Chapter 3

Ginny Shearin

"No, Vincent. He can’t be allowed to…"

"We had this conversation once before, and it didn’t end well. Have you forgotten?" Vincent’s voice took on a chastising tone that he rarely used on Catherine. "Please, Catherine. Gather what you need for tomorrow and stay Below tonight. Tomorrow morning I’ll guide you to a threshold near your office…but tonight you can be safe."

Catherine looked up to see his concern for her in the almost pleading look on his face and realized how afraid he was of leaving her alone, especially knowing that dawn would soon rob him of the opportunity to protect her. She felt his fear, and she felt guilty for having created it.

"You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t intentionally try to worry you, you know," she answered, wrapping her arms around his waist in an apologetic hug.

Vincent pulled her close in relief and brushed a soft kiss against her hair. "When you were in the lake.… I felt your life slipping away from me once, Catherine. The thought of losing you…of this man…"

She slid her arms around his neck and nuzzled it briefly. "If I stayed here, you wouldn’t sleep, would you?"

"No."

"Neither would I," she admitted as she pulled away from him. "I’ll pack a few things for tomorrow and meet you downstairs in fifteen minutes."

"I’ll be waiting," he told her before he left, kissing the hand he hadn’t yet released.

Catherine found a skirt and blouse that could be packed and still look presentable the next day, gathered the rest of the clothing and toiletries she would need and stuffed them quickly into a gym bag. After putting on her sneakers, thinking what a fashion statement they made with her very feminine nightgown and robe, she put on a warm coat and went to meet Vincent. A brief debate with herself resulted in the decision that, if someone intended to harm her, taking the stairs would give her a better possibility of escape than taking the elevator. She made her way carefully down the stairs to the basement storage room, aware of every sound along the way, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief after locking the storage room door behind her. Vincent was only a few boxes and a small door away, and she reached him as quickly as she could.

Vincent carried her bag for her as they walked toward the home tunnels, holding hands and speaking very little. Now and then they would glance at one another in understanding or exchange a few words, but after the feelings of grief and fear Above, the comfort of being in a safe place seemed to be enough for both of them. Conversation began again as they reached the home tunnels and turned toward the guest chambers.

"We should speak to Father in the morning," he told her. "If this man hasn’t been found, perhaps we could ask our helpers to watch for him. Do your records mention his habits…places he frequents? Is there any information to offer an idea of where he might be found?"

"You sound like Joe," Catherine smiled. "There were a few things the police were looking into, but none of them had produced any results when Joe called me to check in around nine o’clock. He’s a good boss, a good friend. He brought me home after work and checked all the doors and closets before he left – even the kitchen cabinets…under the sink…under the bed… I should probably plan on being at work early and calling him if he isn’t already there. He’ll probably call me around the time I usually leave, and if I don’t answer the phone, he may be at the apartment kicking my door in again."

"Then I’ll see that we leave in time," Vincent answered, returning her smile as they reached the guest chamber. He put her bag down next to a chair and took sheets from the chest of drawers. Remembering the maddeningly thin, silky nightgown and robe she was wearing on her balcony, and still wore under her long coat, he took out an extra blanket, too. "Sit here." He told her, "The bed isn’t made. We weren’t expecting a guest tonight."

"Let me help," she answered, taking one of the sheets. "I’ll work from this side."

Seeing the look of determination on her face, Vincent dropped one sheet on the bed and the other linens in the chair and they went about ignoring the bed as best they could as they prepared it for Catherine to use for what was left of the night. Vincent unfolded the extra blanket across the foot of the bed in case she needed it.

"Is there anything you need?" he asked, as she took her work clothes from the bag and hung them in the wardrobe. He looked as if he might be leaving.

"You," she answered, turning to face him.

Vincent could tell that it was an innocent enough answer, but he was concerned about her safety during the day when he couldn’t be with her.

"You had a difficult day, and another starts in a few hours. You need rest." Vincent reminded her, folding back the covers as he would when speaking to one of the children about bedtime. "A dangerous man has threatened you. If he hasn’t been found, your senses need to be sharp."

She took off the coat she still wore and draped it over the chair before she removed her sneakers and obediently slipped under the covers, robe and all, and pulled them up around her.

"Will you stay for a few minutes?" Catherine asked hesitantly. "Just hold me? I hate to give you up for a little thing like sleep."

He couldn’t refuse her. He allowed himself a moment of pride in knowing that his presence and his arms around her made her feel safe and comforted. She had spent hours that evening in emotional turmoil, and her energy was spent.

"If I stay, will you sleep?"

"I promise."

Vincent sat on the covers next to her, leaning against the headboard, and swung his legs up on the bed. Catherine contentedly leaned against him and visibly relaxed as his arms tightened around her.

"Now sleep," he ordered gently. "I have your promise."

"Mmmmm…." was her only answer as she snuggled a little closer.

He rested his head on hers, and both of them soon gave in to the fatigue of the long day.

***

As Vincent and Catherine rested in contented safety, Bruce Gaines was waking from a fitful sleep. As it had since the day he was sentenced to prison time, his anger was the first thing he was aware of when his eyes opened. He was quite an actor, always had been, and he prided himself on being able to present a facade of calm and charm while he seethed inside. That ability had now allowed him time to plan his revenge.

Gaines knew he had to keep a clear head, but a neurotic thirst for vengeance was eating away at him. He had just killed his wife, a well-deserved beating as far as he was concerned. It served her right…helping to send him to prison. One down. Now there was that Chandler woman. She needed to suffer the same way.

He relived the day he was sent away, the memory feeding his obsession. The woman had set him up in court and tricked him into dropping his well-practiced pretense of innocence…convincing the jury that she was right. On top of that, she had convinced his wife to betray him and then hide herself and his children from him. She had to be the reason. Tina would never have had the guts to do it on her own. She was probably the reason his children had been spirited away from the school, too. He knew people, though, and it hadn’t taken long to find out where to find his family.

Whether Chandler’s apartment building was being watched or not, he couldn’t afford to chance being seen, and there wasn’t enough traffic in and out of the building to keep his presence from being obvious. As much as it galled him that the woman had escaped him again, he knew that he had to stay out of sight until he had another chance to get to her. It would be easier to blend in with the crowd where she worked…lots of foot traffic in that building.

Before he killed Tina, Bruce Gaines had charmed his way through enough casual phone calls and conversations with people who saw Catherine regularly to piece together a general idea of her daily schedule. He would be waiting when she arrived at work. He had to stay in control, but it was becoming more difficult.

***

Vincent and Catherine had slept only a few hours before the morning sounds of pipe messages began to intrude on their slumber. Neither of them seemed to have moved other than to have leaned more heavily against the headboard as they gave in to sleep.

Catherine stirred, but didn’t seem to be awake. Vincent woke more quickly and reluctantly shook her shoulder gently to rouse her.

"Good morning," he smiled down at her, amused and enthralled to watch her in his arms, forcing herself to acknowledge that it was already morning.

"You stayed." She looked up at him with a drowsy smile. "Thank you. I can’t think of a better way to wake up."

He kissed her hair lightly. Vincent could have spent a while savoring the feeling of waking to find her in his arms, however innocent it might be, but he had assured her that he would help her arrive at work early. He was glad to know that Joe would be concerned enough to keep watch over Catherine during the hours when he couldn’t, and he knew that changing her normal schedule and habits might be beneficial under these circumstances.

"You wanted to leave early. If you prepare yourself now, you should have time for breakfast before we leave. There are towels in the bottom drawer. I’ll take you to the closest bathing chamber if you’d like."

He took his arm from her shoulders and stood beside the bed, leaving both of them feeling bereft of the lovely warmth of being close. Catherine adjusted her robe, pulled slippers from the bag she had brought, found a wash cloth and towel in the bottom drawer and took Vincent’s hand as they walked to the bathing chamber. It was very early, and they passed no one on the way. They parted with a promise to meet in the dining hall for breakfast.

Catherine went about her morning routine as best she could without modern conveniences, and Vincent went back to his chamber to do the same. After breakfast they started the long walk to return Catherine to her world, veering off their normal path as they reached the upper tunnels. He took her to a threshold in an alley behind a building near hers. It was a little more than an hour before Catherine would usually be at work. From the vantage point of the exit, Vincent checked the alley for any sign of danger before allowing Catherine to do more than peek out to see where they were. He was afraid for her, and she cooperated with his insistences, wanting to do whatever she could to reassure him that she would be safe.

When Catherine stood at the exit, she could see one of the custodians going to take some flattened boxes to the trash bins. She turned to Vincent and gave him a short, but heartfelt hug.

"Be safe, Catherine. If Gaines isn’t found…"

"Either way I’ll meet you at my threshold tonight. Thank you, Vincent." With that she grabbed the opportunity before her and entered the alley while the custodian’s back was turned, calling to him from several yards away as if appearing in the alley at this hour of the morning was the most natural thing in the world. "Thomas. Good morning."

Thomas was startled at the sudden sound, and he wheeled around warily in her direction. "Ms Chandler. This is the last place I’d expect to see you," he exclaimed, obviously relieved.

"I wondered if I could go in through your entrance this morning."

"Sure. Anytime you want, but why would you want to be back here?" He waved her in at the entrance and followed her.

"I’m trying to avoid someone."

"Boyfriend trouble?" he grinned.

"Nothing like that," she smiled back as they walked. Deciding that one more ally in this dangerous predicament wouldn’t hurt, she briefly described the problem.

"You know, it wouldn’t hurt to pass out some pictures of this guy to the custodial staff. We’re all over the building during the day for one reason or another. It couldn’t hurt to have a few extra pairs of eyes watching for him. I can take you up on the freight elevator if you don’t want to go through the lobby."

"That sounds like a good idea. I’d appreciate that."

Thomas not only took the freight elevator to Catherine’s floor. He walked her to the DA’s office door, and as she unlocked it, he insisted she lock it from the inside and make copies of that picture…and stay out of sight of the door until someone else was there.

Catherine smiled, thinking that Vincent and Joe would have offered her similar instructions, and thanked Thomas warmly for his concern.

"If you need anything, you just call me," he said, and waved as he walked away.

When Joe came in he immediately checked with his police contacts, and the news wasn’t good. They still hadn’t found Bruce Gaines. After talking with Catherine, he agreed that distributing Gaines’ picture among the members of the custodial staff and probably among the receptionists in the offices was a wise idea.

Catherine made a few extra copies and slipped them into her purse. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she followed the gut instinct that led her to do it.

By the end of the day her nerves were a little frayed. Gaines still hadn’t been found, and it was time to go back out into the world where a threat lurked in some anonymous place. Joe again insisted on escorting her home, and this time she was more than happy to accept. She knew Vincent would be relieved to know that Joe was with her. As they walked through the busy lobby after closing time, both of them constantly looking around the room for any sign of the missing murderer, Catherine saw Bruce Gaines across the room. A quiet, but sharp gasping intake of her breath told Joe all he needed to know.

"Where?"

"Over there," she answered, but when Joe looked, the other man was nowhere in sight.

Joe alerted one of the security guards, promising to check with him later, and rushed Catherine into a cab.

Gaines had managed to slip out into the throngs of people leaving work and had disappeared into the crowd. The Chandler woman was frightened. He could read it on her face when she saw him. He was feeling more in charge now. He’d get her soon, but a little cat and mouse game beforehand might make winning even more fun.