*Schwinn or Not
The last of the multitude of candles were lit,
extra chairs and benches were tucked in among the books. Father surveyed the library wondering if his
preparations were complete. Absently he
rubbed his head hoping to ease the pounding headache that was growing with
intensity. “I just hate this,” he
muttered. Walking to his desk, he took
his seat and mentally prepared himself for the next hours. The fading sound of the clock chimes was
still echoing in the air as the room began to fill.
Soon the cacophony blended into a steady roar,
intensifying the headache Father felt rising several degrees. He picked up his gavel pounded the desk, and
slowly, the intense chatter ceased, all eyes turning expectantly toward him.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice. Mary, would you be so kind as to take the
minutes of the meeting?”
His eyes moved around the room and then came to
rest in the middle of the spiral staircase where Vincent set with Kipper on his
knees. A silent message of love and
respect was transmitted in those brief seconds before Father continued his
visual sweep of the room.
“Friends, I have called this meeting because the
community is in dire financial need. We
must find a way to infuse cash into our treasury. We have several major repairs that must be
completed prior to the onset of winter and we currently have less than $200 in
our emergency fund. Money that we need
to hold in reserve against the onset of a major epidemic, money that I refuse
to touch for our daily survival. I’d
like to throw the floor open to suggestions as to how we, as a community, can
earn cash to fill our treasury.”
Eyes shifted as this unsettling news became
clear. Their Helpers provided much to
the community, but even those resources had their limits. From the beginning, many members of the
community used the addresses of their Helpers in order to gain employment in
the world Above. Their joint earnings
were placed in the community operating funds and became the bases for their
“We could go Above and begin seeking aluminum
cans for selling to the scrap dealers.”
“Our sewing guild members could seek jobs Above
in the garment district. There are
always ads for seamstresses in the papers.”
“Those with wood working skills could seek
employment in some of the many restoration shops.”
The voices continued to call out suggestions and
Mary furiously wrote each suggestion into the minutes. After twenty minutes, their voices grew
“Cullen, would you assume the key position and
organize those with wood working skills.
You will need current copies of the latest newspapers for seeking
“Miriam, will you work toward getting suitable
clothing for those gaining employment Above?
And Mary, will you assist Miriam in selecting the best of our
seamstresses to seek employment? Brooke
and Jamie, would you please organize the oldest children into groups for
searching for aluminum cans?
“I thank each of you for your willingness to
help. If you think of other suggestions,
please don’t hesitate to share them. I
shall be available to you at any time.
Thank you all for coming tonight.”
Father continued to rub his head. The burden of leadership often bore down
heavily and tonight the weight was crushing.
They had to find ways to earn money as the vital repairs to the pipes
had to be completed before winter.
Cullen stood waiting until he was acknowledged before he assumed the
seat Mary had vacated. “Have you
considered the cost of transportation for those going Above? The restoration shops are scattered all over
the city, many of them would require at least two different buses or subway
lines to reach. We would, of course, try
for jobs that are in the closest area, but realistically that might prove impossible. We might be able to gain a ride to some areas
from our Helpers, but that will only be a small percentage of our work force.”
“Father, excuse me, but I have a
suggestion. Last week Mouse was
repairing a bicycle in his work area.
Mr. Wilkerson had asked if he could repair it as it had been damaged by
a car and belonged to one of his best customers. What if we could seek out abandoned or broken
bicycles, bring them down and repair them?”
Both Cullen and Father wore surprised,
astonished looks as they listened.
“That’s a brilliant idea, will both of you seek out Mr. Wilkerson
immediately to ascertain his willingness to help us?”
Vincent acknowledged their admiration of his
suggestions as he continued. “Aside from
new bikes, Mr. Wilkerson also sells used bikes in his shops. Perhaps he would be willing to sell those we
have restored. We could ask
“If this proves possible, it could be an
excellent way to replenish our depleted funds.
Thank you, Vincent, for this marvelous suggestion.” As he spoke, Father could feel his headache
beginning to diminish.
Together, Vincent and Cullen left the library,
making plans to seek out Mr. Wilkerson as soon as his shop opened in the
Cullen walked into Mr. Wilkerson’s shop, spoke briefly
to him and the two men retired to the office located at the back of the building. Mr. Wilkerson wasn’t surprised when he opened
the door to find Vincent already inside.
They settled into the comfortable chairs and
quickly explained the reason for their visit.
Mr. Wilkerson didn’t hesitate and immediately agreed to take whatever
repaired bicycles they created for resale in his shops. “I have one shop that sells nothing but used
bikes, and it is located in a section of the city where new bikes are beyond
the means of the residents. I’ll agree
to take all you can supply, and for the first one hundred you supply, I will
give the entire sale price back to the community. After the one hundred, I will keep only ten
percent of the price, returning the other ninety percent to Jacob. The ten percent will off-set my bookkeeping
fees as well as salaries. Does that seem
fair to you, Vincent?”
Vincent quickly agreed and they shook hands on
the deal. Cullen moved to the door, checked
the interior hall, nodded to Vincent, and he hurriedly slipped out,
disappearing quickly. Cullen and Mr.
Wilkerson stood outside the door talking for several minutes then they walked
toward the front of the shop. Shaking
hands, Cullen left and immediately began his walk to another tunnel entranced
located some five blocks away.
Jamie volunteered to become Mouse’s partner and
together they and three other teams of older teens began searching the world
Above for abandoned and broken bikes. Jamie
knew Mouse better than others, so she stuck like glue to his elusive shadow as
they moved about the streets and alleys Above.
Father was reluctant for Mouse to search Above alone, but once Jamie
volunteered to be his partner, most of his fears subsided.
The first day they returned with only five
abandoned bikes which they had retrieved from dumpsters. Over the next two weeks lady luck sweetly
smiled on them and their store of bikes increased to twenty-five. A substitute partner was found for Jamie as
Mouse began the task of repairing the bikes.
Vincent came daily to work with Mouse and the young genius was thrilled
to be working with his hero.
Progress was slow and it took several long days
before they were able to restore one bike.
Geoffrey was in charge of washing the bike frames and Winslow assumed
the duty of removing rust and pounding out dents. Between his duties in the kitchen, William, along
with two of his helpers, began the arduous task of degreasing the bicycle
parts. Soon, gleaming bicycle parts
began to appear along side pots and pans in the kitchen. For every three bikes they found, they were
able to restore one and one-half re-cycled bikes. Their supply of parts
increased and slowly their rate of finished bikes substantially increased.
Restored bikes were taken to
Slowly, money began to trickle into the
community coffers. The rate was slow but
steady and the worn, worried look began to fade from Father’s face. They now had nearly five hundred dollars over
his emergency fund balance.
The community work schedule was adjusted twice
as more members of the community gained employment Above. William asked for more kitchen volunteers and
Mary began training three more assistants for the hospital chambers.
The building and repair of the bicycles grew
exponentially until it consumed Mouse’s work room. After a small debate by the council members,
it was finally agreed to remove the rebuilding effort to the Great Hall. It took two days for the work gang to move
everything to the Great Hall, and then another day to create a highly organized
work space. The rebuilding was bringing
in a steady supply of hard cash, and there were now ten residents, along with
Mouse and Vincent, who were working nearly full time at this endeavor. Vincent still maintained his morning
literature classes, but Olivia volunteered to take over his afternoon classes. Kanin agreed to search for a chamber that he
and his crew could enlarge to become a more permanent home for repairing the
Cullen again requested three additional bicycles
for woodworkers who needed transportation to distant work sites Above.
The candles burned brightly in the library as
Father poured over the community financial records. He was no longer consumed with worry over
their depleted financial reserves. If
everyone could continue working for another three months, they would have a
healthy reserve after they made the necessary repairs to the pipes.
“Father, we have company.”
“I’m well, thank you. I brought along dinner from
Soon, the desk was covered with cartons of food
and the conversation became lively as they settled to consume their meal. Catherine laughed as the talk progressed to
the bicycle repair. “Mouse has proven
once again what a mechanical genius he is, taking the most battered scraps that
could barely be recognized as a bicycle and turning them into shining stars of
the bike world.” Father shook his head
in amazement as he realized once again, how correct Vincent had been in his
assessment of Mouse within the first years after they had discovered the young
boy hiding within the community.
“Mr. Wilkerson constantly praises the
workmanship of the bikes we bring him.
He says they sell out almost the same day he puts them into his
shops. His repaired bikes were only a
sideline in his business, but now he indicates they are becoming a solid
portion of his daily sales.”
“Is there anything I can do to help get the
community finances back on more solid ground?
Perhaps I could supplement the need for appropriate clothing for those
working Above? Or, are there parts
needed for the bike repair that I could help you to purchase?”
“You are more generous to the community,
Catherine, and once again, I thank you for your continuing support. We have used a small amount of cash for
clothing from second-hand shops and also obtained fabrics from some Helpers who
are employed in the garment district. So
providing adequate work appropriate clothing has not been a problem.” Father smile was relaxed, indicating how
profound his burden had been eased.
“For the most part, we find all the extra parts
for the bike repairs from the bikes we scavenge from Above. Spokes, new spokes that is, are often our
most pressing problems. Bent spokes are
difficult to repair so we frequently need to purchase new in order to construct
a solid, worthwhile bike. We certainly don’t
wish to short change Mr. Wilkerson or his customers.”
“Please, Father, allow me to provide the funds
for those. I could speak with Mr. Wilkerson
about ordering spokes or I could simply give him a check to cover the
costs. It would be my pleasure to do
“But you do so much for us. You bring more than your fair share of food
Below when we have festivities, clothing and linens you happen to find at
bargain prices, and all the books you have contributed to the children’s
“I’ve gained far more than I have given. I’m no longer alone in the world; I have a
large family now, and they have enriched and blessed my world beyond all the
riches of the world. I might,
technically, be an orphan now since the passing of my dad, but that doesn’t
mean I am without a loving family.” Her
smile was dazzling and the genuineness of her words touched Father. There was nothing he could say for further
words would negate the sincerity of Catherine’s love.
“If you are certain you wish to do this,
Catherine, then it would be our pleasure to accept your kind gift. We humbly thank you.”
Vincent had silently watched the subtle debate,
certain from the outset that Father would concede when faced with Catherine’s
love filled logic. Over time, they had
become less combative and were more open in expressing the growing respect and
love that had steadily grown between them.
“Father, if you will excuse us, I promised that
I’d show Catherine how we have set up the bicycle repairs in the Great Hall.”
Catherine took a step then turned and walked
toward Father, hugging him and then pressed a light kiss on his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered and joined
Vincent. Hand-in-hand, they climbed the
stairs, disappearing into the tunnel passage.
Father stood listening as their voices
faded. He cleared the remains of their
meal from his desk, retrieved his ledgers, and once again began posting his
As the walked, they were stopped by various
members of the community, each wishing a few minutes with Catherine. Vincent smiled, knowing it was impossible to
hurry their progress, understanding the love and affection with which Catherine
was received. Normally, they could have
completed their journey in twenty minutes, but tonight, since Catherine had
been absence from the tunnels for several days, their journey took well over an
Upon reaching the Great Hall, Catherine was
surprised that the doors were not barred as they had been at the outset of
Winterfest. Vincent easily swung open
the door, allowing her to enter the dim room.
“Stay. I’ll light some more
candles.” Vincent’s voice receded and
Catherine followed his progress by the sound of his boots striking the hard
The light pushed back the shadows, giving a
clear view of the changes within the Hall.
The majority of the tables were stacked near to the tapestry wall,
serving as a protective barrier to their delicate threads. Several large cloths were draped over the
upturned legs offering additional protection.
Three large tables rested against the opposite
wall, each covered with a variety of bicycle parts or partially completed
bikes. Deeper into the Hall stood a rack
of finished bikes, covered in shiny enamel in varying hues, decorated with
everything from petite daisies to the latest comic book heroes. The bikes ranged in sizes from those with
training wheels to full size adult.
Catherine paused in her inspection, her hand
lingering to trace slowly across a bright red bike bearing a bursting
star. “Mine use to have stars on it and
a license plate that said ‘Cathy’ attached beneath the seat. I had more skinned knees learning to ride
before I mastered staying upright.” Her
smile was infectious as she happily recalled her childhood. “The first night I had my bike, I dragged it
into the house and into my bedroom. The
next morning, Dad said he wouldn’t have been surprised if he found the bike in
bed with me! I was certainly O/C about
it for the first six months!!”
Her laughter echoed as she recalled further
adventures with her beloved bike.
Vincent loved hearing the stories of her childhood, savoring each memory
which he stored away to relive when they were apart.
As they talked, it came to light that Vincent
had never ridden a bicycle, as there were none in the tunnels in his youth. Bicycles hadn’t appeared in the tunnels until
Vincent was past the age for riding. He
was fourteen before the first one appeared, belonging to a family who joined
the community for a short time. Although they currently didn’t possess many
bikes, there were a few and those were shared equally among the youngest
children. “I’d guess we have about eight
or nine bikes shared between all the children.
They learn to share the bikes as they learn that sharing is a daily part
of tunnel life.
“The children ride on some of the flatter trails,
and of course, when they go into the Park during the spring/summer months. That’s when they are most popular. Father solved the problem of fighting over
the bikes by setting up a rotating schedule according to ages. It usually works out that each age group gets
the bikes for one day per week.”
“Are you sorry you didn’t learn to ride?”
“Yes, in some ways I am, in that I’m not good at
assisting the children in learning to ride nor am I able to completely
understand their problems of balance.
They come to me asking for help, and, more times than not, I have to
refer them to someone else. I can sense
their frustrations when that happens.” His
ability to help the children was a duty in which he took great pride and not being
able to do so was a source of sorrow.
“Why don’t you let me teach you to ride? There’s enough flat space here and the stones
are smooth. It should be easier now
because, as an adult, you already have a greater sense of balance than a child
does. Are you willing to try?”
He looked at the bikes, then back at Catherine,
and his eyes again swung back to the bikes.
His face was a study in conflict, the young teen who had never ridden,
but secretly had desired to, openly warred with the scholar who had slight misgivings
and reservations about his skills.
“Well, it would be nice to assist the children with their questions. I imagine it’s more complex than it
appears. Yes, let’s give it a try. I’m willing if you are.”
“We’ll need a wrench to adjust the seat
height.” Together, they looked over the
tools scattered across the work bench.
Grabbing one, Vincent checked it for size, nodded and they walked to the
rack of finished bikes. They found the
largest of the adult bikes then Vincent began to loosen the nut enough to
increase the seat height. A few minutes
later they had the seat adjusted to its maximum height. Catherine selected another bike with a more
petite height seat, pulling it from the rack.
“Leave your bike in the rack and just sit on it
so you get a feel for it.” Vincent
mounted the bike, surprised that it felt strange viewing the area around the
bike from a different perspective.
His features were slightly drawn as he looked
down, eyes sweeping left and right; he quickly scanned the area around the
rack. Hurriedly, his left foot came off
the pedal, tapping the floor briefly before coming to solidly rest on the
stones. “Just sitting seems slightly unbalanced.”
“Normally a parent stands beside the child,
helping to stabilize and balance the bike, and then they walk along while
holding the bike. I’m not sure I can
adequately support you, so I was hoping that trying it this way would give you
the beginning sense of balance that is needed.”
They continued to chat as Vincent, once again,
placed both feet on the pedals while working to maintain his balance. He shifted his line of focus, judging
distances as he surveyed the area.
Another ten minutes passed before he eased his feet down and slipped off
the seat. With an upward pressure, he
lifted the bike from the rack and backed it out.
“Have one pedal up with your foot on it and push
off with the opposite foot, that way you can slip your foot onto the lower
pedal after you get moving.” From beside
him, she demonstrated the motion, riding several feet ahead of him. “Small gentle movements as far as steering
are concerned. Come on, give it a try,”
Vincent pushed off, wobbling as he tried to
steer a straight course. After several
awkward movements, he was able to coordinate the up-and-down motion of his legs
and his steering became smoother. He
came precariously close to Catherine, causing her to shift right as she pumped
down hard on the pedal, moving rapidly away from him. Seeing how close he had come to her, he over
compensated and careened violently in the opposite direction, ramming into one
of the long tables. The forward motion
of the bike abruptly stopped and Vincent forcefully slid forward off the seat,
his body hurdled abruptly up against the handle bars. His loud whoosh of breath was audible as he
gingerly eased his hand against his sensitive area of his groin.
Catherine was aware of what happened and also
knew he would be embarrassed. She
stepped away from her bike, dropped to her knees, and began fussing with her
shoe laces, giving Vincent some seclusion.
Several moments passed, then she heard the movement of Vincent’s bike
again. Slowly, she stood, climbed onto
her bike and, leisurely, followed behind the wobbling bicycle.
He safely negotiated the junction between the
two massive tables and rode back towards her.
Sensing that he might still need some private space, she didn’t speak as
he rode past. She quietly smiled,
sending him her compassion and love, through their Bond, hoping it would ease
not only his physical, but any personal discomfort.
Catherine stopped between the next two sections
of tables, balanced carefully with one hand against the table, as she continued
to sit on the bike. Fascinated by
Vincent’s look of concentration as he rode toward her, she imagined how he would
have looked as a young teen while learning a new task. Twice more, he traversed the length of the
course and on his third pass, Catherine joined him and together they circled
“You’re doing fine. Go easy when you brake until you get the hang
of it. Your turning speed is good, slow
enough to keep control, but fast enough that you don’t lose momentum.”
“Surely, it becomes easier over time. Like everything new, it seems I am
concentrating on each movement, where the bike is in relationship to the
tables, how much distance I have covered, if my body is truly upright and if my
legs are moving properly.” He half
smiled and his voice lacked its usual smoothness as he focused on controlling
“Let’s take a five minute break,” Catherine
offered, as she gingerly slipped from her seat to stand balancing the bike
between her legs. “Your instincts are
good, you have the basics down and all you do is just relax and become
comfortable as it all comes together. As
an adult you have a greater sense of balance.
It’s just going to take more practice.
Give it a couple of more days before you share your expertise with the
Over the next hour they continued circulating
around the Great Hall, weaving between the newly reorganized tables that
contained partially completed bicycles.
Vincent’s face clearly indicated his surprise when Catherine rode pass
him with her hands not on the bars, but resting calmly against her knee caps as
she pedaled. He envied the ease with
which she rode, wondering if he would ever feel so casual and relaxed.
“This has been such fun. Perhaps we can work on my skills again
tomorrow evening, if you are free?” His
features were relaxed and he offered a small, shy smile as he helped settle her
bike into the rack.
“I have an early evening meeting so it wouldn’t
be possible until at least eight, if that fits your schedule?”
He took her hand as they walked toward the Great
Hall entrance. “I’ll come for you at
Over the next two weeks, they frequently spent
their evenings in the Great Hall as Vincent honed his skills. Twice, they had taken the bikes to an area
where the tunnels were fairly level, the stones worn smooth by scurrying feet
of the community citizens. It was within
these tunnels that Vincent encountered his first thrill of mounted speed. Hair streaming, a surprised grin filling his face,
he flew past Catherine, leaving her in a settling cloud of dust. The joyful sound of Catherine’s glee-filled
laughter echoed as she watched as his velocity increased, his bike beginning to
blur in the distance. She stepped from
her bike, resting it against the stone wall and patiently waited for his
return. Her arms wrapped around herself,
her heart filled with joy and happiness at being able to have this brief
glimpse of Vincent as a carefree young man.
She memorized the glorious joy on his face as he streaked past her,
aware that early adulthood had robbed him of many lighthearted years. Father’s expectations of his son, however
unintentional, had stolen a large portion of those carefree teen years, leaving
behind a man who had missed many of the adolescent rites of passage. He never spoke resentfully of those things he
had not experienced, but instead, constantly spoke of all the vast knowledge
that had been bestowed upon him.
Moments before she saw him cresting the rise,
she heard his laughter-filled shout. He
flew over the grade, gathering speed as he descended, his legs stretched wide
off the pedals and arms extended, even with his shoulders, balanced perfectly
as he careened toward her. He brought
the bike to a heart-stopping halt worthy of a BMX race winner.
Their elated, ecstasy filled grins were mirror
images as their laughter mingled; shimmering to surround them as it floated on the
moving eddies to fill the tunnel with its magnificent sounds. Spontaneously they fell into each others arms,
hugging joyfully as their laughter continued to rise happily around them.
“Oh, that was superb! Never have I felt so light, so gloriously
“When you put out your arms…”
“I know; I felt positively liberated, like I was
They talked over each other, voices blending
together as they continued to stand with their bodies pressed together. His arms held her lightly as their animated
conversation continued. “I never thought
I’d master riding.”
“I knew you’d become proficient, you just had to
His arm tightened, hugging her closer, their
exuberance and joy over riding his normal restraint. Her smile was brilliant as she returned his
hug and pressed a gentle kiss to his chest.
Her cheek rested against his warmth, the solid thrum of his heart beat
reassuringly against her ear.
Reluctantly, they drew apart, mounted their
bikes and rode toward the Great Hall.
Vincent parked their bikes, as he had begun to think of them, in a
secluded spot away from those in the racks which were ready for sale. The rack was now full; twenty-five shiny
bikes were to be transported Above to bring joy to their new owners.
The library was filled as the citizenry gathered
in response to Father’s call. “Thank you
all for coming. I felt we needed another
meeting to bring you up-to-date on our finances. As you are aware from our previous meeting,
we were near to operating in the red, but thanks to all of your efforts, we now
are in the black.
“Our emergency medical fund account has a balance
of over one thousand dollars. While it
is a goodly amount, I would like to continue depositing funds into that
account. Our general operational funds,
after the purchase of new pipes for our needed pre-winter repairs plus a few
extra pipe sections purchased for emergencies, are still somewhat depleted.
Edward, one of the woodworkers, stood. “Jacob, would you explain why you wish us to
continue our employment? I, for one,
feel I could make a better decision if you would fully explain your reasons for
asking. We all left Above for solid
reasons. We have been given homes here,
and it is because of our homes we have gone back Above, to a world we hate and
fear.” Several consenting voices were
added to Edward’s.
“For the past three years, we have operated in a
system of checks and balances that would shatter the heart of any worthwhile
accountant. Our Helpers have been asked
to sustain us more and more. We have
heavily relied upon Dr. Alcott for our medical supplies, particularly when we
have been hit by flu or other epidemic medical emergencies. Plus, there were several accidents which also
drained our medical reserves. I am
asking you to remain in your jobs Above until spring so that we may have a
reserve of $10,000 over our normal operating expenses.
“It’s a large sum, I realize, but we do need
it. We have all the expenses of
operating a large mansion-like home, and we must feed and cloth a family of
over one hundred. Our food bills consume
over $2,000 per month. The cost of wax
for our candles has increased two percent over last year. Bedding and furniture are expensive items in
our budget, and while we are fortunate to be able to make use of thrift shops,
those items are still costly. Teaching
supplies for the children become more costly with each passing year.”
Edward, who had remained standing during Father’s
diatribe, shook his head. “I, for one,
never stopped to consider how expensive various items were nor did I honestly
pay much attention to how they were funded.
I don’t like working Above, but I will continue, returning all of my
paycheck, except for my travel and lunch costs, to our general fund.”
Several other voices chimed in agreeing with
Edward. A vote was called for and the
“Father, there is one problem that we haven’t
addressed. Those who are transporting
themselves to their places of employment via our bicycles will need to seek other
forms of transportation with the onset of winter. We are inviting illness into our midst; as some
of them travel as far as ten miles round trip.
Asking them to continue by this means during the harsh weather is
“Yes, you are correct, Vincent. We’ll need to add in the costs of their
transportation into our budget. Is there
anything else I have forgotten?”
“What about winter clothing, coats? Most of us no longer own winter coats since
we came to live Below.” Echoing across the room, other voices joined Cullen’s,
adding their concerns regarding the need for coats.
Miriam stood, and upon seeing her, Father rapped
his gavel to restore order. “We
currently have five men’s winter coats and three women’s. These came from our Helper’s. Those coats we do receive have always been
kept for those who have continued their employment Above, after becoming a part
of our community. If each of you who are
working Above will come to me, giving me your coat size – or I can measure you
for size – I will send notes to our Helper’s asking for donation of coats.
“I shall also need to know arm lengths so our
knitters can create well-fitting sweaters.
Among our recent donations from the estate of Mrs. Walters was her
immense collection of yarns and two manual knitting machines. These items have already been put to use, and
I’m delighted to say we have ten new adult sized sweaters waiting for
distribution. One of the knitting
machines has been used exclusively to knit sweaters for the children. We now have two new sweaters for each of our
The room erupted in joyful chatter, parents exchanging
happy smiles in knowing their children would be well and truly warm this
“Our bicycle program has been extremely
successful and it is hoped that we shall be able to go forward with this source
of revenue. Mr. Wilkerson is very
willing to continue as our agent and will return ninety percent of the sales
price to us. The ten percent he keeps he
uses toward the salaries of his staff who actually sell our bikes as well as to
off-set his bookkeeping costs. Are there
members who would like to assume work in our bicycle production shop
full-time? Currently, the shop has many
part-time workers and, if it is to continue, we need to develop a full-time
“Mouse and Vincent have been heading up this
detail, but will need to be relieved of those duties, so please talk with them
if you are interested in assuming those responsibilities.” Father continued to reiterate the various
jobs and skills required for the bicycle shop.
Indicating that his agenda was now complete, Father concluded the meeting
and the community broke up into small groups.
Several of the ladies sought out Vincent, indicating their willingness
to relieve William of his degreasing chores in the bike shop. A group of the older boys stood talking with
Cullen, asking to be taught woodworking.
“Our family is pulling together nicely to help
resolve our financial woes. I’m relieved
we won’t have to rely so heavily upon our Helpers over the next six
months.” Father and Mary sat sharing a
pot of tea after the library had returned to normal. As they talked, Mary made tiny additions to
her shorthand notes of the meeting.
Glancing over at her neat strokes, Father smiled. “Your shorthand continues to be as perfect as
when you first moved Below.”
“I’ve kept it up because it keeps my mind sharp
and it would have gained me a better job if I ever had to return Above.” Her frail body involuntarily shuddered;
pulling her shoulders back she regained her composure. Seeing her tremble, Father patted her hand,
silently acknowledging her fear of ever having to return Above.
Their hands tightly grasped, Vincent and
Catherine strolled leisurely toward the Great Hall, pausing to occasionally
speak to friends. Catherine loved these
moments as they gave her further opportunities to learn about daily tunnel life. And, secretly, it provided more ways for her
to privately help make things easier for the tunnel citizenry. Aside from the many known things she
provided, she secretly worked through several other Helpers to secure
additional items that improved the quality of their lives. She had purchased several new bikes, then had
“accidentally” run over them with her car, gently damaging them and
conveniently arranged with a Helper to notify Jamie’s scavenger crew where to
find them to re-cycle them Below.
Catherine descended the steep steps leading to
the Great Hall, her hand still reached out to reassuringly touch the stone
wall. She smiled when Vincent’s hand
reached back grasping her fingers, adding his strength and support. He tripped up and down the steps without fear,
the howling winds and the sheer height never bothering him. As she reached the bottom step, Vincent
gently pulled her into his arms and she instantly snuggled against him. “There are many others who are fearful of
this place. You aren’t alone.”
“I’ve analyzed my fear, but can never decide if
it is the wind or the steep height that bothers me. We’ve made so many trips up and down, you’d
think it would become easier, but its not.”
“We all have fears, some are secret fears. There is no shame in having fears as they
often help keep us alive.”
After he lifted the brace from its mountings, he
pulled back the door enough for her to enter.
They lit candles and surveyed the Hall.
There were at least ten completed bikes leaning against the far tables
as the bike rack was filled to capacity.
“You guys have certainly been busy.
Look at all those finished bikes!”
Her voice was filled with joy as she lightly caressed the bike nearest
to her hand. “Some dainty little girl is
gonna love this one!” The bike fenders
were painted a soft sea foam green enhanced with tiny daisies and the handle
bars had bright yellow grips complete with dangling fringe.
Silently, they moved toward their bikes, mounted
them and rode back to the heavy door.
Maneuvering through the door, Catherine rested her bike against the wall
then took Vincent’s bike out while he held the door. They walked their bikes down four steps into
the tunnel entrance that would take them to the flat area where they could ride
Catherine wore a serene smile as they rode,
aware of the sense of freedom that emulated from Vincent. He hummed a nameless tune, lost within some
long ago childhood reminiscence. It was
as if he was connecting some distant memory of restrictions and blended those
with this new freedom. There was a certain
boyishness about him that she had observed from the first successful ride that
lifted the burdens of responsibility from his shoulders. Joyous, carefree enthusiasm settled around
his persona, clearly visible to Catherine’s loving gaze.
“Why are you smiling?” he softly queried.
“I can feel your happiness. You look so carefree, as if your shoulders
have been freed of all burdens. There is
so little you allow me to give you, but sharing this joy of bike riding is
incredible. I feel like I have somehow
given you the greatest of gifts.”
His shy hesitant smile fluttered briefly then
became this immense smile that consumed his features. His deep eyes were filled with laughter, ecstasy
filling him as he gave voice to his joy.
The echo of his laughter simmered in the air, the sheer bliss of it
wrapped around Catherine’s heart and she blinked rapidly as happy tears scalded
The intensity of their gaze filled with
electricity as Catherine’s hand touched his chest, then quickly moved to tenderly
caress his face. They stood locked
within the thrumming of their hearts, lost within the moment, unaware of their
surrounding. Catherine’s thumb brushed
away the lone tear that cascaded down his cheek. He took a step closer, their
bikes prohibiting their bodies from touching, and wrapped his arms tightly
around her. “To share this simple
childhood delight with you is everything.”
Gravel filled his voice as he whispered her name then pressed his face
against her neck. His body trembled as
he breathed in her fragrance, the light delicate perfume she wore and the
deeper fresh scent of her body.
Slowly, they broke apart, their gaze intense, as
their breathing slowed. “Shall we continue
our ride,” he gently asked.
They remounted their bikes, rode farther along
the track until they were near the shallow grade. Glancing at each other, they grinned and took
off, pedaling rapidly. Sailing up the
grade, they continued toward the higher rise, claimed it with laughter before
turning to fly back over the course.
Picking up speed, they each laughed, lifting their hands free of the
handlebars; cruising fearless down the steep grade. Their shouts and snickers rode the shimmering
eddies. Braking sharply, they came to an
abrupt stop within a foot of a startled Pascal.
The pipe master wore an incredulous look of
disbelief. “When did you learn to ride,”
he demanded. “You never rode as a child, when did all this happen?” He stopped wiping the dust from his claret
red robe, looking first at Vincent and then at Catherine and back to
Vincent. His hands stilled, his face
registering a plethora of reactions and, just as abruptly, he burst out
laughing and began pounding Vincent’s shoulders.
After long minutes he regained his composure,
grinned wildly at them. “Jacob doesn’t
know, huh? Bet not! He’d probably have a cow, telling you all the
dire things that could happen.” His hand
quickly covered his mouth and, just as quickly, he dropped it, laughter
spilling forth once again.
Vincent grinned at Pascal, then started to chuckle
as he remembered similar teenage conversations they had shared regarding
Father’s overwhelming need to protect Vincent from life.
Catherine watched as the two men laughed, aware
of all the memories they shared. She gloried in seeing a side of both men that
she hadn’t witnessed before; children grown to full manhood, shared memories and
sorrows bound them solidly, the profound knowledge, that through all of life’s
treacherous paths, their friendship would endure.
“Oh, my,” Vincent inhaled deeply, “I haven’t
laughed like this since the last time we shared a twelve hour shift in the Pipe
Chamber. My sides hurt.” He grinned at Pascal, and seeing that grin,
set Pascal off again. Just as quickly,
Vincent began to laugh until they were each holding their stomachs, tears
streaming down their faces as their now silent laughter continued.
The bikes preciously shifted as they laughed,
then fell to the ground. A cloud of dust
became airborne, coating them as their hysteria continued, unabated. One by one they slipped to the ground,
shaking uncontrollably, and hands still clutching their stomachs. Slowly, they became silent, but their grins never
left their faces.
“Where were you headed, Pascal? We rarely see you this far Below unless there
is a problem. Is something wrong?”
“Mouse mentioned he had seen a crack in one of
the pipes on this level, so I was going to check it. If there is a crack, then we will need to patch
it as it muddles the tones, making communications more difficult.”
“May Catherine and I walk along with you?”
They left their bikes, walking the short
distance into an adjacent tunnel passage where the pipe was located. As they walked, Catherine observed the tunnel
marking, providing clear indications as how to reach the home tunnels. Various size dots done in florescent paint
provided directions to reach safety.
Locating the pipe and finding the crack, Pascal
withdrew chalk from his pocket, marking the section for the repair crew that
would follow. “I’d say it’s about a 40-50
minute job, wouldn’t you?”
Hearing Vincent’s agreement, Pascal added a
couple of numbers to the pipe, wrote a note on the paper he carried and then
the trio headed back. Collecting their
bikes, Vincent asked Pascal to come along with them to the Great Hall.
Reaching the Hall, they were delighted by
Pascal’s reaction to all the completed bikes.
“I had no idea. I knew you and
Mouse were working here, but I didn’t realize the scope of this operation.”
“Our production has sped up thanks to
Catherine. She has purchased new spokes
so we no longer spend hours straightening bent spokes. We now average about five completed bikes per
As they walked, their conversation turned to those
that might be willing to assume working in the bike shop. Quickly, they reached the home tunnels and
headed toward the library.
Geoffrey sat in the chair opposite Father, who
was intently studying the chess board.
Vincent smiled, Catherine grinned, and Pascal simply shook his
head. “He is ever eager, isn’t he?”
“More of a masochist, I’d say.” Pascal quipped.
“Stop that both you. Can’t you see Geoffrey is about to capture
his king,” Catherine whispered.
Furtively, Geoffrey looked up, grinned, shrugged
his shoulders, and patiently waited. As
soon as Father released his rook, Geoffrey’s hand shot out, moving his piece
and capturing Father’s king. “Gotcha!”
he gleefully exclaimed. “Thanks for the
game, Father. I gotta go now. Sleep well.
‘Night everyone.” He took the
stairs two at a time, quickly disappearing into the tunnel.
Father looked dumbfounded; he was still rubbing
his head in abject disbelief when he saw the trio standing. Vincent walked over, dropping a kiss on
Father’s cheek. “Training a new chess
“Ah, well, Geoffrey is improving with each
game. Today, it only took him ninety
minutes to beat me,” he laughed. “I had
him on the run there for awhile.
“I was about to have some tea. Would you care to join me?”
“I’ll get the extra cups,” Pascal tossed over
his shoulder as he moved to the far side of the library. Not trusting his balancing skills, Pascal grabbed
the tray and neatly arranged the cups and saucers.
They sat drinking their tea as Pascal reported
the fracture in the pipe and the need for a repair crew. Father made notes, indicating he would get a
crew to the location within the next two working days.
“What have you children been doing this
“I took Catherine to the Great Hall so that she
might see all of our finished bicycles.
Then we walked along with Pascal to check out the break.” Vincent’s hair fell forward, hiding the
slight smile that tugged at his lips and glanced over at Pascal. His co-conspirator briefly glanced at him, but
quickly looked away least he begin to laugh.
“Yes, we had a pleasant evening together. It’s been awhile since I have been free to
spend time with Vincent and Catherine.
It was most enjoyable.” Pascal
stood, extended his hand to Catherine, but rather than grasping it, she slipped
her arm around his neck and pressed her cheek to his. He never indicated he heard her whispered
thank you, but he did grin mischievously.
After biding Vincent and Father good night, he made his way toward the
“Father, I need to escort Catherine home. I will check in on you when I return.” Catherine stepped into Father’s outstretched
arms, kissed his cheek and they left the chamber.
As they slowly ambled toward her apartment, they
discussed their meeting with Pascal.
Vincent shared several stories of their boyhood, the trouble they had
gotten into when Pascal and Devin took Vincent Above, and how Pascal had begun
to number Father’s lectures much to Devin’s devilish delight. They never lied about what they had done,
believing in Father’s strict code of honor, and were always ready to accept
their punishment. Honor was foremost,
but it never stopped the two scamps, Devin and Pascal, from speculating about
which lecture they would receive. Often,
prior to marching into the library to confess their sins, they would loudly
call out a number to indicate which lecture they expected.
Catherine smirked, Vincent’s descriptions were
so clear that she would literally envision the three of them. They stood talking, each reluctant to end
what had been a delightful evening.
“When do you plan to tell Father about learning to ride?”
“I don’t know.
I haven’t decided. I want it to
be a surprise and not let it be something he hears from others.” His look was intense as he struggled to conceive
of a way to share his accomplishment. “I
don’t want him to blow it out of proportion, either.”
“Surely he is beyond feeling that learning to
ride is a danger to you. It’s not as if
you planned to go bike riding in the Park!”
“With Father you never know, and he certainly
never considers my age when it comes to his lectures.” There was a hint of smile on Vincent’s face
as he discussed the tunnel patriarch.
The next evening Catherine called before leaving
work to order dinner, deciding it would be marvelous to have time away from the
citizenry and be able to dine alone with Vincent. She managed to get home, take a quick shower
and re-dress before the food order arrived.
She grabbed a jacket then swept up the Styrofoam packages and headed
She whispered his name as she opened the hidden door in the storage
“Yes, Catherine, I’m here.”
“Could you take this for me? Be careful, it’s hot.”
Vincent accepted the large Styrofoam box, sat it
down, then assisted Catherine down the ladder.
The scents coming from the box succeeded in making Vincent’s stomach growl
“I thought it would be nice to have dinner away
from the communal setting tonight. We
haven’t done that in awhile, so I called and ordered baked chicken, mac and
cheese – a double order for you – and an assortment of veggies plus
dessert. I hope you’re hungry.”
They hurried along toward the home tunnels, and,
as they walked, they discussed their day.
Catherine chuckled, causing Vincent’s eyebrows to rise as she
replied. “If the teenagers could hear
us, they’d say we sounded just like their parents discussing their day. And we do!”
They slipped past the communal dining room
without being noticed and quickly covered the distance to Vincent’s
chamber. He removed his journal and a
few papers from the desk as Catherine began to unpack their meal. Using his arm, he swiped away any
accumulation of dust from the table as Catherine began opening the
cartons. He retrieved two plates, water
glasses, knifes and forks that he now kept in his small cabinet for just such
occasions. They settled to their meal as
Vincent told her of the problems in the children’s literature class and of the latest
gizmo Mouse had invented, which caused Father a massive headache. “His concepts are genius, but executing them
are logistical nightmares”.
“It would be wonderful to be able to direct his
genius. He has such a gift, and with
time at a technical institute, under proper supervision, he could invent things
to improve the planet.”
“Yes, he is a genius, but he would never survive
in your world, with the strict rules of discipline and demands. He would shatter and fall apart.” Vincent sighed, knowing within his heart that
Mouse was, in many ways, as restricted to tunnel life as was he.
“Vincent, may I come in?” Pascal’s voice was clearly audible as he
stood back away from the entrance.
“Of course, Pascal, please do come in.”
“Hello, Catherine. I wondered if you were going to the Great
Hall again this evening, and if I wouldn’t be interrupting, I wanted to ask if
I might accompany you. I’ve been
thinking about how long it’s been since I last rode a bike, and well, I’d like
to try again.”
Catherine smiled, nodding her head in
agreement. “I’d love it if you joined
us. It was so enjoyable last night and
we’d be honored to ride with you.
“I’ll just leave my purse and things here, if
that is all right with you?” She looked
inquiringly at Vincent.
Deep in their happy prattle they quickly covered
the distance to the Great Hall. They
checked among the bikes in the rack, found one that was perfect for Pascal and
left for the flat tunnel grounds.
Reaching the smooth surface, they mounted, and after several minutes of
uncoordinated chaos, Pascal regained his balance and took off up the grade. Caught up in the adventure, Pascal hooted and
catcalled to Vincent as they rode, recalling boyhood adventures.
Catherine stood resting at the foot of the grade
when “the boys”, as she had mentally been calling them for the last hour, so
wound up were they in recalling their childhood, came barreling down the slope. Her mouth opened and she stared in disbelief
as both Pascal and Vincent were straddled flat on their bellies on the bicycle
seat, legs extended perfectly straight out behind them. They crested the second rise, calling out
encouragement to each other, as they made straight for Catherine.
In a wild jumble of panic-filled movements, arm
muscles flaying, “the boys” managed to right themselves and come to a stop
approximately ten inches before they would have crashed into the tunnel
entrance. Somewhere between the rise and
the incline, their adult mantles had been replaced by two mischievous,
capricious boys who had once again recaptured their childhood personas. They were laughingly pushing each other,
their eyes filled with unrestricted giddy happiness, struggling to remain
upright as they attempted to walk back to Catherine.
Catherine tried to look dignified, but lost it
completely when Vincent winked at Pascal, which set Pascal off into gales of
hysterical laughter. Catherine glowed in
watching a new Vincent appear before her eyes, seeing him revert to a child as
he joyously played with his life-long friend. Aware of their highly responsible
duties within the community and the gravity with which they accepted those
heavy burdens, Catherine committed these moments to memory, knowing she would
cherish these lighthearted minutes forever.
She clearly understood now, as she watched, the look of joy Vincent wore,
when she told him stories of her own childhood and how he, too, treasured those
glimpses of her early days.
Her happiness filled their Bond and her serenity
touched Vincent as he rode past her.
Quick-silver threads of joy filled him, making him giddy, as her delight
encompassed and consumed him. He shook
his head as her dizzy ecstasy filled his heart.
The trio continued to ride, stories were shared,
and the evening sped by as they relived childhood glories. “Why are you smiling, Catherine?” Vincent
asked as the trio stood together after returning their bikes to the Great Hall.
“I’m just glad it’s Friday and I don’t have to
worry about getting up for work tomorrow.
Do you realize it’s nearly midnight?
We have been laughing and playing for nearly three hours and it seemed
like only minutes!” Her face was radiant,
her eyes shining with love and happiness as she looked at Vincent and
Pascal. They returned her joy as they
linked arms and slowly made their way out of the Great Hall. Reaching Vincent’s chamber, Pascal bid them
goodnight and once again expressed his thanks for a wonderful evening.
“I had no concept of the late hour. We were having such fun and I so enjoyed
remembering my childhood memories with Pascal.
Over time, I think we tend to forget all the carefree things we did
until someone helps to trigger those memories.”
Vincent’s stance was relaxed, his shoulders eased as his posture
I imagine you are tired after your long day and then playing so hard.” His voice was soft and light; he reveled in the
peace he felt. “I could arrange for a
guest chamber if you would care to stay Below tonight.” Seeing her nod of acquiescence and feeling
their Bond fill with elation, Vincent’s own heart thrummed loudly in response
to Catherine’s joy. “Why don’t you sit and I’ll go see about a chamber for
you.” Three quick strides took him from
the chamber and into the passageway.
Several minutes passed before he returned with
his arms full. He carried an extra
blanket and a set of bath towels. From
his bureau, he removed a cellophane wrapped tooth brush and Catherine’s gown
and robe, which he had kept from when she had stayed Below to heal after her
father’s passing. He was unable to
explain to himself why he was no longer embarrassed that she should know he had
kept the tunnel clothing she had worn, instead of returning them to Mary to be
re-cycled for others to use. They were
his Catherine’s clothing and no one else would ever wear them! He closed the bureau drawer and, as he turned,
his hair swung forward hiding his tiny smile.
“Come, I shall lead you to your chamber.”
She retrieved her purse and jacket and took his
hand. As they walked the short distance
to the guest chamber – one Mary habitually left vacant – Catherine spoke softly. “Are you certain it is all right with you, my
being here tonight? I don’t wish my being
here, so close, to cause any problems for you.”
He stopped, brought her hand to his chest,
placing it over his heart. “There is
only joy beating within my heart in having you here tonight. Today has been a wondrous dream and having
you sleep Below tonight would be the perfect ending to a perfect day.”
Prior to reaching the guest chamber Vincent
briefly stopped. “The bathroom
facilities are just here, in case you have forgotten. I’ll just put your towels and brush
inside.” He disappeared for a moment
then stepped back into the passage.
“I’ve left the candles burning for you.”
Moving forward, they covered the short distance
to the guest chamber, which was already glowing with the light of many
candles. “Oh, it’s changed since last
“Yes, we got some extra furniture so we added a small loveseat to this chamber. It makes it homey, don’t you think?” Catherine crossed to the sofa, sat down and bounced once, testing its comfort. She patted the seat beside her and looked questioningly at Vincent.
Three long strides brought him beside her and he
sat down. “It is comfortable and
slightly larger than your own sofa, I think.”
She reached down, taking his hand in her own, absently stroking it. His heart rate jumped at her touch, as it
always did, and he wondered if it was as loud as it seemed pounding in his
“Are you sleepy?”
“Well, it’s just that, while the last nights
have been magnificent, and I wouldn’t have missed them for anything, there is
something I have missed and that’s having you hold me, the feel of your
arms. We have this nice sofa and its
toasty warm; I just thought it would be a wonderful way to end our evening.” Her eyes searched his, telling him of the bliss
she felt in his arms, and allowing him to see the depth of her feelings. Her need to touch and be touched by him was
not hidden, her love clearly revealed in her shining green eyes.
He shifted slightly, bringing his arm up and
around her shoulders as his hand settled possessively along her arm, he drew
her into the lea of his shoulder. She
cuddled against him, bringing herself to rest more solidly against his muscular
chest, and he heard her gentle sigh of contentment. They softly spoke of their evening, the
happiness they shared in spending time with Pascal. After several minutes, Catherine turned in
his arms, bringing herself to lie more completely across his chest, her knees
facing the back of the sofa and her hip resting gently next to Vincent’s. She brought her arms up to encircle his neck,
and, again, she happily sighed. “This is
wonderful,” she breathed against his vest.
“I’m not too heavy, am I?”
“You’re as light as a feather.” He dropped his head to rest against her hair
and barely whispered to himself, “A deliciously light feather,” as he placed a
gentle kiss against her hair.
Instantly she knew he hadn’t meant her to hear
his words and she purposefully refused to allow herself to react. She wanted nothing to disturb or upset this
time together. This was their special
time, the two of them alone with no cares or interruptions; no rising sun to steal
their special time; the calm distant tapping on the pipes was a lullaby that played
to the melody of their love.
They snuggled together, each lost within the
special world their embraces created.
This tranquil bliss defied description or explanation, it simply was
paradise as their two hearts joined beating in harmony and their souls rose to
the heavens. The knowledge that this
woman longed to be in his arms freely spoke of her need for his touch and
gloried in it, continued to surround Vincent’s aloneness. Incredibly, like the magic of the tides, it
wore away years of pain; his desperate but unspoken need for the warmth of
human touch, settling tenderly around his heart and bringing him a soul filling
His long gentle sigh seemed to shimmer in the
air, his graveled voice trembled then he whispered, “I have missed holding you,
the lithe feel of your arms surrounding me.”
Imperceptibly, his arms tightened, drawing her closer as his need of her
surfaced. Longing filled him, the days
since he had truly held her, rose to surround him, and for once, he ignored the
voice that warned him, and he allowed his hips to slide forward bringing her
body to rest more solidly against his.
He heard her murmur “Perfect” as she lay firmly
against his chest and felt her breasts slide across his chest as she settled
deeper into his arms. Within he warred
with his intellect which told him he should leave, but his heart craved -- and
desperately needed – to hold Catherine, to rejoice in her touch that soothed
and fed his soul.
Their moments Above were harried, always aware
that another watcher might possibly be viewing them. Here and now, they were hidden from prying
eyes, sweetly alone, safe, and surrounded by the soft, friendly glow of candles
that enriched these moments. He took a
deep breath, allowed his arms to tighten around Catherine and surrendered
himself to the moment. Tomorrow, he
would think, but now there was just Catherine and he could hold her all night
Somewhere in the distance he heard the pipes
announce the hour, but he was reluctant to yield to the capricious world in
which he dwelt. He and Catherine were
walking in the sunshine, across fields with wild flowers and small furred
animals. The tapping became louder and
longer; slowly his mind automatically translated the sounds into messages. Slowly, his eyes opened and he found himself
staring into fathomless depths of green.
He continued to stare when she kissed one lone finger of her right hand
and then placed the finger against his full lower lip. His heart fluttered and
then loudly pounded as she murmured, “Good morning. I don’t know about you, but this was the best
sleep I’ve ever had!”
Even with her hair slightly mussed she was
radiantly beautiful as she rubbed her face against his sweater. He felt a rumbling deep within his chest and
then the languid expelling of his breath.
Her fingers caressed his neck beneath the
cascade of saffron hair. “Would anyone
come looking if we stayed like this all day?
It would be a perfect if that were possible.”
Nodding in agreement, he continued to gaze into
her eyes, never wishing to leave their glorious depth. His muscles quivered along the length of his
body, rippling and stretching tautly, he stiffened slightly, then completely
relaxed as his muscles went limp. His face
was inscrutable, he looked away and suddenly a slight smile tugged at the
corners of his unique mouth. “It’s just
an involuntary muscular thing that happens when I awaken. I’m sorry if it startled you.”
“No, it was just different, something
distinctively you. Now that I know about
it, I’ll be prepared for the next time.”
She smiled as she kissed his chest and snuggled closer.
Her surety that sleeping within his arms was not
a one time thing, but that it would happen again, as if it were as customary as
the sun rising, amazed him. The calm
tenaciousness of her thoughts, that he was just a man, and that all that
transpired between them was normal continued to be a cause of his prolonged
late night thoughts. His thoughts
whirled as he realized how completely Catherine accepted everything about him
as ordinary. The strength emanating from
her statement assaulted his inner conflict as it slowly nicked away another
stone in his self-imposed defenses. As a
general marshaled his soldiers, Catherine’s interminable love outflanked him
and her miraculous faith breeched his heart.
The sudden gurgling of her stomach broke the
silence. “Oh, now, that’s certainly
romantic!” she laughed, looking up at him with a wide smile.
“Perhaps we should think of breakfast,” he
replied in a light easy tone.
They joined Pascal in the communal dining hall
and together shared one of William’s hearty breakfasts. “I don’t know about you, but my stomach hurt
this morning from laughing so much last night!”
Pascal glanced down at his stomach as he spoke, “I’ve got bruises, too,
that I don’t know how I got!”
“Perhaps it was that last acrobatic move that
was the culprit,” Vincent offered. “I,
too, have some unusual aches this morning.”
His voice was light, holding a hint of laughter as he commiserated.
Father approached and by silent consent the
conversation concerning the previous night’s activities was dropped. “Catherine, how good to see you. I wasn’t aware you were going to be coming
down so early today. You do look
lovely. Is that a new outfit? I don’t recall seeing it. It’s very becoming.”
It’s something I’ve worn previously.
Perhaps we just didn’t see each other on the other occasion. Vincent and I thought it would be nice to
have long day together, so decided to get an early start.”
“Father, if you and Pascal will excuse us?” Standing, they prepared to leave.
“Of course, go along now. I’ll hope to see you later.”
Upon reaching the passageway they paused,
exchanging a look that spoke volumes.
“Well, technically, I didn’t lie. He didn’t see me yesterday, and we do think a
long day together would be nice, don’t we?”
“Ever the astute lawyer,” he joked as he took
her hand. They strolled along the
tunnels, stopping to chat with those making their way toward the dining room,
and finally reached the cliff high above the Great Falls. He retrieved two large pillows that had seen
service on porch swings in their life Above.
Sitting, they nestled together, Catherine wrapped securely in his arms.
“Has Father come down to the Great Hall since
work on all the bicycles began?”
“No, so far, he hasn’t. He’s been quite overwhelmed with the
dauntless task of managing our books.
He’s very meticulous when it comes to finances and his system would
rival a CPA’s for details.”
“Then perhaps an invitation to visit might be
the simplest way to arrange for him to learn of your latest
accomplishment? It would be a very
simple setting for a simple task, nothing that would raise his hackles or cause
alarms to sound as to perils to your person. Perhaps it would even seem normal
to him that, working in the bicycle shop, you had to ride in order to test the
He sat quietly, absorbing all that Catherine had
said, weighing the pros and cons of how to break the news to his still overly-
protective parent. “Yes, perhaps it
would be easiest to tell him within the confines of the work room. Today would be a good day since production is
closed on the weekend and we’d certainly be alone. Pascal found us by accident, he most
certainly won’t utter a word on the subject, but the flats are an area that is
traveled by many, so others could discover our playground.”
“It would surely be easier coming directly from you. It has always seemed to me that he becomes upset when he feels left out of things.”
“Again, you are correct, Catherine. He feels an enormous responsibility for our
society, and as our leader, he likes to keep his fingers close to the community
pulse. His abiding love often
obliterates all sense of proportion where I am concerned. His greatest fear as a physician and a father
is that I could be hurt and he couldn’t save me.”
Catherine’s arms squeezed him tightly,
acknowledging her understanding of Father’s fears for his safety and
well-being. Her complete acceptance that
he was a man didn’t preclude her own fears regarding his unique physical
make-up that made any illness possibly life-threatening.
“The enjoyment we have had these past two weeks
has been marvelous. I feel like a small
child with a naughty secret. It’s just
that, sometimes, Father can be so unpredictable in how he will react.”
“He was violently opposed to our going to my
cabin and yet his objections to our being Above on Samhain were mild in
comparison when the two were the same subject – your being seen in public. He can be confusing.”
“He does find change difficult. He sees Above as the place that ruined his
life, branded him, drove him from medicine, and indirectly, it stole Margaret
“I feel you’re correct. Later today, we will find Father and bring him
to the bicycle shop, and I’ll show him I have learned to ride. I’ll rest far easier with him knowing.” His voice was calm and steady as he announced
a decision that had plagued him was now settled.
They continued to sit talking of other tunnel
activities, the ongoing need for a secure source of income, and Catherine’s
latest cases. “Has Father ever discussed
the possibilities of investing some of the community funds in the Stock Market? Something safe and secure that would provide
steady long-term dividends. Peter has
had the same broker for years, and he wouldn’t have kept him if he didn’t
provide sound financial advice. Perhaps
you might suggest it the next time Peter is down. Surely they could come up with a way to handle
the tax situation.”
“It would require months of endless thinking on
Father’s part while weighing the pros and cons.
He is pragmatic, if nothing else.”
“Aahh, the experienced voice of the pragmatist
son, huh? You too, do tend to over-think
a lot of issues; it’s just not solely his domain.” She grinned as she teased and was delighted
to see the answering merriment in his eyes.
The light, gentle teasing between them was a new part of their relationship
and one that each of them found pleasurable.
It was well past the noon hour when they
returned from the Great Falls, and since they were hungry, they stopped in the
kitchen. Seeing two of his favorite
people, William agreed to make a couple of sandwiches before he shut down the
kitchen in preparation for the evening meal.
“May I join you?” William questioned, as he sat
two plates before them. On the tray were
three mugs and the aroma from the coffee pot he carried was mouth-watering
“Of course, we’d love to chat with you. These,” Catherine picked up her sandwich, “look
delicious. You make the best sandwiches;
they are always unique and special.”
“I’ve spent many a happy hour, munching away
while sharing conversation with William.
Whatever we have, he turns it into a hearty and appetizing
masterpiece.” The sincerity of Vincent
voice caused William to blush slightly and his skin took on a pink tint.
Later, several of William’s assistants arrived,
ready to begin preparing the evening meal and he waved them toward the
kitchen. Finishing his coffee, he stood,
shook hands with Vincent, and wished Catherine well and left to join his staff.
Vincent collected their dishes, rinsed them,
smirking at the enormous sign over the sink reminding the citizenry that
everyone must rinse their dishes before depositing them in William’s sink for
washing. He returned to Catherine and,
together, they headed for the library.
As they started down the library steps, Catherine squeezed his hand,
silently offering her support.
Father eagerly agreed to tour the workshop,
saying he had longed to see the operation, but the budgetary constraints had
consumed all of his time. Collecting his
cane, the trio left the library and headed for the Great Hall.
The trip took close to an hour as Father’s hip
was troubling him, making his gait slow. After lighting the candles, Vincent helped
Father, offering his arm for support, as they began their tour. Father turned in amazement at the changes
within the Hall, as it now bore no resemblance to their celebratory Winterfest
home. “Once Kanin and his crew complete
the new chambers, the Hall will be returned to its majestic grandeur and all
this,” Vincent extended his arm to encompass the Hall, “will all be returned to
“We have used care in protecting the tapestries
and have kept anything that is in the least greasy confined to the furthest
wall. I think you will be impressed with
our end products, Father, as they show no evidence of ever having been
damaged.” They walked over to the work
tables, which were scattered with multiple bicycle parts in various stages of
repair. As they moved deeper into the
Hall, Vincent explained how Elizabeth’s students painted and embossed the bikes
and, finally, they stopped in front of a rack of 25 shinny bikes.
These were found in dumpsters and badly damaged? What an amazing job of restoration all of you
have done.” Vincent noticed how Father
trembled and how he seemed to be dragging his bad leg. Shakily, Father’s hand skimmed over several
bikes, and he beamed with joy at the workmanship of his family. “Mr. Wilkerson must be overjoyed to have such
an excellent product for sale in his shops.”
Vincent glanced over at Catherine, and seeing
her answering nod, he slipped away as she took over the conversation with
Father. “He has praised the quality of
our workmanship, and it was only that his sales staff recognized new model
styles so well, but otherwise, they were hard pressed to accept that these were
used bikes.” Catherine’s voice glowed
with pride at the accomplishment of her tunnel family. “He mentioned his used bike shop had an
increase of twenty percent in sales since he started stocking tunnel bikes.”
“There is certainly a variety of styles within
the bike rack.” Again, Father touched
one of the bikes; his fingers quivered, then lingered to stroke the tassels
flowing from a set of handle bar gripes.
“There are bikes for every age of rider, boys, girls, adults, and such a
variety of colors, even those with training wheels.”
The voice came from the back of the hall.
“Yes, Vincent, what is it?”
Father turned, looking in the direction of the
voice and stood with his mouth agape as Vincent peddled toward him. Vincent continued, past Father, weaving with
great expertise between the tables, toward the doors and then increased his
speed as he sped back, popping a wheelie before he stopped beside his
“When…when did you learn to ride? How did this happen? Who dared to teach you
to ride?” Realizing his mouth was open Father quickly closed his mouth.
“I thought if I was going to repair bikes, I
should know how to operate one. And you
know how the children, who are just learning to ride, always ask so many
questions. Well, frankly, I got tired of
not being able to intelligently answer their queries.” He was still seated on the bike, balanced on
one foot. His voice firm and his face
inscrutable, only his deep eyes gave away his resolve that he would stand firm,
and nothing Father could say would deny him the joy that riding provided.
Aware that Catherine had stepped away to stand
beside Vincent, Father recognized this for what it was: their joining together in a united front,
each ready to battle if he objected. As
an old campaigner, veteran of many battles both real and mental, Father recognized
a solid wall of defense when presented to him.
“Well, I can certainly understand your
logic. It’s impossible to understand the
children’s problems when you’ve never experienced what they are describing. When did all of this happen?”
Before Vincent could answer, Catherine stepped
forward, her shoulders squared, spine stiff, and her head high, “I taught him
three weeks ago.” Her stare spoke
volumes, daring him to object, and Father knew that look had undoubtedly stood
her in good stead in the court rooms as he saw this woman – Vincent’s woman – assume
a tiger pose ready to defend him against all comers!
“You learned in here with all the tables? That certainly must have been a challenge. I hope you didn’t take a tumble on these
uneven stones.” (‘I’m tired and frankly I didn’t want another long battle over something
Vincent wished to do; something that was dangerous or that might cause him
injury. The conflict over the budget,
our ongoing financial problems had worn down my reserve, and I simply wanted peace
and harmony. Yet there is a part of me
that refuses to release Vincent to just do as he pleased without warning him of
the danger. I am fundamentally bound; it
is my scared duty to protect this unique child who has been entrusted to my
Vincent and Catherine stood watching him and, from
their expressions, he was certain they were cognizant of his
inter-conflict. (“After all, Vincent is now thirty-five and he should be aware of the
dangerous of falling.”) His head
began to ache and then shake, his shoulders trembled and he stood silently
“Father, what’s wrong? Are you ill?”
It took several minutes for Father to compose
himself and to reassume his dignified mantle.
Once more, he suddenly began to chuckle, and seeing the baffled faces
that stared at him, Father began to laugh harder.
“Come along, children. Let us return to the library. I still must complete our budgetary accounts. I simply want my bed, I’m drained and I don’t
want to argue with you. It’s obvious
that you will do as you wish so there is no need to express my safety concerns.
“I’ve never liked arguing with you, Vincent, and
our endless battles about your activities are something I find totally abhorrent. Truly, I do understand your need to be the
best teacher possible for our children and in your opinion, that includes
teaching them to ride. Come, leave us be
Vincent and Catherine stood, shocked and
confused by Father’s contradictory statements.
Was he upset? Or was he playing
some mind game with them and only he knew the rules? Vincent left his bike parked against the table,
and taking Catherine’s hand, they pursued Father.
The trip to the library was one of confused
statements, Father alternated between short bursts of laughter and minute words
of rage. “Do you think we should send
for Peter? Possible he is suffering from
some seizure disorder or maybe he’s had a stroke.”
“I’d feel better if we sent for Peter. Doesn’t this next passageway on the left lead
to the Pipe Chamber?” Vincent nodded and
Catherine left him, going to find Pascal and have an urgent message sent to
Peter to come Below immediately.
It was more than an hour before Peter appeared
and, during that time, Father sat at his desk, furiously working on the budget,
drinking tea and alternating between bouts of laughter and sharp words of
anger. He was certainly not the Father
Vincent had always known, this was some demented stranger wearing Father’s
Peter slowly came down the steps from Jacobs’s
bed chamber and took a seat beside Catherine.
“Vincent, please. It’s late and
your pacing is wearing me out. Come and
sit.” Peter’s relaxed smile eased the
tension within the room. Vincent settled
into a chair.
“No, I don’t think he’s had a stroke or a
seizure. Jacob is completely exhausted –
both physically and mentally. He has
been battling with the finances for months now, staying here at his desk long
after the community has been asleep seeking a solution to the pressing
financial crisis. He’s not a young man
anymore and these prolonged hours are just more than he can handle. Everyone comes to him with their problems,
but to whom does he seek counsel for his problems? No one!
“His blood pressure is low, his pulse racing, and while we don’t have a scale handy, I’d swear he has lost a good twenty pounds since I last examined him. I’ve ordered him to bed for at least forty-eight hours, complete bed rest, and I want all his meals delivered to him; he is to get up for the bathroom only. Is that clearly understood?
“And you, Vincent, will take those damn accounting
ledgers out of here, hide them, and he isn’t to touch them.” Peter swore violently, shoving aside the books
as he sat on the edge of the desk. “He’s
mentally exhausted from all the budget stress.
He’s in there laughing – at what I don’t know – and raging about the
‘short fall’ and how to resolve it.
“I’ve half a mind to put him in the hospital
chamber where his activities can be monitored and allow him no visitors. If I leave him here, he will try to sneak
back in here to work.” Speaking outloud
had cleared Peter’s thoughts and he mounted the library steps, stood at the
pipe and tapped out two words:
STRETCHER/LIBRARY. Instantly, an
acknowledgement was heard.
In less than five minutes, Kanin and Winslow
appeared, anxiously looking at Peter, then at Vincent. “We’re taking Jacob to the hospital chamber.”
Shock clearly registered on their faces as Kanin
and Winslow looked at Peter. “Come along
now. Ignore his protests and once we get
him there, I’m going to sedate him.”
Vincent stood, but was restrained by Catherine’s
hand. They could hear the protests
coming from Father’s bed chamber and several words that were not normally
associated with his stately persona.
Over the sound of swearing suddenly Peter’s voice rose, echoing loudly. “Jacob, shut up, do you hear me? I said shut up!”
Moments later Winslow led the way from the
chamber and his audience could see him fighting a smirk that tugged at his
mouth. Kanin also struggled to retain his
composure as they mounted the library steps.
Peter motioned to Vincent and Catherine to follow and together they all
headed toward the hospital.
They missed dinner, and all the kitchen helpers
had left when the ragtag group entered the community dining hall. Jacob was sound asleep and Jamie was on duty
in the hospital chamber. Winslow and
Kanin stepped into the kitchen, found the leftovers from the evening meal, set
the water to heating for tea, and gathered together plates. Finding a tray, they began to fill the
plates, collected silverware and mugs, and finished heating the food.
“He will sleep through the night and probably
well into the morning. I’d forgotten his
fiery temper, and his vast collection of swear words rival any sailor.” Peter’s smile was engaging as he took a sip
of tea. “I remember when we worked on
the docks one summer while in medical school and Jacob swore with the best of
them. He took great delight in making me
blush with his colorful phrases!”
Vincent was intrigued at learning of a side of
Father that he had never known. Father
could be furtive concerning his past, and like his marriage to Margaret, his
working on the docks was something of which he had never spoken.
“I’d appreciate your not mentioning that Jacob
is in the hospital chamber. I know much
of the community heard the message on the pipes, but let’s try to keep this as
low profile as possible. It will get
around, I know, but let’s just keep it low key.
“Mary will need to be told and she will assume,
I’m certain, much of his care. I will
allow only the two of you,” Peter looked directly at Vincent and Catherine, “as
his visitors. Everyone else is totally
restricted from the hospital chamber and that includes Mouse and all his wild
As they ate their meal, they talked of how the
community would function without Father’s steady hand. Winslow volunteered to work alongside of
Vincent on the budget and Catherine agreed that she would bring down a
calculator, thus relieving them from manually calculating all the
balances. “Just having a calculator
should ease some of the strain.”
“We will need a council meeting to establish a
work group for the budget - a budget committee.
It is abundantly clear that Father needs assistance, and we need to
select members to share that burden, rather than having it continue as his
alone.” Although not technically a
tunnel citizen, Peter’s warm voice was filled with practicality as well as
concern for Jacob.
“I’ll leave a note for Mary with instructions as
I won’t be able to get down here tomorrow until mid- or late afternoon. Jacob is going to be a bear to put it mildly,
and a crafty one, to boot! He will use
any means to escape back to the library, his books and budgets. If it comes to it, Vincent, you have my
permission to tie him to the bed!”
They continued to discuss their strategies, who
would assume what duties and how to cover the many functions that had fallen
under Father’s domain. “By shifting a
couple of things, I could free up a whole day, and I’d like to volunteer to
help Father with the budget. Math and
calculations have always come easily to me and, I’d be proud to work along side
Father to relieve him.”
“Thank you, Winslow. When the Council meeting is called, I’ll
certainly stand with you to assume the accounting duties. I’m sure we will have little, if any,
opposition.” Although he was concerned
about Father’s condition, Vincent did as Father had instructed him, to step
forward and assume the mantle of command.
While they continued to talk, Catherine
collected their dishes, slipped into the kitchen and quietly washed the dishes,
restoring William’s kitchen to its pristine condition. She slid in beside Vincent, and beneath the
table, she squeezed his hand offering her comfort. As they talked, Peter wrote out instructions
for Mary and, shortly after eleven, the meeting broke up. Kanin volunteered to walk Peter back to
library and then escort him to the exit near where his car was parked. Their good-byes echoed, and slowly, Winslow,
Vincent and Catherine began their journey.
They dropped off Winslow at his chamber then continued on to the
While Vincent went in to check on Father,
Catherine walked to Mary’s chamber, slipped in and laid Peter’s note on her
desk and quietly left. She talked with
Jamie for a few minutes, then went in to see Father. Vincent sat beside the bed, his hand gently
stroking Father’s hand, his head bowed and she saw his lips silently moving in
prayer. She moved to stand behind him,
filling their Bond with her loving support and comfort.
As they left the hospital chamber, they both
knew there was no question of Catherine’s returning Above tonight. She would sleep Below, to be near Vincent
during this time of upheaval.
As Peter had predicted, Father was indeed a bear
when he discovered himself in the hospital chamber, wearing an open hospital
gown, and none of his clothes or shoes were available to him. He roared and swore, and with undaunted
courage, Mary ignored his raving. Vincent heard all the noise, stepped into the
chamber, took a seat and calmly stared until Father became quiet. Without uttering a word, Vincent opened the
book he carried and started to read. The
slow cadence of his voice continued, weaving a magically spell, as a weary and
worn Father finally succumb to the soothing sound and drifted to sleep. Vincent’s spirits lifted and a wry smile
tickled the corners of his mouth. (‘I remember Father when you used that same
trick on me, oh, how I do remember!’)
He stood and quietly left the chamber.
Later in the day, he again heard shouting coming
from the hospital chamber, and he quickly strolled toward the sound. Once more he sat staring as Father continued
to spew forth his rage. Vincent neither
smiled, frowned nor laughed, he simple stared.
“Don’t think you can pull that on me.
I’m the master who taught you, remember that, you imp!” Father yelled at him. Again, Vincent ignored all of Father’s
verbiage and the cobalt blue eyes continued to stare.
Vincent was aware that Mary hovered near the
entrance, but his eyes never moved. The
battle of wills continued onward with Father yelling and Vincent staring. Peter appeared at the edge of the chamber,
slipped pass Mary and entered. He didn’t
speak; he opened his medical bag, pulled out a vial and hypodermic, plunged the
needle into the vial and slowly pulled back on the plunger.
Stepping up to the bed, Peter flipped the
blankets up and over Jacob’s face, swiped his exposed hip with alcohol, and
plunged in the needle before his startled patient could react. “Jacob, if you won’t shut up, I can make you shut
up! Now be a good little boy and say
goodnight to Vincent.” With that, Peter
flipped the blanket down and strode from the room.
Lord, I’ll never forget this sight!’)
Vincent’s head moved and his hair fell forward, a leer tugged at his
mouth, and he quickly pulled down the corners of his mouth, raised his head and
stared. The look on Father’s face was
priceless. His mouth moved, but no words
came out; his face was beat red, he shook with rage, and his hand shot out,
snatching the bedside box of tissues and hurled them across the room and
through the entrance way. Next, a pillow
sailed across the room, followed by a second one.
As the second pillow hit the floor, Vincent
stood, “Now that you have made yourself perfectly comfortable, Father, I’ll say
goodnight.” He stepped around the
pillows and walked to the entrance, took Mary by the hand and drew her along
with him. They continued walking, as
another diatribe spewed forth from the chamber.
Standing, leaning against the tunnel wall, Peter stood, his whole body
shaking with laughter.
Vincent, too, began to shake with silent
laughter and even Mary smirked. “I
should really go see if he is all right,” Mary offered.
“No, just leave him be. That shot will begin to take effect, and in
ten minutes, he is going to be snoring loudly.
I’ve only seen Jacob like this once before – during medical school – and
again, it was when he had used up all his physical and mental reserves, after
months of getting no more than two-three hours sleep per day. And just like now, he was a bear, swearing
and pitching a fit at his confinement.
If he won’t sleep, I can force him to rest. And in resting, he will certainly provide
some peace to our battered ears!”
Taking Mary by the hand, “Come along. We’ll go have some tea, and by the time we
return, he will be soundly sleeping.
Vincent, stay close by, just in case, won’t you?” Peter was aware that Vincent had not strayed
far from the chamber, staying close in case he was needed. Seeing Vincent nod, Peter tugged gently on
Mary’s hand and together they walked away.
Peter opted to have Jacob given several lighter
doses of medication, which would keep him sleeping steadily for the next forty-eight
hours. After another one of his loud
verbal harangues, Peter felt none of Jacob’s friends needed to be subjected to
such language. Plus, he knew when he recovered Jacob would suffer from acute embarrassment
at his rude and unmannerly behavior.
Three days later, Father was allowed to
naturally awaken from his induced sleep.
It was late in the afternoon when he opened his eyes to find Vincent and
Catherine sitting beside his bed. After
a gentle hello and pressing a kiss to his cheek, Catherine left the chamber not
wishing to embarrass Father in any way.
She returned several moments later, carrying a basin, cloth, and towel,
and after handing those to Vincent, she left.
Vincent dipped the cloth in water, wrung it out and
handed it to Father. Father washed the
grit from his eyes and passed the cloth over his face and neck. Just as he looked up, Catherine re-appeared,
bearing a cup of tea, handed it to Father, accepted the cloth, and silently
left the chamber.
The picture of patience, Vincent waited as
Father consumed his tea, while physically stretching the kinks from his body
and took mental inventory.
“Would you like to get up to use the bathroom?”
Vincent excused himself and returned with a
second gown to serve as a robe to cover Father’s exposed backside. He helped swing his legs over the side of the
bed and then assisted Father in slipping on the improvised robe. From a drawer, he withdrew slippers and put
them on Father’s feet, then helped him to stand. Without speaking a word between them, Vincent
assisted him to the bathroom, waited outside and then helped him back to bed.
“Thank you for your assistance,” Father stiffly
said. “What day is it?”
“It’s now Thursday, you have been sleeping for
roughly seventy-two hours. If you are
hungry, I can bring you a tray.”
Father’s face clearly registered his surprise. He looked up just as Peter walked in. With a simple nod of his head, Vincent stood and left the two physicians alone.
Vincent and Catherine walked through the
tunnels, killing time after they had asked William to have a tray brought to
the hospital chamber. From their
previous conversations they agreed that Peter would need time alone with Father,
to have an in-depth discussion of his physical condition. They were aware that the sharing of the responsibilities
would not be easy for Father to accept, and that as his contemporary, Peter was
the best one to broach the subject as well as being more likely to come out the
winner in this battle.
“Come on, let’s go ride. We haven’t ridden in nearly five days and it
will do us good.” Catherine tugged on
his hand and they took the next junction that would take them to the Great
Hall. Collecting their bikes, they
headed for the flat spaces and rode.
Their spirits brightened as they burned off
excess energy from being confined to the hospital area. While they had been consumed with worries
about Father, Mouse and the other bicycle workers had continued with their
duties. Ten more repaired and painted
bikes had been completed, awaiting Cullen’s crew to transfer them Above.
They had passed the chambers under construction
by Kanin’s work gang, so they were aware of the ongoing progress. Hopefully, in less than two weeks, the crews
would be able to transfer the bicycle operation to the new chambers and then
Cullen’s crew would restore the Great Hall.
Winslow had the account books and was going over
them, aided by the new calculator Catherine had brought down. After spending a few minutes instructing him
on its use, Catherine was delighted to see his fingers fly over the key pad.
They discussed all these events as they rode,
their voices growing lighter as they were able to shake the worries caused by
Father’s collapse. Work schedules got
shifted and Father’s duties were picked up by many of the older members of the
community, and the air was palpable with the resolve that they would continue
to ease the burden of leadership from Father’s shoulders.
They stopped, turned and saw the Pipe Master
pedaling toward them. “Wish I had known
you were riding, I would have joined you earlier. I have the students manning the pipes, as I
needed to stretch my legs. The bikes are
certainly good for that. How’s Father
“Peter’s with him now and he is discussing
Father’s new, lighter work duties.”
“Oh, well, I’m glad I’m down here. Earlier, I could hear him yelling and
swearing. Except for the voice, I was
hard pressed to accept that those words were coming from his mouth!” Both Vincent and Pascal grinned as they
instantly remembered a lecture they had received at seventeen on swearing.
“Over the years, he has steadily accepted more
and more duties as members of our community have died. He tried so hard to help update the pipe code
books after my dad passed, and it was only after he created a mess, that he
stated the work was beyond his skills.”
“No, he doesn’t take failure easily. Even though he has always been good at pipe
code, the books are outside his purview.
You know what a disappointment it was when he returned the books to
you. I remember how dejected he
looked.” Vincent’s voice ended in an
abrupt sad sigh.
Father was still confined to the hospital
chamber and Peter was steadily winning the war of what he would be allowed to
do upon his release. Vincent visited
often, but beneath the casual hospital conversations, he was aware that
something was deeply troubling Father.
He tried with great diplomacy to provide every opportunity for Father to
unburden himself, but to no avail. The
feeling of Father’s mental anxiety strongly surrounded the chamber, leaving
After leaving the hospital, Vincent headed
toward the library, seeking a book to occupy his mind. Instead of a darkened chamber, the candles
blazed and Winslow sat at Father’s desk, surrounded by stacks of papers. Startled, he looked up and quietly returned
could use your help. Come look at
this.” Vincent took a seat, listening
intently as Winslow went over his problems.
An hour passed, then two and the stacks of paper grew, as unique fingers
danced over the calculator keys. Twice,
they rose to replace the nearly extinguished candles, and they continued to
work into the night.
They heard the community awaken as the volume of
tapping on the pipes increased. Vincent
stood, stretching his cramped muscles, and moved to prepare a pot of tea. Neither of them was willing to surrender to
the mystery; each resolved to find the clue that would provide the answer. They ignored the growling in their bellies and
drank more tea, as they steadily ploughed through the stacks of paper.
Cow! Would you look at this!”
The library was restored, and his desk top was
bare, when Vincent and Catherine walked Father into his bastion of ordered
chaos. Vincent’s strong arm supported
Father as they descended the steps, and Catherine held the chair steady as he
wearily sank into it. He sighed, as he
settled into the chair. “Tea would be
nice, but I expect you two have other things to do.”
“No, Father, we are here to help you get
resettled and have nothing else planned except spending time with you. I’ll brew some tea.”
As Vincent went off to start the tea, Catherine
took the seat opposite Father. “I’m sure
you’re happy to be out of the hospital and back in your own chamber. Its funny how we miss the things we take for
granted when we have been gone for a few days.”
Catherine chatted on, filling the silence, noting that Father glanced
around the desk, furtively edging open drawers when he thought she wasn’t
They had been chatting for an hour or so when
Winslow came lumbering down the steps, his arms filled with the account
ledgers. In seeing the ledgers, Father’s
face grayed and he nervously tugged at the button on his long flowing
vest. “Let me take those, Winslow, and
I’ll slip them into the drawer.” He
pulled open the drawer and waited, but the ledgers were not forthcoming.
“Peter would have my hide if I returned these to
you! For months, every time I came to
see you, you were buried in these ledgers.
It was like they were extensions of your hands! I stopped to get some coffee from William and
he said you were home. I only stopped to say hello. I’m headed to my chamber as
I’m still posting to the accounts.”
He bounded up the steps, turned and looked back
at Father. “You call me, Father, if you
need anything; I’m not that far away.
See you later Vincent, Catherine.”
Their conversation continued, but Vincent
noticed that only he and Catherine were talking and Father was strangely
withdrawn, almost morose. “Perhaps you
would like to lie down for a while before dinner. After all, this is your first day and it was
a long walk from the hospital chamber.”
“Yes, thank you, I think I would. If you will excuse me?” He stood, slowly moving toward his sleeping
chamber. He leaned heavily on his cane
as he walked and he appeared stooped, older than his years. Seeing his hesitation, Vincent quickly rose,
took his arm and assisted him to his chamber.
Moving to the upper level of the library,
Vincent and Catherine sat among the stacks, Vincent quietly in search of a
specific book while Catherine idly flipped pages in a travel book. “He seems withdrawn and is obviously distressed. I’ve tried, but he won’t discuss what is
bothering him; has he said anything to you?”
I’ve gone to the hospital chamber, he is silent, only answering when he must,
when I ask how he is feeling. At first,
I thought it was me, but then Peter mentioned it when we were having dinner
last night at my apartment. Peter said
he almost preferred the swearing to this silence.”
“I don’t want to force his hand. I would rather he volunteer to speak than
having to drag it out of him.”
“Do you know what’s troubling him?” Catherine turned to look at Vincent, and from
his eyes, she knew he was aware of what was troubling Father and that his own
code of honor would not allow him to discuss it. “Oh, OK, I’ll wait it out with you.” He smiled in gratitude.
An hour passed as Vincent continued his search
for a book and Catherine continued to be an arm-chair traveler. From their high perch, they saw Father return
to the library and watched as he paced in front of his desk. He paused to open the drawers of the huge
desk, only to slam them loudly in finding all of them empty. He muttered to himself and returned to
pacing. The eddies carried his voice up
to them, “What ever am I going to do?”
Purposefully, Vincent dropped several
books. Father peered up into the stacks
as Vincent stooped to retrieve them and Catherine stood. “I’m sorry if we startled you. We were just on our way down.” Collecting two books, Vincent took
Catherine’s hand and they moved toward the spiral staircase.
“How was your nap? I hope you’re feeling more rested. What about dinner? Do you feel up to going to the dining hall or
I could get a tray so you could eat here?”
“I don’t want to be a bother to you, Vincent.”
“Father, caring for you is never a bother. I’ll just slip out and be back shortly and
then we can all eat together.” He
quietly mounted the steps and stepped into the passageway.
Another three days passed, and while Father
physically looked better, Vincent and Peter were concerned about his continuing
ambiguous state, which bordered on depression.
Peter again tried to bring about a discussion without being baleful, but
his patient continued to maintain nothing was wrong.
Winslow arrived in the library late, and without
thinking, he plopped into the desk chair and began to scribble a note. It was the wrong move. Father walked in and exploded in rage,
accusing Winslow of usurping his duties, taking over as if he were suddenly in
his dotage or a senile imbecile. His tirade continued as he vented all his
inner wrath and anxiety upon Winslow.
Father stopped to take a deep breath and Winslow
stood up, towering over Father. “Jacob, my
parents brought me up to respect my elders.
I won’t dignify the filth you have hurled at me with an answer. I respect you too much to even attempt to justify
the insults you have uttered. It is a
sad commentary when an old friend can’t simply sit at your desk to write you a
note! Good night.” He collected his papers and quietly left.
Vincent had arrived at the end of Father’s
frenzied impotent rage. He allowed
Winslow to pass without speaking, knowing they would meet later when they both
were calmer. Vincent’s boots struck the
stairs with force, revealing his anger and frustration.
From the seat he had taken at his desk, Father
had the good grace to look embarrassed.
Suddenly, he slumped forward, covered his face and his shoulders shook
and he whimpered, “What am I going to do, what?” He sobbed and his hands pounded on the desk.
Quietly, Vincent crossed the floor, knelt beside
Father and gathered him into his arms, taking his full weight against his chest
and gently rocking him. He held Father,
as the dam of his internal pain burst, knowing that Father needed to heal and
that could only happen after cleansing.
He had kept too much locked inside, things that were tearing him apart.
Vincent held him, gently stroking his back, but
remained silent, allowing his physical presence to assuage Father’s pain. After a time, his sobs grew less and his
shaking ceased. Shifting only slightly,
Vincent withdrew a handkerchief from his hip pocket and pressed it into
Father’s hand. “Please, Father, say it out
loud. All the pain you have kept locked
inside is poisoning you. You must speak
of what is distressing you, please.” His
voice was low, filled with compassion, as he sought to find the path to ease
Father’s profound grief.
Slowly, haltingly, the words came in a jumble of
starts and stops. Disjointed and non-coherent
words tumbled out, starting and stopping, and slowly, the weak voice took on its
former strength and resilience. He
straightened slightly, tears still streaming down his care worn face, “How will
I ever tell the community? How can I
tell them they must stay Above longer, that we have not the funds I said we
“Father, I realize you are upset and what I am
going to say will distress you further.
I want your promise that you will remain here, as I need to get
I was unbelievably rude to him, accusing him falsely, when it was I who
am guilty. I have no excuse, no one to
blame but myself, as I poured my venom upon him.”
“Please, just wait.” Vincent quickly left the library and returned
minutes later, towing Winslow and the account ledgers in his wake.
In seeing the gentle giant, Father’s face became
red and his embarrassment was acute.
Winslow knew from Vincent’s brief words, as he was dragged down the
passage, why he was here. His empathetic
understanding did not allow him to hold a grudge. He simply opened the ledgers and quietly
began to speak.
“Your accounting methods were somewhat of
mystery when I first took the books, but after a while, I began to understand
the brilliance of your cross-postings and references. But as I worked to bring the system into
balance, I began to understand why you elected to use such an elaborate
system. I do think there are other
methods which would prove just as effective, while being less time
consuming. Perhaps you will allow such a
discussion after we are finished here.”
Winslow’s demeanor and voice remained calm and
steady as he slowly worked his way backward through the ledgers. “I wasn’t sure of what I had discovered, so I
asked Vincent to go over the accounts with me.
Together, we discovered four major errors, and we struggled for long
hours to find where it all began. We
went back through nearly two years of records, checking and cross- checking
As he spoke, he flipped pages, pointing out
several small errors that had been carried forward. “The first major error occurred nearly two
years ago, and subsequent balances reflected that error.” He pointed at a figure that had been written
in his own neat hand beside one Father had written. He continued referencing the errors and miscalculations
and then closed the books. He took
several sheets of accounting paper, unfolded them and slid them nearer to
“Using the corrected balance, I made this
summary work sheet to calculate the actual balances. As you can see,” his long finger pointed to
one column, “this balance is considerably different than your previous
total. And these two are larger, while
the last column has a negative balance.”
Father continued to look bereft as he stared at
the figures. “How will I ever be able to
explain to the community that I have mismanaged our finances and that they must
continue working Above in jobs they hate and despise, not for six months longer
but for a year! How?”
Winslow and Vincent exchanged a puzzled
look. Vincent suddenly shook his
head. “Father, how long has it been
since you allowed Dr. Wilson to examine your eyes?”
“I think it was just last year, I believe. Why?”
“Would you read these figures to me, please?”
Father read the requested figures and as he
finished, both Winslow and Vincent were beginning to chuckle. “Oh, Father, I think it has surely been
longer than a year since your last examination.
The correct figures are as follows.”
He quietly read the balances as Father stared at him in awe struck
“Are you saying all my balances were wrong
because of my vision and that we don’t have a deficit shortfall?”
Winslow smiled, took a pad of paper and wrote in
large figures, the current account balances.
Father took the paper and stared.
“Then we aren’t in the red and the community doesn’t need to continue to
work Above until Spring?”
“No, they need not continue working Above until
Spring. I think they can stop in December.
We actually had sufficient funds to purchase the pipes and not touch the
reserve emergency fund. It was only a
clerical error on your part when you transposed a set of figures and missed one
figure completely. You were off by
several thousands of dollars in the emergency fund as well as the maintenance
fund. It will be quite simple to
transfer some of the excess funds back into the emergency fund, which actually
had a negative balance.”
“If you will allow me, I can show you an
accounting system that maintains all the factual knowledge of your system, but
without the continuous cross-posting.”
Winslow sweetly smiled as he watched the haggard persona slip from
“You wish to help me after all the horrific
things I said to you; the contemptuous way I abused your kindness? I’m totally ashamed of myself, and must beg
your forgiveness, although I certainly don’t deserve it, I am humbly asking you
to forgive me.”
Winslow walked around the desk, bent and slipped
his arms around Father, drawing him upward and gently hugged him. “Friends understand when pain causes harsh
words to be spoken, and to know they aren’t meant; it is simply the pain
talking.” The two men stood hugging each
other as peace descended upon them.
Minutes later, Vincent left the library, and as
he glanced back, he saw two heads bent over the ledgers as Winslow began to
outline his new accounting procedures.
Vincent knew that, in his own way, Father would
make amends to Peter and Mary for his behavior while in the hospital
chamber. And he knew that in his own way,
Peter would eventually tease Father about his swearing, until it became another
running joke between them. He made an
appointment for Father with Dr. Wilson to have his eyes examined and he would,
himself, accompany him on the long walk to Dr. Wilson’s office. Father did like to plead forgetfulness when
it came to keeping his vision and dental appointments.
Winslow joined Pascal, Catherine and Vincent in riding their bikes one evening a week. Catherine looked forward to this time as she was allowed further visions of what life in the tunnels had been like for Vincent, surrounded by his best friends. She laughed as the three adult men became carefree youngsters as they rode together, ever fearless and eager for new adventures aboard their trusty Schwinn’s!