To Dream a Dream title with a rose border

 

 

 

“To Dream a Dream”

 

 

A Story of “Beauty and the Beast”

 

 

By Judith Nolan

 

 

This story is the sequel to “How Shall I Hold My Soul…” It was written in response to the dream created by the cast and crew of “Beauty and the Beast.” We have a dream. Let’s light the candles and make it a reality.

 

A very warm “thank you” to all my Beastie buddies who pushed me into writing this sequel, I couldn’t have done it without you. Let’s keep the flame burning around the world…always.

 

This story is dedicated to all the cast of  “Beauty and the Beast”, but especially to my friend Ritch Brinkley for being such a beautiful human being. I promised him I would save him a place for in this fanzine, and I have kept my promise…

 

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

 

“To Dream a Dream” 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.

       


To Dream a Dream

 

Hold a tender dream

Enclose it in your soul

Fragile crystal beauty

To break if touched

By an uncaring hand

 

Candlelit splendour

Of golden, cascading hair

Against your heart

Shield all you hold dear

Too easily could she slip away

 

A woman of another world

Unsought by one bound

Within the depths of his aloneness

Take his hand gently in yours

Lead him into the realm of love’s sweet light

 

Matched as none before

Down through ageless time

The Beast and his Beauty

Their love is our story

And in its telling

 

A link between two worlds

A bridge of dancing light

In death there is life

We shall endure

For the sake of all we carry within.

 

Judith Nolan

 

 

Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view

Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend

All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due

Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend.

 

William Shakespeare

 

 

They watched as the morning light crept slowly across the dew-wet grass, lighting the world for a new day, a day full of promise after the night before. Catherine, nestled in Vincent’s strong arms, sighed as the light found its way to her feet, casting barred shadows through the surrounding trees.

 

“Time to go Below,” Vincent whispered against her hair, his tone holding a wealth of sadness. He wanted so desperately to share this world of sunlight and laughter with his love, but this one simple pleasure was forever denied to them.

 

Catherine turned within his embrace and laid her hands against his chest, over the steady beat of his heart. She could feel his disappointment through the connecting rhythms of their bond. “I belong with you, Vincent. Wherever you are, wherever you go, that is where I want to be. Now and for always.”

 

Vincent looked down at her, leaning so easily against him. Reigniting desire rippled through his body. She was so easy to love. He trailed his claws lightly down her back, cupping her bottom and bringing her slim body close in against his.

 

“Always, Catherine…” he breathed, bending his head to trace the shape and curve of her lips with his tongue. “You have given me the whole world with your love, your understanding. But to ask you to share this world with me forever, I—”

 

“Don’t have a choice.” She slid her fingers up through his mane, as he drew back, bringing his lips again to hers, kissing him with slow, torturous deliberation.

 

Vincent was no longer proof against her sensuality. Their bond hummed with awareness, raw desire neither wished to hide. Catherine felt his great body tremble in her arms as she moved from his mouth, infinitely slowly down the side of his neck to the laced opening at the front of his shirt. She bit him lightly, instantly soothing the spot with her tongue, well satisfied with his warning growl not to push his fragile control too far.

 

Not when they were already out of time.

 

“Never doubt where I want to be, Vincent,” she told him finally, as their hearts slowed to an even pace. “I have known that far longer than you.”

 

Vincent watched the sunlight playing through the strands of her hair, threading it with golden lights. All his unease, all his doubts over what had come to be – Catherine could feel them battling with the need for her that he could not deny. She tilted her head and the sunlight played, sparkling, in her eyes.

 

“Vincent, there is nothing out there that I could ever want or need. Not now, not any more.” These words brought his eyes back to her face, to the beauty of her beloved smile.

 

“All you are, all you could ever be, you gave to me.” Catherine reached up to kiss the uniqueness of his cheek. “How could I want for anything more?”

 

“Many times I have wished, as Elliot did, to give you the whole world and not count the cost. All its riches, all its beauties. Just to be able to bring them to you and place them at your feet. It would only be a small part of what you have done for me, given me.”

“And when the riches have all gone and the beauties faded?” Catherine threaded her fingers through the lacings of his shirt, caressing the warm skin beneath.

 

Vincent looked down at her without speaking. Finally he said, “We would be alone in a world that contained nothing, and no-one, but us and Jacob,” he admitted finally, as Catherine’s touch tantalised and tormented him anew. “Sufficient to ourselves.” His mouth quirked. “And here I was trying to be noble. Trying to do the right thing.”

 

“The only wealth that could ever mean anything to me is your love.”

 

“A happy life…” Vincent murmured into her hair, as he bent his head and gathered Catherine’s slim length against him, moulding her to every heated contour of his burgeoning need. Fire licked through his veins as he—

 

“I swear to God, if I find that damn dog, I’m going to strangle it!” An exasperated male voice broke into Vincent’s reverie. Daylight filtered through the trees, outlining them both starkly with its new brightness.

 

Catherine turned swiftly in his slackened embrace and, shielding him from view as she pushed him behind her, into the depths of the tunnel.

 

“Go on!” she ordered fiercely, moving after him hastily into the sheltering darkness.

 

Footsteps sounded outside as they hurried towards the safety of the junction door. “Maybe he went in here,” a woman’s voice floated after them.

 

“Damn fool dog!” the man answered. “Looks like nothing in there, but cobwebs and rats. You can go in there, if you want.”

 

“No, thanks!” The footsteps retreated hurriedly into the distance. “Let’s look over there.”

The couple could still be heard arguing. “I swear that dog is more trouble than your mother…”

 

Catherine leaned back against the curve of the tunnel listening to the complaints as the pair moved off in the other direction. Vincent shook his head at their own foolhardiness. “If they had seen us…”

 

“I think his mother-in-law and the dog would have been forgotten in a hurry.” Catherine stroked his cheek. “I’m sorry, Vincent. It was my fault for delaying our return Below.”

 

“No, I was at fault, I should have heard them approaching. But I was…”

 

“Preoccupied?” Catherine supplied with a saucy smile when he paused, searching for the words. “I know what you are feeling. I also know that this journey of ours will never be easy. But with you beside me…” She took his hand. “Let’s go home, Vincent.”

 

     

Joe Maxwell stood at the window of his new office looking out over the city sprawled before him. He hadn’t heard from Catherine for three weeks and it worried him, but what worried him more was the phone call he’d just had.

 

He turned from the view with a frustrated sigh and moved to slump into the chair behind his desk. Why hasn’t Cathy contacted me by now? He picked up the darts lying beside the telephone and flung them, one at a time, at the battered dart board that looked so out of place in the office of the new District Attorney of Manhattan.

 

If he didn’t hear from her soon, he would have to institute another search for her. He knew that this would probably prove as fruitless as the first time he’d looked for her, but he couldn’t just sit here and do nothing. He glared at the phone. John Moreno had been murdered in his prison cell, his throat slashed by an unknown assailant. Greg Hughs had no suspects and no witnesses; it was a professional job. Moreno had become a loose end and a liability for his master.

 

“This is getting me nowhere.” Joe threw the last dart without looking to see where it landed and stood with a growl of disgust. The whole situation was getting messier by the hour and he knew, deep down in his innermost heart, that it was going to get a whole lot messier before they managed to nail Cathy’s kidnapper and Moreno’s boss. “And his killer.” Joe thumped the desk, before he headed for the door.

 

“Catherine, I have something here that I think you should see.” Father limped into Vincent’s chamber where Catherine and Samantha were playing with baby Jacob. Vincent was away helping to construct new emergency chambers deep beneath their feet.

 

“What is it?” Catherine looked up. In Father’s hand was a newspaper. His face was furrowed with concern and trepidation as he spread it out on the table.

 

“Samantha, why don’t you take Jacob and find Mary,” he instructed the girl, as Catherine got to her feet and moved to his side.

 

“What is the news, Jacob?” She laid a hand on the old man’s arm.

 

Father glanced after Samantha as she disappeared through the door, the baby slung expertly on her young hip. Jacob gurgled and pulled at her face and hair playfully, enjoying the sound of his nursemaid’s laughter.

 

“A helper brought this down to me a short time ago.” He smoothed the page with a troubled sigh. “I knew you would want to see it immediately. It’s three days old, I’m afraid.”

 

Catherine’s gaze travelled from his worried face to the banner headline that posed the stark question WHO DID THIS? She read the article swiftly in shocked silence.

 

“Joe Moreno, murdered?” Catherine looked up with dismay.

 

“I had hoped that, after all this time, this whole sorry affair would have been over and down with. I see now that I couldn’t be more wrong.” Father’s grip on his cane tightened, until his knuckles showed white with the strain.

 

“I can’t believe it.” Catherine read the article again, shocked at the brutality with which the man had been dispatched. “Oh, my God, Joe! I haven’t been in touch with him for weeks! He will be frantic after hearing this news. It just seemed somehow that…”

 

Father raised his hand and caressed the smooth plane of her cheek. “Like all that up there is another world, another time,” he supplied on a sigh, shaking his head. “But it always seems to have a brutal way of intruding itself upon us all, none the less.”

 

“Yes,” Catherine agreed slowly, reading the article once more with a visible shudder. “When will it all end, Jacob? When will we be left in peace?”

 

“I wish I knew. I wish I had the words to make the danger disappear. I want to keep you all safe, but until this madness is finally over we must be vigilant.”

 

“I will send Geoffrey with another message for Joe. I will need to meet with him to discuss this new development.”

 

“You can’t go alone, Catherine.”

Both of them looked up in surprise as Vincent spoke from the chamber entrance, his face and voice more than usually sombre. His chest heaved with exertion, as if he’d run all the way up from below as soon as he felt Catherine’s rising disquiet.

 

He entered the room. “The dangers to you increase a thousandfold the moment you set eyes on Joe Maxwell.”

 

“I can’t leave him alone in this mess, Vincent.” Catherine moved to his side, taking his work-soiled hand in hers. “This is my personal battle too. I was the one that Moreno betrayed the most. But he didn’t deserve to die like that.”

 

“You will have to be very circumspect about seeing Maxwell.” Father picked up the paper and carried it to Vincent for him to read. “His office is completely out of the question. If this man is powerful enough to kill a someone like Moreno in his prison cell, then this is a man who would have no scruples about eliminating the new District Attorney, if it suited his purposes.”

 

“There is more than just murder here.” Vincent looked up from the article.

“This is a warning.” He looked from Father to Catherine’s determined face. “It’s also a blatant attempt to flush you out of hiding. This man is laying down his rules about how this game of life and death is to be played.”

 

“Then we shall have to invent some rules of our own, Vincent. I have to see Joe. If I don’t, he’s quite capable of tearing this city apart to make sure I’m still safe and unharmed.”

 

“Catherine is right.” Father sighed. “We can’t risk the threat of exposure now. For the moment, we must play the game according to the rules that have already been set down for us.”

 

“But we can choose the arena,” Vincent stated, his eyes still on the newspaper in his hand. “The carousel in the park. We will post sentries all around it so that if anyone other than Joe Maxwell appears, they will be dealt with. And I will be there, close enough to snatch you away, if there is any trouble.”

 

“I will go and send Geoffrey to you straight away.” Father limped out, the pain of his hip accompanying the nagging doubts that plagued his mind and heart.

 

Catherine took the newspaper from Vincent. “I must do this, Vincent. There is no other way. I need to talk to Joe.”

 

“Yes, I know.” Vincent gathered her against him, running his hands over her body, as if to reassure himself he could keep her safe. “I wish there was some other way, but I know there is not. It would be too dangerous to bring Joe Below to see you.”

 

“I will be safe with you to watch over me.” Catherine smoothed the material of his vest beneath her cheek. “Until this man is caught, we can never rest easy, not even down here.”

 

 

Joe glared suspiciously at the young boy standing before his desk. Geoffrey smiled his best winning smile, but Joe was unmoved by the boy’s impish grin. An escapee from a pantomime was an apt title for this small messenger, he decided, as he unfolded the note the boy had just handed him.

 

Privately he did admit that he nearly leapt out of his chair and hugged the child when his very suspicious secretary ushered him into his office. He had been going out of his mind with worry over Catherine’s lack of communication. It wasn’t like Radcliffe to forget.

 

“Is this it?” he demanded now. “This is all she wrote?”

 

“It’s all I was given.” Geoffrey shifted from foot to foot as Joe read the note several more times.

 

Joe turned the paper over to inspect the back for hidden answers to the million and one questions that buzzed endlessly in his brain.

 

Geoffrey wiped his nose on his sleeve and sniffed. Joe glared at him with distaste. Who exactly is Radcliffe living with?

 

“The carousel at midnight?” he echoed Catherine’s message in baffled frustration. “I haven’t met anyone there since I was your age.” He eyed the boy. “So where is it again that you live with Catherine? Any place I might know?”

 

“I was told to wait for any reply to the message.” Geoffrey looked at the ceiling, then the floor, anywhere except at Joe. He had been grilled by this man before. Father had given him strict instructions. He was just the messenger; he was not to divulge any extra information.

 

“Talkative fellow, aren’t you?” Joe commented with heavy sarcasm as he read the note for the tenth time.

 

Geoffrey tried his smile again and got a ferocious frown for his pains. He dropped his gaze to his boots.

 

“Can you at least tell me if Catherine is well and being looked after?” Joe tried a different approach, after a long silence.

 

Geoffrey’s eyes rose to meet his and Joe was surprised at the sudden change in them. Gone were the boyish candour and the impish grin, to be replaced by a very wise, very old-fashioned look of distain. “She is with people who love and care for her,” the boy said quietly. He remembered his own days of homelessness and street living until he was found and taken Below by a helper. “No one can hurt her.”

 

“I love her too, you know.” Joe folded the note with exaggerated care. “She’s more than a friend to me.” He retrieved a lighter from his desk drawer and set the note alight as he had been instructed. He crushed the remains into the ashtray, taking great care to dispose of it completely.

 

He looked back at the boy. “Until midnight then. I will be waiting…and tell Radcliffe that I miss her more than I can say.”

 

“I’ll tell her,” Geoffrey promised, as he turned to leave.

 

 

“There isn’t one solitary clue?” Joe took a turn around his office later that day, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his trousers. Greg Hughs watched him with resignation.

 

“The killer was a professional, Joe.” He raised his hands helplessly. “No trace, no witnesses. It’s like he’s some sort of ghost.”

 

“Oh, he’s real enough,” Joe snapped. “Moreno was about to turn state’s evidence after months of silence and suddenly he turns up dead. That was a closely guarded secret; only a handful of people knew. Try and tell me it was just an unfortunate coincidence and I’ll call you a liar.”

 

“I wish I could. But we’re getting no closer to solving this than we did the Chandler kidnapping.” Greg shifted in his seat. “That’s why I’ve been ordered to call in some serious professional help.”

 

“What kind of professional help?” Joe demanded suspiciously.

 

Before Greg could answer, the intercom on Joe’s desk sounded. “Yes,” Joe asked shortly, thumbing the control button, as he moved to his chair.

 

“A Miss Diana Bennett is here to see you.” The secretary’s voice came over the speaker.

 

Joe looked across at Greg, who nodded slowly. “Fine. Send her in.” Joe instructed, before cutting the connection.

 

The door opened and a young woman walked in, a very attractive young woman. Joe frowned in perplexity as she walked up to his desk.

 

“The professional help.” Greg grinned at Joe’s expression.

 

“Hello, I’m Diana Bennett.”

 

“Hi.” Joe stood and took her outstretched hand, feeling the smooth, cool grip that seemed to match the young woman’s personality. She moved back the moment he released her.

 

Rich red hair, caught at the nape of her neck, complimented Diana’s clear, pale skin and dark blue eyes. But there was a quality about her, an air of aloofness that irritated Joe irrationally. He glared at Greg, who seemed to be enjoying the encounter immensely.

 

“Before you rip my throat out, just remember that this wasn’t my idea.” The detective defended himself with upraised hands. “I’m only following orders. We need results. Whoever killed Moreno went to great lengths to cover his tracks. It will take months to solve and we simply don’t have the manpower to sustain a continued investigation. Besides Diana comes highly recommended, and she has access to resources we can only dream about.”

 

Diana turned away from Joe’s desk and sat down in the vacant chair next to Greg’s. “And I only work on one case at a time. In the end I always get a result.”

 

Joe considered her for a moment. She had made the statement very matter of fact, very calmly. Her blue eyes returned his stare without blinking.

 

The thought of being asked to accept this woman’s help stuck in Joe’s throat more than a little, but he knew that far more than his own pride was riding on this case. “This man, whoever he is, kidnapped Catherine Chandler right out of this very building. Subverts, then murders, a man I thought I could trust with my very life, and obviously expects to get away with those crimes and anything else he’s planning. I want him, Miss Bennett, I want his scalp very badly.”

 

“Catherine Chandler has officially been missing for more than eight months,” Diana questioned then. “Are you so sure she’s safe or even alive?”

 

“As far as I know.” Joe studied her expression carefully. “I get notes, from time to time. Delivered to me by some homeless waif who—”

 

“You get notes!” Diana sat forward. “Why haven’t you made any effort to discover where these notes originate from?”

 

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea that Cathy goes swanning off and disappears again.” Joe defended himself with raised hands. “She said she has her reasons. There are things she cannot tell me. I respect her space.”

 

“Or she won’t tell you,” Diana guessed shrewdly. “I would want to know what those reasons are and what she’s holding back from a guy who’s supposed to be her friend.”

 

“Look, lady,” Joe fumed. “If Catherine has her own reasons for not telling anyone where she has gone, then I, for one, will respect her decision.”

 

Diana tilted her head. “Even though it’s driving you crazy nuts wondering where she is and exactly who she’s with now?”

 

Joe inhaled, opened his mouth to shout her down, but then shut it again with a snap. He turned to glare at Greg with a disgusted expression.

 

“Very professional help” was all the detective had to offer his exasperated friend.

 

“Look, I’m sorry. It’s none of my business what Miss Chandler does with her personal life,” Diana put in then, both hands raised in apology.

 

“You’re right there,” Joe snapped, sitting forward to lean his elbows on the desk. After a moment his expression softened and he looked rueful. “But you are right. It’s driving me crazy, not knowing. It has for months.”

 

“When she’s ready, she will tell you.” Diana relaxed back in her seat. “It’s a shame I won’t get to meet your Miss Chandler. She seems quite an intriguing woman. She has Elliot Burch still dangling on a string, I hear. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

 

“Elliot Burch is a dangerous man.” Joe’s lips curled. “Keep him in the dark. He’s not to know anything.”

 

“He already has his own investigators in the field.” Diana shrugged. “Cleon Manning is almost as good as me. Almost. I’m still a few steps ahead of him and his team right now.”

 

“Catherine was the best investigator I ever had,” Joes conceded then. “When she disappeared…” He shook his head. “Still, this discussion is getting us nowhere. I want Joe Moreno’s killer, and I want the man who controls him. I hope you’re as good as you say you are.”

 

He leaned forward, picking up the case file and handing it to his new investigator. “Cathy is a hard act to follow. See what you make of this. No clues, no witnesses, nothing but smoke and mirrors.”

 

“Then we will have to start from the beginning.” Diana opened the file and began to read. “I will find our elusive game player. I don’t like mysteries. Everything ultimately has an explanation, however unpleasant it might turn out to be.”

   

Hours later Joe stood and stretched wearily. Diana looked as cool and collected as ever, but both men had begun to feel the pressure of the concentrated work. Papers were strewn across Joe’s desk, and Diana was now seated behind it, engrossed in her work. Joe glanced at his watch and swore softly.

 

“I have to be somewhere, right away,” he said, snatching up his jacket.

 

“At this time of night?” Greg was startled.

 

“Very important meeting with an informant. Can’t wait.” Joe thrust his fingers through his hair, trying to restore some order.

 

“Well, I guess I can continue this at home.” Diana gathered the pages she’d been working on and pushed them into a big hold-all she had brought with her.

 

“And I’d better get home before I get served with divorce papers.” Greg yawned widely. “Want to share a cab, Bennett?”

 

“No, thanks. I think I’ll walk. The night air clears my thinking.”

 

“It’s a dangerous enough city in daylight. Walking alone after dark is just asking for trouble,” the detective commented, as Joe ushered them both from his office and into the hallway.

 

“I’m a big girl now,” Diana shot back briskly.

 

“So I’ve noticed.” Greg grinned. “Night all.”

 

There was silence between Joe and Diana as they travelled down in the elevator together and out into the street. Busy New Yorkers bustled by them, as unconcerned as always, despite the late hour.

 

“Until tomorrow then.” Joe extended his hand, still unsure of Diana’s air of complete composure.

 

“See you then.” She nodded, clasping his hand briefly before turning away.

 

Joe watched her into the distance, before hailing a passing cab. He didn’t entirely trust Miss Bennett to contain her curiosity about his midnight appointment. He had an uneasy feeling about her, which he couldn’t shake.

 

Catherine paced the shadows between two of the carousel’s painted horses. Vincent stood behind her in the deepest shadows, where the fitful moonlight couldn’t reach. His eyes gleamed faintly with reflected light, and Catherine took comfort from his proximity.

 

Their bond hummed with his deepening sense of disquiet. She knew he hated to expose her in this way. But, if there was trouble, then he would defend her as before, and Catherine knew how much such drastic action distressed him. But they had no choice. She had to speak to Joe.

 

All around the carousel, hidden in the bushes and trees that dotted the park, many of the tunnel dwellers lurked, armed and ready for action. They were the outer guards. Anyone, other than Joe, passing through their ranks would find themselves dragged down and trussed.

 

“It’s after midnight.” Catherine breathed deeply, trying to slow the racing of her heartbeat. She felt Vincent reaching out to her, soothing her through their shared bond with the strength of his love. Catherine turned and smiled in his direction. Footsteps on the path outside alerted her, and she turned her attention back to the open doorway.

 

“Radcliffe?” Joe questioned the darkness, scanning the shadows that hung on all sides. He closed the door behind him.

 

Catherine drew a deep breath, switching on her flashlight as she stepped forward. “I’m here.”

 

Joe stood looking stunned by her sudden appearance. Then he rushed forward to gather her into his arms. “God! I’ve missed you,” he said into her hair. “You’ve shaved years off my life.”

 

“I’m sorry I let you down, Joe.” Catherine drew back to look up at him. “I don’t have any explanation I can give you.”

 

“That’s okay, kiddo.” Joe held her at arm’s length as he studied her face. “Just as long as I know you’re safe.”

 

He absorbed her fresh beauty. Her soft fragrance teased at his senses. She had changed in the time since he had last seen her. Then, she’d been thin and without memory of what had happened to her. There was an air about her now he’d never seen before. A serenity that was bewitching, a quality of stillness and inner peace, a sense of profound happiness. Wherever she was hiding was good for her. Almost too good. He felt a stab of envy that she could appear so calm and collected, while he felt himself unravelling beneath the stress of his workload and the stalled investigation.

 

“Cathy, I—” he began, but Catherine reached up to place her fingers over his lips, stilling his words.

 

“One day, Joe, one day I will tell you all I can. But for now, you need to trust me.”

 

Joe looked at her with resignation in his eyes and something else, a weariness that touched her heart. “You and your secrets,” he whispered raggedly, cupping her cheek in his palm. “They might be the death of me.” He smiled crookedly.

 

A sudden commotion outside startled them both. Sounds of a struggle and several voices raised in anger. Joe pushed Catherine behind him to shield her from any impending attack. He pulled his gun from its holster, sensing movement in the shadows behind him. An almost inaudible growl, like some great beast waiting to pounce from the darkness, made him swivel to look behind.

 

“No, Joe.” Catherine grabbed his wrist, impelling the gun downwards. “There are only friends here, my guardians.”

 

“Then what the hell was that back there?” Joe wasn’t convinced. 

 

“A friend, Joe, believe me.” Catherine wrenched the gun from his hand. “No one can hurt me here.”

 

The door suddenly burst open and three figures were propelled inside, two men and red-haired woman.

 

“Diana!” Joe shouted in disbelief.

 

“Who is she, Joe, and why did she follow you?” Catherine demanded to know, Sensing Vincent’s growing disquiet at the renewed danger, she needed to defuse it fast.

 

“She works for me.” Joe strode forward, as the two men kept hold of his new investigator. “You know, curiosity killed the cat, Miss Bennett. Why are you here?”

 

“For that very reason, curiosity.” Diana stood boldly in her captors’ hold. She assessed Catherine with clinical detachment. “I wanted to know who the District Attorney of Manhattan could be meeting secretly at midnight in Central Park. I had a hunch, so I followed it up.”

 

“Well, now you know,” Joe growled unhappily. “Diana Bennett, this is Cathy Chandler, the woman you were so keen to meet earlier.”

 

“Will someone please tell me what’s going on here?” Catherine demanded.

 

“Miss Bennett has been hired to investigate John Moreno’s murder,” Joe told her, as he studied the two men holding his investigator. More refugees from a pantomime, he decided wryly, taking in their odd assortment of leather and rag clothing. He wanted to shake the truth from them.

 

Catherine, on the other hand, was dressed in conventional street attire that made the contrast seem even more bizarre. Joe’s brain itched to finally know the facts behind these strange people that Cathy chose to surround herself with.

 

“Matthew, James, thank you.” Catherine nodded to the two guards. “I don’t think Miss Bennett intends me any harm.”

 

The two men dropped their captive’s arms reluctantly. “We’ll be outside,” one man commented grimly. “In case you need us.” He glared at Diana. “Don’t make us hurt you.”

 

“I’ll bear that in mind.” Diana nodded, rubbing her wrists, as the men left, closing the door behind them. “Charming company you keep, Miss Chandler.”

 

“Tell her your theories,” Joe instructed, his eyes still scanning the shadows. He couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling they were not alone. Something was back there, something big and powerful that made the hair on the back of his neck rise with unease. He strained to see better, wishing Cathy would give him back his gun. 

 

“John Moreno was silenced because he had agreed to turn state’s evidence.” Diana watched Joe, frowning at his disquiet. “He was about to expose the whole rotten affair. You okay, Joe?”

 

“Guess I’m just jumpy from lack of sleep.” Joe rolled his shoulders. “But I could have sworn I saw something, or someone, back in there.” He looked at Catherine. “You got more friends we don’t know about?”

 

“Leave it, Joe. There’s no-one there.” Catherine moved away from him, hoping he would follow. “But why did Moreno get a conscience now? After all this time?”

 

She could sense Vincent becoming deeply unsettled, eager for this meeting to be over. She shared his rising misgivings. If Diana Bennett found them, then there could be others who followed as well.

 

“Maybe his conscience got the better of him.” Diana shrugged. “After all, he was basically a decent man who got caught up in events that grew far beyond his control. Maybe what he did finally got to him.”

 

“Once he’d assisted in my kidnapping, there was no way he could afford for me to resurface.” Catherine had come to terms with that bitter fact a long time ago. “But this still gets us no closer to his master. Or his reason for kidnapping me.”

 

“I agree. And your kidnapping has always puzzled me about your case.” Diana scanned the shadows closely, seeming to understand more than Catherine felt comfortable with. “Just how did you escape from your kidnappers?” She looked back at her. “Armed men who were shredded by some great beast and the doctor who escaped had a complete mental breakdown. He was found hanged in his cell over at Bellevue five months ago. Suicide was the verdict, but now, perhaps he was just another loose end to be disposed of, like John Moreno.” She watched Catherine closely. “By all reports, he kept screaming in his nightmares about a terrible, clawed monster with fangs. He swore you were carried off by demons who could fly.”

 

“Pure fantasy.” Catherine shrugged, sensing that an outright lie would be disbelieved instantly. Diana appeared to be a woman with an uncanny capacity for finding out the ultimate truth of a case. “But the man was one of my kidnappers. He treated me brutally. I’m afraid any sympathy for his fate is limited.”

 

“So how did you escape?” Diana’s eyebrows rose.

 

Catherine decided to tell her a partial truth. “I had help to escape from some close friends. They discovered where I was being held and rescued me.”

 

“Friends like those outside?” Joe demanded.

 

“Good friends, Joe, who love and care for me,” Catherine unknowingly echoed Geoffrey’s words to Joe earlier in the day. “They protect me, and in turn I protect them.”

 

“And the man back there in the shadows?” Diana pointed. “What about him? Where does he fit into all of this?”

 

Catherine frowned at her in consternation, but gave no answer.

 

“I wish I knew what was going on here, Radcliffe,” Joe opined. “I’m not sure you’re safe at all.”

 

“I would say it’s fairly obvious what’s going on here,” Diana replied cryptically, watching Catherine with a dawning look of understanding. “It’s called life, Maxwell. We all have to make the best of the hand we are dealt. Miss Chandler appears to be a very good card player. Maybe one day, she and I will play a hand or two.”

 

Women! I’ll never understand them.” Joe surveyed the shadows with disgust.

“So, Diana is officially on the case. Let’s hope she can get some results before I develop an ulcer.”

 

“Joe, if I—” Catherine began, only to stop abruptly in mid-sentence. She felt sudden ripples of alarm coursing through her bond with Vincent, and she knew instantly that he was gone from the shadows behind her.

 

“Trouble?” Diana questioned softly. “Has he gone out?”

 

“Yes.” Catherine nodded quickly.

 

Diana reached beneath her coat and drew a very serviceable looking handgun. She took a stand, the gun cocked and pointed at the ceiling, cupping the butt with both hands. “How many?” she demanded softly.

 

“I don’t know. I can’t tell…” Catherine was distracted by the gun. Diana was just as capable of shooting Vincent if she didn’t immediately understand the situation.

 

“Well, I’m not standing around here all naked and exposed.” Joe reached to take his gun from Catherine’s slackened grasp. “Get behind me, Catherine, and for once in your life, don’t argue.”

 

“Don’t shoot,” Catherine begged. “Just leave it to the others. They know the park like the backs of their hands. You could shoot one of our own.”

 

“If anyone tries to get in here, I’m not going to ask for any ID,” Joe muttered. “I don’t like this, Radcliffe. Not one bit.”

 

A sudden roar filled the night outside, a primeval scream of rage and terrible anger. Catherine felt it go right through her and her knees buckled. She clutched at a nearby horse for support, before Joe caught her arm and held her upright. He pulled her close to his side.

 

“What the hell was that?” he demanded in shocked dismay.

 

Images flashed through Catherine’s mind. Blood and the white frightened faces of men who had just been confronted with their worst nightmare. The roaring filled the night, drumming at both her heart and mind as Vincent was forced to defend her once more with his awesome power.

 

“I know who you are…” she whispered brokenly, uncaring that both Joe and Diana were staring at her incredulously. “There is no shame…”

 

The roaring stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and a deathly silence fell that was equally as deafening. Diana edged towards the door, her gun held at the ready as she reached for the handle.

 

Suddenly the door opened to reveal James, his bulk filling the opening so Diana could not see beyond him. His eyes went immediately to Catherine.

“Three men with automatic weapons,” he reportedly shortly. “They have been dealt with.” He scowled at Joe. “They must have followed you too, Mr Maxwell.”

 

“Dealt with is an understatement.” Diana surveyed her former captor suspiciously. “What did you use on them, some of the zoo’s big cats?”

 

“I have to go,” Catherine said then. Her bond with Vincent hummed with distress and regret. “It looks as if none of us are safe now.”

 

“I’m sorry, Cathy, for all this.” Joe slid his hand down her arm to clasp her fingers tightly. “Whatever just went on out there was justified. Unconventional, but those men would have killed all of us, you know that.”

 

“We had to meet, Joe.” Catherine nodded jerkily. “But next time we will have to be a great deal more careful.”

 

“I seem to have caused you nothing but trouble, tonight.” Diana shook her head. “But those men would have reported to someone once they’d completed their mission. They’ll be missed in a day or so. And when word gets back, someone is going to come looking for them, sooner or later.”

 

She glanced at James. “You convinced we’re on the same team now?”

 

“If Catherine trusts you, then I will trust you.” James eyed her gun bleakly. “But that doesn’t mean I like you.”

 

“Mutual admiration.” Diana nodded. “I can live with that.” She glanced back to Catherine who was looking deeply distressed.

 

“I can’t stay here.” Catherine could sense Vincent becoming more and more distressed that he couldn’t reach her. His self-castigation was becoming a dark cloud filling her mind to exclusion. “I will contact you when I can.”

 

“More messages by grubby urchins?” Joe sighed. “Make sure you take good care of you, Radcliffe. My life was never so interesting before I first met you.”

 

“I will.” Catherine kissed his cheek. She turned to leave.

 

“If it’s all the same to you.” Diana extended a restraining hand. “I would like to borrow James and Matthew. For a little stakeout work. I’ll pay them the going rate…for amateurs.”

 

James looked offended. “We caught you, didn’t we?”

 

“Who says I didn’t let you?” Diana flashed back.

 

“They are free to make their own decisions.” Catherine backed away. “If you think it will help end this nightmare, do what you must.”

 

“I can bring as many men as you need.” James shrugged. “Feels good to finally be fighting back.”

 

“I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.” Catherine touched Joe’s arm in passing before she disappeared into the shadows, hurrying to be with Vincent.

 

Joe and Diana looked at each other. Diana holstered her gun. “Do we have the bodies to examine?” she demanded of James.

 

“You are a cool customer, I’ll give you that,” James muttered. “Outside, we dragged them into the trees. There’ll be no trace of them, come morning.”

 

“This night is going to turn into a very long day.” Joe eased his tired shoulder muscles. “I take it I’m not gonna see paperwork on those guys?”

 

Diana shook her head. “Nothing that will leave a trail that can be followed.”

They both walked outside into the cold night air. “Verbal, face to face only from now on,” she said. “I’ll keep Greg at arm’s length, too. We don’t want any more slip-ups.”

 

Diana looked at James. “I take it you already have a disposal site in mind?”

 

“I know a few places.” James shrugged noncommittally. “Where they’ll never be found.”

 

“Good.” Diana glanced at Joe, unsure of how much room he was going to allow her to do her job. “You fine with that, boss?”

 

Joe held up both hands in surrender. “Fine, I don’t want to know anything. Just get me results, Bennett, and fast. I have a feeling we’re running out of time. They’ll be after all of us now, to silence the investigation for good.”

 

He looked around. “This place gives me the creeps. Come on, let’s get going before anyone else shows up.”

 

Diana nodded in silent agreement, her eyes scanning the trees and their secrets. Whoever, or whatever, Catherine Chandler was protecting, they seemed to have an incredibly powerful hold over her. Another mystery she was determined to solve.

 

   

 


Ask me no more; thy fate and mine are seal’d

I strove against the stream and all in vain;

Let the great river take me to the main.

No more, my love, for at a touch I yield;

Ask me no more.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

 

Catherine made her way swiftly Below, using the drainage tunnel entrance. Matthew and James remained Above, closely watching Joe and Diana, who made no attempt to follow. Behind her the park brooded with silence and whispering shadows.

 

The chill of the upper tunnels struck through Catherine’s clothing as she hurried along, sensing all of Vincent’s anguish over the night’s events. He had been against the meeting and the dangers it represented to Catherine. But he had respected her desire to go Above and face the perils that waited for her there.

 

The trembling didn’t entirely leave Catherine as she entered the home tunnels far below the park. It was warmer here, but reaction made her teeth chatter, and she huddled deeper into her cashmere coat as she stepped into Vincent’s chamber.

 

He was seated in the leather chair before the small writing table, staring at his hands lying open before him. A bowl of bloodied water and a rag spoke mutely of his desire to erase the events of the night. He didn’t move as she hurried to his side, sliding her arms around his slumped shoulders.

 

Slowly Vincent closed his hands, folding the lethal nails into his palms and clenching his fists, until the pain flashed through their bond into Catherine. She gasped as the agony pounded through her consciousness. In the distance a baby’s startled cry suddenly rent the air.

 

In her chamber, Mary jumped to her feet and bent over Jacob’s cradle. The baby had folded himself into a tight ball, whimpering in his sleep and rocking slowly from side to side. She ran for Father.

 

“No, Vincent, none of this is your fault. It is all mine!” Catherine covered Vincent’s hands with her own and raising them against her breasts. “If I had listened to you and not gone Above…”

 

Vincent’s head snapped up as his son’s distress flooded into him. He stared at Catherine, trying to force down the self-loathing that was causing the two people he loved most in the world so much distress. Tears flowed unheeded from Catherine’s green eyes – tears, he saw, that were accusing him of selfishness.

 

“I’m sorry.” His hands unfurled beneath hers, until his fingers lay passive over the rapid beating of her heart. Sensations pulsed slowly through him, the rise and fall of Catherine’s breathing, the unsteady beat of her heart as it slowed to normal pace once more, the relaxing of the torment of three souls inextricably linked, one to the other.

 

“There is no shame, Vincent,” Catherine murmured, caressing the backs of his hands with her palms. “We would have died tonight, if you hadn’t been there to save us. Those men would not have hesitated to kill us all.”

 

Vincent withdrew his hands from beneath hers, he contemplated them bleakly. “That men should have to die, however wrong their mission, so we are able to live in peace…” He shook his head slowly in despair.

 

“There was no other way, Vincent. If there was, we would have discovered it a long time ago.” Catherine sank to her knees beside him, wrapping her hands around the corded muscles of his forearm. “I’m sorry you are in such pain because of me.”

 

Vincent gathered a deep breath and then released it in a long, shuddering sigh. “The fault can never be yours, Catherine.”

 

“Then, please let it go, Vincent. For all our sakes.”

 

The pain was still there, dull and aching, but it could be absorbed now, soothed away by the strength of their love for each other and their son. The fear of the Beast within him had always been a powerful force in shaping Vincent’s view of himself.

 

“Jacob needs us now.” Catherine cupped his cheek in her hand. “Let’s go to him.” She took his hand and drew him up to stand beside her.

 

Vincent looked down at the slim, seemingly fragile woman who had given him everything he could ever hope or dream for. He raised her chin slowly on the back of his hand and kissed her lingeringly, tasting the salt of her tears on her soft mouth.

 

“I love you more than life itself,” he avowed softly, drawing back only fractionally from such sweet temptation.

 

“Always…” Catherine breathed, as she gazed up into the jewel bright depths of his loving eyes.

 

 

Cleon Manning entered Elliot’s office. It was well after midnight and he looked rumpled and dog-tired. He threw himself down onto the couch.

 

Elliot was standing at the window once more, staring out at the cityscape without really seeing it. Cleon took a small measure of comfort. His boss looked even more beat than he was.

 

He stretched his long legs out before him, crossing them at the ankle. “I finally have a lead. There’s a whisper of a name.”

 

Elliot’s head snapped around. “Who is it?” he demanded to know.

 

“Justin Cole.” Cleon looked uneasy. “Some high-flying European industrialist. It seems he may have some kind of financial stake in this whole affair.”

 

“I know who he is,” Elliot replied shortly. “He’s undercut me on more than one project in the last few years. He also cuts too many corners with his construction companies.” He blew a frustrated sigh. “If Cole is involved, then we are playing for greater stakes than we ever imagined possible. The man has no morals and even less humanity. Be careful, Cleon.” His eyes narrowed. “How credible is the information?”

 

Cleon shrugged. “Seems Moreno had a sister no-one knew about, living in a trailer park down in Tampa. He mailed some papers to her before he was caught. Trying to set up some insurance, I guess. She was very willing to part with them and leave the country for a good chunk of the money you’ve outlaid.”

 

Elliot balled his fists. “But, at least we’re getting somewhere.” He pounded one fist against the desktop. “What did you find?”

 

“Bank documents mostly, and some letters. But the bank accounts had these regular monthly payments from a Cayman Island slush fund that I finally traced back to Cole’s head office. Seems he was supplying the funds for Moreno’s legal bills as well. So what else did he pay for when Moreno turned on his boss?”

 

“I want information, Cleon,” Elliot snapped. “And I want it fast! Pay whatever it takes. I want to know how and where he’s involved in all this.”

 

“What do we tell Maxwell? He’s not gonna be happy if he finds out we’ve been keeping stuff from him. Moreno was his boss, after all.”

 

“Let me deal with Joe.” Elliot grimaced. “I’ll slip him something to keep him in the loop, without giving away our source. I want the satisfaction of seeing Cole’s face when we finally expose him and his dirty dealings. The man has been a thorn in my side for far too long. And Cathy won’t be safe until we put him away for good.”

 

   

 

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My heart is at rest in my breast

And everything else is still.

 

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,

And the dews of night arise;

Come, come, leave off play, and let us away

Till the morning appears in the skies.

 

William Blake

 

 

The rhythms of the world Below were slow and unhurried; days seemed to blend, one into the next, slowly turning into weeks. Catherine kept in touch with Joe and the investigation by secret and sometimes, for Joe, startling means.

 

An old black musician in the street, a note in the middle of Joe’s hastily snatched sandwich. A bag lady, who accused him of upsetting her ancient trolley full of jumbled treasures. Joe had been called names in the past, but some of those the old lady used were very inventive, as Joe scrambled around on the sidewalk, returning her lost property to her cart while a small crowd formed, drawn by her screams of abuse.

 

Joe found the note later, in his pocket. Catherine seemed to have leagued herself with half the homeless people of New York. Not a bad spy force and communication unit, Joe had to concede as he scanned Catherine’s latest note. He knew she was trying to be as involved in this investigation as he would allow, and she had come up with several promising clues from her imprisonment. He carefully destroyed the note as before.

 

Diana was working day and night on the case. Joe wasn’t sure the woman even slept more than an hour or two. She sent him weekly reports on her progress, but no mention of any leads she may have found from the three men Catherine’s guardians had eliminated in the park at the carousel. Joe tried not to dwell on that night’s events.

 

But the sounds haunted him. It unnerved him that those men screamed as if they had been torn apart, in the same way John Moreno had been killed. Brutally and without mercy. This fact disturbed Joe the most. That Catherine could associate with people capable of such wholesale destruction would be unthinkable.

 

But what exactly had gone on in the park that night? And why and how was Radcliffe involved? Joe tossed and turned far into the night, trying to make sense of it all. 

 

 

“Father, there is someone up at the old entrance under the Connor’s Building, using the code of the pipes.”

 

Zach burst into Father’s chamber where the old man and Catherine were enjoying their daily tussle over a game of chess. Jacob kicked and squealed on the floor with his usual retinue of small child retainers.

 

“What does the message say?” Father looked up from the intense consternation of watching Catherine stalk his queen.

 

“Whither, O whither, love, shall we go.” Zach quoted the message with a puzzled frown. “What does it mean, Father?”

 

Catherine reached for the old man’s hand, as he slumped back into his chair. “Are you all right, Jacob?”

 

“After all this time.” Father shook his head. “I can’t believe it.”

 

“What should I do, Father?” Zach questioned.

 

“Go and find Vincent,” Father commanded the boy. “Tell him the message and the source. He will know what to do.” He shooed Zach with his hand. “Go on now; it’s all right. It’s just that after all these years…”

 

Zach hurried away to find Vincent, leaving Catherine to pour Father a cup of fresh tea. “You know the message, Father?” Catherine asked, as the old man sat staring at his cup.

 

He started at the sound of her voice. He looked surprised fro an instant and then he smiled at her, absorbing her beauty. He reached to clasp her hand in apology for his inattention. “You had me beaten in three moves anyway.” He indicated the chess pieces. “I guess I am fast running out of people I can beat. Even Vincent refuses to play with me now.”

 

He laughed. “About twenty five years ago,” he began slowly. “A young couple was scavenging for the means to live in one of the subway tunnels above us. It had been a hard, cruel winter, and they were starving.” He shook his head. “They had two children to support, and they both worked alongside their parents. A boy, aged about seven and a little girl, a beautiful, raven haired girl, who was about three years old.”

 

“There are too many people living like that.” Catherine could see Father was looking through her into the past, but his grip on her hand remained strong as he wove his story.

 

The children on the floor gathered at his feet, Samantha, as always, holding Jacob firmly in her small lap. Their eyes shone with the knowledge that they were in for one of Father’s talks about their parents and grandparents.

 

Catherine found herself as entranced as the youngsters, as Father picked up the thread of his story once more.

 

“We never really knew the full story of the tragedy. The little girl wouldn’t speak for weeks afterwards, and when she did finally talk, she would only cry and rock herself, calling out for her parents and brother.”

 

Father sighed and lowered his eyes to his grasp on Catherine’s hand. “We found…evidence of what had happened in the subway tunnel. Pascal’s father pieced it together. We can only assume that they never heard the train coming, so intent were they on their hunt for the means to survive. The little girl’s escape was a miracle.”

 

“Who was she, Father?” Samantha piped up curiously, when Father paused in his narrative.

 

“She told us eventually that her name was Shannon O’Neill,” Father answered her question absently. “She must have wandered the tunnels and lower passages for days until someone found her. And when we did find her, we didn’t think she would live.”

 

“Who found her, Jacob?” Catherine asked curiously, caught up entirely by the story of the child’s tragedy.

 

“Vincent.” Father’s attention came back to her face. “He was on one of his endless rambles through the tunnels and Above. Like the night he found you, Catherine, in the park. He heard crying, like a small animal in mortal agony, soft and low. He found Shannon curled up in an abandoned water main, nearly blue with cold and very sick. She was closer to death than to life.”

 

“He saved her,” Samantha breathed happily, her hero in firm control of her gentle daydream.

 

“If it hadn’t been for Vincent, I doubt the child would have survived the next few weeks.” Father nodded slowly. “He tended to her like a mother hen. He wouldn’t let anyone near her without his being present at all times.”

 

“But, I don’t know anyone called Shannon,” a small boy piped up from the back of the group. “Beside, girls are always getting lost, and Vincent has to go find them.”

 

“So, Erik, who got lost in the maze last week and had to have Vincent and Mouse track him down?” Samantha shot over her shoulder, before turning her attention back to Father. “Go on with the story, please. It’s good.”

 

Father laughed and shook his head. “What it is to be young and innocent.” He smiled, taking Samantha’s chin in his hand and squeezing it lightly.

 

“So, it’s Shannon O’Neill up at entrance now, Father?” Catherine asked. “Is that why you sent Vincent?”

 

Father nodded, then said, “Shannon was in a very bad way when Vincent carried her to me. I could get virtually no response from her. I didn’t hold out much hope, but I did what I could. Peter came down and administered the latest drugs. Then all we could do was to wait and let nature take her course. But Vincent wasn’t prepared to be idle, he was convinced the child would live; he said he could sense the life force was strong in her.”

 

Father patted her hand. “Just like you, Catherine. He wasn’t about to give up, when he was so sure he could save you. It’s his true gift, to find the slightest flicker of life in someone and nurture it back into a flame.”

 

Father smiled at her. “Yes, even then, his powers were extraordinary. He sat with her day and night, as he did with you. He just sat there stroking her hand and taking to her. Talking about anything and everything. From Shakespeare to Rilke, to what they would do together when she was well again.”

 

“I remember those talks.” Catherine nodded. “He read Dickens to me, Great Expectations. The pure beauty of his voice, when I couldn’t see for the bandages, was my earliest memory.”

 

“Yes.” Father patted her hand. “I was there the very day Shannon finally woke up. It was a day I will never forget.” His eyes because misty with memory. “Vincent had been talking for over six days by then, and his voice was giving out on him. I’d attempted to put a stop to it all, before he became ill as well, but he refused to leave her side. In fact, he flew at me, kicking and screaming that we couldn’t make him rest, if he didn’t want to.”

 

Catherine smiled at the image of a very small Vincent throwing a tantrum to get his own way, however noble the cause.

 

Father contemplated her smile. “Yes,” he said slowly. “Vincent was not the easiest of people to control as a child. He always had a way of turning things to his advantage. Sometimes he coerced people shamelessly, but he was such a beautifully-natured child, one couldn’t hold a grudge for long.”

 

“But, what happened to the girl?” several of the children demanded at once.

 

“I’m sorry, children, you must forgive an old man his wanderings from the point of his story,” he chided them gently. “Shannon had been unconscious for nearly a week when one day, she just simply woke up. I was about to administer more drugs when she opened her eyes and looked at me.”

 

“Just like in the fairytales,” Samantha cooed blissfully, and Jacob gurgled with pleasure as she hugged him gleefully.

 

“Just like the fairytales.” Father nodded. “Vincent was the only one who wasn’t completely astounded by the event. He just smiled at her and said ‘hello.’ I will never forget her reaction.”

 

“She wasn’t too frightened of him?” Catherine asked anxiously, dreading the reply, the words that said a small, very unusual boy had been hurt yet again by rejection.

 

“She fell in love with him?” Samantha supplied hopefully.

 

“Better than that.” Father looked at Catherine and she knew his words were for her alone. “She reached out one hand and laid it against his cheek. They just stared at each other, smiling.”

 

“She wasn’t afraid.” Catherine felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her spirit. “She accepted him as he was.”

 

“Just as you did, Catherine.” Father raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingertips with old-fashioned style. “She, too, could see the beauty in him.”

 

“But, what happened to her, Father?” Samantha demanded to know.

 

“She lived Below with us for many years.” Father grimaced. “And then she went away one day with a man she met Above.”

 

“Without saying goodbye?” Erik frowned.

 

“Oh, she said goodbye. She didn’t want to leave,” Father assured him. “but there was a life waiting for her Above. A very good life. The man told her he would take very good care of her. He would show her the whole world.”

 

“Did you ever see her again?” a small girl asked.

 

“One or two letters and then nothing but silence. You see, she had a very busy life to lead.” Father attempted to brighten the mood, but Catherine could sense his pain.

 

“And now she’s back,” she said thoughtfully, remembering another woman who wanted to come Below after an absence of many years. She had brought so much pain to Vincent and the others, now it appeared to be happening again. Catherine felt an anger rising within her.

 

“Yes, and now she has come back.” Father sighed slowly.

 

Vincent walked slowly up the sloping tunnel, heading towards the intruder who knew the language of the pipes. The line of poetry that had summoned him echoed through his mind as he walked.

 

“For a score of sweet summers or so? The sweet little wife of the singer said.” Vincent repeated the next two lines of the Tennyson poem under his breath.

Only one person in the world would use those lines as a message, knowing that Vincent would instantly guess who was waiting at the entrance.

 

He could sense Catherine’s concern at the intrusion, and he could feel the trend of her thoughts. But this was not Lisa. This was someone far different, someone who could never hurt him with her thoughtlessness. Vincent marvelled at the memory of that long-ago day when Shannon had first opened her eyes and looked at him.

 

Her eyes were a deep green. She merely looked at him, taking in the uniqueness of his face without a word, accepting all she saw before her without fear. Vincent remembered speaking one word, but afterwards he could not have said what it was. Then she touched him.

 

Vincent raised a hand to his cheek and felt again that questing touch, the gentle smoothing of his skin by soft fingertips. With their eyes locked together, neither seemed capable of looking away, and it was only Father’s voice that finally broke the spell.

 

The tunnel up which he was moving ended in an old, rusty gate that gave the impression it had been cemented in place many years ago and hadn’t been opened for a lifetime. It was one of Mouse’s more ingenious devices.

 

Reaching up, Vincent pushed against a brick protruding from the wall inside the gate, and the whole contraption swung silently outwards. Cobwebs and discarded rubbish added to the illusion of abandonment. It was a very good disguise for one of the less frequently used entrances to the world Below.

His keen eyes pierced the darkness as he stepped around the piles of refuse. There was a faint movement in the deep shadows of the tunnel. The glint of light on a row of buttons down the front of a coat, and the hasty flash of a wristwatch when a hand moved suddenly.

 

“Shannon?” Vincent called softly, hearing a sudden change in the tone of the intruder’s breathing, an indrawn breath and then a sob of relief.

 

“Thank God, you came,” a woman’s voice spoke from the shadows, before she moved into the weak light from the stairwell behind her. “I had begun to think that no-one would hear me. That no-one is living down here anymore.”

 

“We had to be careful.” Vincent watched her walking towards him.

 

The woman before him he could have passed by and not recognised. She had changed. Now tall and slender, painfully so, he could see that she moved with difficulty.

 

Shannon came right up to him and stood, just looking up at him, looking into that unforgettable, unique face she didn’t think she would ever see again in this lifetime…and she began to cry.  

   

Catherine could sense all the compassion, all the memories that came flooding back to Vincent at the sight of his old playmate. She sat with Father, with Jacob on her knee, while the children had been dismissed to their afternoon duties.

 

She sent all her love and support back to Vincent, and the child on her knee played happily with her face, giving her his own reassurance that all would be well. Catherine kissed the chubby little fingers that tugged at her mouth.

 

“Why did she choose to leave, Father?” she asked, after Jacob had been silent for a long time.

 

“Shannon had one of life’s rarest gifts, a perfectly pitched singing voice.” Father turned his attention to the baby in her lap and tickled his ear, making him squirm with glee. “She would go Above for lessons. One day, when she was seventeen, a man heard her singing, and he was captivated by her incredible voice.”

 

“And she went away with him?” Catherine probed gently.

 

“At first he came only to hear her sing. He tried to find out where she lived, but of course Shannon couldn’t tell him. So he came at the same time every day, and he just sat there, she said, listening.”

 

“And what of Vincent?” Catherine asked, as Jacob snatched a pawn from the chess board and stuffed it in his mouth. Catherine extracted it, wiping it on Jacob’s bib before replacing it.

 

“Shannon is no Lisa, Catherine, please believe that. I can see now that I was wrong to force Vincent to suppress his sensual nature, his innate ability to connect with others on so many levels. But I had nothing to guide me in his development. When the incident with Lisa happened, I was frightened that if I allowed Vincent—”

 

“I understand, Father.” Catherine laid a hand on his, stilling his words. “I know how hard it must have been for the two of you coping alone. There mustn’t be any blame.”

 

Father sighed. “If only we could call back the past.” He was silent for several minutes, then he roused himself from his reverie to say. “Shannon filled a gap in Vincent’s young life. Together they made all sorts of outrageous plans and dreams. She was an odd child.” Father played with the reading glasses hanging around his neck. “She could be so still sometimes you would literally fall over her, before you saw her. But she was always one for rough and tumble. Lisa was afraid to get her clothes dirty. Shannon acted like one of the boys, up for anything dangerous or hair-raising.”

 

He laughed, tugging at his greying hair. “I think several of these I owe to her and Vincent and the scrapes they used to get into.”

 

He sighed. “Then she went away. We heard of her success from time to time. Press cuttings and snippets about famous European opera houses, great concerts. The man who came to listen to her sing, Justin Cole, I believe his name was. He married my little songbird and carried her off to a life of position and wealth.”

 

“But this Justin Cole never knew anything of her life before and this place?”

 

Father shook his head. “As far as I know Shannon never told him anything of her life before. She knew how fragile our world could be. She would never betray our trust.”  

 

 

“I’m sorry, I don’t usually fall apart at the sight of an old friend,” Shannon spoke into the folds of Vincent’s vest as he held her.

 

She smoothed the soft fabric beneath her cheek with one hand. The steady, reassuring beat of his heart echoed against her ear. How she had missed him and the strength of his embrace. It was good to be home again…to feel safe at last.

 

Safe…Shannon leaned back in Vincent’s arms and scanned the shadows. There could be no safety here, not yet. She needed to get Below.

 

“What is it?” Vincent questioned, his eyes questing the gloom. “What has made you so frightened?”

 

“Ghosts.” Shannon quivered in his slackened hold. “Too many ghosts.”

 

She swallowed convulsively, reaching up to place her hand against his cheek as she once did so long ago. Vincent could see the shadows that flitted through her green eyes, and her disquiet was a tangible thing between them.

“I’m in trouble, Vincent. Serious trouble. It isn’t safe here. I might have been followed.”

 

“Followed? By whom?” Vincent moved as he spoke, stepping back into the deepest shadows, taking Shannon with him. He operated the counter lever and the portal to the upper world closed silently. He watched and waited, straining to hear any signs Shannon had been followed.

 

“My husband has men who will stop at nothing to get me back. I don’t want to go back, never again.” She clung to his side, her breathing erratic and uneven. “What can you see?”

 

“Nothing.” Vincent shook his head. “There is no-one there.” The clattering of distant pipes was all the sound he heard. But the familiar sound didn’t lessen his alertness.

 

“Come.” He took Shannon’s hand. “I must take you to see Father. You must tell him everything.”  

 

 

   


Pain has an element of blank,

It cannot collect

When it begun or if there were

A time when it was not.

 

It has no future but itself;

Its infinite contain

Its past, enlightened to perceive

New periods of pain.

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

Vincent brought Shannon down to Father’s chamber. She had tired noticeably by the time they reached the lower levels, and Vincent supported her along the last of the tunnels with his strong arm around her waist.

 

“I used to race you all the way down here.” Shannon spoke against her frailty in bitter words, but she was grateful for the support.

 

“And you even managed to beat me sometimes,” Vincent acknowledged, as they arrived at Father’s chamber.

 

“Welcome home, Shannon.” Father kissed her cheek, fussing over her and treating her as if she was still the seventeen year-old girl she’d been years ago. She sat silent beneath his administrations, just watching and absorbing all the sights and sounds of the world around her. A world she’d missed so much.

 

Catherine could see that quality of stillness that Father had spoken of. Shannon was an incredibly restful person, and Catherine felt all her conflicting emotions and thoughts about this woman easing slowly.

 

Jacob squirmed on her lap, as curious as ever about someone new in his world, and Catherine was surprised at the fleeting look of anguish in Shannon’s eyes as Vincent gathered his son into his arms, holding him high in the air, much to the baby’s squealing delight.

 

“He’s a beautiful baby.” Shannon’s curious gaze ran from Vincent with the baby, to Catherine, and back again.

 

“You look worn out.” Father placed a cup of herbal tea beside her and Shannon enclosed the warmth of the brew between her cold palms.

 

Again she looked at Catherine. The pain in her expression was more evident now, and Catherine instinctively knew that Jacob was the innocent cause of that haunted look.

 

“I have someone I want you to meet,” Vincent said easily, turning Jacob in his arms, so the boy could see the new arrival. “This is my son, Jacob.”

 

“You are so lucky.” Shannon reached to fondle the baby’s hand. “Hello, Jacob.”

 

“And this is Catherine, Jacob’s mother.” Vincent moved to her side, placing Jacob in her lap.

 

Shannon could see and hear the love that Vincent had for this slender woman as he spoke her name. She smiled tentatively at them both, and Catherine felt the rest of her reserve melting away. Shannon laughed when Vincent attempted to pry his son’s fingers loose from his mane.

 

“Jacob has his father’s determination,” Catherine remarked, as her son released his grip and made another dive for the chess pieces instead.

 

“I’m going to teach him to play,” Father interposed, removing the board to safety. “But I’m afraid, for now, he would rather eat the pieces than learn the game.”

 

“You’re teaching another champion who may beat you one day.” Shannon laughed. “You are a glutton for punishment.”

 

“That’s what grandfathers are for.” The old man chuckled indulgently. “Where do you think all these new grey hairs came from?”

 

Shannon watched them all as they laughed at this, and Jacob bounced on his mother’s knee. It was good to be home again, but she hoped against hope that, in her need for a safe place to hide, she hadn’t brought imminent destruction down upon this fragile world of theirs.

 

“Vincent, Father.” She shook her head, her face losing all colour. “I have something I must tell you. I’m afraid, by my coming back here, I have put you all in terrible danger.”

   

“My life was everything I could wish for,” Shannon told them later that night, after the children had gone to bed.

 

The council had gathered to hear her story and to decide how best to handle her return. Shannon had asked for the meeting, wanting there to be no illusions about her need to return to their world.

 

“Justin Cole is a man of immense power and vast wealth,” she continued, surveying each face in turn, as they all sat around the table in Father’s chamber. “I was so young and blind when I married him. I soon discovered I could have anything I wanted, except my freedom.”

 

“But he was such a nice man,” Mary spoke then. “Ellen had always talked of his charming manner and generosity. He worshiped you.”

 

Ellen Ford had been Shannon’s music teacher Above. She had died three years after Shannon left for Europe. Her death had severed the only link between the two worlds. If she had been alive still, Shannon knew that Justin would force the old lady to reveal what she knew, and that would have had fatal consequences. She could not have returned under those circumstances.

 

“He was charming, witty and very, very persuasive when it came to getting his own way,” Shannon conceded then, her eyes falling to the thinness of her wrists. “But I was never allowed to return to New York after we left for Europe, and he put a stop to any communications with everyone I knew. He wanted to keep me all for himself, possess me utterly.”

 

“So that is why we haven’t heard from you for so long,” Father exclaimed then, his eyes deeply troubled over Shannon’s revelations. “And we thought you were just too happy and busy to remember us.”

 

“How could I ever forget any of you?” Shannon swallowed convulsively. “But, to Justin, I was just another possession, another priceless ornament for his collection of rare and beautiful things. He liked to display them as often as possible. He liked other men to be deeply jealous of what he owned.”

 

This last was spoken in a flat tone, devoid of emotion. Catherine felt a deep empathy for her then. She, too, had known what it was to be prized for her beauty, for her ornamental value and not her mind or opinions. Until she met Vincent…

 

“But you managed to get away?” William’s deep voice cut across the ensuing silence.

 

“I had a singing engagement in Los Angeles,” Shannon replied. “We had to touch down briefly in New York. Justin said he had some private business to conduct here. He’s been on edge ever since we landed. It took longer than expected, so as much as he disliked the inconvenience, we were forced to stay over for a few more days.” She looked around the room. “Tonight, we went alone to a very select event, in a penthouse overlooking Central Park. Justin has been in a foul mood for days, and we argued at the hotel.” Shannon half raised a hand to her cheek, before letting it fall again. “It seems I’d been commanded to sing for Justin’s business associate. It was not a request.” She lifted a denying shoulder.

 

“When we arrived at the penthouse, Justin was summoned to a closed-door meeting, so I was left alone in the main room. Without his guards watching my every move, I took the heaven-sent opportunity to escape. It was my only chance for freedom.”

 

“So, by now, he will be turning the city inside out looking for you,” William spoke for all of them, as they digested her words. “He’s that determined to get you back?”

 

“Yes, and he won’t stop. But, I didn’t know what else to do, where else to go.” Shannon raised her hands helplessly. “I would never willingly endanger all of you. But I had to escape or go insane.” She glanced at Catherine. “Last year I fell pregnant. I thought Justin would be pleased.” Tears gathered in her eyes to spill unheeded down her pale cheeks.

 

That same look of intense pain that Catherine had seen earlier contorted the other woman’s features now, as she fought to keep her voice steady. “But he was horrified. The pregnancy would interfere with his plans for my singing career. He…forced me to have an abortion.”

 

This shocking revelation was spoken in the same flat, bleak tone, and Catherine felt a shiver run through her at such callousness. She sought Vincent’s hand and felt his warm fingers entwine through hers. “What will you do now?” she asked.

 

“I haven’t sung in over a year. This trip was supposed to be a new beginning for me. Justin demanded I perform as before.” Shannon looked around the room. “I wanted you all to hear my story and decide. If you think I should leave, then I will go. I will not risk you all, for my sake. My husband is in trouble; he can’t stay here in New York. But he won’t leave without me.”

 

Truly she did not want to bring danger to these people who were her only family, but she had nowhere else to go. She waited silently for their decision.  

 

Vincent ran the tip of one curved nail slowly down Catherine’s naked body, from the delicate hollow at the base of her throat to the soft skin of her inner thigh. He watched, fascinated, as she shivered with delight and softly, achingly, cried his name. This woman was an eternal source of wondrous delight and infinite possibilities. He would need a dozen lifetimes to explore every facet of her compelling beauty and sensuous nature. But, for now, he was content to watch and learn.

 

He followed the path of his fingertip with his lips, evoking further responses that tore at the edges of his rigid control. He wanted to give back to his love some small measure of the pleasure and deep emotions that she had given him, but with her fragrant softness so closely wound around him, it was a difficult task to hold onto his resolve and not spoil his tentative exploration.

 

Mary had taken Jacob of the night. Privacy was a valued commodity in the world Below, and it was Catherine who usually engineered their shared time together to the best advantage. But tonight, it had been Vincent who asked Mary to take the baby until morning and then organised with William, an intimate supper for two in Vincent’s chamber.

 

The whole tunnel world delighted in these small tokens of their affection for the pair of lovers who, for so long, had been denied the indulgence of the passionate side of their twin natures.

 

Catherine lay beside him now, excitingly mysterious with the scented shadows and curves of her slender body only half revealed in the light of the single candle that burned at the bedside. To be able to hold her against him, within him, was a sweetness that brought an ache to Vincent’s chest as he cupped the fullness of one gleaming breast in the palm of his hand and gently massaged its rose-coloured tip with the ball of his thumb.

 

Catherine turned her face into his neck and nipped at the moistness of his corded throat. Her hands played over him, testing, moulding, sliding through the rough silk of his mane to pull his mouth up to hers, breathing her warmth into him as their kiss deepened and became suspended in time.

 

“Catherine…” Vincent whispered raggedly, as her hands moved to enclose him.

 

Rigid between her palms, his desire was a tangible thing of satin and fire, a yearning that only this slender woman could assuage. Catherine smiled, watching his reaction with appreciative knowing of what exactly she was doing to him, driving him to forget all about trying to remain in control and simply surrender to the truth.

 

Blazing sapphire heat met smiling emerald in the reflected glow of the candlelight, and she could see the aching need that plucked at her heart. There could only ever be one for the other. Throughout all eternity, they were inextricably bound together.

 

She closed her eyes then, her breath indrawn on a gasp of spiralling need as Vincent moved over her, gathering her fully against him, moulding every curve to his, as he sought her inner depths and drew her onwards, wanting to share with her all the delights that he had discovered in that magical realm that Catherine had first shown to him all those months ago. A realm filled with all the light and wonders that lay beyond his world of shadows and eternal night.

 

“Always…!” was the impassioned cry that broke from his control as they rose together, united on every level of their being. The universe around them swayed and dissolved into a swirl of dancing light as Catherine buried her face in the sweat-soaked splendour of Vincent’s mane and let him take her where he willed, knowing he would always keep her safe.

 

Gradually their collective heart rate slowed as they fell over the edge, and Vincent brought her back to the candlelit quiet of his chamber. Down into the tumble of cushions and quilts that supported them as they both drew long steadying breaths of appeasement.

 

The fall of Vincent’s hair across Catherine’s cheeks effectively closed them into their own private world as he surveyed the soft fullness of her mouth, coloured by his lovemaking and infinitely desirable. He shook his head in wonder and the long feathers of silken mane caressed Catherine’s bare skin, evoking tiny shivers of pleasure.

 

Reaching down Vincent dragged the warm folds of a quilt over them both, and then he lay back, Catherine cradled against his shoulder. He trapped her exploring fingers against the warmth of his chest, before lifting her hand to kiss her palm.

 

“You catch on fast, Mr Wells.” Catherine teased as Vincent ran the sensual moistness of his tongue against the pulse in her inner wrist.

 

“I have a great teacher.” Vincent smiled as he continued his exploration up to her shoulder. The delicate skin quivered beneath his touch.

 

“I think the pupil has outstripped the teacher long ago,” Catherine murmured, a shudder running through her, as Vincent brought his mouth up to the edge of her lips and played across them with a touch as light as air.

 

This evoked a soft chuckle as he drew back to cradle her, entwining his fingers with hers. He sighed in deep contentment, her softness surrounding his every sense.

 

“Vincent…” Catherine spoke after a long silence in which they both drifted on the edge of sleep. “What can we do for Shannon?”

 

“Give her a sense of safety, of belonging somewhere again,” Vincent replied. “A place to heal.”

 

“But her husband. He doesn’t sound like a man who will give up easily.”

 

“No.” Vincent sighed. “I’m afraid for her.” His heart was troubled over all that Shannon had revealed at the meeting earlier in the evening. “I’m afraid he is going to cause a great deal of trouble, until he finds her.”

 

Catherine traced the outline of hard muscle of Vincent’s bare chest as she considered his words. The council had agreed to let Shannon stay; they couldn’t turn her way, even though she had stressed again the dangers they could face by granting her sanctuary. The simple fact that she had nowhere else to go weighted heavily on Vincent’s mind.

 

“At least I can help her by asking Joe to start a discreet investigation of Cole.” Catherine propped herself up on one elbow. “That will give us some information on his movements. Perhaps, even impel him to give up his search and go home.”

 

The soft glow of the candle behind her played over Catherine’s features, light and shadow. Vincent reached to tuck stray tendrils of hair behind her ear, his touch a sensual caress as he continued on to trace the line of her jaw to her chin and back again to cup her face.

 

“Shannon was right about the need for extreme care,” he said softly, his eyes shadowed and wary. “We cannot risk again what happened at the carousel.”

 

“I know, Vincent.” Catherine lowered her mouth to his in a lingering kiss. “I will be careful.”

 

Vincent was not proof against this type of subtle torture as Catherine moved from his lips to trail soft caresses down the strong column of his throat and beyond. The tempo of his breathing increased as her hands moved across him, softly feathering along the edges of his reawakening desire to possess her body and soul once more.

 

But a tiny part of his mind still worried at the problem that was Justin Cole. Was the fragile peace that he and Catherine had fought so hard to achieve destined to be forever out of reach…?

 

 

   


He never found her, though he looked

Everywhere,

And he asked at her mother’s house

Was she there?

 

Sudden and swift and light as that

The ties gave,

And he learned of finalities

Besides the grave.

 

Robert Frost

 

 

“Do you know anything about a Justin Cole?” Joe demanded bluntly, three days later, when Diana brought him her latest report.

 

“Now, why do you want to know about him?” She considered him for a long moment, before turning away to take one of the chairs before his desk.

 

Joe pursed his lips. “His name has come up. Catherine has made some inquiries about him, and I got a really cryptic note from Burch today. Seems Cole may have some involvement in John Moreno’s murder. Financially anyway.”

 

“Justin Cole, interesting.” Diana sat forward. “European industrialist, blatant opportunist, collector of anything considered extremely rare or unique. Owner of one of the finest fine arts collections in the world. Internationally, his building projects are suspect to say the least. He’s cut too many corners and buried innocent people with shoddy workmanship and kickbacks. He has a dozen lawsuits pending in about ten different countries.” Diana shook her head. “Charming, extremely handsome, overwhelmingly possessive, with all the morals, cunning and disposition of the meanest alley cat. Not a man to cross lightly.”

 

“You’ve certainly done your homework.” Joe was startled by her last statement, for it was voiced with a totally neutral expression. “That was straight out of left field.” He laughed grimly.

 

“I’ve been contracted to do some initial investigation work for one of the foreign governments trying to sue him for damages. Once the Moreno case is closed, I intend to pursue the man. But his companies are a maze of blinds and paper fronts. He’s extremely good at hiding what he doesn’t want found.”

 

“So, we’ll get a bigger shovel. I want the real dirt on this guy. And if he’s not the top of the food chain, then I want the man who pulls his strings. Very badly.”

 

“Well, Mr Cole possessed a wife, an opera singer of the rarest quality,” Diana continued dispassionately, though her gaze narrowed. “Apparently she’s been kidnapped, according to the newspapers. I hear Mr Cole is making a lot of noise over at City Hall. He wants her found, urgently; he’ll pay any price.”

 

Joe tapped one fingernail on the cover of a report on his desk. “According to the police who interviewed the staff at Cole’s hotel, they both went out for a select dinner party at some Central Park penthouse three nights ago. But only Cole came back. He was in a towering rage and threatened all kinds of legal and not so legal actions. The hotel staff said that Mrs Cole was a virtual prisoner in their suite. She never went anywhere unless accompanied by three or more bodyguards. They were heard arguing that night. The staff told the police they think she simply ran away. Or he’s silenced her for good.”

 

“Well, I hear Cleon Manning’s agency has taken the case. I can see Elliot Burch’s hand in this. It’s a little too neat. He’s up to something.” Diana stared levelly at Joe. “But, I’m not sure about our Mr Cole. He seems extremely nervous, for some reason. Like he’s got something to hide and he doesn’t want it discovered while he’s in New York. There’s more to this case than meets the eye. But, I doubt he knows who Manning really works for.”

 

“Isn’t there always more?” Joe sighed heavily. “I want to know if you hear anything about this elusive opera singer. I don’t need this case to spiral into another Cathy Chandler situation with no leads and no suspects. And I don’t need to find I’ve got another homicide, if Cole turns out to be lying.”

 

“I’ll see what I can uncover.” Diana nodded. “He has a couple of large scale projects here in New York. Good places to dispose of a body you don’t want found.”

 

“So, what do you have for me on the Moreno case?” Joe stretched tiredly, before opening Diana’s file.

 

“There are still no clues as to how the murderer got to the man in the first place. I still say there had to have been at least three prison guards implicated in this. But they’re all covering for each other. If Cole is paying for their silence, he must have emptied the coffers.”

 

“Greg and his team have interviewed everyone at least a dozen times.” Joe shook his head. “Their stories check out each time. No one has tripped up yet. They would have to be impossibly good liars to keep up the pretence all this time. It’s just all too neat.”

 

“If you were someone who had sold a piece of his soul to gain power or wealth, who would you be more afraid of? The police, or the owner of your destiny? What if Cole is only a front for someone far bigger?”

 

Joe grimaced. “What is this, philosophy class?”

 

“Think about it, Joe.” Diana spread her hands wide. “What if our elusive game player is so powerful that he can own an entire city prison, kidnap an Assistant D.A. right out of her own building. What if he’s so powerful that even a man like Moreno isn’t necessary to him once he’d served his purpose?”

She gave a short laugh. “No wonder Cole is nervous. He knows he could very well be next, unless he gets control of the situation and fast. It takes an awful lot of heat to make that man sweat.”

 

“It isn’t possible to be that powerful.” Joe frowned, shaking his head. “No one could do all that and get away with it.”

 

“Are you so sure?” Diana asked abruptly, her gaze level and demanding. “Are you so absolutely sure you’re right?”

 

“And I was just beginning to like you. To tell the truth, I’m not sure of anything, any more.” Joe felt a cold wind blow through his innermost being as he considered the implication of Diana’s words.

 

Was he sure of what he said, he asked himself silently. Suddenly he knew that for a long time now, he hadn’t been sure of anything.

 

He shook his head. “And what about your stake-out on those guys in the park? Come up with anything we could use?”

 

Diana pulled a face. “We hung out there for a whole week, just watching and waiting, but no-one came. I guess they must have had a code for reporting back to their handler. No code, no contact. Whoever hired them covered their tracks well. And can afford to cut their losses.”

 

Joe threw up his hands in frustrated defeat. “And your helpers, the escapees from the funny farm? What about them? Did you get any clues as to where Radcliffe is holed up?”

 

“They wouldn’t even cough up their last names so I could run a check on them. They came and went like ghosts,” Diana complained. “Wherever and whoever your Cathy Chandler hangs out with, they sure know how to keep themselves secret. All I can tell you, if I can’t find her, then I very much doubt our mystery master player could either.” She narrowed her gaze on Joe. “But it still bugs me.”

 

“What, only one thing?” Joe snorted. “The whole damn thing puts up my blood pressure on a daily basis. I have this case and a dozen other fires to try and put out and I’m fast running out of resources.”

 

“Whoever is protecting Chandler sure doesn’t like her being messed with. You should have seen what was done to those three guys. They were shredded. She keeps some very peculiar company.”

 

“As long as she’s safe, then she can hang out with the man in the moon as far as I’m concerned,” Joe grumped unhappily.

 

But it needled him as well. Just what did happen that night at the carousel? And who are these odd people who seem to have no fixed abode and no way of supporting themselves?

 

And the ultimate question that had bugged him from the get go. Just why was Radcliffe targeted for kidnapping in the first place? What secret did she know that was so vital, their mystery player would risk everything to secure it?

 

He pushed his fingers through his hair. He hated secrets, he hated not knowing what Cathy was up to and why wouldn’t she allow him to help her.

 

He needed some answers and he needed them soon.

 

   

“So, what do you have for me, Cleon?” Elliot Burch sat forward eagerly in his seat, his elbows leaning on the desktop.

 

“This game is getting a little crowded.” Cleon grimaced sourly. “Our Mr Cole has been a very busy man. He’s shelling out some serious money all over the city.”

 

“I think it ceased to be a game when John Moreno was murdered.” Elliot sighed grimly. “I want you to dig some more, find out what he’s hiding and where.”

 

“It’s your money. You can still get out, you know.” The black investigator frowned at his employer. “You’re being squeezed from all sides. Give it up, Elliot, before it’s too late.”

 

“The day Cathy Chandler came to me for help, it was too late.” Elliot shook his head. “I should have known better than to trust in something so ethereal as hope. But when she smiled at me, I wanted to buy her the whole world.”

 

“Love has a way of blinding you to the truth of the matter.” Cleon shrugged. “You can’t buy everything you want.”

 

“Oh, I know the truth…now.” Elliot laughed bleakly. “But Cathy had to beat my head against it several times before I got the message.”

 

“Ten foot monsters of blood and fire?” Cleon chuckled over the old joke.

 

Elliot’s expression became bleak and haunted as he studied the other man. “No, just a man, a very good man who can give her all that I could not.”

 

“So, you have decided on this course of self-destruction instead,” Cleon stated grimly. “Cole’s head on a plate, or you buried six feet under some cheap cement floor on one of his dodgy projects.”

 

Cleon threw his arms wide. “Well, don’t expect me to cry at your funeral. But, you won’t be satisfied with anything less now, will you?”

 

“Okay, when I’m down to my last dollar, I’m sure you’ll take great pleasure in saying ‘I told you so.’” Elliot laughed grimly. “Until then I want you to get as close as possible to him and find out how deeply involved Justin Cole is in all of this. I want to know if he can lead us to the man who pulls his strings. So stir him up. Let’s rattle his cage and see what jumps out.”

 

“You’re the boss,” Cleon replied unhappily. “But he’s already rattled. Seems the man can’t even keep track of his own wife. It’s in all the papers, she disappeared a couple of days ago.”

 

“I saw that.” Elliot nodded. “A very pretty woman. I saw her perform once. Cole wouldn’t like to let anything so beautiful escape him.” Elliot stared at his investigator. “Is there any way we can we turn that to our advantage?”

 

“Funny you should ask that.” Cleon smirked. “I made some calls, cashed in some big favours to put my firm’s name in his way, so he would think of me when he needed a discreet investigator to hunt her down. I’ve got a four o’clock with him today. To discuss the case. It should be interesting.”

 

“Results are something I can buy, Cleon. I’ll make it worth your while to become that man’s shadow. I don’t want him to find what he’s looking for without you there, holding his hand and leading him right to her.”

 

 

Shannon awoke slowly, drifting in that world between waking and sleeping, lulled by the distant tapping of the pipes and the scent of the candles beside her bed. Until she had relived the sights and sounds of the world she had been brought up in, she had forgotten how much she missed it.

 

“Awake at last,” came a deep voice from the doorway of her chamber, and she raised herself on one elbow to see William standing there, his hands filled with a breakfast tray. “Hungry?” he asked, bustling into the room.

 

Steam curled up from the food to wreath his head as he set the tray down at the bedside. Shannon felt an unaccustomed hunger at the sight of the array of dishes.

 

“Your favourite, blueberry pancakes.” William uncovered a dish with a flourish.

 

“I won’t be able to move if I eat all this,” Shannon protested on a groan.

 

“Put some meat back on those skinny bones of yours.” William smiled, circling her thin wrist with two fingers, before clasping her hand between his.

 

“What’s this?” He frowned at her face, now devoid of its concealing make-up.

“Who did this?” He touched a finger to the dark, swelling bruise on her left cheek.

 

Shannon grimaced. “I’m afraid my husband doesn’t like disobedience.”

 

“Well, he won’t get the chance to do that again,” William promised. “Or I’ll break his back with these.” He raised his large hands. “We’ll keep you safe, girl, don’t you worry. That’s what we do best down here.”

 

“I know, William, and I love you for that.” Shannon wiped away tears.

 

“I’ll be back in half an hour, and I want to see all those plates licked clean,” William rumbled gruffly, as he headed for the door.

 

 
“I want results, Manning, not excuses!” Justin Cole bit out, his dark eyes cold and angry.

 

Cleon sat passively, continuing to read the file on Shannon Cole as if nothing had been said. “You stand to lose a lot of money if your wife doesn’t go through with her performances in L.A.” he stated with satisfaction, after a fraught silence.

 

“To hell with the money! I want my wife back!” Cole took a turn around the room. His anger was obviously fast getting out of control.

 

Cleon studied him dispassionately. Tall, lean, and darkly handsome, he could see why the women chased the man. For someone with such a wide choice of willing female companionship, he was putting a great deal of money and resources into finding a woman who obviously didn’t want to be around him anymore. Perhaps she knew things he didn’t want to come out into the open. Things Elliot Burch would pay dearly to know.

 

“Have you had any ransom notes, any communication whatsoever from your wife or anyone connected with her disappearance?” Cleon returned his gaze to the file. “It’s unusual not to have been contacted by now.”

 

“I told you, nothing. It’s like she’s just dropped off the face of the earth.” Cole thumped his fist into his open palm. “I have to be in London in three days, and I want my wife with me when I fly out. I went to see that singing teacher of hers, but the old bat is dead.”

 

“What about the party you both went to?” Cleon dangled the bait. “If you would just give us the address, then we could start the investigation from the proper angle. It’s no use to us if we can’t question those who would have been the last to see her before she disappeared.”

 

“I can’t give out that sort of information,” Cole snapped, twisting the ring on the third finger of his right hand. “The owner of the penthouse is a recluse who values his privacy. He won’t appreciate anyone poking their noses into his affairs. You’ll have to work with what you’ve already got.”

 

“Well then, we can only continue to search for your wife throughout the city and wait for a ransom demand. If one is going to be made.” Cleon watched him turning the ring in agitation.

 

He’d already noted its exquisite beauty. He appreciated fine craftsmanship, and the ring appeared to be of great antiquity. A gold band set with gleaming black stones, it was light years beyond anything Cleon could afford, even on what Elliot was paying him. 

 

“What do you mean, if one is going to be made?” Cole snapped, his face flushing with suppressed rage. “Of course there will be a demand.”

 

“The hotel staff are of the opinion your wife left of her own free will. If that’s the case, then there is no reason to search for her. She’s a grown woman who can go where she pleases.” Cleon was curious to see the other man’s reaction.

 

“My wife was kidnapped!” Cole twisted the ring faster in unconscious agitation. “She has some knowledge of my business affairs, my projects here and overseas. She could be forced to give details that could ruin me overnight. They know I will pay any sum of money for her safe return.”

 

“Your wife has a very beautiful voice.” Cleon drove the knife deeper. “I have several of her tapes at home. But they say her recent performances are not up to her usual standards. She hasn’t sung publicly for more than a year.”

 

“She is as good as she ever was!” Cole glared at him. “She has the best voice in the business.”

 

“A rare and costly treasure, Mr Cole,” Cleon murmured smoothly. “A shame you seem to have mislaid her. Or maybe you’ve lost her on purpose.”

 

“Shut up!” Cole glared at him, obviously unsure of his exact meaning. “I’m not paying you a fortune for your opinions, just results. Find her, Manning, or I will make you wish you’d never met me.”

 

“You’re in no position to threaten me,” Cleon replied dismissively. “I’m not the one in trouble here. You look like you’re drowning.”

 

“Just find her.” Cole blew out a breath. “And soon. I don’t care what it costs, who you have to hurt. Tear this city apart and find my wife before it’s too late.”

Cole closed his hand around the ring. Cleon could see his knuckles whitening to the point where the industrialist flinched.

 

But his furious expression told a different story. He looked ready to do serious bodily harm to someone. Cleon exhaled sharply, grateful he was seen as being useful.

 

“I’ll be in touch.” He stood to leave, making for the door in record time. He could only pray that he and Elliot could escape with their lives. Cleon had no intention of being used as industrial cement filler any time soon.  

 

     


“Hope” is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

Jacob cooed happily, patting chubby fingers against his mother’s cheek. The sapphire eyes that were so like Vincent’s offered silent messages of love and the bond that linked parent to child hummed with the echoes. Catherine marvelled again that someone so young and small could be so knowledgeable about life. Her son twisted his fingers through her hair and gurgled at her, smiling in contented baby happiness.

 

“Catherine…?” came the tentative inquiry from the doorway to Vincent’s chamber. “May I come in?”

 

Catherine looked up to find Shannon watching them uncertainly. Dressed in tunnel costume, with her long black hair divided into two simple plaits, she looked no older than twenty.

 

“Come in please,” Catherine invited. “Sit down here with us.”

 

Shannon moved to the chair opposite Catherine’s. Jacob waved a hand at her, which set her laughing. “He is such a sweet baby, you must feel very lucky.” Shannon reached to take Jacob’s hand, and he bounced happily at the encouragement.

 

“Would you like to hold him?” Catherine offered, gathering up her son and depositing him into Shannon’s lap. “Be careful. He’s developed quite a passion for pulling hair, especially long hair like yours.”

 

As she spoke, Catherine felt Vincent’s gratitude over her acceptance of Shannon flow through to her along their mutual bond. He had gone with Mouse to oversee one of the boy’s projects and to ensure that he didn’t get carried away with his latest idea.

 

“I’m glad Vincent has found someone,” Shannon said quietly, as she played with Jacob’s small fingers. “He deserves every happiness. I always felt he would find love one day. He was always very special in my life.”

 

“Father told me of your early days in the tunnels. It’s so sad that you lost everyone when you were so young.”

 

“I don’t really remember my parents or Sam now.” Shannon shook her head. “Father, Vincent, and the others became my family. At one time I couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t contain them and the world Below.”

 

Catherine considered the young woman for a moment, unsure of how to continue without upsetting her. Her bruised cheek was a grim reminder of her unstable marriage and her fears for her own safety. Catherine didn’t want to add to her already heavy burden of guilt, but she had no choice.

 

Jacob blew bubbles and tilted his head. Catherine could feel his trust in her judgement whispering softly to her, and Vincent, in the distance, giving her the encouragement to speak her mind.

 

“This isn’t going to be easy,” Catherine began slowly. “But when I lived Above, I was an investigator for the D.A.’s office. I…have sent up a note, asking my old boss, Joe Maxwell, to start an investigation into your husband’s activities. Discreetly, of course. Joe is the new District Attorney.”

 

“Oh, no…” Shannon’s face paled, making her bruised cheek stark in the candlelight. “If you care for Joe as a friend, then you must warn him to be extremely careful. My husband is a very dangerous man. And his master is ruthless. He will stop at nothing to achieve his aims.”

 

Catherine’s heartbeat quickened. “Thank you, I will warn him. But the newspapers say your husband would have everyone believe you’ve been kidnapped. He has gone to a private investigator to have you tracked down. Even for a possessive man, he seems to be going to extraordinary lengths to find you.”

 

Shannon’s clear green eyes met Catherine’s and she sighed sharply. “Life was so easy and uncomplicated once. How I wish I’d never meet Justin.”

 

“There is more you haven’t told us, isn’t there?” Catherine caught her wrist, as Shannon fiddled nervously with the lacing of Jacob’s shirt.

 

Shannon swallowed. “So much more that I wonder sometimes if I could ever get anyone to believe me.”

 

“I would believe you.”

 

“That is what I’m most afraid of.” Shannon’s brow furrowed with worry. “Once I tell you, then you are a party to knowledge that could get us all killed.”

 

“A problem shared.” Catherine’s grip slipped to take her hand. “And I have resources that can help you. There have been too many secrets. Too many people hurt or murdered. I think it’s finally time to bring these people to account. And you are going to help me do that.”

 

“I’ll try.” Shannon’s voice quavered. “I’ll do anything to make things right again. For all of you.”

 

“Good girl.” Catherine reached for a yellow legal pad. “Now, we’ll start by you telling me everything you know about Justin Cole and his activities.”

 

Joe dropped into his seat on the subway car with a ragged sigh. The note tucked inside his sandwich had instructed him to take this train at four o’clock.

 

He would be met by someone who would take him to Catherine. He felt as if he hadn’t slept for a week, and his eyes were gritty from the long hours he’d been putting into the Moreno case. If only he could find a decent break in the case, anything, no matter how small, to give him that final lead on the killer.

 

The train rumbled out of the station and into the blackness of the tunnel. Apart from a couple of tramps and an old lady, Joe was alone in the car. He wondered where his contact was hiding or if any of his fellow passengers were connected to Catherine. He leaned his head back against the window behind him and tried to rest. But his mind kept running over and over the case’s frustrating stalemate condition, not allowing him any respite.

 

Suddenly the lights went out and the old woman screamed in the darkness as the train lurched to a halt. Rough hands grabbed at Joe, and he felt himself being lifted bodily off the seat. A bag was pulled over his head. He lashed out blindly and connected solidly with one of his assailants.

 

“We don’t want to hurt you, Mr Maxwell,” a voice said in his ear, as he felt the cold air of the tunnel strike his face. “But this is the only way. Catherine sent us to fetch you. Your world is no longer safe for her.”

 

Cathy?” Joe managed, as he heard a metal door being opened. He ceased to struggle and was set on his feet as the door closed behind him and his assailants. The sound of the train starting again came distantly to his ears.

 

“What is this place?” Joe reached to lift the hood, but his hands were knocked away. He could sense people moving near him.

 

There was a muttered conversation he struggled to hear, and he was hustled forward, turning right, then left down a long tunnel until he had lost all sense of direction and time. Suddenly he had the impression of an echoing space.

More whispered conversation, then there was a flare as a match was struck, and Joe could see light through the material of the hood. He jumped as it was pulled from his head. He immediately recognised the two men from the carousel who had been protecting Catherine. They held up a lantern, watching his every move.

 

What the…!” Joe swayed, clutching for the rail beside him, alarmed to find himself standing at the head of an enormous, spiralling iron staircase that seemed to go down for miles into an echoing chasm, illuminated by glowing lights from the distant depths. There were odd noises and sounds all around. Someone talking, a series of tapping sounds against metal pipes, the distant rumble of passing trains.

 

“What is this place?”

 

Four men ranged themselves behind him, another two stood off to one side. No one answered his question.

 

“Where’s Cathy?” he demanded, swiftly losing what little patience he had left.

 

“I’m here, Joe.” Catherine came through a small doorway and moved into the light of the lantern.

 

“Well, this is an interesting change of venue.” Joe waved his hands in agitation. “I’ve never walked the tracks before. Where are we?”

 

“I’m sorry, Joe. But after the last time, I—”

 

“Which you still haven’t explained to me,” Joe put in, stepping forward to hug her tightly. “It’s good to see you again, Radcliffe. But we must stop meeting like this. You keep taking years off my life.”

 

“I have information, Joe. Information so dangerous, there was no other way for us to meet.”

 

The tone of her voice made him pull back to scan her face closely. “Tell me,” he demanded sharply.

 

“Justin Cole has links with the man who controlled John Moreno. With the man who ordered his execution.”

 

What?” Joe grabbed her arm. “I know you’re good, Radcliffe, but how can you be sure of what you’re implying? Where’d you get the information from?”

 

“From his wife.” Catherine took a small, tattered leather bag from one of her guards and held it out. “Everything she has told me is in here. Everything. But this information is extremely dangerous. It could get you killed. So please, Joe, be very careful who you show this to.”

 

“If this is genuine, I owe you everything, Radcliffe.” A thousand questions buzzed like bees in Joe’s tired brain. Questions that demanded answers, though he knew well enough by now he wasn’t going to get any. He opened his mouth to speak, then changed his mind about what he wanted to say. Cathy’s closed expression told him it was useless to make any demands.

 

“Where is she?” he finally asked.

 

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you that.” Catherine shrugged. “But she is safer where she is now than in any sort of protective custody. If Cole finds out she’s alive and willing to testify against him, he’ll move heaven and earth to get to her.”

 

“She’s his wife, for Pete’s sake!” Joe wanted to pace, but the yawning chasm before him changed his mind. “If he knew we were onto him, he wouldn’t dare touch her. We would keep her secluded until the trial.”

 

“Like Moreno thought he was protected?” Catherine watched him with concern. “Look, Joe, I know this whole business is unbelievably complicated, but until we nail the man who controlled Moreno, then no-one is safe. No-one, Joe. I can’t come back to work; I can’t even show my face in the city, see any of my friends. It has to end, and soon. Otherwise Shannon Cole and I will have to stay in hiding for the rest of our lives, and he will have won. Despite all our efforts to bring him down, Moreno’s killer will have won. Do you want that Joe? I don’t.”

 

Joe sighed, turning back to her. His expression was weary beyond belief. He shook his head slowly. “Sometimes I wonder where you get the guts, Chandler, to chew out your boss like that. It could get you fired.”

 

“You can fire me when this is all over, Joe.” Catherine smiled.

 

“What, and lose my best investigator? No chance, Radcliffe. We’re stuck with each other.”

 

“All this, so I can sit and watch you eat chocolate cheese nuggets again.” Catherine stepped up to him, to slide her arms around his neck. “I must be crazy.”

 

Joe pulled her against him, hugging her warmly. “All this, so you can perhaps, at last, explain the odd company you keep.” He scowled at the men surrounding them. “It’s eating me up, this not knowing.”

 

“Perhaps even that, Joe.” Catherine kissed his cheek. “Maybe one day I will be able to tell you everything.”

 

He grunted his disbelief. “Let’s make that a promise. And I am going to make sure you keep to it, Radcliffe. Because not knowing where you are and what you are doing is driving me crazy!”

 

 

Elliot sat behind his desk looking out over the city sprawled before him beyond the window. It was once again late at night and he was alone, except for the city that he’d tried so hard to make his own. Ever bustling, it never ceased to fascinate him, never ceased to draw him into its frenetic heart.

 

A smile played across his mouth as he thought of the time when all he’d wanted to do was construct buildings and leave his mark indelibly printed on this most material of cities. But that was before Catherine Chandler, before she walked into his life and changed him forever.

 

Wearily Elliot dropped his head into his hands and told himself to stop being a fool. Cathy was lost to him, lost in the arms of a man…is he a man?

 

Elliot drew a long, shuddering breath as he remembered that face. That beautiful, awesome face. And those eyes that looked at him with such humanity and compassion, he’d felt humbled and contrite. He’d wanted to stay down there, explore everything about Cathy’s world and understand. Understand everything about this unique man who loved her so deeply.

 

“I must be getting senile.” He gave a short, bitter laugh, as he turned the day’s events over in his mind. “Why does it all matter so much?”

 

Cleon had warned him, his own advisors had clamoured day and night to be heard. But he hadn’t listened to any of them and now he was paying the price.

 

The vice was slowly being tightened to the point where, soon, very soon, it would all become unbearable. Elliot knew how to play hardball. He’d done that all his adult life. But he’d always played by the rules. His unseen opponent had no such scruples.

 

Fifty people burned to death in one of his hotels. Fifty innocent lives taken, just to make a point.

 

Elliot picked up the book from his desk, the diary Cathy had brought to him so long ago. Meaningless words and symbols that had caused so many deaths and so much misery. Elliot turned it over and over in his hands and sighed heavily. “Where are you, you heartless bastard! Why don’t you show yourself and face me like a man?”

 

Beyond the windows of his office, the city hurried on about its business – uncaring, brash – and Elliot pondered that which could never be and discovered he cared too much to simply let go and sink into the tide that threatened to engulf him and all those he loved… 

 

   

 

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-loved phoenix in her brood;

 

William Shakespeare

 

 

After her meeting with Joe, Catherine stepped back through the door, straight into Vincent’s waiting arms. She laid her head against the padded warmth of his vest and let the slow rhythms of his heartbeat sooth her troubled mind.

 

“I pray that I haven’t sent Joe to his death.” She slid her arms around his waist beneath his mantle to draw him closer, trying to lose herself in his solid presence. “I feel I could do more.”

 

“You have done all you can, Catherine.” Vincent laid his cheek against the fragrance of her hair and rocked her gently. “Joe can look after himself.”

 

The other tunnel dwellers moved past them silently and descended the spiral staircase, leaving Vincent and Catherine alone. Slowly the chill of foreboding was warmed from Catherine’s bones.

 

With his head covered once more with the hood, Joe had been led back the way he came, moving up through the tunnels in a confusing series of bends and twists to the next station towards his destination. He’d resisted being hustled away, openly voicing his opinion that Catherine’s protection was woefully inadequate in the face of the threat posed by Cole and his overlord.

 

Only Catherine’s continued assurances, that no-one could find her unless she wanted them to, had finally persuaded Joe to accompany his guides back to the upper levels. His concern touched her heart, but she also knew that many times the D.A.’s protection programme had proven that it was by no means as secure as Joe would like to think in the face of a determined enemy.

 

Vincent slid his arm around her waist. “I know what is in your heart, Catherine. But you cannot protect everyone.”

 

“I know.” Catherine nodded. “We can only hope this nightmare will end soon.”

She knew that all she had given Joe was a lethal time bomb that could explode at any moment. But to go Above again was to put them all in danger, all those she had sworn to protect. But the restraints that had been put upon her by the present situation irked her just the same.

 

“You have done all you can.” Vincent could divine her thoughts by the turmoil of her mind. He knew what it was costing her to stay safe and protected while others fought the battle for her. It wasn’t in his love’s nature to sit idly by, but there was no other way.

 

“I feel so helpless, Vincent.” Catherine followed him down the staircase. “I feel as if I’m just marking time until something dreadful happens to Joe or Elliot…or you. I couldn’t bear that.”

 

“I know, my love, I know.” Vincent gripped her shoulder. “I wish there was something more I could do.”

 

Catherine gripped his fingers, feeling all the power and gentleness of his touch. “But you are doing something, Vincent. You are always here when I need you. I couldn’t exist without you to guide me…and to love me.”

 

She turned to him as the reached the lower levels. Moving into him, she reached up to caress the soft curves of his mouth with hers. Vincent felt his heart contract with the precious contact, his love and need for her as powerful as Catherine’s and the gift of being able to express that love, a treasure beyond price.

 

He gathered her slender body against his, seeking to mould her to him so closely that nothing, and no-one, could ever separate them again. Catherine buried her face in the thick silk of his mane, her need for him coursing through her innermost being.

 

“I love you,” she whispered, as the warmth of Vincent’s almost crushing hold seeped into her soul.

 

“You are my life,” he replied simply, as he bent to gather her up into his arms, holding her high against his chest. “Without you I would cease to exist.” 

 

“From next to nothing to this.” Greg Hughs scanned Catherine’s neat handwriting with a disbelieving shake of his head. “I get the feeling that we’ve just been strapped to a runaway rollercoaster and we’re going to crash and burn at the end of the ride.” He whistled through his teeth. “Justin Cole controls the entire European side of the operation, and John Moreno’s killer controls him.”

 

He returned his gaze to the beginning and began again. As if he couldn’t truly grasp what he was reading. “This could get us killed.”

 

“I know.” Joe stood with his hips leaning back against the edge of his desk, throwing darts at his board. He appeared relaxed, but his face was a study of anger and grim determination. “They’re choking Elliot Burch to death with labour disputes and cost over-runs. I don’t know how long he can hold out. Without his money to keep pushing Cole, we’re next to sunk.”

 

“I know all that. But, come on, Joe!” Greg burst out. “The scope of it! How could one man gain control of so much?”

 

“By throwing away the rule book and working on sheer gut instinct.” Joe hurled his last dart, missing the board completely and burying the projectile in the door frame. “Cold, calculating, and completely ruthless.”

 

He folded his arms across his chest. “And that’s what we have to be, if we have any hope of catching him this side of eternity. If Cole’s wife is right in everything she told Cathy, and we have no reason to doubt her, then we are going to use her husband against his master. Make the bastard squirm.”

 

“I wish I had your faith.” Greg closed the file and laid it on the corner of Joe’s desk carefully, as if he was afraid it might explode in his face any moment.

 

He meet Joe’s gaze levelly. “It looks like Cole’s just a minnow compared to the man who controls him. And Cole has incalculable power and wealth. Putting it all into perspective, the killing of Moreno was like the swatting of an irritating fly.”

 

“Well, we’re not going to be squashed like bugs.” Joe stood and moved around his desk, taking the report with him.

 

He sat in the large leather chair and began to swing slowly from side to side. “Cole will be crushed like a bug too, if he’s seen to be falling apart over his wife’s disappearance. His master won’t be too pleased that so much has been found out about his empire by a mere woman. And the fact that Cole hasn’t managed to find her yet, won’t count in his favour when he is called to task. I want men on Cole ‘round the clock. Every time he so much as sneezes I want to know.”

 

“What about Diana?” Greg asked, as Joe stared into the middle distance.

“What’re you gonna tell her?”

 

“With this information we could take Cole down.” Joe laid his hand flat on the report. “But I don’t want to risk everything this early in our play.”

 

He stood to take a turn around the room. “Diana will continue on her line of inquiry, she’s getting some results. The less who know about this report, the better. If we can manage to cut off the head, then the rest will fall into our laps. I doubt our master player allows anyone to know exactly what he is up to. Once he takes Burch down, I guess he’ll feel a lot safer.”

 

He turned to stare at the detective. “I can’t risk Cathy or her source of information. The dangers are just too great. Cole is like a snake, looking for somewhere to hide. If he’s discovers what we know, he won’t hesitate to strike at anyone who gets in his way.”

 

“Including you.” Greg sat forward in his chair. “Be careful, Joe. This isn’t the kindergarten league anymore. These guys play for keeps.”

 

“But we’ve rattled him.” Joe grimaced. “With Cole sweating blood over his wife’s disappearance, his control over the European side of his master’s empire must be slipping badly. A few more cracks in the armour should shake things up a bit. Maybe Moreno’s killer will over extend himself to compensate for Cole’s lack of attention.”

 

“A cold fish like that surely will just cut his losses and cover up the whole affair.” Greg joined Joe in his pacing. “He can’t risk showing his hand now. Not when he doesn’t know how much we know.”

 

“And that is precisely when he’s liable to make a mistake.” Joe pounded his fist into his opposite palm. “And I want to be breathing down his neck when he does. Turn up the heat on Cole and see what a little too much close official attention will do to his temperament.”

 

Greg nodded. “We only have his say so that he didn’t harm his wife.”

 

“Good start.” Joe returned to his desk. “Let’s get a court order and make some noise at his construction sites. Get some manpower and start digging.”

 

“If only we had more to go on.” Greg took another turn around the office. “If Cole’s wife could remember the address of that penthouse.”

 

“In the dark, in an enclosed car.” Joe shook his head. “She was a terrified woman intent on escaping from an intolerable situation. She’s given us a start. Now we have to close the gap.”

 

Greg turned to him. “Are you sure she is safe? That Cathy’s safe? I don’t like this not knowing.”

 

“If the combined forces of the D.A.’s office, the NYPD, and Cleon Manning’s crew can’t find them…” Joe huffed his discontent. “Then all we have left is the hope that they’ll be safe until this is over.”

 

“And if they’re not…?”

 

“Then, you and I, my friend, had better remember how to pray.”

 

 

The bitter wind flailed at Elliot’s coat, whipping its folds against his legs with stinging force. He stood in the deepest shadows beneath the line of ancient trees, standing and watching the drainage tunnel entrance to the world Below.

 

He knew he shouldn’t have come. He knew he was endangering everything by even being anywhere near Catherine’s secret hiding place, but he couldn’t help it. He needed to have some sense of her proximity. Even if she was not aware he was close.

 

A sad, self-derisive smile curved his mouth as he contemplated his first meeting with the man who had taken Cathy away from him. Taken her…? No, if he was being honest with himself, he had given her away, allowing Vincent to take her because he could love her for who she was, not what she represented.

 

Elliot blew a discontented sigh. “Lord, I have been such a fool!”

 

Then, there was the child… Elliot thought again of that incredibly beautiful, but awesome face of Catherine’s lover, and he wondered anew what kind of child could result from their union. The baby would be almost five months old now, and suddenly Elliot had an urgent need to see the child, touch it, to somehow share in its future. He wondered if it was a boy or a girl.

 

He would be welcome, Catherine had said that night, welcome to share in their happiness. Elliot pushed his fingers through his hair as he gazed at the tunnel entrance. Welcome it called softly to him, but he remained irresolute in the shadows of the trees and simply watched and speculated.

 

   

Mouse threaded his way through the park, dodging from shadow to shadow, heading for the drainage entrance to his home while chuckling to himself over his latest prize. Father called it stealing, but Mouse only knew taking, and the world Above had many incredible things just lying around waiting for Mouse to pick them up and discover their potential. He was so intent on admiring his new-found toy that he didn’t see or sense Elliot in the darkness until he nearly bumped into him. Startled, Mouse jumped back and prepared to flee, but for once Elliot was quicker, and he managed to grab the boy’s arm before he could slip away.

 

“You!” Elliot snapped, as he dragged him closer to discover what he’d caught.

 

“Not yours!” Mouse gasped, recognising his assailant. With one hand he defended his prize close to his chest as he struggled to be free. “Found it somewhere else. Your stuff, Catherine said, I’m not to take.”

 

“And I suppose I’m to be grateful for that.” Elliot laughed hardly.

 

“Your stuff is good. Not rubbish,” Mouse wheedled desperately. “Sorry I can’t take it anymore.”

 

“I suppose it was my ‘stuff’ that went into those firebombs you tried to incinerate me with the last time we met.”

 

“Had to push you, get you to go where Vincent wanted. He told me not to hurt you. Didn’t hurt you.”

 

“Vincent…” Elliot spoke the name reflectively. “Vincent and Catherine…”

 

“That’s right. Catherine is my friend.” Mouse pulled himself up to his full height, ceasing to struggle, even though Elliot’s hold on him slackened suddenly. “Catherine is your friend too. She said so.”

 

“Can you take me to her?” Elliot demanded abruptly, his need to see her pushing through all thoughts of caution.

 

“Can take you anywhere Below. Mouse knows everything, everywhere.” The boy puffed out his chest importantly. “Anyone get lost, Mouse can find.”

 

“I wish it was that easy, boy, I really do.” Elliot ruffled Mouse’s unruly mop of blond hair. “I have a feeling I lost my way some years ago.”

 

“Mouse good at finding.” The little engineer hopped from foot to foot happily, as Elliot watched him in open amusement.

 

Both were so intent on each other that neither noticed the shadowy figure of a man beyond them, moving up stealthily. It was only when the moonlight glinted on the barrel of his rifle that Elliot saw him.

 

“Oh, God, no!” he gasped, at the last possible moment, just as the killer took aim and Mouse danced into his line of fire.

 

Elliot dived for the boy, knocking him off his feet as the first shot rang out. Mouse cried out, in pain and fear, as his body cart-wheeled down the hill.

 

Elliot spun around, blocking the gunman’s view, as Mouse tumbled into the stream at the tunnel entrance. A second shot sounded and something hit Elliot hard in the chest, spinning him around to crash face down on the grassy bank. He barely had time to register that Mouse was gone from the stream, before blackness crashed in on him and he sank into a blessed pit of unconsciousness.

 

   

 “Vincent, it’s on the pipes! Come quickly, an emergency!” Pascal managed to gasp out as he rushed into Father’s chamber.

 

“Where?” Vincent was on his feet, grabbing his mantle from the arm of a chair, swinging it around his shoulders.

 

“Junction door. It’s a single tap code.” Pascal waved his sticks in agitation. “Mouse, danger, hurt.”

 

Vincent nodded once, cast a horrified glance at Catherine and Father before taking the steps in a single bound.

 

“That boy…” Father began, then sighed sharply. “I’ll go and organise the hospital chamber. Pascal, send word for James and Mark to go after Vincent and do what they can.”

 

“I’ll find Mary.” Catherine hurried away, her heart with Vincent as he raced upwards.

   

Vincent found Mouse curled below the beginning of the pipes behind the closed door of the junction entrance. Barely conscious, he’d been shot through the right shoulder and his clothes were covered in blood.

 

As Vincent bent over him, Mouse’s eyes opened, and he sighed with relief as he saw his mentor and friend. Suddenly a coughing fit took his breath, and he leaned gratefully against Vincent’s shoulder until he could draw breath again.

 

“Knew you would come.” Mouse struggled to stand, but his legs wouldn’t work how he wanted. “Feel all funny,” he complained. “Something hit me. Knocked me down.”

 

“You’ve been shot.” Vincent laid him on the floor of the tunnel, making a swift examination of the hole in the boy’s shoulder. High up, the bullet had passed clean through, luckily doing no serious damage.

 

Ripping pieces of cloth from Mouse’s shirt, Vincent compressed the wound and tied it off with the scarf Mouse was wearing. He breathed a sigh of relief that it was no worse than a deep flesh wound. Behind him, James and Mark appeared out of the shadows as Vincent gathered Mouse’s small frame and lifted him from the floor. The boy groaned in pain.

 

“Been stealing again.” Mark bent to pick up Mouse’s new gadget from the floor.

 

“Not stealing, taking,” Mouse protested weakly. His eyes met Vincent’s, and suddenly he was struggling to get down as Vincent started down the tunnel.

 

“Elliot Burch…” he muttered, as Vincent subdued his struggles with ease.

“Shot too. Saved me. Maybe wounded, maybe dead. Find him, Vincent. Out by the trees.”

 

“Elliot Burch!” Vincent halted abruptly.

 

“Out there. Man with gun.” Mouse began to struggle again. “Help Elliot, Vincent.”

 

“Take him to Father.” Vincent moved the boy into Mark’s arms before he turned back to the steel door of the junction.

 

The park was shadowed and silent as he eased his way to the end of the drainage tunnel and surveyed the night beyond, looking for movement. The trees waved in the cold night wind, casting distorted shapes across the grass, but Vincent could make out the huddled form of a man lying in the pool of moonlight high up on the right bank.

 

Vincent rose slowly and glided forward, his night-visioned eyes scanning constantly for Mouse’s attacker. He dropped again into the shadows of the bushes at the end of the concrete pad that ran out before the tunnel, its little stream masking any sound of his movements. He crouched again and listened for any sign the gunman was still around. Every shadow seemed tranquil and uninhabited.

 

But, just as he was about to edge his way forward towards the body on the hill, a man appeared from beyond the trees, carrying a telescopic rifle with its barrel pointed directly at the body on the grass. Vincent sank back to his haunches, a growl barely suppressed as the gunman halted beside his victim.

 

“Where’d the runt crawl off to?” Using the gun’s barrel as a lever, he turned Elliot over and prodded him roughly in the stomach. “I plugged him good.”

 

“There’s only me.” Elliot groaned at the rough treatment, and the man laughed coarsely. Vincent’s eyes narrowed in anger as he drew himself up, ready to spring from cover as soon as the man’s back was turned.

 

“No matter. I got him for sure anyway. He won’t live to tell any tales.” The hired killer placed the end of his rifle barrel against Elliot’s forehead, tightening his finger on the trigger. “Compliments of Gabriel. He wanted you to know his name before I sent you to Hell.”

 

“I won’t say it’s been a pleasure,” Elliot gasped.

 

The gunman laughed again and tightened his finger on the trigger. A roar of primeval rage froze him for the precious seconds it took Vincent to close the gap between them, then suddenly the man was in the grip of something terrible, straight out of his nightmares.

 

Huge, hairy hands swatted aside his weapon, then claws that gleamed in the moonlight dug into his throat and face as Vincent broke his neck cleanly, with one swift twist. He dropped the body to the ground, falling to his knees beside Elliot. He drew him up to cradle him in his arms, quickly checking the gravity of his wounds.

 

Elliot opened his eyes and smiled crookedly, as he looked up into Vincent’s face. A shudder ran through him and blood seeped slowly from the corner of his mouth.  “The boy…” He coughed. “He got away. He found you.”

 

“Yes, we found him.” Vincent assured him, as James came running up, his eyes quickly taking in the scene. “Don’t try to talk. You’re safe now.”

 

“You shouldn’t have risked your life for me,” Elliot managed. “Catherine needs you.” He laughed hollowly. “She would kill me if anything happened to you.”

 

“You would have done the same for me,” Vincent told him, as he tore fabric from the lining of Elliot’s coat and bound up the bullet wounds in his chest and back.

 

“Hey, this is an expensive coat,” Elliot muttered.

 

“It’s the coat or your life.” Vincent worked swiftly, unsure how much longer Elliot would last. He was amazed he survived at all.

 

A small hole had been punched in his chest, but the exit wound was a ragged mess. Blood stained the grass black where he had been lying.

 

“I’ll get Mark and we’ll clean up here, before anyone reports the shots,” James told Vincent, as he worked. “We’ll drop the body down the abyss. You take him down to Father.”

 

Agony etched the whiteness of Elliot’s face as Vincent lifted him into his arms, but he didn’t cry out. Clenching his teeth, he rode the waves of blackness and pain that threatened to overwhelm him.

 

The strength of Vincent’s arms amazed him, as the other man carried him like a rag doll through the steel door, followed by James with the body of the gunman slung over his shoulder and the rifle in his hand. The door rolled shut, and the echoing quiet of the tunnels surrounded them all in half darkness.

 

Elliot let his head drop forward to rest against Vincent’s broad shoulder. He felt weary beyond belief, tired in both body and soul, but the thought of finally seeing Catherine again, even if she now belonged to someone else, kept him clinging grimly to the thin thread of life…

 

Joe knew that he shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this particular morning; the omens had not been good. It was only eleven in the morning, and already he’d been told that two major cases were, at best, on shaky ground, three of his investigators were down with the ‘flu, and the coffee machine was broken…again.

 

He stood in the frenetic swirl of the bullpen and looked with fondness at Cathy’s old desk. Lord, what he wouldn’t give to see her sitting there again, wearing that same pained smile as he snacked on chocolate-covered cheese nuggets, feigning enjoyment. No-one had been allowed to touch her desk, it was just as she left it all those months ago. And it would remain that way until she returned, even though some of his staff thought he was nuts.

 

Joe ran a hand up around the back of his neck as he entered his office. He just knew his visitors were bristling with bad news, further compounding the notion he should’ve stayed at home behind locked doors and disconnected the phones. He grabbed up the darts and began hurling them at the battered board beside the door.

 

“So, what do you have for me?” He glared at Cleon Manning.

 

Diana Bennett sat in one of the chairs, her normally cool manner unusually distracted as she watched Burch’s investigator. Joe hurled the last of the darts and slumped into his desk chair.

 

“It’s not good news,” Cleon complained.

 

“I never expected it to be anything else,” Joe grumped bitterly. “Somewhere in this city there must be some kind of black hole and people are slowly, but surely being sucked into it.”

 

“Elliot Burch has been missing now for five days.” Cleon leaned his large hands on Joe’s desk. “And I want to know what you intend to do about it!”

 

Joe picked up Shannon Cole’s deposition from his desk and held it out. He was loath to involve the other man, but he could see no other way. “It makes interesting reading. I can’t tell you the source. That’s a closely guarded secret.”

 

“I hate mysteries.” Cleon took the file and opened it on the desk. Diana looked closely at Joe, who shrugged his shoulders helplessly. She got to her feet and moved to read the file around Cleon’s shoulder.

 

“The information in that report is potentially lethal to us all.” Joe addressed Cleon’s incredulous look after he had skimmed the first few pages. “Because, as a private investigator, I have no control over your actions as long as they’re legal means I’m not bound to tell you anything. But I want this man so badly I can taste it. But what I don’t need is someone going off half-cocked and ruining the investigation before we get a chance to nail him for good.”

 

“If this information pans out, I’ll gift wrap Cole and his cronies and deliver them personally.” Cleon turned back to the pages of the deposition, scanning the rest swiftly. “I’ll add murder too, if I find he’s harmed his wife.”

 

“If this is on the level, then we have him.” Diana took the file from Cleon and sat down to read it again. “I want in on the interviews. I have clients who would pay well for this information. His boss must be sweating blood about now.”

 

“Not a hint of this leaves the office.” Joe retrieved the file, locking it in his safe. “I want your word on that, both of you.”

 

“I’ve got enough on my plate.” Cleon shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’ve got a missing boss to find, and Cole is ready to lynch someone if his wife doesn’t turn up and soon. I don’t want to be around when he comes looking for fresh victims.”

 

“I’m already halfway there,” Diana replied. “I just need to join a few more dots. Soon Cole will have nowhere to run or hide.”

 

“I wish I had your optimism,” Joe growled.

 

He pressed a hand to his aching head. He was aware his day was sinking deeper into the mire. He felt he could kill for a cup of the questionable brew that passed for coffee in the D.A.’s office, but the machine was still broken. And it was now only eleven thirty in the morning.  

 

Elliot felt as if he was swimming in treacle. Every thought, every attempted movement was thwarted by some clinging, sticky ooze that refused to give way around him. The inside of his mouth was a grainy pit that tasted indescribably foul, and his tongue was glued to the roof.

 

But the world around him wasn’t silent. Soft echoes of distant tapping echoed the constant pounding inside his head. Misted, dark shapes held whispered conversations over his still form. Their outlines periodically blocked the light behind Elliot’s closed lids, but he didn’t have the strength to lift them to see what they were.

 

A great weight on his chest pinned him to the bed, a weight that made breathing, at best, laboured and difficult, at worst, nearly impossible. Several times he’d wondered why he struggled to continue, when it would be so much easier to simply let go and drift away into the welcoming blackness that beckoned so closely in his mind.

 

It was the image of Cathy’s smiling face that kept him clinging to life. But he didn’t know how much longer he could hold on, for her...

 

“Keep a close watch. He is stronger, God knows how, though.” Another of those whispered conversations penetrated Elliot’s misty world. “…will be here, if he needs…” the voices kept drifting in and out, frustrating his attempts to focus on them. “Will he live…?”

 

Something touched him, then...a hand…perhaps? The lightest of contact, soothing and questing, brushing over his forehead, across and then back again. That touch pulled his wandering soul back from the brink of oblivion, suddenly making him want to remain connected with the world of the living. He wanted to cry out when it lifted away…don’t leave me here, in the dark…

 

“The life in him…I can feel it. It is very strong… He has a chance to survive…but he must wish it to be so…”

 

“If you think there is a chance, then we will remain hopeful. You have never been wrong before…miracles can happen…” the first voice spoke again from a distance, then faded altogether as Elliot sank beneath the surface of the treacle sea once more.

 

“It’s been ten days now and we haven’t found a trace.” Greg Hughs threw up his hands in disgust. “The press are having a field day with this one.”

 

“It isn’t every day you lose an extremely wealthy man like Burch.” Joe threw darts at his board with extra force. “We know damn well what has probably happened to the man, and yet here we sit, on our hands.”

 

“And Cole is running around the city bleating about police inefficiency and demanding an investigation. He’s getting on my nerves.”

 

“Five will get you ten that his master won’t be too pleased with the noise Cole’s making.” Joe threw another dart and scored a bulls-eye, much to his amazement. “The man is fast becoming a liability. His life now depends on how much he’s worth to his boss to keep him alive.”

 

“We’re gonna have to move and soon, Joe.” Greg frowned. “The press won’t let us pretend we don’t know anything. They smell something really big, and when they start pushing their noses in, there won’t be any room for fancy footwork. With Burch gone awol, they’re looking for blood.”

 

Joe was about to reply when his office door opened and Diana walked calmly in. She acknowledged Greg with a quick nod and then placed the folder she held before Joe.

 

“What’s this?” he demanded suspiciously.

 

“I’ve been pulling some all nighters, and I have uncovered some very interesting facts.” Diana sat in a chair to watch them.

 

The two men exchanged glances before Joe opened the file and glanced through it quickly. “What’s your point?”

 

“Burch Properties Group was nearly bankrupted. Elliot held out for as long as he could, but he was being squeezed from all sides at once. The hotel fire that cost fifty lives punched a hole right through his holdings.” She leaned forward to tap the file with her fingertip. “No-one’s talking, but a lot of people are doing a great deal of listening, and they’ve been deserting the sinking Burch ship in droves. Then Elliot disappears and suddenly things are looking up.”

 

Greg reached to turn the file so he could read it. Diana smiled grimly as the two men craned to see the report at once. “Vast injections of capital, projects that had been hung up in the labour courts for months suddenly working again at top speed. Everyone is smiling and being paid on time and on budget. Very neat, very efficient. It’s amazing how a healthy dose of fresh money can settle the dust.”

 

“I think I love you, Diana Bennett.” Joe grinned as he went back to the beginning of the report and started again. “So we’ve finally pushed Cole’s mysterious master into making the first move. He’s overreached himself and gotten too greedy. Burch’s outfit was a very ripe plum indeed, and he grabbed it all for a song. He must be congratulating himself right now.”

 

He pounded a fist on the report. “No way can they cover themselves with blinds and shell companies when they’ve moved this fast. We’re gonna nail them.”

 

“I know I love you.” Greg dragged her out of her chair into a bear hug. “Will you marry me and have my children?”

 

“Manning Investigations was paid this morning, all outstanding fees.” Diana’s cheeks flushed with colour as Greg deposited her back onto her feet. “They were thanked very politely for their services and shown the door by the new management of the Burch Group. More loose ends tied up.”

 

“I bet Cleon is hopping mad about that.” Joe rubbed his hands with glee. “He’ll want in on the kill.” This day was looking better all the time. “And the paper trail will lead us right to the top and a name. Finally, a name.” He shook his fist in the air and hooted.

 

Diana grinned. “I’m going to work around the clock and see how much dirt I can dig up on the companies that now own Burch’s empire.”

 

“And we are going to see how much of that dirt sticks.” Joe threw his last dart at the board and scored another bull’s eye. He shook his head in total disbelief.  

 

 


My spirit like a charmed bark doth swim

Upon the liquid waves of thy sweet singing,

Far, far away into the regions dim

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

“I can’t do any more for him.” Peter Alcott stood back from Elliot’s bed and shook his head. “The rest is up to him now. But I think he is out of the woods now. I think he has a chance. At least his fever has finally broken. The wound is clean and will heal with time.”

 

Peter rechecked the lines snaking from the bags of intravenous drip hanging beside the bed down to the back of Elliot’s hand. He nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll change these out tomorrow.”

 

“I’m amazed he has made it this far.” Father helped his friend repack his bag. “When Vincent carried him in…”

 

“If he hadn’t been young and fit, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.” Peter cast a worried look back at the still form in the bed. “But if he doesn’t come around soon, it could be a different story. He may never recover consciousness.”

 

“He speaks of Catherine in his nightmares.” Father passed a worried hand over his brow. “At least that’s what I have taken them for. He cries out in pain and calls for her, but he never seems to get any relief from the dreams.”

 

“Love is a strange and powerful force.” Peter placed his hand on Father’s shoulder. “Elliot loved Catherine and lost her. His unconscious mind still probably can’t accept that fact.”

 

“Catherine spends hours sitting with him, talking to him, but he still calls out for her.”

 

“We can only watch and wait, Jacob. Time is the greatest healer.”

 

“How is he, Father?” Vincent appeared in the curtained doorway to the hospital chamber.

 

“There’s no change, I’m afraid.”

 

“Please go and rest then. I will stay with him for a while.” Vincent placed his arm around his father’s stooped shoulders and pushed him gently forth. “Go and allow Peter to try and beat you at chess. Then you must rest. I will call for you if there is any change.”

 

“That brandy you had last time was excellent.” Peter linked arms with Jacob. “Call us if you need us.”

 

“I just feel so helpless,” Jacob complained. “Elliot is a good man, despite his faults.”

 

“He loves Catherine.” Vincent glanced at the bed. “I can understand that feeling all too well.”

 

Father considered his son for a long moment. Then he placed both hands on either side of his golden head and kissed his cheek gently. “Yes, I know you do. Goodnight, Vincent.”

 

“Goodnight, Father,” Vincent responded, watching the two men out of sight before moving to the chair beside Elliot’s bed and lowering himself into it with a deep sigh.

 

He studied the other man with compassion not unmixed with sadness. He put himself into Elliot’s shoes for a moment and knew the winds of despair that would howl through his soul if he ever lost Catherine to another man. Yes, he could understand Elliot’s pain all too well.

 

Elliot stirred and groaned aloud in his agony. Rolling his head from side to side, he tried to escape from the torment that weighted him in place.

 

Cool fingers were placed against his brow and a deep voice like molten honey spoke reassuring words to him in the darkness. “You have nothing to fear. You are among friends here. Rest now.”

 

That voice stirred his memory, plucked at him, forced Elliot to drag open his reluctant lids and look upwards. Unfocused at first, all he could make out was a misty golden head surrounded by glowing light that shimmered and danced.

 

“Heaven…?” he tried to ask, through dry and sticky lips, but the word became slurred. Elliot closed one eye in an attempt to focus better.

 

“No, not yet.”  Vincent smiled with relief as he grasped the intent behind that one garbled word. He moved to raise Elliot’s head so he could trickle cool water into the corner of his mouth.

 

It tasted like the very best champagne. Elliot gulped at the precious liquid, but Vincent was sparing in what he gave him.

 

Lowering him back onto the pillow, Vincent picked up a cloth and bathed Elliot’s face and moistened his lips. He smiled down into the one half-closed grey eye that tried to convey all Elliot was trying to say.

 

“You are Below. With people who care about you.” Vincent sat back and clasped Elliot’s hand.

 

“Below…?” Elliot managed, after a long pause. He forced his mind to concentrate. “How long?” He raised his hand to stare at the drip line taped to the back.

 

“Fifteen days. I’ll explain everything to you when you are stronger.” Vincent assured him. “Rest now. You need to gather your strength.”

“Vincent…” Elliot opened both eyes to try and focus better on the man beside his bed. “Vincent and Catherine…” he mused, as he drifted away again. “Catherine…”

 

“Catherine…” Vincent agreed softly, as he tucked the other man’s hand back beneath the covers.

 

Catherine…his heart whispered with deep love as he sat through the night, keeping vigil over Elliot’s troubled sleep.

 

 

Catherine stole quietly into the hospital chamber, her eyes going to Vincent where he was seated, leaning his shoulder against the rock wall beside Elliot’s bed. Their bond murmured with a sense of such deep peace and contentment that Catherine was loath to break the spell with words. She could see Vincent was awake, but his attention seemed to be elsewhere.

 

Catherine crept to his side and slid her arms around his neck from behind, bringing her chin to rest on the top of his head. Vincent’s hands moved to cover hers where they lay crossed against his chest, and he turned one up to carry it to his lips, planting a lingering kiss against her palm.

 

Catherine closed her eyes and let her thoughts and desires drift with Vincent’s, feeling all his love and emotional connection envelope her. She nuzzled her way into the depths of his mane to plant a kiss against his skin. Ripples of awareness, like tongues of fire, danced and shimmered through their bond, making her smile.

 

Elliot watched this silent communication and found, to his surprise, that he could only envy the obvious depth of their love. He’d been watching Vincent through half-closed lids for some time before Catherine appeared, trying to decide his feelings about this man that Catherine loved.

 

Catherine moved away from Vincent and came to kneel beside the bed, her face soft and beautiful in the candlelight, her eyes full of concern for Elliot. She smoothed back the hair that had fallen over his brow and gasped as he smiled at her wistfully.

 

“Elliot…?” she questioned, as he struggled to speak.

 

Vincent was beside her in an instant, his mane cascading over Catherine’s shoulder as he checked his patient.

 

Elliot licked his lips and tried again. “Good…to see you,” he whispered, with a crooked twist to his lips. “I…I feel as if someone has…dropped my tower on my chest.”

 

A shaky laugh ended on a gasp of pain as he struggled to sit up. Vincent held him down effortlessly, and Elliot soon gave up the unequal fight. Vincent lifted his head, once again dripping precious liquid into Elliot’s mouth that he sipped eagerly.

 

“How long now?” he asked, as Vincent lowered him back again.

 

“Twenty one days since you were shot,” Catherine told him.

 

“Twenty one days…” Elliot mused slowly, then, “The boy…?”

 

“Mouse is fine,” Vincent reassured him, as he checked the medication drips.

“He’s more bruised in pride than body, after Father finished dressing his wound and him down. He’s been wanting to come and see you. He wants to thank you for saving his life.”

 

“I’m glad he’s okay.” Elliot’s mouth twitched for a moment. “If only for the pleasure of strangling him myself.” His laugh turned to a cough of pain. “Mouse…it’s a good name for him. I’ve always promised myself that treat, since he tried to burn me alive…if I ever got hold of him…again.”

 

“Not being able to take your ‘stuff’ anymore, is a greater punishment in Mouse’s eyes than mere death.” Vincent smiled, as he rearranged Elliot’s pillows.

 

“Probably cost…me millions over the years…” Elliot’s voice trailed off on the ghost of a laugh, as his eyes drifted shut. “Not that I have anything left now. The great Elliot Burch…” He grimaced.

 

Catherine continued to watch him as Elliot’s breathing smoothed out and became deep and regular. He looked like a lost child, his face in repose, youthful, yet tragic. There wasn’t a trace of the dynamic man she had come to know so well. Or thought she knew, her heart whispered softly.

 

Vincent drew her up into the warmth of his embrace and Catherine leaned back against his chest and rubbed her cheek against the softness of his shirt. They both stood watching this man who had risked everything in the search for a dream that eluded him always.

 

“He will live now.” Vincent nodded.

 

“He has come so far, risked so much.” Catherine looked up into his face.

 

“He has discovered what it is to love at all costs.” Vincent laid his cheek against hers. “He has never known the joy of giving completely of one’s self, holding nothing back. Until now. I think in many ways Mouse may have saved him. He finally did something instinctive, without weighing or measuring the consequences.”

 

“I hope he finds the happiness he seeks.” Catherine kissed Vincent’s cheek. “For his own sake.”

 

“With love, anything is possible, Catherine.” His arms curved around her body, bringing her completely against him and Catherine smiled.  


“You have disappointed me, Cole.”

 

Justin Cole shivered, despite the warmth of his heavy camelhair coat. That soft, emotionless voice never failed to unnerve him. His hands fluttered nervously in the chill night air.

 

“I…I was only doing what needed to be done.”

 

“What needed to be done.” Gabriel shook his head in mock despair. “What you should have done was precisely what I told you to do. Get out of the country and let me handle the situation.”

 

“She is my wife!” Cole’s head snapped up at that. “She will not defy me!”

 

“She is only a woman, a possession that you have so carelessly lost. A woman who knows far more than she should, because you told her! Your need to impress her was your undoing. You’re a bigger fool that I took you for!”

 

“She won’t go to the police; she’s running scared.” Cole’s hands fluttered in agitation. “She’s more afraid of me than she wants to admit. She’s somewhere in this city and I will find her. And when I do—”

 

“I wish I could believe you.” Gabriel stared out at the deserted expanse of open scrubland, the only sign of life his own car parked in the depths of stand of ancient oak trees. “I really do.”

 

“I only need some time, more time.” Cole watched his master nervously, clinging to the remains of his confidence. He licked at his dry lips and waited.

 

“I made you, Cole.” Gabriel turned his attention back to his henchman, after what seemed like an eternity. “I crafted you out of base clay and I set you up to be a prince among men.” His thin lips curled into a sneer. “The envy of the world. That took a great deal of time and endless patience, but I am a patient man. But when my patience runs out, I can destroy you in an instant.”

 

He inclined his head. “Elliot Burch thought he was above me. That he could challenge me. But I brought him down and I buried him.”

 

“He deserved it.” Cole’s lips twitched nervously and his face lost all remaining colour. “You know you can trust me. I will do as you say. I’ll return to London tomorrow. Tonight, if you think it’s best.”

 

He reached to lay a pleading hand on Gabriel’s sleeve. Too late, he realised his mistake.

 

Gabriel turned his head and looked at him, his dark eyes flat and unblinking.

 

“I buried him, Cole. And now it’s your turn.”

 

   

Joe scrambled into the taxi and directed the driver to take him downtown. Sitting back, he opened the newspaper he carried, folded up, beneath his arm. He cast a perfunctory glance over the headlines. His mouth sagged open in disbelief.

 

JOHN MORENO’S KILLER UNMASKED

 

“33rd precinct and step on it!” he ordered the driver. He read and reread the article in stunned silence. Someone was going to have a lot of explaining to do, he thought grimly.  

 

 

“Look, if I knew where it came from, I would’ve told you, okay?” Greg Hughs raised his hands defensively as Joe pounded the newspaper article for the tenth time.

 

“Oh, I have a fair idea where it’s come from.” Joe stalked the confines of Greg’s office. “It’s all very neat, very easy to swallow. Justin Cole, underworld crime boss, falls out with his dues paying member, John Moreno, and has him bumped off to stop him giving evidence to a grand jury. Then Cole is very conveniently assassinated in a gangland hit and everybody breathes a collective sigh of relief. Case solved, case closed. No courtroom scenes, no muckraking. Gift wrapped for the elections.”

 

“We pushed, so our opposition gives everything a good shove and it all falls back in our lap. Now we have to smile and swallow it, or look like total fools.”

 

“They say a little raw egg is good for the complexion,” Joe stated grimly. “I want everything you can dig up on Cole’s murder. Starting with the man himself. I want his body examined again; leave nothing unexplained. And I want it done yesterday!”

 

 

Elliot woke again the same day to find a stranger sitting in Vincent’s place. She was a young woman with long dark braids that shone in the candlelight. With her attention centred on the needlework in her lap, she didn’t immediately notice that Elliot was awake.

 

He frowned at the faint remnants of a bruise that marked her left cheek. He wondered how and where she came by it.

 

“Now I know I am in heaven,” he remarked, his dry throat fracturing his words.

 

Shannon’s head jerked up at this and green eyes encountered grey. Elliot didn’t think he had seen anyone with such a haunted look, underscored by the mark on her pale cheek. She dropped her gaze and folded her work neatly before placing it in the basket at her feet. Elliot had the impression she was stalling for time.

 

“You must be thirsty,” she commented, getting to her feet and helping him take sips of water from the glass beside the bed. “I’ll go and fetch Father.” Shannon laid Elliot’s head back onto the pillow. “He wanted to know the moment you were conscious.”

 

“Wait!” Elliot extended a restraining hand. “I’m sure I know you.”

 

“I don’t think so.” Shannon sidestepped his clutch and disappeared through the curtained doorway.

 

A slow walk and the tapping of a cane heralded the arrival of a man with grizzled hair and beard moments after the woman had gone. Elliot turned his head to watch him, as Father placed his bag on the bedside table and looked down at him.

 

“How are you feeling?” Father scanned Elliot’s drawn features closely.

 

“Weak as a kitten.” Elliot gave him a discontented look. “I hate it.”

 

“You had lost a considerable amount of blood. You are a very lucky man. I wasn’t sure you would live when Vincent carried you in to us.”

 

“Sometimes it felt as if it would have been easier to give up,” Elliot said honestly, as Father began to examine him.

 

Father sat on the side of the bed and raised Elliot’s wrist in his fingers to take his pulse. “Because of Catherine?” he questioned with a raised eyebrow.

 

“I want only her happiness. I have only ever wanted that.” Elliot nodded. “I have nothing else I can give her now.”

 

“She would settle for your friendship,” Father told him. “So would Vincent.”

 

“Vincent…?” Elliot thought of Catherine’s lover, a man with an alien face and claws, and an incredible capacity for giving. For understanding his pain. He looked back at Father’s worried frown.

 

“I think I would like to be Vincent’s friend.” He nodded and was rewarded with a grateful smile.

 

“My name is Jacob.” Father extended his hand to grasp Elliot’s, before moving to check his medication. “But most of the people Below call me Father.”

 

“So you are in charge down here?”

 

“I founded this community long ago. So as far as any one of us is in charge, I will admit to doing my best.” Father smiled. “Not always successfully. Vincent is my son.”

 

“Your son…?” Elliot frowned, unsure of the connection between the two who looked so different.

 

“That’s where he was found, many years ago. Outside St Vincent’s hospital. It is a fitting name.”

 

“And…Catherine’s child?” Elliot had to know.

 

“My namesake,” Father replied. “Another Jacob. When you are stronger, I’ll introduce you to him. He is everything a grandfather could wish for and more.” His eyes filled with pride. “He is truly his father’s son.” He placed a hand on Elliot’s shoulder. “Rest now and we’ll talk again soon. There are so many things we need to discuss. But you must get stronger first.”

 

There were so many more questions Elliot wanted to ask, but his small store of strength was easily exhausted. He lay back to watch the old man bustle about the room and to speculate on this unusual and intriguing world into which he had stumbled, more dead than alive.

 

He needed answers and he needed them soon. What was happening up there is his own world? What was left of everything he had worked his whole life to build? The nagging thoughts and doubts followed him into sleep and beyond.

 

 

Diana didn’t notice the dawn light beginning to creep through the skylights of her loft apartment. Bent forward over the computer keyboard, she worked on, as she had all night. The pattern of blind alleys and shell companies was beginning to fall into place and she didn’t want to lose the thread…not now, not when she was so close.

 

The whole case had become a very personal affair for her. Immersing herself in a case was nothing new for her, but this one affected her more deeply that she had thought possible. Many lives hung in the balance, suspended in time until the murderer of John Moreno and Catherine Chandler’s kidnapper had been brought down.

 

Diana sat up, remembering Catherine and her strange group of friends. And her unusual protector, who had hung back in the shadows. She stared, unseeing, at the computer screen, thinking back to the odd events at the carousel. Many things needed explaining, many things that surrounded Cathy Chandler and her hiding place.

 

Once this case was over, she was going to open a new line of inquiry and finally discover the truth.

 

 

Elliot turned his head on the pillow as Catherine came through the door of his chamber carrying a child in her arms. Elliot had been moved a week ago, to a small chamber near Father’s and closer to the central life of the community.

 

Five weeks after he had been shot, he was still weak and could only take short walks before becoming exhausted. But he’d already seen enough of Vincent’s world to be completely fascinated by it’s wonder. But Catherine was the greatest wonder of all.

 

Five weeks…Elliot shook his head as he watched Catherine come to sit in the chair beside his bed. Five weeks in which Justin Cole had been murdered by persons unknown and implicated in the death of John Moreno.

 

Five weeks, and it was beginning to seem as if the world in which he’d carved out his whole life didn’t really exist anymore. A wry twist came to his lips as he considered he was probably already forgotten by a city that thought he was dead and buried.

 

The child in Catherine’s arms brought his attention back to the present as he chatted his baby talk and smiled at Elliot. To Elliot’s inexperienced eye, he didn’t look very old, but he was a beautiful child.

 

His most striking feature was his deep sapphire eyes that considered Elliot closely, with more than a trace of amusement. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to see someone so young look so knowing and aware.

 

Elliot’s lifted his gaze to Catherine’s. She smiled at him. “This is Jacob.”

 

“Hi, Jacob.” Elliot toyed with the baby’s small hand. He looked back to the baby’s clear blue gaze. The eyes, they look so familiar, they are—

 

“This is your child?” he said abruptly, looking back to Catherine, dawning wonder on his face. “Yours and Vincent’s.”

 

“This is our son.” Catherine nodded, her smile widening into a look of love and wondrous happiness. Elliot felt suddenly very much alone, but he couldn’t detract from her obvious joy, so he pushed those feelings of envy and regret back into the deepest recess of his soul. But he couldn’t stop himself from marvelling at the child’s perfection, though he knew now that Catherine would have been very content with a child that reflected its father’s face and form.

 

Jacob reached out trustingly, and Elliot raised one finger for the boy to grasp. His grip was strong, and Elliot felt his heart turn over.

 

“When you get out his buildings blocks, let me know.” He blinked away tears and smiled at his visitors. “We can build towers together.”

 

“Elliot…” Catherine inhaled, releasing a long sigh. “The newspapers have said that your companies have been taken over. Even the name has been changed. You have nothing left up there.”

 

“Taken over…” Elliot echoed blankly, then his eyes became thoughtful. “So, another prince of Manhattan has been truly brought down to earth…or in this case, below it.” He laughed bleakly.

 

“Oh, Elliot, I am so sorry.” Catherine took his hand.

 

“Don’t be sorry for me, Cathy. I’m a survivor, remember?” Elliot returned the warm pressure of her grasp. “I can always rise again.”

 

“But it’s all linked, don’t you see?” Catherine urged him. “Moreno, Cole, you and my kidnapping. It’s all coming from the same source. Justin Cole’s master.”

 

“That isn’t possible…” Elliot’s eyes narrowed, as he considered Catherine’s words. One man, could one man have so much power? Suddenly the words spoken by his would-be killer burst into his mind. He had thought nothing of them before, only considering them as a product of a fevered mind and broken body during his recovery.

 

“Gabriel…” His grip tightened on Catherine’s hand. “His name is Gabriel…”

 

 

“Gabriel, what kind of a name is that?” Joe demanded of Diana three days later, after he’d arrived at her loft to study the progress she had made.

 

“Gabriel…” Diana mused. “One of the archangels. A messenger of God. The man thinks very highly of himself.”

 

Joe shrugged. “Cathy got the name from Elliot Burch.”

 

Elliot Burch!” Diana was stunned. “He’s still alive?”

 

“Apparently.” Joe frowned. “Though how he managed to link up with Catherine is beyond me. She seems to be collecting liabilities. This Gabriel ordered Burch killed and obviously he thinks he’s succeeded. Burch has been in hiding with Catherine ever since. But only you and I know he’s alive. His life wouldn’t be worth a brass nickel if he was discovered.”

 

“So Gabriel is getting careless,” Diana noted, with satisfaction. “He appears to think he is immune from prosecution. But I have come a lot closer to him in the last few days. Look at this.”

 

Joe bent over her shoulder as she led him through the complicated maze on her computer screen. At once, he was amazed at the sheer scope of it all and at Diana’s uncanny ability to follow the torturous path of companies and cover-ups.

 

“He overreached himself when he grabbed control of Burch’s empire.” Diana pointed to a part of the screen. “Until then he was hidden behind a multitude of fake companies that would have taken anyone years to work through. But Burch Property Group was such a prize that he couldn’t resist making an acquisition order for the lot.”

 

“So the man is fallible after all.” Joe smiled thinly. “I was beginning to wonder.”

 

“Fallible, maybe. Greedy for more power, certainly. But he’s still extremely dangerous.” Diana sat back to purse her lips thoughtfully. “He will know by now that we’re after him in earnest. He won’t hesitate to turn on us as he did on Cole. He thought we would accept that Cole was the killer and not hunt any further.”

 

“Find him for me. That’s all I ask,” Joe demanded grimly. “Then I might have a message or two myself for our elusive Mr Gabriel.”

 

   

Shannon looked up from the book open in her lap to find Elliot leaning in the doorway of the chamber, watching her. She was teaching a group of the younger children, a task she had always enjoyed in the past. Their minds we so open and inquiring, so alert, that it helped her to remember when she was so young and alive.

 

The news of her husband’s untimely death had lifted a great weight from her heart, but she also knew no-one was safe yet. She wished there were more she could do to end the need for isolation. She was happy Below, but she could see that the inaction was irking Elliot who was so used to the cut and thrust of the world Above.

 

Now she smiled tentatively at him as he lounged in the doorway, watching her class as they studied geography. After a time he eased himself into the chamber and sat in a vacant chair. In no time he was drawn into the lesson and gave a very good account of himself as a teacher.

 

“I always gave my teachers a hard time,” he commented to Shannon later, after the class had been released for the evening chores. “But these kids seem to have a great thirst for knowledge.”

 

“A lot of the children here have come through a great deal in their young lives. They welcome the chance to grow and learn.”

 

“Growing up on the docks was hard enough,” Elliot replied, as he helped her stack the lesson books. “But it didn’t instil in me the attitude these kids have.”

 

“You grew up on the docks?” Shannon’s expression mirrored her disbelief.

 

“That was before Elliot Burch rose to fame and fortune.” Elliot grimaced. “My father found me a summer job on the docks. Being the son of a sanitation worker with the name of Kasmarec didn’t impress the men who wielded power in this city, so I remade myself.”

 

“And lost something in the process.” Shannon stacked the last of the books.

 

“You sound as though you speak from experience.” Elliot prompted her gently. “And it made you feel unhappy.” He remembered her bruised cheek. Had some man marred her beauty with his carelessness? The unacceptable thought intensified his sense of frustration.

 

Shannon looked at him then, her green eyes troubled and pain filled. Dressed in tunnel costume, with his hair and beard longer and not as neatly trimmed as she had first seen him, Elliot had come a lot further from the billionaire developer than even he realised. As far as Shannon herself had come, in fact. Her life of wealth and position Above was slowly taking on the qualities of a bad dream.

 

“I understand you more than you think.” Shannon met his gaze for a long moment. “My husband was Justin Cole.”

 

“I knew I was right when I said I knew you when we first met.” Elliot nodded quickly. “I heard you sing once when I was in London. You have a truly beautiful voice. I…I am sorry, about your husband.”

 

“Don’t be.” Shannon raised a denying hand. “Our marriage was a sham at best; at worst a nightmare that’s finally over. I have a new life now and the past is dead.”

 

“No wonder you were able to disappear so completely.” Elliot turned his head to survey the chamber. “Cole tore the city apart looking for you. I even put my best man onto him, hoping he would lead me to your husband’s master. We never thought to look down here.”

 

“I had to disappear.” Shannon shuddered. “Justin could no more afford to let me live, than his master could turn a blind eye to your probing of his business dealings.”

 

“Gabriel, his name is Gabriel.” Elliot had turned the name over in his head many times, wondering just who this man could be. Had he ever met him?

 

“Gabriel…” Shannon mused. “Yes, that suits him.”

 

“He has taken everything, all I owned, all that I have built over the years. He has left me with nothing, not even a name.”

 

Shannon tilted her head and considered Elliot for so long, he became uncomfortable under her gaze.

 

“He cannot take the name Kasmerac from you. That will always be yours.”

 

Long after they’d parted company, Elliot considered Shannon’s words. The truth of them was very clear and more than a little frightening. Was Elliot Burch truly dead and buried and only Stosh Kasmarec remained? He didn’t honestly know.

 

 

Diana hurried along the crowded street, slipping in and out of the flow of people with practiced ease. In her pocket she carried the ring that had been taken from Justin Cole’s dead finger.

 

The jeweller, who appraised it, could not begin to guess at its antique value, but the intrinsic price was considerable. Even though it was another dead end, Diana was intrigued none the less by the ring’s significance in the case and why Gabriel had chosen to leave it with the body. If she could find its mate, then she knew she would have their elusive Gabriel at last. 

 

She was so intent on her thoughts, she didn’t even see the black limousine gliding up beside her until two men jumped out and she was bundled into the back seat. The door slammed and they were off again into the traffic before Diana could gather her wits.

 

“Good afternoon, Miss Bennett.” The man in the back seat greeted her in a conversational tone as if they were discussing the weather. “My employer is very anxious to meet you.”

 

“He has a way with invitations.” Diana pulled her coat back onto her shoulders as she looked for a way to escape. “Maybe I have somewhere else I need to be right now.”

 

“I’m afraid it’s useless to look for a way out.” Her companion indicated the men in the front seat. “Try anything and I will be forced to ask one of my associates dispose of you. Painlessly, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Diana bit back. “We wouldn’t want to get any blood on such expensive upholstery. Think of the cleaning bill.”

 

“Precisely, Miss Bennett, precisely.” He chuckled, as if enjoying an excellent joke.    

 

 

Diana submitted to having a hood pulled over her head for the remainder of the journey. She was bundled from the car the moment it came to a halt. There were no sounds she could discern clearly enough to pinpoint their location. The trip had been long and complicated, making her think her captors had gone out of their way to confuse her.

 

She was led down a long hall and into a room, where, finally, she was stripped of her mask and the tape over her mouth. Left alone in the darkness, she could only ponder what was likely to be her fate at the hands of a man who killed without compunction.

 

“Ah, Miss Bennett. I am sorry to have kept you waiting.” The door finally opened again and a man walked in. The door closed immediately behind him allowing Diana no time to memorise his features before the room was plunged back into darkness.

 

“A small precaution of preventing you from seeing my face. You will allow me my secrets,” Gabriel continued. “You are far too good a detective for me to give you the opportunity of identifying me in the future.”

 

Diana shrugged. “It’s comforting to know that there will be another meeting.”

 

“Very good, Miss Bennett. I am glad to discover I have an opponent worthy of me.”

 

Diana didn’t answer him. She waited to hear what the man wanted from her. And how much it was going to cost her to escape with her life.

 

“What? At a loss for words, Miss Bennett? You disappoint me,” Gabriel mocked her. “You are such a resourceful woman.”

 

“What do you want with me?” Diana was goaded into asking.

 

“Ah, that is a question indeed. What I want, Miss Bennett, or should I call you Diana, as I feel I know you very well by now. I have been watching you work for some considerable time and expense. Diana, what I want is to simply be left alone. I have my business interests to attend to, and you have yours. Let us go our separate ways.”

 

“You expect me to drop the investigation, just because you requested it?” Diana couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Out of the question.”

 

“Believe me, I can make life very difficult for you, perhaps even impossible.” Gabriel walked towards her, his manner menacing.

 

“As you made life ‘difficult’ for John Moreno and Justin Cole?” Diana refused to back away, as Gabriel came ever closer.

 

“All I ask is for the investigation to be dropped. You have your murderer, delivered free of charge and without strings. There is no more to be said. I know you are a confirmed realist. Even you must know when you have been defeated.”

 

“I don’t believe you!” Diana fumed. “You expect me to walk into Joe Maxwell’s office and say, ‘Gabriel asked me to drop the investigation and I agreed.’ Just walk away and call it quits.”

 

“Say what you like to Maxwell. But, if you value your life, and his, you will see that my request is quite reasonable. I am allowing you all to live.” Gabriel seized her upper arm. “Remember Elliot Burch? He defied me and paid the price for his arrogance. Now he is dead, and I own everything he spent his whole life building.”

 

“And if I don’t agree to your terms?” Diana jerked her arm from his hold.

 

“Then I’m afraid, Miss Bennett, that you are in for a very short trip.”

 

Diana stalled for time. “I must be getting close to you, for you to take such a drastic step in kidnapping me.”

 

Gabriel’s indrawn breath hissed between his teeth. “Just making certain of your cooperation, Diana. I wouldn’t want to see someone as beautiful as you being disfigured by an unfortunate circumstance. I will not allow you to tear down that which I have spent my lifetime in building up.”

 

Diana’s blood ran cold at the emotionless way he spoke. He didn’t really care whether she lived or died, as long as it didn’t affect him or his need for total dominance. She had never encountered someone so ruthlessly cold and focused.

 

“I own this city, Diana, never forget that. This time I am asking. Next time I will demand and then you will wish you had listened to me.” He took her chin in a hard grip, forcing her head back. “It would be a great pity to destroy such beauty. Acid can do such terrible damage to the skin and flesh.”

 

“Let me go!” Diana jerked her face away.

 

The ring Gabriel was wearing stung, as it scraped painfully along her jaw-line. It felt exactly like Cole’s ring. Diana could picture the match.

 

“Give me an answer, Miss Bennett. I am not a patient man.”

 

The silence was long and painful as Diana considered her options. Her first priority was to escape alive from the trap she was in. She let her shoulders slump in defeat and injected a weary, beaten tone into her voice. “Very well, I don’t seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. I want to live more than anything. I’m a realist.”

 

“A very wise decision,” Gabriel purred with satisfaction. “I will see to it that you don’t regret your decision. A compensatory sum will, of course, be deposited into any bank account you choose to nominate.”

 

“Thanks for calling this meeting.” Diana inhaled sharply. “I’m sure you have other matters that require your full attention. I won’t keep you. I’ll see myself out.”

 

“Very good, Miss Bennett. Once, I thought I could have a use for your considerable talents. But perhaps it is better if we don’t meet again. The circumstances next time may not be so cordial. You do possess a painful streak of brutal honesty that is not at all to my liking.”

 

Gabriel moved away towards the door, opened it, and left the room. Light from the hall beyond spilled into the room, but all Diana could see was his back and the shadow of a guard beyond the door. Her eyes dropped to the floor and she gasped as she noticed the uniqueness of the room’s tiling. Stylised exotic birds in flight graced every square, making a vivid and memorable pattern of colours and movement.

 

Then the door shut and Diana was left alone in the darkness, her mind’s eye picturing the pattern over and over again, until it was engrained in her memory. It was a small clue, but it would have to be enough.

 

The trip back to the city was even longer and more involved than before and Diana was emotionally and physically exhausted by the time she was pushed from the limo, which didn’t even bother to come to a halt. It pulled away into the traffic immediately and was lost from view before she regained her feet. Diana huddled into her coat, shivering with reaction at how close she had come to imminent annihilation.

 

 

 


I took my power in my hand

And went against the world;

‘Twas not so much as David had,

But I was twice as bold.

 

I aimed my pebble, but myself

Was all the one that fell.

Was it Goliath was too large?

Or was myself too small?

 

Emily Dickinson

 

 

Diana drew the pattern from memory and then spent the rest of the night simply sitting and staring at it. Could she go through with it? Could she further risk her life, and Joe’s, by pursuing this course of almost certain destruction?

 

With the daylight came resolution. She knew she would never feel safe again unless she took this case to its conclusion. Gabriel had underestimated her, but then self-respect was a human failing he just wouldn’t understand.

Joe couldn’t believe their luck of Gabriel’s effrontery. Copies of Diana’s drawing went out across the city, and Diana had to be content with two burly New York policemen as a permanent twenty-four hour guard.

 

Joe shrugged it off when she protested against the need for them to follow her everywhere. “So sue me,” he told her. “I don’t want to fish you out of the East River when we’re finally so close on this one.”

 

Diana retreated to her loft with her guards in tow to sulk in offended silence as the investigation wound into high gear. Her part in it had been curtailed at Joe’s insistence until they had something concrete to work on.

 

So she spent her time on her computer and trying to ignore the men who clumped noisily around the sanctuary of her apartment. By nature a solitary person, the invasion of her private domain was deeply irritating.

 

In his office Joe was yelling down the telephone. “I don’t care if the man is on his honeymoon; they have phones in Italy! Fax him the drawing. I want an answer immediately!”

 

“Tile manufacturers, real estate agents who deal in the million dollar-plus bracket.” Greg handed out more drawings to his team. “I want to know who sold it and when. And I want to know today, people, not next week.”

 

Slowly the replies came trickling in. Joe had Diana’s description of the trip she took to the house, and, with Greg, he narrowed the field to a half dozen locations.

 

“It will have to be a co-ordinated strike. Otherwise he’ll get wind of it and simply disappear.” Greg spread the map of New York before his men.

“The world is a big place to hide in.”

 

“I want to call Diana and get her opinion on the list we’ve complied.” Joe picked up the phone.

 

What he was told by a very apologetic police officer in Diana’s loft, made him wish he had his hands around her lovely neck instead of the receiver. “Find her!” he snarled. “Before she does something stupid that’ll get her killed.”

 

 

 Diana scouted the walls of the property. Dusk was just falling and all seemed still and silent. Giving her guards the slip had been relatively easy in the end. They hadn’t expected her to be able to scale the walls of her balcony and escape across the roof of the adjoining building. She had a number of bruises and scrapes to prove it. They ached dully, but she ignored the pain, as she concentrated on the task before her.

 

She had tracked Gabriel through the maze of companies that he had hidden behind for so long. This was his last known address. She knew Joe and Greg would not be far behind her, since they had the drawing to work with. But she didn’t want to give Gabriel the chance to escape in the confusion. Grasping the top of the wall, she pulled herself up and over, dropping silently into the shrubbery beyond.

 

 What is it, Vincent?” Catherine lifted her upper body onto one elbow beside Vincent to look down at him. He lay on his back, staring into the middle distance, his brow furrowed with concern.

 

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I feel a coldness, as if some great evil is hovering nearby. As if we’re being watched.”

 

“But, there is no-one here but us.” Catherine glanced into every corner of the chamber. “We are safe here, Vincent.”

 

“Not down here, Above.” Vincent looked to the ceiling, and Catherine could feel the tension gathering within him. “Something is about to happen tonight. Something that is going to affect us all.”

 

“But you have no idea what it is?” Catherine smoothed her hand over his naked chest. “Where it will come from?”

 

“No.” Vincent breathed out roughly. He tightened his arm around her, bringing her down to lie close against him.

 

She buried her face in his neck and tried to sooth away his disquiet with whispered words of endearment. But Vincent couldn’t escape the growing unease of the night. After Catherine had finally drifted back to sleep, he eased himself from the bed and dressed, going out to patrol the outer limits of his world. He felt the disquiet growing deeper and more sinister with every hour that passed. It was becoming a physical pain inside him.

 

He paced the tunnels and growled softly, watching, waiting for something to happen. Something tangible he could defeat, rather than this intolerable state of unease.

 

“Vincent. Why?” Mouse appeared out of the shadows of a side tunnel, heading in the opposite direction. “Should be asleep.”

 

“Do you feel it too, my friend?” Vincent laid a clawed hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Something moving out there in the darkness.”

 

“Been Above. Bad moon tonight.” Mouse scowled fiercely. “Narsissa told Mouse all about the moon.”

 

“Father will not be happy that you have gone out again so soon.” Vincent shook the boy gently.

 

“Stuff,” Mouse mumbled. “Can’t work without stuff from Up Top.”

 

“Well, no more tonight.” Vincent pushed him towards home. “Go and get some rest.”

 

“Come with you?” Mouse offered, staring seriously up into his friend’s face. “Need Mouse?”

 

“Go and sleep.” Vincent ruffled the boy’s mop of unruly hair. “I will be all right. But thank you for the offer.”

 

“Okay good, okay fine.” Mouse bobbed his head as he retreated slowly into the darkness. Vincent watched him until he had disappeared before resuming his restless wandering.

 

But he failed to notice the hunched figure, which kept pace with him throughout the long night. Mouse was worried for his friend and his concern would not allow him to rest. Not when Vincent needed him.

 

“Well, Miss Bennett, I warned you our next meeting would not be as productive as our last.” Gabriel’s tone was clipped as he surveyed his captive.

 

Diana stood between two guards, silently berating herself for getting caught. Now the man had ample warning and could easily escape. She could only pray that Joe got her note and would arrive in time. But it was a forlorn hope at best.

 

She stared at the man she had done so much to find. He looked average, someone she would pass in the street and not give a second glance. He didn’t have the appearance of a ruthless tycoon or deranged killer. But his eyes were as dark and cold as obsidian. They glared at her now, filled with a bleak fire that stripped his face of any pretence at humanity.

 

“You are a very astute woman.” Gabriel snarled. “It’s almost a pity to have to silence you…almost a pity. You should have accepted my offer. It was more than reasonable.”

 

“I’m sure you won’t lose too much sleep over me,” Diana bit back.

 

“Such a touching concern for my welfare.” Gabriel shrugged. “When it’s your own state of health you should be concerned with.” He signed to his men.

“Take her away, far away, and see to it she will never be found.”

 

Suddenly there was a commotion outside. Men shouting and the sound of gunfire filled the room. Diana’s heart leapt. Joe! She began to struggle with her captors.

 

“It seems we are to be interrupted.” Gabriel stared at Diana. “Bring her,” he ordered, as he stormed out of the room.

 

The man from the limousine came hurrying up, his face alive with fear. “The helicopter is standing by, sir. But we must hurry.”

 

“Take her, Pope.” Gabriel pushed Diana forward. “A little insurance policy.”

 

Pope grabbed at Diana’s arm, but she stumbled deliberately over the foot of one of her guards, and all three went down in a heap on the floor.

 

“Idiots!” Gabriel screamed, his usually icy manner slipping badly. “Get up!”

 

Loud banging was now coming from all directions as the police sought entry. Pope scrambled quickly to his feet and found himself facing his own gun. “What the—” He thrust a hand inside his coat, blanching when it came out empty.

 

“Don’t move.” Diana walked backwards slowly so she could cover all four men at once. Gabriel started forward, his face a contorted mask of hatred.

 

“They won’t convict me, you know,” he said, almost reflectively. “Jurists have families. And even if I did go to prison, you can rule the world from a cell block. I own nations, Diana. Do you think someone as small and insignificant as you is going to stop me?”

 

Behind him Pope and the two guards melted away and disappeared quietly, as the front door began to cave in under the concentrated assault. Diana continued to point the gun unwaveringly at Gabriel’s chest.

 

“I will destroy you and all you hold dear. Do you hear me, Diana? I will bury you, as I have buried all the rest who stood in my way.”

 

“I hear you.” Diana looked him in the eye and found nothing there, but monumental greed and intense hatred. “I hear you only too well.”

 

“Then you know you cannot escape me.” Gabriel started forward. “You are just a woman. You don’t have the courage or the backbone to pull that trigger. Get the hell out of my way.”

 

Diana didn’t move. She studied the man advancing on her with murderous intent evident on his face. “For Catherine Chandler and John Moreno, who was a decent man, once,” she said then, as she calmly pulled the trigger.

 


“So, it’s finally over.” Elliot sighed, almost with regret.

 

“Yes, it’s over.” Catherine sat with Vincent in Father’s chamber, watching the other man with concern.

 

“You can have a life down here if you wish it.” Vincent placed his hand on Elliot’s shoulder.

 

Elliot looked from Catherine to Vincent, and he smiled as he placed his own hand over Vincent’s. “You have given me back my life. Now I have to go and see what is left of the old one Above. I want to discover if Elliot Burch still exists.”

 

“You are welcome any time. You know that.” Father spoke seriously. His liking for the younger man had grown in their time together. Truly he had changed from the man he had once been.

 

“It will be Winterfest again soon.” Catherine smiled at the thought. “You must come Below for the celebrations.”

 

“That I can promise.” Elliot nodded. He got to his feet. “But for now, I have to say some goodbyes. Has anyone seen that Mouse recently?”

   

Catherine lay in Vincent’s arms that night, lazily sated with their loving. She turned her head to nuzzle the salty dampness of his skin.

 

“A penny for them?” she prompted gently, when he didn’t respond to her gentle teasing.

 

“I was wondering about Gabriel and what drives a man like that to do so much evil. When he had so much ability to do a great deal of good in the world.”

 

“I have seen many evil men in my work, Vincent. And I still don’t have any answers.”

 

Vincent turned his head to look down at her, curled so trustingly in his arms. Her eyes reflected the candlelight and the unquenchable light of her love for him. Tonight he had felt truly free, free from the disquiet of the past months, free from the outside influences that always seemed to determine the course of their shared fate.

 

Jacob stirred in his cot and mumbled in his sleep. Vincent returned Catherine’s smile, as their bond reflected their son’s happy dreams.

 

“We have all our tomorrows, Vincent,” she avowed softly, tracing with one fingertip the shape of the muscles in his upper arm.

 

“Yes…” Vincent agreed softly, as he lowered his mouth to hers and took her lips in a gentle kiss that soon deepened once again into a passion that swept them both away into their own private world of light and colour…there was always be a tomorrow now…always…  

 

 

   


Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,

Father will come to thee soon;

Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,

Father will come to thee soon;

Father will come to his babe in the nest,

Silver sails all out of the west

Under the silver moon;

Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

 

 

“You’re safe, you’re safe now. Sleep, my love”…Vincent.

 

 

 

LITERARY REFERENCES

 

 

 “To Dream a Dream”    Judith Nolan

 

“Ask Me No More”   Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

“Nurse’s Song” (Songs of Innocence)   William Blake

 

“Whither, O Whither”  The Islet   Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

“Pain Has An Element of Blank”   Emily Dickinson

 

“The Impulse”   Robert Frost

 

“Hope is the Thing With Feathers”   Emily Dickinson

 

Sonnet # 19   William Shakespeare

 

“To One Singing”   Poetical Works    Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

“I Took my Power in my Hand”   Emily Dickinson

 

“Sweet and Low” (Songs from the Princess)  Alfred, Lord

Tennyson

 

Judith Nolan Zines Index

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