Dreams

of the

Heart

 

New York City skyline

 

 

 

“Dreams of the Heart”

 

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

 

By Judith Nolan

 

Artwork by Kathy Fidge

 

This zine continues the story of Vincent and Catherine after the end of “Dancing Light”. My Trilogy keeps growing…I hope you have enjoyed the journey, as much as I have enjoyed creating it for you…

 

Again, thanks to Victoria for being there…always. To all those who told me I must not stop creating these stories, thanks for having faith in my work. To my grandbabies, Amelia and Ethan and the precious one yet to be, (who were not even twinkles, when I began this journey, so long ago) thanks for being the sweet models for Vincent and Catherine’s children. Once again for Jean Pratt, my Tunnel sister and good friend…it’s wonderful to be back Below once more…

 

This story is dedicated to all the cast of  “Beauty and the Beast” and to all those brilliant people who created this dream we still live and love. Let’s go on from here together. “Our” Below world will return soon…

 

(Please do not reproduce, by any means, this story)

 

“Dreams of the Heart” is an amateur fiction fanzine and as such does not intend to infringe upon the copyrights of RON KOSLOW FILMS, REPUBLIC PICTURES, CBS TELEVISION, WITT THOMAS PRODUCTIONS or any other holders of “Beauty and the Beast” copyrights.

 

“When the world outside’s too much to take, that all ends when I’m with you…sometimes I am frightened, but I’m ready to learn of the power of love…”  

   

 


Dreams of the Heart

 

 

Come, give me all the dreams you hold in your heart

I will shelter them within my own

Hold them against the day

When you come to me

Chilled and despairing of happiness or joy…

 

Come, give me all the dreams you hold in your heart

I am your champion, your shield against the world

Rest in me and be comforted

I could not leave you behind

Lay yourself in my keeping for all eternity and dream…

 

Judith Nolan

 

 

 


If I can stop one heart from breaking

I shall not live in vain:

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again

I shall not live in vain.

 

Emily Dickinson

 

Joe Maxwell stood in the middle of the bullpen, coffee cup in one hand, an overflowing file in the other, and a telephone receiver jammed to his ear, trapped firmly by his upraised shoulder. As he listened to the tirade of excuses with less than half his attention, his expression forbad any attempt at conversation. His mouth was tightly clamped against the sense of frustration that consumed him at the inefficiencies of the man on the other end of the phone.

 

The voice in his ear droned on; another dead-end in the Snapper case that had looked so promising only an hour ago. John Russell was making sure all the faults for the non-delivery of a viable suspect were not going to be pinned on his own well-guarded butt. Diana’s name kept cropping up, her shortcomings as an investigator and unwanted involvement, a recurring theme. Joe’s mouth thinned at the range of excuses that seemed never ending, as he stared at the file in his hand, hoping that soon Russell would have to pause to draw a breath.

 

The taste of his coffee was sour, after too many cups of the awful office brew and not enough sleep. His eyeballs felt as if they had been rolled in coarse sand. He took another mouthful of the scalding liquid and wondered what Radcliffe was doing right now. He sure could use her help in this case, or, at the very least, her ear to bend in the hope of a fresh perspective on the killings.

Enough!” Joe dumped his cup down with a grimace of distaste and wondered if the city paid him enough for this job.

 

The young intern sitting beside him, working at Radcliffe’s old desk, didn’t even blink as spots of brown liquid suddenly dotted her work. She simply moved her papers to one side and continued to write with dogged persistence, her head kept well below the level of her boss’s angry eyes.

 

“Look, Russell. I don’t care how many dead ends you chase up!” Joe snapped, slamming down the folder in his other hand, causing the intern to jump in startled surprise. “But you’d better track him down, and you’d better do it quick, or you’ll find yourself working the beat in Alaska!” He thumped the receiver into its cradle.

 

The intern carefully shuffled the file into some semblance of order and held it out silently, with a grimace of sympathy. “Thanks, Janine.” Joe accepted the file with a twisted smile of self-reproach. “Go on, be a good kid and get me another coffee, will you? I know I will regret asking for it, but I need the caffeine to help me survive the day.”

 

“That office coffee is poison, Joe. You know that. It will kill you inside a month, and then who will they get to do your job for what the city pays you?”

 

“What…?” Joe leapt as if he’d been shot in the rear, the voice behind him full of warm amusement and more than a little sympathy. He never expected to hear that voice in this office again, not even in his dreams. He spun around in startled surprise, a thousand questions clamouring to be voiced, but all he could manage was to stare at his visitor with incredulous wonder.

 

“Hello, Joe.” Catherine smiled at his expression.

 

“Cathy! How…I mean, why? What are you doing here? Where did you spring from?”

 

“You always were one for informal greetings.” Catherine shook her head as she came forward. “It is good to see to again, Maxwell. Believe it or not, I have missed you. Maybe I even miss this office, though the reasons escape me right now. But, God help me, I think it’s that I’ve even missed watching you eat those disgusting chocolate cheese nuggets.”

 

“You’ve missed me!” Joe seized her hands, pulling her into his embrace. He hugged her with genuine delight. “Hey, Radcliffe. You don’t have that on your own. You wouldn’t, by some remote miracle, have decided to come back to work. I know I was tough on you, but, I’m a changed man, ask anyone, ask Janine here.”

 

“Don’t believe him.” Janine reappeared with a fresh cup of coffee, her face mirroring her distaste. “No one who can eat those disgusting chocolate nuggets will ever change. There ought to be a law against doing that sort of thing in public.”

 

“It looks as if the jury has returned a guilty verdict against you.” Catherine shook her head, while Joe retained a possessive hold on her waist.

 

“I see you’ve brought some back-up.” Joe looked beyond Catherine’s shoulder to where Shannon stood uncertainly, the ebb and flow of the bullpen breaking around her with its usual noisy efficiency.

 

Catherine reached to take her hand, drawing Shannon forward to stand beside her. “We know about the case, Joe. We’re so sorry.” She watched his expression, guessing at the myriad of unasked questions that trembled on his lips. Her eyes dropped to the file in his hands. “And I also know how tough it’s getting for you down at City Hall. I wish I could do something to help, but I’m afraid I may have to add to your burden. I think I know something about this case. That’s the main reason we’re here. For that, and to ask for your help in finding one of our people who has gone missing. I tried not to burden you with this, but now we need to talk.”

 

“Yeah, but we’d better do it in private.” Joe nodded regretfully. “A missing girl, right?” He heaved a rough sigh. “My secretary took a phone call from Elliot yesterday. But I was tied up in a meeting with the mayor all afternoon.” He passed a weary hand around the back of his neck. “Elliot said he had some new information and I needed to get over to see him. He didn’t want to talk over the phone.”

 

He compressed his lips. “It’s election year, so I’ve got the mayor doing sound bites about how involved and concerned he is about this case, and Russell running to hide under his skirts, blaming everyone else for him not getting a result. Now you’re here, too. It can’t be good news.”

 

“I’m sorry, Joe.” Catherine lifted her shoulders helplessly. “I wish it could be good news, for your sake, but I fear the worst. We must do all we can to find Sarah. That’s why I asked Elliot to put his investigator on the case.”

 

“Hey, Radcliffe, you have nothing to be sorry for.” Joe compressed his lips. He felt the weight of responsibility weighing heavily on his shoulders. Responsibility for a ten year old case he couldn’t solve and the even greater responsibility of ensuring Catherine’s wellbeing while she was in his world, far from her husband’s protection. Added to his burden was also looking after Shannon, standing quietly watching him with a concerned expression.

 

He could not allow anything to happen to either of them, and involving Cathy in the Snapper case was a flawed wish that brought those inherent dangers far too close for comfort. With a sigh, he indicated for the two women to precede him out of the bullpen, his eyes shadowed with regret over the reasons for Cathy’s visit. He sincerely wished it could only be a social call.

 

 

The yellow plastic strips of the police cordon fluttered sharply in the chill breeze. They added life and colour to an otherwise sombre scene, Diana reflected as she stood before the roped-off square. It had been two days now since the murder, and the area had been thoroughly searched for any clues, desperation at the steady passing of the days, without any fresh leads adding its own urgency to the search. Now it was, once more, simply another deserted and lonely area of Central Park.

 

Diana fingered the tape absently. The laughter of children rang in her mind, accompanied by the music of the carousel and the muted sound of a camera’s shutter speed. Trudy Klein laughing happily as her white horse plunged up and down, round and round.

 

Diana looked away into the distance, her face for once reflecting her emotions, tears of anger and distress standing out on her lashes. She blinked them away rapidly, swiping at her cheeks with an impatient hand.

 

If only John Russell could see her now…

 

She stared hard at the carousel in the distance, but it was closed this early in the morning, a slight mist wreathing its brightly painted horses in magic and mystery. A metal gate barred unwanted visitors. Diana sighed, the laughter of children echoing hollowly into the confusion of her reverie. 

 

“Where are you…?” she murmured beneath her breath, the plastic tape bucking against her palm, imbued with a life of its own by the passing wind. “And why do you kill the young ones? Why only them?”

 

Because they were innocent,” a voice whispered back, from the recesses of her mind. A man’s voice, reflective, almost pensive. “Because they are unstained by life. They are so pure, their souls still so beautiful and untouched. I am the guardian of that purity. It is mine. They are my angels now.”

 

“I will find you.” Diana raised her eyes to the confines of the drainage tunnel in the far distance. “If it’s the last thing I do.”

 

The sensation of being watched, as before, was gone, but the unease remained. She drew a sharp breath and concentrated on the drooping foliage.

 

“Do you live in the park? Is that why you kill here?” she asked the swift passing of a small bird that dipped across her face before darting away again.

 

“There is freedom here, both above and below.” The man’s voice chuckled dryly in her mind. “Why don’t you come and see?”

The leaves around the tunnel mouth lifted and seemed to beckon in the breeze, dancing in the cold air. Diana huddled deeper into the upturned collar of her coat. She expelled her breath sharply, considering her options.

 

She should report in. She had a meeting with Joe and Greg Hughs she couldn’t miss. She was already late. She needed to get her notes together, needed to force some truths from the prosaic words of John Russell’s police report. She needed to justify her expenses, her ongoing role in this baffling case. The mayor was furious, raking Joe over the coals for his team’s lack of progress and the mounting murder toll.

 

“Where are you?” she demanded, in a flash of anger.

 

“Come, try my world and see if you can catch me…or, is it that you’re too afraid of what you might find?” The voice in her mind mocked her with a dry crack of dismissing laughter. “Come, seek me in my own domain and know the truth of what you search for. It may surprise you…”

 

The mocking laughter trailed off into the surrounding silence, but its whisper remained in her mind, taunting, gleeful, utterly sure of itself and its own power to deceive. Diana turned to look back at the city behind her, at its blank, uncaring face and acknowledged the thrill of fear that added a sharp edge to her troubled thoughts. Then she turned back and took a step towards the tunnel that ran to unknown depths far beneath the park and wondered if she was truly being a fool to believe that she could tackle the possibilities before her, alone…

 

 

“I knew this wasn’t a social call.” Joe indicated the chairs before his desk and waited until the two women were seated before dropping into his own. “My luck never runs that way.”

 

“As I said, Joe, one of our people is missing. We asked Elliot to look into it, but now we have this.”

 

Catherine sat forward to place the newspaper clipping on his desk. Joe sighed, pausing to study her air of cool sophistication. Catherine looked smart in the expensive clothes Joe had always associated with the old Cathy, ever since he’d known her. But now, he found he missed the more casual tunnel attire. Catherine’s gown of leather and lace seemed infinitely more enchanting now that her current formal suit and silk blouse.

 

Already the world Below was taking on a dream quality, and Joe had to remind himself it was all still very real and Cathy had not just returned to resume working for him after some extended holiday in the south of France. But the vision of that other world was so attractive for its slower pace and acceptance of everyone who went there to heal.

 

“Joe…?” Catherine questioned now, her brows pulling together in a puzzled frown as Joe’s eyes took on a far-away quality.

 

“Sorry. You were saying one of your people is missing.” Joe pulled his wandering attention back to the present with a conscious effort and passed a tired hand over his face. Too many nights without sleep and too many cups of bad coffee were taking their toll on his senses. “When did you last see this person?”

 

“Sarah, her name is Sarah.” Shannon watched Joe with compassion, noting the dark bruises beneath his eyes and the defeated cast of his features. “She’s been missing for over two weeks, and we can find no trace of her.”

 

“She had found work Above,” Catherine added. “But she always comes once a week to see Mary. Her lack of contact is completely out of character.”

 

“How old, hair colour, race, contacts…? You know the drill, Radcliffe.” Joe sighed, pulling a yellow legal pad towards him and picking up a pen. “But finding a single missing person in this city takes a lot of time and legwork.”

 

“I know. I must have walked half of New York looking for people who didn’t want to be found,” Catherine agreed. “But this is different. If Sarah’s okay, she would have contacted us by now. She’s not the sort of girl to allow Mary to worry about her without cause.”

 

“So, do you have an address, her work number, anything to give us a lead on her?” Joe’s pen hovered above the pad. “Kids go missing all the time for a million reasons.”

 

“What we are saying, Joe...” Catherine got to her feet and took the pen from his fingers and laid it aside. “What Elliot was trying to contact you about… We’re afraid Sarah is not just missing.” She tapped the newspaper before her. “When I read this news I was afraid it was something far worse, something I desperately hope is not true.” Catherine shook her head. “What we’re saying is that Sarah may be one of the victims in the Snapper case.” She turned to extract Mary’s photo from her purse and placed it beside the newspaper. “You do have a Jane Doe, don’t you?”

 

“Oh, no…” Joe stared at it. “I know her.” He picked it up, scanning it closely. It was the pretty blond girl, fresh faced and happy, the same leather cap perched jauntily on her head. “Jane Doe…” he whispered, looking up at Catherine’s face and then beyond to Shannon’s horrified expression. “I’m so sorry, Cathy.”

 

Joe shook his head. Catherine’s hidden world had been touched by evil, tainted by contact with a madman. He didn’t wish to believe it, but the evidence of the photograph was indisputable. He felt chilled to the depths of his soul and trapped by that cold sensation, very beaten and utterly alone…

 


“Are you sure this is going to work?” Jamie stood back, surveying Mouse’s labours with a critical eye.

 

“Will work.” Mouse threw up his hands in disgust, intolerant of even the mildest criticism of his creation. “Push this, turn on; push that, turn off. Simple.”

 

“Yes, but will it work?” Jamie laboured the point with inexhaustible patience. “When we have it all together, will it actually go and not blow up in our faces.”

 

“Mouse can fix anything, make anything go. Mouse knows what he is doing. You will see when it’s finished.”

 

“You’ve said that about the last three projects of yours that failed. William is still recovering from your automatic vegetable peeler.”

 

“Small snag, fixed it.” Mouse turned his shoulder and went back to work with a dismissing air. He began to apply another layer of blue paint to his creation with a lavish hand. “Not helping, then go. Mouse works better alone. Don’t need you.”

 

“Sorry, but you’re stuck with me.” Jamie picked up another paint brush and squatted beside him. “This is one project I intend to see through to the end. Besides, you need my help whether you realise it or not.”

 

“Maybe, maybe not.” Mouse muttered, keeping his eyes doggedly on his painting. Consequently he missed Jamie’s warm smile of compassion and understanding.

 

 

Diana bent forward to slip into the confines of the drainage tunnel, pausing as she did so to carefully scan the depths of the half-light at the far end. Seeing no immediate menace in the shadows, she crept on, her footsteps echoing hollowly, forlorn almost, and soon forgotten by the surrounding shadows, as she moved cautiously forward to finally step into a large junction of bisecting pipes that came together before a barred gate over a steel door. All was quiet and deathly still.

 

The sudden scurrying of a rat pushed her back against the wall, one hand snatching at the gun on her hip. But the vermin quickly vanished through a small hole in the wall. Diana eased away from the wall, her hand still on her weapon as she surveyed her surroundings with distrust. But apart from the rat, there appeared to be nothing here. The cobweb-hung silence pressed close on all sides.

 

“So, what secrets are you hiding?” Turning her head, she considered the gate.

 

The centre was secured by a rusty chain and a large padlock and didn’t appear to have been opened for years. It had been securely fastened to the surrounding concrete and rock walls with heavy hinges that spoke of solid impenetrability. A cobweb breathed for a moment in the draft of her passing and was still again.

 

Fancy grill-work stood to one side, and this too was secured by a lock and rusty chain. Behind it seemed to hang only cobwebs and dust. Diana’s eyes ran thoughtfully around the steel door’s rim of uneven bricks, considering each in turn, before her gaze touched on the sill beneath. For a place seemingly unused for a vast amount of time, there were a surprising number of footprints in the coarse sand of the tunnel floor. Footprints that ran up to the base of the steel door and simply vanished beneath.

 

“This is nuts…” Diana scanned the door closely. “What are you hiding?”

 

She sank to her haunches and ran her fingers lightly around the rim of several of the indentations. Two sets of women’s shoes, spiked heels making a distinctive mark, had moved across the floor recently, leaving the way Diana had come in. They led away from the closed door.

 

But before the door, they had grouped mainly around another set of prints. A man’s this time, judging by the size, large and deep set, though from the outline, it was hard to tell what he’d been wearing. Leather perhaps, soft boots of some kind of skin that left a large print bounded by lacings on the outline of the sole. These prints moved from the door to the centre of the floor and then retreated again, vanishing beneath the mysterious barred portal that frustrated Diana’s puzzled eyes.

 

“Where did you come from and where did you go?” She fingered the depressions thoughtfully. “Do you live down here?”

 

The coarse sand held the crumbling impressions of another’s passage through this place, undisturbed for weeks perhaps. Her thoughtful eyes quartered the ground evenly and noted the recent scuff-marks at the base of the metal door, as if something heavy had been dragged through the door in the recent past.

 

“A body, perhaps…” Diana considered the marks closely and was undecided as to their origins. The door reflected back only mute silence, guarding its secrets behind its blank face and heavy bars. “It makes no sense.”

 

A sudden sound behind her drew her attention. Turning slowly, rising to her feet as she did so, she searched the gloom carefully as she drew her gun from her holster. The scuffling sound came again.  Behind her, in the shadowed recesses of the opposing tunnel she could just make out a huddled figure, crouched beneath some sort of blanket or heavy coat.

 

There is freedom down here…” that same voice whispered again in the back of her mind, distracting her attention.

 

She shook her head, easing forward, moving to lean into the exit from the junction, keeping her attention on the huddled figure as she backed out, straining to pierce the half darkness and see the figure more clearly.

 

It rose, shuffling forward towards her, stooping within the confines of what seemed to be a heavy cloak. Diana tightened her grip on the weapon in her hand, still backing away slowly. She was intensely curious now, wondering if this was her unseen observer from the tunnel mouth.

 

 What had they seen. What did they know?

 

Warily, she raised her gun so that it could be seen and forestall any aggressive move from the figure moving towards her. Instinctively she knew this was not the killer she was seeking. At best, it was some homeless person looking for shelter from the cold. The figure shuffled forward again, keeping low in the hunched stance of servility.

 

“Got any money, lady?” the figure demanded.

 

“We’re cool.” Diana lowered her gun with a brief nod and stepped backwards carefully, not wishing to alarm someone who could possibly possess vital information on the case. She raised one hand in a calming gesture and took another backwards step. “It’s okay; I just want to talk. I’m investigating—”

 

Suddenly, arms with the strength of banded steel locked around her waist, trapping her arms at her sides and lifting her clear of the floor in the same movement, slamming her back down with brutal force to skid across the ground, the coarse sand stripping the skin from her cheek. The pain knifed through Diana’s senses as blood mixed freely with the loose grains of sand to form a sticky mass beneath her face as her assailant kneed her in the back, holding her down with the weight of his body while she struggled to be free.

 

“Give me the gun!” The voice above her was filled with savage glee and unholy intent. “Give me the damn gun, man!”

 

“It’s mine. I found it first.” A pair of legs intruded into Diana’s limited vision, closely followed by a second pair, scuffed boots pushing dirt into her face. The heavy folds of a dirty blanket clustered around the second pair of legs, holding all the smells of what these men were. Someone giggled, high pitched and nervous, the sound setting Diana’s teeth on edge as they mocked her struggles.

 

“Hey, I was just down here looking around.” Diana gave up the struggle and tried to calm the situation with her voice, somehow regain limited control. “I got lost and I was—”

 

“You got lost all right.” The man kneeling on her back sniggered, his weight shifting as he made a swipe for her gun in the hands of one of his companions. “Well, we’re gonna see to it that you get lost, permanent-like. Give me the damn thing, before you shoot your stupid, fool head off!”

 

A dry hacking chuckle greeted the man’s attempt at wit. Diana’s face grated painfully across the floor as her assailant’s weight came down on her with full force. Something inside her chest snapped then, a grating pain clutching at her breath like a vice. Blackness swirled into the edges of her vision, narrowing her focus to a single point of light that danced before her eyes and broke into a hundred different colours of impossible hue.

 

Is this what it feels like to die…? her mind asked abstractly, as her right arm was pulled backwards with savage force into the small of her back.

 

“We gonna see if you look so pretty without a face.” The woollen blanket swirled in keen anticipation as Diana stared down the barrel of her own weapon.

 

The man on her back twisted the length of her hair around his hand, jerking her head back. “We gonna make you look real pretty for the rats.” He hit her across the mouth, splitting her lip.

 

“Go to hell.” Diana spat blood.

 

She could see the third man rummaging through her purse, throwing the contents aside as he clawed his way to the bottom. The glint of a gold shield in his hand brought a sudden weariness to her renewed struggles to be free.

 

A relic from her early days on the force, she only used the badge when she needed to. It had come in handy a few times to get people to talk to her. Now she wished she’d buried it long ago.

 

“Hey, man, what’s this? Damn me, she’s a cop! Look at this!” The metal gleamed in the shadows of the tunnel. “She’s probably in vice or something, down here, spying on us.”

 

“Well, she’s gonna learn not to come snoopin’ in what don’t concern her. She’s dead and dead cops don’t tell tales.” Her gun was lowered until it touched the tip of her nose. “Lady, you’re history…”

 

“Don’t be a fool. Let me go!” Diana could see his dirty finger tightening on the trigger, pulling it back with deliberate slowness. Her whole being became centred on the whitening flesh, as the finger took the pressure inexorably backwards towards its inescapable conclusion. Everything narrowed in her to that one point, that one feature, the inescapable result.

 

She knew then, that she didn’t want to die. She began to struggle, despite the crippling pain of her injuries. Blood flooding into her mouth threatened to choke her.

 

Afterwards, Diana could never have said what really happened in the next few seconds. A series of images, half-grasped impressions, were her only memories of the events of what happened next, deep, stabbing pain clouding her memory.

 

A roaring filled the confined space of the junction, the sound of an animal in sudden pain and terrible rage. Screams, voices lifted in cries of frantic pleading, as the weight on Diana’s back lifted instantly, the gun in her face disappearing from sight with explosive force, ripped upwards in a blur of slashing movement, long fingers leaving trails of silver light across her vision, so fast did they flash past her disbelieving eyes.

 

Then the sound of falling bodies, the face of the man who had pinned her to the floor crashing beside her to skid sideways into a heap against the far wall, his neck obviously broken by the twisted angle of his head. The second man fell in a heap some distance away, the sound of roaring increasing as the third man tried to flee, but he was brought down by something large and powerful.

 

His sobbing pleas for mercy went unheeded as his feet dangled briefly before Diana’s startled eyes, his screams answered by screams of cold fury. Then his body crashed to the floor beside the other two, lifeless arms thrown across them in a parody of close companionship.

 

“This is crazy…” Fear pushed at Diana then, forcing her to drag her unresponsive body upwards at the waist, using her elbows to propel herself onwards towards the entrance. Drawing her knees up towards her chest, she vainly tried to gain the safety of the tunnel mouth, before whatever it was behind her that had caused such wholesale destruction could turn it’s attention on her defenseless body.

 

But her movements were hampered by the pain, the blind stabbing hurt that ripped through her senses and left her gasping in exquisite agony in the dirt of the floor. Getting her hands under her, she tried again, snail-pacing her way, inch by agonising inch, towards the scant protection of the drainage entrance.

 

“Come on, Bennett, get going.” She railed against her body’s weakness, pushing herself slowly forward.

 

Briefly, she wished she knew what had happened to her gun. The heavy silence surrounding her now was more deafening than the raging turmoil of the last few minutes. She could hear the ragged sound of her own breathing, blood from her split lip filling her mouth. She coughed and gagged, trying to breathe against the agony of her injuries.

 

In the same moment that she began to believe she’d seen and heard things that surely couldn’t exist, a pair of dust-marred black leather boots intruded into her line of sight. Boots that led up to fur banded tops and then dark leather trousers that seemed to go upwards forever. Upwards into the blackness of her fading vision and beyond to a man’s face she couldn’t define…  

 

 

 

 

 

“Champing his gilded oats,

The Hippogriff will stand in our stalls,

And over our heads will float the Blue Bird

Singing of beautiful and impossible things,

Of things that are lovely and that never happen,

Of things that are not and that should be.”

Oscar Wilde

 

 

The hollow tapping of ‘intruder alert’ echoed down the tunnels, and Pascal leapt to his feet as the message clattered into his domain. He ran swiftly up the metal stairs to the upper set of pipes.

 

“Where’s it from?” Zach watched with interest as his mentor hurried from pipe to pipe, leaning an ear against each in turn to listen to their individual tunes.

 

“Upper level, junction area.” Pascal leaned out over the railing and looked down at the boy standing below. “I’ll send out an alert for Vincent while you go and find Mouse. We want to lock as many entrances as we can to isolate the intruder in the upper sector before they get too far down.”

 

Zach was gone even before Pascal’s last words left his lips, darting away into the tunnels as the pipe behind and beside him clattered out a new message.

 

 

Diana came to herself again after an eternity of drifting in black nothingness and couldn’t understand why the world had suddenly inverted itself. Sandy flooring ran where the ceiling should be, rock walls curved upwards on both sides to a height she could only guess at. Lighting was sparse at best, torches and unseen lamps adding their own ghostly glow to the shadows that flowed into every corner and bend on her route.

 

A long chamber, half-lit and echoing, filled with mouldering furniture of another time. Further along, a steep spiral staircase, rusting and old-fashioned, came into Diana’s limited line of sight as she felt herself descend slowly, slung over the brawny shoulder of her captor.

 

Pain bit deep into her consciousness. She knew she should struggle, kick and fight to regain her freedom, but the agony of her injuries was intensified by every heavily placed footfall on the rusting steps of the staircase. Blackness spiralled in, threatening to engulf her mind once more, but she fought it off resolutely.

 

Now isn’t the time to lose it, Bennett! 

 

Her blood, mixed with the dirt of the tunnel floor, had congealed into a hard crust across her cheek, making her face feel stiff and painful as it rasped against the coarse clothing of the man who carried her. Diana bit her inner lip until the sharp taste of blood flooded her mouth and jerked her mind back to the immediate problem of escape, away from her body’s disturbing weakness.

 

Who’d rescued her from her assailants and who carried her now, Diana could only guess at. She’d been securely wrapped in the foul blanket that had belonged to one of the men who assaulted her, and her arms were effectively pinned to her sides within its folds. Slung over her captor’s shoulder like a sack of grain, she couldn’t force any movement into cramped her limbs, as another level was reached in the downwards descent, another long night-shrouded tunnel that led only into further darkness.

 

Suddenly, in the distance something chimed, an echoing metal clanging that had some sort of mad rhythm. A pause and then another distant clanging, further away and more muted than the first. All motion was stilled as her captor paused to listen to the staccato beat of metallic sound.

 

Diana raised her head to listen as well, hoping for some sort of answer to her current dilemma, but the sound was drowned by the passing of a subway train, and after it had gone, the tapping did not come again. But the hint they were near the subways galvanised Diana and she struggled to raise her head from the confines of the blanket that half covered her face.

 

“If you struggle, you will only hurt yourself further. You must remain still. You have been hurt.”

 

Diana gasped at the man’s voice. A softly spoken rumble that echoed through her body. “Where are we? Where are you taking me?”

 

“To a place of safety. No one will hurt you there.”

 

“Nothing about this makes any kind of sense.” Diana coughed, fresh blood flooding her mouth, dripping to the floor behind them in a trail. “I don’t want to be here. I have meetings I’m already late for. People will come looking for me, and it’ll make it worse for you.”

 

“You do not have a choice. I cannot take you back Up There for help. Therefore, I must take you down. To attend to your injuries.”

 

“Up There…?” Pain lanced through Diana’s vitals, making breathing difficult as she fought to make sense of what he’d just said. “Kidnapping is a federal offense, you do know that?”

 

He’s laughing at me!  Diana felt the tremor of amusement that ran through the man’s powerful frame.

 

“The first time I saw you, I knew you would be trouble,” was the incredible thing he said next. “Never guessed how much. Now please be still; we are almost there. It will hurt only if you struggle.”

 

“How do you—?” Diana inhaled unwarily, stunned that he said he knew her.

 

But the odours contained in the material of the blanket caught in her throat, making her want to gag, the air foul with the blanket’s stench. Suddenly, an unbearable grating pain inside her chest made her gasp, and she fell into a coughing spasm that only passed when she slipped into unconsciousness once more…

 

 

Catherine sorted through the photos the coroner handed her with a numb feeling of detachment. The beginnings of a headache was not helped by the too bright overhead lights that lit everything with cheerful relief as she studied each picture in detail.

 

Beside her Shannon stood silently, accepting every photo in turn as Catherine handed them to her. Joe leaned in frowning repose against the side of the coroner’s desk, hands thrust deeply into his pockets, a tired resignation on his face. After all the years he had spent in the D.A.’s office, this place still gave him the creeps.

 

“You are sure about the identification, Miss Chandler?” the coroner asked kindly, always an easy mark for a pretty face. “There was considerable damage to the cranial area.” He pointed to several of the photos in Catherine’s hands, painfully exact in his duty. “Any such identification would be difficult.”

 

Catherine looked sideways at Shannon who had turned to the evidence table and was fingering a long, multi-coloured scarf through its plastic evidence bag. And unusual item made of stitched patches of several colours held together in neat, interlocking squares with a fine leather lacing. Shannon ran a trembling finger across the blood that had dried to a rusty stain over the tassels of the leather fringe.

 

Her eyes rose to Catherine’s with bleak despair and she nodded. “I made this scarf for Sarah for her birthday three months ago. She always wore it.”

 

“Yes, we are sure the young woman in these photographs was Sarah Maitland.” Catherine nodded, her training as a lawyer overtaking her natural instincts to flee this place of death. Now was not the time to break down; that luxury could come later. “But we will need to see the body for final confirmation. Are you okay with that, Shannon?”

 

“Yes.” Shannon nodded quickly. “I want to be able to tell Mary it is her. I don’t wish there to be any doubt.”

 

“As you wish.” The coroner shrugged as he gathered in all the evidence before leading the way down the hall to the mortuary. “Perhaps you can supply me with the name of the next of kin, so that the body can be released for burial,” he asked, as he indicated for an assistant to open one of the ranks of gleaming metal drawers.

 

“I’ll take care of those details,” Joe put in, as the other man lifted a corner of the body’s shroud. “Have someone get together the necessary paperwork and send it to my office.”

 

“Fine, I always like the details to be taken care of as soon as possible.” The coroner looked from Joe to Catherine. “Can you identify this body as being the girl in the photographs I showed you?” he asked Catherine formally, as Shannon began to weep quietly.

 

“Yes, this is the girl from the photographs.” Catherine smoothed the fall of blond hair, tucking the strands neatly back. “This is…Sarah Maitland.”

 

“I wish it could be different.” Joe came to stand beside Catherine, his bleak eyes reflecting his pain. The coroner moved away, allowing them a moment of privacy.

 

“It is better to know.” Shannon blew her nose, swiping a hand across her wet cheeks. “At least now, we can take her home where she belongs.”

 

“Yes.” Catherine nodded, looking across at Joe’s pensive face. “That is all we can do for her now.”

 


Running water, flowing down the rocky wall of yet another downward slanting tunnel, splashed icy droplets over Diana’s face, jerking her abruptly back to reality. Impenetrable gloom met her startled eyes, nothing to relieve it save the fitful gleam of a lantern held in the free hand of her captor.

 

To her critical eyes the small flame was too small to combat the darkness pushing in on all sides, swallowing up their brief passage. Yellow light slid in and out of the hollows in the walls, briefly banishing the blackness that all too eagerly flowed back to fill the gaps as soon as they had passed.

 

Diana began to wonder at the strength of the man who carried her so unfalteringly downwards. Muscles rippled beneath the pain in her chest and the brawny length of his thighs came into view, as he bent to shuffle awkwardly through a narrow section of the tunnel where the roof came low and impeded their steady progress. The long length of his black leather boots blending back into the darkness behind them.

 

Despite the fact Diana prided herself on the factual, clinical power of her own mind, she couldn’t stop its more instinctive levels from populating the surrounding darkness with more than just the shadows that dwelled beyond the reach of the lantern’s fitful flame. She could swear there were living entities hovering just beyond the reach of her eyes, watching them pass with eager anticipation and endless twitters of whispered sound.

 

“The lantern is for you, so that you are not afraid. Down here, the darkness of my home…and my friend.”

 

It took Diana a full minute to register that her captor had actually spoken, his voice deep and intonated with an accent she couldn’t identify. That he had answered her unspoken fears almost instinctively seemed of secondary importance at the time.

 

With the point of her chin, Diana pushed aside the folds of foul blanket that filled her mouth and turned her head to try and see his profile. But she was frustrated by the hooded cloak he wore, the leather-bound edge obscuring his features, making any communication difficult and, at best, one sided.

 

Any movement on her part to force a hand from her bindings resulted in a firm clamping of his strong arm around her body, making the breath hiss between her teeth as the pain bit into her anew. Instantly the man’s grip loosened, allowing the pain to recede to its usual dull throbbing.

 

“Who are you and where are you taking me?” She forced her lips to utter the words calmly, not allowing her underlying fear to creep into her speech.

 

They were so deep below the level of the earth now, there was no way Diana could get back to the surface without expert guidance. She could not allow herself to alienate the one link she had with her own world. But the fear remained, bright and constant.

 

“Do not be afraid; I will not harm you,” came the reply that was meant to reassure, but did nothing to allay her fears for her own safety. “This is my home down here; you will be safe with me. As long as you do exactly as you are commanded at all times.”

 

“Father, something’s happened up at the junction door.” Michael clattered down the short steps into Father’s chamber without pause. “Geoffrey found the bodies of three men and it looks like there was some sort of fight. It’s a real mess up there.”

 

Bodies!” Father paused, halfway across his chamber, pulling his glasses from the bridge of his nose in agitation, unable to believe what he had just heard. “I heard the alert, but…bodies…” A hundred possibilities jostled for his attention, questions tumbling through his mind, but his only question was simple and direct. “What happened?”

“Don’t know.” Michael shrugged. “Geoffrey was going Above with Allan for supplies when James came running down from his sentry post up there to raise the alarm. Someone had hit him from behind and he’d been knocked out for some time. They all went and looked beyond the door and saw what happened. Allan said to tell you the bodies are being dealt with now. Peter and James are bringing them down.”

 

Michael squared his young shoulders. “They said they would clean everything up and dump the bodies down the abyss. Peter said I should come and tell you straight away. They were Topsiders, homeless people, and they’d been dead for about two hours.”

 

“Who could do such a thing so close to us?” Father searched about himself for his cane, not really expecting an answer. “Has anyone alerted Vincent?”

 

“Nope, no one’s seen him.” Michael proffered a black bag with a long strap. “Allan found this up there too. Said you should see it. He picked up everything he could find that belonged to it. Said, things were scattered all over the place.”

 

Father took the bag gingerly and held it in his free hand as he issued instructions. “Go and get Pascal to send a message to Vincent. He must know what has happened immediately. I will make my way to the abyss and make sure everything is tidied up properly. Also Pascal must alert the sentries to the possibility there are more intruders Below. Whoever killed these men might still be in the tunnels. Go now, quickly!”

 

Michael nodded briskly and clattered out, full of his new importance, as he hurried to the pipe chamber. Father stood where the boy had left him, turning the black bag over in his hands. Dust and dirt clung to its surface and several things moved inside. It was a woman’s bag, but not one he had seen before.

 

Turning to his desk, he up-ended the bag carefully over his outstretched hand and the first thing that fell into his grasp was a gold shield that reflected the gleam of the lamps with bright points of light. Father felt his blood run cold as he turned the chilly metal over and studied the legend on the front. He had seen them before, but they never failed to send a tendril of unalloyed fear creeping through his bones. New York City detectives could not simply disappear without a great deal of fuss being made. But Michael had said the bodies had been male.

 

So where, then, is the woman who belongs to this purse?  

 

 

 


Vincent and Cathine exchanging a "look"

 

 

Elliot prepared to enter Shannon’s world through the familiar basement entrance. He’d returned to his penthouse apartment just long enough to change from his corporate suit into casual jeans and a roll-neck sweater. Now he dismissed his driver, saying he preferred to walk, and was below street level almost before the limousine had turned the corner.

 

The days since he’d last seen Shannon had stretched endlessly, days spent in consultation with lawyers and accountants working towards the final resuscitation of Burch Properties Group. Elliot constantly found his attention wandering from the issues at hand, wishing to be miles from their dry, prosaic rhetoric and hundreds of feet below the city.

 

His drive to succeed had been tempered with a desire to do nothing more than lose himself in the many twists and turns of that secret world and never surface again to be forced to deal with a million tiny details that all needed his individual attention and focus. He’d had little sleep and even less respite from the endless rounds of meetings and glad-handing potential investors and corporate shareholders.

 

This new Elliot Burch baffled his advisors and managers with his inattention and distracted air to the need for vigilance when it came to the many small annoying details of restructuring the group of companies to the best advantage, and to a point where they would not be vulnerable again to a corporate raider of Gabriel’s ruthless type. Many glances of frowning concern had come Elliot’s way as he stalked his offices like a caged animal yearning to be free of the constraints that bound him, but those glances were becoming edged with impatience.

 

“I came to this city to build, gentlemen!” Elliot had slammed his fist against the highly polished surface of the conference table an hour ago. “It’s what I was born to do!” He shot a sweeping hand towards the cityscape beyond the conference room windows. “That’s where I wish to be. Not stuck in here day after day without an end in sight, haggling over trivial details. I have projects waiting to commence, men standing idle waiting for their orders. So I’m going back to where I belong. I pay you well enough to do this endless number crunching and form filling for me. Make it so, gentlemen, call me when you’re done!”

 

“But where will we contact you, Mr Burch?” One of the accountants tried to detain him. “I mean, it’s impossible. You can’t just disappear again. It’s unacceptable.”

 

“Trust me, I’ll get back to you.” Elliot pushed his chair away from the head of the table, snatching up his suit jacket. “For now, I’m going to visit an old friend. Good day, gentlemen. Don’t make me regret your exorbitant salaries.”

 

As he stormed from the room, he’d been forced to conceal his smile of delight at the collective look of frozen shock on their faces. He knew they were right. The old Elliot would have stayed, worked, and fought for every dollar, every line of the contracts would’ve been argued over and scrutinised.

 

But that was the old Elliot… 

 

Even now, as he duplicated Shannon’s knock code on the steel of the secret door, he was scheduled to be meeting some very important money men, men who could set him firmly on his feet with one stroke of their gold pens. He knew his people didn’t really need him to hold their hands while they worked out the details. It was a fact he was only too aware of, but their protests had been nonetheless vocal and distressed.

 

Elliot grinned hardly as the hidden door slid silently open before him to reveal Peter’s bulky shape.

 

“Elliot…?” Peter questioned. “Back so soon?”

 

“Couldn’t stay away.” Elliot’s grin widened as he stepped over the threshold and the door slid shut behind him. He felt freer than he had in days, and his mood lightened. Even Peter’s grim face couldn’t ruffle his contentment at being Below once more.

 

“Well, there’s been trouble.” Peter grimaced. “Father has put everyone on intruder alert. I can’t take you down; I have to stay on duty here. There’s intruders been found in the west sector. Can you find your own way?”

 

“Trouble?” Elliot sensed the chill of fear prickle his skin. “What sort of trouble?”

 

“Been some bodies found up at the junction door.” Peter indicated for Elliot to pass him. “Don’t know much else stuck way over here. You’ll have to ask Father when you get down there. Only know Catherine and Shannon went Above by that route this morning and they haven’t returned yet. And no one can find Vincent. Everyone’s in a flap about that.”

 

“Shannon’s gone Above?” He felt both surprised and elated that she had gone out there, without the need of his escort and close company. Jealous that she was with Catherine, in the sunshine and bustle of his city.

 

“Now what?” He grimaced, knowing he must have looked a fool with his mouth hanging open, but his mind was racing to assimilate all the facts. He even turned away, briefly toying with the idea of going back Above to see if he could find the two women. He had a suspicion they were with Joe Maxwell. But the only people who could give him accurate information were Father or Vincent, so he must get to them to discover what they knew of the situation other than the bare facts Peter had told him.

 

“That’s what I said.” Peter frowned at him. “Shannon has gone Above.” He spaced the words deliberately before pointing away into the shadows of the tunnel. “If you get lost, use your code on the pipes. Someone will come for you and lead you to Father.”

 

“That’s a comforting thought.” Elliot muttered, as he plunged into the darkness lit at infrequent intervals by the fitful flame of wooden torches. “Then we can get lost together.”

 

He glanced at the tunnel walls as he passed, rock fissures running with water and growing an interesting array of strange plant life. A wry smile touched his mouth as he thought of the one man who could find humour in his current situation. “I bet Cleon would pay good money to see me now.”

 

 

“So you know nothing of Sarah’s movements over the last few weeks?” Joe sat forward on the park bench, his hands hanging loosely between his knees, holding the remains of a hastily snatched chili dog with everything slowly congealing in its wrapper. Catherine and Shannon sat on either side of him, their painful thoughts clearly written on the fine-drawn quality of their expressions.

 

Catherine brought her gaze back from the sun-warmed distance and shook her head at his question. “Mary said Sarah always came Below to see her every Tuesday without fail. It was her day off work, and then she would go back to Lady May’s. It was a stable routine. It was after the last visit that she disappeared.”

 

Joe watched a couple of children with a kite running with abandon across the grass, the bright triangle dipping and swaying behind them, somehow managing to miss all the obstacles that clutched at its fragile frame. Their childish laughter sounded carefree on the breeze, knowing no cares, no hindrance of their innocent pleasure. Automatically, Joe’s eyes searched the shadows for any overt attention being paid to the children’s game.

 

There was a little girl, blond and petite, beautifully dressed and determined to christen her new shoes in a muddy puddle, despite the frantic noises of disapproval coming from her nanny. In the distance an orderly group of older children were involved in a nature study under the watchful eyes of a mounted policeman, his horse cropping lazily at the grass, obviously bored with a lecture on trees. Joe measured every shadow that fell over the children, probing their secrets, needing to know that there was no unseen menace in their hidden depths. 

 

“We cannot keep them all safe, Joe, no matter how hard we try.” Catherine’s eyes followed the direction of his gaze. “I wish it wasn’t so, but it just isn’t possible.”

 

“I know…” Joe agreed on a gusty sigh, grimacing with distaste at the cold mass of food in his hands and tossing it into the refuse bin at the end of the bench. “But I did think your world had a shot at it. I thought, at least Below, the kids would be safe from harm.”

 

“No one is completely safe anywhere,” Shannon added thoughtfully, watching the nanny drag the little girl away from her new plaything, the child’s protests shrill and impatient. “But it was Sarah’s choice to come Above to work. She didn’t feel she could spend the rest of her days hiding from a life that had tried to destroy her when she was too young to fight back and win. She made a deliberate choice, and she was happy with it.”

 

“Until that life caught up with her again,” Joe said heavily, turning his head to look at her. “Okay, so you tell me. What have we got? Sarah goes Below every Tuesday at a regular time, always on her day off from work. Her routine hasn’t varied for six months.”

 

He began to tick the points off on his fingers. “That makes her vulnerable to a guy who watches for anyone with regular habits. What we need to know is which entrance she used and did she use it constantly, or did she have the good sense to vary her routine and enter through different gates.”

 

“All the children who live with us are trained from an early age to be very careful and aware of their surroundings at all times,” Shannon replied. “Sarah would have been careful.”

 

“But if there were no incidents to alarm her, perhaps she got careless.” Joe raised a defensive hand as Shannon started to argue his point. “I am just saying that we need to look at all the possibilities here. This is a man who is very clever at concealing himself and doing exactly as he pleases, sure he will get away with it every time.” He pounded his fist into his open palm. “But, now we have a victim with a set routine. If we can pinpoint when and how Sarah moved between the two worlds, we will have come a lot closer to the killer than anyone has done in ten years.”

 

“Okay, fair point.” Shannon nodded.

 

“And, since I'm the only one on this investigation who knows all of Sarah’s secrets, I would say I’ve just been elected to go Below and question anyone who might know of her movements over the past month. I want to know everything, no matter how small or trivial her friends might think it is.” He turned to Catherine. “I know I’ll need your help in this, Cathy. Feel like becoming an unpaid employee of the D.A.’s office again, Radcliffe? The rates are better than they used to be.”

 

“I want this man as much as you do,” Catherine replied, her expression determined. “He can’t be allowed to go on. We can get through the interviews a lot quicker if Shannon and I organised everything first. To some of the tunnel dwellers who knew Sarah, you are still very much a stranger and therefore suspect. We will also need to interview those helpers Above who knew her routine.”

 

Shannon nodded. “I think we should send Elliot to see Lady May. She always responds better to a good looking man. He can charm her and get the information to you, Joe.”

 

“Good, but we only have another ten days.” Joe nodded his thanks with a grim expression, knowing that the hard realities had to be faced head-on. “Ten days in which to catch this guy before he kills again, and I want him before he even thinks of doing it again.”

 

“Lord knows what I am gonna tell Diana.” He grimaced suddenly, as a further unpleasant thought assailed him. “And I have ten days to work out a way to slot all this new information into a case file and make it all seem believable, without Bennett snooping into it and demanding explanations I can’t give.”

 

He stood and glanced at his watch. “Speaking of Bennett, she was supposed to meet me and Greg Hughs in my office at eleven. That was two hours ago. But when I phoned the office from the morgue to say I’d be late getting back, she hadn’t showed up. That’s not like her. When she last reported in, she said that she was heading to the park, back to look over the Trudy Klein crime scene.” He shrugged. “Now Janine reckoned Greg’s about to blow a fuse. I’d better get back and calm him down. Wonder what sort of trouble Bennett’s got herself into this time…”

 

 

Joe returned to his office intent on escaping as soon as possible, but he should have known better. Instead of making good his escape, he was forced to make explanations to a very agitated Greg, who demanded to know where the heck everyone was and what was Joe hiding, since he’d suddenly and mysteriously identified their Jane Doe. He’d already spoken with the coroner.

 

Joe prowled his desk, throwing what he needed into a bag while trying to decide how much to tell his friend, and what he could tell him. “I’ll admit that I could have a possible line on the killer, but nothing is certain. I don’t want to jinx it.”

 

“So why are we standing here, then?” Greg demanded to know. “Let’s get out there and arrest him. Bennett’s probably way ahead of us by now. That’s probably why she didn’t show or contact us. Wants the glory all for herself.”

 

“Diana wouldn’t do that, and it’s not that simple.” Joe compressed his lips. “I’m going to be out the office for the next couple of days. I want this guy as badly as you do. But there are some things I need to do first. Interviews with possible witnesses I need to conduct, in private. They don’t take too kindly to strangers barging into where they live.”

 

“Aw, come on, Joe!” Greg threw his hands in the air. “First Diana fails to show up for this meeting, now you want to cut and run too. Witnesses. What witnesses? No one tells me anything. I know you’re holding out on me.” He glared at Joe suspiciously. “What’s really going on here?”

 

“Can’t say. Sorry, Greg, it’s sensitive,” Joe prevaricated. He pulled his overnight bag from the bottom drawer. “Look, can you stay, in case Diana remembers she owes me an update? One of my assistants can take notes if Bennett finally shows her face.” He scowled at his watch. “Though I gotta admit, it’s not like her to miss an important meeting.”

 

Greg threw up his hands in disgust. “Well, I say the pair of you deserve each other. And someone said you had Cathy Chandler in here earlier too. You’re not running away with her, are you?”

 

“Don’t go there.” Joe frowned warningly. “Cathy’s a friend, nothing more. But she’s agreed to help me with this new line of enquiry. She has a way of getting the truth out of people who’re reluctant to talk.”

 

“Okay, okay.” Greg blew a long breath. “So, you are not going to share what you know? Geeze, Bennett had better come up trumps, or I will get it in the neck from the mayor’s office as soon as you’re out of sight. You owe me big time, Maxwell, and I intend to collect.” He threw himself down into a chair, his expression mutinous but resigned.

 

“When I’m sure of the facts, you’ll be the first to know.” Joe nodded. “We’ve been down this road before, and Erik paid for our mistakes with his life. I’m not about to allow that to happen again. You’re just gonna have to trust me on this, for now.”

 

“All right, Joe, I’ll sit on it for as long as I can.” Greg seized the hand Joe extended across the desk. “But you take care. I don’t want your death on my conscience as well.” 

 

 Joe finally escaped back onto the street, where Catherine and Shannon were waiting for him. They fell into step with him.

 

“Sorry, Greg took some convincing.” Joe grimaced. “I wouldn’t put it past him to try and follow us.”

 

“Greg cares what happens to you, Joe.” Catherine hailed a passing taxi before linking arms with him. “And he’ll have a hard time explaining to the higher powers why he let you go chasing off after some nebulous lead in a case that once got a good friend of yours killed under similar circumstances.

He will wait for your return, to know you are safe.”

 

“Right as usual, Radcliffe.” Joe grinned suddenly, the lines of worry momentarily erased from his face. “Perhaps I should run away more often. But I wish the circumstances of my return to your world could be different.” He shook his head as they all got into the taxi. “Now all I seem to be doing is bringing my problems to you.”

 

“They are our problems too.” Shannon said quietly. “And only together can we solve them. This man wants to take the best from both our worlds, and we cannot allow that to happen again.”

 

She looked away to the towers of the city surrounding them as they sped through the streets towards the park, and she wondered what Elliot was doing right now. Probably deep in another of his interminable meetings about money that he had come to detest so much. She sent out a silent wish for him to be well and safe.

 

Catherine stared at the trees in the park after the taxi had left them. She’d been sensing for some time now that Vincent was moving away from her. She was puzzled and confused by this new development, but his reassurance flowed back to her, comforting her that all was well, and he would be back with her soon.

 

As they walked through the park, the early afternoon sun cast stark shadows across the grass. She shivered, remembering their shared dream and took comfort in the two steady heartbeats keeping time with her own. A flicker of movement within her brought her hand up to rest gently against her lower body. She longed to be home, comforted in the warm strength of her husband’s embrace. This entrancing thought quickened her steps as they left the city confines and ventured into the depths of Central Park.

 

 

“I swear they must have changed everything since I was last down here,” Elliot muttered wearily, as he turned back into the same section of tunnel he had left over an hour ago. “I know I’ve been here before. Cleon, you are never around when I need you.”

 

The need to know about the trouble that threatened Shannon’s world and the desire to know she was safe vied with Elliot’s determination to find his own way down without admitting defeat and being forced to summon help. He laid a hand against the cold steel of the pipe that ran past him at eye level and felt the distant echo of a message being tapped out somewhere far below. The tremble of sound was infinitely welcoming and reassuring.

 

“I should have stayed at the office,” he said on a tired grimace of self-disgust, as he bent to pick up a stone from the tunnel floor and began to tap out the rudimentary code Shannon had taught him. “But then I would have missed all the fun,” he amended on the ghost of a laugh as his message was answered in the far distance.

 

 

 

A woman kisses Elliot

 

What raging fire shall flood the soul?

What rich desire unlocks its door?

What sweet seduction lies before us…?

 

Past the point of no return, the final threshold —

What warm, unspoken secrets will we learn?

Beyond the point of no return…

 

Phantom of the Opera

 

 

Slipped from the brawny shoulder that had carried her for so long, Diana sank onto the hard comfort of a bed in the confines of a cavern seemingly cut from solid rock. Patchwork quilts and cushions were arranged at the head of the bed, giving the starkness of the stone room a measure of colour and comfort.

 

Her captor stood back, deep in the shadows cast by the single lamp beside the bed. Diana strained to see his face, but all that was illuminated was the sheen of his eyes and the metal work of his costume.

 

This was an odd assortment of leather and cloth held together with many straps and buckles of differing sizes. The black leather boots gleamed in the light, rising to mid-thigh, closely hugging the solid length of his legs. Overall, the sweep of a woollen cloak hid a massive frame. No wonder he could carry her so easily for so long without tiring.

 

Hurried footsteps beyond the room forestalled Diana’s idea of asking any questions and a plea of answers. A woman stood framed in the entrance, a tall woman with long, faded red hair twisted into a neat bun on the top of her head. Her face, now lined and seamed in late middle age, still held remnants of a once great beauty. Her skin was still flawless, her lips full and pouting. But,now her mouth was pulled down at the corners and every line of her body spoke of her disapproval.

 

“You shouldn’t have brought anyone down here,” she hissed, advancing into the room and for all his size, the man in the shadows seemed to shrink beneath the lash of her tongue. “You know the rules about bringing strangers to where we live. They can only do us harm.”

 

“She was hurt.” The man’s soft voice spoke from the greater darkness. “I could not go for help Up There…had to bring Down Here.”

 

“You shouldn’t have been Up There in the first place.” The woman placed her hands on her hips in exasperation. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, they are no good for you Up There. They can only harm you, do things to you that you wouldn’t like. Cage you like those animals you saw in that book you found. None of them are any good, and now you’ve brought one of them here, to our home. Why did I bear such a fool?”

 

“The Others go Up There.” Diana’s captor drew himself up, trying desperately to justify whatever transgression he was guilty of. But he still moved uneasily in the shadows, like a great child caught out in some serious misdeed.

 

All their conversation went completely over Diana’s head. She looked from one to the other with detached curiosity, deciding that the man who rescued her seemed to have her interests at the core of his argument, while the woman fairly bristled with animosity and distrust.

 

“The Others are not like us. They need to go Up There. We only need what we need, and what we need, we take from The Others. So it has always been and so it will always be. Break the rules and you will pay the consequences. Do you want that? Do you want them to take you away from me…forever?”

 

“No, no, I don’t want that.” The man cringed. “I am sorry now. I will take her back, put her back where I found her. Then you will not be mad at me anymore. I can do that for you.”

 

“You know it’s far too late for that now, you great oaf!” The woman threw up her hands in exasperation, before coming further into the room to stare hard at Diana with ill concealed impatience. “Still, talking about it now won’t mend things. She’s here, and we’ll have to make the best of a bad job until we can get rid of her. What’s the matter with you, girl? You can talk, I take it?”

Diana took exception to her tone and was about to say so, when the man spoke again. “Ribs might be broken, might be not. She is in pain.”

 

He advanced into the light of the lamp, pushing back the hood of his cloak with one hand. “Three men were beating her; they were about to kill her. Shoot her with this.” He produced Diana’s gun from a pocket of his cloak. “Wanting to do her harm, and I couldn’t let them do that. She is a nice lady. I have watched her in the park.”

 

Diana stared at him. Is this man her watcher she could sense, but never see?

Questions crowded into her mind. What had he seen; what did he know?

 

Enough!” The woman dismissed his words with a gesture of extreme impatience. “Put that thing away. You can throw it down the hole later. Safer that way.”

 

She turned back to eye Diana with disgust, running her gaze over the entire length of her body, her lips pursed thoughtfully. But Diana didn’t notice, even when the older woman advanced towards the bed, bending to examine her. All her attention was fixed on the tall figure now standing at the end of the bed. Diana felt the breath jam in her throat at the sight of his face as he moved further into the revealing lamplight…

 

 

Catherine and her companions were halfway to the drainage tunnel when, suddenly, a shadowy figure stepped from the surrounding trees. Joe immediately moved forward aggressively, placing himself between this new menace and the two women. But Catherine caught his arm almost in the same instance.

 

“It’s okay, Joe. It’s Michael.”

 

“Father sent me.” Michael stared warily at Joe. “Said to warn you there’s been trouble at the junction door. He told me to make sure to tell you when you returned and to make sure you and Shannon were alone.” He looked doubtfully at Joe then, not sure how to enforce his strict instructions, but prepared to try and bar Joe’s progress. Happily Catherine relieved him of the responsibility of dealing with the unexpected appearance of the man.

 

“It’s okay, Michael. Joe is a friend. He needs to come Below. Father will understand when we explain. You have done a good job. Come on, you can take us home and explain on the way.” She scanned the darkening trees. “But where is Vincent? He’s not with you?”

 

“Gone down, way down. No one knows where.” Michael stared hard at her as they entered the tunnel. “Don’t you know where he is?”

 

Catherine shook her head. “I sensed…I felt him moving away and down. He said he would be here, waiting for us…” She reached out with her mind to touch against Vincent’s, questing and questioning where he was and why he had not come to meet them.

 

Are you all right…?

 

Please, do not worry…I will return soon…

 

The deep strength of his reassurance came flooding back to her, asking her not to be concerned. He was returning now and would be back with her before she reached the home tunnels. He’d been called away to investigate a discovery, something they had suspected for some time, but could never prove. His need and support for her flowed into every part of her heart and mind, wrapping her in the endless warmth and beauty of his great love...

 

“It’s all right,” she whispered, as the steel door rolled closed behind them with a soft clang and the tunnel world surrounded her once more. “I will be waiting for you…”

 

“He is all right?” Shannon placed a detaining hand on Catherine’s arm as they started down the tunnel. “There is no trouble for him?”

 

“No trouble.” Catherine sighed. “Everything is all right.” She linked arms with the younger woman. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

 

 

Father sat at his desk, turning the detective’s shield over and over in his restless hand, trying to decide the best course of action. To have such a dangerous person either dead or injured somewhere in their world was a truly frightening thought. The guards had been adamant they had cleared away all evidence of the trouble at the junction, and they’d found no trace of any woman belonging to the black purse now lying on Father’s desk like an accusing shadow. He could only hope she had somehow managed to escape the inexplicable death of the three men and made her way back to the city. He knew full well that the city police force always guarded their own with fierce loyalty. If she was still in the tunnels and deemed missing, then they would certainly come looking for her.

 

Surely, she would have reported her movements…

 

He looked at the ID again and wondered if he should contact Joe Maxwell. Perhaps he was the one person who could solve this mystery. He chewed his bottom lip worriedly. He prayed Catherine would return soon. This whole mess with Sarah being missing and now this…he pressed a weary hand to his throbbing temple. Where will it all end…?

 

Soft footfalls on the steps behind him brought his eyes up from the trouble he could foresee ahead. He jumped to his feet. “Vincent!” Father felt immeasurably relieved to see his son. “I was beginning to worry about you. No one seemed to know where you’d gone. The pipes said Catherine is on her way down again.”

 

“I know. I can feel her coming near.” He pressed a hand to his heart. “I would go to her, but Pascal sent a messenger down to say there was serious trouble and you needed me immediately.” He frowned. “Cullen and I were far down, below the level of the pipes. We were at the bottom of the maze. There’s been some subsidence from the flood that we must attend to, but Cullen has found evidence someone’s been living down there. Or further down, below even where John Pater’s maps can take us.”

 

“Below the maze?” Father struggled with the concept. “But that is so far down, how could they survive? John knew those places intimately. He could hide an army down there, and we would never suspect their existence.”

 

“That is exactly what Cullen and I intend to find out. There have been too many strange things happening for it to be coincidence. But that is for another time. What is the danger we have now?”

 

Swiftly Father told him the details, offering his son the bright shield and indicating the contents of the purse neatly arranged on the desk. “I can only hope she went Above and was not injured along with those men who were killed. I can only pray I am right. I fear I am not.”

 

“If she is still Below, we have to find this woman and swiftly.” Vincent investigated the contents of the bag and found a folded piece of paper tucked into a concealed side pocket that Father had missed. He unfolded it in the light of a lamp and read the few lines it contained and a name. His free hand clenched involuntarily as he read the name again.

 

He sighed. “It is worse than we feared, Father.” He indicated the name with one fingertip. “Diana Bennett.” He frowned with consternation. “This is the woman who followed Joe Maxwell that night of the meeting with Catherine at the carousel. She is the one who finally discovered where Gabriel was hiding and eliminated his shadow from our lives. She will not rest until she knows the truth about us. She is too good at what she does, far too intelligent to be fobbed off with half truths.”

 

“Then that only serves to make things far worse.” Father took a turn around the room. “Why was she at the junction door and what happened to her is of secondary importance at the moment. I must send Geoffrey with a message for Joe Maxwell immediately, because I—”

 

“That will not be necessary, Father.” Vincent replaced the note and the shield in the purse, his gaze becoming distant and thoughtful as he concentrated on the link deep within him. “Catherine is bringing him Below as we speak. I must go and meet them. Then we will all discuss what to do next.”

 

 

His face…Diana could not drag her disbelieving eyes away. He looked so…

 

A tumble of long, dark auburn hair framed the broad planes of his cheekbones, falling to curl against the strong column of his throat. His mouth was of generous width, lying beneath a nose that could only be described as noble. Against the darkness of his hair, his skin was pale and unblemished, as if he had spent his whole life hidden away from the warmth of the sun. It was a face of incredible masculine beauty, but beneath the surface an immense loneliness had been imprinted on his unearthly features, lending an air of deep sorrow and quiet despair.

 

He looked like some great angel who had fallen to earth and had somehow lost the ability to fly. And he longed, with every fibre of his great being, to return to the beauty and safety of his heavenly home far above this dark and chill place deep beneath the earth...

 

But, it was his eyes that continued to draw Diana’s frowning concentration. Framed with long, curling lashes, they were large pools of midnight black, seeming to hold all the sadness and pain of the world, reflecting the light of the lamp, but looking straight through her to some distant point only he could see. A chill feathered along Diana’s senses then, for she realised suddenly, instinctively, that her rescuer was blind.

 

“Do you like the look of my son?” the woman at her side asked, as she investigated Diana’s injuries with brisk efficiency, bringing a rim of white to her lips as the older woman probed her abused flesh. 

 

But despite the searing pain, she refused to allow one sound of protest escape her tightly clamped mouth. Colours and spots of light danced before her vision, as she lay quiescent, biding her time until she could work out how to achieve her escape from these mad people.

 

Receiving no response, the older woman probed a rib with deliberate intent, making Diana gasp and wince. “At least none of your ribs are broken. You were lucky; they are only cracked. But you will be in some pain for a while.” She obviously found satisfaction in the thought of Diana’s continued suffering. She lifted her eyes to glare at her son. “But he obviously considered you worth the effort of dragging you all the way down here to be a burden on the rest of us. I have no idea why.”

 

“She is hurt. I knew you would help.” The man at the end of the bed dropped his great shaggy head lower under the weight of his mother’s sarcasm. He shuffled his feet, Diana’s gun still hanging in his hand.

 

Azrael!” His mother snapped. “I told you to put that thing away before you hurt yourself. It’s not a toy. Now come here and make yourself useful. You can at least do that, instead of standing there with nothing to contribute beyond your silent disapproval.”

 

“Yes, Mother.” He hurried forward beneath the whip of her words, stuffing the gun back into a pocket of his cloak. Diana prayed the safety was on.

 

She studied him anew, with clinical detachment, as he bent down beside her. An archangel’s name for a man who looked like one. Diana couldn’t escape the twisted irony – that her life seemed to be plagued by wayward archangels. First Gabriel, and now this unearthly looking man.

 

She knew the angel Azrael's primary role was to help people crossing into heaven, to ease their passage at the time of death. None of that tied in with what had happened up at the steel door, when he’d dispatched those three men without compunction. But he had certainly saved her from the same unwelcome fate. She owed him for that, at least.

 

If she could only get access to her gun...

   

She didn’t offer any resistance as the pair of them stripped her of her outer garments and went about strapping her ribs firmly with length of clean linen fetched from a battered leather medical bag produced from somewhere in the darkness. Their combined attentions were impersonal and very proficient, but Diana was forced to turned her gaze away from the clear blankness, when Azrael’s eyes seemed to study her expression closely, his own face neutral and unreadable.

 

“If I had my way, I would just drag you out of here and toss you down the hole and forget you, girl,” Azrael’s mother complained. “Make it easy on all of us.”

 

No!” Azrael shouted, rearing up into his full height, for once seeming unafraid of his mother’s wrath. “She is mine! I found her. I am keeping her!”

 

“Calm down, boy. Have it your way. Why did I raise such a fool?” His mother shrugged, as she moved to attend to the deep graze on Diana’s cheek, muttering to herself the whole time about the problems she had to endure and the obtuseness of her own children. Finally she straightened to throw a rough patchwork blanket over Diana’s chilled body.

 

“She’s better now.” Azrael returned to the foot of the bed, seeming loath to leave, hovering uncertainly beneath his mother’s acid tongue when she ordered him to stop chattering and clean up.

 

After having her body handled with such rough usage, and the crusted mass on her cheek stripped none too gently from her skin, Diana was left closer to tears than she had been throughout her strange ordeal. Now all she desired was to be left alone by this odd couple, who showed no desire to desert her company. The woman watched her with a predatory gleam that Diana found intimidating and more than a little unsettling.

 

“Now, I suppose I will have to feed you,” she complained finally, gathering up the contents of her medical bag and sighing, casting another look of derision at her son. “Now I know you wouldn’t ever have thought of that.”

 

“With the Master and Zadkiel gone, there will be plenty. I can—” Azrael was quickly silenced by the sharp intake of his mother’s breath hissing between her clenched teeth.

 

Enough! Talk of the Master and your brother is not for the likes of one from Up There to hear! You brought her down here, so you can feed her. From your portion, mind! You wish to keep her? Well, she’s solely your responsibility now. I want nothing more to do with her.”

 

“That makes two of us,” Diana bit out then, goaded beyond her vow of silence. “I was brought all the way here against my will, if you remember. I have no desire to stay a second longer than I need to. Get out of my way, and I’ll walk back up.”

 

“Oh, so you do have a voice, then.” The older woman turned back to stare at her. “I was beginning to think you were just another cripple, like my great big oaf of a son here. It would be just like him to drag home another defective mouth to feed, who has no earthly use to us down here. He’s been doing it all his life. No matter how many times I try to beat the notion out of his thick skull.” She frowned at Diana. “So, I’m Emma. What’s your name, girl?”

 

Diana considered not answering, but she knew she could not afford to antagonise these people any further, for now. “Diana,” she supplied shortly.

 

“Ah, the huntress...” Emma glanced at her son. “You’d better be careful of this one. I can tell; she’s going to be trouble.”

 

“He saved my life, when those men would have killed me.” Diana’s gaze moved to the dark eyes of the man standing silently at the foot of the bed. “I will thank him for that, instead of abusing him.”

 

“I did that, didn’t I?” He moved uneasily then, a bright flush of colour suffusing his pale cheeks. “I did a good thing, for a change. I saved you.”

 

“You did a good thing, Azrael.” Diana nodded, watching him smile slowly.

 

He appeared to be a simple man who probably saw everything and nothing at all, and she wondered how these two managed to co-exist for so long without trying to kill each other. But, Azrael’s face had quickly resumed its unearthly, remote cast, his eyes fixed, as ever on some distant point only he could see and understand…

 

 

 

Vincent

 

 

“I have needed you so badly.” Catherine gathered the large bulk of her husband into her arms and clung to him with all her strength.

 

Vincent’s arms passed around her and gathered her even closer, enfolding her in the shroud of his cloak. Joe and Shannon passed them quietly, going on their way with averted faces, their voices fading into the torch-lit distance.

 

“I wished I could have gone with you…to protect you…” Vincent whispered into her hair, closing his eyes to lose himself once more in the wonder of their bond and its many layers of awareness. The reality of her love, as always, far exceeded any dreams. But, another, unwelcome reality nudged mindfully at his consciousness, recalling him to the matter of Catherine’s mission Above. “And Sarah…?” He slid his hands over the length of her arms, drawing her back to look down into her averted face. But the answer was already there, flowing through their connection, the depth of Catherine’s sadness and regret.

 

“Yes…” She sighed raggedly. “She’s gone, Vincent. She was a victim of the killer Joe still seeks. Now, she is cold and alone…”

 

“So, it was her voice we heard in the park.” Vincent massaged the taut muscles of her shoulders, easing her tension, giving her the strength to continue. “The voice we both knew, but could not place until this morning.”

 

“I had hoped it wasn’t.” Catherine looked up at him, her eyes spilling over with the tears she could now shed, her voice fraught with the agony she could now allow herself to feel. “I hope we would find her safe and well and happy. Just as she sounded in the park of our dream.”

 

Vincent heaved a great sigh, gathering her close to him again. “We cannot keep them all safe, Catherine, no matter how hard we try.” He wiped away her tears with the ball of his thumb. “We can only give them the knowledge, all our hope and love, then set them free. Their lives are not ours to live, no matter how much we might wish to make it so.”

 

“Shannon said something like that, too.” Catherine pushed her fingers across her cheeks, erasing the final trails of her tears. “But it doesn’t make the pain any easier to bear.”

 

“No, it does not make it any easier,” Vincent agreed solemnly, running the backs of his fingers against her cheek. “But then, nothing ever could.”

 

“No, nothing ever could.” Catherine nodded, leaning back within his embrace to caress the plane of his cheek with her fingers before reaching up to press a lingering kiss against his mouth. 

 

“Take me home, Vincent.” She laid her face into the width of his shoulder and sighed.

 

“I’m afraid we have more troubles to deal with yet.” Vincent cradled her gently.

 

In the distance the pipes chimed two messages. One calling the members of the council together for an urgent meeting; the other a plea for help from Elliot Burch, who had managed to get himself lost coming down from Above.

 

 

Elliot leaned against the side of the tunnel, the rock wall cold and unfeeling behind his back. The answer to his summons had been unintelligible, but very welcome.

 

The darkness pressed in on all sides, relieved only by the distant glow of a lighted torch. It took Elliot a few seconds to grasp the fact that the light was moving steadily towards him, a blond head bobbing within its glow.

 

“Mouse.” Elliot pushed away from the wall, as the tinker came up to him, holding the torch above his head. “Am I glad to see you.”

 

“Elliot, lost…again.” Mouse pursed his lips in disapproval. “Should not have tried to come down here without a guide. Dangerous down here sometimes.”

 

“I guess you’re the expert.” Elliot smiled. “I think I’ve learned my lesson.”

 

“Maybe so.” Mouse looked skeptical and shrugged his shoulders, exasperatingly non-committal. “Maybe not. Mouse not so sure.” As far as he was concerned, Topsiders belonged Up Top and tunnel dwellers, who knew all these passages, belonged Down Below. He didn’t approve of the two groups trying to mix. That always caused trouble. Trouble for Mouse and Vincent to fix.

 

Catherine, Vincent’s Catherine, was left out of the first group in Mouse’s mind. She was his friend and therefore different from the rest of the people of her old world. As he mused darkly on this, someone shadowed up from the darkness beyond his shoulder. Mouse glanced back as Shannon halted at his side.

 

“Brought you a friend.” He looked from one to the other with ill-concealed glee. “Someone to guide you down, so you don’t get lost again. Shannon likes you a lot. Don’t know why.”

 

“Thank you, Mouse.” Shannon took the boy by the shoulders and turned him back in the direction they had come. “I think we can manage from here.” She took the torch from his hand.

 

“Need help, call Mouse.” The tinker shrugged, glancing back over his shoulder as he walked away. “Get lost, always need Mouse to find. Break something, everyone says, where’s Mouse? Want new thing built, says, hey, Mouse…” His voice trailed off into the distance, still reciting his list of accomplishments.

 

Elliot could hardly contain the wealth of relieved laughter that threatened to double him up in mirth, when Shannon turned back to him in mock despair.

 

“It’s no laughing matter,” she admonished him severely. “Mouse is quite right. You could have been in serious trouble coming down here without a guide. I didn’t think you were so foolhardy.”

 

“Would you rescue me, if I got into serious trouble?” Elliot ran his hand up her arm to curl beneath the weight of her raven hair. “Mouse isn’t as beautiful as you, my maiden fair.”

 

“Of course, I would.” Shannon tried to stay immune to the wayward emotions that were plundering her senses at his questing touch. “You know how much you mean to me.”

 

“Ah, but how much…?” Elliot bent his head to caress her lips lightly with his own. “That is something I intend to find out in the very near future.”

 

“More than perhaps is good for me.” Shannon turned her face from his, but this only presented the tempting target of her neck to Elliot’s warm caress. “We have to go, Father is expecting us. He has called a meeting of the council,” she managed raggedly, pushing him away reluctantly. “We haven’t time to discuss this now.” She tugged at him, urging him to follow her.

 

“Peter said there was trouble Below.” Elliot fell into step beside her, his hand curving possessively around her upper arm, drawing her to a halt once more. “Tell me, perhaps I can help.”

 

“I don’t know, Elliot, please…” Shannon urged him forward. “Father can tell you more than I can. We must hurry now.” Drawing her arm out of his hold, she stepped back from him, turning to hurry away down the tunnel, pausing only to make sure he followed.

 

“But you went Above, without me. That is something we need to discuss…” Elliot stared after her for a long moment, before he was forced to follow or be abandoned once again to the surrounding darkness…

 

 

“The men you found in the junction … you made no effort to identify them?” Joe sat across the table from Father, his brow furrowed in worried concentration. “They may have families Above.”

 

“I’m sorry, Mr Maxwell, but I’m afraid our world does not have the benefits or the luxuries of your legal system.” Father laced his hands before him on the table. “We are forced to do what is expedient at the time. In this case our entire security system depended on our concealing the bodies as quickly as possible.” He raised his shoulders. “I did examine them, of course. They were quite dead. From their condition, I would say they were drug addicts, and as such could have no possible connection to this world. I very much doubt they will be missed in yours. However you may chose to dress them up, those are the hard facts of the matter. I am sorry if you disapprove of our methods.”

 

“Yes, of course. I do appreciate the need for secrecy.” Joe looked at the other members of the council who had quickly gathered in Father’s chamber following his urgent summons to a crisis meeting.

 

William, Pascal, Catherine, and Vincent looked on, concerned and perplexed by the circumstances of the meeting. And Mary sat saddened beyond the point of tears, regretful that one of her charges had lost her way and come to a sad end in a world that should have offered her everything she could ever wish for.

 

Catherine met Joe’s eyes with an understanding nod as his gaze settled on her with appeal. She alone could appreciate the dilemma he found himself in now.

 

That night at the carousel had been bad enough…

 

“We have no idea what went on up there.” Father looked at each council member in turn. “But from what we can ascertain from the evidence, there was a struggle, and death came swiftly and violently to those three men.”

 

Father released his breath on a troubled sigh, his gaze both thoughtful and apologetic as he voiced his thoughts aloud. “At first, I thought, Vincent…”

 

No!” Catherine put in abruptly when Father paused, searching for his next words. “If it had been Vincent, then I would have known about it. I would have felt his anger, his pain over what he was forced to do against his better instincts. I would have come back to him immediately. Vincent had nothing to do with what happened up there.”

 

Vincent slipped his hand into his wife’s, clasping it strongly, giving her his reassurance that he understood Father’s intent. “I was very reluctant to travel so far from home, so far beyond our communication links. But Cullen was very insistent. He was sure, if we hurried, we would return in time. He was very keen to show me his discovery. We have long suspected there are others living below us, pilfering our stores from time to time. Now we seem to have found a faint trail leading down. But now is not the time to discuss this.” He turned his attention to the council. “We are all struggling to understand what happened up there. Father was right to consider all aspects.”

 

“I’m sorry, Catherine.” Father’s grimace of apology was strained. “But the facts are sketchy at best. You will have to forgive me my immediate reaction. I did not mean to cause you or Vincent any pain. Now we must try and make some sense of several things to give us some idea of the chain of events that occurred up there.”

 

Father looked across the table at Joe. “I was going to send Geoffrey to you with a message, before I knew you were Below. You said you would help us always, no matter how large or complex the problem.”

 

Joe nodded tersely, remembering his offer of help. “I meant what I said. I will do all I can within my powers.”

 

“This was found at the junction.” Father produced the black handbag and tipped the contents onto the table. The gold shield clattered across the surface, coming to rest face up. Joe’s breath hissed in through his teeth in startled surprise. He lifted his gaze to stare at the assembled council.

 

“Diana Bennett.” Vincent reached to take the shield, weighing it in his palm. “She is one of your investigators.”

 

Diana!” Joe jumped as if he’d just been shot. “What was she doing getting into a fight at the tunnel? It makes no sense.”

 

“Unless she was searching for something…” Catherine replied slowly. “Or someone…” She looked at Vincent. “She was never satisfied with what happened at the carousel or our deposition on Striker’s demise.”

 

“She was investigating the Snapper killings.” Joe took the badge from Vincent’s hand. “Another girl was murdered in the park, and Diana’s last known whereabouts was at the crime scene. Somehow, something, must have led her into the tunnel. But, you found no trace of her at all?”

 

“Nothing to indicate if she has either gone back Above or somehow found her way down here.” Father sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose. “She seems to have vanished into thin air.”

 

“Her possible presence Below is a danger to us all.” Vincent considered the black bag and its contents. “From what I know of the woman, she is persistent and unwavering in her quest for the truth. We cannot allow her to uncover our truths in her search.”

 

“Then I’ll get back up to the office right away. Find out if she has returned to the city.” Joe leaned forward to gather all the contents of Diana’s bag and closed it as he stood. “I will have to leave you to handle the interviews, Radcliffe.”

 

“I can do that, Joe.” Catherine nodded. “But if Diana is Below, then discovering her whereabouts is more important than ever. We cannot allow the killer to gain any extra leeway while we search for her.”

 

“I just hope that somewhere along the way, the two of them haven’t met up.” Joe passed a hand over his eyes. “I cannot afford to lose another friend.”

 

“I will send Geoffrey to you in two hours.” Father nodded to Pascal. “He can bring back with any new information you may discover. Good luck, Joe. We can only hope, for all our sakes, that she is in your world and not ours.”

 

“I think we are all going to need a great deal more than luck.” Joe shook hands with the older man. “I will be in touch as soon as I can.”

 

 

 

 

Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?

Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?

Can wisdom be put in a silver rod?

Or Love in a golden bowl?

 

William Blake

 

 

“I thought this case couldn’t get any worse, but it has.” Joe stood in the shadowed confines of one of the many exits that led out into the area of the city, where Diana had her loft apartment.

 

It was a place to start. Beyond the abandoned building’s boarded up frontage the muted roar of the city’s night traffic made conversation difficult. It had been a long walk from the home tunnels, and Joe was tired, but determined.

 

Catherine stood beside him, Vincent’s bulk behind her with Diana’s black bag in his hand. He held it out for Joe to take. Turning it over in his hands, Joe frowned at all it implied.

 

“Send Geoffrey to me at the office.” Joe slung the bag over his shoulder. “I should have something for you soon enough.”

 

“Be careful, Joe.” Catherine reached to kiss his cheek. “We need you now, more than ever.”

 

“I’m always careful, Radcliffe, you know that. But thanks for caring,” Joe replied with a lopsided grin, before looking past her to Vincent’s silent figure. “Look after her for me, Vincent.”

 

“Always…” Vincent gripped his outstretched hand in a warm clasp, before Joe turned away to exit the building by a side door into the narrow, dark alley beyond. 

 

 

Bennett? You tell me!” Greg was pushing his arms into his overcoat, heading out of the D.A.’s offices, when he collided with Joe coming in through the swing doors. “She never showed up at all. I’ve got better things to do that sit around here waiting for her. Hang on…” Greg halted, frowning. “Okay, Joe, explain. Why are you back so soon from wherever it was you were running off to this morning? Didn’t you have some mysterious witnesses to interview? The mayor’s been chewing my ear off all afternoon. Someone had better tell me what’s going on and fast!”

 

“Didn’t Matthews give you my message?” Joe caught the detective’s arm, pulling him to a halt. “I telephoned from Diana’s loft. She’s not there. I told Matthews to keep you here until I got back.”

 

“After five cups of your vile coffee, we’d just about exhausted his short career with this office.” Greg scowled across the bullpen to where the young intern hovered uncertainly, Joe’s sudden reappearance overlaying the young man’s worried expression with patent relief.

 

“Look, some things have gotten all screwed around.” Joe dragged a reluctant Greg back into his office and took him to one side, away from curious eyes to where they could not be overheard. “As I said, there is no sign of Bennett. It’s not like her.”

 

“When she gets on the trail of something juicy…” Greg shrugged moodily. “But okay, I guess you’re right, I’ll admit it’s not like her at all. But, I’m afraid, it’s too late. The mayor insisted I bring John Russell in on this now. He’s marked it up as his greatest moment, finally getting one over on Diana. He hasn’t stopped crowing. The man is a real piece of work.”

 

Joe leaned back against the wall behind him and expelled his breath in a short blast of worried frustration. Greg frowned in puzzlement as he moved to lean his shoulder beside him, immediately concerned by Joe’s attitude.

 

“Okay, so tell me, for heaven’s sake. Do we have a major problem here?” He thrust his hands into the pockets of his overcoat. “You know, if Diana is in some sort of trouble…has she gone off on her own again? Are we looking for a body?”

 

“God, I hope not! Diana is in all sorts of trouble, and, for all I know, she’s strictly on her own at the moment,” Joe replied brusquely. “And I have to figure out a way of hoisting her pretty butt out of the muck again, before it brings us more trouble than we can handle. But this will be strictly between you and me, Greg. I can’t afford anyone else to know. Especially Russell.”

 

“Off the record?” Greg cocked his head thoughtfully. “Well, I can’t wait to see Russell’s face when Bennett shows up again. I would cheerfully part with a year’s pay for that privilege. So what are we waiting for?”

 

Joe looked across the bullpen to where a young boy stood uncertainly, just inside the door. His ragged clothing was patched with leather and odd scraps of material, but his carriage was proud and aloof, immune to the curious stares he attracted. Geoffrey was waiting to carry Joe’s answer to Father and Vincent.

 

“We need to recheck Diana’s files, see if we can catch a break. I’ll meet you downstairs.” Joe pushed himself away from the wall, heading for the office door. “I have a couple of things to take care of first.”

 

“Another refugee from your homeless network of spies?” Greg followed, staring hard at Geoffrey who simply ignored him. “This case is getting crazier by the minute. Wish I knew half of what’s going on around here. No one tells me anything, and I’m getting fed up with it.”

 

“Sorry, Greg. Maybe someday I can tell you.” Joe shook his head, walking away, leading Geoffrey towards the swinging doors. They soon disappeared from view, Joe’s hand on the boy’s shoulder, and they were whispering urgently to each other.

 

“No,” Greg decided, shrugging himself into his overcoat once more. “On second thought, I don’t want to know what the heck this is all about. Wherever you are, Bennett, you’d better have a good excuse when you get back.”  

 

 

The pretty child reached for the red balloon, the topmost one that bobbed and danced above all the rest in the clown’s multicoloured collection. The girl danced on one foot, reaching up as high as she could, but it wasn’t high enough to touch the red balloon’s shining surface.

 

“You want that one?” Pancho the clown leaned down to the child’s level, pointing upwards at the bright orb of colour above his head.

 

“Yes, that one. The top one.” The girl smiled shyly, looking trustingly into the clown’s white-painted face with its one dark tear travelling down his left cheek.

 

“Well, perhaps we can do each other a favour. Can you keep a secret, a really big secret?” Pancho’s bright red mouth pouted forlornly as he drew the collection of balloons down to shield them both from curious eyes. “I am a sad clown, so what I like to do is keep lots of photos of happy, smiling girls around me. They help to cheer me up when I’m feeling down.”

 

“You want to take a picture?” the girl ventured in a worried tone, unsure, but intrigued by the clown’s simple story. “My picture?”

 

“Better than that. I will even trade the red balloon for it.” Pancho checked the view right and left conspiratorially. “But let’s keep this between you and me. The big people won’t understand. They don’t believe in magic. And who knows, if you tell me your address, I might come and visit you, and we can play games together. Would you like that?”

 

“Maybe.” The girl looked again at the red balloon. It was a fine, big one with a happy face on painted on it. “Okay, you can take my picture, but only one.”

 

“One is all I need.” Pancho reached into a hidden pocket in his costume. “To take any more would be greedy. And I am never greedy.”

 

“Nothing. No sign of her at all.” Greg came back into Diana’s lounge from her bedroom. “It looks like her clothes are all still there. No sign of her having taken an unexpected holiday. Bed’s been made; dishes done. Obviously Bennett didn’t leave here in a hurry. Now do you want to tell me what this is all about?”

 

“Sorry, Greg. Wish I could.” Joe thumbed the keys of Diana’s computer in an attempt to break her access code, but the machine was being stubborn. Like it knew it wasn’t its owner trying to gain entry. Joe grimaced sourly. He needed access to the Snapper files, and he took out his mounting frustration by stabbing violently at one of the keys. “But we need to find her and fast.”

 

“Okay, you’re the boss, but I don’t like it. Diana never goes off without a good reason, and she’s not careless. This is creepy, like she’s been sucked up by aliens or something.”

 

“Perhaps she had no choice in the matter.” Joe straightened from trying to make the computer co-operate with a sigh, pursing his lips thoughtfully at the blank screen. “And if aliens have her, they’ll soon toss her back. I wouldn’t take on Bennett without back-up.”

 

“Kidnapped, do you mean?” Greg looked around the apartment with fresh eyes. “Nothing disturbed; nothing out of place. No sign of forced entry on any of the doors. She must have let them in. Professional job, maybe, but they couldn’t have taken her from here. Still, it’s a federal offense. They would have to be pretty desperate.”

 

“I never said she was taken from here.” Joe walked over to the bulletin board and studied it closely. For him it detailed every niggling and elusive frustration in this case.

 

“When you get all mysterious on me, it not only raises my blood pressure sky high, but I know in my gut, we’re in some kind of serious trouble.” Greg plucked one of the photos from the board and turned it to the light. “So where do we go from here, then?”

 

“I want to get into that computer. I want to read all of her files as soon as possible. There may be a clue there about what she was getting into when she disappeared, which was from the Trudy Klein crime scene in Central Park, as far as we can make out. That was where she was heading when she last reported in.”

 

“You think the Snapper has something to do with this?” Greg looked over the board. “I know it’s not like Bennett to just up and leave in the middle of a case, but there could be a thousand good reasons why. Do you know something I’ve been missing in all of this? Something you’re not telling me? Don’t go holding out on me, Joe. We’re friends, remember?”

 

“As Diana said, it’s all here, and we’re just not seeing it.” Joe thumped his fist hard against the board. “Well, this time, we’re gonna find out.”

 

“So, I guess that’s a ‘no, I’m not about to share’ look you’ve got on.” Greg sighed in frustration. “What you owe me, Joseph Maxwell, is gonna be a whole long weekend of sun, surf, and sand. Drinks on the house and the all-I-can-eat buffet for free, twenty-four, seven. Otherwise, I might just say to hell with Bennett and leave you both up to your armpits in the proverbial.”

 

“But you won’t.” Joe grinned at him. “Because I know the mystery is fairly eating you up inside. Anyway, we’re not about to let Russell get there before us, are we? Bennett would kill us for certain.”

 

God, no!” Greg straightened up, glaring at the board. “All right, so what do we know for sure…?”  

 

 

“What did he say to you?” John Russell stooped over the small child standing beneath the bobbing red balloon. “What did he want?”

 

“He wanted to take my picture.” The girl’s voice had taken on a depth and maturity that belied her apparent age. “Said he liked to keep them to look at when he’s feeling sad. Wanted my address. Gave him a fake one, of course. He said he wanted to come over and play games.”

 

“Did he?” Russell straightened up and gazed through the park’s trees to where a mass of bouncing balloons marked the clown’s progress among the lengthening shadows of the afternoon. He was heading for the carousel.

 

“You said fifty bucks; you would pay me fifty bucks for the job.” The childlike hand was extended imperiously. “And I get to keep the balloon.”

 

“For a kid, you have the morals of a shark.” Russell plucked his wallet from his inside pocket and counted out the notes into the girl’s open palm. “You’re a mean sixteen year-old going on fifty-five.”

 

“Oh, and you’re a nasty mister.” The girl batted eyelids that shielded eyes as old as time and twice as cold. “When you come to Crystal’s again, be sure and keep out of my way.”

 

“Count on it, kid.” Russell stepped aside and watched her out of sight, the red balloon bobbing furiously in her wake. “I happen to like my women a whole lot bigger, a bit older, and not as sassy as you.” He turned back to the park, but the parade of balloons had disappeared. Russell leaned back against a nearby tree and lit another cigarette.

 

“So, you like to play games, do you?” he commented with a slow smile devoid of humour. “Well, I can play those games too. Let’s see who ends up the winner.”

 

 

“This could be the most serious threat you have faced so far.” Elliot took a turn around Father’s chamber. “You have no clue as to Diana’s whereabouts. None at all?”

 

“Someone killed those three men at the junction to get her.” Father ruffled his hair with an agitated hand. “But apart from her bag, we have found no trace of the woman. By leaving us the bodies to find, the killer showed, by his lack of need to conceal his deed, that he is obviously not afraid of discovery. Or he has a place to hide that no one has found. So until we find Miss Bennett, or any trace of her fate, the whole community must remain on high alert.”

 

“And Joe hasn’t found any trace of her in the city either.” Catherine worried the leather lacing of her husband’s vest with restless fingers. “So we must assume she is still down here somewhere.”

 

“But where?” Elliot looked at each of them in turn. “She could be anywhere by now. Hurt, disorientated, and dangerous, if she isn’t found soon. Gabriel didn’t stand a chance once Bennett decided to go snooping into his world. And she never goes anywhere without her weapon these days. We didn’t find that either. Why are we just sitting here?”

 

“Because it’s not that simple.” Shannon was perched on the edge of Father’s desk. “Mouse and Vincent will take a team each and begin a detailed search first thing in the morning. We cannot just go blundering around without some serious planning. You got lost quite easily, remember?”

 

“Shannon is right. It is no use dashing off in all different directions.” Father leaned heavily on his cane. “Our world has survived other threats; it will survive this one. If this woman cannot be made to understand our situation, then we will have to deal with that problem if and when it arises. If she is as resourceful as you say, she may find her own way out and count herself lucky to be alive.”

 

“I have interviews to organise for Joe.” Catherine stood. “We only have a few days before the Snapper strikes again. I do not want another child’s death on my conscience.”

 

“I’ll help where I can.” Elliot looked across the room at Catherine’s troubled face. “Just tell me what I can do.”

 

“First, we must eat and then get some rest, Elliot. That is all any of us can do until tomorrow.” Catherine leaned back against Vincent’s chest. “Then the hunt must begin in earnest.”

 

 

   

When Catherine first came to live Below, Mouse had overhead her mentioning to Vincent that a long hot shower was the one thing she truly missed at the end of a tiring day. Immediately the tinker had set to work creating his latest masterpiece to please her. His new shower box for her was particularly inventive.

 

A natural basin in the floor provided the ideal place, the water running away into a drain that had been channelled through a pipe set into the floor. The same drain also served the huge bathtub Mouse had installed for Jacob to play in. Only Mouse knew where the water eventually emptied. But he assured everyone it would cause no unexpected floods, as had happened with his last water experiment. And so far, the shower had worked true to his original plan.

 

The water was heated in a gas cylinder and piped in as required. Catherine’s profuse thanks had brought hectic colour to the tinker’s cheeks, and he had shuffled his booted feet in acute embarrassment before escaping her grateful hug, muttering he had work to do.

 

Now the water ran hot and soothing down over Catherine’s shoulders as she made slow progress across the warm skin of Vincent’s lower stomach, leaving a trail of molten kisses in the wake of her seeking mouth. Vincent watched her through hooded eyes, fascinated by the sleek ivory tones of her skin against his own. Outlined by the running water, the muscles beneath that smooth satin cream moved fluidly, as Catherine worked ever downwards, ever closer to her goal.

 

Vincent’s breath hissed through clenched teeth as she arrived at her objective, and his hands curled deep into the wet length of her hair. By sheer reflex, one long, broadly muscled leg lifted in defense, bending at the knee with suppressed need as Vincent sank back against the smooth wall of the shower cubicle, his face raised, straining and unseeing to the hissing stream of hot water.

 

Catherine chuckled deep in her throat as she straightened to run the other hand up the slick smoothness of his inner thigh, one hand testing the hot satin length of him straining against her stomach, moving the other to cup the solid strength of his buttock in her slim palm. Instinctively Vincent’s leg curved across her back, drawing her into him before she had a chance to resume her intimate exploration, but also trapping her hand between them. The witch-fires of wanton intent gleamed in her eyes as Catherine squeezed and flexed her fingers, testing Vincent’s limits, until a low growl rewarded her insistence.

 

“Vincent…” Catherine reached up then to nip at his chin with her teeth, while her fingers still described ever-tightening circles across the tightly drawn flesh she cupped in her hand. “You are everything I could ever be…”

 

“And you are a water sprite sent to tempt me.” Vincent shook his head, trying to ward her off, wet tawny silk mingling with water-darkened ash blond, the growl gathering momentum, the sound muted by the flowing water. His hands entwined through her hair, drawing her head back to expose the long creamy column of her throat. A frenetic pulse beat there, the pumping in exact time with the heartbeat above Vincent’s own, exquisitely undeniable.

 

“All my love…” With his thumb, Vincent tested that pulse, his nail leaving a momentary crease in the skin of Catherine’s throat, a rippled of sensation of their connection, before he bent his head to explore the mark with his mouth, nipping and testing with his teeth and tongue.

 

Moving against him in slow, deliberate circles, Catherine pushed further into the heated air trapped between them, her emotions trembling on the brink of fulfilment, vividly alive and undeniable.

 

Death, so much a part of life, had come close to their world, threatening all that Vincent and Catherine held dear. Only in the continuation of life could the dark veil be momentarily defeated, pushed back to the outer limits of consciousness. Their mutual need, one for the other, was a triumph over that dark force and would be for all time.

 

Catherine brought her arms up then, to slide them around her husband’s neck, hugging him fiercely, protectively, as her lover and her child. The cold echoes of remembered pain at losing one of their family, eased slowly from Catherine’s heart and mind. Vincent, cradling her close as he threaded his fingers repeatedly through her hair, soothed and aroused her instinctive response to his warm caress.

 

Risen high on the points of her toes, Catherine begged mutely for his love, for the vast reaches of his soul that belonged only to her. Running her hands down over the bulk of his shoulders, smoothing over the hard planes of his chest where whorls of golden hair clung wetly, Catherine told him with her sure touch of all she saw and found beautiful.

 

Vincent acknowledged her touch, as he bent over her, cupping the roundness of her bottom in the broad palms of his hands with warm intimacy before drawing her slowly, inexorably upwards, running her innermost intimate warmth against him with deliberate lassitude.

 

Catherine bowed her head over his, knowing the sure touch, the unique feel of her husband’s face nestled in the heated valley between her breasts as her legs parted to encompass his waist, her heels curling into the valley at the back of his thighs as he held her easily. With her hands balanced on his shoulders, Catherine raised her face to the falling stream of water, rivulets snaking down the slickness of her body to run down Vincent’s flanks, to finally pool in the intimate joining of their bodies.  

 

Closing her eyes, Catherine’s fingers blindly explored him, touching and testing, drawing the electrifying usage of both his lips and tongue to caress her here and there, moving constantly within the bounds of his secure grasp. Endlessly seeking the fulfilment of a promise as her fingers played over the bunched muscles of his shoulders, sensing, through touch and bond, the spiralling path of two souls inextricably linked.

 

Poised, trembling on the edge of all she most desired, feeling Vincent rising with her to that point of blind sensation, Catherine opened her eyes to gaze down again, deep into her husband’s eyes to where ran the dark balance of his soul, the other half of his incredible self that made him so completely who he was, and she bent to place her mouth over his in a kiss that became a whirlpool communion of the indestructible spirit within each of them.

 

Whispered breath carried her unspoken thoughts across the connection as flooding warmth flowered deep within her, blossoming out to make her shudder and gasp for breath, complete within the safety of her husband’s embrace as he brought her in against him, the warm swell of her pregnancy cradled gently against him. And so, again the cycle of life was complete and the cold shadow of death once more urgently denied…

 

 

Shannon sat on her bed, unable to sleep. She sat with her feet curled beneath her, the little stone figure of the unicorn held in the cup of her hands. The animal beamed at her, its head still held at the same quizzical angle. Its expression never altered; its smile was still insane, but Shannon loved him with all her heart.

 

Elliot stood in the doorway, watching her abstracted attention with interest. Catherine had told them all to rest. The following day would be gruelling at best, but sleep was an elusive thing that he had given up on trying to woo and had left the guest chamber to wander the tunnels in search of…what…he had no idea.

 

Shannon looked up, suddenly aware of him. She met his gaze with doubt, her own eyes troubled and shadowed with pain. Closing her hand over the tiny figure in her palms, she swallowed convulsively and blinked away the tears crowding in behind her eyes. Elliot advanced two steps into the chamber and halted uncertainly at the edge of the brightly coloured rugs strewn across the floor.

 

“You didn’t come to dinner tonight.” Elliot pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans to prevent his reaching for her. “I came to find out why.”

 

“A cowardly reason.” Shannon felt the stone edges of the figurine bite into the soft skin of her palms. “In the end, I found I just couldn’t face you.”

 

“The Shannon I know is not a coward.” Elliot advanced further, looking about him with interest. “You have always met your challenges head on.”

 

“Is that how you see yourself, as a challenge?” Shannon uncurled her legs and slid off the bed to replace the unicorn on its shelf with unsteady fingers.

 

Footsteps sound close behind her, and she backed up as Elliot moved closer again. His brow was furrowed in thought in his effort to understand her change in attitude to him.

 

“I have never pretended with you,” Elliot murmured, his intent gaze absorbing the wariness in her eyes before she averted them hastily. “What we have together is real, and I won’t tarnish it with any false promises or shameless begging for you to stay with me.”

 

“I know…” Shannon released her pent-up breath on a troubled sigh, her eyes returning to his, bright with unshed tears. “But to be able to say all the right things, say that this life we have together is possible, would be a lie I could live with…for a while.”

 

“I don’t agree.” Elliot placed his hands against the wall at Shannon’s back, one of either side of her body, hemming her in, until he could nail down the point she was finding so difficult to say.

 

“I didn’t think you would.” Shannon raised her chin, meeting the steely quality of his concentrated gaze squarely, but with a mute appeal for understanding.

 

“It was beautiful, Elliot. But what can we really have together, into the future? Could you ever be happy in this place, so far beneath all your dreams, all your hopes? I care for you too much to allow you to throw it all away. So what do we have left?”

 

Elliot didn’t answer immediately, and Shannon felt the chill of his reticence. He glanced away around the chamber, his eyes resting briefly on her collection, picking out unerringly, the unicorn with the silly smile and his own lips twisted into the same whimsical curve. Magic perhaps, his mind teased at the word that rose unbidden as he glanced back at Shannon, pinned against the wall, her eyes saying she was waiting for her dream to shatter, a love to be denied.

 

“What we have left…is each other.” Elliot took one hand from the wall to define the soft curves of her mouth, before tracing the line of her jaw unsteadily. “And a beginning…”

 

“And the end…for us?” Shannon asked tremulously, trying desperately to deny his touch, prevent her traitorous body from seeking to deepen the caress. “Where and when will that be?”

“I truly don’t know,” Elliot offered, truthfully. “But Vincent once told me, any journey always begins with the first step, and I would guess we have already taken that the other night. The rest is for us to work out, as we continue on this adventure of ours. But I know I will not allow you to run away.”

 

“I enjoyed…the other night.” Warm colour mantled Shannon’s cheeks.

 

“Without regret?”

 

“I could never regret anything from that night.” She drew a steadying breath as Elliot’s increasingly intimate touch shivered through her on tendrils of fire and she willingly surrendered, the safety of the wall at her back, to the beguiling warmth of his embrace.

 

“We have time now…” Elliot breathed into the fragrant cloud of her hair, his eyes finding again the lopsided smile of the little unicorn. “Perhaps we should see if we can recapture a little magic…”

 

 

Jacob stirred restlessly in his sleep, disquieted by the currents of unease in his small world. Vincent rose silently to his feet, disengaging himself gently from his wife’s encompassing arm, and padded across the chamber to his son’s crib. Bright blue eyes gazed up at him, brimming with anticipation, the promised treat of a midnight stroll bringing the child to his feet in an instant.

 

“All right, but you must promise to be very quiet.” Vincent bent over his son and scooped him into his arms. “Your mother is still asleep.”

 

Jacob craned his head around until he could see the bed and Catherine nestled among the pillows and comforters. He pressed a fingertip to his lips, grinning as he nodded solemnly, clinging tightly to his father’s shoulder and settling himself for the ride ahead. Vincent paused only to gather his boots and cloak, before they crept from the chamber together, Jacob bouncing in silent joy, his connection with his father vibrating with his unbounded happiness.

 

In the same instant, Catherine stirred and opened sleepy eyes. Watching their progress with a mother’s smile, she knew she could join their ramble if she chose, but the bed was too comfortable, the dreams too enticing to abandon. On a sigh, she turned over and burrowed deeper into the covers, waves of pure contentment pushing away the darker fears of the day ahead as she let herself drift, the threads that held her connected to all her family entwined through her dreams…

 

 

Mouse muttered over his project, adjusting, realigning, until even his exacting standards were satisfied. Sitting back on his haunches, he grinned with relief. The search for the missing policewoman from Above had threatened to drag him away from his work at a critical time, but now it was finished.

 

Arthur twittered at his side, paddling through his master’s tools to see if there was anything worth eating. Mouse scooped him up and showed the animal the finished project.

 

“Jacob will love this.” Mouse stroked the racoon’s fur. The animal chattered and purred his pleasure. “He will like it fine.”

 

Arthur’s attention was soon diverted by an interesting stain on his master’s sweater, and he began to nibble at it hopefully, his tiny black eyes showing his disinterest in the strange apparatus Mouse had erected within the confines of the small chamber that had once been a storage room. But his master suddenly dumped him back in the dust with no regard for his protests and clapped his hands together in delight at his achievement. Arthur bustled away in a huff, going in search of better company and perhaps something to eat.

 


   

 

There’s a place inside my heart

Nobody’s touched before

And when I found you

I found all that I’d been searching for

You turned my world around…

 

I might never have met you

In another time and place

Now I never could forget you

I could never walk away…

 

Joe Cocker

 

 

The pool sent rising tendrils of steam aloft into the cool air of the cavern. Diana knelt on the rocky edge and ran her hand tentatively through the dark waters. The heat beneath the limpid surface was surprising. But then she remembered how far below the city they must be and how close to the earth’s molten core she had come.

 

The cavern was deserted, the silence only broken by the hissing of the lamp she held in her free hand, that cast a small puddle of yellow light, enough to see by, but not much else. The echoes of her approach had spoken of the vast depths unseen beyond the blackness of the water, the far shore of the pool invisible beyond the blanketing steam.

 

She sat back on her haunches and looked back towards the entrance to the cavern. Celine had disappeared, vanishing silently back to the passages beyond, even the demented sound of her constant cackling lost in the echoes of this place.

 

Until this moment, Diana had not been allowed to explore beyond her chamber. Her brief journeys to the bathroom across the passage were assisted by Celine, a small, incredibly wrinkled old woman who appeared out of nowhere and spoke not a word, but cackled endlessly over some vastly amusing private joke known only to herself. Her dark eyes, set deep in her thin face, shone with unholy merriment every time Diana attempted to question her. Her response was to shake her head and chuckle all the more. It was she who brought Diana a pile of old, well-washed shirts to wear instead of her own clothing, which had been spirited away while she slept.

 

The shirts were very roomy and long, brushing her calves. Very serviceable as night attire, patched and mended in many places with odd pieces of cloth and thin leather. The sleeves she was forced to roll up, for they fell beyond her hands, and she wondered at the size of the man who had originally worn them.

 

Diana pushed her hand through the dirty length of her hair, dismayed at its matted, gritty feel. Somewhere on the way down to this hellish place, she had lost her grandmother’s antique comb. The loss made her want to cry. It had been a precious gift she had long cherished. She dashed an impatient hand across her cheeks, turning to glare at the limpid water beside her. Why Celine had brought her here was obvious, but she was still reluctant to shed even the simple protection of the shirt she wore.

 

The bruised hurt of her body was tolerable as long as she moved with care, and even the brusque attentions of Azrael’s mother now failed to ruffle her calm. The other woman came to her chamber infrequently, her conversation stilted and belittling. Diana needed to force her mouth not to respond to the other woman’s barbed remarks. She obviously was spoiling for a fight because of some imagined slight, and Diana was the chosen target of her spiteful venom.

 

As time moved inexorably forward without her ability to measure it, Diana became more and more determined to escape this place, get back to the city and her work before she went mad. She would achieve this aim with, or without, Azrael’s help. The thought of what was happening up there in her absence was like a cancerous growth on her spirit – painful to the touch, but unable to be ignored.

 

On a short sigh, Diana watched the steam as it curled into fantastic shapes in the lamplight, streaming out to carry the scent of sulphur into the moist air. Setting down the lamp suddenly, she stood with reluctant decision to gingerly strip off the hampering folds of her shirt. The steam flowed and rippled with her movements, entwining her nude body in its damp tendrils as she stepped to the edge and looked down into the dark depths with trepidation. The whiteness of the bandage around her upper body blended easily with the pale tones of her ivory skin. Its constriction added another layer to her impatience to be gone from this unearthly place.

 

“It is said to be bottomless.” The sound of a voice behind her almost made her overbalance and topple headlong into the pool. “But then, danger has its own spice, does it not?”

 

“Depends on how you look at it.” Diana didn’t have to look behind her to know who stood there. She could feel the prickle of awareness running the length of her spine. Slowly she turned her head to watch Azrael approach.

 

He is blind, after all, she reminded herself with wary relief, as she stood motionless, helplessly trapped against the rocky edge of the pool.

 

His face was bland, his eyes glimmering in the half-light shed by the lantern at her feet, the soft creaking of his leatherwork sounding loud in the stillness. He finally paused beside her, his height commanding, as he reached out a tentative hand to run one forefinger across the sudden rash of gooseflesh on her upper arm. “You are trembling….why?”

 

“You caught me by surprise.” Diana moved aside from his touch, suddenly unsure of his odd ability to pinpoint her position with such unerring accuracy.

 

Bending down, she gathered the folds of her shirt, intending to pull it over her head and forgo the pleasure of submerging herself in the hot water of the pool, no matter how much she wanted to do so. But Azrael’s next words forestalled her.

 

“Please, carry on with your intention to swim. I did not come here to interrupt your pleasure. I once would come here to swim as a child. But that was before…” He sighed abruptly, his gaze clouding with memory, and he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

“This was your special place. That is why I was brought here.” Diana hesitated, frowning in puzzled inquiry at the bleakness of his expression.

 

Against her better judgment not to become involved with these people, she moved to lay her hand on the bunched muscles of his forearm, the shirt forgotten in her hand. “I will listen…if you want to tell me why you find this place so painful now.”

 

One tentative hand, long-fingered and elegant, rose to define the curve of her cheek, testing the smooth resilience of her skin, bringing a flush of heat to her cheeks. Then his hand fell away, dropping to brush lightly, for one earth-shattering moment, against the swell of her naked breast.

 

For that fleeting instant, they both froze, before Azrael snatched his hand away as if he’d just encountered fire. A second sigh, bitter and long, moved through the tumbled length of Diana’s hair before Azrael stepped back into the shadows, his voice low and uneven. “Have your swim. I should not have come here. When you are ready to return to your chamber, Celine will attend to you.”

 

“Wait…please…” Diana managed through the sudden dryness of her throat, unsure if Azrael was still there in the darkness or if she was simply talking to empty shadows. But no movement, no sound, acknowledged her words; only empty silence prevailed. She sat down on the edge of the pool, dropping her head into her hands.

 

It was beyond time to leave this place – to go back upwards, towards the light and untainted air. They couldn’t prevent her from leaving. They were nothing but a blind man and two old women. She was stronger than all of them. She would not be judged as a weakling and not worthy of their fear.

 

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” she quoted Nietzsche softly, her spine straightening and stiffening with resolve.

 

Now, all she needed to do ws get her hands on her gun...


“She’s more trouble than she’s worth.” Emma Pater applied paint to the canvas before her with an impatient hand. “I don’t know what possessed you to bring her here.”

 

“So I should have left her to die, then?” Azrael took another turn around his mother’s chamber, its confines as well known to him as his own. “I applaud your sense of compassion.”

 

“Stop it!” Emma hissed. “You sound like your father when you speak like that! You should not have been up there at all. You know the risks and the dangers. You could have met any one of The Others, and that would have been the end of you. And where would I be then?” She abandoned her work with a sharp, irritated sigh. “But what use can she be to us? What practical skills does she have? Do you know anything about her? She would soon become bored, working beside you in the garden. She has some dark and dangerous depths that you cannot see.”

 

“I can see them well enough.” Her son’s sightless eyes swept over her, touching on her face with unerring accuracy, and not for the first time, she wondered if he truly could not see anything.

 

Emma had been against her husband’s experiments with her sons from the first time he broached the idea. But he had overridden her objections, blinding her with his own twisted brand of logic, confusing her with scientific terms, which he knew would only baffle and confuse.  

 

Emma had loved John Pater with all her heart in the early days, those days of heady romance when she developed a taste for the easy life of wealth and privilege she had known as the young and pretty wife of an eminent scientist, a prospective Nobel prize winner for his research. But that was before they were reduced to this place of darkness and forlorn hope.

 

John’s research had become more and more bizarre, and his own mental stability increasingly unbalanced. He craved a place; somewhere he could be free to continue his work into the powers of the mind and their uses. Somewhere he would not be subject to the criticisms and interference of others. He had rejected several promising leads, until someone had told him of the wondrous caverns and tunnels that lay far beneath the city, beneath the subways. Places no sane person ever ventured, or returned alive.

 

Emma had resisted, of course. Begged and pleaded with her husband to change his mind. It was madness!  He had struck her then, telling her to choose…join him in this new and exciting life, or never see her sons again.

 

What choice did she have? Her children were her life.

 

The only comforts she’d been allowed to bring with her had been Celine, her servant and constant companion, and her love of painting. But the older woman had slowly gone mad down here. Unable to escape physically from the confine of the small world in which she found herself, she had retreated inwardly and had not spoken to anyone for the last ten years. Her constant chuckling now always managed to set Emma’s teeth on edge, so she’d assigned the old woman to their reluctant guest without compunction.

 

Azrael shifted now, attracting her wandering attention. “Diana’s mind is strong; I have sensed that. I know she could survive down here.”

 

“As your companion?” Emma jerked her mind away from her idle contemplation of the past. It never did any good to dwell on what could not be mended. It only twisted the mind, and she had a patent horror of impending insanity.

 

“She will be as mad as Celine inside a month and a thousand times more dangerous. You can see that something is eating her up inside. She’s impatient to be gone, even if she has to crawl out of here, and you’d be a fool to try and restrain her. You will not chain her here with the rest of us. I’ve already tried to tell you, she is a danger to us, and to you. But you just can’t see that, can you?”

 

“We are not chained here, Mother.” Azrael moved to touch her arm gently, his black eyes finding hers unerringly. “This is our home. Do you feel trapped down here? Is that why you resent her so?”

 

“Once I would have clawed my way to the surface, dragged myself over broken glass to get there, if it was needed of me. But I could not leave my boys, and it’s too late now.” Emma jerked her arm from her son’s touch in exasperation. “Now I have no desire to leave. Besides, I doubt I could function in that world anymore. And, I have my work…”

 

She glanced back at the canvas she had half completed. Darkness and tragedy were the main themes. Two tiny glimmers of light being slowly smothered by the encroaching gloom. With a flash of unaccustomed insight, she knew that those points of light were herself and her son.

 

“It does not have to be so.” Azrael murmured softly, and Emma knew he had picked up on her thoughts, as he’d always been able to do since his father had taken his sight in one of his early experiments on his young son when he was only three years old.

 

John had sensed very early the incredible telepathic ability that was so strong in his young son and was determined to bring it out, develop it for his own ends. He had some mad idea of playing God and creating a super race of intuitive beings subservient to his will. He had insisted on naming his sons after the archangels…Emma sighed. Yes, it is far too late now…

 

Instead of the super-being he craved, John had created a child he quickly came to despise for the boy’s sensitive nature and caring soul. After the stillborn birth of Emma’s third baby, due to her husband’s experiments on the unborn child, John Pater had become bored and simply abandoned the tiny community, disappearing on his ceaseless wanderings of his subterranean world. He would return infrequently to oversee the education of his sons.

 

That both boys loved him, despite his long absences from their lives only served to heighten Emma’s fears and distrust of her husband and her anger at being abandoned in this place of no escape.

 

But John had disappeared a year ago, taking his older son with him. Since then, there had been no word, no evidence he still lived and would some day return. There was some evidence that The Others had been involved in his disappearance, but no concrete proof.

 

Emma thought privately it would be just like her husband to completely abandon them all together on a whim, or a new direction for his research. Perhaps even a new wife and another family…

 

Over time, Azrael came to believe The Others had killed his father and brother, and he had sworn revenge. Emma had given up trying to make him understand. She no longer had the capacity to hate; it took too much effort to sustain such a cold, bitter hatred as that which burned within her son.

 

“Talking about it now don’t mend matters.” Emma turned off her son’s concern with a careless toss of her head. Better to display her contempt than to let him sense the despair in her heart that was eating away insidiously at her reason. “Where is the woman now?”

 

“Diana is down at the sulphur pools.” Azrael let his outstretched hand drop to his side. “I told Celine to take her there. She will come to no harm.”

 

“Do not keep her here if she wishes to leave. And you know she does,” Emma pleaded suddenly, frustrated as usual by her son’s blank stare. “She doesn’t belong here. It’s a mistake to wish she will stay simply because you asked her to.”

 

“Perhaps, but soon it will no longer matter what any of us want.” Azrael gazed at her sightlessly. He could sense the turmoil of her mind, the ceaseless yearning for something she could no longer define. He had offered to guide her to the surface times beyond counting, but she had always refused, shrugging off his concern with her usual acid sarcasm.

 

What good did it do to argue? His mother would not understand…for her now, this world of theirs had become a dark and soulless prison. For him, it was different. The only home he had ever known. 

 

Emma returned to her painting, watching her son from the corner of her eye.

He’d offered many times to guide her back to the surface, but she had always refused to even consider the idea. She knew he would not stay with her up there, that he would come back down here to the only home he had ever known. To the place where he was truly free. And then he would be alone, in the dark…

 

How could she abandon her child to be alone in this prison? But Azrael was right. Soon it possibly would no longer matter what any of them wanted.

 

The ways to the surface were becoming alarmingly fewer. There had been some substantial rock falls in the last few months, one larger collapse caused, Azrael said, by a large amount of water seeping down from above. The slips had blocked many of the tunnels and access routes to this place. Now there were only two pathways that were still usable, and they were no longer certain. Emma could feel the whole weight of the great city above her, pressing heavily on her soul and sanity. Soon enough, that great weight would bury them all…

 

“You’d better be about your work,” she snapped at her son. “The garden will not wait for you to remember it needs attending. We still need to eat.”

 

“I’m sorry I cannot make you understand.” Azrael shook his head.

 

Conversations with his mother were becoming more and more difficult. One day soon, she would be free of this place, free to go where she pleased. He could allow her that one precious gift.

 

Soon he would avenge himself on The Others. He knew their soft places, where they were most vulnerable. He had been intent on this mission of discovery when he had stumbled on Diana up at the surface. She could only be a momentary diversion from his purpose. The desire to exact revenge for his father and brother kept him warm at night.

 

What else could there be for him. Where else could he go?  

 

 

John Russell stood outside the apartment block across from the park. Leaning casually against a lamp post he lit another cigarette, his sixth since taking up his position.

 

A cold rain sluiced down from an ashen sky, clouds almost seeming to touch the higher levels of the surrounding buildings. A long night spent out of bed, hunched over reports as his desk, did nothing to improve his temper, and now the morning had dawned chill and unwelcoming to his jaundiced eyes.

 

Only the fact that he had finally gotten the jump on Bennett, beat her at her own game while she swanned off to God knows where, warmed the reaches of his narrow soul. Maxwell and Hughs could turn the city upside down looking for her if they liked; John Russell, the mayor’s new favourite detective, was on the job, night and day. And he was about to solve the case that would propel his career into the big time. See if it didn’t.

 

He snapped to attention as the blinds in the apartment he’d been observing all night were raised carefully to an exact height, and the face of Simon Follett stared out briefly on the new day, before withdrawing. Russell recognised him immediately. Follett was the park attendant he had argued with the day the Klein girl was found, before Bennett came nosing around and getting in John’s way.

 

The detective drew back from view with a hard grin of intense satisfaction. All his hard work had paid off, and now he was about to reap the rewards. He allowed his lips to relax into a rare smile of genuine pleasure. He was about to enjoy himself as never before.

 

 

Catherine sat in her chamber carefully collating all the interviews she had just conducted. Her neat handwriting filled many pages of yellow legal pads Joe had provided. She questioned everyone who had known Sarah, all her friends from Below who were likely to have seen the girl on one of her many visits. Patiently built, a pattern was now emerging of a young woman who was extremely careful in her movements, never using the same entrance twice in a row and always wary of prying eyes following her progress between the worlds.

 

Catherine went over and over her notes, her attention tinged with the awareness of Vincent as he explored the farther reaches of his world, probing for any sign that Diana Bennett might have passed that way. Jacob played at his mother’s feet, his attention also diverted as he pushed half-heartedly at his toys, not even finding pleasure in Samantha’s determined attentions. His father was away, and disquiet rippled through the bond he shared with his parents. It was a puzzling time for a small boy just coming to grips with his world and its problems.

 

Finally Catherine went to Sarah’s old chamber to look for clues, for anything that might give her a lead on the murderer. But a detailed search had revealed nothing beyond a few cobwebs. Catherine stood in the doorway and surveyed it all with clinical detachment, trying to force an overlooked truth from its tumbled contents. A huge yellow balloon hung limply from the bedpost it was tied to, now deflated of its gases. The cheerful face painted on its surface seemed to mock Catherine’s determined efforts with a crumpled leer as the balloon fell in on itself.

 

“I thought the same as you, that there may be something here.” Mary approached Catherine as she turned away from Sarah’s chamber. “This man is a pervasive evil. We must find him, Catherine.”

 

“He is a man without conscience, which makes him very dangerous.” Catherine sighed. “He will not stop until he’s forced to.”

 

“Then we must do that.” Mary looked past her into the chamber. “For the sake of all the children, we must do that.”

 

 

Simon Follett felt eyes boring into his back, but when he glanced over his shoulder, he could see no one observing him closely. With a shrug he went back to his duties as a park attendant, raking together the pile of candy wrappers and rubbish the morning breeze was endeavouring to sweep away. As he worked, he whistled tunelessly, remembering the girl he had given the red balloon to yesterday. He could picture her fresh face and shy smile. The balloon trick had worked once again, as it always did. It always caught them off guard and appealed to their avaricious natures. They never pass up the chance to get something for nothing.

 

Now the girl from yesterday had promised to be in the park later in the day. This suited his plan very well. He knew the park intimately, all its secluded places and secret tunnels that led to hidden depths beneath the ground. What the blond boy and his companion had been doing down there still remained a frustrating mystery, but Pancho the clown was not adverse to a little extra company, if he was interrupted in his work.

 

If the child didn’t appear, then there were others to choose form, many others who would love to have a free balloon in exchange for a little favour. Today he would once again thumb his nose at the police and that damned nosey Diana Bennett, who seemed intent on spoiling his game. Follett couldn’t resist a small chuckle of satisfaction as he worked on steadily.

 


“Last time I was here, I could’ve sworn no one had come this way in a long time.” Cullen squatted beside a trail of footprints leading down the tunnel, holding his torch close to inspect the evidence. “And there’re some drops of blood here too. Someone was hurt.” He glanced around the others. “I still think this whole search is a waste of time and resources we don’t have. Woman’s probably dead by now, anyway.” The surrounding darkness was almost absolute, lit only by the torches the small party of men carried. Their faces were lit into ghoulish casts by the flickering lights. “We will have to go back and start again from the junction, and see where this trail comes in. We must have missed a turning somewhere. But I’m all for packing this search in.”

 

“Father and Vincent said we have to find her.” Mouse set himself stubbornly. “Can’t stop now. Important.”

 

“Fool people. Why can’t they stay up there, where they belong?” Cullen scuffed the toe of his boot through the dust and made a startling discovery. “Hey, what’s this?” He bent to sift through the dust and came up holding an elegant tortoiseshell comb, usually used for decorating a woman’s hair. Set with gold, it looked very old and of great value. Mouse and the others crowded close as Cullen held it up to the light.

 

“Waste of time, huh?” Mouse nodded in satisfaction. “Father needs to see this. She has gone this way.”

 

“We don’t know if it’s hers.” Cullen looked at him in exasperation. “Could be anyone’s. Besides, no Topsider could have gotten this far down without help, and none of us have even seen her. And this tunnel leads down into the bedrock beneath the harbour. No one goes there, no one with any sense anyway.”

 

“Have to show,” Mouse reiterated stubbornly. “Have to find. Must have gone down there. We need to, too.”

 

“If anyone has gone down this tunnel into whatever is down there, I doubt they’re ever coming back.” Cullen pocketed the comb with a fatalistic shake of his head. “That tunnel would only lead them to this side of hell.”

 

 

 

 

When I was a child

There were flowers that bloomed in the night

Unafraid to take in the light

Unashamed to have braved the dark

 

And so here I am

Open arms and ready to stand

I’ve got the world in my hands

And it feels like my turn to fly

 

Though I may not know the answers

I can finally say I’m free

And if the questions led me here, then

I am who I was born to be

I am who I was born to be…

 

Susan Boyle

 

 

Greg Hughs spread his men throughout the park, as thinly as he dared. Increased mounted patrols and extra plainclothes detectives patrolled the park’s many walkways, scrutinising every passing face. The press were sniffing around the edges too, knowing that today might be the last chance the police had to catch their elusive quarry. Greg was of the opinion that all he was going to catch was a cold.

 

The early morning rain had slackened, but a few rain clouds still lingered, shot through with watery sunshine. No killer in his right mind would come looking for trouble with the police presence so obvious.

 

But where the heck is Bennett?  

The search for her had proved fruitless, and Greg feared the worst. He massaged his abdomen where he could feel the beginnings of an ulcer and grimaced with disgust as Joe got out of an unmarked police car and came towards him.

 

“The ghouls and the tabloid press will live off this day for months.” Greg pointed at the hovering reporters with his chin. Hunched into his overcoat, he wished himself elsewhere. “Still no sign of Bennett?”

 

“No, not so much as a postcard.” Joe surveyed the gathering with resignation. “And we can’t do much about them, except move them on if they get too close. Freedom of the press, remember?”

 

“Five kids dead, and today is the day of the next event on the calendar.” Greg kicked at an offending drink can at his feet. It rattled along the shoulder of the road. “They’re even taking bets that the guy will quit after today. He stopped at six last time.”

 

“Forget all that.” Joe took his arm and led him out of sight of the watchers among the trees. “We don’t have any choice. The killer picked the venue, but we set the rules. Where’s Russell taken himself off to?”

 

“Chasing after some lead of his own.” Greg watched the stocky figure of a park attendant in the distance. “He hasn’t shown his face today.”

 

Greg could have sworn the attendant wasn’t there a moment ago. Probably came from that drainage tunnel further out… The man was carrying something in his left hand, something he dumped into a nearby trash can without looking, and passed on through the trees and finally out of sight. The echoes of his tuneless whistling came back on the shifting breeze.

 

“Well, when you find him, I want his full attention on this case.” Joe’s eyes were attracted to the tunnel entrance, and he hoped Catherine’s secret world was still safe.

 

If Bennett didn’t turn up soon, the consequences wouldn’t bear thinking about. How long could he conceal the knowledge she had probably been murdered by a person or persons unknown beneath the park and not set a whole squad if heavy-footed policemen clumping all over the world Below? Someone was bound to discover what he most wanted to keep hidden and safe from harm.

 

Joe sent up a silent prayer for Bennett to walk back into the investigation as abruptly as she left it. His stomach grumbled hollowly. Three cups of black coffee and no breakfast was currently his usual start to the day, and his mouth already tasted like the inside of a garbage can. And now, John Russell had gone AWOL as well. It was becoming an annoying habit with his investigators. Joe rubbed at the beginnings of an ulcer and shivered in the rising wind.

 

He looked again at the drainage tunnel. He needed that long weekend away Greg had demanded they take, now more than ever. But he knew where he would rather be…  

 

 

Diana ran her hands carefully over every part of her body, testing and retesting all her senses, all her physical responses. Apart from the constant, stabbing pain in her chest every time she moved, and the stinging pain of her abused cheek, everything seemed to be intact. Resting back on the pillows at the head of the bed, she took careful stock of her resources.

 

 Aside from Celine, she had seen no one for some considerable time, perhaps even days now. Time seemed to telescope into an endless stream that had no beginning nor end in this world of eternal night. The old woman came and went with trays of food, bringing fruit and endless stews of which Diana was rapidly becoming heartily sick. They were nourishing, but bland and uninteresting to someone used to spicier fare.

 

Diana sat up now, flexing her shoulder muscles and moving her head in small circles to relieve the tension crowding in at the base of her skull. That the Snapper investigation was going on without her somewhere far above her head brought a tightening of her lips and a frustrated consternation to her unseeing eyes.

 

If she could get her hands on her gun...someone was going to pay for keeping her a prisoner down here...

 

By now, John Russell would be haunting Joe’s office, complaining about her lack of professional conduct and oiling the wheels of his own campaign to have her tossed off the investigation. The inactivity was eating away at her soul, and even the appearance of her unresponsive attendant would have been a welcome sight.

 

The empty plates of her midday meal still lay on the night stand beside the bed. When the old woman returned, Diana was determined to get some information out of her, force her way beyond the insane giggling, even if she had to resort to physical violence.

 

“You have finished?” a voice questioned from the doorway.

 

Diana looked up in startled puzzlement to see Azrael framed in the opening. She had seen nothing of him since the incident at the pool. Her morning ablutions were uninterrupted. All the things she wished to say to him, the diatribe she had been saving up for his exclusive edification, suddenly crowded into her mind at his unexpected appearance.

 

“You’re mad at me.” He hung back in the doorway. “I can tell.”

 

“I am frustrated and angry, but I’m not mad at you.” Diana frowned. “I do not want to be here.” She discovered she could sense his uncertainty and was confused by it. Azrael’s dark, sightless eyes were fixed on her with unerring accuracy, though she had made no movement since his sudden reappearance. “You are certainly a welcome change from my usual attendant.”

 

“You are healing.” Azrael advanced into the room cautiously, as if he expected her to attack him at any moment.

 

Why bite the hand that could rescue you? Diana had already decided. He was the only one who could take her back to the point where he’d found her. He alone was her ticket out of this place, and she was fairly sure he still possessed her gun. Her palms itched to possess it.

 

“Celine is harmless,” Azrael replied, picking up the discarded tray and turning away, heading back towards the door. “She is my mother’s servant. She agreed to attend you.”

 

“Do you have a servant as well?” Diana asked the first question that came into her head, hoping to forestall his imminent exit.

 

“You are safe here.” Azrael turned his blind gaze back to her. “The men who attacked you are—”

 

“I have met their kind before,” Diana cut in sharply, knowing she would have to force a confrontation before Azrael slipped away again. “Occupational hazard, you might say. I can handle myself. What I need from you is a guide back to the surface. There will be people searching for me, even as we speak. Do you want them to find this place?”

 

“They will never come down here,” Azrael countered with a shrug, turning away again. “You don’t need to go back to that place.”

 

“When they find my purse in the tunnels, I’m sure there will be a search, and perhaps they will find things you don’t wish to be found.”

 

Azrael turned back, his face thoughtful, his blank eyes reflecting the lamplight to a glossy sheen. “You are wrong. The Others stand between us and the dwellers from Up There. They always take care of any intruders into their domain. No one will come here…uninvited.”

 

“Who are these Others you keep talking about?” Diana sat forward in frustration, ignoring the stabbing pain of her protesting ribs. “Are there other communities down here?”

“There are many who live beneath the city.” Azrael’s blind gaze shifted to the tray in his hands. “Our community is small and isolated. No one comes here, not even The Others. Anyone who searches for you will find no clues to your whereabouts.”

 

“Why did you decide to bring me here, Azrael? What did you hope to gain by saving my life?” Diana had only to reach out a hand to touch his arm.

 

He seemed to sense this and moved again towards the doorway, well out of her reach. His voice was low and uncertain as he turned to answer her.

 

“Because I am tired…tired of this place…tired of being alone. A future in this place is a limited thing at best. Now that the Master and Zadkiel have gone away forever, there is no one for me now. Do you know what it is to be completely alone?”

 

“Yes…” Diana answered slowly, her voice wistful, even to her own ears.

 

Get a grip on yourself, Bennett.

 

“I have spent most of my life alone, through my own choice. I am not good with people.”

 

“But why?” The question came back instantly, and the plates on the tray rattled in sudden agitation. “Why would you, a beautiful woman, choose such a lonely path?”

 

Diana pursed her lips. She wasn’t about to ask how he knew what she looked like.

 

“Because it’s easier.” She didn’t stop to edit her reply. She compressed her lips. “It’s always easier to walk away from those who do not understand you than to stay and force their attention on matters they could not have a hope of understanding.”

 

“Yes, it is easier…” Azrael’s voice had sunk to such a low pitch, Diana had to strain to hear him. “The Master never could understand why I could not be like him. Obey him without question, as my mother does. Why I do not share his views on certain matters, despite being brought up in his shadow.”

 

“This man you call the Master, you have spoken of him before.” Diana plucked the bare fact from his statement, a revelation he obviously had not intended to divulge. “You say his name with such pain. Who is he? Did he live here with you?”

 

“He did…once.” Azrael’s voice was filled with raw emotion. “The Others murdered him. They took away his guiding hand from our lives, and now we drift, alone and leaderless. He was all things to us, and now we have nothing.” He turned back to stare at Diana. “But one day soon, they will pay. I will exact a revenge for what they have done. One day soon, they will understand that he was my father and I am his son.”

 

 

“It looks very old.” William craned his head to see over Cullen’s arm. “Don’t recognise it. How about anyone else?”

 

“It is very beautiful.” Mary fingered the comb where it lay on Father’s desk. “I’m sure none of the women have anything so fine. But I can ask around, if you really think it’s necessary.”

 

“Not ours,” Mouse chimed in. “Would have seen. Know all the best sort of gold. Melts down real good. This is the best kind. Makes great wire.”

 

“You’re not going to melt it down!” Mary snatched up the piece and held it protectively. “It must be someone’s priceless heirloom.”

 

“Probably dead by now,” Cullen opined darkly. “Shouldn’t have come down here in the first place. There was some blood along with it. Women are always getting lost.”

 

“We do not!” Samantha had appeared in the doorway of the chamber, Jacob slung on her hip. “I know these tunnels better than anyone! Even Vincent or Mouse.”

 

Cullen shrugged. “Well, if the fool woman hadn’t come snooping around down here in the first place, none of us would have to go out looking for her!”

 

Please! I should think the identity of the comb’s owner is without question.” Father rose form his chair to face the gathering, raising his voice to be heard above the hubbub of heated conversation. “The tunnel in which this comb was found leads directly from the junction down to the lower reaches of the underground system beyond the harbour and below the Maze. A Topsider, lost and confused, could have found her way to the point where this was found.”

 

“What happened then? Did she sprout wings and fly away?” Cullen thrust his hand into the pockets of his waistcoat and rocked on the balls of his feet, frowning in mulish discontent. “I still say she must have been taken down from the junction by someone who knows these tunnels,” he continued. “Vincent and I have long suspected there are others out there. Someone’s been pilfering our supplies without being seen or caught for years. That takes skill and an intimate knowledge of us and our systems. No one has figured out who clobbered James up at the junction before the bodies were found. He was hit from behind without seeing or hearing anyone.”

 

“But all the sentries have been checked and double checked; no one saw anything!” William placed his hands on his ample hips and glared at his friend. “And it’s just wasting precious time going over the same ground again. We have to find this woman and soon. And we won’t do that by standing around here arguing among ourselves.”

 

“William is right.” Father picked up the comb and smoothed the dust from its polished surface. “If Diana Bennett is dead, then we must find her body and return it to Joe Maxwell as soon as possible and hope he can explain away the circumstances of her demise without involving us.” He looked around the group. “If she is alive, and I am afraid I cannot see how she has survived for so long without help, then we must do everything in our power to ensure her swift return to the world Above. She is vital to solving Sarah’s murder. We must not lose sight of that one factor in all of this.”

 

“I, for one, do not want Sarah’s death to have been in vain.” Catherine stood in the chamber entrance, having come in behind Samantha. “Diana may be our only hope in this case. She has to be still alive. We cannot give up looking for her until we know the truth.”

 

“Optimistic idea, but we can give it a shot.” Cullen shrugged and nudged Mouse with his elbow. “Come on. Let’s get going. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. I still want to check those sentries who were on duty that day. Someone must have seen something. Maybe they just don’t know it.”

 

“James says he didn’t see or hear anything.” William stood with arms akimbo, his face wrinkled in concentration. “He said he saw nothing out of the ordinary that day before he was struck down. He said someone hit him over the head, knocking him to the floor. When he finally came to, all he saw was Vincent heading off down one of the other tunnels, away from him, carrying some sort of long parcel over his shoulder. He did think it was a bit odd at the time, that Vincent didn’t come to his aid when he called out to him.”

 

That’s because Vincent was down below the Maze with me!” Cullen spaced the words slowly and distinctly. “He couldn’t have been up at the junction as well!”

 

His words fell into the sudden hush, as everyone stared at him with varying degrees of dismay. He looked from face to face in blank amazement before lifting his gaze to Catherine, standing at the top of the steps.

 

“If it wasn’t Vincent up at the junction, then who was it?” Catherine’s puzzled question fell into the well of silence. “And what was he carrying?” She felt the flare of alarm go through her, instantly answered across her connection to Vincent.

 

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am getting tired of this mystery.” Cullen smacked his fist into his open palm. “I think it’s about time we all found out the truth.”

 

“I’ll go and find James, find out what he knows for sure.” William headed for the door.

 

“I will ask and see if anyone recognises this.” Mary snatched up the comb and followed William’s broad frame.

 

“Will need extra torches.” Mouse rubbed his hands together in agitation. “Need Vincent. Need map and food supplies. Could be a long time down there. Pity about the gold. Makes great stuff for Mouse.”

 

“Vincent is on his way,” Catherine told Father, as the others hurried past her. “The comb is a slender clue at best, but it’s all we have.”

 

“What concerns me most is how James could have mistaken anyone for Vincent. Cullen doesn’t like mysteries, but this particular mystery is by far the most puzzling. There is no one Below who could possibly mistaken for my son. No one. And this impostor must have been wearing tunnel costume. So, who was it that James saw up there?”

 

   

“I know that belongs to Diana Bennett.” Elliot stood with Vincent looking at the comb in Catherine’s hand. “She wore it once when she came to my office. I even remarked on it at the time.”

 

“Could the parcel you say you saw the stranger carrying possibly have been a body?” William turned to James who stood uneasily beside him, fingering the long staff of his office as a sentry.

 

“It could’ve been,” he conceded reluctantly. “Thought it was Vincent carrying something big, looking like a blanket or a cloak. No one told me he was down in the Maze.” He looked accusingly at Cullen and the others grouped about the spot where the comb was found.

 

“It’s the blood I don’t like.” Elliot ran his hand across his face, leaving a smear of soot in its wake. He’d joined Vincent’s team in searching the tunnels below the subways, and the dull beat of a gruelling headache had been his constant companion for the last few hours. The deafening roar of the trains passing overhead had taken his brain and kicked it into a quivering pulp inside his skull. The tantalizing evidence of the lost comb at least brought some measure of relief that they were not longer looking for the proverbial needle in a very large and complex haystack.

 

“You are certain this is the comb you saw her wearing?” Father tapped his boot with the end of his cane, betraying his extreme agitation. “There can be no mistake?”

“Even if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure, it’s still the best lead we’ve got.” Elliot glanced at Shannon standing beside him. “Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make sure she wasn’t found in a hurry.”

 

“Are you saying you think the Snapper killer had something to do with this?” Catherine grasped his point immediately. “How could such a person have the knowledge of these tunnels?”

 

“Shannon told me that there are others living down here in these tunnels, separate and apart from you.” Elliot shrugged. “Why couldn’t he be one of them?”

 

“Mouse has told me stories of others he’s seen before.” Shannon looked down the tunnel. “Paracelsus certainly knew of other communities, though he wouldn’t tell us where.”

 

“But…a man like that…living down here…among us!” Mary gasped out the thought in everyone’s mind. “It just isn’t possible.”

 

“The Outsiders were such as those Elliot speaks of,” Vincent put in quietly, looking at each of them in turn. “Their rules were simple and direct. Kill or be killed. How can we say our world still does not harbour such a man?”

 

“The park!” Catherine gasped. “All the murders were centered on the park! The drainage tunnel is virtually in the middle of the area Joe described as being the killer’s favoured ground.”

 

“So Bennett came nosing around, looking for clues, and meets up with more than she bargained for.” Elliot nodded slowly. “Then the man James saw and the Happy Snapper killer could very well be one and the same person.”

 

“But he wore tunnel clothes!” James burst out. “Cloak, hood, leather boots, and he had long hair. That’s why I thought it was Vincent. How was I to know it wasn’t?”

 

“So, he is one of us…” Father’s voice was low and filled with disbelief.

 

“He is and he isn’t.” Elliot looked down the tunnel into the depths beyond the circles of light flung by the torches. “Separate and apart, remember? I would say our truth lies down there. In that darkness you will find the answer. And Diana Bennett dead or, by some blessed miracle, alive.”

 

“Who has been down there?” Mary shivered with a sudden chill. “This man has nothing to lose by defying us. If he has Miss Bennett, I doubt he will give her up easily.”

 

“If he has Diana I know he will be regretting it by now,” Elliot put in with grim humour. “She is not known for her reticence. Right now, he could be bringing her back up to us. Begging us to take her back.”

 

“If she is down there and alive, she must be found and brought back,” Vincent stated simply. “If the killer is also down there, then he must be dealt with. We cannot allow this madness to continue if we have the power to stop it.”

 

“I think that about sums it up.” Cullen held up his torch. “And the sooner we get going, the sooner we will be back. We’ll need supplies and a lot of rope, just in case.”

 

“I’m coming too.” Elliot flexed his shoulder muscles tiredly.

 

“The way is dangerous, Elliot.” Vincent took his arm. You are not used to the darkness. You have nothing to prove to us.”

 

“If you find Bennett alive, you’re going to need a face she knows.” Elliot pointed at Vincent’s face. “You certainly can’t show her yours. And if she still has her gun near to hand, none of us will be safe. I would say she has had plenty of time to work up a fine temper. She could shoot us on sight, just for practice.”

 

Vincent glanced at Catherine, and she nodded mutely, giving him her love and understanding that he had to do this, however dangerous it might prove to be. Vincent nodded silently, grateful that Catherine did not try to detain him, despite her fears and doubts for his safety.

 

“Mouse, Cullen, James, Elliot, and myself.” Vincent glanced at the other for confirmation. “We will have to travel fast and light.”

 

“I’ll send Geoffrey with a message for Joe, advising him of our discovery.” Father leaned heavily on his cane. “I can only hope Diana is alive somewhere down there.”

 

“I hope this all isn’t some wild goose chase,” Cullen addressed no one in particular, as he followed Mouse towards the chamber where they stored the community’s emergency gear. “I’d hate to think we’re wasting our time.”

 


“I know this is going to be a waste of time.” Greg slumped in the back seat of the unmarked patrol car on the edge of the park. “Wild goose chases have a bad habit of ending up right back where they started.”

 

“Here. Caffeine’s good for the soul.” The detective in the front seat passed him a plastic mug of black coffee. “Goes down better if you don’t try to taste it. Donut?”

 

Greg shook his head. “Wish I knew where Russell has got to.” He handled the scalding brew with respect. Police coffee was either stone cold or it scorched the enamel off your teeth. “What on earth do you use to make the coffee with, Meadows?”

 

“Told you not to taste it.” The other detective grinned. “Russell hasn’t reported in for hours. Seems he was up all night going through files at the station. Desk clerk said she saw him grinning to himself at four o’clock this morning. That’s always a bad sign.”

 

“Get someone to check his apartment.” Greg swilled his coffee experimentally, but nothing floated to the surface. He sighed sharply. “Probably he’s sacked out asleep after pulling an all-nighter. I want him on the job, like yesterday. And if someone can find me Bennett, I’ll give them a medal.”

 

“Will do.” Meadows reached for the radio mike. “Any personal message you want to send him?”

 

“Nothing that’s printable.” Greg leaned forward and gaze out through the brief shower of rain scudding across the park. “But maybe he deserves to do a little foot patrol.”

   

Diana lay back against the rocky edge of the pool and ran her hands through the long length of her hair. The loss of her grandmother’s comb grieved her more than anything else that had happened to her on this strange odyssey to the depths of the earth. She had searched for it, but it remained stubbornly missing. Pushing at the surrounding water with dissatisfaction, she watched the ripples fan out and become lost in the curling tendrils of mist. The comb had been one of a set her grandmother had given her just before she died, and its value was far beyond any monetary value. It was a precious memory of happier times.

 

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and slipped lower in the pool. The heat was enervating, and she felt disinclined to move. Let them come looking for her. She was not about to make anything easy of them. Raising her hands, she threaded her fingers through the strands of her hair, spreading it out around her on the surface of the water. It needed washing, a good shampoo and conditioner. A ghost of a laugh rose to her lips. There wasn’t much chance of getting a great shampoo and set down here in the bowels of the earth.

 

“You are very quick to judge.”

 

The voice in her ear made Diana start badly. She had not heard Azrael approach, but then she never did.

 

“And you shouldn’t eavesdrop.” She glanced over her shoulder to find him squatting behind her, but she didn’t feel inclined to question how he’d known what she was thinking.

 

He held an earthenware bowl between his large hands. It had been exquisitely sculpted out of dark red clay and then decorated with bold patterns of white and blue. It spoke of a zest for life, a fine appreciation for colour, and Diana wondered who could have created such a beautiful piece in this place of eternal night.

 

Azrael tilted his head to one side and regarded her solemnly with his fathomless gaze. He held the bowl out to her. “Celine was bringing you this, but I decided I would.”

 

“If that’s lunch, then I’m not hungry.” Diana lay back in the water, trying to ignore him, though his bulk loomed large at the edge of her vision. “Or is it time for dinner? Keeping track of time is impossible down here.”

 

Pottery clinked softly on rock as Azrael put the bowl down. But he didn’t answer her acid remark.

 

Diana sank lower in the pool until only her head was above the surface, willing him to go away. Blind or not, she had no intention of getting out beneath that enigmatic gaze. Closing her eyes, she released her breath on a long sigh of contentment and hoped he would take the hint and leave her alone.

 

“What are you doing?” The sudden sensation of his fingers stroking through her hair took Diana completely by surprise. She bucked against his touch, but he held her easily, subduing her with little effort. Short of leaping from the pool in fine indignation to confront him, Diana could do nothing but submit. Her pride didn’t stretch far enough to allow her indulge in an argument stark naked, but she didn’t relax.

 

“If you give in, you will enjoy this.” Azrael addressed her stiff posture of disapproval.

 

“If you go away, I can get out.”

 

“No one is stopping you,” Azrael continued to work slowly.

 

Diana subsided into offended silence. A scent filled the moist air, clean and herbal, spicy and unknown. Azrael’s long fingers moved through her hair, smoothing out the tangles, easing the knotted ends into order. Against her scalp, his touch was electric and soothing at the same time, and a shiver ran through Diana’s body, despite the heat of the water.

 

Rhythmically Azrael worked the contents of the clay bowl through every strand, drawing out the full length of Diana’s hair until her head was a froth of soapy bubbles. Then, placing both hands on her shoulders, he pushed her below the surface, rinsing away all traces of his work.

 

Diana rose slowly, her hair lacing around her in a silken stream. Once clear of the surface, she sank back to chin level, eyeing Azrael dubiously. He still squatted where she left him, hands dangling loosely between his spread thighs, the empty bowl at his feet. Absently he ran one long finger around the rim, his sightless gaze rising to study Diana’s face in detail.

 

He drew in and released a long, bitter sigh. “You want to go back, don’t you? You could not be happy here?”

 

“No, I could not be happy here.” Diana agreed slowly, looking into the depths of his black eyes and seeing the shadows of immense pain. They shifted and flowed, giving the impression of concentrated sight.

 

“I can see I was wrong to bring you here.” Azrael rose to his feet, the bowl in his hand. “I saved your life up there; you owe me that. But I am simply repeating the mistake my father made many years ago. My own mother has become a prisoner and now she cannot return to her old world. Celine went mad down here. I do not wish that to be your fate as well. When you are ready to leave, I will take you out.”

 

“But what of you?” Diana rose from the water suddenly, silvery cascades slithering down her shoulders and flanks to pool on the rocky shore. “You also have a choice. You are not bound to stay in this place.”

 

“I have nothing to offer your world. I have only these.” He held out his hands, one cradling the bowl, the other empty. “There is nothing else. But my mother and Celine would not survive without me.”

 

“You cannot stay down here, any of you.” Diana bent to the crumpled pile that was her clothing and pulled her shirt on impatiently. “This is no place to live.”

 

“I told you I have my father’s death to avenge. The Others must pay for him. But I do not want you to be anywhere near them. This is not your fight or your life.”

 

Azrael’s blank gaze seemed to consider her for a long moment. “Come with me.” He snagged her wrist unerringly, his hard grasp denying her the right to resist. “I want to show you something before you leave. Something no one else has ever seen.”  

 

“This discussion is not over.” Diana placed her hand over his and his lean fingers turned to grip hers.

 

“I didn’t expect you to meekly agree with me.” His face lost its usual melancholy cast, and his eyes sparkled darkly with anticipation. “That is why I made sure you never found that gun of yours. I know you’ve been looking for it.”

 

“And I won’t stopped looking.” Diana was struck anew by the awesome power of his masculine beauty. An unsteady laugh escaped her lips then, as she held back against the impatient tug of his hand.

 

“Do you think I might get dry first?” She shook her wet length of her hair and droplets of water sprayed out, dappling his face and clothing and, to Diana’s amazement, a laugh escaped him, low and soft, and she could only stare of him in disbelief.

 

 

 

I cried a tear; you wiped it dry

I was confused; you cleared my mind

I sold my soul; you bought it back for me

And held me up and gave me dignity

Somehow you needed me…

 

Ann Murray

 

 

“Someone large and carrying something heavy.” Vincent leaned down next to Cullen and James, to study the footprint in the dirt of the tunnel floor. “Gone past maybe four or five days ago, judging by the degradation of the outline. But it is hard to tell down here, where nothing much changes.”

 

“Our mysterious man from the junction tunnel perhaps?” Elliot eased the burden of rope from his shoulder and massaged his aching muscles. Stumbling down lightless tunnel in the bowels of the earth was not the sort of exercise he was used to. He wondered how the meeting with the money-men had gone far above his head, and he knew he would have to return soon, before they started to look for him. The prospect did not fill him with joy.

 

“He wears nailed soles to his boots.” Cullen fingered the crumbling outline. “None of our people do that. We always lace ours, see?” He pushed out one booted foot and held it up to the torchlight for Elliot to view. “So this guy is not one of us.”

 

Vincent moved forward and sank to his haunches beyond the print and held his torch high over his head. In its light he could see a series of black spots, balled and dusty, grouped in a pattern before the place where the roof of the tunnel sank low. Scuff marks suggested that the man they were following had sunk nearly to his knees there and struggled through under the weight of his load, past the lowered ceiling, his cloak dragging in the dust behind him. Vincent fingered a couple of the spots and they crumpled to black powder on his fingertips.

 

“More blood.” He looked at the others. “Someone bled here, and there is more beyond. It fell beside the footprints and then behind. I do not think it is our stranger who bled.”

 

“If Diana is hurt, then it’s even more imperative that we find her.” Elliot followed the line of droplets with his eyes until they vanished into the darkness of the tunnel before them. “There is no medical help down here. She could bleed to death, if she’s not already dead.”

 

“Goes down, way down.” Mouse consulted his map and shrugged eloquently. “Map only good for another three miles.”

 

“Three miles…” Elliot couldn’t suppress the groan in his voice. “I never did like your offbeat brand of humour, Mouse.”

 

“Don’t worry, city man.” Cullen clapped him heartily on the shoulder, as he and James moved on. “If it gets too rough for you, I guess we will have to carry you…or call you a cab.”

 

Elliot hefted his coil of rope without answering and set off after the others as they inched their way through the narrow tunnel, the flames of their torches making strange patterns on the walls. He found he didn’t like Cullen brand of humour either.  


Joe sat at his desk reading through all the notes from Diana’s files. Somewhere in them there had to be a clue, some idea of Diana’s movements before she went missing. The woman was so methodical, so there had to be something to go on. The intercom beside him buzzed and he thumbed the button impatiently.

 

“I thought I said no calls, Marion.”

 

“It’s Mr Burch’s office on the line again,” his secretary replied apologetically. They won’t take no for an answer this time.”

 

“Okay.” Joe massaged his temples. “Put them through.”

 

He spent twenty minutes with Elliot’s senior advisor, trying to calm the man down and stall him from mustering an army to search for his missing boss. Joe found he was pulling at tufts of his hair, forcing down his rising anger.

 

“I don’t care if there are fifty prominent citizens of New York City missing right now. I have a massive investigation underway, and I cannot spare anyone to look for Elliot Burch! Okay, fine, call in Cleon Manning, great idea. Maybe he can find one or two of mine who’ve gone missing, while he’s at it!”

 

Joe could feel the veins on his forehead standing out and wondered where he could have gone so wrong in his choice of career. “No, fine. Yes, I apologise for my outburst. I am well aware that Mr Burch pays a substantial part of my salary. Yes, I know I’m an elected city official. I will get some men onto it as soon as I can free them up. Meantime I would suggest that Manning’s agency is a great place to start. Yes, I know Mr Burch is a personal friend of the mayor’s. I certainly will. Good bye.”

 

Joe dropped the receiver back into its cradle and thumbed the intercom button again. “Marion, I don’t care if the Pope himself calls to bless me and wants to personally shake my hand! No more calls!”

 

“Yes, Mr Maxwell.”

 

Joe cut the connection abruptly and sat back in his chair, holding his head in his hands. He watched the bright colours swirl and merge behind his closed lids and wondered if anything could truly ever be the same again. Tiredly he sat forward again and picked up Diana’s report.  

 

“They are beautiful…” Diana breathed, as she slowly circled the tiny chamber Azrael had led her to. “Whoever painted these pictures has an incredible eye for detail.”

 

Azrael stood in the room’s narrow opening and followed her progress with his sightless eyes. This was a Diana he didn’t know. Dressed again in her clothes from Up There that he had told Celine to return to her, she even smelled different. Her confidence was more assured and she held an air of quiet authority he had not seen since she’d fought with those men at the tunnel entrance. Already she was no longer a part of his world. No matter how brief her stay, he felt the loss keenly.

 

He sensed her move to an oil painting of the Central Park carousel and heard her touch it lightly with her fingers against all the colours of the surface. He could see through her eyes, the summer light glinting on the children’s upturned faces, proud horses with manes tossing in the breeze, swirling patterns on golden poles, rising and dipping to the sound of music she was humming.

 

Diana shook her head in wonder. The painting lived and breathed its reality more than any she had ever seen. Shaking her head in wonder, she turned her attention to the rest of the canvasses. They filled every nook and cranny; every possible place was crammed with stacks of unframed work, leaning ten deep in some places. But she could see the best had been lovingly fixed to the smoother places on the walls.

 

“They belong up in the light, not shut up down here where no one can see them.” Diana turned back to Azrael as he came up behind her, his face reflecting his pleasure that she had seen and appreciated. “Your mother told me her one pleasure was painting in oils, but I didn’t know how good she was. Surely she must know she is very talented. She could make a good living with these.”

 

“My mother…?” Azrael reared back as if she had struck him. “This is not Emma’s work.” He frowned. “I brought you here to show you my work.”

 

“Your work…” Diana turned back to the canvasses. “But, how can you—”

 

“I have always doubted the work.” Azrael continued as if she hadn’t spoken. He turned unerringly to a charming study of a young woman with flaming hair dancing a spirited pirouette under the bulbous shape of a bright green balloon.

 

In the distance, half hidden in the shadows of the trees, stood a clown with a shock of red hair, holding still more balloons in one hand, a massive collection of colour that stood out against the blue sky. But he held something in his free hand. Diana peered closer. Something raised to his face, covering one eye. A small black shape without any real form…

 

“My favourite…” Azrael touched the edge of the canvas unerringly, moving across to pause against the girl’s painted cheek. “She was so beautiful, so alive…”

 

“Trudy Klein…” Diana breathed in disbelieving horror, looking from the canvas to the man at her side, his black gaze fixed on hers with troubled intensity, as he tilted his head to one side inquiringly. “How could you have painted her…unless…?”


As the afternoon progressed, the sun won its battle over the rain clouds and shone down with benevolent warmth. Greg went to stretch his legs on the park, checking his men and scanning the faces of the people he passed. His mood had soured with the long hours of inactivity, which he had never really gotten used to, even after sixteen years on the force. Coupled with a solid dose of Meadows’ dubious coffee… He shook his head with discontent and walked on, hunched into the depths of his overcoat.

 

Chantelle Collins slipped into the park and hurried along through a group of nuns, gazing around in agitation. Russell had promised to meet her, pay her the money he’d promised for the next part of his little plan. He wanted to play further tricks on the clown. Chantelle’s childlike face was marred by a petulant frown as she scanned the distance, right and left, for any sign of the detective.

 

If Russell hadn’t promised her two hundred dollars, she wouldn’t have come. But avarice had won out, and Chantelle had come to collect what she was owed. But Russell seemed to have done a disappearing act and taken his two hundred dollars with him. She didn’t like this…  

 

Greg strolled idly up to the refuse bin and peered into it incuriously. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but Diana’s words kept coming back to him, haunting his dreams, plucking at his waking thoughts. It’s all right there in front of us, but we just aren’t seeing it.

 

Remembrance of watching the park attendant drop something into the bin had been nudging at the edge of his consciousness all day. On the pretext of stretching his legs, he had come to satisfy his curiosity, without his men thinking he was a fool.

 

But, he wasn’t prepared for what lay on the top of the garbage in the bin…

 


“Steps.” Mouse held his torch out over a flight of stone steps that spiralled down into the darkness. From the depths there came a rush of sound, like the dying breath of a dinosaur, and the faint smell of sulphur suddenly permeated the air as the sound died away.

 

“Someone has travelled this way often.” Vincent bent to run his hand over the indentation in the middle of each step. “How far do they go down, Mouse?”

 

“Don’t know. Will see.” Mouse picked up a stone and cast it far out into the darkness.

 

For a long moment there was no sound, only the breathing of the sulphur-laden air, then a clattering rattle as the stone hit the bottom somewhere far below. Cullen and Elliot exchanged worried glances, for once in complete accord.

 

“I’ll toss you to see who goes first.” Cullen leaned out as far as he dared, his face screwed into lines of honest terror.

 

“If you lead the way, then I’ll have something soft to fall on when you hit the bottom.” Elliot eased in behind him, as the black depths yawned up like the mouth of the final pit of hell. “Or James can go first.”

 

“Don’t think so.” James peered over the edge. “I’m a follower; always have been.”

 

“Mouse leads, you chickens follow.” The tinker slipped beyond them and clattered down the steps with a fine disregard for the danger. “See, no problem.” His comment floated back on the sulphurous wind.

 

“I have always thought that Mouse’s gift for understatement is one of his more endearing qualities,” Vincent commented to his reluctant companions, as he eased off the top step and started down.

 

“Okay, Elliot.” Cullen inhaled deeply. “Just imagine this is one of your towers you like to build up in the city. Only on this one we go down, instead of up.”

 

Elliot watched him follow James into the darkness with a jaundiced eye. “Oh, there is plenty of difference, all right,” he addressed the silence. “I usually take the elevator. Not try and scramble up the outside of the building and break my fool neck!”  

 

Father hobbled through the entrance of Vincent’s chamber to find Catherine changing Jacob on the bed. The old man eased himself into Vincent’s leather chair and watched her swift efficiency. Her calm assurance soothed his restless disquiet.

 

“You have no sense that they have found her?” he asked presently, tapping his fingers unconsciously in the table. “Do you feel anything at all?”

Catherine straightened, Jacob slung on her hip. She stopped to concentrate for a moment on the distant connection with her husband deep within her. His reassurance flowed back across the miles, touching her gently with the power of his love, but also with regret.

 

“They have found a whole series of chambers that appear to have been inhabited once. But, I’m afraid, nothing else. They were following the trail of blood, but even that had run out and the map is useless.”

 

“John Pater’s map.” Father moved restlessly. “I have looked at those maps and often pondered all the blank spaces he left on them. Were they a deliberate omission? Did he have something, or someone, to hide? In ancient times, blanks spaces such as those carried the legend ‘here be dragons.’ I wonder how many dragons John kept captive down there.”

 

He shifted his shoulders uneasily. “I also wonder sometimes about the other worlds he knew of and would not discuss with me. I suspect now that he kept others prisoner somewhere down there, out of sight and unvisited except for his infrequent presence and his unholy desire for complete power. He fed on that need, that desire to dominate everyone who crossed his path, manipulate them for his own ends. I shudder to think how they will survive now. If they still exist at all. To die alone, in the dark and the cold, waiting for a man who is your life and your master, but does not return…” His mouth compressed with suppressed sorrow. “I cannot bear to think it is so…”

 

“Please, don’t torture yourself, Father.” Catherine came to kneel at his side, laying her hands on his tense forearm as Jacob scrambled into his grandfather’s lap. “The past is dead. It is best forgotten, and Paracelsus along with it. He cannot harm us now.”

 

“I wonder…” Father played absently with Jacob’s curls, looking down into the clear brilliance of the boy’s sapphire eyes that gazed back at him so trustingly. “I wonder if, even in death, John’s evil can touch us still…”

 

 

Greg took a pencil from his inside pocket and pushed at the contents of the bin. A revolver, the type favoured by the police force and their investigators, and a wallet, lay among the litter covered in unmistakable traces of blood. 

Using the tip of the pencil with exaggerated care, Greg opened the wallet and looked at the gold detective’s shield inside with the cold featherings of premonition. But the detective’s name printed on the ID was not the one he had expected to see. Snatching his radio from his pocket, he put through an urgent call to Meadows and his team.  

 

“You think I am this man!” Azrael stumbled back in horror from Diana’s terse explanation of her disbelief. “This killer of children?”  

“I don’t know what to think right now. You have this…this painting, this exact portrait of a dead girl. How can you have known her, unless…tell me about the painting. Who painted it and why?”

 

“But, I told you, I painted it…” Azrael came slowly back to Trudy’s painting and stared at it intensely. “I painted them all.”

 

You!” Diana could not believe what she was hearing, but struggled to understand all the implications. “But how could you? I mean, you cannot see. How can you create something as accurate as this, so far below the park?”

 

Azrael shook his head, the long length of his hair tumbling around his features, his face contorted with a kind of agony that was painful to see. “I can see…edges, lines…dark shapes. I know you are there, because your shape is human, rounded, symmetrical against the straight lines of the paintings.”

 

He sighed abruptly, gusty and bitter. “I could see what you saw just now; the carousel and all the children laughing in the sunshine.” He touched unerringly on the child’s painted cheek. “I can see with my mind; I can touch the thoughts of others and see what they see. Their surroundings, especially if I can catch them in a moment of pure joy or pleasure.”

 

“So you saw Trudy Klein; you saw her as you have painted her?” Diana frowned at his explanation, but understanding some of what he’d just said. How many times had she tried to penetrate the minds of those she pursued in an attempt to capture their very thoughts, their mental pictures of their crimes. Having been robbed of his sight, Azrael had refined this ability to an incredible degree.

 

“I was in the park. I have a special place I can go before dawn and hide there all day, just absorbing all the pictures that come into my mind. The child, this Trudy, she was given a balloon; it made her happy. She began to dance. The picture stayed with me all the way down here until I could paint it.”

 

“I understand now.” Diana turned back to the painting, looking past Trudy to the tiny figure of the clown. She could see now that he was simply a part of the background, an unconscious part of the girl’s happiness. He was the giver of the green balloon, and the black shape he held to his eyes was a camera.

 

“Something that you cannot see, because it is so much a part of the park, part of the scenery…” Diana mused in a whisper, wondering how she could have been so blind. 

 

A wry smile touched her lips at the thought that came unbidden. And it took a blind man to show you, Bennett. So much for an I.Q. of 163, they must have botched the tests.

 

“I don’t understand…” Azrael’s dark gaze swept over her, his hands spread before him in supplication. “What is it that you see?”

 

“Take me back! Now!” Diana captured one of his waving hands, tugging him towards the door. “Take me back up to the park before it’s too late!”

 

 

“Short, stocky guy. Black hair, about thirty, thirty five…” Greg wanted the wrench the information out of the park supervisor by main force as the man stood and thought deeply, his hand caressing his beard absently.

 

“Could be Simon Follett,” the man finally replied. “Sounds like him. Been on duty this morning. Usually has Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off for his charity work. Left about three hours ago.”

 

“Where is he now, then? Where does he live?” Greg had to ball his fists inside his coat pockets to stop doing the man physical harm. “Do you have an address? I’ll send ‘round some men.”

 

“No need for that.” The supervisor looked offended. “Simon always comes back those afternoons he has off and does a stint as a clown for the kids. Kids think he’s great. Been doin’ it for nearly fourteen years now.”

 

“Fourteen years…” Greg felt the bottom of his stomach drop out.

 

Right there in front of them all the time and they hadn’t even seen it. God, Bennett, you’ve got a lot to answer, if you ever show up. “Where’s Follett likely to be now, then?”

 

“Out there somewhere.” The supervisor waved his hand across the vast expanse of the park. “Why? He’s done nothing wrong, has he? I mean, he’s a good employee, punctual and courteous. Never had a moment of trouble from him.”

 

“I think all that’s about to change,” Greg muttered caustically, as he turned to the group of police behind him and began issuing his orders.

 

 

Pancho the Clown watched the scurrying of the police and knew himself safe. No one ever looked behind the face of the clown and found the truth. Pancho had worn masks all his life; strip off one and you would find another. The real Simon Follett had been buried long ago behind the clown’s tragic smile.

 

Pancho saw the straggle of detectives coming down the path towards him and a hard smile of satisfaction curved his mouth within the broad slash of his painted lips. He would pass them, acknowledge them with a wave and a bow and walk on, secure in his ability to blend into the background, disappear as if he had never been. He had even prepared the salute, a careless wave of the hand and a beautifully executed bow. Just as he’d been taught by his father, so long ago.

 

The men of the law paused and then surrounded him, and the carefully prepared smile slipped a little as he saw the hardness in the eyes the man in charge. Pancho tried to wave, but his wrist was seized and snapped behind his back, as the detective stepped up to him and peered into the clown’s frightened eyes.

 

“Simon Follett, I am arresting you on suspicion of murder. You have the right to remain silent when questioned, but anything you say can and will be used…”

 

Pancho could only shake his head, as the detective’s voice droned on reading him his rights. This could not be happening…no one arrests the clown. The cloud of balloons he’d been holding slipped from his grasp and floated upwards on the freshening breeze.

 

The children, who will take care of the children?

 

From a converging path, Chantelle Collins watched the police march the clown away and the collection of balloons floating up into the sky, each exploding as they floated even higher. She really hoped Russell was happy with his joke. She was out two hundred bucks because she couldn’t find him, and the joke didn’t seem to be all that funny.

 

The clown was crying. And no one likes to see the clown cry…

 

 

 

 

Between the desire

And the spasm

Between the potency

And the existence

Between the essence

And the descent

Falls the Shadow…

 

T. S. Eliot

 

 

Voices! Diana was halted by Azrael’s hard grip on her arm. They had come upwards without a light; save for the small candle Diana held, Azrael didn’t need to see his way in the darkness. Voices that echoed hollowly in the reaches of the cavern, held in the circle of torchlight that came their way.

 

Diana would have spoken then, but Azrael was pulling her back, motioning for silence as he dragged her into a nearby recess of rock, extinguishing the candle’s small flame between thumb and forefinger, plunging them into instant darkness.

 

Against her hand she suddenly felt the butt of her gun. He was returning it to her now. She could only guess at the reason why he wanted her to have it.

She accepted it, but tucked it into its holster, out of harm’s way.

 

“Why did you give it back to me?” Diana’s arm throbbed with the pain of his grip, his fingers biting into her soft flesh. “Who are they?”

 

“The Others.” Diana could feel the rigidity of his whole body, tense and ready to attack. “The ones who killed my father.”

 

“How can you know they are the ones?” Diana applied cold logic to his argument, not wanting to be delayed now, not now when she had the answer to the puzzle. “Were you there? Did you see them kill your father?”

 

Azrael turned his head. Diana could not see him, but she felt the movement and the puzzled intensity of his gaze. “I was…not there. I could not go among The Others. My father has forbidden any contact.”

 

“Seems your father forbade a lot of things,” Diana muttered sourly, as the voices drew nearer. She had to forestall Azrael from attacking them as they came ever nearer. “So, how do you know that what you’ve been told was accurate?”

 

“My mind…” Azrael’s grip tightened again to the point where Diana nearly cried out in agony. “In my mind I saw him killed, as surely as if I’d been standing beside him. He died to protect us, our secret, our very lives.”

 

“I tell you I heard something,” one of the voices within the flare of torches rose above the argumentative tone of the rest. “And I know I saw a light, just for a second.”

 

“Elliot Burch…” Diana was stunned to the point of utter disbelief. “What on earth is he doing down here? Azrael, please. There is more going on here than you realise. I know one of these people.”

 

“How can you? They are The Others.” Azrael pulled back from her, his hand falling away. “Unless…You cannot…No, you are not one of them. I will not believe it.”

 

“No, I only know one of the men. I don’t recognise any of the others.” Diana tried to hold onto him, but in the darkness, she was completely blind. “Please, wait…Where are you?”

 

“I trusted you…” Azrael’s voice spoke softly, but from a long distance. The advancing light flickered briefly over him, reflecting on the many buckles of his clothing and in the dark sheen of his eyes. “I trusted you, and you are one of them. You would betray me…”

 

A brief whisper of sound, and he was gone, melting into the darkness beyond the light of the torches. Diana wanted to go after him, drag him into reality, but her feet were like lead weights, holding her in place. Her hand, raised in mute appeal, finally fell to her side, and she turned to face the men behind her. She knew Azrael would not listen to her, not now…

 

“How did you find your way down here?” Diana eyed Elliot’s rumpled and dishevelled appearance with professional curiosity. “This isn’t exactly 5th Avenue. You look a mess.”

 

“Thanks. I had a very competent guide.” Elliot indicated the boy beside him, who was shuffling his feet in acute embarrassment. “But more importantly, how did you get all the way down here? Hughs and Maxwell have just about torn the entire city apart between them, looking for you.”

 

“It’s a long story.” Diana looked beyond Elliot, but the others in his party had melted away into the darkness even as Azrael had done, leaving Elliot and his quaint guide to make the explanations.

 

She had been frustrated in her attempts to see the faces of The Others, particularly since Azrael hated them so, but they had swiftly vanished from sight. She shrugged off her disappointment. There would be time enough later to discover all that Elliot Burch knew, and she was freshly determined to find out the truth.

 

“My guide had another appointment.” Diana turned aside Elliot’s inquiring glance. “He thought I would be safe enough with you. Now you can take me up. I have to get back to the investigation, before it’s too late.”

 

Elliot nodded, seeming to understand the urgency completely. Diana reflected that perhaps she’d misjudged the man. Perhaps there were another side to him behind the guise of the manipulating developer he presented to the world. With a final glance back at the blackness that totally enveloped Azrael’s world, Diana turned to follow Burch up towards the city far above, a strange reluctance dragging at her steps.

 

“With Follett behind bars, I’ve had your lot, Burch, hammering on my door all day demanding a full police investigation into your disappearance…again…” Joe looked from Diana to Elliot in exasperation. “They’ve even been demanding I call out the National Guard. And now I discover that you have been touring the underground together. I ought to throw the book at the pair of you.”

 

“At least I was the one to find her,” Elliot pointed out reasonably, secretly amused at Joe playing the outraged D.A. to the hilt. “I would say I deserve, at least, your favourable consideration on the Brownstone project. It would go a long way to evening up the ledger.”

 

“And I did solve the case, even if I was a little late with the delivery.” Diana shrugged. “You should take a holiday, Joe. You’ve gone a very strange colour.”

 

“I have a little something for you I know you’re going to enjoy. Let’s call it a small reward.” Joe slid a folder across his desk to Diana before his frustration got the better of him.

 

He knew very well where Burch and Diana had been, but he could not display any hint of knowledge, or his relief over her safe return in case Bennett read more into his words than he intended. She had a very uncomfortable habit of doing anything but what you expected.

 

Joe’s portrayal of the outraged D.A. at the end of his tether was, therefore, as much from a desire to protect Catherine’s world, as it was from a very healthy fear of Bennett finding out the truth. That she had been down there at all was going to give him many sleepless nights.

 

Russell!” Diana looked up from the file Joe had given her. “Why are you looking for John Russell?”

 

“Been missing for two days now, since before we uncovered the Snapper. Follett won’t say what he’s done with him, and apart from his gun and ID in the park, there’s no trace of him. I thought you might be able to shed some light on his whereabouts.”

 

Diana found John Russell the next morning, extremely thirsty, thoroughly uncomfortable and highly disgruntled, trussed up in the back of the tunnel where Diana had been attacked by the drug addicts, days before.

 

“You look like a Thanksgiving turkey.” Diana sank to her haunches in the mouth of the tunnel and smiled at him.

 

What Russell said to this was muffled by the white tape covering his mouth. It was also undoubtedly unprintable. Follett had overpowered him, before Russell knew what had happened and had bound him securely to the iron railings before abandoning him to the rats and dismal decay.

 

The detective’s temper did not improve when Diana informed him that they’d already caught the killer. She savoured the moment to the fullest, before finally releasing her colleague from his bonds and assisting him out into the morning sunlight. 

 

 


Vincent and Catherine snuggling

 

 

Catherine lazily entwined herself around her husband’s body, lacing her legs between his, as they lay side by side in the bed. A hush had fallen over the chamber of the pool – the Wells family retreat, she reminded herself with a gentle smile. She nuzzled Vincent’s chest and sighed in deep contentment.

 

“I think Diana Bennett has her own secrets to keep now.” She followed the line of his jaw with her fingertip. “I do not think she has sufficient knowledge to betray ours.”

 

“Elliot questioned her closely as he and Mouse took her Above, and she would not reveal where she had been or who she had been with. Her saviour remains a mystery.”

 

“Perhaps Father was right. Perhaps there are other worlds down there that only Paracelsus knew about. I wonder how they will fare now that he is gone.” Catherine turned her head to rest her cheek over the steady beat of his heart. “It’s sad to think there may be others who had to reply solely on John Pater’s twisted mind for guidance.”

 

“For our world to survive, he had to die.” Vincent stroked the soft curve of her face. “Even his memory carries a taint of corruption.”

 

“All his schemes turned to ashes in his hands.” Catherine rubbed her cheek over his heartbeat. “But perhaps, out there in the darkness, he created something that was better, more human, than himself.”

 

“Perhaps…” Vincent agreed on a sigh, as the rhythms of their shared connection slowed and lengthened, allowing the tiny patter of another level of their bond to surface.

 

“Here…” Catherine took his hand with a gasp of surprised delight. “Tenderly she laid his large palm against the swell of her abdomen, and Vincent could barely sense the flicker of movement.

 

“So small…” he whispered with awe, as the movement became a wriggle and the unborn child turned against his hand.

 

“There is time to grow,” Catherine murmured softly, her voice filled with joy. “All the time in the world for many things to grow and become…”  

 

 


And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,

Forebode not any severing of our loves!

Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;

I only have relinquish'd one delight

To live beneath your more habitual sway;

I love the brooks which down their channels fret

Even more than when I tripp'd lightly as they;

The innocent brightness of a new-born day

Is lovely yet;

 

The clouds that gather round the setting sun

Do take a sober colouring from an eye

That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;

Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

 

William Wordsworth

 

 

 

 

LITERARY REFERENCES

 

Dreams Of the Heart    Judith Nolan

 

Untitled    Emily Dickinson

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray    Oscar Wilde

 

Past The Point Of No Return    Phantom of the Opera

 

Thel’s Motto    William Blake

 

It Feels Like Forever   Joe Cocker

 

Who I Was Born To Be   Susan Boyle

 

You Needed Me   Ann Murray

 

Hollow Men   T.S. Eliot

 

Judith Nolan Zines Index

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