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3rd SEASON ROUND ROBIN

 

Chapter 8

by Rhonda Collins

 

Joe listened as Father told him about the various kinds of people who were “Helpers”, and the number and variety astounded him. While he listened, it occurred to him that it might not be so difficult to solve this kid’s problem after all. Diana said the judge in Mouse’s case was Margaret Turnbull, and Maggie was a good friend of his…and she had liked Cathy as well. With a little finessing, he could call in a couple of favors and most likely get the kid off. The only hard part would be convincing Maggie that Mouse had thought the generator was a cast-off and that the officer had just scared him. That shouldn’t be too hard, and he wouldn’t be compromising his ethics either. He was starting to feel better about the whole thing.

Joe’s attention drifted from Jacob Wells to Vincent, and since Vincent was busy with his son, Joe had an opportunity to really look at him. For the first time, Joe noticed Vincent’s hands, and the long, razor-sharp nails that tipped his fingers. Unpleasant memories stirred in the back of Joe’s mind—memories of all the slasher-style killings that had occurred while Catherine had been an Assistant District Attorney. His stomach turned over and he felt sick. What if…he thought. No. Surely not, but he had to know.

“Mr. Maxwell? Are you all right?” the old man queried.

“Huh?” Joe muttered, then jerked his attention back to Jacob Wells. “Yeah. Sure. I’m fine. It’s just a lot to take in all at once.”

Diana chuckled and agreed. “I know it is, Joe, but you’re tough, you can handle it.” More seriously, she asked him, “So, do you have any ideas about what we should do?”

Joe’s mind was still half worrying at the disturbing images his memory had dredged up. He glanced at Vincent, who was studying him with an odd look on his face. He met Vincent’s gaze and said, “Yeah. I think I may be able to do something. The judge in the case is a friend of mine, and was a friend of Cathy’s as well. I can stick fairly close to the truth and tell her that Mouse was a street kid Cathy befriended, and who she’d become fond of; explain that he’s a tinkerer and fixes stuff for people and likes to scavenge things that are broken and fix them.” Vincent was nodding, and Diana looked pleased. “We can go on to say that he didn’t realize the generator was new because it wasn’t installed, but was just sitting there, so he thought it was discarded.”

Diana broke in. “That might work, Joe, but what about the assault charge? Can we just tell the judge that because he’s the way he is…um…’socially challenged’, shall we say…that when the officer yelled at him, he panicked and was just trying to get away? That he didn’t mean to hurt anyone?”

Joe was still looking at Vincent, who was not smiling and simply watching him back. He responded, “Yeah, we can do that. I think Maggie will go for it and dismiss the charges. I can’t guarantee it, but I think it’ll work.”

Joe broke eye contact with Vincent and addressed Jacob Wells. He stuck out his hand and Wells shook his hand. “It was…great…meeting you, sir, and learning about…well…everything. I’d better get back, um…topside, I guess, to see what I can do.” He went to stand beside Diana.

Vincent quietly handed his son to the older man and said something quietly to him that Joe couldn’t understand, then turned to Joe. “Diana and I will take you back, Mr. Maxwell.”

The three of them traveled through a labyrinth of tunnels—a different way than they’d come before, with none of them saying a word. Before long, Joe could hear the sound of falling water. They passed through a rough-hewn stone archway into a large cavern, and Joe could only gape in astonishment. The view was incredible. A large waterfall cascaded down a face of tumbled boulders into a huge pool. Vincent let him stare for a few moments, then asked him, “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Joe could only nod.

“When I was a child, we used to swim here, before the falls. The children still do.” Vincent gestured to a stone bench, and Joe and Diana sat. “Mr. Maxwell—Joe—I sense that something is troubling you, and I suspect I know what it is. I think now you know why Catherine and I suspected you would have a conflict of interest once you knew of this place. And me.”

Vincent’s eyes were sorrowful.

“All the slasher murders?” Joe asked.

“Not all. The murders done by the man called The Subway Slasher were not mine,” Vincent told him. “Those were done by a man who meant well, but had somehow lost his way. He is no longer a problem.”

“How do you know? Did you kill him, too?” Joe asked bitterly.

Vincent shook his head. “No, but mostly only by luck. Catherine had found out who he was, and he was attempting to kill her. He was fleeing from me when he fell to his death.”

“I don’t understand, Vincent,” Joe stated, feeling a mixture of anger and sorrow himself. “I can’t believe Cathy could love a murderer. Make me understand. I can deal with making allowances for the things Mouse did…but this is different.”

Diana started to say something, but Vincent lifted his hand and shook his head. “No, Diana. Joe needs to know the truth. All of it.” So, Vincent began telling him about this strange bond he and Catherine had, where he could sense her emotions and even knew where she was at all times; how when he sensed Catherine’s fear…her terror when she was in danger of harm, and how he could do nothing except go to her and protect her. “During those times, Joe, I was not myself, truly. The…beast within…was unleashed.” He lowered his eyes, seeming unable to face Joe. “Afterward, there was great shame. All the Beast knew was that Catherine must be protected.” He sighed heavily and his gaze met Joe’s again. “I did try to talk Catherine into getting a job that was less dangerous, but she was adamant that what she did was necessary, and she couldn’t expect someone else to do it just because it was dangerous. So, she continued putting herself in danger, and I…I continued protecting her.”

Joe stood, fists clenched. “Then why couldn’t you have saved her from Gabriel? Where was your ‘special bond’ then!”

Vincent tried to answer him, but obviously couldn’t. Tears welled in his eyes and he turned to Diana. “I…can’t, Diana.” He turned and walked away, shoulders slumped.

Joe started after him, but Diana stopped him, took his arm and pulled him back to the bench. “Leave him alone for a few minutes, Joe. This is much harder on him than it is on you, believe me.”

“Then you tell me, Diana. If he was always there, Johnny-on-the-spot, all those other times, where was he then? Huh?”

“Don’t you think that eats at him, Joe? What happened was, when Catherine became pregnant, the bond was broken. Nobody knows why. She hadn’t even told Vincent she was pregnant before Gabriel took her. He spent all those months scouring the city streets for her, praying for just a hint of the bond.”

They both fell silent then and sat without looking at each other. Diana finally asked quietly, “Does this mean you’re not going to help Mouse? What are you going to do about Vincent?”

Joe slumped, braced his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands. “What a mess. No wonder Radcliffe kept all this to herself.” He sat up straighter and ran a hand through his hair. He looked at Diana and almost laughed: talk about sad puppy eyes. “I swore I’d keep Cath’s secrets, Diana. I’ll help Mouse. It’s going to take me a while to come to grips with Vincent’s…but I will. If Cathy loved him—if you do—and don’t tell me you don’t, Bennett, he must be worth it.” He shrugged. “Besides, if he goes down, so does this whole community, and I can’t let that happen. So don’t sweat it, okay?”

Diana nodded, then went to get Vincent. When she brought him back, the man looked positively beaten. Joe couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Joe addressed Vincent again, this time without the rage. “I still have to have some time to come to terms with the things you’ve done, Vincent, but…I think I understand. Some, anyway. If I’d been you, I would probably have done the same thing.”

Vincent seemed to loosen up a little. He didn’t smile, but he nodded. “Diana says you will still help Mouse, and that you will still keep our secrets.”

“I will,” Joe responded, “but you’re right. It’s one helluva conflict of interest.” He held out his hand, and after a few moments, Vincent took it.

“Diana and I will take you back now, Joe. Thank you.”

As they headed down yet another tunnel, Joe quipped, “Guess I’m a ‘Helper’ now. Do I get a pin or a badge or something?”

Diana knuckled his arm and grinned. She looked immensely relieved. Vincent did smile, then, just a little. “No”, he said. “No pin. But you do rate a Winterfest invitation.”

~


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