Kyozo [Mirror image] by Adrian Manson


Disclaimer and standard legalese: This is an original fan fiction based on the CBS TV program Beauty and the Beast, the 1987 series. Beauty and the Beast is the property of Ron Koslow and Republic Pictures. I do not own the characters or make any profit from this story.

This is part of a series of an alternate universe (AU) I am writing in which canon characters interact with characters I have created to re-frame how certain events transpired. The timeframe is “now” (around 2020 or 2021).

In terms of my fic universe, this is ten years after 'Punch-Drunk with Your Beauty.' Be prepared for a wicked ride! Also, everything in here is complete FICTION!

I make no promises or claims about ninjas and their arts in here.


Yui Watanabe was dressed in her black yukata for her evening sleep. As she reached into her closet, her alert brown eyes did a mental inventory of what was inside. She had just turned 20, but her lithe body and young face with ivory skin made people suspect she was in her teens. She headed to her room, but instead of rolling out the futon, she took out a small brazier and some incense sticks.

Even though Yui was born in America along with her father and mother, both her parents had been trained in the arts of ninjitsu. From what Yui overheard from her mother and father when they were sure she wasn't around, the United States government had brought her grandparents to New York in the 1950s. When Yui was seven, she had seen her father make travel arrangements to Columbus, Georgia over the telephone or computer. Sometimes, mail came to the house with a return address to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

But there were some ninja skills that were too secret to be shared with outsiders. The Western mind was too rational, too obsessed with scientific evidence with no tolerance for the gray area of mysticism.

Yui's clan had the mystical skill of hasu no odori [lotus dancing], the ability to leap into people's dreams. If she could compare it to a Western skill, it would be similar to hacking a computer. Members of her clan could enter into the dreams of a target and use the target's dream state to obtain information, such as passwords or building schematics. Unlike hacking, this was not done with keyboards, but a dance of seduction of the target's stray thoughts. The skill Yui was about to perform required total silence.

To enter the target's mind, a single strand of hair had to be removed from the target's body. Because many of the Watanabe clan were kunoichis [female ninjas], many would steal from the top of the target's head or even lower.

Yui reached into her pocket, taking out a pewter tube. The hair stored inside was long and blond. After placing it inside a specially treated glass container next to the brazier, Yui then put the incense sticks into the brazier and lit them. Then she began to meditate, slowing down her heart rate and her pulse. When she felt her body become relaxed, she moved into a lotus position and began to chant, “Om, mane, padme, hum. Om, mane, padme, hum...”

If Yui could describe her entering the dream state, it would be like walking into a dark room where one could see many oval yellow lights. However, the target she wanted would be easy to spot because it glowed like a sun among flashlights.

She drifted to her target then slowly raised her right hand to push aside the veil of yellow light. She saw Vincent lying in his sleeping chamber in the Tunnels, eyes closed. His leonine mouth twitched reflexively for a moment.

The last four nights Yui had visited Vincent in dreams, she had felt some sense of foreboding. Even though Vincent was not consciously dreaming it, this foreboding was like a buildup of ozone before a storm.

No one knew what Vincent was, but Yui suspected that maybe one or both of his parents had been yokai [spirit folk]. When he had been found, it was the year of the tiger. Who knows what supernatural gifts Vincent had that she could discover?

But first, Yui needed an entry into his mind. Her opportunity presented itself when she saw the image of the James Bond: Nightfire computer game pop into Vincent's head. Saying a silent prayer of thank you to both Kami [divine spirit] and Mouse (for fixing that PC for the Tunnel dwellers), Yui jumped into Vincent's mind and assumed the form of the female household servant in the bath house.

It was easy for her to disorient Vincent's thoughts and put his mind into her setting. Vincent looked around with his blue eyes, wearily sighing as he adjusted to this new image. He looked down at himself, dressed in a white shirt and black suit. Then he said, wearily, “This is the last time I let Mouse tempt me into helping him in multiplayer before I go to bed.”

Quickly, Yui snaked her arms around Vincent and gave him a passionate kiss.

“You saved my life,” she said in a breathy tone. “How can I repay you?”

Vincent's eyes narrowed for a moment then he said, “Yui?”

With practiced ease, Yui assumed a blank look then said, “Who is she, honorable sir?”

“Never mind,” he replied. “Although I wish she was here with me, if only to kiss me like that.”

It took every ounce of Yui's self-control not to snort with laughter. In this dream, she had to play the role of a sexy Japanese native servant. Acting like her brash American-born self would only rouse Vincent's suspicions.

“It is only fitting I should reward a handsome warrior like yourself,” she said. “Maybe a hot bath could help you relax.”

Yui could see lust and hesitation warring in Vincent's features when BLAM!

If she could describe how the change of scene felt for both of them, Yui could compare it to her Toyota 86 being hit from behind by a Mack truck. Both of them were thrown immediately to the ground.

Through years of reflexive training, Yui used some essence of the dream world to form a tree to hide behind. After crouching behind it to examine herself for any injuries, Yui did a mystical aura scan of herself to see who was attacking her.

After two minutes, Yui was shocked to see that there was no psychic attack against her person. Instead, Vincent was feeling the psychic sensations of... something.

Vincent slowly regained his composure, then his world changed into the area near Belvedere Castle in Central Park at night.

Now Yui's eyes narrowed. She had known Vincent liked to take walks around the park at night because of his unusual features, but the fear on his face made it clear this was no memory.

And there were other anomalous details. This wasn't from Vincent's mind, but someone who had a connection to Vincent. Maybe Kami or some other spiritual force was trying to show Vincent a possible future?

So much conjecture... Yui shook her head to clear her mental fog. She needed more facts, but had to be discreet doing it.

Yui saw a gray van pass by, throwing someone down a hill in the park. Using her mystical sight, she saw the van stop from a distance. Two rough-looking people, one heavily tattooed, pulled over to light cigarettes. Their clothing and Brooklyn accents meant they were American.

“The boss owes us for this,” Tattoo remarked. “Too bad Carol couldn't have kept her mouth shut after our first lesson.”

“She'll be dead soon.”

Yui knew this was a body, probably critically wounded. Then she saw Vincent lift it up.

From her vantage point, the wounded woman had light brown hair and a barely adult face. If Yui was to take a guess, the victim was in her late twenties, early thirties. But what shocked Yui's battle-hardened soul was the viciousness of the slashes on the victim's face.

Yui could only suspect that Vincent and this woman had empathically connected, probably to help each other, courtesy of Kami. If Yui wasn't so earnest in finding out information from this premonition, she would have realized that she was doing the physical equivalent of eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Yui needed to know who this strange gaijin woman was. How would this affect her relationship with Vincent?

Suddenly, Yui could feel Vincent's thread become agitated, probably thinking of taking her to the Tunnels. If Yui was to describe this experience to an outsider, it would be comparing Vincent to someone treading water gently, then breaking into a panic and splashing furiously. If he kept it up, it was only a matter of time before Vincent detected her.

Before Yui broke her connection to this image, she sent out all her mental tendrils, searching the mind of this person, trying to get any information.

Three things flooded into Yui's mind: Catherine Chandler, Radcliffe Institute-Harvard Dramatic Club 2018, and gold horse.

Yui wanted to know more about her, but Vincent was getting too close with his panic. With great effort, Yuri yanked all her mental tendrils from Vincent's consciousness and drifted back into her own body.

Jumping back into the real world after experiencing Vincent's agitation from her astral traveling was like trying to carry a glass of water five feet without spilling while seeing a pack of vicious dogs coming up to you. Frightening was too tame an expression for the actual event.

It was not uncommon for yokai of the astral plane or vengeful ninjas to try to take over her body by spiritual means. Yui forced herself to will her pulse and heartbeat down. Reflexively, she touched the silver crucifix she wore on a silver chain around her neck.

As Yui eventually became conscious, she forced herself to reach for her smartphone and opened the Memo feature. Quickly, she typed in the information she had gleaned from that premonition.

Before she could plan her next step, the door to her room opened. There was only one person it could be, her father Nishio.

“Are you all right, daughter? Is anything bothering you?” Given his keen sense of smell, he knew she had been using incense and knew what had occurred.  His wary look conveyed the unspoken message he was thinking to her, Why were you doing hasu no odori with Vincent? You've been doing this for a while.

“I am well, for now,” Yui replied, feigning confidence. “Let me rest for tonight. We will talk before the morning class.” She thought back, I'm okay. Don't confront me right now. I will tell you before the clients get here.

“I know you are a young woman... and that Vincent is handsome in his own way,” Nishio said. “But he must choose who he loves. You have a great responsibility, not only to me, but to our employers.” Then he thought to her, I know you're madly in love with Vincent, because he is a tiger and completes your dragon aura. But your powers are to be used responsibly, not to play with his mind. Too many in the Tunnels depend on him. You must answer not only to me, but to your superiors.

Sumimasen, otosan. Thank you for listening. Morning is wiser than evening.” She thought back, I thank you for the trouble you have taken for me to check up on my health, father. In the morning, we can tackle this with fresh eyes.

It is because you are my only daughter that I worry so, Nishio thought-spoke before he closed the door.

Always concluding with the last word, Yui thought as she put away her mystical items and unrolled her futon. As she trained herself to fall asleep rapidly, she knew she would do two things after her talk with her father in the morning.

First, she would either call Adrian or wait until he came in tomorrow to I Heart Kickboxing, the gym Yui and her father ran, and ask him to use his resources at the New York Public Library to look up what she had gleaned about this Catherine Chandler.

Second, Yui had those images of the thugs in her mind. Tomorrow was Wednesday, so after the next morning class ended at 9:30 a.m., she would go pay a visit to her superiors. Of course, she would have to come up with a more convincing explanation than lotus dancing, but she would think of something.

Before Yui drifted into sleep, the phrase Subete no uragawa ni wa uragawa ga arimasu came to her. Every reverse side has a reverse side. She had seen the reverse side of Vincent. Now, Yui would find the reverse side of Catherine Chandler. But as Yui drifted off, an unsettling thought came to her.

This Catherine Chandler's zodiac sign was a gold horse. In the Chinese zodiac, gold horses were a perfect mate to a tiger. Perhaps Yui was being warned by Kami that Vincent's heart was still in play? Or did the premonition mean that Yui might have to help this Catherine Chandler?

 The future was yet unwritten. If Yui could deploy her vast resources, she could prevent Catherine Chandler from being accosted by those thugs and move ahead with her plan in making Vincent her husband.

If that failed, Yuri shuddered at using her... alternative measures.

Chapter 1

To most people in America, I Heart Kickboxing is a fitness franchise that is in most states. Most people, especially women, go to a one-hour class to punch and kick bags to take out their everyday frustrations in their mundane lives.

There are about seven classes during Monday through Friday, four classes on Saturday, and only two on Sunday, because even the most dedicated instructors want time off also.

 I Heart Kickboxing studios are located in shopping centers, led by part-time instructors who have second jobs. In New York City, in the neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen, there is one I Heart Kickboxing that is rather unique.

It's located on the third floor instead of the ground level. Some long-time members of the gym grouse that the reason it's up there is that the owner wants you to get a brisk walk before your workout, especially if you're running late for class. If you're late, the offender does 15 burpees on the mat, adding the potential for injury coupled with the insult of dashing up the stairs.

The owner of the gym, Nishio Watanabe, and his daughter live on the third floor. The basement of that same building has a door guarded with a card lock, but there are no security cameras inside the building. Only two guards come in the mornings (one to guard the foyer, the other outside the building). In the evenings, Mr. Watanabe has only

one guard patrolling outside. No one knows why there is no guard inside the building at night.

To some gym members, this arrangement sounds strange because in an area like Hell's Kitchen, burglary is a common crime. However, when they bring the matter up with Nishio Watanabe, they are always told that if anyone broke in, they would instantly regret it.

What also separates this particular gym from other studios is that there is a 7:45 pm class that is invitation only. Only seven people, including Mr. Watanabe and his only daughter, Yui, go to that class. If anyone tries to enter, Mr. Watanabe gives the potential candidate a legal document saying that if one does want to take that class, the person must abide by the following three conditions. First, the person must arrive at least ten minutes before that class. At 7:35 pm, Mr. Watanabe locks the door with a time lock until class is finished. Next, before class begins, the person must put any smartphones or computers with cameras in a special box until the class is over. Finally, Mr. Watanabe reserves the right to see your social media photos in class before the person puts them on the Internet.

When potential candidates asked why there are all these restrictions, all Mr. Watanabe would cryptically say, “It is to protect the dignity of a close family friend.”

As for the seven who go to that special class, the only common denominator besides living in New York City is that they close ranks when other gym members ask about this special friend. The first, Adrian Carter, works for the New York Public Library. The second, Hannah Carson, is a recently retired school teacher. The third, Oliver Perry, is an ex-Marine who runs his own real estate business. The fourth, Isabella Gutierrez, is a self-employed printer. Finally, the fifth is Chiara Costello, a bartender/server at Houlihan's.

What most gym members notice is that one (or more) of these seven people brings foodstuffs, books, tools, or building materials into that basement. But nobody knows where those items are sent or who picks them up. Those daring few who have entered the basement only find empty shelves.

Of the group of seven, Adrian was always the one who came early to I Heart Kickboxing. He was a Caucasian male, about six feet, who dressed for exercise with excessive modesty. His hazel green eyes seemed to have a dreamy look while his brown hair was cut in a military-style crew cut.

This early morning, he was wearing a green t-shirt and dark blue jogging pants. He always carried a black backpack, which he used to keep his handwraps, boxing

gloves, towels, water bottles and other liquids. He entered the foyer of the building, then headed to the basement and used his card on the card reader.

After hearing it beep, Adrian stepped inside and put on his mini-flashlight. Even though he could turn on the light, he didn't want to risk someone seeing him inside.

To an outside observer, this seemed to be a storeroom with empty metal shelves. The only thing that would look amiss would be the bookshelf on the west wall.

Adrian headed over to the bookshelf, pulled down the red leather-bound tome of Great Expectations and waited as the gears slowly opened it to reveal a set of stairs leading downward.

Adrian cautiously walked down the steps until he got to his destination. He didn't know how far below the street he was. Finding the round oak table in the secret room below, he put a kid's chemistry set on it.

The place he was in was a mixture of Japan and the USA. There was a gray rolled-up futon, some portable battery-operated lamps, two sturdy white plastic chairs, and two 55 gallon drums. One of the drums had been made into a portable toilet, the other into a  makeshift tub. Both of the tubs had stepladders to allow the person to get on and off easily. Also on the floor were two thick mats and a punching dummy.

On the table was a manual telegraph, the wires leading further into the cavern. First, Adrian switched it on then reached into his pocket for the message to telegraph. He clacked A-C-D-V-1. After Adrian sent the message, the telegraph chattered a terse reply: T-Y-A-C.

Adrian was glad that Mouse had installed that backup. Though it would be nice if

they could carry walkie-talkies, there was too much risk that someone could listen in on the radio traffic, not to mention that the community was underground. Adrian tried to learn the ways to tap on the pipes, but his hearing couldn't figure out how to listen to the responding pattern.

Checking his watch, Adrian realized he had to hurry. Even though the studio didn't open until 6:30 am, he never knew if Yui would need him to run some errand.

One thing you had to admire about Yui, she had good instincts about people. One of these days, Yui would have to tell him what Vincent's childhood had been like.

When he did leave the room in the Tunnels, Adrian headed to the elevator. He pressed the button for the third floor. As he exited out onto the desired floor, he saw Yui Watanabe standing outside the I Heart Kickboxing studio. Like usual, she had her long black hair done up in a bun. She was dressed in a pink t-shirt and dark blue yoga pants.

“Do you have a minute?” she asked.
“Sure,” Adrian replied. “What's up?”

“I need to use your skills to find someone,” Yui said. “I just have a name and a description.”

“You have a photo of her?” he asked.

“No.” Yui hesitated for a moment.

That made Adrian suspicious. “So, who is she?” he said.

“Catherine Chandler. Both first and last names begin with C,” Yui began. “If it's any help, she was a member of the Radcliffe Institute-Harvard Dramatic Club in 2018. She was born somewhere between January 27, 1990 and February 14, 1991. I've heard she's in her late twenties, early thirties. She's supposed to have brown hair.”

Adrian's eyes narrowed as he took out his smartphone and typed the information.

“How did you get this information?” he asked.

“It's complicated.”

Now Adrian knew Yui was lying. “Okay, do you have anything else to go on?” Adrian prodded. “A Social Security number? A driver's license number? An address?”

Yui shook her head.

“Can I at least know if she's in New York City?”

“It was a customer record on my computer,” Yui spoke rapidly. “Then there was a power surge and the screen went blank.”

“Okay,” Adrian said. In his mind, he thought, Bullshit. You're always the most cautious person, especially when it comes to keeping computer equipment running. Why give me this fishy story?

“Can you try to get it to me by 3:00 p.m.?” Then Yui gave him a small pout.

Adrian sympathized about why Vincent could never say no to Yui. Her beauty gave her a definite advantage when dealing with a chivalrous soul.

 “I'll get it done, Yui,” Adrian spoke, then gave a resigned sigh. “If you're doing this to me, and we're friends, I'd hate to see you turn on the charm when you ask Vincent for a favor.”

That was when Adrian saw a flicker of complete horror on Yui's face. To her credit, it only lasted for three seconds before she resumed a determined look.

Adrian paused for a moment, wondered if he should ask Yui what that was about,  then decided to let the matter drop. Then he headed into the studio into the men's locker room to secure his stuff.

If Adrian could have turned around to see Yui, he would have seen her clench her fists in barely concealed rage.

Meanwhile, the unknowing object of Yui's rage forced herself out of bed and headed to the bathroom of her brownstone. Catherine Chandler was like any typical New York woman who was born on the East Side of Manhattan. Her father's place in society meant her life was to follow a preset path.

First, she was a debutante. Next, she had attended Harvard and Columbia Law School. Now, recently graduated, she was a corporate lawyer for her father's firm.

In her world, appearances mattered. As a lawyer, she believed in getting the facts first, then using her logic and emotion to get the results for her paying client. Life was a series of causes and effects. Magic, to her, was just doing on stage what she did in the boardroom: a strategic use of misdirection and appeal to please the customer.

If some quirk of fate could put Catherine Chandler and Yui Watanabe together at this moment, it would be as dangerous as mixing pure sodium with hydrogen gas. Yui would have resented Catherine's firm belief in a materialistic, rationally ordered world. She also would be astonished by Catherine's lack of meaning in her decadent existence of parties and vacations. Catherine would certainly be perplexed that Yui, an American citizen, could believe in mysticism, of a parallel world where spirit folk walked side by side with humans. Nor could Catherine identify with another culture where women could be trained to be deadly with fighting skills like men.

Yet, these past four days had been pure hell for Catherine. She didn't know what had caused her first dream. It had been five nights ago when Catherine, having gone to sleep, had a vivid image of herself being in stygian darkness. Even though she could not see, she felt some sort of malevolent hatred in it. Then she heard a rough voice say, “You know what happens to little girls with big mouths?” The rough voice kept repeating itself like a broken record until Catherine had awoken at two in the morning.

At first, Catherine had taken two aspirin and assumed it was her drinking too much wine at dinner. When she went to work at her father's firm the next morning, Catherine only had water, fruit juice, or black coffee. In the evening, she kept away from all alcoholic drinks, having only mineral water.

The next night was even worse than the first. As she fell into the darkness, she heard the rough voice repeat itself, then add, “You're gonna remember every time you look in the mirror.” Next, she felt fiery pain over her entire face. Soon, the pain became so unbearable that Catherine hurried over to her nightstand and turned on the light.

Even though her face was untouched, Catherine slept with the light on until she got up that morning. Fortunately, it was a light load at her father's office of Chandler and Coolidge. But when she went to bed that evening, she took a tranquilizer.

The third night was an even worse repeat of the first. When it started, she was brought to that same malevolent darkness. Then the first rough voice said, “You know what happens to little girls with big mouths?” Then she heard, “You're gonna remember

every time you look in the mirror,” followed by the searing pain over her face. But unlike the other two nights, she felt another presence touch her face and remove the pain. It was a large hand, but there was something... odd... about it. Then she heard a voice like a gentle whisper say, “No one will hurt you. You're safe here.”
The fourth night, unlike the other nights, was not horrifying. Instead, it was somewhat unsettling. She was in some sort of darkness, but instead of it being malevolent, it was like being covered by a cotton pillow over her entire body. Then she saw her deceased mother appear in front of her.

“My dear Catherine,” she said, “how I wish I could be with you in your garden of Gethsemane and take away your pain.” The woman paused. Then she continued, “But know this: if it wasn't for the pain, you wouldn't meet the one you truly love. You must choose: the tiger or the nobleman.”

“I don't understand, Mother,” Catherine shrieked. “What are you talking about? Who are they?”

Her mother opened her arms and had her palms upward. In her left palm was the image of Tom Gunther, a famous architect Catherine was currently dating. In her right palm, Catherine could see only a leonine face with piercing blue eyes.

Startled, Catherine awoke... only to see that she was alone in her bedroom. She forced herself to recall what she had seen, but it faded faster than the morning mist. She looked at her cellphone, wondering if she should call Tom.

Then she shook her head. Tom would probably listen politely for two minutes, then tell her it was only a dream. But, deep down in Catherine's soul, she knew what she experienced was real. It wasn't like physical evidence in a courtroom, but it was genuine.

As Catherine uneasily drifted off to sleep, she wondered if she needed to see a shrink. There had to be some logical explanation for these nightmares.

If Yui Watanabe could have been there, she would have told Catherine that Izanami no mikoto [the Japanese goddess of creation and death] had decided to weave the thread of Catherine's existence into a more beautiful – but very painful – tapestry.

Chapter 2

While Catherine began to process the events of her subconscious, Adrian Carter had the same morning routine he always had after he did a workout at I Heart Kickboxing.

He exited the building, took a short walk to his apartment, and had a seven-minute shower. Next, he changed into the blue polo shirt and black dress slacks he had set aside. Instead of wearing dress shoes like his coworkers, Adrian wore black sneakers.

After getting his lunch out of the freezer and putting it in his backpack, Adrian headed out of his building. Next, he waited to catch the bus to go to 10th Avenue. His stop was a few blocks east of the Columbus branch of the New York Public Library.

Everyone at the library could set a clock by Adrian's routine. The bus would drop him five blocks from the library at 9:00 am. It took him ten minutes to get to the Columbus branch. Once he opened the door of the building, he would head straight to his desk and get his reports for the other staff by 10:00. Then he would work until 11:45 am, taking his first 15-minute break. Next, he would have lunch at 1:00 pm. Then he would work until 3:45, taking his second 15-minute break. Then he would work nonstop until quitting time at 6:00 pm. 

While Adrian had been on the bus and walking, his mind began mulling over Yui's problem. All the employees of the Columbus Library gave Adrian the nickname of “Bloodhound.” If a patron gave him any query, he would ask a few questions to clarify what to look for then, in thirty minutes or less, Adrian would find the material.

As one coworker once said about Adrian, “The one thing you will never hear from him is, 'I don't know where it is.'” Of course, it helped that Adrian had been employed at the Columbus branch for 12 years and had been good friends with the previous library manager.

Yet, no one knew where Adrian came from, exactly. In Adrian's Human Resources file, it said he was born in Addison, Texas, but he spoke with a faint Scottish accent. Second, it was obvious he knew some parts of New York City. But when someone tried to get Adrian to open up, he would just say, “My dad's job took me here for a while” or

“I've always been around libraries.”

To the new library manager, Adrian may not have been the best at social skills, but his ability to find information was unrivaled. So, she tolerated his little quirks as long as he got the job done.

As he headed out of his building on the first leg of his morning routine, Adrian decided to make some assumptions about Yui's request. First, he would assume this Catherine Chandler lived in New York City. Second, until Adrian found more evidence, he would assume that she was wealthy, because it didn't seem likely that a scholarship student would go to Harvard. Third, given the two years Yui gave him, Catherine would be about 27 to 28 years old.

As Adrian began his search strategy, the bus pulled up to his stop. Adrian mentally prepared himself to walk to the Columbus branch. Once he got inside, he would prepare a checklist on his smartphone, filing Yui's request with his daily routine.

Adrian hated working during lunch, and doing this search might take longer than expected. First, when he got to his desk, he would try searching the dramatic club Yui provided. Not many people did theatricals in college and it was a lot easier than trying to call Harvard on his cell.

Maybe Lady Fortune would give Adrian a break.

As Adrian went to handle his business, Yui was in her room, toweling herself off after the 10:30 class. Although she should handle the 12:15 class today, she (and her father) felt it was time for the new instructors Kimberly and Jackson to do their first class without their supervision.

Using her skills, Yui did a subtle metamorphosis. After she had showered, she tied up her long black hair in a bun then covered it with a brown fedora. Next, she dressed in a light brown camel sport coat and tan dress slacks. Going into her closet, she reached for a large black briefcase with a combination lock. After she put in the three-number combination and checked what was inside, she closed it. Then, she reached for her smartphone and pressed “6” on her speed dial. It took three rings, but someone picked up.

“Patton Rare Books,” the crisp female voice said. “How may I help you today?”

“I'm calling about an appraisal,” Yui said. “I have a book that could be genuine or junk.” The code phrase meant I need to use your resources for a general inquiry. I'm working on a possible lead.'

“Just what exactly is the item?” the receptionist said. What is it you're chasing?

“I can't exactly describe it here on my flip phone. My camera doesn't work,” Yui said. “I'm afraid my eyes can't determine the colors of it.” I need to discuss it there. It was something I saw; I couldn't use my camera.

“When can you bring the item over?”

“I'm coming right now. Since I've used your services before, can I request Mr. James Phelps?” I'm coming immediately. I need Hermes.

“Of course, we can set aside some time for your appraisal. But are you sure you want Mr. Phelps? He's a very busy man.” Come on in. But do YOU want Hermes? He's busy.

“I just need him to give an eyeball of the item; he can keep it for a while. It shouldn't take long. But I would like it before 2:30 pm.” It's just a general Phase 1 search after he gets my information. Just get it to me before 3:30 pm.

“We look forward to seeing you here,” the receptionist said. “Have a good morning.”

Yui critically looked herself over in the mirror. Then she reached into her closet and put on oval sunglasses. As she carried her briefcase and took the elevator, not even Adrian (or anyone else at the gym) would have recognized Yui. They would have mistaken her for another yuppie trying to earn a buck in the Big Apple.

Because speed was of the essence, Yui pretended to walk around the blocks, doing a hesitation waltz, as if she wanted to enter a convenience store, or a Starbucks for a coffee. In reality, she was doing an SDR [surveillance detection routine]. Satisfied that there was no one tracking her in a car or on foot, she headed for the nearest subway station.

Her destination was East 97th Street, next to St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. If she could allow herself a moment to muse, it seemed fitting that her other employers would choose that location. Originally, Patton Rare Books was the cover of a place that debriefed Russian emigres and used their information to create valid cover stories for U.S. intelligence agents to enter Russia. Although the Cold War was dying down when Yui was born in this country, many American (and Japanese) officials knew that it was wise to prevent Russia and China from ever being allied.

Yui knew her history, both American and Japanese. Japan had invaded Russia in 1904 and 1905; knowing American history and her father's honor culture helped Yui understand the Japanese culture's denial of what they did to China and America.

As to why the Watanabe clan gave their services to the Americans instead of their own country, it was due to Shiro Ishii.

Anyone studying World War II and the horrific atrocities committed by the Axis and Allies might come across Shiro Ishii. He was a Japanese physician who was a staunch patriot. After the world was recovering from the First World War, Shiro noted that all the civilized nations banned chemical and biological warfare. Since Japan wanted to make China their colony but lacked the vast resources, Shiro argued for Japan to develop that capacity. When the Japanese leadership began annexing Chinese territory, they created a special army unit that ostensibly was for disease prevention: Unit 731.

What few people knew, but Yui and certain Japanese families were painfully aware of, was that Shiro Ishii's first experiments were on Japanese anti-war dissenters and democracy activists, along with captured Chinese prisoners of war and Chinese civilians. Yui remembered Nishio's tears as he told her the story about three of her cousins who had been arrested for protesting the military government in the 1930s.

After the war, the Americans let Nishio's family find out that they were dead, victims of 731's experiments into cholera.

But what finally convinced the Watanabe clan to choose to serve the Americans was one person known only by his nickname, Gakusei, or student.

His real name was Conor Wilson. Unlike other Americans, he had been born to a Catholic missionary family in Yokohama and went to school until the relations became tense between Japan and the U.S.

When war broke out, Conor trained many in the US military on how to treat the captured Japanese prisoners. Unlike most American interrogators who used coercion or spoke through an interpreter, Conor would speak flawless Japanese or send away the interpreter if he felt the need called for it.

Yui didn't exactly know how Conor Wilson knew about the Watanabe and that they were a ninja clan, but from what she had heard from stories, Conor had recovered not only the dead bodies of her cousins from Unit 731, but also arranged for fair treatment of one of her cousins caught alive at the Battle of Saipan. After the war, Conor kept in touch with the surviving cousin, helping him get to Hong Kong.

When the Americans came, Conor sought out the Watanabes and eventually won them over with his knowledge of bushido. Even though they were ninjas, they understood this outsider respected their ways. And with the amount of debt they owed him for helping their family, it was (as the Americans say) a no-brainer to send one of their couples over to teach the ways of the ninja, with certain exceptions.

What Yui and her father despaired about was how young American culture was compared to what the Watanabes experienced through centuries. As Nishio used to joke, “To a Japanese, 200 kilometers is a long distance. To an American, 200 years is a long time.”

What was ironic, at least to Yui, was how the Americans (who valued absolute truth) and their intelligence agencies were similar to their ninja clan. Both of their cultures preferred to have a husband and wife team. Whereas Americans stressed personal freedom for their children, Yui's culture stressed family obligation.

Although, if Yui could truly be honest, maybe she did want a child with Vincent,  and possibly have sons and daughters to pass on the skills of her family to the next generation.

Patton Rare Books was on the ground floor of a five-story building. If an outside observer saw the bookshop, he or she would see a few items for display in a shatterproof glass window. What Yui could see that few would notice was the hidden jammers in the window frame to prevent anyone from attempting electronic eavesdropping.

Heading into the lobby of the building, Yui turned right, past the front desk. When she went to Patton Rare Books, she removed her sunglasses as she pressed the buzzer. As always, the retina scanner examined Yui's right eye as the sensor in the buzzer scanned her right fingerprint. The agent manning the terminal, satisfied that this was authorized personnel, pressed a switch to open the blast-proof door, granting Yui entry into the shop.

There were three people in the showroom behind the display cases, two male agents and one female. Even though they were dressed in either black or gray suits, Yui knew each of them carried a sidearm.

The female agent always spoke first. “May we help you today, Miss?”

“I'm looking for a copy of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler,” Yui said. “I also am here to have something appraised.”

“We don't have that in stock,” the female agent said, relaxing as Yui said the code phrase, “but we do have a rare signed copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. While your item is being appraised, you can take a look at it.”

Yui's password was always related to fishing. If Yui had said anything with the word 'caftan', then the agents would draw their weapons and seal the store. 'Caftan' was Yui's danger word in case she was being held hostage or was in immediate danger. Yui learned to be judicious in what she said, because every intelligence agency in New York City remained on high alert after September 11, 2001.

Heading to the rear area of the store, Yui saw many bookshelves, but the one she wanted was near the north. As she headed there, the operator on the other end pressed a button to reveal a hidden elevator. Yui stepped inside. Once inside, the elevator began its short descent.

Few Americans (except those in the intelligence community) knew about this underground place. If anyone from Congress tried to get information, it was only known in the Federal budget as Division 7.

As Yui exited the elevator, she saw Hermes waiting for her. Hermes was a short, hirsute man who was confined to a motorized wheelchair. Originally, his name was Kevin McConnell. He had been an office assistant at the National Archives at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin would have remained in the position, but he had been too curious about certain national security memoranda that had been redacted. After five years of searching other presidential libraries, the Secretary arranged for two agents of Division 7 to bring him to a U.S. government safe house.

It had been a lengthy debriefing as the agents realized Kevin was able, through tenacity and dedicated research, to figure out that Division 7 existed, and had pieced together some past operations. The Secretary, after seeing how intelligent and meticulous Kevin was, decided that sanctioning him would be a waste of his talent. So, the Secretary recruited Kevin into Division 7 and let him, along with another agent, run the Physical and Electronic Archives section.

The Secretary, due to his well-educated family and Greek ancestors, had a fascination with Greek and Roman mythology, so he gave Kevin the code name “Hermes” because he was one of the fastest researchers. The other researcher he named “Mercury.”

Yui, having met both Hermes and Mercury, idly wondered if Mercury earned his cryptonym because whenever someone would give him a request for information, he would say it couldn't be done, but eventually would complete the request. Of the two, Mercury was the slowest researcher and emotionally volatile, but his reports were complete and thoroughly documented. Hermes, like his namesake, could be quick, but he had weaknesses.

One of Hermes's vices had led to him being in this wheelchair. Like Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald from the British TV series “Cracker,” Hermes had the following two major vices: alcohol and women.

While on vacation in Elko, Nevada, Hermes went to a bordello. When he arrived, the management was throwing out a drunk customer. As the beefy bouncer struggled with the drunk man, the drunk pulled out a gun and fired wildly. Hermes caught one of the bullets, which hit him directly in the stomach and damaged some of the spinal column.  Eventually, another bouncer helped disarm the drunk and paramedics got Hermes to safety.

After having some physical therapy, Hermes could walk for short stretches. Most of the time, he was confined to the wheelchair. There, with his Internet connection and holographic keyboard, he could access any database in the USA in minutes. Or, if need be, access the other databases of the Five Eyes. Sometimes, Hermes, with occasional help, would hack into the computers of enemy countries to gain information….or, if necessary, plant certain little details (either a criminal record inside Interpol or paperwork such as a disciplinary reprimand in an employer's database) to add confirming touches in case a hostile power was checking up on one of their agents.

As Yui took off her disguise, Hermes' brown hair and beard gleamed in the harsh lights of the underground office. “Yui, so good to see you!” Hermes said, his expression genuine. “Now, what's up?”

“I need you to find two men for me,” Yui replied.

“Well, then you don't need me. You need Adult Friend Finder,” Hermes quipped, allowing himself a small chuckle.

Yui would have winced, but she kept her expression neutral. Hermes liked that sort of humor, given his vices.

“Look, Hermes, I'm serious,” Yui said. “One is a stocky guy, probably in his late thirties or forties, with black hair; the other is younger, probably in his twenties, with heavy tattoos.”

Hermes typed a few keys then worked with Yui on his Identikit Face Tool. After twenty minutes, Yui was able to complete her description of both men.
“When do you think you can have this ready?” Yui asked. “3:00 pm?”

“Look,” Hermes said with an earnest tone, “just what were they doing?”

“I can't tell you that.”

“You can't?” Hermes said. “Or you won't?”

“It's something I have to do for a friend,” Yui retorted.

“Look, unless these guys have mentioned something like working for ISIS or are planning some imminent act of destruction, Yui, I can't move your request further up the line,” Hermes replied. “I don't mind you doing these side jobs. I've known that your hunches have paid off. But right now, the newest occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is getting pressure from Congress to act on certain things. He wants to know if this new Asian virus is a natural disease like SARS or an escaped bioweapon. Not to mention he's trying to get Americans abroad safely back here. Add to the mix, the opposition party is hammering him as he asks for more funding to wind down our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also to provide equipment to our medical and intelligence professionals in case this virus comes to our shores.”

Hermes paused. “Just when and where did you see these guys?” Hermes asked. “Was there anyone on our Most Wanted list with them? If you saw one of those perps, then I can speed up the process.”

Yui wanted to lie, but knew that if she did, the Secretary would want to know WHY she did. For a person who was accustomed to intelligence collecting, sabotage, and running counterintelligence operations, the Secretary placed a high value on honesty and trust in his operatives. If Yui lied to him, the Secretary would put Yui on “administrative leave.”

Yui hated that euphemism with a passion. What it meant was being under house arrest at a safe house. Or worse, being sent to a black site in another country. In both instances, trained interrogators and medical personnel would try to find out if Yui was being self-serving or working for someone hostile to the government.

 Yui took a deep breath then said, “I just want to find them before they hurt a friend of mine.” Before Hermes could interrupt, Yui said, “No, I can't call the cops. He's someone who doesn't trust them. He's homeless. You know the police won't care. But they hurt someone he cares for.”

Hermes' blue eyes examined Yui's black ones. Yui suspected he was weighing his options.

“Look, Yui,” Hermes said. “I'll try to get your request done in two days. That's all I can promise, provided nothing else is higher priority.” Seeing her about to protest, he held his hand up. “I know you wanted this today, but it's not going to happen. Right now, I have other items to handle.”

Yui sighed then forced herself to leave. She could have tried to use physical intimidation on Hermes, but knew there were cameras everywhere. Yui took the elevators upstairs, wondering what to do next. Her virtual hunt for answers had hit a dead end.

As Yui began her return journey home dejected, her rival began her daily journey to work. Catherine Chandler exited the taxi as it dropped her at the General Motors Building. Chandler and Coolidge was an established corporate law firm, with Charles Chandler able to trace his ancestors to when they first arrived in the New York colony during the year 1666.

Although Catherine was running late (a discreet check of her smartphone read 12:30), she knew her father would forgive her. Of course, given the way office gossip traveled, he suspected something.

Coming into the reception area of her father's law office, Catherine heard the receptionist say to a caller on the phone, “No, he's at lunch, sir.”

Feigning a cheerfulness she didn't really feel, Catherine said, “Morning!”

“Not anymore.”

Catherine found that amusing, then retorted, “Picky, picky.”

As Catherine walked down the hall, the receptionist shook her head in disbelief. Well, the rich always do take care of their own. Then the receptionist said to the caller, “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

As Catherine walked down the corridor in her best Oscar de la Renta clothes, a female colleague said, “Great look.”

Cathy replied, “Thanks.”

Another male colleague chimed, “Cathy, please don't forget the settlement conference at three.”

Cathy said, “I'll be there.”

As Catherine Chandler headed toward her father's office, Adrian was planning to make his first discovery about her.

It had been a busy day at the Columbus branch for Adrian. Besides compiling a few reports for the assistant manager, he had to sit at the information desk. It was uneventful, but the last few minutes of dealing with a disruptive patron that had obviously been released from Bellevue too early got his temper up.

As he went to the refrigerator to get his lunch, Adrian remembered Yui's request. As his lunch heated in the microwave, Adrian turned on his computer and waited until Google came up.

Typing in “Radcliffe Institute-Harvard Dramatic Club,” Adrian waited as the computer began the search. When he saw a link to the webpage to the club, Adrian started looking at the link for 2018. It was scrolling through the text and photos that Adrian found what Yui wanted.

The picture was a cast photo from William Shakespeare's Othello. Some person, Steven Bass, was the star, Othello. But it was the female lead for Desdemona that caught his attention. She had brown hair, green eyes, and looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties. So, Yui had been right on the money. But how could she have gotten such a complete description, but not know anything else about her?

That customer record story was obviously a red herring, Adrian mused. Although he couldn't see much from behind the counter, he knew that Yui and Nishio only collected the customer's address, cell phone, and credit card number. Perhaps another I Heart Kickboxing worker had sent Yui a picture via Facebook or Instagram; that was possible. A likely explanation, Adrian pondered, but then how did Yui know about Radcliffe Institute-Harvard and the narrow date range? It also didn't fit that a girl as privileged as Catherine Chandler would travel in the same social circle as Yui. To Adrian, it was like a jigsaw puzzle that Yui knew the borders of but not the entire picture. The problem was that her specific requests meant that Yui had a source close to Catherine, but who was it?

“Adrian, your food's in the microwave,” a female voice said. Adrian wondered who it was. Probably Sara.

“Thanks.” As Adrian got up, he saw who it was. Then he said, “Sara, what's the name of our library associate, the one who handles our music collection?”

“Amanda Carter.”

“Didn't she go to the Radcliffe Institute some time ago?”

“She just graduated from Harvard. I think she went there,” Sara replied.

Adrian got his food from the microwave and sat at a nearby table. Then he quickly gulped it down. After he finished his lunch, he would find Amanda to get more information. Then, he would call Yui. Finally, he would pay I Heart Kickboxing a visit and wouldn't leave Yui alone until he had a satisfactory explanation.

While Adrian finished his lunch, Catherine Chandler went into her father's office.

“Hi, Joan,” she said to her father's secretary, partly feeling like a student coming in late to school.


As Catherine entered, Joan silently mused, I wish she could find something to give her direction. Maybe if she had a new man in her life instead of Tom Gunther.

Charles Chandler was late middle-aged, gradually moving into elderly territory. His hair was just beginning to turn grey, but his piercing black eyes and muscled hands gave the impression that he was still as intelligent – and vigorous – now as he was 20 years ago. He was on the phone with someone, probably an important client.

When he saw his daughter enter, he said, “Catherine!”

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hal, let me call you back.” Then Charles Chandler hung up the phone. Turning to Catherine, he said, “Hal Sherwood's coming up from Atlanta tonight. Will you have dinner with us?”

Catherine gave a rueful look then shook her head. “I can't. Tom's having a party for the architects of the new project. Another excuse to wine and dine the planning commission.”

“I used to be invited to those functions,” Charles quipped. “I should have thought twice before I handed you over to our best client.”

“You make it sound like a horse trade,” Catherine retorted.

Charles smiled then said, “Uhh... you could do a lot worse than Tom Gunther.”

“And have.”

Both laughed.

“Well, how about dinner tomorrow night?” Charles asked.

“Well, let me get to my desk, check my calendar...” She then went over and kissed the top of his head.

“You just getting in?”

“Had a late night, had some errands to run today,” she said then gave an apologetic shrug. “Sue me.”

“Well, it's a little late for that. I should have sued you when you were five.” Then Charles said, his voice concerned, “What's up with you? You don't enjoy the work? You don't find it stimulating...?”

“When I think of corporate law, 'stimulating' is not a word that immediately pops into mind.”

“But when you put your mind to it, you're a fine corporate lawyer.”

“No, Dad, I'm the daughter of a fine corporate lawyer,” she said. She paused for a moment, then said something inexplicable. “Do you think people talk to us in dreams?”

“I can't really say that they do,” Charles said. “Why are you asking? Does this have to do with why you've been feeling off lately?”

“A bit,” Catherine said. “I don't know how to describe it, but for several nights, I've been having these dreams. It's like being in a darkness that feels... evil.” Catherine paused, unsure if she could continue further.

Seeing his daughter's hesitation, Charles said, “Cathy, talk to me. We're not employer and employee right now; I'm your father... and you're my only daughter. Just tell me what's wrong.”

“The first two nights... I kept hearing these vicious voices. One said, 'You know what happens to little girls with big mouths?' That was the first night. The second night, the first voice repeated what was said, then another said, 'You're gonna remember every time you look in the mirror.' Then I felt an unbearable pain on my face. That's when I woke up.”  

Charles saw a tear roll from Catherine's left eye. He went over to hug her. He held her as she began to sob for a few moments.

“Shh, Cathy,” he said in a calming voice. “I'm here.”

After allowing herself a few moments, Catherine composed herself. “Thanks. Then, the next few nights, the dreams became surreal.”

“In what way?”

“The third night, I heard both those voices and felt that pain, but something touched me and took it away. I felt something like a hand, but as it touched my face, it felt... odd.”


“It was a human hand, I think... but covered in hair or fur. Then a gentle voice whispered, 'No one will hurt you. You're safe here'.”

Charles kept his expression neutral, but was concerned for his daughter. He would ask questions about her mental state later; now, she just needed time to vent.

“Go on, Cathy.”

“It was the last night that I saw Mother,” Catherine said. “Unlike the other four nights, I didn't feel any pain or experience those vicious voices. Instead, it felt like my entire body was covered by something soft. If I were to describe it, it was like being covered by cotton candy or a cotton blanket cocooning my entire body. Then, she appeared.”

Charles digested that information then said, “Did she say anything?”

Catherine's face formed a frown as she struggled to remember. Then she said with great effort, “She said, 'Catherine, how I wish I could be with you in your garden of Gethsemane and take away your pain.' Next, she said, 'But know this, if it wasn't for the pain, you wouldn't meet the one you truly love. You must choose: the tiger or the nobleman.' I shrieked something about how I couldn't understand and who were these people. Then she held up her hands. In one, I saw Tom Gunther. The other one... I can't describe his face, but it looked like one of the lions outside the New York Public Library. But his eyes....”

“What about his eyes?”

“Dad, I know I sound like a frightened schoolgirl, but those eyes were piercing light blue but so very kind. This person looked at me as you looked at Mother in your wedding photos. They were so full of love and affection that I got lost in them. Then I woke up, alone in my bedroom.”

Charles, dealing with all this information, wanted to see what his daughter was thinking. “Do you believe your mother spoke to you?” he asked.

Then he saw Catherine's face become a struggle of emotions, torn between her knowledge and her intuition.

“Dad, I'm a Harvard and Columbia Law grad,” Catherine said. “Logic – and psychology – say I'm just being neurotic about my future and wondering if Tom Gunther is the one. But, deep down in my heart, I know Mom was there. Just as how you could tell from her look when she was displeased with you going for poker with the guys on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. I just know she was there.”

“So, what do you intend to do about it?”

“I don't know,” Catherine said, being completely honest. “Maybe, after Tom's party this evening, I might see a counselor or a psychiatrist. All I know is that I feel shaken about this. Maybe I have deep-seated feelings of grief, coupled with my bad experiences with the men I dated. I really don't know.”

“Look, whatever you decide,” Charles said. “I'll be with you and try to help you through this.” He gave her a reassuring hug.

Catherine hugged back then said, “Thanks, Dad.” Then she left his office.

While Catherine and her father talked, Adrian was impatiently checking his watch as he sat at the information desk again. The reason for his impatience was that during Adrian's lunch break one of the office assistants had to go home for a family emergency. Even though it was a slow day, the library manager wanted to keep the information desk fully staffed. Adrian had just sent Amanda Carter an email twenty minutes ago, but didn't know when she checked it.

 Adrian struggled between leaving the desk to find Amanda Carter or texting Yui to inform her that he might not get the information before 3:00. While in the midst of that dilemma, Amanda Carter walked into the foyer.

Adrian fought his urge to run over to her. He knew that Amanda probably needed some time to settle in and catch up with her emails after going to lunch. After fifteen agonizingly long minutes, she came over to Adrian's area.

“You wanted to see me?” Amanda Carter was a 5'5” woman with strawberry blond hair.

“Look, what do you know about the Radcliffe Institute? And their dramatic club?”

“They're a good school to graduate from,” Amanda said. “Why the interest in the dramatic club?”

“A friend of mine wanted to reconnect with Catherine Chandler,” Adrian lied. “My friend had seen her photo in the 2018 play Othello.”

“Oh,” Amanda gushed, “Cathy was such a wonderful Desdemona. She acted with such passion. If your friend is looking for her, she could try Chandler and Coolidge.”

“Chandler and Coolidge?” Adrian said. “What exactly is that?”

“Mind if I use your computer for a second?” Amanda asked. Adrian stepped aside as Amanda entered the information desk area. She went to his computer, typed a few keystrokes then pulled up a webpage.

Adrian's eyes widened. The website of Chandler and Coolidge said it was a corporate law firm that was considered #5 of the top ten law firms in the USA. Then Amanda clicked a link, showing Adrian the contact information for Catherine Chandler.

“This is who your friend was looking for?” Amanda asked.

“Yeah,” Adrian said. “Thanks. What's your opinion of Catherine Chandler?”

“Well, I've only had one or two classes with her,” Amanda said. “From what I got, she's a rich daddy's girl that doesn't mind being in the spotlight. But she's careful enough not to act like Paris Hilton. She just has a big heart for her friends, you know? The problem is that some men use her compassion to treat her like a doormat.”

“Did Catherine do any exercise?” Adrian asked. “Jogging? Aerobics? Kickboxing?”

“Oh, no,” Amanda said. “She doesn't seem the type to join gyms. She's more like the girl who eats very little and does a lot of walking.”

Before, Adrian was puzzled. After Amanda's statements, he was completely flummoxed. Just how did Yui know this much – but not completely enough – about Catherine Chandler? Just where was the connection?

“Thank you, Amanda,” Adrian forced himself to say. “I'll make sure my friend gets this information.” As Amanda walked away, Adrian cast a baleful glare at the clock in the library. It was still 30 more minutes before his next break came up. After he texted his data to Yui, he'd go to a nearby convenience store to get a sandwich and then head straight to Yui's building.

Like the nickname the coworkers gave him, Adrian was smelling something rotten... and he would track its source.

Chapter 3

In any I Heart Kickboxing class, the largest amount of downtime is the period after the noon class but before the 5:00 pm class. It's called the “dead period” because during that time, all the suburban housewives (or people dropping in during the lunch hour) are going about their business, while those that go to the 5:00 pm class are finishing up their tasks at work.

Most instructors use the downtime to either grocery shop items for themselves or for the gym's refrigerator; a few try to catch up on mundane tasks like contacting clients who haven't been there for a while or purging the database of clients who have quit their contracts.

As Yui headed up the elevator with her recently bought supply of energy drinks, she felt a vibration from the cellphone on her belt. She was tempted to check it in the elevator, but decided against it.

After the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Yui carried the energy drinks to the door, put them down, then reached for her keys to open the door to the gym. Once she was inside, she put them in the combination break room/storage area for I Heart Kickboxing.

Satisfied that the items were secured, she reached for her phone.

Hi, it's Adrian. I'm sending a weblink to Chandler and Coolidge.

Seems like Charles Chandler is Catherine's father. I'm also coming

over because you have some explaining to do about how you know

WHAT you know about her.

After finding the weblink, Yui clicked on it. When she found the number for the firm, she put it in the Memo function of her phone. Reaching for the I Heart Kickboxing phone, Yui dialed Chandler and Coolidge. After four rings, the phone on the other end of the line picked up.

“This is Chandler and Coolidge. How may I help you today?”

“I would like to speak to Catherine Chandler, please.”

Yui waited as the receptionist redirected the call. After three rings, Yui heard the voicemail say, “This is Catherine Chandler. I'm either busy with another client or away from my desk right now. Please leave your message at the sound of the beep.”

Yui hung up. In a way, that was good, because she couldn't tell Catherine anything but a general warning. But Yui's instincts knew something was going down soon. She decided to try another gambit.

Redialing the receptionist, Yui would try her dirtiest trick. After four rings, she heard the receptionist say, “This is Chandler and Coolidge. How may I help you today?”

“I'm sorry to bother you,” Yui said. “But I tried to reach Catherine Chandler and she was away from her desk. As to why I need to reach her, it's that someone said she would be showing up to her first class at I Heart Kickboxing.”

Sensing the receptionist would protest, Yui then played her card. “This is my first job after being unemployed.” Yui pretended to sniffle. “And the computer just went down. Maybe it was someone like her father or fiance...”

“Probably her fiance,” the receptionist said, empathizing. “Tom Gunther. Would you like his number?”

“That would certainly help, thank you.” On the other end of the line, Yui gave a python-ate-the-pig grin.

After getting the number from the receptionist, Yui wondered why the name Tom Gunther seemed to jog her memory. Seeing today's newspapers, Yui scanned the local news section first. That's when she saw the following headline: Local architect celebrates new office development at Bistro Le Steak.

Reading the article, Yui now saw an image of Tom Gunther. He was in his early 40s, with features that made him look like a brown-haired Robert Pattinson.

Given that the event would be at 7:00 pm, that would give Yui enough time to make a few phone calls. She would try to cajole Ian or Margarita to take her 5:00 pm class while Yui headed to that bistro.

If Yui was successful, Catherine would be saved and never meet Vincent.

While Yui was trying to get a replacement for her class, Adrian was finishing up his tasks at the Columbus branch. Fortunately for him, the library manager had two people trying to make up their time this week. Glad that he was no longer needed, Adrian caught the bus and made his journey back home.

As a kid, Adrian loved mysteries. This time, he was going to get to the bottom of Yui's enigma.

After an uneventful ride, Adrian headed to his apartment to clean himself off. Then he headed straight to I Heart Kickboxing in his blue Chevy Camaro. Fortunately, the traffic was light and he quickly got to I Heart Kickboxing in 25 minutes.

After pulling into a nearby parking lot and paying the fee, Adrian dashed into the building, quickly jogging up the stairs. When he got to I Heart Kickboxing, he tentatively grabbed the handle. Even though he expected it to budge, he knew it was locked.

Miffed, Adrian began hammering away at the door. In a split second, Yui opened it.

“Yui, I don't mind doing these errands for you,” Adrian said, only to be pushed aside by Yui.

“Can't talk now,” Yui said. Adrian ran after her down the stairs, keeping in close pursuit. He followed her to her green Toyota 86 coupe.

When Yui saw that Adrian was still determined to chase after her, she just opened the passenger side door before opening her own, then said, “Get in or wait for me to come back.”

Adrian, seeing he had a Hobson's choice, got in and buckled his seat belt. Then Yui started the motor and drove out of the parking lot like she was Willie Sutton after robbing a Federal Reserve Bank.

Adrian, bursting with questions, realized that Yui was in her driven pursuit mode.

As she deftly weaved her Toyota in and out through busy traffic, Adrian said, “Look, Batgirl, you mind telling your clueless Boy Wonder what's got you upset?”

Then she said the words Adrian dreaded. “No time to explain. I have to get to Bistro Le Steak before 6:00 pm.”

Adrian was about to pester her when she shot him a harsh glare. Then he slumped into his seat, wondering what he had gotten himself into.

While Yui and Adrian were fighting traffic, Catherine stepped out of the taxicab at Bistro Le Steak. Heading inside, she met Tom Gunther.

“You look wonderful, Catherine,” he said. “Let me find you a seat.”

Catherine let Tom guide her into the restaurant. She wondered how long she would stay, given that she really didn't feel like engaging in small talk with city officials and local luminaries.

While Catherine was debating her options, Yui noticed that her movement was being restricted as traffic slowed down on West 57th Street. Adrian wondered if this was due to rush hour or an accident. Sometimes, life was like a set of dominoes. It wasn't just one or two things, but the combination of them happening with other unforeseen events...

Yui's face looked even more frenzied as traffic slowed to a glacial pace. Adrian cleared his throat, only to be met with a death glare from Yui. Now, Adrian felt like he was stuck in confined quarters with Dr. Hannibal Lecter and no protective barrier.

Chapter 4

While Yui and Adrian were stuck on the street, Catherine forced herself to become the gracious hostess as the evening went on. Then she saw an old school friend, Eve Watson. Eve was looking very sad. Being a good friend, Catherine went over to her and started listening.

Tom Gunther was talking about his new project to a reporter. The model of the project had been sent over to the restaurant as soon as it was completed.

Tom said, “Well, they can't get it right in the sculpture, but… ahem… it gives a pretty good idea of the way it's going to be. We're very pleased. I'm sure that you'll find the overages are money well spent.”

As Tom finished his prepared spiel, he wondered where Catherine was. She should be at his side, just like the arm candy she was. Scanning the restaurant, Tom saw her sitting at a far table, talking to some woman.

She always has a soft spot for her friends, Tom thought. TOO soft.Moving quickly toward her, Tom wondered what new trouble Eve Watson was telling his fiancee.

“He told me to pretend like he was dead,” Eve said, tears streaming from her eyes.

“I'm sorry, Eve,” Catherine said, expressing sympathy. “Things'll turn around.”

“How are you doing?” Tom said as he leaned over to Catherine. “You all right?”

“Fine. Eve and I haven't seen each other since college...”

“We were just catching up,” Eve said, somewhat apologetic.

“Good,” Tom said. Then Catherine felt Tom put his arm around her. “I need to talk to you,” he said to Catherine. Leading her to an empty alcove, Tom confronted her.

“What's with you?”

Catherine could feel the wave of irritation coming from him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you've been sitting over there, listening to her blubber half the night.”

“She's going through a rough time,” Catherine explained. “She and I used to be good friends.”

“I know her,” Tom said, his voice firm. “She's a lush. She was married to a lush. She's a complete loser.”

“You're very compassionate,” Catherine retorted, failing to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

“Come on, stick with me,” Tom said, trying to change the subject. “There's someone I want you to meet.”

“Oh, Tom, I'm just not into it tonight,” Catherine replied. “I'm sorry.”

“I thought I could count on you,” Tom retorted.

Catherine suspected what would come next. “You can...”

“Maybe I expect too much.”

“This is a party – it's not brain surgery.” Catherine could feel her ire rise.

“I really don't have time for this now.”

“Frankly, I don't like being told who I can talk to,” Catherine said. And I want to spend the rest of my life with him? Catherine thought. He's just another Steven Bass.

Tom exploded, “Then show better judgment!”

Fuming at his outburst, Catherine said, “I'd better call it a night.”

“That's not an option.”

Moving away from Tom, Catherine said the words that brought him to heel. “Oh, it's not?” Then she got her purse from her former seat and turned to Eve. “Eve, I'm sorry,” Catherine said. “I'm going to have to call you tomorrow.”

Resolute, Catherine headed for the exit of the restaurant.

As Catherine headed out, Yui found a nearby parking space three blocks away. After pulling next to a parking meter, Yui unbuckled her seat belt and jumped out of the car, walking very fast toward the restaurant. Adrian followed after her, wondering what the heck was going on.

Unaware of her two pursuers, Catherine headed to the corner to hail a cab.

“Taxi!” she said, raising her hand. The taxi driver passed by, probably with a fare in the back seat.

“Great,” she muttered.

Then a stocky guy with a bomber jacket sauntered up next to her. At that same moment, from about 20 feet away, Yui and Adrian saw Catherine Chandler and the stranger.

“Say,” the stocky guy said to Catherine, “you're not having much luck. I'll get one for you. I'm an expert!”

If Adrian was confused, now he was completely baffled as Yui started running even faster. Then, as if it was choreographed, a gray van pulled around the corner and its back door opened. The stranger then pushed Catherine into the van. Both Yui and Adrian stared in shock as the person they were pursuing and this new person disappeared into the van. It sped off down the street.

Chikusho!” [Oh shit!] Yui screamed. “We're too late.” Yui ran faster, trying to get the license plate number, but luck was not with her tonight. Then she doubled over, trying to gulp down fresh oxygen from running so hard.

Adrian, tired from sprinting, also gulped fresh oxygen as he leaned on a street sign. Then he said, “Okay, Elisa Maza, is there a reason for this aerobic workout or are you trying to yank my already short chain?” He paused, taking another deep breath. “Because right now, I want the truth. Not another one of your evasions. The... entire... truth.”

“It doesn't concern you.”

“Damn it, Yui!” Adrian exploded. “You seem to know some bits about Catherine Chandler, you looked horrified when I mentioned Vincent, and now this!” Then Adrian paused, comprehension dawning. “She isn't another old flame like Lisa, is she?”

“Not yet,” Yui said. “I was trying to prevent Catherine from meeting him.”

“Well, that's about as clear as the legal jargon on the terms and conditions before using a smartphone app,” Adrian shot back. “Do you mind making it obvious for those Westerners who cannot appreciate Japanese inscrutability?”

Yui looked around the area then said, “I can't tell you here, Adrian. Come with me back to my building.”

“Why should I?” Adrian retorted. “I know you're with the government. What's to prevent you from making me disappear like her?”

“I may work for your United States,” Yui said, “but there are some family secrets I do not share with them. Anyway, if I wanted to dispose of you, why did I let you come along?”

Adrian realized Yui was right. He knew she had the skills to knock him out at any time, especially in this deserted street. So Adrian suspected from her shock that she hadn't arranged Catherine's abduction. Next, his burning desire to find out how the disparate pieces of Catherine Chandler, Yui Watanabe, and Vincent all fit together in this jigsaw puzzle was overwhelming him.

“All right,” Adrian retorted. “But either you go in front of me or we walk side by side. Given what I've seen of your skills, I don't want to turn my back on you.”

As Yui led Adrian back to her Toyota, she said, “Aren't you being a little paranoid, Adrian?”

Adrian retorted, “Paranoids imagine they have enemies. I – and Vincent – have dealt with some of yours.”

“Well played.”

Adrian chose not to roll his eyes at Yui's comeback as both of them returned to her coupe.

Chapter 5

It took about an hour, but Yui eventually returned to I Heart Kickboxing in Hell's Kitchen. As both Adrian and Yui exited the car, Adrian was two feet behind Yui. During the return journey, Adrian had been burning with curiosity to find out what Yui knew.

Adrian followed Yui into the building. Both of them entered the elevator. So far, Yui had kept a neutral expression that would have rivaled Antonio Esfandari's poker face at a game of No Limit Hold 'Em as he pestered her. Adrian wondered what she was planning.

When the elevator got to the third floor, Yui headed to her rooms to the left of the I Heart Kickboxing studio. Adrian wondered what was going on. As Yui opened the door leading to her foyer, she said, “I'm only explaining this to you, Adrian, because I know you won't let go until you have an answer. But what I will reveal to you must not be shared with anyone.”

“Anyone? Including the squad?”

“The squad, Vincent, you name it... what I reveal to you, only my father knows as well.”

“Okay, Yui, but what's the secret?” Adrian still stood outside the door, casting a baleful eye at the empty foyer.

“Get inside,” Yui hissed. “Then I'll explain.”

Adrian wondered what the secrecy was about, then followed Yui into the foyer. She turned on the light, illuminating the entire area. Adrian peered for a moment, expecting Nishio or some thug to come at him. Instead, it seemed he and Yui were the only ones here.

Yui gestured for Adrian to take a seat, then sat down in a nearby chair.

“What do you know about the ninja?” Yui asked.

“I know that they were the equivalent of Army Rangers or Special Ops forces in ancient Japan,” Adrian said. “So what does this have to do with you acting weird? Given you know something about Catherine, just who is your source?”

Yui realized she would have to tell Adrian the unvarnished truth. “Vincent is my source. I obtained it from his dreams.”

Adrian's eyes widened as he processed the information Yui told him. After waiting five seconds, Adrian said, “You mind if I call your father? I think you need to see a doctor.”

“Adrian, don't force me to do this to you,” Yui pleaded.

Adrian leaped out of the chair and assumed his fighter's stance. “Yui, are you threatening me?”

Yui groaned, then rapidly moved her fingers. Adrian stared at them, wondering what she was doing. Then he noticed his eyes were becoming sleepy.

The next moment, Adrian found himself in a darkness lit by yellow ovals. How did he get here? What was going on?

Then Yui appeared, holding up her hands, palms outward. “I'm sorry I had to do this, Adrian,” she explained in an apologetic tone. “But I've done a variation of kuji-kiri that my clan knows.”


“Hypnotism with my fingers,” Yui explained. “For most ninjas, it's a way to calm our fears when we do a mission. But some ninja clans know how to put outsiders into a trance as well. That comes in handy when you're trying to deal with a pesky guard.”

“That's a skill you know,” Adrian said, in a tone  of both admiration and fear. “Just how is this possible? Where am I?”

“It's too much to explain the complete metaphysical concept to you at this time,” Yui began. “Suffice it to say, some ninja clans have been able to use their mystic powers to leap into other people's minds. As for where you are, you're in the psychic dreamworld. To take a Western analogy, this is a mental Internet where I – or others trained like me – can enter into people's minds. Unlike what I've done to you, what I've done to Vincent is called 'lotus dancing.' I took a hair from him and have entered his dreams, not his consciousness.”

“But why would you do that, Yui?”

“When I first met Vincent, he was deep into his madness at hurting Lisa Campbell. I first confronted him, then eventually entered into his dreams to help him deal with his Other.”

“His Other?”

“The id, his Mr. Hyde, the part of him that is bestial... whatever you want to call it, I was trying to help him deal with the guilt and remorse of hurting someone he was close to.”

“So, your first intentions were honorable. Then, as you and he grew up, you wanted to have a more carnal relationship with him.”

“Before you accuse me of manipulating his mind, Adrian, let me tell you that I've seen the violence that is inside him. No woman would – or should – ever see that darkness. Yet I still love him for what he is.”

“But you know the phrase, Yui, when it comes to good intentions. Facilis decensus Averno, especially with your skills.”

“I do know my Virgil, Adrian. Vincent was good at teaching me Latin with his tongue,” Yui said.

“And you certainly would like to teach him a lot of things with YOUR tongue,” Adrian retorted. After he said this, Yui did something Adrian thought he would never see in his lifetime. Her cheeks flushed red.

Wanting a moment to compose herself, Yui took a few deep breaths. “Adrian, I don't know how Vincent connected to Catherine, but I think someone wants this to unfold,” Yui began. “Somehow the yokai part of Vincent is being drawn to Catherine by some mystical force. I think it's Kami.

Adrian looked at her quizzically. “You're saying... what... that either God or something within Vincent is playing matchmaker with this Catherine Chandler?”

“That's what I like about you, Adrian,” Yui retorted. “You take one of my complex, elegant, and nuanced statements of fact and distill it into a simple, but inaccurate, form.”

“Well, I prefer easy to grasp concepts,” Adrian shot back. “So, what's the next step, Uri Geller?”

“For now, we'll wait,” Yui said. “One of us will have to go down to the Tunnels anyway. I'll try to discreetly use my sources to find out who would want to kidnap her.”

“Wait a minute,” Adrian retorted. “One of us? What makes you think I want to be involved in this mess?”

“Because you and I both have a common aim.”
“We do, Yui?” Adrian said. “And that is?”

“I want to win Vincent's heart,” Yui said. “You want to protect Vincent. If both of us keep an eye on this Catherine Chandler, maybe we can convince Vincent that she will move on with another man after she recovers.”


Yui silently cursed herself for revealing that information. Adrian paid attention to little details.

“What did you see in Vincent's mind? And what does that have to do with Catherine Chandler?”

“I think Vincent had a precognitive dream,” Yui explained, trying to remain as opaque as possible. “Those men will badly scar Catherine, but I don't know why they do it. Or why I was given this premonition.” Then she waited for Adrian to take her bait.

“And if they can harm her, eventually they might come to harm Vincent or the Tunnels,” Adrian reasoned. Meanwhile, Adrian mused to himself, You're being damned cagey about this. But I can't use a brute force approach. Like you, I'll be patient to obtain more information.

Then Yui said, “Time to get us back to the real world.”

Adrian was about to ask her what was the hurry when he heard the sounds of something like heavy breathing and scraping claws on a stone floor. Then Yui did her strange movement of fingers... and Adrian found himself in his fighter's stance still standing in front of Yui.

“Sorry I had to hurry, Adrian,” Yui said. “But you being there in that world is like being a bleeding catfish. There are certain... predators... other spirit folk that exist in that world like sharks in the ocean. That's why I wear this crucifix.” Yui held up her silver crucifix on a chain.

“And, let me guess, certain ninjas try to take over your body too?” Adrian surmised.

Yui gave a quick nod.

“Is this the end of all the surprises, Yui, or is there more you're not telling me?”

“Let's just say I've told you all that you need to know,” Yui replied in a tone that didn't comfort Adrian at all. “Anything else, I would have to take you as a disciple and start your training to be a ninja. Even with the veritable amount of skills at my disposal, I don't have the ability to turn back time, sadly.”

“I get the hint, Yui,” Adrian said. “It's late. You want me to vamoose. And if I make any further inquiries, you're protecting the secrets of your trade.”

“I knew you would get the message,” Yui said as she escorted him to the elevator. When the elevator arrived at the ground floor, Yui led him out of the building to his Camaro. After seeing Adrian get in, Yui bid him good night and returned to her apartment.

As Adrian started the car to head home, his mind began to list some of the Tunnel community he should talk to about this situation involving Vincent. Father was definitely out of the question; so was Mary. While Adrian mulled it over, suddenly an inspiration struck him.

Heading home, Adrian planned his next moves. The first thing he would do is try to get any scrap of knowledge about Japanese ninja and their powers, even if he had to use his contacts in the New York Public Library or on the Internet.

Next, he would talk with one of the Helpers to arrange a private chat with someone he already knew from the Tunnel community.

Chapter 6

While Adrian recovered from his experience with Yui, Catherine Chandler was struggling with the pain she felt all over her face. She remembered being abducted in a van. Her assailants mistook her for someone else, but where was she? She felt bandages over her face. She cried, “No, no.”

Then she heard a gentle voice. “You're safe. You're safe now.”

Instead of calming Catherine, that voice, coupled with her rising anxiety, made her even more fearful. “Where am I?” Catherine wondered if this person was connected to those strange men.

“No one will hurt you,” the kind voice said. “You're safe here.”

The voice from my dream, Catherine thought. Who is he? Where am I? “H-hospital?”
“No, but you're going to be all right,” the gentle voice continued.

“Why aren't I in a hospital?” Catherine wondered if her rescuer wasn't more dangerous than those men.

“There was no time. You were bleeding.”

“What did they do?” Catherine asked. Then she felt bandages over her own eyes. “My eyes!?!”

“Your eyes were not hurt,” the gentle voice said. “We made sure. Rest now.”

Catherine tried to resist, to get up, only to have fatigue overcome her. If the stranger was of a poetic turn of mind, he would have said that she was slipping into the arms of Morpheus.

Whoever this woman was, those men certainly scarred her face. For many years, he had watched as those in the world Above acted like the apex predators that lived in the jungles that he had read about in textbooks. No, most predators acted the way they did out of hunger or being hurt. These – scum – had hurt this woman out of complete and utter malice.

While Catherine slept, the stranger went to get Father. His medical skills would certainly be needed now.

He heard the clanging of messages through the pipes. He had passed one of the sentries posted to go Above; he should have gone a different route when he brought her down.  Now, the sentry was probably tapping away that Vincent had brought a stranger here. Fortunately, it was late evening, so most people were asleep. By the time morning came, the small kernel of Vincent rescuing someone would soon be covered over by exaggerated rumor and conjecture that would never resemble the truth of what actually had happened.

Deep down, Vincent knew he could not have turned aside and let that unknown woman die of her injuries. He steeled himself for the eventual confrontation with Father and the rest of the Tunnels.

Chapter 7

As dusk changed into dawn, Adrian arose from his bed. As he arose, his mind was whirling.

He wondered if he should call the police and inform them of Catherine Chandler's abduction, then immediately nixed it. Neither he nor Yui had got a clear description of the abductor or any details about the van. At best, if Adrian told the police that Yui used her psychic ninja skills to obtain the information, they would laugh at him. At worst, they would consider Adrian a person of interest and interrogate him. If they questioned him, Adrian might let slip some information about the Tunnels and Vincent.

If the police or the media ever got Vincent in their sights... Adrian shuddered. He remembered the stories his mother used to tell about how her friends of African descent in Trinidad and Tobago never wanted to come to Dallas during the 1970s. Those friends were afraid that the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens Council would threaten or kill them if they visited, especially as integration was starting to become the permanent law of the land.

If Vincent was caught, they might put him in jail if they accepted his intelligence. But others might just dismiss him as a beast from his appearance and eventually dissect him inside a laboratory. Then there would be the lawsuits brought by Charles Chandler and Catherine's friends, either against the NYPD or I Heart Kickboxing.

As Adrian mused over his dilemma, he was reminded of an old story. One day, a deep sea diver was attached to a ship via an oxygen line. Then he heard a message in his radio. It said, “Come on up. The ship is sinking.” Adrian now felt like that diver. He didn't know who attacked Catherine, only that Vincent might be taking care of her. If Adrian tried to inform the authorities, it would only make the situation worse for those in the Tunnels.

As Adrian realized that the best course of action was to do nothing, he idly wondered if Yui was losing sleep like he was. It would be nice if she was, if only to commiserate with her about this situation. For now, Adrian made himself a cup of coffee. Then, he reached for his smartphone to text a certain friend. Eventually, the message would reach the Helper... and Adrian could plan his next steps.

Chapter 8

While Adrian was resolving his matter of conscience, Yui was dealing with a reckoning from her father.

As Yui cleaned the bags with germicidal wipes in preparation for the first morning class, she wondered how Adrian was faring. After getting up this morning, Yui decided it was best to tell her father the entire truth of the matters in which she had been involved a few days ago. From Yui's perspective, she wanted to be completely honest, because her father could sense when she was deceiving him.

As she told her story, Nishio's face had remained impassive. When she had completed her tale, Nishio stood up and said, “I want to show you something in my room.”

Yui, curious, followed Nishio. As he opened the door to his room, Yui saw he went to his living room where there was a bonsai tree. She was no botanist, but she assumed it must be a pine.

“You see this tree,” Nishio began. “This tree originally was brought by your grandparents when they came from Tokyo to New York City. It has been passed down to me. You know what bonsai is?”

“It is a plant in a container, father.”

“Yes, it is, Yui,” Nishio replied. “But a plant is different from an animal, isn't it?”

“Of course it is different, Father,” Yui answered. “A plant cannot physically express the feelings of hunger, pain or fear. An animal can also move instead of staying in one place.”

“And do you not realize that your struggle comes from treating Vincent as this plant instead of the intelligent being he is?” Nishio said in a pointed tone.

Yui realized what her father was telling her. For the many years Yui had known Vincent, she had always thought of him as a patient to take care of, especially with his dark side. But Vincent probably wanted to love someone – and be loved – in return. Yui had assumed that Vincent loved her because of their shared experiences. Now Yui understood she had been assuming Vincent's thinking was similar to hers. It never occurred to Yui that Vincent might have other ideas.

“But, Father,” Yui protested. “I don't see what this Catherine Chandler can offer Vincent. She is a vapid American debutante. Once she recovers, she will forget him.”

“Maybe what you want, Yui, is not the same as what destiny wants for both of them,” Nishio said. “You think Lisa was the precursor for Vincent to lead into a relationship with you. Could you not entertain the notion that you were sent to teach Vincent that someone from Above could love him? After all, in the Western religion, John the Baptist was just the messenger. He could only point others to the Christ. John was not the one they were seeking, but the one who could recognize the genuine article. After John had done his part, the rest was left up to the Christ.”

As Nishio said those words, Yui wondered if her father could sense the emotional tumult inside her. Yui had known Vincent for ten years. She had given Vincent training to overcome his dark side. Now, the gods were directing Vincent into another woman's arms? It didn't seem fair.

Nishio said, “Yui, you must understand that I do not blame you for falling in love with Vincent. He is handsome, cultured, and compassionate... good qualities for any male to possess. But you must understand that love is also about giving the beloved freedom to choose. For all your mystical skills, you cannot force Vincent into loving you. He must choose what he wants. Give him time to determine the truth.”

“But if he chooses her, then what will I do?” Yui protested. “I love him.”

“The one privilege of being older, Yui,” Nishio countered, “is that I have experienced that same passion, yet filter it through the prism of wisdom. Maybe this relationship with Vincent is a precursor to someone close who does care for you.”

“And who would that be?”

“Just as you would do anything for Vincent, who, besides Vincent, do you think would do anything to help you, no matter what?”

When the words left Nishio's lips, Yui realized that there was someone who was that close to her. But her denial wouldn't accept it.

“He is just a friend,” Yui quickly said. “Nothing more.”

“You may protest, my daughter, but it is also an answer,” Nishio replied, “and your solution if you would look closer.” Then Nishio looked at the clock in the room. “Just think it over as you work this day.”

Yui immediately understood this was a dismissal. Heading downstairs, Yui pushed aside the revelation her father asked her to consider.

Vincent was the only one for her! She would deal with Catherine somehow. Tamping down on the other opposing thought, it silently grew inside her like a seed.

After being dismissed, Yui headed to her computer to update her customer records. Her smartphone buzzed, revealing that she had gotten a text from Hermes.

This is Patton Rare Books. Mr. Phelps has the information you

requested. He also wants the usual remuneration for his efforts.

After reading the text, Yui started texting Margarita. After getting confirmation that Margarita would do the second morning class and the midafternoon one, Yui assumed her disguise and began her circuitous route to Patton Rare Books.

Once Yui was inside Patton and had given the correct code phrase (sent via a steganographic image in her email) to the agents, she took the secret elevator down. Hermes was waiting for her with a smile on his face.

“You found something?” Yui asked.

“I just did a photo search on the description of the guys you gave me,” Hermes said to Yui. “One of them pops up in NYPD data files.”

“Who is he?” Yui asked.

“Oh, no,” Hermes said. “My payment first. Then the information.”

Yui forced herself to reach into her suitcase and boot up her laptop. After a few rapid keystrokes, she headed for the correct site. From memory, Yui typed in a gift card into the website. She would destroy the gift card later after the payment was processed. Then she turned the laptop to Hermes.

“As you can see, Hermes,” Yui replied, “$175 has been donated to your Steam account. Now you can get all the ecchi games to your heart's content.”

“Mind if you increase it $350?” Hermes retorted. He wished he had a stopwatch because the speed at which Yui's warm, flirtatious black eyes turned into hard black

coals outdid Christian Coleman's speed record.

“The information. Now.” Yui's frigid tone could have instantly frozen hot molten steel. “Or I tell the Secretary about your visit to Sparks, Nevada. I recall that I had to twist a Vietnamese doxy's...”

Yui refrained from smirking as Hermes' bespectacled face turned paste white. Sometimes, you just had to show the Romeo Echo Mike Foxtrots that the field agents were dead serious.

“Okay.” Hermes turned the monitor of his notebook around to face Yui. “His name's Carl Hanson.” Looking at the photo, the stocky man with the open face reminded Yui of a former United States president, but she kept that to herself.

“He's a self-made thug. Served juvie for rolling drunks. Then moved up to loan sharking. Basically, dumb muscle.”

“So who signs his paychecks?”

“That's where it gets interesting,” Hermes said. “It turns out that the paychecks are written by a holding company called MBI. After doing some electronic research at the zoning commission, the person doing the writing is Marty Belmont. Officially, on his taxes he says he's an independent businessman. It turns out his job is the oldest profession.”

Hermes tapped a few keys then showed a website titled Mayfair Escort Service.

Yui wrinkled her nose in disgust. So Marty Belmont was a procurer of women. But how did that connect with Catherine Chandler?

As Yui looked over the supposed models, her eyes inadvertently failed to recognize something important.  But she didn't notice it because the label on the important picture said, “On Vacation.”

“That's all there is?” Yui said, wondering how this fit in.

“That's all I can do,” Hermes said. “I wish you or your homeless friend had a photograph of what they were doing. Maybe that – or background clutter – could give me a better lead.”

Photograph. The word echoed in Yui's consciousness. It would be months later that Yui would recognize the significance of the word and her discovery.

While Yui was dealing with Hermes's information, Adrian had just finished showering at home. Getting his gear together for the evening class, Adrian decided it was better to drive than to walk to I Heart Kickboxing.

As Adrian pulled into the parking lot, he looked at the cars to see who was here before him. Perry's blue Ford truck was there. There was also Hannah Carson's green Cadillac. Isabella's red Dodge Charger was just pulling in. As for Chiara Costello, Adrian couldn't see her vehicle.

Sometimes, Chiara would disappear for one or two months from the gym. Adrian didn't know why Chiara did that; he had never known Chiara to be really close to anyone except Isabella Gutierrez.

One thing Adrian noticed about Chiara was that, in terms of material contributions, she was second only to Hannah Carson in providing material comforts. But something nagged at Adrian. Chiara said she was a bartender/server at Houlihan's. Either she had customers who tipped well... or she was doing something else on the side. But if she had a side job, what was it?

From what Adrian could gather from the others, Chiara tended to keep to herself. When Vincent was with Chiara, everyone noticed that there was some unspoken tension between them. But what was it? Had Chiara been a former resident of the Tunnels? Or had she helped someone move from there? One day, Adrian would have to find some way to ply Vincent with some stiff drinks and let him unwind.

After parking his car, Adrian went upstairs and changed into his workout clothes. Then he joined the rest of the squad (minus Chiara) as they were in the room. All of them were doing last-minute things.

Oliver Perry was wrapping his hands. His nickname was “Mustang” because he had originally enlisted for four years, earning his sergeant's stripes, then left the Marines to get a college degree, and served twelve more before retiring as a first lieutenant. He always had a t-shirt, shorts, or boxing gloves with the Bird, Ball, and Fish Hook (the slang term for the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor logo of the Marines).  Like Adrian, his salt-and-pepper hair was always in a crew cut. His green eyes could change from being teasing to being intimidating in a split second. Though he was only 5' 6”, he could hit harder than anyone else at I Heart Kickboxing. Oliver Perry once said that there was a family legend that he could trace his family lineage back to Matthew Calbraith Perry, a famous American naval officer and also the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry.

 Hannah Carson was sipping water from the straw of her large plastic cup. For a woman who was in her late fifties, her blond hair still retained a sunny yellow sheen. Seeing Adrian enter, she put down her cup and said, “I've just been hearing the news from Below.”

Adrian, trying to feign ignorance, said, “What news?”

“It seems Vincent rescued someone in Central Park last night,” Hannah began. “I hope he knows what he's doing. I'd hate for him to rescue some junkie or other criminal that could endanger them Below.”

If only you knew what I know, Hannah, Adrian thought. Instead, he replied, “Vincent knows he has to be careful. Maybe he just rescued a stray dog and the sentry just gave it the telephone treatment.”

“No,” Hannah said. “I heard it straight from the pipes and the telegraph. It was a woman. I hope she isn't a lady of the evening.”

Adrian was wondering if he should continue to defend Vincent when Isabella came in.

Out of all the squad, Isabella was the shortest (4' 9”), with short brown hair and black eyes. Chronologically, she was the last member to join this squad. Adrian wondered if Isabella joined because of Hannah Carson or if another Helper had told Isabella about Yui Watanabe. Although Isabella was short of stature, she was considered the most valuable member of the squad. Because she ran her own printing business (and had an exacting eye for detail), Isabella could print anything from a fake driver's license to a birth certificate. Sometimes, Isabella helped those from Below work in her shop and get the necessary paperwork to merge seamlessly Above. Many times, Yui (or Adrian) would provide Isabella certain imitation documents to help them protect the dwellers of the Tunnels.

As Isabella dashed to the locker room with her gym bag, Adrian wondered how many minutes it was before class. As if on cue, Yui appeared and adjusted her headset.

“This is your five… five-minute call before class begins,” she said in an enthusiastic tone. “Make sure your hands are wrapped, water bottles off to the side, and all personal belongings locked in your locker.”

As Yui began to look over the sheet corporate headquarters sent for today's workout, Isabella went over and started talking to Yui. When Isabella came close, Yui began to turn down the volume on her headset.

Adrian wondered what Isabella was asking. From his vantage point, Adrian saw Yui vigorously shaking her head “no” as rap music blared in the studio. Adrian wondered if Isabella was curious about Vincent not showing up.

Eventually, the five minutes passed and Yui said, “Welcome, 7:45 crew. It's time for YOU to do the last workout. When the song changes, we'll start with a light jog.”

Every I Heart Kickboxing class began with a 15-minute cardio session. They would always start with a light jog. Next, they would do high knees, followed by butt-kickers. After butt-kickers came two minutes of a side-shuffle facing inside the mat, then two minutes of doing a side-shuffle facing outside.

For Adrian, the cardio was comparatively easy. The remainder of the workout would be a combination of exercises for abdominals, legs, and arms. Unfortunately, this month they were working on abdominal exercises. And in every workout there was the dreaded exercise Adrian hated: burpees.

Originally, the exercise was known as a squat thrust: you first stand, then move into a squat position with your hands on the ground; next, you kick your feet back into a plank position while keeping your arms extended, then return your feet into a squat position; finally, you jump up from the squat position. The reason it got the name “burpee” was from the American physiologist Royal H. Burpee, who designed this exercise as part of his Ph.D thesis as a quick and simple way to assess fitness. It was popularized by the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II to be a quick assessment of agility, coordination, and strength. To Adrian, the burpee was one of the most fiendish instruments of torture ever designed by humans, on a level comparable to dropping incendiary bombs on a city or trying to get a request filled by an automated customer service telephone menu, due to him being six feet three and ten pounds overweight.

When the fifteen minutes had passed, Yui always said, “Time.” On cue, everyone would head to their respective containers of water and take a quick sip before doing stretching exercises. While they sipped, Yui would take a Swiffer mop and clean the gym mat in case anyone sweated a lot.

Even though Adrian brought a towel, he always made sweat puddles. Oliver Perry always could do his workout without breaking a sweat. As for Isabella, after every workout her face seemed relieved, as if she was a kitten that had finally outrun the pack of vicious dogs chasing her.

As Yui told the class to begin preventative stretches, Isabella said, “I've just heard the news. You think Vincent will eventually come back?”

For a moment, Yui was taken aback. Then, she said, “I'm sure Vincent will return. He's probably just waiting to see what Father says.”

“I hope Vincent hasn't put himself in danger,” Isabella continued. “Even though he looks fearsome, he's still very innocent.”

“Vincent knows how much trouble this city is,” Perry said. “Maybe he just brought the person down, then went to another area until he – or she – recovers. From what I heard, the person was badly wounded. Vincent knows his appearance might send him – or her – into shock.”

“Mouse was sure it was a woman,” Hannah said.

“Mouse also believed that there was a ghost haunting the Tunnels,” Perry retorted. “That turned out to be his darn raccoon, Arthur, after he raided a sack of flour. I spent three hours on that wild goose chase with William and ruined some good boots in the sewer because of that. It cost $160 to replace them.”

Isabella chimed in, “Mouse may be mistaken, but Winslow and Pascal say it's a woman, too. Maybe she's some party girl who had one too many...”

Seeing that the class was getting out of order, Yui lifted her fingers to her lips and gave a loud whistle. That got everyone's attention and caused the chattering to cease. Then Yui said, “I'm glad everyone is concerned about Vincent. So am I. But we also are here for a class. After we finish, then we can indulge in gossip.”

Hannah and Isabella had chastened expressions. Oliver Perry's face resembled one of the faces from Mount Rushmore. Adrian just took one last sip and headed back to his punching bag.

This was going to be a long class.

While Yui was putting the squad through the latest exercise from corporate, Catherine Chandler was dealing with her new reality. Wherever she was, time had lost all meaning. Someone was taking care of her. But was she asleep and dreaming? Or awake? Whoever this man was, he had a name, Vincent. And she had told him her name, Catherine. But why were her eyes covered? What was Vincent concealing from her?

All she knew at this immediate moment was that this was pretty good soup Vincent was feeding her. It was wonton broth, but with water chestnuts and melt-in-your-mouth wontons with tender beef.

“Do you like it?” the gentle voice of Vincent answered.

“It's good soup,” Catherine replied. “Vincent, tell me. Where are we?” Before Vincent could answer, a train rumbled overhead. “Somewhere there's an elevated train,” Catherine deduced. “Brooklyn? Queens?”

“No, not Brooklyn or Queens,” Vincent said. Then he realized that was the wrong answer as he felt through the bond her rising panic.

“Am I still in New York?”

Vincent said nothing.

“Vincent, please tell me! Where are we?”

Vincent wished that he could have sent a message to the squad Above, but Catherine's condition last night had been touch and go. Instead, he said, “I have to keep

it as a secret.”

“Why?” Catherine was confused. Was Vincent a rescuer or a captor? Why was he being so secretive about where she was?

“Because a lot of people depend on this place for safety,” Vincent replied.

Catherine wondered what he meant by that. Were Vincent and his people homeless? That would explain why he would be secretive about where he lived. But Catherine felt something else from Vincent. If Catherine could describe it, she felt something emanating from Vincent that actively feared meeting new people. But why? What was this – attraction or magnetism – she could feel toward him that could let Catherine sense his thoughts?

Catherine didn't know why she said this, but it was heartfelt. “I'll keep your secret.”

Although Catherine didn't hear Vincent speak, she could feel the silence from him give this message: I believe you. Then her ears heard the constant tapping. Some came from the pipes; other taps obviously came from something clacking. “And that tapping,” she said. “It never stops.”

“It's people talking to each other, tapping on the master pipes,” Vincent explained in a gentle tone.

“You mean messages?” Catherine's interest perked up.

“Mmmmm,” Vincent said in a tone that was noncommittal.

“Vincent, please tell me,” Catherine said.

Now, Vincent could feel the fear emanating from the bond with her, like steam rising from a kettle.

“We're below the city – below the subways,” Vincent began. “There's a whole world of tunnels and chambers that most people don't know exists. There are no maps to where we are – it's a forgotten place. But it's warm and it's safe – and we have all the room we need. So we live here, and we try to live as well as we can, and we try to take care of each other. It's our city, down here.”

Uncertain, Catherine said, “What are you doing down here? Why are you here?”

For a moment, Catherine wondered if Vincent was not going to respond. Somehow, she felt a great pain as he took a deep breath to speak. She could feel the pain coming from his silence, like the spray of salt air when you're near the sea.

“I was a baby... abandoned, left to die,” Vincent began. “Someone found me and brought me here – to the man who became my father.” Then Vincent paused, feeling a sensation of gratitude coming from Catherine. “He took me, he raised me,” Vincent continued. “He taught me everything. He named me Vincent. That's where I was found, near the hospital – St. Vincent's.”

Overwhelmed at that admission, Catherine said, “I don't know what to believe.”

“It's all true,” Vincent said in a gentle tone. Then before Vincent could react, Catherine's fingers touched his.

Her compassion turned to shock as she felt the gnarled and animal-like hand. She felt his hand pull away, but she knew he felt her astonishment. As Vincent moved away, Catherine wondered who – or what – Vincent was.

Chapter 9

As the days passed, Adrian and Yui both saw the headlines in the papers and on the TV news. Before Vincent returned for his first class after missing four days, Yui and Nishio told the rest of the squad, especially when Chiara returned, not to pester Vincent.

Even though Vincent could feel the quiet, he was silently grateful that no one was asking about Catherine. Soon, he would talk to them, but not now.

While Yui and Nishio asked that no one use their electronic devices to prevent Vincent from learning about the situation, Adrian had collected a few tabloids.

Gunther's Girlfriend Missing! East Side Deb Vanishes! screamed the headline from a tabloid. Catherine Chandler – Missing? Or Presumed Dead? Another headline shrieked.

So far, Adrian had been using any form of communication (phone, text, email, or the Tunnel telegraph) to warn the Tunnel dwellers to divert any newspapers from Vincent. The less he knew who his guest was, the better.

Although Adrian didn't know where the leak had come from, Father unfortunately had learned about Catherine Chandler from someone Above. After asking one of the Tunnel children to get him a tabloid, Father had now tapped a message to summon a council meeting.

As Adrian pieced together the dramatic news from the messages flying around, he wondered if he should tell Father about his and Yui's knowledge of this affair. But what could he say? Father was a man with a scientific background; if Adrian tried to inform Father – or the council – about Yui's powers, Father would probably throw Adrian out. Father barely tolerated Narcissa coexisting next to their community.

Next, there was the person Adrian wanted to talk to.  It had been almost two weeks after Yui's revelation that Adrian had sent the text. So far, he and the Helper were playing text tag. When Adrian wanted to meet, the Helper said that William had been called away to handle something. When William was ready, Adrian was either stuck with a work project or called to handle something urgent for his favorite charity. However, the stars seemed finally to be aligning for Adrian, because he got a text.

William has just finished up his survey of the storeroom. Meet him

at Madison Square Park at 7:00 p.m.


Now that was some good news. Like King Midas' barber, Adrian wanted to talk to someone about Yui's secret.

Chapter 10

As Adrian waited for his appointment, Catherine began to frantically remove her bandages. Vincent had gone to get the herbal tea she liked. She wanted to know what had happened to her. Finding an old auto headlight, she looked into the reflector... and saw her grotesquely distorted face.

“Oh, God!” Catherine shrieked. “No!”

Vincent, hearing her screech, said, “Catherine?” He came in, startling her.

She threw the reflector at the stranger, watching as it glanced off the side of his head. After seeing the face of this mysterious Vincent, Catherine saw him slink away as she dropped into the seat next to the bed, sobbing.

So many emotions fought inside Catherine. The dream she had a few nights ago was real! But how was that possible? Who had done this to her? Why had they done this? Was her father looking for her? What would she do now that she was like this?

Then the words her mother said to her in her dream came back to her. My dear Catherine, how I wish I could be with you in your garden of Gethsemane and take away your pain. But know this, if it wasn't for the pain, you wouldn't meet the one you truly love. You must choose: the tiger or the nobleman.

Then Catherine could feel something. It wasn't a touch, instead it was a mixture of compassion and embarrassment, feeling like a silver thread. Following this thread, she looked in its general direction... only to see the image that her deceased mother had shown her.

The face was not human. If Catherine could hazard a guess, it resembled a lion with a muzzle nose and mouth. She also could see the fangs as well.

Although the shallow part of herself told her to be afraid, this gentle thread she felt meant that this... person (when did that happen?) really cared for her. The only true monsters were the ones who did this to her, not the person next to her.

Then Vincent said, “I've never regretted what I am... until now.”

“How?” Catherine asked, trying to wrap her rational mind around any fragment to make sense of this. “How did this happen to you?”

“I don't know how,” Vincent said, feeling the honesty emanate from him. “I have ideas. I'll never know. I was born. And I survived.” Then he saw her shake her head. He said, “It is time for you to go back.”

Then Vincent saw Catherine break down into tears. He heard her murmur, “Tell me it's a nightmare. That it didn't happen, that it can't be.”

“It's not a nightmare,” Vincent replied. “It happened – and you're alive. Catherine, you survived. And  what you endured will make you stronger and better.”

Vincent could feel Catherine's distraught mood.

“I don't have your strength,” she said. “I don't know how to do it.”

“You have the strength, Catherine,” Vincent said.

As he said that, Catherine could feel a warmth, like she was in a field of wildflowers on a summer day. It was that gentle conviction similar to the faith of the proverbial mustard seed.

 “You do,” Vincent continued. “I know you.” As Vincent handed Catherine her clothes, he said, “It's time.”

Following him through the Tunnels, Catherine looked outwardly calm. But inside, she had so many questions. Suddenly, as if she felt the images of faces in this invisible bond between them, she asked, “Besides me, are there others who know about you?”

“Everyone in the Tunnels knows me,” Vincent said in a tone that would have sounded arrogant in a lesser man, but Vincent spoke with humility. “There are those Above that also help us and know about me.”

As Catherine felt the hazy feelings of – maybe emotions, maybe memories –from Vincent, she said, “Who are they?”

“One is a woman named Yui Watanabe. She – and her father Nishio – are two of the Community's many friends. They run a gym where I exercise. Some of our Helpers are also members in that gym.”

Catherine digested that information. As she saw the families that lived down here, she wondered what they must have been. Were they homeless people she had ignored because she had been too busy? As she thought of that, she recalled the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. How many of these present denizens were people she had chosen to ignore because she was busy with work or impressing those in her social circle?

Then, the next question hit her. Now that you are changing, and have truly met a genuine man, not a vapid person, what will YOU do about it?

As they were at a place of two pipes, Vincent jumped across the space. Then Catherine said, “Wait.”

Vincent said, “You can do it. Give me your hand.”

As Catherine held Vincent's hand, she jumped across.

Eventually, they came to a spiral staircase. After traveling for a long time, Catherine saw an opening where the bricks had been removed. Vincent indicated this portal, saying, “This is where you go out.”

“Where are we?” Catherine was hesitant.

“The basement of your apartment building.”

“We are?” She laughed nervously. She could see the tension building within Vincent.

He had found someone that he could be himself with, but knew he had to let her go.

Somehow, Catherine knew what she had to say. “Your secret is safe with me,” she began. “I would never betray your trust.”

“I know,” Vincent answered. “I knew that from the beginning, when you trusted me.”

She reached out to him then put her hand on his chest and her head on his shoulder. “What can I say to you?” Catherine said.

Vincent kept quiet, as he felt her sorrow at leaving, too. She wanted to stay, yet she also cared about her father and her friends. Even though Vincent's mind wanted to use compulsion, his heart knew that it would only damage this fragile trust they had.

Then, as Catherine heard the sounds of footsteps and voices coming through the vent, she looked in their direction.

When she was distracted, Vincent slipped away.

“Vincent!” Catherine called out.

There was no answer and she didn't expect any. Yet, as she returned to the world she knew, a seed had been planted in her heart. And like the proverbial mustard seed, it would blossom into something greater.

Chapter 11

While Catherine returned to her apartment building, the day passed tensely for Adrian and Yui. At 5:00pm, Adrian saw the local news about the mysterious return of Catherine Chandler. Even though reporters shot rapid-fire questions, Catherine only admitted that she had been dumped in the sewer system, lost for days wandering to find an exit.

Whoever this Catherine Chandler was, Adrian mused, she was determined to protect the Tunnels and Vincent. Although Adrian couldn't follow all of the chatter on the pipes or the telegraph for the past few days, Adrian heard that Father was most adamant that Vincent never contact Catherine again. A few voices of moderation, probably Mary, Adrian surmised, argued that Catherine had not jeopardized their existence. Vincent should make Catherine the offer to be a Helper.

As Adrian turned off his laptop to head home, he wondered what Yui was thinking.

Yui Watanabe had that rare moment of downtime when she was scanning the daily newspapers or Facebook in her bedroom. However, with her skills, she had requested a certain trace using the SABLE program designed by her employers in case something mentioned Charles Chandler, Catherine Chandler, or Tom Gunther.

At 5:30, SABLE began sending her hits as the news of Catherine Chandler went on the air. Yui looked at the woman she had only seen in Vincent's vision. As she listened to her speak, Yui steeled herself to hear Catherine reveal the existence of the Tunnels.

If only her employers, not to mention her civilian job, hadn't kept her busy, she

would have tried to infiltrate Vincent's chamber to get rid of her. But as Yui listened, she

was amazed that Catherine was saying that she had been dumped in a sewer system and aimlessly wandered until she got out. She kept Vincent's existence – and the Tunnels – a secret.

Yui had to admit in a grudging way that Catherine Chandler was not what she expected. Perhaps she should pay a small visit to the Tunnels.

As Yui changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt and athletic pants, paired with thick boots, she wondered what would be the best way to deal with Catherine. Then it hit her.

Determined with her new idea, Yui grabbed a small book from her desk then headed down to the basement of her building.

While both Catherine and Adrian were unaware of Yui's machinations, Vincent felt Catherine's waves of emotions Below. If Vincent himself could describe experiencing her feelings, it would be like reading a description of sipping cold sangria on a hot summer day, sorting through the complex flavors.

There was relief at being found. Then the gratitude and love of being back with her father. Then Vincent felt her steel as she lied about not remembering who rescued her or where she was.

Would he see her again? Did she want to? Vincent did not know the answers to those questions. But he could feel her warmth penetrate into the depth of his heart.

Even though his logic said Catherine only saw the beast, the deepest part of his heart knew she would come to him. But if she did, Father would not be pleased.

While Vincent ruminated, Yui headed to a junction that had a wall. Remembering her code, she tapped a small message on the wall similar to Morse. Eventually, the sentry opened the door for her.

“Nice to see you, Yui,” Jeremiah, a twelve-year-old blonde boy, said. “Did you bring anything for us?”

“Maybe later,” Yui said. “I was wondering if Vincent had the towels or any hairbrush the stranger – Catherine Chandler – used.”

Jeremiah frowned. “For all I know, Vincent has probably sent the towels to be washed or burned. But I know he probably asked Mary to lend him a hairbrush. If anyone has it, it's her.”

“Thank you. I'll get you – and the kids – something tomorrow,” Yui replied.



As Jeremiah resumed his post and slid the wall back, Yui headed to Mary's chamber. Seeing the tapestry up, Yui rapped a few times on a nearby wall.

Mary, a middle-aged woman, came to see who it was.

“Yui, a pleasure to see you. What brings you here?”

“I was wondering if Vincent borrowed a hairbrush to comb the stranger's hair,” Yui began, wondering if this was a fool's errand.

“Why, yes,” Mary said. “Why do you need it?”

“I don't know if this might help,” Yui said, “but they found an abandoned van at the impound lot with someone's hair. Maybe if I could borrow the hairbrush, I can give it to a source at the NYPD. It can tell if the DNA is hers or not.”

“I don't see why I shouldn't,” Mary said as she went into her alcove. “Here it is.”

Yui, keeping her expression neutral, wanted to hiss YES! Once she had the hair, it was only a matter of time before Catherine Chandler forgot about Vincent.

Yui started to head back. She hated that she couldn't do her ritual now, because she had no one to cover her evening classes. But when she was finished, Vincent would run into her arms.

Skipping his kickboxing class, Adrian headed to Madison Square Park. Even though he had done his morning workout, he ordered a custard shake from a nearby Shake Shack. He wondered if this meeting would happen.

After waiting fifteen minutes, a man with graying brown hair and a bushy brown beard came up to Adrian.

“William, how are you?”

“Doing as well as can be,” he said in a thick Texas accent. “You've been trying to follow Vincent's latest escapade?”

“Yeah, you can say that,” Adrian said. “So, how did things go in the Council?”

“It's been hot and out of control as an oil rig fire,” William replied. “Father and a few others who think like him wanted to give Vincent the Silence or some other punishment. Mary and Winslow said that Vincent was helping someone. Right now, as I was coming to meet you, the message through the pipes said that this Catherine Chandler hasn't revealed our secret. That got Father's attention.”

“So what do you think Father is going to do?”

“I don't know,” William replied. “Most of us, including me, are trying to point out that Vincent is grown, not the child Father taught at his knee. I'm nervous that if Vincent does try to see her again, he might be attacked by this woman's father or some jealous boyfriend.”

“That's what I wanted to talk to you about, William,” Adrian said. “But not here. I don't know if the information I obtained from some friends is accurate, but we need to head for the Church of the Transfiguration.”

“Why there?” William asked.

“Trust me, it's complicated.”

As William and Adrian began to head over to the church, Adrian would have been horrified to know the course of action Yui was embarking on.

Chapter 12

While Adrian was talking to William, Yui finally finished her last class. The fact

that Adrian wasn't there was a bit troubling. But, knowing Adrian, a Helper or one of the Community probably needed a last-minute errand completed.

As night fell, Yui went up to her room. She mentally prepared herself to do the same ritual she did to enter Vincent's mind. Carefully placing Catherine Chandler's hair in the glass container, she lit the incense sticks, then chanted, “Om, mane, padme, hum.

Om, mane, padme, hum...”

As she drifted to the shining oval that was Catherine Chandler's body, Yui was unsure what she should do. Maybe plant the idea the romance was hopeless? Of course, there were other, more fatal methods she could inflict...

But as soon as Yui touched the oval containing Catherine's consciousness, she felt a sharp WHAM and the scene changed dramatically. Even though Yui ached all over, she forced herself to stand up. Where she was resembled a courtroom, except instead of a judge's bench in the front, there was a raised dais with three chairs. Three figures sat in the chairs, the one in the center wearing the robes of the emperor, with a tiger and a dragon sitting next to his feet.

Yui recognized all three from her father's stories of Japanese mythology. The one in the center must be Kami, the Divine Emperor. The one male on the left was Izanagi, the forefather of the gods; the female on the right was Izanami, the divine mother and goddess of creation and death.

Then Yui turned around to see two women sitting in chairs behind her. The first chair on Yui's right held a Caucasian woman with aristocratic features. Yui could tell from the eyes and the hair that this was obviously Catherine's mother.  The second chair on Yui's left held a young Japanese woman dressed in her traditional gray obi. Her black hair was done in an ornate bun while her black eyes looked shocked at Yui. From the aura Yui felt and the images she had seen from photographs, Yui knew this was her own mother.

The realization of where Yui was hit her like an icy punch in the stomach. This was the Divine Place of Judgment. Before any ninja clan did an assassination, they consulted their soothsayers to determine the omens. If the omens were favorable, the clan would go ahead. If the omens were not, woe to the ninja that went ahead and violated the will of the gods.

Kami said, “Ninja of the clan Watanabe, why are you here?”

Yui said, “I do not know, my Divine Emperor.” Even as the lie left her lips, she knew it was a grievous mistake.

Kami rose and extended a ray of light, hitting Yui with full force. The nerves of her body all felt as if they were being burned alive.

“I apologize for lying, Divine Emperor!” Yui screamed. “I am here because I wish to remove Catherine Chandler, my rival for the love of Vincent!”

The pain immediately stopped. Yui took a few deep cleansing breaths.

“The next time you lie in this court, Watanabe Yui,” Kami said, “your life will become forfeit. Then you will be thrown into Jigoku. Do you understand?”

Yui tersely said, “Hai.” [Yes.]

Of all the nine Hells, Jigoku was the lowest and the hottest. Now, Yui knew all her skills were useless against this type of divine power. Better to play along.

“I ask that mercy be shown to her, sir,” an American voice spoke in a crisp New England accent.

After hearing that, Yui was completely confused. Catherine Chandler's mother was pleading with the Divine Kami to give Yui mercy? Why?

Obviously, Kami was also confused. “But you are the mother of the wronged party. Why plead mercy for her potential assassin?”

After hearing the word “potential,” Yui had a faint glimmer of hope. Maybe this situation was salvageable...

“My lord, I believe Yui should be spared for two reasons.” Caroline Chandler paused. “First, Yui is only acting on her emotions, not out of reason. Second, we both know that Catherine, Vincent, and Yui are important in what must happen next. If Yui dies, that throws a serious wrench into your plans.”

Now Yui's eyes widened. What was Kami planning? And what was the future?

“Do you have anything to say, Watanabe Akemi?”

“My lord, if you spare my wayward daughter, I assure you she will never harm Catherine Chandler again,” Akemi Watanabe did dogeza, bowing repeatedly. Then she said, “Please let her take part in your divine plan.”

Suddenly, Yui felt the burning stare of Kami on her.

“Given that the plaintiff is willing to extend you mercy,” Kami began, “will you swear on your word of honor that you will not kill Catherine Chandler?”

As Yui was about to say something, Kami then said, “Remember what I warned you about before. If you lie, you will immediately be sent to Jigoku.

Yui froze. If she swore the oath in front of Kami, it was the equivalent of swearing on the River Styx in Greek mythology. It was completely unbreakable. As long as Yui lived, she could not kill Catherine Chandler.

Yui could refuse, but then that would anger Kami. He could not send her to Jigoku for being honest. But given that he was the Divine Emperor, he had a multitude of resources to torture her. In the end, Yui realized she had no choice.

“On behalf of the clan Watanabe,” Yui said, “I swear on my honor that I will not kill Catherine Chandler.”

“Let it be so,” Kami said, then clapped his hands. Suddenly, Kami, Izanagi, and Izanami disappeared, along with Caroline Chandler.

Yui saw her mother alone in the Place of Judgment. Then Yui said, “I am sorry, mother, that I have violated the divine law.”

“True,” her mother said. “But as someone said in an American cartoon, 'The law that cannot be broken, can surely be bent.'”

Suddenly, Yui found herself back in her own body. Then she realized her own blind spot. She thought the obvious solution was to deal with either Catherine or Vincent. If she could cultivate a third party to be like a darnel seed, growing slowly but inexorably around the fragile rose of Vincent and Catherine's relationship...

Father (Jacob Wells) was a good place to start. He would want to end this relationship. Maybe Jamie or one of the young women in the Tunnels could be a cat's paw, raising the specter of jealousy in Catherine? Then there was Catherine's social circle.

As Yui reached for her smartphone and started taking notes, she now accepted that she must change her timetable. Instead of competing on a schedule of days, she must set a plan in motion that would take months.

No matter how long it took, eventually Vincent would be hers.

Chapter 13

Eight months later

Catherine Chandler headed to Hell's Kitchen. As she looked at the building, she wondered if Isaac was telling her the truth or pulling her leg. Once she parked her car, she went inside and read the building directory. Then she walked up to the third floor.

As she headed up, Nishio Watanabe was going through both paper and electronic invoices to ensure he paid for the necessary materials and also to reconcile his accounts. As he finished up the last account, he heard a knock on the door. Curious, he got up and opened the door.

The woman was very attractive, with brown hair and green eyes. Nishio could sense a familiar aura coming from her, something related to Vincent. But what could it be?

“Welcome to I Heart Kickboxing,” Nishio said, assuming his “polite manager” role. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Yes, I do have one for tomorrow,” Catherine said. “I spoke on the phone earlier. I'm Catherine Chandler. Isaac suggested I come here to learn to get fit, because I'm learning self-defense.”

Then she noticed a flash of recognition in Nishio's eyes. Had he seen her on the news? Then Catherine noticed that the man resumed his stoic mask.

“Which Isaac?” he asked.

“Isaac Stubbs,” Catherine explained. “I've been taking his classes because of... a past bad experience.”

“Isaac Stubbs?” Nishio said. “He's a good instructor, though a bit unorthodox in his fighting style. Would you like me to show you around?”

Before Catherine could answer, a young Japanese woman entered the area.  Whereas Nishio's gaze was one of friendly recognition, Catherine could see the young woman's eyes harden as she looked at her.

“Father, do you mind if I help you with our new guest?” The young woman spoke in a tone that was formally polite, yet frigid. Catherine realized that this was a steel command concealed within a velvet wrapper.

“Maybe that would not be a good idea, Yui...” Nishio said. Catherine could feel the tension in his voice.

Yui... Watanabe? Where had Catherine heard that name before? Suddenly, Catherine recalled what Vincent had said as he led her to the basement of her apartment.

There are those Above that also help us and know about me. One is a woman named Yui Watanabe. She – and her father, Nishio – are two of the Community's many friends.

Suddenly, Yui noticed recognition dawn upon Catherine's face. She wondered what Catherine must be thinking.Kami had ordered that Yui couldn't kill her... but hurting her severely could be allowed.

“I have – heard – about you from our mutual friend,” Yui said. Catherine understood what she meant. “Now, why are you here, Ms. Chandler?”

“Isaac Stubbs sent me here,” Catherine began, trying to find an excuse to leave. “He said I Heart Kickboxing had good instructors. I have an appointment for tomorrow. Maybe I can come back later...”

“Nonsense,” Yui said, taking Catherine's arm. “Let me show you around.”
Catherine wondered what Yui was up to. Vincent hadn't mentioned to Catherine that Yui was very attractive. Suddenly, her intuition suggested that Vincent and Yui might have a relationship. Meanwhile, Catherine noticed Nishio furiously dialing a number on the telephone.

“As you can see,” Yui began, forcing Catherine to pay attention, “we're a spartan gym. For the first fifteen minutes, we do a hard cardio workout. Then we do stretches. Then we do three minutes and thirty seconds of bag rounds before doing conditioning drills, then cooldown stretches.” Yui paused. “As a fitness boot camp instructor, I'm... rough... with new people, to help them overcome their resistance to exercise. I find it a pity that our franchise can't afford the insurance to do sparring matches. In a way, that's good. For all that effort you put into repairing your face, you wouldn't want it scarred like it was eight months ago.”

Point to Yui, Catherine thought. Catherine now realized Yui knew about Vincent rescuing her. And judging from Yui's tone and attitude, she wasn't happy about it. But why? Was she a friend? Or something more?

As Catherine felt a momentary bout of self-pity, she could feel Vincent's warmth reassuring her. Catherine, you survived. Then she reached through the Bond and realized what she should say.

“Funny thing about dealing with adversity, Yui,” Catherine said. “It's just one ingredient, like pressure upon a piece of coal. Whether it becomes crushed or a diamond depends on the amount of pressure and the substance of the coal. This mutual friend of ours helped me realize I should care for others because he took care of me when I could give him nothing. I can see him bringing out that same passion in you.”

Yui was momentarily dumbstruck. She had done the verbal equivalent of a jab/cross combo... only to have Catherine reply with a verbal body hook. Point to Catherine. You're taking the high road, Yui thought. 

“What makes you think you can waltz in and take Vincent from me?” Yui shot back. “Can you appreciate how long I have known him?”

“Rather selfish of you, don't you think? I would let Vincent make his own choice. You seem to treat him as a possession to own rather than a man to be loved,” Catherine answered back.

Now, Yui was seething at that comeback. “Would you like gloves on or off?” Yui said, assuming her fighting stance. Part of her hoped Catherine would scurry away with her tail between her legs; the rest of her wanted to wipe the floor with Catherine.

“I think I would rather not wear boxing gloves, Watanabe-sensei,” Catherine said, mirroring Yui. “But no hair-pulling. For both our sakes.”

“That is acceptable.”

Nishio looked on in horror as the two women began circling like hungry barracuda looking for a weak spot to bite the other.

Catherine could feel Vincent's trepidation through the Bond. Catherine sensed back to Vincent, My love, do not worry. I can handle myself.

Yui could feel something emanate from Catherine. Interesting. So Catherine could send something back to Vincent. That was something she had not expected, but Yui always rose to meet a challenge.

Catherine used Isaac's deep breathing training to calm herself down. Yui was younger and had a knowledge of martial arts, but she was angry. As a lawyer, Catherine knew that emotions were like a magnifying glass. It could enhance something. Or, if misused, could destroy something valuable.

As Yui did a zen shout and lunged with a left head hook, Catherine ducked into a squat. When Yui struggled to pull her arm back, Catherine hit Yui's midsection with a body cross. Yui shrugged off the punch, due to her experience with fighting. But Catherine had decked her hard. Yui had underestimated her. She never made two mistakes twice in a row.

As Catherine pulled her right arm to defend her jaw, Yui struck with a lightning fast right front kick. Although it was a glancing blow, it had the effect of knocking Catherine back. Then, before Catherine could react, Yui did a perfectly aimed low left roundhouse, hitting Catherine's shin. That amount of force knocked Catherine to the

floor. As Catherine hit the floor, the helpless feeling came within her, mixed with the loss of the adrenaline rush. But Vincent reached out to her, saying, He that is down,

need fear no fall.

Catherine realized what Vincent meant by that quote from Pilgrim's Progress. Although she was down, Yui's legs were vulnerable to Catherine's limbs as well. Looking up, Catherine saw Yui remove something like a pointed arrowhead from her right sleeve. Acting on instinct, Catherine aimed her left leg as if she was trying to kick the item out of Yui's hand. As Yui instinctively stepped back, Catherine brought her left leg on the inside of Yui's vulnerable left thigh. That fierce pain forced Yui to her knees, dropping the item. Pushing herself away, Catherine used her hands to leap into a crouching stance.

“For a warrior who improvises, Chandler-san, you are impressive,” Yui said, resuming her fighter's stance. She tried to ignore the pain in her thigh.

“Coming from you, that's a notable compliment,” Catherine retorted. Then she lunged at Yui as if to tackle her.

Yui stepped to the right side only to see Catherine stand erect and move her left knee back... hitting Yui's face with a left front kick. As Yui fell to the mat stunned, her vision swam. When it resumed, Yui could see Catherine holding Yui's kunai, her short dagger, at her neck artery.

“I don't know what this is,” Catherine said. “But I know it's sharp. I think I've won this match. Don't you?”

Hai,” Yui said. [Yes.]

Then Catherine dropped the kunai and kicked it away. Next, she helped Yui up.

Both of them began to take deep breaths, but Yui was the first to recover.

“It is a pity that we are rivals for Vincent's hand, Chandler-san. If you were younger, you would have been a good apprentice for training. You could have become a great kunoichi. In another time, I would have taken great pleasure in being your mentor.” Seeing Catherine's blank look, Yui explained, “Kunoichi is the Japanese term for a female ninja.

“Well, thank you for the sparring,” Catherine said with a confidence she didn't really feel. “But maybe I should find another studio. To quote an old English proverb, 'Those who sup with the devil should use a long spoon.' I do this because Vincent's compassion for those he cares about would not want both of us to hurt each other. But I hope you are successful at finding someone who has the same passion for you as you have for your martial arts.”

As Catherine left the studio, Yui punched the nearest bag. Damn her gracious behavior, Yui thought. It’s getting hard to hate someone that honorable. Then Yui looked up, only to see Adrian in the studio.

“Yui, just what happened here?”


“Nothing, my ass! Nishio told me to come over quickly. I can see why. You and Catherine Chandler went into a no-holds-barred catfight in this gym. You could have killed her.”

“I wish I could,” Yui whispered.

“Excuse me?”

“I tried to use my hasu no odori to... handle Catherine Chandler.”

Adrian's gaze turned angry. “Yui, I've known you too long. When you 'handle' something, it's like the CIA using the euphemism 'sanction' for the gruesome business of assassination. So what happened?”

“As I tried to enter Catherine's mind the night before, I'm afraid I was mentally sent to a tribunal where I was judged by Kami, Izanagi, and Izanami.”

Adrian's eyes widened. He knew those names from Japanese mythology. If anyone else other than Yui said this, he would have thought they were mentally ill.

“So, what went on in that... tribunal?” Adrian wasn't sure he wanted the answer.

“The plaintiff was Catherine Chandler's deceased mother. For my defense, my deceased mother was there. The strange thing was that Catherine's deceased mother pleaded for mercy for me.”

Adrian felt like a guy fishing for minnows only to find his fishing pole had a sperm whale on the hook. “Go on.”

“After my mother did dogeza, bowing for mercy, Kami requested I make a vow not to kill Catherine Chandler. I could not refuse, because he would either torture me or send me to Jigoku.

“So, you can't murder her.” Adrian breathed a sigh of relief. “But I know you're not going to let this go, are you?”

“I love Vincent!”

“Yui, I'm your friend,” Adrian pleaded. “And I hate to put myself in opposition to you. But you're acting like Uma Thurman's character in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. You're supposed to be a physical trainer/covert agent! Not an obsessed fangirl!”  Adrian paused, then took a few deep breaths. “Yui, let me tell you a story to give you perspective,” Adrian began. “In the 1990s, before I started to enter the library field, I wanted to enter journalism. So, at my community college, I worked at the school newspaper while taking a class.”

“So, Yui, there was one tradesman, a guy named James Marks, who was the managing editor of the Dallas Morning News. He worked for twenty-five years, but was pretty earthy. If he tried his profanity-laden maxims on today's campuses, the students probably would have a fit. Now, where was I? Okay, one day, James said in a class, 'As journalists, your job is to report facts. Now, as you interview sources in the circus of life, you may have to get close to them. If you're covering the police beat, you might have to

ride along. If you're doing a story about drugs, you might have to follow a junkie into a

crack house.”

Adrian paused. “Then James said, 'But remember, you are hacks first. You are to report the facts, not anyone's agenda. It's okay to follow a clown when he's doing his act; you jeopardize your integrity – and the newspaper you work for – when you're sleeping

in the same bed with his greasepaint covering your face. That's when you become a flack and untrustworthy.”

“And the point of this is?”
“Look, I'm trying to get there, Yui. One day, I was covering some animal rights protestors on campus. I tried to cover their point of view while publishing the researcher's side of the story. Then, one day, I got a message from one of the activists that their leader and two of his top associates were meeting at a bar in two hours. After getting a disguise and checking my equipment, I sat in a nearby booth and listened to their conversation.”

Adrian paused, horror spreading over his features. “As I recorded the conversation, and took discreet photos, I found out that these three people wanted to kill a leading cancer researcher in his home in a home invasion. They were going to do that two days from then; after I heard that, I realized what I had to do. Once I saw them

leave, I dialed the police and cooperated with them to prevent the plot. After those people were arrested, I published my story.”

“Again, so what?”

“Yui, you're TOO close to Vincent,” Adrian said, exasperated. “You think you can drag him along like the corpse of Bernie in that movie. But Vincent is also a thinking, feeling being. You must go down Below and tell him your feelings. But you also must be mature enough to accept his answer. If he says, 'no,' respect it.”

“But I'm scared. What if he does say it?”

“Yui, I'm afraid you'll have to accept the wisdom of Mick Jagger,” Adrian retorted. “You can't always get what YOU want; pure, untainted love is doing something for the sake of the other, not yourself.”

Yui shot Adrian a harsh glare.

Then Adrian said, “Look, as you're cooling down from your temper, mull it over a little longer, will you? I hope your father has better luck getting through to you.”

Then Adrian went out of the gym, heading downstairs. As he walked away, Yui knelt down on her knees in front of a punching bag... and started to sob out of control.

As Catherine started to piece together what had happened to her on April 12th, Yui had recovered herself and was heading toward the same solution from the opposite angle. Yui struggled with the puzzle. Catherine Chandler was a corporate attorney. Marty Belmont was a pimp. They obviously moved in different social circles. Something was nagging at Yui's consciousness. But what was it?

Pulling up the Mayfair Escort Service, Yui saw that it said on the site, “Do you want someone attractive for your business trip to the Big Apple? Or to be the

sophisticated arm candy at your party?”

Suddenly, Yui's instincts hit her full force. Catherine Chandler was a wealthy woman. She had been going to a party. Maybe Marty Belmont mistook Catherine for

one of his girls in his stable. So, Yui thought, given that the pimp was planning to assault – and possibly kill – this girl, she might not be currently serving. So that ruled out the current models. It was probably likely that he had come up with an explanation for her disappearance.

Inspired, Yui started clicking on the five profiles that were “On Vacation.” It was on the third one that Yui saw the resemblance to Catherine Chandler. Looking at the

girl's profile, she saw that her stage name was “Candy.” Given that prostitutes work similar to undercover personnel, Candy's first name must begin with “C”... Then it hit Yui.

The boss owes us for this,” Tattoo had remarked. “Too bad Carol couldn't have kept her mouth shut after our first lesson.

She'll be dead soon.

Speed dialing Hermes, Yui waited as the phone rang once. Then twice. Then three times. “Patton Rare Books,” he said. “How may I...”

“Look, Hermes, I need you to use your contacts in NYPD and look for any assaults or violence against someone named Carol. I'm sending you an image from Mayfair's website. See if anyone in the records matches it.”

“Okay, boss,” he said in a mock respectful tone. “You DO realize I want to get paid for this?”

“Give me the information in an hour and you'll get $200. Not to mention I help HR give you a two-week vacation to Sparks, Nevada.”

There was dead silence as he processed the information. For a minute, Yui wondered if Hermes had hung up.

“Done,” Hermes said. “Working on it now. Give me a few moments. The Secretary will be pissed that he will have to wait for his report for all the agents we have in the Baltic states.”

“I'll put in a good word for you with him,” Yui retorted. “Now do it!”

Yui waited anxiously by the phone for one hour. Nothing happened. Then after two hours, Hermes's number came up on her smartphone. Yui answered.

“Yui, I've got good news... and bad news.”

“What's the good news?”

“There was a woman named Carol Stabler who reported an aggravated assault a few weeks ago,” Hermes began. “From the chatter I'm hearing through our SABLE

progam, Carol has agreed to cooperate with the District Attorney's office to put Marty Belmont away.”


“The address of the safe house where Carol is staying? SABLE traced a call to Marty Belmont's number and heard it mentioned in a conversation. He definitely knows.”

“Text me the address!” Yui shrieked. “My friend might be in danger!” Then she hung up.

After Hermes texted the address, Yui looked down at the parking lot. Someone was blocking her car! From what Yui could see with the open hood, the person had car trouble. Maybe he was waiting for a tow truck. With a sigh of frustration, she texted Adrian.

When Adrian replied he was on his way, Yui headed down to the ground floor. For her, each second was an eternity waiting for him to arrive.

  When Adrian eventually pulled up, Yui got in. Then as Adrian put the pedal to the metal in his Camaro, he turned and shared an anxious look with Yui.

Both of their mirrored expressions had the same thought: What if Vincent gets hurt by the criminals... or caught by the cops?

As Adrian neared their destination, he saw the police cars surrounding the townhouse. Pulling over into a nearby alley, Adrian and Yui watched the police and crime-scene investigators from a distance. After thirty minutes, Yui and Adrian saw morgue attendants take out four body bags.

Moving closer, Adrian and Yui listened to the crowd chatter away as the police did their job. Then Adrian saw a familiar face in the crowd.

“Yui,” Adrian whispered. “Keep an eye on me... if I tell you to run for it, do so. Leave me behind.”

Adrian came up to a reporter dressed in a white seersucker suit and yellow straw hat with a black ribbon.

“Arnie Goodwin?” Adrian said, feigning surprise. “Is that you?”

“Adrian,” Arnie said. “What brings you down here?”

“Just waiting for this traffic to clear,” Adrian said. “Any idea what's going on?”

“From what I gather, something interesting,” Arnie began. “Seems like a female got killed first, then these three other guys next.”

“Any idea who the female was?” Adrian said.

“She had brown hair.”

“Green eyes?”

“Nope, black. I saw her face before the cops threw me out.” Arnie's eyes narrowed. “What brings you out here?”

“Just wanting to meet a blind date from Facebook,” Adrian lied. “Looks like we'll have to arrange another time. You haven't heard anything else from the cops? Anything


“No, but from the way I saw those men that were killed, they look like they were

mauled by some big cat, probably a lion,” Arnie said, then reached into his pocket to unwrap a stick of gum. “Whoever did this was clever. They retreated via the basement, down into that rabbit warren of tunnels under the city.”

Inwardly, Adrian relaxed. Vincent – and Catherine – were probably retreating to

the safety of the Tunnels. But in killing those men, Vincent had now aroused the suspicions of the New York Police Department.

“What do you think this is, Arnie?”

“My best guess? I think this was a planned hit, but those killers didn't realize there was something illegal going on under the townhouse,” Arnie said. “Maybe in the basement; this might have been a stash house for drugs or endangered animals. All I do know is that the woman was killed first. Then these guys were mauled. Looks like City Hall is going to want some answers.”

“Nice talking to you, Arnie,” Adrian said. “I'd better move my car.”

As Adrian headed over to Yui and explained everything, both were breathing a collective sigh of relief. Vincent was safe... for now. However, the NYPD was not going to let this case go. If someone in the media even hinted that terrorists could be hiding

under the city... Adrian and Yui didn't want to imagine the feeding frenzy that would

commence as police, federal agents, and curiosity seekers flooded the tunnels. Sooner or later, someone would locate the Tunnel Community.

As Yui and Adrian saw the police cars leave the townhouse in Greenwich Village, a black sedan and two nondescript white vans, all with black windows, pulled up at the

curb where they were standing. The two vans opened their side doors, disgorging a total of eight men dressed in dark-colored or gray suits. All of them wore sunglasses.

“There are two ways to do this,” a man dressed in Ray-Bans said. “You can make it easy and come inside the van. Or we can do this the hard way.” Before Adrian could ask what that was, Ray-Ban and two other men pulled out Cobra taser guns. All three pressed a button on their stun guns, giving a warning crackle.

Yui immediately held up her hands and went inside. The men put her hands around her back and then zip-tied her wrists. Adrian, being a bit of a smart aleck, said, “Look, I'm sure this is all a mistake, guys. Yui's a bit of a police scanner fanatic. We're definitely innocent here. Certainly you can give us some slack?”

Ray-Ban replied, “We were ordered to bring you. Now, do you want to be conscious? Or not?”

“The only shock I want is reading my credit card bill after I lend it to my cousin, Jordan, after buying the stuff he needs to cosplay as the 10th Doctor,” Adrian quipped as he put his hands up. As he did, two men did the same thing to him as they did to Yui. Then, as the men led him into the van, Adrian felt a hood cover his head.

How original, Adrian thought. I hope these are Yui's people. I'd hate to find myself whisked to some foreign hellhole.

As soon as Adrian was put inside and forced to kneel on the floor, he tried to listen

to see if he could figure out where they were taking him. Granted, all he knew about

being abducted was from what he saw in TV and movies, but it might help him in the future.

As the van weaved through traffic, Adrian wondered if the sedan was leading this parade. Whoever this driver was, he was heading rapidly through traffic, sometimes making rapid left and right turns. Whenever the vans did stop, Adrian assumed it must have been at a traffic light.

Adrian tried to keep track of the turns and the noises that he heard, but it was too much for his mentally exhausted brain. At least Vincent was safe. Adrian assumed Catherine would keep Vincent's involvement in her rescue a secret. But what if these guys used something like a drug on him or Yui?

While Adrian tried not to mull on what interrogation methods Yui's employers were considering, the van finally stopped. The men lifted him as if he was a sack of onions, then frog-marched him down a brightly-lit corridor.

Eventually, they stopped somewhere and lifted the hood off Adrian. Adrian noticed he was in a white-walled isolation cell with two metal chairs and a table. Then both men closed the door.

Adrian had been in a room like this in a mental hospital. It was self-evident that his captors had audio and visual surveillance. He wondered if he should bang on the door and protest, but he knew that these guys were trying to play head games with him.

Instead, he just sat down and waited.

Adrian wished he had his smartphone, but he left it in his car. Given who he was dealing with, they probably would have confiscated it anyway.

It was a long time before a young woman dressed in a conservative blue suit entered the room.

“What were you doing with Yui Watanabe?” she asked in a tone that had a faint hint of a Boston accent.

“Look, there's been some mistake,” Adrian began. “I help Yui as a gofer. I go for energy drinks at the gym, pick up some bleach wipes...”

“Why did you go to that address?” The woman was determined to have an answer.

“Well,” Adrian, feigning a blank look, “Yui said it was important. She wanted to know if a friend was in trouble.”

“What kind of friend could that be?” the woman asked. “Yui did an unauthorized use of SABLE. We want to know why.”

“SABLE?” Adrian asked aloud. “What's that?” Then he thought to himself, Then IT does exist. They probably have been looking through my file.

“Don't play dumb,” the woman said. “You and Yui are both two sides of the same coin. Whereas Yui works for us...”

“Yeah, I know,” Adrian retorted. “I did my time for Uncle Sam as well. And as your fancy computers can tell you, I've been keeping my nose clean. I help Yui, not only

because of her...” Adrian did air quotes, “'second job,' but because she tries to help those in her neighborhood.” Adrian paused, then said, “So, if you want to know the truth, Yui was helping someone who probably heard some chatter about an abduction. He's homeless and doesn't trust the cops. Now, I don't ask Yui what she knows for two reasons. First, I'm a former professional who understands OPSEC, operational security. Second, I remain ignorant because if the cops ask questions... well, the law can't punish anyone for what they don't know, can they?”

The woman glared at Adrian, then headed outside, locking the door behind her. Adrian didn't know how long he waited, but the woman came back with two gray-suited men.

“We apologize for detaining you, Mr. Carter,” she said. “Ms. Watanabe confirmed your story as well. You can understand why we had to do this. Our agents will drop you off back at your car.”

“Of course,” Adrian said. “Nice to see you extending professional courtesy.”

“And we have had a small... chat with Ms. Watanabe as well,” the woman said. “You DO understand that we don't want curious eyes in the NYPD, not to mention City Hall, wondering why we're appearing at their crime scenes?”

“I assure you,” Adrian said, “I'll make sure to discourage Yui from being a vigilante. Nobody likes a Paul Kersey.”

“Thank you, Mr. Carter.”

As these three people escorted Adrian out of his cell, all of them headed to a waiting room where Yui was sitting alone. Then they all were escorted to a freight elevator that led up to a parking garage.

After getting into a nondescript dark blue van, the trip to Greenwich Village was uneventful. Adrian and Yui were dropped at his car, then the van drove away.

Yui lifted her right forefinger to her lips, the universal sign for silence. Then she began signing in American Sign Language: Thank God they hadn't drugged you. It would have been difficult for me to send my thoughts to you.

Adrian signed back: I should thank you for that, but now our lives are even more complicated. Do you think they'll start surveillance on you?
Yui pondered that, then signed: I don't think so, but we're going to have to send THEM a message to stay away from my building for three months. Hopefully, this will pass.

Adrian then signed back: And if it doesn't?

Yui only signed: Just take me home, Adrian.


Catherine Chandler sat in the restaurant, waiting for Tom Gunther. As she waited, she stared at the manila folder on the table.

Tom walked to his seat in a languid manner, wondering what this was about. After the waiter took their drink and food orders, Tom asked, “What's this about, Cathy? Have you reconsidered being my fiancee?”

“Not exactly,” Catherine said. “Did you ever wonder why I disappeared from Bistro Le Steak?”

“Well, I was a bit concerned...” Tom said, only to see Catherine's eyes harden. “Cathy, what happened to you was a senseless, unprovoked attack. It happens in a big city like this.”

“Unprovoked, yes,” Catherine said. “But it was not senseless. You see, the people who attacked me had mistaken me for someone else.”

Catherine opened the manila folder. One picture on the right was of Catherine Chandler before she had plastic surgery, her face scarred in the attack. The other on the left was of Carol Stabler, from her case file.

“The one on the left was the woman they wanted, Carol Stabler,” Catherine began. “She was a prostitute who worked for Mayfair Escort Service. She got cold feet because her pimp, Marty Belmont, was taping or filming his customers without their consent. Because she wouldn't go along, Mr. Belmont thought it was best to get rid of her because he feared she was going to the police.”

“But what does this have to do with you?” Tom Gunther replied, wondering where this was going.

“It took some digging, but I was able to persuade Carol Stabler to testify against Marty Belmont,” Catherine said. “But before I moved her to a safe house, she gave me a black book with a list of her clients. There was one number that showed up repeatedly in there with large amounts of money. 212-555-4793. Does that sound familiar to you, Tom?”

Tom's eyes widened. What to do? Then he said, “Catherine, Maxwell Carter is my majordomo. I can't keep track of all the things he does.”

“I knew you would say that, Tom,” Catherine said. Then she pulled out a tape recorder. “I think you will find this very interesting.”

Catherine hit PLAY.

Look, Ms. Chandler, an agitated male voice said, Tom wanted the support of the city council on his latest project. Councilman Watkins knew this would bring in needed revenue. Watkins put pressure on Tom to hire the girls, if only to bring the others into line.

How, Catherine's voice replied in a harsh tone, did you know Marty Belmont was trying to record his clients with tape recorders? Or get them on film without their consent?

All I know is that Watkins and Belmont were asshole buddies. Watkins wanted girls, Belmont was probably going to keep some incriminating information in case one of the council members wanted to vote against the project.

Catherine stopped the tape recorder. As Tom started to say something, Catherine held up her right hand. Then she said, “I don't know if you knew – or cared –  what Watkins was up to, Tom. And to paraphrase a former Secretary of State, at this point, it doesn't make a difference. You hired those girls, and didn't care they were trafficked, only to make a profit for yourself.”

As Tom let the information sink in, Catherine continued, “Although I should be screaming at you for being such a callous wretch, I should also thank you.”

Now Tom was confused. “For what, Cathy?”


Tom could feel the steel in her voice.

“When I was left for dead, I was rescued by someone. You would dislike him instantly, Tom, because he doesn't have your wealth, power, or status. Your high society would look down on him, because his appearance isn't considered handsome. But even as I was physically scarred, he treated me with compassion, even though I had nothing. He truly cared for me as a person, not as a means to an end.” Catherine paused. Then she handed Tom a small box.

Tom opened it, seeing the ring he had given Catherine at their engagement.

“I'm breaking the engagement, Tom, because he is more of a man than you will ever be in this lifetime,” Catherine said. “He and I can truly be honest with each other. Even if you had your PR team writing love poetry day and night to me, that would be a teardrop compared to the depth of his devotion.”

“Cathy, don't do this,” Tom pleaded. “I want you back.”

“But the Cathy you want, Tom, was a shallow, selfish girl,” Catherine retorted. “And after discovering this about you, she is gone for good.”

Catherine stood up. “This is goodbye, Tom. I hope you find someone who will love you unconditionally, but given your cavalier attitude toward women, you'll be like John Edwards. True love is being with the person even when they can offer nothing.”

Dropping $200 on the table, Catherine said, “Here's money to pay for this evening, Tom. It's the only thing you ever truly love.”

As Catherine stormed out of the restaurant while Tom cried out for her, she felt the Bond between her and Vincent. Vincent was now glad she had chosen. How had she existed without this?

And deep down, she knew that this was truly being home.