Round Robin Story
HOLIDAY SECRETS

Radcliffe

Chapter 3

"Samantha, is anything unusual going on Below?" Catherine figured that it couldnít hurt to try the direct approach.

Samantha looked up suddenly at the question, her brown eyes as big as a doeís, and then down again at what she was doing. "No. Nothing. Why?"

"Well, it just seems a little strange, thatís all." Catherine let her voice trail off mysteriously.

"What do you mean, Catherine?" There was a slightly anxious tone to the girlís voice.

"Well, from what Vincent tells me, you are quite the artist. I know youíve made presents for him in the past and Iím guessing that goes for many others in the Tunnels, right?"

"Well, yesÖ"

"Youíve never had problems keeping them a secret before." Catherine found herself shifting into her "attorney mode." This witness was no match for her.

"But itís not easy." Samantha turned to her once again, her project forgotten. "Once, I got Kipperís name in the gift exchange. All the boys took bets that he would find his present before Winterfest. I had to constantly keep moving it so that he wouldnít find it. In fact, I even hid it under his own bed for almost a whole day."

"And he didnít find it there?" Catherine asked curiously.

"Of course not Ė thatís the last place he would ever look!" Samantha gave Catherine a triumphant smile. "I heard from Theresa that he even searched the Chamber of the Falls. I mean, how dumb is that?!"

"Well," Catherine laughed, "I admire your determination". Samantha quickly looked down at the table and made no reply. She picked up the glue container she was using and began to loosen the lid. Her project seemed almost complete except for a few finishing touches.

"Still though," Catherine went on, "I get the feeling that thereís something more going on. Are you sure you donít have any idea what it might be? Have you overheard any strange conversations lately?" Catherine hated to push, but her instincts werenít satisfied and she felt she had a right to know.

Suddenly Samantha spilled the bottle of glue she was working with. "Oh no, now itís ruined!" she cried and hastily grabbed some paper towels. She began trying to clean up the sticky mess, however it seemed to only get messier as bits of paper towel became stuck to her project, the table, and her.

"Here let me help you with that," Catherine offered, getting up from the couch. She was beginning to feel very guilty for suspecting the Tunnel Community of ulterior motives in the first place, and interrogating this poor child in the second place.

"Itís okay, I can do it," said Samantha quickly. But as Catherine came nearer to the table, Samantha suddenly crumpled the project into a ball and ran into the kitchen to dispose of it.

"Samantha!" Catherine exclaimed, "Why did you do that? It didnít look like a total loss, Iím sure we could have saved it."

There was a pause and Samantha returned to the dinning room looking like she was going to cry at any moment. "Oh, come here, Sweetie." Catherine led her over to one of the love seats by the fireplace. They both sat down and Catherine put her arm around Samantha.

"Iím sorry, Catherine," said Samantha in a small voice. She laid her head on Catherineís shoulder.

"Itís okay, Honey, Iím the one who should be sorry for upsetting you."

They sat there in silence for a few minutes. Then Samantha spoke up again, "Itís just that I really like spending time with you, Catherine."

"Well, so do I. Is that what this is all about? Samantha did not look up but nodded slightly against her shoulder. "I promise you that we will do something together as soon as Winterfest is over Ė just us girls. How does that sound?"

"That would be awesome!" Samantha gave Catherine a heartfelt hug and got up to get a tissue from the table next to the opposite loveseat. They worked together, tidying up the dining room and then Catherine looked at the clock.

"Itís getting late Ė youíd better get back before they miss you. Iíll walk you down."

Catherine and Samantha rode the elevator down to ground level. Then they cautiously made their way down several flights of stairs to the sub-basement.

When they reached the Tunnel Entrance, Catherine began moving the boxes aside. Samantha grabbed her sleeve. "I still need to make my gift, Catherine. Can I come back tomorrow night? Please?"

"Sorry, Honey, tomorrow nightís not good. Iím meeting Vincent Ė it seems like I havenít seen him in ages." The last part was said more to herself than to Samantha.

"You are?!" Samantha quickly lowered her voice so as not to attract anyoneís attention but her eyes still seemed wide with alarm. "Heís coming to your balcony?"

"No, as a matter of fact, Iím meeting him right here. Now you need to go home young lady." Catherine gave the child an ever so gentle shove toward the opening in the brick wall.

"'Bye, Catherine!" Samantha gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and disappeared down the ladder. Catherine put the boxes back into place and silently rode the elevator up to her floor.

She knew that Samantha was a good kid, that she even admired her and sometimes tried to copy the things that she did. The girlís tears and anxiety seemed real Ė but at the same time Catherineís instincts were still telling her that there was something not quite right here. By the time she unlocked her apartment door she had decided to ignore those instincts for the time being. Could it be that she had just been a lawyer too long and was getting overly suspicious? She reluctantly admitted to herself that such an explanation might just be the case. Besides, Vincent wouldnít keep anything from her. Maybe she would learn more when she saw him.

The next night Catherine arrived at her basement entrance nearly thirty minutes early. But it had been a hectic day and she just couldnít wait any longer. She planned on spending a few minutes waiting in the cool dimness of the area directly below the threshold. This often helped her to collect herself and calm her mind before Vincent arrived. She pulled away the boxes just enough for her petite form to slip through and then pulled them back and started down the ladder. That feeling of shutting out the Above world was a very welcome one right now.

She took a deep breath and turned and nearly tripped over something. As Catherineís eyes adjusted to the dimness she saw what it was Ė another package! It was wrapped in simple brown paper but had a brightly colored ribbon tied around it that was slightly frayed on the ends. There was also a note laying on top of it with her name on it. Catherine opened the note and read it:

ĎDearest Catherine,

Iím sorry I cannot meet you tonight as we had planned. Something has come up that I must attend to. There is no need to worry; I will come to your balcony as soon as it is possible. But for now, could you please hide my Winterfest present to Father in your apartment? Once again, Iíve missed you and am very sorryÖVí

Catherine stood there in the dimness and read the note over several times Ė dismayed that each time it said the very same thing. This is just completely bizarre, she thought. Itís not like Vincent at all to break a date like this. She suddenly thought of the previous night and Samanthaís innocent inquiry as to where she was meeting Vincent. "Okay, thatís it," Catherine spoke out loud. "There is definitely something VERY strange going on here Ė and Iím going to find out what!"Ö

 

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