Third Season Round Robin ~ Chapter 1

by Rachel Kuchar

 

The man, in a black suit and wearing dark sunglasses, stared in Diana’s direction from across the sidewalk Bistro where she was eating her late lunch. It made her feel uneasy. She was certain she had seen him before, this morning perhaps; but she had not paid much attention at the time. She pondered just how unusual it was to see the same person by accident, twice in the same day, in a city as large as New York. He took another drink of his coffee but remained otherwise motionless – still staring in Diana’s direction.

Diana quickly threw a tip on the table and decided to continue to the District Attorney’s office, where she had an appointment with Joe Maxwell. Whoever this stranger was, she had a feeling he was going to be trouble, and she wanted none of that right now.

She walked quickly along the street, stopping to buy a newspaper. She glanced through the headlines: there had been a recent string of jewelry store robberies, and last night the thief had struck again. A woman had been murdered in the parking garage of her apartment building. A doctor had been arrested for forging his medical license. A wealthy business owner was being prosecuted for not paying into his employer taxes. An office building had burned last night, causing millions in damage – it was suspected to be another in a series of arsons that had plagued the city the past few months.

She hailed a taxi and gave the address of the DA’s office to the driver. As he pulled away from the curb, she glanced back just in time to see the stranger standing in the doorway of a bookstore. She watched him for a moment to see if he made any attempt to follow her – but he turned and walked in the opposite direction. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and leaned her head against the back of the seat. Sometimes, she wished she could tone down her senses a bit and relax more. It seemed she was more often than not a little suspicious of everyone.

So much had happened in the past year: Until the day Joe Maxwell had stopped at her apartment building asking her to investigate the murder of Catherine Chandler, she had lived a fairly normal life as an NYPD detective; but the investigation into Catherine’s death had spawned her decision to step out of that world and start working as a Private Investigator. The case had also plunged her into a secret world, making her both happier and more frustrated than she had ever been in her life. She now knew exactly what she wanted in a man; the problem was . . . the man who had all of those qualities didn’t seem to see her as anything more than a friend.

He’s still grieving, she told herself, it has only been a year since Catherine’s death.

A few minutes later, she arrived at the DA’s building and took the elevator to Joe’s floor. His door was closed. She knocked.

“Come in,” Joe shouted from inside the room.

She entered the office and looked around. There were files and folders everywhere. There were also campaign signs for the election coming up in two months . . . making the office even more cluttered than normal. Joe was holding a paper in his hand and pacing back and forth as he talked on the phone.

“You’re going to have to change the charges to manslaughter,” he said sternly into the phone. “There isn’t enough evidence for murder-one, and we’ll just end up looking stupid.” He listened to the caller on the other end for a few seconds. “It doesn’t matter. Get it done, and I want it filed by 8:00am tomorrow, got that?” He hung up and took a deep breath.

Diana smiled.  “You wanted to see me?” she asked.

Joe nodded.  “I want you to work on this arson case,” he said as he picked up a thick file folder.

Diana’s heart sank.  “Joe, you know I usually take on different kinds of cases, serial murders, missing persons, kidnappings . . . .” she protested.

“I know,” Joe said. “But this guy is getting way ahead of us, and the Commissioner is worried. Last night, before the office building arson, someone set fire to several subway cars that were off the main track for repairs. That one didn’t make the news. If they hadn’t caught it quickly, or if there had been some kind of flammable gas present, it could have taken out that whole section of the subway. It’s like it was a test for something bigger.”

Hearing about a threat to the subway immediately made her think of the Tunnels and Vincent. “Okay, I’ll take a look at it,” she said.

“Good,” Joe said, trying to give her a stern look, but the glint of respect in his eyes took the edge off his voice.

When Diana was still working for the NYPD, the DA could make her take any case . . . whether she wanted it or not. But things were different now that she was on her own. She still did this for the city as a professional courtesy. It was better, because even if someone talked her into taking a case she didn’t particularly want, they couldn’t force her to solve it. She had to be interested in it, immerse herself in it, in order to have any chance.

“How’s the campaign going?” she asked . . . in an attempt to change the subject.

Joe rolled his eyes. “Who knows? The numbers are all over the place. The problem is: I’m not a new guy; so I can’t make a bunch of flashy, empty promises, nor have I been in here long enough to really prove myself . . . I’m just the Deputy DA appointed to take over after Moreno.

“But you’re certainly not doing any worse,” she pointed out. “All you need is one big trial before the election to get you on the evening news.”

Joe picked up a second folder and shook it in front of Diana.  “Yeah, well, this could be it,” he said as he tapped it with his fingers. “Remember last month when the Mayor . . . .”

Joe was interrupted by a soft knock on the partially open door. He looked up to see Jenny Aronson peeking around the door. Joe’s eyebrows went up in surprise, and he smiled.

“Jenny!” he said. “Hey, I haven’t seen you around here in a long time.”

Jenny smiled shyly and glanced at Diana as she slowly entered the room. “I’ve been in California. A friend offered me a job out there, and I felt like I needed to . . . get away for a while.” She trailed off and shrugged.

Joe nodded in understanding. There was an uncomfortable few seconds of silence as Joe looked back and forth between Jenny and Diana.

“Oh,” Joe said quickly. “Diana, this is Jenny Aronson. She went to college with Cathy Chandler. Jenny, this is Diana Bennett, she’s the detective who helped us track down Cathy’s . . . murderer.” He practically mumbled the last word. He had done his best to put his memories of Cathy behind him, but she still managed to come up in conversation when he least expected it.

The women shook hands politely. Jenny glanced around the office and smiled nervously. ”This is bigger than your old office,” she said lamely.

Joe put his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders.  “Yeah, just a little,” he said with a grin.

Jenny glanced at Diana and took a step backward toward the door.  “Anyway, I just thought that I’d say hi and see how you’re doing. I don’t want to keep you two from your work.”

Diana and Joe both spoke at nearly the same time.

“No we’re –” began Joe.

“Actually I was just leaving,” Diana said. “I’ll be in touch later about this, Joe.”

And with that, she hurried through the door. She knew the longer she stayed, the bigger the chance Joe would give her more cases to look at. Once she settled on one case, she liked to block everything else out – it was the only way she could work effectively.

Jenny and Joe were left standing in his office alone. They smiled nervously at each other.

“So, are you back in New York for good?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I just moved back a few days ago. I’m still working on getting some things settled. I got a good job – better than my old one – at a publishing company in Queens.”

“Hey that’s great. Congratulations,” said Joe.

“Thanks,” said Jenny with a smile.

Joe’s eyes met hers… he had almost forgotten how pretty she was.  He had never gotten to know her very well – she and Cathy were so close that he had always felt like a third wheel when both women were in the same room.  He swallowed and glanced at his watch. “Hey, um, I have some stuff I need to get back to but . . . .” He shrugged his shoulders. “There’s a nice little restaurant that just opened a few blocks from here – would you like to grab something to eat later?” Joe ventured. “I mean if you’re not busy . . . .”

Jenny smiled.  “Actually, I’d love to.” she said truthfully.

* * * * *

Diana ran some errands and finally arrived home just after dark. She rode up her elevator and let herself into her apartment. She had been in between cases. There were several she could have taken on if she had wanted to, but she knew once she got into one she would be unable to think of anything else.

She heated up some soup and made herself a sandwich for dinner. She moved to her desk where she opened the arson case file Joe had given her and began going through it as she sipped soup from a mug. There were many photos of the buildings that the police believed this person had set fire to. She carefully pinned them up on her cork board – marking each one with a Post-it note; detailing date, time and location.

She heard a light tap on the skylight. She quickly put on her jacket and climbed the stairs to her roof. She expected to see Vincent, but all she found was a note.

Diana,

Please come Below tonight.

I need to speak with you.

Use the entrance in the park.

- V

Diana returned to her apartment. She put the dishes in the sink, turned off the lights, and quickly left her building. She took a cab to Central Park and entered the Tunnels through the culvert. Vincent was waiting for her.

“Thank you for coming,” Vincent said.

“Is something wrong?” Diana asked.

“Come Below with me,” he said.

When they arrived in Father’s library, Diana saw several people gathered around. Mary was seated on a chair – holding baby Jacob by the hands. He was just beginning to stand, but he had not taken his first steps yet. He held onto her to steady himself, then finally sat on the rug with a plop.

William, Pascal, Jamie, and Mouse were also in the room. Everyone looked worried. Vincent leaned against Father’s desk.

“Father, has been behaving . . . strangely lately,” Vincent finally said. “Every day for the past three days, he has gone Above early in the morning, and has not returned until late in the evening.”

“Saw him in the Financial District yesterday,” Mouse supplied. “Saw me too. Told me to go home.” Mouse looked both hurt and annoyed by the memory.

“He won’t tell us where he is going,” Mary said in a worried tone. “I’m afraid he’s in some kind of trouble, but he won’t let us help him.”

“He asks me to pack him a lunch in the morning, and then he leaves,” William added.

“Well, I’m not sure what I can do,” Diana said slowly. “He’s an adult, and while I know this behavior is unusual for him, he probably has a good reason. I’m sure he will explain it to you sooner or later.”

Vincent paused for a moment.  “There was message delivered by a Helper,” he said. “The day after he read it, he began going Above.”

“But you don’t know what the message said,” Diana supplied.

“No,” said Vincent.

“All we are asking,” began Mary, “is if you could please keep an eye out for him. If anything were to happen to him . . . .” she finished with a catch in her voice.

Diana nodded. “Of course,” she said.

Diana stayed for a couple hours. It had been a while since she had visited Below, and the children had much to show her. The children’s orchestra continued to grow; and with each new member, the sound took on a whole new level of beauty. After an impromptu concert, Vincent read to the children. Baby Jacob eventually became fussy and was put to bed, so Diana decided to go home.

* * * * *

Vincent walked Diana back to the Central Park exit. They stopped just inside the culvert. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as neither seemed sure what to say.

“It was good to see you again,” Diana finally said.

“It was good to see you as well,” Vincent replied.

Diana looked up into his eyes. You have the right to love, and to be loved again, she wanted to tell him. After a few seconds she looked away.

“Well, good night, Vincent,” she finally said.

“Good night Diana,” Vincent replied.

* * * * *

Diana returned to her apartment. She dropped her purse on the table, sank into her desk chair, and sighed.

She had told herself in the beginning that she could be content to wait for him, but she hadn’t realized exactly how difficult it would be for her emotionally. She mused at how quickly the heart could become unhappy with the present and want more.

Perhaps it was time to move on. She would never desert him as a friend, of course, but for her own sake, she might have to give up on the idea of ever becoming the one he loved. She was thankful that he showed her the mistake she was about to make with Mark, but perhaps that was the end of it. Perhaps meeting Vincent was simply preparing her for the man that was right for her . . . someone similar to Vincent, but someone who would not still be saving his heart for a dead woman.

She shook her head in frustration. It was all too much to think about sometimes. Besides, no other man could be like Vincent . . . could he?

She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. She glanced at the cork board and decided she could do no more tonight. She was tired, and distracted . . . she wouldn’t be able to solve anything in this state. She turned off the lights and went to bed.

* * * * *

Diana opened her eyes and sat up in the blackness of the night. Something had awakened her . . . a noise . . . a crash . . . from the main room.

She took several deep breaths as she tried to slow her heart rate. She instinctively reached in her nightstand drawer, pulled out her gun, quickly ran to the window, and using the light from outside, checked to make certain the gun was loaded.

She slowly opened her bedroom door and snapped the light on in the main room.

It was empty.

She crept slowly around the perimeter – checking behind every door and piece of furniture and inside every closet. There was no sign of an intruder . . . and nothing seemed disturbed. She was about to go back to bed when she heard the fan of her computer running.

Her eyes widened as she remembered that she hadn’t turned the computer on that evening; there hadn’t been time… she had barely arrived home before going Below . . . and she was certain she had not turned it on when she had returned. She shone the flashlight under the desk.

“Look, I’m not going to hurt you,” said a man’s voice from behind her.

She spun around and came face-to-face with the stranger from the Bistro.

“Don’t move,” she commanded as she pointed her gun at him. “Put your hands where I can see them.”

The man held his hands up in front of him.

“Hey, take it easy, Miss Bennett,” he said.

“Who are you?” She demanded.

The man sighed. “My name is Devin. Devin Wells. I’m Jacob Wells’ son.”

Diana took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She lowered the gun to her side, but didn’t relax completely. Vincent had told her, at length, about Devin one day. It had been two years since anyone had heard from him.

“What are you doing here?” She asked.

“I need your help,” he said as he made himself comfortable on one of her chairs. “I heard about everything you did for Vincent and his child . . . .”

“So you break into my home?” she said sarcastically. “You couldn’t have knocked . . . called . . . written . . . .” 

“I was hoping your computer might have the information I need,” he explained, “but it didn’t, and then I knocked over a cup of pencils. I gathered them up but I didn’t have enough time to get out of here before you opened the bedroom door. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said truthfully. “I didn’t know who else to go to.”

Diana looked into the man’s eyes. He was a handsome man, in spite of the scars on his cheek: dark hair, brown eyes, and a nice smile that was beginning to form on his lips. His speech was calm and unhurried – much like Vincent’s. She decided that this was only natural – Vincent had said they were very close growing up. She sighed.

“What do you need my help with?” she asked. Everyone seemed to find her indispensable lately.

“I need some detailed background information on someone,” he explained. “I’m working as an associate lawyer in a private law firm.”

“You’re working as a lawyer?” repeated Diana in disbelief. She had heard about Devin’s talent of impersonating people. “Devin, lawyers are supposed to be trusted individuals who go to school and take an oath . . . .”

“Wait,” he said. “Before you get into all that, hear me out. The name I’m going by is Bryan Sprague. The real Bryan Sprague is indeed a lawyer, but he quit during his first year after being overworked in a big law firm on Wall Street. He’s a street painter now. Nice guy . . . .”

“Nice enough to lend you his name and Juris Doctorate?” Diana challenged sarcastically.

“He’s not using them,” Devin pointed out. “And I needed a job that paid well for a little while. But the point is: I started looking at the names of the partners in the firm. There’s this one older guy . . . really wealthy . . . makes more in one year than I’ve seen in my entire life. But, the first thing that really caught my eye was his picture on the wall in the reception area.”

“So?” Diana prompted.

Devin took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“The second thing that caught my eye was his date of birth – it’s exactly the same as Father’s – my Father’s – date of birth.” He paused for a few seconds.

“And?” Diana urged.

“His name . . . is Andrew Devin Wells,” he finished.

 

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