by Thomas Mc    



Authors Note: --   This is my take on how the young child Naomi, who appears in other stories including the 'Father’s Day' story by Lynette Combs, was originally rescued by Vincent and brought into the tunnel community.  It also sets some things in motion that will resurface in my 'Though Lovers Be Lost (Revised)' story.



Chapter 1 :   Rescue


It was late evening as Catherine and Vincent were walking in the park enjoying their view of the lights on the George Washington Bridge.  The night air was ripe with mystery as they talked about Kristopher Gentian's painting of the two of them together. The question of its existence had been haunting Catherine for several days. The more she investigated the circumstances surrounding the painting and its creator, the more impossible it all became. Catherine was shaking her head as she related the latest results of her investigation. “This morning I pulled the original report on Kristopher Gentian’s death and as near as I can tell, the description and pictures both match the person I met.” She shrugged. “Either that was really a ghost we met, or Kristopher had an unknown identical twin brother. It’s getting harder to maintain my…”


The sound of screeching tires shattered the quiet and they both turned to see two cars come racing around a corner a few blocks away. Vincent melted back into the shadows as Catherine, after a quick glance in his direction, stepped over against a nearby tree. A tan station wagon followed by a large dark sedan raced down the empty street towards them. Catherine saw the muzzle flashes from the passenger window of the sedan as several shots rang out in quick succession. The station wagon swerved across the road to the left, hit the curb and bounced back towards the other side, clipping the front of the sedan. The dark sedan went out of control, jumped the curb and smashed head on into a tree about forty feet up the road from her position.  A moment later, the station wagon hit the curb again and was suddenly flipping through the air. Catherine spotted a bundle flying out of the shattered back window as Vincent came sprinting up from behind her. He made a prodigious running leap, caught the bundle in mid air and came down, landing in a tuck and roll, protecting the bundle he had just caught. The station wagon landed upside down and, with a screech of tearing metal, slid sideways into the tree where Catherine had been standing just moments earlier. In the instant before the wagon hit the ground, Catherine had caught just a glimpse of three people inside. Then she was diving away from the path of the doomed station wagon. It took a few seconds for Catherine to recover her wits from the shock of such a close call then she scrambled over to the mangled wagon. 


The smell of hot oil and antifreeze hit her as she tried to see inside the wagon. From what little she could see past the crushed and twisted roof, all three occupants appeared to be dead. Hard as she tried, it was impossible for her to reach any of them through the twisted wreckage. 


Getting up, she ran over to Vincent just as he carefully came back up to his feet. There in his arms was a small crying child wrapped in a blanket. The child had long pale blond hair, blue-grey eyes, and appeared to be around four or five years old. In the child’s face was a look of equal parts shock, pain and fear.


Vincent looked up at Catherine. “She is in a great deal of pain.” 


Catherine responded, “You had better get back out of sight. I have to check on the other car.”


Vincent held the child close and began talking to her in his most soothing tones as he moved over to the nearby entrance to the tunnels.


Catherine ran up the road and checked on the occupants of the sedan. The driver had smashed his head on the steering wheel. He was unconscious, both his legs appeared to be broken and his face was badly messed up, but he was still alive. The man on the passenger’s side had gone halfway through the front windshield and was completely trapped, with his arms pinned to his side. He was still conscious and cursing a blue streak as he was struggling to get free. Catherine checked him over as best as she could. He was bleeding but it didn’t appear too serious yet, however his struggling was making it worse.


“It’s no big deal to me, but you’re already losing blood,” Catherine warned him. “If you continued to struggle like that, you will only make matters a lot worse and end up bleeding to death before the police and paramedics can arrive. If you stay still and calm, you should be okay. Oh, I haven’t identified myself.” Her eyes got very cold as she continued. “I work for the New York District Attorney’s Office and I will be more than happy to use anything you say against you at your murder trial.”  She then listed his rights just to be sure correct procedure was followed. He shouted a few threats at her, which she carefully wrote down in her notebook. He finally quieted down once he realized the hopelessness of his situation.


At this point, a car approaching from the other direction stopped. Inside it were a man and a woman. The driver got out and was looking at the scene like he was trying to decide what to do. Then he called out, “Do you need help?”


Catherine called out to him, “Yes, my name is Catherine Chandler with the New York District Attorney’s Office.” She walked up to him and showed her identification. “I need to see some ID, please?” The man showed her his license. She wrote down his name and address, said, “Thank-you, sir,” and handed it back. “I need you to go to that building up the street and call the police.” She gave him one of her cards. “Give them my name and report a shoot-out and a fatal car crash with at least two seriously injured survivors.”


“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “What then?”


“Then you go on about whatever you were doing,” Catherine responded. “Someone from the police or the DA’s office will contact you later to get your statement.” She glanced over at the worried young woman. “Since you arrived on the scene well after the fact, I doubt that you will have any involvement beyond your statement.”


After they left, Catherine went back to check on the two men. They were both still alive, and the gunman had finally quit struggling. She searched the sedan and found several guns on the floor of the car but they were out of reach for the two men so she left them alone. Next she ran down to the tunnel entrance, where she found Vincent waiting for her.


The little girl had stopped crying. She looked like she couldn’t decide whether to start crying again, and there was even a hint of wonder as she stared up into Vincent’s face.


Vincent looked up at Catherine then back down at the little girl he was holding. “My name is Vincent. What is your name?” 


The little girl didn’t respond to his question. She just continued to look back and forth between Catherine and Vincent.  She looked like she would break into tears at any moment.


Catherine gently touched the girl’s shoulder. “My name is Catherine. Won’t you tell us your name?” she asked plaintively.


The girl still looked frightened, but she finally responded. “Naomi.”


Catherine patted the little girl’s shoulder to reassure her. “Don’t worry, Naomi.” She smiled at the child. “Vincent will protect you. No one would dare hurt you while you’re with him.” Catherine looked up at Vincent. “Vincent, you’d better get out of here before the police arrive.”


Suddenly Naomi looked around. “Where’s Mommy and Daddy?”


Catherine looked at Naomi’s solemn face then took Naomi’s hand and replied, “Don’t you worry about your family, honey.” The extent of the tragedy brought a lump to Catherine’s throat and threatened to overwhelm her but she fought to remain calm for Naomi’s sake. “I’ll do everything I can for them. For now, you just go with Vincent. He’ll take very good care of you.” Then Catherine looked up at Vincent. “Take her straight to Father and have him take care of her injuries.” Catherine nodded her head towards the two wrecked cars. “I’ll deal with the police and take care of this mess.”


Naomi looked like she could start crying again at any minute. “My arm and my leg hurt.”


Catherine asked, “How bad do they hurt, Naomi?”


Naomi winced in pain then replied. “My arm hurts some.” She looked from Vincent to Catherine then winced again, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “My leg hurts real bad.”


Vincent looked at Catherine, his expression uncertain. “Wouldn’t you rather take her to the hospital?”


Catherine shook her head. “No. This looked like a professional hit on an entire family. Until I know what really happened here and why, it will probably be best if you keep Naomi Below with you. That way I know she’ll be safe until I can sort this out.” She put her hand on Vincent’s arm. “Tomorrow I’ll see what I can find out about this at work. If anything urgent comes up, I’ll send you a message, otherwise I’ll meet you at the basement access of my building tomorrow night right after I get home and tell you what I found out.” She gave Naomi’s little hand a gentle squeeze and then she gave Vincent a partial hug.  “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” 


As Vincent headed down into the tunnels with Naomi, Catherine ran back up to keep an eye on the two survivors and wait for the police and paramedics to arrive.


~ o ~


After leaving Catherine, Vincent made his way down as quickly as he could without jarring Naomi’s leg too much. As he was running through the tunnels, Vincent’s empathic sense of Naomi had gotten stronger. He knew how much she was hurting so he kept talking to Naomi to keep her mind off her pain and to soothe her fears.


At one point, out of the blue, Naomi asked Vincent shyly, “Mister, are you a good monster or a bad monster?”


Vincent stopped running, startled by her question, and looked down at her wide-eyed, innocent face for a few seconds.  The way she had phrased her question had taken him completely off guard. Then he chuckled as he shook his head. “I guess I’m a good monster. I would never hurt little children, and I protect children from others who might try to harm them.” He paused a moment. “And you can call me Vincent.”


“Okay.” She apparently accepted his statement then another stab of pain shot up her leg, bringing tears to her eyes. “My leg hurts.” 


“I know it does,” Vincent replied. “While we’re stopped, let’s take a quick look at it.”


Vincent carefully set Naomi down on the tunnel floor. Using one claw, he cut open the leg of her pants and examined the injured leg. There was a large ugly-looking bruise but the skin was not broken. Vincent suspected that there may be a fracture but he couldn’t be sure. Turning around, Vincent banged out a quick urgent message on a nearby pipe, alerting Father of his impending arrival with a wounded child. Vincent turned and half smiled at Naomi. “It looks like you banged up your leg pretty good but I think it will be okay. I’m taking you to my father. He’s a doctor.”


Naomi looked up at Vincent, her eyes very solemn. “Is your father a monster, too?”


Vincent picked her up as he replied. “No. My father is normal, just like you.”




Vincent could sense that Naomi was slightly disappointed by his answer.


“I like your fur,” she stated as she stroked the fur on his neck. “It’s soft and cuddly like my teddy bear.” Then she put her arms around his neck and looked intently at his face as he took off running again. Several times, she whimpered in pain, despite Vincent’s attempt to not joggle her as he ran. Vincent kept talking to her, telling her that it wouldn’t be much longer.


Shortly after they passed the outer sentry, Naomi asked, “Why’d you bang on the pipe?”


Glancing down at her, Vincent replied, “I was sending a message to Father to let him know that we are coming.” 


“Oh,” Naomi stated simply then buried her head against Vincent’s chest.


~ o ~


Back on the surface, the police and rescue units had arrived. Catherine walked up to the police car. “Officer, I’m Catherine Chandler of the New York District Attorney’s Office and I’m the one who witnessed this.” She handed the police officer her card. “First, I need to tell you that there are several guns in the sedan. Both gunmen in the sedan are injured but still alive. I tried to be very careful not to disturb the scene.”


Another car pulled up. A plain-clothes detective got out and took over control of the crime scene. He took her card and her preliminary statement while a team of paramedics checked the occupants of the station wagon. Meanwhile, the other officers and rescue workers began the process of getting into the wrecked station wagon. Once they had cut their way in, it was quickly determined that the occupants of the wagon were all dead. By the time the first emergency team got over to the sedan, the driver had been loaded onto a stretcher and was being rolled over to the ambulance. The other man was still trapped in the windshield and had passed out but the firemen had almost finished removing the glass around him.


Catherine spoke again to the detective in charge. “I would appreciate it very much if you could get a copy of your preliminary report to my desk by this morning, Detective.” Catherine knew that her looks and her reputation helped her get things from people and she didn’t hesitate to use them when necessary to get what she wanted.


“I’ll do my best, Miss Chandler,” responded the detective.


Catherine replied, “That will be great. And thank you.”


Just then, the coroner’s wagon arrived. Catherine hung around for the next couple of hours to oversee all the activity and make sure all of the evidence was properly preserved. She kept a personal log of every piece of evidence as it was gathered, bagged and labeled. When the cars, bodies and evidence had all been taken away, the officer that had been the first to show up offered Catherine a ride home. It was very late and she was very tired, so she accepted his offer.


On the way, he asked her, “I just have to ask, how did you end up so far from your home?”


Catherine had been expecting this question and had a ready answer. She shrugged. “Woolgathering while jogging.”


The officer gave her an odd look then chuckled. “Done that once or twice myself.” He pulled over and stopped. “Here we are.”


She thanked him as she got out and he wished her a good night then with a wink complimented her jogging outfit. As the police car pulled away, she looked down at herself and mumbled, “Yea, Chandler, you always go jogging in your nice clothes.  Sweat suit must be at the cleaners.” She shook her head as she entered her building.


After she got to her apartment, Catherine suddenly succumbed to a violent case of the shakes. She had come within inches of being crushed against the tree by that station wagon. Exerting all her will, she slowly got herself under control. She didn’t want to disturb Vincent with foolish hysterics. To get her mind off her close call, Catherine wrote up as accurate an account of what she had witnessed as she could. The only thing she left out was any mention of Vincent or Naomi. Then she went back over it very carefully to be sure she included everything she wanted in and excluded everything she wanted left out. After double-checking her report and her evidence notes, she finally changed into her nightgown and went to bed. She thought about Vincent and fell asleep with a pleasant warm feeling.


~ o ~


Vincent carried Naomi into the infirmary where Jacob and Mary were already waiting. “Father, Mary, this is Naomi. She was injured in a very bad car accident next to the park.” As he set her down on the examining table, he gave her his usual half smile that wouldn’t show his teeth. “Naomi, this is Father and Mary. Father will fix up your leg.”


Vincent kept talking to Naomi in his soothing voice while Jacob examined her. He gave Naomi an injection to dull the pain then worked on her leg, placing it in a splint and wrapping it up. As he worked on her he explained what he was doing and why. Next, he treated and bandaged the various cuts, scrapes and bruises she had acquired in the crash. After he was finished, he patted Naomi on her head. “You’re going to have to stay off that leg for a while but otherwise you’re going to be fine.” 


Mary took over amusing Naomi while Vincent took Father aside to talk to him. “How is she?” Vincent asked.


“She has a broken tibia, but fortunately it’s a clean break and there was no displacement of the bone. The arm has a bad bruise but the bone isn’t broken. She has several minor scrapes and cuts but none of them are serious. That pain killer I gave her will help ease her anxiety a little bit and make her sleep tonight.” He paused a moment, looking back at Mary and Naomi.  “How did this happen?”


Vincent described the events surrounding Naomi’s rescue and the death of her family.


Jacob shook his head. “Sometimes I find it incredible that people can be so evil.” The look on his face reflected deep sorrow. “To lose her entire family like that… She seems to be holding up pretty well, considering what she’s been through.”  Then he looked at Vincent. “What do you intend to do about her?” 


“Catherine thought it would be safer for Naomi to stay Below with us, at least until she can find out who Naomi is and what exactly was going on with those people in the station wagon and the gunmen that were chasing them.” Vincent looked back at Naomi. “We do not know yet if she has any family left.”


Jacob thought for a minute. “I hate to admit it, but she’s probably right about that. Although, if Catherine finds other family members, it may be a little awkward getting Naomi back to them.” Jacob glanced over his shoulder towards Naomi then back at Vincent. “I want to keep an eye on those two big bruises. She should be okay but she needs to keep off that leg as much as possible.”


Vincent nodded his head. “I’ll make sure she stays off it.” He paused. “Tomorrow evening I’m to meet Catherine at her basement entrance so she can tell me what she found out. Then we will have a better idea what to do about her.”


Mary came over carrying Naomi. “Naomi’s staying the night with me.”


Jacob looked down at Naomi. “That sounds like a good idea to me.” He patted her head. “Tomorrow she can meet some of the other children and go to class with Vincent. Would you like that, Naomi?”


Naomi looked up at Jacob and nodded. “Uh-huh.”


Vincent half smiled at Naomi. “May I give you a lift to Mary’s chamber?”


“Okay,” Naomi replied drowsily. The painkiller was catching up with her.


Mary, Vincent and Naomi headed off to Mary’s chamber.


~ o ~


Vincent was just dozing off when he was awakened by a feeling of sudden panic. By the time he had reached his door, he could feel Catherine’s emotional state being brought under control then he felt chagrin coming from her. Whatever the problem had been, Catherine was no longer feeling threatened. After Vincent returned to his bed, he detected another very faint hint of panic. This time it wasn’t coming from Catherine but he couldn’t pinpoint the source; then he heard a child cry out.




Chapter 2 :   Complications



All around Naomi, people were running around and yelling. Her mother had tears running down her face as she took clothes out of the drawers by the handfuls and threw them into a suitcase. Her uncle Kyle was yelling to hurry up and her brother was complaining about how unfair it was. Then Naomi was bouncing around in the back of the car and crying for her teddy bear she had left behind. There were several loud noises then there was red everywhere and the whole world was whirling around her. She was falling and she cried out for her mother, then suddenly it was dark except for one candle. There was a strange woman holding her, rocking her and telling her it was all right. But Naomi couldn’t help herself, she just couldn’t stop crying.


Naomi heard Vincent’s mellow soothing voice coming from the darkness. “Naomi, what’s wrong? Are you all right?”


Just hearing that voice made her feel better and she was finally able to stop crying. “I miss Mommy.” She hiccupped.


“It was just a bad dream, dear,” Mary softly spoke to her. 


“We’re here with you.” Vincent’s voice floated soothingly from the doorway. “I’m here if you need me.”


Mary began to sing a sweet lullaby to Naomi as she rocked her. After a while, Naomi fell back to sleep, dreaming of being carried around by her favorite teddy bear, grown giant, and as she looked up, its face changed to a lion’s face that smiled reassuringly down at her. 


~ o ~


When Catherine got to work the next morning, she found that the detective had made copies of everybody’s initial reports and left them on her desk (bless him). Catherine made two additional sets of copies of those documents, along with her initial notes and her written statement from last night. One set of copies she locked in her briefcase. One set she put in her desk file drawer. The original set she took with her to Joe’s office.


Catherine told Joe her censored version of the previous night’s events. They started a case file with her handwritten statement, her original notes and the copies of all the reports the detective had left. As they discussed the events, Joe made some more notes. He also compiled a list of questions that he felt should be dealt with, and a list of action items. While they were talking about the potential case, one of the office workers brought in the coroner’s reports. The occupants of the station wagon were identified as Loretta Neil, Jerry Neil, and Kyle Rockford. Joe and Catherine went over those reports and he added a few more items to his notes and lists. After they finished going over it all, Joe put it all in the case folder. Catherine went in to the computer room and asked Edie to check out the IDs found on the victims and see if there were any other surviving family members then she made two copies of Joe’s notes and the coroner’s reports for her files. Finally, she returned the originals to the filing cabinets where they kept the active case files and returned to her desk. She already had plenty of other cases that she had to deal with and it would probably be a while before they got any more information on the car chase case.


Two hours later, three men in suits showed up and went straight into Moreno’s office. Ten minutes later, Joe was summoned, and twenty minutes after that he came back out looking mad enough to chew nails. He went over to the filing cabinets and took out the folder they had just started on the shootout last night then stomped back into Moreno’s office. Joe was in Moreno’s office less than a minute then the three men in the dark suits left, carrying the folder. From her vantage point at her desk, Catherine was not able to get a good look at the men. Shortly after that, Joe came out of Moreno’s office and stomped back to his own office.


After a few moments, Catherine got up and walked over to Joe’s office. She opened the door just in time to see a dart thunk into the target by the door with some serious force, and quickly backed out. “May I come in, Joe?”


Joe waved her in as he set the remaining darts on his desk. “Sure, Radcliffe, come on in.”


She came in and closed the door behind her. “What was all that about with the suits in Moreno’s office?”


Joe sat up straight in his chair. “The FBI showed up to take over the case. An agent named James McClendon was the one in charge. They demanded that we turn over to them all copies of the files on the incident. The lead agent said that they were stepping in and assuming jurisdiction over the case. He practically intimated that our office wasn’t competent enough to be trusted on this case. Moreno was not at all happy about it and I think he would have thrown them all three out of his office if he thought he could get away with it. As it was, after they left, he told me not to give them any more help than I had to and to keep him informed on everything that happens.” Then Joe looked at Catherine with a malicious grin. “I hope you kept copies of everything for yourself.”


“Of course, Joe, you know me.” She smiled back at him.


“I thought so.” He grinned back. He pulled a small stack of papers from his middle desk drawer  “Put this with them and keep them to yourself for now. I’m going to check with a friend of mine in the Washington FBI office. See if I can find out what’s really going on here.”


Catherine went to the copy center and made a second copy of what Joe had given her. Back at her desk, she put one copy in her briefcase and one copy in her desk drawer then she buried herself in her other cases. At lunch, she went to a deli down the street, and then she took a taxi out to the Bronx to interview a potential witness on one of her cases.


Since becoming involved with Vincent, Catherine had developed the habit of always checking for tails. Otherwise, she would never have noticed the two dark-suited men that had followed her from the office. On her way back, she stopped off at her apartment building. She took the copy of the files from her briefcase and hid it behind a loose brick just inside the tunnel entrance to her building. Afterwards, she went up to her apartment and changed her blouse. She had gotten a stain on the sleeve while at the deli.


When she got back, she went into Joe’s office to report on her interview. “It looks like Donavan will testify. He will come in tomorrow to give us his statement.”


Joe smiled. “That’s great, Radcliffe; I knew you could do it. I don’t know how you do it, but you always manage to come through with the witnesses.”


“Thanks, Joe.” Catherine grinned. “By the way, I think the FBI is having me tailed.”


Joe looked startled and sat up straight. “What was that?”


Catherine leaned on the edge of his desk. “Two suits in a dark sedan followed me to lunch and to my interview. Then they followed me back here to the office.”


Joe looked very unhappy. “I don’t like this. You don’t know for sure that they were FBI.”


Catherine was startled as she realized that Joe was right. “Now that you mention it, I’m not sure who they were. I just assumed . . .”


“I want you to stop at my office when you get ready to leave for the night,” Joe ordered.


“Surely that’s not necessary, Joe,” she argued. “I can take care of myself.”


“I don’t like this situation one little bit and, until I know who is following you, I want you protected.” Joe was very emphatic and the look on his face was very serious.


Catherine knew it was useless to argue when he was like this. “Okay, Joe,” she replied and went back to her desk.


On her desk was the report from Edie. It gave the standard reports on the three IDs Catherine had given her. At the bottom, Edie had written that there were no records of relatives for the three IDs, and in parentheses was written ‘NO RECORDS’ in bold letters. Catherine went to ask Edie to explain.


“It means just that. There are no records of any relatives . . . including parents.” Edie looked back at her, eyebrows raised, head cocked. “They apparently just sprang into existence from thin air.”


“Fake identities?” Catherine remarked.


“That would be my guess,” she replied. “Very professional . . . government professional . . . but done in a hurry. No time to fill in the background properly.”


~ o ~


When she first woke up the next morning, Naomi was afraid because she didn’t know where she was. As she looked around, she recognized the nice old lady that had put her to bed. Her name was Mary. 


Last night was all a blur. She remembered the frantic rush to load up the station wagon, leaving most of her toys behind, and the wild ride with the black car chasing them. Then there were the loud bangs and the crash. Naomi wrinkled her brow as her five-year-old mind was trying to wrap itself around what had happened. The next part was so strange, like a fairy tale or like one of her brother’s favorite movies - a big scary monster had caught her when she was thrown out of the car. The monster had been nice and had taken her to a magic underground kingdom where another nice man called Father had fixed up her leg, which was hurting right now. 


Mary spoke to her. “Good morning, Naomi. What do you say we get you dressed? You’ve got a big day today.”


Naomi replied, a little unsure, “Okay.” She winced as she moved. “My leg hurts.”


Mary handed Naomi a small cup that she had been holding. “I know, dear. Father told me to give you this when you woke up. It will make you feel better.”


The red liquid in the cup tasted funny but Mary insisted that she drink all of it.


Mary helped Naomi get the soft nightgown off and checked the splint on her leg. Naomi remembered that the man called Father had said the tibbi-something was broken but it was a ‘clean’ break. Naomi knew it was clean ‘cause mommy had given her a bath yesterday. Next, Mary checked the bandages on her arm and her side. Naomi hadn’t realized she was hurt on her side until Father had started treating it. Naomi was beginning to get cold when Mary started dressing her in soft well-patched clothes.


Mary spoke. “I’m putting you in several layers because it’s cool and damp down here.” She stopped and listened for a minute and Naomi noticed the sound of someone banging on metal pipes. “Vincent will be here soon to take you to breakfast.”


“Vincent?” That was the name of the monster. “He isn’t going to eat me, is he?” She was just a little bit scared thinking about some of the TV shows she had seen her brother watching.


Mary looked at her, startled, for several seconds, and then she started to laugh. “No, honey, Vincent is going to take you to the dining chamber so you can have breakfast.” She smiled at Naomi. “He could never hurt a sweet little thing like you.”


Just as Mary finished dressing her, Vincent called from outside the door, “It’s Vincent. May I come in?”


Mary responded, “Come on in, Vincent. We’re just about ready.”


Vincent walked in. He was just as big and scary as Naomi remembered. Then he spoke. “Good morning, Naomi. Good morning, Mary.” His voice was so sweet and mellow that any fear of him melted away.


“Morning . . . Vincent.” She remembered him telling her to call him Vincent. She liked that name.


“Would you like to go get some breakfast?” he asked. A smile flashed momentarily across his face and exposed four very long, very sharp, and very scary fangs. She was reminded again of some of the movies her brother liked to watch, but the warmth in his deep blue eyes made her feel safe and unafraid.


“I’m hungry,” she replied, as she realized that she was very hungry.


Vincent reached down and picked her up. “Then let’s go get some breakfast.” He turned and headed out the doorway.  “You coming, Mary?” he asked over his shoulder.


Mary called out from behind them, “I’m right behind you. ‘Lead on, MacDuff’.”


Naomi looked up at Vincent in surprise. “I thought you were Vincent.”


Vincent laughed. “I am. Mary was just quoting a line from a play by Shakespeare.”


Naomi was confused. “Who’s Shakier?”


Vincent replied, “William Shakespeare is a man that wrote several stories many years ago.”


“Oh.” Her response was tinged with doubt.


Vincent could hear Mary softly snickering behind him. They soon reached a large chamber with several long tables in it.  Vincent set Naomi down at a table with several young children. Then he sat down next to her. Mary also came to sit with the children. Soon a very large red haired, smiling man came up.


“Good morning, Vincent, Mary. And who is this pretty young girl with you?” inquired the large man.


Vincent replied, “William, I would like to introduce you to Naomi. She is going to be staying with us for a little while.”


William smiled at Naomi. “Good morning, Naomi. How do you like your eggs cooked?”


Vincent looked up in surprise. “We have eggs this morning?” 


William nodded with a smile. “Special gift from a helper Above.”


Naomi looked up at him timidly. “Mommy makes ‘em scameld with cheese and, uh . . . mush . . . mush . . . rooms.”


William smiled. “An excellent choice! I’ll whip it up for you.”


Vincent spoke up. “That sounds good, I’d like that, too.”


Mary piped in,  “Same for me, William.”


The other children at the table started talking to Naomi. They introduced themselves and asked her about herself. They were all very nice to her, and by the time the eggs arrived Naomi was talking to them like they were all old friends. Geoffrey reminded her a lot of her older brother.


Conversation lagged a bit as they dived into their breakfasts. Naomi thought the eggs were just as good as her mother’s. 


~ o ~


After the children were all through eating, Vincent picked up Naomi and headed out of the dining hall with several of the small children following behind. He led them into a room that had hundreds of books piled on every inch of free surface.  He set Naomi down on a footstool and sat down in the large chair next to her. The rest of the children who had followed them gathered around and sat on whatever surfaces they could find.


For the next few hours, Vincent read stories to the children, and he would use the stories to teach them some of their numbers and letters. Naomi enjoyed listening to Vincent read the stories as much as she enjoyed watching a favorite TV show, especially since, with Vincent, she could ask him questions if she heard something that she didn’t understand and he would patiently explain it to her until she did understand. After each story, they would all talk about what had happened in the story and why and what it meant. She also found that learning letters and numbers from Vincent was fun because he was so patient and he talked to them in a way they could understand.


When lunchtime came around, Vincent told the children that class was over and to go get lunch. Then Vincent asked Naomi, “Would you like to have lunch with me?”


Naomi looked up at Vincent and nodded her head. “Uh-huh.”


Vincent smiled. “Then I guess we had better go.” With that, he picked her up and started toward the dining hall.


Naomi threw her arms around his neck. She felt so much safer than she had in a long while. When Vincent was carrying her, she felt like no one could harm her. In fact, she was becoming very attached to him. She also liked the feel of the fur around his neck and hands. His fur reminded her of the teddy bear she had left behind.


Soon they arrived in the dining hall, and Vincent set her down at the table with the rest of the children. While she was there, several adults came by to meet her. It was a little bit scary meeting all of these strangers, but Vincent was sitting next to her, and his hand resting on her shoulder took away her fear. Some of these new people turned out to be quite nice. She was delighted by the one called Mouse and she really liked Jamie.


As the various people of the community met Naomi, they all were taken in by her sweetness and vulnerability. By the end of lunch, nearly the whole community had taken Naomi into their hearts. Vincent found that he had developed a strong attachment to her, as well. He felt proud of how well Naomi was handling her new environment. Although he didn’t realize it, he had developed very strong paternal feelings towards her. 


Near the end of lunchtime, Jacob came over. “And how are you feeling today, Naomi?”


Naomi smiled timidly at him. “My leg hurts but I feel better.”


Jacob patted her head. “Well, why don’t you have Vincent bring you to the infirmary so we can check out your leg?” He took her hand. “I’ll see you in a little while.” He gave her hand a squeeze then he turned and left.


Naomi looked up at Vincent. “What’s a ‘firmary?”


Vincent smiled, the tips of his fangs just peeking out. “An infirmary is another name for a doctor’s office or an emergency room. It’s the place where the doctor treats people who are sick or hurt.”


Naomi gazed solemnly back as she processed the explanation. “Oh.”


When she had finally finished her second dessert, which William had insisted she needed to make her leg feel better, Vincent picked her up and then headed off to the infirmary chamber. 



Chapter 3 :   Discoveries



Father poked and prodded Naomi and examined her leg. Naomi complained that it was hurting again. Father nodded and told her that he understood and would see what he could do about that. Then he re-wrapped it.


“Well, Naomi, your leg is healing but you still need to stay off of it for a while yet.” He handed her four chewable pills from a new bottle he had just opened. “Here Naomi, eat these. They will make your leg hurt less.” Then Jacob turned to Vincent. “I sent Peter a message about Naomi this morning, and he sent these to me just before lunch. They will be much better for her than what I have been using.” He handed the bottle to Vincent. “Give her two pills about every six hours. If she needs it, you can give her up to four pills.” He turned to Naomi. “What do you have planned for the day?”


Vincent replied to Father’s query for her. “I thought I’d take Naomi around and show her some of the sights.” Vincent laid his hand on Naomi’s shoulder. “Then after dinner I was going to see if Mary could look after Naomi while I met Catherine to find out what she has discovered.”


Father almost smiled at Naomi. “You two have fun.” Then he leaned towards Naomi and spoke in a stage whisper. “And I expect you to keep Vincent out of trouble.” This made Naomi giggle as Vincent picked her up and left the room.


The first place Vincent took Naomi was the chamber where Rebecca made all of her candles. Naomi’s eyes lit up at the sight. Every free niche held a lit candle, making the whole room dance with light. The room was filled with racks and shelves of all colors and shapes of the beautiful candles. The air was filled with the scent of warm wax and all the herbs used to add aromas to the candles.


Rebecca looked up as she pulled a rack of new candles out of the pot. As she hung them out to cool and harden, she spoke.  “Hello, Vincent, Naomi.”


Naomi looked at her in surprise. “You know my name?”


Rebecca replied, “Of course, I do. Everybody down here has heard about the pretty little girl that Vincent snatched out of mid-air.” She smiled. “By the way, what is your favorite color?”


Naomi thought for a second. “Purple.”


Rebecca smiled. “And what is your favorite smell?”


Naomi’s brows furrowed as she concentrated for several seconds on her answer. “My Mommy always smelled like jassin.”  Naomi turned to Vincent. “I miss mommy,” she said plaintively.


“I know you do, Naomi,” Vincent replied gently.


Rebecca looked at Vincent then Naomi as she wiped a tear that had sprung to her own eye. Most of the tunnel inhabitants knew by now that Naomi had lost her family to a terrible car accident. “So . . . so you like the smell of jasmine?”


Naomi nodded her head. “Uh-huh.”


Rebecca grinned. “Would you like to help me make some candles, Naomi?”


This brought out a big grin and Naomi nodded her head again. “Uh-huh.”


For the next hour, Naomi and Vincent helped Rebecca make candles. Rebecca taught Naomi several tricks she used to color, shape, and scent the candles, and Naomi had a wonderful time. She even made three special candles herself. One for Vincent, one for Father, and one for Vincent’s Catherine. Naomi practically beamed when Rebecca and Vincent both praised her on how beautiful they were. After that batch had been set aside to cool and harden, Vincent picked up Naomi and they left the candle chamber.


The next stop was Mouse’s workshop, with its myriad objects and gadgets scattered around in a kind of ordered chaos.  Naomi was fascinated with all the neat things she saw there. She spent several minutes looking into a kaleidoscope that Mouse had built. She was totally charmed when Mouse let her give a snack to Arthur, the raccoon.


Next, Vincent took her to a place he called the Whispering Gallery. Every sound she made seemed to echo back and forth for several minutes. Then Vincent showed her how, if you were very quiet and moved around slowly, you could find spots where you could hear sounds from different parts of the world above.


Their next stop was Elizabeth’s painted tunnels. Naomi gazed at the wall murals in wide-eyed wonder. The first painting was of Father holding Vincent as a baby. Vincent told Naomi how Father had found him abandoned behind Saint Vincent’s Hospital and raised him as his own son. Each painting had a story to tell and, as they looked at them, Vincent would tell her the story behind the picture. They looked at the painting of the first Winterfest as he told her about that tradition. As they looked at the picture of Vincent and the carousel, he told her about his childhood adventures with his adopted brother Devin. As they looked at a picture of Vincent reading to a mummy, he told her about Catherine’s rescue in the park. The picture of a buried ship brought out a story of found treasure that was given to people in need. The picture of Catherine, Mouse and Winslow pushing a machine against a wall with Vincent and Father on the other side in the dark brought out the harrowing tale of the cave-in and how Catherine and Mouse led that rescue effort. 


At the far end, they came to Elizabeth, who had already sketched out Vincent’s rescue of Naomi. In the background, a station wagon was shown upside down in the air. In the foreground was the bundled Naomi high up, and next to that was Vincent just above the ground and reaching for the falling bundle. Naomi gazed at this preliminary drawing in amazement for several minutes while Elizabeth worked on it. Then Elizabeth got Naomi to help her fill in some of the green grass at the bottom of the picture. Finally, Vincent picked Naomi up and told her it was time to move on. As they walked away, Naomi stared back at that last drawing and Vincent felt a melancholy settle over her.


The final stop of the tour was the largest cavern she had ever seen. There was a lake that extended to the far side of the cavern where they could see a thirty-foot-high waterfall that poured into it. The walls were ablaze with glowing moss in every color of the rainbow. As Naomi and Vincent sat by the edge of the underground lake, they talked about all the things she had seen and the people she had met. Vincent asked her if she knew how to swim. When she said no, he told her that they would teach her how to swim so that she could come down here with the other children. The idea of playing in the lake with the other kids definitely perked her up. Finally, as dinnertime approached, Vincent again picked her up and headed back to the dining chamber. Naomi again thought about how much she liked being carried by Vincent because she felt safe when he held her. 


By the time they got back, the dining hall was already full and the food was being passed out. Naomi was very hungry and the food smelled so good. During dinner, it seemed like everyone came over to say hello to Naomi again. Naomi enjoyed all the attention, and the food was delicious.


During the meal, Vincent sensed a moment of worry from Catherine but it went away quickly. After dinner, Vincent placed Naomi in Mary’s care and left for his planned rendezvous with Catherine. 


Mary sat with Naomi for a while and they talked about what she had seen and done. Finally, as Naomi began to grow sleepy, Mary took her to a new larger chamber that had several beds in it. Mary told her that this was where many of the children slept and they had fixed up a bed especially for her. Mary took her to her bed, where Naomi found a purple candle that smelled of jasmine sitting on the little nightstand, and beside it was the kaleidoscope from Mouse’s chamber. As Mary put her to bed, she snuggled down under the covers. She felt warm, happy, and safe here. It had been a long time since she had felt this way. As she slowly dozed off, Naomi thought about the big gentle monster that she now considered her very own protector.  Her dreams were also filled with Vincent’s comforting presence.


Halfway to Catherine’s apartment building entrance, Vincent got a strong sense of alarm and broke into a run. By the time he got to her apartment building, the feeling had faded but there was still a faint undercurrent of anxiety.


~ o ~


Catherine stuck her head into Joe’s office. “I’m done for the day, Joe.”


Joe looked up. “Ah, Radcliffe, come in.” Then he picked up the phone and dialed. “Yes, this is Joe Maxwell. I need you to send over those officers I requested . . . That’s fine, thanks.” Then he hung up. “I’ve requested a police escort to be sure you make it home safe.”


“Are you sure that’s necessary, Joe?” Catherine asked.


“Yes, I am,” Joe replied. “This thing is a whole lot bigger than we thought. First, the people in the wagon were supposed to be in the witness protection program. They were all members of the family of a witness to a massive scandal in the city and possibly the state government. Anyway they think the corruption goes very high up the chain and very deep into the city power structure.” Joe looked grim. “The victims in the car were his wife, his brother, and his twelve-year-old son.” Joe eyed her closely. “The only other known immediate family member is his five-year-old daughter, but she has disappeared and everyone is going nuts over there trying to find out what happened to her.”


“What do they think happened to her? Could she be with another relative?” Catherine asked hopefully.


“That’s what has them stumped. There are no other living relatives. She should have been in that station wagon with the rest of the family. My friend said that this incident has stirred up a hornet’s nest over there at the Bureau. It means that there is a leak inside the FBI’s witness protection program.” Joe again looked at her intently. “My friend in the FBI actually told me that if I knew where the girl was, especially if she was somewhere safe, I should keep it to myself for now. At least until they can find and plug the leak within their own organization. Things are really getting serious if they don’t even trust their own people.” 


“What about the father?” Catherine asked.


“They’ve moved him, but after what happened last night, they are taking no chances. My friend says that they have told the witness that his daughter is alive and safe.” Again Joe watched her closely. “I just hope they’re right.”


Catherine returned his look. “I’m sure that she’s safe.” Then she switched subjects. “What about the gunmen?”


“The two men in the sedan turned out to be professional hit men.” Joe grimaced. “They aren’t talking, and they already have a very high-priced lawyer.” Then he smiled. “Fortunately, because of your statement and careful handling of the crime scene, even that high-priced lawyer couldn’t get them bail. The FBI is also putting their full weight behind this case. They don’t take it kindly when the family of a major witness gets bumped off. It’s bad for business.” 


Two police officers came in at this point. Joe glanced over at them then continued, “Unfortunately, because of your statement and careful handling of the crime scene, you could be a target. You are the prime witness in a major hit that is tied to a major government corruption case. That’s why I’ve arranged for you to have a police escort. Since that apartment building of yours has pretty good security and there is no way to enter or leave unobserved, you should be safe once you get home.”


Until now, Catherine had not considered the possibility of her becoming a target. The idea made her suddenly very nervous and she had to work to keep her emotions under control.


Joe turned his attention to the two officers. “Miss Chandler has become a witness in a very important case and there may be some people out to get her. Your job is to ensure that she gets home safely and to watch over her building ‘til you are relieved.”


“Joe, are you sure all this is really necessary?” She glanced at the two policemen.


“Yes, it is.” His eyes bored into hers. “Considering the seriousness of the situation, the only other option I have is protective custody. After what happened to that family, I’m half inclined to trust your building security over FBI custody.” He waved her out of his office. “Now go on home and, please, be careful.”


A bit reluctantly, Catherine followed the two officers out of the office and down to the waiting police car by the rear entrance. The two officers drove Catherine home and insisted on escorting her up to her apartment. When she opened the door, the first thing she noticed was the mess. Her entire apartment had been ransacked. The two officers rushed in ahead of her, guns drawn, and cautiously checked the entire apartment out for any intruders. Meanwhile, Catherine fought to suppress her panic at such a personal invasion, coming on top of being told that she was considered a possible target. The last thing she needed right now was to have Vincent come charging to her rescue while these policemen were here. 


One of the officers used Catherine’s phone to report in, while the other officer helped her check out the apartment for missing items. 


A half hour later, two detectives arrived to check over the scene. One of them was the same detective from the crash scene the previous night, and she thanked him for getting those reports to her. He grumbled, “It was a waste of time, since the FBI took the case away from us.”


She nodded her understanding as she told him, “I still appreciate your work, and don’t give up on it yet.” She tilted her head toward her trashed apartment. “It looks like you are still on the case. Just from a different angle.” She absentmindedly nudged a broken vase on the floor with her foot. “I would also appreciate a copy of this report when you’re finished.”


“I’ll get it to you, assuming the FBI doesn’t snatch it up, too, before I can get you a copy,” he replied a bit testily.


After an hour, the detectives announced that the job appeared to be very professional and no clues had been left behind.  After they left, the two officers stayed to help her straighten up. Once the apartment was more or less back in order, the two officers got ready to leave.


The first officer turned to Catherine at her door. “There don’t appear to be any intruders here now but one of us will be stationed outside your door tonight.”


“That’s not really necessary, officer.” Catherine was thinking fast. “This door is pretty sturdy, and I have a good dead bolt in it. I also have an alarm with a panic button if I need it. If you need to stand guard, the lobby is much more comfortable and the alarm sounds at the front desk.”


The first officer thought about it for a minute.  “All right, Miss Chandler, but if you see or hear anything unusual, you hit that panic button and we’ll get here as fast as we can.” He rested his hand on her shoulder. “You lock that dead bolt as soon as we leave. Okay?”


Catherine nodded. “I’ll do that, officer.” She smiled charmingly at the officer. “And thank-you for all that you’ve done for me. I may resent being babysat but I do appreciate your efforts on my behalf.”


The two officers left and she closed and locked the door. She waited twenty minutes then, after carefully checking outside her door, she went back out and down to the basement by way of the stairs, where she met Vincent.


After assuring Vincent that she was safe, Catherine told him everything that had happened and what she had learned about Naomi and her family. “Other than the father, who is currently unavailable, she has no other family,” Catherine was saying.  “How is she dealing with what happened to her?”


Vincent thought a moment. “That is hard to say. Most of the time she does just fine but occasionally I can sense feelings of sadness in her, and last night she woke up crying and badly shaken by a nightmare.” He paused as he thought about Naomi’s behavior. “I don’t think she really remembers the crash, or she is blocking it out.”


Catherine shook her head. “I just wish there was more we could do. I don’t envy the one that has to tell her that her family is gone.”


Vincent leaned back against the tunnel wall and looked downward. “Maybe by then she will have come to think of us as part of her family. Hopefully, it will help to soften the blow.”


Vincent leaned there a moment longer in silence then he looked up and proceeded to tell Catherine about his day with Naomi.


After a little more small talk, they separated. Catherine headed back up to her apartment and Vincent headed down to his chambers. Both were deeply wrapped up in their own thoughts as they went to bed that night.


Catherine found it difficult to fall asleep. She kept going over all the violence and tragedy that had surrounded Naomi.  Eventually she began thinking about what Vincent had told her about his day with Naomi and she smiled at the vision of Naomi being cared for by her own personal, friendly, guardian monster. She had cringed when Vincent had used that phrase but Vincent had merely smiled softly and she had seen no sign of the expected hurt in his eyes. She marveled at how easily he had accepted that term from that little girl and it made her think that maybe she was doing him as much good as he was doing for her. Finally, Catherine fell asleep.


~ o ~


As he prepared for bed, Vincent was disturbed by a feeling of unease. He checked his chamber then he checked the tunnel outside his chamber. He could find nothing wrong, but the feeling would not let up. After pacing his room for several minutes, he went out to check all the outer perimeter guard stations. Everything was quiet at the sentry posts but still the feeling would not let go.


Vincent went to the children’s chamber and looked in on Naomi. She was shifting restlessly in her sleep and twice she whimpered. Vincent went over and sat on the edge of her bed. He gently caressed her head and softly talked to her. She opened her eyes sleepily, smiled at him, and with a sigh fell back into a quiet sleep. 


Vincent left the children’s chamber and did one more circuit of the central tunnels. He could find nothing else wrong to account for his unease and he finally retired to his own room. He concentrated on his link with Catherine but she was sound asleep and there seemed to be no threat there. 


Finally, Vincent fell asleep. Several times during the night, Vincent was awakened by that same feeling of unease. When he tried to pin down the source of his restlessness, he was unable to identify any cause for it. 


~ o ~


Vincent woke up very early the next morning and found that he just couldn’t get back to sleep. As he lay there unable to relax, he began mulling over the events of the last two days, and the remarkable little girl, Naomi. He thought about the day he had spent with her and the sad story of her family. Then he thought about Catherine’s part in those events.


This brought his sense of her emotions through the bond to the forefront of his mind and, for a while, he lay there savoring the feel of her in his heart. He suspected by the tenor of her feelings that she had probably just gotten out of her shower and was dressing for her day. He glanced over at the large timekeeping candle and figured that she would be leaving her apartment for work in a few minutes. 


That brought him back to her involvement with Naomi and the corruption case. Vincent noticed that the vague unease had returned and he once again tried to fathom its cause.


Suddenly, Vincent was almost blinded by a flash of insight. He shot out of his bed and bolted out of his chamber like a bullet fired from a gun. His link with Catherine told him that she was in good spirits so far. As he raced toward her apartment building, his heart pounding with anxiety, all he could think about was that he hoped he wasn’t going to be too late. 





Chapter 4 :   Attacked



Catherine woke up early that morning feeling rested and ready for a new day. A quick shower and breakfast then she selected one of her better outfits. As she stepped into the elevator, she was humming to herself, thinking of Vincent and that sweet little girl that seemed to have captured his affections so thoroughly that he even smiled when Naomi called him ‘her monster’.  Catherine was getting an early start and she thought she would go to work by way of the tunnels and possibly check in on Naomi and Vincent. She pressed the button for the basement. Then she remembered the two policemen that were probably waiting for her in the lobby and reluctantly pushed the Lobby button.


At the fifteenth floor, a man got into the elevator, nodded to her, and pressed the button for the twelfth floor.  Catherine was on the alert but not too worried. She guessed he had rented that empty apartment on twelve. She wondered who it was on fifteen that had recommended him. At the twelfth floor, two men got in and grabbed her as the doors closed, and the first man shoved a gun in her face.


The man with the gun spoke. “You have one chance. Where are they?”


Catherine knew that since she had seen their faces, she would be dead once they had what they wanted. She stalled. “What are you talking about?”


“Where are they?” the gunman yelled as he smashed her across the side of her head with his gun, causing her to see stars.


Catherine let herself go completely limp when she was hit; her legs had gone wobbly anyway. She was barely aware of what she was doing as her training with Isaac Stubbs took over. At that moment, all three men were startled to hear a roar like that of a lion reverberate through the elevator. Being unnerved by the roar and having to deal with the apparently unconscious woman on their hands left them momentarily off guard. There was a loud thump on the elevator ceiling and, somewhere in her hazy befuddled state, Catherine knew that Vincent would be dropping through the ceiling trap door at any moment. She suddenly uncoiled, straightened her legs, and drove both her elbows into the stomachs of the two men that were holding her, knocking the wind out of them. She saw, through a gray haze, the face of the gunman register shock and fear at the sight of Vincent dropping through the ceiling maintenance hatch. Then his face displayed great pain as her knee impacted with his groin. As the gunman went to his knees, dropping his gun, she kicked him in the face, and he collapsed in a heap. Meanwhile, Vincent had grabbed the other two from behind and threw them with tremendous force against opposite sides of the elevator, and they also went down.


Alerted by the elevator being called to the eighteenth floor, the two policemen sent to escort her to work were waiting by the elevator when the doors opened. They were both very surprised to see petite Catherine Chandler standing there with blood running down the side of her head and three very large men lying unconscious at her feet. She swayed a moment and grabbed the edge of the elevator doorway then stumbled forward as the two policemen caught her and eased her onto the padded bench against the wall between the elevators.


“Miss Chandler, look at me,” one of the officers spoke as he stared intently into her face. “Are you okay?” the officer asked worriedly.


Catherine replied half-heartedly, “I’ll survive.” She grimaced and touched her head as the world seemed to be fading in and out of a gray fog. “I think.”


He glanced over at the second officer that was checking out the three downed men. “What happened?”


Catherine looked over at the open elevator, causing her head to spin. “Wanted to ask me questions.” She blinked several times, trying to focus. “Didn’t like my answer.” Everything went black and white. She groaned, her head throbbing, as the world seemed to spin away.


The first officer caught her as she started to slide off the bench. Meanwhile, the second officer called for an ambulance and for additional backup and transport for three muggers. One of the attackers started to shift with a painful groan and the second officer drew his gun, ordering the man to freeze.


Two ambulances and three police cars arrived at the same time. The paramedics checked Catherine, who had now been unconscious for several minutes, very carefully, and pronounced her stable for transport. She was loaded into one ambulance, and the first officer climbed in to accompany her. That ambulance headed to the hospital, followed by one of the police cars.


The three men were examined and then they were transported directly to the jail infirmary under heavy guard. A few minutes later, the detectives arrived on the scene and took over. One of the detectives retrieved the gun from the floor of the elevator, handling it carefully to avoid disturbing any fingerprints.


~ o ~


Catherine’s head felt like someone was trying to drive a nail through it, and that god-awful wailing noise only made it worse. She wanted to tell someone to shut that noise off.


The officer riding in the ambulance saw Catherine open her eyes and blink several times. She groaned, threw up then closed her eyes again as she began choking. The paramedic quickly turned her on her side and worked to clear her airway.  Finally, she was breathing normally again. The paramedic checked her over and told the officer that she was still alive and stable. He informed the officer that this often happened with concussion cases.


~ o ~


Catherine’s head hurt and she didn’t want to open her eyes. “Vincent?” she groaned. 


Then she heard Joe calling to her. “Cathy, it’s Joe. Are you okay? Say something.”


 She felt someone gripping her hand. She opened her eyes to find a blurry Joe leaning over her. “My head hurts,” she croaked out. She wanted to say something witty but all she got out was, “What happened?”


Another voice spoke up. “You have a concussion and a hairline fracture along the left temple, but you’re going to be fine.  Just rest for now. We have stitched up the laceration in the scalp. You need to rest and give yourself time to heal.”


Joe spoke. “All we know is the elevator doors opened and there you were with three thugs unconscious at your feet.”


She tried to answer but she could feel the world slipping away again. She saw Vincent standing over her, and then he morphed into Joe. All the time, she heard voices in the background demanding to know where they were. Then he morphed back into Vincent and she felt his love rise up and surround her then the voices went away.


~ o ~


The next time she woke up her head was aching but not as bad. She thought she remembered Vincent leaning over her.  “Vincent?” she groaned. Then she felt someone grab her hand and she opened her eyes.


Joe, this time less blurry, was leaning over her. “Cathy, it’s Joe. I’m right here. Are you all right? Can you talk?” She could hear the concern in his voice. “Do you want me to get this Vincent person for you?”


Catherine shook her head, which turned out to be a mistake. She felt nausea rising up within her and a severe pain flash through her skull, causing her to groan. With a great effort of will she forced down the nausea. “My head hurts.” She looked at Joe then raised the hand Joe was not holding and noticed an IV tube and a pulse monitor attached to that arm. She looked back at Joe. “What happened?” Her brows furrowed as she felt a strong sense of déjà vu wash over her. “Did I already say that?”


Joe squeezed her hand. “Actually, I was going to ask you that.” Joe patted her hand. “The elevator doors opened, and you were standing there with three very large unconscious men at your feet and blood dripping from your head.” She could hear frank admiration mixed with the concern in Joe’s voice. “Then you passed out. We have no idea what happened before the doors opened.” Joe smiled down at her, but it was a forced smile to hide his concern. “Do you remember what happened on that elevator?”


Catherine tried to think over her answer and decide what to say, which wasn’t easy with her head pounding like it was.  “It’s all kind of hazy . . . I, ah . . . I remember three men getting on the elevator . . . Two of them grabbed me and the third shoved a gun in my face.” She frowned in concentration as Joe nodded encouragement. “The man with the gun asked, ‘Where are they?’ When I said I didn’t know, he hit me with the gun . . . I guess the training I did with Isaac just took over.” She stopped to think. “I remember going limp. Then while they were trying to hold me up, I struck out at all three at once. I elbowed the two holding me in the solar-plexus.” Her weak grin got slightly wider. “I remember kneeing the gunman in the groin.” She got a wicked gleam in her eyes. “Hard.” She concentrated for a couple of seconds. “The rest of it is just a blur.”


Joe spoke again. “After what you did to those three, I’m thinking we need to have all the undercover officers take Stubbs’ course.” Joe looked grim. “Well, they’re in custody now, and this time we’re going to be doubly careful.”


Joe patted her hand again and Catherine wondered if he even realized that he was doing it. She could see the genuine concern in his face. There was a lot more than a simple boss - employee relationship there. She also noticed the edge to Joe’s voice and forced her fuzzy mind back to his comment. “What do you mean ‘this time’ and ‘doubly careful’, Joe?”


Joe frowned. “Both of the hit men from the car shootout were killed in the middle of the night last night. It looked like they killed each other but some of the evidence is contradictory and I just don’t buy it.” Joe looked at Catherine; his eyes gleamed with deadly seriousness. “Add to that, the news of the attack on you this morning; the gunman from this morning was an FBI agent, and there are a lot of people in the FBI that are extremely disturbed over these developments. I suspect that a lot of heads will roll before this thing is over, and I think they are looking at you as a lightning rod to draw out the rats.” He grinned at her. “You’ve already exposed a traitor in the local FBI office, and I think you embarrassed them.” Joe chuckled.  “Petite little Cathy Chandler managed to take out a trained agent and two goons in less than two minutes inside a moving elevator. You’ve certainly got my respect, Radcliffe.”


Catherine thought about that news and asked, “But how did they get in past the officers and the apartment security guard?”


Joe shook his head. “They didn’t. They were already there.” Joe squeezed her hand. “Apparently, they got in yesterday afternoon by using forged work papers, broke into a vacant apartment on the twelfth floor and, after trashing your apartment, they just waited till the elevator went to your floor this morning. They caught you alone on the way down but you turned out to be more than they could handle.”


~ o ~


When Naomi woke up this time she knew where she was, and she felt safe. Mary was there waiting for her and wished her a good morning. Naomi looked around and noticed that all the other children were absent. “Where is everyone?” she asked sleepily.


“They’ve already gotten up and headed to the dining chamber,” Mary responded.


Once Naomi was fully awake, Mary proceeded to help her get dressed for the day. When she was dressed, one of the men she had met at lunch yesterday came to carry her to breakfast and Mary followed behind.


Naomi asked Mary, “Where is Vincent?”


Mary shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know, honey. I think he had to go meet Catherine. I’m sure he’ll show up later.”


Breakfast was good and Naomi tried to relax and enjoy it, but she missed Vincent and was very worried about him. That reminded her of her family and she also began to miss her family, as well. The children were all excited about a planned trip to the Waterfall Lake for the afternoon and Naomi was soon infected by the lighthearted emotions of the other children around her, which served to lighten her own mood.


When they all got to the chamber that Naomi thought of as the book room, Mary started reading to the children like Vincent had the day before. Just before lunch time, Vincent showed up. He came over and sat on the floor next to Naomi and listened to Mary read to the children. Naomi was very relieved to see him and scooted over to lean into him. Soon it was lunch time and Vincent carried Naomi to the dining chamber.


As lunch came to an end, Vincent told the children to be back in the dining chamber and ready to go in two hours if they wanted to go on the expedition to the Waterfall Lake. The children cheered and scattered. Vincent took Naomi to see Father so he could check on her injuries. On the way, he noticed a sense of sadness growing in her. “What’s bothering you, Naomi?”


Naomi looked up at his face. “I miss Mommy and Daddy and Jerry.”


Vincent held her close. “I know you do.” He felt a tightness in his throat. She still did not know the extent of the tragedy.  “There is nothing we can do about that, but I promise, I will take care of you and keep you safe for them.” How did he tell a five-year-old that her family was gone?


After checking her over, Jacob pronounced her healthy and the injuries healing.


Vincent glanced at Naomi then asked, “Father, you know I’m taking the children down to the lake this afternoon. Will it be okay for Naomi to go in the water?  I already asked her, and she hasn’t learned to swim yet.”


Jacob looked at her thoughtfully. Then he added a little extra support to the splint and just used a few bandages to hold it in place. “That should make it so she can walk on it while in the water.” He looked sternly at Vincent and then at Naomi. “You are only to walk on that leg when you are in the water. You are to have an adult with you at all times, and you are to come straight here when you get back so I can change your bandages.  Is that agreed?”


Naomi solemnly nodded her head and Father reached out and ruffled her hair. “Then you two go and have fun.”


~ o ~


Vincent carried Naomi back to the girl’s side of the children’s chamber where Mary helped her change into clothes more appropriate for the upcoming trip to the waterfall lake.


Naomi solemnly asked Mary, “Does Father ever smile?”


Mary looked at her a moment then laughed. “I don’t know, dear. But I have heard some say that if he ever did smile, his face would crack in half.” She settled the little warm patchwork cover-up over the swimwear that she had dug out for Naomi.  “There you are. All ready for the lake.” Vincent came in to get Naomi and, from the amusement dancing in his eyes, Mary suspected that he had heard their comments about Father.


Vincent and Naomi met Jamie in the tunnel on their way back to the dining chamber. Once there, they were met by the rest of the children and two other young adults who had volunteered to act as chaperones. As soon as everyone was organized, they set out for the waterfall lake cavern. As soon as they arrived, Vincent supervised the setting up of the campfire then all the children jumped into the water. 


Jamie volunteered to stay with Naomi and they got along wonderfully. Jamie took her assumed responsibility very seriously and never let Naomi get very far from her. The youngest children stayed in the shallow area with Naomi and they had fun splashing and playing water games. Jamie became the official organizer and referee for the youngest children.


While he watched Naomi play, Vincent brooded over his problem. Naomi had to be told eventually about the death of her family. It still hurt whenever he remembered telling Eric about the death of his sister. Naomi was much younger than Eric had been and he just didn’t know how to tell her. 


Later, all the children got out of the water and came to sit around the fire to tell ghost stories and eat hotdogs. Jamie stayed by Naomi and helped her cook her hotdog. A couple of times, Naomi noticed that Vincent would appear to be looking at something very far away. One of those times, she asked him about it. “Vincent, what are you looking at?”


Vincent shook himself then looked at Naomi. “I’m not really looking at anything. Catherine was hurt this morning and I’m just checking in on her to be sure she’s okay.”


Jamie looked up, surprised and worried. “Catherine was hurt?”


Vincent turned his attention to Jamie. “Yes, but Doctor Peter said that she will be okay, and I can tell that she is getting better.  I will try to see her tonight.”


“How do you do that?” Naomi was looking around the cavern, puzzled. “I don’t see her.”


Vincent turned his attention back to Naomi and thought a moment. “If I think about Catherine very hard, I can feel what she’s feeling. That’s how I know.”


“Oh.” It was her only reply. She seemed to think about this for a moment then returned her attention to the rest of the group and the current story being told.


After they broke camp, Vincent picked up Naomi and they all headed back to the home tunnels. Jamie stayed close to them the whole way and, as soon as they got back, Vincent took Naomi to Father, who took off the damp bandages and checked her over. He pronounced her no worse for her adventure, and put on a new splint and bandages. Then Vincent took Naomi to her bed and sat up reading to her. Jamie came in while he was reading and sat with them.


At one point, Naomi asked, “Vincent, is Catherine okay?”


Vincent stopped and looked at her solemn face. Then he concentrated on his link to Catherine. After a few seconds, he smiled at Naomi. “Catherine is doing just fine. I can tell that she is getting better.” Then he nodded at Naomi. “And I can tell that your leg is feeling better also.”


“How do you know?” she asked.


“When I’m very close to someone, I can sometimes sense what they are feeling,” Vincent answered. “With Catherine, I can do it even when she is very far away.”


Naomi thought a moment then asked, “Can you tell if Mommy is okay?” Her expression was very earnest.


Vincent was caught short and he had to choose his words very carefully. “I have no sense of your mother. I’ve never met her.” It wasn’t a lie but it wasn’t the whole truth, and Vincent was bothered by it but he didn’t know what else to say to her.


“Oh.” There was obvious disappointment in Naomi’s voice.


At this point, the other children had begun to filter in and Vincent continued to read to her until Naomi had fallen asleep.  He sat there for a short time watching her sleep and again wondered how he should deal with her questions about her family.  Finally, he got up and went to the library to see Father. Vincent had a lot on his mind to talk over with him.




Chapter 5 :   Resolutions



Late that afternoon, the doctor came in and told Catherine that if there were no complications, she should be able to go home in the morning. Joe had two officers assigned to guard the door to her hospital room. At dinner time, Catherine shooed Joe out of her room, telling him to go eat and get some rest. She said she would see him in the morning.


Later that night, after the end of second shift, Vincent came into her third floor room through the window. Though he was aware of her condition through the bond they shared, he still had to see her with his own eyes just to reassure himself. He told her all about Naomi’s second day Below. “Naomi is adapting very well and she gets along great with all of the other children.  Jamie has also become very fond of Naomi.” He looked down at the floor for a moment then back at Catherine, his brows furrowed with concern. “She has asked about her mother, father and brother more than once, and a couple of times I saw her looking very sad when she thought no one was looking. I can also sense an air of melancholy in her at those times. I think she suspects that something has happened to her family and I’m afraid that we are going to have to tell her soon.”


Catherine took Vincent’s hand in understanding. She suspected that Vincent knew he was probably going to have to be the one to tell Naomi about her family and was troubled by it. They continued to talk for about another hour. At one point, Vincent got very agitated and started pacing when she told him about what had happened to the first two killers from the car chase. It made him more worried about Catherine’s safety.


Vincent exited hastily when they heard a nurse coming into the room. One of the officers came in right behind her. The nurse checked Catherine over and gave her a sedative then left. A doctor came in as the nurse was leaving and gave Catherine a very cursory checkout while asking how she was doing. Something about the doctor just did not feel right to her. She told him she was okay. She noticed that he did a quick thorough sweep of the room with his eyes before he left. Catherine thought about it but she just couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was that had bothered her about that doctor. By then the sedative had kicked in and she drifted off to sleep.


~ o ~


The next morning Joe arrived just after Catherine’s doctor had examined her and pronounced her fit to leave. Joe waited outside her room while she got dressed then he told her that he would escort her home. She still felt a little out of it but she did notice that Joe seemed to be watching her very closely as she got herself organized to leave.


A nurse entered her room pushing a wheelchair and, despite Catherine’s resistance, insisted that she be wheeled out of the hospital. Catherine reluctantly surrendered to the indomitable nurse’s demands. As the nurse wheeled her down the hall, Joe walked close beside her. A few minutes later, Catherine noticed that Joe seemed to be scrutinizing every person that they passed. 


“Have you seen Vincent lately?” Joe asked without preamble.


Startled she looked back at Joe. “What?”


Joe continued, “I heard that someone thought they saw a large shadowy figure at the window to your hospital room last night. I wondered if it might be this mysterious Vincent of yours. Twice now, as you were waking up, I’ve heard you mention his name.” Joe was now watching her very closely.


With great difficulty, Catherine forced herself to act unconcerned. This was not something she was prepared to deal with right now. “Vincent?” She tried to think of what she could say that would satisfy Joe. “Oh. Vincent . . . That’s the name of the man that helped me two years ago when I was attacked and left for dead in Central Park . . . I must have been flashing back to that incident.” As they waited for the elevator, Catherine silently berated herself. That was more than she wanted Joe to know.  Up until now, she had always claimed that she had no memory of those ten days.  She wished she had come up with something better but her head still ached and she was finding it a little difficult to think clearly.


Joe could tell by her barely concealed reactions that he had caught her off guard and gotten a direct hit this time. Usually she was much better at deflecting his verbal shots in their ‘Guess the Mystery of Catherine’ contests, but not this time. He could also see that she was upset about letting this bit of information slip. He now knew that someone named Vincent had saved her life when she was mugged and left for dead in the park, and he would bet a month’s salary that this Vincent was still watching over her. He suspected there might even be a romantic angle to this relationship.


The doctor had told him that there might be some residual effects from the concussion and last night’s sedatives. He took pity on her and decided to ease up. She really was in no condition for their usual verbal sparring contests, and he didn’t want to push her too hard and possibly damage their friendship.


“What about the three men who attacked me?” she asked, trying to change the subject.


“They haven’t been much help. They were always contacted by phone and were paid by envelopes filled with cash left at different drop locations. We traced their phone bills but that got us nowhere.” The frustration in Joe’s voice was palpable.  “They never met their employer and have no idea who he was or what he looked like. They only knew that he paid very well.”


The elevator doors opened and it turned out to be nearly full. With two doctors, a nurse, an orderly, Catherine, Joe, and the two police officers, the elevator ride from the third floor to the first floor was a bit crowded. Catherine noticed that Joe looked momentarily startled when he glanced at one of the doctors. At the second floor, the orderly got off. 


When they reached the ground floor, one of the police officers told Joe and Catherine to stay in the lobby while he went to get the car. The two doctors and the nurse went over to the main desk. While Catherine and her escorts were waiting, she noticed the doctor who had come into her room last night was standing in the lobby near the front door talking to another orderly.


As they were standing there waiting for the officer to return, five rough-looking men converged on Catherine, Joe, and the other police officer. As the five men pulled out guns, Catherine heard the words, “FBI . . . Freeze!” shouted from three directions at once. Catherine realized that there were three ‘doctors’, two ‘nurses’, an ‘orderly’ and two ‘patients’, all holding guns pointed at the five gunmen who had approached her. The people who had ridden with her in the elevator and the doctor that had entered her room last night were among the FBI agents that were now arresting the five rough-looking men.


Joe greeted the one that he had noticed in the elevator. “Henry, it’s a good thing you were here.” Joe turned to Catherine.  “Cathy, this is Henry Sloan. Henry, I’d like to introduce you to Catherine Chandler.” Catherine and Henry shook hands and exchanged polite greetings then Joe cocked his head and asked, “So, Henry, how is it going?”


Henry grinned back, introducing the ‘doctor’ that had entered Catherine’s room last night as he approached. “Joe, Ms. Chandler, this is James McClendon, of the FBI Government Corruption Task Force.”


Joe looked at James closely. “You were with the agents that grabbed all of our files and evidence from the shootout and car crash, weren’t you?”


James nodded as he responded to Joe’s question. “Yes, I was. We didn’t know who was involved in the corruption, so we grabbed everything to keep it safe. Well, I have good news and bad news.” Joe looked at James expectantly. “The good news is that we think we’ve plugged the source of the leak in our operation here . . . The bad news is that our witness disappeared last night. He didn’t know who the big cheese is but he was familiar with a major branch in the operation. Unfortunately, he disappeared before he had told us everything he knew.” James shook his head. “We don’t know if he went into hiding or was snatched. Without that witness, our case is dead in the water. The best we can do is watch the small fish that he had already given us and hope something develops.” He looked directly at Catherine. “I just hope that his daughter is somewhere safe.”


Catherine looked at James and gave him her best enigmatic smile. “I’m sure that, wherever she is, she’s safe, healthy and well cared for.”


“I hope you’re right.” James smiled back but his eyes were studying her closely as he spoke. “I just want to thank you for all your help. We might not have been able to root out these rotten apples without your courage and quick thinking, both at the original crash and in your apartment building elevator. I want you to know how much we appreciate what you’ve done and I hope you will forgive us for using you as bait this morning.”


Catherine responded with a shrug. “That’s okay. I suspect that it was probably more likely that you thought they might come at me again so you were ready for them. I understand completely and thank-you for being there for me when it happened.”


Henry shook his head in amazement. “Joe wasn’t exaggerating about you.” He turned his attention to Joe. “I just hope that this latest batch we just captured will give us some kind of clue that will help us track down the source of the corruption.”


At this point, several more FBI agents arrived and took the five potential attackers away. James and Henry stayed behind with Catherine and Joe. Catherine and Joe rode to her apartment building in the police cruiser. The two FBI agents followed in another car. They all escorted her up to her apartment. As before, the two police officers entered her apartment first and quickly checked it out before Catherine entered, escorted by a very attentive Joe and the two FBI agents.


“I want you to take today and tomorrow off,” Joe told her. “Lie down and get some rest. I’ll have the police keep watch over your apartment.” He got a determined look in his eyes. “I will personally choose the officers that get assigned that duty and I will make sure that one is posted at your door at all times. Until this is settled and I am sure you’re safe, I want you protected.”


She noticed that James swept her apartment with his eyes just as he had done in her hospital room then he spoke up. “I think you should be safe for now with Joe keeping an eye on you. Henry and I will be heading back to Washington DC, but Henry will keep in touch with Joe and let him know of any new developments. Meanwhile, until we have some idea how far this corruption goes, it would be best not to talk to anyone other than Joe and us about this case.” 


Catherine nodded as she replied, “I will keep that in mind. Who do I call if something new comes up?”


Henry responded to her question. “Tell Joe and he can contact me.”


As soon as the men left, Catherine went over to her door and opened it to find a police officer seated in the chair near her door. She offered him something to drink. He accepted a glass of water from her. After closing the door, she mumbled to herself, “This is pretty damn inconvenient.” Then she made a phone call.


“Hello, Edward?” . . .

“It’s Cathy. Can you get a message to Vincent right away? It’s urgent.” . . .

“Good. Tell him that the police have put a guard around my apartment and he must stay away for awhile.” . . .

“I don’t know how long. I’ll contact him when it’s safe.” . . .

“Thank you, and give my love to your father.” . . .



Catherine was deep in thought as she hung up the phone. This was going to be a real problem. She had to find a way to get Joe to discontinue these guards.


~ o ~


As the three men rode the elevator down from Catherine’s apartment, Henry addressed Joe. “I thought you were exaggerating but everything you’ve told me about her was true. Wealth, beauty, brains and guts. You forgot to tell me how tough she was in a crunch.” 


James chimed in at this point. “I have to agree, she is quite a woman.”


Henry grinned at Joe. “Any romance in the air?”


Joe answered with a self-deprecating grin. “I doubt it. I’m pretty sure she’s got a boyfriend somewhere in the background, possibly named Vincent. But despite her mysterious personal life, she is the very best I have ever seen at her job and I would hate to lose her.”


Then James spoke up. “What about the daughter of our witness? Do you think she knows where the girl is?”


Joe thought about it. “I don’t really know for sure. If she does, she’s not telling.” He rubbed his chin. “Personally, I hope she does have the little girl, because then I could be sure that she was safe. Cathy really cares about kids and she is relentless when it comes to protecting them from the bad guys.” Joe chuckled. “That woman has contacts and assets that I can’t begin to figure out.”


James slapped Joe on the shoulder. “I hope so. I should be putting major resources into trying to track the daughter down but I think for right now it would be better for her if I just left it at location unknown. It certainly makes me feel better to believe that Miss Chandler does have the girl tucked away somewhere safe.”


~ o ~


Around noon, there was a knock at Catherine’s door. It was James.


“Come in, Agent McClendon.” She nodded to the officer outside her door as she closed it. “What brings you back here so soon?”


James gave her a half smile. “There are some things I wished to talk to you about, without the others present.” He sat in the chair she indicated as his eyes again swept the room. “First off, I wanted you to know how things stand with this case. The leader of the men that attacked you in the elevator was a low-level agent in the local FBI office. He had already had a few scrapes with his superiors. This morning, however, we flushed out a major player in the FBI’s local WITSEC office. One of the men that tried to take you in the hospital this morning was directly linked to the head of the local department responsible for settling people in the witness protection system. Unfortunately, the trail ends there. Like the others, there was no direct contact between him and those giving him his orders. We still do not know who the top man is. Whoever it is, he is very smart and very careful. You must understand; this thing is much bigger than what you’ve seen the last few days. Nearly every one of those men that have come after you has at least one family member that has turned up missing.” James looked at Catherine, his expression very serious. “I have more than one finger in this mess, but it could take a while before we can reach the head of the snake.” He was now leaning forward, looking at her very intently. “In the meantime, I have to deal with a missing witness, his missing daughter, and you.”


Catherine thought, ‘Now we come to it.’ She knew this was where it could all fall apart.


James continued. “We know the daughter was in the station wagon when it left their apartment, and evidence indicates that she was thrown out of the back window of the wagon at the time of the crash. I have to know what your part is in the disappearance of the daughter, and I have to know if you had any part in the disappearance of my witness. I have a lot of latitude in this matter but I need to be able to assure myself and my superior that the girl is safe and that you are not working against us.”


Catherine looked surprised. “Then you don’t know where the father went?”


James responded, “No. I take it you don’t either.”


“I’m afraid not.” Catherine sat there for a few moments, considering what she could or should say. “I can’t tell you too much. The safety and welfare of a lot of very good people, including Naomi, are at stake here. I have some friends that are discretely searching for a relative of the girl but with no luck. Even revealing the fact that these friends exist is more than I should do. I’m putting a lot of trust in you by even telling you what little I can.” She looked down at her hands, then at the book of Shakespeare’s sonnets from Vincent sitting on the coffee table. Finally, she looked back up at James. “Almost two years ago, I was attacked and left for dead in Central Park.”


James cocked his head and his eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes, I remember hearing about that. It filled the papers for several weeks. The reports said you didn’t remember the ten days you were missing.”


Catherine continued, “It was one of those people I mentioned that found me and took me to the place where they live.  They saved my life. They not only took care of me there, they helped give me the strength to make something more of my life.  As soon as I was strong enough, they brought me back to my home. They asked nothing of me in return. They didn’t even ask me to keep their secret, though I knew they hoped I would.” She paused again. “Where they live is a place of refuge. They currently are taking care of Naomi for me, and there is no place anywhere else where she could be safer or better cared for.” 


James noticed a gleam in her eyes as she paused again in her narration.


Catherine took a deep breath. “If necessary, I can easily have Naomi back here in an hour or two, but I think that would be a mistake at this time. No matter what happens to me, I cannot tell you any more about those people than I already have. Those people are already on the lookout for your witness because he is Naomi’s father, and if he is spotted, they will let me know immediately. It would be helpful if I could get them a picture.”


James paused, digesting what he had just been told. Finally, he spoke. “How is the girl doing?”


Catherine leaned back, getting comfortable. “Naomi is coping well with her new environment. I know she has been enjoying herself the last two days, and the injuries she received in the wreck are healing well. She misses her family, but she does not know they are dead yet. She seems to have very little memory of the accident itself. Just a few nightmares. Breaking the news of her family will be difficult, and the people she is staying with want to give her a few days to become acclimated before they tell her. One of the problems we face is not being able to tell her what happened to her father.” She waved her hand in the direction of the door with a hint of frustration in her voice. “This guard Joe has put on me makes it impossible for me to check up on Naomi.”


James had also leaned back into a more relaxed position. “Since, despite what I told Joe earlier, we don’t really know if there are any other moles buried in the department, it would be best to keep the girl out of the system.” He waved his hand in her direction. “Based on my conversations with Joe and what I’ve seen of you, I think you are the best person to look after the daughter for me. The way you refer to her as well as your attitude convinces me that you really do care about her welfare.” He smiled at her. “I will tell my superior that the girl has been placed in a safe location outside of the department, and known only to me. We will let the word be spread that you turned the kid over to me the day before you were attacked in the elevator and she is now in a safe place known only to my boss. That should take you out of the equation and, hopefully, Joe will ease up after a day or two, once he realizes that you are no longer in danger. I will be the only one that knows of your continued involvement. Even my boss will think you are no longer involved.” James nodded. “You’ve done an awful lot for us already and this should take the heat off of you.”


James picked up the book on the coffee table and opened it. “Shakespeare, huh.” Catherine’s heart skipped a beat as he glanced at the inscription. “Personally, ‘A Midsummer-Night’s Dream’ is my favorite play by him.” James smiled at her. “I think it is the oldest known screwball comedy.” He looked back down as he flipped to the book-marked page. “I have never read his sonnets.”


James closed the book, set it back down and stood up. Catherine also stood up. He looked very seriously at her. “I can see that you are risking a lot telling me as much as you have. I hope you realize how much I’m putting on the line here, as well.”


Catherine was just as serious. “I understand. I will personally keep tabs on Naomi and I will try to get word to you if anything develops.”


James handed Catherine a card. “This is my personal number. If you come up with any important information that deals with the girl, or your friends, call me directly. Otherwise, anything else about this case should go through Joe.”


Catherine thanked him as she let him out the door. She nodded and smiled to the officer on guard as she closed the door. 


That night she thought a lot about James’ visit. He had been up front with her and what he had said made sense. She decided that, for the time being, he could be counted among the good guys.




Chapter 6 :   Beginnings



Vincent was awakened by a very faint hint of panic. This time he recognized it as coming from Naomi. He sprang out of bed, grabbed his cloak, and raced to the children’s chamber. He arrived just as Naomi cried out. She awoke from her nightmare cradled in Vincent’s arms as he gently rocked her and soothed her with his voice.


Finally, she looked up at him and asked, “Where are Mommy and Daddy and Jerry and Uncle Kyle? I miss them.”


Vincent looked down into her teary eyes and sighed. “Naomi, we don’t know where your daddy is. The rest of your family is gone. They were lost in that same car wreck when I caught you. Mary, Father and I are your family now.” He pointed to all the beds in the chamber. “And these are all your brothers and sisters.” He noticed that Jamie was standing at the entrance.  “And Jamie also cares about you.” He smoothed her hair as he held her. “We will always be here to take care of you.” 


Naomi thought about what Vincent had said for a few seconds then she buried her face in his chest and softly cried for a while. She knew it was true and she missed her family. She finally cried herself out and, while Vincent held her, she fell back to sleep.


As Vincent gently placed Naomi back in her bed, he knew she understood and was going to be all right. He pulled the covers up and tucked her in. He brushed her hair back from her face as he smiled down at her sleeping form then he turned and, nodding to Jamie, headed back to his own chamber.


~ o ~


Three days after she had gotten home from the hospital, Joe decided that Catherine was safe for the time being and informed her that he had withdrawn the guard detail. That evening after work, Catherine headed down into the tunnels.  Vincent met her halfway and the first thing Catherine asked was, “How is Naomi doing?”


Vincent replied, “She’s doing quite well. I told her that her family is gone and she took it better than I expected. The nightmares have tapered off and she no longer mentions her family. I think she has accepted the situation and adapted.”  Vincent chuckled softly. “Children that age are very resilient. What about her father, any news?”


Catherine shook her head. “Nobody knows. He’s disappeared and the FBI hasn’t a clue.” She looked up at Vincent’s face.  “The agent in charge knows that I have Naomi hidden away and has left me in charge of her safety. Everybody else thinks I turned her over to him and he has her in an undisclosed safe house, so for now, I am out of it and Naomi is, unofficially, under my care. Vincent, I did have to tell him that she is with the same hidden group of people that helped me but I didn’t tell him anything about who or where.”


Vincent mulled over this revelation as they continued down the tunnels. He just hoped that this revelation wouldn’t cause her problems later on. They managed to arrive at the dining chamber just in time for dinner and they found Naomi surrounded by Geoffrey, Jamie and Mouse. They both went over and sat with Naomi. She greeted Catherine enthusiastically and told her all about her days spent down Below. Vincent would occasionally add a remark or two of his own to Naomi’s stories.  Catherine also noticed the adoring looks Naomi gave Vincent whenever he spoke.


After dinner, Catherine and Vincent went to the children’s dorm, where Naomi showed Catherine her purple jasmine candle. Then Naomi gave Catherine the candle that she had made for her.


As Catherine got ready to return home, she smiled at Vincent while nodding towards Naomi. “I see you’ve made a conquest there.”


Vincent smiled back. “I think she has stolen a small piece of my heart.”


Thinking back to her young gypsy friend from a year ago, Catherine replied, “I know how you feel.” 


~ o ~


Agent James McClendon finished up his report on the status of the Aaron Neil and Naomi Neil cases. There was a lot still left unanswered. He was particularly bothered by the lack of information on Naomi’s missing father. They still did not know how he had disappeared from that last safe house. As a result, they had been required to shut that location down, since they did not know if it had been compromised. 


The three men that had attacked Miss Chandler in her elevator were recovering in the prison hospital and would soon stand trial for a whole list of crimes, including assault and attempted kidnapping. The disgraced agent that had struck Miss Chandler, stung by jokes about being taken out by such a tiny woman, had tried to claim that they had been attacked by some type of monster. He was mockingly accused of trying to fabricate an insanity defense.


In the process of checking out Catherine Chandler, James had come across mention of a report that the CIA had a file on her. It turned out that the report was classified well above his ability to get access. He couldn’t help but wonder what that might be about, and he asked an acquaintance of his in the CIA. The acquaintance told James that rumor had it that a slightly shady CIA operation had crossed swords with her and still didn’t know how she had beat them at their own game. James left that out of his report since he felt it had no bearing on the current case but he thought it wise to keep the CIA failure in mind if he ever crossed her path again.


James placed the finished report in its folder then he picked up a snapshot that had mysteriously arrived on his desk yesterday morning. He couldn’t help but smile as he looked at the pleasant scene displayed in the photograph. It showed Catherine Chandler holding the hand of a sweet-faced little girl and they were both sporting big happy grins. In the little girl’s free hand was a red snow cone and in the background behind them was the Central Park carousel. The only flaw in the happy little scene was the well-developed black eye that Catherine was not quite hiding under a hat and veil. He carefully stowed the picture away in his private file.


In the final analysis, all he knew for sure was that Catherine Chandler had been very helpful in this current case as well as taking the major problem of what to do about Naomi off his hands, and he was grateful to her. Somehow, he suspected that this wouldn’t be the last he saw of that remarkable woman and he looked forward to his next chance to solve some of the mystery that surrounded her.


He was especially curious about the unknown person named Vincent that Joe Maxwell had mentioned. He had noticed Vincent’s name and message on the inside of the book of Shakespeare sonnets and the rather poignant poem that had been bookmarked. He suspected that Vincent was closely tied to that mysterious group she had mentioned and he thought that there was definitely some kind of special connection between him and Miss Chandler.


He signed off his report and put away the official file on the incident. Then, after a moment to again look at the picture, he put it away with his private file in a safely hidden location and turned to the rest of the active cases on his desk.





‘Beauty and the Beast’ and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended.  This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.