After the Ashes by Ginny Shearin



Chapter 2



As he promised, Peter began to visit the tunnels more often. The first visit after Winterfest was for a recital given by some of the children – a New Year’s concert – the end of the holiday season. They had told him about it at Winterfest and insisted that he attend.


The children’s recital went very well. Musical selections ranged from things as simple as nursery rhyme tunes to classical pieces that would fall into the realm of intermediate level performances. There were a few minor glitches, but the children handled them with finesse. Parents were understandably proud of their children, and the children who had no parents were surrounded with enough love and praise from others to make them feel just as special. Vincent and Catherine spread their share of encouragement among the children before excusing themselves from the room to have a little time alone before Catherine had to return to her world Above.


When the room cleared after the concert, Peter stayed behind with Father, hoping for an opening to bring up his idea, and the opportunity presented itself conveniently with the conversation that followed.


“The children have improved since the last time I heard them,” Peter observed.


“Yes, they have,” Father answered with pride. “Did you see Toby? When he came here last spring, he was so shy that he hardly spoke. Tonight he stood in front of the entire population of the tunnels and played his violin. Quite a breakthrough, don’t you think?”


“I’ve never heard ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ sound better,” Peter agreed with an easy, indulgent grin.


Father chortled. “I do love them all, you know. I suppose I become a bit overly enthusiastic when I see such progress.”


“That enthusiasm may have something to do with their success. You’ve built a wonderful community here, Jacob. You have a right to be proud. You’re right about Cathy. She does seem to enjoy the children, and they follow her around like the Pied Piper, don’t they? She’s always loved music…not always the kind Charles approved of, but Susan went through that stage with her, and we all survived it. Charles enjoys children and music, too. He would have enjoyed this evening as much as his daughter did.”


“So Catherine’s natural bent toward such things may be genetic?”


Having decided earlier in the evening to grasp any small opening he could find or create to broach his intended conversation, Peter ventured out on the proverbial limb.


“I have a proposal.”


“Dare I ask what it could be?”


“Let me introduce Charles to the tunnels. He’s always been a generous man. He would make a good helper, and….”


“Have you taken leave of your senses?” Father exclaimed. “Last weekend you told me to support Vincent and Catherine’s relationship. Now you’re suggesting that I help destroy it?”


“How many people do you know who have been here and haven’t been fascinated…wanted to help - or have met Vincent…gotten to know him…and didn’t respect him and enjoy his friendship?”


“Precious few…but I don’t recall asking any of them to hand a daughter over to him. One look at his daughter here…in this place…with Vincent… Her father would take her home, lock her in, and post guards.”


“We might need to give him time to adjust to the tunnels gradually - ease him into meeting Vincent and getting to know him...but you’re judging the man too harshly. Charles is a good man. If we go about it the right way....”


“Hmph! He would more likely behave the same way as....”


“As Margaret’s father! I knew it!” Peter exclaimed, pointing a chastising and accusing finger at Father. “You’re painting Cathy and her father with the same brush, and it isn’t fair, you know. Cathy knows her own mind. If you haven’t seen her determination by now, you must be blind. If Vincent wants her and she wants him, you might as well get used to the idea. I’ve never known two more stubborn people in my life - present company excluded, of course. Besides, they’re both competent adults. Jacob, I love them both as if they were my own children. I want to see them happy, and what I saw tonight…it was beyond happy. The love between them is almost visible. I’ll bet Charles would understand that if he saw them together.”


“And I’d wager that you’re dreaming.”


“Then let me invite him, and we’ll see. We need a plan, though. We can’t let him see those two together right away.”


“And you think Vincent and Catherine would go along with such deception?”


“We’ll just have to go about talking to them the right way, too.” Peter grinned. “If I’m right, it will make Cathy happy to know she can talk to her father freely. If you’re right.… Well, I just don’t think you’re right.”




It took several visits and some intense and persuasive efforts on Peter’s part, but he finally wore Father down and convinced him to allow Charles Chandler to visit the tunnels. Knowing Vincent and Cathy as he did, Peter had decided they shouldn’t be told of the visit until after it was a fait accompli. He would accept all the blame for any appearance of dishonesty that his plan required. Once Charles knew of the tunnels, the die would be cast.


After a few innocent-sounding conversations with Vincent, Father determined which evening the following week Vincent planned to be Above with Catherine. Rather than calling a council meeting, which Vincent would expect to attend, he visited each individual member of the council and asked them to discuss the matter of Charles Chandler quietly among themselves. They were to stop by his chamber and leave their votes with him the following evening. Knowing Vincent as they did, they understood that, no matter what the consequences to himself, anything other than a straightforward, honest approach would not set well with him. Several council members, Mary in particular, voiced concern about Vincent and Catherine not being included in the decision, but in the end, they reluctantly decided to trust Peter’s judgment, as they always had. He did, after all, know both the Chandlers and the tunnel community well.


On Thursday of the following week, Father nervously waited for Peter to bring their guest. Vincent was Above with Catherine, and they didn’t expect him home for several hours. Father was looking forward to meeting Catherine’s father, but hesitant at the same time. It was hard to believe that Peter could be right about this, but his judgment had always been good before. He couldn’t remember once that Peter had done anything to lead him astray – well, there were a couple of incidents from medical school, but never anything to do with the tunnels. Peter would certainly never do anything he thought would hurt Vincent. Vincent. There was another concern. Father dreaded the look he knew he would see on Vincent’s face when he learned of this visit. He caught himself holding his breath as Peter arrived on the steps of his chamber with Charles.


Charles entered the chamber with Peter, looking around at everything in amazement as they descended the steps.


Peter immediately started making introductions. “Charles, you’ve heard me mention my friend Jacob.”


“The one who lives out of town…but not too far away?” Charles asked sarcastically, but obviously with no ill-will.


Father relaxed a little and finally exhaled when he heard a Catherine-like sense of humor emerge from her father. “Yes, I expect that would be me,” he answered good-naturedly, extending his hand to Charles in greeting.


As he spoke, Charles shook Father’s hand. “I hope you don’t mind a lot of questions.”


Father smiled. “I suspected you would have questions. Fire when ready. Would you like some tea?”


Charles accepted, and Father poured tea for the three of them. As he motioned for the other two men to sit in the chairs near him, he seated himself behind the desk and waited for the questions, which came rapidly.


“Peter says you’ve built an entire community. How many people live here?” Charles began.


As Father and his guest talked, a request for medical attention sounded over the pipes. Peter pointedly told Father that he would see to it, and he left the other two men deep in conversation about the community, their governing system, their needs and concerns, the arrangements for the children’s care and education, the constant clanging of pipes… They were still in animated conversation when Peter returned.


Immediately turning to Peter when he entered, Father raised a questioning eyebrow that Peter knew was meant as a request for information about his patient.


“A touch of tonsillitis,” he answered. “Nothing to worry about. They have instructions and antibiotics, and they’ll expect to see you late tomorrow morning.”


“Thank you, Peter.”


“Jacob has just offered to show me a few of the community…chambers? Was that what you called them?” he asked, looking back toward Father.


“Yes. Why don’t we start with the dining hall,” Father answered, rising from his chair, “and the hospital chamber.”


With Peter following along, Charles was given a tour of the dining area and kitchen, the chambers that served as bathrooms, the hospital chamber, and one of the bathing chambers. As they met other members of the community in the passages, Catherine’s father was carefully introduced only as Charles, a friend of Peter’s. Father and Peter were feeling guiltier by the minute, but it was too late to turn back now.


By the time Vincent returned, Peter and Charles Chandler were long gone, but the next day he heard several people mention someone Peter had brought with him – someone named Charles. Father said he thought their visitor would become a helper, and everyone who encountered him seemed to have enjoyed meeting him.




During his second visit Charles was treated to dinner in the tunnels and found himself solidly in William’s good graces when he compared the cooking favorably to some of the restaurants he frequented.


In the course of that same visit he was also told that his daughter had been found in the park by Jacob’s son, Vincent, and brought to the tunnels for medical attention. After realizing that he was speaking to the man who had saved his daughter’s life, Charles promised himself he would become not only a helper, but a very generous one.


Naturally, he was curious as to why Peter hadn’t mentioned that important piece of information before, and he wanted to meet Vincent immediately to thank him, but Vincent wasn’t at home that night.


Vincent or no Vincent, Charles now knew why his daughter had conveniently forgotten everything about the ten days she was missing. She was protecting the tunnels. He surprised her the day after his second visit by calling her at work and offering to take her to dinner that evening.


Since she was working late again, he picked Catherine up at the DA’s office at 7:00. Joe was still there, too, so she took her father to meet him.


“Nice to meet you, Mr. Maxwell,” her father said, holding his hand out across Joe’s desk.


Joe stood, smiled and shook his hand. “I’m glad to finally meet you, sir. And it’s Joe, please.”


“I’ve heard a lot about you.”


“Uh-oh. Am I looking at a lawsuit?” Joe grinned at Catherine, retrieving his hand.


“I gave her an office with a view,” Charles scowled at him in jest.


“She has a view,” Joe answered with a complete lack of contrition.


“Right…” Catherine chimed in. “A view of your office door, the water cooler, other overworked employees…but that’s only when I can see over the stack of files on my desk. Come on, Dad. Let’s go. G’night, Joe.”


“’Night.” Joe smiled and returned to the stack of files on his own desk as they left.


It was the middle of the week and not busy at the restaurant that evening. Catherine and her father were seated in an area that allowed them some privacy as they talked. When he had finished his meal, Charles folded his hands on the table and dropped some new information on his daughter.


Catherine choked on her last bite of chicken when Charles quietly told her that he knew why she had been so evasive lately…because he had visited the tunnels. The waiter started toward them to see if they needed help, but Catherine waved him away. Her heart pounded as she caught her breath. At least the fit of coughing gave her an excuse for seeming to fall apart temporarily. When she recovered sufficient breath and composure to speak again, she asked enough questions to discover that Peter had arranged the visits – and not a word to warn her it was coming. That wasn’t like Peter. Homicide briefly crossed her mind before she settled down again.


“Who did you meet while you were there?” she squeaked, hoping that the less than “confident attorney” sound of her voice would be attributed to the choking incident.


“Jacob…I couldn’t bring myself to call him Father,” Charles answered, thinking through all the new names. “And Mary, William…he’s quite a cook…Pascal, Jamie…she reminds me a little of you…Kanin and Olivia.… There were a few others, but their names escape me right now. I wanted to meet Vincent and thank him for saving my little girl’s life, but he wasn’t there either time.”


So he hadn’t met Vincent yet… An unsettling thought suddenly occurred to Catherine.


“When were you there? What dates?” When she heard the dates, there was little doubt in her mind that it was no oversight on Peter’s part that she didn’t know about her father’s tunnel visits. Furthermore, she doubted that Vincent knew either. If Vincent hadn’t been told, it would have to include Father’s complicity…and probably the council’s…and maybe the entire community’s. She felt betrayed…and manipulated. Why would they do such a thing? Vincent. She needed to see Vincent. She needed to talk to him. Right then.


“Dad, would you mind if we leave now? I’m really exhausted, and I think I’ve caused enough excitement here for tonight.”


“Are you alright?” he asked, fatherly concern showing in his expression.


“I’m fine. I’m just tired. It’s been a long day.”


Charles caught the waiter’s attention, took care of the check and took his daughter home. He talked nearly non-stop about the tunnels during the drive back to Catherine’s apartment.


As much as Catherine had hated keeping secrets from her father and welcomed the new possibilities of talking to him about them, this felt uncomfortable. She needed to know what was going on…how much to say. How dare Peter make such a decision without including the two people it would affect most! Her emotional response had gone from shock to questioning to surprise to relief to discomfort and concern, had passed through anger and was now reaching frustration. She wanted to run straight to Vincent, but her Father insisted on walking her to her apartment. She endured that with grace, hugged him warmly and told him, in all sincerity, that she was glad there were secrets she didn’t have to keep from him any longer. She failed to mention that there were more.


When she was certain her father was gone, Catherine left her apartment and headed straight for the storage room in the basement, descending the ladder as quickly as she could. As she expected, Vincent was waiting, and she threw herself into his arms in relief.


“Tell me,” he said, concerned at the roller coaster emotions he had felt in her over the past half hour.


“Did you know about this?” she demanded, feeling certain that he didn’t.


“Know about what?”


“My father has been taken to visit the tunnels. He’s been there twice already. He knows you found me and Father took care of me, and he’s met some of your family.”


Vincent moved away from Catherine and leaned back against the brick wall in shock. “Your father has been Below? When? I wasn’t told of this.”


“I’m relieved that I can talk to him about it now, but Vincent, I think this was planned to intentionally exclude us. I can’t believe Peter and Father would do such a thing, but it looks like they did. We shouldn’t have been surprised with something like this. We should have been part of arranging it.”


 “Are you sure?” he asked in disbelief.


“Oh, I’m sure. Both visits were on evenings when Father knew you would be Above with me.”


“Charles…. The new helper…I didn’t meet him. They only referred to him as Charles.” There was a short, silent pause as the reality struck him. “Charles Chandler.” He took a deep breath and released it sharply. “Why?”


“I don’t know,” Catherine answered, her eyes flaring, “but I certainly intend to find out.”


“Catherine.…What did they tell him about me…about us?”


“Apparently nothing.”


“I don’t understand this.”


“I don’t either, but I’m furious that they chose to set it in motion behind our backs.”


“There is nothing I could want more than to see you with no secrets from those you love, but when he meets me.… I’ll have to meet him sometime soon. Our dreams, Catherine…. I don’t want to lose you…nor do I want you to be estranged from your father because of me.”


“You won’t lose me. Not ever. No matter what his response might be,” Catherine assured him and stepped closer to wrap her arms around his waist. “I’ve wanted to tell him about you…about how you helped me grow, how strong you make me feel…how you complete me…how much I love you. Maybe now I can. I just resent the method of getting there.”


“How can he possibly accept this? How can he accept me?” He held Catherine close, closing his eyes against his rising dread as he rested his cheek on the top of her head. “I fear this meeting.”


“I don’t fear it. My father is a reasonable man, but he’s a father, and I’ve kept some important things from him. It does make me a little nervous. Later on he may feel as manipulated as we do, and that can’t be a good place to start.”


They held each other for a while and talked. When they parted, it was with the understanding that a certain Father and a certain godparent were in for some decidedly uncomfortable moments.




Not long after Vincent left Catherine, Father was confronted with the look that he had expected, but dreaded, for the past several weeks. The look was worn by an angry son who almost literally snarled the question, “When did you plan to tell me about our new helper, Charles? What were you thinking, Father? How could you invite such disaster upon me with no warning?”


“We’ll discuss this when you calm down,” Father answered in the same tone he had used when Vincent was small.


“We’ll discuss this now,” Vincent demanded. “I am no longer a child.” The familiar pacing and gesturing had already begun. “Why do you continue to think you should make decisions about my life without my consent? Do you still mistrust Catherine enough that you hope to bring her father to take her from me?” The more he talked, the angrier he became.


“On the contrary, my boy. Our intentions are of the best. If you’ll sit down, I’ll explain.”




The scene waiting for Peter in his office the next morning was very much the same. Both Father and Peter made their explanations to a reluctant Vincent and Catherine. The couple understood the intent behind the plan but complained heartily at the feeling of dishonesty that went with it. In the end they agreed to gradually having Charles see each of them in the tunnels, but not together yet. The initial decision had been made without them. Their choices were limited.




During Charles’ visit in February, Vincent was still not visible, but Peter assured him that he would arrange a meeting with Vincent soon. This time Charles began to hear subtle comments that indicated there might be something unusual about Vincent, but he decided it couldn’t be anything bad. Vincent seemed to be well-loved and respected in the community – a teacher, they said, and a member of the council.


He was introduced to more of the tunnel community, including some of the older children, and he enjoyed the open innocence in their manner – the kind he remembered from his childhood. He took time to talk to them and was impressed with their manners and awareness of events Above, in spite of the fact that they didn’t live there. He was also impressed that they all had community responsibilities that they seemed to handle well. It was nice to see that there was still a place, even a small one, without the kind of pressures children Above had to face. Simply being a teen-ager had always presented enough pressure in itself.




It was time for Vincent to meet Catherine’s father, but Peter wanted to assure that they would have uninterrupted time to talk. That might not happen in the tunnels, so he invited Charles for dinner and convinced Vincent to come to his brownstone. Vincent had visited there since he was a boy, but this visit wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable as usual.


Charles Chandler appeared at Peter’s door at 7:30. Peter’s housekeeper, a woman who had grown up in the tunnels, had dinner almost ready, and he offered Charles a drink while they waited. The men settled into the comfortable conversation and banter of old friends until dinner was served, and they sat at the table talking for a while after the meal. Not long after the housekeeper had cleaned up the kitchen and left for the day, Peter seemed to hear something. It appeared to Charles that he might have been waiting to hear it.


“There’s someone I want you to meet, Charles,” Peter said, looking at the clock.


“You’re not trying to introduce me to a woman too, are you?” Charles asked in mock accusation. “Everywhere I go….”


“Nothing like that,” Peter laughed. “He’s another friend. The way you’re going to meet him is a little out of the ordinary, but he’s a little out of the ordinary himself.”


“What do you mean ‘out of the ordinary’?”


“His appearance is unusual, and he’s very sensitive about allowing someone to see him at first, but I think you’ll like him. He’s a very intelligent man - enjoys a lot of the things that you do.”


“And when do I meet your ‘out of the ordinary’ friend?”


“Now, if you’d like.”


“He’s here? Why didn’t he have dinner with us?”


“Long story. He’s in the study.”


“Well, you certainly have my curiosity up.” Charles stood, dropped his napkin on the table, and moved toward the study with Peter. He expected something unusual, but he wasn’t prepared for the size of Peter’s mysterious guest. The man towered above him and was massively built, but a long black cape with a large hood obscured his face and most of his body, and he stood facing away from the other two men. The lights in the room were dimmed to the point that Charles wouldn’t have been able to see much anyway.


“Charles, this is Vincent, the friend I mentioned. He’s Jacob’s son.”


“Please forgive my greeting,” Vincent said quietly. “My appearance can be…disconcerting, and I don’t wish to make you uncomfortable.”


“I understand,” Charles lied. He didn’t understand at all, but the soothing voice that emanated from the large, black hood held no hint of anything but a considerate, well-spoken man. “Shall we sit down?”


When Vincent sat in Peter’s large leather armchair, Charles caught a glimpse of what appeared to be blond hair - apparently quite a lot of it. He could also see that Vincent was holding a book. Having understood that Vincent didn’t want his face to be seen, Charles sat in a chair beside him, rather than across from him, to make him more comfortable and make conversation easier.     


“I need to thank you for my daughter. I understand I owe her life to your finding her and getting her help in time. I’ll never be able to repay you for that.”


“Having Catherine among us is all the reward I need.”


“Still…you will always have my gratitude. If I can ever do anything for you….”


“You’ve become a helper. What you do for my community…my family…is also for me.”


Realizing that Vincent seemed reluctant to accept praise and gratitude easily, Charles changed the subject. “What were you reading?”


“It’s foolish,” Vincent answered, looking down at the book in his hand. “I used to visit here when I was a child and scour Peter’s bookshelves for something to read. When I was small, my favorites were the fairy tales. Before we could read, Peter would read to us, Susan and me. This collection had impressive illustrations - castles, dragons, far-away places....”


“May I see?” Charles asked, and Vincent handed him the book. Charles noticed that he wore gloves and thought that unusual, but said nothing. Although his eyes were adjusting to the dimness of the room, he could still see only enough to know that it was a book he recognized. “Ah. I know this book. My daughter, Cathy, scoured Peter’s bookshelves when she was here, too. I can’t count the number of times Peter and I read from this book for our daughters. Cathy and Susan would sit and listen as long as they could coerce us into reading to them.”


“Vincent did some coercing of his own,” Peter accused.


“Guilty,” Vincent answered good-naturedly.


“I knew it. Already something in common,” Peter smiled, seeming quite pleased with himself.


Charles couldn’t know how nervous Peter had been about this meeting. Peter knew that Vincent had been whole-heartedly against meeting Charles this way, seeing it as dishonest, and the wrong way to go about meeting someone as important to Catherine’s life as her father. He had pointed out that Charles could easily see Peter’s plan as blatant manipulation, and the ensuing resentment could backfire. Stating the same reasons, Catherine hadn’t been much more help than Vincent; but Peter had finally convinced them, and they had agreed to Vincent’s meeting with Charles. Although Vincent hadn’t been happy about the inherent dishonesty, he seemed to be relaxing a little. Charles was carefully respecting his boundaries, and a feeling of goodwill between them gradually relieved the tension.


“And what else do you read besides fairy tales?” Charles asked with a smile, placing the book on the table between them.


“A little of everything.”


From there they moved into a discussion of books and found that they had similar tastes in their reading. After about half an hour of pleasant conversation meandering between the three men in the room, Charles rose and said he regretted it, but he had to leave. He had an early conference the next morning with some important clients, and he needed to be alert.


“Vincent, I’ve enjoyed this. I hope to see you again.”


Vincent stood, too. “That is my hope as well.”


Charles didn’t reach to shake hands because Vincent, without seeming at all unfriendly, still maintained that invisible, but very defined, distance. In spite of that, his answer was warm enough to convince Charles that he was sincere.


Peter walked Charles to the front door.


“I have some questions for you, Peter,” Charles warned.


“I’m sure you do, but I may not be able to give you all the answers yet. Lunch on Friday?” Peter asked mischievously.


“I wouldn’t miss it. I’ll call you tomorrow after I check my schedule.”




Charles waved his hand over his shoulder briefly without looking back as he walked down the steps of the brownstone, and Peter locked up and returned to Vincent, increasing the light in the study as he entered.


“I thought that went rather well. Didn’t you?” he asked Vincent.


“It was a pleasant conversation, but I still feel this is wrong. The man has a right to know what affects his daughter. Meeting him…it should be more open. If he resents this approach and begins to suspect that his daughter’s best interests are involved, he has the resources to investigate things that could threaten our community. I’m not certain that Catherine and I have been wise in agreeing to this plan of yours.”


“Vincent, I know all of you. Charles, Jacob, you and Cathy.… I’ve known all of you for years. I understand your concerns, but I believe I’m right. Try to trust me. We just have to do this slowly. Introduce him to everything gradually until he sees you and Cathy together. When he sees that, he won’t be able to deny that you belong together any more than I could. He wants her to be happy. When she’s with you, she’s happy. He can’t argue that.”


Vincent left with his thanks for Peter’s interest, but another mention of doubt about his methods.


Peter went to bed satisfied that his plan would work. The evening had run very smoothly, after all. He knew he was the one link between Catherine’s real family and her adopted family, and he intended to meld them into one. He was sure he was right, but he had to admit to some feelings of guilt.


 Chapter Three