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CLASSIC ROUND ROBIN


Chapter 4

by Sophia Riazo


Catherine actually had one foot out the door when she paused. She'd be no help to Vincent – wherever he was and whatever was wrong – if she went rushing out totally unprepared. She returned to her bedroom and changed into a sweater, blue jeans, running shoes and a warm jacket. She slipped a flashlight into her pocket.

She'd just grabbed the doorknob again when her phone rang. She groaned, but waited to let the answering machine turn on. It was her friend Melissa, sounding forlorn.

"Cathy? I tried your phone at work . . . I really need to talk . . . "

Catherine hesitated for only a moment. She believed with absolute certainty that Vincent was in trouble - the sudden loss of him in their bond was too stark to ignore. Melissa's woes were featherweight by comparison.

She didn't give herself a chance to second guess; she strode out, locking the door behind her.

While she rode down in the elevator, Catherine took another look at the card that had been left for her. It was a dog-eared business card, printed with nothing but a name – "Kristopher Gentian" – in a jaunty, decorative font. On the back was a penciled note, scribbled in barely legibly script. It said, "Surprise, it’s me! V’s floored, too. Literally. You might want to hurry.”

Trying to interpret Kristopher's cryptic message was frustrating, though she wasn’t surprised at his vagueness. When had he ever been direct? However, what she read between the lines frightened her.

She shoved the card into her jeans pocket as the elevator opened at the ground floor. Her plan was formed: first she would go Below to see if perhaps Vincent was there. It was a thin hope, but they might at least know where he'd intended to be this evening.

If he was missing - Catherine swallowed hard and walked faster - she was prepared to search the city.

She hardly noticed her surroundings as she hurried through the park to the culvert entrance and let herself in at the iron gate. She stopped briefly just inside the heavy door to catch her breath. She reached out for Vincent, hoping to feel something of him through the bond. Nothing. The emptiness she felt spurred her into motion once again. She had to find him!

She was no more than a hundred yards along the winding path when she saw movement in a side tunnel.

"Mouse?"

"Catherine! Did you see him?" Mouse came forward with a big smile.

She breathed a sigh of relief. If Mouse had seen Vincent recently, then he was safe, and she could find out the reason for the silence in their bond.

"No," she replied, "but I just got here. Is he in his chamber?"

"Chamber? No chamber."

"Or Father's study?"

"Father wouldn't like."

Catherine's heart began to race again. "I don't understand, Mouse. Why wouldn't Father like that?"

"Never liked him."

"Aren't you talking about Vincent?" She unconsciously pressed her hand against her heart, where her crystal lay under her sweater.

Mouse laughed. "No! Man with the hat." He pulled at an imaginary ball cap. "Funny guy."

This was becoming too bizarre. "Kristopher? You saw Kristopher here in the Tunnels?"

"Mm-hmm." Mouse pointed back down the side tunnel.

"What did he say to you?"

"Said, 'Hello, Mouse! Haven't seen you in a long time.'" He did a fair impression of Kristopher's voice. Under other circumstances it would have been funny.

Catherine made an effort to keep her voice calm. "Did he say anything about Vincent?"

Mouse tilted his head to the side as he thought. "Umm, no. Talked about you. Said you were coming." He smiled brightly. "You came!"

"Mouse, I think something's wrong with Vincent."

His smile disappeared. "That's bad. Your bond told you?"

"Yes, but I don't know where he is."

"Vincent knows where Catherine is."

"Yes." She touched Mouse's arm and began walking again. "I wish I had that ability, too. I think he's hurt, Mouse."

"So, we find him. Help him."

"I need to talk to Father."

She gradually sped up until they were nearly jogging through the tunnels. They were both out of breath when they arrived at Father's study. He was at his table, leaning over a huge map which hung over the table's edges. He looked up in surprise.

"Hello, Catherine. What brings you Below tonight?" As Father took in their appearance, his face grew serious. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm . . ." She didn't want to appear panicky or erratic. "I'm looking for Vincent. I feel in our bond that he's in trouble."

"What kind of trouble?" He held out his hand to her.

She was relieved that Father hadn't dismissed her fears as ridiculous. Mouse was at her heels as she stepped down into the chamber. She said, "I don't exactly know, but one moment I could feel him, and then it just stopped, as though . . ." She couldn't bear to finish that sentence. "Did he go Above tonight?"

"Yes," Father said, "to visit one of our Helpers - Chester is retired from the Fire Department. I believe his apartment building isn't terribly far from yours. In fact, I was expecting Vincent back just about now."

"Can someone take me to Chester?" Catherine asked.

"Mouse can," Mouse said, smiling confidently.

A voice from the entrance made them all turn. "I know where Chester lives." It was Kipper; Cullen stood beside him.

Kipper continued, "I was on sentry duty when you came Below, Catherine. I heard you and Mouse talking about Vincent. It was the end of my shift, so when Jamie relieved me I got Cullen."

"We'll go Above with you," Cullen said as they joined the others at Father's table.

"And Mouse!" Mouse said. "Me! Mouse can find Vincent."

Father paced a few moments. "Catherine, are you sure? Please understand me. I don't want to put you or others in danger by going Above needlessly."

Catherine was tempted to mention Kristopher, but his name would only increase Father's reservations. No, it was best to stay with what she knew for certain.

"I'm as sure as I can be, Father," she said. "The bond isn't as strong for me, but I felt it suddenly stop. I can only think that he's either unconscious or intentionally blocking it to keep me from feeling his . . ." She stopped to take a deep breath. ". . . his distress, or pain, or . . ." That was as much as she could say without breaking down.

"Father," Cullen said, "Catherine's word is good enough for me. Let me and Kipper go with her. We have to hurry."

"All right, go. And please," Father said as he touched Catherine's shoulder, "please be careful."

"What about Mouse?" Mouse dashed to the top of the steps and waved his arms in an attempt to block their way.

"No, Mouse," Father said, "this is important. They don't have time to keep track of you, on top of searching for Vincent."

"Mouse doesn't need keeping track," he said angrily. "I'll show you." He spun on his heel and rushed out.

Catherine looked at Father, but he urged them onward. "I'll deal with Mouse," he said. "Go!"

As they hurried along the shortest route Above, Catherine revealed the note from Kristopher. "This note gave me one idea. There's a warehouse that Kristopher used the last time I saw him," she said, "but it's in a completely different part of town. Since we're closer to Chester's place . . ."

"Right. We'll talk to him first," Kipper said.

"He can at least tell us when Vincent left," Cullen added. "That'll give us an idea of how far he could have gone."

"And if not, then we try your warehouse," Kipper said. "That note sounds like Kristopher thinks you know where he is."

When they emerged Above, they headed for the closest main thoroughfare. Catherine hailed a cab, and they gave Chester's address on West 82nd Street.

Even though it was late in the evening, traffic was frustratingly slow – as bad as any rush hour. Catherine leaned back against the seat and closed her eyes, trying once again to feel Vincent in the bond.

Without warning, Catherine gasped and clutched the arms of Kipper and Cullen, who sat on either side of her. Her eyes opened wide. "Vincent!"

~


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