Standing in the doorway Christian gazed intently at the goldenhaired young man seated in a fine leather upholstered chair. His headwas bent over the book he was reading, completely lost in its pages.My son, he thought in satisfaction. There was precious little love inthat thought, more of ownership. He is what I have always wanted himto be and he will have the opportunity to prove it when I send him onhis first mission tonight.
"Yes, Father?" he raised his blue green eyes from the book andfixed them on the dark, intense man standing in the doorway. The sunglinted in his bright golden hair as he lithely rose from the chair,marked his place, closed the book gently and placed it on the antiquetable beside the chair. He strode over to the man he knew as father,towering over him.
"Come with me. It's time for you to join the Group."
Julian's heart constricted with fear. The time had finallyarrived, the time he had dreaded all his life. Everything he had beentaught pointed to this day. As he grew tall and strong the lessonshad become more intense, physically challenging, and brutal. They hadprogressed from simply besting an opponent to domination and finallyto killing. On his sixteenth birthday, he had been set down in themiddle of a dense forest with nothing but a Bowie knife and wasexpected to make it back in four days. To make it more interesting,four men had been given permission to hunt and kill him if possible.He had made it back in three and all four men were never seen again.His father was elated.
Yes, he had killed, but not with the pleasure his father had inkilling. Was there something wrong with him? His interests were notthose of his father. He felt he was loved for what he could do, notfor who he was. Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind, hehad striven to do his best and please his father. All these thoughtsflowed through his mind as he followed his father from the library tothe conference room.
Christian looked up at the tall young man striding beside him. "Ihave taught you well and you have been an excellent student. I knowyou won't disgrace me."
"Yes, Father." Julian's mouth was dry and he could say nomore.
Through a set of heavy oak double doors they entered a boardroom.Thirteen expensively and fashionably dressed men and women, ofvarious ages, were seated around a highly polished black walnutoblong table. There was a feral quality about each and every one ofthem. They smiled at him with tight lips and veiled eyes and he knewthat several of the younger men resented him and hoped that he wouldfail. Christian stopped behind the impressive throne-like chair atthe head of the table and, placing his hands on it, motioned forJulian to stand beside him. He glanced at each person seated aroundthe table and said, "As you know my son is old enough to join theGroup. Today is the day of his initiation. There is a party tonightand I expect each of you to be here
when he embarks on his mission. Now, leave us, please."
"What time tonight?" a small, dark man with intense eyesasked.
"Nine p.m., Jose. Please be prompt." Christian answered in hisdeceptively soft, deadly voice.
The only sound that broke the silence was the scraping of chairsas they were pulled back from the table and the rustle of clothing asthe thirteen walked out of the room.
As she pulled the door closed, an older grey haired woman calledout, "Good night, Christian."
"Good night, Iris."
Julian watched his father open the cabinet that held a TV and aVCR. He pushed the play button and a tape began to play. It showed amonster of a man attacking some of the guards and pulling a heavymetal door off its hinges then throwing it at them. All the time hewas roaring in what seemed to Julian to be pain and anguish. He wasfrightening and at the same time . . . magnificent.
They watched the tape until his father froze it on one close up ofthe terrible face; mouth open exposing the long fangs, roaring outhis pain. Julian turned to his father. "Who or what is that thing?"he asked, intrigued.
"Your assignment. That thing is the thing that killed your mother,the thing I have told you of all these years. I said I would show itto you someday and now I have." Christian stated unemotionally.
"Why would he kill her?"
"She was protecting you. He had come to take you away fromus."
"But why would he do something like that?"
"Who can explain the reasoning of a beast? Just know that it isthe truth and it is your duty to avenge your mother's death." Heclapped Julian on the shoulder. "Come let's see to your preparationsfor tonight."
Deeply disturbed and troubled, Julian followed his father out ofthe room. There was something that he was not being told, but thatwas nothing new. Often, he would find out later that he had not beentold the whole truth. He would bide his time and eventually all wouldbe revealed to him.
As always on the anniversary of her death Vincent knelt beside theheadstone of Catherine's grave. "When, my love? When can I come toyou? It's been twenty years. I'm old and I'm tired and I'm ready tocome to you."
He rested his head on the stone and thought of the past years andhis constant search for their son. He had arrived just as Gabriel wasleaving in a helicopter with his son. He thought it was Catherine butwhen he heard her speak his name he spun around to find her waveringon the top step of the rooftop stairs. He had rushed to her and takenher in his arms only to lose her in a few minutes. She told him oftheir son and, gazing lovingly into his eyes, had closed hers andbreathed her last. Somehow, he returned her to her apartment andsuffered through her funeral, alone in his chamber, unable to bethere. After she had come to him in a vision and reminded him abouttheir child, he set out to find him. With the help of Diana Bennett,the detective assigned to her case, he had found him only to arrivetoo late as Gabriel disappeared into the night with him. That was thelast he had known of his son. Now twenty years later, he had given uphope of ever finding him.
Wearily, he climbed to his feet after he had kissed her headstonewishing with all his heart that it was her soft and full lips that hekissed. "I miss you, my love. Wait for me, please." He returned tohis home Below to pick up his life of duty.
That night, the estate of Christian Kocyk rang with laughter andfrivolity. Everyone of wealth and power from the city, the state andthe nation were in attendance. Even several foreign dignitatiesroamed among the crowd that spilled from the huge ballroom onto thewell manicured lawn. Christian was well connected to persons in highplaces and he circulated among his guests as if he was king of hisown empire, as in truth he was. He had more money and power than anyelected official or person of wealth in the room, and he used thatpower to buy and sell whole countries and officials. He had peopleworking for him in every stratum of business and government. Nothinghappened that he did not know of the moment it occured. Julianfollowed in his wake, being introduced to those he didn't know andbeing wished Happy Birthday by his own friends and acquaintances. Hewasn't drinking this night, as he knew that before the party wasover, he would start out on his assignment. The afternoon had beenspent in gathering all the paraphernalia he would need: maps, guns, aflashlight, and the ever useful jumpsuit that would hold all that heneeded. All was stored in the basement by an entrance to the tunnelswaiting for him.
"It's midnight, Julian, time to go," Christian said as he came upbehind him. Julian was laughing and talking with a very prettybrunette who was hoping that she could get a date with him as he wasrumored to be a most generous and superb date.
"Excuse me, Naomi, my father needs me."
"Oh darn, will I get to see you soon," she pouted prettily.
"I don't know. I will call you when I can," he said, turning tofollow Christian out of the room.
A few choice expletives rolled through her mind as she walked awayto try her wiles on another of the young men who were Julian'sfriends.
Below in the basement Julian donned the black jumpsuit, checkedall the equipment, and stowed it away in the pockets of the suit.
"Good hunting, Julian. Make me proud," Christian said, his eyesglittering in the dim light of the lone glowing light bulb.
"I will." He waited for his father to say more, but Christian hadnever been sentimental so he pulled open the grate and disappearedinto the darkness of the tunnel.
Pensively, his hands clasped behind his back, Christian stalked upthe stairs. If Julian kills the beast, I will have the joy of tellinghim that he had killed his own father, as I did mine. If the beastkills him, all the better, for I will get word to him that he haskilled his own son. I will prove to him that I am the better man --as if he is a true man. Christian returned to his guests as ifnothing of importance was happening.
In the tunnels, Julian followed the route that Snow had once takenmany years ago. All the maps that Snow had made were confiscated byChristian and saved for this one purpose. Having spelunked in severallarge caverns and backpacked through large and dense forests, Julianhad no trouble reading and following a map. The deeper he went intothe tunnels, the more they changed. They became old brick and thennatural stone. With his superb hearing he began to hear the faintsound of taps that sounded like coded messages. He could not knowthat he had passed an outlying sentry of the Tunnel Community and themessages were detailing his rapid descent into their territory.
"Vincent! Vincent!" Mouse shouted as he came skidding into theCommon Room. "Intruder. By old well."
"Yes, I heard, Mouse. There is only one?" he asked, preparing tomeet the intruder.
"Steven says one. Mouse go with Vincent."
"No, my friend, you stay here. Get all the men together, armed andprepared. Bring Joanna and the children to the Common Room. Keep themsafe."
"Ok good. Ok fine." Mouse dashed off on his mission.
Were they never to be safe? Must someone always come to do whoknows what? They had lived in peace for so long that they had begunto think they were safe, at last . . . safe and forgotten. Theintruder smashed all of that. Racing through the tunnels Vincent rantoward the old well in an effort to intercept the intruder before hefound the home tunnels. Vincent planned to lead him as he had ledSnow so long ago, away from the home tunnels and down to themaze.
Having seen no one and heard nothing but the taps on the pipesJulian froze in his tracks when he heard a velvet and gravel voiceask out of the shadows, "Who are you?"
"Julian." Searching the dark shadows, he was unable to seeanything even with his catlike eyes. He decided to play for time togive him a chance to pinpoint where the man was and answered, "Whoare you?"
Ignoring the question, Vincent asked, "Why are you here?"
"To find someone." Julian edged forward in an attempt to find thevoice.
"Who?" Vincent, aware of Julian's position, knew he still had timeto escape.
"Not a who but a what." The answer was flat and deadly, almostemotionless, but Vincent could sense fear and determination behindit.
"I think that might be me," he stepped out of the side tunnelexposing himself to the assassin.
As Julian recognized the creature from the video tape, he snappedoff a series of shots that barely missed Vincent, hitting his cape ashe whirled away and sprinted down a nearby tunnel. Julian followedVincent's trail through the tunnels that led him away and down to themaze by picking up the faint noise of his footsteps.
Vincent shed his cape as he neared his destination. The maze wasquite warm from the hot springs that flowed through it making itslippery and dangerous. This was where he would make his stand and hehid behind a large stalagmite waiting tensely for Julian to come. Whowas this Julian and why did he want to kill him? He could think of noone by that name that he had wronged. Barely breathing, his heartthudding in his chest, he caught the soft sound of carefully placedfootsteps as Julian inched into the maze. Holding his breath, Vincentwaited, motionless. Then, catching him by surprise, lashed out athim, knocking the gun away. Thrown off balance, Julian slipped on theslick floor thereby saving his life. As he fell to the side,Vincent's well-aimed strike was slightly off center and rippedthrough his chest not his throat. Lying on the floor, Julian staredinto the face of certain death until Vincent froze with an upraisedarm and unsheathed claws. Looking into Julian's terrified wide greeneyes, Vincent saw something that stopped him. He had no way ofknowing that deep inside him he knew those eyes to be Catherine's.Julian scrambled to his feet and attempted to flee, but his legswould not hold him up; Vincent caught him as he began to crumple andlowered him gently to the floor. He was badly injured and if notcared for soon, would surely bleed to death. The last thing Julianremembered was Vincent wrapping him in his cloak. Gathering theunconscious young man in his arms, Vincent set out at a run for thenearest pipe chamber where he tapped a message to Eric, asking him tomeet them in the hospital chamber.
Eric and Ho were waiting in the hospital chamber when Vincententered breathing heavily. "Help me, Eric," he gasped. Afterdepositing the bloodied body of the young man on the exam table,Vincent leaned heavily against the nearest wall. "He's badly hurt. Idon't know if he's still alive."
"Well, he's barely alive," Eric stated. He began to issue ordersto Ho and bent over his patient. Vincent moved to a chair near thewall and gratefully sat down, watching Eric and Ho toil over theyoung man.
"How is he doing?" For some unknown reason it was important to himthat Julian survive. Maybe it was because he was about the age hisown son would be if he was alive or that he simply did not want thedeath of this young man on his conscience.
"He's responding. It's a good thing you got him here when you did.Ten minutes or so delay . . . well . . . ," Eric said.
A tense two hours later Eric stated, "I've done what I can, therest is up to him." Wearily, he removed his blood splattered surgicalgown and handed it to Ho. "I'll send Janey to sit with him," Ericsaid, wiping his face with a towel and he followed Ho out of thechamber.
Vincent rose and hesitantly approached the exam table where Julianlay, white and still. Oh god, he looks so young, so vulnerable.Please let him live. Why? Why was he here to kill me? I have neverseen him before. Slowly, he shook his head, perplexed.
Suddenly, Julian began to thrash around and proved remarkablystrong when Vincent tried to hold him down. After he had carefullytransferred him to a bed n the hospital ward, Vincent wasstraightening the blankets around him when he looked up to find hisdaughter, Joanna, standing beside him.
"I thought Janey was supposed to come."
"No, Dad, she's busy with Raoul fixing breakfast." He smiled ather. She was so lovely and made his life a little less lonely. He hadfound her wandering the dark streets of the city covered with weltsand bruises, cradling a broken arm. She was four, she lisped, when heasked her how old she was. He had brought her Below to Father whopromptly fell in love with her. She had grown to be a beautiful youngwoman in the fourteen years she had been Below and everyone,including Vincent and Joanna, considered her to be his daughter. Thecandlelight glistened in her raven black hair as she bent over Julianto get a better look at him. Her ebony colored eyes becamesympathetic as she noted his extensive injuries.
"You did this?"she asked, gazing compassionately into Vincent'stortured eyes.
Painfully, he nodded his head, looking away from her.
"I know you only did it to protect us. Get some rest, Daddy, I'llwatch him. He can't do much harm right now." She went to him andhugged him fiercely, then pushed him through the curtain thatenclosed the hospital ward.
At noon she was relieved by Rebecca and checked on her father--hewas sound asleep--before going to the dining room for lunch. Aftershe taught her math class, she returned to the hospital chamber andrelieved Rebecca. "Any change?" she asked, entering the silentchamber.
Rebecca smiled and rose from the chair beside the bed. "No, hehasn't moved a muscle. Wonder what he was doing down here?" Shestopped just inside the curtained exit.
Joanna shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Daddy hasn't said aword about it but he took it very hard, wounding him soterribly."
"Vincent has always suffered deep remorse after defending us andespecially with Catherine. She was the only one that could bring himout of the depression that would follow. I think it was . . . becauseshe could see into his heart and knew his dark side better thananyone. Ah well, she's not here to help so it's up to you, my girl,"she said, patting Joanna's arm.
"Thanks, Becky," Joanna called after her as she let the curtainfall. Throwing his blankets off, Julian began to toss and turn. "No,no, lie still. You'll open the wounds again and start to bleed,"Joanna said, concern for this young man etched on her face.
He stilled at the sound of her voice and cautiously opened hisstartling green eyes. They were pain-filled and unfocused. "Who areyou?" he croaked.
"Your nurse. Here, take a small sip. Not too much," she cautioned,lifting his head slightly and holding a chipped cup of water to hislips.
He swallowed painfully and asked, "Where am I? In a hospital?"
"No, you're in my home. You've been tended to and now you need tolay still and go back to sleep."
"But I don't . . ."
"No back talk. Do as I say. You're safe here."
Her gentle, concerned voice soothed him and he trusted her.Obediently, he closed his eyes and fell into a deep, inky pool ofdarkness.
Dozing beside the bed, Joanna felt that someone was close by. Whenshe opened her eyes, she found her father peering intently at theyoung man. "Has he awakened, yet?" he asked her as she tried tostifle a yawn with no success.
"Yes, a few minutes ago."
"Did he say anything?"
"Not really. He's too confused. Just wanted to know where he was.I made him go back to sleep. Do you know his name?"
"Julian, I believe."
"That's a name you don't hear often," she commented.
Vincent mumbled something. "What did you say?" she asked.
"There's something about him that I can't put my finger on."Puzzled, he shook his head.
"Daddy, what happened down there?"
"He had come for me," he stated in astonishment. "He had come tokill me."
"Why, for heaven's sake?"
"I don't know." He held his hands out palms up. "I've never seenhim before that I can recall."
"It's very strange."
"Yes," he said pacing back and forth. "Unless . . . he is anassassin."
"No, he can't be." Vincent shrugged. "Who do you know that hatesyou that much?"
Throwing his hands into the air, he replied, "No one that I canthink of. I guess we will have to wait until he wakes up and we canquestion him."
"He's not going to be in any shape to answer questions for quiteawhile."
"I know," his shoulders slumped in resignation. "We must waituntil he is stronger."
Eric popped in to examine the dressings and to see how his patientwas doing. "These wounds are beginning to heal already. He must havean extraordinary constitution." He pulled the blankets back overJulian then he washed his hands. "He should be awake and alert bytomorrow evening."
Vincent perked up at this. Maybe he could talk to this young manthen. For his own peace of mind he certainly hoped so.
"I will stay with him tonight, Joanna. I'm a lighter sleeper thanyou and will hear anything that happens."
"Ok good, ok fine," she said laughing, borrowing from Mouse. Shestood on tiptoe, kissed him good night on the cheek, and left withEric.
Vincent settled down in the chair next to the bed and opened thebook he had brought--The Hero with a Thousand Faces--prepared to readfar into the night. He didn't know that he was being observed throughslitted eyes. What Julian saw did not jibe with the creature on thevideo tape. This was a man, although a strange looking man, who lovedand was loved, who obviously commanded respect, and was highlyintelligent. Could the creature and this man be one and the same?They certainly looked alike. His curiosity aroused, he decided tosolve the mystery. But tomorrow would be soon enough. Yes, tomorrow.He was so tired and he heaved a deep sigh. Instantly, the man was athis side checking him over, making certain that he was all right.Julian felt safe and unworried for the first time he could remember.What was it about this strange place and this even stranger man thatcaused him to feel so safe? Another mystery to solve. Unafraid, hewent back to a deep and healing sleep.
Assured that the young man was all right, Vincent settled onceagain into the chair and started anew to read. Soon, he was noddingover the book and shortly drifted into a light sleep. The book fellunnoticed to the floor and both occupants of the chamber slept inpeace.
Coughing? Someone--who--was coughing? Vincent came awake abruptlyto find Julian doubled over in pain. Grabbing a pitcher and pouring acup of water, he held it to the quivering lips. Gasping, the strangerswallowed a few sips and fell back on the bed breathing heavily.
"Are you all right?" Vincent asked, smoothing the pillow under hishead.
"For now, I think." The young man spoke through parched lips andraw throat. God, he hurt.
"Your name is Julian?"
"Julian. When you feel better, we must talk." Vincent sank backinto his chair.
"And your name?" the ragged voice asked.
"Am I your prisoner?"
"Yes and no." Stretching his long legs out in front of him Vincentcontinued, "Until we know why you came to kill me, you will beguarded." He waved in the direction of the curtained entryway. "Allyour weapons have been thrown into the abyss by Mouse."
"Mouse?" Julian asked in amusement.
"Yes, one of our more eccentric members." Vincent laced hisfingers behind his head and leaned back in the chair, smiling. "Whenthe council determines it is safe and you pledge not to reveal ourexistence you will be allowed to return Above."
"We have never had that problem."
Julian decided to keep his own counsel until he found out moreabout this creature--man?--and this place.
"Good morning, Daddy. Julian." Holding a tray filled with a lightbreakfast on it, a beaming Joanna came striding in and settled thetray on the table beside the bed. "I'll take over now, Daddy."
"Good morning, love," Vincent bent and kissed her on the cheek.The love between them was clearly evident by their easiness with eachother. "I trust you slept well."
"Sure did." She returned the hesitant smile that Julian gave her."And how are you this morning?"
"Better now," he answered.
Vincent noticed the obvious brightening of Julian's eyes as hegazed at Joanna. "Well, I'll leave you in my daughter's capablehands. I will sit with you tonight." The curtain dropped behind himas he returned to his chamber to begin his busy day.
Eric arrived soon after Joanna had finished feeding Julian. Wipinghis mouth with a napkin, she asked Eric how Pascal was doing.
"We're having trouble keeping him in bed. He still feelsresponsible for the pipes. Thinks Zach will need his help."
"Yeah," Joanna chuckled, "you can take the man out of the pipesbut not the pipes out of the man."
"You can say that again." Changing the dressings, Eric noticed howfast Julian was healing. "You keep this up . . . uh?"
"Julian," Joanna supplied.
"You keep this up, Julian, and you'll be up and around in notime." The only person that he knew healed this fast was Vincent.
"Thank you, doctor."
"Eric. And don't thank me. If it hadn't been for Vincent, youwouldn't be alive."
"Yeah, Eric," he said sarcastically, "if it hadn't been for him Iwouldn't be here at all."
"Seems to me he was only defending himself." Joanna jumped in todefend her father.
Quickly, his anger subsided. It was best not to antagonize anyoneuntil he knew where he stood.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"Well. Don't get too excited or you'll rip the stitches out. Tryto stay calm. I'll check on you before lights out." Resting a hand onher shoulder Eric gently squeezed it as he walked by.
"Go fight with Pascal, Eric. We'll see you later." Smiling sheshooed him out through the entryway. "Hey, Eric, wait a minute."
He stuck his head around the curtain. "What?"
Handing him the tray of empty dishes she asked, "Would you mindtaking these back to Raoul for me?"
"What do you think I am," he grumbled, "a bus boy?"
"Well, you're certainly dressed for it," she saucily replied,eyeing his white lab coat.
The only answer she got was an indignant, "Humph!" as he stalkedout in feigned indignation.
Turning to her patient Joanna said, briskly, "It's time for yourbath."
Julian pulled the blankets tightly under his chin even though itpained him to do so. "Oh, no you're not."
"Nothing is going to happen that will embarrass you. I've donethis before, a lot of times."
In an effort to forestall the inevitable, Julian asked, "Who'sPascal?" Not only that, he was curious about this place and thepeople who lived here.
"Yeah, we send messages via the pipes."
"Oh. What's wrong with him?"
"He's got the flu."
"You've stalled long enough. Let's get this over and done with."She fetched a bowl, filled it with hot water from a steamingteakettle that sat over a small two-burner stove, and added coolwater until it was the right temperature. Then she proceeded to bathehim, even shampooing his hair. A clean well patched white gown wasnext.
"You are a pro at this," he conceded.
"Told you so," she replied crisply. She combed his hair arrangingit neatly. "There now. Don't you feel better?"
"Much better but I'm tired. I think I want to sleep now."
"Of course. I'll be near if you need anything." Tiptoeing throughthe raised curtain as he wearily closed his eyes, instantly asleep,she spent the next hour or so talking with Marc who was on guard dutyjust outside the hospital chamber.
"Joanna," a weak cry from Julian brought her to her feet and tohis bedside. "Could I have a drink, please?"
"Surely," she held the cup to his lips.
"It's amazing how good cold water tastes," he commented.
"We have the best water in the city." She liked bragging about herhome to the Topsider. "Would you like me to read to you? It'll takeyour mind off the pain."
"Ok, what do you have?"
"When's the last time you read 'Treasure Island'?"
"Oh gosh, I must have been ten or so. A long time."
"You don't seem to be that old. What, about twenty?" She wasteasing him and he knew it.
"How old are you, about eighteen?" He smiled into her dark browneyes, about to drown in them when she shook her head and broke theeye contact. She settled back into the chair and began to read. Hervoice was lovely and he decided that he would have her read to him asoften as he could persuade her to.
Snapping the book closed, she said "Well, I think three chaptersare quite enough for now. You should probably rest for a while beforedinner."
"No," he reached for her hand as she rose to go and was stoppedwhen a sharp pain shot through his chest. "Stay. Talk with me?"
When she nodded and settled back into the chair, he asked her, "Doyou ever go above?"
"Oh yes, to plays, concerts, museums, and such and then I'm soglad to come back Below."
"Don't you want to be able to walk in the sunshine, go swimming inthe ocean, go to parties and all that you can do if you livedabove?"
"Why? I can do all that when I want. There are no restrictions towhat I can do. I am happy here."
"What about school?"
"The children here get an excellent education. I am going toColumbia this fall on a scholarship supplied by the woman my fatherloved." She gazed at him pensively. "Why do you want to kill myfather?" she asked looking him in the eye, daring him to be truthfulwith him.
"He killed my mother," he stated flatly.
Aghast, she rounded on him. "My father would never do anythinglike that. He's the kindest, gentlest . . ."
"Kind, gentle!" He exploded, cutting her off. "Look what he did tome."
"You were trying to kill him," glaring, she shouted at him. "Hewas only protecting himself."
"Maybe, but he's still a killer. My father told me all about him,"he replied sullenly.
Her anger subsided as she realized that he believed what he wassaying and had acted on it. Quietly, she replied, "I know of all thetimes my father has defended our home and only once has he killed awoman and that was when she was trying to kill him, he thought shewas a man. The remorse he felt almost drove him crazy. Besides, hehas never lied to me." Staring at him she asked, "Can you say thesame about your father?"
Remembering all the times his father had lied for profit orselfish reasons he was forced to reply, "No, I can't say the sameabout mine."
"There, you see," she said proudly.
Vincent had heard the last of this heated discussion. Standing,pensively, outside the curtain he wondered who it was he had wrongedso grievously that they would send their own son to kill him. Castinghis mind back through his life, he found several who held malicetoward him, but none that he thought would do that. It was time totalk with Julian and begin the process of defusing the situation.
"Are you two finished shouting at each other? I heard you all theway down the tunnel."
Startled, they turned from their confrontation at his softwords.
"Sorry, Father, but he has some very strange ideas about you."Joanna smiled at him apologetically. She turned to Julian, "I'msorry, Julian, I should never have shouted at you." Sounding as ifshe was quoting something, she said, "You can disagree but not at thetop of your lungs."
"I see that you remember still." Vincent walked over to the chairbeside the bed and sat down.
"How could I forget?" she laughed. "I had to write it . . . what .. . five hundred times?"
"I seem to remember that that was the number." Chuckling, he tookher hand in his and examined it closely. "There's no permanentdamage, though."
"Oh, you," she said in delighted exasperation.
Julian was watching the bantering between them wishing it could bethe same with his father but that would never happen. Suddenly, hewished things were different.
"Rebecca is waiting for you," Vincent reminded her.
"Oh, I forgot. If I hurry, I won't be late." She left with thepromise that she would return with Julian's dinner and she buzzed herfather on the cheek as she left.
Watching Vincent through half closed eyes, Julian waited patientlyfor him to begin. His father always said that if you waited longenough a man would reveal himself to you and then you would know howto defeat him. He felt sure he knew what Vincent would ask first; sohe was caught off guard when asked, "Tell me of yourself."
"Uh . . . my father is very rich and powerful. I had the besteducation money could buy. I was taught all of the martial arts. Allthis in preparation to take over for my father."
"That tells me nothing about you," Vincent poked him in the heart."What is in there?"
"I don't know. We are not in the heart business."
"All right, tell me what you like? You have hobbies,interest?"
Julian's eyes began to sparkle for the first time since he hadbeen brought to this strange place. "Oh yes, I love to read, go tothe opera and concerts, I paint, very well if I do say so myself. Ihave traveled the world over and it is a marvelous place."
"I have never left the city and when I walk the streets I do thatonly at night."
"Have you never seen a sunrise?"
"Oh yes, from someone's terrace I have seen many sunrises."Vincent's voice softened and his eyes looked off at someone only hecould see. Bringing himself back to the present Vincent asked, "Butwhat is your favorite book?"
"I read any and everything but I think one of my favorites is'Joshua's Story'. I can relate to a young man raised in a lovelesshome." He played with the blankets that covered him, uncomfortablewith what he had just revealed to Vincent.
Ignoring Julian's inadvertent confession, Vincent said, "Aparticular favorite of mine is '300 Days' by Bridget O'Donnell. It isan old book written twenty years ago. I met her one time. She was aremarkably insightful woman and she was murdered for her efforts forpeace. She left behind a legacy of knowledge about the loss ofhumanity that hatred brings in its wake."
"How did you meet her?" Getting Vincent to talk about himselfmight give him a way to defeat him.
Vincent told him of the Halloween night that he met Bridget and ofthe night he spent with Catherine. "Someone gave me her book as apresent."
"This someone is pretty special, isn't she? Will I ever get tomeet her?"
"No, she is dead." Vincent stared into space once again.
"Tell me about her."
After he had told Julian about her and of their love for eachother he said, "I wake and fall sleep with her name on my lips andher face before me. Catherine."
Julian looked strangely at him. "That's a coincidence. My mother'sname is Catherine."
Vincent flung himself from his chair and stalked to the other sideof the chamber. Could it be true? "What was her full name?" He wasafraid of the answer but eagerly awaited Julian's reply.
Standing stock still, Vincent threw his head back, sighing deeply.With closed eyes, he whispered, "Catherine, I have found him."
Vincent turned to his uncomprehending son, "I loved CatherineChandler with all that I was or could ever hope to be."
Julian shrank back into his pillows, "Is that why you killed herbecause she turned to my father?"
"No, I could never harm her. She was my life." Appalled, Vincentstared at him. That anyone could think that he would do somethinglike that shocked him to his bones.
"My father said you killed her," he shouted at Vincent.
"Who is your father?" he asked, trembling.
"I know no Christian Kocyk."
"Well, he knows you. He has a video tape of you rampaging througha metal door and killing three guards."
"The only man who would have that tape was a man called Gabriel."A horrible thought was beginning to surface. "What does this man looklike?"
After Julian described his father Vincent carefully asked, "Do youknow if he has ever used another name?"
"Sure. Depending on what he's doing and where he's at, he uses alot of names," Julian innocently answered.
"Such as . . . Gabriel?"
"Yeah, that's one of them."
No wonder they had been unable to find any trace of him. Gabrielwas living under a different name. Vincent staggered under therevelation that Catherine's son had been raised by Gabriel. "Gabriel!You were raised by that monster."
"He's not a monster. He's just . . ."
"He's the one that had your mother murdered when he had no furtheruse of her. When she had given birth to you. Threw her away like apiece of trash when she was a million times his better. Stole herfrom me. And you . . ." Vincent was past all reasoning as he pacedaround the chamber.
No, no, this can't be. Julian shook his head. His father was hardbut he couldn't have done this, could he? Deep inside the doubt wasbeginning. He was capable of this. "My f . . . father couldn't havedone that," he protested, feebly.
Vincent whirled and hissed, "Yet, you think I could have killedthe one that was my life, my heart. You can't be my son." The wordswere flung at him in disgust.
"Your son! Are you telling me that I'm your son?" Julian stared athim in alarm.
"Yes, and because of that I am responsible for her death. If shehad never loved me, had never known me, she would be alive this daybut the honor of killing her goes to your father," he answeredbitterly.
"My father is capable of much but not that, surely?" hepleaded.
"Only you can answer that question," Vincent growled. "You knowhim better that I." Taking a deep angry breath he stated, "I have toleave now. I can't stay. It is all more than I can comprehend rightnow. Remember this, your mother and I were one soul, one heart. Shedied protecting me; she never told him anything about me. She was mylove, my life and if you can think that I killed her after you hearwhat happened, I will return with you to Gabriel and he can do withme as he pleases," he offered rashly, beyond sensible thought.
"No, Dad, you can't," Joanna cried as she ran into thechamber.
Still, in a daze, he turned to her. "You heard?"
"Yes. Please, Daddy?"
"I've got to be alone. We'll talk tomorrow." And he ran from thechamber.
"How could you?" she flared at Julian.
"All my life I've been told that he killed my mother. What else doyou expect of me?" he explained.
"I'm sorry, forgive me," Joanna tried to pull herself together."My father always said not to rush to judgement until you know thewhole story."
"I still don't know the whole story." Julian was growingfrustrated with each passing moment. "He says I'm his son. Who am Ito believe?"
Joanna paced back to him and staring at him, asked, "Is yourfather's name Gabriel?"
"Yes, one of them." Why did he feel so defensive with her?
"Would you care to hear what I know of my father and yourfather?"
"Please," he pleaded.
She pulled up a chair by his bed and settled into it. She's sograceful, he thought.
She began her tale, "The love of my father's life was, and is,Catherine Chandler. I'll leave it to him to tell you of their lifetogether. He doesn't speak of it much. I know Catherine was pregnantwhen she was kidnaped . . ."
An hour later she was finishing the story. "He searched andsearched for the baby but never saw him again after that one time inGabriel's fortress. He told me that many times he wanted to join her,but her voice always stopped him and when he finally gave up hope ofever finding the baby, it was too late as too many depended on him. Iknow he is only marking time until he can go to her. Still, he doesthe best he can for us and our world. And now you have brought it allcrashing down around him again. I wish you had never come here," sheadded, bitterly.
"My god, if all this is true, I have been living with amonster."
"Well, it's all true. You can believe it or not." She swiped at atear trickling down her cheeks. "There is a portrait of them in theGreat Hall that you should see. It would change your mind about a lotof things."
Julian's ideas about his father were undergoing a fundamentalchange. "Tell me about Vincent and your world," he pleaded.
She told him everything she knew and how Vincent had saved her asa little child.
Wistfully, he sighed, "I wish I had that kind of relationship withmy father but he's cold and distant. He only cares about power andmanipulating people. I think that's what he's been doing withme."
Laying a comforting hand on his arm she said, "I'm truly sorry,Julian. Maybe now you'll listen to my father and really hearhim."
"Yeah, I think so."
At this time Eric entered and began his usual checkup. "You seem alittle agitated. Would you like something to calm you down?"
Julian shook his head. "No, I'll be all right." He didn't wantanything to cloud his mind. He had much to think over.
"Well, try to stay calm. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll see that he stays quiet, Eric." Joanna stated as shefollowed him to the exit. "Good night."
"Night." And he ducked through the curtain.
Joanna turned back to her patient. Straightening covers andplumping his pillow she closely assessed his physical condition."You've had enough excitement for this day. Try to sleep. I'll beclose by if you need me."
He nodded and closed his eyes, but not to sleep. His thoughts wentround and round. He heard his father's voice, Vincent's, Joanna's. Hewas getting nowhere; he had to hear Vincent's side of the story.Strangely, he did not feel as if he was betraying Christian.Forcefully, he pushed the thought aside and tried to sleep. "WillVincent be back?" he asked just before he drifted off to sleep.
"No, not tonight," Joanna answered from a darkened corner.
"Ok," he mumbled sleepily.
As he slept, he dreamed. He was the judge in a courtroom, Vincent,the defendant, Christian, the prosecutor. In his dream Christianaccused Vincent of all that he had told Julian through the years.Vincent denied it all. Christian turned to the jury, a jury composedof his followers. "Guilty," they all thundered. As Vincent was led away to be executed, a veiled woman approached the bench. Her greeneyes pleaded with him. "No, no, save him. You can't let them do this.He is innocent. He is your father." His mother stood before him,weeping for Vincent. She pointed an accusing finger at Christian. "Hedid it, he killed me." Julian pounded the gavel screaming, "No, no,it can't be. It can't be." Christian wore a cold, deadly smile.Julian started awake shouting, "No, no, no, no."
Joanna was instantly by his side. "What is it? A bad dream?" Shetook his hand in hers trying to soothe him. "You're safe here.Nothing and no one can harm you."
He took a deep breath. "I know I'm safe. It was just a bad dream.I'm ok now." Quickly, he disengaged his hand and put it under theblanket.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked as she got him a cupof water.
"No, I need to think about it. Do you think Vincent will see metomorrow?" He took a sip from the cup Joanna held to his lips.
"I don't know. He is very upset. I've never seen him like this. Heknows you are too. He'll probably be here tomorrow." She tilted herhead slightly. A mannerism she had learned from Vincent. Then sheshook her head, "He cares too deeply about people."
"What do you mean 'cares too deeply'?" Julian asked. This man wasa contradiction. Julian was beginning to admire him and hedesperately wanted to hear his complete story. The idea that he mightbe Vincent's son was overwhelming.
"My father is always bringing lost children and people who have'fallen through the cracks' here to care for them until they areready to go back Above or stay here with us. Do you really think aman who does that could kill the woman he loved more than his ownlife?"
"No, he couldn't. Oh god . . . I'm so confused. Could 'myfather'," he stressed the words bitterly, "have sent me to kill myreal father?" He looked at Joanna with tears in his eyes.
She felt so sorry for him. He was hurting so much. Torn betweenwhat he thought was the truth all his life and what he had heardhere. "I can't answer that question. It is for you to decide."
"I know but I'm so tired yet I can't seem to sleep."
"Would you like me to read to you? We can continue 'TreasureIsland'?"
"Please. Maybe it will relax me."
Joanna read to him for a while and when she heard his soft evenbreathing she continued to read in silence. She was dozing off and onwhen Janey came to reliever her. "He's sleeping quietly now but hehad a nightmare a little while ago so if he gets restless try to wakehim."
"Ok, anything else?" Janey asked as she settled into the chairthat Joanna had vacated.
"Not that I can think . . . I'm going to go and fall into my bed,I'm that tired. Good night."
"Night, Joanna." Janey's soft brown eyes fell on Julian's face. Hesure was handsome. She pulled a lock of mahogany brown hair behindher ear and settled down to read the book, 'Pirate's Heart', that shehad brought.
When Julian awoke, he found Vincent asleep in the chair, his legsstretched out in front of him, with his arms folded, and his chinresting on his chest. Julian scrutinized Vincent's face. Relaxed insleep, he looked strikingly vulnerable and in terribly beautiful. Thesharp canines were hidden by a mouth that was edged by lines ofsorrow. The vivid blue eyes were closed and surrounded by worrylines. Frankly, he wanted to hear Vincent's story. He was burningwith curiosity and he needed to know why Vincent thought he was hisson.
Vincent's eyes snapped open and Julian's eyes were caught and heldfor several seconds. In an attempt to lighten the situation Julianchuckled and said, "Bet you're sore from sleeping in that chair."
Vincent smiled faintly, "Goes with the job. How do you feeltoday?" He seemed to have forgotten what had happened yesterday. Herose and checked Julian's forehead for fever.
"Much better. I seem to heal faster than other people."
Vincent turned away abruptly. "You have no fever. You will be ableto go home soon and should be able to walk a little today."
"Not until I hear your story. Please, Vincent, I need to know.Please." He had never begged for anything in his life but this was ofutmost importance to him.
Vincent turned back to see the pleading in Julian's eyes. "Allright." he answered slowly. "I have things that must be done thismorning. I will see you this afternoon."
Julian laid back on his bed. The emotions he felt had exhaustedhim.
As Vincent left, Joanna walked through the opened curtain that heheld for her, carefully balancing a tray loaded with steaming,aromatic dishes. They exchanged morning kisses and she approachedJulian's bedside. "Well, don't we look better this morning.Hungry?"
Julian smiled at her, "I'm remarkably hungry. What do youhave?"
"Real food today. Eric says you've healed enough for solid food.Eggs, bacon, toast, jelly, coffee, and tea," she answered grinning athim.
"That sounds delicious." He dug in. "It is delicious."
"Raoul will be pleased," she laughed as she began to get his bathready.
"Raoul's the cook, I gather?" He asked between mouthfuls.
"Yes, and he loves compliments."
Eric stuck his head in. "Is the patient awake?"
"Yes, the patient is awake," Julian answered, finishing the lastbite of his breakfast.
"Hey, man, you're healing a lot faster than us mere mortals. Ionly know one other person that's like that." He checked Julian overthoroughly. "The wounds are almost completely healed."
"Is Vincent the other one?" Julian asked quietly.
"Yeah." Eric nodded rebandaging the wounds.
Julian nodded slightly, as if a question had been answered.
"You need to start walking today. Anyone that is around will beglad to walk with you. See you tomorrow." Eric called over hisshoulder as he left around the curtain.
"Ok, now it's time for your bath," Joanna stated. She took thetray of empty dishes on it and set it outside the hospitalchamber.
"Nope, I can wash myself today," Julian replied firmly and waiteduntil a smiling Joanna had ducked around the curtain
After Julian's bath Joanna returned, took his bathing supplies,dumped the water, and put everything away. She settled into the chairbeside his bed. "Shall I read to you again?"
"No, tell me more about this tunnel world. How did it getstarted?"
"Two men, Jacob Wells and John Pater founded the community. Idon't know all the details, you'll have to ask my father, he knowsthe whole story." She continued her tale answering his questions tothe best of her knowledge.
"When Father died, my Dad became head of the community. He's beenthe leader for five years now. He really misses Father. They werevery close, especially after Catherine died. He loved her so muchthat he almost died himself. I hope I can find a love like that."Softly, she sighed, her eyes taking on a wistful expression. "Whydon't you lay back and rest now? I have a class to teach."
"You're a teacher?"
"Yes, I teach math and I'm very good at it," she answered in replyto his raised eyebrow.
At this moment Vincent strode into the chamber. "Ready for ourtalk, Julian?" He approached the bed. "I finished my tasks early andI knew you were impatient to talk."
Julian was in an agony of anticipation waiting for Vincent to tellhim about his mother.
"I'll be back later," Joanna said ducking around the curtain.
Julian nodded, his eyes on Vincent waiting for him to speak.Vincent settled his large frame carefully into the chair. He gazed atJulian over steepled fingers. The silence was getting to Julian."Well?" he questioned.
"No one knows the whole story of Catherine and me. It is verypainful for me to talk about it." Vincent hesitated for so long thatJulian began to fear that he would not continue. Taking a deep,shuddering breath Vincent picked up where he left off, "But youdeserve the whole truth." He settled more squarely into the chair. "Ifound your mother lying on the ground in the Park more dead thanalive. She had been mistaken for someone else and her face had beenslashed and she had been severely beaten. I took her Below to myfather who was a physician."
Vincent looked at him sharply. "Yes, we called him Father. Wetended to her wounds, sewed them up, and wrapped her ribs. She stayedwith us for ten days and during that time a bond was formed betweenus that let us know what the other was feeling. It was stronger in methan in Catherine. I came to love her deeply, she was warm, generous,and courageous and she came to love me as well." Vincent continued torelate their adventures and their struggles to find some way to betogether. He told their story rather straight forward until he cameto the part about Spirko and Paracelsus and his descent into thedarkness, then the narration came slowly and hesitantly.
"The darkness? What was that?"
"You saw it when you watched the tape. It is a part of me that Istruggled to control every moment of my life that I used to protectCatherine and this world." He leaned forward, elbows on his kneeswith hands clasped in front of him. His head dropped as he sigheddeeply.
"Did you use it on me?" Jacob asked.
"No, if I had, you would be dead."
"You make it sound as if he's a separate entity."
"For many years I struggled to rid myself of him but throughCatherine's love and acceptance I learned that he was an integralpart of me. When I accepted him we became one. Have you ever . ..?"
"Only once when I was 16. It was a test my fa . . . Christian setup." The shocking realization leapt into his eyes. "Is that why hewanted me because I was your son. He wanted the darkness."
"Yes. He wanted me to join him. I wouldn't so he took you."
Julian looked away. This was almost more than he could handle. Hehad to get back to a safer subject. "What happened next?"
"I was lost to myself and to Catherine. I had retreated to acavern far away from the community. Father, Pascal, Mouse, Jamie andCatherine followed me down there. Catherine braved the darkness tosave me, to bring me back from the edge of madness, and taught me howto accept the darkness in me. While we were alone in the cavern we .. . loved and you were conceived."
"You're sure that I'm your son?" Julian asked.
"Yes, I know you are. You are Catherine's son, therefore, you aremy son."
"Ok, how did Christ . . . Gabriel," he couldn't call him hisfather anymore, "get his hands on me?"
Vincent told him of Joe Maxwell and the little black book, theloss of the bond between Catherine and him, her kidnaping, and hisabortive rescue attempt. He told how he had searched the city for herand how he had finally found her only to have her die in his armsafter she had told him of their son. He told of how he had searched,and finally with the aid of a woman, Diana Bennett, found him atGabriel's fortress, only to lose him once again. He told of fruitlessdays and nights, months and years of searching and the finalagonizing realization that he would never find his son.
His voice fell silent as he waited for Julian's comments. Theyweren't long in coming. "My god, what a story and you claim it is alltrue."
"All true." Vincent nodded, his eyes bright with tears. "Yourmother died because of me. Died protecting me. I carry theresponsibility of her death with me every day. If she had never lovedme, she would be alive today." The tears began to roll down his cheekas he hung his head in pain.
"Vincent," Julian said sharply, "stop feeling sorry for yourself.I have a feeling she would have had it no other way. You made her abetter person and she saved you from the darkness. An even exchangeand you were fortunate to love each other deeply."
"Then you accept what I've told you as the truth?"
"I don't know. I don't think anyone could make up a story likethat but I need time to think about all you've told me." Julian laidback with a heavy sigh.
"I know what I've told you is diametrically opposed to all you'vebelieved all your life. I'll understand if you can't accept it and ifyou promise not to tell anyone about our world here you are free togo as soon as you are well." Vincent stared at his hands, then raisedhaunted eyes to gaze at Julian. He rose and quickly left thechamber.
Passing a shaking hand over his eyes and then closing them, Julianwondered what other secrets this remarkable man had and he was at aloss as to what to think. He had heard a wondrous tale and if it wastrue he had a set of remarkable parents. Over and over the tale hehad heard went around in his brain until he fell into an uneasy sleepand as he slept he once again dreamed of the courtroom. Once againVincent was the defendant and Gabriel/Christian the prosecutor. Onceagain Gabriel accused him of killing Catherine and again Vincentdenied it all. Again, Gabriel turned to the jury, a jury composed oftunned dwellers. "Innocent," they chanted. Once again the veiledwoman approached the bench only this time she smiled at him, took hishand and Vincent's hand, and joined them together. "The two mostimportant men to me and that I love the most are at last together.Love each other as I love each of you," she said as she slowly fadedfrom sight. Gabriel looked on in rage as Vincent took Julian into hisarms.
Julian slowly came awake smiling with a warm feeling flowingaround his heart and he knew without the shadow of a doubt that itwas his mother's love surrounding him. It would take a while but heand Vincent would come to know each other and from that knowledgewould come the love. His smile grew broader at the thought.
The delicious smell of good food preceded Joanna as she enteredthe hospital room. "Good news. I just saw Eric and he said that youcan walk to the guest chamber. It has a much more comfortable bedthan this one. We'll go after you eat dinner."
"Can we see the portrait on the way?" he asked settling down toeat.
"No, it's too far to go this first time, you can see it later whenyou are stronger," she replied beginning to straighten up thechamber.
Hurriedly, Julian ate his dinner, wanting out of the sterileatmosphere of the hospital chamber. When he finished, Joanna and Marchelped him take his first careful steps on his way to his ownchamber. By the time they arrived his legs were very wobbly and hesank gratefully into the big double sized bed.
"Thanks, Marc. I can handle things from now on," Joanna said asshe pulled the blankets over Julian's shaking body. Marc nodded andleft. "Not quite as strong as you thought, huh?" she asked.
"No. Is Marc going to be on guard outside?"
"No, my Dad says there's no need to guard you anymore."
"How does he know that?"
"My father is exquisitely attuned to other people. His empathicpowers." She extinguished all but two candles telling him to rest andthat she would return to check on him before going to bed.
He grabbed her hand as she turned to go. "You have been so kind toone who came to kill your father, why?"
There was something hidden in her eyes as she answered, "That isone of our laws. To give aid and, also, to accept it. It is how welive." She pulled her hand from his, and with a backward look at him,left the camber.
He laced his fingers behind his head, contemplating what she hadjust said. He knew Christian would never help anyone unless itbenefited him in some way.
Julian improved markedly over the next few days and Eric releasedhim as a patient. He was even taking his meals in the communitydining room, always accompanied by either Joanna or Vincent or both.The community had not been particularly friendly at first, but hadsoon thawed and he was apt to find a member of the community at hisdoor anytime of the day. Mouse especially intrigued him. He wasfurther intrigued to find out that it was Vincent that had savedMouse and taught him. That explained Mouse's original open hostilityto him; he had threatened his idol.
On the day that he finally felt completely fit, he hunted forJoanna and found her with Rebecca, making the communities monthlysupply of candles. "May I borrow Joanna for a little while?" he askeda disheveled and flustered Rebecca.
Blowing damp, stringy hair out of her eyes she answered, "Sure,just don't keep her all afternoon, Ok?"
A very damp and wax-splattered Joanna smiled her thanks at Rebeccaand followed Julian into the tunnel. "Oh, thank you, thank you," shewhispered making sure Rebecca couldn't hear her. "I thought I wasgoing to melt." She followed Julian to his chamber. "What can I dofor you?" she asked as they paused outside the portal.
"Will you take me to see the portrait? I think it will be thefinal piece to the puzzle."
"Sure, follow me." She led him through the back tunnels andthrough a small door into a huge, dark chamber. The cavern was sohuge that lantern light couldn't penetrate to the distant walls. Hefollowed her through the large echoing chamber to a flight of stepsthat led to a long platform surrounded by a waist high railing. Onthe wall behind the railing were several faded antique tapestries. Atthe foot of the stairs hung a life-sized painting of a woman held inVincent's possessive arms. Joanna held the lantern closer and Juliangasped as he saw his mother's face for the first time. Somehow, hehad always known she would be beautiful. Christian had many excusesfor the lack of pictures of his mother and now he knew why, she hadnever been his. She was leaning back into Vincent's embrace, her faceaglow with love and trust. Vincent's arms held her possessively andlovingly. The artist had captured the love and devotion of the twolovers completely.
"Good god. Is that what real love looks like?" he asked,amazed.
"Yes. Father comes here every day to talk with her and he goes toher grave every year on the anniversary of their meeting. He can'tbear to go on the anniversary of her death."
"It's rare to find devotion like his. Was there ever anotherwoman?"
"The only other woman was Diana Bennett. She helped Father findyou and loved him but he couldn't love anyone but Catherine and Dianaeventually gave up and went on with her life."
They heard a noise outside the door. "He's coming now."
"Put out the lantern. I don't want him to know I'm here. Please,"he whispered. Quickly, Joanna doused the lantern and led him to a farcorner.
Vincent entered and paced to the painting. Tenderly, he tracedCatherine's full mouth. "I fear, my love, that our son may be lost tous. I guess I expected too much, that a few weeks knowing us couldcounteract twenty years of false information. I had so hoped." Hestared at her face for a few more minutes, then left the chamber.
Joanna relit the lantern. Julian was staring after Vincent as ifhe had seen a ghost. "What is it, Julian?"
"He didn't use a lantern," he stated as he turned to her.
"No, he sees quite well in the dark."
"I can do that. My god, he is my father. What kind of monster isChristian to send me to kill my own father?"
"Maybe in his twisted mind he thought he would win either way. Ifmy father killed you, Gabriel would find someway to let him know thathe had killed his own son, knowing it would destroy him. And if youhad killed my dad he would have the secret knowledge and enjoymentthat Vincent had been killed by his own son and that you wereembarking on a life of crime. Not the life my dad had envisioned foryou."
Grabbing her hand Julian pulled her out of the cavern and ran downthe tunnel. "I need to find my father and talk with him."
Joanna pulled him to a stop, "Did you hear what you just calledhim?"
"Yes, you called him . . . Father."
"Well, . . . he is, isn't he?" and he pulled her through thetunnel.
"Yes, I guess so," Joanna answered breathlessly. Julian couldbarely make out Vincent's retreating form and cried out, "Vincent!Father, wait for me." For some reason he didn't understand he had totalk with him right now.
Vincent came to an abrupt halt and turned waiting for them tocatch up with him. "What did you call me?" he asked, unsure of whathe heard.
"I called you Vincent," he answered, out of breath.
"You called him something else," Joanna stated going to standbeside her father.
Julian thought for a few seconds and then smiled, "I called youfather."
Vincent almost jerked Julian's arm off pulling him into a crushingembrace. Raising his face, tears streaming down his cheeks, Vincentwhispered, "What was lost has been found. We have our son back,Catherine. Be at peace, my love."
Joanna threw her arms around both of them crying happy tears forfather and son.
Later sitting in Vincent's chamber, he asked Julian what was thedeciding factor that had caused him to accept him as his father.
"The painting and the fact that you can see in the dark. Besides,Mother told me so in a dream I had. But the how is not important.What do we do about Christian? He knows that you live here but notabout the community. He has spies everywhere and if he really wantedto know he'd find out"
"None of the community or helpers would sink that low," Joannastated.
Vincent was silent. He knew betrayal could come from any corner."Let's not give anyone any idea that you know your true heritage," hesaid to Julian.
He nodded and said, "I must go back, you know?"
"No, Julian, you can't." Joanna said as she grabbed his arm. "Hecould kill you."
"I must, I've got to bring him down and end his reign of terror.Do you know Joe Maxwell, F . . . Vincent?" Gently, he patted hertense hand.
"Yes. He's been a helper for many years."
"He's about to retire. Do you suppose he'd like to go out in ablaze of glory?" Julian smiled widely.
Vincent chuckled. "Knowing Joe, I'm sure he would. When will youreturn Above?"
"Tomorrow. It's a good thing you didn't cut my hair. I need tolook as bedraggled as possible."
"We still have the clothes you wore when you . . . first came tous." Vincent had trouble speaking about their first meeting.
Leaning forward, Julian laid a comforting hand on Vincent's arm."Father," he whispered, "the blame lies with Christian, not withyou." He leaned back in his chair. "I've been wondering. What stoppedyou? Why didn't you finish me off?"
"I couldn't. When you looked up at me waiting to die . . . therewas something in your eyes that touched something deep inside of me."Vincent shook his head at the closeness of the deed. "It wasn't untilI realized who you were that I knew what had stopped me. You haveyour mother's eyes."
"Thank god, you did, Daddy." Joanna said with a heartfelt sigh,her eyes locking with Julian's grateful ones. Something seemed topass between them and she dropped her eyes, a flush rising slowly onher lovely face. Julian smiled slightly and turned back to hisproblem.
Well, well, Vincent noticed the byplay between the two youngpeople. Joanna had never been so flustered around a young man before.This could become interesting. The idea of his adopted daughter andhis son . . . well . . . that would be wonderful.
Vincent handed him the bundle of clothing and his boots. Julianshook out his coveralls. "This won't do and I can't use my boots. Wemust make my clothing look like I've been cared for by street peopleand I need a pair of worn-out shoes. My bandages need to be dirty andragged." At Joanna's gasp he said, "Don't worry I won't getsick."
"How will you explain the neatness of the stitches?" Vincentasked.
"I won't. After all I was unconscious for a week."
"What are you going to tell him?" Joanna took the coveralls andboots and set them aside. Julian leaned back in his chair steeplinghis fingers, an unconscious imitation of Vincent's gesture. "As closeto the truth as possible. I was found by a band of homeless peopleled by a woman named Maud. They lived in the steam tunnels andfigured since I wore expensive clothes and boots I might be worthsomething. They sold my watch and that fed them and me for all thetime I was with them. When I was well enough, I slipped out on them.How's that?"
"Keep it simple and truthful. Anyway as close as you can," Vincentanswered. "Eleanor should be able to help you with the clothes andshoes. She's our resident seamstress and she should have lots ofrags. You'll look the part when she is finished with you." Vincentchuckled as he followed Julian and Joanna out of the chamber.
Two days later, Julian was sitting in Christian's library readingthe book he had left when he started this mission. Christian enteredand settled into a chair opposite Julian.
"I didn't ask you but what did you do with the people who caredfor you?" He peered at Julian, a predatory expression on his face.Leaning back, he crossed his legs, waiting while Julian closed hisbook and placed it on the table.
"What do you think I did with them? I had an excellent teacher."He smiled disarmingly, but his eyes were as hard as the emeralds thatwere the same color.
"You're sure the beast is dead?" Christian smiled thinly butexulted inside; Vincent killed by his own son. What delicious irony.Someday he would tell Julian just to finish the revenge.
"Do you doubt me, Father? Shall I recount the tale of how Iovercame the beast that killed my mother . . . again? You have a lockof his hair. Did I need to bring his head?" Julian nailed him withchillingly cold eyes. This experience had hardened him into thesoulless assassin Christian wanted; he shook his head, stood, andmotioned for Julian to follow him. They returned to the room where hehad first seen the video of Vincent. Christian showed him which chairwas his, the one to the right of Christian's chair and spoke of hisposition in the Organization. Julian ran his hands lovingly over thechair. "Thank you, Father."
"You've earned it, my boy. You destroyed my greatest enemy."Christian took the tape out of the VCR and threw it into the wastebasket. "For twenty years the thought of him has invaded all mydreams. Now, at last, I can sleep in peace."
"I'm gratified that I was able to restore your uninterruptedsleep," Julian said modestly. He settled into his chair and asked,"When is the next meeting?"
"Day after tomorrow." Christian sat in his chair as if it was athrone. As he told him of the extent of his criminal empire Julian'sheart sank. His tentacles reached even as high as the rulers ofcertain countries and into every level of government. Could he do it?Could he bring Christian down? It would have to be done soon. Thelonger it took the more dangerous his position. He needed to talkwith Vincent. Soon.
"Julian! Stop wool gathering and listen to me," Christian's voicecut into his ruminations.
"Sorry, I was just amazed at the organization you have built."Julian brought his attention back to his so-called father. Christiannodded and continued. After as hour he said, "That is theorganization that you will inherit if you continue to measure up tomy standards."
"Oh, I'll measure up, Father, you can count on that."
"Good. It's time for lunch." Julian followed Christian out of theconference room.
That evening, Julian sat watching a favorite movie that wasplaying at the local theater when he abruptly rose and left his seat.He went to the basement after making sure he was not being followed.There was an entrance to the Tunnels behind several boxes. He movedthe boxes, opened the door, and entered the tunnel. He tapped asimple message on the available pipe and settled down to wait forVincent. In a matter of minutes Vincent arrived. Julian marveled athim; he wasn't even breathing hard and Julian had heard him coming,running hard.
"What is it, Julian?"
Julian thought for a minute. "Vincent, if you had found me, whatwould you have named me?"
Taken aback by the unexpected question, he said, "Jacob. I wouldhave named you Jacob after your grandfather."
"Jacob. I like that. When I come back, I want to be called Jacob.I want no ties with this man," he said hotly. He shook his head andreturned to the matter at hand. "I need to get this done as soon aspossible. God, Vincent, he's so powerful. I'm afraid the only way toend this is to kill him."
"Only as a last resort. We must do this as legally as possible."Vincent leaned against the wall. "I have contacted Joe Maxwell. Hestressed that you must be exceedingly careful and he agrees that itmust be done as soon as possible."
"Ok. I have all the codes and combination to the safes and otherlocked boxes. This Saturday Christian is having a "coming out party"for me. Where can we meet if I can get away?"
"In one of Gabriel's own warehouses is an entrance to the tunnels.The one on the corner of Water and Dixon. I will be there, along withJoe. You can give everything to him and then come home with me."
"Fine." Julian turned to leave. "Around 9:00 p.m.."
"Jacob." He stopped and turned back to his father smiling. "Bevery careful. I don't want to lose you again, now that I have foundyou." Fearful that he might lose this newly restored son, Vincentpulled him into a fierce embrace.
"Thank you, Father, for calling me that at least once in my life.I will be careful, believe me. I know what we are dealing with." Heducked through the entrance and was gone.
Julian returned to his seat just as the movie was ending. Hewatched the closing credits then left the theater and immediatelynoticed the tail he picked up. Christian trusted no one, not even hisson. He lost the tail as he entered Christian's estate.
Everyone who was anyone in New York society, with a liberalsprinkling of Washington and Albany dignitaries, attended the partyChristian held for his son. Julian was dancing with a pretty, flightyyoung debutante keeping a wary eye on Christian, who was making therounds greeting his guests. When he became involved in a deepdiscussion with several men, Julian made his move. He hurried intothe conference room, gathered all the material there and went toChristian's office where he quickly emptied the safe and desk. Thenhe ducked out the glass double doors that led to the garden and ranto his car. He sped away into the darkness.
Nervously, Vincent waited in the tunnel behind the warehouse. Hefelt Julian's uneasiness through the bond that was developing betweenthem. Hearing soft noises, he looked into the warehouse to find JoeMaxwell looking around. He looked as nervous as Vincent felt. "Joe,"he hissed, "Over here."
Joe jumped then relaxed when he realized who it was. "God,Vincent, you scared the hell out of me." He climbed into the tunnelwith Vincent. "You sure you can trust him. After all, he's been withGabriel for 20 years. As the twig is bent, you know."
"He'll be here. I know him. He is on his way. We are developing abond between us."
"You mean like the one you and Catherine had?"
"Yes," Vincent said sadly and turned away from Joe.
Joe shook his head, this amazing man still mourned for her.
Abruptly, Vincent said, "He's almost here."
Joe climbed back out into the warehouse as Julian pulled up withscreeching tires, hurried into the warehouse, and up to Joe. He had abox and a briefcase crammed with papers. "This is all I could get,Mr. Maxwell. I couldn't stay in that house a moment longer."
Julian set the box and briefcase on the floor and Joe bent to lookat the contents. "This is great, kid, just what I need. Bank records,contact names, corporate files, dummy corporations, you name it, it'sall here. We should be able to put him out of business. Thanks,Julian." He straightened with difficulty and wrung Julian's hand.
"Is my father here?" Julian asked looking around for Vincent.
Before Joe could answer a voice rang out of the darkness,Christian's voice, "I'm here, Julian," and he stepped into the circleof light. "You disappoint me." He stared at Julian. "People alwaysdisappoint me, but you, I expected more than this from you."
"You expect me to stay with the man who murdered my mother. I'llkill you the first chance I get." Joe held him back as he lunged atChristian.
"I see that I'll have to keep you from getting that chance." Hemade a motion and three of his guards stepped forward. "I'll have thereturn of my property. You didn't really think you could outwit me,did you?" he asked, smiling spitefully.
Joe and Julian were edging around until Christian and his men werestanding with their backs to the darkened tunnel entrance. Vincenthad quietly entered the warehouse. Creeping stealthily until he wasright behind them, he uttered a mighty roar that froze the blood inthe three guards. When they spun around to see what was behind them,they bolted for the warehouse door as fast as they could. OnlyChristian remained. Smirking, there was a sudden jerk of his rightshoulder and a small two barrel derringer appeared in this hand.Instead of firing at Julian he swung the pistol in Vincent'sdirection and fired. "At last, I've won, I've killed the beast," heshouted, gleefully.
"No," Julian screamed launching himself at his erstwhile father.Christian fell backwards from the force of the impact, his headstriking the concrete floor with a sickening thud. Julian raised aclenched fist for the final death blow, his face contorted into amask of hatred.
Refusing to give into the darkness closing in around him,Christian smirked, maliciously. "Finally, you are what I raised youto be."
Julian froze then lowered his fist. "Never," he said throughclenched teeth, rising and turning to Vincent, the father he hadalways longed for.
He had taken only two steps when a single shot reverberatedthrough the warehouse. Spinning around, he found Christian laying ina pool of blood with that bonelessness indicative of death. His armwas drawn back and a knife lay beside his lifeless hand. Julian'seyes tracked from the still body to Joe Maxwell's grim visage.
"That's for Cathy," he said, gravely. "He was going to knife youin the back," he explained at Julian's shocked expression.
"Father? Where's Father?" Julian found him lying in front of thetunnel entrance. "Father, my god." He fell to his knees when he sawtwo bleeding holes in Vincent's chest. Carefully, he snaked his armsunder Vincent's neck and cradled the heavy maned head in his lap."Stay with me, Father. I can't lose you now."
"I'm fine, Jacob, I'm fine." He smiled, encouragingly.
"Yes," Jacob said glancing at Christian's body, "that life is asdead as he is, Julian is no more."
Joe had stepped aside and pulled out his cellphone. He called thepolicemen who had been staked out not far from the warehouse."Vincent," he knelt at his side, "can you walk? The police are on theway. You need to get out of here."
"Yes, I can walk. I'll send a message and someone will come tohelp us." He took the hand Jacob offered him and stood up ontrembling legs. With an arm around him, Joe and Jacob helped him tothe tunnel. He quickly tapped out a message and collapsed into asitting position. Jacob felt so helpless, he was not trained to savelives, only to take them.
After telling Vincent he would see him soon, Joe closed theentrance and piled several old crates and boxes in front of it thenwaited for the police. He had to come up with a plausible story.
In the tunnel, Jacob waited in a frenzy of fear for his father ashe tried to staunch the flow of blood. He heard the policequestioning Joe, then the arrival of the ambulance, and finallysilence as everyone left. At last, he heard the sound of running feetand Eric bolted around the corner, followed by Mathias and Joshuacarrying the stretcher.
"Get him on the stretcher and start an IV," Eric ordered. "Are youall right?" he asked Jacob.
"Yes, I'm fine. Just take care of him, ok?"
After checking his BP and pulse they quickly bandaged his chestand with each one taking a corner of the stretcher they set off forthe Community at a trot.
Joanna met them at the hospital chamber, her eyes wet with tearsand wide with fear. "How is he, Eric?" she asked her voicequivering.
"He's still alive. I'll do my best, you know that. I love him,too."
Jacob took her into his arms, letting her cry until there weremore tears. "What happened, Julian?"
"Jacob, Joanna. Julian is no more. I'm Jacob from now on." Hesmiled sadly at her and told her all that had happened at thewarehouse. "Christian meant to kill him. I thought he would go for mesince I disappointed him," he said bitterly, "but he knew the way toreally hurt me."
"I couldn't bear it if I lost either of you, " she cried as shethrew herself into his arms. "I love you, Jacob."
"I love you, too. I have since I first saw you." Jacob raised hermouth to his, kissing her tenderly, pledging himself to her forever.His kiss proved to Joanna that she had at last found the love she waswaiting for and that this was the man she would stay withforever.
Eric stuck his head around the curtain. "Ok, you two, he's awakeand wants to see you. He's very weak and I have no more of his bloodto give him so don't stay to long."
Together, hand in hand, they neared his bed and could hear hisragged breathing. He laid so still and looked so pale that theyhesitated to speak. He sighed deeply then opened his eyes, smilingwhen he saw them together, holding hands. "So, that is the way thingsare," he whispered. "I'm glad. May your love be as wondrous asCatherine's and mine."
Tears were streaming down Joanna's cheeks. "Please don't leave us,Daddy. I need you. Jacob needs you. Stay with us." She took one ofhis hands and held it to her wet cheek.
"Yes, Father, I need you. I need you to teach me how to live agood life," Jacob added. He stroked Vincent's hair back from hisforehead. Oh god, he felt so hot.
"Everything depends on when your mother comes for me." They couldbarely hear him as he drifted into a deep sleep.
Sitting with him, they noticed that he seemed to strengthen as thenight went by and when the day began he opened his eyes. Sadly, hesaid, "She came to me but told me it was not my time yet. That I wasstill needed here."
"Oh, Daddy, I know you miss her, but we need you, Jacob and me.There is so much yet to learn. Just a little while longer," Joannapleaded.
"I'll do my best," he said, softly.
"Rest now, Father, we'll be close by." Jacob bent and kissed hisforehead.
Vincent improved steadily. His amazing recuperative powers had himup and walking within a week and back at his desk in two. Joe finallyfound the time to come down for a visit. He had received dailyreports on Vincent's recovery and he had good news. WithChristian/Gabriel's death and the material that Jacob had given him,he had brought Gabriel's empire crashing down. There were arrests inall levels of society and government. Some foreign governmentsactually collapsed. "We can congratulate ourselves, but it will startall over again," Joe stated with a sigh. "It's a never-endingbattle."
"At least Catherine's murderer is dead. If I had lost . . ."Vincent shook his head at the closeness of losing his son the finaltime.
"I still miss her, Vincent," Joe said, sipping his tea.
"I do too," Vincent agreed, staring into space. Shaking himself,he returned to the present. "I think there will be a weddingsoon."
"Oh yeah, who?" Joe was curious to see if it was who he thought itwas.
"Jacob and Joanna." Vincent smiled fondly. "Can you imagine abetter pair, my son and my adopted daughter? She won't even have tochange her name."
"Too bad Catherine won't be here to see it," Joe commented.
"Don't be too sure about that, Joe. As you have said many times,she is a remarkable woman. I put nothing past her."
Joe eyed Vincent skeptically and took another sip of his tea. "Doyou have anything besides tea, Vincent?"
It is five years since Jacob was returned to me. I am gratifiedthat even though he was raised by that monster, his basic good senseand character kept him from becoming what that man, I cannot evenwrite his name, planned for him. I know Catherine is as proud of himas I am. To watch his interactions with the other residents remindsme so much of her; he has her same people-skills, as she so blithelyput it. Easily, he won their hearts and now he sits on the council. Ifeel he will be elected leader when I am gone. The past five yearshave allowed us to come to know and love each other deeply. He has alively mind and a loving disposition. As a son, he is incomparableand as a husband and father he is unexcelled. I could never haveasked for a happier union for my cherished daughter and beloved son.I see between them what exists between Catherine and me. Theycomplement each other and have made me a grandfather twice over.Tonight Joanna gave birth to a child remarkably like me. They haveeven named him Vincent Chandler. He will have a more difficult lifethan that green-eyed, black-haired imp of a granddaughter of mine.Catherine is the apple of her father's eye and I see so much of myCatherine in her. She will be a force to be reckoned with. ButChandler has the benefit of both a loving mother and a loving father.He may be the only one, but he will never be alone.
For twenty-five years I have waited to go to my dear sweet love.The past few months I have felt her near and I know my time is athand. I pray it is soon. How I miss her and long to go to her lovingembrace. I hear her call me in the Chamber of the Winds, in thevoices in the Whispering Gallery, and in the roar of thewaterfalls.
I see her face in the Mirror Pool and in the Great Hall I hear hersing to the music we danced to that last Winterfest that only she andI have ever heard. Come soon, my love, co . . .
Jacob stopped dead in his tracks when he entered Vincent'schamber. His father was sitting at his writing table slumped over,his great head lying on his journal, a joyful smile on his face.Jacob rested a heavy-hearted hand on his father's head, gentlyteasing the golden and silver strands of hair that swept over thewriting table. He took the pen from the still fingers and lifted theheavy head to remove the journal. He couldn't help it, he had to readthe last entry. Swallowing the lump that suddenly arose in histhroat, he bent and kissed his father's hair, then spoke to him as ifhe could hear him and he wasn't so sure that he couldn't. "Shefinally came for you. You're where you have wanted to be for a longtime. I shall miss you, Father. I shall miss your gentleness and yourstrength. I wish I had had the joy of growing up with you." Tearsbegan to roll down his cheeks and he whispered, "Kiss Mother for me.My love goes with you both." A breeze sprung up from nowhere andruffled his hair, and as it swept past his cheek it felt like a kiss.Then a warm and happy glow filled his heart, telling him that all waswell. Wonderfully happy and content, he left this chamber that hewould never enter again to tell Joanna -- ah, Joanna, how does onetell another that a beloved father and friend has died -- and therest of the tunnel dwellers that his father was at last reunited withthe woman he loved more than life.