he continued. “Hear them then. It is not me!” Wishing only to comfort her, he took a step towards her. “Catherine, I would never hurt you…”
Catherine flinched again and stepped away from him. For the briefest of moments, he could see the fear of him in her eyes. He recoiled as if she had slapped him. He turned and walked away from her, trying to control the anger and the hurt he felt at her actions.
Instantly ashamed, she shook her head, as she realized what she had just done. “No Vincent! ... I’m sorry! I didn’t mean... ”
“To pull away.” In his anger, he raised his hand up to strike out at a lamp; he dropped it to his side in resignation. He knew he had shown her he was capable of these killings “I know your heart Catherine. But sometimes the words not spoken are the truest words of all. However much they hurt.”
Catherine’s eyes filled with tears. “What are you saying?”
“We both know what these hands can do…. have done…. Catherine, if your heart does not trust then no words I speak could help.” He grabbed his cloak, flinging it over his arm. He looked at her, hurt and angry with himself for inspiring her doubt. “It is time for you to go.” He turned to lead her home.
With a heavy heart, she followed. Their journey back was a quiet one. Each lost in their own thoughts. She felt horrible. “How could I have backed away from him? I know he would never hurt me. Why did I do it? What was I thinking? Why did I doubt him? How can I ever fix this?”
Vincent’s thoughts were focused on her. He could feel her emotions going from one extreme to another. She had so much to think about, her mind and heart were in turmoil. He didn’t know how to help her and he knew she would have to figure this out on her own.
At the threshold she turned to him. “Vincent, I’m so…”
He interrupted abruptly. “I know, Catherine.”
She grasped for an answer as to why she had behaved so abominably. When none came to her, she looked at him. “I want you to know that I do trust you. I guess I’m just... ”
“Confused? Follow your heart, Catherine.”
Catherine furrowed her brow. “Follow my heart?”
Vincent nodded. “Follow it. It will lead you to the answers you seek.”
Catherine nodded. “Vincent? I really am very sorry.”
“Goodbye, Catherine.” He ignored her apology then turned and walked away.
She opened her mouth to call out to him but stopped. She didn’t really have the right to ask him to stay after she had just hurt him so badly. She sighed and climbed the ladder up to her apartment. He was still upset and rightly so. She had all but accused him of killing those kids. She knew deep down he didn’t do it. How could she prove to herself and everyone else he was innocent?
She went home, changed, and fell into a troubled sleep.
Vincent walked back through the tunnels. A lone solitary figure once again. His mind, like Catherine’s, raced with thoughts. He looked up and realized he was at the Whispering Gallery and slowly sat down on the wooden bridge.
He was extremely hurt by Catherine’s distrust. “After everything we’ve been through, how could she believe I’m this killer? How could she back away from me? How could she believe I would hurt her?”
He remembered the fear in her eyes as he stepped closer to her. He had only wanted to hold her hand, show her how gentle he was. He felt again the pain from her rejection of him when she stepped away. Nothing could hurt him more than her fear of him. Shame washed over him, of course she was afraid. He mauled three men in front of her eyes with no thought of what he was doing. He remembered the look of horror on her face when he looked up after the last man had been killed. It shamed him even now to recall it.
Mouse came into Father’s study wanting to check out something on the maps. He was rifling through them when Father approached.
“Mouse, have you seen Vincent?”
Mouse nodded distractedly. “Uh huh.”
Father nodded waiting for an answer and when none came forth he continued. “Could you tell me where you saw him?”
“Whispering Gallery after he took friend home.”
Father’s eyes narrowed. “His friend?”
Mouse looked up from the maps. “Yep, his Catherine.”
“Catherine was here?!” Father asked incredulously.
Mouse flipped over to the next map. “Got lost.”
Father exploded. “She’s lost down here?”
Mouse shrugged never looking from his maps. “Fine now, Kipper found, took to Vincent, Vincent took home.”
“And now Vincent is in the Whispering Gallery? What’s he doing there?”
“Goes to think,” Mouse glanced up and rolled his eyes. “Clear his mind, he says.”
Father looked worried as he blew out a long breath. “I think I’ll go try to talk to him. Will you take me there, Mouse?”
“Okay good, okay fine!” Mouse said excitedly.
Mouse took off with his usual exuberance while Father grabbed his cane.
Father followed behind until he lost sight of him, then with a sigh called out. “Mouse… Mouse!”
Mouse heard his name called and turned around only to discover he was alone. He sheepishly walked back to Father. “Too fast? Sorry… forgot.”
Father chuckled. “Its okay, Mouse. I’m anxious to speak to Vincent myself. Perhaps when we get close you can let me go the last bit alone?”
Mouse frowned. “Help Vincent?”
“Yes, I think it would.”
Mouse showed him the way and as promised, let him walk the final corridor alone.
Vincent was still sitting down as Father came into the chamber.
“Vincent? Are you all right?”
Vincent looked at him then looked away. Father had always been there for him but his thoughts were so scattered he couldn’t, wouldn’t share them with anyone.
Father continued on, hoping to get Vincent to talk. “I’ve heard the children talk of this place.”
Vincent smiled, remembering the past. “It was our secret place when I was a child. I used to come down here with my friends. We thought it was magic.”
“All the tunnels… If you stand in just the right place you can hear sounds, whispers from the world above, people on the subway, children playing in their homes, lovers walking in the park, sounds of a thousand different lives if you know just where to stand. The magic places we called them.”
Father knew something weighed heavily on Vincent’s mind. He son didn’t answer Catherine’s messages earlier and then she had been lost in the tunnels. If she had tried to find her way, it must have been important that she see him. They weren’t in his chamber very long before Vincent took her home. He wondered what the problem was. He looked over at Vincent. “It’s Catherine, isn’t it?”
“I can hear her fears whispering to me no matter where I stand.”
Father sighed and tried to find the words to explain the world Above. “She cannot help being afraid, Vincent. Her world is built on fear. It’s all they know. With the lives they’re forced to lead, if they weren’t afraid they’d be insane.”
Vincent nodded. “And us?”
“We have something they only dream of, a safe place, a secret place, beyond their madness and their fear.”
Vincent sighed sadly. “Sometimes I would run down here when we played hide and seek but before the game was over, Father, they always found me. Even here.”
Father remained quiet, trying to find the right words. “Vincent, no place is ever completely safe. The safety we feel is based on the love and care that we have for one another. The knowledge we have that somewhere nearby there is always someone that you can call to for a helping hand. The trust we have knowing that help will always come.”
Vincent paused. “What kind of a world exists where people don’t trust one another?”
Father sighed and reached his hand out to Vincent’s shoulder. “The kind of world like the one Above. Vincent, you must remember it was less than a year ago that Catherine had a very traumatic experience and only a few weeks ago that she was betrayed by someone she grew to care about, someone she trusted.”
“And that trust was broken…”
“Yes…she let her guard down and forgot all those lessons she’d been taught over her lifetime.”
Vincent cocked his head curiously and looked up as Father continued. “What do you mean?”
“In the world Above, children are still babies when their mothers begin to teach them not to talk to strangers. They’ve learned by the time they’re small toddlers not to trust. Then when they’re older… well… their media sensationalizes all the twisted criminals and the horrendous acts they commit. They’ve become immune to the consistency of it yet they live in constant fear for their lives. So you see son, your Catherine’s fear is not so much of you but of the unknown. I’m sure she knows she can trust you. She just needs your patience until she comes to that conclusion. She’s a smart girl and has a good heart, it won’t take long.”
“Yes, she does. So does everyone else who lives up in that madness.”
Vincent sighed. “I wish there was a place she could always feel safe.”
Father smiled. “Above, there is no such place. But she knows of this place and she knows you. She knows that safety can exist somewhere.”
“Safety Father? Are we so very safe here?”
Father nodded. “Yes, I’d like to think so. We’ve built a strong community here.”
A stillness came over Father as he wondered what Vincent was thinking. “Is this one of his fears? Is he afraid that the world Above could find him even here?” He thought of his earlier statement and tried to alleviate his son’s fears. “Vincent, this is not some game a child plays. No one can find you. You are safe here, don’t ever think otherwise.”
Vincent looked up and tried to find comfort in his words. He knew he meant well but one of his deepest fears was that one day the world Above would come Below and hunt for him.
“You and I both know, Father… one day… I will be discovered…”
“Well, let’s pray it’s a long time from now. Will you walk me back to the library or shall I call for Mouse?”
Vincent smiled and quickly got up. “I’ll take you, Father. Thank you, for coming to talk to me.”
The two men made their way through the tunnels and talked about how it was that Catherine had been able to get so far into the tunnels before anyone stopped her.
“It’s a wonder I don’t feel safe here, Father. Catherine was almost to the Abyss when Kipper found her.”
Father frowned. “How did she get past the sentry posts with no one reporting an intruder?”
“Both men said they saw her and assumed she knew her way. Perhaps we should consider having the sentries report the arrival of helpers in the tunnels.”
“I thought it was understood that they were to report all traffic in the tunnels, whether it be a helper or a member of the community.”
Vincent sighed as he nodded. “We’ve certainly been lax in reporting both; it should be brought up for discussion at the next council meeting.”
“Yes, I’ll make a note of it.”
They arrived in the library and continued their discussion.
Catherine slept fitfully again that night and had another nightmare. In her dreams, her subconscious wrestled through the dilemma she faced. She knew in her heart Vincent didn’t commit these crimes. She trusted him to tell her the truth. But if Vincent wasn’t the killer than who was? Who had the fighting skills to take out two men by himself? Who had the training it required to leap from a moving train to safety?
Things crept back into her mind, things that Jase had offered to her in her earlier conversations with him. Jase told her the vigilante was a hero that people looked up to him. Jase had all the skills necessary to be the killer.
That was the lead she needed. She awoke from her dream and had an answer to her dilemma. She regretted having asked Vincent if he was the one responsible for the killings. Sure, he had killed, but it was to protect her. He wouldn’t actively search out people to hurt. “How could I have not trusted him? How can I ever make this up to him? Will I ever see him again and be given this chance?” she wondered.
Catherine decided to meet with Jase again. She wanted to see if he would “slip up” and admit to having anything to do with the crimes. They had a pleasant chat and Catherine ambled around his room.
She barely noticed it on her last visit, but Jase had a wall filled with weapons. She asked benign questions about the different uses of some of the weapons. She stopped at a pair of deadly looking steel claws and, with a half smile, turned back to gauge Jase’s reaction to her seeing them. He did a good job of keeping a straight face,despite the fact that he wondered how much she knew. After she left, he sent one of his men out to observe her.
Back at the office, Catherine begged Joe to take a look at her findings. He chuckled and dismissed her ideas regarding Jason Walker. He informed her he had an alibi and encouraged her to keep looking.
Late into the night, another crime was thwarted by the Slasher. A man tried to attack a woman on the same subway train. The vigilante stepped in and killed the man. Unfortunately, the police officer on the train chose that moment to enter the car. He witnessed the scene and tried to apprehend the vigilante. In his haste to leave, the vigilante struck out, critically wounding the police officer.
Catherine got up the next morning and headed to take a shower. After she completed her morning routine and while she was getting dressed, her phone rang.
She reached for it, wondering who could be calling so early. “Hello.”
“Hey Radcliffe, Did I wake you?”
She was surprised he had called her at home. “Joe? No, I was up and getting ready to walk out the door.”
“Good, see me right away. The Subway Slasher struck again last night. Saved a young girl but wounded a cop. I want you to interview the girl... get a statement from her on what she saw. I want to catch this guy, Cathy.”
Catherine grimaced. “Yeah, me too.”
“See ya when you get in.”
Catherine called out before he could hang up. “Wait, Joe, give me the address. I’ll just stop by the girl’s house on the way in, and I have a hunch I want to check into as well.”
“Yeah, well be careful.” Joe warned.
Catherine smiled. “I will. Bye, Joe.”
Joe grunted and hung up his phone.
Catherine went to the police station and got a copy of the police report. She tracked down the girl and went to interview her.
The girl answered her door and Catherine smiled at her. “Hi, Miss Barnett?” The girl nodded, so Catherine continued. “I’m Catherine Chandler from the District Attorney’s office. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Catherine showed her identification and the girl let her inside and led her into a small living area. The girl pointed at the couch and Catherine sat on the edge. “Miss Barnett, I was just wondering if you could describe the man who came to your defense last night.”
The young girl looked at her. “You can call me Callie and I already told the police everything I saw last night.”
Catherine smiled at her. “I know. I’m sorry… I’ve been through this process myself. I was attacked about a year ago and I thought I answered the same question ten times.” The girl smiled while Catherine continued. “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind telling me too.”
Callie instantly liked Catherine’s friendly approach. “Well a guy was bothering me at my stop and he got on the train with me. I tried to walk away when he grabbed me. There was an older black man on the train with me and he left and went for help. I begged him to stay but he insisted he was going to get the officer. After he left, the lights flickered on and off and suddenly there was a figure standing there. The Subway Slasher pulled this idiot off of me and like... dragged his arm across the guy’s chest.” Callie motioned with her arm to indicate what he did. Catherine nodded, so she continued. “The police officer entered and the Slasher dropped my attacker to the floor. The cop tried to stop him and the Slasher pushed him off to the side. Then he kicked out a window and tired to jump out. The cop grabbed him again and he reached up his arm and slashed the cop across the chest. I screamed and he leapt out the window.”
Catherine looked at her and frowned. “Did you see anything else? Did you see his face?”
Callie shook her head. “No, he had on this cape-like thing. He was pretty hairy though... oh... Wait! I do remember seeing the light gleam off the steel on his hands. Well, I mean… I guess it must have been a knife he held in his hands.”
Catherine squirreled away this new information. “Callie, did you get a look at your rescuer’s size?”
Callie shook her head. “Like I said, he had on this cape-thing, but he was standing close to me when the officer came in. He was only a few inches taller than me.”
Catherine smiled. “How tall are you, Callie?”
“I’m about five-eight.”
A young guy walked into the room. He looked a lot like Callie, and Catherine smiled at him. Callie looked over at him then back to Catherine. “That’s my brother Carl. Carl, this is Catherine from the DA’s office.”
Carl bit into his apple and nodded. Catherine turned back to Callie. “So, Callie. Is it your best guess that this guy is about six-foot?”
Callie’s forehead wrinkled in thought. Carl observed his sister’s uncertainty and tried to help. “Hey, Cal... I’m six-two... was the guy bigger than me?”
Callie looked up and smiled, then stood near her brother and looked over at Catherine. “I’d say he was a little shorter.”
Catherine smiled gratefully and stood up. She gauged Carl’s size against Vincent’s. She knew that there was no way the Subway Slasher was Vincent. He had to be at least three inches taller that Carl. “Callie, Carl, thank you for your help.”
They both nodded, and Catherine let herself out of their house. She went to work, anxious to find the real Slasher brought to justice.
Father summoned Vincent to the library. He entered and looked at his father, a question in his eyes.
Father waved him in. “Vincent, please sit down.” Vincent sat and waited for him to continue. “The vigilante your Catherine is searching for was spotted last night by our sentries in Sector 8.’
“We should arrange for more security there.”
“I’ve already increased the sentries and Mouse has erected some temporary walls to close off tunnel access.”
“That’s good, Father. Do you wish me to take a turn at sentry duty?”
Father shook his head. “No, that’s not why I’m telling you this... ”
He trailed off, unsure of how to proceed. Vincent waited patiently for him to continue. Father sighed. “Vincent, the sentries reported that the person does in fact have a very similar appearance to you. Jamie, of course, could tell the difference immediately.” Vincent nodded and looked towards the floor. Father cleared his throat. “I thought that maybe you would want to send word to Catherine. You can’t of course, tell her the location. It would bring too much attention to the tunnels but I thought you would want to tell her we have proof of your innocence.”
Vincent shook his head. “There is no real proof, just the word of my family. I told Catherine that if her heart did not trust, than no words I spoke could change her mind.”
Father nodded at him approvingly. “Those are wise and true words, Vincent. But let me remind you that in the world Above, trust is not something that is easily given.”
Vincent looked at him then rose and walked towards the door. “Father, I’ll be at the Mirror Pool for awhile.”
Father nodded as Vincent left, knowing his son would think on what he said.
Later that night, Vincent went to see Catherine on her balcony. She came out, unsure of how to approach him. She knew she had hurt him deeply but she smiled as she walked up to him. “I thought I might never see you again.”
“You have enough fear in your world. I could never bring you more.”
“Vincent, please forgive me.” She reached for his hands and held them in her own.
He looked down at her. “You were right to be afraid.”
“My heart knows how gentle you are.”
“Even the gentlest man has a demon locked inside him,” he countered.
She shook her head. “Not you... not a demon.”
He ignored her and got to the point of his visit. “We’ve seen your vigilante. He has a secret door from your subways to the older tunnels, the secret tunnels.”
Her heart leapt at the unexpected lead. “Vincent, if you can show me. I can go to the police, they’ll stake it out.”
“Catherine, there are a thousand miles of tunnels beneath the city, all of them connected. If the police find his door they’ll search through all of them.”
Unknown to her, he had just revealed to her his worst fears.
“Then we’ll do it another way. From Above, not Below. I promise you Vincent, I won’t betray your world.”
“They hunt for this man as they might hunt for me if they dreamed of my existence. You have your laws and your courts to tell right from wrong, your police to protect you, we have only ourselves. By what right do I condemn him? Am I so very different?”
“Yes, Vincent! You are!”
He was thinking about the right thing to do. He needed to protect his world, he needed to make sure that no one threatened the only home he had, the only home he could have. He needed to protect all those that depended on the world Below. But he also wanted to help Catherine; he needed to prove to her he wasn’t this killer. His decision made, he glanced at her. “Bring me a map.”
Vincent showed her the place on the map that the vigilante was seen entering. Unbeknownst to the two of them, Red, Jase’s right hand man watched them from a neighboring building. He looked through his binoculars at Vincent and couldn’t believe his eyes. He had to report his findings immediately to Jase.
Vincent set down the map and turned to go, but Catherine grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Vincent, will you stay for a while?”
Surprised, he looked down at her and faltered. “I... ”
Catherine rushed on, afraid he would protest. “Please! We can read some more chapters in the book.”
He lowered his head. trying to decide what to do. She was trying so hard to make up for her earlier behavior, and he wanted to ease her distress, so he nodded.
Catherine ran for the book that was next to her bed. She came out, settled down next to him, and they began to read.
Once again, they read late into the night. Catherine willed herself not to show how tired she was, because she didn’t want him to leave. She was hoping to reclaim the closeness of their friendship.
Vincent looked up at her and knew she was pretending. “Catherine, we should save the rest of this and finish it the next time I come.”
She looked at him and realized that he was tired too. She felt guilty for keeping him here. “Okay, Vincent.”
They rose together and Vincent stood and looked at her.
“I’m glad you came tonight.” She came forward, reached her arms around him, and laid her head on his chest. He slowly wrapped his arms around her. He didn’t hold her as tightly as he normally did, but she was happy he at least returned her embrace. He quickly backed away and began to leave.
He turned and nodded at her then left.
Red knocked furiously on Jase’s apartment door. Jase came to the door and let him in.
“Red, it’s the middle of the night. This better be good.”
Red nodded excitedly. “I saw him, Jase. I saw the guy the street people are always talking about.”
Jase looked at him in disbelief. “You what... where?”
Red chuckled. “You wouldn’t guess in a million years so I’ll tell you. On Catherine Chandler’s balcony.”
Jase stared at him in shock. “When?”
Red jumped around and paced the room excitedly. “Just now, I saw her and this guy talking. He looked up and his face was... I don’t know man... he looked like a lion or something.”
Jase rolled his eyes. “Have you been drinking?”
Red glared at him. “You know I don’t drink. I even saw him through my binoculars.”
Jase walked around his room wondering at the possibilities of the stories being true. “What were they doing?”
“I don’t know, they were talking then they looked at some big sheet of paper. A map, maybe.”
Jase thought for a while. “They were talking? Was she afraid of him?”
Red shook his head. “No, in fact she was holding his hands at one point. They looked pretty chummy.”
Jase smiled. “Good work, Red. I want you to keep a constant watch on everything she does.”
Red nodded and left.
Catherine still had her doubts about Jason Walker. The police had been keeping Jason under constant surveillance since the crimes started.
When she expressed her concerns to Joe, he laughed. “You gotta come up with some other angle, kiddo.”
She shook her head. “I’m positive about this Joe.”
“Cathy, just find out what you can... quickly…before this guy mauls any more people.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m doing the best that I can, Joe.”
Joe tapped her gently on the shoulder. “I know Radcliffe, I know... just keep at it.”
Catherine sought help from Edie who found out on her computer that the Protectors’ headquarters used to be an old rooming house for sea men.
Catherine went to the newspaper archives and dug through old newspaper articles until she found an article referring to Seamen’s Safe Haven and its story regarding the use of underground tunnels. She had her evidence against Jase Walker.
As she was leaving the building, two of Jase’s cronies strong-armed her and took her in a cab to see Jase. Catherine made a fuss about wanting to leave and Jase, knowing she knew about a beast like creature, showed her an alternative way out of his office.
Hidden behind his bookcase, activated by the movement of a sword on his wall of weapons, was a door with steps that led down to the tunnels. Catherine led the way followed by Jase’s two cronies.
Jase disappeared for a few minutes and Catherine pleaded with his cronies to help her stop him. She didn’t want any more bloodshed. Everything good he had ever created would be destroyed.
Jase came back dressed in a look-alike Vincent costume. She shuddered at the thought that he looked so much like Vincent and had paraded around for people to see him like this.
Jase moved threateningly towards Catherine.
Vincent was leaving the Whispering Gallery. At the exact same moment, Catherine spoke, her voice carried to him through the winds in the tunnels. He stopped dead in his tracks and spun around, straining to hear where her voice had come from. There….there it was again. He took off at a dead run. Catherine was in trouble and she was down Below.
Vincent flew through the tunnels at top speed until he came upon the group. He eyed Jase in his cloak and mask. He threw down one of Jase’s men and Catherine fought with the woman while Jase turned and ran.
After a quick glance to attest to Catherine’s well being, Vincent took off in hot pursuit. They met up on the bridge in the Whispering Gallery over the abyss.
Suddenly a board on the bridge gave out and Vincent fell through the hole created by it. At the last moment, he grabbed onto the sides with his arms, his body dangling precariously over the void. In this position, he was vulnerable and knew Jase could easily finish him off.
Vincent looked up at Jase in fear of what was to come. Jase looked him in the eye and with a final act of compassion turned and leapt to a vine hanging out from the ceiling. He hoped to swing to an opening across the abyss. The vine broke and Jase fell into the Abyss. He was gone forever.
Vincent struggled to get himself back up onto the bridge. He got up in time to watch Jase fall to his death.
Michael and Kevin had been nearby on sentry duty and heard Vincent’s roars. They came running but met up with Vincent outside the entrance. They saw that he was bleeding and came over to help him, but Vincent waved them off.
“I’m okay and we have more pressing matters. Michael, please see that Mouse gets to the entrance we came from and to seal it up immediately. There are two people there that know of its existence and it must be taken care of quickly.”
“Sure thing Vincent, I’ll find Mouse right now.” He turned to walk away and Vincent spoke again. “Michael, my friend Catherine was there as well... ”
Michael nodded. “I’m sure she’s okay. I’ll send a message to Mouse and meet him there. We’ll check on her.”
Michael left as Vincent turned to Kevin. “Kevin, could you please make sure that no one comes through here until the bridge has been repaired?”
Kevin nodded. “I’ll send for Kanin. He and I can have this repaired within the hour. Go see Father. We’ll take care of this.”
Vincent smiled gratefully and walked to Father for medical care.
As he entered Father’s chamber, Vincent saw him sitting at his desk pouring over some maps of the tunnels. He glanced distractedly at his son then back to the maps.
“Vincent? You managed to take care of our intruders?”
“Yes, it was the man Catherine’s been searching for, the one responsible for the killings on the subway. He led Catherine down here... ”
“Catherine? Is she okay?” He looked up then noticed the blood on Vincent’s shirt and flew to his son’s side. “You’re hurt.”
Vincent grimaced as his father assessed the wounds. “Yes, I... now know the pain one feels when my claws rip through their flesh.”
“Vincent, you have only done exactly what needed to be done when an occasion presented itself. The things you’ve done, you’ve done out of necessity. Please don’t do this to yourself.” At the look of acceptance in his son’s eyes, he continued. “Now off to the hospital chamber so I can get a good look at those wounds of yours.”
Vincent nodded and followed his father through the tunnels. Father tapped out a message and Mary was waiting there upon their arrival. Vincent stripped off his shirt and sat down on the bed. Mary supplied Father with fresh water and rags as he cleaned the wound.
Father grumbled. “Vincent, some of these will require stitches.”
He sighed. “I know.”
“Well, lie back. Mary please fetch me the items I will need to suture these.”
Mary handed him the tray with the necessary items. “Already done, here you go.”
He smiled at her efficiency and then began to suture Vincent’s wounds. Vincent was unnaturally quiet. His thoughts were on Catherine and her safety. He did not feel any fear in her but he wondered if she was all right.
Mouse peeked into the hospital room; he had a message for Vincent.
Father looked up and called out. “Mouse please stay back, we need this area to be sterile.”
Mouse stopped and looked indignant. “Mouse knows. Tell Vincent his Catherine left. People left too, she left, they left, back up top by now.”
Father nodded, grateful for the news, maybe now his son would relax and let him finish the suturing in peace. Father saw the relief flash in Vincent’s face.
“Thank you Mouse. That is good news.”
“Welcome, Vincent.” Mouse turned and ran from the room.
Thankfully, it was far too early in the day for Vincent to go Above. Father knew Vincent would not be dissuaded from seeing Catherine later. Vincent didn’t let him down and the second Father was done suturing the wounds, he announced he would be going to see her.
Father shook his head. “You still have a few more hours before you can go Above. Please spend that time resting. Also, I shouldn’t need to remind you to be extra careful, those stitches can easily come undone. No extra strenuous activities.”
Vincent smiled. “Yes, Father, I know.”
Father tried to keep a stern look on his face but eventually a smile crept through and he leaned and kissed the top of his son’s head.
Later that night, Vincent came to Catherine’s balcony. She was anticipating his arrival and was outside immediately.
She nervously walked up to greet him. “I’ve been so worried. I wanted to follow but there was no way for me to know which way to go.”
“It was wise of you to not follow. We don’t have many sentries in that area. Are you all right? I sent two of the men to check on you but by the time they got there you were gone.”
He nodded. “I chased him a long way through the tunnels. I finally caught up with him on a bridge over a place we call the Abyss.”
Knowing there was more to the story, she waited. When he didn’t continue she prompted him. “And you caught him? Is he Below?”
He remained silent and looked away. Catherine clamped down on her emotions and tentatively reached out to touch his arm. “Did you have to…um…”
He looked at her and shook his head. “No…we fought. The knives of his gloved hand slashed across my chest. In my pain, I advanced on him and didn’t pay attention to my footing. I must have stepped on a weakened board and I fell through the bridge.” Catherine gasped in horror and he quickly continued. “During my fall, I managed to grab on to the other slats of the bridge. I was at his mercy. Jase advanced on me but something made him stop. At the last second, he turned and reached out for vine to swing out to another entrance. The vine broke and he fell into the Abyss.”
Catherine nodded in understanding then asked worriedly. “Are you okay?”
He nodded. “I managed to pull myself back up on the bridge.”
Both of them knew he had avoided the answer and Catherine looked at him again. “And you’re okay?”
He turned to face the city. “Father insisted I needed a few stitches.”
“How many is a few?”
Vincent cleared his throat. “I believe he said eighteen.”
Catherine gasped. “Eighteen is not a few!”
He shrugged nonchalantly and turned from her to walk. “I’ve had more.”
“I’m afraid he’s gone, Catherine”
She looked up at him as she followed. “So you never found a body?”
“The children say that Abyss goes on forever, too deep and dangerous for us to plumb. He’s dead Catherine and his shadow is lifted from your heart.”
She nodded. “The killings will stop. They’ll never know… never know if he’s dead or gone or just waiting down there ‘til he’s needed again, like King Arthur. I think Jase would have liked that.” She smiled and continued. “How can a man have so much courage and empathy and passion and so little mercy?”
“Perhaps he lost it somewhere, but he found it again, in the end.”
She leaned into Vincent for a hug, mindful of his wounds. He held her gently. Her head neatly tucked under his chin. “She feels like heaven,” he thought.
She thought of how right it felt to be in his arms. She was grateful he had forgiven her. His friendship meant everything to her and she was glad she hadn’t lost it.
Catherine tightened her embrace until Vincent gasped. She had forgotten about his injuries and quickly released him then looked up at him, visibly upset. “It’s my fault this happened. You knew I was in danger didn’t you? You felt my fear again?”
Vincent looked down and hid his face as he slowly nodded his head.
She looked down in remorse. “I led him to you. I promised not to go to the police and I led him to you instead.”
“He knew of the tunnels, Catherine, eventually he would have found us.”
Catherine squeezed his hand. “Vincent, I’m sorry that this has happened but I want you to know I think it’s wonderful to be so connected to someone I’m so close with. I’m glad you and I have a bond.” She smiled up to reassure him.
Vincent looked up at her, shocked that she felt that way. He assumed she would be upset and find their bond intrusive. She continued to smile as she gently laid her head back down on his chest.
A short while later, Catherine looked up at him with confusion. “Vincent, I’m not sure why I ever doubted you.”
She shook her head as she pulled away from him. “I don’t want you to understand. I want you to know, I trust you more than anyone else in my life. I know you would never intentionally hurt someone if there was another way.”
“Catherine, don’t trouble yourself so. I know the evidence against me was overwhelming.”
Catherine nodded, grateful that he did understand. “I’m sorry I backed away from you, as well. I know you would never hurt me.”
She laid her head against his chest as he moved his arms from between them, tentatively putting them around her. Catherine smiled into his chest as she tightened her arms around him. Gradually his embrace tightened as well.
They stood for a long time and Catherine felt him sigh. “You must be tired. You shouldn’t have come here tonight. You should be resting.”
“I did promise Father not to be too long.”
Catherine stepped back. “Then you shouldn’t break your promise. I’ll see you soon?”
He nodded shyly. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
He left and Catherine smiled as she realized that this was the first time he said goodnight not goodbye.