Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 5
by Tunnel Dweller 5

 

Go ahead,” Catherine urged, “You first.”

“This was your idea,” Vincent reminded her and pushed the small wrapped object toward her. They had eaten mostly in silence, punctuated by a word here or there and the sound of rushing water from the falls.  After the stress of the last few days, it felt very good to be quiet. 

Catherine ducked her head and took the cookie.  She unwrapped it, broke it open and ate a piece as she read the message. “Conquer your fears or they will conquer you.” 

“Hmmm,” Catherine was thoughtful. “I firmly believe that, you know,” she said looking up at Vincent.  

“I know you do,” Vincent said nodding. “One might even say it is your mission in life.”   

Catherine ducked her head again, a bit surprised that it was that obvious to Vincent.  “So, I see you’ve noticed.” 

“You have overcome a lot in the time I’ve known you.”  Vincent gazed at her intently. They sat on the ground overlooking the falls just a few inches apart and Vincent reached out his hand to caress her hair.  “Know that I’m really proud of you for all you’ve accomplished.”

Catherine nodded.  Vincent bore her no ill will over their disagreement the other day, but her behavior still unsettled her.   “At times, though, I feel like I could very easily backslide.  I don’t ever want to go back to the person that I was – but sometimes I think I take that anxiety out on you, Vincent.”  Catherine looked at him with an intense emotion in her eyes.  She wrapped both her hands around the one that was now cradling her cheek.  “I’m so sorry for not trusting you the other day.” 

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Catherine.  You are passionate about your work.”

“I am, that’s true.  There is so much injustice in the world; I want to do as much as I possibly can to make it better.  But I have to respect your world too.  I know that you want justice just as much as I do.”  She turned her head slightly and lightly kissed the palm of his hand.

After a moment, Vincent said, “So many here Below have experienced more than their share of the injustice that you speak of.  I never sensed anything so amiss with Avram that I thought him capable of such a crime.  I needed to be sure before proceeding.”  Vincent looked down, suddenly embarrassed. “But… I might have explained myself better… I’m sorry too.” 

They looked into each other’s eyes for another long moment and then Catherine leaned her head against Vincent’s shoulder.  She felt a tremendous sense of relief wash over her.  They stayed like that for a time, listening to the Bond that was pulsing between them.  She felt Vincent brush a kiss across the top of her head.  Looking up, she met his gaze.  For a moment there was an overwhelming sensation of loving forgiveness that seemed to pass between them completely unspoken.  Then, to Catherine’s delight, Vincent lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her on the lips.  The kiss was short, but sweet and very, very gentle.

When they parted, Vincent shook his head a bit as he came back to the present moment and quickly began to gather up all of the boxes of food.

“Not so fast. Now it’s your turn.”  Catherine indicated the bag of fortune cookies.  Henry had given them extra of those as well as everything else.

Vincent sat back again and took a cookie and unwrapped it.  She watched as he gently pulled the strip of paper out with a pointed claw and never even broke the cookie.  The small piece of paper was tiny in his large hands.  He stared at it for a moment.

“Well?” This was always her favorite part.  The idea of such unbridled “fortune” always seemed to confound him just bit.  It was like he had trouble getting his mind around such possibilities and approached them with caution.

“Next full moon brings an enchanting evening,” Vincent read quietly.

Catherine smiled.  “That sounds promising.”  Catherine gave Vincent’s arm a squeeze and made a mental note to work on making that particular fortune come true. 

Then it was truly time to head back.  They got to their feet, packed everything up and put it back into the plastic shopping bag.  Vincent carried the bag in one hand and took Catherine’s hand with the other.  As they walked back to the main hub from the Chamber of the Falls, they spoke of inconsequential things, but the atmosphere was relaxed and happy.   

They dropped the food off in the kitchen just as William was closing up for the night.  He assured them that there might be a few stragglers that would make good use of it.  They saw him help himself to a fortune cookie as they left and headed to Father’s study.

Catherine smiled as they walked in on Father and Avram deep in a game of chess.   When Avram noticed them, he stood and came to greet them, embracing each one in turn. 

“I must thank you both, he said with sincerity.  “I am not nearly as convinced as the police that I had nothing to do with that murder.  But I am very grateful for the outcome.”

“So are we, Avram,” Vincent said.

“I was telling him that he has a lot more support in the community than he may realize,” Father put in from behind his desk where he was now standing as well.  “Come, everyone, sit.”

The four of them took seats around Father’s desk; and after exchanging more talk about the events of the last few days, Vincent brought the subject back to the people who had gathered in the DA’s office in support of Avram.  “We were hoping that you would agree to meet some of these people, Avram.  Some are Helpers and are anxious to make your acquaintance.”

Sophie and Mischa are wondering how they never met you at Winterfest,” Father said with a chuckle. 

“Your description makes me think I have at least seen them at such events,” Avram admitted. 

But given how private he had always been, Catherine thought, it was a small wonder that many Helpers had ever had the chance to get to know him.  As they had just seen, even many Below knew very little about him.  “Hopefully we can change that,” Catherine added.

When it came to meeting Ezra and Amos, Avram was a bit more skeptical.  He had listened politely as Catherine told him of the symphony that she and Vincent had enjoyed on occasion and the organization that promotes such music initiatives.  “Clearly it’s a worthy organization, and I appreciate what you are trying to do – but I honestly don’t think I can play anymore. I’ve tried everything; there doesn’t seem to be any cure.  When I start to play, the joy I once felt in the music gets choked by the pain of those memories.  I am reminded of a line you might know. ‘With what I most enjoy contented least.’” 

All three around the desk nodded at that.  “That’s simply how it has always been for me since the war,”  Avram added quietly looking at the floor.

Catherine took Avram’s hand.  “That may be, but it can’t hurt to just talk to them, can it?  Will you at least agree to a meeting?”

Avram began to shake his head and then glanced over at Vincent.  Vincent gave only a slight noncommittal tilt of his head as he waited for his response.  But that tiny gesture somehow made Avram reconsider.  This was Vincent’s friend, after all.  He had heard about her.  Talk of Vincent’s Catherine had reached even the more reclusive Helpers.  How could he disappoint her – disappoint them?  In many ways the two of them together, Vincent and Catherine, reminded him so of he and his Gerda.”

“Well, perhaps on Thursday, then?”

***

The Community Music Project had been on Catherine’s radar even before she was a part of the Tunnels.  But finding the Tunnels had made her even more aware of the important work that they do, and as a result, she supported it in every way she could.  It was a non-profit organization that was dedicated to music education.  Their mission was to bring music to the community in all its varied forms.   They concentrated on poorer neighborhoods where budget cuts often meant that schools had inadequate music programs – or even none at all.  They helped needy students pay for lessons and even for instruments if they showed promise. 

But even if a student was not going to have a career in music, having it in their life had many benefits.  It had started with a focus on children, but in recent years they had expanded their reach and were developing many more programs for adults – from beginner for people who had never had music instruction as a child to various community groups for older adults who knew how to play and just didn’t have anywhere to do so. 

This is how the Symphony that Ezra and Amos were a part of came about.  Affectionately called the Silver Symphony, it was a group of senior citizens who loved to play.  They had become fairly well known in just a few years for their talent and community presence – playing at many local events and private parties. 

Catherine had become one of their top supporters, and had even been asked six months ago if she would sit on their Board of Directors.  While her busy schedule made her consider politely turning them down, she felt that she could not do that.  The work of the Community Music Project seemed to Catherine the sort of work that the Tunnel Community would do if it could.  The Tunnels had many emerging young musicians in their ranks, and Catherine felt that maybe her presence on the Board would facilitate relationships between the two groups. 

The organization occupied the basement level of a large office building.  There was plenty of space for the offices that they needed as well as a total of three music studios for practice sessions. 

It was Thursday evening, right before the Symphony held practice; and Catherine nervously entered Studio Three, the largest of the practice studios where the Symphony rehearsed each week. She looked around and did not see Avram yet.  She hoped that all went well with this meeting and that he didn’t cancel at the last moment.   

“Catherine, welcome!” 

Catherine turned to see Ezra coming toward her.  “Where is your friend? We are anxious to meet him.” She looked around.

“Avram should be here any minute.”

“Perhaps in the meantime, we can discuss another matter?”

“Why, yes, of course.  I’ll help in any way I can.”

Ezra let Catherine into the front office where Amos sat behind the desk.  He got up when she entered to shake her hand and offer her a chair.  After pleasantries were exchanged, Amos began.

“We have had a strange situation here for some time.  For months, we kept spotting the same man just hanging out around the main entrance.  He would just loiter out front for hours at a time, almost like he was afraid to enter.

“One night, on the way in to rehearsal, I approached him and started a conversation.  He said that he admired what we do here.  So I asked him if he played and maybe wanted to join one of our ensembles.  He seemed startled by that request and told me he never learned to play but just had a love of music. I told him that we could always use other non-musical help.  Now he volunteers as a maintenance man two or three nights a week.”

“Okay, so, what does this have to do with me?”

“Well, about a week ago,” Ezra continued, “I was here late after rehearsal catching up on some paperwork.  As I was leaving, I heard the most beautiful piano music.  I went by studio one and saw this same man there – he was all alone and playing by himself!  I could hardly believe it.  It was so beautiful!  So, why did he freak out when I asked him to join us?” Amos inquired as if trying to solve a mystery.  “Why take a job as a janitor when he can play like that?”

“We don’t know what to make of it, and we are worried that maybe something unsavory is going on.  Should we be concerned that he lied to us?  Might he be hiding from the law?” Ezra continued.  “We thought maybe you could look into it for us.”

“Well, I’ll do what I can,” said Catherine. “He most likely gave you a fake name, but maybe you have a photo or a description of him for me?”

“Actually, he’s here now, cleaning studio one.  Come with me, we will take a peek in on him.”

As Amos pretended to be showing her around the facility, Catherine was able to look into studio one where a man was emptying waste baskets and setting up music stands. 

Catherine was stunned at what she saw.   The man was not old, but seemed to move with an age that was beyond his chronological years.  She would never forget the last time she had seen this man.  She had been so focused on coming through for Vincent that night.  It had been so important to Vincent – all he wanted to do was talk.  She remembered being out of options, and all she could think to do was tear a $100 bill in half as an incentive to get him to hear what Vincent had to say.  It had worked, but the outcome had not been what she or Vincent had hoped.  In the time since then, Vincent had not spoken again of that night.  But she had thought about it often and wondered what had become of the man behind those haunted eyes.

As if to confirm things, Amos waved to the man as they passed by, “Thanks, Rolley.” 

Rolley acknowledged Amos with a nod and continued his work.  He did not seem to remember Catherine, but then again why would he, in the state that he was in that night.

As she and Amos walked back out to the front of the center, Catherine’s mind was spinning.   Was there hope for Rolley after all?  Maybe Vincent’s words had taken time to sink in.  While the man she had just seen was sad and lost, he did not seem high on drugs any longer.  Maybe he had gotten clean and was trying to get back into music but just didn’t know how to do it.  Maybe the pain was too great.

At just that moment, the front door swung open and another man walked into the reception area.   He stood there in the reception area looking like a child that had been called to the principal’s office. Catherine was forced to put thoughts of Rolley aside for the moment.

 

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