A Much Larger Prison

 

by Rachel Elaine

 

(Part III: Chapters 31 - End)

Story Index

 

Chapter 31

 

 

The next morning Vincent awoke and looked around the room as he tried to remember where he was.  He sat up slowly and saw Jim sitting on the chair across the room, holding a cup of coffee and watching him keenly.

 

“How are you feeling?” Jim asked.

 

“Better than yesterday,” Vincent answered.  “The antibiotics,” he motioned to the empty IV, “appear to be working.”

 

Jim raised his eyebrows.  “It’s not possible for them to work that fast,” he said simply, as he stood up and took a few steps toward Vincent. “That culture I took last night is already growing like mad.” 

 

“In my case,” Vincent said, “they might.  I tend to heal quickly,” he explained.

 

“Hmm,” said Jim.  He brought the coffee cup to his lips and drank, eying Vincent curiously over the top of the cup, and thinking.  "So," he said, as he set the cup down on the nightstand, “that would mean you have an unusually fast metabolism – among other things.  Any idea what those scientists were giving you as a sedative?"

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “The vials said Ketamine.  And Diphenhydramine.” 

 

“Ah,” said Jim, “that’ll do it.” He paused.  “The good news is that’s not really addictive.  So you’re lucky on that one,” he added.  “Although,” he continued, “it may have made me a little less worried about some things last night.”  He gave Vincent a challenging look.    

 

Vincent’s eyes widened briefly as he realized what Jim was implying.  “I would never have harmed her,” Vincent said with conviction. 

 

“You can’t be sure of that,” Jim challenged. 

 

“Yes, I can,” said Vincent, “I can sense her – I can tell when she’s nearby immediately.”

 

“Uh huh,” said Jim, doubtfully.  “I hope so.”

 

Vincent looked away and sighed quietly.  Must he spend the rest of his life explaining himself?

 

Jim felt a brief wave of guilt wash over him.  “Hey,” said Jim, taking one step closer. “Listen, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you.  I know you’ve been through hell.  And I’m willing to help.  But you have to stop and see things from my point of view for a moment.”

 

Vincent looked back up at him.  “I have spent my entire life seeing myself from other people’s point of view,” Vincent said with a note of challenge in his voice.  “I can assure you any concern for Catherine’s welfare is more than mutual,” he added seriously.   

 

“Good,” said Jim with finality.  There was a somewhat uncomfortable moment of silence as Jim seemed unsure what to say next.  “Well, now that we got that out of the way – is there anything in the family history that you might want to share with your new doctor?” Jim finally asked with a wry smile. 

 

“If I knew the answer to that myself…I would tell you,” said Vincent simply.

 

“You don’t know anything?” he asked with surprise.

 

“No,” said Vincent.

 

“Hmm,” said Jim. “You know, when I was –”

 

Jim was interrupted by a soft knock on the door.  He unlocked it and Catherine stepped inside – giving Jim a questioning look. 

 

Jim laughed.  “Bad habit of locking doors when I close them, sorry,” he said with a shrug.  “Go on,” he said, motioning to his left, and then stepped into the hallway himself.  

 

Catherine turned, met Vincent's eyes, and smiled.  “Are you feeling better?” she asked as she walked over to him. 

 

“Yes,” he said. 

 

The happiness he felt knowing that she was still here, that she had not left, was indescribable.  The thought had occurred to him that she might leave today, now that she had found him somewhere to safely recover.  He had not missed the shocked expression on Jim’s face in the night – and he knew that Jim was perfectly justified in sliding into protection mode on Catherine’s behalf.  The fever had caused him to have nightmares and he was dreaming that he was back in the basement, about to be killed by his captors. Jim had touched his shoulder at the same second Dr. Ellis had shot him with a dart gun in his dream.  He wouldn’t be surprised if Jim encouraged Catherine to leave today.  Perhaps he would drive her to the airport himself.  It was probably best – but his heart ached at the thought of her leaving.       

 

Catherine suddenly reached out and took his hand.  “Jim’s property is beautiful,” she said.  “I could see a little as I was driving in yesterday.  Once you feel up to it, I’d love to show you around,” she added with a smile.  She paused for a few moments.  “It’s not quite Yellowstone – but that’s probably better.  There is less chance of anyone seeing you.” 

 

Vincent looked at her hand and then up at her face.  He could feel her concern for him, and it made his heart leap again to know that this beautiful woman actually cared for him.

 

“That...would be very nice,” he said. 

 

About ten minutes later, Jim re-entered the room holding two plates of hot food.  He handed one to Catherine and one to Vincent.  “Enjoy,” he said.  “I need to get some work done around here, so I’ll be out most of the morning.  Take it easy, okay?  Both of you.  I don’t want either of you traveling for at least a few days...so just plan on hanging around for awhile.”  He paused and then directed his next sentence to Catherine.  “My normal employee is off this week, so I don’t think anyone will come to the door.  But if someone does, there is a large old-fashioned bell on the back porch.  Ring it as loud as you can and I’ll hear you.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 32

 

 

Around noon that day, Jim opened the back door of the house and entered the kitchen.  He was immediately met with a wonderful aroma of food.  He glanced at the stove and saw Catherine filling a bowl with freshly mashed potatoes.   

 

“Hey, this is nice,” he said as he walked over to her.  “I might just have to keep you here for awhile...tie you up if necessary,” he added with a wink. 

 

Catherine turned and handed him the bowl of potatoes.  “Put that on the table,” she ordered, giving him a smile laced with a look of warning. 

 

Jim chuckled and did as he was told.  He looked around the table and counted three place settings.  He turned back to Catherine.

 

“So, where’s…umm...” he began…and then stopped. 

 

Vincent was standing in the doorway. 

 

Jim’s eyes widened slightly as he noted Vincent’s overall stature.  Jim was a tall man – but Vincent was taller.  And larger.  Jim felt a wave of apprehension wash over him and wondered again whether he had done the right thing in letting this unusual person into his home.  Jim looked at Catherine and then back to Vincent.  He gave Vincent a look of warning and sat in the middle between the two outer place settings.

 

Catherine had turned and brought the rest of the food to the table.  Jim saw the look of annoyance in her eyes when she noticed where Jim was sitting.  She seemed about to say something, but then changed her mind and sat down on the seat opposite Vincent’s.  Vincent sat down and they ate. 

 

The strain at the table was obvious.  Catherine occasionally looked between the two men, noticing the slight change in Vincent’s demeanor and Jim’s over-enthusiastic interest in his food.  Catherine grasped desperately at something for conversation.

 

“Jim,” she said with a forced smile, “tell us what kind of animals live on the preserve here.”

 

Jim looked up from his food for a moment, and then proceeded to slowly butter two slices of bread before finally answering.  “I’ll tell you what,” he said, as he set the bread down, “after we finish up here, you can both just come out and see them.”

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

 

An hour later, the three people made their way across the backyard behind Jim’s home.  Jim walked ahead of Vincent and Catherine.  It wasn’t a very long journey, but the rolling hills of the landscape hid much of the property.  Catherine kept turning to Vincent to make sure he was not too tired, but he assured her that he was feeling much better and was enjoying the beautiful walk.  Jim finally stopped in front of a large building.  He opened the door and motioned for Catherine and Vincent to step inside. 

 

Catherine looked around and saw that there was a long hallway in front of them.  On either side were large, thick, glass windows.  She stepped over and peered into the first one, wondering what kind of wild, scary, exotic animal she would find peering back at her. Catherine’s look of apprehension suddenly turned into a large smile.  She glanced back at Vincent and saw that he was smiling as well. 

 

Inside the glass enclosure was a black bird.  A raven, to be exact.  The bird eyed Catherine curiously and ran sideways on his perch to check his dish.

 

“He thinks I’m here to feed him,” explained Jim with a smile.  He waggled his finger at the bird.  “It’s not time to eat yet – and you didn’t finish your fruit,” he added, pointing at one of the other dishes.    

 

Catherine looked up at Jim and raised her eyebrows in surprise.  Before she could say anything Jim went on.

 

“This is Harvey,” he explained, waving his hand toward the bird.  “He came to us from a foundation in North Carolina.  He’s non-releasable because of a wing injury which permanently impaired his flying abilities.  He’s very smart; sometimes we get high school or vet school field trips out this way, and I always get him to perform.”  Jim paused and then shrugged.  “It gets the kids interested in being an avian vet.” 

 

He motioned for them to follow him to the next window.  Inside was a light brown owl with a white face.  “This is Jupiter,” he said.  “He was in a bird show that was closed down by the Humane Society.  He came to live here because he was tame and unable to be released into the wild.  Barn owls only have about a twenty percent chance of survival in the wild as it is – and the fact that he trusts humans would cut that down to zero.”  

 

He quickly walked to the next window.  A very small black and red hawk stared back at them.

“This is Mikey,” Jim explained, tapping on the glass softly to get the bird’s attention.  “Mikey was hatched as part of an experiment to test the parenting abilities of one of the foundation's pairs of Golden Eagles.” He smiled as the bird extended his wings in a manner of warning. “Apparently the Golden Eagles did such an excellent job nurturing young Mikey that he now thinks he is a Mighty Golden Eagle instead of a little Harris Hawk.” 

 

Catherine gave Jim a look that was a cross between pleasant amusement and bewilderment.  Jim winked at her and then continued to the next window. 

 

“This big guy is Cujo,” he said.  “He’s a black vulture.  He wandered into someone’s back yard about 5 years ago and immediately started playing with the kids.  When they went inside for the night, Cujo tried to follow them.  He spent the night on the front porch, where he tried repeatedly to get into the house.  The next day he went to live with the American Eagle Society.  Obviously, he didn’t have a fear of humans; they figure he must have been raised by humans and then, for whatever reason, he was released into the wild.”  Jim paused for a moment.  “He came to live here last year.  He’s a real character.  We have a daily argument about whether or not he can follow me home.”

 

Catherine looked at the bird and saw that he had made his way as close to the window as possible – and was looking up at Jim intently.  She glanced at Jim and saw, with surprise, that he was smiling at the bird fondly.          

 

Vincent studied Catherine’s expression as she looked at Jim.  He had been thoroughly enjoying the stories about the birds’ histories…but he was also paying attention to something else.  There was something very strange going on with Catherine’s emotions; they seemed to be changing as quickly as a roller coaster winds around a track.  Vincent looked from Catherine to Jim and realized that there must have been some kind of disagreement between them.  Catherine clearly cared about him – which seemed natural since he was her cousin – but she kept putting up a fierce guard against him.  The guard, however, seemed to be coming down.  Vincent could feel a mixture of shock, compassion, and sudden guilt.     

 

Jim showed Catherine and Vincent the rest of the glass cages.  Each cage had a door at the back which exited into a larger fenced-in area.  Jim explained that the birds were free to move between the indoor and outdoor areas at will. 

 

They reached the end of the building and Jim took them outside.  They walked a little ways and finally came to an enormous fenced-in area with multiple large birds of prey.  The area was divided in half, with a larger area on the one side and two smaller areas on the other side.  Jim pointed at one of the smaller areas.

 

“This is the area where the birds go that are deemed fit to return to the wild.  Sometimes they are somewhat accustomed to being fed by humans – perhaps due to an injury and hospitalization – and we have to teach them to hunt again and to fear us.  So this cage here is for the birds in the first stage.  I feed them, and they live in a smaller environment.  I give them very little contact and the food is placed inside using a long pole, so they don’t associate me with the food as much.”  Jim motioned them to follow him to the next section.

 

“Over here is where I move them when they are showing signs of wanting to hunt for themselves.  I still supplement them with food – but only if I feel it’s needed, and…”  Jim turned and took a few steps toward the largest section of the enclosure, “once they are fully self-sufficient they come to this side for some final observation until they get released back into the wild.”

 

Jim finally stopped and turned back toward Catherine and Vincent.  He had a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  He hesitated for a few seconds and then spoke to Catherine.

 

“You were expecting tigers?” he asked teasingly. 

 

Catherine looked at Vincent and then back to Jim.  “I guess I just didn’t expect...birds,” she said with a kind smile.  “Years ago, you told me you wanted to work with bigger animals.”

 

Jim shrugged his shoulders.  “I did,” he said, with a nod.  “And have.  For many years.  Mountain Lions.  Gray wolves.  Elk.  The last grant ran out two years ago.  They decided that it was too small of a preserve to house them long-term.  I’m still considered a certified emergency hospital for larger animals, and occasionally have to house temporary patients if they can’t be transported any further right away.  But anyway, that wasn’t enough to cover my salary.  Then some non-profit society out of Washington State was looking for a place to send birds and...well...I didn’t want to leave this beautiful place, so I offered to take on the job.”  

 

“You seem to like it,” Catherine observed.

 

Jim smiled. “Yeah, well, I do really enjoy it,” he admitted. ”If you think about it... birds are one of the freest creatures in existence. They can go just about anywhere.  I hate to see them grounded; when I’m able to get one back into the wild, it’s a very satisfying feeling.”

 

“And the ones in the cage?” put in Vincent, nodding toward the buildings they had just left.  “They can never be truly free.  It must be...” he paused, “difficult for them.  They must long for the sky.  To stretch their wings.  To be free of their confinements.”

 

Jim thought for a moment as he studied Vincent’s expression.  “They still have value,” he said slowly, with emphasis.  “They still deserve happiness.  And even if their lives have to be lived out in confinement – it’s only for their own protection.  It does not make them less important.  Their lives continue to bring joy to those that meet them, even without having the same freedom the other birds do,” he finished, before turning and walking deliberately back into the building with an air of one that does not want to be followed.

 

Catherine stood staring at Jim for a few moments.  She had no idea Jim could be so...deep.  What he said was almost...poetic.  She turned and saw that Vincent had a completely astonished expression on his face.  She realized that, for Vincent, Jim’s words meant something much more profound.  She walked over to him and took his hand.  “I think we had better go back inside,” she said.  “You’ve done enough for today.” 

 

Vincent looked at her small hand in his and gently clasped it a little tighter.  They turned and together they walked back to Jim’s house. 

 

 

 

Chapter 34

 

 

That night, Catherine stared at the ceiling above her bed.  It was 1 a.m., but for some reason she could not sleep.  She turned on her side and let a memory play over in her mind that she had tried to forget.  A warm night …seven years ago.  A night that started out so nice…and ended so badly.  She closed her eyes and sighed.  You’re crazy…she had said.  Never…she had said.   

 

And now, here she was. 

 

She heard the sound of a chair scraping across the floor.  Her brow winkled in confusion; Jim had gone to bed even before she had.  There shouldn’t be anyone awake.  She listened intently but all was silent again.  She turned onto her back and tried again to relax and fall asleep.  A few seconds later, she heard several loud thuds from somewhere in the house.  There was a creaking sound, and the sound of metal grinding against metal.  She sat up and got out of bed.  She was wearing her warmest clothes – a jogging suit she had packed at the last minute when leaving home.  She quickly walked down the hall, looked in Vincent’s room – and saw that he was asleep.  She crept down the other end of the hall and peered into Jim’s room. 

 

It was empty. 

 

The bed was still made and appeared unslept in.  She backed out and continued down the long hall, to the kitchen, and into the attached garage serving as Jim’s office. 

 

Jim was seated at his enormous desk.  He had a stack of incredibly thick, large books scattered across the surface.  One book was open in front of him and a stack of papers was sitting next to it.  His finger was holding a place on the paper while he bent intently over the book; his brow furrowed in perplexity as he read.      

 

The screen door closed loudly behind her, causing him to look up. 

 

“Hey,” he said, as he shut the papers inside the book immediately and moved it aside.  “You’re supposed to be sleeping.”

 

She smiled.  “Is that your standard greeting at night?” she asked. 

 

He grinned and then glanced down at his now empty desk.  He quickly reached in a drawer and pulled out a stack of mail and his checkbook.  He set everything down in front of him. “So, what’s up?” he asked as he closed the drawer. 

 

“I couldn’t sleep. I guess I have a lot on my mind,” she said quietly.  “Then I heard noises coming from this direction.  Why are you up so late?” 

 

“Working,” he said simply as he opened an envelope and pulled out the contents.  “I got a little behind on things the last two days. Can’t imagine why,” he added with a wink. 

 

She gave him a single breath of laughter and then looked away. 

 

He glanced up at her, and noted that she didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave.  “Do you want some coffee?” he asked as he nodded toward the mug on his desk. 

 

“This time of the night?” she asked, lifting her eyebrows.

 

He chuckled and motioned for her to sit down on the couch.  He glanced at her and then began writing out a check.  “So, how’s your dad?” he asked without looking up.

 

“He’s well.  Very busy, as usual.”

 

“Your job?” he asked, as he tore off the check and placed it in a return envelope.  

 

Catherine hesitated.  “It’s okay.”

 

Jim glanced up at her.  “Just okay?” he asked. “Wasn’t that the big goal?”    

 

Catherine hesitated again.  “It’s great,” she finally said. 

 

“Good,” he said, as he opened the next envelope and read the contents.  He pursed his eyebrows together.  “1981?” he muttered.  “You gotta be kidding me,” he added as he set the letter down.  He stood up and began rummaging through his file cabinet.  He picked out one file, paged through the contents, and then returned it to the cabinet.  

 

“Jim?” Catherine asked quietly. 

 

“Yeah?” he answered with disinterest as he picked up another file and paged through it. 

 

“I’m…really sorry…about that night in the park,” she said.

 

Jim glanced up at her with a look of surprise, and then returned to digging through his folders.  “That’s okay,” he said with a shrug. “I let that go a long time ago.  You were right, anyway.”

 

“Yes, but I could have said it in a nicer way,” she explained. 

 

He chuckled but made no reply.  He shut one file cabinet drawer and opened another one. 

 

Catherine watched him for a few seconds.  “I really appreciate everything you’ve done,” she said. 

 

He glanced up at her and held her gaze for a few seconds.  “Yeah, well,” he began, as he shut the other drawer, “since you’re here, I’d like to talk to you about some things.” 

 

“Okay,” she said with some trepidation. 

 

Jim walked around the desk, leaned against the front of it, and crossed his arms.  He hesitated for a moment as he gathered his thoughts.  “Listen...this unusual individual you met –” he began.

 

“Vincent,” she corrected. 

 

Jim paused and closed his eyes briefly.  Vincent,” he repeated, sounding slightly forced.  “How...” he began, and then halted.

 

“How?” she repeated with a note of challenge in her voice.

 

“How close...” He paused and edited his thoughts. “How much longer...do you intend to hang around with him?” he asked. 

 

Catherine felt a mixture of discomfort and indignation.  “I intend to get him safely home,” she said, “where no one will hurt him again.”  

 

Jim’s eyes met hers for several seconds as he challenged her evasive answer silently.  He swallowed.  “Just – be careful,” he said. 

 

“I have been,” she asserted.  “That’s why we were trying to take a different route – to avoid being traced.”

 

Their eyes met again – and both of them knew that Catherine was not acknowledging the true warning Jim was trying to give her. 

 

Jim finally looked away and, glancing at his watch, he sighed.

 

“It’s late,” he said. “I think I’m going to quit for tonight.  Come on,” he added, as he stood up and motioned for her to follow. 

 

They walked through the door and into the kitchen.  Jim shut the steel door and, reaching into his pocket for his keys, locked it. 

 

Catherine looked at the keys.  “You lock it?” she asked with some confusion.

 

Jim’s eyes widened.  He thought for a few seconds.  “I have to,” he finally said firmly. “There are controlled drugs stored in there – it's a requirement,” he explained.   

 

“Oh,” she said. 

 

He put his keys in his pocket and motioned for her to follow him down the hall.  He stopped at her room.  “Goodnight,” he said as he reached out and tousled her hair.

 

She shot him a slightly annoyed look as she smoothed her hair down.  She suddenly felt 13 years old again.  “Goodnight,” she said, as she went through the doorway to her room and shut it firmly but quietly behind her. 

 

Jim closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.  He patted his keys in his pocket, went into his bedroom, and shut the door. 

 

 

 

Chapter 35

 

 

Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan spent two days driving through Yellowstone and asking everyone they met if they had seen a young woman driving a van.  The story about being her dad and her running off with a dangerous man brought sympathy from nearly everyone and they all promised to keep an eye out for her.  At the end of the second day, they exited the park and stopped at a pay phone in a small town to call their detective. 

 

Dr. Ellis took charge, as usual.  “Well it can’t be that difficult to find a woman traveling – appearing alone – in a large blue conversion van with curtains in the windows.  That’s not common!” he shouted into the phone. 

 

A man in a large cowboy hat stood outside smoking a cigarette in the far end of the parking lot of the gas station.  He put out his cigarette and walked over to the pay phone.  “You looking for a young woman driving a van?” he asked suspiciously. 

 

Dr. Logan turned and looked at the man with surprise.  “Yes,” he said.  “My...sister.  She ran off with some guy…and he’s dangerous.  This is my father.”

 

The man eyed the two scientists suspiciously.  “What would you do if I told you I saw a woman in a van the other day,” he said. 

 

Dr. Ellis quickly hung up the phone.  “Well, did you?” he demanded. 

 

The man in the hat turned and looked at Dr. Ellis with contempt.  “You look like a man that knows the best way to get information,” he challenged. 

 

Dr. Ellis’ eyes flared.  The two men met each other’s gaze…in a look of quiet challenge.  Dr. Ellis finally sighed and reached into his pocket for money.  He counted out all he had – $100.  “That’s all I got,” he said as he held it up.  “Now, you can tell me – or I’ll put this back in my pocket and find someone who will.” 

 

The man snatched the money from Dr. Ellis’ hand and stuffed it in his pocket.  “She came by…day before yesterday,” he said.  “Big blue van.  Curtains all the way around.  She was on this very same pay phone when I pulled in.  I was coming back from taking my son home; he works mornings and then we switch.  Anyway, the woman saw me pull in behind her and she got into the van and quickly drove off.  I wouldn't have noticed her, except she was dressed so fine.  Good clothes – not like your typical women’s clothes out here.  New York stuff, like what you see on TV.  Didn’t really strike me as the type of woman to be driving a big van.” He lit another cigarette. 

 

Dr. Ellis immediately reached for the phone and dialed the number of his detective again. 

 

Dr. Logan reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Thank you,” he said with a smile.  “You’ve been a great help.”

 

The man nodded and walked back toward the building. 

 

Dr. Ellis waited impatiently for the phone to connect to the detective. “Yeah, it’s me again,” he said.  “I need you to get a full list of all phone calls that went out of this phone booth I’m calling from.  For two days ago.  The woman was here – and she called someone.”  He put his hand over the mouthpiece and turned to Dr. Logan.  “Once we know who it was, we will know where she went next.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 36

 

 

Vincent and Catherine spent the day after the bird tour walking through the property and enjoying each other’s company.  There were no frightening road chases or worries about where to stay that night.  Jim gave them space, spending much of his time working with the birds and doing other chores around the property. 

 

That afternoon, Catherine and Vincent sat together on the crest of the hill, leaning against a large tree and facing the looming mountains.  They were extraordinary works of nature, some spanning over 10,000 feet and bare, while others were lower and covered in beautiful colors of pine green with bits of orange, red, yellow.  Vincent thought to himself that while books could certainly paint a beautiful picture, nothing could compare to being here and seeing them in person.  Vincent sensed that Catherine’s thoughts were not on the mountains.  She seemed to be contemplating something.  He waited patiently for her to speak.

 

“When I was 22, Jim asked me to marry him,” she finally said.

 

Vincent turned his head slowly to face her.  “What was your answer?” he asked.

 

“I told him no.”  She paused, and then continued.  “He’s a dear, and he was great fun when I was a child, but I don’t love him that way.  Besides, he was so much older than me – 11 years – I guess it scared me.  He was so full of plans and just seemed to think I would go along with them without any question.  He wanted me to move out here immediately and help him run the preserve.  I was set to go to Columbia Law School the next year and my father would have been furious if I had changed my plans – not to mention I couldn’t, at the time, have seen myself living out in the middle of nowhere and being happy.   Finally, I was shocked, frankly, because I had always thought of him as family.”  She paused.  “But the truth is...he’s not really my cousin.”

 

Vincent sat up further and turned to look at her.  “He’s not your cousin?” he repeated with genuine surprise.  He paused.  “You both have the same last name,” he pointed out. 

 

Catherine nodded.  “Well, he is, and he isn’t.  You see, my grandfather Chandler had an older brother.  That brother had a son, and his name was Andrew.  Andrew married a widow named Rosalie.  Her husband, James, had been stationed over in France a few years after World War II ended and had died in a plane crash.  Rosalie was 4 months pregnant at the time her husband died; this was Jim.  She and Andrew had gone to high school together and when he found out her husband had died and she was pregnant…he married her.  So Jim became James Andrew Chandler.  Jim didn’t know until he grew up and Rosalie died that Andrew was not his real father.” 

 

Vincent watched her as she spoke and tried to encourage her with his eyes to continue. 

 

“Rosalie wanted Jim to become a doctor, so Jim went to college for biochemistry and was planning to attend medical school.  One month after Jim graduated with his bachelor’s degree, his mother died and he found out about his real father.  It was a shock to him, as you can imagine.  He quarreled with Andrew and joined the Army.  All his friends from high school were going to Vietnam and he felt pressured to go too.  When he came home he decided he didn’t want to be a doctor after all.”

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “Because of how terrible the war was?” he suggested. 

 

Catherine nodded.  “Jim was...traumatized by all the death he saw.  He told me countless people died…some of them right in his arms…while he was trying to get them to safety.  Then he was badly injured and almost died himself.  The helicopter Jim was flying crashed and he had a spine injury, among other things.  The doctors fused his vertebrae back together but he needed special physical therapy that a hospital in Manhattan offered.  Andrew lived all the way in upstate New York, so Jim came to live with my father and me for six months after getting injured so he could get to his physical therapy sessions easier.  I was 13 years old at the time.  My father suggested that I play board games with Jim after school to keep Jim’s mind off the war.  So I did…and began to enjoy it.”  She paused.  “He was actually a lot of fun to have around. I really missed him when he left.” 

 

“Where did he go?” Vincent asked. 

 

“Well, he was honorably discharged from the Army because of his injuries, so he started trying to decide whether to get a job or go on to graduate school.  He decided not to pursue medical school because he said he didn’t think he could handle it after what he saw in the war.  Then he read a flier about becoming a veterinarian at the University of Colorado and working with endangered animals and wildlife out at Yellowstone.  He went…and discovered that he loved it.  He wrote to me for a little while, and then lost interest.”

 

“Then he saw you again,” Vincent coaxed.     

 

“Yes.  He finished his degree in veterinary medicine and worked for a few years out in Yellowstone.  About seven years ago he came to New York to visit.  I was 22 years old by then and had just graduated from Radcliffe.  That’s when he proposed to me…and wanted me to move out here with him.  I felt guilty later because he was so excited about everything, and I’ll admit I wasn’t very nice to him when I turned him down.  I told him he was crazy.  I guess I was just so upset with him for even thinking that way.  He was my friend, my cousin, and I was angry that he was ruining it by getting silly.” 

 

“I could sense a…strain...between the two of you,” Vincent observed. 

 

Catherine looked thoughtful.  “I haven’t seen him since the night he proposed,” she explained.  “My father, however, met him for dinner about three years ago and Jim told him about the wildlife preserve he is running now.  My father told me and, fortunately, I remembered the name of the city.”  

 

She paused and Vincent could feel the guilt wash over her again.  She finally calmed down and a feeling of general peace took the place of the guilt. 

 

“Even though I couldn’t have offered you a solid reason, I knew I could count on him to help,” she explained.    

 

Vincent processed this new information, staring at the distant hills without really seeing them.  “Life is always a surprise, Catherine,” Vincent said.  “Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another.  Although I still grieve for the loss of my father, I feel very fortunate tonight.  If I had not been brought to California, I wouldn't have seen the Pacific Ocean, the desert, the mountains.”  He paused and then added with quiet emphasis, “and I never would have met you.”   

 

Catherine gave him a faint smile.  “It does get easier over time.  You never forget the people you have lost, but eventually you must learn to live on without them – knowing they would have wanted you to be happy.” 

 

He nodded, and for the first time he felt some peace about Father.  When he returned Below he would do what he could to make up for everything, if they wanted him there. He looked at Catherine and saw her shiver.  She was wearing one of Jim’s coats, but it was getting colder as the sun went down. 

 

“You’re cold,” he said.  “Perhaps we should go in.” 

 

“I don’t want to go in yet,” she said with a smile.  She inched a little closer to him and laid her head on his shoulder.   Vincent hesitated for just a few seconds before wrapping his arm and cloak around her – pulling her close to him.  She said nothing but he could sense that she was happy that he had done so.  He slowly laid his head against hers.  He knew at that moment that, given the chance, he would fiercely protect her from anything life would present to her.

 

 

 

Chapter 37

 

 

“Three days!” said Father.  “Three days and nothing!  Where could they be?” 

 

He paced slowly across the floor of the small motel he and Robert were staying at, about four hours outside of Chicago.  He turned and looked toward Robert.  

 

“Are you certain that the woman at the bank did not know where they were going?  Or see anyone with her?” Father asked. 

 

“I grilled her like she was on the witness stand,” replied Robert crossly.  He was lying on the bed with his arm over his eyes.  What he needed, he reflected, was earplugs.  Too many days of driving while Father slept, and then trying to sleep while Father paced, worried, and talked to him.  “I told you everything she said,” he added without moving. 

 

“I fear we have lost them completely,” said Father, the despair evident in his voice.   

 

Robert took a deep breath, sat up, and rubbed his eyes.  “Look,” he said, speaking slowly and gently, “you’re tired...and I’m completely exhausted.  I say we both fly home.  Then I can have full access to my resources at the station and maybe I can think of something else.  If she uses any cards again, I promise I’ll fly right back out immediately and follow up.  I honestly think she realized they could be followed through her credit cards, and that’s why she cashed the check.  Miss Chandler is not stupid.  She’s a lawyer; she’s used to trying to outsmart people.  They are probably nearly home by now.” 

 

Father looked out the window and said nothing for a time.  Then he turned back to meet Robert’s eyes.  “I suppose we have very little choice.”  He sighed and continued, “Go ahead and schedule a flight.” He turned back to look out the window again.  “I can only hope that they are being cautious – and not in any danger.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 38

 

 

Back at the Helena Wildlife Preserve, Vincent, Jim, and Catherine were all sitting down to supper.   

 

“I guess we should start back on the road tomorrow,” Catherine said toward the end of the meal.  “I’m hoping we have confused them enough and won't have to worry about being followed.” 

 

“You know,” said Jim, as he swallowed his last bite, “you two really shouldn’t be driving across the country alone.  It’s dangerous and, if I may say, even a little stupid.” 

 

Catherine’s eyes flashed.  Some people always try to tell you what to do in life…but don’t offer any reasonable alternatives.  “Well, we don’t have a big choice,” she snapped.  “Unless you are offering to come along and help drive, I’d prefer that you keep your negative thoughts to yourself.” 

 

Jim laughed, wiped his face with his napkin, and crumpled it on his empty plate.  “You two come with me,” he said as he stood up and motioned with his head toward the front door. 

 

He drove them a few miles down the road in his truck and then turned off onto a dirt road leading through some dense trees.  On the other side was a large clearing and an enormous barn.  They stopped and got out of the truck.  Catherine looked at the perfection of the flat ground under the full moon and her heart began to beat wildly.

 

“Oh, Jim,” she said breathlessly. “Is that...?”

 

He held his finger to his lips and rolled the oversized barn doors open.  He turned the lights on inside the barn, completely illuminating the giant space in an instant.   

 

Inside was a beautiful small passenger plane.

 

“Oh!” she said excitedly, “is it yours?”

 

He laughed heartily.  “How do you think I get all the endangered animals up here?  By bus?” He laughed again. “Heck no, I fly them up here.  They didn’t hire me just for my good looks.  That there is a Cessna 411.  She’ll fly me about 1300 miles on one tank.  Most predictable woman I ever had,” he teased as he winked at Catherine.  He opened the door and pulled down the folding stairs.

 

“What do you think?”  Catherine asked as she looked up at Vincent.

 

“It...would certainly get us there quickly,”  Vincent replied wonderingly, still taking it all in. 

 

They climbed in and looked around.  It wasn’t exactly large, but there was plenty of space to move around and be comfortable.  Vincent looked at a plaque mounted next to the door.

 

Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.   – Mark Twain

 

“Like I said, my pride and joy,” Jim said.  “Seats five people plus pilot.  Some days I swear if I didn’t have to come down to refuel her now and then, I’d never come down!” 

 

Catherine looked up at him, excitement in her eyes. “When can we start?” she asked. 

 

“Tomorrow, if you like,” Jim replied.  “I’ll have to call my friend Nate to come take care of the birds while I’m gone, but that shouldn’t be a problem.”  

 

“I didn’t know you knew how to fly a regular plane,” Catherine pointed out.

 

“I learned at a small flight school in Colorado,” he said.  “See?  You missed all the good stuff,” he added, winking at her.  He gazed up at the plane and continued, “I was thinking...I could fly you as far as the Montauk Airport, on the other end of Long Island.  There’s a fairly private landing strip there that I use, and if we arrive late enough, it should be empty.  I have a friend who lives near there.  I’ll ask him to leave his van that he uses to transport wildlife at the airport.  He’s lent it to me before.  It may not be as nice as what you got now, but it will get you there.  I’ll tell him I’m bringing a species in that’s going upstate, and that I may need to stop in New York for some supplies and to visit friends on the way back.  When you get to where you are going, just leave the van in some public place, lock the keys inside, and let me know where it is.  I’ll just tell him it broke down on me and I took a cab back to the airport.  He can get it from there.”

 

Catherine stared at Jim for a moment, feeling speechless.  “You’ve been planning this the whole time?” she asked wonderingly. 

 

Jim shrugged his shoulders.  Their eyes met and Jim suddenly blushed and looked away. 

 

On impulse, Catherine threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you...so...much,” she said quietly, then drew away.   

 

“Anytime,” Jim said, winking at her.  “Anytime….”  

 

 

 

Chapter 39

 

 

It was very early the next morning when they began to prepare the plane for the journey.  Jim fumbled around, checking for various supplies and struggling with last minute tune-ups. 

 

“Damn it,” he said suddenly as he climbed a ladder and looked behind him.  “I forgot I parked the tractor so close when I cut the north field last week.  It was only supposed to be a temporary resting spot, but now the engine won’t turn over.  We’ll just have to hope we can shimmy the wing past it.” 

 

Vincent looked at the very large, and very old, piece of farming equipment.  “Where would you prefer it to be?” he asked. 

 

“Clear of the wings – back in the corner somewhere.  But it’s too heavy to push, even for two men,” he said as he leaned into the plane’s engine to tighten up a connection of wires inside.

 

Vincent walked slowly over to the front of the tractor. Leaning forward against it, he pushed it backwards about 20 feet with relative ease. 

 

Jim turned around just in time to see him finish.  “Good Lord!” he said with his mouth gaping, as he dropped the pliers on the floor with a clang.

 

Catherine looked at Jim, and then back at Vincent.  She met his gaze and smiled, her eyes shining.  

 

Vincent walked back over and stood next to Catherine, his expression a mixture of embarrassment and amusement.  “Is there anything else?” he asked, seriously, as he looked up at Jim. 

 

Jim recovered his senses and shut the door to the engine before turning back to them. “Nope! I think that’ll do it.  Everybody get on board for the express to New York!”  

 

 

 

Chapter 40

 

 

Nate Carlson arrived at the Helena Preserve a little after Jim’s plane took off.  He fed the birds and then went back to the house to help himself to a sandwich.  As he was finishing there was a knock at the door. 

 

Nate opened the door and two men pushed their way into the kitchen.

 

“Where are they?” the older man demanded. 

 

“Where’s who?” Nate asked.  “And what the hell do you think you’re doing, bursting in here?” he added angrily.

 

“You know exactly what we are here for.  Where is the beast-man?” he asked. 

 

“The what?” Nate asked with astonishment.  Were they referring to Jim?  Bird-man was more appropriate at the moment. 

 

Dr. Ellis read the man’s expression and, after a few seconds, decided that his shock was genuine.

 

“Never mind.  Where’s the girl?” he asked.  “The woman who came here – where is she?  And don’t tell me she isn’t here. I see her van outside.”

Nate studied the two men for a moment.  “Look, I don’t know who the hell you are, but Dr. Chandler is away.  He’s flying two friends back to New York.  He said they were having car trouble and didn’t expect to make it all the way home.  He will be back in a couple of days. You can talk to him then, if you wish.  They were already gone when I arrived.”

 

Dr. Ellis turned to Dr. Logan.  “Morrison is from New York.  I guess he must have demanded that she take him there,” he said.   He turned back to Nate.  “You don’t mind if we take a look around?” he asked as he began opening doors to bedrooms and thrashing through closets. 

 

“Hey!” said Nate.  “What are you are doing?” he demanded. 

 

Dr. Ellis ignored him and headed for the kitchen.  He opened the door to Jim’s office and went inside.  He noted the stacks of medical books lining the bookshelves as he opened the file cabinet. 

 

Nate followed them into the kitchen, reached into a small closet, and pulled out a double barrel shotgun.  He quickly loaded it and stepped into the office. 

 

“Stop right there,” Nate said as he aimed and flipped the safety off with a loud click.

 

Dr. Logan immediately assumed a panicked look.  “Gerald,” Dr. Logan said, poking him in the back. 

 

Dr. Ellis turned around slowly and looked right down the barrel of the shotgun. 

 

“Now,” Nate practically growled, “we are going to take a walk outside.  And you two are going to get in your car…and go.  Or…” he continued as he alternated pointing the gun at Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan, “I’ll shoot you both and call it a home invasion.  Your fingerprints are all over the office, not to mention the bedroom and closet doors.  No jury would convict me.” 

 

Dr. Ellis stared at Nate for a moment as Dr. Logan put his hands up and backed into the corner.  Finally, he spoke.  “Come on, Mark,” he said coldly.  “Never argue with a man holding a gun.” 

 

Nate inched backwards and kept the gun pointed at both men.  He followed them outside and waited until they drove down the road a bit.  For good measure, he shot the gun into the air above the car.  The pellets rained down and hit the windshield.   The car suddenly doubled its speed and disappeared out of sight. 

 

“Beast-man?” Nate repeated, and shook his head.  “Must have known him from when he was working with the larger animals.  I wish Jim would fill me in better when I come up here.  Good grief...” 

 

And with that, he turned and went back into the house…locking the door firmly behind him. 

 

 

 

Chapter 41

 

 

“Well?” asked Dr. Logan irritably. 

 

“Well what?” Dr. Ellis replied. 

 

Dr. Logan gave him an incredulous look.  “You almost got us killed back there,” he accused him. 

 

“That runt wouldn’t have shot us,” he said.  “We almost had them.  You heard the guy; he said that they just took off for New York this morning.  If that stupid detective hadn’t taken so long to get us the address...”

 

“It took a little time for him to get the records from the phone company without a warrant,” put in Dr. Logan, crossing his arms and looking out the window. 

 

“Well, at least we know the woman and the beast-man were there,” he said. 

 

Dr. Logan eyed him.  “So now what?” he asked.  “Do we stick around for Dr. Chandler to come back and question him?  Or do you want to go on to New York?”

 

Dr. Ellis pressed down on the accelerator.  “We will fly to New York…and pay a little visit to Miss Catherine Chandler.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 42

 

 

Father and Robert sat on chairs at the Chicago Airport and waited for their flight to begin boarding.  They had spent the night in the same hotel from the day before and then drove out to Chicago that morning.  Robert blinked and thought to himself what wonders a good night’s sleep could do.  And a razor. 

 

A beautiful woman walked by and Robert watched her.  He leaned over to Father.  “Now, tell me that doesn’t interest you…even a little,” he questioned evasively. 

 

Father glanced at the woman and then looked at Robert.  “Twice,” he said quietly and evenly, “I found love – and lost it.  No more,” he said, and then turned away. 

 

“You know,” began Robert, leaning over to him again and speaking in a low tone, “she’s still alive.” 

 

“Who?” Father asked suspiciously. 

 

“Your wife…Margaret,” said Robert simply. 

 

Father’s eyes widened and looked around as if to see if anyone had heard.  “How do you know about – her?” asked Father in a loud whisper, looking outright angry.

 

Robert grinned.  “Do you honestly think I’ve gone this long without researching -- “

 

Robert stopped talking mid-sentence and realized he had been half-listening to a distant voice several aisles behind him.  He hadn’t really been paying attention until this moment.  He listened intently now…as a sickening feeling entered his stomach.

 

“Right, C-h-a-n-d-l-e-r, Catherine.  Keep me updated if you hear anything at all.  I have to catch my flight.” 

 

Robert stood up and spun around in time to see a man with silver hair hang up the pay phone and run down the hall in the opposite direction.  He entered a jet bridge.  The flight attendant closed the door behind him and Robert could see them roll the enclosure away a moment later. 

 

The flight was an express jet…non-stop to New York. 

 

 

 

Chapter 43

 

 

It was dark when the small Cessna airplane landed on Long Island.  Vincent was thankful to be back on the ground – but he couldn’t stop thinking about all he had seen from the sky: the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the plains and the valleys – all had been simply breathtaking. 

 

Jim taxied to a side area, opened the door, and helped them out of the plane.  There was an old white van parked about a hundred feet away. 

 

“Go start her up,” Jim instructed her.  “The keys should be inside.  I want to make sure you don’t have any problems.” 

 

When she had gone, Vincent turned to face Jim.  “Thank you, Jim, for everything,” he said seriously. 

 

Jim gave him a wry smile and pulled a thick folder from under his coat.  He handed the folder to Vincent.  “That’s all the blood work I did on you,” he said.  “That’s the only copy.  Guard it carefully.  I think I’d rather not keep it around my place.” 

 

Vincent gave him a surprised look…and then took the folder and tucked it inside his vest.  “Thank you,” he said again, and reached out to shake Jim’s hand. 

 

Jim shook Vincent’s hand and then motioned for him to lean closer.  “When I was in my first year of vet school,” Jim began, “there was an older professor teaching one of my lab classes.  He was originally from New York.  He told a lot of outrageous stories – but one of them was about an experiment that sounded all too similar to your situation.  Anyway, he’s retired now but I think he’s still alive.  I intend to look him up and pump him a little – carefully, of course.  After I do, perhaps you’d like to get back together and I’ll tell you what I find out.” 

 

Vincent was speechless for a few seconds as he tried to take in the significance of what he had just heard.  He had just enough time to nod his head before Catherine came back to stand next to them.  

 

“Well,” said Jim, “I’ll watch to see you drive off, and then I’ll take off too.  Safe journey to both of you.”  He gave Catherine a quick peck on the check, and then climbed back into the plane and shut the door behind him. 

 

Catherine turned to Vincent.  “Almost home,” she said as she touched his arm.

 

They walked to the van.  Vincent climbed into the back and sat down on the floor.  Catherine climbed into the driver’s seat.  She spent a few moments familiarizing herself with the location of the controls, then she finally pulled out of the airport.  They heard Jim’s small plane take off a few minutes after they entered the main road. 

 

 

 

Chapter 44

 

 

Vincent directed Catherine through the city and they parked the van along a public street.  Catherine locked the keys inside just like Jim had told her.  Vincent guided her into the basement of an older building, through a hole in a brick wall, and into a dark tunnel.  The tunnel was just large enough to duck down and fit through, but after a few feet the walls expanded into a much larger room.  They continued for 100 feet or so, making a few turns.  Vincent stopped just outside a large stone wall and stared at it silently for a few moments.

 

“What is it?” asked Catherine. “Are we lost?” 

 

“No,” Vincent replied.  “Just one last moment of questioning my decision to return.”

 

She stepped closer to him.  “If they care about you even half as much as I do, they will be very happy to see that you’re alive,” she said softly, as she placed her hand on his arm and looked up into his eyes.  

 

Vincent closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.  He reached over and removed a brick from the wall, then pressed his fingers inside the hole that remained.  A doorway-sized section of the brick wall moved out toward them.  He returned the original brick, reached his fingers into the newly formed crack in the bricks, and slowly swung it out like a door.  They stepped inside and he pulled the “door” shut behind them, securing it with a lever on the inside wall. 

 

They continued for a way in silence.  There were small lights of varying types and sizes hung along the wall.  She could sense his anxiety…and she wished she could do more to comfort him beyond simply holding his hand.  But she knew this was something he would have to face and come to terms with himself, just as she’d had to come to terms with her mother's death years ago. 

 

There were several complicated sections to navigate, and Vincent helped her safely jump over an area with a natural spring running through it.  Upon rounding a corner, Vincent suddenly stopped and quickly set Catherine’s suitcase down…almost as if he had dropped it.  Startled, Catherine looked up at him and could see, even in the dim light, that all the color had gone out of his face.  He slowly released her hand and seemed momentarily frozen. 

 

A man was standing in the shadows – an older man wearing layers of old-fashioned clothes.  He, too, seemed to be unwilling to move forward at the moment. 

 

“Vincent?” the man asked, the disbelief evident in his voice.

 

“Father?” Vincent said faintly.  “It can’t be... It’s impossible, you’re...dead.

 

In answer, the man stepped forward.  “No, Vincent, not me, but I certainly thought you were.” 

 

The two embraced each other joyously.  Catherine watched them and her heart swelled with happiness for Vincent. 

 

Vincent stepped back, keeping his hands on Father’s shoulders.  “I don’t understand…they shot you so many times…you fell to the ground.  I saw Dr. Logan hoisting your limp body over his shoulder just before I lost consciousness completely.  They said they dumped your body in the Hudson.”

 

Father motioned for them to follow him.  They continued down to his chamber, where they could talk more easily.  Vincent sat on the couch and Catherine sat beside him.  Father sat just across from them and began his story.  

 

“By incredible luck,” he said, “I happened to be trying on a bulletproof vest that Mouse claimed to have found somewhere.  I was just trying to enquire where he had found it, but he insisted that I try it on immediately.  He said he made it better than it was before, or something silly like that.  I swear that the boy knew something; he certainly has many hidden talents but foretelling the future was not one I was familiar with.”  Father cleared his throat and continued, “Pascal alerted me that you had gone Above, and I threw my coat on without stopping to remove the vest first.  What I hadn’t told you was that we had been watching some strangers who were seen in the park the night before.  As you know, this happens often, so I didn’t feel the need to tell you yet.  You had, after all, told me you were going to stay Below that night,” he added with a slight undertone.

 

Catherine saw the brief expression of guilt in Vincent’s eyes and she gently squeezed his hand when Father was not watching.   

 

“Father I...” he began, but Father held up his hand in protest and continued. 

 

“When I heard you had gone Above, I raced to follow you.  I did not even stop to tell anyone else, because I felt that you had too much of a lead on me already.  Of course, looking back, that was very stupid of me, because I was not prepared to do much.  I was simply hoping I could stop you before you left.  When I arrived at the threshold, I saw the men shooting you with the dart gun, and saw you begin to fight them, and then fall.  Of course, I had no weapon with me, and ran out with the idea of simply calling enough attention to them to hopefully get them to run.  Then I felt the bullets hitting my chest.  They hit me with such force that I fell back to the ground instantly.” 

 

He paused as if to gather his thoughts again. “The force of the bullets took my breath away for a few seconds.  I realized I had been shot.  Not with a dart gun, but with a real gun.  I wasn’t sure how badly I was hurt, but I knew that I was no match for men with guns and so the best thing to do was to play dead.  I was surprised when the man came up to carry me off.  He tossed me in a dumpster.  I’m glad he didn’t feel like dragging me all the way to the Hudson or I would have died.  I awoke the next morning…back Below.  Mouse had seen where the men took me.  They carried me back Below and Peter operated on me.  Fortunately, the vest stopped the bullets from penetrating very far and he was able to stabilize me.  I have been trying to find out who these men were and where they could have taken you ever since.  No one was able to get the license plate and we had very few leads to go on.” 

 

He turned to Catherine.  “That is, until you called our friends the Wongs, and left your name and the phone number of the hotel.  Lin called you back around midnight – but the woman at the hotel desk said you had checked out.  I knew the only person that could help me trace you was our detective friend, Robert, so I contacted him.  He was still at work and arranged for me to have a borrowed ID, and a plane ticket to California.  We started following your tracks from the hotel.  Robert managed to get your billing information from the woman at the hotel desk, and I called and spoke to your father at his law firm.  He told me you were in Mendocino.  I tried to call you there but there was no answer.”   

 

“Wait – so it was you who called my father?” she asked.  “I thought it was one of the men that had captured Vincent.”  She thought for a few seconds as she tried to remember the conversation with her Father.  “You told him you were from Berkeley,” she stated.

 

“I was calling from a pay phone near Berkeley and I probably repeated that to your father.  The connection was very bad,” he explained.  “We used the phone book to find your address and drove up to Mendocino.  We must have just missed you.  I found Vincent’s clothes in the trash can in the laundry room, and your compact dropped out of his pocket.”

 

Catherine looked at Vincent and laughed.  “You had it!” she said teasingly. 

 

“I didn’t want you to be afraid,” he explained. 

 

In answer, she inched a little closer to him and put her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes briefly. 

 

Father looked at them, and a grave new concern grew quickly in his mind.  “Vincent,” father said suddenly.  “It’s very late.  Shouldn’t you escort Miss Chandler home so you can both get some rest?” 

 

Vincent looked at Catherine and realized that she was, indeed, exhausted.  They had been up very early for the plane ride and it had taken nearly all day with one stop for fuel in order to reach New York.  He decided to agree with Father…although he suspected that concern for Catherine’s welfare was not the real reason Father was sending her home so abruptly. 

 

 

 

Chapter 45

 

 

Vincent led Catherine down a maze of tunnels and finally to a large spiral staircase.  She looked up at the seemingly endless stairs. “Oh, my, is the elevator out of service?” she asked, half laughing, but the exhaustion was evident in her voice. 

 

Vincent turned and faced her.  Before she could protest, he very gently picked her up and started up the stairs. 

 

“Oh!” she said, putting her arm quickly over his neck to steady herself, “I was only teasing.  I could have walked up on my own.  Besides, I’m too heavy to carry all this way.” 

 

There was a single expelled breath of laughter from Vincent, but he said nothing further.  He set her down at the top of the stairs and they continued together until they reached a narrow brick doorway. 

 

“Where are we?” she asked. 

 

“We are under your apartment building,” he said with a smile. “If you climb the ladder, you should find yourself safely inside the parking garage.”  

 

She gently wrapped her arms around him, saying nothing for a few seconds.  She finally pulled away.  “I will see you again, won’t I?” she asked.    

 

“Of course,” Vincent replied.  “Now, go up and please go straight to bed.”  And with that, he disappeared into the blackness. 

 

 

 

Chapter 46

 

 

"Why didn't you call Lin again?  It would have saved us all so much worry and aggravation," Father blurted out after Vincent returned from walking Catherine home.   

 

Vincent looked across the room at him.  He had just told him, briefly, the facts of their trip…while leaving out many of the details.  He was feeling pretty tired himself, but he knew the issue would have to be worked out fully before Father would let it be.

 

“I thought,” Vincent began, “that it was better to not give any more clues as to where we were, in case any of the helpers were connected in some way to the men who captured me.”  He paused for a few seconds.  “Also, I thought you were dead...and I didn't think that anyone would really want to hear from me under the circumstances,” he added.

 

“Vincent,” Father continued, “I promised myself that if you came home safely, I wouldn’t say I told you so, but I certainly do hope you will be much more careful now.”  He looked Vincent straight in the eyes.  Promise me you will not go Above again.”

 

“Father,” Vincent said, the shock evident in his voice, “how can you possibly make me promise that?  I must be able to see Catherine again.  I…care for her too much not to see her again,” he explained. 

 

Father’s eyes widened briefly.  “Vincent,” he said with forced patience, “I knew someday you would eventually...fall in love with a woman.  With all of the people coming through here, it was bound to happen, and it would be more serious than the crush you had with Lisa when you were a teenager.  But this...Catherine, she is completely – to put it bluntly – out of your league.  Let’s, for a moment, ignore the facts of how immensely different you look from other men.  Are you aware how very wealthy she is?  Robert did a full background check on her.  She went to Radcliffe, and then Columbia School of Law.  She and her father own a law firm, Chandler and Coolidge.  She has dated very wealthy, very powerful men, landing her name and picture in the society section of the paper more times than we could count.  Now, I am immensely grateful that she brought you home safely – but if you expect to get something more from her than a distant friendship, I am afraid you are going to be sadly mistaken.  She most likely considered it an adventure to cure boredom in the beginning – and then when it became too much work, she sought out a friend to fly you the rest of the way home.  She will go home, have a good laugh over her trip, and probably go out with one of her rich boyfriends tomorrow night.  You will very quickly become a distant memory.”  

 

Vincent’s eyes widened in shock at everything Father had just said.  He knew Father was a little extra emotional because of what he had just gone through, but the words still hit him with such force he felt like he had been punched in the stomach.  “Father, I don’t think any…most…of that is true,” he began.  “I can sense her true feelings; the trip to her cousin’s home and airplane ride were only after I became ill...”

 

Father interrupted him.  “Vincent,” he said firmly, “even if that were true, she cannot possibly be certain of her feelings toward you after such a short amount of time and away from her real life.  What she is experiencing is the ‘Florence Nightingale effect;’ in other words, nurses falling in love with their patients. You were ill…she nursed you back to health.  You read it as affection.  And it possibly was, but it does not mean she thinks of you as a possible mate.”  

 

“I was only...ill...for a very short time,” Vincent protested.

 

Father’s tone turned to outright anger.  “Do I need to remind you that I could be dead right now?  And not only that, but the whole Tunnel world could have been exposed, endangering everyone’s lives and ways of existence.  You know you’re not the only one down here that cannot ever make the transition to living Above.  Or have you forgotten so quickly?  You know you can’t be in her world, and she will never be in yours.  Wealthy people do not move down to the Tunnels.  This is a place for people that have nowhere else to go.  She has her own family, friends, suitors, and had an entire life of her own before you met her.  I know you had a nice time traveling and, again, I am immensely grateful for her assistance in bringing you back home.  But however much you do not want to, you must think of your safety and the safety of the others down here...and how your decisions affect them, sometimes even more than they affect you.”  He gave emphasis to the last part of the sentence.

 

Vincent walked over to the corner, his hands clasped behind his back.  He was silent for a very long time. “Very well...I promise,” he finally said.  He turned to leave and then paused and looked back at Father.  “I promise,” he repeated. “However, I can’t promise to be happy about it.  Goodnight.”  And with that, he went to his own chamber. 

 

Vincent turned out the lights and lowered himself onto his bed.  He felt a wave of emotions wash over him.  Of course, some of the things Father said were definitely not true.  But a few things were, and it hurt to have them pointed out so frankly.  He knew he was different.  But during the short time with Catherine, he had almost forgotten.  He felt like she had breathed life into him – far beyond simply saving him from the basement room.  And now...he didn’t know if he would ever see her again.  Father was right about their worlds being different.  He would never be able to live in her world and that was unfair to her.  He knew she had money – most corporate lawyers did, of course – but he had not been aware of her dating such powerful and wealthy men.  He suddenly felt very embarrassed.  She had been so kind to him, but the feelings he had mistaken for attraction were probably, as Father had pointed out, just a strong concern for his welfare.  He had been trapped, weak, and then, just as he was starting to recover, he became ill again. 

 

He closed his eyes.  He could still feel her emotions clearly.  She was happy.  Probably happy to be home, he mused, back to normalcy.  He thought that he would be happy to be home tonight, as well – finally safely away from his basement prison of two months.  But tonight, home felt like...just a much larger prison. 

 

 

 

Chapter 47

 

 

Catherine returned to work at her father’s firm the next day and found a stack of papers waiting for her.  She tried to force herself to focus but she kept thinking about Vincent.  She wondered when she would see him again.  He said she would.  She should have set a specific time and date.  Well, it had not even been twenty-four hours yet.  How silly she was, missing him so quickly!  He was probably busy with telling the story of what had happened the past two months.  She would just have to be patient.

 

But one day turned into two, and then a week turned into two weeks without hearing from him.  She began to realize how silly she was in expecting him to contact her again.  Now that he was back home, he probably had forgotten her.  She felt they had developed some kind of special bond, but she realized that perhaps she was mistaken.  At least she had brought him home safely and he was able to go on with his life. 

 

One evening she climbed down into the basement of her apartment building and attempted to find her way back to the Tunnels.  She tried walking a little ways, shining a flashlight on the walls, but she couldn’t find the entrance to the world Below.  She could have sworn it had been very simple to get to the staircase, but there was no sign of any chambers – just the narrow stone hallways providing plumbing access for the apartments.  It was as if it had completely disappeared.

 

Nearly a month to the day that she had returned to New York, her father entered her office.  “Cathy, I need you to go to lunch with the Henleys.” 

“Oh,” she said, “is it really necessary?  I was planning to do...other things...” she faltered. 

 

Her father gave her a puzzled and slightly annoyed look.  “Cathy,” he began slowly, “I know you had a nice time on vacation, but you’re back now and I really need you to pick up the slack.  You just haven’t been the same since California.”  He spoke kindly but seriously. 

 

“I know,” she answered, “you’re right.  I’m sorry…I’ll be there.” 

 

She sat through a boring lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Henley and tried to do and say what she knew her father wanted her to.  She was relieved when she was finally able to leave. 

 

She picked up a newspaper and took it to the park to read.  She wasn’t really interested in the paper, but it made a good excuse for sitting and thinking without appearing to be doing so.  She found herself doing this more and more often lately.  She turned the first page and caught the titles of the articles.  She thought about all the wrongdoings of the world and how ridiculous it was that people like the Henleys had so much, and others were born into worse circumstances –  whether it be money or physical ailments. 

 

She watched a homeless person walk across the park and sit down on another bench.  Could it be, she wondered, that jobs were that scarce?  She found herself scanning the help-wanted ads and saw an ad for an assistant district attorney at the District Attorney’s Office.  She closed and folded the paper and sat staring at the traffic.  Suddenly an idea struck her.  An exciting idea.  She took a cab and gave the driver instructions.  He let her off in front of the District Attorney's Office.   She went inside and asked for Human Resources. 

 

“But you have no experience in this line of work,” said the woman across the desk from her.

 

“I learn fast,” Catherine said, with a smile. “I can provide excellent references, anything you need.”

 

The woman sighed and said, “Ok, get me your resume and references and I’ll give them to District Attorney Moreno,” she said.

 

Catherine smiled.  “I’ll bring everything tomorrow,” she promised. 

 

She left the office and walked toward the elevator – but it was out of service.  She opened the door to the stairs and started walking down.  A man ran quickly down the stairs past her, but in her excitement she wasn’t paying much attention.  Suddenly, the man turned, ran back up the stairs, and met her at the landing between flights.  He reached out and took her arm firmly.

 

“Miss Catherine Chandler!” he said with conviction.   

 

She turned and found herself staring into the eyes of the man who had chased her at the convenience store in Truckee, California.  

 

“Let me go,” she said, giving him an intense look of warning. “There are police here,” she threatened.  

 

Robert laughed outright.  “Are there, now?” he asked, still laughing.  He leaned forward and put his mouth close to her ear and whispered, “It’s ok, Miss Chandler.  I’m Robert.  I’m a friend of Vincent and Father.”  He released her arm, reached inside his shirt pocket, and displayed his badge and ID. 

 

Detective Robert Stafford

New York Police Department

 

Catherine’s eyes widened as she read the words.  “Oh!” she said with relief as she stepped back.  “It was you then.”  She took a deep breath to calm down.  “Father mentioned a detective friend named Robert, but I didn’t know what you looked like. There was so much to talk about when we arrived.”  Her face turned to concern; she lowered her voice.  “Have you talked to Vincent?” she asked intently. “How is he?” 

 

Robert put his finger to his lips and smiled.  “Not here,” he said. “Too risky.”  Might I take you to lunch?” he asked.

 

“Oh...I've already had lunch...” she faltered, glancing at her watch.

 

Robert laughed.  “Lunch before 2 p.m.? Such luxuries!” he teased.  “Sometimes I think I should have stuck it out with law a little bit longer.  Well, dinner then.  Meet me at The Tavern at 8 p.m. tonight, and we’ll talk.   He winked at her and bounded down the stairs before she could answer.

 

 

 

Chapter 48

 

  

Catherine arrived at Tavern on the Green a little before 8 p.m. and found Robert standing in the lobby waiting for her.  He looked very handsome in his black suit and deep red tie. His dark hair was slicked back and he was smiling at her.  Catherine smiled back at him in spite of herself. 

 

“I’ve reserved a table for us in the back,” he said.  “Should give us privacy to talk.”  He reached out his hand.  She took it hesitantly, and allowed him to guide her to their seat and take her coat. 

 

After they had ordered, he leaned across the table toward her.  “So, how have you been?  You certainly gave us a run for our money, I can tell you that,” he said with amusement in his eyes. 

 

“Oh!” she said, “if only we had known.  If only you had said something significant…something that would have told me who you were.” 

Robert laughed.  “Well, what do you think I could have said in the 1.2 seconds before you tore out of there?” he asked, still grinning. 

 

She thought for a moment then admitted she could think of nothing that would have worked without fail. 

 

Robert explained a little more about his and Father’s trip, and how they had finally given up and gone home.  He also told her, briefly, about how he came to know Father, Vincent, and the Tunnels.

 

The waiter brought their food; fish for Catherine and steak for Robert.  They ate for a little while as Robert spoke about general topics and commented on the flavor and texture of the food.  It really hadn't been more than a few minutes but it felt like an eternity.  Finally, Catherine felt she couldn’t stand waiting any longer.

 

“So," she started, "have you heard from...Vincent?” She cast a glance around to make certain no one was paying any attention.  “He hasn’t contacted me at all and I’ve been...worried,” she finished lamely.

 

Robert swallowed his bite and nodded.  “I went down to see Father and Vincent the day after you returned.  We discussed possibilities of where the scientists might be.  I’ve had a tracer on their credit card activity ever since Vincent gave me their names, but they weren’t using them.  There was a withdrawal of a large sum of cash right before they left Chicago, then nothing for weeks.  Then yesterday, I saw a number of charges come through from San Francisco, and confirmed that they were both on a New York- to-San Francisco flight the day before.  So it appears they have returned home.”  

 

Catherine breathed a sigh of relief.  “Well, that’s great to hear.” 

 

Robert added butter to his steaming baked potato and continued, “The older guy, Dr. Gerald Ellis, was a military scientist back during the Second World War.  The other guy, Dr. Mark Logan, had a less exciting background.  Only child, parents dead, very little of any dirt to dig up.” 

 

He dug the potato out of the skin and began mashing the remnants into a small pile on his plate with his fork, along with salt and pepper.  He caught Catherine looking at him and he grinned at her.  “If I leave it in the jacket, the butter always misses a spot.  Don’t you agree?” he quipped.

 

“It’s not something I’ve worried very much about,” she answered, feeling half amused at his whimsical sense of humor and half annoyed.  She wanted him to go on speaking.  The waiter came and asked if they would like dessert.  Robert ordered some cheesecake, but Catherine declined, saying she was full.  She didn’t think she could eat another bite – it had been difficult enough trying to swallow her dinner. 

 

“Anyway,” Robert finally continued after he had finished the last bite of his now-mashed potato, “Dr. Mark Logan was Dr. Ellis’ grad student protégé about five years ago, and then he got him a job at U.C. Berkeley as an adjunct professor.  They’ve been teaching there ever since – and Dr. Ellis still does various research on genetics and whatnot.  I think they both had visions of the Nobel Peace Prize – or whatever the scientific equivalent is – for finding Vincent.  The end.  For now, anyway.  I’m still trying to dig a little further, but these are pre-computer records, so it is taking a little longer.” 

 

“Well,” she said slowly, “it’s wonderful that you were able to find out so much,” she finished almost faintly.  She felt like she was watching herself speak, as if she were just a bystander watching a scene play out. 

 

“Of course,” Robert said. “Anything for my extended family,” he added, as the waiter put the cheesecake in front of him. 

 

There was a brief silence on his part as he dug into the cheesecake and Catherine took advantage of it to excuse herself to the ladies room.  While washing her hands she looked at her reflection in the mirror.  The woman staring back at her looked like Catherine Chandler, her hair styled smartly, a clip on one side and the rest of it hanging down softly, but there was a grey void behind her eyes.  She felt like she had not slept well in weeks.  She must try to get a grip on herself.  She didn’t know why she couldn’t relax and enjoy the conversation.  She just kept feeling guilty...somehow...for having dinner with Robert.  It was almost as if she could feel Vincent nearby.  She could have sworn she could feel him in pain when she was sitting at the table, just like she could feel his depression that night at the hotel when she couldn't sleep.  She had not sensed that feeling since the hotel.  It was powerful then, and it was powerful now.  Of course, it was ridiculous.  She left the ladies room, returned to the table, and sat down.     

 

Robert pushed his empty plate to the outside of the table.  He quickly counted out cash for the bill, leaving it in the folder the waiter had provided.  “Are you ready?” he asked. 

 

She nodded.  Robert helped her into her coat and slid into a handsomely styled trench coat himself.  They walked past the other patrons eating and left the restaurant together. 

 

“I’ll walk you to your cab,” he declared pleasantly when they were standing outside the front entrance.

 

“Cab?”  Catherine repeated vaguely.  “Oh, I didn’t come in a cab.  I walked.  I don’t live very far – on the corner of 73rd.”  She took one large step backwards. 

 

“Then…I’ll accompany you to your corner, and by doing so, you can walk me to my cab.  Now, see how easy that was to work out?”  He grinned and closed the distance between them again. 

 

“I see,” Catherine replied as she started to walk beside him and tried to smile back.  She knew he was trying to be friendly and she could find nothing at all wrong with him.  It had been a nice evening and he was pleasant company – and a perfect gentleman.  He was sweet, actually, rather like a big golden retriever puppy, the kind that continues to be friendly even when you are having a bad day…but she was tired and she just wanted to get home, lie down, and think about everything that had transpired.   

 

“So,” she said, trying to think of something to talk about, “did you always want to be a detective?” 

 

“Actually, I went to law school too,” Robert answered.  “But I stopped short of passing the bar.  I was already a police officer and I decided I liked detective work better.  It’s more...real somehow.  Less talk – more action.” 

 

“I see,” she said again.  She wondered what Vincent was doing now.  She thought of all the people living Below.  Perhaps he already had someone special down there.  She hadn’t really thought of that.  Perhaps she had been stupid in thinking that just because she had helped him get home, and had spent all that time with him, and he had read poetry and books to her...that he was treating her with any more kindness and affection that he would have bestowed on any woman.  She really was a silly idiot thinking that she had some claim on him.

 

She suddenly heard Robert’s voice break through her thoughts. 

 

“...and then the alligator bit my leg off, and they had to staple it back on.  The doctors were amazed at how quickly I recovered," he boasted. 

 

“Uh huh,” she said mechanically, and then, “wait, what did you say?”  She turned sharply and looked at him as if she had not even realized who he was. 

 

Robert laughed.  "I suspected you weren’t paying attention," he said, his eyes showing that twinkle of amusement he seemed to wear continuously. 

 

They stopped about a block from her apartment building.  Catherine turned toward him and forced herself to come back to the present.  She smiled wistfully.  “I’m so sorry, I guess I can’t stop thinking about...everything,” she faltered, as she tried to smile.

 

His expression became serious and he turned to face her.  He leaned forward slightly to make direct eye contact.  “You know,” he began, slowly, kindly, “your communication problem doesn’t lie with Vincent.  It’s with Father.” He smiled wryly.  “I imagine now that the shock of nearly losing Vincent has worn off, he’s likely coming down pretty hard on him for not heeding his advice about taking chances Above.”

 

She thought about his guilt and grief back at the house in Mendocino.  And his joy at seeing Father alive.  Also, Father’s obvious relief that Vincent was alive as well. 

 

“I can understand that,” she said slowly and honestly.  “I guess, if I were in Father’s place, I would feel exactly the same way.  If you see him again, will you tell him,” she paused and watched Robert lift his eyebrows, “that I hope he is well,” she finally finished lamely. 

 

Robert nodded, giving her one last look of understanding.  He turned and stepped toward the curb, lifted his hand, and hailed the cab he saw coming down the street.  He walked over to it and opened the door.

 

“Well, thank you, mademoiselle, for the lovely evening and the walk,” he said, turning back to face her.  “We must do it again sometime.” 

 

“Of course,” she said politely. 

 

He winked, tipped an imaginary hat to her, and slipped into the cab just before it drove off. 

 

She stared after him for a few seconds.  She tried to clear her head; it felt so muddled.  A month ago she would have considered tonight one of her better dates – if you could call it a date – but tonight her heart just wasn’t in it.  If only Vincent would at least contact her.  She felt like...a piece of her was missing.   

 

She crossed the street and continued up the last block to her apartment building.  She could hear footsteps coming quickly behind her and she stepped to the inside of the sidewalk to allow the person to pass. 

 

Suddenly, she felt a strong grip over her mouth and she was whisked away to the narrow alley between the buildings.  She found herself being pinned up against the inside corner of the building by two men – and a gun pushed firmly into her neck. 

 

“Where is he?” came the gruff voice from behind the gun. 

 

“Where is who?”  Catherine asked bravely, stalling for time.  She had never seen the man before – but she knew, without a doubt, who was standing before her.  The gray hair, the balding head...the second man with his dark hair and closely-shaved beard...both fit Vincent’s description to a tee.   

 

They had found her.

 

“You know exactly who I mean,” Dr. Ellis sneered.  “You stole him and gave us a mad chase across the entire country.  You had no business getting involved.  Who sent you?  Granniss?  Morrison?  Where is the money?”

 

“I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t have any money, nor do I know the names you just mentioned,” Catherine said firmly.   

 

“Don’t play with me, lady,” Dr. Ellis said through clenched teeth.  If you tell me where he is, I’ll let you live.  It’s a very simple choice.”

 

“I won’t tell,” she said with conviction.  “You’ll just have to shoot me.  He’s safe where he is and you’re not going to get to him through me.” 

 

He removed the safety on the gun with a loud click.  “You have five seconds to change your mind,” he warned.

 

“Whoa, wait a second, Gerald,” said Dr. Logan.  “I may have done a lot of things lately that I’m not proud of, but I’m not going to let you kill a woman.” 

 

Dr. Ellis glanced toward the man with his eyes but did not turn his head. 

 

“Honestly, this is ridiculous,” Dr. Logan went on.  “You’ve had me running all around the country, now you want to do this?  Killing, kidnapping, whatever you’re thinking – just forget it.  Just let her go…let it all go.  It’s not worth it...the money…none of it is worth it.  Let her go, or I’ll go to the police right now and report everything.”  His voice was quiet but resolute.  He dropped one of Catherine’s arms which he had been holding against the wall, and he took several slow steps backwards. 

 

Dr. Ellis said nothing for a few seconds then, in an instant, he removed the gun from Catherine’s neck and, with precise aim, placed a single silent bullet through Dr. Logan’s head, causing him to drop to the ground instantly.    

 

Catherine gasped and tried to wriggle free.  She pounded Dr. Ellis’ arm with her fist and knocked the gun from his hand.  He firmly grasped both of her wrists in one of his large hands and reached in his pocket.  A second later she felt a sharp prick and the immediate sensation of falling.  She had been drugged!  She backed up and sat down, fighting to stop the spinning sensation and keep alert. 

 

Suddenly, there was a tremendous sound, like a roar of a lion.  A large shadowy figure dropped from above and landed squarely on Dr. Ellis.  There was a stifled scream.  Then, a second later, all was silent. 

 

She felt her vision blurring, and her body going limp.  She tried to crawl out of the shadow and see what had happened, but her body refused to obey her command to move.  She slid slowly to the ground.

 

She felt strong arms gently lift her and cradle her. She heard a familiar voice…and familiar words.

 

“It’s all right.  I have you. You’re safe.”  

 

She looked up into Vincent’s face – but no further words were spoken.  No words were needed.  The missing piece clicked back into place, and she allowed herself to drift into unconsciousness. 

 

Chapter 49

 

 

Catherine slowly opened her eyes and glanced at the clock on her nightstand.   It was 2 a.m.  She was in her bed, in her apartment.  She saw a large shadow in the corner of her room.  She quickly forced herself awake. 

 

“Vincent?” she asked, breathlessly. 

 

He came quickly over to her and knelt down beside her bed, taking her hand.  “Did they hurt you?” he asked with concern.  “I saw the empty syringe.  Did they hurt you in any other way?” 

 

“I...” she started, “I don’t think so.”  She looked around again, then back into his eyes. 

 

“How...did you get me…all the way up here?” she asked with confusion.

 

Vincent smiled.  “Your building is easy to climb, remember?” he said. 

 

She smiled faintly at the reminder.  She closed her eyes for a moment and almost drifted back to sleep then she forced them open again.  “Why...didn’t you contact me?” she asked him. “It’s been...so long.  I even tried to find my way back to where you live, but the entrance had completely disappeared.  I thought I’d never see you again.”  The hurt was evident in her voice, her eyes searching his in the dim light.

 

“There were...good reasons. I’m sorry,” he answered quietly, looking down and pausing for a few seconds.  “I was never...far away,” he continued, meeting her eyes again.  “Please know I have...been making certain you are safe.  You see, I can feel what you were feeling, when you’re happy or sad…or afraid.  Wherever you went, it was as if I was there with you.  I believed I was doing the best thing for you in giving you space…and allowing you to forget.  It’s not...fair to you.  You know I can’t be a part of your world,” he added seriously.   

 

“But I want you in my life,” she protested.  Then she added, with hesitation, “Unless there is already someone...?”  She let the sentence hang. 

 

“No,” he said, “that wasn’t why I stayed away –” he broke off.  

 

“Robert believed it was for your own safety,” she suggested.

 

Vincent looked down again and was quiet for a moment, fiercely battling logic and emotions.  He wanted, more than anything, to take her into his arms and tell her how much he had missed her...how desperate he had been to talk to her...how agonizing it had been to ignore her when she had come looking for the main chambers two weeks ago.  He had stood on the other side of the wall that Father had ordered closed up, only a few inches of stone separating them, and had nearly given in and come to her.  But instead, he knew he must do the right thing for her sake.  She deserved so much more than anything he could offer her in life.  He cared about her too much to ask her to give any of those better things up for him.

 

“Robert,” he finally began quietly, with hesitation, still avoiding her eyes, “is a...good man.  I’ve...known him since we were both children.  He and his father came to live Below for a time before Robert went back Above to live with his mother and new stepfather.  He left his mother’s home at 17, got a job at the New York Police Department, and worked his way through college, and then law school.  He’s extremely intelligent – he’s one of the youngest men ever promoted to detective in that precinct.  He would be...very good...for you…to get to know better,” he finished lamely, trying to not let the agony he was feeling show in his voice.    

 

She listened to him speak, and realized suddenly what he was trying to say.  “Vincent,” she said slowly, with gravity, “Robert is a very nice man, but I don’t love him that way.” She reached up and very gently cupped her hand around his cheek and looked directly into his eyes for emphasis.  “I can’t,” she explained, “because I already love someone else.” 

 

Vincent’s heart soared, just as it had when she had placed her arms around him for the first time in the cabin.  He reached up and gently covered her hand with his.  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly – unable to find the words to express his feelings at the moment.  She loved him.  He could feel it.         

 

Promise me you won’t just disappear again,” she pressed.

 

“I won’t,” he said, opening his eyes again.  He took her hand down from his cheek and held it firmly between his two hands.  “You’re part of me, Catherine.  As much as I have tried to block it out for your sake, nothing will change that.  Wherever you go, I will be nearby.  If you need me, all you have to do is think of me, and I’ll come to you.”

 

Catherine closed her eyes again and there was a comfortable silence.  After some time, he stood up slowly.   

 

“I must get home before the sun rises,” he said seriously. 

 

“Not yet...please,” she asked, rousing herself and holding his hand tightly.

 

He knelt down once again and looked directly into her eyes.  “I’ll stay a little while longer,” he said. “Go back to sleep.” 

 

She squeezed his hand one more time – and allowed sleep to take over once again.

 

 

Chapter 50

 

 

The next morning Catherine went straight to the District Attorney’s Office to drop off her resume.  Upon returning outside, she found Robert closing the trunk of a cab. He shouted to her, and she flashed him a warm smile and waved. 

 

“Hello, Robert,” she said happily.   

 

“Wait just a minute; I’ll pay for the extra time on the meter,” he said to the cab driver.  He turned back to face her.  “You’re awfully chipper this morning.  I take it you found your friend again?” he said secretly, with amusement in his voice.  

 

“Yes,” she said with a smile.  “Last night he came to save me, he...”

 

Robert lifted his hand to silence her.  He motioned her to come closer, so he could speak quietly.  “I know,” he whispered with emphasis. “I work in Homicide.  There was a strange death last night involving two men.  But already solved – and closed.  There was an argument – probably over a female, since they had just been spotted flirting with one in a nearby bar.  One guy shot and killed himself after strangling his friend.   I should know…I wrote the final report.” He winked at her. 

 

Her eyes grew wide.  Robert put his finger to his lips – his eyes were smiling. 

 

Catherine glanced at the ground briefly as a wave of guilt washed over her.  “I’m so sorry about my behavior last night,” she said to him truthfully.  “I was terrible.  I forgot to thank you for dinner.  I really did have a nice time.  I just didn’t have my mind on most of the conversation.”  She smiled genuinely at him. 

 

“It’s ok, I could tell someone had already reserved your heart.”  He gave her a knowing look, and lifted one eyebrow.  Catherine blushed and looked down, suddenly not wanting to reveal any more of her feelings.

 

“Well!’ he said abruptly, “Guess where I’m off to?”  He waited for her acknowledgement then continued, “Sunny California!  It seems there’s a need for someone like me out in San Francisco.  I decided it was worth a shot – so I took it.  I’m skipping the scenic route this time, though,” he added with a grin. 

 

“Oh!  I’m sorry to see you go,” she said honestly.  “We didn’t get to know each other very well yet and you are already leaving,” she added kindly.

 

“That’s ok,” he said. “I’m sure we'll meet again.  Remember, you promised me another dinner and another walk, and I’m going to hold you to it.”  He winked at her. 

 

“Of course.” She smiled and reached out to shake his hand. 

 

He took it and slowly brought it to his lips, giving it a quick but gentle kiss.  “Another time, mademoiselle, another time.”  And with one last smile, he ducked into his cab and was gone. 

 

She stood staring after him again, and smiled to herself, feeling warm and content.  Yes, she thought, a delightful golden retriever puppy. 

 

 

Chapter 51

 

 

Catherine returned to her father’s office.  She found she was able to concentrate for the first time in weeks and the day went quickly. 

 

She ate dinner in a quiet restaurant and hurried home.  She removed her heels upon entering the apartment and found herself walking straight to her bookcases.  On the top shelf, she had placed two of the books she and Vincent had been reading that day in the Mendocino house.  She had slipped them into her suitcase while they were packing, but she had not been able to bear opening them since Vincent had stopped contact with her.  She now picked up one, opened it, and sat down on the couch to read.  She had only made it through a few pages when she heard a light tap on her patio doors.

 

She carefully crept to the back door and looked out.  Vincent was standing on the corner of the balcony and her heart leapt as she opened the doors.

 

She ran to him and wrapped her arms around him.  He held her tightly for a minute, resting his head on hers.  There was so much he wanted to say.  He wanted to say: Catherine, do you know how much I need you?  You are the end to my aloneness, the end to my prison, I cannot live without you.  But he couldn’t seem to voice the words adequately and the moment passed. She stepped back and smiled up at him. 

 

“I’m so glad you came,” she said quietly, the happiness showing in her eyes.  

 

He looked down at her with equal happiness showing in his own eyes.  “I thought you might like to continue the...story...together,” he finally said. 

 

 

 

Chapter 52

 

 

Vincent stood in Father’s library a week later and waited to see what it was he had summoned him for.   

 

Father was sitting at the desk in his library.  He glanced up at Vincent over his reading glasses.  “Vincent, I am asking you again to stop seeing Catherine,” he said.   

 

Vincent looked surprised.  “You know I can’t – won’t – agree to that,” he replied. 

 

Father sighed.  “Vincent, Catherine seems like a nice woman, but even if we overlook the numerous differences I have pointed out, there is the fact that most women can’t keep a big secret to save their lives,” he said without looking up as he searched through the book in front of him. 

 

“Father, Catherine saved my life,” Vincent said with emphasis. 

 

“And you saved hers...you are even,” Father retorted.  Neither of which would have been necessary had you heeded my advice in the first place and stayed Below.” 

 

Vincent looked away. 

 

Father sighed and removed his reading glasses. “Vincent,” he said a little more gently, “I’m not trying to be unreasonable.  It’s just that you cannot truly expect to have anything more than a friendship with this woman, at best.  Eventually she will realize how impossible it is – and it will bring you both unhappiness.”   

 

Vincent did not speak for a moment.  “Father, I can’t just forget her,” he finally said quietly.  “I can feel what she is feeling.  Even when we are away from each other – she is always with me.  Besides, my captors are dead, and surely nothing like this will ever happen again.”  He stepped closer to the desk.   “And this whole experience has taught me something.  Even though I must live the majority of my life within this...confined space, I still have the right to be happy.  And I can bring happiness to others.  I refuse to stay hidden any longer.” 

 

“Well,” remarked Father, as he closed the book with a loud snap and stood up, “I guess things are certainly back to normal around here.”  He gave Vincent one last look of warning, turned, and walked out of the chamber. 

 

Vincent stared after him for a few seconds.  Eventually, he would make him understand.  He must... 

 

“Vincent,” came Catherine’s voice, suddenly, from behind him.

 

He turned around and saw her standing just a few feet in front of him.  How had she found her way in?  Someone must have guided her Below.  She smiled up at him, her eyes shining with happiness.  She was wearing a beautiful dress and her hair was curled around her face.  Vincent decided it didn’t really matter how she was here – only that she was here.  And he loved her.  He was certain of that.  Was she going to kiss him?  Well, that didn’t matter either, because he was going to kiss her.  He pulled her close, not caring in the least who was watching.

 

“Vincent!” she said again, placing her hands on his chest, the shock and delight evident in her voice. 

 

Suddenly, the room began to spin and the ground began to shake.  Was it another earthquake?  He reached for Catherine but she slid from his grasp.  He felt himself falling, deeper and deeper – as the ground swallowed him.   From somewhere very far away, he heard Catherine's voice calling out to him, "...Vincent!  Vincent!

 

“Vincent, wake up."

 

Vincent opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling, and then at Catherine, who was shaking his shoulder gently but firmly.  

 

It was morning.  He was in his chamber Below, in his own bed, and Catherine was sitting on the edge of it.  She was wearing a tan trench coat.  Her long hair was down and flowing softly about her shoulders.  She was wearing the crystal necklace he had given her on their first anniversary.  He could see the scar on the side of her face – a reminder of what brought them together that night in the park more than two years ago.    

 

He was never in California at all.

 

"I...just...had the most incredible dream," he said, wonderingly. 

 

"Incredible dream?" Catherine repeated, lifting her eyebrows.  “I hope that was me you were smiling at,” she said teasingly.

 

Vincent smiled.  “When I smile – it is always because of you,” he said simply. 

 

He opened his arms and she snuggled up to him, laying her head on his shoulder and her arm comfortably across his chest. 

 

He stroked her hair...as his thoughts returned to the dream. Robert, he mused, was a real person – but he had been away from the Tunnels for a very long time.  Vincent wondered how he was doing.  He did, in fact, move to San Francisco to join another detective firm.  That part of the dream was true, although Robert had left New York a full year before Vincent had even met Catherine.  He went through the other people in the dream, trying to match them with a real live person.  He stopped on one in particular. 

 

“Catherine,” he finally said thoughtfully.  “Why have you never told me of what happened between you and Jim?”  

 

Catherine propped herself up on her elbow and looked at him with disbelief, her mouth partly open in surprise.  “How...?” she faltered. “How did you know about Jim?” she asked – the astonishment evident in her voice.  

 

Vincent hesitated.  He had almost hoped she would say she didn’t know anyone named Jim.  “I dreamed that you had a distant cousin named Jim,” he explained.  “And he proposed to you when you were still a young woman.  Perhaps you mentioned him – and I had forgotten?"  He tried to smile convincingly at her, but he didn’t believe his own words.  

 

"Oh,” she said doubtfully, trying to think of when she must have mentioned Jim.

 

Vincent tried changing the subject slightly.  “Do you still have a vacation home in Mendocino, California?” 

 

Catherine looked absolutely stunned.  “My Father owned it,” she said with hesitation.  “It’s been in the hands of a rental company for decades.  I haven’t been there since I was a child.  Since mother...”

 

“Since your mother died there?” Vincent supplied.

 

Catherine nodded slowly.  “Yes, we went on one last family trip there when she knew the cancer was winning the battle.”  She thought for a moment.  “Perhaps I told you some of that when my father died.  I don’t remember much about those days.” 

 

“Possibly,” Vincent said.  He thought for a moment.  “Does Jim Chandler still fly?” he ventured. 

 

“Jim?  Fly?”  She laughed nervously., “He...” she began.  “I think my father did mention that Jim has a small plane...but I haven’t spoken to Jim in years.  Not since...”  She pushed her hair behind her ear.  “Why,” she continued, “would you dream about someone so far back in my past, someone I’ve never even felt it necessary to tell you about?” she asked with confusion.  “And even if I had mentioned Jim, I’m positive I never told you that he flies – or that he proposed to me.  You’re really confusing me.”

 

“I know, I’m sorry,” said Vincent.  “I’m not sure what any of it means...yet.”  He hesitated.  “It’s like that time with Kristopher Gentian, where I sensed that you suspected that he was dead.”  Then, feeling he was beginning to frighten her, he forced himself to smile.  “Don’t worry, it was just a dream – and you probably did tell me those things at some point.  I have forgotten many things, as well, since my illness.”  He pulled her back to his shoulder.  She finally relaxed and he resumed stroking her hair.

 

But, for once, his mind was not on Catherine.  The dream was incredibly real, more real than any other he had ever had.  Was it possible that he was now able to read Catherine’s thoughts while he was dreaming?  Could it mean anything important – or was it just a dream?  

 

 

 

The End (or is it?)