Chapter 7

Elaine

Vincent felt the jolt of fear, felt the pain explode through her skull as Gaines knocked her out and then all he could feel was his own terror as he somehow lost contact with her. Her sudden loss of consciousness disconnected them temporarily so he roared, the noise echoing through the subway tunnels. The frightening sound was lost in the rumble and clatter of the rush-hour trains, unrecognized by the commuters from Above, but a clear signal to Stephen as he stood sentry near one of the access panels.

The young man abandoned his post and raced toward the sound. Vincent's explanation, tumbling out in a raging torrent of emotion, was almost incoherent but Stephen grasped enough to know that Catherine was in danger, Vincent wasn’t sure where she was and help was needed. The next second found him beating on a pipe, sending out the ‘all quiet’ signal—never used except in direst emergencies. Once the system was silent, he sent the information to Pascal, with Vincent breathing down his neck, dictating instructions to pass along to the community and to the Helpers, hoping fervently that they would be in time.

***

Gaines stood on one side of a locked door and listened. He could hear faint sounds—a groan, movement. The Chandler woman was beginning to regain consciousness. He felt a vast satisfaction. It was all going according to plan. He’d calculated the force he needed to a hair’s breadth, wanting her out just long enough to spirit her away from her bodyguards. After that, he wanted her awake and feeling every painful minute of what he had planned. There was going to be pain, he thought, and he would love inflicting it. But, for once, he wasn’t going to lead with his fists. This time he wanted something a bit more subtle, something that would teach her, first, that no damn woman had the right to interfere with him and then, when he was sure she understood her place, only then would he take great pleasure in doing to her what he had done to his wife and to that stupid social worker. He was really going to enjoy this.

***

Above and Below the word was passed with almost equal urgency.

Greg Hughes had dispatchers transmitting descriptions of Catherine Chandler and Bruce Gaines to radio cars and beat cops. The detectives who had lost Catherine were canvassing the neighborhood, looking for someone, anyone, who might have seen Gaines. Joe waited for Greg in front of the building where she’d disappeared, ignoring the rapid swelling of his hand, and marching up and down as if the urgency of his pace could somehow wind everyone else up to the highest level of activity.

Below, pipes tapped. Adults who could move freely in the world above began to leave their safe places to join the search. The tunnel equivalent of a phone tree was set in motion with the children scurrying to deliver messages to nearby Helpers—Helpers who, in turn, enlisted others and set out on the hunt themselves.

It was almost a toss-up as to which world was most eager to locate the elusive Mr. Gaines.

***

Catherine resisted the returning consciousness. She knew on some level that what was about to happen wasn’t something for which she wanted awareness. As she came fully awake to the sensation of a pounding headache and an enveloping darkness, fear clutched at her along with a deep sense of failure. All the work with Isaac, the training, the conditioning, and she’d still hesitated that one second too long when Gaines grabbed her. It was the knife in his hand, hovering centimeters away from her eyes, that had paralyzed her. For just that instant she was back in the van, helpless, unable to do anything to protect herself from the slashing blade that had ripped through her illusions of safety, hacking away all that she had believed about the world and about herself up to that point. The pain and terror of that April night flooded back and she didn’t—couldn’t—move. If she’d needed any proof of Isaac’s oft-repeated insistence that there was a brief window of opportunity to turn the tables on an assailant at the start of any attack—a window easily closed and never reopened—she had it now. But now all she could think was she had failed.

Failed Tina, failed Joe, failed herself.

And if she died here, as seemed all too likely, she had failed Vincent. Even if he came to her rescue yet again that would be a failure—and perhaps the worst one yet. Worse than worst, she thought, a tiny bubble of hysterical laughter rising within her. She strangled the laugh and the fear. She was not going to call him to her if she could help it.

It cost him too much. She knew that now. She’d witnessed his struggle to submerge his ‘dark’ side since the beginning—but now, as the connection grew stronger in her, she was starting to feel it from the inside. She knew that the power that protected her was the largest part of what made him keep himself separate and apart from her. And she was also beginning to understand that there was something in her that called to that darkness, that welcomed those explosions of violence as the only available proof of his passion for her. She was realizing that she bore some responsibility for who they were becoming and that she must help him, they must help each other, control and channel those destructive forces into something more positive, more life-affirming than these periodic descents into ferocious rage.

To begin with, she thought, she must shake off these feelings of guilt and failure and start looking for a way out of this.

***

Frank abandoned his taxi. He was parked illegally but he didn’t care. He had to get word—anonymously but quickly—to somebody Above. He’d been lucky, unbelievably lucky, to catch sight of the Gaines guy this afternoon. With one of the extra pictures Catherine had made taped to his dashboard, he’d scrutinized every fare and all the faces along the street. The glimpse of Gaines entering a bodega up on 125th made him flip the switch to light up the Off Duty sign on the roof of his cab, pull into the curb and wait for Gaines to emerge. With a better look, Frank was sure this was the guy and then the luck continued. Instead of hopping a subway, Gaines got into a battered old Chevy and drove away with Frank following behind.

The guy had driven around all afternoon, stopping once or twice to make a phone call but Frank had stuck with him, hoping for an opportunity to let someone know. It still hadn’t come when he watched the Chevy pull into an alley between buildings on the Upper West Side and park. Barely fifteen minutes later the Chevy was on the move again and Frank was still on its tail. His anxiety ratcheted up to full-blown fear when he saw Gaines wrestling a rolled-up carpet out of the trunk of the car and into another building. Frank pulled into the curb next to a fire hydrant, slammed the door and raced to the corner, praying for a working telephone and a smart 911 operator.

***

The squad car’s radio blared and Greg left Joe abruptly to answer the call. Before he was finished talking, he had the blue-and-white’s door open and was motioning frantically for Joe to get into it. Lights flashing and sirens blaring, they were rolling back downtown while Greg requested back-up from all available units in the area of Penn Station.

"What?" Joe demanded.

"Anonymous tip," Greg said. "Somebody saw Gaines dragging a rolled up rug into one of those buildings that are being renovated on 36th."

"Can we trust it?"

"They say the 911 tape is pretty clear. The guy was definite it was Gaines, made a big deal about the carpet and had an exact address. I don’t know, Joe. It’s the only thing we’ve got."

Joe swore again and braced himself as Greg ran a red light and swerved to miss a bicyclist.

***

Vincent's heart leapt. She was alive! He could feel her again—but he didn’t know exactly where she was. He was going to have something to say to her soon about whatever it was she did to mask these vital pieces of information from him at the very moments when he needed the connection most! For an instant he was as close to furious with her as it would ever be possible for him to get. Immediately, a sense of her love and concern, her fear for him, washed over him and he understood. They would still have to have a serious talk but he knew that she was trying to spare him. He realized that she would not let him sense her whereabouts unless and until she knew he was in no danger of losing himself to the ‘other.’

He growled.

If that’s what she needed, he would control it. It took every ounce of strength he had but he reined in the fiercely aggressive impulses and forced himself to send her an image of restraint.

***

Catherine was immeasurably relieved to feel Vincent's usual calm flowing along the connection instead of that surging fury that so often accompanied threats to her safety. Her fear for him lessened and she was able to think a little more clearly about her own situation.

She was in some sort of basement, she thought. Traffic sounds, faint but definite, came from somewhere above her. A cacophony of honking horns brought a clear image of the Lincoln Tunnel area to mind and she let that knowledge run through her to Vincent with as much reassurance about her well-being as she could summon.

There was a sliver of light coming from under the door and more from a hole in the ceiling. In fact, it looked as if part of the floor above had fallen. Whatever this place was it was in the midst of demolition or renovation. The air was heavy, gritty with cement dust and the floor was nothing but rubble, much of it large chunks of concrete.

Gaines was an idiot, she thought. He must be so used to battered, submissive women that it hadn’t even crossed his mind that a woman might fight back. Of course, she thought, with a resurgence of shame, nothing she’d done so far would ever make him wary of her.

That was going to change.

Ignoring the pain in her head as best she could, Catherine selected the largest, heaviest, most rock-like mass she could lift. Picking her way carefully across the uncertain footing, she stationed herself beside the door and she waited.

***

Vincent was done waiting. She could not be allowed to risk everything to protect him from himself.

Frank’s report, sent along the Helpers’ network and then Below via the pipes after he’d made his 911 call, gave Vincent a location and his sense of Catherine was finally giving him the confirmation the police lacked.

He ran.

***

Sirens were only so effective in the rush hour traffic. Cars filling every lane and inching along to the Lincoln Tunnel had no place to go to get out of the way. Greg and Joe abandoned the police car to a foot patrolman at 42nd Street and they ran.

***

Oblivious to the forces converging upon him, Gaines ran an extension cord from the one working outlet in an upper room down the stairs. He hung a work lamp from a conveniently exposed floor joist. He wanted light for what he had planned. He wanted to see her face, wanted to see the bruises forming, the skin breaking and the blood flowing.

He swallowed the last of his beer.

Now he was ready. He would take care of Chandler and then he would take his girls and he would run.

***

Catherine waited, senses strained to the utmost.

Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once.

She heard the key turn in the lock. At the same instant there was a crash from above as a police battering ram forced the entrance. Feet pounded across the floors, up and down stairs. There were shouts as a policeman found the two little girls, frightened but unharmed, barricaded in an upstairs room and the thumping, stomping, hammering footsteps continued. It sounded like the invading army it was and it distracted Gaines as he came through the door.

From behind her came a familiar roar. The wall seemed to collapse inward as Vincent crashed through it.

Catherine brought her concrete block down on Gaines’ head with all the force she could muster.