An Expert on Marlow

by CB

 

For some reason, I’ve always been unhappy with how Catherine got Vincent out of danger in Nor Iron Bars a Cage. It was a chance for her to be the scary quick-thinking-on-her-feet lawyer and she played it for pathos. I’ve also thought that Catherine wasn’t given the chance to use her lawyer expertise as a rule. She’s even a lousy liar.

Anyway, this came to me as another way she could have handled it, and no one would have died. Oh, and I have a soft spot for Jenny.

~ ~ ~

Catherine scuffles through a layer of leaves on the park floor. As she works her way down to the tunnel entry, she admits she’s tired and still frantic, but she’s beginning to feel foolish. I’ve taken the word of a bored and batty old lady. She could have been hallucinating. Worse, she could have just taken me for a long ride.

Rumination ends with the glimpse of white. She dives for the shape - how many times this afternoon has she hopefully picked up garbage? But this time .... not one, but two cylinders, thick and efficient, charred at one end, sporting frivolous frills at the other. Numbers. Yes, numbers, still legible. Catherine stares at the cartridges in her hand, her frustration forgotten. Forgotten, too, the sweat pasting her shirt to her back. Anger, though, comes to the forefront.

She glances at the wall of buildings lining the park. Blank, mindless windows stare across space over her head; unblinking, because they are sightless and careless. Not all of them careless. One of them, over that way, she thinks, wasn’t sightless, most likely still isn’t. She gazes towards the telescope she’s sure is scanning the park, and holds up the darts. Here they are. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
***
The tap at the front door makes her jump, so that she looks around wildly as if someone might be in the room. The table scattered with legal sheets covered in phone numbers, names, and nearly illegible notes recaptures her attention. Panic rising, she nearly doesn’t hear the tapping when it comes again. “Now what do I do?” she mutters to herself, for the millionth time since she left the park yesterday.

The brief rush of finding the tranquilizer cartridges had dissolved into “now what?” as she contemplated her next move. What good could they do her? And how could she be sure they mean anything at all? At first, it had seemed so obvious: what reason would there be to use such things in the middle of the city? But later, her worried imagination produced more than enough reasons, none of them reassuring, and some of them, based on things she’d learned working for the DA, a little creepy. Who knew she could think up stuff like that?

Worse than that, where was she to go with these little bits of evidence? Here she was, connected to state-of-the-art information sources and professional services galore, and she couldn’t use them. What? Walk into forensics and ask them to test these things for fingerprints? Blood? Telling them what for and a story about why? Oh, I make a practice of seeking out the origin of tranquilizer darts every time I find them.

The trek out of the park was a riot of plans; whom to call; whom to trust; what to tell them. What if she did the legwork herself? It could take hours. Fortunately, her exploration of the origin of the darts didn’t take too long. Thank goodness for all those manufacturers’ catalogs that sat around the office looking boring. For these cartridges, there were even pictures. The tough part was finding someone at the company who could check the serial numbers. Her neck ached from clamping the telephone between her ear and her shoulder.

“Cathy?” came from the other side of the door. “Are you there?”

Jenny? “Jenny?”

“Open up in there, Cath. I can hear you breathing.”

She fumbles with the locks, but in time she gets the door open. There she is: wonderful, sweet, caring, perceptive Jenny. Not to mention persistent and curious Jenny who is here in the middle of the day because?

“Jenny, what are you up to?”

“Glad to see you, too,” Jenny chirps as she hugs Catherine.

“Of course I’m glad to see you!”

“Well, you’ve been on my mind, so I took my lunch hour to check on you.” She holds up a bag. “I brought subs.” She laughs at Catherine’s grateful look. Little does she know that her friend hasn’t had anything but soda. Then she sobers. “Bubbe, you look like hell.”

Catherine pushes limp hair from her face. “Yeah, well, I admit I’m starving. Want a Coke?”

“Sure.” Jenny looks around the room, and is drawn to the table. “You know, this doesn’t look like packing so much as cramming for finals.” She tries to read a page of notes. “Cath, what is all this?”

“Oh, um, just some last-minute stuff for work.” Catherine shoves legal pads and books out of the way and falls on the bag of sandwiches like she’s been on a desert island.

Halfway through her hoagie, Jenny fixes a serious gaze on Catherine. “I have to tell you something.”

“Like what?”

“Like I’ve been dreaming about you.”

“You and your dreams.”

“They aren’t good dreams, Cath. Something awful is going to happen if you leave.”

“What, I’ll drown in the Sound?”

Long accustomed to Catherine’s poo-poo-ing her dreams, and just as aware that she gives them credit anyway, Jenny presses on. “No, but someone else will die.” Her eyes widen as Catherine goes pale. “Oh, no, honey! What did I say?” She rescues the soda can that Catherine nearly dropped. “OK,” she says firmly. “It’s time you ‘fessed up. Something’s been going on with you, and until recently, it’s been wonderful, but not anymore.” She picks up a tranquilizer dart. “Cathy, what’s going on?”

Catherine stares at her friend, more conflicted than she’s ever been in her life. She made a promise to keep a secret. She also needs to help find Vincent. And she herself desperately needs help. She so badly wants to share this. But she made a promise.

“Why am I dreaming of lions?” says Jenny, and Catherine’s eyes nearly bug out of her head.

“Of what?”

“Lions, Cathy. It’s probably a metaphor, but for what? Come on, girl, you’re wound as tight as can be; you’re seriously in need of help, and I’m here. Give.”

It’s a bad idea, but at a loss for a better one, and admitting that her friend is right, Catherine takes a deep breath and starts to talk. “I lied when I said I didn’t remember what happened while I was missing.”

“I knew that.”

“You did? Oh, you.” She takes a sip of soda, and starts at the beginning. By the time she finishes describing Vincent, she realizes she sounds like a woman head over heels in love, but she gives this just passing attention. She tells Jenny about the tunnels enough to impress on her the need for safety. And she describes in detail her last two days.

“We have to get him out of there,” Jenny declares.

“We?”

“Yes, we. You’re not doing this alone. To begin with, what if he’s unconscious? You can’t pick him up.”

“Not reassuring, Jen.”

“We are going to that lab and haul him out of there. But we need a plan. This needs to be as scary and nonviolent as possible.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“God, Cathy, you’re a lawyer! Lawyers are the most terrifying creatures on the planet!”

“OK.”

“So now’s the time to be scary.”

 “So” says Catherine. “Do we just walk in there?”

“We’re going to need a story to throw them off,” says Jenny. “Something to convince them that he’s not what they think he is.”

“Assuming we know what they think he is.”

Jenny stares into space for a long minute. Then she reaches into her blouse to fish a necklace out. The gold chain holds a couple of charms and a gold ring. “I got it,” she says. She lays the chain on the table and starts to remove the ring from it. “Here. Let’s see if this fits.”

“What is that?”

“Mama’s wedding ring. And if it fits, it’s yours for the day. Try it on.”

“Who did I marry?”

“Vincent, of course. No one has sovereignty like a spouse, especially an angry, litigious one.”

Catherine tries the ring on, clearly against her better judgment. It fits. “And then what?”

“Remember bar-hopping in Cambridge?”

Catherine grins. “When we’d meet guys and tell them outrageous stories?”

“Yeah. And somehow we’d convince them we were telling the truth.”

“Like the time you were a Russian ballerina who’d defected.”

“And the time you were John Glenn’s daughter. Do you really think we’ve lost the knack?”

Catherine thinks about it. “No,” she says slowly. “Do you have an idea besides that I’m Mrs. Vincent? And how do we get him to go along with it?”

“Well, I have a couple thoughts,” starts Jenny.

***

Professor Hughes is at his desk, answering letters and phone calls when there is a tap on his door. Before he can say a word, two pretty women, one a tall brunette with sparkling eyes and the other a petite blonde with the face of an angel, have entered and addressed him by name.

“Yes, I’m Ed Hughes. How can I help you?”

“We are looking for a man who went missing two days ago, and we think you may be able to help us find him,” says Catherine, her voice as neutral as a Society Dame’s, except for a nearly imperceptible edge. “He’s very tall, with long red hair and blue eyes.”

Professor Hughes stares at her with some perplexity. “Ma’am, how do you think I would know?” he asks, uncomfortable that he isn’t as mystified as he ought to be. His worst fears are confirmed when the blonde pulls a white-frilled dart from her purse.

“Because,” she says, the edge quite perceptible, “there are witnesses stating that you shot him.”

Both women stare him down as he goes pale, then red, then pale again. “That…” he begins shakily, “That’s an awful accusation.”

“Just as awful as the fact that someone gunned a man down with this dart, registered to you,” says Catherine.

“Where is he?” snaps Jenny, less restrained than her friend.

Restraining the urge to state that it wasn’t a man he gunned down, he says, “I don’t need to discuss anything with you .…”

“It would be wise if you do,” Catherine interrupts. “At this point, you are dealing with private citizens. Our relation to the victim is irrelevant. However, we can involve the police if you prefer.”

Hughes makes a strangled noise.

“My friend,” says Jenny, nodding at Catherine, “is an attorney – his attorney. Her firm also represents the publishing house for which he and I work. Want some advice? Stop stalling and tell us where he is.”

Hughes is a realist. He knows that his chances of keeping these women, or the police, away from his prize are gone now. Any work he’s done investigating the creature downstairs is lost effort, and he’s not about to waste more. These women seem to know the creature, even to call him a man. Could it be? He did talk quite normally not long ago. His sense of self-preservation kicks in. He pulls the keys to the lab out of a desk drawer. “Downstairs,” he sighs. “I’ll take you.”

As he passes the women on the way to the door, their distrust surrounds him so that the goose bumps that subsided return. He might have thought of running, or doing something dangerous to get them to leave; but, again, he’s a realist. Something has gone very wrong, and as of this moment, any research he’s done is invalid. But he jumps when the blonde plucks the keys from his fingers.

“Are these keys to where he is?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. Let’s go.”

Hughes wouldn’t be aware that the walk to the lab is far longer in his mind than it ever has been; it is also endless to the women who flank him as they proceed down the hall. A thought flits through his head that he feels like he’s being led to his execution. The clatter of these Valkyrie’s heels is unnerving. Shouldn’t Valkyries be taller? Could they be armed? He makes himself discard that thought. What lawyer needs a gun? Unbeknownst to him, or Jenny, for that matter, Catherine does have one in her purse.

Catherine unlocks the lab door with a glare at Hughes that hides all her apprehensiveness, and shoves it open. There, indeed, is Vincent, wrapped in his cloak on a mat – on the floor of a cage. Jenny reacts first.

“He’s in a CAGE!”

Vincent startles and would leap to his feet, if the cage were tall enough. As he falls to his knees, he sees Catherine and calls her name as if he knows she’s a hallucination. God knows there have been enough of those. The hallucination falls to her knees by the cage, crying his name, reaches through the wires, and grasps his wrist with a very real hand.

“I’m here, Vincent,” she says. “I’m here!”

Jenny, however, is in high dudgeon. “A CAGE!” she repeats, advancing on Hughes with murder in her face. “That’s outrageous! You let him out, right now!”

Before Hughes can answer, a tall blond man rushes in from the next room, skidding to a halt when he sees his boss pressed against the lab bench and two well-dressed women, obviously furious. Oh, no, he thinks, abandoning all logic, PETA people. Who knew PETA people wore stilettos?

“What’s going on?” he demands. “Who are these women?”

“Who are YOU?” demands Jenny. “Another creep?”

“I am Dr. Gould, Dr. Hughes’ post-graduate student,” he says tartly.  “And you need to leave.”

“Oh, we’ll leave, all right, and you’re coming with us – IN HANDCUFFS! How dare you put a man in a cage!”

“That’s not a man, lady.”

“Jonathan ....” Hughes tries to interject, but no one pays attention.       

“You’re an idiot!”

“No, that’s not a man, and you don’t want to get that close to him, lady. He’s a very dangerous beast.”

Catherine looks up at the young man in outrage. “Dangerous beast?” she sneers. “What do you think you have here? The missing link? This is my husband, you blithering idiot!”

Vincent grasps her hand a little tighter as the two men stare at her in shock.

“And,” Jenny pipes up, “one of my editors. Your ‘dangerous beast’ is a scholar of sixteenth century English literature!” She turns to Vincent. “Speaking of which, where’s the Connelly manuscript?”

Catherine glares at her. “Now is not the time!”

But Jenny has dropped to her knees and locked eyes with Vincent, who is no less surprised than his captors. “Vincent, it’s Jenny. Your boss?”

“Jenny?” he repeats dully.

Jenny rounds on Hughes. “What the hell have you done to him? You better hope he’s only drugged! If you’ve ruined his brilliant mind, I’ll have your guts for garters! Do you know how hard it is to find an expert on Marlow?”

Gould tries to rally. “Brilliant mind? He doesn’t talk!”

“Yes, he does,” mutters Hughes. Gould starts and stares at his professor.

“What have you given him?” says Catherine, her voice low and angry.

“You have to understand, we had to keep him under control,” says Gould.  

“What,” she repeats tensely, “did you give him?”

Hughes takes a deep breath. “Ketamine.” he mumbles.

“A hallucinogen?”

“It’s a well-respected sedative for veterinary use,” asserts Gould. “And there’s no evidence that it causes hallucinations in animals.” He stops as Jenny stalks up to him, fire in her eyes.

“And besides you two apes, where is there an animal here?”

“And diazepam,” continues Hughes miserably.

“A sedative,” growls Catherine, “that his system doesn’t process well.”

Gould is eyeing Jenny with no little alarm as she moves closer to his personal space.

“Once again, Dr. Hughes, open that lock. Now.” Catherine rises to her knees in order to stand up, but Vincent pulls her back.

“Catherine .…”

“Let him open the gate, love.” She rises and stares pointedly at Hughes, who shamefacedly unlocks the cage. Any hope Gould might have had of shoving her in and re-locking the damn thing fades when she kicks the gate all the way open and Jenny moves to lean against it. Catherine crawls in to gather Vincent in her arms. “Can you stand?” she whispers. “I’m taking you home.”

He relaxes into her shoulder as he wraps his arms around her and seems to drift off.

Hughes summons his wits. “How?” he starts. “Why ...” Faced with the women’s stony glares, he fails to finish the sentence.

Catherine looks up at Jenny, who returns her gaze with the same thought in her mind: Now what?

Stalling for time, Catherine says, “I don’t think these cretins really deserve to know.”

A spark lights in Jenny’s face and she slowly shakes her head. “I don’t know, Cath. One pair of soul-less scientific ghouls deserves to know about others who were so much more successful than these two-bit idiots.”

Catherine frowns and bends over Vincent, who, far more awake than he’s letting on whispers, “What’s going on?”

“Just roll with it,” she whispers back as she smoothes the hair from his eyes.

Jenny takes a breath as if she’s made a decision, and Catherine looks up in alarm. Before she can open her mouth, Jenny says, “Ever heard of Ceausescu?”

“I doubt it,” snarks Catherine.

“The Czechoslovakian dictator?” says Gould.

“Romanian,” snaps Jenny.

“Give him credit for getting it in the right bloc, anyway,” says Catherine, not sounding the least bit generous.

“Some decades ago, he had an idea about human engineering,” starts Jenny, and the Cambridge bar game starts in earnest, “using orphaned babies and children.”

“They wanted an army of super-soldiers,” adds Catherine. “They’d read too many comic books.” Or at least Catherine and Jenny had.

“They couldn’t exactly manage genetic engineering at that point, but they could use drugs, and steroids and plastic surgery to create a cadre of super-strong and super-smart fighters.”

“No one knows how many actually died from it all,” says Catherine.

“The altered appearance was not just to give the soldiers a terrifying demeanor to go with their enhanced abilities, but served to trap them in service to the country.”

“After all, if one wanted to escape, how could he?”

Hughes and Gould actually manage to look horrified.

“Too bad their program is defunct,” sneers Catherine. “They could probably use a couple of creeps like you.

“How did he get out?” asks Hughes.

“Believe it or not, Mother Teresa. Whenever she caught wind of things involving the abuse of children, she’d intervene. She went to the UN, and they managed to stage a rescue. She only saved a handful, maybe two dozen out of two hundred. The children were sent to homes all over the world.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” sputters Gould.

“Of course you haven’t,” snaps Jenny. “You can’t even tell Romania from Czechoslovakia. And I doubt anyone is eager to publish this.”

“Actually, it was classified as Top Secret and has never really been declassified. They’re probably waiting for all the victims to die out.”

To the women’s well-hidden surprise, Vincent speaks up from Catherine’s shoulder. “Most of the Ceausescu victims have.”

“But he has claws!” says Gould.

“That was a nasty bit of surgery, breaking the nail beds and inserting a prosthesis to make them grow like that.” Catherine shudders. “So painful.”

“And his chemistry isn’t human.”

“You mean it’s abnormal? Like his liver tests?” asks Catherine.

“Yes,” says Gould, trying to decide whether to feel apprehensive or triumphant.

“Yes, hepatitis does that,” says Catherine, and the men turn green. “You did wear gloves, right?”

“How is it you came to New York?” asks Hughes.

“I was taken in by a family here. This is where I grew up.”

“Did you go to school?”

“Of course.”

“As I said,” interrupts Jenny, “he’s an expert on Marlow, and more educated than either one of you Johnny-One-Notes will ever be.”

Vincent sits up and looks at Catherine with an enigmatic expression. She smiles at him. “Let’s go home, love.” She turns to the men. “I want your notes. Everything you’ve generated about him.”

“We don’t have to ....” Gould starts.

“Kidnapping,” Catherine snaps. “Wrongful imprisonment. Aggravated assault. Torture. And I’m sure, conspiracy to commit murder.”

As Vincent slowly nods, Catherine pales, and Jenny holds her hand out to Gould, who stares at Vincent in horror.

“Now,” Jenny says.

Vincent stares back at Gould. “I heard every word.”

Hughes turns sternly on Gould. “Go get it. All of it.” Gould scurries off, after flashing a dirty look at his professor, and Hughes turns to Vincent. “I’m so sorry.”

“Forget it,” says Jenny. “Do you really think that there’s anything you could say to make this better? Like you could sweet-talk us into NOT dragging your asses off to jail?”

“Oh, no,” whispers Vincent as Gould reappears. He reaches for Catherine’s other hand. “Catherine, we can’t .…”

Hughes takes the armload of paper and spreads it on the workbench, flipping through to make sure it’s all there. His hands are shaking.

“I’m just a post-graduate student,” Gould starts. “I just work for Dr. Hughes.”

“Good,” says Catherine. “Then I know which one of you to keep an eye on here. And believe me, Dr. Hughes, I will be very attentive to your activities. But you,” she rounds on Gould, “will get out of town. By Friday. And I’ll know if you come back.”

“But my degree .…”

“Is toast,” says Jenny. “Someone like you has no business in this field anyway. You have no ethics.” She turns to Catherine. “You’re going to let him go? He needs to be tried, or sued! You can’t just let him get away with this!”

“No,” says Vincent. “Catherine, please .…”

She squeezes his hand. “Jen, if he doesn’t want to go through courtroom and hearing hell, I won’t ask him to. Fortunately, the statute of limitations on conspiracy to commit murder doesn’t exist. They step one foot out of line and I can nail them.”

Oddly enough, neither scientist looks relieved by her litigation reprieve.

Jenny steps up behind Hughes to look over his shoulder. “Photographs,” she says, and Hughes jumps. “Where are the photographs?”

“That’s everything --” Gould starts, and Jenny takes three paces to get into his face.

“DO NOT talk to me with the jawbone of an ass!” she snarls. “And don’t even dream you can pretend to be smarter than I am. There’s no way you didn’t take photos, and I don’t see them. Get them. Now.”

Catherine has helped Vincent out of the cage and to his feet. He towers over Hughes, who looks like he wants to shrink away to nothing. Gould shuffles back into the room, and Vincent towers over him, too. Gould quails as Vincent bares his teeth.

“Keep away from me!” he squeals, dropping a handful of photographs. Vincent simply stares at him.

“Aren’t you going to pick those up?” Vincent finally says. Gould scrambles to do just that. Catherine snatches the photos from his hand.

“One word from me,” she breathes. “One word, and your lives are the wreck you nearly made ours. Do you understand? I will be watching you two murderous lowlifes. It would delight me to send you to Sing Sing. I will allow Vincent to return to obscurity, but if I find out you’ve done anything I don’t like, the lid blows off. Keep in mind, the worst I could do isn’t charging you with all the things I said – and more. The worst I could do is make a call to a small branch of the CIA. Just nod to show you understand, cretins.”

The men nod.

“Look at you,” she says. “So disappointed that your “big find” was a bust. Imagine, finding a new species of monster right here in Central Park. You were probably trying to figure how to get Central Park or New York or Columbia into the new phylogenetic term, huh? Never occurred to you that it could be anything else. Never thought that most monsters are quite human, thank you very much, and that you’d just joined their ranks. Never occurred to you that someone else might have already investigated and knew everything there is to know. So arrogant.”

Catherine points at Gould. “Gone by Friday.” She points at Hughes. “If I find out that you’ve written him a recommendation, let’s just say that counts as something I won’t like.”

“Let’s go,” says Jenny.

Hoping to be helpful, Hughes pipes up. “I can call a cab.”

The women glare at him. “Which way to the rear entrance?” says Catherine. “Obscurity resumes now.”

Hughes points, and Jenny opens the door to look down the hall. “So what’s out that door?”

“The rear courtyard,” says Hughes.

“There’s no one around,” says Jenny. She reaches for Vincent’s other hand. “Let’s go.”              

They exit into a rear courtyard cautiously, glancing nervously at the walls that rise around them as they climb the steps.

“Where are we?” Vincent asks, pulling the hood over his head.

“Columbia University,” says Catherine. “The Mudd Building, 120th and Amsterdam.”

Vincent nods and scans the pavement. Relieved, he points to a manhole. “There,” he says. “I know the way from here.”

“What?” says Jenny. “We’re going in there?”

“How much did Catherine tell you about me?”

“A lot, obviously. But she left out sewers.”

“She didn’t tell you where I live?”

“She said there are caves. But .…”

“We’re exposed here,” Catherine interrupts. “Are you coming?”

“This is why you made me change shoes, isn’t it?”

“Are you coming?”

“Let’s go.”

Weakened as he is, Vincent is still able to remove the manhole cover; and once he drops below the pavement, he helps the women after him. But then he leans against the wall, breathing heavily. Catherine brushes the hair away from his face, smiling tenderly, and then she hugs him tightly, turning her face into his shirt to hide her tears. He enfolds her and lays his cheek on her hair. Jenny watches fondly.

“You said he was beautiful,” she says. “But you didn’t say he was GORGEOUS.”

Vincent looks up in surprise. “Well, you are,” Jenny insists. She slaps Catherine on the arm. “And you kept this a secret from me.”

“So,” says Vincent with a wry smile. “Marlow? Ceausescu?” He hasn’t released Catherine.

Jenny shrugs. “It just came to me.”

He looks at Catherine. “Hepatitis?”

“I thought that was a bit inspired.”

“And you were both starting to enjoy it.”

Girls again, Jenny and Catherine exchange looks and shrug. “There are stories we could tell,” Catherine says. She grins at Jenny. “You were a little scary, there. Were you channeling your Aunt Zelda?”

Jenny grins back. “She’d be proud, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know. Was there ever anything she approved of?”

Jenny chuckles, shaking her head. Then she looks up at Vincent. “I’m really never like that,” she says. “Unless someone misses a deadline.”

“Seriously. I didn’t know you could do that,” says Catherine.

“Those two fiends are appalling. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

Catherine shakes her head. “We’re going to have to be satisfied with scaring them witless.”

“Can you really monitor their activities as you said?” asks Vincent.

“I certainly can. It’s easier than you’d think.”

“I don’t want to think about that too much, really,” says Jenny.

“You can monitor them from Providence?” says Vincent.

Catherine gazes levelly into his eyes. “What’s Providence?”

He stares back, barely daring to smile. “It’s something that’s meant to be.”

She nods. “A thing,” she says. “Not a place. I’m right where I’m meant to be.”

“Oh, thank God!” cries Jenny. “I was hating the idea of you leaving .…” She trails off as she watches Catherine trace Vincent’s jawline with a finger. “And no one’s paying the least attention to me,” she murmurs. “Ahem!” she says, loudly.

Catherine looks impishly over her shoulder. Oh, honey, thinks Jenny, you have it bad. And wouldn’t I?

“Is this really where we’re staying?”

“No,” says Catherine. “I’m taking Vincent home. Question is, are you coming with us?”

“Depends. Do you have a brother?”

Vincent chuckles. “Yes.”

“You do?” says Catherine.

“Is he like you?” Jenny persists.

“Not a bit.”

“Oh. Nuts. Well, let’s go anyway.”

He gazes at her solemnly. “You say Catherine told you about our underground home. Did she tell that we rely on secrecy?”

She becomes serious. “Yes, she did. And I can keep that secret as well as she can.”

He nods. “Then let’s go.”

         
Soon enough to satisfy Jenny’s (and Catherine’s, truth be told) sensitive nose, Vincent guides them through a well-hidden door out of the sewer and enters true Tunnels. He finds a section of pipe dangling on a chain from the pipes along the wall and begins to tap away.

Jenny raises an eyebrow. “Morse code?”

“It was, originally,” says Vincent. “It’s evolved since then.”

A burst of dings, rattles and gongs erupts from the pipes. Vincent taps a reply and leads the ladies on.

“Where are we meeting them?” Catherine asks.

“Father’s chamber. I also asked for food. I’m starving.” He doesn’t see the bitter look exchanged between the women, but he feels Catherine’s heart clench. He squeezes her hand.

Jenny is uncharacteristically quiet as they wind through the passages to Father’s chamber; but on entering that library, she gives out a little cry of pleasure. No one notices her as Father rushes to hug Vincent, nearly in tears. Then he turns to hug Catherine just as fiercely. “You found him! Oh, my dear girl! You found him! Thank you, thank you! How did you find him?”

“Father, Catherine needs to breathe,” says Vincent gently.

Catherine chuckles. “It wasn’t too complicated. It just took a lot of, um, chutzpa.”

Jenny giggles at this, finally attracting Father’s attention. His stare takes all the giggle out of her.

Catherine reaches for Jenny’s hand. “Father, I’d like you to meet Jenny Aronson, one of my oldest and dearest friends. I have to tell you that the idea for how we got Vincent out of there was really hers.”

“No, it ....” starts Jenny and then she shrugs. “I guess it was.” And she shakes Father’s hand.

Much as he’d like to have words with Catherine about just bringing someone in to the Tunnels, his gratitude and curiosity are too great to satisfy that urge right now. Warmly, he takes Jenny’s hand and says, “Just where was “there” after all? And where are my manners? Have a seat!”

Curiosity is still postponed as Mary comes in and must hug Vincent and meet Jenny, and then William arrives with tea, cookies, and a feast for Vincent.

Vincent’s story of the last two days is a solemn one. Catherine doesn’t release his hand for a moment, and he seems to be content to eat with one hand as he talks. To his surprise, there is no “I told you so” coming from Father. This was the situation that Father always seemed to dread, but now that it’s come to pass, the whole event seems too bizarre to be believable. Of course, the rescue itself could only be called bizarre.

“I was finally allowed to be alone, and to sleep, and I was awakened by someone screaming about a cage …”

“I didn’t exactly scream!” Jenny protests. She turns to Catherine. “Did I scream?”

“I thought you were magnificent.”

“It was the most amazing performance. You should have seen it,” says Vincent.

“And how did you get involved in this, Jenny, dear?” asks Mary.

“Well, I went to see Cathy. I knew something was wrong, and I couldn’t leave her alone. Let me tell you, I found her in a state; but she should tell you how she got that way.”

Truth be told, Catherine’s story was shorter than she’d expected. While it was laborious, it was simple locating the darts, and again laborious but simple finding their origin.  Ready as she was to go do battle with any army for Vincent, it was hard to plan the approach until Jenny came blowing in, full of energy and ideas.

Of course there was a detour into stories of their Cambridge days, which the young women should have been ashamed of, perhaps, but look what all that practice allowed them to do! And Father was surprisingly entertained.

“Third in line for the throne of Holland, indeed!” The rescuers can only shrug sheepishly.

The scene in the lab is related with increasing amusement. “You should have seen them!” Vincent repeats.

“We were Harpies,” Jenny states simply, and with no little pride.

“Ceausescu,” chortles William. “Brilliant. How did you think of him?”

Jenny shrugs. “I thought of Stalin first, but he would have been dead. I don’t know … it was luck. I have to check the dates – the timing may have been off.”

“Gould will probably check.”

“They never asked you how old you are, there’s room for conjecture,” says Catherine.

“You’re going to watch that Hughes fellow?” asks Father.

“Like a hawk,” says Catherine. “I may even send someone to watch him go to his car a time or two, just to make him skittish.”

“I know where you can find volunteers,” says Mary.

Vincent turns to William. “What did you finally do with the new chamber?” He can’t help but feel guilty that his time away made extra work for Winslow, but he’s wise enough not to voice that thought around Catherine.

Talk of life matters in the tunnels always fascinates Catherine, and Jenny is intrigued; but the walls of books draw her like a magnet, and she rises from her chair to drift toward them. Catherine watches her go with a grin. The only thing Jen can resist less than books is chocolate.

Shortly, there’s a squeak and a sigh from Jenny by the bookshelves. She has a slim book in one hand and is holding firmly to a shelf with the other. "I'm going to faint," she whispers, reverently turning over the book. Eventually, she takes a breath and looks up at Father. "You have a first edition "Leaves of Grass".

"Ah, yes," he says. "It was a gift."

"A first edition,” she whispers, caressing the cover. "I hope you know how valuable this is."

"It's priceless to me."

She pins him with a wide-eyed stare. "There are fewer than one thousand left in existence. The last one that sold went for $175,000."

It's Father's turn to look faint, but he rallies. “Well, of course, I’d never sell it.”

“You don’t sell a gift,” agrees Jenny.

“Jenny,” says Catherine, “put that down before you break it.”

Obediently, Jenny shelves the little book and looks on down the row. “What else ya got?” she murmurs and moves on with the air of a hunter.

“It never occurred to me,” says Catherine. “You may well have a fortune in your stacks. Could prove quite useful. Sometimes, there are things you’d need that a Helper can’t get. Talk about independence.”

The Tunnel dwellers watch Jenny with varied expressions on their faces. “Only for emergencies,” says Father quietly.

“But good to know,” says Mary.

Eventually, Jenny rejoins the group. “I’d be delighted to catalog this for you.”

“Like a proper Dewey decimal system?” says Mary.

“Dewey is my life,” says Jenny.

“I could find you plenty of help,” says Mary.

“A class in Library Science for the kids,” says Catherine.

“Best career in the world,” says Jenny.

“When was the last time you actually worked in a library?” teases Catherine.

“I work in the book spawning ground.” She looks at Mary. “You run a school, in effect, right?”

Mary nods.

“What do you use for textbooks?”

“We use books donated by helpers.”

“Let me know if there’s anything you need.” She either doesn’t notice or ignores Father’s effort to speak. “A publishing house has a ‘graveyard’ warehouse for printings that have flaws or that didn’t get sold before the next edition came out. They can’t be sold, so they get destroyed. We have a batch of Geometry and Algebra texts we just sent down. They’re yours if you want them.”

“Algebra?” says Catherine, clearly with no good memories involved. “Who teaches that?”

“Pascal,” says Vincent.

“What do you teach, Vincent?” asks Jenny.

“Reading to the little ones. Literature for the older ones.”

“Vincent knows half of Shakespeare by heart,” says Catherine.

“More than half,” adds Father.

“Really? How about Marlow? Seriously.”

“I have his works.”

“Do you have them memorized?”

“Just the poetry.” He seems unfazed when his family laughs.

Jenny settles back with a new cup of tea and surveys her new friends. They enchant her, even more when she tells Vincent that she’s been dreaming about him for months and he accepts this as completely normal.

Oh, yes, this is a group that deserves nurturing, and she intends to enjoy her role as Helper. Imagine, something in her life that will be only hers, apart from work and family. And she knows exactly which books to bring Vincent. Books on Marlow and sixteenth century English and French poets. Does he speak French? She wouldn’t be at all surprised. And books about editing. You see, she does need an expert on Marlow, and if she can’t find something, Jenny is very good at making it. And one bit at a time, she’s going to get her expert on Marlow.

 

 

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