A Much Larger Prison

 

By: Rachel Elaine

 

An alternate way for Catherine and Vincent to meet, with some fun adventures and twists.

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Catherine Chandler, a lifetime New Yorker, walked through the quiet halls of the University of California at Berkeley.  She tried to picture her mother, as a young woman, doing the same.  She had flown out to San Francisco for a house party hosted by an important client, but she soon grew weary of it all and left early – claiming the need to return to New York for unexpected business.  When she realized she was driving past the school that her mother had attended, she felt compelled to stop in.  It was the middle of October, the students were on fall break, and the campus was almost completely deserted.

 

After touring the peacefully quiet hallways for some time, she reluctantly decided to leave for the hotel that she had reserved for the night.  She called the elevator that led down to the parking garage and stepped inside.  There would be plenty of time to go somewhere for dinner and then decide whether or not to fly back to New York tomorrow.  She had booked an early flight to return home…but her father was not expecting her back for another week.  She felt conflicting emotions of homesickness and a desire to avoid the return to work so soon.  She admitted to herself that stopping at the university was just an excuse to stall for time.  She knew she was fortunate to have the career she had, but somehow she never felt quite at home among the people and clients associated with her father’s firm of attorneys. 

 

The elevator doors opened and she stepped out into the dark concrete hallway.  She searched for the door that should have led to the parking garage…but it had disappeared.  The elevator closed behind her with a loud thud.  She made a sound of exclamation and reached to call it back…but there was no call button…just a slot for a key.  She stood in shock for a few seconds as she realized she must have stepped off on the wrong floor by mistake. 

 

She walked down the hallway and exited the only door at the end.  She found herself in the basement of a much older building…in what must have been one of the old science labs.  The room was filled with old metal cabinets and counters.  The concrete block on either side of her showed cracks and water lines – looking forgotten and neglected.  She shivered.  It certainly was dark and creepy down here…and cold.  She was pretty sure this was more of a storage room than a lab anymore.  Surely there must be a stairwell, she thought, fire code regulations would demand that much. 

 

There were two other doors in the narrow room: the first door was straight ahead and the second door was to her left.  The door straight ahead had a large deadbolt.  The door on her left had a mechanical keypad lock and an EXIT sign above it.  She turned and pulled on the doorknob of the door with the keypad.  She was dismayed, though not surprised, to find it would not open.  

“Great,” she said out-loud.  “Now what?”  She stood still for a few seconds, stared at the door, then at the EXIT sign, and tried to decide what to do.  She stepped over to the other door with the deadbolt.   

 

A wave of dizziness washed over her and she reached for the doorknob to steady herself.  She heard a strange creaking noise from above and her heart began to beat faster.  The memories from previous trips to the West Coast came back to her in a flash:  Earthquake!  A few seconds later, a low rumble started and the room began to shake strongly.

 

Alarm set in as Catherine looked around her.  The lights flickered and went out – making the room pitch-black. 

 

There was a fine powder coming down from the ceiling – and it began to choke her.  Still grasping the doorknob with her one hand, she felt for the deadbolt with her other hand and quickly slid it open.  The door was made of heavy steel, encased tightly in a metal frame, and it took the full weight of her body to force it open.  It was pitch-black in this new room as well.  She lost her balance briefly and the heavy door slipped from her grip and slammed shut.  Out of the darkness, there was an extremely loud explosion – and then a second explosion, just as loud.  She let out a startled scream, dropped forward to the ground, and covered her head.

 

Suddenly, she felt strong arms wrap around her and a quiet, deep, male voice spoke:  “It’s all right.  I have you.  You’re safe.” 

 

She could feel the large man lay over her, shielding her.  There was something about his voice that instantly calmed her.  She felt him flinch as something first fell on them, and then to the floor, but he stayed firmly in the position of human shield.  After several more seconds the shaking stopped and everything became quiet.  

 

Again the voice spoke. “It’s over.  Are you hurt?” he asked.

 

“No,” she answered after some hesitation.  “I’m sorry I screamed.  It sounded like something blew up.” 

 

“It was the fluorescent ceiling lights," he explained.  "They exploded when they hit the concrete floor.”  He moved aside and allowed her to sit up.  “How did you get in here?  This is...a hidden floor,” he asked cautiously. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” she said quickly, feeling she must have intruded into someone’s private office.  “I must have pressed the wrong button when I took the elevator.  By the time I realized I was on the wrong floor, the doors had shut behind me…and you need a special key to call it back. I was trying to find a stairwell.  Then I couldn’t see with the power off.” 

 

“This is not the stairwell,” he said more quietly, almost faintly.   

 

Catherine turned and looked toward the voice.  “I didn’t ask if you were hurt.  I know something else fell…something heavy."

 

“It was...the light fixture,” he said.  I’m...not injured,” he added, without conviction.

 

Catherine fumbled in her purse and pulled out her compact with a tiny battery-powered light on the mirror.  It hardly made any difference in the large room, but she could see several bricks on the floor and an old heavy light fixture.  She could just barely see the man’s outline.  Yes, a large man, with long hair.  He immediately turned his face away from her, but she could see him feeling the back of his head. 

 

“You should see a doctor – I’ll go get you help,” she said as alarm rose in her voice.

 

No.  His voice was a little louder, and more firm, with a hint of fear.  “No.  Don’t bring a doctor in here.  You need to get out of here; you need to leave before...they come back.” 

 

The compact slipped through Catherine’s fingers and crashed to the floor.  “What do you mean?” she asked. “Before who comes back?”

 

“The men who brought me here.” He hesitated. “The ones keeping me hidden here,” he added.

 

“What do you mean...keeping you hidden?” she asked.  “Are you," she grasped for something realistic, "…in the country illegally?”  She reached to find the compact, but it had disappeared.  How odd...she thought.  It should have been right in front of her...

 

“No,” he said after some hesitation. “I have committed no crime.  They brought me here because of who I am...because of what they think they can learn from me...not because of anything I’ve done.  I’ve been...unwise.  I’ve ignored good advice from those who only wanted the best for me...that is how I came to be in this place.”  His words were clear, but spoken slowly, as if they refused to be rushed.   

 

“If you’ve done nothing wrong,” she said kindly, “then perhaps I can help.  My name is Catherine Chandler.  I’m a lawyer, and so is my father.”  She reached again to feel for the compact, but all she touched was a small chunk of concrete. 

 

“It’s not...something that a lawyer can fix, I’m afraid,” he said, almost sadly, with a note of finality.  “As Shakespeare said, Men, at some time, are masters of their fates.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

 

“It can’t be that bad...” she said gently.  Obviously an educated man, she thought to herself.  His speech, his choice of words, held every indication of a man of high intelligence.  Why was he here? 

 

He took a deep breath, and his tone changed to a stronger, more urgent one.  “You must leave now,” he said. 

 

“I can’t just leave you here,” she protested. “You’re hurt; you may need medical attention.  Whatever the reason you’re here, they can’t deny you that.”   She reached for his hand but she heard him pull it quickly away.  He seemed reluctant to let her touch him.

 

“You don’t understand," he said as she felt him lean closer.  "They will kill you if you stay here...if they see that you have found me.  You must go!” 

 

She felt her blood turn to ice.  She suddenly remembered the deadbolt on the door.  The deadbolt on the outside of the door…with, apparently, no other exit.  What had she walked into?  She should be afraid of this man…and yet…she couldn’t quite bring herself to leave just yet.

 

She thought for a moment.  “Why don’t you leave now?  Follow me out.”  

 

He paused again and then took another deep breath.  It seemed as if it was a great effort for him to keep speaking. 

 

“No,” he said with finality.  “It’s daylight, and the earthquake will have caused a crowd to gather outside.  I would never get away without the risk of being seen by someone…and brought back here...or worse.”

 

The gravity of the last two words sent a new fear through her, and then anger.  “Well, I don’t like this at all,” she protested.  "After I leave, I’ll send the police down here and they will help you.” 

 

“No!”  Real panic was evident in his voice now.  He reached out and gently but firmly grasped her shoulder.  “No,” he said again more slowly and with grave emphasis.  “No police…please.” 

 

She reached up and clasped his hand just before he let go of her, and this time he did not pull away.  His hand was not as she expected and it gave her a brief start.  Was he wearing gloves?  Who was this man?  What was he hiding?  She should have been frightened, but for a reason she could not explain, she felt a strong bond with this person... as if she already knew him... as if she was certain he could not harm her.  He had, after all, just saved her from serious injury or even death.  If he had not lain over her and that light fixture, with the heavy cement, had fallen directly on her head...

 

“I wish you would explain,” she said softly. 

 

“I...can’t,” he said reluctantly.  “There isn’t time.  I’ll be all right.  Please...just go.  You are in great danger being here.  Please, trust me on this.”   He gently squeezed her hand for emphasis, and then pulled his hand away.    

 

Catherine sighed, put her purse strap over her shoulder, and prepared to stand up.  “But, if not the police, can I get a message to your family?  Or a trusted friend who can help you?”

 

A longer silence.  She began to think he had not heard.    

 

“You can contact Miss Lin Wong,” he finally said with hesitation.  “She and her grandfather own the Wong Herb Shop in New York…in Chinatown.  You must only give details to either Miss Wong or her grandfather, Dr. Wong, and absolutely no one else.  It is essential…as I don’t know who my friends are right now.  If neither person is available, leave the message,” he paused to think, “…January 12th, and say nothing else.  Tell them to pass the message on to Miss Wong and ask her to call you.”  

 

“Ok, I’ll do it,” she promised.   

 

“And,” he added, as he took another deep breath and spoke gravely, “if you speak to Miss Wong, tell her I am profoundly sorry about Father.  It is entirely my fault.” 

 

She opened her mouth to question this cryptic message but he stopped her.

 

“You must go,” he commanded, raising his voice slightly. 

 

Catherine stood up quickly.  “Okay,” she answered. “But you haven't told me your name.” 

 

He sighed again.  “Vincent,” he said more quietly.  “Now, please hurry.  You should find the door to the stairwell on your right.  I have heard the footsteps of people walking down them.” 

 

She hesitated, as she remembered that there had been no clear way out.  “It has a keypad lock on it,” she pointed out.  “I need a combination to open it.” 

 

He thought for a few seconds as he tried to recall the time he had overheard someone speak the combination – when they had thought he was asleep.  “It’s 3-6-1-1,” he said.  After a few seconds he added, “And please re-bolt this door after you shut it.  If you do not...they will know someone was here, and move me to another location … or kill me.” 

 

Catherine reluctantly left the room without him.  She shut and bolted the door and then felt her way to the exit door.  She felt the keypad keys and punched in the code to unlock it.  To her relief, the door opened into a stairwell just as Vincent had said.  The stairwell had emergency lighting – which seemed incredibly bright after being in complete darkness.  She stepped through, and then turned around to look at the door closing behind her.  There was an identical keypad on that side as well, and a sign on the door read: DANGER RADIATION – KEEP OUT.  So this is why no one comes down here, she thought.  She was not an expert on the storage of radioactive materials, but she was certain the old metal drawers she saw were not adequate for such a purpose.  Something very strange was going on.  She continued up the stairs and into the brilliant sunlight.

 

Vincent was right, there were plenty of people gathered outside…despite the supposedly deserted campus.  She overheard a few of them talking.

 

“It was only a 5.1, but since it was right under us, we felt it pretty strong,” one woman explained to the woman next to her.  “George said it’s safe to go back in, but the power is out on the whole campus, so we are supposed to just get our things and leave.” 

 

Catherine walked up to her.  “Do you think there was any major damage to the building?” she asked. 

 

“Not likely; everything has been strengthened around here to meet earthquake requirements.  The only thing that we usually have to clean up is stuff that falls off of the shelves and ceiling tile – which it looks like you are wearing in your hair.  Where were you when it happened?”

 

Catherine tried to speak calmly and naturally.  “Oh, I was up on the 4th or 5th floor in the ladies room back there.”  She motioned vaguely at a building in the opposite direction from where she had come.  “A little bit of powder rained down from the ceiling.  I guess it is a good reason to go home and soak in the bathtub.”  She smiled, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt, and hoping the 4th or 5th floor ladies room had weak ceiling tiles.  

 

Fortunately, the woman saw a friend and thus freed Catherine from answering any more questions. 

 

Catherine walked to her car and drove back to her hotel.  Looking in the mirror, she could see the plaster powder in her hair.  Who was that man?  She must call the Wongs right away and see if they could help.  She felt anxious to find out more information. 

 

However, to her dismay, both Mr. and Miss Wong were out and were not expected to return until morning.  She gave her name and the hotel phone number, and repeated the message Vincent instructed.  She did not say anything else.  After all, what could she say?  I have found your friend Vincent in the basement of a university?  No, he said it was vital that she only talk to one of them.  All she could realistically do was wait until one of them returned her call.

 

She showered and put on some comfortable clothes.  She called room service and ordered something for dinner…but she had lost her appetite and it was difficult to eat.  The phone rang and she raced to answer it…but it was only the front desk checking on her dinner.  She placed the receiver back on its cradle and sat on the bed. 

 

She wondered what he was doing right now...

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Vincent sat on the floor of the pitch-black room and sighed.  He had gone over the circumstances a hundred times in his head…and each time he arrived at the same conclusion: it was his own fault that he was here.

 

His muscles ached from the effort of the simple task he had just accomplished.  His lungs and throat, no longer accustomed to so much talking, felt strained and sore.  The inadequate food supplied and the strong sedatives they gave him made it impossible to gain any of his normal strength back.  The exertion, or the bump on the head, had also made him dizzy.  He leaned back against the concrete wall behind him for support. 

 

He should have gone with her, of course.  For one moment, he had almost considered it.  But in the daylight, with all the people who were likely to be around, and in his weakened state, it was suicide.  There was no way he could have outrun anyone or fought back.  No, he must try to be patient and wait for the right time.  A quieter time.  At night, perhaps.  If Father were home and worried, then it might have been worth the risk…

 

But he still couldn’t think about Father without great pain…and it washed over him once more.  If only he had listened to him and stayed below.  Father had been right, of course, this world Above was a dangerous place. 

 

He tried to avoid the memories but they came flooding back and he let them play over again in his mind.  He had left the safety of the Tunnels and gone Above that night…as he had done hundreds of times before.  He simply had to get away, to breathe the fresh air, to see the bright city lights of New York, to hear the stray musical note drift upwards from the inhabitants of the nearby apartments, or to watch the stars float across the sky.  He craved this piece of freedom, away from routine Below. 

 

Of course he loved his home, but he needed more than what it offered.  If it were up to Father, he would never have even seen the world Above at all.  He would have spent his entire life in the Tunnels, not knowing anything about the world beyond them except what he read in books and heard from the helpers.  The countless arguments, especially in the last few years, had been a strain on them both.  He could hear them now, as if it were only yesterday...  

 

“Vincent, I cannot emphasize enough the risks you are taking going Above.  If someone were to see you, you would be captured, experimented on, and probably killed.”

 

“Father, you don’t understand.  You lived in the world Above for half of your life, I only get a few nights now and then to drink in all it has to offer.  Besides, I am always careful, you know that.” 


And so it went.  Father always relented, but not happily.  And now this had happened. 

 

The men who captured him were not ordinary people who just happened to see him that night.  They were obviously waiting for him – prepared with dart guns and a small plane to get him far away quickly.  It was all well planned...too well planned, really.  They must have seen him at some earlier date, and had come back. 

 

Father had tried to save him that night, and he had been...the thought of it made his heart squeeze... shot, multiple times, by a gun with a silencer.  Shot – right in front of him – while he was helpless to do anything.  He could still hear the gunshots and see Father’s body go instantly limp as it hit the ground.  The other man had gotten rid of the body where no one would find it.  A wild panic seized Vincent, again, as he thought about it.  If only he could have saved him.  If only he had stayed Below as Father had wanted… 

 

He rubbed his forehead in an effort to ease the ache in his head.  Yes, it was all his fault for being so selfish.   

 

He knew his captors were aware that he was intelligent, but they did not know to what extent.  He made certain that it stayed that way.  Because he wore clothes, he knew he couldn’t get away with acting completely stupid.  So he pretended to know some things, but only the very basics, and he made certain never to speak to them.  He acted out the behaviors of a few of the mentally challenged dwellers who had passed through the world he had grown up in.  He produced imaginary fears of random objects, and tried to act generally predictable.  He also pretended to be more sedated than he actually was…which allowed him to listen to their conversations, and for any chance to escape.  His act, though a bit silly, seemed to be working…as they spoke more and more freely in front of him.    

 

His thoughts drifted back to the young woman.  She had been kind to him.  Of course, if she had seen him in normal lighting, she would likely have been frightened and run away.  He fingered the compact she had dropped.  He had picked it up without making any sound in order keep her from using the light to see him clearly.  He knew his appearance would frighten her.  She had almost caught him when she had reached for his hand, and he had put the compact quickly into his pocket.  He smiled to himself and then sighed again. 

 

He lowered himself to the ground – too tired to sit up any longer.  He let his mind dwell on the beautiful woman.  Catherine.  She could not see him in the dark, but she did not know that his advanced eyesight allowed him to see her.  The delicate lines of her face and soft hair, sweeping just over her shoulder.  He closed his eyes.  He was certain he could still feel her close by, just as if she was still right beside him, even though there was no logical explanation as to why he could.  He could feel her compassion, her concern for him.  It was nice to feel some kindness, even if only for tonight, after so many weeks of harsh treatment.  But she was gone.  He’d sent her away himself, and he would surely never see her again. 

 

He opened his eyes and folded his arms behind his head.  He thought about what he had told her.  Perhaps he had done the wrong thing in giving her the message for the Wongs.  He wished now that he could reach out and snatch the words back.  Even if they tried to rescue him, he would only be putting more people in danger.  His entire Tunnel family must be incredibly angry with him...and who could blame them?  It was a terribly selfish thing he had done that night – and every night he had gone Above.  He did not mind so much taking the risk of his own life, but he had not taken into consideration that other people he cared about could be hurt…or killed.

 

He heard the stairwell door close with a bang.  He felt his heart skip a beat.  Had she returned?  Oh, he hoped not!  It was far too dangerous.  He was almost relieved to see the younger of his two captors, Dr. Logan, open the door and peer in at him – shining a bright flashlight into the room. 

 

“Hey, Gerald, you should see the wreck in here.  Half of the ceiling needs patched up.”   

 

The older man, Dr. Ellis, peered in quickly and then stepped back out, talking over his shoulder.

“We’re not going to waste time fixing anything.  Granniss and Morrison both called me today and said Friday is best for them.” 

 

The men entered the room, bringing the familiar vials with the familiar sedatives.  Vincent had given up on fighting against them after the first few weeks.  Oh, of course he had tried to resist in the beginning – tried more times that he could remember.   But the men always worked together.  One man always had the dart-gun pointed at him, which was not only painful to be hit with but had a much more powerful dose than the smaller vials.  At least with the latter, he was able to stay somewhat conscious while pretending to be fully out.  He pretended to be asleep now and forced himself to focus on the conversation. 

 

“Did you gather all of his files?” Dr. Ellis asked.

 

“Yes, they are all in the top drawer, in the blue folder, every last one of them,” Dr. Logan answered.  “I’ll make copies in the morning – or whenever we have power again.” 

 

The old man grunted in acknowledgement and filled the syringe. 

 

“So when do you want to...you know...euthanize him?” Dr. Logan asked.   

 

“Tomorrow night,” the other man answered, setting the empty vials down. “It will give plenty of time for rigor mortis to go away, and by morning we can be ready to move his body to the lab.”  He paused and injected the sedative into the IV port on Vincent’s chest.  His captors had grown tired of trying to find new veins to draw blood after the more easily accessible veins began to collapse due to overuse, and had decided this was the solution.  Vincent had been shocked when he awoke to find it one day.  It was not the simple kind that Father used in the arm for surgeries – he knew enough about it to realize that attempting to remove it could mean infection or bleeding to death.        

 

“You’re sure he wouldn’t be worth more money to someone as a live study?” the young man asked tentatively. 

 

“No,” replied Dr. Ellis with finality.  “Too risky.  You know the saying: Dead men tell no tales…” 

 

Even through the sedative, Vincent felt the panic creep in.  So...this is how it would end.  He should get up now and fight for his life.  But after two months of fighting, eating very little food, and being sedated most of the time…he felt completely beaten.  And besides, perhaps it wasn’t right for him to live, with Father now lying dead.  He knew that Father had expected him to take his place if anything had ever happened to him.  But, with Father’s death being his fault, he knew the other Tunnel dwellers would all find it impossible to forgive him and to give him the respect needed for that position.  No, it was much better for someone else to take that lead…someone that would make better decisions than him.  Winslow, perhaps.  Besides, they were much safer without him.  He was too much of a risk to them all.  Perhaps...yes...perhaps he was getting exactly what he deserved. 

 

With those thoughts he drifted off to unconsciousness as he heard the door shut behind his captors. 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Back in her hotel room, Catherine could not sleep.  The words of the man in the basement room kept playing over and over in her mind. 

 

You are in great danger.  Please, trust me on this. 

 

It was absolutely absurd to be ‘in great danger’ simply within the walls of a university.

 

I don’t know who my friends are right now. 

 

Had he been betrayed by someone?  Framed?  Involved in some experiment?  She thought of his hands, and how he had hidden his face. 

 

They brought me here because of who I am...because of what they think they can learn from me.

 

Who was he?  What secret was he hiding?  Nothing made sense.

 

Re-bolt the door after you shut it.  Otherwise, they will know someone was here, and kill me.

 

She sat up and turned the lamp on.  His life was in danger and she could do nothing about it.   It was all so immensely frustrating.  She really shouldn’t care…it was none of her business.  Any other sensible person would have been sleeping right now and boarding their early flight home in the morning.  Perhaps he was lying to her.  But she just could not get him off her mind.  She could feel his fear, his depression and despair.  She could feel it all – even from here.  It didn’t make any sense.  No, she was certain he was good, though she could not explain why she was so certain. 

 

She tossed the covers back and got out of bed.  She walked over to the patio door and stepped onto the balcony facing the city and gazed across the city toward the Berkeley campus.  It was still very dark.  She wondered how he was coping without even a light to keep him company.  A thought struck her and she dismissed it.  But, as some thoughts do, it took root and grew…until she could no longer think of anything else.  

 

She got dressed and packed her suitcase.  She didn’t have an exact plan, but she decided that it would be best to take her things with her.  She left her hotel key on the table and, grasping her suitcase, she stepped into the hall and let the door click shut behind her. 

 

She drove back to the Berkeley campus and parked her rental car just around the corner from the stairs she had climbed earlier that day.  She turned the ignition off and sat there for a few moments – listening to the deafening silence around her.  The power was definitely still off and the campus was completely dark.  She took a small emergency flashlight out of the glove compartment and quietly walked across to the building next to the parking garage.  She crept down both stairwells and pressed her ear against the door with the DANGER RADIATION sign. 

 

It was eerily quiet with no sign of any life inside.  Dare she open it?  

 

She touched the keypad, and then hesitated as she thought of a better idea.   She went back outside and picked up a handful of tiny rocks from the landscaping.  She entered the stairwell again but this time she stood at the top of the second flight, peering at the DANGER RADIATION door below.  She carefully tossed several small rocks at the door – praying that they would strike it.

 

They did.  And they made a significant amount of noise for such small things.  She held her breath, waiting for someone to open the door – ready to dash through the top door and outside before she was seen.  

 

No one came.  She threw several more slightly larger pebbles, which echoed through the stairwell.  Again, she waited for any response.  Surely if someone was “guarding” the inside of that door, they would have heard the noise and come out to see what it was.

 

Feeling more confident, she walked down the stairs again.  She entered the code 3-6-1-1 into the keypad and, to her relief, it unlocked.  She slowly opened the door, shining the flashlight inside.

 

There was no one in the narrow room and there were still no lights other than her flashlight.  She quietly closed the door behind her and hurried to the door on her left.

 

She stood in front of it for a few seconds, evaluating her next step.  The bolt was back across the door, just like she had left it.  Had they returned?  Who were these people, keeping a man locked in a basement?  In a university, no less, which was supposed to be a safe place for learning about the world?   She saw a very faded nameplate on the door and directed the beam of her flashlight onto it. 

 

DR. ELLIS – PRIVATE.

 

Had she noticed this earlier, she would have known this was not a stairwell. 

 

Committing to her plan, she carefully slid the bolt across and opened the door.  She propped a chair against the door to keep it open and shone the flashlight into the room.  It was a simple setup – very much like the inside of a prison cell.  She thought she saw something dark in the corner, but it was so difficult to be sure.  It was absolutely freezing in here.  She was glad she had dressed warmly.   

 

“Vincent?” she asked in a whisper…but there was no answer.  Carefully avoiding the glass and ceiling debris on the floor, she walked up to the figure in the corner.  He was turned on his side facing the wall and wrapped in a long cloak with a hood over his head. 

 

Well, she thought, I would have had to wrap up like that, too, if I were trying to sleep in the cold down here.  She went to shine the flashlight on his face, but something inside stopped her and she found, for some unexplainable reason, she couldn’t do it.  She bent down, set the flashlight down on the floor, and gently shook his shoulder. 

 

“Vincent?” she said again.   

 

He stirred and took a deep breath but did not turn.  “Catherine?” he asked; his voice barely audible.

 

“Yes,” she answered.  “Come with me.  It’s the middle of the night.  There is no one here, but I don’t know for how long.  My car is just outside.  Please hurry.”  She gave his shoulder one more firm shake.  

 

With an effort, Vincent pushed himself up and into a sitting position.  The room spun and his heart raced.  The sedatives were at their strongest this time of night.  He glanced up at her in the darkness, and then dropped his head into his hands as he tried to stop the spinning.  “You should not...have...chanced...coming back,” he said finally.

 

“Come” she said again, pulling at his wrist and standing up. 

 

With her insistence, he forced himself to his feet and held the wall for balance.  The tiny flashlight on the floor barely illuminated the hooded outline of his body.  She was surprised at how tall he was.  

 

“They’ve…given me a...strong sedative,” he said.  “I’m not sure how far I can walk.”  His speech was louder but slow and produced with great effort.  

 

"There are two flights of stairs…and then my car is just outside.  You must try," she coaxed him, picking up the flashlight and shining it toward the open door.

 

Vincent willed his feet to move and together they left the room.  Catherine turned and pulled the door shut and locked the deadbolt once again.  She pointed the flashlight at the stairwell door but Vincent stopped. 

 

“Wait. There is...a folder,” he said, in short halting breaths.  He stumbled to the file cabinet and pulled at the top drawer, but it was locked. 

 

“Maybe there’s a key,” Catherine said, turning and shining the flashlight on the walls and counters on the other side of the room.  She heard a loud metallic popping sound and she spun around to see the drawer was open and he was removing a folder from it.

 

“How...?” she started.

 

“It was...only...stuck,” he lied, between gasps of air. 

 

“Come on,” she said again, tugging at his cloak.

 

Slowly they ascended the stairs.  How many he climbed, he was not sure; his legs felt like lead and it seemed like they would never get to the top.  Outside the building was a large section of shrubbery. 

 

Catherine motioned for him to sit down.  “Stay behind here while I get my car,” she said just before she disappeared into the blackness. 

 

Catherine thought to herself how fortunate it was that there was no moon tonight…and that the power was still out in this part of town.  It was the best possible circumstance for sneaking someone out. 

 

She thought she would never get the keys in the ignition or get the car to move.  Keeping both the headlights and interior lights off, she inched along until she was in front of the shrubbery where she had left Vincent.  She quickly opened the back door and hurried over to help Vincent to his feet and into the back seat. 

 

“Hurry, get inside.  Keep low until I get out of the city,” she said

 

He crawled in but made no response.  Catherine closed the back door and slipped into the driver’s seat.  She locked the doors and pulled onto the street – straining to see in the darkness and only turning on her headlights after she was several buildings away.  A van would have been better, but at least the rental car had somewhat tinted windows in the back. 

 

Where should she go?  She certainly could not take him back to the hotel room.  What she needed was a quiet place to hide until she could clear her head and decide what to do.  She felt as if she had surely lost her mind, or that she was dreaming.  Still, there was this unexplainable force that seemed to compel her to get him away from here. 

 

She pulled onto the interstate heading north.  She drove just under the speed limit as she thought of her options.  There was the old family vacation home near Mendocino.  She knew, instinctively, it was her intent to head there from the moment she entered the highway.  It would be a three-hour drive, but it was the only place she could think of.  Sometimes it was rented for a few weeks in the summer, but it would not be this time of year.  It was private…if she could only get there without being seen, or pulled over by a police car for any reason.  Yes, she would take him there…and decide what to do in the morning. 

 

“Vincent?” she called, but there was no answer.  She wondered if she should pull over and check on him, but decided it was too risky until she was well out of the city.  The car behind her seemed to be following a little too closely; she switched lanes and increased her speed. 

 

“Vincent, we are going somewhere safe, but it’s a bit of a drive,” she said over her shoulder.

 

She listened.  Did he answer?  She couldn’t tell.  She could see him through the rearview mirror.  He was curled up on his side, facing the back of the seat, with the hood still over his head.  It didn’t really look like a person on the seat at all – just a pile of dark blankets.  She hoped it looked that way from outside of the car too. 

 

It was best to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible.  Later on, the traffic thinned to almost nothing and she began to relax a little.  It seemed that no one had followed her after all. 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Three hours later, she crept quietly up Highway 1 just south of the little town of Mendocino and turned left toward the shore.  She guided the car all the way to the end of the small road – past the trees and other homes – until she saw the familiar driveway ahead.  She could smell the sea and felt excitement well up inside her.  Oh, how many memories it triggered! 

 

She drove up to the front of the house and turned off the ignition.  She looked through her keys and was thankful that she rarely removed anything from her key ring over the years.  She unlocked the front door and peered inside with the flashlight.  It was quiet and empty…just as she had hoped.  She did not want to risk turning on any of the outside lights in the front of the house for fear she would draw attention from the neighbors.  She returned to the car and found Vincent sitting up in the back seat.  She could just barely make out his outline, but it was still too dark to see his face.  

 

“Where are we?” he asked, sounding more alert than three hours ago.    

 

“A safe place far from the city,” she answered.  “My family’s vacation home…but no one is using it just now.  Come inside.” 

 

With effort, Vincent stood up and entered the house.  He looked around and saw a pleasant living room with old but well-cared-for furniture.

 

Catherine flipped the light switch but nothing happened.  “There should be electricity…the bulb must be burned out,” she said. 

 

Using the flashlight, she led him to the guest room in the back of the house.  She turned the switch on the small lamp on the nightstand and, to her relief, it illuminated the room.  She folded back the covers.

 

“You can sleep here,” she said, without looking at him. 

 

Vincent felt a sense of panic go through him.  Once she saw his face, she would be frightened.  It was one thing for her to save a normal man from what she must be convinced was false, and unusual, imprisonment, but his unexplained features…unexplained even by Father, who was a doctor… 

 

“There is cement powder and dirt on my clothes from the basement floor,” he protested as he began to take a step back toward the door.   

 

“Don’t be silly, everything is washable,” she replied, arranging the pillows in a normal position for sleeping.

 

He hesitated.  He had trusted her this far, could he trust her a little further?

 

She looked up at him.  He had turned away from the lamplight, with his head down to keep his face hidden under the hood he was still wearing.  With determination, she stepped in front of him.  She carefully lifted the large hood off of his head and pushed it back.

 

He kept his gaze on the floor and waited for her inevitable reaction.  After a few seconds, he lifted his eyes to meet hers.  He saw, and felt, her feelings change from shock to curiosity…and then to acceptance…as a small smile emerged.  He waited for the questions, but she asked none. 

 

“You look much better without it,” she finally said as she continued to smile softly at him.  "Now please lie down and get some more sleep.  No one will bother you here."

 

He relented and lowered himself onto the soft bed.  He had meant to say something about not letting anyone else see him, or to make some explanation about his looks, but the bed was so incredibly soft and the sedative still so strong that he was asleep again almost instantly. 

 

Catherine covered him with a light blanket and then stood over him for a few moments…studying him and thinking. 

 

His face had all the normal features of a man, but it also had features of something else – almost like a lion.  His hands looked like a man’s hands, but they were covered in thick hair and his nails did not quite look human.  And yet…for all intents and purposes…he was clearly a man. 

 

Her mind spun, trying to take it all in.  What had happened to him?  Had those men, that Dr. Ellis whose name was on the basement door, done this to him?  He was from New York – or he had friends from there, at least.  Was he born looking like this?  Some kind of cruel experiment? 

 

They brought me here because of who I am...

 

She thought again about everything: the basement, the locked door, the hidden floor.  Then the pieces fell into place.   He was, as she had suspected, not a criminal but kidnapped.  The men who held him were scientists, and they had found a valuable study.  They would not be pleased to find him gone, to say the least.   

 

There were a few seconds of fear as she thought over what she had gotten herself into.  She walked back through the house, making certain every window and door was firmly locked before returning to the back of the house with her suitcase.  

 

She went to her own room and closed the door behind her.  She brought her suitcase into her private bathroom and changed into some comfortable pajamas.  She climbed into her bed and turned out the light. 

 

She could hear the distant traffic on Highway 1.  After a few moments of thought, she brought a blanket and pillow from her own bed and arranged it on the soft couch in the room where Vincent lay sleeping.  If someone were to find them, she decided, it would be safer to be together.  Whatever she had gotten herself into, she must see it through until a solution presented itself.  There would be plenty of questions to ask in the morning, but they would have to keep until then.  She turned off the lamp and settled on the couch.  She meant to stay awake for a little while and think, but the exhaustion from the eventful day took over and she, too, fell asleep quickly.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

Catherine awoke slowly, opened her eyes, and tried to remember where she was.  She looked across the room and saw the outline of a large man standing in front of the window, looking outside, his hands folded comfortably behind his back.  The clothes looked strangely familiar. Who...?  Suddenly the memories of the night before rushed back and she sat upright.

 

“Oh!” she said.  “You’re awake!  Are you okay?  You could have woken me.  I shouldn’t have slept so long.”  She sat up and pushed her hair back, trying to shake the remnants of sleep. 

 

“You needed it,” Vincent said simply, without turning from the window. 

 

He had awakened two hours earlier and saw Catherine sound asleep on the couch next to the bed.  She was even more beautiful in the daylight than she had been in the dim light yesterday.  He tried to remember their escape last night.  At first he thought perhaps he was still dreaming or he really had died with that last injection.  He reached into his vest and felt the papers he had removed from the folder while he was in the car.  He would look at them later; at least he had left no evidence behind.  He finally got up, slipped quietly past her, down the hall, and into the bathroom. 

 

He had taken a shower, feeling like he was rinsing off the last two months of horror along with the dust and dirt.  There had been a large lab sink in his basement prison, but it felt incredible to finally get under the steaming hot water of a normal shower.  He had then crept into the adjoining bedroom and found a closet full of men’s clothes.  After some trial and error he found some items that both fit and were similar to what he usually wore.  He put his own leather vest back on and slipped the papers back inside.  He felt almost whole again.  Almost.

 

Catherine walked over to stand next to him and followed his gaze out the window.  The house was perched high on top of the cliffs which ran along the shore and the window provided a beautiful view of the cove which surrounded the property.    

 

“I had almost forgotten how lovely it is,” she said.  “My father never comes here anymore.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been back myself.  Too long, really,” she added. 

 

“‘The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever,’” Vincent quoted.  He paused.  “Jacques Cousteau,” he added with a hint of a smile, turning to face her.  A question in his eyes seemed to ask: It’s all right, then?  You’re not afraid?  

 

She looked up at him and was speechless for a moment.  Who was this man?  She wanted answers, but somehow she felt she must wait.  “You should eat something,” she finally said. “Come into the kitchen – I’ll see if I can find something for breakfast.” 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

Catherine called the local grocer and in the time it took her to get dressed, a young boy was at the front gate, delivering two bags of groceries containing milk, eggs, cereal, chicken, steak, fruit, vegetables, and various other items. 

 

Vincent said very little during their meal.  He seemed to be deep in thought.  He finally snapped to attention when he realized Catherine had asked him something and he had not answered.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I think my mind is still working slowly.  I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for what you did last night.”  It was the same slow, even voice, but much stronger than yesterday.  He glanced at her and then down again, as if still reluctant to look her directly in the eyes.  “I know you must have many questions.  I’ll answer as many as I can,” he added.  

 

“Who...are you?” she asked seriously.  “And how did you end up in the basement of the university?” 

 

“The first answer,” he said, “is a long story in itself. The second is a little shorter.  Where would you like me to start?” 

 

“Begin at the beginning,” she said softly, as she reached out across the table and gave his hand a gentle squeeze.   

 

Vincent looked at her hand then back up to her eyes.  “It was the 12th of January,” he began…and then halted.  He realized with renewed agony that he would never hear Father tell the story again. 

 

“Please don’t stop,” Catherine said, still holding his hand. “You’re not afraid to trust me, are you?” she asked. 

 

Vincent took a deep breath.  “No,” he said, shaking his head slightly, “I trust you.”  He continued in his slow unhurried manner of speaking.  “They tell me it was the coldest day of 1955.  I was found, abandoned, outside St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City.  This person took me to a secret place, where the man who became my father lived.  He raised me and taught me everything I know.”

 

“What do you mean…a secret place?” Catherine asked quietly.

 

“A safe place,” he said. “Below the streets of New York, below the subways, there is a network of Tunnels.  In these Tunnels there exists a community of people.  These people, for different reasons, do not wish to live in the world Above…and so they have made the Tunnels their home.  We take care of each other and try to live as best as we can.  Our rules are simple: we give help when needed, and accept help when offered.  Any major decisions are made by a council where everyone can vote.”  He paused and gave her a look of emphasis.  “Above all, anyone who learns about the Tunnels is asked to keep them a secret…for the safety of those living there.” 

 

“Is that why you are here?  Someone found out where you live?” Catherine asked. 

 

He nodded.  “My Father was always concerned about my trips Above.  He told me countless times about the dangers and tried to convince me to stay Below.  He…was a smart man.”

 

“Was?” she repeated.

 

Vincent took a deep breath again and let it out slowly.  “My captors, the scientists at Berkeley, killed him,” he said simply. 

 

Catherine’s expression changed to one of sympathy.  “I’m so sorry,” she said kindly.  “How did it happen?”  

 

“I was leaving the Tunnels from the Central Park entrance,” he explained.  “I wanted to go Above.  The others that live Below are free to come and go as they wish. I falsely believed that as long as I was careful, I could do the same.”

 

“But they saw you,” Catherine supplied. 

 

“Yes,” Vincent said.  “The men hid behind some trees and shot me with tranquilizer darts.  As I fell to the ground, I saw Father hurrying toward us…waving his cane and yelling at them to let me go.  The men shot him multiple times.”

 

“Are you sure he’s dead?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” he said regretfully.  “It was a real gun that they shot him with.  They took his body and said they were going to dump him in the Hudson.”  He paused. “I lost consciousness after that.  The next time I woke up, I was in the basement room where you found me.” 

 

“When did this happen?” she asked.

 

Vincent thought for a moment.  “It was August the eighth,” he said. 

 

“But that was over two months ago,” she pointed out. “It’s the middle of October.” 

 

Vincent nodded and there were a few minutes of silence between them.  “So you see,” he finally continued, keeping his gaze somewhere on the floor behind her, his expression distant and thoughtful, “it’s my fault that Father is dead.  And because of that, I began to feel that it was better if I never returned.  I was beginning to accept the possibility of death.  I’m...too much of a risk to everyone who lives Below.  Also…I don’t think the others could ever forgive me.  I certainly haven’t forgiven myself.” 

 

“You shouldn’t feel that way,” she said kindly.  “You didn’t kill him, nor did you expect that to happen.  I’m sure your father would have wanted you to go home and make peace with your friends and family.  He obviously worked hard to keep you safe, and he wouldn’t want his efforts to be in vain.” 

 

He said nothing in reply.  Once again he seemed to be thinking and not really listening.  “Why did you come back?” he asked instead, evading her question.  “I was a stranger to you.” 

 

“I don’t know,” she said slowly.  “When I went back to the hotel, I just kept thinking about you.  I couldn’t sleep.  I just knew I had to get you out of there somehow.  When I saw from my hotel balcony that the power was still off, I knew you had a chance to escape.”  She met his eyes.  “I can assure you I have never done anything even remotely close to something this daring.  What I told you is true: I am a lawyer…but I am a corporate lawyer and the most dangerous situation I have even been in is riding the New York subway.” 

 

Vincent’s eyes widened briefly.  “You also live in New York?” he asked. 

 

“Yes,” she answered.  “I live on Central Park West, in the apartments between 73rd and 74th.”

 

“I know where that is,” he said, still with a touch of surprise.  “I have stood on the roof of your building…many times.”   

 

“You have?” she asked, puzzled.  “Why?”     

 

Vincent thought back.  Before he was captured, he had sat on the roof of her building one night.  Sometimes he had even dared to take a quick peek down at the balconies below him and tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of the inhabitants…living in one of New York’s best buildings, and enjoying the company of friends right out in the open.  With no need to hide, they were free to do as they pleased…free. 

 

He wondered if he had seen her before.  It might explain why he continued to feel her emotions so strongly – from the moment she walked into the basement room, and even after she left.  Ever since he was a child, he was aware he had some sort of empathic ability – a keen sense of other’s emotions.  It only worked with people he was very close to, and even then, it had never been as strong as it was now with her.  It was as if he could feel her fear, her pain, or her happiness the same time she was feeling it.

 

But he did not tell her any of these things.  “Your building is easy to climb and the roof offers a unique view of the city and the park,” he said instead.  Then, feeling embarrassed, he added, “I could only see part of the balconies, not inside the apartments.” 

 

Catherine blushed.  “Well,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “that’s useful to know.”  

 

Vincent suddenly stood up, embarrassment and fear coming back into his eyes.  “I should leave now.  You’ve done more than enough already.”

 

“Leave?”  Catherine stood up and grasped his arm.  “Don’t be ridiculous, where would you go? You’re not strong enough yet to travel on your own.”

 

Vincent had to admit this was true; the simple act of standing so quickly had left him feeling light-headed for a few seconds.  They sat back down.  “Yes, but what if my captors find us both here?” he pointed out.  “I don’t wish to bring harm to anyone else.  It’s best for me to get away sooner rather than later.” 

 

Catherine considered this.  “I don’t think we were followed.  I kept checking my rear-view mirror.  For the last hour of the trip, I was nearly the only car on the road.”

 

“Someone could have seen your license plate at the university,” he suggested. 

 

“True,” she agreed.  “But the car is rented.  And it is rented under our law firm’s name.  If anything, it will lead them back to New York rather than here.” 

 

“That,” he said with dismay, “isn’t good either.” 

 

“But it means we are safe here for now,” she said.  “Absolutely no one from New York knows I am here.  My father and our law firm think I’m still at a house party in San Francisco for one of our clients.  If he calls the client, they will say I’ve gone to a hotel – which I did.  And I didn’t tell anyone which one.  Please try not to worry.”  She gave him an encouraging smile. 

 

Vincent didn’t look convinced.  As if in answer, someone knocked at the door.  They both stood up. 

 

Catherine held her finger up to say Wait and stepped very quietly to the front door.  She peered out the glass viewfinder and she saw an old woman with white hair…carrying a cake. 

 

Catherine let out the breath she had been holding.  She walked back over to Vincent again.  “It’s just a neighbor from down the street,” she whispered.  “Mrs. Cartwright. If you go in the den in the back of the house, there is a door that leads to the basement.  Stay there until she leaves. I’ll try to get rid of her as quickly as possible.”

 

Vincent nodded as the knocking started again.  

 

Catherine directed her voice in the opposite direction of the door.  “Coming!” she shouted.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

Mrs. Cartwright was an old woman – no one knew quite how old.  She had lived in the area all her life and knew everyone and everything.  She yelled at the children for not having their hair tidy or for riding their bicycles too fast down the street.  Catherine was stunned to see her still alive and as sharp as ever. 

 

“The grocer said you were in town,” Mrs. Cartwright said in a raspy, loud voice.  “Said you bought enough food for a small party…and steak too!  I thought you might need some dessert.” Mrs. Cartwright held out the cake and peered around Catherine. 

 

Catherine found her voice after a few seconds.  “How thoughtful of you!  Thank you.   Actually, I’m not having a party, just planning to stay for awhile, and I wanted to get plenty of food in so I didn’t have to go out again too soon.  I came here to get away from work.  Won’t you come in?”  she finished, motioning to the living room.

 

Catherine felt she could do nothing else but offer the woman tea and a piece of her own cake.  She hurried into the kitchen ahead of Mrs. Cartwright, quickly scooped up Vincent’s cup and plate, and hid it under the sink.  She spent the next hour listening to the woman gossip about everything possible.  She learned what every child she had played with during her summer vacations had gone on to become, or not become.  She finally convinced Mrs. Cartwright to leave by claiming to not feel well and professing the need to lie down.   

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

After closing the front door behind the woman, she sought out Vincent again.  A horrible thought struck her that he may have taken this opportunity to flee. She was relieved to find him looking through the bookcases downstairs. 

 

“Mother’s books,” she said simply. 

 

“She has good taste,” Vincent replied. 

 

“She died when I was ten years old.  I was never able to quite get into all of them, especially some of the poetry.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough; she loved them all.”

 

Vincent glanced at her, and then pulled Robert Frost off the shelf.  He shuffled the pages, and began to read slowly, evenly: 

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

 

He turned and faced her during the last line.  Catherine shivered – though she was not the least bit cold. 

 

“You read...so beautifully,” she finally managed to say. “How did you learn to read like that?” 

 

“I’m sure you could read it better than I could.” he said. “Would you like to try one?  Just read it slowly, and try to imagine you are actually seeing what the author is describing.” 

 

For the next three hours, the room was transformed into the wonderful world of Kipling, Frost, Shakespeare, and others.  Vincent began to relax more, allowing his true personality to show through…smiling at some of her interpretations of verse and showing her how to add just the right touch of drama while reading Shakespeare's plays. 

 

For the first time in years, she began to feel happy and relaxed. 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

When Dr. Ellis and Dr. Logan returned to the room behind the DANGER sign around 6 o’clock that morning, they found the door locked – but the room empty. 

 

“How could he have just disappeared?”  Dr. Ellis demanded furiously.

 

“Well, obviously, someone must have let him out and re-locked the door,” said Dr. Logan, checking the walls around the room again for an escape route. 

 

 “And pried the cabinet open with a crow bar too,” Dr. Ellis muttered, opening the damaged file cabinet.  “I should have known not to tell Granniss or Morrison anything yet.  They must have sent someone to steal him.  I’ll call the office and get any surveillance video from last night,” he added, slamming the drawer shut.

 

But the power had been off and there were no videos from any angle showing their prisoner and his accomplice making their late-night escape.

 

Dr. Ellis hung up the phone and glanced up at Dr. Logan.  “Nothing,” he said with frustration.  “Absolutely nothing.”  He sat down in the chair behind his desk and sighed.  “Those lying bastards!  I’m ruined.”   

 

“Who?  The security people?” asked Dr. Logan as he sat in a chair opposite Dr. Ellis.  

 

“No!  Grannis and Morrison, of course.”

 

Dr. Logan put his chin on his fist and stared at his mentor.  “Do you really believe it’s one of them that took him?” he asked.  “They didn’t know much.”

 

“Who else?” replied Dr. Ellis.  “No one else knew.”  He paused for a few seconds.  “Of course, they denied it when I called.  They didn’t believe me – they think we changed our minds and want more money.”  He shook his head.  “I had a bad feeling that we shouldn’t have left the creature unguarded with the power out.” 

 

Dr. Logan thought for a moment.  “We can post a notice in the halls,” he suggested, “stating that something of value was stolen from this building last night, and ask if anyone saw anything suspicious.”

 

“Well what are you waiting for?  Get on it!” Dr. Ellis commanded.

 

It turned out that someone had seen something:  a graduate student, who had returned to get a forgotten book to study, had seen a car parked outside the building late the night before.  He was just in time to see two people, one large and one small, get in and drive away.  He had not noticed the license plate, but he remembered the general model of the car and that it had a sticker from a local car rental place. 

 

But the men knew how to get information…and after passing some much-appreciated cash to the young man working at the rental car counter, they had a name: 

 

Catherine Chandler from the law firm of Chandler and Coolidge in New York City.

 

Dr. Ellis picked up the phone and dialed New York...

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

Vincent and Catherine finally went upstairs and Catherine placed the steaks on the grill for dinner.  Vincent washed his cloak in the laundry tub and hung it outside to dry in the warm breeze from the sea.  He was planning  to wash his other clothes, but he decided they were really in too bad of a condition to wear anymore…so he put them in the trash can under the sink.

 

That evening Catherine took him through the wooded area at the back of the property and down the path between some rocks that led to the beach.  They stayed back near the rocks, out of sight.

 

Vincent stared at the ocean for a time, watching the waves crash against the rocks, then turned and looked at Catherine.  “You said your father never comes here anymore; why is that?” 

 

Catherine gazed out toward the sea before answering.  “Mother...died here,” she said quietly.  “It hurts for him to remember how happy they were, and then how she came here to die when she was so ill.  It’s just too painful for him to be here.  The whole place just reminds him too much of Mother.”

 

Sensing her pain, he looked down at her and spoke kindly.  “This is a beautiful place.  A paradise.  He shouldn’t avoid it simply because she died here.  You’re still alive…and you need him.  Surely, he should understand that you would prefer to share some of the good memories here, of someone you both loved, instead of simply avoiding the place completely.” 

 

She gazed up at him with the slightest hint of tears, but she smiled a small, knowing smile at him instead. 

 

Suddenly his face changed, to one confident...and resolved.  “Thank you,” he said. “I know now what I must do, as well.”   

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

They returned to the house just before dusk.  Catherine could hear the old-fashioned phone ringing as she entered the back door.

 

“Hello?” she said, putting the receiver to her ear. 

 

There was a man’s voice on the other end.  “There you are!” the man said. “I know you’re all grown-up, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least call your Dad when you decide to leave a house party early and drive hours away to another place.” 

 

“Oh,” she said, half shocked and half relieved.  “I meant to.  I was just so busy.  I mean,” she corrected herself, “I was so tired after the drive up here and then I was busy exploring the property and getting groceries.  How did you know I was here?”  

 

“Mrs. Cartwright called me; she said you arrived late last night.  Also said you were up there with a man.  Said she hadn’t seen him, but she could always tell those things.”

 

Catherine was certain her heart stopped for a few seconds.  The nerve of the old busybody!  She swallowed and tried to make her voice sound as calm and natural as possible.  “What a silly thing for her to say!  Even if I wanted to, I don’t know anyone out here,” she said with a laugh, and hoped she sounded convincing.  “The party was winding down so I left and went to a hotel.  But I had a sudden longing to see this place again, and I couldn’t sleep so I decided to drive straight up.  I didn’t know when I would have the chance again to do it.” 

 

Her father laughed.  “Seriously though,” he continued. “I let her chatter on for awhile and then I told her that my daughter is well above the age of consent and I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.  Either way, it is none of my business.  You’re too smart to do something that will get you into trouble.” 

 

Catherine swallowed again.  If only he knew.  She grasped for a red herring to change the subject.  “Dad?” she began. 

 

“Yes?”

 

“Maybe we could come here together next time.  It’s been a long time.” 

 

He was silent for a few seconds, somewhat taken aback by her unexpected suggestion.  “Perhaps,” he finally answered.  “You know I have a busy schedule this time of year.  I’m not sure when I could make it.” 

 

She knew this was his way of getting out of it.  I’m too busy.  She was about to argue further when he interrupted her thoughts.

 

“Oh, by the way, a man called asking for you.  It was a bad connection but he said something about Berkeley.  I couldn't catch the rest.  Anyway, he said he tried to reach you at your hotel and needed to speak to you urgently…a matter of life and death, as he put it.  I gave him your number there.  I hope you don’t mind. I normally wouldn’t have done it but he seemed very upset and the connection kept cutting out.”  

 

Catherine felt her legs go weak and sat down in the chair next to the phone.  “When...” she faltered, “how...long ago did he call?” 

 

“Oh, about half an hour ago, if that.  He’s really lucky he reached me. I told him it was 9 p.m. here in New York, and everyone else is long gone.  The only reason I’m still here is because I had to gather some folders before I catch my flight.  I take it he hasn’t called yet.  I just assumed he was one of your new clients?” 

 

“Oh...I...” She felt the room spin.  “Well, I was just down by the cove, so I’m not sure who called.  I don't think I remember him.  Please, if anyone else calls…don’t tell them I’m here.”  She paused as she felt a twinge of guilt wash over her.  “I wasn’t planning on staying long…but I just feel like I need a few days of quiet without any interruptions from work.  The Ardens were very hospitable, but I felt I stayed more than long enough and I just had to get away for a little while.”  She knew she was talking too fast.  She tried to breathe in slowly to calm herself. 

 

“Sure, Cathy,” her father answered.  “I’ll pass the message on to the secretaries here.  I’ve felt that way myself many times.  Look, I have to get going.  I hope you have a good time – you deserve it after entertaining that bunch in San Francisco.  I’m heading out to Chicago to meet with Mr. Henley about the Bristol case.  Let me know when you are heading home and I’ll have someone pick you up at the airport.”  There was a click and he was gone.

 

Catherine placed the phone on its cradle, and then bent forward and put her head into her hands.  She had to think quickly.  If Dr. Ellis had called from Berkeley, he could drive here in about three hours.  They had no time to lose.

 

Vincent, sensing her anxiety and then outright fear, had been standing just outside the room.  After hearing the phone click, he stepped inside.  “What is it?” he asked with concern. 

 

Catherine looked up quickly.  “We have to leave,” she said.  “That was my father. Mrs. Cartwright called him earlier today and told him I was here.  He said a man from Berkeley called the law firm about an hour ago, asking for me, and he gave him this number to reach me.  He said it was a matter of life and death.  It has to be Dr. Ellis.  Someone must have seen the license plate on the rental car after all and tracked it to my office in New York; I guess you can find anyone with a little research.”  She stood up.  “Help me pack what we brought in.  We have to get far away from here immediately.”  She walked toward the master bedroom.  “And,” she added, turning around and sensing his protest, “I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about you going away by yourself and keeping me from harm.  They already figured out we’re together; it’s better to stay together and get away from this house.”   And with that, she disappeared into the bedroom.   

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

Later that night, after Catherine and Vincent were well on their way to Sacramento, two men crept up to the shadowed house and peered in the windows. 

 

The younger man began talking in a hoarse whisper:  “Well, now what?  No one is home.  The doors are all locked.  I think we’ve missed her.”

 

“I suppose we must try and climb in,” the older man answered.

 

“Breaking and entering?” the young man questioned.

 

“Entering.  Hopefully without breaking anything,” the old man corrected. 

 

They went around the house and finally found a very small window above the kitchen sink which was not locked.  The younger man squeezed himself through the window and opened the back door to let his accomplice inside.  As the older man entered, he knocked over a broom standing near the door.  It fell to the floor with a loud crack – echoing throughout the empty house.

 

Startled by the sudden noise, the younger man nearly jumped out of his skin.  It had been a stressful chase…and they were still no closer to finding any answers.  He normally tried to go through life in good spirits.  It had taken him years of hard work to obtain the position he had, and for the old man’s help in it, he was grateful…but this was the limit.  He turned to face the older man, the annoyance clearly evident in his expression – his face illuminated by the small light left on in the kitchen.

 

“Jacob,” the young man began as he struggled to keep calm, “remind me the next time you suggest an adventure trip…to politely decline and offer you a suitable replacement.  Perhaps one of those adventure-seekers that you live with Below…or a double agent.  How do you know that we are not on some wild goose chase?  Next we will be arrested for home invasion, and I don’t even want to think about the other things I went through in order to get us out here.” 

 

Apparently he did, however, because he began counting on his fingers and continued: 

 

“The last-minute plane tickets from New York to San Francisco, one in First Class and one in Coach.  The – shall we say – borrowed identification for you?  I can only hope that my chief doesn’t notice it missing from the witness protection files before we get back.” 

 

He began to pace the room as he talked.   

 

“My lack of sleep due to the young mother with her crying infant sitting next to me back in Coach, while you slept peacefully up in First Class.  That was followed by my having to flirt with the hotel counter girl, pretending to be the concerned brother of a woman I have never seen nor know anything about, in order to gain knowledge of her payment information so we could determine the company she worked for.  If you had been willing to wait until this morning to leave, I could have asked some of my men to look up her information.  But you wanted to do things the old-fashioned way.  You wouldn’t tell me anything before we left, and you still wouldn’t let me check into anything after you did tell me.  Everything is being done in the wrong order.  Why did I let you talk me into this?”  He reached over, shut the door, and stood the broom back up.

 

Father turned and challenged his gaze with one of greater authority.  “Robert," he said crossly, "this is the only lead we have had in two months.  I wasn’t about to lose out this time by not following up on it myself.  The last two leads were completely botched by the helpers we contacted.  That is why I contacted you.  And this time, I did not want anyone else involved, which is why I shared very little with you until we arrived in California.  It has nothing to do with being old-fashioned.”

 

Father paused for air and then continued.  “We both know that the Wongs are two of the few helpers that Vincent would have trusted enough to get in touch with.  As I have already explained to you, the fact that this woman, this Catherine Chandler, called the herb shop with the message January 12th, the date that Vincent was found outside the hospital, must mean that she has had some contact with Vincent.  He is the only one that could have given such an unusual message.  Lin returned Miss Chandler’s call at midnight, but apparently she had already checked out of her hotel.  The only way to get more information was to visit the hotel in person.  When I called Miss Chandler’s law firm and spoke to Charles Chandler, he said she was here…at this house.  Now, come and help me look around for any signs of Vincent.”

 

Catherine and Vincent had done a remarkable job of removing all traces of their visit to the house during their hurried packing.  The men had almost given up when Father finally saw a familiar shirt and pants in the laundry room wastebasket.  

 

He was in such shock and disbelief that he could hardly pick them up.  He looked them over, noting how worn they were, and feeling the multiple small holes where the darts had gone through.  Wherever Vincent had been these past few months could not have been a good place.  A ladies compact dropped to the floor from the pocket of the pants.  Father picked it up and turned it over.  On the back in small letters was written the name Catherine Chandler. 

 

“Well, look at that,” Robert said as he peered over Father’s shoulder.  “Perhaps you missed your calling,” he added with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. 

 

Father wrinkled his brow and ignored him.  Yes, it appeared they were on the right path, but what now?  Was he dead?  And they had thrown his clothes away?  It didn’t make any sense.

 

They continued to check the rest of the house, splitting up and sweeping each room thoroughly.  Robert wandered over to some shelves in the living room, turned on a small lamp, and began looking at the photographs.  They were aligned like a time-line…stopping in the 1970s: a young woman graduating from college; a wedding photograph; a woman holding a baby; a man, a woman, a little girl; a little girl on a bicycle, at the beach, in New York.  The photo timeline seemed to stop abruptly at this point.  His keen eyes took in everything before turning the light off again and moving on.      

 

Father walked into the living room and began searching the cabinet under the coffee table.  There were some old magazines and a few children’s toys but nothing related to Vincent.  He heard a noise from the kitchen and walked over to the doorway to investigate.    

 

“How is there no food in this house?”  Robert’s muffled voice said from somewhere inside the fridge. 

 

“How can you worry about food right now?”  Father replied sternly. 

 

“Easy,” said Robert.  “It’s called not eating since lunchtime. Not to mention they don’t serve a meal in Coach.  Though it’s probably a good thing I’m skinny…or I wouldn’t have fit through that window,” he said as he shut the fridge.  He reached in his pocket, pulled out a stick of gum, and began to chew it with vigor.  “Anyway,” he continued, “there aren’t many clues to go on up here.  Let’s see if there’s a basement.”  

 

They moved to the basement and found the books that Vincent and Catherine had been reading.  It was the one room Catherine had not straightened up.  She hadn’t felt that the books would call any special attention to Vincent.   

 

Father picked one of the books up and stared at it for a few seconds.  “Several of Vincent’s favorites.  It’s...as if he was reading them,” he said to himself; some hope rising inside of him.

 

“Looks just like your library,” Robert said, looking through the shelves as he continued to chew his gum.  “Reminds me of tenth grade, when you made me memorize Hamlet.”  He turned and glanced behind him.  “As if I didn’t have enough homework from high school as it was,” he added with a wry smile. 

 

“It was to give you some extra refinement in your studies,” Father defended.

 

“Yes, I’m the only guy at the police station who can quote 18th century poetry.  Comes in real handy.”  He smiled and winked at Father, his anger gone and his good spirits returning.       

 

Father ignored him.  He saw an open drawer with a few old maps inside.  One had fallen on the floor.  Had they left together?  Had Vincent convinced her to drive him home to New York?  But if they were attempting such a journey, and if he was now safe, why hadn’t he called and tried to reach Lin again, or another helper?  It was all very frustrating.    

 

“Father,” said Robert, as he reached for the old man’s arm, “we really need to get out of here before someone notices.” 

 

Father sighed and then nodded.  They climbed the stairs and shut the remaining lights off.  They left out the back door…being careful to turn the lock on the door knob before pulling it shut.  Upon walking around to the car, Robert nearly bumped into an old woman. 

 

“Well, hello!” he said nervously, clearing his throat.  “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.  Can I help you with anything?”

 

I knew it,” she said in an icy tone.  “I can always tell.” 

 

“Tell?”  Robert hedged, his heart beating wildly.

 

“Tell when a woman has snuck a man in.  She hid you before, but I knew you were there.”

 

Robert breathed a sigh of relief and played along.  “Well,” he said with a laugh, “we were trying to keep things quiet.  It was all very sudden, you know… the decision to come up here.”   He grasped the back of his neck and rubbed it nervously.  

 

“I saw her leaving earlier,” she continued, “with a big pile of blankets on the back seat.  I thought she was sneaking you out under them, but then I heard the car and saw the lights come on in the house.  Had to get your dad to pick you up, eh?”  She turned to face Father.  “And you!  You ought to be ashamed of yourself, encouraging this kind of behavior in young people. You should have made him walk home to teach him a lesson, instead of driving in to pick him up.  Parents are too soft nowadays.”

 

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll keep that in mind next time,” Father answered calmly.  “Might we offer you a lift home?” he ventured.

 

“Humph!”  She looked at them as if they had asked to spend the night.  “No, thank you!  I know every inch of these grounds, and I’ll be much safer walking home than I would be getting in a car with you two scoundrels.  I just came to say my piece…and I’ve said it.”  And with that, she marched rather quickly through the line of trees separating the property. 

 

Father and Robert said nothing for a few minutes, until they were certain she had gone.  Father finally turned and faced Robert.  Blankets,” he said quietly…but with emphasis. 

 

Vincent,” replied Robert, with a nod. 

 

 

 

Part II - Available Next Week