BETWEEN THE LINES

 

IF YOU DIE, SO DO I
SIXTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

Vincent walked into the hospital chamber and approached his father.

“Father, you sent for me?”

Father turned at the sound of his voice. “Yes Vincent, I was wondering if you would have the time to deliver some medicine to Sam Denton.”

“More medicine?”

Father nodded his head and sighed. “Yes, Jamie went there earlier today to deliver his dinner and she reported that Sam is still sick, feverish.” Father held up the bottle of medicine. “Can you make the delivery?

“Of course. I’ll leave immediately.” Vincent took the bottle from his father’s hand and turned to leave.

“Oh, one more thing...” Vincent turned, a question in his eyes. “Can you please observe him for awhile? Assess his condition? Sam has been sick quite a while. I wonder if I should make the walk and visit him myself.”

“Father, it’s been a week since I’ve seen Sam. I should be able to tell if his condition has improved.”

Father chuckled. “You have good judgment, Vincent. You’d have made an excellent doctor.”

“So you’ve said a time or two before.” Vincent smiled as he turned and left, only stopping briefly in his chamber to grab his cloak.

 

***

 

Catherine came home from work that night and walked out to her balcony. The sun had just finished setting in the sky and she watched as it disappeared over the horizon. She smiled to herself, hoping Vincent would stop by tonight.

Leaving the doors open, she turned and went back into her bedroom. She grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a big comfortable top and headed to the bathroom where she quickly changed, then put her clothes in the pile for the dry-cleaners.

She made her way into the kitchen where she grabbed the fixings for a light dinner. She added to her lettuce leaves all the usual items, then added some of her favorite things like raisins, walnuts, a sliced apple, and some grapes. She looked down ruefully and realized that she had prepared herself a huge platter. With a small laugh, she separated it and put half into another container. This had definitely been a time when her eyes were bigger than her stomach. She poured on her favorite dressing and headed to her kitchen table to read the paper.

She scanned the articles and grimaced when she read about all the murders and crimes being committed. “Why do I read this paper? It’s just like being at work,” she thought.

She closed the paper and headed with her salad over to the couch. She flipped on the TV and watched the local news. As the newscasters talked about the murders and crimes, not only at the local level, but on the national level, Catherine reached for the remote. “Ugh! This too?!” She turned off the TV, finished her saladm and turned on the radio to her favorite station. Classical music floated over the airwaves and soothed her tired soul.

She headed to the kitchen to clean up the dishes and countertops from her dinner. With a quick glance around the kitchen to make sure she’d put everything away, she walked to her bedroom and grabbed a book, then noticed a shadowy figure out on her balcony. Happily, she ran out the door.

“Vincent?!”

“Hello, Catherine.”

“You’re here so early!”

“Yes, I have a sick friend I need to go and check on. I’m not sure how long it will take. I thought I’d take a chance that you were home and stop in early to see you.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to come here at this time of the day?”

Vincent shrugged ruefully. “I needed to take more care not to be seen, but it was worth the risk.”

Catherine smiled at him, then wrapped her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest as he returned her hug. “I guess as long as you were extra careful I can’t be too mad.” She backed away and looked up at him. “Can I help you with your sick friend?”

Vincent smiled at her. “No, Sam is one our original helpers. He’s injured his leg and can’t get to the store to pick up his usual medicine. He’s been sick for a week or so now, and Father wants me to check on him. I’d like to stay and spend time with him, do anything around the apartment he may need done.”

“Like what?”

“Anything…wash clothes or dishes, change bed sheets...”

Catherine giggled. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I can’t see you changing the sheets.”

“I cook and bake, too,” Vincent smiled mischievously. Catherine’s eyes grew round with surprise and he chuckled. “I also fix any furniture or plumbing problems, make sure the locks are in good working order...”

“That sounds more like you. How have you been feeling otherwise? Is your arm better?”

Vincent shrugged. “Yes, Father took the cast off and it’s as good as new.”

Catherine shook her head in amazement. His broken arm, caused when the gang, the Silks, had captured and tortured him, had healed in half the time as anyone else. Catherine backed away slowly, mortified by the memory that she had been the reason he had been captured to begin with and she was the one to blame for the injuries he sustained.

Vincent assumed she had other things to do and wouldn’t take up any more of her time. “I...should go. I need to get this medicine to Sam.”

Catherine nodded. “Goodbye, Vincent. Thanks for stopping by.”

Vincent quickly escaped with no goodbye and no hug.

Catherine sighed and went into her bedroom to get ready for bed. Her thoughts on Vincent’s behavior: “He’s so hard to read sometimes! He won’t come inside when I invite him, but he continually comes to see me, to spend time with me. He obviously will go inside other people’s apartments and spend time inside with them. What is it about my apartment that makes him feel unwelcome? Maybe I’m only a friend to him...maybe he doesn’t think about me the same way I think about him...Maybe...augh!!! I give up.”

She shook her head in frustration and grabbed a book to read.

 

***

 

Vincent entered Sam’s run-down apartment through the window at the fire escape. He glanced around the room, satisfied that everything was in good order. He looked over at Sam and frowned. In his sleep, he appeared restless and feverish. Vincent leaned back against the wall and waited patiently.

Sam slowly woke, aware of someone in the room with him. He looked up and saw Vincent and smiled.

“Hello, Sam. Are you all right?”

Sam smiled at him. “I just drifted off. Wasn’t sure you were coming.”

“Father sent you more medicine.”

Sam worried the cost was too much strain for the community Below. “That must be expensive. Where’d he find it?”

“One of our friends...a helper...like you’ve been.”

Sam smiled ruefully. “I guess it all comes around, huh, the good, the bad.”

“Kipper will be here tomorrow with food.”

Sam gratefully nodded. “Thanks. I appreciate it, all of it.”

“You rest; I’ll see you again soon.”

Sam worriedly looked at Vincent. “Vincent. I don’t know, but maybe you shouldn’t come around here again for awhile.”

“Why not?”

“I hear Mitch is back.”

Vincent stopped immediately as memories flooded through him. His voice dropped low, concern flooding through him. “Have you seen him?”

“No, he hasn’t come around here yet, but if he does, I don’t want him causing you or anyone down there any trouble. Mitch is poison; that’ll never change.” Sam disgustedly shook his head.

Vincent rushed to reassure the older man. “You try not to worry about that.”

“Don’t care so much, Vincent, not about people. People always let you down.”

Vincent shook his head. “You never let us down Sam. When we needed supplies or food you were always there for us. We’ll be here for you.” Vincent nodded his goodbye and exited through the window.

Sam called out to him and Vincent returned. “Vincent...” he started, then seemed to rethink what he was going to say.

Vincent put his head inside the window. “Sam, if something is troubling you please, tell me.”

Sam looked away clearly embarrassed. “Vincent, I know Mitch was no good growing up. You, more than anyone, got put through hell. Please...for your sake…stay away.”

Vincent knew he was only trying to protect him from Mitch’s cruelty and interrupted him. “Sam, don’t trouble yourself so. Mitch’s words can’t hurt me anymore. Please try to get some sleep.”

Sam nodded. “You’re a good boy, Vincent. Always were.” 

He closed his eyes and Vincent waited until he thought he was asleep before he turned and left.

 
***

On the long walk home, Vincent had time to reflect on Sam’s news. Mitch was out of prison. This news would not bode well for anyone. Mitch was a dangerous man; he always had been.

He let his mind wander back to when Mitch and he were children. In a roundabout way, Mitch grew up in the tunnels. Sam couldn’t take care of him while he was sick so Mitch had to stay Below. He was a few years older than Vincent, and when Vincent was very young he had looked up to him.

He did have some fond memories of playing with Mitch and some of the other kids. Mitch was always nice to him when no one else was around. He had even been the one to teach Vincent how to tie his shoes. Then one day it suddenly all changed.

Mitch became cruel. He started to taunt the younger children, swipe their desserts, take their books, and steal their toys. Vincent, being different, was often the victim of Mitch’s cruelest jokes.

Vincent recalled the day when he was still quite young, five, almost six years old. He, like most boys, wanted to keep up with the bigger kids. While all the kids played hide-n-seek, Mitch allowed Vincent to follow him. He led him through the tunnels taking every twist and turn until he knew Vincent was confused. In a very dark cavern, Mitch sat Vincent down on a rock. He told Vincent to stay there and not move or make a sound. He said he wanted to walk out the door and make sure they hadn’t been seen. Vincent, giggling, agreed to sit quietly. Mitch took the only torch they had and walked out the doorway.

Once out of Vincent’s sight, he took off and ran, leaving young Vincent alone and frightened. Vincent sat for a long time afraid to disobey Mitch. He knew Mitch wouldn’t let him play with the older kids anymore if he was going to be a baby. After several hours, Vincent finally stood up. Nobody had found him, and he was cold and hungry. He didn’t care what names Mitch called him. He wanted to go home.

Vincent’s unique sight allowed him to see better than most, so he wasn’t afraid of the dark, but he didn’t know where he was. He had never been this far away from home before. He let his sense of direction guide him, and when he came upon a set of pipes, he tapped out the message Father had taught him.

He sat on the dirt floor and waited until someone came and got him. A search party had been sent out earlier when Vincent hadn’t returned for dinner. The other kids reported that Vincent had followed Mitch while they were playing a game. Mitch, of course, said Vincent couldn’t keep up and he’d sent him home. He didn’t know where Vincent was.

Carl was nearby on sentry duty when he heard Vincent’s call. He tapped out a message and headed to Vincent’s location. When he found Vincent, he was sitting on the dirt floor, tired and sniffling back tears. Carl stood him up and dusted off Vincent’s butt and legs. An exhausted Vincent had a hard time keeping up, so Carl picked him up and carried him back home while Vincent promptly fell asleep on his shoulder.

Carl brought him to Father, who arranged to get a dinner plate sent from the kitchen.

While Mary dried Vincent’s tears and washed his face, Father brought in some nightclothes, and Mary struggled to change the overtired boy.

As soon as the news went out that Vincent had been found, Devin quickly made his way back home. He had come in earlier and had been sitting there quietly while Mary helped prepare Vincent for bed. He wanted to rat out Mitch, but knew Vincent had to handle this by himself. His face showed his disgust as he thought about how he was going to make Mitch pay.

Father looked at him with a frown on his face. Lost in thought, Devin looked up and swallowed nervously. Father cleared his throat and grew angry. “Care to explain how Vincent was not by your side while you were playing your game?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?!”

Devin sighed. “Geez, Father, sure, we were all playing hide and seek in the same area, but he was with his friends and I was with mine.”

“Which friends were you with that wouldn’t let Vincent come with you?”

“None of them…I mean…it was Winslow and Vanessa and me and Cindy.”

“So you left your brother alone?!”

“No! Vincent was with Pascal, John, Rebecca and Lisa…they were all together and we were all within shouting distance of one another. I saw Vincent take off after…”

Devin stopped himself from revealing a name.

“After…who?”  Father’s eyes flashed with anger when Devin remained silent. “Devin! I asked you a question.”

“Mitch! He took off after Mitch!”

Vincent was dressed and sitting at the table eating his dinner. Father turned his face up to look into his eyes. “Vincent, did Mitch leave you behind during playtime?”

Vincent looked at Devin then back to Father. He wanted to tell him the truth but he wouldn’t tattle. “Only babies tattle,” he remembered Mitch saying. “No, Father. I fell athleep while I was hiding. I juth woke up a little while ago.”

Mary looked at Vincent, shocked he’d just blatantly told a lie. Vincent was lisping which meant he was truly exhausted. Father narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “If you took such a long nap, why are you so tired now?”

Vincent cringed and his stomach fluttered nervously. He had never lied before and now he knew why. He had no answer to Father’s question, so he shrugged.

Father nodded. He felt sorry for whatever Vincent had gone through, but he wanted his son to know just how important it was to tell the truth. “Vincent, how is it you came to be so far from the home tunnels. Lost and with no torch?”

Vincent squirmed uncomfortably. He knew Father didn’t believe him, but he still couldn’t bring himself to tattle. He looked up defiantly and shrugged his shoulders again. He knew it would anger Father, but he figured the punishment would be worth the older boys respect.

Mary looked down at him sympathetically. “Come now, Vincent. Father can ask you again tomorrow. Finish your dinner and go brush your teeth. I’ll be there to tuck you in after I talk to Father for a few minutes.”

Vincent finished his dinner and heartily drank down his milk. He looked at Mary with a milk mustache. She handed him a napkin right after he wiped his face on his sleeve. He blushed when he saw the napkin, and Mary tried to hide her smile.

Father rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Go now, Vincent. You, too, Devin. Goodnight, boys.”

Vincent came and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, Father.”

Devin followed suit. “Goodnight, Father. I’ll get him to bed.”

Vincent and Devin left the room and ran towards their chamber.

“Hey, Vin, I’m gonna go talk to Winslow…I’ll be there in five minutes, okay.”

“Ok.”

Meanwhile, Mary had turned to Father. “I can’t believe Vincent’s covering for Mitch.”

Father shrugged. “I suspect he doesn’t want to be called a tattle tale.”

Mary grimaced. “But what Mitch did was just cruel. Vincent’s so young.”

Father nodded and sighed. “Not so young that he doesn’t desire the approval of the bigger kids.”

Mary touched Father’s arm. “You will go easy on him won’t you?”

“I’ll try.”

“Good. Mitch is the one who should be punished.”

Father smiled knowingly. “Kids have a way of working these things out.”

***

Pascal and Rebecca were waiting for him in his chamber. Vincent stopped abruptly in his doorway and looked at them curiously. He figured they were there to make sure he didn’t tell Father the truth.

He stepped cautiously into the room. Rebecca came up to him first. “Vincent, I’m sorry you got left behind today. I looked for you but you had disappeared. Then I had to hide ‘cause Winslow was almost done counting.”

Vincent shrugged. “That’s okay, Rebecca.”

She nodded and started towards the door then thought twice and turned around. “Vincent? I thought it was really brave of you to last so long in that dark cave by yourself. I could never have done that! You’re very brave.”

Vincent blushed furiously while Rebecca left. Pascal cleared his throat and came forward. Vincent looked at him wearily. What a girl thought was one thing, but Pascal was one of the older boys. Vincent hoped he wasn’t going to be kicked out of the group.

Pascal smiled at him. “Vincent, it was really cool that you protected Mitch. I wouldn’t have done it! Did Father punish you?”

Vincent shook his head. “Not yet. Mary said he would talk to me more tomorrow.”

Pascal nodded. “Yeah, well. All the kids talked, and everyone would understand if you wanted to get Mitch into trouble. He deserves it! He double triple deserves it.”

Vincent smiled, glad the other kids were mad at Mitch too. Pascal heard Mary approaching and leaned in to whisper to Vincent. “Winslow said he was gonna let Mitch have it!”

Mary walked into the room. “Pascal! What are you doing here? You get to your chamber immediately! Look at you, dressed in your nightclothes. You’re going to catch a death of a cold!”

Pascal went to run past Mary. She reached out and ruffled his hair. “Goodnight, Pascal.”

Pascal gave her a warm smile and a peck on the cheek. “Goodnight, Mary.”

Mary looked over at Vincent. She suspected Pascal came in here to make Vincent feel better. “Vincent, did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes...I mean, no!”

Mary shook her head and gestured to the facilities. “Go do it. I’ll wait.”

Vincent ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. He quickly returned and Mary herded him into bed. She pulled the covers up to his chin and tucked them tightly around him while Vincent protested. “No, Mary. I get too hot!”

Vincent yawned and Mary smiled at him. “Vincent, are you too tired for a story?”

Vincent’s eyes had already started to close. He nodded and Mary bent over and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, little one.”

Vincent’s eyes flashed open indignantly. “I’m not little, Mary. I’m a big boy! I’m almost 6!”

Mary smiled. “Oh, Vincent, you’re right. I’m so sorry! Goodnight, little man.”

He smiled. “Goodnight, Mary.”

Mary bent over and kissed Vincent’s forehead. Vincent grabbed his stuffed animal and hugged it to his chest, then promptly fell asleep.

Devin ran into the room and looked guiltily at Mary. “I…”

Mary smiled indulgently. “Had to tell Winslow what happened?”

Devin smiled gratefully; he should have known Mary would understand. “Yes.” He looked down at Vincent. “I can’t believe what he went through! Poor kid, he must be exhausted.”

“He is…and I suspect so are you. Get ready for bed and don’t leave to go to the boy’s dorms…”

“I won’t…I promise. Goodnight, Mary.”

“Night, Devin.”

***

Vincent woke the next morning to find that Father had sent for him. He walked into the library to see all the children who had been playing hide and seek sitting at a table.

Father turned to him. “Come, Vincent. Sit with everyone else.”

Vincent went to sit down at the only seat left at the table. Unfortunately, it was next to Mitch. Mitch pretended he didn’t see him and refused to move.

Pascal called over to him. “Vincent, come sit over here.”

Vincent sat between Pascal and Winslow. Mitch sent Pascal a dirty look until Winslow caught his eye. Mitch balked at the anger directed at him and soon looked away. Pascal looked at Vincent and they grinned at one another.

Father sighed. He had seen the whole exchange. “Vincent was lost yesterday for several hours. He had last been seen playing with everyone here. Vincent claims he fell asleep in a cave and woke much later. As Vincent was lost and had to call for help, I was wondering...Does anyone remember where this cave was?”

No child would make eye contact with Father. “Hmmph, it’s as I suspected. Not one of you remembers where you were playing yesterday?” Still no answer was given. “Since no one can seem to remember then I believe all of you shall be punished.”

Vincent winced. He knew no one would play with him for at least a month if they were punished because of him. He decided to suffer the punishment alone. “Father, we were playing hide and seek. Winslow counted and I took off running really, really fast. I guess I didn’t pay much ‘tention to where I was going. I hid in the first cave I could find.”

Although he suspected Vincent was sacrificing himself for the entire group, Father nodded. “Okay, since Vincent was obviously acting on his own accord, you may all be excused.”
Mitch hopped up and fled from the room. Some of the others followed with backward glances at Vincent. Pascal, Winslow, Rebecca, and Devin all touched Vincent’s shoulder on the way out the door.

Vincent stared at the floor waiting for his punishment. Father knew there was more to the story. He figured Mitch was behind it somehow. He also saw the look Winslow shot at Mitch. He knew Mitch would not be physically hurt but he wondered in what manner the children would get back at him.

With a sigh, he turned towards Vincent. “Vincent, for your punishment you will have to do extra kitchen duty this week.”

Vincent looked up and nodded. He hated washing dishes, but it could be worse. He nodded solemnly at his Father. “Okay, Father.”

Father touched his shoulder. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a big boy. I’m proud of you, son. Now, go get something to eat for breakfast.”

Vincent nodded solemnly, then left the room and walked towards the dining area.

***

He walked in and all of the kids were gathered around two tables. Pascal waved him over. “Vincent, come sit with us!”

Vincent walked over and someone handed him a tray. He noticed that even Ike and Freddie, who were normally Mitch’s best buddies, sat with the group.

Winslow leaned in close to Vincent. “So, Vincent, what was your punishment?”

“I have to do extra kitchen duty all week.”

The other kids groaned. No one liked to help in the kitchen. Vincent glanced around and watched as Mitch sat at a table alone. Vincent felt sorry for him but he knew he deserved it.

Father walked in, and as he went over to sit with Mary and Sara, he noticed Mitch sitting by himself.

Mary leaned in. “You were right. Things do always have a way of working themselves out, don’t they?”

Father nodded. Further proof of Mitch’s involvement came the rest of the week when children voluntarily took turns helping in the kitchen.

Steven, the cook at the time, had also observed what took place that day and had allowed the children in the kitchen, taking it easy on them, giving them only the lightest of the kitchen duties. He knew Father wouldn’t say anything about him taking it easy on the kids.

For the next few weeks, Mitch lived in misery. No one would play with him, and he shot Vincent looks filled with hatred. Vincent ignored them, and soon enough all was forgotten and Mitch was included back in the group. Vincent never quite trusted Mitch again after that day.

***

Vincent looked up from his reminiscing and with a heavy heart walked into Father’s library.

“You’re back. How’s Sam?”

“Resting, grateful for our help.”

Father raised his eyebrows. “And his overall condition?”

“He’s better.”

“Good.” Father nodded, noticing that Vincent was especially distracted. “Is there more?”

Vincent sighed. “Sam said Mitch is back.”

Father frowned. “Well, we won’t just abandon Sam, but I want to make sure we take every precaution. Everyone must understand that from now on all safety measures will be followed when we help him. Only the men will be allowed to bring his meals or anything else he needs. Mitch is just too unpredictable to allow the women or children near him.”

Vincent nodded. “That would be wise. I’ll let William know about the meal deliveries.”

“And I’ll handle finding someone for any other deliveries. Oh, and Vincent, I think it would be wise if you stayed away as well. I know you and Mitch always got along like fire and water.”

Vincent frowned sadly. “I always tried, Father...”

Father shook his head as he interrupted. “I know you always tried hard to make everyone like you. I’m not blaming either one of you, although if I had to point a finger, it would be at Mitch. I know only too well how many times he was the cause of trouble amongst the children.”

Vincent smiled in surprise. “You never showed that you knew.”

Father chuckled. “You kids always seemed to take matters into your own hands and punish each other accordingly.”

Vincent nodded in agreement. “It’s funny how kids do that, isn’t it. I still see it happen with each group of kids that is raised here.”

Father smiled knowingly. “I suspect it has always happened that way, and I suspect it will continue to happen long after the two of us are gone.”

 

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

 

Meanwhile, in the world Above, a death had occurred on the docks. Union officials asked the District Attorney’s office to help investigate the crime. They felt the death had not been an accident and that the mob was trying to break the union and take control of the docks once again.

Moreno called Joe in to his office.

“Yeah, boss?”

“Sit down, Joe. I want to talk about the latest death on the dock.”

“It’s getting bad down there again.”

“Yeah, I just got a call from the President. He wants to work together on this investigation.”

“So, are we taking the stance that it’s a murder?”

“Yeah, and I can guarantee that it’ll be a high profile case. That’s why I want your best investigator on this.”

Joe thought immediately of Catherine, then changed his mind because he didn’t think Moreno would use her. “You want Hamilton?”

Moreno shrugged. “What about Chandler?”

Joe smiled. “I was going to suggest her. I wasn’t sure you’d agree, but she’s good!”

“She’s beyond good, Joe.”

“Yeah, I know. I have to say you were right about her. She’s the best.”

“I agree. Every case she’s worked on has been completed with total efficiency. She’s certainly proven she was a good choice.”

Joe chuckled. “Yeah, and I almost dismissed her because of her college choice.”

Moreno shrugged. “Live and learn. Fill her in by the meeting today, okay?”

“You got it!” Joe said as he smiled and got up from his seat.

He walked directly to Catherine’s desk and waited until she hung up the phone.

“You got a minute?”

“Yeah!” Catherine said as she followed him curiously into his office.

Joe pointed at two huge stacks of files on his desk. “Give the Simon case to Henderson and the Anderson case to Hamilton. Take the next half hour to get them both up to speed, then I want you to come back in here and go through as many of these files as you can by lunch.”

Catherine blinked in surprise. “What’s so important?”

“Case files from the docks, pay particular attention to the one on a guy named Mitch Denton.”

By his tone, Catherine knew it was serious and nodded at him. “Of course,” she said as she walked to her desk to grab the files of the cases she was working on.  

Because she was so thorough with her work, Catherine only needed a few minutes with each of her colleagues to bring them up to speed on her cases. She walked back into Joe’s office. He was on the phone and nodded to her as she grabbed a stack of files and left.

 

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

 

Frank DeCorsia was a union representative with a good reputation. He did a fine job at keeping the mob off the docks. Right now he was sitting with Moreno in a meeting in the board room surrounded by other high ranking union officials.

Matt O’Brien, the current President of the Union, frowned as he looked at Moreno. “We’re counting on you to diffuse this situation. I don’t want this to sound like a threat, but our Union has thousands of registered voters, and this is sure to be a high profile case for the media…”

The implications weren’t lost on Moreno. “I understand that. I’ll have my Assistant Joe Maxwell working on it and one of my top investigators. Would you like to meet…”

Ralph Johnson, his Vice President, held up his hand. “No, we just wanted to make sure you understood where our Union stood. Frank can handle it from here,” he said as he nodded toward his representative.

The officials from the Union quickly left, leaving Frank to work with the D.A.’s office.

Moreno motioned to Joe who went out to find Catherine, then turned to Frank. “I’ll have Joe bring in Catherine so you can meet her.”

“Catherine? You want to send a woman down to the docks to investigate the murder?”

“Chandler’s one of our best people.”

Frank blanched as he paced the room. “Look…this is gonna sound sexist I know…and I’m all for women’s rights, but those docks are one of the last work places that women haven’t been able to get into, and there’s a reason for it. It can get tough down there...more than tough.”

“She can handle it.” Moreno started to defend her.

 “She’s gonna have to handle it…all the garbage these guys will throw at her…”

“She will…”

Frank thought for a second, then slowly nodded.  “All right…bring her in…”

Joe had caught up with Catherine at her desk and told her they needed someone they could trust to handle the investigation, someone who wouldn’t drop the ball. He warned her it could be extremely dangerous. She jumped at the chance to be on a “real” case instead of the easy ones she had been put on since she started.

She followed Joe into the conference room where she was introduced to Frank, who quickly brought her up to speed.

“It’s like killing roaches…they always come back.”

“The accident on the docks last week?” Catherine asked, already knowing it was no accident.

“The strong-arm men are trying to turn back the clock and muscle their way in again. We’ve got to move fast before they get their hooks in too deep. Especially now that Denton’s out of prison.”

Moreno looked at Catherine and filled her in.  “Mitch Denton was the enforcer on the docks a few years ago.”

Catherine nodded. “I read the summary of his trial. He went up for extortion.”

“Yeah, we tried to nail him for murder, but he beat the rap,” Joe declared.

“Now he’s back, and his lousy circus is starting again.” Frank nodded, impressed that Catherine had done her homework.

Catherine agreed. “And Charlie Flynn is dead.”

Frank added more. “Flynn had guts. He was prepared to testify against Denton. Denton got to him first.”

Moreno told Frank that Catherine was successful in bringing witnesses forward.

Frank looked with respect at the woman. “I’d like you to meet some of the men who were there when Charlie Flynn was killed.”

Catherine smiled and nodded in agreement. “Sounds like a good place to start.”

Frank smiled. He liked this woman. She had a no nonsense approach to things, and it was obvious her bosses liked her.

Joe and Moreno left, leaving the two to hash out the details.

Frank looked over at Catherine and sighed. “I suppose you want to try to put this off until tomorrow?”

Catherine shook her head as she looked at Frank. “I have some things I need to clear up at my desk. If you can wait, I can be ready in less then 10 minutes.”

Frank was astonished. He thought she would try to give him the runaround for awhile. “I can wait. I’ve got all day!”

“Why don’t you follow me to my desk? You can grab a cup of coffee on the way.”

Frank followed and grabbed two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for her. He walked up to her desk as she sat on the phone. He overheard her making appointments for depositions on Monday. At least she’s not calling a hairdresser, he thought.

Catherine put papers into files the entire time she was on the phone. It was only five minutes later when she looked up. “Okay, I’m set.”

Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing. He helped her put on her coat, handed her the coffee he’d poured, and escorted her to his car.

***

Frank and Catherine went down to the docks to interview potential witnesses of Flynn’s accident. Two of the men said they hadn’t seen anything. The third man, Jack Sweeney, wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. He also claimed he hadn’t seen what happened. Frank knew he was lying, and Catherine thought so too.

Frank was upset and tried to get Jack to talk. “C’mon Sweeney. Flynn was your friend.”

Jack hesitated, but then claimed once again he hadn’t seen anything.

For now, they backed off their questioning, and Frank drove Catherine back to the office.

 

***

Jack Sweeney went home that night. His wife Megan saw his face and knew something was wrong. Jack had come home a week ago and looked like hell. Now, each day, he looked a little worse. She followed him up to their bedroom and closed the door behind her.  

Jack looked at her with alarm. “What is it? What’s happened? Are the kids all right?”

Megan was surprised at his behavior. “The kids are fine, Jack. They should be home any minute. Janice is giving them a ride home. It’s you I’m worried about.”

Jack turned his back to her and gruffly replied, “Nothing to worry about. What’s for dinner?”

Megan shook her head. “Jack Sweeney, you and I have been married for nineteen years and together five more on top of that. Don’t you lie to me! What’s happened that you’re not telling me?” Megan touched her hand to his back. Jack broke down in tears and sat on the edge of the bed. Megan put her arms around him. “Jack, please tell me what’s wrong!”

Jack shook his head. “They killed him! They killed Flynn. Right there in the middle of the day on a crowded dock. They got to Flynn!”

Megan could feel Jack shaking with fear. “It wasn’t an accident? You saw Flynn killed?”

Jack only nodded. “Now the DA and the Union are working together. They’ve got Frank DeCorsia and some woman nosing around.”

Megan was confused by his attitude. “Well, Jack, you’ve got to tell them what you saw. You have to tell them the truth. It’s Flynn’s life we’re talking about here.”

“Megan, it could be my life we’re talking about! How would you like that, huh? Look, just forget I said anything...I’ll work something out.”

Megan heard the kids come in downstairs. She looked over at Jack who had gone back to changing his clothes. She knew her husband had been under a lot of stress this past week, but she hadn’t realized it was such a bad situation. She slowly made her way to the kitchen to put dinner on the table.

***

Later that night, Vincent was walking back from delivering a meal to Sam. Earlier in the day he had felt great excitement from Catherine, and now he slowly shook his head trying to make sense of the turmoil he felt in her. He stopped at a crossroads and tapped out a message, then left to meet Catherine on her balcony.

He could see her standing at the edge as he whispered her name. “Catherine.”

Catherine looked over as he climbed down from the upper balcony. “Hi, Vincent. I didn’t know you were coming here tonight.”

“I didn’t know I was coming here tonight either. I felt...I don’t know...Are you well?”

Catherine shrugged as she looked out into the city. “I’m fine. I just came out to…”

“To…?”

“I don’t know…” He saw her draw a deep, cleansing breath, and he felt her gathering her strength. “It’s so peaceful and quiet out there tonight.”

Vincent looked at her worriedly. “But there’s a storm raging within you.”

“You felt it?” she questioned wondrously.

“I could almost hear it. All your feelings colliding, thundering.”

Catherine tried to explain. “Vincent, I’ve been given a chance to do something important at work. It’s a great challenge, a risk.”

“Is it a risk worth taking?”

“It’s a chance to help honest men keep their jobs, a chance to make a difference. It’s everything I’ve wanted. But I’m afraid...”

“Of what, Catherine?”

“Failure...the danger.”

Vincent shook his head. “You can’t fail.”

“I hope not.”

“You have the strength. You have the courage. We both know that, so you must use them.” He turned and looked out dejectedly into the city, then stole glances at her as he told her how he felt. “I only wish I could be there for you, keep you safe, always.”

“You are.”

He looked back out over the city, and Catherine could tell he didn’t believe her.

“Vincent, knowing you believe in me means more to me than anything else in the world. Your strength helps me carry on.”

“You have your own strength, Catherine.”

“Because of you…”

“No, it was within you already! What’s the danger you spoke of? What are you afraid of?”

Catherine sighed. “That I won’t be able to stop someone else from being murdered before this is all over with.”

“Someone else?  There has already been one death?”

“Yes. It was supposed to look like an accident, but everyone knows it was a warning sent out to the other men.”

“A warning? Where did this murder occur, Catherine?”

“On the docks.”

Vincent walked over to stand in front of her. “The docks can be a very dangerous place. Those men live by their own code.”

“I’m finding that out. The mob is trying to force the men to kick out their Union.”

“Unions were designed to protect the workers.”

“Yes. But the mob wants to shake down the workers, make them pay daily for the right to be able to work.”

“To line their own pockets with the sweat of honest men.”

“Yes, they may seem tough on the outside, but these men are mostly hardworking family men.”

“Then your battle is with the mob.”

“Yes,” Catherine admitted ruefully.

“Catherine, you must promise me to try to stay safe.”

“I’ll do everything I can, Vincent. I promise.”

She moved into his arms and relished the comfort she felt in his embrace. All too soon, he made his exit, and she went back inside her apartment to try to get some sleep.

 

***

That same night, across town Sam had a visitor. It was Mitch. He came over because he heard Sam was sick and he was worried about him. He offered to move Sam to a better place, hire a nurse to care for him.

Sam declined. “I got people to take care of me.”

“Who…Vincent?”  

Sam hesitated, and Mitch rose to his feet. He hated Vincent and the people Below. In his twisted mind, he was sent to prison because they wouldn’t let him stay down there until it was safe for him to come back up. Sam told Mitch it was his own fault and he should forgive and forget.

Mitch left his father’s apartment disgusted. As he walked out, he remembered the tunnel entrance he used to use to go Below. He headed down, intent on letting those people know he was back and could take care of his own father, that he didn’t need their interference.

He walked into the tunnels trying to remember his way.  The sentries reported an intruder and Vincent ran to see who it was.

He met up with Mitch, who hadn’t yet made it very far inside.

Mitch greeted Vincent with an insincere smile. “Vincent, don’t you recognize me? I’ve come home, old friend.”

Vincent issued a warning. “You’re not welcome here.”

Mitch ignored him. “I couldn’t resist a little nostalgia. I came by to see my old man. I’d thought I’d check out the tunnels.”

Vincent squared himself off, ready for a confrontation. “What do you want?”

“You’ve changed the tunnel entrances. I got lost.”

“We changed them to keep out intruders.”

Mitch hid a sneer, but not before Vincent observed it. “Me? An intruder...I used to live down here…remember?!”

“What I remember is our friendship as children. Those times I remember.”

Mitch fixed him with a level gaze. “The day we went to the train yard. You, me, Freddie and Ike. Those hobos were chasing us. They had their knives, they were gonna carve us up, and they were right on your heels. Who held open the grate so you could slip through by the skin of your teeth?” He grew steadily angrier. “Who held open the grate?!! Remember?!!”

Vincent thought back to the time. He remembered that Mitch had pushed him down, and he was almost caught by the bums before he got away. “Yes, I remember.”

Mitch raised his voice in frustration. “Not well enough! Not enough to help me when I needed help, when I was in trouble.”

“You betrayed our faith in you, our trust. You ceased to be a part of us years ago.”

Mitch was angry. “That’s right! My old man stuck me down here for eight years, and what did it get me?”

“We offered you a chance for a better life.”

Mitch sneered at Vincent. “Living like a rat? I had a chance for a better life and I took it.”

“No....not a better life.”

“Don’t tell me that. You don’t know anything! You wanna hear about the real world?”

Vincent slowly grew angry. Mitch was the same as he had always been, living with illusions of grandeur. “Is that the real world?”

“It beats livin’ in this hole. Up there, if you’re smart you get anything you want. After I ran away from here I had to sweat blood to get work. Getting onto those docks took some doing. A lot of mean guys were in the way.”

“So you killed them,” Vincent accused.

Mitch sneered at him. “Law of the jungle. You oughta know something about that.”

Vincent lowered his eyes, feeling the insult deep in his heart. “You were better than this. You still can be.”

Mitch jeered at him. “Noble Vincent. Forget it!”

Vincent issued his final warning. “I’ll guide you out. Don’t ever come back.”

“Come back? Don’t worry.” Mitch followed behind Vincent. He knew his way out, but he happily followed so he could issue more insults. “So Vincent, is there still a lot of people down here, or did they finally get tired of living with a freak like you?” Vincent ignored him and continued to walk. Mitch chuckled. “Probably got tired of looking at your face all day, Hell, even your own brother couldn’t stand it anymore!”

Vincent whirled to face him and issued a warning growl that even someone as stupid as Mitch couldn’t mistake. Mitch balked and wisely shut up.

They came to the opening and Mitch turned to Vincent. “I’m back now. I want you to stay away from my old man.”

Vincent shook his head. “We’ll never leave Sam alone until he asks us to do so.”

Mitch sneered. “I’m telling you, he doesn’t need you! He has a son, a real son! I’ll take care of him myself!” Vincent ignored him while Mitch continued to insult him. “Look, just because you don’t know what it’s like to have a real family doesn’t mean you can try to take mine. Why don’t you go to the zoo and look for your own father.”

Vincent blinked at the cruelty of his words, then turned.

Mitch called out a final warning. “Stay away from my old man. I wouldn’t want an anonymous tip to be called into the authorities. They might feel the need to do some investigating below.   

Vincent hesitated at Mitch’s words before he abruptly walked away. He made sure the entrance was to the tunnels was sealed tightly. He would have to send a work detail to seal it permanently.

 

***

Vincent stopped at Mouse’s on the way back and asked him to close up the entrance below Sam’s apartment. Mouse rushed off to do so while Vincent walked into the library.

Father turned around and looked at him. “Are you okay, Vincent?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“The intruder?”

Vincent looked him in the eye. “Was Mitch Denton.”

Father scowled. “I hesitate to ask, but what did he want.”

“He claimed he wanted to visit.”

“But you didn’t believe him.”

Vincent shook his head wearily. “He was bitter, angry, insulting. It would not be safe to have him here among us. I told him he was not welcome, and I warned him not to come back.”

“Well…” Father started to reply when Vincent interrupted him.

“He also threatened to go to the police if we continued to help Sam.”

Father’s alarm showed at the news. “Then I’m sure the other council members will agree with your decision. And we absolutely must seal up the entrance below his father’s building. He can’t be allowed to return.”

“We’ve already begun. I had Mouse take a crew and start immediately. I’ll join them when I’m done here.”

“Good. And we must secure all the other entrances in that area. I was afraid this might happen. Now he’ll never leave us in peace. How can an act of kindness go so wrong?”

Vincent would not allow Father to second-guess his decision. “Your act of kindness to him was the only kindness he ever knew.”

“His father Sam was too ill to look after him. I had to accept him. Besides he was full of promise then, and I knew you were fond of him.”

Vincent looked over in surprise at Father. Once he may have felt that way, but when Mitch’s true personality came out, Vincent learned to stay away from him.

Father shook his head despondently. “Maybe if I’d been more attentive, tried harder, worked with him...but he wouldn’t listen.”

“I know what you feel. I felt it too when I looked at him…tried to find the face of a little boy I knew. All I saw was hatred. Evil. His eyes...were dead. Father, you must not let yourself despair. You have shown the same kindness to countless children over the years, and none of them have turned out as bad as Mitch. You have many more success stories than you have failures.”

Father smiled at his son. He counted Vincent’s life as one of his greatest accomplishments. “Thank you, Vincent. I suppose you’re right. When I look at all you’ve had to overcome, I’m amazed at what a wonderful person you’ve turned out to be.”

Vincent blushed and lowered his head. “Father, I’ll go help the crew seal those entrances.”

Father smiled as his son left the room.

***

Vincent walked up on the work detail. Mouse, Winslow, and Ike were in the middle of erecting a false wall.

Mouse ran over to see Vincent. “Put false wall up, easier, not hard to take down, can still get to Sam.”

Vincent nodded but spoke quietly. “Those things are all true, Mouse. But I am afraid I’ve not made myself clear. We need to put up a more permanent structure for right now.”

Winslow and Ike stopped working and walked over to the two men. Mouse looked at Vincent, a question in his eyes.

Vincent walked over to the half finished false wall. “Mouse, the person we need to keep out used to live in the tunnels. A few false walls won’t stop him.”

Winslow looked at him disgustedly. “Don’t tell me Mitch is back...”

Vincent sighed and nodded. Mouse looked confused. “Don’t remember a Mitch...”

Ike spoke up. “There’s no reason you should, Mouse. Mitch left here over fifteen years ago.”

Mouse shrugged. “Why keep out? Mitch can’t come home?”

Ike shook his head angrily. “No, Mouse. It would be bad if Mitch came home. He was…no good. A real troublemaker.”

Ike looked sadly over at Vincent. He knew he had been friends with Mitch while growing up, but Ike was a follower, and young boys often get mixed up in the wrong crowd. Ike felt bad that Vincent was often the brunt of Mitch’s cruelty.

Vincent came over to Ike and grasped his friend’s shoulder to let him know that all was forgiven. “Some people change for the better, Mouse. Some people are evil and stay that way their whole lives.”

Winslow butted in. “And Mitch Denton will be evil until the day he dies.”

Mouse grabbed the tools first. “Better keep out then...”

The four men agreed and they all got back to work.

 

***

Per Catherine’s request, Edie searched, but couldn’t find anything illegal on Mitch Denton. Catherine was desperate to get him off the docks so she could interrogate the witnesses without his presence frightening them. She felt that nobody would talk to her because they were terrified of Denton and his men. 

That night, Catherine met Frank down at a bar where the dockworkers hung out. Jack Sweeney walked in, and Catherine tried to question him again after he made some off-hand comments.

Jack walked away then came back and whispered, “I’ve got to think of my family.”

Catherine realized that was what the major problem was. These men were afraid of the well being of their families, and she sympathized with him. She knew the risk she was asking him to take.

Frank and Catherine left the bar after they had no success in getting the guys to talk to them. They said goodnight at the door and went to their separate cars. As Catherine went to get into her car, Frank started his and it exploded, killing him instantly.

Catherine gasped in shock. She stood helpless and watched as the flames engulfed the car. She knew there was no way Frank could have survived. Her mind reeled with the dangerousness of the case she was working on. These men would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.

She went back inside the bar and had the bartender call the police. Several of the union men came out and noticed it was Frank’s car that had exploded. Most of them looked away and walked back inside the bar. Jack came running out and looked in horror at the scene before he looked over and caught Catherine’s eye. Fear was clearly written all over his face.

Catherine hollered angrily at him. “You can’t keep letting innocent people die if you have the power to stop it!” 

Jack knew she was pleading with him to come forward so the madness would stop, but he shook his head, left, and headed home.

The first police unit showed up within minutes.

Catherine approached the officer and handed him her card. “I’m Catherine Chandler with the DA’s office.”

“Did you witness the explosion, Miss Chandler?”

“Sort of. A man had just gotten in the car when it exploded. His name was Frank DeCorsia. He was the union rep down on the docks.”

“Was anyone else in the car?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Were you hurt in any way?”

“No, I’m fine…but after the firemen put out the fire, please have the crime unit investigate. I believe his car may have been wired to explode. We’ve been working together on an investigation down at the docks.”

“You came here with him?”

“No, I met him here. We were hoping to question a few of the guys tonight.”

“How long have you been here?”

Catherine shrugged. “Frank was already here when I arrived about an hour ago. His car must’ve been wired while he was inside.”

The police officer jotted down everything Catherine told him. “Miss Chandler. I don’t want to scare you, but is there any way that your car has also been wired?”

Catherine looked horrified at the possibility and looked fearfully over at her car. “I...I don’t...I didn’t think…”

The officer noticed that her faced had paled. “Is there someone you can call to come pick you up, or could I have an officer take you home?”

Her thoughts flew to Vincent as she answered distractedly. “No, if you don’t mind, I’ll take you up on your offer for that ride, please.”

The officer turned around and waved over his partner. “Brad will take you home, and I’ll have the crime unit check out your car. If it’s clean, I’ll get it over to your office’s garage. Someone can bring you the key in the morning.”

Catherine handed her car key to the officer and thanked him. Brad escorted her to the police cruiser and sat her in the front seat next to him. He could tell Catherine was in shock, so he let her sit there quietly, only occasionally asking her questions.

He pulled up in front of her apartment and came around the side of the car.

“You gonna be all right, Miss Chandler?”

“Call me Cathy, and yeah, Brad, I’ll be fine, thank you.” He opened the door and watched as her doorman opened the door and let her into the apartment building.

“Cute chick,” he thought. With a sigh, he turned and headed back to the crime scene.

 

***

Jack Sweeney went home.

Megan was waiting at the kitchen table for him. “So did you meet with Frank DeCorsia tonight?”

Jack shook his head fearfully. “They blew up his car, Meg. He’s dead! Happened right outside of O’Malley’s. He got in, turned the key, and blew up!”

Megan ran to his side and put her arms around him. He was shaking, and together they made their way up to their bedroom.

Jack slipped off his pants and shirt and slid under the sheets. Megan changed clothes and climbed in next to him. “Jack, you gotta come forward. Too many deaths have already occurred.”

Jack refused to listen. “Meg, go to sleep.”

Megan turned off the light, then scooted over and placed her head against his back. She wrapped her arms around his middle and held him until he fell asleep.

***

Catherine went home, changed her clothes, sat on the couch, then mourned for Frank. He had been a good, hardworking man whose life ended because he tried to do the right thing. The tragedy of the situation weighed on her, and she started to fear that she would actually fail. She also wondered how much danger she was in.  

Vincent came to her balcony and tapped on her window. Despondently, she went out to see him.

Earlier, he had felt her burst of horror and fear and had rushed to find her, only to see her safely surrounded by police. He looked at the scene and guessed what happened. Vincent looked at her worriedly. “Catherine.”

She shook her head at the senselessness of the murder. “Vincent. A good man was murdered tonight.”

“Death almost took you. I felt it.”

She nodded imperceptibly. “It came close.”

“Catherine, you’re in grave danger.”

“I know.”

“Go no further with this.”

“What? What are you saying?”

“Stop, you must!”

She shook her head. “I can’t. I have to see this through.”

He couldn’t face her and turned out and looked out into the city. “If I ever lost you...”

“Vincent you’re the one who taught me to face my fear and to find the courage. I can’t pull back now. It would compromise everything: me, the case, even what you think of me. I have a chance to bring down the men responsible for all of this. I have to.”

“A life without you...would be unbearable.” He turned back to face her. “Take great care.”

He wasn’t sure where he had found the courage to admit his feelings for her. Embarrassed that he had revealed too much, he started to climb over the side to leave.

Catherine nodded and smiled weakly at him. This was the first time Vincent had ever expressed his feelings for her. She knew he worried about her, but he had just expressed how much she meant to him. Catherine let his feelings seep through her body and warm her heart.

Not realizing he could still hear her, she steeled herself for battle and spoke quietly. “I will. Mitch Denton and his men are not going to get away with this.”

Vincent’s excellent hearing picked up her whisper. He hoped he had heard incorrectly and turned back quickly to balance on the edge of her wall. “Catherine? Did you say Mitch Denton?”

She nodded and looked at him curiously. “Yes, he’s the front man for the mob. He recently got out of prison and is already causing problems on the docks.”

Realizing she was investigating “their” Mitch, Vincent hopped back down onto her balcony, then stepped forward and took her hands in his. “You must be very cautious, Catherine. I know who Mitch Denton is...”

“You do?!”

“He’s a very dangerous man; he won’t stop until he has his way.”

She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Vincent, how do you know Denton?”

He lowered his head, thinking of the past. “We grew up in the tunnels together. Even as a young boy he was always in trouble.”

“Mitch Denton grew up in the tunnels? I don’t believe it!”

“His father Sam was a helper. He ran a grocery store for many years and was always sending food and supplies Below. He got sick and Mitch had to spend some time with us.”

“Surely the goodness of your community rubbed off on him.”

Vincent shrugged. “I was a few years younger than Mitch, and I remember having fun with him when he spent time with us on weekends. Then after Mitch’s mother died and Sam got sick, Mitch had to live with us permanently. It was in that time that he became cruel and unforgiving.”

Vincent seemed sad as he turned away from her and remembered some of the things Mitch had said to him. Catherine guessed correctly that on several occasion Vincent had found himself on the other end of those cruel words.

“Still, Father must have had an influence on him. Perhaps there’s a chance that some good is still in him…if I can just find a way to reach it!”

Vincent whirled back around to face her. “You can wonder that after what you witnessed tonight?” Catherine’s face fell again as she thought of Frank. Vincent saw her anguish and squeezed her hand reassuringly. “You must be careful.”

“I know.”

As he turned to leave again, she called out to him desperately. “Vincent?”

He heard her voice waver as he turned back. With tears in her eyes, she looked up at him for reassurance, and he knew of only one way to give it to her. He opened his arms, and she walked into him, hugging him tightly. He closed his arms around her and held her to his chest gently stroking her back. She relished the strength he had and the security she felt with him. He held her until he felt a calm settle over her, then stepped back slowly.

Catherine sniffled as she smiled at him weakly. “Thank you.”

“Catherine, go nowhere alone, and remember I’ll always be near.”

She nodded as he turned and left.

 

***

 

The next day, Catherine walked into work, and Joe immediately called her into his office.

He looked at her sharply. “You okay?”

She knew he must have heard about the incident and nodded. “Yeah.”

“So Denton sent out a warning.”

“Looks like it.”

“Cops said that you were right. Frank’s car had been wired!”

“I was hoping to be wrong.”

He reached into his desk and handed to her the keys to her car. “Another cop dropped these off this morning, said your car is clean. Want to tell me what that was all about?”

Catherine looked around nervously. “I guess the officer felt that if Frank’s car was wired, mine could be too.”

Joe’s hands went to his hips. “Frank’s car was parked outside a bar close to the docks when it was blown up.”

“I know…” Catherine answered as she braced for his anger. “It wasn’t far from mine.”

Joe didn’t let her down and exploded angrily. “Damn it, Cathy! I told you this case was dangerous! What the hell were you doing down at a bar near the docks at 10:00 at night?”

She shrugged and answered back just as angrily. “I was hoping to persuade a witness to talk. If they all weren’t so afraid of Denton, I might stand a chance!”

He scowled and looked out the window of his office. “You’re giving me gray hairs, Chandler!”

“I’ll be more careful!”

“No! You keep saying that, but you’re never careful! I want to know everything. Every time you make a move on this case I want to know! Got it?”

Catherine knew Joe’s anger was based on worry, and she nodded with understanding. “Got it, Boss!”

Joe rolled his eyes then nodded as she left his office.

 

***

That night, Catherine went to Jack Sweeney’s house. She wanted to convince him to do the right thing. She knew he wasn’t telling the truth and was holding back in fear for his family. Catherine explained to him about the Witness Protection Program. His family said they would support his decision, and he relented and promised he would come to Catherine’s office tomorrow and make a statement.

The next day Catherine was at work early. When Joe came in, Catherine excitedly entered his office.

With a lukewarm breakfast burrito in one hand and his first morning coffee cup in the other, Joe snapped at Catherine. “What is it?”

Catherine smiled brightly at him. “I did it, Joe.”

He was crabby and uninterested. “Did what?”

“Jack Sweeney’s coming in today. He’s going to testify that Charlie Flynn’s death was not an accident.”

Joe looked at her incredulously. “No way, Chandler!”

“Yes, I came in early to start the paperwork.”

“How’d you get him to do it?”

Catherine paled. She had forgotten to tell Joe she was going to go to Jack’s house. Joe narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m not going to like this am I?”

Catherine smiled coyly. “Probably not...I went to Sweeney’s house last night and talked to Jack and his wife.”

“Damn it, Cathy! You never told me you were doing that!”

“I know, Joe. I’m sorry. I thought about it at dinner last night, and at the last minute, I just did it.”

“Oh, and it was too late to call my house at what 7:00?”

Catherine grimaced. “7:30.”

Catherine let him storm angrily around the office for a few minutes. “Hey, Joe? I’m really sorry but...I got him! Well, his kids actually helped him make the decision to testify, but the important part is I got him to do it!”

Joe sighed, He knew she was able to accomplish a great feat and she should be congratulated. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. Good job.”

“Thanks!”

A few hours later, Sweeney gave his statement to Catherine, Joe, and a court reporter.

Joe looked at him thankfully. “Mr. Sweeney, what you’ve just told us will send Denton away again with any luck at all for murder.”

Jack nodded. “Sounds pretty good to me.”

Joe turned to Catherine. “Let’s get Mr. Sweeney and his family into the Witness Protection Program ASAP. Will you handle that personally?”

“Right away,” she assured.

Joe looked back to Jack again. “We’re going to move you to a nice comfortable house in the country with complete protection. We’ll all breathe a little easier.”

“Finally get my house in the country,” Jack said sarcastically.

“Mr. Sweeney, I know this wasn’t easy. Thank you,” Joe said.

Jack looked over at Catherine. “Pretty persuasive lady you have here. You know, it’s been a long time since I stood on my own two feet. Feels pretty good.”

After Jack left the office, Joe turned to Catherine. “Good work, Radcliffe. You deserve a break.”

Catherine smiled. “Thanks Joe. I think I’ll leave early today if that’s okay...”

He nodded. “Gonna kick back and relax a little.”

She shook her head and smiled. “Nope. Actually I promised Jack and his family I would help them pack.”

She grabbed her purse and walked out of the office. Joe shook his head in disbelief. He wished half his people in the office were as dedicated as she was.

***

Mitch and his two best henchmen, Ned and Rado, sat together at a back table in their favorite restaurant.

Rado frowned as he looked at Mitch. “That chick from the DA’s office was at the bar with DeCorsia. They tried to talk to Sweeney.”

Mitch sneered. “Too bad Sweeney was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did you hear what he said to them?”

Ned was his insider on the docks and shook his head. “No, he wouldn’t sit down with them, acted all nervous. He’s afraid.”

“Good. Fear will keep his mouth shut.” Mitch nodded.

“Yeah, well that chick ain’t too afraid,” Rado added. “She was at Sweeney’s house last night for over an hour.”

“That sheds some new light on it…” Mitch scowled as he thought about his next move. “Sounds like Sweeney’s getting ready to sing for the DA, doesn’t it?”

Rado knew that he had just given Sweeney a death sentence. “All I know is the chick from the DA’s office was at his house last night. Then Sweeney goes to the DA’s office this morning? I ain’t taking the rap, Mitch.”

Mitch ordered the hit on the whole Sweeney family and told them to be ready to do it that night. “Oh, and get me a name and an address on the DA chick…I think she may be up for a bonus.”

Ned and Rado left to find out the information Mitch wanted on Catherine.

Ned looked over at Rado. “You know, taking care of a few guys is one thing…now we’ve got kids involved.”

“With what we’re getting paid?” Rado shrugged. “I got no problem with that, do you?”

Ned swallowed hard and shook his head. “No.”

They we’re back within an hour, and Mitch could tell by the looks on their faces he wouldn’t be happy.

Rado proceeded cautiously. “Her name’s Catherine Chandler. She’s been with the DA for about six months.”

Mitch laughed. “So by now she must be feeling the financial pinch of the meager salary she gets. Maybe I’ll offer her a bonus for all her hard work.”

Ned shook his head. “Not this time! The chick’s wealthy. Some do-gooder helping her fellow man…”

“Great.” Mitch scowled.

Mitch knew having a whole family go down would send a message to everyone on the docks thinking about crossing him. He also hoped it would send a message to the DA’s office.

“Well, if she doesn’t get the message after Sweeney’s gone, we’ll send her one too. Let’s go.”

Catherine was at the Sweeney house helping the family pack when Mitch and his men pulled up outside. Before they could hurt anyone, the place was flooded with police cars, and Mitch told Ned to drive carefully away. The police loaded up all of the Sweeney’s possessions, then took them to their new safe house.

Mitch was furious his plan had been thwarted and decided to go after Catherine instead. They snuck into her apartment building and kidnapped her at her front door. Mitch had Ned drive them down to the warehouse district to question her.

Mitch told her he wanted to know where Sweeney was and she was going to tell him. He told her he was going to kill her no matter what, but it was her option whether it was fast or slow. Catherine knew Mitch would follow through on his promise. Thinking fast, she hit him hard in the neck and grabbed his gun. She raced from the vehicle and hid behind a nearby dumpster.

Catherine’s fear had flowed through the bond to Vincent and he was on his way to help her. Mitch and his men were shooting at Catherine when Vincent came upon the scene. Catherine shot one of Mitch’s men, then ran from her hiding space, but Mitch shot her in the back.

Vincent ran to Catherine’s side. He and Mitch made eye contact. Mitch could see in his eyes that Vincent knew who did this to her and would deal with Mitch later.

Vincent knelt over Catherine’s body and gently gathered her into his arms. She was unconscious and he roared out his anguish into the night.

Vincent picked up Catherine and cradled her to his chest. Running through the alleyways his mind raced. Could she make it to Father? he wondered. No, Lang General Hospital is closer. Please let me get her there in time! Please let me have made the right decision in moving her. Please let her be all right!

His fear drove him to run faster as he took her by the emergency room entrance. He hated to leave her there, but he couldn’t risk being seen. There was an ambulance parked nearby, and he hoped the driver would be coming out soon. He set her down carefully on the ground.

Out of breath, adrenaline flowing, he pleaded with her. “Don’t die, Catherine. If you die, so do I.”

A car pulled up and Vincent stood there, torn between wanting to stay and protecting himself. He was barely hidden when the ambulance driver exited the hospital and found Catherine lying on the ground.

Vincent waited and watched as the driver ran for a gurney and with another man lifted Catherine onto it.

She’s safe now, he thought. He breathed a sigh of relief. She would get the attention she needed. He knew they would operate immediately, so he left.
His thoughts turned to Mitch. He’ll pay for this, thought Vincent as he set out to find him. His thoughts were on Catherine, their bond was still silent.

 

***

 

Vincent stopped inside the closest tunnel entrance. He tapped out a message that Catherine had been shot, that he had taken her to Lang General. Someone was to send in an anonymous tip so Catherine’s family could be notified.

Vincent left the tunnels to find Mitch.

Mitch had heard Vincent’s roar and seen the look in his eyes.  Why was Vincent helping Chandler? Did he know her? Was she a helper? Mitch knew he had inadvertently set off an explosive situation. He had never seen Vincent with a look of pure hatred. Mitch knew he would come for him, and he ordered more men for reinforcements.

Vincent ran to the warehouse district that Mitch was hiding in. He located the warehouse where they were stationed and stealthily disposed of Mitch’s men one by one. Soon it was only Mitch and he.

Mitch was never so afraid in his life as when Vincent was pursuing him and had him backed into a corner. Vincent roared in anger, and Mitch cried out to Vincent, pleading with him not to kill him.

Across town, Catherine’s surgery was a success. She was resting comfortably when she was flooded with emotions of rage. She frowned as she realized it must be coming from Vincent, and she called out to him weakly. “Vincent!”

She felt his emotions settle, and she quickly fell back asleep.

Vincent had been closing in on Mitch when Catherine’s feelings flooded through the bond and snapped him to a stop. She’s awake, he thought.

He looked at Mitch in disgust, a warning flashing in his eyes. “There’s nothing left of you. Nothing.” Vincent turned and walked away, planning on heading to Catherine.

Mitch cried in relief and sank to the floor, a broken man.

 

***

 

Later, Catherine woke again and looked into the familiar face of her father. “Hi, Daddy.”

He grabbed for her hand. “Catherine, I came as soon as I heard.”

She smiled weakly at him. “Thanks. I should be hearing from the doctor soon.”

“He was just here. He said the surgery was a success. He was able to remove the bullet with very little damage.” He choked back his tears.

She squeezed his hand. “I’m going to be fine.”

“This sure wouldn’t have happened if you still worked for me.”

“Dad!” she warned.

He held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I know when I’ve been beat.”

Catherine stifled a large yawn, her eyes closing again.

“Honey, I’m going to go and let you rest. I’ll be here tomorrow.”

“I’ll be here,” she joked, a small smile on her face.

“Love you, sweetheart,” Charles caressed her cheek lovingly.  

Joe walked into the room and stood quietly in the doorway.

Charles looked at him with a question in his eyes. “Hello. I’m Charles Chandler, Catherine’s father.” He extended his hand.

Joe took the offered hand and shook it.  “Hello, sir. It’s nice to meet you. My name’s Joe Maxwell. I’m Catherine’s boss. A doorman in her building called the police. He said Catherine had left her apartment with some rough looking guys. He was worried and copied down the license plate. We traced it to a guy she’s been investigating. The cops found the car on the dock. There was a guy shot there, and further down the alley there was a pool of blood. I took a chance and called around, found her here. How is she?”

A weak voice came from the bed. “I’m fine, Joe.”

He smiled and walked over to stand in front of her. “Hey, Radcliffe! How ya’ feeling?”

“Like I had a bullet in my back.”

“We caught some of the guys.”

“Good.” She smiled, her voice trailing off.

“Joe, I was just leaving.” Charles looked at him and hinted, “She should rest.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, I’m right with ya. Take care, Cathy. I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” Catherine managed a half smile as Joe squeezed her hand. “Hey, on second thought, why don’t you take a little time off? You deserve it.”

“Mmmm, thanks, Joe.”

Joe leaned over and kissed her cheek. “I’ll come by tomorrow...I have some questions for you.”

Catherine had fallen back asleep, and Joe turned to go. Charles came up and pulled Catherine’s covers up and kissed her forehead again. “Goodnight, pumpkin.”

 

***

Joe followed Charles out of Catherine’s room and the two men walked towards the lobby.

Charles looked over at him angrily. “I’d like to know why my daughter is on such dangerous cases?”

Joe’s stomach fluttered. He felt bad that this had happened. He’d known the case was dangerous, but he’d offered it to Catherine anyway. It would be a boost for her career. “Sir, with all respect intended, your daughter is one of the top investigators in my office. She was aware of the dangers of this case and insisted she was up for the challenge. I let her take the challenge. She’s kind of hard to handle once she sets her mind to something.”

Charles let this bit of news sink in before he chuckled. “You know my daughter well. I’m glad she’s doing so well at your office. Now if you can only find a way to keep her safe.”

“Sir, I want you to know that we know who was responsible for the shooting. We have men searching for him right now. I’m sure we’ll catch him by the morning.”

Charles nodded and sighed. “She must consider you a friend if she greeted you so warmly just now. Thank you for coming.”

Joe blushed. “She’s a great person!”

“Yes,” Charles nodded in agreement then looked confused. “Now...what’s this about Radcliffe?”

Joe shook his head as he blushed. “Just a pet name. Forget it! It was nice to meet you sir.”

Charles reached out his hand again. “Yes, it was nice meeting you.”

The two men went their separate ways.

 

***

 

Vincent headed Below to make his way through the tunnels toward the hospital. Michael and Brooke were waiting near the basement when he walked up.

Vincent looked on in surprise. “Michael, Brooke, is everything all right?”

Brooke smiled. “Yes, we’ve just been waiting for you.”

Vincent cocked his head. “For me?”

Michael nodded and handed him a piece of paper. “Father knew you would come back here looking for your friend. We snuck in and heard a nurse tell some guy from the DA’s office what room Catherine was in. She’s there. We checked.”

Vincent glanced at the room number and committed it to memory, then folded the paper and put it into his pocket. “I should try to find it.”

Michael laughed. “Corner room, northwest side, window faces the woods in back, there’s a stairway across the hall. Brooke and I thought that we could hang out in it, and if there was any trouble, we could cause a commotion.”

Vincent shook his head, unwilling to risk the teens’ safety. “Thank you, but the risk...”

Brooke giggled aloud. “There’s no risk, Vincent. They’ll just chase us out, and you’ll have time to escape.”

Vincent began to waiver. “You’ll stay hidden and quiet?”

Michael nodded.  “Unless you need us.”

Vincent sighed. “Okay, thank you, both of you.”

He grasped their shoulders affectionately, then turned and headed up while Michael and Brooke headed for the stairway.

Vincent climbed up to her hospital room. Luckily, the night shift was sparse, and he made it with no problems.

He was relieved she was okay. He had come so close to losing her. He wished he knew how she felt about him. He hadn’t meant to do it, but he poured out his feelings to her. He wondered how much, if any, she had heard of his ramblings.

He waited outside her window until the men that were in her room left. He had overheard the older man introduce himself as Catherine’s father and the dark haired man introduced himself as her boss. He wondered briefly where Catherine’s mother was, why she wasn’t here as well.

Vincent waited, and as soon as the nurse checked Catherine and left, he entered her room. She was resting comfortably when he walked in, and he stood there and watched her while she slept.

Catherine stirred from her sleep. She looked up and blinked trying to clear her vision. She looked up into the loveliest face she knew. He was there watching over her. “Vincent.”

He was relieved to hear her voice. “Shhhh.”

“You’re here?” she questioned incredulously.

“I’m here,” he said quietly, tears in his eyes.

“I had a dream about you.”

He smiled in disbelief. “About me?”

“We were walking down Fifth Avenue. The sky was blue.” Her eyes drifted closed.

Hating to disturb her rest but desperate to know the end of the story, he prompted. “And then?”

“Then...” she said, thinking. Then she smiled. “You bought me ice cream. No one looked twice.”

He stared at her, choking back his emotions. He smiled, and she fell back asleep, safe in the knowledge that he was near.

Vincent stayed at her bedside, watching her. He shook his head in wonder. How incredible this woman was...to dream dreams that included him, to overlook everything he was, and to see him with her in ordinary situations, to reach out to him to comfort and be comforted. He knew he couldn’t live without her.

A half an hour later, Catherine woke up trying to cough from the dryness in her throat. Vincent poured her a glass of water, reached behind her, lifted her head and put the glass to her lips. Catherine drank the cool water.

Vincent warned, “Slowly, Catherine...not too much.”

She looked up gratefully into his eyes. “Thank you. I miss your bedside manner. I wish I could recover Below with you instead of in this hospital room.”

Vincent shyly lowered his head. “I just wish I could have kept you safe so you wouldn’t have to recover. I should have known Mitch would never stop.”

Catherine touched his hand. “It wasn’t your fault. He caught me by surprise outside my apartment. I should have been safe there.”

“With Mitch around, there is no safe place anywhere.”

Catherine had closed her eyes and she slowly opened them again. “Vincent, I’m always safe when you’re around.”

Vincent squeezed her hands, and she smiled as her eyes drifted closed again. Vincent heard her breathing settle into a sleep pattern. He stayed as long as he could, until he heard the night shift starting to make rounds. With a last glance, he left her room.

***

Vincent made it Below with no incident. Brooke and Michael caught up to him and they walked to the home tunnels.

Outside the library he turned to his young friends. “Thank you for your help.”

Brooke smiled. “I’m glad you didn’t need it.”

Vincent hugged her. “I am too.”

He walked alone into Father’s library, knowing that the others would be upset over his earlier message.

As he walked in, Father stood. “How is she?”

“Alive. Resting.”

Father looked worried. He hated to think of what Vincent had done to Mitch. “And Mitch?”

Vincent shrugged. “He was a broken man when I left. He was crying and pleading for his life. I assume he crawled off into a hole somewhere.”

Father touched his shoulder. “Vincent, it was the right thing to do. Revenge is never sweet.”

Vincent looked pointedly at Father. “I would have killed him if it weren’t for Catherine.”

“What do you mean?”

“She must have felt my turmoil through the bond. I heard her call out, and suddenly I felt a wave of...serenity come across, and I knew she was all right. It was then that I decided to let Mitch live.”

Father nodded grateful that Catherine, however she accomplished it, had stopped Vincent from killing.

“Where was Catherine shot?”

Vincent nodded. “In the back.”

“Oh, dear God, Vincent. Is she going to be all right? She could be paralyzed!”

“I saw her legs moving, Father.”

Father nodded. “Well, that’s good news. It means that she won’t have to worry about paralysis...” His stopped as his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “What do you mean you saw her legs moving?”

“Just now. Thank you for sending Michael and Brooke to bring me the room information.”

“So you gave them a message for her?”

Vincent hung his head.  “No, I went to see her.”

“My God, Vincent! Have you lost your mind! You could have been seen!”

“I wasn’t. Her visitors had just left.”

“Vincent, I don’t have many hairs left that aren’t gray!”

Vincent chuckled as he changed the subject. “So, I can assume you found someone to get word to Catherine’s family?”

“Lou called in a tip to the police station. After that...”

Knowing that was all they could do, Vincent nodded. “Well, it must have worked because her father was there. Thank you for seeing to it.”

“Everyone heard your message. We were all greatly concerned.”

“I’ll send a message announcing her condition.”

Vincent stood up, then left, and tapped a general message over the pipes. Pascal picked it up and sent it to all the helpers.

 

***

The next day at the hospital, Joe came in early to see Catherine. She was sitting up in bed propped against numerous pillows. Her face was freshly scrubbed and her hair neatly combed.

Joe thought she looked like a teenager as he handed her some flowers. “Hey, kiddo. You look good!”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “I look like I’m twelve.”

Joe shook his head. “Naw...well, maybe fourteen.”

Catherine threw a wet cloth at him. “What are you doing here except harassing me?” Catherine pushed the last traces of her breakfast tray off to the side.

Joe looked longingly at the plate. Catherine rolled her eyes as she nodded, and he grabbed the last piece of bacon and popped it into his mouth.

Joe sat down crunching happily. “Actually, I promised to head up questioning you.”

Catherine sighed. “Okay, shoot.”

“How’d Denton get you?”

Catherine shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was at my apartment door ready to go in when he opened up the door that leads to the stairway. He must have been hiding there…”

“Was he alone?”

“No, he had some other guy with him. I don’t know his name, but I know that Frank DeCorsia had a run in with him one day. Frank told him to go back and tell his boss to stay off the docks.”

Joe nodded and took notes. “So you took a ride with Denton and this guy?”

“Yeah, there was a third guy who was driving when we got to the car. I didn’t see his face. Anyway, Denton took me down by the docks. He told me he would kill me...” She chuckled nervously and shook her head. “He told me that I could choose whether it would be quickly or slowly. He wanted Sweeney’s new address. I waited until we stopped, then clobbered him in the chest and grabbed his gun then ran from the car.”

“Okay...”

Catherine waited for Joe to look up from his pad. “Then I hid behind a dumpster. They started shooting. I shot back and hit one of them.”

“Good girl!”

“I tried to run and Denton shot me in the back. I think I hit my head and passed out.”

“How’d you get here?”

Catherine remembered feeling Vincent’s presence on the docks. She remembered hearing Vincent whisper, but she didn’t know if it was a dream or reality. To Joe, she shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Joe looked at his notes. “An ambulance driver said he found you on the steps of the emergency room.”

Catherine shrugged and shook her head. “Joe, I remember feeling a pain in my back, then I remember waking up and seeing my Dad in a hospital room.”

“Did you hear anyone talking about Denton’s other guys? We found three more bodies in a warehouse about a block from there.”

Catherine yawned. “Not a word. How do you know they were Denton’s men?”

Joe smiled. “All of them are on Denton’s payroll, well were…they’re gone now. Denton must’ve had them taken care of. One had his neck snapped, one had his throat slit open, and the other one had his chest...”

Catherine gasped when she realized Vincent must have been responsible for the deaths of those men. Joe looked up and saw Catherine’s pale face. “Sorry, Cathy. Not exactly breakfast conversation.”

Catherine nodded weakly. “Its okay, Joe. No Denton?”

Joe smiled. “Yeah, it’s the oddest thing. He got brought in this morning. Said he’d be safer inside then out and was grateful when he was arrested.”

Catherine shook her head in amazement. “Imagine that.”

Joe stood and headed for the door. “Radcliffe, get some sleep. If you remember anything more...”

“I’ll call. Thanks, Joe.”

Joe left and Catherine fell off to sleep.

***

Three days later, Father was sitting Below reading the newspaper. He read a report that Mitch Denton was back in prison for his involvement in the shooting of Catherine Chandler, an investigator for the District Attorney’s office.

Father tapped a message to Vincent who came quickly into the library. Father showed him the newspaper. “Do you know about this?”

Vincent glanced down and nodded. “Catherine told me Mitch had been caught.”

Father rolled his eyes. “So, you’ve seen her again?”

Vincent shook his head. “No, she sent word by messenger. She comes home tonight. I’m planning on visiting her then.”

“So soon? Are you sure?”

Vincent shrugged. “She said she will be under the care of her family doctor. She can rest better at home.”

Father grumbled as he walked away. “Modern medicine shoves you out the door as soon as it is remotely possible...”

Vincent ignored his ramblings and thought about what book he could bring to Catherine’s.

***

Charles brought Catherine home in the early afternoon. She made her way into the bedroom and carefully settled herself down on the bed. With a sigh, she leaned back against the pillows.

She looked up wearily at her father. “Dad, thanks for bringing me home.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”

“If you want to go back to work, you can. Jenny’s coming by in an hour or so, and I’m ready to fall asleep...”

She yawned loudly, and he smiled at her. “Okay, I’ll call you after work, and if you need anything before that just call Marilyn and she’ll let me know. You rest, okay?”

She nodded as he kissed her cheek. She was sound asleep by the time he left her apartment. Jenny came by and quietly crept into the room. Catherine was asleep, and Jenny sat on the couch and read magazines. Two hours later, Catherine was still asleep, so Jenny wrote her a letter and placed it on her nightstand.

It was already dark when Catherine stretched and slowly woke up. She looked at the clock and gasped at the time. She had slept the whole day away. She shuffled off to the bathroom and came back, then noticed the note on her nightstand and picked it up. She read Jenny’s letter, then picked up the phone and dialed.

“Jenny Aronson, may I help you?”

“Hi, Jen.”

“Hi, sleepyhead. You just get up?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe I slept all day!”

Jenny laughed. “You probably needed it! Do you need anything? Dinner?”

Catherine sighed. “No, I have a can of soup in the kitchen. I may heat that up. I don’t know...”

Jenny laughed aloud. “I found the soup. It’s on your counter. I was going to heat it up for you but you never woke up! Well, I guess it doesn’t matter as long as you get something on your stomach.”

“I will. I’m actually getting kind of hungry.”

“Well, if you don’t need me, then I’ll let you go so you can eat. Call me if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Jen. Bye.”

Catherine hung up the receiver and the phone rang immediately. She picked it up again. “Hello.”

“Hi sweetheart, did you get some sleep?”

“Hi, Dad. Yeah, I just woke up.”

“Wow, you haven’t slept like that since you were a teenager.”

Catherine chuckled. “It felt good. Before you ask, Jenny stopped by but didn’t wake me up. I just called her. She offered to bring me dinner, but I’m going to heat up a can of soup.”

“Good. Can you manage by yourself?”

“Dad!”

“I’m just asking. What are your plans then?”

Catherine sighed. “I’m probably going to watch some TV, then read and go to bed.”

“Sounds good. If you’re going to be all right, I’ve got a benefit to go to...”

“You should go, Dad. I’m fine.”

“Okay, I’m running late. I’ll call you in the morning. Bye, sweetheart.”

“Bye, Dad.”

She hung up and the phone rang for the third time. She sighed and picked up the receiver. “Hello.”

“Radcliffe, I’ve been trying to call. You’ve been yapping on the phone all day?”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “I just woke up ten minutes ago!”

“Yeah, well...it seemed like longer. Hey, I made this huge pot of spaghetti and thought I could bring some over to you if you’re interested.”

Catherine heard a tap at the window. She turned and motioned to Vincent to wait for her. “No thanks, Joe. My dad’s bringing dinner to me. He’s actually walking in the front door.”

“Oh, well, it was just a thought.”

Catherine felt bad for lying to him. “Joe, it was a very nice thought. Thank you for thinking of me. I’ll see you at work Monday.”

“Monday. That’s way too early for you to come back to work.”

“The doctor said I’m fine. If I take it easy I can come back!”

Joe sighed aloud, knowing he wouldn’t win the argument. “We’ll see. Later, Chandler.”

“Bye, Joe.”

Catherine hung up the phone and dared it to ring again as she made her way slowly to the balcony.

***

She opened the doors and walked outside. “Hi, Vincent.”

She smiled and walked over to him throwing her arms around his waist. Vincent didn’t return the hug, but held his arms by his sides.

She looked up at him. “What’s wrong?”

“I...I don’t want to hurt you.”

She put her head against his chest again. “Vincent, I won’t break.”

Vincent gently put his arms around her and enclosed her in his embrace. She sighed and snuggled closer to him. He rested his head on the top of hers. “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me, too!” Catherine’s stomach growled loudly. Embarrassed, she looked up at him. “I was just going to heat up some soup for dinner. Would you like some?”

Vincent pointed at her little table. Catherine looked over, and on the table sat a picnic basket. She looked at him with a question in her eyes.

“It’s from William. He’s sent some of his homemade soup, but it will keep if you have your heart set on your own soup.”

“Are you kidding me? Soup from a can compared to William’s soup?” She shook her head as she went over to the basket. She opened the lid and the aroma was enticing. “Oh, Vincent, it smells wonderful!”

“William remembered how well you liked it when you were Below the first time.”

“Please thank him for me.”

Vincent ushered her to the table and chairs she had on the balcony. She gingerly sat down and watched as he brought out a bowl and spoon. He handed her a napkin, then went back for some bread and butter, which he quickly laid out in front of her. Next, he poured some of William’s wonderful soup from the container into a bowl. It was actually closer to a stew, and Catherine loved the thick chunks of vegetables and meat.

She ate almost the whole bowl, then sat back with a sigh. “Vincent, I can’t finish that.”

Vincent quickly cleaned up the dishes and packed them away in the basket. Catherine watched as a question formed in her mind. “Vincent, how did you get that basket up here?”

He shrugged. “I carried it. Catherine. I bought a book as well. If you’re not too tired, I could read to you.”

“Oh, Vincent, I slept all day today. I would love to have you read to me.”

Catherine stood and walked into her bedroom and grabbed a blanket. Vincent laid it down on the floor of the balcony.

Catherine shook her head ruefully. “It seemed like such good idea, but I don’t think I can get down there.”

Vincent lifted her and set her gently down on top of the blanket, then slipped off his cloak and laid it over her legs.

He grabbed the book from the table and settled down close to her. Catherine was surprised. Normally he kept some distance between them, but tonight he sat right next to her.

“This is nice, Vincent. The days at the hospital were long and boring. I missed seeing you.”

“I...tried to come again, but there was no safe way...”

Catherine looked at him guiltily. “Vincent, I didn’t mean anything by that, I know you would’ve come if you could have.”

Vincent sighed and Catherine placed her hand on his arm. “Do you still feel like reading?”

He smiled down at her. “Yes.”

He began to read, and she laid her head against his shoulder. He hesitated briefly at the intimacy, but then continued with the reading. She felt a rush of happiness through the bond and was glad he accepted her small gesture.

Vincent read until Catherine became tired. He lifted her and set her on her feet near her door.

Catherine steadied herself and looked at up at him. “Thanks for having dinner with me and for the wonderful company this evening.”

Vincent blushed. “I’m glad I could spend time with you.”

Catherine held open her arms and walked into his. “Goodbye, Vincent. I’ll see you soon.”

“I...could come tomorrow...if you don’t...I mean...”

Catherine placed her hand on his arm. “Vincent, I don’t have plans, and if you’d like, I would love to spend the time with you.”

Vincent smiled. “Until tomorrow.” He turned with a rush, grabbed the basket, and scaled her wall.

Catherine smiled and went back inside.

 

 

THE END