- VI. -

 

The rain-streaked bus carrying Cathy and her few belongings pulled into the New York City Port Authority terminal at eight-thirty p.m.

 

The ride into the city was dazzling. She was entranced by Manhattan’s jewel-like skyline, the glittering bridges and the noisy music of the city. A year ago she might have taken it for granted, but now it was beautiful beyond description.

 

Home. She was almost there.

 

She climbed off the bus into an ocean of people and noise. She’d forgotten what a zoo the Port Authority was. Within ten seconds she was besieged by panhandlers and hustlers, but she fended them off with little effort. With one hand plunged deep in her pocket to protect her billfold, she made her way to a convenience store inside the terminal.

 

Several minutes later she emerged with a small paper bag. She ducked into a nearby ladies room and dumped the bag’s contents into the cleanest sink she could find.

 

She brushed her teeth over an adjacent sink. Her gums were tender and she felt a twinge in one back tooth. I’ve got to see a dentist, but how?

 

Diana. Cathy knew she would have to depend on this stranger to help her with many problems, the least of which was locating a dentist.

 

A small pair of scissors gleamed in the middle of the sink. She used them to hack at her hair until it bristled from her head in short clumps. When she was through, she dug out a tube of hair gel and slicked the remaining hair tightly to her skull.

 

Women wandered in and out of the brown-tiled restroom in a constant stream, but few of them spared her a glance. This was New York City, after all, and eccentric public behavior was commonplace.

 

I need all the anonymity I can muster, she thought, pulling an inexpensive man-tailored watch over her wrist and donning a pair of black sunglasses. She surveyed her reflection and allowed herself a brief smile. Mission accomplished: she looked as unlike Catherine Chandler, assistant D.A., as anyone possibly could.

 

I might get hustled by men who like young boys, she thought, but at least no one will recognize me. I hope.

 

She gathered her belongings and left the restroom.

 

On her way out of the terminal, she stopped at a newsstand and bought a New York Times. She was startled by the headline: Berlin Wall Collapses. She scanned the article and several others with growing disbelief. Is it possible that so much has changed in three months? Maybe I’m dreaming.

 

At that moment a drunk man bumped into her, crashed to the floor and vomited inches from her shoes.

 

She shook her head and tucked the paper under her arm. Welcome back to the real world. She stepped over the retching man and headed for the nearest taxicab.

 

***

 

Swaddled in a white terry robe and feeling immeasurably better, Diana puttered around her kitchen, fixing a sandwich. She layered ham, cheese, tomato and lettuce between two slices of dark rye bread. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and she was famished.

 

Rain beat impatient fingers against the roof and windows. The storm had begun shortly after she arrived home. Now it was building to a noisy crescendo. An occasional flash of lightning underscored the warm solitude of her loft.

 

She paused and glanced out the window at the street below. Traffic was light, and the only two cars parked on the block were her car and an ancient green VW belonging to one of her neighbors. She peered through the rain, searching each end of the street. The brown sedan was nowhere in sight.

 

Three or four nights a week for the past two weeks, the car had been parked directly across the street from her building. She couldn’t tell if the driver was male or female, and the car’s license plate was so caked with mud that it was indecipherable.

 

Diana had considered asking Joe Maxwell to check out the brown car and its driver. But she had hesitated, knowing that Joe would spend his evenings staking out her building. She didn’t want him to do that, so she had never bothered to ask.

 

Diana suspected a connection between this haphazard surveillance and Gabriel, the man she had killed three weeks earlier. So far the driver of the mystery car hadn’t made a move. Diana had decided to wait him or her out. Something would happen and when it did, she would be ready.

 

She grabbed her sandwich and a beer from the fridge and settled onto the couch. Drinking a beer at ten o’clock wasn’t too sensible, but she didn’t care. She’d had a hell of a day and besides, it was a light beer.

 

Before she took a bite, the door buzzer sounded. She tossed the sandwich on a plate and hurried to the speaker. Who would stop by at this time of night?

 

She thumbed the switch. “Yes?”

 

“Diana Bennett?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

 

The speaker fell silent.

 

“Who’s there?” Diana demanded.

 

The speaker crackled into life. “Catherine Chandler.”

 

Diana stared at the speaker for a few seconds, then hit the switch. She returned to her chair and took a bite of her sandwich.

 

The buzzer sounded again in atonal harmony with a low rumble of thunder.

 

“Shit!” Diana cried. Vaulting off the couch, she ran back to the elevator and slammed her fist against the switch. “Who is this?” She felt an itchy bead of sweat trickle down her left temple.

 

“It’s Catherine Chandler,” the voice insisted. “I know it’s hard to…”

 

“No, you listen! I don’t appreciate being bothered this late at night, especially by someone with a sick sense of humor!” She took a deep breath and leaned her forehead against the wall.

 

After a few seconds, the disembodied voice returned. “Please, Diana. You’ve got to help me. Please.” A pause. “Not just for my sake. For Vincent...and Jacob.”

 

Diana pressed her back to the wall. She glanced around the living room. Every detail stood out with hallucinogenic clarity.

 

She turned back to the door and pressed the lock release. The sound echoed five stories below as the elevator hummed into life.

 

***

 

Miles away and hundreds of feet below the city’s surface, Vincent strode through the winding tunnels toward Diana’s building.

 

After he and Jacob had returned to the world Below, Vincent discovered an entrance beneath Diana’s building. She sometimes used it on her frequent trips to his world, and he on his rare visits to her.

 

Tonight he hurried, wanting little time to elapse before he reached Diana. He had to see her before he lost his nerve.

 

***

With a heavy clanking sound, the elevator stopped at Diana’s floor. She watched as the door was opened by a tiny, rain-bedraggled woman clutching a wrinkled paper sack to her chest.

 

Diana pulled aside the metal gate and Cathy stepped into the loft, leaving a trail of muddy footprints behind her. She deposited her paper sack on a table and turned around.

 

Diana flicked a light switch, and instantly bright light flooded the room. Now she was able to get a better look at Cathy, who was pale and shivering from the cold rain.

 

“Here.” Diana pulled a green blanket off the couch. “You’re freezing.” She wrapped the blanket around Cathy. Their eyes locked.

 

“Thanks,” Cathy whispered. Her lips were trembling.

 

Diana hesitated, her hands knotted in the blanket beneath Cathy’s chin. She searched the woman’s thin face for something, a reference point, anything to instill a sense of reality in her jumbled thoughts. She found what she was looking for in the faint, jagged scar below Cathy’s left cheekbone.

 

“Can I sit down?” Cathy asked.

 

“Yes. Yes, please.” Diana opened her hands, releasing Cathy. She remained standing for a few seconds, then sat next to Cathy on the couch. “It really is you.” Her eyes wandered over the small woman’s emaciated frame and gaunt face.

 

“Yes.” Cathy returned her gaze. For a few moments they were caught in an awkward silence.

 

“Are you hungry?” Diana said. “You look hungry.”

 

“I’m starving.”

 

Diana picked up the sandwich plate and offered it to Cathy. “You can have this.”

 

Cathy took the plate. “I interrupted your dinner.”

 

“No, it’s O.K. I took a bite of it, but it’s still - it’s O.K. Go ahead. You need it more than I do.”

 

Cathy nodded her thanks and began eating. Diana stood and backed into the kitchen, unwilling to let Cathy out of her sight, afraid the fragile woman might vanish as unexpectedly as she had appeared.

 

 “Do you want something to drink? A beer? No. That’s not a good idea.”

“Water,” Cathy said around a full mouth.

 

Diana returned to the living room with a glass of water. Again she sat next to Cathy, who seemed oblivious to everything but her rapidly disappearing sandwich.

 

She has to be a ghost, Diana thought. No. She’s as real as I am.

 

Cathy took a drink of water. She met Diana’s eyes. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

 

“Maybe I have. You’re supposed to be dead.” Diana took a drink of her beer.

 

Cathy closed her eyes as if she’d been punched.

 

“I’m sorry,” Diana said. She massaged the side of her neck with one hand. “It’s just that...this doesn’t make any sense. I saw your dead body. I went to your funeral. For God’s sake, I watched your autopsy being performed!”

 

“It wasn’t me.”

 

“What?!”

 

“It was not me.”

 

“Then who was it?”

 

“It’s a long, strange story. And I need to tell you all of it.”

 

“Wait. Just a minute.” Diana hurried into the kitchen. “Let me make some coffee. We’re both gonna need it.”

 

A faint smile touched Cathy’s lips. “O.K.”

 

Diana’s eyes darted to a rosebush planted in a large pot at one end of the couch. The plant held no blossoms, but it was green and healthy. She wondered if Cathy had noticed it or if she would even recognize it as her own.

 

Talk about strange stories.  

 

***

 

For the next hour, Cathy talked and Diana listened.

 

After the events of the past three months, the policewoman thought she was inured to the bizarre.   But the tale Cathy related stretched the boundaries of even Diana’s fertile imagination.

They sat cross-legged on the living room floor. Diana had shut off the overhead lights, leaving one glowing lamp to light their conversation. The storm had passed and the ensuing calm encouraged a quiet conversation.

 

“This woman...Maggie,” Diana said.

 

“The woman in my dream - I mean, coma.” Cathy sipped her third cup of coffee. She was warm and dry in one of Diana’s bathrobes. The blue terry robe was two sizes too big for her, giving her the appearance of a child dressed in her mother’s clothes.

 

“She told you how to find me,” Diana said.

 

Cathy extended her right hand toward Diana, palm out. Diana grasped her wrist and examined the barely legible writing.

 

“I know this sounds impossible,” Cathy said. “It happened to me, and I still have trouble believing it.”

 

“Well,” Diana said. “I can believe it. Why not? After Vincent and the tunnels and Gabriel, nothing seems impossible anymore.” She reached for Cathy’s cup. “Through?”

 

“Yes, thanks.”

 

Diana deposited the cups in the kitchen sink. On her way back to the living room, she glanced at the glowing clock on the microwave: eleven-fifteen. She sat down on the floor next to Cathy, whose attention was drawn to the rose bush.

 

Cathy studied the bush for a few seconds, then turned her questioning gaze on Diana. “That looks familiar,” Cathy said.

 

“It should. It’s yours.”

 

Cathy stared at Diana for a moment, then spoke. “Thank you.”

 

“I couldn’t stand to let it die.” She fell silent under Cathy’s scrutiny.

 

“How is Vincent?” Cathy asked.

 

Diana carefully chose her words. “He’s O.K. He has Jacob to look after. He has Father and the others. He stays busy.”

 

“My baby…” Cathy swallowed hard and stopped.

 

“He’s beautiful. You should be very proud.”

 

“I’d like to be.”

 

“When do you want to see them?”

 

“Now - two hours ago! But...I don’t know. Maggie told me to come to you first. She said I’d need your help, and I - ow!” She stopped and pressed one hand to her breast. When she removed the hand, a small stain darkened the fabric over her right nipple. “What is this?”

 

“Is it...are you...could it be milk?” Diana regarded Cathy with astonishment.

 

”I don’t know. I guess so.” Cathy stared at her chest. Another small stain blossomed over her left breast. “Milk.

 

Diana was fascinated. “This shouldn’t be happening. I mean, you’ve been out of it for three months. Shouldn’t you have...I don’t know, dried up by now?”

 

“God, I don’t know. This is incredible!”

 

“Your timing is great.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Little Jacob. He’s been having some problems eating.”

 

“Is he sick?”

 

“It’s just colic,” Diana assured her. “But he’s had a pretty rough time.”

 

“He needs me.”

 

“They both need you.”

 

They were interrupted by a low clanging sound emanating from the pipes beneath the kitchen sink. They listened for a few seconds, then Cathy spoke. “It’s Vincent.” She stared at Diana. “He comes to you?”

 

“Sometimes.” Diana felt as if she’d been caught in the act. The act of what? “Are you ready to see him?”

 

Cathy’s hands flew to her hair, her face, her clothes. “God, no! Not yet!” She knelt by the pipes. “Tell him you’re busy. Tell him you’ll see him tomorrow. Tell him anything.”

 

“I don’t know all the…”

 

“Let me.” Cathy grabbed a spoon from the sink and rapped a staccato message on one of the pipes. She finished and they waited for a reply. A few short sounds rang out, then subsided.

 

“What did you say?” Diana asked. “What did he say?”

 

“I said I…you couldn’t see him and asked him to come back tomorrow night. He said he would come.” Cathy touched Diana’s shoulder. “Can you help me? Will you help me be ready?”

 

Diana covered Cathy’s hand with her own and gave her the best smile she could find. “Sure. But first we need to get a good night’s sleep. I have a feeling tomorrow’s gonna be another long day.”

 

***

 

Vincent stood for a moment, puzzled. Diana’s rapid-fire message rang in his ears. When had she acquired such skill with the shorthand language used by the tunnel community?

 

Deep in thought, he retraced his steps toward home. Perhaps she had been taking lessons from Pascal, who loved nothing better than to share his vast knowledge about the special language of the pipes.

 

The thought pleased him. Visions of Diana accompanied him on the long walk home. What he had to tell her could wait one more day.

                                                             

 Chapter 7