"A World to Believe In" by Judith Nolan

Second Part

(Story Index Page)





‘I took her hand in mine,

And we went out of the ruined place.

And, as the morning mists had risen long ago

When I first left the forge,

So the evening mists were rising now,

And in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me,

I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’


                                                                                           Charles Dickens



“I haven’t lost the use of my legs, you know,” Catherine observed with a loving smile, as Vincent carried her through the candlelit quiet. “I will not break if you put me down.” Despite her protests, she fully enjoyed the sensation of being carried in her husband’s strong arms. It made her feel safe and very secure.


They had shared a simple evening meal in Shannon’s chamber. Now as they returned to their own chamber, most of the other tunnel folk were dining in the Long Gallery or going about their evening duties. A soothing quiet shrouded everything, underscored by the tapping on the pipes. Pascal was still hard at work. The dreaming silence exactly fitted Catherine’s drifting attention. 


“I do know that.” Vincent shifted her higher in his arms, bending to place a soft kiss on her parted lips. “But Father ordered you to rest as much as possible. And I am here to see that his orders are carried out to the letter.”


“Poor Father, I feel so sorry for him. Olivia told me about his trip up to see May.” Catherine shook her head, before resting her cheek gratefully against the solid warmth of her husband’s neck. “He’s only trying to reassert his authority down here because he found he had none up there. May is one very stubborn old lady.”


“Perhaps…” Vincent laughed softly. “But it is good advice. He wishes to invite May to our babies’ naming ceremony. And the idea seems to have grown organically into a combination with Summerfest and Mouse’s garden celebration. Everyone is invited.”


“Now that is a wonderful idea…” Catherine murmured sleepily. “We shall have to arrange it. We owe so much to May and her care of the girls from our world.”


“Yes…” Vincent nodded as they entered their chamber stealthily, and he lowered his voice to a whisper. “I doubt we could keep her away now. She is looking forward to revisiting her youth, and Father didn’t have the heart to dissuade her. He is going to fix it so she can come this time.”


Immediately Samantha rose from the homework Vincent had set her on American history. She had been seated at the table, taking her role of chief babysitter very seriously. She smiled, pressing a silencing finger to her lips, as she gathered her things and left the chamber on stealthy feet.


Vincent placed Catherine down on the bed, turning to pull off his boots and then stretching out beside her. “I would judge we have a few hours of sleep, before the twins awaken again,” he whispered against her ear, drawing up a comforter to cover them both. “I think we must make the most of it. Jacob asked if he could stay the night with Mary. I felt you could do with the extra rest.”


“Have I told you lately how much I love you, Mr. Wells?” Turning to settle her cheek on the broad expanse of his chest, Catherine flung one arm across his body drawing him against her. “At least we have the reassurance that we know when the twins are about to wake.”


She settled closer, finding his hand and threading her fingers through his. “You know, you are the best thing that ever happened to me…” she murmured drowsily, closing her eyes. “The very best thing. I just wish my father could be here to see us all now. I know he would be very pleased. He only ever wanted me to find love and be happy. Sometimes I feel he is hovering quite near to us, just watching and smiling…”


She raised her head to gaze regretfully at the silver-framed photograph of her father on the night-stand beside the bed before settling back again. “I miss him so much…” In the photo her father was younger and smiling in happier times.


“Then know he is close by. I have sensed him as well. With love anything is possible…” Vincent kissed her forehead, listening to her breathing as it deepened and lengthened. “I love you, Mrs. Wells. Sleep now.” He drew her closer still, carrying her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to each finger in turn. Wrapping his arms around her, he, too, closed his eyes and drifted away...


It seemed only moments later the sudden staccato chatter of the pipes jerked him awake again. An intruder alert was being sounded, followed by a question from the nearest sentry, asking for identification. The answering code and password used was at least six months old. After listening for several more minutes, Vincent finally allowed his body to slowly relax again. Whoever the intruder was, they obviously belonged Below because they knew the language of the pipes, even if their password was outdated. The sentry on duty in that area could handle the rest.


He settled back again. Catherine rolled over in her sleep, murmuring softly. Vincent brought her close against him once more, her back now curved into his chest and abdomen. He rested his chin on the top of her head and breathed in her subtle perfume. Her warmth and beauty wrapped themselves around his senses, lulling him back to sleep on a deep sigh of contentment.


He knew if he were needed, he would be summoned. But for now there was only Catherine and their children, the intertwined strands of their ever deepening bond speaking only of much-needed rest and a deep sense of peace…   


 a small black rose


Tony Gilbert turned to look back the way he’d come. Nothing about this part of the tunnel system was as he remembered it. Even though it had been barely more than half a year since he’d last been home. He was well aware of Father’s driving need to constantly change the layout, close up the old and open new ways to the world Below. Keep it all as safe as he could from harm and unwanted discovery. He respected that, but it could be confusing to the uninitiated and the tardy visitor.


Tony also knew he was being watched. He could feel the unseen eyes studying his progress. “Or lack of it,” he remarked dryly, scratching his closely shaven head as he turned to look back the way he’d come.


Any moment now he expected to be confronted. He wondered if they would send Vincent, or was his good friend away far down below, exploring all the hidden places and secrets of the deepest caverns. It had been a long time since the two younger boys had gone with Devin to discover the Nameless River that ran so deep below the home tunnels. They had found an icy cold torrent of endless black water rushing heedlessly through the darkness that had chilled them to the bone.


A search party had been put together by the time they had worked their way back up to the tunnels again. Devin had taken a real tongue lashing over that escapade from Father for endangering the lives of the other two boys. Vincent had tried to stand up to the old man, tried to say it had all been his idea to go exploring, but Father hadn’t listened. He hadn’t spoken to Devin for days after that incident. It was another of the many emotional wedges that had been driven between them, finally forcing Devin to leave the tunnels for good.


“And now it looks like I’m lost again. I bet Father will have something to say about that when I finally get to see him…” Tony turned full circle once more, hands raised in defeat. “Okay, where are you guys?”


He’d stopped to tap his reply to the question posed about his identity after the intruder alert had been sounded. He’d kept the code simple and used the only password he could remember. He knew Father would have changed that as well by now. But he was unconcerned as he rounded the next bend. He knew he would have company soon enough and the guide he needed to find his way to the home tunnels. It felt good to be finally going home again after so many months away.


“Who…?” A familiar voice questioned as a tousled head suddenly popped out from a hidden sentry station. “Got password wrong. You know today’s one?”


“Sorry, Mouse. You’ve got me there.” Tony shrugged. “The last one I remember is Chili Dog. Guess that’s not much use to me now.”


“Very old one. Last year’s.” Mouse scowled. “Moved on now. So, who?”


“Mouse, it’s Tony. You do remember me surely?”


“Tony…? Okay, wait there.” Mouse withdrew his head, and there was a furiously whispered conversation. Mouse shrugged as he reappeared. “Tony who went away to London? That Tony? Or another Tony?”


“That Tony.” Tony shook his head on a short laugh. “You can’t gave forgotten me that quickly, Mouse. I showed you all sorts of neat stuff Up Top.”


“Maybe yes, maybe no. Look different somehow. Lost weight. A lot. Too skinny now.” Mouse edged out of his hiding place followed closely by Jamie, crossbow at the ready, her eyes assessing and distrustful. “But I remember the singing.” Mouse clapped his hands over his ears. “Too much noise. Day and night, always making noise. Worse than Father’s talking at Mouse.”


“Sorry about that, Mouse. But a man’s gotta practice his art.” Tony grinned. “It is good to see you again, too. So, are we cool?”


“Could be, could be not.” Mouse shrugged. “Don’t know the password. Have to take you to Father. He decides if you stay or go.”


“Fair enough.” Tony tried hard to keep his voice neutral, his amusement in check. He watched Jamie with the crossbow. He figured she knew her way around the weapon by the way she was holding it. Now was not the time to make any wrong moves. “Lead the way, Mouse.”


“Okay good, okay fine. Jamie stay.” He waved a dismissing hand at the girl who scowled furiously at him before retreating slowly back into the hidden lookout.


“So, how are you, Mouse? Have you asked Jamie to be your girl yet?” Tony inquired, as Mouse led the way towards the home tunnels. “You do like her, I can see that. I think she’s sweet on you too.”


“Me…?” Mouse jumped and frowned. “Jamie is…Jamie.” His shoulders hunched and his chin sinking to his chest, he waved his hands in the air before they settled back into the large pockets of his coat. “Jamie is my friend. Good friend. The best.”


“Okay, Mouse.” Tony grasped his shoulder. “I get the picture. It’s cool.”

“Well, anyway, today’s password. Dutch Courage.” Mouse brightened. “But no need to remember it. Tomorrow’s will be different. Better ask Father. It’s his turn to pick.”


“And Vincent…?” Tony asked. “How is he? Still the same?”


“Vincent is Vincent.” Mouse bobbed his head. “Vincent and Catherine got more babies now, two of them. Girls. More noise.” He sighed. “Too much noise.”


“Good Lord…” Tony whistled through his teeth. “Well, well, things have certainly gone ahead around here. It seems I’ve been away too long. Last time I was here they only had Jacob. Seems like it’s way past time for a long family catch-up.”


Father looked up from his evening meal as Mouse clattered down the short flight of steps into his chamber. The tinker turned, beckoning at someone behind him. “Brought you the intruder. Says he’s Tony. Tony who went away to London months ago. Singing Tony. But he don’t look like that Tony.”


Tony entered, his mouth curved in a wry smile. Mouse pointed at him. “Father know?”


“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Mouse…” Father put aside the medical journal he was reading and rose from his chair. “Sometimes I wonder where your head is.” He held out his hands. “It’s good to see you home again, Tony. Though I must admit, you do look somewhat different. You’ve lost a great deal of weight for a start.”


“Sorry about that and the hair.” Tony laughed, running an apologetic hand over his head. “There were a lot of sacrifices I had to make for my latest role in a major movie. It called for me to be bald and half-starved looking since I was playing a stow-away on a dead ship lost in space. I figured Mouse wasn’t too sure about me. In the dark I could’ve been anyone.”


“Oh, yes, remember Tony now.” Mouse clapped his hands. “Took me Up Top. Went to see all his stuff at the Phantom theatre. Good stuff, all radio controlled and computers. Gave Mouse lots of ideas. Like this Tony.”


“Thank you, Mouse.” Father shook his head on a short laugh. “Perhaps you had better get back to your duties. I think Tony will be safe enough with me.”


“Oh, okay good, okay fine.”


As Mouse clattered out, Father indicated a chair at his table. “Please, sit down, Tony. Have you eaten? Can I get you anything?”


Tony held up his hand. “Thanks, but I’m fine. I grabbed something at Shuman’s before I came down. But please go on with yours before it gets cold.”


“None of us have forgotten the magic of our night at the Phantom,” Father remarked as he resumed eating. “It was a truly wonderful evening. The music, the atmosphere — everything was incredible. We can never thank you enough for sharing it all with us.”


“I am truly glad Elliot and I could organise it for you.” Tony smiled. “And that Vincent and Catherine got a romantic night out together. We should do more of it now that I’m back in town. I’m sure something could be arranged.”


“A good idea.” Father frowned. “But perhaps only for the young ones. It was too much excitement for me to do it all again at my age. So tell me, what of you?” He looked up from cutting his food. “Are you back in New York for good, or is this just another flying visit?”


“They’ve asked me back to Broadway this time to portray Raoul in Phantom. It’ll make for an interesting change of pace.” Tony put a hand to his shaven head. “I’ve been granted a month off to grow this back and put the weight back on. I figured William would like to help with that. So I thought, what better way to spend it than at home with the folks.” He shrugged. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t be here for Vincent and Catherine’s wedding. That must have been a very special night. But after Les Mis, the offer of a movie role in the UK was just too tempting. But at least I’ve made it home in time for Summerfest again. Last year’s was truly special. I’m sure I can talk Shannon into singing with me again.”


“Well, I know Angelo will be very happy to see you.” Father smiled. “He has not stopped talking about you ever since you gave us your brilliant performance at the last Summerfest in the Great Hall. He was so sure you could magic Mr. Lloyd-Webber out of thin air. He’s been waiting impatiently for you to return.”


“Oh, I’ve already told Andrew all about him,” Tony replied. “He’s keen to see what Angelo can do when he’s ready for the world Above. Just need to fine-tune a few arrangements and make sure the lad is ready for the outside world.”


“Excellent. Then you must tell him so. But leave that until the morning. You should go and rest. I know everyone will want to talk to you tomorrow. Summerfest is going to be an event this year. I am glad you have come home in time for it.”


“Well, I’m not that tired. I think I could find the time for a little chess…” Tony watched Father speculatively. “Or are you out of practice?”


“I’m sure I still know enough to beat you.” Father pushed his plate aside eagerly. “Care to make it the best of five? The night is still young…”


 a small black rose


Securely settled on his father’s hip, Jacob clung to Vincent’s vest as he ducked through the cavern’s small opening into the echoing darkness beyond. Complete trust in his father’s excellent abilities to find new treats and exciting adventures made the boy wriggle with anticipation, but he had been told to be silent, so silent he would be. He leaned his cheek against Vincent’s, his blue eyes shining with excitement as the pair peered into the darkness, both blessed with enhanced eyesight well beyond the normal range. Still Jacob could see nothing of interest. Frustrated anticipation got the better of his limited self-control.


He turned to place his lips against Vincent’s ear. “Where are they…?” he whispered.


“Wait, you will see…” Vincent breathed, laying a cautioning finger across his son’s lips. “We have disturbed them. They just need time to settle again.”


“Oh, okay…” Jacob mumbled against the silencing finger.


He settled back as Vincent eased silently away to the right, leaving the narrow entrance to the chamber and its faint light for the deepest shadows. His father crouched down onto his haunches, cuddling his son’s small body into his lap. Again Jacob placed his cheek against Vincent’s, a long-familiar habit that made his father’s heart swell with love. Jacob called this action wanting to see what his daddy sees...


The boy’s quicker heartbeat pattered along beneath Vincent’s. His father’s inner awareness of the twins and Catherine added their own rhythms to a calming sense of time and place. It felt good to relax and allow the quiet to seep in. Far below them the tunnel world went about its business, most dwellers taking their evening meals or doing necessary chores. Jacob and his father had slipped away for some precious time of their own. Soon it would be bedtime for a young boy. But not just yet…


“There, do you see?” Vincent pointed into the gloom.


“I see…” Jacob wriggled in his excitement. “Ohhh, pretty…”


In the cavern’s inky blackness tiny lights began to wink on, one by one. Then thousands of miniature illuminations began to appear, glow-worms angling for their supper, complete with a sticky lure and a light to fish by. Soon the whole cavern was filled with a soft, unearthly white glow, illuminating its craggy walls, high ceiling and the still, black surface of a small seep-water pool against the far wall.


“Now watch…” Vincent clasped his son’s small hands between his own and clapped them together once. The sharp sound echoed around the cavern and immediately every one of the tiny fishing lights winked out again.


“Oh, where’d they go?” Jacob frowned in his disappointment.


“Just wait,” Vincent whispered.


The little boy froze, barely seeming to breathe as he waited. After a few moments of darkness a few lights winked on again. Then they were followed by more until the cavern was fully illuminated again. Jacob looked at his father for approval and Vincent nodded. Grinning with excitement Jacob clapped his hands together and everything went dark again. Giggling, he tumbled back into the warm security of his father’s welcoming embrace.


“Neat adventure.” He giggled. “Thanks, Dad.”


“You are most welcome. Uncle Devin used to bring me here when I was about your age.” Vincent kissed the top of his shaggy head. “Is it time for bed yet?”


“No, not just yet…” Jacob settled back into the familiar position with his cheek pressed against his father’s. “Just a couple more, please. Mummy won’t mind.”


“Just a couple more it is, then,” Vincent agreed as the pair settled in to wait for their unwitting quarry to light up once again.

a small black rose 

“Cathy Chandler, I’m so tired of being kept in the dark…” Edie sat staring at her computer screen. “You can’t go on treating me like a mushroom. She doesn’t call, she doesn’t write, anyone would think she’s ignoring me.” Edie pulled a discontented face as she began to tap the keyboard. “Catherine Chandler, let’s check you out…again.”


An hour later she whistled softy. “A baby boy and a man who didn’t hang around after the birth. But I like what you’ve done with the trust fund. Wish I had a rich old daddy.” She blew a discontented sigh. “Geeze, girlfriend, I thought I taught you how to pick ‘em. Did you finally go all out for one of those deep, mysterious types who’d rather hold your hand and gaze soulfully into your eyes? Tell you all the things you wanted to hear instead of taking good care of you and your baby? Where’d ya go wrong this time? I tried to warn you about that sort. Now let’s see what else I can find…”


She scrolled quickly through the rest of her files. But no matter how deep she dug, she could uncover no current address or even a phone number. Nothing that could give her any sort of clue as to her friend’s immediate whereabouts. It was a frustrating puzzle. Edie detested puzzles of any kind.


“And it looks like you’re still hanging out somewhere secret, some place you don’t want to tell me about. You just up and disappeared on me again…” She shook her head regretfully as she carefully erased all she had found from her computer. “One day soon you’re going to get in touch with your Auntie Edie again, and boy am I gonna give you a piece of my mind. You Up-Town girls think you’ve got it all figured out. Big mistake. You can trust me, you know. With whatever it is you got to hide. I can keep secrets.”


Then her own sense of guilt attacked her. She realised it had been too long since she’d visited her grandmother, an old lady who ran a small convenience store on the edge of Chinatown. Joe Maxwell and the Snapper case he’d run had kept the whole department extra busy, but now there was no excuse. Edie made a mental note to make time to go and see the old lady the very first weekend she had some free time.

It was well past time she went home again anyway. Maybe on the way she’d drop in at Joe’s office, dig around some and see what she could find out. Grill the man a little. What could it hurt, right?  

a small black rose


Joe slumped behind his desk. It was the end of the day at the finish of an impossible week and he was beyond dog-tired. He hurled a dart at the board, missing it completely, and burying the projectile deep in the door frame. He grimaced sourly, thinking that about summed up his entire life. Wide of the mark in all areas


Diana’s ongoing refusal to cease her investigations into Catherine’s new life was disturbing his ability to rest and even sleep these last few days since he’d discovered what she was up to in her apartment. The weekend loomed with no hope of his being able to make the woman see reason.


“I guess it’s time to call in the heavy troops.” Joe glared at his telephone. “Maybe Elliot can make the woman see sense. Heaven knows I’ve tried…”

He figured if he couldn’t warn her off, maybe Elliot could buy her off. Or come up with some new plan to divert Diana from her chosen course before she sunk them all.


Kidnapping her and transporting her somewhere far away out of the country was such an attractive plan, Joe dwelled for several entranced seconds on the idea. He only abandoned the daydream after deciding whoever was unlucky enough to end up with Diana would soon be sending her right back again. Besides, Azrael might object to having his girlfriend transported to places unknown. It was no use. They were in a bind, and they would just have to make the best of it. He lifted the receiver and began to dial…


 a small black rose


Diana sat and stared at the thick folder in her hand. It had been in a small box hidden among a larger pile of file containers hand-delivered to her from the local FBI office. Using every means at her disposal she’d cast her net as wide as she dared, hoping to pull in some new information about Gabriel’s dealings she had not previously uncovered. Her powerful clients were getting increasingly restless, and she needed to find a way to close the case and soon. Time was a luxury she didn’t have.


It was well past midnight before she finally reached the smaller box. Lifting it onto her desk, she could see immediately it was different from all the others. She did a quick check and found it wasn’t even on the list she’d signed for. She could only assume it had been added to the collection by mistake. Probably by some over-zealous file clerk keen to escape early for the weekend and deciding that sending over one more box than she requested would keep her quiet until Monday.


Scanning the box again she suddenly felt an odd prickling of anticipation. She shivered as something stirred — whispering — in the back of her mind. Was someone trying to tell her something…?


Given the lateness of the hour and her tired state of mind Diana had already half-decided not to bother with it, but the rising sense of premonition prompted her to lift the lid and look inside. What she saw made her heart race and her blood run cold.


Gabriel King…” Diana opened the folder on top of the pile within the box and then stood staring at it with disbelieving eyes. “Well, the man certainly thought highly of himself…” She lifted the file out carefully, handling it as if it would explode at any moment. “Some people just won’t lie down and admit they’re already dead and buried. This should be interesting...”


She placed the file in the middle of her desk and sat down to read it carefully. The more she read the wider her eyes became, and when she finally reached the end, her mouth was wide open with disbelief. If what the file said was true she had finally uncovered the mother of all mother-lodes. This could settle the Gabriel case once and for all. If only she could find a way to bring it all to a head. Get access to the unbelievable source mentioned in the file…


“But how?” she murmured, considering her options, which were few and far between right now. She’d ruffled too many official feathers recently. Even the mayor was backing away from any further involvement. “Maybe I could ask Joe… If he’s still talking to me, that is.” She blew a discontented sigh.


She’d just turned back to the beginning, searching for any clues she might have missed, when the sudden sound of impatient knocking on the door of her apartment made her start badly. She closed the file with a snap, getting to her feet, muttering her impatience.


“This had better be good…” She unlocked the door and kept the chain on as she opened it a crack to glare out into the hall. What met her frowning gaze made her want to smile with a sense of deep satisfaction, but she managed to keep her expression neutral. So she was finally getting somewhere…Joe’s impressive back-up had arrived on her doorstep looking decidedly put out and furiously angry…


“Good evening…” She undid the chain and stepped back, opening the door wider. “Well, well, Elliot Burch…how very convenient. Just the man I wanted to see.” She looked past Elliot’s shoulder to the looming shapes of his two large bodyguards. “This time you can leave your pit-bulls on the doorstep. I want to talk to you in private. Come on in. I have something here I know you’re really going to want to see…”


a small black rose 

Vincent paused, lifting his eyes from the book of Rilke poetry he had been reading. He thought he could hear music, someone playing the piano with effortless skill. He paused to listen, but the passing of a chattering subway train quickly drowned out the elusive sound. Perhaps it had only been someone’s radio.


He shrugged, turning his attention back to the book. He had left Catherine and their children sleeping in the sheltering dark of the early morning. Jacob had been tired but happy when they returned from their most recent adventure. He had chatted about it long into the night, until sleep finally claimed him.


Vincent smiled. He had risen early, sensing a pull — a need to walk the tunnels and corridors of his world, making sure everything was safe and secure. It was the time of day he most enjoyed, when few were about and he could walk alone.


Earlier he had discovered Father and Tony playing chess by the light of Father’s treasured, battery-powered tiffany lamp, neither man willing to admit defeat. Father looked up as Vincent entered. “It’s taken me all night, but I finally have him on the ropes. It’s five games all, and I’m winning this one.”


“Who says I’m not letting you win, old man.” Tony stretched languidly as he grinned at him, before rising from his chair to embrace Vincent. “I had one or two lessons from an old Russian chess master back in London.”


“Well, I hope he gave you your money’s worth.” Father scowled at him. “Because I don’t intend to be beaten this time. Not now…” He returned his frowning gaze to the board, chewing on his bottom lip as he considered his next move, extended his hand, paused, then changed his mind. He hunched his shoulders in concentration.


“Perhaps I’ll return in time to challenge the winner. If, finally, there is one.” Vincent smiled as he left them to their friendly feud.


The quiet chatter of the pipes, the greetings of the few tunnel dwellers who were already up and about attending to their chores, underscored the deep sense of peace that moved through Vincent’s entire being. He had rarely felt so restful. Even the memory of his recent unspoken promise to the moon’s serene white face could not disturb his present sense of calm and wellbeing.


He was passing through a poorly lit area of the tunnels, where few dared to venture, the open book his sole companion as he ambled along, having no particular destination in mind. He quoted softly the lines of the poem he had just read. ‘For whenever the hero stormed through the stations of love, each heartbeat intended for him lifted him up, beyond it; and, turning away, he stood there, at the end of all smiles, -- transfigured.’


“Transfigured…” He shook his head, repeating the rest of the lines softly once more before his attention was distracted again by the sound of a piano being played, somewhere beyond the wall beside him. He turned to frown at the thick barrier of old brick and crumbling mortar, reaching to press one hand against the wall’s rough surface. He leaned closer – Chopin, if he was not mistaken. He stood listening to the pure notes being skilfully played by an unknown hand. It didn’t sound like it was coming from a radio…


Voices from the tunnel behind him made him turn to look back. Kipper, Eric and Angelo, along with a group of their friends were coming towards him with skate boards tucked under their arms, obviously looking for some place to make their fun away from adult supervision before they were summoned back for their morning chores.


As the children greeted and surrounded Vincent, the music beyond the wall swelled and flowed seamlessly. Angelo leaned closer to press his ear to the brickwork, his attention also caught by the music. He smiled, reaching to tug at Vincent’s sleeve.


“Chopin?” Vincent questioned. “Someone is playing it?”


“Yes…” Angelo nodded with delight, his hands dancing through the air. “Much better than the radio. Piano Concerto Number One in E minor,” his fingers spelled out the words. “The playing is brilliant, a true artist. Beautiful…” He sighed, closing his eyes.


“We’ve actually seen a man,” Kipper said, pointing at the wall. “Up on the street and once in the upper subway tunnels. He looked like he was searching for something, like a door, maybe. Or some way down to the lower levels. But when he heard us coming, he went away again. Like he didn’t want us to see him. He was wearing a big black hat, and he had a scarf covering his face.”


Kipper looked away along the tunnel. “Mr. Rossini up at the grocery store says the guy bought an old brownstone on East 70th Street last month. He said he was going to do it up, but he’s done nothing since. Gets all his stuff delivered to the door and hardly ever goes out. That address is somewhere right above us now. I’ve heard him playing the piano before. Sounds pretty good.”


“Better than good.” Angelo’s hands flashed his scorn as he scowled at his friend. “A maestro. I wish I could play like that…” He shrugged. “Would love to meet him some day…”


“Well, if any of you see this man in the tunnels again, come and find me,” Vincent told the boys. “We must be sure he does not find his way into our world without our knowledge. We have no idea what he could want.”


“Okay, Vincent.” Kipper shrugged. “I’ll make sure we send a message.”


Vincent watched the children running onwards down the tunnel, laughing and chattering as they went. He leaned one shoulder against the wall and closed his eyes as Angelo had done. Beside him the haunting music flowed and crested for several more glorious minutes before finally dying away into silence and then there was only the clattering of a passing subway train to fill the void. Vincent sighed and straightened, placing one hand flat against the brickwork and wishing the unseen artist well. He would come here again to listen. He would also bring Catherine when she was stronger.


Then the dreaming silence was suddenly filled with a summons on the pipes, signalling a message for Vincent. Could he go immediately to the drainage tunnel entrance? He had a visitor who needed to speak with him urgently.


Abandoning his wanderings, Vincent tucked the book of poetry into one of the deep pockets in his great mantle. He turned and hurried back towards the surface, wondering who the visitor could be.


 a small black rose


“I’m not sure I even know where to begin…” Elliot passed a distracted hand around the back of his neck as he stood in the early morning shadows of the Central Park drainage entrance. “But I knew it couldn’t wait. I’ve been up all night thinking about it.” He glanced up at Vincent’s set expression. “You two have been through so much already. It seems grossly fair to burden you with this now, but I have no choice. This is just too big and unbelievable. You needed to know immediately.”


Vincent placed a hand on the other man’s shoulder, stilling his agitation. “You sent the message Below, asking me to meet you urgently. You also said it was something you wished to discuss privately with me, without Catherine’s presence or knowledge. Tell me, then. What is it?”


“Yes…” Elliot released his breath in a rushing sigh. He reached to grip Vincent’s hand with his own. “I wanted to tell you first.”


“Then do so, Elliot,” Vincent encouraged. “Tell me what you find so difficult to say.”


“Joe. It was Joe who sent me down this new road.” Elliot stepped away to take a short turn around the entrance before walking back again. “He was getting nowhere with trying to divert Diana’s attention from the mysteries she cannot solve. She wants to know what we know. Joe thought I might be able to buy her off if I offered her enough money. I went to see her tonight.”

“A novel approach that smacks of desperation,” Vincent commented drily. “If I know Ms. Bennett, I doubt it worked.”


“Yes, the whole idea was a total bust. She laughed at me.” Elliot shook his head. “She’s convinced Azrael, Joe, and I know more than we are willing to impart; which, of course, is the truth. But when Joe went to see her last week he discovered she’d begun another investigation — had new boards set up and everything. Joe tried to reason with her and got nowhere. So he thought if I went to see her, I might persuade her she’s wasting her time. She’s looking into everything, including what happened that night here at the carousel and you. You, most of all. She is aware that you saved her life that night.”


He frowned. “But last night…suddenly she’s all pleased to see me and invites me in. Then, right out of the blue, she offered up a sweetener. She said I must be sure and tell you. Didn’t believe me when I said I had no idea who she was talking about. She said from this moment on, we’re to stop treating her like a fool. The deal is, if Joe and I get you to tell her everything she wants to know, she’ll give you access to some new and incredible information that she’s just uncovered in her investigations. I’m not sure I even believe it myself.”


“What new information could she possibly have to offer?” Vincent spread his hands wide with frustration. “What does she think she knows that would encourage us to allow her access to our world before we are ready to admit her? Allow her into all our secrets. Does she imagine we are that gullible?”


“That’s what I said, and then she came right out with it. And that’s the incredible part of all this.” Elliot spread closed fists with impotent frustration. “If I hadn’t seen the information for myself I would never have believed her. But she swears it’s all true. And she can prove it. Said she found it by accident a few hours ago.”


“What, Elliot? What is it?” Vincent seized his shoulder as the other man was about to swing away for another agitated turn around the space before them.

“If you can believe what she says, it’s about Cathy’s dad, Charles Chandler.” Elliot’s grey eyes looked deep into his friend’s frowning gaze. “I don’t know. It seems utterly…incredible. But it appears he’s not dead after all. It was all a government cover-up…”


“Not dead…?” Vincent echoed in stunned confusion. “How can he be not dead? What does that statement even mean? If he is not dead then where has he been all this time? It doesn’t seem credible.” He forced down his sense of disbelief so he would not disturb Catherine through their shared connection. He knew he must discover the whole truth first.


“That’s all Diana would tell me.” Elliot’s mouth thinned with disgust. “She said she knows she owes you big time for that night at the carousel, but she wouldn’t divulge anything more about the case until she gets some answers. She was watching us all talking at the new gallery opening a couple of weeks ago and I swear she looked like she wanted to shoot us one at a time. I’ve never seen her look so angry. Not even down in the tunnels when Mouse brought her back up lumbered with all those paintings. And when she demanded to interview Shannon about her late husband’s death, I went along to make sure no one got too close. She didn’t like that either.”


“She is an excellent chess player,” Vincent commented drily. “She is bringing our queen into play earlier than we expected and now the next move must be ours. She has called our bluff, knowing that we are most vulnerable where Catherine is concerned.”


“Yes, and now she’s got us right where she wants us.” Elliot shook his head. “I managed to get hold of Azrael and left him manning the fort for as long as he can hold out. But I know he’s almost at the point of running for cover again down here in that garden of his. We need to do something and soon.”


“I don’t understand any of this.” Vincent’s brows pulled together. “But if Diana has that kind of information, I don’t think there is anything we can do but agree to her terms. To give Catherine back her father, I would risk everything possible. But only if you are satisfied her information is genuine. This is about Catherine after all.”


“Well, what she showed me was official looking enough. A whole stack of FBI files pertaining to witness protection, she said. Someone must have slipped up when they gave it to her. Or maybe there’s someone with a conscience who knows the truth and finally wanted to share. But it seems our late and unlamented Gabriel had a hand in this somewhere. Something about Charles getting caught up in some nasty corporate dealings with Gabriel’s dummy corporations and shell companies.  And then he had to go into hiding for his own safety when he tried to blow the whistle on it all. And I thought what that man did to me was bad enough.”


Elliot’s lips thinned with disgust. “The authorities had to make his death totally believable or Charles would’ve been hunted down and killed. Apparently the FBI smuggled him out of the hospital in the coffin we saw buried later, and put him on a private jet bound for L.A. He’s never been allowed back since that night. He’s been told it’s just too dangerous. That they’re not sure Gabriel’s empire is fully dead and gone, and they want more information from him. But that’s all bluff. They seem to think he has more to tell and he’s holding out on them. Some kind of insurance policy, I guess. That’s all Diana would allow me to see for now. But she was all for driving to L.A. to collect him, right then and there. I said that was out of the question. Leave it to me and Joe to deal with officially. But we’ve got to move on this before word gets out.” 


“Gabriel…” Vincent breathed the name on a note of intense disgust. “First Paracelsus rears his head again in our world, and now the spectre of Gabriel must haunt us once more. I have no idea what to do with the information. What am I to tell Catherine that will not cause her tremendous worry and concern? Especially if Diana is mistaken in any of this. I will not allow my wife to be upset by some nebulous information and speculation. I will need to see this definitive proof.”


“Diana seemed very sure of herself.” Elliot shrugged. “She was quite determined she was correct in all she’s saying. And I will admit I have never known her to be wrong. She did allow that if I was going to be any help at all, it would be to arrange a meeting between the two of you. Then she would divulge more of her source and give everything she has to Joe and the D.A.’s office. She’s sure he can make it possible for Cathy to be eventually reunited with her father. Those are her terms, take them or leave them.”


“She knows full well we will take them.” Vincent walked slowly to the tunnel entrance to stare out into the new dawn. “We have trusted her with the knowledge of Azrael’s world deep beyond ours and she has not betrayed that trust. And she has not tried to force her way back into our world and she does know the way. She is patient and methodical.” He looked back, shaking his head. “As I said, she’s an excellent chess player.”


His shoulders lifted and he sighed. “If it were only for me, I would say we should wait for more proof, but for Catherine’s sake there can be no question of that. It would mean everything to her to see her father again. To have him back in her life and meet his grandchildren. She’s believed he’s been dead these last few years. I have no idea what to say now.” His broad shoulders rose and fell.


“Then I will see Joe, and together we will arrange everything for you.” Elliot came to stand beside him, taking hold of Vincent’s arm. “We will organise this meeting far away from the tunnels, somewhere neutral. I have a few abandoned buildings to choose from. And we will all be there, Joe and Azrael and I. I’ve already put through a phone call telling Manning to pull his operatives out of the field. They cannot be involved in any of this now. We must trust Diana will not do anything stupid. If it is only a meeting with you that she wants, then that’s what she’ll get. Beyond that I will not allow her to intrude any further into your world until we’ve gained access to everything she knows about Cathy’s dad. Don’t worry, Vincent.”


“Thank you, Elliot.” Vincent gripped his hand. “But how can I not worry? I cannot tell Catherine any of this and any meeting with Diana will cause Father to worry. We knew this day must come, but not so soon. And until we have settled this matter and seen all the evidence, we cannot decide what to do for the best. Everything Charles Chandler knew about his daughter and her life has completely changed. And that night Catherine took me to see a man she had been told was dying. Even if it has been nothing but a cruel charade we still told him everything about us. If he was aware of us on any level beyond whatever state they had placed him in medically, he knows the truth. What can we tell him now if he is alive?”


“That Catherine is truly happy and doing fine. I’d tell him she’s loved and cared for. I think that is all he ever wanted for her. I guess the whole truth is all we have now.” Elliot shook his head. “So we must make the best of it with what we have. It will be all right, Vincent. I won’t let anything happen to you and those you love when I am there to prevent it. I will put Cleon onto finding out the truth. He’s the best at what he does.”


“Then go and tell Diana we agree to her terms. Inform me of the time and the place and I will be there. And she is to come unarmed. You must make that a stipulation. For Catherine’s sake, I pray this new information is correct. But it does seem impossible. And now I must go and tell Father…”


 a small black rose


“Alive…?” Father dragged down his reading glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger in agitation. Tony had finally retired to bed, triumphant after taking out the last chess game to beat his erstwhile opponent. Father’s previously jubilant mood had consequently soured.


“Alive…” He stared at Vincent seated across from him and dropped his hand. “How can he be alive? Catherine was told he had a stroke that he did not survive. Surely this new information is nothing more than a fishing expedition to force our hand. Make us tell that woman the truth she has worked so hard to uncover.”


“Elliot assured me it is not,” Vincent replied quietly, pressing his fingertips together before his lips. He spread his hands and shook his head. “He says he has seen the proof and it all appears to be authentic. I think Diana’s terms are quite reasonable, given the circumstances. A meeting is all she asks for.”


Reasonable!” Father slammed the flat of his hand down on the table, making the chess pieces jump. “Sweet heaven, if this is some sort of trap… Vincent, are you so sure we can trust her? We are allowing her to set the rules here.”


“We must, for Catherine’s sake.” Vincent leaned forward. “There can be no greater reason than that. But we will choose the meeting place.”


“Yes…” Father sighed gustily. “You are right, of course. But Vincent, you must be very careful. Do not trust her any more than you need to. She is forcing us into a corner for her own ends. She could have handed over the information to Elliot in good faith in return for your having saved her life from Gabriel’s killers. I would have thought better of her then. But you have no obligation to reveal yourself to her. Just answer her questions and get out of there as soon as you can. Let Azrael and the others take care of the rest.”


“So far she has shown no inclination to act on the knowledge she does have,” Vincent repeated what he had said to Elliot. “She has kept all our secrets, every one of them. I think it is time we trusted her, a little more. She has earned that right, at least.”


“Trusted who?” a soft voice questioned from the chamber entrance.


Vincent knew his wife was standing there even before she spoke. He glanced up at Catherine. He felt Father stiffen beside him and heard him clear his throat in warning.   


“It seems Diana Bennett is once more coming far too close to us and our secrets.” Vincent stood, inviting Catherine down into the chamber with his hand outstretched. “She is giving Joe and Elliot no peace and driving Azrael to distraction. We were discussing the timing of finally introducing her to our world before she finally digs her way down to us.”


“About time, I say.” Catherine nodded, sliding her arm around Vincent’s waist and reaching up to kiss his cheek. “We have trusted her so far with everything she has discovered by herself and she has not betrayed us, even though she has had the opportunity to do so. I say it is time we allowed her to know the truth. She has been down to Azrael’s world after all. She is almost halfway here.”


“Very well.” Vincent put both his arms around her, drawing her close against him and kissing the top of her head. “Have I told you lately how wise you are?”


“Not in so many words.” Catherine returned his embrace before drawing back to look up at him quizzically. “What is it, Vincent? What has made you look so worried? I can sense your unease. You can trust Diana, I’m sure of it. But there is something more, I can feel it. Something you’re not telling me.”


“I am only concerned about the depth of that trust we must explore now.” Vincent shook his head. He would not lie to Catherine, but nor would he share the knowledge that could potentially be nothing more than a clever ruse. He would not upset her at this time and give her the slimmest cause to hope where there very well could be none. It was his burden to bear alone for now.


“Joe, Azrael, and Elliot are all going to be at this meeting,” Father put in, his eyes filled with concern. “Vincent will not be alone. And Ms. Bennett will not be armed; that is a stipulation we must insist on.”


“And when is this meeting?” Catherine took Vincent’s arm.


“Elliot will set the time and place as soon as possible and then inform me. It will be somewhere safe and secluded far from here.” Vincent cupped her face. “Please do not worry. I will not let anyone harm what we have now.”


“I know that, Vincent.” Catherine leaned into his palm. “And Father and I will wait until you get back. I’m sure Diana has guessed most of what you have to tell her anyway. She is a very astute woman.”


“I’m afraid that idea gives me little comfort,” Father remarked morosely, staring into the middle distance and fiddling with the chess pieces before him. “But it seems now we have been left with no choice.”


a small black rose 

“What is this place?” Diana looked around her with deep suspicion, probing the darkness with her flashlight.  “I thought you were rich. So how come haven’t you paid the electricity bill?”


“This is a safe place.” Elliot stood watching her with narrowed eyes. “Far away from prying eyes and nosy neighbours. And we have all the light we need. We have no wish to draw attention to ourselves.”


“Well, it looks like a fire trap to me.” Diana frowned into the shadowed depths of the cluttered old warehouse. “I can’t believe anyone would want to meet up in a mouldy old place like this in the middle of the night. So…since you’ve decided to call off Manning’s men, am I finally going to see Catherine Chandler’s mysterious lover? Or have you brought me here under false pretences?”


“You’ll meet him,” Joe growled from behind Elliot. “But first there are some rules that you will agree to, or the meeting’s off.”


“Then Cathy will not get to see her father again.” Diana frowned at him. “I have copies of everything right here. Joe gets it the moment I get what I want.” She tapped the large hold-all she carried slung over her shoulder. “I know you think I’m running my own agenda here, but I just want to know, guys. Let me in. Tell me all the things you keep whispering about. You must know I can be trusted by now, surely. I haven’t told anyone of what I know already.”


“If only it were that easy.” Azrael moved to her side, taking her free hand and holding it tightly. “There is so much to learn. So much that you might not believe even the half of it. We must be sure you understand the scope of the secret you are asking us to share. This is only the first step.”


“Aw, come on, guys…” Diana threw up her hands in disgust. “I saw where you lived, Azrael, and I coped with that just fine. I don’t scare easy.” She jerked a thumb at Elliot and Joe. “I met up with these two halfway to the centre of the earth, and they looked like they were coping just fine, too. Like they’d done it before. I get it that there are other places, other worlds, down there. I just want to know what you know. Share and share alike — quid pro quo and all that. Now where is he?”


“I am right here. Good evening, Ms. Bennett.”


Diana swung around sharply to look behind her. She did not know what she was expecting, but the man who stood in the deepest shadows of the warehouse’s cluttered recesses she had not imagined. For a start he was far bigger than she had ever visualised, mysteriously hooded, and dressed in an odd assortment of clothing that surely belonged in another century far removed from this one. He’s dressed just like the Mouse boy. More fairy tales…


But his voice… An odd tremor passed right through Diana, leaving her confused and on edge, a disconcerting feeling she didn’t like. She frowned, taking a halting step towards him, trying to see him better in the gloom beyond the flashlight. “I want to see you…”


“That’s far enough.” Azrael’s hand settled warningly on her arm — when she would have raised the flashlight to see her quarry better — and he did not release her. “You can ask what you need to know from here.”


“That wasn’t part of the deal.” Diana frowned up at him, as Joe and Elliot moved up on either side, virtually surrounding her. “I want to know everything. Why can’t I see him properly? What do you have to hide that you won’t step into the light?”


“You demanded to meet me, Diana,” Vincent replied quietly. “For Catherine’s sake, I agreed to that only. You will come no closer.”


“Oh, you’re good,” Diana acknowledged drily. “Yes, a fine legal point. Fair enough, I guess I have no choice for now. I do owe you one concession for saving Joe and me that night back at the carousel. But you will answer all my questions or the deal’s off.”


Vincent nodded. “I will answer your questions as far as I am able to do so. But some of our secrets are not mine alone. You must understand that.”


“Fine, I can live with that. Relax, boys.” Diana glanced at each of her watchful guardians in turn. “Take a load off and chill. Vincent and I are just going to talk.”  


“How do you…?” Joe gasped.


“And you thought I didn’t know his name.” Diana grinned at Joe as she indicated Vincent with a sweep of her hand. “I heard you, that day back in your office when we were on the Snapper case. I walked in and you were talking to yourself. Bad habit, Maxwell.”


“Well, we’re here if you need us, Vincent.” Elliot eased back slowly, taking the other two men with him. They didn’t move very far away.


Diana cast them a disgusted look. She reached to pull an old packing crate forward and sat down. “I don’t know about you, Vincent, but I’m beyond tired of all this cloak and dagger stuff. I’ve come here tonight, ready to deal.”


“I must agree with you on that point.” In the shadows of his hood Vincent smiled. He had his doubts about this meeting, but he sensed it was going to be all right after all. He glanced at Diana’s frowning jailors and nodded. It was time to get down to the real business of the night.  

a small black rose


Part Three

Story Index