Anne Cognito

Children's voices called through the door of Catherine Chandler's eighteenth-floor apartment, "Trick or treat?"

"Could you get that?" Catherine asked Edi. The black data-retrievist was braiding the Assistant District Attorney's shoulder-length light brown hair into two neat pigtails. "I can hold these. They do complement the gingham pinafore and apron," Catherine said, looking at herself in the mirror.

Edi handed Catherine the end of one braid and the white ribbon. "Sure, Dorothy, whatever your wish is," she chuckled.

Edi, The Good Witch, in sparkling blue net and sequined gown, floated to the front door of the apartment, picking up a large bowl of cellophane-wrapped pralines from the antique wooden secretary, and opened the door. "Trick or treat?" she said to the five kids before her.

A pirate with a stuffed toy dead parrot on his shoulder led the raiding party of five. A miniature Lone Ranger pushed the classic tramp, probably his younger brother, to the front. "Say 'trick or treat,' Martin."

The white circle around the tramp's mouth was already smeared with chocolate. "Trigger treed?"

Edi dropped plastic-wrapped candy into their bags.

The next pair to the door were the black Ghostbuster, Winston, leading a floral-printed ghost. There were eye holes in the pillow case but only one grey eye peeked through. "Trick or treat?"

'Dorothy' had managed to tie the last ribbon in her own hair, slip on the pair of slightly-too-large red shoes, and come to the door for the last child, a ginger tabby kitten so cute that she almost took Catherine's breath away. A baby tooth was missing and she lisped her question. "For you," Catherine said, "a special treat." She pulled a praline, identical in every way to the others, from her apron pocket, and dropped it into the cloth bag the kitten held by an edge.

"Tank you," the kitten and the rest shouted as they ran back toward the elevator to go to the next floor.

"Where did you get 'Aunt Betty' pralines, Girlfriend?" Edi popped one into her mouth, after the children left. "My momma sends mine."

"In New York?" Catherine laughed, dropping another of the soft tan candies into her apron pocket. "This is Rome. All roads lead here; if it can't be had here, it doesn't exist." She didn't say anything about the chain of evidence from a Helper who knew someone who worked at the gift shop at La Guardia, who knew where the distributor holed up crates of boxes of the candy before it went to the gift shop at Metier International and could get one of the cartons transferred when the holidays rolled around.

Another rap came at the door and a chorus of holiday greetings. Edi swung open the door and faced another pack of kids, sized from one metre to over two metres tall, in an assortment of costumes. At the back of the pack was a very tall blond cat in an usher's military tail-coat and trousers.

A boy in knee breeches and powdered gray hair carried a violin. "I'm Gepetto," he explained. "My little boy ran away and a dogfish swallowed us.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Master Gepetto," Catherine curtsied to Geoffrey, one of the elder tunnel 'brats.'

A graceful dark-haired ballerina, at most aged ten, in a frothy pink tutu like sea foam, slugged Gepetto and said, "Play, Geoffrey, Catherine doesn't have all night."

Long suffering, Geoffrey placed the fiddle beneath his chin and struck up a tune. While Samantha moved to the song the other children tapped hands lightly, a waltz beat. A boy with thick glasses, dressed as a gypsy in headband, brightly printed shirt and trousers tucked into too-big boots, was caught singing.

The candy was passed out and the children disappeared as the prior group had done. The blond cat moved to the doorway. "Trick or treat?" he said, voice deep and soft.

"Great costume, but aren't you a little big for trick-or-treating?" Edi asked. Vincent looked toward the floor, his hair falling forward and concealing his face.

"Treat," Catherine said handing him a praline. "Come in, and close the door. Vincent Wells, the not-so-good-witch Glinda works with me at the D.A.'s. She works with computers because we can't let her out with decent people." Catherine pulled him into the living room. "Edi, this is Vincent."

"Oh," she said. "I wondered if she'd ever let any of us see you. Do you come to New York often?"

"Not often enough," Catherine interrupted.

"It's very nice to meet you," Vincent said, bowing over the witch's hand. "Any friend of Catherine's..."

Before the moment could tense the doorbell rang again. "Trick or treat?" voices called.

"Sit down and make yourselves comfortable." She checked her watch. "It's almost time for this to end anyway." This time Catherine answered the door herself.


This group of merrymakers were all tunnel brats: Pollyanna-Jamie and Einstein-Mouse were following Ellie, a butterfly with wings of tissue paper and balsa; Cowboy-Kipper; Angel-Lana, also with balsa-and-tissue wings, but hers were painted with feathers; and Zack in a raccoon coat. Every few seconds he would say, "Boola, boola." As Catherine distributed the candies to the last of the children, a rather tall black Scarecrow with multicolor patches painted on his face joined them.

"Hi, Isaac. Come on in," Catherine said, pulling him by the arm. "You look great."

"Thank you."

Catherine closed the door arid threw a lock. "This is Isaac Stubbs, my martial arts instructor." Isaac and Vincent nodded to one another on introduction. Isaac had seen Catherine's special someone before, but not from this close, or in such good lighting. He did his best not to stare. "And this is Edi, and Vincent."

Lightweight conversation of the nice-to-meet-you style followed all around. "Do you think there will be any more visitors?" Vincent asked.

Catherine checked her watch again. "I don't think so. It was supposed to end at nine in this building. And we've got to get going or Joe's going to have a fit."

"He worries too much," Edi said, rising from the love seat. "The party will be fine."

"We do have to get going though." Catherine leaned over the back of the other loveseat and whispered into Vincent's ear. "The walls between the worlds grow thin..."

He moved his head against her cheek.

"Yeah," Isaac said, "There's a cab waiting." He asked Edi, "Do you need to get a coat or anything?"

"No." Glinda spun before him. "I'm fine."

"Catherine?" Vincent asked.

"I have my love..." Catherine intoned.

Isaac chuckled, "Aren't you too young to remember that song?"

"No," Vincent and Catherine said, as one.

Edi giggled. She offered her arm to the Scarecrow, who accepted it grandly.

Catherine picked up her clutch bag and keys from the secretary. She opened the door and they all went into the hallway.

"I have too many keys," Catherine said. "I have trouble keeping them all straight too." She sorted through the ring, threw the three locks, then dropped the ring into her clutch.

"Come on, Girlfriend," Edi called when the elevator arrived. "Oz is waiting."

"With you, everywhere is Wonderland," Vincent said, accepting Catherine's arm.

Everything was fine until they were all in the cab on their way to the Harrington on the Park, where the Manhattan District Attorney's Office was holding its festivity honoring the rite of pagan resurrection. Edi seemed to feel that this was a wonderful time to gather more information on the secret love in her friend's life.

"So, Vincent, where do you live?" she asked.

"I travel a great deal...but I think of New York as my home." He'd practiced these answers for several days once Catherine had convinced him that he could attend this social event with so many of her friends and co-workers. He hoped he had enough platitudes stored up for any occasion.

"So, what do you do?" Edi continued her pressure.

"I teach special education."

Catherine smiled to herself. He was doing fine. No lies; Father said all education was special.

"Isaac." She tried to change the point of conversation. "Will you be doing another refresher class this spring?"

"Yeah, and maybe if you come and beat up my beginning students I could give you a better rate. You really impressed them last year."

"Catherine?" Edi said. "Our Catherine?"

"Yes," Vincent said. "She's forceful. Haven't you noticed?"

"She's a 'scout,'" Isaac said, continuing to tease their hostess. "Brave, loyal, thrifty, clean, kind...irrelevant..."

Catherine punched him in the side. "He says the nicest things about his students, once they can beat him up."

Isaac laughed and Vincent chuckled. "Did she tell you about the time she hit me with a bowl?"

"Vincent!" She sounded shocked but amused all the same.

"I startled her and she threw a stainless steel one at me."

"And?" Edi could hardly contain herself.

"Hit me in the head. And I knew that I loved her."

"Did you love her before the head injury?" Isaac asked, curiosity not being solely the cat's.

Vincent slid his arm farther around his beloved's narrow waist and brushed his cheek against her hair. "From the first moment that I saw her."

"What about you, Girlfriend?"

"I had to hit him first."

"So, how did you two meet?" Edi was still full of questions.

"I was going for a walk in Central Park and she needed help. How could I resist a damsel in distress?"

"Like every other New Yorker, chum," Edi retorted. "Just keep walking."

Catherine leaned her head against his shoulder. "Not Vincent."

"You wouldn't happen to have a darker brother, would you?"

"I have an adopted brother; actually, I'm the one that's adopted, but he's the prodigal son..."

"That isn't quite what she meant." Catherine tried to keep the conversation directed away from them and their personal life.

"But I'm proud of Devin, and all that he's done."

Catherine almost said, "What has he done this time?" but caught herself. "Jenny Aaronson said he has another book coming out for the holidays."

"Yes, Learning in Dreamtime, about Australia. He says that they're promoting it as a novel. "

"Devin? Devin Wells is your brother?"

"And my best friend. Everyone should be as lucky."

Catherine thought about what the two boys had shared for so many years, and a fight that they'd had over responsibility, and the clawmarks that Devin still wore. Like Baron von Munchausen, Devin had a different story to explain them for every day of the week and two for Sunday, too; but now that he was a famous author, Vincent's favorite was the attack of the Siberian tigers, which alternated with having fallen down a tower in Pisa. The truth, "I teased my little brother until he hit me and he thought for the next twenty years that he'd killed me when I ran away from home and my body was never found in the river" was still painful. Vincent had said that Devin had promised him that someday they'd travel the world together. The closest they'd ever gotten was a carousel ride in Central Park that had nearly gotten the two boys taken from their family forever. That was what had led to the fight. Their father had chastised the older boy and, in the end, they'd said some things they'd regretted. The boy said that his brother, who had looked like a ginger kitten from the first time any of the tunnel community had seen him, was a freak. Father said that Devin should have known better than to risk them all and chuff, chuff, chuff. Little did the world at large know that Devin Wells, raconteur and bon vivant, had grown up like a hobbit, in a nice dry hole in the ground; and many, if not all, of the stories he wrote -- of being a monk in Tibet, or safari guide in Africa, or traveler with the Aborigines, or a carney throwing knives, or a surgeon, or a criminal lawyer -- were things that he'd done.

Catherine, wrapped in her thoughts, almost missed what Isaac asked her. "So you know this Devin too?"

She thought for a moment. "We're acquainted." That he'd worked in the D.A.'s office with her and Edi wasn't something she wanted to mention. If she was ever caught out on this she'd say that he'd been doing research for a novel. Writers do things all the time that normal people wouldn't even think of getting away with, right?

"I think he's so dreamy," Edi said, sighing. "Writing about all those places, it's almost like he's been there."

"He does a lot of research. He tries to write vividly, for those who can't see the snows on Kilimanjaro or walk the Outback. I think it's a wonderful thing." Vincent's voice swelled with pride. Whoever else read those journals now, they'd been written for him.

The cab pulled up to the hotel. Catherine paid the cabby, and they went into the brightly-lit lobby. Last year both Vincent and Catherine had attended a different party there, on the top floor, one honoring the Irish author Brigit 0'Donnell, whose work they admired. Both of them hoped that this party would not end up being as exciting as that one had become, with rebels and patriots shooting at them all, for the sake of love.

The second-floor ballroom was festooned with orange and black, and a cauldron of something steaming was in a corner with the small dance band, which was playing 'The Witch Doctor.' Some of the party goers were singing "oo-ee-oo-aa-aa" along with them.

It was still early so there were probably fewer than a hundred people milling about, mostly paralegals and their dates, networking and gossiping. 'Was I ever so eager,' Catherine wondered. 'No, I didn't have to be, I was Daddy's little girl at Chandler and Coolidge.'

Zorro, with sword and short cape, rushed up to the quartet. "Hi, Radcliffe, Edi. Glad you could make it."

"Hi, Joe. We're not that late," Catherine insisted.

"Moreno's not here yet, so I'm trying to keep the party movin'."

"Are you going to insist on games?"

He shook his head. "I just want everyone to have a good time until it's time to go back to work. No rest for the wicked."

"Joe," the trial lawyer whimpered, "my basket was empty when I left."

"You should know by now that time does not stand still."

"Tomorrow soon enough?" Catherine argued with her supervisor.

"Yeah, Joe. Tomorrow will be fine. No depositions on holidays, remember? Moreno said," Edi defended.

"I guess." He looked around the room. "And who are they?"

"This is Isaac Stubbs, and the mystery man, Vince Wells," Edi whispered conspiratorially. The martial arts instructor took Joe's hand. "And you're Cathy's boss; I've heard so much about you."

Joe flexed his hand when Isaac released it. "Isaac." He looked at the tall lion in an outfit that he must have mugged an usher at the Roxy to get.

The cat smiled, fangs shining, "Indeed. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Maxwell."

"Joe." He extended his hand cautiously.

"Vincent." The hirsute hand, with claws, accepted Joe's, but neither squeezed nor scratched. "Catherine has spoken of you a great deal."

"Thank you." When Vincent released his hand Joe almost sighed with relief. "Hey, how 'bout some food?"

"Sure," Edi said, heading toward the buffet table, Isaac following her. "Thought you'd never ask."

Catherine accepted the arm of both Zorro and the Cowardly Lion and drifted along after the Good Witch. "It looks like it's going to be a good party, Joe."

"Well, thanks, I guess. Somebody had to plan it."

"I thought Charlene would help." Catherine was on a first-name basis with all of the secretaries, particularly the long-suffering one for whom Joe could be a thorn in the side.

"No. She has real work to do. Party planning, decorations, eats, that's man's work. Don't you agree, Vinnie?"

"Certainly." Vincent looked down at Catherine, then to her supervisor. "Is it not the work to which lawyers everywhere aspire?"

"There are days..." Catherine replied.

Joe saw someone he needed to talk with and excused himself. "Later, Radcliffe, Vinnie." The buffet table was spread with none of the things which had graced the last party they'd attended here: caviar, champagne, rumaki, and foie gras, but did hold an assortment of cheeses, cocktail wienies, meatballs in sauce, and bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables. lox and herring lay in shallow bowls toward the ends of the tables. Tiny circles of toast were artistically laid on trays.

Catherine picked up a pair of plates and silver from one end and held them while Vincent served. "Take just a little, to see if you like it first," Catherine whispered.

"Would you like more of anything?" he asked, as the music ceased.

"No, this is fine."

They joined Isaac and Edi at a table off to the side of the room where they could sit with their backs to a wall. Attending costume parties was one thing, allowing themselves to be surprised by strangers was another.

"What would you like to drink?"

"I don't know."

"I'll see what they have."

Edi accompanied Catherine to the frothing punch bowl. "Hey, Girlfriend, thank you for finding that man. You find 'em just like that, don't you?"

"What do you mean?" She accepted a second glass of the fizzing apricot punch and waited for her friend.

"Charming, good lookin', polite. Isaac's asked me to dance. Don't you want to?"

They moved along the edge of the floor where couples were swirling to 'That Old BlackMagic.'

"I don't dance to that."

"It'll change. These bands always do."

The girls placed the glasses on the table and then sat down.

"Thank you," Vincent said. He and Isaac had been nibbling in their absence. "Try the pineapple." He forked a cube and dipped it in a pale yellow sauce before presenting it to Catherine.

She accepted the fork and took a bite.

"Oh, ginger."

They sat, and ate, and listened to the band play seasonal hits for a while.

Catherine glanced at her watch as Edi and Isaac came back from dancing to a Billy Joel song.

"That was great," the data retrievalist said as she slipped into her chair. "Thank you."

"Thank you," the martial artist said. Tai chi was like dance, he'd discovered.

"Ah, Vincent really doesn't get into New York very often... So we'd like to just go out and play tourist for a while, you know...be alone?"

"In a city of eight million people you 'vant to beh ah lion"'? Edi laughed.

"She's one of my more enthusiastic students," said Isaac, "but don't think she'll be your protector, Vincent. Now you be careful."

"Yes, mother." Catherine did her best to look contritely at her martial arts instructor. He knew her capabilities and had been told what Vincent could do, so he was sure that they'd be all right. "Take good care of Edi, too."

"I will."

"It was very nice meeting you both. Please give our regrets to Mr. Maxwell. It's a marvelous party, but I hope he'll understand." Vincent offered his hand to Isaac for the first time, a sign of trust.

"Sure." The martial artist felt strength and control in the large hand and gripped it firmly, then he hugged the petite 'Dorothy.' "Remember, there's no place like home."

Edi gave her a hug too, "See you tomorrow, Cathy."

"Good night, Isaac. See you tomorrow, Girlfriend."

Catherine accepted Vincent's arm and they wandered toward the door, not half as fast as they wanted to.

Elevator to lobby to sidewalk, just like other revelers on All Hallow's Eve. "What would you like to do now?" she asked, absorbing the lights and sounds of her home town with fresh senses.

"Whatever you'd like."

It felt warmer this year, than it had last when they had set out to "go everywhere and do everything" on the one night of the year they could travel the streets together. Or, as she had dreamt once, they were eating ice cream on Fifth Avenue "and no one looked twice."

"Would you like a carriage ride?" She let go of his arm and started across the wide street toward a hack stand. He did not follow. Traffic was not heavy so she dashed back to his side.

"What's wrong, Vincent?"

He looked down, thus hiding behind his hair. "Nothing."

"Did I do something?" She slid her arms around his waist and peered under the blond swath.

"No." He shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Let's just walk."

"Okay." She moved to his side and they started north, along the edge of the park. On a night when he should be happy he didn't seem to be.

"Vincent. What's wrong?"

He sighed. She was not going to give up. She never did; that was just a part of what he loved about her.

"I've never gotten close to a horse, except on the carousel."

"They're not like real horses." His beloved's laugh was light; she wasn't laughing at him. She was laughing at a memory of her own.

"I've read about them, but it isn't the same."

He didn't speak for a while then the words came out in a rush. "The policeman who found us and caught Devin was riding a horse. It was enormous and ran faster than any of us could, and I knew that if they took Devin away it would be all my fault."

"I see," she said. Then she thought for a while before she spoke. She rubbed her cheek against his strong chest, burrowing under his trailing blond hair to press her cold nose against his throat. "I remember the first time Daddy put me on a horse. I must have been almost seven. She was huge and black and I probably couldn't have gotten her to trot if our lives depended on it, but I was terrified anyway."

They walked further up the street, keeping the horses and the lanterned carriages on the other side of their path.

"But you've won ribbons!"

She tossed her braids. "Daddy said that it wasn't 'done' to have a daughter who didn't ride, in," she made a face to accompany the word, "society. I guess I just needed to get to know them first."

A coach from the hack-stand passed them, a group of costumed merrymakers laughing loud enough for them to hear.

"Let's cross the street," Vincent said. They walked a bit further along the row of hacks, looking at the horses, people having a good time and chatting.

As they reached the end of 'the Row' there was a horse sniffing the air and leaning onto the sidewalk, hitched to a shiny black two-person two-wheeled cart, with its top down. The hack was polishing the glass on its gaslights with a crumpled newspaper. The white patch on the horse's dark lip flashed as it tried to get into the trick-or-treat bags of children trying to pet it. The children were squealing and pushing the animal away, but not very hard. The horse's neck thinned like a giraffe's as it tried to reach the orange and black paper bags.

"Let me see," Catherine said, at ease with the world. She released Vincent from her grip, walked toward the horse and whistled. Its ears went up, nostrils flared. "May we pet him?" Catherine asked.

"He nips," warned the hack.

Catherine waved Vincent over but he still stood back from the grey horse with the black accents, legs, tail and face.

The hack came to the horse's head on the street side when she noticed the tall man in the lion make-up not approaching.

"Was he ever bitten?"

"No," Catherine said. "He was almost trampled once..." although that only began to explain it all.

The hack held the horse by a rein so he couldn't reach too far; but he pulled toward Catherine like no one else would love him.


Vincent moved forward but stood well out of the horse's reach. Now that Catherine was standing next to it the horse didn't seem so very large or threatening.

Catherine continued speaking soft babytalk to the horse as she rooted in her clutch.

"What a pretty, yeah, that's a fella, you wouldn't bite me hard, no, you wouldn't, would you?"

The hack smiled. It was nice to see someone who knew how to speak 'horse' for a change.

Catherine found the rolls of Certs and Lifesavers she'd been looking for. "What's his name?"

The small blonde woman in the silver-beaded smocked black shirt, black boots and jodhpurs stuffed the crumpled paper under the driver's seat. "Domino, like the pizza."

"Nice name, yeah. May I? It's a candy-mint."

"Not too many."

The blue plume on her cavalier hat bobbed when she laughed.

Domino nudged Catherine as he tried to rifle her purse. She shouldered him until she could get her flattened hand in front of his muzzle. There was a loud crunching as he chewed.

Then she blew in his nose and whickered. He nodded. Catherine pulled another Certs from the roll.

Vincent came closer until he was within neck-reach and stood behind Catherine.

"It's okay." She glanced over her shoulder at her cowardly lion. "See, he has a blue eye. It's called a glass eye and he'll never go blind in it."

The horse swung his head around Catherine, sniffed at Vincent, and snorted. Vincent started away.

"Domino, be good," the hack said, slapping him on the flank. "He thinks everyone should feed him."

Catherine grabbed Vincent's hand and pulled him back. "Like this." She flattened the clenched fingers until the horse's nose would fit comfortably. She placed a green Lifesaver on his palm. "Now hold still."

The horse's nose investigated the lion-man's hand and grabbed the candy, crunched it, and was back immediately looking for more.

"How was that?"

"It tickled," he said, smiling, surprised. Now that he was standing next to it, and wasn't a small ten-year-old boy anymore, the horse wasn't as large and threatening as he'd always imagined them to be.

Catherine pulled out more candy and let Vincent 'treat' the horse with one hand while stroking its neck with the other.

"Where to?" the hack asked.

Vincent looked at Catherine. She smiled. "Into the Park?" he asked, but it wasn't a question.


The hack opened the door and Vincent gave his lady a hand up and followed her into the cart. The hack slammed the door, whistled a different signal and jumped up to the driver's seat, took the reins and clucked the horse into motion.

His realm looked different from the seat of a' horse-drawn carriage, and Vincent felt that he had to look at everything, all at once. Near the drainage tunnel they, asked the hack to let them out so they could walk. The night was lovely, a rare warm evening after the snap of autumn, so that the leaves were turning but had yet to start their torrential fall.

They were not alone in the Park, but on this night strangers were not dangerous and people in costumes were the accepted norm, even a lion-man and an orphan from Kansas.

"Thank you for inviting me," Vincent whispered as they watched a small crowd dancing and singing around a bonfire by the Sheep Meadow.

Highly illegal; but the lawyer from the District Attorney's office chose to ignore the arson and disturbing the peace ordinances on this one night.

As the evening grew later Vincent suggested that they return to the party lest Isaac and Edi wonder what had happened to them.

"No," Catherine whispered, holding him close around the waist. "At midnight there will be the great unmasking and I don't want to be anyone other than a girl with her brave lion companion."

Vincent laughed a little sadly, knowing that the unmasking was not for him. "Father is probably waiting up. Would you care to come in for a cup of tea?"

"And a lecture?" Catherine knew his father well. She accepted the invitation, clicking the heels of the shiny red shoes she was wearing.

"There's no place like home."