BETWEEN THE LINES

 

I WAS NEVER GIVING UP
FIFTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

A young man sat in a chair in his prison garb with his hands in cuffs. He stared at his brother from the jail side of the wire visitor’s screen. His older brother sat on the freedom side.

“C’mon Tommy, if you’ve seen the murder you can tell someone…maybe get me a better rap…”

“I ain’t no snitch, Willie.”

“It ain’t snitchin … it’s revenge…the Silks have it coming. Besides…you told Ma you’d watch out for me!”

“I have. If you had been with us instead of chasing that stupid old lady of yours you wouldn’t have gotten caught.”

“It ain’t her fault!”

“No! It ain’t. It’s yours for using what’s below the belt to do your thinking for you.”

Willie lowered his head remorsefully. “So you won’t help me …”

Tommy stood with a sigh. “Even if I did turn snitch for you…who’s to say it’ll give you a lighter sentence…huh?!”

Willie looked hopeful for the first time in days. “If I get someone to listen will you tell them the story?”

Tommy chuckled sarcastically. “You get someone to come see me at the clubhouse and I’ll tell them everything!”

“Aww come on! Ain’t no one gonna go there to talk to you!”

“Not my problem is it? I ain’t gonna be seen sitting in no police station or talking to no cops! Take care, li'l brother.”

Tommy left the room, and Willie was escorted back to his cell where he lay in his bunk coming up with a plan.

*****

Early the next morning, Catherine was headed to the coffee pot.

“Hey, Cath?” Joe called out as she walked passed his office.

Catherine halted then took a few steps back and looked inside. “Yeah?”

“I got you a date.”

“A date?” Catherine rolled her eyes at him and shook her head as she walked into his office. “With whom?”

“Guy named Willie. He wants someone to talk to.”

“What’s he want?”

“Well, he’s serving ten years so my guess is a lighter sentence. He says he’s got some inside information he wants to share. He’ll meet you in the Tombs any time today.”

“The Tombs?” Catherine asked curiously then brightened as she figured it out on her own. “You mean the jail?”

“You got it, Princess!” he said as he handed her the file with a grin.

Catherine wrinkled her nose as she indicated the file he just gave her. “Lovely. Let me read through these notes, and then I’ll head over to see how good his inside information is.”

“Yeah, just be careful,” Joe said distractedly as he rifled through files on his desk.

Catherine sat at her desk and scanned through the file then left the office.

Once outside the prison, she took a deep breath then sighed as she walked inside. She walked up to the guard and showed him the paperwork and her ID.

“Hi, I’m Catherine Chandler. I’m here from the District Attorney’s office. I understand the prisoner indicated on this form would like to speak with someone from my office.”

The guard looked at the sheet then at Catherine. “And you drew the short straw?” he asked with a smile.

Catherine smiled at his friendliness as she looked at his name badge. “No Ralph, I guess I volunteered.”

“Volunteered? Are you nuts?”

“No! Why would you ask that?”

Ralph shook his head as he looked through the papers on his desk. “Because these guys are the scum of the earth and no one ever wants to go in there. Women usually have it worse. They’re gonna say stuff to you that’d make a sailor blush. You got a thick skin?”

“I can hold my own.” Catherine said as she held her chin up defiantly.

“All right!” Ralph nodded and looked at her with a newfound respect. “I tell you what; I’ll set you up in a private room so you don’t have to hear the crap these guys spew.”

“Thank you.”

Ralph nodded his head towards the door to his right. “Through there down the hall, third door on the left.”

“Got it.”

“Hey, be careful all right?”

“I will.”

Catherine walked into the room and took a seat. While she waited, she tried to clear her mind and remember that these prisoners were human beings and deserved to be treated with respect. Maybe this guy would have useful information, maybe he wouldn’t; but he at least deserved to be heard.

She looked up at him distrustfully as he was escorted into the room. “I’m Catherine Chandler with the District Attorney’s office. Mr ....” Catherine scanned her paperwork looking for a last name.

The prisoner sneered at her. “Name’s Willie. Just Willie.”

Catherine was not amused. “So, Just Willie. You wanted to see someone from my office.”

Willie sat back nonchalantly. “Yeah, but I didn’t think it would be a chick.”

Catherine shot him an angry look. “Yeah, well I guess it’s this chick’s lucky day.” She moved forward in her seat and her voice became low and threatening. “They say you know someone who witnessed a murder. You got a name, or am I wasting my time?”

At her display of anger, a flash of uncertainty crossed Willie’s eyes. “I got a name. He comes forward, I get my sentence reduced, right?”

Catherine sat back in her seat and snorted as she shook her head in disgust. “Yeah, that’s the game. We put one scumbag in and another one gets let out. Now, when can he come in to testify?”

Willie shook his head. “He won’t come in. You gotta go to him. Home turf, you know?”

“Yeah, I know, and what if I say no?”

Willie leaned forward in his seat, and his eyes were filled with desperation. “I’m hoping you won’t. I got a kid on the way, and my girl’s gonna need me.”

“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you beat a man up to steal his car.”

“That guy I beat up was my girl’s father. Her mother gave her that car before she died, but we didn’t have the money to change the title yet. The old man beat up my girl and stole her keys; he wanted to sell the car and keep the money. I took her to the clinic; and when we got back, she went to lie down, and I went to get the car.” Catherine debated about believing him, and he looked at her again. “You can believe me or not, but it’s the truth.”

Catherine sized him up for a few minutes and was impressed that he kept eye contact with her. She didn’t like it; but she wasn’t going to let a murderer go free, and this guy knew it. She nodded. “Fine, when and where?”

Willie was excited. He didn’t think she would agree to the terms. He had a newfound respect for this gutsy lady sitting in front of him. “See my man Shake. He’ll be at the bar, corner of 7th and Broom, tomorrow night…ten o’clock.”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Shake? You want me to go into that neighborhood and meet a guy named Shake? Why on earth should I trust that your good buddy, Shake, is going to tell me anything useful? He could just be lying to get you out of here. ”

Afraid she wouldn’t go, Willie looked at her worriedly. “He won’t lie. His real name is Tommy, but he hasn’t answered to that in fourteen years. And he’s not my buddy, he’s my brother.”

Catherine looked him in the eye for several seconds and tried to assess his character. She finally nodded. “Okay. I’ll go.”

Willie looked at her uncertainly then looked down as he spoke quietly. “One more thing … you gotta go alone.”

“What?!”

“Tommy don’t want to be seen talking to no cops! He won’t do it if word gets out that he’s a snitch! ”

“That’s a game changer isn’t it?” Catherine rolled her eyes with disgust.

Tears came to Willie’s eyes. “Please! You gotta promise you can’t take no one with you.”

She saw how deeply he was affected by the news and frowned. “All I can promise is that I’ll think about.”

“Thanks, lady.”

Catherine nodded and packed up her notepad then rose to leave when Willie called out a warning to her. “Hey, be careful down there...it can get pretty rough.”

Catherine looked at him and saw the sincerity in his eyes. She nodded and offered him a slight smile. “Thanks.” She turned to leave then turned back. “If I decide to go, and it’s a really big if … I promise I’ll go alone.”

“Thanks.”

She shook her head and chuckled in disgust as she left the prison. “They’re all alike ... big and tough on the outside ... lost little boys on the inside,” she thought.

*****

Catherine made it back to her office and began her day. She worked diligently until Joe called for her about three that afternoon.

She headed to his office where he motioned for her to sit. He opened up the top file on his desk. “This case on Dennis Crane ... you were able to get depositions from all the witnesses?”

Catherine nodded her head. “Yep, that’s all of them.”

Joe chuckled and shook his head with amusement. “How’d you get them so fast?”

She smiled shyly at him. “It’s my secret.” When he rolled his eyes she continued. “Fine, I’ll tell you! Family dinner, every Sunday, two o’clock at the diner on 26th, caught them all there at one time.”

Joe looked surprised. “On a Sunday? In the afternoon? You caught them all?”

Catherine shrugged. Joe closed the file and picked up another. “Larry McGovern? You got his brother-in-law to testify against him? Where’d ya find him?”

“Gym on Franklin Street ... nine o’clock pick-up game every Thursday night.”

“You know what a pick-up game is?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Yes. For your information, I used to play basketball when I was in grammar school.”

“Ha!”

“Believe what you want!”

Joe chuckled as he shook his head. “So how’d you get McGovern to talk?”

She grinned at him, sheepishly. “He told me he would answer one question for every free throw I made.”

Joe smiled with surprise. “Yeah, how many did you make?”

Catherine blushed. “Well only one ... but he was so impressed that I tried to shoot them in high heels he decided to answer all my questions.” Joe laughed out loud. Catherine narrowed her eyes and pretended to look indignant. “That was his response too.  At least I tried!”

Joe was still chuckling as he closed the file and opened another one. “Louis Amprey?”

Catherine shook her head. “Wrong place, wrong time.  The guy didn’t do it. He was with his dying mother at a hospice center that night. Signed in, and the head nurse and director testified he was there all night. Mother died in the early morning,and cops arrested him when he went to her house.”

Joe closed the file. “Okay, that’s it. Good work, Radcliffe.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

Catherine got up to leave and almost made it to the door when Joe’s voice made her turn around. “What’s going on with the murder of the convenience store clerk?”

Catherine shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know ... I have an appointment tomorrow night to interview the witness.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, what time? Maybe, I’ll go with.”

Catherine knew Joe wasn’t going to like what she said. She briefly debated about lying to him. “Ten o’clock.”

“Ten? That’s kinda late, don’t you think?  Where?”

Joe pinned her with a level gaze, and Catherine looked at him uncertainly. If he hadn’t liked the time, just wait until he heard about the place. “Lower east side, Broome Street.”

Joe angrily flew around his desk and approached her. “Are you crazy?! No! No way! You’re not going! That’s the worst damn neighborhood in the city!”

Catherine looked up at him with conviction in her eyes. “I have to, Joe! The guy says the witness won’t talk unless I come to him.”

“Then find another way!”

“There is no other way!”

Joe grunted. “Then I’m coming with you.”

Catherine shook her head. “You can’t. He said I had to come alone.”

“Yeah, I bet he did!” Joe was furious. “You call for back up?” Catherine guiltily looked down and Joe knew she hadn’t. “Damn it, Cathy! You know protocol calls for ….”

Catherine interrupted him. “I know what protocol demands, but sometimes we can’t always follow the rules.”

“This is not a good idea.”

“Joe, I’m a big girl. I can handle it. I promise I’ll be careful. I’ll have the cab driver wait outside for me; and at the first sign of trouble, I swear I’ll head out, I promise!”

Joe shook his head and threw his hands out to the sides. “I can’t let you do it!”

“Okay, I guess that’s it then.” She reached up and squeezed his arms to reassure him then turned and left the office.

Joe watched her leave and shook his head. Not one of his other investigators would have given up nights and weekends to do what she had been doing. She gave her life to this place. His eyes narrowed as he thought about how easily she had agreed with him. He wondered if she would go against his wishes and interview the witness anyway.

*****

That night, after changing into more comfortable clothes, Catherine was coming out of her bathroom when she glanced at her balcony. Vincent was walking around outside. She grabbed her coat and walked out to meet him. When he saw her coming, he retreated to the shadows, leaning back against the wall.

Catherine came out, walked over to him and hugged him then pulled back slightly smiling up at him. “It’s so good to see you! I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“It’s only been two weeks.”

Catherine smiled. “It seemed like a lot longer. How are your stitches?”

Vincent knew she referred to the stitches he got when Jason Walker grazed him across his chest before he jumped on a vine and fell to his death in the Abyss. “They’re out. Everything’s healed.”

“Good, I’m glad.” Catherine stepped forward and offered him another hug.

He hugged her back then dropped his arms to his sides and pushed off from the wall. “I wanted to see you … I thought .…”

“What…”

“I thought perhaps, if you weren’t busy, we could read for a while.”

Catherine smiled happily. “Wait here while I get the book … unless you’d rather come inside…”

Vincent shook his head instantly. “I’ll wait.”

Catherine nodded and went inside to grab the book and a blanket. She and Vincent settled down on the floor of her balcony and leaned back against the rail. They read for several hours until Vincent felt her growing tired. He closed the book and got to his feet, then offered her a hand and helped her up.

“It’s late; you should rest. Perhaps we could finish this tomorrow.”

Catherine’s face fell. “I can’t. I have a date.”

Vincent blushed and backed away. “Of course. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s not a real date! I mean.…” She smiled ruefully and touched his arm. “I have an appointment for work, Vincent.”

“You don’t owe me an explanation, Catherine.”

“I wanted you to know I would rather be here with you. I’m glad you came tonight, though. I wanted to see you; and if it weren’t for this ten o’clock appointment, I’d be able to visit with you tomorrow night, too.”

The phone rang,and Catherine ignored it; but she and Vincent both overheard as the answering machine kicked in and Joe’s voice came over the line.

“Yeah, Radcliffe, it’s me. I wanted to talk to you about tomorrow night … call me.”

Catherine looked up at Vincent and quickly explained who was calling. “That’s my boss, Joe.”

“It must be an important meeting for you to be going out so late.”

She nodded. “It is.”

“Joe sounds concerned.”

“He’s worried about me going.”

“Should he be?”

Catherine shrugged, and Vincent frowned then turned to leave. “Be safe, Catherine.”

She smiled after he left. Their bond was one of the most important things in her life. She cherished his friendship and was glad he could overlook her mistakes and the pain she had caused him in the past. She was honored that her friendship meant just as much to him.

*****

Luckily, Joe was tied up in court all day and Catherine never got a chance to see him.

That night, she hailed a taxi that took her to the lower east side of the city. The driver was leery about taking her there; but she offered him a generous tip, so he took her to the address she provided.

There was no bar around that she could see; she asked him to wait, and even tried to bribe him, but he said no and took off quickly. She walked the abandoned streets as thoughts raced through her mind. “What am I doing here alone? How do I get myself into these situations? Am I out of my mind?”

Vincent had been walking through the tunnels when he felt Catherine’s fear and anxiousness through the bond. He ran full speed and caught the nearest subway train then hopped off at a location near where he thought she was. He kept to the shadows in the alleys as he looked for her, wondering why she was in this neighborhood.

Catherine was walking past an alleyway when someone reached out and touched her arm. She flung her arm free, recoiling in surprise and fear, gasping for breath. She looked up at Vincent’s familiar face and tried to catch her breath. She smiled at him in relief. “Vincent! You scared me.”

He looked at her seriously. “You were right to be afraid. This is a dangerous place. I sensed your fear.”

She nodded in acknowledgment. “I’m supposed to meet a witness. He set the time and place.”

“Can you trust him?”

She shrugged. “It’s worth the gamble.”

He nodded. “Sometimes your fear can keep you alive. You should listen to it more often.”

He hoped she would use her gut instincts to keep herself safe. She nodded, smiling, thankful for his advice. He knew she was scared, and he still worried about her being here alone. “I’ll come with you.”

She shook her head. “No I have to go alone. I gave my word.”

He tried to comfort her. “Know that I’ll be near.”

Catherine went to walk away, then turned back. “Vincent, how did you get here so fast?”

 “The subway.” Vincent shrugged as he backed away.

Catherine nodded as she began to walk down the street. She thought about what he said, then realized he couldn’t ride inside the car like a regular person. She turned back with a question in her eyes, but he had already faded into the shadows.  She made a mental note to ask him what he meant by “the subway”.

She felt safer already, comforted by the fact that he was nearby. Vincent would be close if she needed him, and no one would ever know he was there because he moved so stealthily through the shadows.

*****

Catherine finally found the “bar” she was looking for. As she walked around, she noted that at one time it had actually been a bar, but now it looked like an abandoned building. This had to be the location of the gang’s headquarters.

She entered to find the place empty, and she walked around quietly, sensing they were there somewhere. A door opened in the back, and a group of tough looking men entered the room. They were definitely a gang.

She was nervous and swallowed hard as they scattered themselves around the room. She addressed them. “Which one of you is Shake?”

A blond man with dark sunglasses stepped forward. “That’d be me.” He approached menacingly. “You the lawyer lady?”

She nodded keeping a close watch on him. “I’m with the DA’s office … yes,”

“I talk to you, my man Willie gets cut some slack?”

“I can’t make any promises. He’ll do some time. But if you help us, I think we can get the charges reduced. He’ll do a year, two at the outside.”

“That’s cool. He can handle that.”

He smiled and started circling around her as she turned to keep a watchful eye on him. “Sit down. Can I get you a beer or something?”

Surprised by his manners, she chose to ignore them and press on. “Willie says you saw the convenience store owner beaten to death outside his market, that you can identify the guy that did it. Is that true?”

He drew closer, too close for comfort. “Don’t push babe, I like to ease into things…feel my way around.” He reached forward and touched her, hands moving over her body.

“Probably looking for a gun,” she thought. She quickly stepped away from him as he laughed at her, and at her fear. She became indignant. “Fine, you can feel your way in to Attica to see your buddy.”

She forcefully tried to walk past him. He threw up his arm blocking her progress. “You’re cold lady. Sit down and we’ll talk.”

Catherine sat down and stared at the man, while hidden in the shadows, Vincent crept closer to the building.

Shake continued with his story. “His name’s Chris ... he’s the number one gun for a gang named the Silks. Ever heard of them?”

She shook her head no. “I’m listening,” she prompted.

“Well, all they wear are suits, even the chicks. Chris got him a good source for those suits, new ones all the time, price tags still on them.”

“Stolen.”

“Oh…protection…shakin’ down store owners…takin’ it out in trade.”

Catherine nodded her head in understanding. “This Chris … he have a last name?”

“What? Are you taking a census? Like I said … Chris.”

Outside, a car stealthily crept down the street stopping in front of the bar Catherine was in. Five men, dressed in designer suits, got out of the car. Armed with heavy duty weapons, they began shooting at the building.

Catherine threw herself on the floor and rolled under the pool table for cover. Shake, the man she was interviewing, was on the floor injured, shot by a bullet but still alive.

Vincent jumped out of his hiding place and leapt through the air trying to get to Catherine, to shield her from the gunfire. As he was hit by a bullet, he let out a howl, and the noise vibrated through the air.

The gunfire outside immediately ceased as the men outside wondered what the strange noise was that had come from inside.

Vincent helped Catherine up and tried to steer her out the back door, but she turned back for her witness. “Wait, he’s alive!”

“I’ll get him…Go!”

Vincent propelled her towards the door once more while he turned back to carry the injured man out.  He looked up when something crashed through the window and landed on the floor. In an instant, he recognized that it was a bomb. The explosion blew out the front of the building. At the back entrance; Catherine paced frantically waiting for them when the blast sent her flying off her feet.

Shake’s gang members assumed he was dead, and they came after Catherine in retaliation for his death. A fight ensued, and Catherine fought back but was rendered unconscious with a blow to her face. 

The Silks, the rival gang responsible for the bomb, entered the blown out building to try to see if there were survivors from the blast. They laughed when they saw that Shake was dead but then gasped in horror when they found Vincent unconscious and badly burned.

Chris, the leader, kicked Vincent in the leg. “What is that thing?

Tony shook his head. “I don’t know but look at the size of him.”

Howie leaned over to examine the body. “He’s still breathing.”

Tony chuckled. “Let’s get him outta here and chained before he wakes up.”  

The men tied an unconscious Vincent’s arms behind his back.

Chris yelled loudly, “Howie! Put this thing in the trunk of the car!”

“I think he’s hurt, Chris.”

“Just do what I say!”

Howie struggled but managed to throw Vincent over his shoulder. He carried him to their car and dumped him in the trunk.

The gang took Vincent back to their headquarters where they chained him upright to the pipes in a back room.

“Chris, he’s bleedin’ real bad,” Howie said as he looked at Vincent’s leg.

“Yeah, so. He ain’t human, he don’t feel nothing,” Tony sneered.

“That’s not true. Even animals have feelings … ‘member, Chris, when we were little…Grandma had that cat, Bosco. Remember how much he cried when he got burned?”

Chris looked at Howie with disgust. “Shut up! No one cares about a damn cat!”

“You did. Remember how sad you was when he died?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Tony, you, and Al go see if that little bomb I threw took care of anyone else for us.”

His chains securing him in a upright position against the pipes, an unconscious Vincent was left alone in the room while the members all went to handle more pressing matters.

*****

Within ten minutes, Shake’s bar was surrounded by police and fire fighters.

A police officer called out to a nearby detective, “Hey, Jim! We found a woman, unconscious in the back alley.”

Jim Crawford came around the side of the building. He spotted the woman lying in a heap. He noticed her expensive clothing and shook his head. “She sure don’t belong around here.”

“Probably buying drugs,” the office said as he bent over.

Jim watched as the officer gently shook Catherine awake. She moaned and sat up as she held her head for a few seconds. She surprised everyone when she shot to her feet and frantically looked around as the detective quizzically observed her.

Catherine gasped when she saw that the place was swarming with detectives and officers who were investigating the explosion. Except for a bruise along her jaw where she had been punched, she was unhurt. Her thoughts flew to Vincent and she wondered where he was.

The detective looked her over carefully. “Can you tell me your name, miss?”

She met his eyes and nodded. “I’m Catherine Chandler. I’m with the District Attorney’s office. I was here meeting a witness to a murder I’m investigating.”

Realizing she wasn’t a drug dealer, his demeanor immediately changed as he held out his hand. “Jim Crawford, I’ve heard your name before. You okay?”

Catherine shook his hand. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

The detective looked at the building then back at her. “What happened?”

“Someone started shooting into the front of the building. Shake, the man I was interviewing, was shot, I ran into the alley, and the next thing I knew a bomb went off inside. The other gang members staggered out…they thought I’d set them up. They came after me. I fought back … then nothing.”

“Someone decked you, you’ve got a bruise forming …” he indicated with his pen to his own cheek to show her where it was on her.

“That explains why it hurts,” Catherine replied as she gently rubbed her jaw.

Jim looked back at his notes. “So, you came here to interview Shake? He’s the leader of this gang ... or rather he was the leader.”

“He’s dead then?”

“Yeah…tough bunch of guys to meet up with...you come down here alone?”

Catherine hesitated for a brief second. She was frantic to find Vincent, but she was unwilling to reveal his secret. “Yes.”

The detective eyed her behavior and wrote down some notes. “Lots of casualties in these street wars, you sure you’re okay?”

Catherine merely nodded.

“You’re lucky Miss Chandler. Anybody else inside when it went off?”

She shook her head and lied easily. “No, there was no one else.”

The detective walked away and Catherine saw the fire chief walking towards his truck. She ran to catch up with him. “Excuse me, excuse me!”

The fireman turned around. Catherine breathlessly stopped in front of him. “I’m Catherine Chandler with the DA’s office. Did you find any other bodies in there?”

“No, just the one guy.”

Catherine looked uncertainly at the building. “Did you look upstairs or in the basement?”

“Our men looked everywhere, Miss Chandler, I don’t think anyone could have survived that explosion.”

Catherine looked at him desperately. “Is it okay if I take a look around?”

He shook his head. “Look, lady, we searched everywhere. The structures not sound. I can’t have you going in there traipsing around. I’m telling you, no one is inside that building.”

Catherine grimaced and looked away. She was so worried, and she decided to head Below to see if Vincent had gone there.

*****

Five minutes after she left, a taxi roared to a stop. Joe got out and quickly located the detective in charge.

“Jim, what happened here?”

The detective nodded to his officers before he turned his attention to Joe. “Hey, Maxwell. What are doing here?”

Joe looked around frantically. “One of my investigators was supposed to be here tonight ....”

Jim chuckled. “Chandler?”

“Yeah! Don’t tell me she got hurt?!”

“No, she’s fine. She’s gonna have a bruise on her cheek; someone decked her, knocked her out cold. Officer Paulsen over there found her, woke her ... she seemed okay, kinda distracted though. She should’ve probably got checked for a concussion.”

Joe was looking over the area, searching for her. “Where is she?”

“Left … not five minutes ago.”

Joe barked at him. “You let her go?”

“Joe, I said she was fine. She gave me her name. I had heard of her before and I knew I could reach her. What’s the problem?”

“Damn!”

Jim chuckled as he shook his head. “Maxwell, you got it bad! Don’t you know better than to date anyone from the office?”

Joe whirled on him angrily. “Cathy Chandler and I are just friends!”

He stomped away while Jim looked at his retreating form and mumbled to himself. “Yeah, well I hate to be the one to tell you this, but one of you is friends and one of you is in love.”

Joe went to Catherine’s apartment. He banged on the door and found it empty then with a sigh headed home.

*****

Below, Father was reading stories to a group of the older children. Winslow came in and caught Father’s attention. He shook his head in answer to the unspoken question in Father’s eyes, and Father’s face fell as he clearly showed that he was getting worried. Vincent had mentioned going Above to see Catherine, but he normally returned much earlier from his trips. It was now late, and he still wasn’t back.

Father nodded and finished the chapter. “Okay, I think we’ll finish this tomorrow night.”

He expected to be bombarded with pleas of continuing, but something in his demeanor warned the teens of some type of problem.

Michael bravely came forward. “Father, what is it? Has something happened?”

Father looked at Michael, surprised they had been able to tell that something was wrong. He rushed to reassure them. “No, I’m sure Vinc ...” He stopped himself then continued. “Everything is just fine.”

Brooke came forward and stood by Michael’s side. “What’s wrong with Vincent?”

Father sighed. He should have known they would catch his blunder. “Nothing is wrong with Vincent. He’s just a little later than usual.”

Some of the older kids exchanged worried looks as a message came over the pipes from Catherine. She was calling Vincent then tapped out the word SOS.

Winslow looked over at Father with concern. Both men had assumed Vincent was with Catherine. Father shook his head in frustration. “Michael, will you please take Ellie to see what Miss Chandler wants. Ellie, would you run and go tell Catherine that Vincent is not here?”

“Of course, Father,” both responded then headed out.

*****

Catherine had taken a taxi to Central Park then had run for the culvert. She banged on the pipes as Vincent had taught her to do. Knowing he would have been here by now, she tapped the SOS code Kipper had taught her. She continued banging until Ellie showed up.

Ellie came forward. “Sorry it took me so long but it is a long way.”

Catherine asked about Vincent but Ellie could only tell her that he went Above tonight and hadn’t returned yet.

Catherine was starting to panic. She begged Ellie to take her to Father, so she could speak to him.

“Is something wrong? Is Vincent in trouble?” Ellie wondered.

“No, I just wanted to see him.”

“He’s okay isn’t he?”

Catherine smiled weakly “I’m sure he is. I need to talk to Father.”

Ellie tapped out a message telling Father that she was bringing Catherine to see him. Catherine was stunned. Ellie had only been here a short time but she adapted so quickly. As they walked, she turned to the girl.  “Ellie, you already know how to tap messages?”

Ellie shrugged. “Pascal taught me.”

“Pascal? Kipper told me he was the tunnels answer to an operator.”

Ellie looked up. “He’s the main guy that takes care of the pipes. He taught me in an afternoon. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.”

“And how’s Eric doing?”

Ellie smiled. “Great. He’s learning how to swim.”

Catherine half- heartedly smiled. She wanted to hear how Ellie and Eric were adjusting to life Below.  She kept up the small talk. “He learned how to swim? Where?”

“In the chamber with the pool...”

Ellie had answered her like Catherine should have known where she was talking about. She realized how little she knew about this underground world.

Catherine finally gave in to her worry and looked at Ellie. “Honey, I’m worried about Vincent can we walk faster? I have to see Father.”

Ellie nodded then started to jog and Catherine followed her.

Michael, on sentry duty, had overheard the exchange and tapped the message to Father.

The closer they got to Father’s chamber, the more anxious Catherine became. He would be furious with what she had to tell him. He would definitely blame her, and this time it was actually her fault. She dreaded the confrontation but would endure anything if it helped her to find Vincent.

She entered the library, and Father turned to her, dispensing with the amenities. “Well, what happened?”

She looked at him worriedly. “It’s Vincent. I’m afraid he might be hurt.”

Catherine knew that Vincent had probably been shot. She remembered hearing a yelp when the gun fire was coming through the windows. She didn’t dare tell Father this until she knew for certain.

Concern flooded through Father, “Hurt? Hurt how?” he wondered. He looked at her and demanded an explanation. “Tell me!”

“There was an explosion. A guy was killed. Vincent went in to try to save him. That’s when a bomb went off.”

She looked at him, afraid of the wrath she knew was forthcoming. Father started shaking at her words. He moved to sit down. “Oh my God!” was all he managed to say as he covered his eyes with his hand. His mind raced with all the possibilities of what could have happened.

Catherine rushed to tell him everything else she knew. “The firemen searched the rubble. They found the body of the man but no trace of Vincent.”  

“Where did this happen?”

She blanched again, knowing he was not going to like it. “On the lower east side, Broome Street.”

“The most dangerous part of the city for us, he knew that!” His demeanor soon changed from concern to anger. “What was he doing there?”

She balked again at the anger showing in his eyes and voice, but she timidly continued, “He was with me.”

“I have warned him, pleaded with him and now this….if he’s caught Above….”

She interrupted, lips quivering, fighting to hold back the tears. “I care for him more than anything in my life.”

He looked at her angrily. “Your relationship with my son is a tragic mistake … for both of you.”

Catherine wasn’t going to argue with him right now. She was desperate to find Vincent. She came closer and pleaded with him. “Help me. I promise you I will find him. I need your help.”

“Our access to that part of the city is limited. Only two entrances to our tunnels exist there. They’re rarely used.”

Catherine wouldn’t give up hope. “Will you show me?”

He looked at her and decided he had no other option than to trust her. He could use all the help he could get from Above and Below, to find Vincent, He opened the maps of their tunnels. “Here and here.” He pointed out the two locations.

Catherine looked at him hopefully. “Surely Vincent knows of these places?”

“If he can reach them.”

Both of them thought of the injuries he probably sustained in the explosion. Would they prevent him from reaching the secret entrances?

“Father ... I will find him ... I have to .…” She looked down as the tears flowed from her eyes.

He looked at her sharply, an angry retort on his tongue. He stopped short when he saw the tears streaming down her face. It would do him no good to take out his anger on her. He knew she cared about Vincent and that she was as appalled as he by the chain of events leading to the accident. It had taken her great courage to come here and face him.

He talked softly to her as he put his arm around her shoulders.  “Catherine, we must stay strong ... for Vincent … we must find him ... we will find him!”

She took a deep breath and wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “I know ... I’m going back to look for him. I won’t come back without him, I promise!” She walked to the steps to leave.

Father called out to her, acknowledging the woman who meant so much to his son. “Catherine, he’ll need your support when we do find him.”  

She nodded at him with a grateful smile. “I’ll be there for him. Thank you, Father.”

Ellie led her back to the culvert entrance. Ellie looked at Catherine with tears in her eyes. “You’ll find him, won’t you?”

Catherine nodded. “I’m going to keep searching until I do.”

She ran out and through the park and hailed yet another taxi to take her back to Broome Street.

*****

Catherine began to feel even more desperate and had a sudden idea. She stopped the taxi at a corner phone booth to call Isaac.

“Stubbs, here.”

“Isaac, its Cathy. I need your help! Please! You’re the only one I can trust!”

Isaac quickly got on board. “Easy now, Cathy, take a deep breath. What do you need?”

Catherine rushed forward. “There was an explosion in a bar, on the corner of 7th and Broome. I had a friend inside. The firemen didn’t find his body. Isaac, he’s missing, and I’ve got to find him.”

“Why won’t the police help you find him?”

“Isaac, I can’t say why …”  Catherine sighed. “But I can’t go to the police.”

Isaac could tell by the panic in her voice that Catherine was in serious need of help. If she was turning to him instead of the police this guy must be pretty damn special.

Her panicked voice came over the phone. “Isaac?!” 

“Sorry, I was grabbing some stuff. I’ll meet you there. Twenty minutes, tops.”

“Thanks, Isaac.”

Catherine slammed down the phone and ran back to the taxi. She made it there in less than ten minutes and waited until Isaac showed up.

*****

Father quickly tapped out a message to the tunnel community. Everyone who was available hurried to the library to convene. Father quickly dispensed the oldest members and the oldest teenagers to sentry duties. The younger teenagers were dispensed to the nursery to take care of the younger children or to the kitchen to help with meals.

Father looked at the older teens and the men and women as they stood and waited for their instructions. “Vincent is lost and possibly hurt somewhere on the lower east side, his last know location was on 7th and Broome Street to be exact. I want teams of no less than three men to go and scour the area. Look in basements and abandoned buildings. Send word immediately if he is found. Ladies, I’d like it very much if you could team up in groups of four and scour the tunnels throughout that whole area.  Old Sam lives near that neighborhood. If Vincent needs immediate medical attention, get him there and do what you can. I’m going to start making my way to the entrance in the basement of the old Beaumont hotel. ”

Everyone flew to do his bidding, breaking into teams as they made their way to their destination.

*****

Meanwhile, the gang members had come back and were terrorizing Vincent. One of them was prodding him with a steel pipe, prompting him to wake up. Another was shining a light in his eyes.

Vincent finally woke up and threw is head from side to side, trying to clear his vision and make sense of his surroundings. Everything he saw was distorted, shapes mostly and dimmed lights. He moved forward and realized he was chained. His head fell back in fear as he tried to remember the events that led him here.

He remembered seeing the bomb, then nothing. “What happened to me? Where am I?” he wondered. People were jeering at him, making fun of his appearance. His noticed then that his hearing was affected and that the voices and sounds were muffled, distant.

He shook his head again, blinking his eyes, but he couldn’t clear his vision. He could hear at least five or six different voices, and he wondered if there were a lot more people there. The voices were taunting him and he tried to break free. He ignored all of their comments until one voice clearly spoke of hurting him, cutting him with his knife. He growled a warning and the group collectively laughed. It seemed like an eternity but they grew tired of taunting him and moved on, leaving him bound and in pain.

The large man kept looking in on Vincent. Python noticed and called out to him. “Hey, Howie? You keep checking on that freak in there; he your twin brother or something.”

Python laughed hysterically at his own joke. Howie sadly looked down at the floor and shook his head. He tried not to look at the man as much but he still kept an eye on him.

Howie felt sorry for him. He knew the man was in pain and needed help. He wondered if he was able to talk. He thought with his size and strength that the man might want to hang out with them, become an asset to the gang. Howie was tired of always having to do the heavy lifting. Chris was always nice to him and now that Tony was back, it was pretty good; but Python was just plain mean, and Howie didn’t like him.

Vincent rested his head back against the pipe he was chained to. The chains were tight, and he couldn’t break free. He sighed when he thought about all the times Father had warned him about the atrocities that would befall him if he ever got caught Above. He shook his head in disgust for not being more careful then moaned as the pain in his head intensified. He closed his eyes and tried to steady his breathing. He tried to will away the pain so he could come up with a plan of escape.

Howie waited until no one was paying attention to him anymore then walked slowly into the room towards the chained man.

Vincent had his head back and eyes closed when he heard someone approach. “Not again,” he thought.

“Can you talk Mister? You know, I bet you can. I won’t tell no one, honest.”

Vincent could only see the outline as a big shadow approached. He thought that the voice sounded innocent, child-like. It went against his instincts but he decided to trust the man. “Yes,” he replied tentatively.

“You know, I knew you could. But you gotta shush, ‘cause Chris and Miss Patricia are in the other room, and they’ll hear. My name is Howie, not Pigmeat like Python says.”

Vincent spoke quietly. “I need your help Howie. Set me free.”

Howie shuffled his feet looking very undecided. “If I did, Chris would kill me.”

Voices sang out from across the room. Miss Patricia walked in and chased Howie away from their prisoner. “Hey! Get away from him!”

Howie backed away and lied. He would never tell them Vincent could talk. “I was just checking to make sure his chain was tight, that’s all.”

Seeing that he was awake, the gang came back to play with their prisoner. They sprayed Vincent with beer and the man called Chris lit a blow torch intending to burn Vincent. Vincent felt the heat of the flame drawing nearer.

Python interrupted. “Hey! Wait a minute. Wait. Wait. Back up … back up. Chris watch this. You’re not gonna believe this, watch this guy.”

Python swung a long crowbar like a baseball bat hitting Vincent across arm then cried out in delight when a loud crack could be heard. “He didn’t even flinch. How hard do you think I had to hit him to break that bone right there?”

He was laughing and pointing. He lifted the crowbar to strike Vincent again when Howie grabbed his wrist and wrestled him to the floor. Chris called Howie off Python, but Python got up and drew his gun on Howie. Chris diffused the situation quickly then advanced on Vincent slowly with the blow torch in his hand.

Vincent once again could feel the heat from the flame getting closer and closer. He knew that Chris wouldn’t stop this time. Vincent strained against the chains with all the strength he possessed. He finally managed to break free of the pipe he was tied to.

He was disoriented and as he stumbled around the room; he threw aside anyone who grabbed him or was in his way. He dug his claws into one of the men, killing him, he thought. He found himself at a door and crashed through it.

His senses told him he was outside. He threw his hands out in front of him trying to feel his way around. He had to hide; he had to get away from the gang. Frantic, he ran forward and ended up in the street. Cars screeched to a halt as they almost hit him. He spun trying to hide his features from the drivers. He moved forward frantically, finally reaching the other side. He crouched against a wall, trying to gather his thoughts and trying to catch his breath.

His mind raced. “Where am I? What part of the city am I in? Am I still on the lower east side?” He remembered that there were only two entrances to his world down here. “How can I find them when I can’t see?”

Knowing he wasn’t safe in the open, he got up and kept moving. He hid behind some crates in a warehouse so he could rest. A security guard found him, and in answer to Vincent’s question, confirmed that he was still on the lower east side, Broom off of Pitt. Vincent slipped away while the man was still talking.

“Good, now that I know I’m closest to the entrance at the Beaumont hotel. How do I get there?” he thought. He took off, keeping to the shadows in the alleyways.

*****

Shake’s bar had been reduced to a shell, and Catherine paced in front of it waiting for Isaac to come. Finally a taxi pulled up in front of her. Isaac stepped out, and she hugged him. “Thanks for coming.”

Isaac nodded and looked around. “Friends do for each other. That’s what it’s all about. Now, what can you tell me about this friend of yours?”

“He’s very special to me, Isaac. I know this is strange but I can’t give you more than that.”

“Well, you can trust me.”

She shrugged. “I know I can trust you. I just can’t explain.”

“Then don’t. He’s your friend, that’s enough.”

He turned and looked at the front of the building in disbelief. “He was in there when this went off?” He didn’t think anyone could survive this type of blast but he wouldn’t tell her that.

“Yes, he must have gotten out; they didn’t find a body.”

He looked over at a couple of street people, wondering if any of them had witnessed the crime. He went over to talk to them and found that an old gentleman said he was sleeping when the explosion woke him up. He saw some guys in fancy suits drag some guy out and stuff him in their trunk.

Catherine knew it was the Silks. They must have taken Vincent. “My God, now what!” she thought.

Isaac, seeing her concern, reassured her that they would find her friend. They got back into the taxi, planning on searching through the streets and alleyways. They drove slowly looking in the shadows trying hard to find him.

Catherine was desperate. Her mind raced with possibilities. “How can I find him? Where is he? How could I have gotten him into this? It should have been me in that building. What are the Silks doing to him?” She knew deep down that this was all her fault.

*****

The men from Below scoured the area as well. They asked information from
the street people and searched every building in the area with no new information about Vincent. After two hours, three of the teams decided to search the tunnels in case Vincent had made it Below. Meanwhile, the other teams continued to look Above.

Knowing his son would need medical attention, Father had started the long walk to the area. Over the pipes, the teams from Below that were searching for him kept him updated on their progress.

Team KC, which was Kanin and Cullen, went North; Team MK, which was Matthew and Kevin went South; Team JD, which was James and Dave, went East; and Team PR, which was Paul and Robert, went West.  Each team reported the same thing. “Four block search of perimeter nothing to report.”

Team WM, which was Winslow and Michael, also reported. “Street people said guy was carried out of building and thrown in trunk. Just told the same thing to a young sandy haired woman in nice clothes.”

Team MJ, which was Mouse and John, reported. “Four block search nothing to report, lady asking same questions as them.”

Team JZ, which was Jamie and Zack, was the last to report. “Twelve block radius and no one Below in tunnels.”

Knowing that the teams had covered four city blocks in all four directions from the location of the explosion confirmed to Father what he had already suspected. Vincent must be hurt somewhere.

*****

Three blocks away from all of his friends, Vincent stumbled through an alley, hiding when a car approached. Unknown to him, it was the taxi that Catherine and Isaac were in. He startled when he felt her presence nearby.

“Catherine,” he said to no one as he closed his eyes. His first thought was relief that she was not harmed in the explosion. His next thoughts were that she was near and that she would find him. He could feel her desperation and fear. He knew she would keep searching until she found him. He let the feelings of relief flow through his body. He hoped that through the bond, she would feel that he wanted to assure her he was alive and near. He didn’t know if she would be able to interpret the feelings but he tried anyway. The contentment he felt was short lived as his injuries ached and reminded him of his precarious position.

Catherine sat in the taxi, and for some reason felt like Vincent was still alive. He was hurt but somewhere nearby, trying to find his way home.

*****

Vincent knew he had to keep moving; he had to find his way Below. He thought he could see steam coming up in the street from a drainage tunnel grate. He waited to head to it as a car passed by him.

He crawled out into the street and tried to lift the sewer cap to the tunnels. Because his arm was broken from where Python had hit it, he didn’t have the strength to lift the cover.

Unknown to him, the car that had just passed by him belonged to the Silks. They saw him in the rearview mirror and spun the car around. Increasing speed as they barreled down on him, Howie grabbed the wheel and wrestled with Chris, but they hit Vincent anyway, breaking several ribs and sending his body flying through the air. Their car drove into the side of a building. As the gang members fought amongst themselves, Vincent rolled with the force of the hit then got up and kept moving. He found a quiet place to hide in the entrance to a basement apartment.

A while later, Lucy, a hooker, walked home alone that night. Her door was at the basement apartment where Vincent hid. She saw him and knew he was the guy the Silks had hit with their car. When Vincent made to leave, his strength gave out and he collapsed on her. Making an instant decision, Lucy helped him into her apartment.

Vincent hid his appearance from her; but when she reached over to help him, she saw his features. She screamed and recoiled in horror. He got up and left and made it out the door where he collapsed against the side of the building. Compassion took over and she was able to control her fear. She knew he wasn’t safe out there with the Silks looking for him. He was badly hurt and needed a doctor, and she quickly brought him back inside her apartment to rest.

Vincent told her in a voice raspy with pain that his father was a doctor and he just needed to get home. He told her he couldn’t see, but he needed to find a place called the Beaumont Hotel. Lucy knew the place and Vincent asked her to tell him how to get there. Lucy offered to take him there instead.

“Thank you, Lucy.”

“Look, mister. Why don’t you rest here for a little while? The Silks may give up soon and go home for the night.”

“My name is Vincent.”

“Vincent.” Lucy nodded and covered him up with a blanket. She ran and got him a glass of water and handed it to him. He drank the cool liquid and settled down against the back of the couch. Vincent finally took the time to assess his injuries. He knew his shoulder had been hit by a bullet when the Silks fired into the bar. He could no longer feel the blood running down his back and he wondered if it had stopped bleeding or if he was in shock. His eyesight and hearing were compromised as well from the explosion. He knew that his forearm had been broken when Python hit him with the crowbar. He also knew that was what was contributing to his lack of oxygen was the fact that he sustained several broken ribs when the car hit him in the street. His leg had sustained injuries, but he thought that it was perhaps just a deep cut, as he was certain the blood stopped dripping down his pant leg.

Lucy came back into the room, and Vincent startled awake. He felt his strength weakening, and he knew he couldn’t stop here for long or he’d never make it Below.  

Vincent looked over at her. He still couldn’t see very well but he asked anyway. “Lucy, I can’t stay here I .…”

“Sure you can.”

“My injuries are too severe; I need to see my father .…”

“Why don’t I call him? He could come here.”

“He can’t be reached by phone.”

“Oh, so he’ll be waiting for you at the Beaumont?”

Vincent thought for a few seconds then nodded knowingly. “I think he will, if not; others will come for me and take me to him. Could you show me the way?”

Lucy nodded and got up. “Sure, Vincent. If it’s what you want, I’ll take you there now.”

*****

Two hours later, Isaac and Catherine came across yet another police investigation of another murder. They viewed the body but it wasn’t Vincent’s.

The stress was getting to her. “Where is he?” she wondered.

Isaac reached out to comfort her, and she looked up at him. “He’s hurt Isaac, I know it, he’s hurt and he’s alone.”  

“Well, we’ll just keep looking ‘til we get to him.”

She looked at him in desperation. “We’ve got to.”

Isaac sighed. “Look, I’m not going to ask you any questions, all right, but if there’s anything you can tell me about this guy ….”

“Isaac, I can’t,” Catherine’s eyes pleaded with him to understand. ‘I would tell you if I could.”

“Okay.” Isaac assured, then saw her struggling with indecision. “Hey … it’s cool.”

She sighed looking at him. She decided to trust him and take a chance. She needed his help if she ever wanted to find Vincent.

“His name is Vincent.”

“Vincent?”

“I owe him my life!”

Isaac nodded with understanding. “Come on, if he’s out there we’re gonna find him.”

They got back into the taxi and continued their search. Catherine looked across the seat at Isaac. “Isaac, Vincent was the one who found me after my attack. He nursed me back to health both physically and mentally. I owe him everything!”

“He must be a great guy for you to go to all this trouble.”

Catherine smiled at him with tears pooling in her eyes as she finally confronted the depth of her feelings for Vincent. “He’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met in my entire life. He’s everything to me.”

Isaac reached over and took her hand into his. “We’ll find him, honey, don’t worry.”

They came across yet another crime scene. Someone had tried to get into a drainage tunnel when a car hit him flipping him into the air. Witnesses reported that the guy got up and kept going.

Catherine knew it was Vincent. He had been so close to getting home. She had proof he wasn’t dead, though he was badly hurt. She knew the hotel entrance was nearby, and she thought they could head over there and possibly find him.

Isaac started to wonder about Catherine’s friend. “What kind of a man walked away from an explosion? What kind of a man got hit by a car, got up and walked away? Who was this guy?”

He looked over at Catherine again. “You can’t tell me nothin’ else about this guy, huh?”

Catherine sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry …”

Isaac tentatively looked over at her and sighed. “Cathy, your friend survived a bomb and then gets hit by a car? I think he’s probably in an alley holed up and…  ”

“Don’t say it, Isaac!”

“Cathy…”

“Isaac, I can’t let myself believe that anything’s happened to him!”

Just then Catherine felt a wave of something flood through her. “What was that?” she thought. She realized it was the bond, and she knew Vincent was alive but hurt. She shook her head at Isaac. “I’m not giving up!”

Isaac reached for her hand. “Let’s keep looking then.”

*****

Lucy was leading Vincent to the abandoned hotel when the Silks saw them walking through the park. Lucy urged Vincent to keep going as she hung back and tried to stall the gang.

The Silks strong armed her into showing them where Vincent was going, and she led them to the hotel. Vincent had only gotten a small lead on the gang but because he was moving at a slower pace, they quickly caught up to him as he tried to get inside the hotel.

Vincent had just ripped the steel door of the hotel off its hinges when Python caught up to him. He heard the click of Python’s gun and using the element of surprise; Vincent threw the door at Python then ran into the safety of the dark hotel. Hiding in the shadows, he began to make his way to the basement.

Chris and Howie ran up and lifted the heavy gate off of Python then followed Vincent inside. Spreading out they searched for him. Python saw him first on a staircase then shot at him and proceeded to chase after him.

Vincent knew Python would catch up with him so he chose to hide in the shadows;and as Python walked past, Vincent lashed out at him and quickly disposed of him.

Gasping for breath, he continued down towards the basement. He found the entrance to the tunnels. It hadn’t been opened in years, and in his weakened condition he couldn’t open it. Vincent knew the others in the gang were coming up behind him and for the first time he felt himself giving up.

Howie, the man with the child-like voice came up behind Vincent. Vincent whirled around ready to fight but Howie reassured him that he only wanted to help him get home. Together they opened the heavy door.

Just then Chris, the leader, came up behind them. Howie wouldn’t get out of his way, and Chris tired of the game and shot him in the chest. In his last act of defiance, Howie grabbed Chris holding him tight to his chest he reached between them and grabbed a hold of the gun and shot Chris so Vincent could be free.

Vincent heard the gun go off and then the silence filled the room, he sighed with relief and turned then entered the tunnels. He was home at last.

*****

Catherine and Isaac had heard the gunshots as they came up onto the hotel. They quickly followed the sounds and stepped over bodies as they entered the tunnels just behind Vincent.

Gasping with relief when she saw him, she begged Isaac not to ask any questions, thanked him profusely for all his help, and then told him she had to get Vincent home. Isaac stared at Vincent’s face. He blinked in shock but made no comment as he turned and left.

Vincent had stopped when he heard Catherine gasp. He turned in wonder at her voice. His vision still affected, he called out into the air. “Catherine?”

She ran to him and held him gently. “I’m here, Vincent.”

Catherine felt his relief over the bond as he weakly returned her hug. “I knew you were close by … I was never giving up!”

She placed Vincent’s arm around her shoulders and lead him towards the tunnels.

With relief, Catherine saw Father standing at the end of the tunnel and guided Vincent towards him. “Oh, thank God Father’s here.”

“Father?” Vincent gasped in disbelief as his eyes stared out into the air in front of him.

Father approached them and soon realized that Vincent couldn’t see him. He worriedly stepped closer. “Vincent!”

“You’re here?”

Father stepped forward and hugged his son. “I left and started walking here a few hours ago. I knew you’d remember this entrance, and I could only hope you could make it here. How are you?”

“I’m ... okay.”

“You are not okay!” Father sputtered angrily. “But let’s get you to a place of safety. Can you make it?”

“Yes.”

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

Isaac stood outside the entrance and leaned against the wall. He had heard Catherine gently talking to the man, and he knew she was safe, but he couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the guy to make him look the way he did.

He knew from Jason Walker that there was a series of tunnels below the city that people supposedly lived in. Isaac figured the guy was probably one of the people who lived Below.

He pushed off against the wall and peered around the corner in time to see an older gentleman disappear into a tunnel. The entranceway soon became dark.
Isaac heard police sirens off in the distance. He pushed against the heavy door and shut it then searched around and found some old boxes and carefully stacked them up against the door. With one last glance, he ran up the stairs where he found Lucy still crying in a corner of the room. He grabbed her by the arm and took her out the back way as he saw the police cars race up to the front of the building.

He and Lucy made their way back to the park area. Isaac was unsure of how to proceed when Lucy looked up at him. “Did Vincent get away?”

Isaac raised his eyebrows at her. “You know about Vincent?’

Lucy shook her head. “No, I just met him less than an hour ago. Was that his old lady chasing after him?”

Isaac shrugged. “Yeah, I think it was.”

Lucy smiled. “Lucky girl.”

Isaac shook his head in disbelief. “Look, the cops are gonna think this was a gang fight gone bad. You gotta forget you ever met that guy, Vincent, okay?”

Lucy nodded her head. “Gotta keep him safe, right?”

Just then a tough looking black man walked up to the two of them. Isaac guessed that Lucy belonged to him.

He ignored Isaac and headed straight for Lucy. “Hey, you been working tonight, right?”

Lucy shuddered with fear. “Tyrone...I...”

Isaac saw her fear and came to her rescue. “Hey man, back off! This lady just gave me the night of my life. Ain’t that right, sugar?”

Lucy slowly nodded as Isaac gave her a kiss on the cheek. The man sneered. “Yeah, well she better have the cash to prove it.”

Isaac grabbed his wallet and took out a hundred dollar bill. He handed it to Lucy. “I was just getting to that part, before you interrupted.”

The man tipped his hat and took it from her hands. Isaac looked  angrily at him. “You done now? I’d like to say my goodbyes.”

The man sauntered away and hopped into a waiting car. Lucy looked up gratefully. “Thanks…um…you got somewhere we can go so I can pay you back.”

“No, you don’t owe me a thing.” Isaac handed her his business card. “You ever get tired of this, you come see me, okay? I’ll get you on a clean way of living.”

He walked away and Lucy headed home thinking about the two wonderful men she had met that night.

*****

 

Knowing Vincent’s condition was deteriorating, Father turned to Catherine. “Can you lead him a little further down the tunnel?”

“Of course.”

“Around the bend the ceiling gets quite low, be mindful of his height and his head clearance.”

Catherine nodded but looked at him curiously. “Sure.

Father saw her curious look and frowned as he nodded towards Vincent. “He needs you to be his eyes, I don’t believe he can see right now.”

“Vincent?!” Catherine’s face showed her horror as she looked into Vincent’s eyes. “Is that true?!”

“I .…” Vincent sighed as he hung his head in defeat. “Yes.”

Catherine held him closer as Father allowed them to walk past him. He fixed the false wall he’d taken down but he knew he’d have to send a repair crew here immediately.

Father walked past them once again and led the way. Once they were relatively safe in the inner tunnels, he spotted a large boulder up ahead. “Vincent, lean against this boulder here.”

Vincent gasped in pain but did as he was told.

Father listened with his stethoscope to Vincent’s chest. “Your breathing is quite labored. You have broken ribs don’t you?”

Vincent nodded, his voice gravely with pain. “Yes, but ... this is probably more immediate.”

Vincent moved his arm and Father noticed the blood slowly trickling from a bullet hole. He quickly peered at the wound as best he could. “It appears it went straight through.”

Catherine looked at them, a question in her eyes. “What did?”

Father looked at her disgustedly. “The bullet he was shot with!”

Catherine’s face paled as she frowned. Vincent imperceptibly reached for her hand and squeezed it in reassurance. “Father, my arm is broken as well.”

Catherine listened in horror to all Vincent had endured because of her. Father dug into his medical bag and took out a huge medical bandage. Mindful not to embarrass Vincent in front of Catherine, he looked over at her. She read the unspoken message in his eyes and turned to face in the other direction.

Father reached inside of Vincent’s shirt and placed the bandage against the bullet wound, then secured it with several layers of material. The tightness of the layers of clothing Vincent usually wore would keep it in place. He cleared his throat, and Catherine watched as he took off his scarf and wrapped it around his son’s neck and made a sling for his broken arm.
Catherine wiped the tears from her eyes and held his hand, but Vincent closed his eyes and he hissed in pain as his father tightened the sling and immobilized his arm.

Father sighed. “You’re limping … is your leg ....”

Vincent shook his head. “No, just badly bruised. Father, my vision is affected. Everything is blurry, and my hearing ... it’s ... like I’m underwater.”

Father nodded. “No doubt you have a concussion. Vincent, I’ve sent for a stretcher. They should be here within a half hour.”

Catherine looked surprised until she realized just how far away they were from the home tunnels. She looked at Vincent with concern, somehow she knew he was weakening, and she was afraid he couldn’t hold out much longer.

Vincent felt her concern flood through him. He squeezed her hand again to reassure her. “Father, I can walk until we meet up with the others.”

Father chose to ignore him and turned to Catherine. “Catherine, some men are going to be meeting us, but it’s a very long way. I had a hard time getting here myself, and I don’t think I can be much help; but if you think you can help support Vincent as you just did, we can walk and make up some distance.”

Catherine nodded. “Of course, Father. I’ll do whatever’s necessary to get him home.”

“Good girl.” He smiled at her bravery. “Come now, Vincent, let me help you stand.”

Catherine took her place once again and got under Vincent’s arm to support him. Vincent kept his weight off of her as they walked; but now that he was home and safe, his reserves were giving out, and he was leaning heavily on her.

After a while, Catherine was literally supporting a huge portion of Vincent’s weight. He was almost delirious and didn’t seem to know that he was draped over her. She was exhausted but wouldn’t complain. Her body cried out for relief, but she didn’t dare stop for fear she wouldn’t be able to get back up again. She put her head down and plodded along.

Father had been leading the way. His pace was slow, his limp more pronounced. He grimaced with each step. The pain in his leg from the miles he had walked getting to Vincent was unbearable. He had walked more today than he had in years, now going home … well, he hoped he would make it.

He turned back for the first time to look at Vincent and stopped immediately. Vincent’s body hung nearly entirely across Catherine’s. How long had they been like that?

Catherine looked up at him. Her eyes had dark circles under them, and her face was pale from the strain on her body. “What is it Father?”

Father sputtered in disbelief. “Catherine, why didn’t you say anything?”

He went over and took her place under Vincent’s arm. “Good God, he’s heavy,” he thought. “How did that little slip of a girl make it this far supporting Vincent’s weight?”

Catherine felt light-headed when she was relieved of the weight of Vincent’s body and grabbed for the wall to steady herself.

Suddenly, down the tunnel, came their reinforcements. With a quick nod at Father and Catherine, four of the men put Vincent on a stretcher. Once he was safe, Vincent slipped off into unconsciousness.

Father looked at the group of men. “Get him to the hospital chamber immediately. Have Mary do what she can until I can get there.” Considering they were carrying Vincent’s weight, the men took off at a fairly fast pace and soon disappeared from sight. He then addressed the other two men. “Cullen, Michael, please go back to the old Beaumont Hotel entrance and secure it. I erected the false wall again but I fear I did it with such haste it may not be suitable to deter someone.”

The two men glanced briefly at Catherine then took off at a jog as Father turned to Catherine. She stared back warily, afraid of what he was going to say. She straightened herself up, ready for whatever came next. He silently offered her his arm and she walked to him, gratefully accepting it.

“Father, shouldn’t they have tried to keep him awake. Isn’t it dangerous for him to sleep if he has a concussion?”

“For most people, yes, but for Vincent ....” As they walked, Father told her what to expect. “Catherine, Vincent will wake up after I treat his injuries. Then, most likely, he will sleep for at least forty eight hours. His body heals very quickly. It’s almost like it shuts down everything except that which is needed to heal itself. If you can, I would like you to be there after surgery. He’ll want to see you. Then you’ll be free to go home. I know you’re exhausted, I can see it in your face, but will you do that for Vincent?”

Catherine nodded, upset that he thought he had to ask. She would stay with Vincent the whole forty eight hours if they would let her. “Of course. I would do anything for him.”

They walked as quickly as they could. Catherine slowed her steps to accommodate him, and she gently supported him on the last half of the walk. He leaned on her heavily towards the end, surprised by her strength.

They walked into the hospital chamber, and Father nodded at her gratefully then motioned to a chair in the corner. Catherine walked over and sat down.

Father walked behind the curtain and quickly prepped for surgery. With help, Mary had gotten Vincent out of his clothes and he lay with a sheet wrapped around his middle.

Father gasped at the bruises to his son’s chest. Mary had carefully cleaned around a huge bump on Vincent’s forehead. Father suspected that this injury was the reason for the concussion that brought about Vincent’s eyesight and hearing problems. Mary had put a cold compress on it, and it seemed as if the swelling was beginning to go down.

Father and one of the men got Vincent’s ribs taped, and then they laid him back on the table.

He discovered Vincent’s arm was dislocated as well as broken. He had two of the men come in to help him and they quickly maneuvered his dislocated arm back into place. Vincent’s roar of pain echoed through the chamber until he passed out again.

Catherine jumped when she heard the roar. She rose and headed to the room then backed away and slowly sat back down. She nervously chewed on her lower lip as tears fell from her eyes.

Father set Vincent’s arm while Mary prepared a cast. It wasn’t long before the arm was covered with thick plaster.

The men helped get Vincent into a gown then left the room. Mary gently put salve over the burns on Vincent’s face. Father checked Vincent’s vision and let out the breath he’d been holding when the pupils dilated normally. He prayed that with time Vincent’s vision and hearing would return to normal.

Next, Father turned his attention to Vincent’s leg. He noticed his lower leg had in fact not just been bruised but had a fracture in it. He wondered how Vincent had managed to walk all that way.

His thoughts turned to the woman who had helped him. He guessed that Catherine had supported Vincent for much longer than he had originally thought.

Father made a walking cast for Vincent’s leg while Mary hooked him up to an IV for fluids. Father sighed aloud when he finally finished with all his injuries. “Thank you, Mary.”

She gave him a weak smile. “He hasn’t been this bad in a long time. Shall I sit with him?”

Vincent’s weak voice whispered, “Catherine.”

Mary caressed his cheek. “She’s outside dear. Would you like me to get her?”

Vincent didn’t answer, but Father, as he left the room, nodded at Catherine. He smiled to take the sharpness from his words. “You can see him now. Please keep it brief.”

Catherine nodded and smiled gratefully then walked around the curtain. She saw Mary as she stood by Vincent’s bedside.

Mary turned and looked at her. “Come closer, Catherine. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Mary.”

Mary had extended her hand, and Catherine gratefully took it. “Hi, Mary. It’s nice to meet you as well. Are you the same Mary who Vincent said helped take care of me?”

Mary smiled. “Well, Vincent did most of the work, but I helped with the...feminine things.”

Catherine blushed and smiled at her. “I never got a chance to tell you how much I appreciated everything you did for me.”

Mary shook her head. “Nonsense, you needed help, and I was there. Now, look at how nicely you have healed. You look wonderful, no scars at all.”

Catherine shrugged. “Father did an excellent job. I saw a plastic surgeon and he said Father’s expert stitches made his job easy.”

Vincent moaned, and Mary moved aside to let Catherine close to him.

Catherine gently lifted his hand in her own, unconsciously rubbing the backside of his hand with her thumb.

Vincent slowly opened his eyes and looked her way, mimicking the words she had once spoken to him. “I owe you everything … everything.”

She smiled as tears fell freely from her eyes. She reached up and gently touched his cheek. “You owe me nothing. You’re a part of me, Vincent. Just as I’m a part of you. You should rest now.”

Vincent fell off to sleep. Catherine kissed his hand then placed it down. She gently lifted up the covers and pulled them to his chin. Mary nodded and smiled then nodded to the edge of the curtain.

With one last glance, Catherine left while Mary sat down in a chair next to Vincent.

Father had changed back into his regular clothing. He had overheard her comment about his surgery skills and was touched that she gave him credit for her recovery. He hoped his assumptions about this woman would be proven wrong. “Catherine, will you come with me?”

She nodded and followed him into the library where he offered her a chair to sit down. He reached up and poured them both a cup of tea.

Father cleared his throat. “Are you all right?”

Catherine nodded and looked down as her stomach clenched in fear for what he was about to say to her. She knew she deserved what she was about to hear, but she still didn’t want to face him.

“Hmm, thank you for finding my son.”

Catherine looked up at him in shock. “I had to find him. There was no other choice to make.”

He shook his head and looked away. “That’s not true, and we both know it. You could have walked away and left him to fend for himself.”

Catherine thought of Vincent alone and lost and enduring what he had been put through. She choked on her tears. “No, I could never have done that, not to him.”

Father nodded his approval. He suspected this woman did care about his son. It had been several months since she knew of the world Below, and she never revealed their secret. Maybe she could be trusted. He leaned over and took her hand. “You must be tired. Would you like me to have someone guide you out?”

She sniffled and nodded. “Yes but I wonder, if Vincent doesn’t remember, would you tell him I was here?”

Father chuckled aloud. “My dear, Vincent remembers everything! He will certainly remember you were here.”

She smiled and touched his hand. “Thank you.”

Father tapped out a message and Kipper came in. “Father?”

“Kipper, my dear boy, will you kindly escort Catherine to her threshold?”

Kipper beamed at the responsibility he was being entrusted with. “Sure!”
He ran excitedly from the room and then came sheepishly back. “Are you ready, Catherine?”

She giggled and followed him.

Mary came in as they were leaving. She smiled and allowed them to pass.

Father looked at her with concern. “Mary, is Vincent all right?”

Mary took in his pale appearance from the stress and pain he endured tonight. “Yes, Father, he’s fine. I just wanted to tell you that Sara and I will take care of Vincent tonight. You’ve had a long day and a very strenuous walk. You should get your rest.”

Father visibly relaxed. “Thank you, Mary. I wondered for a moment if I would have to send for a stretcher for myself.”

She smiled. “Well, you’re stronger than you think. You made it all that way”

Father sighed. “Yes, but I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have Catherine’s help I’m afraid.”

Mary furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”

“The girl’s strength is remarkable. I was so wrapped up in my own pain, I didn’t know Vincent had been leaning on her so heavily! She all but carried him for most of the way. Eventually, I looked back and noticed him draped over her; she was ready to collapse! But not once, Mary, did she complain; she never said a word!”

Mary comforted him. “What did you do when you finally saw what was going on?”

“Well, I put an immediate stop to it. I took Vincent’s weight onto my own shoulders. She was so overwhelmed she had to grab for the wall to catch her balance!”

Mary patted his hand. “See, you took care of it then.”

Father shook his head. “No Mary, thankfully help came when it did. I couldn’t have walked two blocks helping Vincent. I don’t know how she made it so far!”

Mary smiled knowingly at him. “She loves him.”

Father sputtered. “That’s preposterous! She doesn’t love him!”

Mary shrugged her shoulders. “As Mouse would say ... I know what I know ... and I know! You mark my words, Father. That girl loves him; she just doesn’t know it yet!”

Mary got up to walk away while a new worry flooded Father’s mind.

*****

Kipper looked up at Catherine as he escorted her back. “Everyone’s talking about how you found Vincent. That was really cool.”

Catherine sighed. “It would have been cooler if he wasn’t there to begin with.”

Kipper laughed. “Father says that no one’s been able to keep track of Vincent’s whereabouts for over fifteen years. He said Vincent’s headstrong and you couldn’t tell him what to do.”

Catherine smiled at the description. She assumed Father was pointing these traits out to indicate unacceptable behavior, not to give the children something to worship Vincent for.

Kipper led her to a place not far from her entrance.

Catherine turned to him. “Kipper, it’s really late. I know the rest of the way, if you’d like you can go back now.”

Kipper yawned loudly. “It’s not so late.”

Catherine yawned too. “Well, I’m exhausted. It’s late for me.”

Kipper relented, and Catherine leaned over and offered him a hug. Kipper blushed and jogged away while Catherine walked the rest of the way alone.

She headed into her apartment then fell into her bed fully clothed. She had a restless few hours of sleep.

*****

The next morning the ringing of her doorbell woke her. She grumbled and glanced at the clock. “Ten-thirty! Damn!”

She walked to the door. “Who is it?”

“Cathy, its Joe. Open up.”

Catherine looked at her disheveled clothing and sighed. She reached for the handle and opened the door.

Joe stormed past her then spun and noticed her appearance. “Are you okay?”

Catherine nodded. “Just tired. It was a long night.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me. I heard about the explosion, and that your witness was dead. I got a copy of the police report, too. I’ve been calling here all night. Where the hell have you been?”

Catherine looked at the answering machine and noticed a number 6 flashing. She flushed guiltily. “I’m sorry, Joe. I was so tired I didn’t think to check my messages.”

He noticed her wrinkled clothing and nodded, believing her story. “Well, as long as you’re okay. Look its Friday, the day’s half over why don’t you just take the rest of it off?”

Catherine nodded. “Thanks, I might just take you up on that.”

“Good, sorry about your witness...any idea who blew up the place?”

“No. The witness told me about a gang called the Silks. Maybe ...”

Joe interrupted her. “The men of that gang were found dead. One in their home location and three at some boarded up hotel. The girls have disappeared; no one can find them.”

Catherine looked at him innocently. “Huh, that’s too bad.”

“So, I guess your case on the convenience store guy is closed.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

Joe nodded then walked to the door. “See ya Monday, Radcliffe. Oh, by the way, nice place ya got here. You decorate on the salary I’m paying you?”

Catherine rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Bye, Joe.”

Joe grinned and walked out then Catherine headed for the shower. She quickly got ready and headed out the door.

*****

The taxi she hailed took her to Isaac’s. She went inside and called out to the shadows. “Come out, it’s just me.”

Isaac chuckled and came out of the shadows. Catherine walked over and offered him a hug. She stepped from his embrace. “I don’t know how to thank you for everything you did last night.”

Isaac nodded his head. “No problem. You get your ... um ... friend home safe?”

Catherine looked at him pointedly. “Yes, his Father came and helped.”

“Yeah, I saw him standing there.”

Catherine reluctantly continued. “Isaac ....”

“Cathy, we’re friends. I didn’t see anything worth telling anybody about. Forget it, okay? I did.”

Catherine visibly relaxed.

Isaac shrugged then motioned to his small office in the corner. “Take a seat?”

Catherine sat, and he handed her a cup of coffee. Surprisingly, Isaac made awesome coffee and she gratefully accepted it. She sipped some of it and smiled at him.

Isaac looked over at her. “There’s a new kung fu movie coming out ... I think we should go and review the fight scenes.”

Catherine laughed. “It would be easier to review the non-fight scenes!”

Isaac laughed out loud and then he told her about other movies in the past that he’d seen, and they spent a pleasant time visiting with one another.

Catherine was relieved that she could trust Isaac to keep her secret.

*****

Catherine left Isaac’s and headed over to a book store. She bought Vincent a new mystery book and inscribed it, “One day soon I hope we can read this together.”

She debated for a few minutes then signed it. “Love, Catherine.”

She walked with it to a phone booth and paged Benny on his beeper. He called her back at the pay phone she was at. He was only four blocks away and headed over to see her.

He pulled up and smiled at her. “Hi, Babe.”

Catherine grinned. “Hi, Benny. I’ve got something for you to deliver.”

“No problem. It’ll get there within the hour.”

Catherine gave him a generous tip and he pulled away. She stopped at a Chinese restaurant for take-out, then headed home. She was just sitting down to eat when a knock came at her door.

She walked to the door and saw that a note had been slipped underneath it. She retrieved it and opened the door but no one was there. She opened the letter and headed back to the table.

Dear Catherine,

Vincent is recovering well. As suspected, he has still not woken up. I do not expect him to do so for several more days. As soon as he wakes, I will present him with the unusual book you sent down for him. I am sure he will find it ... entertaining.

Father

Catherine sighed and placed the letter on the table. She looked at her plate but found she had lost her appetite. She was worried about Vincent, and she noticed she was not invited to come down and sit with him.

She sighed and took her food to the kitchen. She sat and opened a book. She knew she would just have to wait for Vincent to contact her.

*****

On Tuesday, Catherine was at work. A delivery man came and insisted she had ordered a pizza. Catherine glanced inside and noticed a note taped to the box.

She tipped the man and took the note and slipped it into her pocket. She placed the pizza on a table for everyone to share then came and sat at her desk. She opened the note and tears came to her eyes.

Catherine,

I think the butler did it.

V--------

She sat back in relief and chuckled. He was awake! He was well enough to send word to her and joke with her about the book she had sent to him.

*****

Two weeks later, Vincent grabbed his cloak with his good arm and headed into the library. Mary and Father were there enjoying a cup of tea. Father looked up and smiled. Vincent saw the smile fade from his face as he saw the cloak in his arms.

“No! It’s too soon!”

“Father, I’m fine.”

“You are not fine! You have been shot, you’ve had a concussion, broken ribs, a broken arm...”

“Father, my ribs are healed and my eyesight and hearing have returned, I’ll be extra careful.”

Mary patted Father’s arm, stopping his tirade, then looked at Vincent. “Where are you going, dear?”

Vincent knew Mary was on his side. “To return this book to Catherine.”

She smiled. “Then you won’t be gone long?”

“I hadn’t planned to be.”

Mary looked over at Father. “Then I don’t see the harm in him taking a small outing.”

Father interrupted. “Fine, fine! I know when I’m outnumbered. Do be careful, Vincent!”

Vincent chuckled as he walked out. “I always am.”

Father grumbled to Mary. “He always is! If he’s so careful why do I have to keep giving him constant medical attention? Why am I always stitching something on him or taping something, or putting salve on something ....”

Mary chuckled. “Because ever since he was a young boy, he’s managed to find trouble. Leave him be. He just wants to visit with Catherine.”

Father scowled. “That girl will be the death of him.”

“That girl loves him!”

“How can you know that?! That’s twice you’ve said that, and you’ve only met her once, for the briefest of moments.”

Mary waved her hand in the air dismissively. “You can see it in her eyes, and in your son’s eyes, if you take the time to look and notice.”

“Hummph!’ was the only reply.

*****

Catherine sat in her darkened apartment, quietly listening to the stereo. She turned it up and let the music surround her.

A gentle tapping sounded from the bedroom window. Catherine gasped and ran towards her bedroom. She caught her foot on the archway and tumbled into Vincent’s arms.

She felt the hardness of his cast slam into her stomach as he grabbed for her. She spun in his arms, looked into his eyes then settled herself into his embrace.

“Vincent!”

“Are you hurt, Catherine?”

“No! But I’m supposed to be asking you that question. You look wonderful!”

He shyly ducked his head. “I came to thank you.”

Catherine held up her hand. “Don’t even say it, Vincent. You’re one of the most important people in my life. There was nothing else I could have done.”

“Catherine, that neighborhood isn’t safe. You should’ve left.”

“I wasn’t alone, Vincent. A friend of mine, Isaac, stayed with me all night. He helped me search for you.”

Vincent shook his head. “Still, one man cannot fight off a whole gang.”

Catherine chuckled. “Isaac’s my self-defense teacher. I think he could fight off two gangs and still come out on top.”

Vincent nodded. “Then I’m glad you were in such good company.”

Catherine smiled and leaned into his chest as he tightened his arms around her. She kept her hands lightly on him afraid that she would hurt his broken ribs.

Vincent backed away and Catherine looked at him with a question in her eyes. He shyly brought out the book she bought him. “I wanted to return this, I don’t normally read things like this but it was very good. I thought I should bring it back to you.”

Catherine shook her head. “I don’t normally read that stuff either, Vincent, but it was on the best sellers list. Maybe you can put it into the library for everyone Below to enjoy.”

Vincent nodded as he put the book away. Catherine went inside to get another book. “Vincent, I just bought this. Would you like to read it together?”

Vincent looked at the hardcover copy of a well-loved classic. Catherine motioned to her living room, but Vincent slowly settled down on the floor of the balcony.

Catherine looked over at him. “Doesn’t it hurt your ribs to get up and down from the ground?”

Vincent shrugged. “My ribs are healed, Catherine. I am well except for this arm cast which Father says can come off next week.”

Catherine smiled and settled down on the balcony next to him and read to him until it was late. At the end of a chapter, Vincent hid a yawn.

“Oh, Vincent. I’m sorry! You must be so tired, and here I am keeping you awake.”

Vincent nodded. “I am tired. This is the first big outing I’ve had in a long time. I should go.”

They stood together and Vincent adjusted his cloak then went to leave. “Goodnight, Catherine.”

“Vincent?”

He turned and looked at her. She smiled and opened her arms. “Can I have a hug goodbye?”

Vincent noticed her vulnerability and wondered why she thought he would refuse. He came over and put his arms around her and drew her close. She melted into his chest as he tightened his embrace. She tightened hers and held him close.

 

THE END