by Linda Mooney

Originally appeared in Castles in the Air 2 - Promises to Keep


Joe Maxwell took another good look at the top of his desk before rolling his eyes and admitting defeat. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the blotter beneath the twin towers of files and legal pads; but he knew it was there...somewhere. He’d always imagined that if he ever got down to the bottom stack of correspondence it would be like discovering a great archaeological treasure of mummified Christmas wrappings, post-it notes bearing the hieroglyphics from long-ago DA Moreno and God knows what else. Hopefully, the “what else” wouldn’t be alive and breathing. Glancing at his watch, he groaned at the lateness of the hour and got up, stretching and shaking the stiffness from his legs and back. He gathered his coat and flipped off the light switch before closing the door behind him.


Friday night in New York City was usually an ocean full of various fish swimming against each other on the streets and sidewalks. Tonight was a carbon copy and Joe battled his way to the curb to hail a cab. Fates smiled on him as one pulled up, barely missing his toes. As he climbed into the back seat, a familiar voice greeted him from behind the wheel.


”How’s it going, Joe? Late date?”


Joe spared a half grin. ”Yeah, with the law books. Jeez....” He tried to ease the cramp between his shoulder blades. “My chiropractor’s making a mint off me. Thanks for the pick-up Frank. Know anyplace I could go besides home? I’m bushed, but I really don’t wanna turn in just yet, and the old haunts don’t seem real appealing right now.” He watched the driver thread the cab through the traffic.


Well,” Frank said slowly, “news is Devin’s home for a few days. Ever meet him?”


The name rang a bell and Joe snorted. ”Oh, yeah. The good fraud. Isn’t he also Vincent’s brother?”


Frank nodded. “Actually, he’s Father’s real son, but he and Vincent grew up together. You remind me a lot of him. I think you two would hit it off together.”


Joe rubbed the back of his neck and remembered when he’d first met the man. Devin had been calling himself Jeff Radford at the time, an attorney from San Francisco with excellent credentials. In the midst of a tough case, Catherine had uncovered his deception and it was only later -- much later -- that Joe was told the entire story. Since then, he’d only seen the fellow one other time but didn’t have the chance to speak with him. Well, maybe now was the time to renew an old acquaintance.


“Okay. Sounds good to me.”


Frank smiled and expertly guided the cab down congested streets before pulling over to the curb. Joe looked out the window, they were at the Central Park drive-through near the trail that led to the drainage tunnel entrance. Joe shot the cabbie a questioning look and received a shrug of shoulders in reply.


“You had that look on your face.” Frank explained. “After twenty-odd years in the business, you get to know how to read your passengers’ faces, practically what they’re thinking - if they’re happy or sad. if they wanna talk or be left alone, if they’ve got other plans for you besides paying the fare...”


Joe laughed and handed the driver a ten before climbing out of the back seat. “You wouldn’t also happen to know a safe old-fashioned bar where a guy could get a decent beer would you?”


“Yeah sure. Two blocks down. Maloney’s.”


“Is he a Helper, like you?” Joe smiled when the cabbie nodded. “Might have known. Thanks.”


“Anytime,” Frank replied before screeching off into the night. Joe watched the little light on top of the taxi blink on as the vehicle disappeared from sight.


The night was brisk and Joe turned up the collar on his coat before hurrying into the tunnel. Habit forced his eyes to scan the area quickly, to make sure he wasn’t being observed, before ducking inside. He pulled open the wire grating to throw the lever and watched the massive iron door roll back. He decided to find his own way to the main hub rather than tap the pipes for a guide. As he followed the slight downward grade, Joe caught himself humming tunelessly, and realized he was no longer tired. In fact, he found he was anxious to get to know Catherine’s brother-in-law a lot better. He also had a hunch that he and Devin had much more in common than just what appeared on the surface


A murmur of voices led Maxwell to the entrance of Father’s chamber where several people were seated around the room, conversing over tea and cinnamon-smelling somethings. Vincent spotted him first and rose from his chair to greet him, inviting him into the room


“Joe! This is a pleasant surprise. Have you eaten?” Father called out. There’s gingerbread from the kitchen and Catherine’s made tea and coffee.”


Joe waved a hand. “I’ll turn away nothing William’s baked,” Joe said. He thanked Catherine when she gave him a cup of coffee, just the way he liked it, accompanied by a soft smile.


“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she asked, “I would have waited for you.”


“Spur of the moment; sorry.”


Vincent led him across the room to where Devin sat, knees crossed, in an old wing-backed chair. ”Do you remember my brother, Devin Wells?”


“Oh yes.” Joe chuckled holding out his hand. “How’s the law practice going?”


Devin set aside his plate, rose and shook Joe’s hand. “Wouldn’t know,” he quipped. “Been too busy practicing medicine to find out.”


“Devin!” Father barked, overhearing his son’s comment. But Devin turned roguish eyes on his parent, letting him know he was only teasing.


Joe studied the man’s face in the thirty seconds his attention had been turned away, noticing extra lines of strength. At some point, the prodigal son had added a few years of responsibility along with the extra pounds around his waistline. Mentally shrugging off his District Attorney persona, Joe found a comfortable chair and leaned back, prepared to enjoy the food and the company for the evening, or whatever was left of it. However, it was not meant to be, for less than an hour later, Vincent and Catherine excused themselves and retired for bed. Father was looking a little white around the eyes, and begged off soon after complaining that his hip was bothering him more than usual. As William began clearing away leftover food, the remainder of the group left for their separate chambers, leaving Devin and Joe alone.


Joe grinned over the rim of his coffee cup. “Here I come down because I’m not ready to go home yet, and I end up driving everybody out.”


Devin laughed, scratching the side of his chin. The simple act brought attention to the deep scars on the side of his face and Joe remembered Catherine telling him how they got there. “Night’s still young. Want to go out for a drink?”


“Now that sounds great. Any place in particular?”


New York’s still pretty new to me,” Devin said, throwing up his hands. “I was hoping you’d play tour guide.”


“I just heard of a place I’ve never tried before. Are you game?”


Devin laughed. “Lead on, McDuff.”



The two men ascended to the park where the lamps were haloed in mists. Joe turned up the collar of his coat once more. “Looks like it’s gonna get cold tonight.”


Devin nodded in agreement, then asked, ”So, where’s this place you want to try?”


Joe pointed to a trail leading out of the park. “About three blocks from here, if my information is correct. It’s a bar, a Helper named Maloney runs the place.”


“Fine,” Devin said, shoving his hands inside the pockets of his jacket. “But let’s get a move-on, before we freeze to death.”


They started walking at a brisk pace, braced against the cold, eyes and ears alert for possible trouble, they cut through the dark in record time. Fifteen minutes later, they hustled through the stained glass door at Maloneys into a warm and noisy room. Finding two vacant stools at the end of the bar, they ordered a couple of beers and settled back to blend in with the rest of the crowd. Maloney brought two longnecks with glasses; Joe poured his while Devin swigged straight from the bottle.


“Uhh. God, that tastes good,” Devin sighed appreciatively. “The Old Man’s taste runs to Napoleon brandy, but nothing can beat a good, old-fashioned cold one.”


Joe nodded, wiping foam from his upper lip with a flick of his thumb. “So, tell me; how does it feel to be the prodigal?”


“Hey, Maloney! Toss some munchies this way!” Devin deftly caught the bowls shoved toward them and proceeded to toss back goldfish crackers. “I can live with it,” he finally admitted. “I come home and things are pretty good for a while. Then, when Father begins to start in on me again, I just pack up and go.” He shrugged, pausing for a moment. “I’m usually ready to leave by then, anyway.”


Joe could hear the edge of regret, but he didn’t push. Catherine had been very clear about the problems between father and son; that rift that would take as many years to heal as it took to create. Reaching for a pickled egg, he commented, “Well everybody’s got their own row to hoe, as my grandmother was fond of saying. Try imagining working alongside Catherine day in and day out.”


Devin shot him a surprised look and Joe snorted at his expression, “Don’t deny it, buddy-boy. You’re as thick-deep in love with her as I am.”


Devin hung his head and grinned. “Is it that obvious? Thought I had that pretty well under wraps.”


“I have to admit it took me a while.” Joe said, stretching on his stool, “I don’t believe Father suspects, but you don’t have Vincent fooled.”


Devin gave a short laugh and drained his beer “I haven’t fooled Fuzz since we were kids…that damned empathic power of his.”


Joe snickered, almost choking on a swallow. Fuzz?”


“Yeah. I used to call him that plus a few other various and sundry noms de plume, half of which are not repeatable in the presence of mixed company.”


Pushing his glass to one, side, Joe went to the bottle with his second beer. “You know my friend, I worked with the woman for nearly four years before I found out she was taken. Oh, I had my suspicions, but no hard evidence.”


“And you never tried to hit on her?” Devin teased.


“Ehh...not directly - no,” Joe mumbled. He made water ring patterns on the bar with the bottom of his bottle. “Let me tell you what a shock it was to finally meet Vincent face-to-face.” He laughed and corrected himself. “Nose to muzzle, I mean.”


Devin reached for a bowl of pretzels. “You have to admit, though, the big guy’s got a certain animal magnetism.”


That remark cracked Joe up and he caved in with laughter. ”I can’t believe you said that!” Devin ordered another round and watched Joe wipe tears from his eyes. “Do you realize,” Joe said, once he was able to catch his breath, “that we lost one of the few decent women in New York to a six-foot tomcat?”


Devin snorted and raised his beer. “A toast, Joe, my man.”


“Go for it,” Joe said, raising his bottle.


“To love. May Cupid’s little arrows miss my butt by a mile.”


“Amen,” Joe intoned, then tossed back the remainder of his drink. Pulling his wallet from inside his jacket pocket, he plopped a credit card down on the bar and motioned the bartender. “I’m trusting you to keep track -- ”


“And keep em coming,” Devin ordered.  Maloney smiled, nodded, and tucked the card in the pocket of his apron.


“So. tell me, Jeff, where’ve you been since I saw you last”


Devin propped his elbows on the bar and began to fill Joe in on his trip to Alaska, then Canada and across to Nova Scotia.  It was there that he had joined up with a carnival and met Charles the Dragon Man, whom Maxwell had never met. After freeing the poor wretch from his caged existence and bringing him Below to heal, they’d retreated to the Appalachians, living like nineteenth century woodsmen until Charles’ disease progressed and he became very ill. Charles spent the last two months of his life in a Virginia clinic specializing in neurological diseases. He had received compassionate care until he died of natural causes. Devin’s voice choked at the memory.


“Poor guy. I tried to fill a twenty-two year hole in fourteen months. I wish I could have

done more.”


“You got him away from that leeching brother of his,” Joe sympathized. “You gave him fourteen months that he never would have had if you hadn’t come along.” Devin nodded, head bowed. “And you made him happy,” Joe continued. “That’s really all any of us can do.”


“Guess so.”


“Know so.” Joe looked out across the slowly thinning crowd and reached for a handful of goldfish The pause lengthened, becoming an easy silence as the two men started on fresh drinks. Maxwell finally broke the lull. “Speaking of happy...”


“Hmmm?” Talking about the past along with several bottles of beer, had sent Devin’s mind a thousand miles away. He hadn’t realized that Joe was talking to him until after most of the question was lost. He turned to look at his companion. “What about being happy?”


“Is she happy?”


“You mean Catherine? I dunno. I suppose so.” He shrugged. “You tell me. You work with her.”


Joe scratched his head. “Yeah, I do, but what I mean is -- is Vincent really capable of making her -- you know, happy?”


“You want to know if he can boff her?” Devin asked bluntly and Maxwell blushed. Taking a long pull from his drink, Devin answered. “Let me tell you something. We used to play Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer when we were kids. We used to go skinny-dipping at the falls. He was about ten years old and I was damned jealous of him then.” Devin sighed. “Now he’s grown to be twice as tall and twice as big -- I’d assume everything else is in direct proportion.”


This time Joe did cough as brew went down the wrong pipe. ”Jeez...!”


Devin smiled and patted him on the back. “You gonna be all right?”


Joe sputtered, finally clearing his throat. He nodded weakly, wiping his eyes and blowing his nose on a paper napkin. “The things you come up with, Wells.”


Devin snorted. “I love the guy, don’t get me wrong. He’s had to put up with a lot of crap while he was growing up, and I gave him a large portion of it. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if Mother Nature didn’t create him just to thumb her nose at the rest of mankind.”


A few feet away, Maloney smiled to himself and counted the number of bottles multiplying under the bar. He figured that the two friends had had just about enough -- and besides, it was getting near to closing time anyway. Wiping the counter, he inched over to where the men sat snickering and politely suggested that they needed to think about wrapping things up. Devin agreed and got to his feet leaning over to give Maxwell a hand. Joe stood and noticed that the room suddenly had a fuzzy glow to it.


”I guess the beers hit us harder than we expected,” he mumbled


Devin grunted and turned back to Maloney. ”Say; mind if we take a shortcut?”


The barkeep answered with a wave of his hand in the direction the cellar door. Devin paid the tab, then he and Joe carefully tripped down the wooden stairs. After several minutes, Devin found the hidden door which led to the tunnels. “Best go back to my chamber; you’d never make it home in your condition.”


“My condition?” Joe challenged, ”you’re not walking too straight yourself, you know.”


They meandered through the corridors, passing and greeting Blake, who was on sentry duty, with a wave of the hand.


“Say,” Joe spoke up, ”do you know the words to You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling?”


“Righteous Brothers -- Top Gun -- right?”


A bit unsteady and definitely off-key, Joe began to sing. “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your liiiips!”


“There’s no tenderness anymore in your fingertips.” Devin chimed in, a bit more in tune but certainly not any less loud.


“You’re trying hard not to show it, bay-bee..!”


Vincent opened his eyes and wondered what had awakened him. Lying still, he caught the faint sounds of…singing? He eased himself away from Catherine’s warmth and out from under the quilts. Pulling on a pair of pants and his boots, he grabbed his cloak and went to investigate.


“…whoa, that lovin’ feelin’! You’ve lost that LOVIN’ feelin’-- now it’s gone, gone, gone…whoa, whoa, whoa...dum-dum dum-dum, dum-dum-dum...”


Vincent winced as the cause of the caterwauling slowly made its way around the bend of the tunnels. Devin and Joe, arms linked around shoulders, heads together, tried to harmonize and were failing miserably. They came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Vincent’s imposing figure -- arms crossed -- standing in the middle of the corridor. Vincent eyed them from top to bottom before commenting.


“I trust, gentlemen, that you have a reasonable explanation for imitating a fog horn this early in the morning?”


Joe snickered as Devin came to their defense. “We’re not hurting anyone, Peach-face. Keep your knickers on.” Joe snorted with that remark and Devin laughed at Vincent’s pained expression.


G’night, Fuzz,” Joe giggled and turned back to his comrade-in-arms. “Where’s the bathroom in this place?”


”Vincent?” Catherine’s voice came faintly from inside the chamber and Vincent ducked through the doorway to reassure her. Stepping once more into the main tunnel, he saw that the two cavaliers had disappeared. Concern for their safety overrode his irritation and he went in search of them. It was just a brief ways down the tunnel, not far from his own chamber, that Vincent heard sounds of heavy snoring coming from the room Devin used on his infrequent trips home.


Peeking inside, he saw where the two men had collapsed in the middle of the double bed, still fully dressed. Shaking his head, Vincent returned to his own bed, knowing that when the two friends finally regained consciousness later in the day, they would have little recollection of how they ended up Below. And their ensuing hangovers would more than adequately suffice as Vincent’s revenge.


The End