Third Season Round Robin ~ Chapter 9

by Rachel Kuchar

 

“Daniel, are you sure?” Diana asked in disbelief as she stared at her notes.

“Yeah, I’m sure.  It’s like one of those zombie cases; you know – the kind you think you have safely dead and buried… but then a hand reaches out and says: gotcha!”

Diana opened her mouth to reply, but she was interrupted by the intercom buzzer. “Daniel, I’ll have to call you back,” she said into the phone and hung up. She glanced at her watch and hurried to the elevator. It was only 6:00p.m., but she felt like the day had already gone on forever. It was probably Devin . . . she had been on the phone so long that he had likely been unable to get through if he had tried to call. She was truly glad that he was here . . . she wanted to tell him right away what she had found out from Daniel. She pushed the button to unlock the door and the elevator began to ascend. 

She waited impatiently until the elevator’s occupant came into view. When he did, she stared in complete shock for a few seconds.

It was not Devin.

The man in the elevator was dressed in a large, expensive black trench coat, a brimmed hat, and a gray scarf wrapped around his neck. He wore dark sunglasses, and a thick mustache covered his upper lip. He forcefully pushed open the metal bi-fold door with a loud crash. “Miss Bennett?” he asked.

“Who are you?” she demanded. She quickly stepped back and grabbed the handle of a drawer where she had one of her smaller handguns. It was stuck . . . and she wrestled with it for a few seconds. Her heart pounded in her ears and she cursed herself for not being more cautious. She finally yanked it fully open and picked up the gun. 

She saw that the man had removed his hat, scarf, and sunglasses.  He wore a smug smile as he glanced at the gun and then back up at her face. 

“Is this how you always greet your visitors?” he asked. 

Diana’s eyes widened in shock. She lowered the gun to her side. “Well… talk… about –”

“A ghost from the past?” he finished for her. “Sorry, I didn’t call first to make an appointment . . .  but it’s complicated, and I need your assistance.” 

Diana felt a flash of anger go through her. “Well get in line, I’m busy,” she nearly snapped. She ran her fingers through her hair and decided the week couldn’t get any crazier; she had seen everything now.   

“No, really, we need to talk; and we need to talk now,” he said. “But not here . . . in my car. Grab your notes from the arson case and come with me.” 

“The arson case?” she repeated in disbelief. “What do you know about the arson case?”

“In the car,” he repeated firmly . . . as he began wrapping the scarf around his neck again.   

* * * * *

Joe Maxwell sat at his desk reading over a case file and tried to decide whether to press formal charges against the accused. There wasn’t much evidence, and he didn’t think the judge would be very happy if Joe wasted his time . . . the man’s alibi was solid and . . . .

Jenny Aronson reached her arms around Joe from behind his chair and kissed the back of his neck. “It’s almost seven – aren’t you done yet?” she teased.

Joe chuckled. “No. And I’m never going to finish if you keep that up,” he said with a grin. 

She placed her chin on his shoulder and looked at the paper. “Sounds guilty,” she decided. “Give him two weeks in jail and six months community service . . . and let’s go eat.” 

Joe laughed, turned his chair and gently pulled her onto his lap. He took her in his arms and kissed her. “Have I told you how beautiful you are, yet today?” he asked.

“Not in the last hour,” she reminded him.  “You’ll have to make it up to me tonight.” 

“I think that can be arranged,” Joe said thoughtfully. 

Jenny grinned and was learning in for another kiss when Joe’s desk phone rang. Joe narrowed his eyes at it before grabbing the receiver.

“Maxwell,” he said. 

“A Mr. Jack Hoffman from the FBI to see you, Mr. Maxwell,” said the security guard on the main floor. 

“FBI?” Joe repeated as he glanced at Jenny. 

Jenny stood up and watched Joe’s expression with growing concern. 

“Yeah I ran his badge – it checks out,” the security guard added.

“Well… tell him to come up,” Joe said. He hung up the phone and swallowed nervously. “Someone from the FBI,” he repeated to Jenny.

“I heard that.  How would the FBI know you’d be here this time of night?”   

“I have no clue,” Joe said with a shrug. “Why don’t you go sit in the break-room for a little bit?  I’ll come get you when we’re done.”

Jenny nodded, took her purse, and left the room. Joe quickly cleared his desk of papers. He was almost finished when someone knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Joe shouted as he straightened up and squared his shoulders. 

The FBI agent entered the room, followed closely by Diana Bennett. Joe glanced at Diana and was about to give her a questioning look when he did a double-take on the man’s face. He felt his blood run cold.

“Hi Joe,” the man said with a wry smile. 

Joe’s mouth dropped open. “Burch,” he practically whispered. 

“Hoffman,” Elliot corrected. “I’m Jack Hoffman now. I’m working as a consultant in the corporate crime department of the FBI. It’s a long story, and I don’t have time to go into it. I need your help. In about three hours, there’s going to be an inferno like you’ve never seen in your life… unless you stop it.”

* * * * *

“Scott Hallerby!” Vincent exclaimed as he stood next to the couch in Diana’s living room later that night. “I can’t believe it.” 

“Neither did I at first,” Father affirmed. 

“Things aren’t always what they seem,” Elliot said with a smile. 

“I’ll second that,” Andrew added.

“Can you start again,” Devin asked. “I missed the beginning.” 

“Is there a beginning to this?” Diana mused. “It’s more like a maze with mirrors.”

“How did you survive the explosion on the Compass Rose?” Vincent asked Elliot.

“I’m really not sure,” Elliot began slowly. “I think you must have dragged me a ways, and then abandoned me. Can’t say I blamed you. I woke up days later inside a small beach-house… miles away from the boat. There was this older couple… the woman force-fed me rancid-tasting herbs, and I began to think I survived the explosion only to die of poisoning. But . . . I lived. Apparently the bullet that hit me with went right through and managed to miss any major organs or blood vessels. The couple was into some odd religion, and they thought I was a sign from their god . . .  or I was a god . . . I’m not entirely sure which. Anyway, a few weeks later I was finally strong enough to make my break. I left in the middle of the night. I had hidden the little black book Cathy gave me inside the basement of an old home I owned out in Connecticut. I stopped there, retrieved the book, and went straight to the FBI. I knew I wasn’t safe on the street anymore; and without any means of getting a passport, I couldn’t leave the country. However, by the time I did all this, Gabriel was already dead.”  

“Even so,” interjected Andrew, “the FBI decided that a man like Elliot Burch was useful to keep around, so they hired him to help in their Corporate Crimes Division.”

“The FBI knows a lot about the corporate world, don’t get me wrong,” Elliot continued, “but there’s no substitute for personal experience. They wanted to catch the guys behind the little black book, and they didn’t want to stop there.” 

“But what’s that have to do with the arsons in New York?” Devin prodded.    

“That’s where I come in,” Andrew explained. “I’ve known Elliot for years. I was his legal counsel for a time, until he had a falling-out with the firm I was with and moved on. However, he contacted me shortly after he started working for the FBI. He knew I could be trusted to keep his secrets.” 

“But if you’re working for an organization as big as the FBI, why would you need the help of a private attorney in New York?” Devin asked.

“I had some money stashed in the Cayman Islands,” Elliot explained. “Even my closest financial advisors didn’t know about it. A good poker-player always keeps an Ace up his sleeve. I wanted to invest it so I could slowly rebuild my fortune.  I’m a self-made man who likes adventure . . .  and that kind of man is never happy with simply being on the payroll.” He grinned at Devin. 

“Andrew helped him invest the money in real estate, through the company AJW reality,” Diana supplied. “He purchased multiple small buildings, and then used them for collateral to purchase larger properties. As he began to rent each one out, the collateral value grew, and he was able to purchase more property.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why Scott is involved,” Vincent pointed out. “Or Father’s disappearance for that matter.” 

“Well, it will, but we’re not there yet,” Andrew said. “Even though Gabriel is dead, another guy isn’t: Paul Malloy. The little black book’s transactions all pointed to investments of two organizations: Malloy-Davidson and Hanover-Norton Trust Company. Paul must have suspected that not only had Elliot survived, but was pursuing him with the help of the FBI . . . so Paul decided to try to scare Elliot off the trail by destroying his businesses. Through a set of unfortunate circumstances, Scott ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time and took on the job of arsonist.”

“Andrew began to suspect that the person setting the fires was either a current or former Tunnel resident or helper, but we kept this to ourselves because he didn’t want to expose his brother, Jacob’s, home,” explained Elliot. 

“That’s why my brother contacted me,” Father put in. “He began to suspect it was someone with intimate knowledge of the Tunnels; and because of that, he didn’t feel safe meeting me anywhere Below to discuss matters . . . in case someone would overhear. The other issue was that Andrew didn’t know all of the names of current and former Tunnel residents.”

“But you did,” Devin supplied.

“Yes . . . I did,” Father affirmed. “However, since these were secure files, Andrew was unable to remove them without drawing suspicion from the other partners. So we devised a plan in which I would stop at his condo in the morning, change into an identical suit, and we would switch places in between Andrew’s meetings so I could read the confidential files at the office . . . in order to scan for any names I recognized.” Father smiled. “Fortunately we both use a cane, but for different injuries: as some of you know, I injured my leg in a Tunnel accident years ago, but Andrew simply had a knee replacement.” 

Vincent was astonished that everyone worked so closely together for the same cause. “So you’ve known about the Tunnels for some time then,” Vincent said to Elliot. 

“Yeah,” admitted Elliot.

“Why did it matter to you . . . to protect them?” Vincent pressed. “The connection between the fires was an important clue.” 

Elliot looked uncomfortable for the first time that night.  He shrugged. “I promised Cathy almost two years ago, when we used the Tunnels to escape death down by the docks, that I’d never talk about what I saw.” He paused. “I guess I couldn’t go back on that promise . . . especially when Andrew filled me in on everything else. I knew if I told the FBI, or the police, they would stake out the Tunnel access under the other properties . . . and find your world.” 

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, when Devin finally broke in.

“So what about the woman who pulled a gun on me? Where does she fit in?”

“She’s the missing link to all of this,” Elliot said. “Her name is Carla Meyers. She’s an attorney that worked for Paul Malloy. When she was arrested, the FBI interrogated her. She finally broke down and told us where Paul was.” Elliot stopped to grin. “He was in Brazil, and the local police picked him up this morning . . . walked right up to his posh flat and plucked him out of bed. He’ll be extradited as quickly as possible, and we’ll be able to fully interrogate him then.”  

“And Scott?” Vincent asked. “Did she tell you about him as well?”

“Actually Jacob figured out it was Scott the other day, but we didn’t know who was connecting him to Paul Malloy,” Andrew explained. “But once Carla was arrested, we discovered she was working under the name Tammy Bates at the same company Scott was working for.”

“They were dating,” Diana added. “And I guess she lured him into Gabriel’s circle of friends.  I’m sure he was paid well . . . it’s a shame he won’t be able to enjoy any of his money while in jail.”

“Carla told us that the next target was the Fowler-Barnes building, which I own through AJW Reality,” Elliot went on. “With so many of the smaller rental-properties burned down, there wouldn’t have been enough collateral to rebuild the Fowler-Barnes building. I have insurance, of course, but not enough to cover all of the property’s mortgage and rebuilding fees at the same time. They were already threatening to drop my policy; insurance companies just don’t factor in those kinds of statistics. Anyway, Scott has set up incendiary devices, provided by Malloy, in the basement of Fowler-Barnes.”

“That’s why they set the subway car on fire… to test the devices on a steel structure,” Diana pointed out.

“Exactly,” Elliot agreed. “We caught Scott’s picture on a few surveillance cameras. This is what I gave Joe Maxwell as proof to search Scott’s home and arrest him. Fowler-Barnes had tunnel access, but Scott used his car and the parking garage to bring everything in… so it was the safest evidence to hand over.”     

“Wasn’t that a little risky, getting Maxwell involved?” Devin asked. 

“No, not really,” said Elliot. “We didn’t want the news to find out that the FBI was involved, because we don’t want anyone to know they have me working for them. It’s Joe’s jurisdiction, and I figured that he owed me one after arresting me for killing Moreno. He’s not going to want to get on the bad side of the FBI, and he’ll get good publicity out of this arrest, so it’s a win-win situation for him to keep quiet about me.  Besides, it was worth the trip to his office just to see the look on his face.” 

The 11 o’clock news flashed on the TV screen in the corner of the room. Joe Maxwell was scheduled to give a statement on the arrest of the arsonist. Diana turned the sound up. 

“Welcome to WPIX’s nightly broadcast; I’m Sandy Melton. We have District Attorney Maxwell with us tonight to tell us about the breakthrough on the arsons that have plagued the city for the past four months.” The reporter turned to face Joe. “Mr. Maxwell, they said it was you who arranged the surprise arrest. How did you know the arsonist was going to target a large skyscraper like the Fowler-Barnes building?”

“Well I can’t discuss anything confidential,” began Joe, “but let’s just say I’ve been pressing this for a while and I had a lot of resources working on it. The District Attorney Office’s purpose is to keep the city safe. I couldn’t be more proud right now to be a native of New York, or to serve its people in public office, and I sincerely hope to have the chance to continue to serve you for a very long time to come.” 

“You’re up for re-election in less than two months, aren’t you?” she asked.

Joe hesitated. “Well, yes,” he admitted guardedly.

“Are you aware that your main opponent is a shareholder in the company that the arson suspect, Scott Hallerby, worked for?”

Joe’s eyes widened. “Well, no to be honest I was not aware of that bit of information.  And even so, it doesn’t mean my opponent was involved in any way . . . .” he trailed off.   

“Of course not, I was just checking my facts. Thank you, Mr. Maxwell. That’s all the time we have.”  

“Thank you,” Joe said with a polite smile, but still with a slight hint of disbelief in his eyes at this new-found information.      

Diana turned off the TV and smiled. Joe finally got his night on the news. And with that interview, he should win by a landslide. She, herself, had slipped the completely true information about Joe’s opponent being a shareholder of Scott’s company to the news station anonymously. Elliot had confirmed that the company had longtime connections with Hanover-Norton Trust and Malloy-Davidson. It was no wonder Carla, A.K.A. Tammy, had found her new home there. 

* * * * *

Andrew and Father went home – claiming it was well past their bedtimes. Devin and Vincent both felt disappointed that there had not been more time to get to know Andrew better, but he had promised to come for Winterfest that year. 

That left Elliot, Vincent, Diana and Devin in the room.  Elliot turned to Devin. 

“Hey, Devin, I’m going to take a wild guess and bet that you’re not going to be a lawyer tomorrow,” Elliot said with a grin.

Devin’s heart sank.  He had almost forgotten in the excitement that he obviously could no longer stay on with the firm . . . now that his uncle knew that he was not a real attorney. “Yeah I guess not,” Devin said with a shrug.

“You’re always welcome with us,” Vincent reminded him. “It’s your home.”

Devin shook his head. “No, Little Brother, you know I’ll never be happy there. I think I’ll hit the road again. Places to go, people to see, things to do . . . etcetera, etcetera!” he said with a grin as locked his hands behind his head and stretched.  His face fell when he met Elliot’s eyes. “Hey, um, Elliot, or Jack, or whatever your name is now . . . you’re not going to get me arrested next . . . are you?

Elliot smiled. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you. The FBI was pretty impressed that you took down Carla on your own. She’s a tough woman and knows how to fight. We are also indebted to you because through Carla, we finally found Paul Malloy in Brazil. No, the FBI won’t cause you any problems if you want to go off on your own and stay out of trouble.”

“Stay out of trouble?” Devin repeated. “I might not be able to guarantee that.”

“I didn’t think so,” Elliot affirmed. “That’s why I have a proposition for you.”

“A proposition?” repeated Devin again.

“You have a real talent, and some valuable skills. There are very few people out there who can pull off what you have been doing the past twenty years: impersonating people, taking on various job roles . . . even ones you have no prior experience in . . . and being convincing.”

“Yeah?” Devin questioned guardedly. “Go on, I’m listening.”

Elliot chuckled. “What I’m saying is: I want to offer you a job. You’ll be sent to various corporate businesses as a kind of spy for the FBI. You’ll be given a new identity in each location and instructions on what to do for your job – both your fake one and the one you’ll be doing for the FBI. You’ll always have backup agents close by, so the danger will be minimal, if any. These aren’t drug lords, just corporations with some skeletons in their closets.”

Devin didn’t look quite impressed. “And I’d want to do all this work because . . . .”

“Because of the perks of course,” said Elliot. “You’ll get to travel not only within the United States, but all over the world. Canada, Brazil, Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii. You’ll get a sizable paycheck, a per diem expense account, petty cash, fly in private planes, be provided with brand new cars to drive so you’ll look the part everywhere you go. Devin, come on, I’m getting tired, stop me anytime.”   

Devin was completely speechless. He looked at Vincent for help.   

“It’s what we’ve always dreamed of,” Vincent reminded him. “You should consider it.”

Devin took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes briefly and imagined the picture Elliot had just painted. Travel. Adventure. Money. A life without limits. He opened his eyes and shook Elliot’s hand firmly. “You got yourself a deal,” he said with a grin. “Sure there’s no catch?” he added with one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, remember to call me Jack,” said Elliot with a smile. “Oh, and we need to leave very early tomorrow. You can come back in a few months if you wish, but we really need to go now. I’m taking a big risk hanging around New York this long . . . my private plane takes off from LaGuardia at six tomorrow morning. Take the subway to Queensboro Plaza, and a car will pick you up from there. The driver’s name is Wilton Hines. He’ll ask you if you are Bruce Ingram. Tell him yes.”

“Bruce Ingram?” Devin repeated with confusion. 

“We’ll get you a better name later. It’s just to make sure you’re getting in the right car.”   

“Wilton Hines, Bruce Ingram, Jack Hoffman . . . something tells me I’m going to love this,” Devin said with a chuckle. 

* * * * *

Devin hugged Vincent goodbye, and then he hurried Below to tell Father the news and say goodbye to him as well. He felt it was the least he could do; to not run off without notice this time.  

Elliot turned to Diana. “I have a similar job offer for you as well,” he explained. “Not quite as flashy and adventurous-sounding, but even more important. The Bureau has been watching you since you took down Gabriel. They’ve been watching your other cases too. They want you to head the special crimes division – the ones that people just can’t solve. You’ll triple your current salary, be provided a car, and a fully furnished all expenses paid apartment. But you’ll have to move to DC and work out of the main office.”

Now it was Diana’s turn to be speechless. All her life, she had hoped for such a job opportunity . . . and here it was. She turned to see Vincent’s reaction and found that he was gone. She glanced above and she could see his shadow on the roof; pacing back and forth.

“Elliot, I’ll . . . .” 

“You need to sleep on it,” he supplied. He shrugged into his trench coat.

“Do I need to leave tomorrow too?” she asked.

“It would be best,” he answered as he began wrapping up in his scarf. 

Diana glanced at the roof again and back at Elliot. “It’s like my dream opportunity. I just don’t know . . . .” she trailed off.

“Tell you what,” Elliot said. “If you decide you want to come, just meet Devin at the same subway plaza in Queens.  You’re code name is Thelma Hinkle.”

“You’re joking,” said Diana flatly.

Elliot laughed, but ignored the remark. “Think about it – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I will . . . thank you,” Diana said. 

Elliot left, and Diana stood at her window and watched him climb into his limo. She breathed a sigh of relief as silence crept over her loft once more; but there was still a ball of anxiety welling up inside her. There were plenty of reasons to go. Was there any reason she should stay?  She turned from the window to walk up to her roof. Vincent was looking over the railing at the street below . . . his expression distant, thoughtful.  

Diana leaned against the railing and turned to look at him. “What are you thinking?” she asked quietly.

Vincent hesitated for a moment. “Are you going to accept the job?” he finally asked.  

It was Diana’s turn to hesitate. “Well, to be honest, a lot of that depends on you,” she ventured.

Vincent closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. “Diana,” he began, “the things we talked about Below were just emotions . . . frustrations . . . dreams.  I prevented Catherine from living many of her dreams. Her job in Providence, her cabin in Connecticut, traveling . . . because of me, she was reluctant to leave New York.  But in the end, she lost everything.” Vincent turned to face Diana. “You must take your job. You must chase your dreams. Every one of us must become everything we are supposed to become, and no one should hold us back. Forget me, Diana, please.”

“But what about your dreams?” she asked.

“My dreams are much simpler now: raising my son, seeing all of the children Below grow into adults, keeping the community alive even after Father is no longer with us. Diana these are my dreams . . . but they are not yours.  Go. And don’t look back.” 

Diana felt a wave of emotion wash over her. She loved him. She admitted it freely to herself now. But apparently the feeling was not returned. And a one-sided love was not fair to either of them. She finally took a deep breath. “Okay, Vincent. Good night and goodbye. I wish you the best.”

“Be well, Diana,” he said, as he turned and left. 

Diana went back into the loft to pack. She called Devin’s apartment number. He wasn’t home, but she got the answering machine. “It’s Diana. Call me when you get in,” she said. 

She quickly packed a suitcase containing her most important items – she could get the rest later. Within an hour she was ready. Devin called back and promised to meet her in front of her apartment at 4 a.m. She finally collapsed onto her bed – knowing she needed rest but admitting that she would get no sleep tonight. 

* * * * *

Vincent awoke and found himself under a tree along a stunning lake. He had no memory of how he came to be in this place. He had been so troubled when he had left Diana’s loft that he had run a long distance before sitting down to rest. He must have fallen asleep . . . but where was he? He sat up and focused on some people in the distance: it was a man and a woman, holding the hands of a young girl. The young girl was giggling and being swung slowly – forward and backward – between her parents as they walked along the lake. Suddenly, the little girl broke free from her parents and ran toward Vincent.

Vincent stood up and tried to run away, but for some reason his feet would not move. As the girl neared, she grew in height and her features changed until she was no longer a young girl . . . but a woman.

It was Catherine. 

She stopped a few feet from him. He tried to go to her, but found he was still unable to move or speak. She smiled at him. It was a confident smile – with no hint of sadness, regret, or longing.

“Vincent, things don’t always turn out the way we expect,” she said. “But I have my Happy Life now. Time moves swiftly . . . please don’t waste another moment being unhappy. For Jacob’s sake, for your sake . . . I want you to stop dreaming . . . I want you to wake up and live.”

She turned and ran lightly back to the man and women. The parents. Her parents. When she reached them she was once again the young girl. She glanced over her shoulder and waved happily at Vincent before grasping her parents’ hands. They walked into the sunlight, and disappeared.

Vincent closed his eyes as the sun’s rays became too bright. He opened them again and found himself on Diana’s roof. He blinked a few times. He must have fallen asleep here and not gone home after all. He saw the living room light come on and he hurried to the window to look inside.

Diana had two suitcases in her hands. Her eyes filled with tears as she surveyed the room. The elevator creaked as it began to rise. She took a deep breath, set the suitcases down, and quickly brushed her tears away. Devin stepped into the room.

“Is that all you got?” he asked her.

She nodded.

Devin glanced at her and his expression softened. “Sure you won’t change your mind? I mean, for someone like you, the opportunities in New York must be more than adequate . . . .” he pointed out.

Diana shook her head. “No. It’s time for me to stop dreaming. Let’s go.”

Devin hoisted his own suitcase under his arm and picked up one of Diana’s. They stepped into the elevator and descended out of sight. The light went off, and Vincent suddenly lost his balance in the pitch blackness and slammed against the roof.

He sat up and found that he was on the floor next to his bed in his own chamber. The candles were flickering, and he could smell the scent of wax and lamp oil. He realized immediately that he had been dreaming and was finally awake for real.

The clock on the wall read 4:30 a.m. In a little more than an hour Diana would be gone, and he would likely never see her again. He glanced at the table and remembered their frank conversation from a few nights before.

Do you want to spend every night, for the rest of your life, here, in this chamber, at this table or in that bed alone? Or would you like to share those nights with someone? 

Vincent felt a panic well up inside him. He quickly dressed, grabbed his cloak, and began to run through the Tunnels. Through the darkness he nearly flew – aware that he was racing against time. 

* * * * *

Diana and Devin descended the stairs into the subway station nearest Diana’s apartment building. It was so early that the entire place was deserted. They walked to the platform and waited. Devin glanced at his watch and found they were early.

“Do you want some coffee?” he asked. “I saw a machine back there.”

“Yes, please,” said Diana.

Devin went around the corner and struggled with the beat-up vending machine. Diana began to slowly pace back and forth. Was she making a mistake? Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so hasty. Sure, it was an opportunity of a lifetime, but working with the FBI? In Washington? They weren’t going to let her do things her way. They would have a system, and she’d have to follow it. She hated systems. She felt the walls closing in already, and she hadn’t even left New York. But it was too late to turn back now. She had made up her mind.

A sound from behind her interrupted her thoughts. She turned, expecting to see Devin.

It was Vincent.

“Diana, don’t go,” he said simply.

“Don’t go?” Diana couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “But you just told me . . . .”

“I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please stay. I . . . want you to stay.”

“What about all your dreams? The ones you don’t want me in?”

Vincent shook his head. “Let’s not dream, Diana . . . let’s live. One day at a time. I’m not certain what the future will bring; but I do know that whatever it is, I want you in it.”

Diana stared at him in shock for a few seconds. Finally, a soft smile crept over her face and took his hands in hers. “That’s all I wanted to hear,” she said as their eyes met. 

Vincent folded her into his arms and sighed contently. It had been so long since he had allowed himself to feel anything . . . except pain.

A loud gasp and two splashing sounds made Diana glance over her shoulder. She found Devin standing behind them; mouth gaping and the two paper cups of coffee lying on their sides at his feet. He glanced down and then back up at Vincent and Diana.

“Well, nothing like waiting until the last minute Little Brother!” he said teasingly. 

Diana smiled at him. “Be sure to write us,” she said.

 

EPILOGUE

Devin arrived to find his brother dressing for Winterfest. They hugged and Vincent went back to pulling on his boots.

“We were worried that you wouldn’t make it,” he told Devin. “Have you seen Father yet?”

“No. Jamie told me that he’s already on his way down to the Great Hall, but I wanted to talk to you before you went down.”

Vincent stood up and reached for a vest. “What about?”

“Before I left, I sent you a package. Did you get it?”

“Yes, I did, but I forgot all about it in the excitement. I didn’t open it until you’d been gone for over a week.” He crossed the room to a cabinet. He opened it and took out the box. “I was puzzled about it.” He opened it and displayed a set of rings: a large gold band with leaves engraved on it and a smaller matching one. “They’re beautiful, but I don’t know what they are for.”

“Pops gave them to me when I was here for Cathy’s memorial service. He admitted that he’d thought about giving them to you; but when she died, he figured you’d probably never have a use for them. He gave them to me, on the chance that I might someday settle down and get married. They were his father and mother’s wedding rings. I doubt that I’ll ever settle down, so I thought you just might have a use for them… sometime.”

Vincent looked down at the matching rings. He nodded and looked up at Devin with a smile. “Thank you.” He closed the box and put it in his vest pocket. He slapped his brother on the back. “Let’s go join the party. I have a feeling this might be a Winterfest to remember.”  

 

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