A Much Larger Prison

 

by Rachel Elaine

 

(Part II: Chapters 13 -30)
Story Index

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

Upon calling Chandler and Coolidge earlier that day, Dr. Ellis had been unable to find any information on the young woman.  The secretary had answered the phone and, being a keen woman, she had protected the names of her employer with a faithfulness that was uncommon in this day and age.  The men had nothing else to go on but to wait until someone returned the rental car. 

 

“We will leave the moment we hear that the car is returned,” Dr. Ellis affirmed.  “I know a good private detective. I will see if he can help us track the woman through her credit cards.  We’ll find her; she has to stop to eat and purchase gasoline eventually.”  

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

Catherine and Vincent were well on their way to Nevada that night before Catherine finally pulled over to sleep at Vincent’s insistence.  It had been agreed that Vincent should sleep first, both because he was not the one driving and because he had developed a rather severe headache from stopping the sedatives so suddenly.  However, around 1 a.m. he woke just in time to see Catherine’s eyes nearly closing on her. 

 

“I’ll sit up and keep watch while you sleep,” he said.  “You can’t drive straight through.  It will take days.” 

 

Catherine found a secluded, wooded area in Truckee, California, a few turns off the main highway, to park the car.  She crept off the road about fifty feet and pulled up behind a clump of trees.

 

She leaned her seat back and closed her eyes.  After a few seconds she opened them again and looked over her shoulder at Vincent.  “In the morning, I will trade this car for a van.  It’s too easy for people to see you in a car – especially once the sun comes up.” 

 

“Yes,” said Vincent. “Later.  Now go to sleep.” 

 

A vehicle drove by.  She sat up again.  “We can’t stay here,” she said.  “It would be too dangerous if someone were to come across the car, even just a random passerby inquiring whether our car has broken down.  I just remembered I saw a sign for some cabins ahead.  Let’s try those.” 

 

She started the car and began to pull out again.  The car antenna got caught in the branches of one of the trees and she heard it snap off as she urged the car forward.  She stopped briefly and considered going back to retrieve it…and then decided it wasn’t worth it.  She would just pay for the damage when she returned the car.   

 

They found the cabins, which were advertised as ‘perfect for honeymooners.’  Catherine left Vincent in the car and went inside to inquire about renting one.  She made up a story about being married that night in Reno and wanting the most private cabin possible.  The stout little manager at the counter smiled at the beautiful woman knowingly, and said he had just the place.  She signed her name to the credit slip and picked up the key. 

 

They found the cabin and, after making certain that no one was watching, hurried inside.   It was a charming little place: a bedroom off to the side and a very simple kitchen area with a stove and fireplace. 

 

Vincent sent Catherine into the bedroom immediately, and settled on the couch in the living room himself.   It seemed incredible that only a little over twenty-four hours ago he was sitting in a basement prison awaiting his death.  Now here he was, free, and in a cabin with a beautiful woman sleeping peacefully in the next room. 

 

He closed his eyes, but after awhile he grew restless, stood up, and began pacing.  He felt so many different emotions at once: he was grateful to be alive and safe for the moment, and thrilled to have the privilege of Catherine’s company, but he still felt immense grief at the loss of Father…and anger at his captors.  What was he doing here anyway?  Those men had killed Father and nearly killed him.  And yet, here he was, running back home instead of pursuing them and avenging Father’s death.  He knew, eventually, they would try to find him again.  He also knew that the men who were supposed to come ‘on Friday’ were going to see his dead body only after they handed over a large sum of money to his captors.  Perhaps he was still doing the wrong thing in going home.  He was endangering Catherine as well.  She should be safely on a flight to New York instead of driving him across the country.  He had to get her out of the house in Mendocino, but he must now put an end to her part in his journey home.   

 

He found a state map in a drawer, spread it on the table, and studied it.  The nearest train tracks were at least – he ventured, eyeing the key – 15 miles away.  Could he make it?  He felt better, but he knew he still did not have his full strength back.  He traced several routes with his finger.  Perhaps if he took it slowly...

 

“You are not, seriously, going to consider that…are you?” a female voice admonished him.

 

Vincent quickly looked behind him to see Catherine, wrapped in the lovely folds of a silk robe, looking at him incredulously.  How had she known? 

 

“I was just...studying this,” he said.  “You couldn’t have slept enough yet.  You need to go back to bed,” he added almost gruffly, evading her eyes as well as her question.

 

She stepped boldly up to him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and laid her head against his chest.  “I will if you will promise not to leave,” she said softly.  

 

Vincent thought nothing in life thus far was as thrilling as the feeling of this delicate young woman in his arms.  His plans and his rebuttal dissolved instantly in his mind.  He sighed and reluctantly, but truthfully, said: “I promise.”

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

Father had insisted that Robert start driving after the two birds of flight immediately. 

 

As he drove, Robert considered everything he had learned about that night: the house, the books, the compact, and the Chandler woman.  He wondered what mysterious part she played with the scientists who kidnapped Vincent.  He needed to do a background check on her as soon as possible – and he would do it, with…or without…Father’s permission.  

 

“We can’t be that far behind them,” declared Father, as he studied the map. 

 

Robert shook himself from his thoughts.  He pressed the accelerator down and fiddled simultaneously with the clutch and the high beams as they began to ascend and wind through the mountains on state route 20.  

 

“Sure, no problem,” he said with a touch of sarcasm.  “We’ll just follow right behind them and catch up in no time.”  Glancing around him, he added, “Tell me again, Mr. Navigator, why you’re sending us this way?  You do know we are in the middle of the Jackson State Forest, right?  In the dark.  With the lions and tigers and bears?” 

 

“No tigers,” said Father with annoyance.

 

"All right. Grizzlies, then.  ‘The better to eat you with.’" 

 

"No grizzlies.  Not in California," said Father.

 

“Well, there’s definitely geese…and we’re chasing them, I can tell you that much.  What makes you think they’ve gone this way?”

 

“Route 20 is the largest and most direct route to the east, according to the map.  It is the only reasonable, logical choice for someone that wants to move quickly,” Father said through clenched teeth, gripping the door handle while Robert took the next curve at a speed at least twice what Father would have considered safe.  

 

“Logical, huh?” Robert answered, adjusting the rear view mirror, and deciding he couldn’t see anything besides blackness anyway.  “Personally,” he said, glancing at Father out of the corner of his eye, “if I were trying to avoid being followed, I’d pick a less obvious route:  like New York via Washington State…but maybe that’s just me.” 

 

Robert glanced at Father, but received no response.  He shrugged and turned on the radio.  He listened intently for anything familiar but found nothing but static.  He made a sound of exasperation. 

 

“No radio?” he asked with annoyance.  “You gotta be kidding me.  How do people live in these way-out-God-forsaken places?”

 

Father looked toward him, his eyebrows knitted tightly together.  “Robert,” he said sternly. “Vincent is out there somewhere…missing.  Possibly hurt, likely still in danger…and you’re worrying about whether or not you have a radio signal.  Can’t you at least pretend to care?”

 

Robert’s eyes widened.  He turned to look at Father.  Whoa, wait a minute,” he said. “Time out.”  He abruptly pulled the car over onto a tiny sliver of a shoulder overlooking a ravine and screeched it to a halt. 

 

“Care?”  Robert repeated, as he yanked on the parking brake and turned toward Father. “I have moved Heaven and Earth since you called me last night –”

 

“Robert,” Father said weakly, peering through his window at the drop-off next to him, “there’s about a foot of road…”

 

“–because I know how important this is.  I happily paid for two last-minute plane tickets – First Class for you because that’s all there was – the rental car, gasoline, food, drove us both all over half the state of California –”

 

“If we drift backwards,” Father began again, motioning at the window.  

 

“We won’t,” Robert interjected without even pausing for air.  “I risked my job – my whole career as a detective – by breaking into that house.  We were damned lucky that the old woman mistook me for Miss Chandler’s boyfriend.  I can just see myself now, trying to explain that one to my chief over the phone from the Mendocino courthouse – and you say I don’t care?  Seriously?”  He gave Father an incredulous look and waited for his answer. 

 

Father looked straight ahead and sighed.  He knew that despite Robert’s tendency to joke about serious matters, he had a kind heart and was a brilliant detective.  He also knew he was fortunate to have his help.  Sometimes, it was difficult to remember that he was no longer a child that he could influence.  He was 34 years old, a graduate of both criminology and law, and already a well-respected man in the New York Police Department.  

 

“I’m...sorry,” Father finally said.  “I didn’t…mean it that way.  It’s just been…so trying these past two months.  We were so close tonight.  I just want to find him and take him home…and I’m very worried about whether this woman is connected with the people who took him or not.  We don’t know, for certain, if he is safe with her.  And if he was safe, why didn’t he try to contact one of the helpers again?” 

 

Robert’s expression softened.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He met Father’s eyes.  “I know,” he said.  “All the more reason for you to let me do a little detective work – literally.  We have something real to go on now…and I’m going to do everything within my power to find him.”  He reached over, grasped the old man’s shoulder, and gave him a gentle but firm shake.  “Hang in there, okay?”   

 

Father glanced at Robert and remembered the young boy who had lost so much in such a short time over 20 years ago.  Even back then, he had a tendency to jump right in, take control of the situation, and help those who needed it. 

 

“You always were a good child,” Father finally said, “albeit a little too confident, inquisitive, and mischievous at times for your own good.”  He paused for a few seconds.  “And you do, surprisingly, quote 18th century poetry very well when you wish to,” he added. 

 

Robert laughed.  “Too bad most women today don’t dig that,” he said. 

 

“Some women...do,” said Father.  “Now, can we please…carefully…move away from this ledge?  You’re going to give me a heart attack.” 

 

Robert grinned and very carefully pulled the car forward without drifting backwards.  “How’s that?” he asked, still smiling as he began to accelerate on the main road again.  “You know, my first apartment was on a hill.  I was too poor to own an automatic all those years during college and there was always some punk with a fancy sports car parked right behind me.  I learned pretty quickly that drifting backwards was not an option.”  

 

They began to weave around the dark roads again, this time a little bit slower.  They stopped in a small town and bought some sandwiches and coffee at a convenience store before continuing on their journey.   

 

“You may as well try to get some sleep,” Robert said after they’d eaten.  “No sense in both of us walking around like zombies.”

 

Father leaned back, closed his eyes, and slept.  He opened them hours later when he felt the car come to a sudden stop. 

 

“Where are we?” asked Father, looking around at the modest hotel Robert had parked in front of.

 

“Truckee,” said Robert.  “Lake Tahoe, skiing, honeymooners, movie stars,” he added.  He took his seat belt off and turned to face Father. “I think I’ve reached my limit of driving for tonight.” He opened the door and stepped out.  “Unless,” he said, teasingly, as he poked his head back into the car, “you want to add driving without a license to your list of charges.”

 

Father managed to smile at the joke and motioned for him to go ahead with renting a room. 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

It was 7 a.m. when Dr. Ellis burst into Dr. Logan’s apartment.  It was a small, comfortable bachelor’s home, reflective of a man who spent many years bent over a textbook to obtain the position he had.  The furniture was simple; the decorations were few.  Bookcases were filled with various manuals about biology, chemistry, and math. 

 

Dr. Ellis went straight to the bedroom to wake his comrade, who was still sleeping after a late night of correcting student’s homework. 

 

“Mark, get up,” he commanded, giving his shoulder a firm shake.

 

“What?” Mark asked, as he sat up, took a deep breath, and tried to wake up quickly. 

 

“Our detective found her.  She’s in a cabin in Truckee.  It’s only three hours from here.  We need to leave right now.” 

 

Mark Logan rubbed his eyes.  “Ok,” he said.  “Give me about 5 minutes…I’ll be ready.”

 

 

 

Chapter 17

 

 

Around 8 a.m., Robert called his office, gave some carefully thought-out information to one of his officers, and had a fax of Catherine’s background report and driver’s license sent to him through the hotel office fax machine. 

 

Robert returned from the hotel lobby with a cup of coffee, a donut, and the papers.  He set everything down on the small hotel room table, picked up the phone, and called the police station a second time.

 

“It’s Detective Stafford again; put Sal on the phone,” he said. 

 

He felt his unshaven face and realized that he had completely forgotten to inquire whether the hotel office had razors for guests, like him, who had forgotten to bring one.  A man picked up the phone. 

 

“Hey, Sal – me again.  I need you to put a tracer on that Catherine Chandler’s credit cards too – okay?  I’ll call back to get information as soon as I can.”  He hung up the phone and turned his attention to the papers.

 

Robert paged through the background report and raised his eyebrows.  Radcliffe.  Columbia.  Three years at Chandler and Coolidge.  Father: Charles. Mother: Caroline.  Lives at 139 Central Park West, apartment 21E.  No criminal record.  He set the papers down and looked at the second fax, which contained a copy of her driver’s license. Robert picked up the paper, sipped his coffee, and whistled softly.  “Pretty woman,” he said as he held Catherine’s picture out to Father. “Wanna see?”

 

Father glanced at the picture for a moment.  “Women. In the end, they can only bring unhappiness,” he said gruffly. 

 

"Huh?" Robert replied.   He looked at the picture again and felt sure he had missed something.  “She seems nice enough.  What do you have against women anyway?” he asked teasingly. 

 

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Father said with finality.

 

Robert was used to Father’s evasiveness and he knew it was pointless to question him.  Besides, he already knew more of Father’s history than Father was aware of.  He was one of the first people Robert had researched.  He bit into his donut and chewed thoughtfully.  “I wish they’d had some with the chocolate icing left, and sprinkles. I love those things,” he said. 

 

Father ignored him and started re-packing Robert’s suitcase with his clothes, in no particular order. 

 

“Hey!  Leave that short-sleeved blue shirt out. I’m gonna wear it,” Robert protested as he brought the coffee cup to his lips again. 

 

“You’re already wearing a clean shirt, and we are already running behind,” Father answered, and closed the suitcase with a snap.  He shot Robert an authoritative look. 

 

Robert pushed the rest of the donut into his mouth and chuckled to himself.  Father did have a way of grating on your nerves, but he could never be too angry with him.  He had done so much for his own father and himself years ago.  Robert let the memories play over again in his mind.  

 

When he was 10, his Italian mother and British father had divorced and his mother had quickly remarried.  She left Robert to live with his father, who was an adjunct physics professor at a local private college.  Things were fine for awhile, until his father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and subsequently lost his job after becoming too ill to work.

 

The downfall happened quickly; young Robert and Professor Stafford were evicted from their apartment and they found themselves in a homeless shelter that night.  A Helper, working at the shelter, had guided them both Below, where they stayed until his father died.  Robert had eventually gone back Above to live with his mother and her new husband, but every chance he could, he had found a way to back down to visit Devin, Vincent, and other children below.  Jacob had filled the void left by his own father’s death, even though Robert did not agree with everything Jacob believed in.  His stepfather and he did not get along well, and he moved out as soon as he could – using college as his rope to freedom.  All through college and later, working at the police station, he continued to visit the Tunnels, helping as needed.  No, he could never turn any of them down for anything.  They were his friends, his extended family.

 

“Anyhow,” Robert continued, as he picked up both of their suitcases, “I asked Sal at the station to keep me posted if Miss Chandler uses any credit cards.  That should help narrow down the country for us – just a little,” he added, with amusement in his eyes. 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

 

 

Catherine entered the small cabin kitchen to see that Vincent had cooked scrambled eggs and hot cereal from the food supplies they had brought along.

 

“He reads poetry and he cooks too,” she said teasingly upon entering the kitchen.

 

“It’s only eggs,” he answered, with a hint of a smile. “I heard you were awake,” he explained.     

 

She was fully dressed but her hair was still damp from the shower.  He thought again how beautiful she was, and how thrilling it was when she had been close to him, then quickly shook himself to his senses.  

 

Catherine set the plates of food on the table and they sat down.  She cast a worried glance at the fireplace.  “Don’t you think the fire may call too much attention?”

 

Vincent set down the fork he had been holding.  He had originally started the fire in order to burn the photographs he had retrieved from the file cabinet.  “I thought you might be cold,” he said cautiously.  “And honeymooners might be expected to start a fire, wouldn’t they?”  

 

And, as if on cue, there was a knock at the door. 

 

Vincent leaned forward over the table toward her with just the slightest twinge of amusement in his eyes.  “I think it’s the breakfast table,” he said.  “It’s bad luck.”  He stood up.  “I’ll be close by,” he added, and disappeared into the bedroom.

 

Catherine watched him go in, and knew he would be observing from the bedroom window.  Just in case, she picked up a heavy iron poker from the fireplace and opened the door.

 

Standing outside was the stout little cabin manager from last night.  He was holding a basket containing fruit, cheese, and a bottle of wine.

 

“Compliments of the office, ma'am,” he said.  “Sorry I forgot to give it to you when you checked in, but I didn’t want to disturb you.  I saw the smoke from the chimney and the stove pipe, so I figured you were up.”  He smiled, gave her a nod, and left. 

 

Catherine closed the door, leaned her back against it, and let out the breath she had been holding.

 

Vincent returned to the room.  “That wasn’t either of my captors,” he said. 

 

Catherine set the basket down.  “I can’t believe I didn’t ask you before, but what did the scientists look like?” she asked. 

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “There was a young man and an older man.  The older man was short, balding, with grey hair.  The young man was tall, with dark brown hair and a closely trimmed beard.” 

 

“Okay,” said Catherine, making a mental note of the details.

 

They finished eating breakfast and began loading the car with their suitcases and food.  She left Vincent in the cabin and headed down to the car rental agency to exchange the car for a van.  She had not liked the idea of leaving Vincent alone – but it was more dangerous to take him along in the car.  Surely he will be safe for a half hour, she thought to herself.

 

 

 

Chapter 19

 

 

A car stood motionless on the side of the highway.  Two men stood outside near the front…observing the relentless steam pouring out from the radiator.

 

“Almost forty years, and they still haven’t come up with a dependable vehicle,” Father complained, standing by the passenger tire and pounding the front fender once with his fist.   

 

Robert placed his hands on the front bumper, leaned forward, and closed his eyes for a few seconds.  His dark brown hair, which had been combed back neatly before leaving the hotel, had fallen around his face, sticking in the beads of perspiration on his forehead.  He looked up slowly toward Father.

 

“Do you remember,” he said evenly, “when I said I should check the fluid levels when we were back at the hotel?  And you said to stop wasting time?”  He finished the sentence in a decidedly calmer tone than he actually felt.

 

“It made it all of those miles yesterday without any problems,” defended Father. 

 

Robert took a deep breath and shut the hood.  The car was still steaming, though not as badly as it had been when they first pulled over.  He turned and scrutinized the horizon.  After a few seconds he turned back to face Father. “Okay, listen,” he said.  “I need you to get into the driver’s seat and steer while I give the car a push.  There’s a gas station down the hill there and I think we can coast to it.  We’re lucky we didn’t make it into the desert yet.  I’ll try filling the radiator with water once it cools down enough to remove the cap, and we’ll see if it leaks out.  If it does…we will need to get another car.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 20

 

 

Catherine traded her car in at the rental agency for a van.  The man at the counter was not pleased with being responsible for an out-of-town car, but by promising to pay extra, Catherine was able to convince him to make the trade.  

 

She returned to the cabin with the van.  She was relieved to find that Vincent was still there – that he had not been re-captured nor had he attempted to leave. 

 

Vincent climbed in by the side door and quickly sat down on the back seat.  She turned around in her seat to look at him and saw him press his fingers against his closed eyes. 

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked. 

 

“Headache again," he said. "Mostly when I stand up suddenly.”  He tried to look up at her and then closed his eyes again and added, “Or when I try to look at anything that isn’t straight ahead."  

 

“It’s from those sedatives they were giving you,” she said.

 

“I know,” he replied, still keeping his head down. 

 

She thought for a moment.  “We’ll stop at the convenience mart in town and I’ll get you some Advil,” she suggested.

 

“It’s a risk,” he said, forcing his eyes open to look at her. 

 

“I’ll hurry,” she said with finality.

 

She parked the van away from the building in order to draw less attention.  She left the engine running and went inside the store, after first locking the doors and taking the door key with her. 

She returned a few moments later with Advil and some non-perishable food items.  As she placed the bag between the seats and started to climb into the van, she heard a man’s excited voice shouting from far across the parking lot.

 

“Miss Chandler!” the voice called.  “Stop!  I must speak to you!”  The man ran toward her, narrowly avoiding a collision with an old woman.

 

Catherine glanced at the man with alarm.  He had dark brown hair and a short beard – just the way Vincent had described the younger scientist.  She quickly shut the door, put the van in gear, and tore out of the parking lot. 

 

“Who was it?”  Vincent asked, gripping the seat in front of him.

 

“The younger scientist,” she said.  “They found us.  I just realized how stupid I was to use my credit card last night.  It would have been easy to trace.  I’ll cash a check as soon as it’s safe and I won’t use my cards again.”

 

 

 

Chapter 21

 

 

Damn it!” Robert said, crushing his empty coffee cup and spiking it on the ground.  

 

“What happened?  Who was it?”  Father asked, moving as quickly as he could to get beside him.  “I heard you yelling all the way from around the corner, inside the car.”

 

“It was her,” he said with a touch of exasperation.  “She was coming out of the store.  I yelled out her name and told her to wait but she jumped in her vehicle and pulled out like she was in the Indy 500.”

 

“You frightened her,” Father admonished him.

 

Robert’s jaw dropped open. “Frightened her?  Frightened her?!  Yeah, no kidding.  Of course, I frightened her.  I’d be frightened of me too.  I look like a wild man.  Three hours of sleep, two days of not shaving, running on coffee, sleeves rolled up and drenched in sweat from pushing that car.”  He tugged at the collar of his shirt for emphasis and then began pacing back and forth, muttering to himself.  “‘I need your assistance,’ he says; ‘Can we get on a flight tonight,’ he says; ‘California is 3 hours behind us,’ he says, trust me – I have a plan, he says….”  

 

“Could you see anyone else in the car with her?” Father asked – ignoring Robert’s rant.

 

“No,” he said flatly.  “It was a van – one of those big conversion vans with curtains all around.”  He drew squares in the air with his hands to explain.

 

Father thought for a few seconds.  “Vincent must be with her,” he said.  “If only I could be absolutely certain she is not connected with the people who took him.”  He paused for a few seconds.  “Did you hear anything from the police station?  Anything from Lin?”

 

Robert stopped pacing, took a deep breath, and tried to regain his composure. “Nothing new from the Wongs," he said a little more calmly, "but Sal said that she used her credit card last night.  She rented a cabin a few miles from here; by the lake.  I was just coming to tell you…but then I saw her.”  He dug in his back pocket and pulled out the paper he had written the address on. 

 

Father looked at the paper and tried to process this new information.  He looked back at Robert.  “Did you call for a new rental car?” 

 

“Yeah,” he said.  “Small town, only one car rental place.  They’re bringing one to us within the hour.  They said they had been out of cars this morning but a woman had just returned a car unexpectedly because she wanted a van.  So we can have the car she just returned.” 

 

They looked up at each other slowly, both realizing at the same time the significance of what Robert had just said. 

 

“Damn it,” said Robert quietly.  “So close.”  

 

 

 

Chapter 22

 

 

 Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan arrived in Truckee just minutes after Catherine and Vincent left the gas station.  They went straight up to the rental cabins.  Dr. Ellis knocked loudly on the door to the office.  The manager, who was trying to catch a nap after being on night-shift, came to the door and looked out.

 

“Can I help you?” he asked irritably.

 

“Yeah, I need to know where one of your guests are.  Catherine Chandler.  I’m her father,” he lied.  “She’s run off with some guy – and she’s in danger.  I need you to show me which building she is in…right now.” 

 

“I can’t give that information out,” the manager said. 

 

Dr. Ellis dug in his pocket and showed the man a large wad of cash.  He counted out $50.  “Does that help?” he asked. 

 

The manager looked at the money.  “No,” he said. 

 

Dr. Ellis handed him another $50, and finally the whole wad. 

 

“She’s checked out,” the manager finally said…after putting the cash in his pocket.

 

Dr. Ellis’ expression grew dark.  “How long ago?” he demanded.

 

“Oh, about an hour ago,” he said.

 

“Did you see anyone with her?” he asked.

 

“No,” he said.  “I only saw the woman.” 

 

“Did she say where she was going next?” Dr. Logan asked. 

 

“No, I’m afraid she did not share that information with me,” he said.

 

Dr Ellis sighed in frustration.  “Show me the cabin she rented,” he commanded.

 

The manager calmly took both scientists to the cabin and waited while they searched the rooms.  Dr. Ellis found the two freshly washed plates and cups in the dish rack.  Clearly she was not alone.  She must still have him with her.  She was probably taking him to a predetermined location where she would hand him over to Grannis and Morrison.  And she would get all the money for him. 

 

“Well,” said Dr. Ellis as he and Dr. Logan climbed back into their car, “I’m not going to let her.  He’s mine.  I’ve done all the tests on him. I’ll kill them all before I allow them to cheat me out of our deal.”

 

He put the car into drive and raced down the hill toward the main road. 

 

 

 

Chapter 23

 

 

Catherine stopped at a large bank on the outskirts of Reno to cash a check.  She found it difficult to remain calm while she waited for the teller to verify her license and information.  The teller finally gave her the money and Catherine thanked her and left.  She hurried to get back into the van, and was relieved to see that no one had disturbed it.  

 

“Well,” she said, as she locked the doors, “at least that was done without any unexpected guests,” she finished with a smile.  She looked at the map for a few moments and tried to gauge how far the next leg of their journey would be. 

 

“Catherine,” Vincent began, looking at the map over her shoulder and feeling her mild trepidation about the distance ahead, “I greatly appreciate everything you’ve done, but wouldn’t it be better for you to take a flight home and leave me to continue on my own?  I could catch freight trains at night,” he suggested. 

 

“And eat sand?” she asked teasingly.  “Please stop saying that.  To be perfectly honest, I feel like I’m having an adventure for the first time in years.  I always wanted to travel across the country by car and now I’m doing it.  It’s such a wonderful change from driving in New York.”  She smiled reassuringly at him, put the map down, and started the van again.     

 

She continued to drive along Interstate 80 toward Utah.  She knew she had about 8 hours ahead of her to get to Salt Lake City and she wanted to cover as much distance before dark as possible.  Catherine had made the leftover chicken into sandwiches at the cabin in Truckee.  The cabin fridge had been stocked with ice and it kept everything fresh.  The sandwiches, along with the fruit and cheese basket, made for two satisfying meals. 

 

They stopped for their dinner break in the tiny town of Wells, Nevada.  Catherine found a small community park which had street-side parking along the west side of it.  She pulled the van over and reflected that, should anyone come along, she was confident she could pull out again quickly.  There was a nice shade by one of the few large trees in the area…and possibly in the entire town. 

 

She turned to face Vincent and saw that he had a faraway expression on his face.  “What are you thinking?” she asked him.

 

“Wells,” he said simply.  “It’s Father’s real last name.  He…never told me himself, but a friend of ours found out a few years ago and told me.” 

 

She watched his reminiscent expression.  The strain that was in his eyes when he had last spoken of his father seemed to be lifting.  “It’s like providence,” she said kindly.  “He’s watching over us.  Giving us a safe place to rest.” She smiled at him. 

 

“I believe you are right,” said Vincent.  He lifted the corner of a curtain and peered out at the tiny patch of green grass in the middle of the harsh desert.  “It’s so small to be called a park,” he remarked – dropping the curtain and turning to Catherine. “I feel fortunate, now, to have lived all of my life so close to Central Park in New York.” he added seriously.

 

“Me too,” said Catherine.  “Who would have thought that two native New Yorkers would just happen to meet in San Francisco?” she asked with a smile. 

 

After they finished eating, Catherine unfolded the map once again and studied it.  “Vincent,” she said thoughtfully, “I don’t like how flat and open this desert area is.”  She glanced up at him with a troubled look.

 

“I know,” he said.  “But it can’t be helped…it’s the way the terrain is.” 

 

Her brow wrinkled in concentration as she continued to study the map. “If I had been thinking more clearly,” she began, “I could have driven us up to Washington State first, and then worked my way through the northern states.  It would have taken longer, but it would have been safer.”  She traced several roads with her fingers.  “If we could go north now...” she started, and then stopped.  A wonderful idea struck her.  “Vincent,” she said.  “Have you ever been to Yellowstone National Park?” 

 

“I’ve never been anywhere,” Vincent said simply. 

 

Catherine smiled at him.  “When I was twelve years old,” she began wistfully, “my dad took me to Yellowstone.  It has beautiful lakes of different colors...and mountains and waterfalls and winding roads and trees.” She paused to take a breath before continuing.  “Animals roaming in their natural habitat – elk and bison and coyotes and deer and pelicans and eagles,” she continued excitedly.  “Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly interesting but, being a child from New York, I was just entranced.  It was so large.  It felt so...” She paused thoughtfully.  Free,” she finished.  “Free of the confines of the city blocks, free of school and responsibilities, free of poverty and crime.”  She thought for a few seconds, and then shook herself from her philosophical analysis.  She met his eyes and saw that he seemed to be waiting for her to continue.       

 

“Look,” she said, smoothing the map again. “Instead of going to Salt Lake City, we could drive north right now on State Route 93 here.”  She pointed to the road on the map.  “We could stay overnight in Twin Falls and then drive to Yellowstone tomorrow morning.  Then we can continue from the northern states where it would be cooler – with more trees and better places for you to hide in case we break down.  We can stay in the van and just drive through the park – here on route 20 – and stop only where it is safe so you can look at the sights."  She paused.  “I would love to share that place with you," she finished.  She looked up at him and waited. 

 

“How can I say no?” he asked, giving her a slight smile.  “You make it sound magical.” 

 

She smiled and folded the map.  “Well, let’s not waste any more time.”  She slid back into the driver’s seat, started the van, and pulled out. 

 

 

 

Chapter 24

 

 

It was dark when they arrived in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Catherine searched for a cabin similar to the one in Truckee, but was unable to find anything like that in this town.  She finally settled on a nice hotel which had balconies facing the back of the property. 

 

She locked Vincent in the van and went inside.  She paid for a two-person room and requested it be on the bottom floor.  She made certain to pay in cash and to give a fake name. 

 

The hotel clerk gave her the key.  She went to the room, locked the main door, and unlocked the back patio door.  She exited out the back, returned to the van, and drove it around to the back of the hotel.  Vincent covered his head with his cloak and together they carried in both of their suitcases.  

 

Vincent set the suitcase down and looked around the room.  There were two beds, but there was no separate bedroom like in Truckee.  He began to feel a sense of panic well up inside him.  This...was not right.

 

“What’s wrong?” asked Catherine, sensing his sudden change in demeanor. 

 

Vincent looked at her.  “I...” he began – and then stopped.  “I don’t think it’s...right for me to stay in here,” he said with some hesitation. “I’ll sleep in the van.  You can sleep in here.”

 

“No,” Catherine said, walking over to him and taking his hands in hers.  “I understand what you’re saying…and I appreciate it.” She spoke slowly, with emphasis. “But it wouldn’t be safe for you to stay in the van.  What if those scientists catch up to us in the night?  They could kill you and then come for me next.  It’s better for us to stay together.  At least in here…they would not dare to cause a scene.”  She paused, and looked toward the comfortable beds before turning back to him.  “I really need a good night’s sleep in order to keep driving tomorrow.  I’ll never be able to sleep if I know you’re in the van alone.  There are two beds. Please don't leave," she said with a touch of pleading in her voice.

 

Vincent forced himself to calm down.  He looked from her hands to her eyes and then sighed.  "You have a point about safety,” he finally said.  “I’ll stay inside the room tonight to protect you,” he affirmed.

 

They took turns changing into something comfortable to sleep in.  Catherine hung up some of her clothes on the hangers and watched Vincent lie down on the bed closest to the back door.  He left the bed covers untouched and covered himself with his cloak.  She smiled, thinking of his logic: if one does not actually get into bed properly then one is not really sleeping in the bed. 

 

She walked over to the other bed, turned back the covers, and climbed under them.  She reached over and shut the lamp off.  Catherine thought she would fall asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, but for some reason she suddenly found herself wide awake.  She started thinking about everything that had happened.  She realized she was truly grateful for the diversion from going home.  She began thinking about her job.  It was good job – there was no argument there.  Most attorneys would have had to work for five or ten years to achieve the position she had been given by her father.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on what the problem was.  It was simply that she felt so...trapped.  Her job made her feel trapped.  She longed to do something else, something meaningful.  Anything beyond what her father expected her to do.  Her father had sent her to Radcliffe and then Columbia for law.  To be a lawyer, just like her dad, and join his firm.  There had been no other option…she had been expected to do it.  She sighed. 

 

“Catherine?” Vincent’s voice drifted through the darkness.  “Is something troubling you?” 

 

“Oh,” she said, “I’m just thinking about work.” 

 

“You want to return as soon as possible?” he suggested.

 

“No,” she said.  “That’s just it – I don’t want to go back at all.”

 

Vincent was silent for a moment.  “Tell me about your job,” he coaxed kindly.

 

Catherine thought for a moment.  “I defend corporations,” she finally said.  “It’s a good job – there are many lawyers out there that would be thrilled to have it.  And I am grateful, believe me.  But I just feel, somehow, that I’m not doing anything really...meaningful.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just helping the wealthy get wealthier.” 

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “Catherine,” he said slowly, “every person has a purpose in their life.  Perhaps you simply have not found yours yet.  It will happen.”

 

“I wish it would,” she said, turning on her side toward his voice.  She paused for a moment.  “I know most people have to make a living doing something, and I’m grateful for my nice life, but I still can’t help but feel unhappy sometimes.  Is that wrong?”

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “Sir Winston Churchill said, ‘We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.’”  He paused for a few seconds.  “Catherine...you are very smart…and you have a kind heart.  I know you will find a way to help people through your position and talents.  Perhaps your life will lead you to a new job someday.”

 

“But that’s the problem.  I feel so, trapped, Vincent.  Even if I wanted to work somewhere else, I really couldn’t do it very easily.  My father expects me to continue to work with him.  It’s been expected since I was a child.  He plans to hand the company over to me when he retires.” She paused for a few seconds.  “Vincent, I have traveled all over the country, I have been to Europe and Africa.  But I feel like I am in a prison.  Perhaps prison is too strong of a word but that is how I feel.  Does that sound silly?  I go to the office and I’m surrounded by people I don’t really care for...people that don’t really care about me...” she trailed off sleepily.  

 

Vincent said nothing for a few seconds, and then he took a deep breath. “No,” he said, “it does not sound silly,” he added, using her words.  “Walls do not make a prison, nor iron bars a cage.”  He paused again and turned toward her. “Trust me, I do understand how you feel.”   

 

There was no answer.  She was asleep. 

 

Vincent lifted his head and looked at her in the dim light.  She was so beautiful. He longed to go over to her and cradle her in his arms.  But he must not scare her.  She had been so trusting of him.  He could feel that she cared for him, but he could also feel that she was in a strong “protection” mode for him…rather than being in love with him.  And she was truly in anguish about her life.  No, he must stay where he was and allow her to sleep. 

 

He leaned back onto the pillow again.  He wished that his annoying headache would lift completely.  He knew that after so many weeks of sedatives, it was normal for the withdrawal to be painful.  The sedatives seemed to have decreased his heart strength as well; it was beating a little faster than usual.  He decided he must begin to try to do some sort of exercise to regain his strength faster.  He took another Advil and finally fell asleep.  

 

 

 

Chapter 25

 

 

Robert and Father crossed the border into Utah around 10 p.m. that night. 

 

Robert took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly.  It had been an extremely long two – actually two and a half – days.  He tried to make a mental tally of how many hours he had driven since landing in San Francisco – but then decided he didn’t want to know.  They had stopped in Reno to interview the bank teller who had cashed Catherine’s check.  He had shown her his police badge, and she had been very helpful.  He assured her that she did nothing wrong, he was simply trying to track down Miss Chandler for safety reasons – which, he reflected, was completely true.  His heart sank when he heard the amount of cash Catherine had withdrawn – it was more than enough to cover food, gasoline, and lodging for several days.  It would be awhile before she would need to use her credit card or cash another check.       

 

They continued to stop at several places along the way so that Robert could make phone calls to his men at the police station, but the updates on Miss Chandler had become less and less helpful.  The next big city on the shortest route to New York was Salt Lake City.  If they could only stick close enough to them, perhaps they would be able to find them again when the next lead came up.   

 

Father leaned his seat back and drifted off to sleep.  The road was straight and smooth, unlike the night before.  He dreamed that he had found Vincent – but he kept running from him.  The young woman pictured in the driver’s license photograph was holding Vincent’s hand and running beside him, always keeping him just a few yards ahead.  He tried to call out to them…but for some reason he could not speak.  He woke up when he felt the car swerve unexpectedly. 

 

“What was that?” he asked, as she sat his chair back up quickly.

 

“Nothing,” Robert said, rubbing his eyes briefly and blinking.  “I thought I saw an animal run in front of me…but it was just a shadow.” 

 

“Robert,” Father said with sudden alarm.  “Are you too tired to continue driving?  Perhaps we should stop.” 

 

Robert shook himself awake.  “I’m okay,” he said, taking a deep breath and blinking again.  “It’s the straightness of the landscape.  It’s somewhat hypnotizing, I think.” 

 

Father looked out at the endless desolate space before them.  “How close are we to the next town?” 

 

“No towns,” said Robert with a yawn.  “We’re about two hours from Salt Lake City.”    

 

“Perhaps you should turn the radio on,” Father suggested.

 

“It’s on now,” said Robert with a wry smile. 

 

Father listened toward the speakers intently.  “I don’t hear it,” he declared.

 

Robert pointed at the hood.  Father looked forward and then back at Robert.

 

“What am I looking for?” he asked.

 

“No antenna,” Robert said with a grin.  “I think Miss Chandler doesn’t like me.”

 

“I see,” Father said.  He thought for a moment.  “We could take turns reciting something,” he suggested, with a note of excitement rising in his voice.  

 

“Well, I don't know if...” protested Robert quickly.

 

“How about Kipling?” Father said.  “Here, I’ll start.”

 

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise...

 

“If you want to put me to sleep, then you just keep reciting that one,” Robert interrupted with a laugh.  “If the guys at the precinct could see me now,” he added – shaking his head.

 

“They can’t.  I’m just trying to keep you awake,” said Father defensively. 

 

Robert continued to chuckle at the thought.  

 

“Well then, you pick one,” Father said, a little haughtily. 

 

“Very well,” Robert said, copying Father’s accent. “Remember this one?” he asked...and began to speak.

 

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

 

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

"God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!"

 

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, "Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me 'tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!"

 

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!"

 

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

"What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain," quoth he:

"'Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!"

 

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: "E'en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!"

 

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!"

 

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

 

Father smiled, and then his thoughts grew distant for a moment.  “The world is so full of frightened, angry, misguided people.  We must strive to keep both our eyes and ears open, and not judge people before we understand them.” 

 

Robert nodded.  “Agreed.”   

 

They continued to take turns reciting various poems and verses.  A few arguments ensued over certain lines.  Father insisted he was right because he was the expert – and Robert insisted he was right because he was the captain of the car and the captain was always right.  Father accused Robert of being too modern and Robert said he’d take that as a compliment.  None of it really mattered; of course; the important thing was to keep Robert awake. 

 

Two hours later, they pulled into a hotel for the night.  Robert checked with his station but there was no further credit card or bank information to indicate where Catherine and Vincent had been last.  They had, for the moment, vanished without a trace.  

 

 

 

Chapter 26

 

 

Catherine awoke early, feeling surprisingly well rested.  She quickly showered, dressed, and returned to the main room.  She saw Vincent was still sleeping.  She walked quietly over to him.   

 

“Vincent,” she said softly, touching his shoulder.  But there was no response. 

 

She sat down on the edge of the bed and watched him breathing for a few minutes.  She studied his face.  She realized that she no longer saw anything unusual when she looked at him…he was simply “Vincent.” 

 

She reached out and gently brushed his hair away from his forehead.  Vincent,” she said again.

 

His inhaled quickly and opened his eyes.  He looked surprised to see her and blinked a few times. “What time is it?” he asked.

 

“About 8:30 – I finally woke up before you,” she said teasingly.  “Yellowstone today,” she continued, smiling like an excited child.  “We’ll need to get on the road quickly so we have enough time to get through the Park and then to another town to sleep tonight.”

 

She stood up and Vincent sat up and swung his legs onto the floor.  She walked over to the door to the hallway. “While you are getting ready, I’ll go get breakfast from the lobby.  Lock the door and don’t come out until I tell you it is safe.” 

 

He showered and dressed from the additional clothes from her father’s closet which Catherine had helped him pack in a second suitcase.  For some reason it seemed difficult to move quickly today; he felt like he could have gladly gone back to sleep for another few hours.  He decided it was probably just everything catching up with him.  He had not been able to sleep much at the cabin in Truckee.  He looked at himself in the mirror and decided he was entirely too thin.  It would take some time to get back to his normal size.  But at least he was free and getting proper food again – the strength would eventually return.  He put his shoes on and smiled, thinking about the prospect of another day with Catherine before him.

 

There was a knock on the outside of the bathroom door.  “You can come out whenever you’re ready,” Catherine said.  “I’m back.” 

 

He opened the door and found her lifting lids off of the food and dividing things between the two sides of the small table.  

 

“They had a bunch of things out there,” she explained with a smile.  “I wasn’t sure what you liked so I got a little of everything.”

 

Vincent looked at the items on the tray.  There were bagels, pancakes, fried potatoes, eggs, orange juice and coffee. 

 

“Well, we are in Idaho, so we should definitely try the potatoes,” Vincent said teasingly.    

 

Catherine smiled.   It seemed everything he said made her happy.  He was so easy-going…so different than the people she spent the majority of her days with…so different than the men she had dated since her college days.  And the way he read a book…she sighed quietly at the memory.  She could have listened to him all night and never grown tired of it. 

 

They ate quickly and packed the car again.  They stopped for lunch near Idaho Falls and then Catherine got quickly back on the road.  She continued to point out various landmarks to him as they neared Yellowstone.  She noticed that Vincent was speaking less, but she decided he must be enjoying the changing landscape.  They were finally out of the desert, and things were beginning to look green again.  

 

 

 

Chapter 27

 

 

Robert was not the only detective that had been able to trace Catherine as far as the bank in Reno; the scientist’s detective led his employers there as well.

 

Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan interviewed the same teller just an hour after Robert.  She was not pleased about being bothered again.  Without the advantage of being able to flash a New York Police Department badge, Dr. Ellis had to resort to bribery again – and even begging.  He finally got back into the car with Dr. Logan; once again with a considerably lighter wallet.

 

“Well,” Dr. Ellis said, “she is now paying with cash for everything.  We will need to get our detective to keep an eye out for a young woman in a conversion van paying for hotel rooms in cash.” 

 

After spending the night in the tiny town of Elko, Nevada, Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan found their luck had improved overnight.  They heard from their detective that a woman, meeting Catherine’s description, had shown up at a hotel in Twin Falls, Idaho, paying for her room in cash.

 

“How did he do it?” Dr. Logan said in amazement.

 

“He’s good, that’s how,” Dr. Ellis said flatly.  “That’s why I hired him.  He knew how many cities were within driving distance based on the time she was at the bank in Reno.  Then he told every hotel within those cities to keep an eye out for a young woman paying in cash.”

 

The scientists quickly piled themselves and their luggage into the car and sped off up State Route 93 to Twin Falls, Idaho. 

 

 

 

Chapter 28

 

 

Vincent was enjoying the landscape, but as they went along, his annoying headache became harder to ignore. He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.  He was beginning to ache all over.  Something was wrong.  And whatever this was, it was hitting him very fast. 

 

Catherine carefully passed a car on the highway and then merged back into the right lane.  She heard Vincent open and shake the Advil bottle.

 

"Do you still have a headache?" she asked, looking at him in the rear view mirror.

 

"Yes," he said quietly.  "I think...I'm going to go lie down on the bench seat in the back, if you don't mind."

 

“Of course not, go ahead,” she said.

 

Catherine drove a little further but her mind was no longer focused on driving.  After about ten minutes, she pulled over onto a side road and put the gearshift into park.  She climbed to the back of the van and found him lying on the bench seat – which had a nice feature of flattening into a sort of bed.  He had the back of his arm over his eyes to block out the sun.  She sat down carefully on the edge of the same seat and turned to face him. 

 

“Vincent, tell me what’s wrong,” she said with concern.  

 

He lifted his arm and looked at her.  “I’m not sure,” he said.

 

She reached out and gently felt his forehead.  “You’re really warm,” she said with some alarm.  “Does your throat hurt?”

 

“No,” he said.

 

She studied his face for a moment.  “What do you think it could be?” she asked.  “A virus?” she suggested.

 

Vincent shook his head.  “I don’t normally get the same illnesses that regular people catch.  My system seems to be immune to most of them.  Father was always perplexed….” He trailed off. 

 

“Then what is it?” she asked.  “I’m pretty sure you are running a fever, but I can’t tell how high it is without a thermometer.”   

 

He thought for a few seconds.  “I was thinking about it and I believe this might be the cause,” he said.  He pulled his shirt collar away from his neck to expose a small bump on the left side of his chest. 

 

“Oh!” she said, her eyes widening.  “What is that?” she asked with confusion.

 

“It’s a port…a small device implanted between the skin and a major vein.  My captors used it to draw blood from me more easily…for testing,” he explained.  He paused for a few seconds.  “I think it might be infected,” he added.  “We once knew a Helper – a friend of the Tunnel dwellers that lived Above – who had one of these as part of his cancer treatments.  One day it got infected, he became ill, and he had to have it removed quickly.” 

 

“Yours probably needs to be removed, then,” she said.  

 

“I know,” Vincent said, letting the shirt fall back into place.  “I was just trying to decide whether or not I could remove it myself somehow, but I think there is a danger of bleeding too much; it’s implanted fairly deep.”

 

“Even if you could,” Catherine said thoughtfully, “it’s already making you ill, which means you probably need antibiotics.”  She thought for a moment, her mind whirling with the realization that this was not something she could fix herself.  They needed a doctor – but where could she find a doctor that she could trust?  And out here – in the middle of nowhere?  She began to think over the friends she knew.  She stopped at one in particular.  She closed her eyes and tried to remember the map.  Yes, they couldn’t be too far away.  But could she trust him…especially after all these years?     

 

“I know someone that lives close to here,” she finally said with some hesitation.  “He’s not a regular doctor, exactly, but I think he can help.  He’s my third cousin twice removed, or something silly like that.  We haven’t spoken in years but we were pretty close for a time when I was a teenager.”

 

Vincent considered this.  “He’s not a regular doctor?” he repeated questioningly.    

 

“He’s a vet,” she said. 

 

She watched Vincent’s face change to one of suspicion.  He searched her eyes for a few seconds.  He could feel her apprehension to the plan – but he could also feel her concern for him.  He relaxed.  “You mean he was in the military,” he offered.

 

“No…well…actually, both.  He was a warrant officer in Vietnam.  He was the one responsible for getting the injured men transported out of the battle zones and to a hospital by helicopter.  Now, he’s a licensed veterinarian and he runs a wildlife preserve in Montana.”  She paused for a moment.  “He would have basic medical supplies,” she pointed out.

 

Vincent said nothing for a moment as he tried to gauge her true feelings about the plan.  “Can you...trust him?” he finally asked her.

 

“I think so...yes,” she answered.  “Anyway, he’s the only one close enough to help.  I think we might need to take the chance.  I’ll see if I can reach him by phone.”         

 

She resumed driving, and then stopped at the first pay phone she could find.  She closed her eyes and thought for a few seconds, then dialed the operator.  “Yes, can I have the number for Dr. James Chandler in Helena, Montana?” she asked – hoping she had remembered the name of the city correctly. 

 

“Helena Valley Wildlife Preserve,” said a man’s voice on the other end of the line.  Catherine breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized it.

 

“Jim?” she asked.  “It’s...Cathy...Chandler.” 

 

Cathy?  Jim’s tone changed abruptly to one of pleasure.  “Well, what a surprise!  Long time no talk.  How are you, Cathy?” 

 

“Jim,” she started, trying to think of exactly what to say, “I’m...in the area...and I really need your help with something.  But you have to promise to keep a secret for me,” she finished with a grave note in her voice. 

 

“I’ve kept many secrets in my life, Cathy.  Where are you?”

 

“About three hours away.  Can I come straight out?” 

 

“Of course,” he said.  “Can you find your way?” 

 

“I think so.  I have a map…and your address.”  She turned to check behind her, but they were still the only ones in the parking lot.   “And Jim, don’t tell anyone I’m coming.  Not even my Father.  It's...a matter of life and death.  I’ll explain when I get there.  Can you trust me?” 

 

“Trust you?” he laughed.  “Of course, anything you say.  I’ll be watching for you.  I’ll have a bottle of wine ready,” he added, teasingly.

 

“Jim, please be serious.  I can’t explain until I get there.  I have to leave, someone else just pulled in to use the phone.  Goodbye.”  She hung the receiver up and climbed back into the van. 

 

Three hours later, she drove through the city of Helena and into the outskirts of the national forest.  She pulled up to Jim’s home and found him waiting by the gate for her.  He was a tall man – 41 years of age.  He was broader, older, and a little more rugged than when she had seen him last, but she would have recognized him anywhere.  She climbed out of the van and allowed him to take her into his arms. 

 

“So good to see you again, Cathy,” he said with a smile.  He slowly released her but kept his hands on her shoulders.  “So what is it?  What do you need my help with?” he asked kindly. 

 

Catherine looked up at him, noting the faint wrinkles around his eyes from working in the sun, and searching them as if questioning herself one last time.  She started speaking in low even tones. “I have a close friend with me,” she began.  “He has one of those IV ports in his chest.  He’s running a fever and we think it’s infected.  It needs to be removed immediately and treated with antibiotics.  Can you do it?”

 

He dropped his arms and looked absolutely baffled for a moment.  “Well, Cathy, I’ve dreamed up a lot of reasons during the last three hours for why you were coming, but that wasn’t one of them!”  He chuckled.  “Why didn’t you just take him to a hospital?  They would have treated him for something like that – even if he doesn’t have insurance.” 

 

“I can’t...take him to a hospital,” she said gravely, looking up at him with her eyes wide. 

 

“Why not?” he asked.  “He’s not some kind of...criminal, is he?” he added, still teasing but his voice lower and more serious. 

 

“No,” she said, almost haughtily.  “No, nothing like that.  I’ll let you talk to him, but you have to promise me first not to tell anyone what you’ll see.  And I mean anyone.  Or I’ll leave right now and find someone else to help.”  Her voice was no longer quiet.  She gave him an intense look of warning.    

 

Jim reached out and put his hands back on her shoulders to calm her.  “Of course, I promise, Cathy,” he said seriously, looking bewildered.  “You know me – you ought to know you can trust me.” 

 

Catherine turned and walked over to the van.  She opened the side door and reached in to tug Vincent’s hand, saying quietly: “It’s okay, you can trust him.”

 

Vincent climbed out with his hood pulled over his head.  He allowed Catherine to lead him over to Jim.  The two men’s eyes met. 

 

“Good Lord...what the hell?” said Jim incredulously.

 

“Please,” said Catherine sternly, “you promised.” 

 

Vincent forced himself to focus, and reached out to shake Jim’s hand. “I’m Vincent.  It’s a pleasure to meet one of Catherine’s relatives.”  He paused for a few seconds.  "I would greatly appreciate your assistance,” he added.

 

Jim shook his hand almost mechanically.  He dropped it and stood speechless for a moment.

Vincent lost his balance briefly and Catherine reached out to steady him.  They heard the sound of a car approaching in the distance.  Jim snapped himself back to attention. “Come on, you can’t stand outside.” 

 

Jim led them into the house, down a long hallway, through the kitchen, and into an attached garage which served as his office and lab.  He made a remarkable transition from gaping bystander to expert physician within a few minutes.  He gave orders for Vincent to go into the back room, remove his vest and shirt, and lie down on the x-ray table.  He took x-rays and blood work for cultures.  He studied the x-rays for some time and asked Vincent a few basic questions.  

 

He finally gathered supplies of antiseptics and gauze and lined them up on the counter.  He filled a syringe with a local anesthetic.  And hour later, the port was finally out, the area stitched, and he had an IV of antibiotics dripping into Vincent’s arm.     

 

“I’ve given you a shot for pain,” Jim said as he removed his gloves and threw them away. “It’s going to make you feel drowsy, of course.  When you feel you are able, stand up and I’ll show you where you can sleep tonight.”

* * *

 

Later, after Vincent was settled in one of Jim’s guest bedrooms, Jim and Catherine went outside to talk.  Jim handed Catherine one of his coats.  It was much too large for her and the sleeves completely covered her hands, but it was warm and she was grateful, since the Montana night air was quite cold.  They settled on the large back porch steps. 

 

“So...”  Jim said slowly, motioning the palms of his hands in an upward position, shrugging his shoulders, his eyes wide, his eyebrows raised. 

 

“I can’t thank you enough.  Do you think he’ll be okay?” she asked quietly.  Her eyes meet his – her voice was slightly unsteady.

 

“I think we caught it early enough,” he answered.  “The antibiotics are strong and they should, in time, take care of any remaining infection.  You did the right thing…getting him here quickly.”  He paused for a few seconds and then continued.  “That wasn’t my question, though.  Who is he?” 

 

Her expression turned to one of perplexity.  She stared ahead.  “I can’t tell you everything,” she said.   

 

“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said flatly.  “Tell me what you can.” 

 

So Catherine told him, briefly, what she felt was safe to tell.  She left out the Tunnels and the details of where they may be.  She told him how she had found Vincent in the basement room of the university; about the scientists chasing after them, and how she needed to get him back to New York where he had friends and a safe place to hide.  Jim listened without speaking until she finished. 

 

“Unbelievable,” Jim said simply as he stared off into the darkness beyond the patio.  . 

 

“You won’t tell anyone?” she asked seriously, turning back to look at him.  “You didn’t really get to meet him properly.” She smiled and gazed ahead.  “He’s really...quite...wonderful; you should have heard him the other day...” 

 

Jim laughed.  “No,” he said.  “I told you that you can trust me and I meant it.  I don’t think anyone would believe me anyway.”  He stood up.  “You should get some sleep yourself.  You look exhausted.  I’ll check on him throughout the night.”  He put his hand on the door handle, paused one more second, and added, “At least I know your type now.”  He chuckled at his own joke and went into the house, letting the screen door shut behind him. 

 

Catherine slowly shook her head.  Typical Jim.  She stood up and followed him inside.  She called her father briefly on the phone and told him she had decided to visit some friends in Los Angeles.  She promised to call again in a few days when she knew her next plans.  She hung up the phone and, after checking to see that Vincent did not need anything, she crawled thankfully into the bed in the second guest room and fell asleep almost instantly. 

 

 

 

Chapter 29

 

 

It was late when Dr. Logan and Dr. Ellis stood inside the hotel room that Catherine and Vincent had rented the night before.  It had been cleaned and there were no clues left behind.  Dr. Ellis continued to pretend he was Catherine’s father and that she was in danger with the man she ‘ran off with.’

 

“Can you give us any idea of where she may have gone?” he asked.

 

The woman from the front desk thought for a moment.  “Well, most everyone passing through here is on their way to Yellowstone,” she said. 

 

Dr. Ellis looked at Dr. Logan and raised his eyebrows but said nothing.  He turned back to the woman.  “Thanks,” he said, “I guess that’s all.  Please let us know if she comes back.  We’re really worried about her,” he lied.  

 

They left the room and the scientists returned to their car.  “Do you think she may have agreed to meet Grannis and Morrison in Yellowstone?” Dr. Logan asked.  She’s smarter than I thought: a public – but somewhat private – place where they can make the exchange,” he said. 

 

Dr. Ellis nodded and put the car into drive.  “We will head that way, and ask questions when we enter the park.  Perhaps one of the rangers will remember her blue van.” 

 

They hit the road and drove as far as Idaho Falls before finding a hotel for the night.  The next morning they resolved to continue their search with the help of their dedicated detective. 

 

 

 

Chapter 30

 

 

Catherine jumped awake and looked at the clock.  It was 3 a.m.  She listened.  The house was eerily quiet.  She got up and carefully crept down the dark hallway into Vincent’s room. 

 

He was sleeping.  She stood for a few moments, watching him.  She considered for the first time how much it would upset her to lose him.  It was crazy, of course.  A mere stranger just a few days ago – and yet someone that she had shared more of her hopes, dreams, and fears with than anyone else in a long time. 

 

She felt someone put their arm around her from behind and she turned to see Jim. 

 

“Hey…” he said just above a whisper, giving her a squeeze.  “You’re supposed to be sleeping.  I’ve been checking on him. Go back to bed.”

 

She made no motion to leave.  “Is he ok?” she asked. 

 

“He’s stable, yes,” Jim said.  He hesitated for a few seconds.  He tried to think of something to get her to leave. “So,” he said slowly. “It took this to get you to finally see my place?” he added with a hint of amusement.  “I thought you wouldn’t set foot in my house for all the…what was the phrase you used?”   

 

“Jim!” Catherine said in dismay, a little louder than she intended. 

 

“Shhh…” he said as his eyes widened.  “Go back to bed.  If you don’t,” he paused and brought his face closer to hers, “I’ll reach in your closet and pull out another skeleton,” he added teasingly.  

 

“See,” she said, “this is exactly why….”

 

“Ah!” he said reproachfully. “Go.  Or I’ll carry you in there myself.” 

 

She knew he meant it, and so she obeyed and returned to her room. 

 

Jim leaned out into the hallway and listened for her door to click shut.  He stepped back into the room where Vincent was sleeping and closed the door behind him.  After a few seconds of thought, he locked it.  He settled down on the oversized chair on the other end of the room from Vincent and breathed a sigh of relief.  He wasn’t entirely sure who – or what – this half-man, half-beast was, but he was going to make certain that Catherine did not have the chance to be alone with Vincent tonight – at least until he could determine if she was in any danger. 

 

He had been observing his patient earlier, and the high fever was causing Vincent to occasionally thrash about in his sleep.  Jim had tried, about an hour ago, to wake Vincent and ask him a question – and had found himself narrowly missing a swipe of Vincent’s strong nails.  Vincent had focused on him and apologized a few seconds later – saying that he was having a nightmare – but Jim’s concerns had already been raised. 

 

Jim removed his shoes as he continued to think to himself.  Perhaps it would not happen again – but he didn’t want Catherine to be the one attempting to wake Vincent next time…just in case.  He pulled the throw blanket off the back of the chair, covered up with it, leaned back, and closed his eyes.  At least no one could get in or out without him being aware.  And tomorrow he would spend some time in his lab...



Part III (final)