Classic Round Robin

~ Music of the Soul ~

Chapter 6
by Tunnel Dweller 6

 

“Avram!” Catherine hastened to the man’s side and put one arm around his slender shoulders, giving him a gentle hug of encouragement. “Come meet Amos.”

The two men greeted each other with Old World formality, reminding Catherine they had each lived another life and dreamed another dream before landing on these shores.

She recalled how much her own ordeal had changed her life on that chill April night – not just the physical brutality, but the bowel-deep fear, the not-knowing what might happen next. It had been over in a matter of minutes, yet had changed her forever. She could not begin to fathom what months…years of such torment would do to someone, especially such gentle souls as the men she was watching now. They – each in his own way – were spending the rest of their lives trying to put the pieces back together, one with more success than the other … so far.

Amos threaded one arm through Avram’s and urged him inside. “We will have coffee with my good friend Ezra and tell you all about what we do here for the community. Come.”

Catherine watched them walk slowly into the interior of the facility, past the studios. She sent her hope with both of them, that one might find a way to crack the terrible reserve that kept the other from the music that might soothe his soul.

As they turned a corner and disappeared from sight, Catherine expelled a long sigh. There was nothing more she could do for Avram at the moment. But there just might be something she could do for Rolley. She reached into her purse and extracted her wallet, scrutinizing its contents until she found what she was looking for. She pulled the item out and dropped the wallet back into her bag.

Rolley was still in Studio One. She didn’t want to disturb him at work, so she sat in one of the metal folding chairs that constituted the little reception area by the entrance. It was the first time she’d ever spent any time waiting there. She looked around at the little alcove, imagining how much warmer and more welcoming it could be, and made a mental note to donate some comfortable furniture to replace the cold, if functional, metal chairs.

While she was musing, she heard the snick of a door closing and looked up. Rolley had finished in the studio and was pushing a wheeled trash barrel down the hallway. She rose and followed him.

Before she got close, he spoke to her, throwing his words over his shoulder, his head still pointed forward, his step not faltering. “I know who you are.”

She stood still, clutching half of a $100 bill in her fingers, the one she’d been carrying with her like a hopeful talisman since the night she had torn it in two. “I’m glad to see you again, Rolley. Especially here, in this place filled with people like you.”

That caught his attention. He halted mid-stride, then slowly turned to face her, his somber face reflecting the struggles of his past years. “Nobody here is like me,” he insisted.

Catherine approached him, deftly pocketing the half-bill; it wouldn’t be needed now. When she got close enough to speak to him in a low voice, she said, “This orchestra was started by people who have been through a terrible ordeal, one few could fathom. And they lost those they loved most deeply. Their survivor’s guilt was…is…overwhelming. Yet they have found a way to create beauty in a world where so much of it has been lost due to the cruelty of some men and the passivity of others.”

Rolley’s face, closed and challenging when she began to speak, slowly softened in understanding. His dull eyes brightened a little. “I suppose you’re right, Miss Chandler.”

Thoughts flew through Catherine’s mind. What should she say to him now? So many things competed for primacy, and she struggled in that split second to find the right one. Finally, she simply asked, “Is there anything you need?”

He smiled at that. She knew then that he’d been tense, wary - aware of everything she wanted to say and did not. With gratitude in his eyes – the proof that she’d found the right words – he replied, “I’m doing fine. Well … better. These people … they are good. Kind. They don’t judge.”

Catherine nodded. “I’m glad.” She smiled in return. “I’m here from time to time. If you see me before I see you. ...”

“I’ll say hello.” He nodded once more, then turned and resumed his work.

She watched his retreating form, glad beyond measure that his clear-eyed gaze betokened a positive transformation – as yet incomplete, perhaps, but she knew this place, these people, would help him as he created a new life for himself.

“Catherine, you’re still here!”

Catherine turned at the sound of relief in Amos’ voice. “Yes. Is something wrong?”

“No … yes … I’m not sure, frankly.” Amos had been hurrying, difficult to do with his limp, and he was slightly out of breath.

“Shall we sit?” Catherine asked, indicating the chairs near the entrance.

Grateful, Amos nodded.  She took his arm as they walked down the hall, Catherine matching her gait to Amos’ shuffling one.  He never spoke of how his leg had been injured, but Catherine assumed it was yet another relic of that terrible time. Her heart melted once more at the mixture of determination, pride and spirit with which the Sophies and the Ezras of the world – just like Amos - faced each day.

Amos sat with a sigh. “Ah, that’s better.” Absentmindedly, he rubbed his right kneecap. “I have a … a quandary. Perhaps you can help?”

“Of course. If there’s anything I can do, I’m glad to do it.”

Amos nodded, as if confirming his assumption. It took him a moment to compose himself, or perhaps to search for the right words. Haltingly, he began. “This man, Avram … he spoke of his young wife, Gerda. He was told she died in the camps.” He looked away, his eyes fixed on some distant point … or memory, then back at Catherine. She noticed that his hands had begun to shake. “I need to find out if that’s true. Can you help me do that?”

Surprised, Catherine thought quickly about how such a query could be made, of who among her contacts might be of help. “I might. I’ll try.” She couldn’t help but add, “Why?”

His voice was a tremulous whisper. “Because … I think his Gerda … is now my wife.”

***

The security team – those who spent the most time on sentry duty and knew the outer tunnels better than most – was assembled in Vincent’s chamber. Thankfully, with the murder case resolved, the thefts from the subway maintenance room had been put on the back burner by the police, and nobody was actively searching for the thief. But it troubled the Tunnel dwellers nonetheless, because despite Cullen’s crew setting up new barriers and false walls, another theft had occurred. There were worries that soon the city would ramp up efforts to catch the thief.

Cullen insisted he knew of no Helpers who would need or want to steal rebar or heavy gauge wire or any of the other items known to be missing from the subway storage area where Avram had entered the tunnels.

All eyes turned toward Mouse. He saw the veiled questions, which compelled him to announce, “Not Mouse! Never take so much from one place!”

Vincent hid a smile, then grew serious again. “Someone is clever enough to circumvent the security cameras, and hasn’t been seen inside the storage room. The very bulk and weight of the objects taken suggest that more than one person is involved. And since no one has been seen moving such items out of the area, that implies they are using the tunnels for egress, if not access.”

Everyone nodded.

“The possibility exists that it could be those who live in Paracelsus’ realm. While we have no evidence they have ever built anything which might require rebar or other building materials, perhaps they are selling it Above for money or trading it for other needs.”

Mouse shuddered, and Cullen looked grim.

“All I can think to do is station someone to watch,” Jamie suggested.

Simon nodded. “It’ll mean extra shifts, but if we can figure out who is doing it ...”

“Agreed,” Vincent said. “Cullen, would you set up a watch schedule, and decide upon the best point from which to observe?”

***

After the meeting broke up, Vincent hurried toward Catherine’s basement access point. Her emotions had been in turmoil all evening, and his desire to share her troubles made him hasten ever faster. She was already off the access ladder and turning toward the break in the brick wall when he arrived, breathless from more than his haste.

“Oh, Vincent, I have so much to tell you!”

Catherine’s voice was full of tears, but her heart seemed happy. It was confusing. Vincent thought – not for the first time – that impressions he gained through their Bond cast more heat than light.

Catherine threw herself into his waiting arms. She hugged him tightly, and he responded with even more fervor.

They stood this way for a long moment, just absorbing the comfort of their shared embrace. In each other’s arms, their worlds could be held at bay, for only they existed within this circle. Although neither had ever said it aloud, for each of them it was as if the rest of their lives radiated out from this point; this was the true north of their compass. Both of them felt the depth of it, the truth of it. And each time they met, the feeling only grew stronger.

Finally, Catherine raised her head from Vincent’s shoulder. “I’ve seen Rolley,” she said.

Vincent stood back, holding her by the shoulders, surprise lighting his features. “How is he?”

“Actually, he’s doing well!” She related the circumstances of the meeting, and the conversation they’d shared. “I didn’t want to ask him about coming Below. Things seemed too … tenuous, too fragile, with him only having started working at the Community Music Project site a few weeks ago. But how wonderful is it that he’s playing the piano again! We didn’t talk about that, of course, but it’s good to know. And … he seems … content.”

Vincent let out a gust of air, a huge sigh of relief. “That’s such good news, Catherine. I have to thank you for it. You know how concerned I’ve been for him … how much we all have been concerned.” He leaned his forehead against hers, his body relaxing perceptibly. When he raised his head, he smiled, taking his hands from her shoulders. He gazed raptly at her. "There’s more?”

Catherine’s face grew serious. “That was the good news. The other news I have … well, I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad.”

“Tell me,” he urged.

They began walking toward a shallow shelf in the rock nearby which served them as a makeshift bench. Sitting, Catherine began to speak again. When she got to Amos’ request and the reason for it, Vincent winced. “If it’s true … how wonderful … and how terrible …”

“Yes.” Catherine sighed. “I’ll do all I can to try to clear up the question, but the fact remains, the only way to know for certain …”

“Is for Avram to meet Amos’s wife Gerda.”

“Yes.”

 

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