After Vincentís recovery from his illness, he and Catherine talked through the fears and problems that had always plagued their relationship. They came to understandings about how to merge their two worlds, as well as their lives, and they were now joined. The greatest difference in their relationship now was the easy comfort they felt with one another. Even though Catherine had left her job at the district attorneyís office for safer endeavors, life was hardly ever dull. Catherine kept a place in her world because she felt that she had too much to offer to back away and leave her abilities and her wealth unused. Vincent had no place in the world Catherine could inhabit during the day; but, in whatever ways he could, he helped her with the large community projects she had undertaken. She, in turn, was always willing to do her share to help in the tunnels. Their days were often spent in their separate worlds, and there were times when Catherine felt obligated to attend a meeting or a charity event Above or when Vincent had overnight sentry duty or was needed for an emergency; but evenings were generally their own, spent in whichever of their two worlds made sense at the time.
The latest of Catherineís ambitious projects was the establishment of a home for the elderly. She had seen aging helpers who had no one at home to care for them and few options for help, and the convalescent homes that were available to them were not places she would want to see friends go. She had recognized early in her efforts to establish such a home that there was a real need for assistance in that community. From the time the renovation plans for the building had begun, she had consulted with active groups in the community to make it a facility that would serve their needs to best advantage.
When the home was completed and open, Catherine had been part of an effort among several churches and community organizations to find locations and volunteers to help feed the homeless. Their plans were to make an open kitchen available somewhere in the immediate area every night of the week. The result was that a number of desperate people could find at least one decent meal within walking distance during the course of any day. Her home for the elderly used their kitchen on Wednesdays to provide everything needed for a separate dining area in the back corner of the building. Catherine had the kitchen designed with this kind of community service in mind. It sat between two completely separate dining areas, one with an entrance that allowed for serving the homeless in their own area without any disruption or lack of security in the general operation of the home or its residents. There was a secure door between the kitchen and the separate dining area and a transfer window to allow for easy transport of food and easy clean-up afterward. With the generosity of the helpers and the tunnel dwellers, she never lacked for help when she needed to call on them. Luz Corales and her contacts had become a welcome source of volunteers, too.
In working at the soup kitchen herself, Catherine had recently noticed a woman about Fatherís age who was becoming a regular visitor to the kitchen. She didnít seem to be in better financial circumstances than most of the others who took advantage of their services; but there was a quiet dignity about her, as well as a sadness that didnít seem to be centered on her living conditions. Catherine smiled to herself. She and Vincent had been sharing their bond long enough now that she wondered if some of his empathic perceptions of others might have actually transferred to her. She hoped so.
Something about this woman, Florence, appealed to Catherine. In her, Catherine could see qualities of both her own mother and Mary. She watched how Florence related to those around her, especially the children, and saw a kindness and a gentle spirit that hadnít been broken in spite of her situation. The more often she saw her, the more curious Catherine became about how Florence had reached this point in her life. She wore the same clothes often; but she was always neat and clean, obviously taking pride in her appearance, and obviously taking advantage of the showers and laundry facilities some of the shelters offered. There were no apparent mental or behavioral handicaps. She was obviously an intelligent woman, and appeared to have had some medical training. One evening when one of the children got a little rambunctious and produced an ugly cut on his arm, Florence was immediately there, deftly applying pressure, asking for what was needed, and giving instructions to his parents about what to do until they could get him to a clinic for medical attention. With the constant demand for medical personnel, Florence surely should have no trouble finding a job that could support herÖif she wanted one. She didnít give the impression of someone who really wanted to live by depending entirely on the charity of others.
When the bustle of the serving lines began to settle, Catherine moved in Florenceís direction. Sometimes a recipient of the neighborhoodís generosity would offer to help with clean-up and appear to enjoy both the company of the volunteers and the feeling of productivity that came with the work. The workers were, of course, very selective about the help they accepted. Hoping to have a chance to talk to her, Catherine approached Florence about lending a hand, thinking she might offer her a job sometime in the future. She was pleased that Florence agreed immediately, and Catherine introduced her to the exhausted volunteers, who were delighted to have some assistance. From that evening on, Florence helped each Wednesday evening and proved to be a productive worker.
Gradually Catherine learned more about her, including that, for the past six months, Florence had been staying in a small, unused storage room behind a store near the corner. When the storeís manager desperately needed help he couldnít afford, Florence had helped him with his terminally ill daughter. He had cleared the mostly unused room, mentioned that he didnít know how long it would be empty, slipped a key into her hand, and then quietly ignored that she was there. It was certainly better than moving her few belongings through the streets all day. It wasnít heated or cooled, but it was attached to the back of a building that was. It was out of the rain and snow, and it allowed a measure of safety. She had at least one good meal each day from one of the community kitchens, and the room provided the most continuity she had allowed herself in years. There was still no offer of an explanation as to why she lived this way when she evidently possessed all the strengths she needed to live a better life. Catherine didnít press her for information, but she found herself drawn to Florence and hoped to somehow make her life a little easier.
Vincent made a habit of being in the apartment on Wednesday nights. Catherine was usually tired when she got home, and he would have one of her favorite teas waiting, along with a healthy dose of love and support. They treasured the time to be completely alone and uninterrupted, and Catherine often thought it was worth all the work to come home to such comfort. She made a habit of spending most of her weekends in the tunnels. Even in the tunnels the weekends were regarded as slower workdays. There were no classes, and work that could be left until Monday was ignored for the weekend, so Vincent had fewer responsibilities. There was time for them to visit with others, spend time with the children, and generally enjoy Vincentís world. Some weeks living arrangements were planned in advance, others they took as it came, dependent on whose work load was greater or who was more exhausted at the end of the day. As attuned to one another as they were, that was much easier for them than it would be for anyone else.
One Wednesday Catherine came home close to tears. Vincent was waiting at the door, having sensed the sadness and frustration before she arrived. She threw herself into Vincentís arms and wept quietly.
"Tell me," he said softly against her hair.
"Itís Florence," she said, reaching for a tissue. "Sheís been looking tired for a month or so, and tonight she admitted that sheís ill. She has cancer, and her prospects arenít good. Thatís why sheís been staying in one place. She said she had been hiding for years, not staying anywhere for too long. Now she doesnít care. She said ĎIf they find me and kill me now, it will just save some of the misery I know is coming.í"
"Are there no treatments that could help her?"
"Nothing promising enough to give her much hope. She thinks the treatments would be as bad as the disease. She said sheís tired and not afraid of dying, so sheís decided not to fight it. She seems determined. I donít know what to do."
"You canít make her decisions for her, Catherine. Perhaps you were placed in her path to provide the support she needs, someone to keep her from being alone at the end of her life."
"Do you suppose we could offer her a home in the tunnelsÖif sheís interested? If sheís been running away from something for all these years, we could at least offer her security and peace of mind. Some of our volunteers know her. Iím sure they would recommend her to the council."
"We can speak to Father tomorrow. Why has she been hiding for so long?"
"I donít know. I donít think sheís done anything illegal. Apparently someone was trying to kill her, but I have no idea why. She wonít talk about her past, and I donít want to frighten her off. What she said tonight slipped out in a rare, unguarded moment. Iím sure she didnít intend to say it. I think she trusts me more than most, but I donít think she trusts anyone completely."
"Weíll speak to Father...tomorrow," Vincent answered, placing both hands on her shoulders and repeating, "Tomorrow." He turned her toward the sofa. "Sit for a few minutes. Iím going run you a warm bath and turn on your beloved bubbles. You soak for a while, and Iíll bring your tea. I could even be talked into washing your back...or any other parts that need attention." He gave her one of his irresistible small smiles and a soft kiss, leaving her to wonder again how she had been lucky enough to be the woman he loved.
She soaked and sipped her tea and allowed herself a few more tears before Vincent came back to kiss them away. As promised, Catherine, and all the parts of her that needed attention, were bathed and indulged, then dried, carried to bed, loved gently, and wrapped protectively in his arms as she slept.
Vincent spoke to Father the following morning. Catherineís volunteers sang Florenceís praises, as Catherine had expected they would, and Father promised to consult the council that evening.
The following day, Catherine had a hard time concentrating. Her mind kept wandering to Florence and her situation, to what the council would decide and how to help Florence make the transition. She expected no problems but was fully prepared to present Florenceís case to the council on appeal if there were any doubts. She went Below after a morning of meetings and an afternoon at a childrenís home, anxious both to be with Vincent and to hear what came of his talk with Father. Arriving just in time for the council meeting, Catherine was pleasantly surprised at how fast the request was approved, pending clarification that Florence herself wasnít involved in any criminal entanglements
On Friday morning she walked to the corner and into the alley behind the store where she knew Florence was staying. Trying not to frighten her, Catherine both knocked and called her name simultaneously. Florence opened the door in surprise.
"Miss Chandler! I never expected to see you here," she exclaimed, seeming a little embarrassed. "Is anything wrong?"
"Itís Catherine, and no, Florence. Something may be right for a change. Iíll let you decide. Why donít we find a cup of coffee and somewhere warmer to talk?"
"A cup of coffee sounds great. What are we talking about?"
"My teeth are chattering. Come with me to the kitchen. Weíll talk there."
They walked briskly the half block to the kitchen at the senior home. Catherine let them in, got them both coffee and led Florence to a table in a corner where they wouldnít be heard above the noise of lunch preparations.
"I know youíre ill, Florence, and you said something that led me to believe that youíve been afraid for a long time as well. If I could offer you a place with a comfortable bed, a room of your own, regular meals, people who would care about you, and the promise of safety, would you accept it?"
"Catherine," Florence corrected herself. "Iíve lived like this for so long, I canít imagine that such a place exists," she answered with a resigned sigh.
"But it does," Catherine insisted, placing her hand sympathetically over one of Florenceís. "I visit there often. Itís actually the reason Iím alive and happy."
"This place exists in New York City?" Florence asked, sounding extremely skeptical.
"Almost," Catherine smiled. "Itís an unusual place. It takes a little getting used to; but itís a wonderful place, and it would allow you the peace of mind to relax and be comfortable."
"I doubt that I could afford this wonderful place, and please donít offer to pay for it for me. I couldnít accept that."
Catherine laughed lightly at the thought of rent in the tunnels.
"It wonít cost you a penny, and it wonít cost me anything in your behalf. Just do what you can to help out as long as youíre able, and everyone will be satisfied. Itís sort of a kibbutz community."
"UtopiaÖalmost in New York City? That canít be real. How could you know it would be safe?" she asked doubtfully.
"Itís a very closed, unknown community. They guard it well. Do you trust me, Florence?"
"As much as Iíve trusted anyone for a very long time," she answered, her head down. "I donít know why."
"Would you trust me enough to go with me and meet the people Iíve told you about?"
"I suppose meeting them couldnít hurt."
"Why donít you come with me after the kitchen closes on Wednesday night? Some of the volunteers live there, so you would already know a few people. Weíll take you there. If you decide you want to stay, weíll send someone to pick up anything you want to bring with you. If not, weíll have to trust you to keep our secret."
"CatherineÖyou trust me that much?"
"And these people Iíve already met would trust me?"
"They would," Catherine assured her. "What is it youíre so afraid of?"
"Iíve never talked about it. I was always afraid someone would overhear. In spite of the fact that I didnít have much of a life, I didnít want to die. Iíve managed to find ways to help someone else off and on - feel useful. That always made things more bearable."
"Iím a good listener, and I can keep secrets. Nobody can hear us right now. Do you want to talk about it?
Florence took in a deep breath and hesitated for a long moment, trying to overcome decades of keeping everything to herself. She then released the breath into a tumble of words that seemed to have been waiting forever to be shared with someone else.
"Iíve been afraid the two men who killed my husband would find me. After he was killed I tried to change my name, got new identification and everything; but they were always right behind me. I donít know how they managed to find me so often; but after a few months at a new job, someone would tell me that a man asked for me by another name and showed them my picture, and I had to move again. I tried moving to another city, moving to a small town, but they always found me within a few months. After five years of trying to support myself and nearly being caught, I gave up, came back to New York and gradually drifted into this. If they found me now, they probably wouldnít recognize me," she laughed ruefully. "Sometimes I hardly recognize myself. After a while fear just becomes a habit."
"Why was your husband killed?" Catherine asked her sympathetically.
"He knew too much."
"Did he get too close to criminal activity?"
"No, but it was just as deadly."
"How did you meet?" Catherine asked, sensing Florenceís discomfort and moving toward friendlier memories.
"I was a nurse. He was one of my patients." She stopped and smiled at the memory.
"We thought you might have had some medical training," Catherine smiled.
"When we met, he had leukemia. He was a fighter, though, determined to tolerate any treatment he needed to be able to live. I met him about two weeks before he left the hospital. I was told that he was near the end of a pretty rough time when I was assigned to the wing he was on, but he eventually fought his way into remission. Treatments then werenít what they are now. His doctors had no explanation for his last recovery. They said they could only attribute that success to his incredible will to liveÖand possibly a miracle. After he was back at work, he would still come to see me. He would bring candy or flowers and try to take me out for dinner or coffee or something. One afternoon he caught me at a weak moment. I had dinner with him, and we were inseparable from then on. We were so in love it was disgusting," she laughed.
That was the first time Catherine had ever heard her laugh. Florence smiled now and then while she worked with the others, but she never laughed.
"Both of us were alone," Florence continued. "I grew up in Boston. My dad died when I was twelve, and my mother remarried a couple of years later. My step-dad moved us all to the rural Mid-west. I left the Mid-west after my mother died and came here to go to nursing school. His parents died in a fire - a gas leak in their apartment a few months after he left the hospital. He was at work, or he would have died with them.
"To make a long story short, we decided to get married. I knew how sick he would probably be; but he was so determined, and we were so happy. We thought if we had only six months together, weíd have more happiness than some people find in a lifetime."
"How long did you have?"
"Six years," she answered wistfully. "It was wonderful."
"Tell me about him," Catherine smiled.
"Daniel was romantic and thoughtful. I canít imagine feeling more loved. He was handsome and intelligent. He read voraciously - poetry, history, philosophy, a little of everything. His grandparents owned a bookstore that his parents inherited, so he was surrounded by book lovers and books and discussions of books from the time he entered the world. His grandparents were Russian immigrants. He grew up bilingual...learned Russian from his grandparents, and he picked up smatterings of other languages when they crossed his path. The family lived in an immigrant community where everyone pitched in and helped each other out. He was sick so much when he was a child that he had a lot of babysitters while his parents worked to support their family and his medical bills. The next door neighbor, who helped out most, was German; so he learned to speak fluent conversational German before he was a teenager. He was an amateur photographer, too...quite good. He had even built a small darkroom in the basement."
"Why were these men after you?"
"Itís a complicated story, Catherine."
"I have all day," Catherine answered, her curiosity roused.
"Iím not sure I can tell you all of it yet. You might think Iím too crazy to introduce to the
people in this wonderful, safe place youíve offered me."
"Youíd be amazed at what these people would believe," Catherine laughed, conjuring up
the appealing image of her husband. "Youíll have a few surprises of your own before this is all over - nice surprises, I think, but definite surprises."
"Then I look forward to meeting them." Looking away and seeming relieved that the conversation had turned away from her life story, Florence breathed a little sigh. "I havenít talked this much about myself in decades. I think thatís all I can tell you for now."
"Itís all right, Florence. Most of the people where weíre going have overcome a lot of obstacles from their pasts. Whatever you feel you want to tell us will be treated with respect, and you can count on all the support you need."
"Itís still hard to believe that such a place exists."
Catherine just smiled, accepting her skepticism.
"Iíll be going now," Florence said as she stood and put her coat on. "Iím sure you have other things to do."
Catherine didnít want to frighten Florence away by pushing too hard for answers, so she didnít insist that she stay longer.
"Thank you for talking to me. I feel honored that you trusted me that much."
Florence looked at Catherine, again feeling great respect for this woman who could easily be out shopping or vacationing on some sunny beach in the tropics. Instead she was sitting and listening to a homeless woman who, at her best, would never have belonged to the part of the society Catherine was born to. She had no idea why she felt she could trust Catherine after all these years of trusting no one, but one day soon she might work herself up to telling the rest of her story.
A few days later Catherine was leaving the senior home after visiting a helper who had no family nearby. She had stopped to speak to the receptionist and almost literally bumped into Florence as she left the front door to cross the sidewalk. Catherine invited her for lunch at the small deli across the street. It was a beautiful day, a little brisk, but reasonably warm where the sun was shining; so they took their lunches to the tables outside. It was late for lunchtime, and there was only one other table occupied on the other side of the door, the traffic added to providing them the luxury of a more private conversation.
The conversation started with small talk, the weather, the pets with the people passing by, then Florence asked Catherine how she came to be involved with community organizations rather than social gatherings. Catherine laughed and told her it had a lot to do with UtopiaÖalmost in New York City. "They need a little more information about why youíve been hiding, you know," Catherine mentioned softly. "Iím sorry to have to ask. I admit to curiosity, but I wouldnít pressure you for answers if the security of the community werenít a consideration. They have a strict rule about protecting anyone running from involvement in any kind of criminal activity."
Florence laughed dryly. "Youíd think I was the criminal. I might as well have been in prison all these years, but my only crimeÖour only crimeÖwas trusting the wrong people. And our whole family paid dearly for it."
"Your whole family? Did you have children?" Catherine asked.
The sadness Catherine had sensed before suddenly seemed to be a nearly visible presence. Tears threatened, and Florence again hesitated before she spoke.
"Only one, born just before my husband was killed. Every time I think about it, it feels like it just happened." She looked stricken for a moment. "Iíve never told anyone that." The tears were falling freely now.
"Iím sorry. I didnít mean to stir up such sad memories." Catherine found tissues in her purse and offered them. "You donít have to talk about it."
"Itís all right, Catherine. It feels good to finally talk to someone," she answered, wiping her eyes.
Where is your child now?"
Florence voiced a mirthless laugh. "I told you before, itís a long story."
"I have time if you want to tell me. It will be only between the two of us if thatís what you want."
"I was waiting for Daniel to come home. Iíd finally managed to get the baby to sleep, put him in his crib upstairs and started to pack suitcases. He woke up again, very wet, and I undressed him to change his diaper and clean him up; but, just before I got him into his clean pajamas, I heard something that drew me to the front window. I knew Daniel left to do something he knew could be dangerous; but he didnít feel that he had a choice. We had planned to pack a few things and just leave everything else behind when he got home, but the baby had been fussy, and I hadnít had time to pack. As it turned out, it wouldnít have made much of a difference if I had."
"Was that when Daniel was killed?"
Florence nodded. "I looked out the window just as he reached the sidewalk in front of the house. A car pulled up, and the two men he worked for got out, one with a gun. They said something to him, then shot him right there on the street. I knew they would kill me next. I grabbed the baby and his blanket, ran down the back stairs, grabbed my purse on the way through the kitchen and ran out the back door just as they broke in through the front. Iíd had the baby only two days before, it was winter, after midnight, and it was freezing cold. The blanket caught on a chain link fence, and I lost it. It was the one I had crocheted for him. It was hopelessly snagged, and I couldnít afford to take the time to free it; so there he was in only his diaper and an undershirt. I didnít even have my coat to wrap him in. I tucked him under my sweater and kept running. I couldnít let them find us."
"Why would they have killed you...because they knew you saw them kill your husband?" Catherine interrupted.
"Daniel did low level research in a privately owned cancer institute. They were blessedly sympathetic about his illness and what it did periodically to his ability to work. They always found a place for him when he was able to come back. After he recovered from his last stay in the hospital and went back to work, two of the doctors approached him about an experimental treatment for leukemia. They werenít quite ready for human trials, but they said it wouldnít be long. He was in remission then and didnít want to take any chances, so he refused the offer; but after we had been married about two years, we began to see unmistakable signs that the disease was returning. We discussed it, decided any chance for a cure would be worth the risk, and Daniel talked to them about starting their new treatment when it was ready.
"They told him there would be no charge, that they would monitor him carefully. He was told that the treatment would stop if it seemed to be doing him any harm. He was told firmly that he couldnít mention it to anyone outside their office because they didnít want someone else to steal their research, that security was paramount. He readily agreed, and about a year and a half later, when he was obviously better, they arranged for him to work for them, to make it easier to monitor his progress. The work he was doing was very much like what he was doing before."
"Did the treatments work?"
"Catherine, it was unbelievable. Over the next year and a half, he gradually became a new man. His immune system was working. He went from frequently, to rarely, to never getting sick. He gained weight and developed muscles and strength heíd never hoped to see. He even began to grow more hair. I teased him about having more hair on his arms than he used to have on his head."
The last remark brought a secretive smile from Catherine before Florence continued.
"Everything was wonderful. He did appear to be cured. The men he was working for were German scientists. They told him they were Jewish and had managed to hide until the war was over. They told him stories about places they stayed and several times that they were nearly caught. They seemed to take an interest in Daniel from the beginning. I didnít see them too often, but now and then they would send me little gifts.
"He trusted them completely, so when they were slow to answer specific questions about the treatments Ďfor security reasonsí, he didnít press them. He could feel the difference in his health and didnít care anymore what caused it. They seemed to honestly care about us, and we appreciated it. We felt we owed them our gratitude for giving us a longer life together.
"The last year before he was killed, we decided it was time to have a baby. Daniel was better, the future looked rosy, and we wanted a child. The doctors asked about my health and the babyís health as colleagues would, and Daniel enthusiastically kept them up to date. Both the baby and I appeared healthy as horses.
"Their interest seemed perfectly normal until the last couple of months of my pregnancy, then the questions were becoming too frequent and too probing to be comfortable. Daniel started hedging on information, not quite knowing why. They even wanted him to call them when I went into labor. They wanted to be there because they Ďfelt like part of the familyí after working with him for so long.
"Now and then the doctors would shift into German when they wanted to make a private joke or talk about someone or something they wanted to keep between themselves. The conversations werenít important, and the off-color jokes didnít bother Daniel. After ignoring the first few lapses into German, Daniel couldnít figure out how to tell them he understood what they were saying without embarrassing them or sounding as if he had been eaves-dropping; so he never mentioned it. Toward the end of my pregnancy he began to hear bits of conversation that made him suspicious of their interest and their credentials. He began to suspect that they were not who they claimed to be.
"One day one of the doctors left his office keys when they went to lunch. Daniel knew he might never have another chance like that one. He knew they were usually gone for about an hour; so after he felt certain no one was coming back for the keys, he went into their office and looked for his records in their files. He didnít have time to search the office thoroughly, but he found enough to know he had been right about their doubtful identities. German was probably their native language, but they were neither German nor Jewish nor the pre-war cancer researchers they claimed to be. He also found enough to confirm that their research had nothing to do with leukemia. Jottings in the margins on the pages frightened him. He didnít understand all of what he saw, but he could see that they had chosen him because they knew he was desperate for a cure and would believe them. Time ran out before he could find anything more, so he locked the office before they returned and left the keys where he had found them. They always kept the office locked, so he wasnít able to get into the files again.
"I went into labor on a Wednesday night - a month earlier than we expected, and it happened so fast that Daniel was going to have to deliver our baby at home. He called our friend, another nurse, one of my co-workers, to help. We were afraid of his bossesí interest in our baby. He was a small baby, and there were no complications with the birth. He seemed much healthier than we expected for a child born so early. I was fine - didnít even need stitches, just some recovery time; so we didnít tell anyone. We figured we had another few weeks before anyone would expect him to be born. We were going to wait until the next week when I was better able to travel and then disappear into the rural Mid-west before looking for a doctor.
"Daniel went to work the next day as if nothing had happened. He let them think he was just nervous about the impending Ďbig eventí. They pressured him to call me often to check on me, and he always reported Ďnothing yetí. By Thursday they were insisting on being called if anything happened over the weekend. That afternoon Daniel withdrew all our savings from the bank and left it with me so we could leave immediately if we needed to. On Friday night he went off on his mission, and we intended to leave before dawn on Saturday. The doctors were alerted to what he had done faster than he expected, they realized he had lied to them about the baby, and they came looking for him."
"What did Daniel do? Why did they come to kill him?" Catherineís curiosity was growing.
"Daniel didnít want them to have the chance to do to anyone else what they had done to him, so he went back to the lab Friday night and used his identification to get into the building after hours. Everyone knew we were expecting a baby, so the story that he left a gift for the baby and me in the lab was enough to stave off suspicion. Everything was on paper in those days. He broke into the doctorsí private offices and burned all their files and journals. He said if they ever did this to anyone else they would at least have to start from scratch."
"That took courage," Catherine commented.
"They didnít come just to kill Daniel and me. They came for my baby. Daniel and I were just pawns who knew too much - disposables," she answered bitterly.
"Why did they want your baby?"
"I wasnít sure. I just knew that after what they had done to Daniel, they would never get their hands on my child.
"I had to leave home without a coat. There was no time to go to the front closet to get it. I was freezing and getting weaker by the minute. I knew that it wouldnít be long before I wouldnít be any good at all to my child. I couldnít run any longer, and I couldnít take him with me to public places where it was warm. Those men would have been looking for a woman with a baby. I knew when my friendís shift at the hospital ended, so I called and asked to her to pick him up and keep him overnight until I could decide what to do. I found something to wrap him in and left him where he would be safe long enough for her to reach him; but when I called her the next morning, she said he wasnít there. He was gone, and we had no way to know where he was. The only thing that kept me from just throwing myself in front of those men and letting them kill me was the thought that somehow I might find him again. Pretty unlikely, huh?"
"Did you make footprints? Did he have any birthmarks or features that would make him easy to identify? I have a lot of contacts in the police department and the DAís office. Maybe they have information they donít realize they have about your son Ė or the men you were running from. I was a pretty good investigator myself a few years ago. When did all this happen?"
Florence smiled and lowered her head. She seemed to be considering whether to answer.
"It was 1955. I think I would still know him if I saw him," she smiled wistfully. "He had very distinctive features. Even if those features softened with age, Iím sure I would know them, and those eyes. They were such a clear blue; and even being just a couple of days old, he seemed to look right into your soul. It was almost as if he understood how much we loved him and how afraid we were."
"Florence, where did you leave him?" Catherine asked, a little more anxiously than she intended.
Just then the brakes of a car squealed, and the two women looked up to see the driver bring it to a stop barely in time to avoid hitting the car in front of himÖand Florence suddenly remembered to be cautious again. It frightened her that she had allowed herself to talk so freely. She had never told anyone these things. What was it about Catherine that made her do that?
"Catherine, thank you for lunch. I canít say anything else right now. I have to go. Iíll be at the kitchen on Wednesday." With that promise she hurried across the street, leaving Catherine eager for more information.
Catherine went straight home. She didnít even slow down when she reached her apartment. She went directly to the basement and into the tunnels. Hoping Vincentís class was running late, she peeked in his chamber.
"Hi, Catherine!" Kipper called out. "Whatís up? Vincentís lost his place in this book twice in the last five minutes."
"Kipper!" Vincent said calmly, but firmly. He accompanied the name with a silencing look.
"Sorry, Vincent. Iíll mind my own business now."
"That would be appreciated," Vincent answered. "Excuse me, children. Please finish the chapter on your own. Iíll be just outside the door for a moment."
Catherine stepped outside, and Vincent followed.
"Catherine, is anything wrong? Iíve felt such a mix of emotions from you in the past hour. I was concerned."
"I didnít mean to distract you from your class. I was talking to Florence, and she told me a fascinating story - an explanation of why sheís afraid. Thereís more, but she couldnít bring herself to tell it today. Iím fine." She stole a quick little kiss and smiled up at him reassuringly as she wiped a touch of lipstick from his mouth. "Go on back. Weíll talk later. Iíll visit with Father while you finish your class. How long will you be?"
"About twenty minutes."
"Then will you take me for a walk?" she asked flirtatiously.
"I would be honored...but, if I donít get back to these children, there will be no end to the speculation about what may be going on out here," he chuckled softly. "Kipper has been merciless today."
Catherine laughed and peeked around the doorway.
"Good-bye scholars," she said with a smile.
Giggles, laughter and a small chorus of "Good-bye, Catherine," followed her into the passage.
She was relieved to find Father at his desk, his attention glued to a ledger in front of him.
"Father, do you have a few minutes to talk before Vincent finishes his class?
"For you, dear? ...always." He took off his spectacles and smiled. "Is there a problem?"
"Not really. Itís more of a mystery. I donít want to say anything to Vincent yet. We have about twenty minutes before heíll be here."
"Well this sounds intriguing. What are we hiding from Vincent?" he whispered.
"Iím not sure thereís anything to hide." She grinned back at the suggestion of conspiracy she heard in his voice. "Itís more of an impression than a fact...and itís so far-fetchedÖ."
"Out with it, my girl. My curiosity is working overtime," he answered, smiling good-naturedly.
Catherine grinned at him again, enjoying that Father now shared a lighter side of himself with her. She started to say something twice, but stopped, then she released a little puff of breath.
"I hesitate to even think of putting this into words," she told him sheepishly, "but I think thereís the possibility that Iíve met my mother-in-law."
"Mother-in-law!? Not Mary? You donít have a mother-in-law...." His jaw suddenly dropped, and he fell back against his chair. "Dear God, Catherine! You donít mean.... What would make you believe this?"
"Iím not sure that I do. I told you it was far-fetched. I spoke to Florence this morning. The last thing she said made me think of Vincent."
Catherine detailed to Father her conversation with Florence.
"The world holds a lot of distinctive features with blue eyes. What makes you associate this child with Vincent?"
Catherine explained the connections she had made after finding that the year was the same and hearing Florenceís remark about the blue eyes.
"I donít know, Father. Something I felt in her when she talked about her baby...about how he seemed to understand.... I could feel it." She looked away, then lowered her head, folded her hands on Fatherís desk and sighed. She looked up at Father with an amused smile. "Something this important, and here I sit telling you, ĎI felt it.í Iíve been around Vincent too long, havenít I?"
Father laughed lightly without entirely giving up his serious attitude and reached over to pat her hands and hold them in his.
"Your instincts have proven themselves often. It would be a gift beyond anything I ever imagined to be able to tell Vincent his history; but letís talk to this Florence together before we make too many assumptions...and before we say anything to Vincent. The possibility is so remote.... Well, well," Father breathed into a worried little chuckle, and he patted Catherineís hands again. He leaned back in his chair again, running his hand across his hair in anticipation...? wonder?... confusion?... He wasnít quite sure how he felt about it. "Wednesday night should be interesting."
Vincent appeared in the doorway at that point, looking curious.
"Catherine, what has been playing such havoc with your emotions this morning?"
"Nice to see you, my boy," Father said dryly.
"Iím sorry, Father," he answered with a smile. "I couldnít leave my class, and Iíve felt Catherine wrestling with something for the last hour or so."
After their ĎI felt it" conversation only seconds before, Father and Catherine exchanged smiles at this remark.
Catherine rose and gave Vincent a hug. "Father and I were talking about Florence and discussing the possibility of a surprise for you. You promised to take me for a walk. Iíll tell you about Florence then, and the surprise is only a possibility at this stage. If I even gave you a hint, it wouldnít be a surprise, would it?" she asked innocently. Turning back to the desk, she asked, "Father, would you like to join us?"
"Not this time," he answered. "When you came in, I had just found the problem in this ledger. I believe I can conquer it in about five minutes." He smiled, enjoying the sight of his children so obviously in love. He waved his hand at them as if brushing them out of his domain. "Run along now, and let an old man finish his work."
As they walked, Catherine related to Vincent most of what Florence had told her, hoping that if he felt her holding anything back, he would assume it had something to do with that possible surprise. Vincent responded with a feeling of sorrow that someoneís life could be made so difficult by the callous indifference of others. She reached across the small distance between them and took his hand in hers. That empathy and concern for others was one of the reasons she loved him.
After the kitchen was clean on Wednesday night and the Topsider volunteers were gone, Catherine, Rebecca, and Jamie remained to take Florence Below. She was a little nervous, but seeing the women around her, she realized that these were the people she would trust most if she had to make choices.
"Are you ready? Do you still want to go?" Jamie asked excitedly.
"Iíve depended on myself for so long, I hardly know," Florence answered honestly.
"Itís a long walk, and very little of it is going to be familiar. Youíll have to trust us completely until we get there," Rebecca told her. "But itís a good home with good people. You wonít be in the lap of luxury, but youíll have everything you need."
"The lap of luxury isnít where Iíve been, anyway." Florence laughed edgily. "Iím not hard to please."
"We should go," Catherine interrupted, taking flashlights from a large shoulder bag. "Itís getting late, and Father wants to meet Florence when she arrives."
Florence wondered who this Father person might be, but she kept her questions to herself, assuming that they would be answered when they arrived.
The council had allowed Catherine tunnel thresholds below the buildings where she needed volunteers. There were often volunteers from Below, and it eased their travel time to have an entrance.
The three tunnel dwellers led Florence to the basement, confusing her completely.
"Youíll understand in a minute," Rebecca laughed, seeing the look on Florenceís face.
Jamie unlocked the door to the large storage room, pulled at some boxes, and a hidden door opened. Florence wasnít at all sure what she was getting herself into, but she decided to give them another couple of minutes to explain themselves.
"I know it seems strange, Florence; but we donít live in the city. We live under it. Just follow us. Youíre perfectly safe," Jamie told her.
As the tunnels go, the trip was relatively short. Florence was nervous at first, but the closer they came to the main hub, the more fascinated she became with what she saw. The few people they passed in the corridors at this late hour were friendly, called her by name and welcomed her. She began to allow herself the hope that it might be as wonderful a place as Catherine had said.
When they finally reached the living areas, they turned to go down the short flight of stone steps into Fatherís chamber. Father stood as they entered the room, holding his hand out in greeting.
"Welcome, Florence. Weíve been expecting you. Come and sit here. Would you like some tea? We can talk briefly, then someone will take you to your chamber." Nodding to the woman across the room, he added, "Mary has it ready for you. Where are my manners? My name is Jacob Wells. Everyone here calls me Father."
Florence was overwhelmed. All that trouble for a complete stranger.
"Tea would be nice...Father. I do feel a little chilled."
"Catherine has told us of your predicament - not to be gossiping, you understand, but because our community depends on secrecy. When we receive a new member, we need to know enough about them to assure our safety. You must understand that if you decide to return Above, we will expect complete silence about what you have seen.
"I certainly understand that," Florence responded nervously. She felt this oddly dressed man scrutinizing her as he sat back down at his desk.
"Catherine tells me you may have been pursued by two dangerous men for a number of years. Be assured you need not worry about that here. We have occasional problems with intruders, but our sentries see that they donít reach the levels where we live. You can rest here unconcerned for your safety. I am a doctor, and a doctor from Above visits often. You will have the medical care you need. We intend to do our utmost to make you as comfortable as possible if you decide to stay."
"None of you really know me at all. Why would you do this for a complete stranger?" she asked in absolute awe, the promises of help and the complete acceptance of her situation overwhelming her.
"Because all of us came here under a variety of similar circumstances and found help and healing. We have little materially, but we feel wealthy in love and support."
"Catherine, do you live here, too?"
"Part-time. I have an apartment Above because I have obligations there. Iím here as much as possible."
"There are things that draw me here." Catherine smiled mischievously. "Youíll understand before long."
"Jamie and Rebecca, I wonder if you would mind leaving Mary and Catherine and me to speak with Florence alone for a few minutes before we show her to her chamber."
"Of course not, Father," Rebecca answered. "We could both do with a good nightís rest, anyhow." It was an unusual request for those circumstances; but that obviously meant there was something additional to consider, so neither of them felt any offense.
"Florence," Father began, "I hesitate to ask when you know so little of us, but Catherine has said you had a child who disappeared in 1955. Would you be willing to talk to us about him? Anything said will not leave this room if you donít wish it to."
A look of panic crossed her face. Had she unwittingly followed the wrong people?
"Why do you ask?" she responded nervously.
"This community was caring for a few abandoned children in the early fifties. Some of our young adults grew up here. The circumstances Catherine described would certainly have left the impression that the child had been abandoned. We have a network of helpers now who can help find a childís parents if they are to be found, but that long ago.... It could be possible that we would know something that could help you. The possibility is remote, but there is always the possibility...." His voice trailed away, giving her time to think.
Florence wasnít terribly anxious to tell them too much, but they seemed sincere. Somehow they did make her feel safe; and if they did know something of her son, how could she miss the chance to find him?
"What do you need to know?" she finally asked.
"Your child was a son?"
"Yes. He was just three days old." Tears were rising.
"Catherine said you left him for a friend to find, but someone had already removed him from his hiding place before she could reach him."
"Yes. I left him just before she was to leave work. It should have been only a few minutes. I was hiding close by to be sure he was all right, and I heard someone talking softly...sing-songy, the way people talk to babies. It sounded like her. I thought it was her. I thought he was safe. I never intended for him to seem abandoned. I was only trying to protect him. Daniel had withdrawn all our savings that afternoon and left it with me." The tears were rolling down her cheeks unchecked now. "I had enough money to take care of us for a while. My husband had just been shot right in front of me. My child and I needed to hide, and I needed to clear my head and make plans. I knew they would be looking for a woman with a child, and I just wanted to know that he was safe for the nightÖso I could rest and decide what to do. All these years the only thing keeping me alive and sane was the chance of finding him. I looked for him as much as I dared. I couldnít go to the police. They would have thought I was crazy. Those men would have been looking for me, and I didnít want to lead them to my son if I found him. The thought that they may have been the ones who found him has haunted me for years." She was becoming more and more distraught as the story unfolded.
"If you donít want to go on with this, we can talk later," Father told her, genuine sympathy in his eyes.
"No. If you can tell me anything about my little boy, I want to know. What else can I tell you that would help?"
"Where did you leave him?"
"Behind St. Vincentís Hospital."
That brought a small gasp from Mary and Catherine, and Father visibly paled, but Florence didnít seem to notice. She was fighting through years of secrecy to make herself tell her story.
"I used to work there. Itís where my friend was working that night."
Father handed Florence a clean handkerchief from his desk drawer and allowed her time to collect herself before he continued his gentle questioning.
Vincent put down his book, feeling unusually drawn to join the conversation in Fatherís chamber. As curious as he was about this woman Catherine had befriended, he had decided to follow his usual pattern of staying out of sight until their new resident had a day or two to settle in. Suddenly he felt such a stab at Catherineís emotions that he could no longer stay in his chamber. He also felt a strong pull to whatever was happening in the chamber next door. He walked to Fatherís doorway and surreptitiously looked in, just to see that nothing was wrong with Catherine.
"You told Catherine he had unusual features and very blue eyes. Would you, by any chance, have a picture of your child?"
Florence looked from face to face, as if making a decision. Slowly she reached in the little bag she always carried at her waist and pulled out a plastic photo sleeve, the kind that might be found in a wallet. "This is all I have left of my family," she said, looking at it sadly. "I told you he had unusual features," she reminded them. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Daniel took these pictures the day after our son was born and developed the film himself. Actually, I took the one with Daniel holding him. Thatís why it didnít turn out as well as the others," she said with a slight smile. "Until now, only the two of us have seen them. All of you will probably think itís fabricated and Iím too crazy to be allowed to stay here, but these truly are his pictures."
She reached between two other pictures of herself and her husband and pulled out three smaller ones that she had hidden between them. Hesitantly she handed them to Father. Mary and Catherine were barely breathing in anticipation of what Father would see.
"Dear God!" he exclaimed, slumping back against his chair.
Florence and Father spoke again at the same time.
"I should never have shown it to you!"
Mary and Catherine rushed to him to see for themselves.
Outside in the passage, Vincentís attention was instantly riveted to the conversation. A picture of him? Was this what had concerned Catherine?
"Are you sure?" Catherine exclaimed. "Baby pictures of Vincent?"
Florence felt frantic, ready to run away from these strangers who now knew too much. Then the realization struck her. "Are you talking about my son?"
"Unless he has a twin, which we both have to admit is quite unlikely, I believe so, my dear," Father said kindly. "I think we may be of more help to you than you know."
"You know my son?" She put her hand to her lips and let the tears fall freely. "Is he one of the children who grew up here? Is he here?" She was simultaneously afraid to hope and afraid not to. So many years....
Outside the doorway Vincentís legs were threatening not to hold him as he realized the possibility before him. Catherine felt his distress and realized he was there. She didnít want to leave now; but he needed her, and she would be with him to hear the rest of the exchange from the passageway.
"Father, I think someone just outside the door needs me," she said, nodding toward the door. Father understood immediately and waved her out. She went straight to Vincent and threw her arms around him.
"Catherine," he managed to ask, "Am I hearing what it seems?"
"I think so." She leaned back to look at him and smile. "I believe I just saw your baby pictures. You were adorable."
He wrapped his arms around her and clung to her quietly for strength as they listened.
"What did you name him?" Father asked in amazement.
"We named him Daniel, for his father. We planned to call him Danny, but we considered Vincent. The name Vincent means ĎConqueror.í We knew he would have a lot to conquer. I was brought up Catholic. St. Vincent De Paul was a saint who watched over hospitals, places where I worked and where Daniel spent so much of his youth. He also watched over the lost, abandoned and outcast. Seeing our childís features, we knew he would certainly fall into at least the last category. It seemed fitting to give him a name that encouraged his protection. And you called him Vincent? Was there a reason for you to choose that name?"
"Yes." Father smiled. "Partly the same as yours...and because he was found behind St. Vincentís Hospital in January of 1955."
Florence raised her hands to her face and drew in a gasp of air.
"You said you would know his features, his eyes anywhere," Father said, seeing Catherine and Vincent appear at the top of the steps to his chamber.
"Do you suppose they might look like those?" he asked, pointing toward the door.
Florence turned to see the tall, muscular, lion-like man holding Catherineís hand. Vincent was looking at her with incredible blue eyes that seemed to look into her soul. For a moment they just stared at each other in awe, then Vincent finally broke the silence.
"You are...my mother?" he asked shakily, his unique voice accompanying his unique looks.
"Danny.... Vincent?" Florence said, nearly to herself. She stood and clasped her hands together against her chin. "Youíre the most beautiful sight Iíve ever seen. You even sound a lot like your father. He had a wonderful voice, too."
"Your name is Florence?" he asked.
"No." She hung her head briefly, then looked up at him pleadingly. "Iíve wanted to find you for so long. Do you suppose I could have a hug before I explain?"
Catherine released Vincentís hand and watched as he closed the distance between himself and his mother, taking her gently into his arms. She put her arms around his waist, closed her eyes and slowly laid her head on his chest, much as Catherine often did. There were no dry eyes in the room. Father found extra handkerchiefs for the others, and they watched the unlikely reunion with a mixture of joy and concern.
For Father and Mary the joy for Vincent was obviously tempered by the fear that their roles in his life might somehow be diminished. Catherine was overjoyed for Vincent to know that he was loved, not just thrown away. She could also see Father and Maryís faces as they watched. She loved them almost as much as she loved Vincent and knew they would have mixed feelings, and she promised herself that if Vincent temporarily drifted toward his birth mother, she would shower Mary and Father with the attention they had earned. No one could expect that Vincent wouldnít want to make up for the time he had missed.
"Forgive me," Vincent said after a long moment. "Could we sit down? This has taken both of us completely by surprise." Guiding Florence back to her chair, he pulled another chair close and sat beside her. "You said your name isnít Florence?"
"Iím sorry to have misled everyone. Iíve gone by that name for nearly twenty years. After I stopped working, I would give whatever medical help I could to the people in the same straits I was in. One day one of them announced loudly that they had their own personal Florence Nightingale. A few of them started calling me Florence, and it gradually became my name. It helped me blend into the crowd and feel anonymous - safer somehow."
"What is your given name?" Vincent asked softly.
"Mary Elizabeth." She chuckled through her tears. "Doesnít that sound appropriate for a nice Catholic girl from Boston?"
Vincent smiled, too.
"My family and friends called me Beth, but your father insisted on calling me Elizabeth. I never liked the name until I heard your father use it. The way he said it gave me goose bumps."
Mary and Father had to smile, knowing Catherine felt the same way about her name. They had both heard her voice a nearly identical statement more than once.
"Oh, Vincent, I havenít been Mary Elizabeth for so long," she said, reaching to touch his hand.
Father was the first to break the teary-eyed atmosphere. Mary came to stand by his side as he spoke, as always, there to lend him her support.
"Shall we call you Beth, then?" Father asked.
"Yes, please. I canít tell you what all of you have given me...Both my son and my identity. I had believed I would never have either of them again."
Vincentís voice, in a barely controlled barrage of emotion, broke the silence to ask the question that had haunted him all his life.
"How did this happen to me?"
Beth swallowed hard, understanding how difficult it must have been for the child she had lost. She took a deep breath and fought for enough control to be able to tell him what she knew would be, to him, one of the most important pieces of information he would ever hear.
"Your father worked for two doctors who were developing a new treatment for leukemia, and he volunteered as a test subject. Just before you were born he came across information that led him to believe they were using his cancer as an excuse to provide themselves a guinea pig for their research. The center apparently had no knowledge of anything concerning Danielís treatments or any research other than the legitimate work they were doing for the institute.
"We saw remarkable changes in Daniel. He was never sick anymore - had more stamina than heíd ever had. We questioned nothing. We were young and in love and just accepted it as the miracle we needed. We even assumed that the excessive hair growth and the change in muscle mass may have been what he would have had if he hadnít been ill for so long. Toward the end, the hair was becoming more pronounced, and his strength surprised both of us sometimes. Now and then he would say he was afraid he might hurt me unintentionally. I even thought there had been a slight change in his facial structure, but we both convinced ourselves that was only imagined. Looking back, I think it may have been leaning a bit toward yours. Who knows? If their work had continued, we may have had to hide Daniel, too.
"I told Catherine that these doctors had seemed to develop an unnatural interest in my pregnancy and our baby. We had suspicions that something was amiss in the last month before you were born; but when you were born, we knew beyond doubt that they hoped for something unusual to happen. They wanted you, and we werenít going to allow it. After repeating the explanation of his fatherís death, she touched his cheek with her hand and looked at him with a deep sadness in her eyes. "Vincent, Iím so sorry. We would never have intentionally let this happen."
"When I was born...did I hurt you?" Vincent asked softly, his head down, unable to look at her.
Catherine had told him everything Florence...Beth...had told her the week before, but he had to hear it for himself.
"Well, childbirth is no picnic...Do you mean beyond normal childbirth?"
Vincent just nodded. Words were becoming more difficult.
"No," she assured him. "It was a very easy birth. You were early and rather small, and there were no problems at all. I even felt secure not seeing a doctor for either of us after your birth. We were going to find someone after we left the city and put some distance between us and those monsters."
Catherine had been standing beside Vincentís chair. She placed her hands on his shoulders and rubbed them gently as he lowered his head to his hands in relief, another deluge of emotion washing through him.
Everyone in the room had been listening in rapt silence while Beth told her story; and knowing the doubts Paracelsus had planted in Vincentís mind about the circumstances of his birth, they wept in silent relief as they watched him.
Father again broke the silence, knowing the evening had taken an emotional toll on everyone there.
"Well, Beth," Father said, walking around his desk and taking her hand in both of his, "One of the women usually escorts a new female member of our community through the...orientation, for want of a better word; but this time, I believe Vincent should do the honors. Weíll explain all this to the others tomorrow. Mary and Catherine and I will try to get some rest and let Vincent explain the expectations as well as the pleasures of the community. He can show you the necessities tonight, and tomorrow he can take you on the grand tour. For now, I leave you in his capable hands. Iím sure the two of you need time to talk."
"Father...Mary..." Vincent was at a loss for words, so he simply gathered the only two parents he had known until that night into a hug that relieved some of the doubts theyíd had earlier.
"May I have my pictures?" Beth asked. "Iíd like Vincent to see his father."
That stung Father with a touch of understandable jealousy, but he graciously handed Beth the pictures, and she turned to leave with Vincent.
Catherine was standing near the bottom step as Vincent guided Beth toward the door. He stopped and took her gently into his arms.
"Thank you, Catherine," he said softly, close to her ear. "I donít know how you managed this, but there are no words..."
Breaking their normal boundaries, she cupped his cheek in her hand and kissed him tenderly. "Iíve told you beforeÖyou need no words."
Vincent uncharacteristically returned her kiss as if he had forgotten the others were there.
"You love my son," Beth said, almost to herself, realizing her new friend might be more to her.
"I am married to your son," Catherine told her with a broad smile. "Go, both of you. Weíll talk tomorrow, Flor... Beth."
No one was particularly surprised to hear Vincentís request as they left.
"May I call you Elizabeth for now? We have another Elizabeth here, but Iím sure she wouldnít mind sharing the name...."
Vincent had been gone for about an hour and a half, showing Beth the necessities, asking and answering questions and explaining the most basic workings of the tunnel world. Catherine was waiting in their chamber, anxious to hear the details of their meeting. When he finally came home, he walked into the chamber, closed the curtain, and leaned back against the wall. The mix of emotions in him had kept her pacing and restless since he left Fatherís chamber, and didnít show signs of subsiding any time soon. Catherine stayed where she was to allow him time to collect himself.
"Youíve met your mother," Catherine smiled.
"Yes," he answered quietly.
"And she didnít abandon you. She loved you and wanted you safe."
"And you didnít hurt her."
"No." He stood for a moment at a loss for words. After a short chuckle he said in wonder, "My great-grandparents owned a bookstore," and he smiled.
"Fitting, donít you think? Maybe your habits arenít entirely Fatherís doing."
"Her life has been so difficult, Catherine; and now that she can feel safe, she has so little time to enjoy it...and I have so little time to know her." He moved toward Catherine when she held her arms out to him.
"I have the feeling both of you will use it to the fullest."
"Yes," was all he could say.
Catherine quietly hugged him and took his cloak, folding it and laying it over the arm of his chair. She took his hand and led him to the bed, pulled him down beside her and held the beautiful golden being she loved as he finally gave in to the flood of emotions that evening had brought.
Catherine and the rest of his tunnel family had given Vincent a few uninterrupted days to be with Beth often and begin to know her. Catherine wanted to give him time to learn about his birth family and accustom himself to the idea that he was wanted and would have been loved and protected, as unusual as he was. He and Beth both deserved all the time they had left to savor the long needed reunion, but there were things brewing in Catherineís mind that needed resolution quickly. Her thoughts turned toward other possibilities. Bethís health and her ability to travel back Above another time or two figured into those possibilities because her help could be a necessity. Time was an important factor. She needed to talk to Beth before she talked to Vincent. In Catherineís mind there might be choices they never thought Vincent would have; but they would need to be carefully made choices, and some could not be made without an element of risk. She waited until the end of the week before speaking to Beth.
Father and Mary found themselves simultaneously overjoyed that Vincent had found so much of his history and deeply envious of the woman who could place both a legal and ancestral claim on him as her own. They talked to Beth about his childhood, doing their best to fill her mind and heart with the things she missed in his life; and she absorbed it all as if it were as necessary to her as breathing.
Beth was settling herself into tunnel life. "Utopia almost in New York City", that was how she had doubtfully described the place Catherine offered to take her. It had exceeded her hopes. How could she have anticipated the peace that came not only with the community, but the addition of finding the son she had thought never to see again? She knew her useful time was limited, but she intended to do everything she could to help in her new home as long her health allowed. She wanted every minute she could have with Vincent, but after the first couple of days of having him nearly to herself, she insisted that both of them assume duties that should be expected of them. The tunnel residents respected both their sense of duty and their need for time together by giving them short schedules.
On Sunday the week after Beth arrived, Vincent watched Catherine from across the dining hall. She and Beth appeared to be fully involved in conversation with several other women, but he knew her mind was elsewhere. He caught her eye when she glanced in his direction and encouraged her to join him as he collected his lunch. He wanted to speak to Catherine alone and was relieved when Beth chose to remain with the others.
"Why donít we have lunch in our chamber? I believe you need to talk."
"Iíd like that," she answered, accompanying him out of the dining hall.
Nothing was said as they walked back to their chamber in comfortable, but anticipatory silence. After he had pulled the curtain and they had settled themselves for lunch, Vincent broke the silence.
"Something is weighing on your mind, Catherine. Is there anything I can do?"
Catherine released a breath slowly as she seemed to be considering her answer.
"There are things we need to talk about, decisions that could make a difference in your life someday."
"What sort of decisions?" Vincent wasnít exactly nervous about what Catherine might say, but he felt a little concerned. He could tell from the kind of feeling he gleaned through their bond that she felt the subject was important to them.
"Legal decisions." She quickly launched into presenting some of the things she had thought of after Bethís appearance in their lives. "We never thought you legally existed before, but you do. I talked to Beth yesterday. She said that, before he was killed, Daniel had picked up the necessary paperwork for a home birth. He and Bethís friend filed a birth certificate, complete with your tiny little footprint. She still has it: your birth is on record in New York City. You were born to two legal citizens of New York, who any of their friends and neighbors would attest were entirely human, so you are also a legal citizen - with all the privileges that impliesÖas well as all the responsibilities."
"You know that your world would never accept me or allow me peace, regardless of my legal status," Vincent responded.
"I wasnít suggesting that we move out into the world Above," Catherine smiled. "Aside from the danger for you, I donít think either of us would want to live in the fishbowl atmosphere that would undoubtedly create. Iíve dealt with enough of that in my life already. Reporters are now leaving me alone because Iíve become so boringÖand Iíd like to keep it that way. Right now I only want us to explore the avenues open to us. For one, we can be legally married according to the laws of my world. I couldnít feel more married to you than I already do; but if anything happened to destroy or expose the tunnels, your legal status could be of great importance, and my legal status as your wife could be equally important in protecting you. The downside of the legalities is that if youíre exposed and the connection is made - and there isnít much doubt that it would be - you would be held responsible for the killings when you came to my defenseÖand probably made to stand trial. Thereís no way to know how bad that would be. There are a lot of possibilities in citizenship, both good and bad. The decisions are yours, but they need to be made soon. Identification with pictures is being used more often. Whatever we do, it will need to be done before that becomes more of a requirement. If Bethís presence is needed for anything, it needs to be handled while sheís still able to make another trip or two Above."
"My life is taking on so many facetsÖpossibilities that I never expected to see." Vincent exhaled sharply and leaned his head back against the chair, looking toward the ceiling, somewhat shaken at the thoughts Catherine had presented. "Itís difficult to absorb so much in such a short time." He looked back toward Catherine. "I never imagined that such things could exist for me. These considerations are entirely foreign to life as I know it."
Catherine stood and walked to Vincentís chair, leaning forward to wrap her arms around his shoulders and kiss his cheek. "I know itís a lot to think about," she murmured sympathetically.
He turned her and pulled her into his lap, needing the calming effect of having her close. Resting his head on hers, he asked, "Do you think we should pursue these options?"
"I donít know, Vincent. Iím leaning toward the idea. In spite of the money Iíve provided for large community projects Above, my investments have kept up with them. Iím very nearly as wealthy now as I was when we were joined. Iím sure, if it became necessary, I could buy a large tract of land somewhere secluded enough that you would be safe; but life is never filled with guarantees. Itís always unpredictable. We donít have to do anything at all if you see no need for it. We may never have a use for these things, but I wanted you to know the possibilities. Ask me any questions you need to. YouÖor weÖcan talk to JoeÖtalk to Father and Peter, Mary, Beth - anybody else whose opinion you value. Iíll honor whatever you decide."
Vincent held her tighter and kissed the top of her head, a familiar gesture that brought both of them a small degree of normalcy in the face of a new uneasiness. He knew Catherine was right. His world, because of its dependence on the world Above, was always balancing on the edge. Most of the time life ran smoothly and they didnít have to think about it, but all it would take to trigger disaster would be one more building like ElliotísÖone they had no way of stoppingÖone intruder the sentries missed, who would return with others from Above and expose them. But thoughts of belonging to the world Above in any way other than his connection to Catherine and helpers made him uneasy. Too much had flooded into his life in less than a week. He needed time to adjust.
A week later, after giving himself a couple of days to consider all the ramifications of what Catherine had discussed, Vincent broached the subject to Father, who was predictably testy about it, but grudgingly saw the value in the possibilities. Joe, and the others Vincent spoke to, saw no reason to ignore the legal status he could claim, as long as he could be kept out of sight to accomplish it.
"Do you think this is truly for the best, Catherine?" Father questioned as they shared tea and a conversation.
"As long as the tunnels are safe, I donít think it will make any difference at all. And it might not matter, even if the tunnels were compromised, as long as we have a place to keep Vincent safe. I think, in the event that heís exposed to the world AboveÖsomething I donít want to see any more than you do, it canít hurt to be armed with whatever we have available to fight with."
"Then what do we need to do? How can I help?"
"Do we have a helper who can notarize documents?" Catherine asked.
"I believe we have two," Father answered. "Iíll find their addresses for you." Father continued to talk as he found his list, and paper to copy the addresses. "Either would be willing to help, but the man, Abner, has been a helper for more than twenty years and has been partial to Vincent since he was a boy. He would do anything he can to help you insure Vincentís safety Ė and I believe youíve met him at Winterfest. If I remember correctly, the two of you got on rather well."
By the end of the week, Catherine had listed the forms and letters that would be essential in order to accomplish her goals and had quickly gathered what she needed. The helper Father mentioned was as accommodating as Catherine could have hoped. To save Beth an extra trip Above, he came to the tunnels to notarize everything that required signatures from Beth, Catherine or Vincent. Beth made her last trip Above, going with Catherine to deliver forms and collect documents for her son. With enough maneuvering, Catherine managed to get a marriage license, and fend off a reporter who asked about it by pointing out that the last time curiosity had her look, there were at least ten other Catherine Chandlers in the phone book. She told the reporter, "Check with them." Vincent and Catherineís second wedding ceremony took place in the dining hall, a very low key affair, but made more emotional because Beth was there to share it.
Beth lived in the tunnels for nearly four months Ė at first able to take on light duties, to walk with Vincent to see the wonders of his world. She loved helping Mary with the children and working with William, diffusing his gruff manner with her good natured teasing. She quickly relaxed and became a well-loved part of the community. She had put off treatment for her illness for so long that little could be done to help her. As her health deteriorated, Father and Peter saw to it that she had as much relief from pain as they could provide, and Vincent and Catherine played a large part in her care. When her time finally came, she and Vincent had made the most of their time together, gradually becoming comfortable with one another and building a love and respect they both cherished. They attained within themselves a peace that neither had ever expected to find, resolving old questions and long borne pain; and Vincent seemed to have found a new confidence in himself. He didnít have all his answers, but he had what he considered the most important ones. When Beth was gone, her family pictures found a permanent home in Vincent and Catherineís chamberÖand Beth had a permanent place in their hearts, as well as in the hearts of the others in the tunnels, people who had also regarded her as family.
A few days after Bethís burial, feeling his sadness, Catherine found Vincent in their chamber looking at the pictures of his original family. She walked to him, putting her arm around his waist and leaning her head on his shoulder.
Without turning or taking his eyes from the photo, Vincent said softly, "I miss her. She gave up so much because of me. Her life could have been so different if it werenít for me."
"Did she seem unhappy here, Vincent? Did she seem to blame you?"
"Do you blame her for your unusual genetics?"
"No!" he answered, surprised, finally looking at her.
"She blamed herself, you know."
"I told her.Ö"
"I know. But youíve each blamed yourselves for what you perceived as the otherís limited life. You know what I think?"
"What do you think?" Vincent asked, putting down the picture he held and wrapping one arm lovingly around Catherineís shoulders.
"I think both of you should be pleased with yourselves. Through no fault of your own, youíve both lived lives that have limited you in ways that would have been more than most others could bear. Either of you could easily have become angry or bitter, taken out your frustrations on others. Instead, you both faced your limits and worked around themÖ.both of youÖalways willing to help someone elseÖalways patient, accepting. Your father gave his life to eliminate something he knew could put limits on the lives of others. Your parents had an impressive sense of integrityÖloving spirits."
"I told her that. Told her that I was proud to be their son."
"I know. She said it was one of the best moments in her life. Do you know that Iím proud to be your wife for the same reasons?"
Vincent chuckled softly. "My mother made the same sort of statement."
"So within you is a legacy of caring, and a strength of character that you can take pride in. Itís a part of your heritage, as well as your upbringing here in the tunnels."
Surprisingly, Vincent seemed to accept that statement without argument. And he seemed to grow a bit taller as he answered, "Yes," and smiled.
Pleased with his response, Catherine moved the conversation in a new direction. "Father might enjoy a visit. In spite of being understanding of the reasons, I think he may have felt a little neglected lately. Shall we see if heís in his chamber?"
Dropping his arm to slip it around Catherineís waist and guide her toward the doorway, Vincent answered, mischievously, "Perhaps I should offer to beat him at a game of chess."
I now return you to our regular programming, where Vincent needs no explanation. Heís just Vincent.