Goodbye... For Now
*Note to the reader: This story is sandwiched in between episode’s Once Upon a Time and Terrible Savior as they appear in their airing order.
Through the fugue of his unmerciful rage, he felt it … her terror … her shock … her fear.
He looked up from Catherine’s now dead assailant and saw the horror in her eyes as she beheld him and all that he was. In that instant he saw himself reflected there, in her eyes.
The rage ebbed quickly, as the overwhelming realization of what he had just done washed over him.
She has seen me now… She has seen me for the disgusting, terrifying animal that I am, he thought.
In that moment of naked awareness, he suddenly didn’t care anymore what happened to him. The shame and cognizance of all that he was began to crush him, and any shred of hope he had of her friendship.
Then, in the midst of his despair, as if by some miracle, he felt her gently take his now limp and bloodied hands in hers.
“We can’t stay here,’ she whispered in desperation, as she pulled at his hands.
Catherine knew that Vincent had killed three of the men, but she had no idea where the fourth had gone. She was afraid he might still be somewhere in the house. Or worse … had gone to call for help. She knew they had to get away from there as quickly as possible.
Vincent looked up at her in utter disbelief. How can this be? he wondered. But it was true. Yes, he could still see the fear in her eyes, but he now realized that it wasn’t fear of him at all, it was fear for him.
She is trying to protect me, he realized, she’s trying to help … me. He felt a spark of desperate hope sputter back to life within him.
He rose, stunned by her courage, and quickly led her to the basement where he had broken through the wall.
Yes, we must leave, was all he could think. It isn’t safe to stay here.
Catherine followed him, and without hesitation, stepped with him into the dark labyrinth that was his world.
As they approached her threshold Vincent finally spoke, “Who were those men, Catherine?”
She stopped and looked up at him. “Those were the men responsible for my attack last April. The last one you …” She closed her eyes as if to block out what she had seen.
“The last one I killed?” he ventured, with a more than a tinge of remorse in his voice.
She nodded. “Yes, the last one you killed. The one with the razor … He was the one who … who …” She stopped and took a deep breath. “… who cut my face.”
She didn’t want to talk about it. She had put a lot of effort into trying to put the incident of the previous spring out of her mind.
Turning from Vincent, she resumed walking in silence.
As they approached the last turn before her threshold, he stopped. “I believe you can find your way from here, Catherine.”
Turning, she looked at him tenderly. “I owe you everything …” she said.
Gratitude shone from her, and its warmth filled him.
“…everything,” she repeated.
How can she say that? How can she mean that? he wondered. How is it possible, that she is not terrified by everything that she saw? … by everything that I am?
But what he felt from her, what he saw in her eyes, testified to him that her words were sincere and true.
She cannot possibly know what a gift that is to me.
He was so overcome by emotion that he could barely speak.
“You owe me nothing,” he finally managed to whisper.
His heart trembled as he tried to explain. “I’m part of you, Catherine, Just as you’re part of me. Wherever you go…” He paused. “Wherever I am, I’m with you.”
There was nothing left to say. Parting from her was almost physically painful, but he knew she had to return Above again … to her world. She did not belong in his world. He knew that, and there was no place for him in hers.
He sighed deeply. “Goodbye,” he breathed, knowing within himself that it was most likely their final parting.
She could hear the finality in his voice. NO! she protested within herself. I can’t let him go. Not like this. This can’t be all there is.
Before he had the chance to turn away, she threw her arms around his massive shoulders and embraced him tightly.
He was powerless to resist. How could he, when Catherine felt like everything he had ever dreamed of, everything he had ever hoped for? He held her gently, and lightly rested his head against hers as he breathed her in, deeply. She smelled of springtime and autumn, sunshine and summer rain, freshly baked bread and roses, all at the same time.
She smelled like … love.
They only embraced for a moment, but to Vincent it felt like a beloved eternity. And in the infinite splendor of that moment, he felt the heartaches and loneliness of a lifetime begin to melt away in her arms.
He had never known anything like her touch.
Reluctantly, she released him. And with a fierce look of determination on her face, she said, “For now,”
But not forever, were the words clearly written in her eyes.
Vincent perceived her unspoken message loud and clear.
Finally, they both turned and walked away from each other… and then, as if they both felt a pull, they simultaneously turned toward one another for one last look, before going their separate ways.
Vincent walked the rest of the way home as if in a dream. Father came into his chamber shortly after he arrived.
“Vincent, is everything all right? You left in such a … Good Heavens, Vincent, what’s happened? Are you hurt? Let me look at you!”
Vincent raised his hand and shook his head, at Father’s suggestion. “I’m fine, Father.”
“Vincent, if you aren’t hurt, then whose blood is that?”
At first Vincent was unsure what Father was referring to. He looked down at his vest and then his hands, and realized they bore the blood of the men he had killed.
The memory of what he had done and the stench of blood and death suddenly made him feel ill. He quickly removed the outer layer of his clothing and began to pour water into the basin, to wash the blood from his hands.
“Catherine was attacked,” he explained. “… by the same men who hurt her before.”
“Catherine?” Father tried to recall who he could be referring to and then he realized. “Catherine Chandler? The woman that you …? Is she?”
“She’s fine. She was not injured, this time.”
“I don’t understand, Vincent. If she wasn’t injured and you are not injured … then whose blood is…?”
A look of realization crossed his face. Father was afraid to ask, but he felt he had no choice. “What happened? Vincent, what did you do?”
As Vincent dried his hands, he sighed and looked obstinately into Father’s eyes.
“Those men … will not hurt Catherine … ever again.” He hesitated, and then continued. “They will not hurt anyone … ever again.”
A momentary silence filled the room as Father absorbed the meaning of his words. “You mean…? Vincent, what … did you … do?” he haltingly asked.
Nodding, Vincent said, “I killed them, Father…” He looked at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. “With my bare hands.” He shuddered at the memory.
Father felt a little faint. He reached for a chair and sat down. “You went Above? In the daylight?” Fear and dread began to squeeze their cold, icy fingers around his heart. He couldn’t hide the panic in his voice. “Did she see you? Did anyone see you?” he demanded.
“No … Yes. Catherine saw me … and of course the men I … killed … They saw … me.” The memory of it, still filled him with anger.
Father didn’t even know where to begin. He didn’t know what to do first. His mind was reeling, and he too, was beginning to feel ill.
Raking his hand through his hair, he began to speak more to himself than to Vincent. “The police … good heavens … she will have to tell them… surely she will tell them… what happened … What other choice does she have? They will come looking for you… down here ... Perhaps we should begin to evacuate the tunnels … maybe some of the helpers could …”
Vincent came over and put his hand on Father’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Father, Catherine will not tell the police. She will not betray us.”
“How can you be so sure of that, Vincent?” Father asked insistently. “How can you be sure, after what she has seen? Now that she knows … what you are … what you are capable of? She must have been … absolutely horrified to see you in such a state!”
Father rested his head in one hand and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but your friendship with this woman has become very dangerous. Because of what she knows … what she has seen, she now holds our fate, our very lives in her hands! How could you risk our world in such a way?” he demanded.
“What would you have had me do, Father?” Vincent asked with a raised voice. “Ignore her need, when I could feel her fear burning through me? Should I have ignored that and let her be killed? After everything she has been through?”
“SHE IS NOT OUR RESPONSIBILITY, VINCENT!!!!! SHE IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!!!!!” Father shouted.
They stared at one another in disbelief from opposite sides of the room, both shocked by the anger and desperation in his voice.
Father closed his eyes and took a deep breath, in an attempt get control of himself. Somehow he knew he must make Vincent grasp the seriousness of their current situation, and the part he had played in it.
“Vincent,” he said, trying to keep his emotions in check. “You must understand, that she has the power to destroy us … to destroy everything we have here. The people who live here are our responsibility … they depend on the safety and secrecy of this place. By continuing this … this … friendship … with this woman … you have jeopardized everyone … everything …. Vincent … please listen to reason. If this place were discovered … it would be destroyed … I don’t know what would become of us … I don’t know what would become of … YOU.”
“I KNOW THAT!!!!!” Vincent bellowed in frustration. He paused, leaning against his writing table, as he too attempted to rein in his agitation.
“Believe me, I KNOW, BETTER THAN ANYONE … what it means to protect this place and how important that is. But she has become a part of me, Father. I have tried to explain it to you … the best way I know how. She is with me, within … me … every minute of every day… no matter where I go … no matter where she is … I can feel what she is feeling. When I felt her fear … when I felt that her life was in danger … it was as if my own life was in danger too. Please trust me, when I tell you that she will not betray me. She will not betray us.”
“How can you be so sure she can be trusted?”
Vincent sat in his large chair. He was silent for a moment as he thought of what he could say to reassure his father. “I don’t know … I just do.”
Father shook his head. He couldn’t accept what Vincent was telling him. His own tragic experiences in the world Above prevented it.
“How long has this been going on, Vincent? How long have you been seeing her against my wishes? Why have you continued to see this woman, despite all my warnings?”
“I haven’t. I promise you … I have tried for months … to forget her … to put her out of my mind, out of my heart, just as you asked me to. But she has been with me all this time. Last week, when I came to you, I had not seen her since the day I took her back home in April. Finally I …” Vincent threw his head back and stared at the ceiling.
“I had to see her. I had to know that she was well. I had to see for myself.”
“What did you do?” Father asked, not really sure he wanted to know.
“I went to her apartment building … to her balcony,” he admitted, looking Father in the eye.
Father only groaned.
“I was only going to look at her through her window,” he insisted. “I just wanted to see that she was all right. I left ‘Great Expectations’ for her, but before I could leave … she … discovered me.”
“Oh, Vincent … What did she do?”
“She was frightened … when she heard me bump into something on the balcony. She came out with a gun in her hand. When she realized it was me … she embraced me. She wanted me to stay. We talked for a while. We finished reading ‘Great Expectations’ together.” He smiled at the sweetness of the memory. “She was glad to see me, Father. She hadn’t forgotten me at all. I told you she … wasn’t like that.”
Father’s heart went out to his son. Shaking his head he said, “How I wish that were true … but the risk you took … She could just as easily have shot you.” Father sighed, as he thought of all the things the Vincent had been denied in his life. “Over the years, I have yearned for so many things for you that simply cannot be. This … this friendship …” He shook his head. “… it will only end in tragedy if you continue. This path will only lead to heartache for you … or worse.” He paused for a moment, to let his words sink in.
“You must believe me,” he continued. “Any contact you have with her will only bring further risk to yourself and to everyone here. Please, Vincent, you are nothing more than a novelty to her. Once she tires of you … she will turn her back on you without any thought to your feelings or the wreckage she might leave behind.”
“No! You do not know her!” Vincent rose and began to pace back and forth. “You have no right to speak of her in such a way.”
“I know her kind, Vincent! Please,” Father begged. “You do not have experience in these matters. I do! I know the end of this path. It leads only to sorrow. Women like her are all the same, selfish, shallow and superficial. Love is just a game to them. Men’s hearts are only amusements, toys to be played with and then tossed aside.”
“You are wrong, Father! I know it.” Vincent would not be swayed.
I am hurting him, Father realized, but these things simply must be said! “I am not saying these things to hurt you, Vincent. Please, believe that. I only want you to see the truth before she does irreparable harm… to you, as well as to everyone else who lives here and depends on this place.
“It isn’t her fault, it’s just the way she has been raised, the way she has been taught to be. It’s what her world expects of her. She is everything a rich young socialite is supposed to be. You have seen for yourself, the pictures and newspaper articles about her. How she hangs on the arms of rich, powerful men. You have nothing that she could ever want, Vincent. You have nothing to offer someone like her.”
Vincent walked around looking at the room that was filled with his cast-off, shabby treasures. Sitting down on the edge of his bed, he examined his worn pants, that were held together by so many patches.
Then, with a sigh, he looked at his hands … his ugly, clawed, beastly hands, and said, “You are wrong about her, Father, of that I am sure. But you are right about one thing. I have nothing to offer someone like her.” He sighed again. “I have nothing to offer anyone.”
He dropped his head as he accepted the truth in Father’s words. He was in no mood to speak of it further.
Father rose and slowly left Vincent alone in his chamber.
Catherine pondered the situation as she found her way back to the threshold of her apartment building’s subbasement.
Despite all of the jokes and clichés about lawyers, Catherine Chandler was not comfortable with dishonesty. Her father and his father before him had always had a great regard for the truth. They valued integrity above all other character traits.
As a result, Catherine, unlike many of her fellow litigators, had not excelled at the fine art of lying, half-truths, and outright obfuscation. She was not accustomed to lying or keeping secrets, but in this case she knew she must.
She had already been lying for months to her father, to her friends, and to the police, and it had taken its toll. The lies and secrets had created a barrier between herself and the people in her life. She felt it, especially between herself and her father.
But she owed this to Vincent. He had not only saved her life, he had given her the strength to face what came after. Now he had done it again. For the second time, he had saved her from certain death, and she would not allow anything to happen to him. She knew she owed him at least that much, and so much more. Telling the truth was not an option. “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”[i]
Catherine had no idea how many times she had heard her father say those words. But what if ‘the right thing to do’ actually means you must say things that aren’t true? she asked herself.
She walked up the service stairs of her apartment building, usually used only by repairmen and for deliveries, so that she could avoid being seen by the doorman or anyone else. She had to think. She had to be ready to answer every possible question. Whatever story she came up with, she had to be able to keep it straight, and her timeline had to be unimpeachable.
In her apartment, she shed her clothes and carefully hung them on a hook on the back of her bathroom door. If there was evidence on them she didn’t want to transfer any of it to anything in her apartment. She would take them to the dry cleaner first thing in the morning.
Her heart and mind were both racing as she stepped into the shower. Visions of Carol Stabler, dead on the floor, and images of what she had seen Vincent do, kept playing over and over in her mind. She knew that if it weren’t for him, she would be lying dead in the brownstone, where she had fallen. And yet, the shock of what she had seen him do was stunning, and surreal.
She leaned against the wall and slowly slipped down to the floor. She needed her mind to be calm so that she could think. Keep it together, Catherine, she told herself. You don’t have the luxury of falling apart, not yet. She took deep, slow breaths. With her head resting on her knees, she let the water beat down on her until she felt herself finally beginning to relax.
Catherine dressed in a night gown, planning to go to bed early if she didn’t hear anything. She was sipping a cup of chamomile tea to calm her shredded nerves when she heard someone pounding on her apartment door. Startled, she jumped, nearly spilling the tea in her lap.
What if the fourth man has come after me to finish what they started? Her thoughts were beginning to run away with her when she heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, Radcliffe? Are you home? It’s me, Joe Maxwell … from work.”
Catherine rushed to look through the peephole. She had expected a phone call. The thought that someone would come to her apartment hadn’t even occurred to her.
Keep it together, Cathy, she told herself as she opened the door.
“Joe?” She tried to act as if she had no idea why he might be there.
Joe was surprised by what he saw when she opened the door. He thought the new lawyer that John Moreno had hired was very attractive. But seeing her standing there, with her hair still damp from the shower, wearing a silky nightgown and matching bathrobe, was an enchanting vision beyond anything he had, as of yet anyway, even imagined. He suddenly became flustered and stammered something unintelligible.
Catherine was not sure how to respond. “Excuse me, Joe? What did you say?”
Trying to pull himself together, he averted his eyes from her very attractive “assets.”
“Uh, I … I tried to call, but you didn’t answer your phone. I was worried. It looks like you are turning in early … is everything ok? ”
She looked down and remembered she wasn’t exactly dressed for company. She felt herself blush and quickly closed and secured her bathrobe. “Oh … yeah … sorry, I didn’t hear the phone. I’ve had a headache all afternoon. I took a long shower, to try and get some relief. I thought I would go to bed early.”
And so, the lies begin, she thought.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“It’s about your witness … um … Carole Stabler …” Joe was feeling incredibly uncomfortable. He yanked at his collar as if it was strangling him and took a deep breath. “I hate having to tell you this, Cathy, but … she’s dead. I’m really sorry. The police want to talk to you. I need you to come with me to the police station.”
Catherine did her best to look shocked. It wasn’t difficult. The panic she was attempting to control caused the blood to drain from her face. Why do the police want to talk to me? What do they know? she asked herself. Do they think I was involved?
“You need me to come to the police station? What for?” she asked.
To Joe, her shock seemed completely genuine and understandable.
There is no delicate way to say this, he thought. “She’s been murdered, Cathy.” Joe spoke softly. “You were a victim in this case before you came to the DA’s office. On top of that, she was your witness. You were one of the last people to see her alive. The police are hoping you can shed some light on the case. I have a taxi waiting downstairs.”
Her hand was shaking as she reached up to brush her hair from her eyes. “I’ll need to change, Joe. Do you mind waiting out here in the hall while I get dressed?”
Joe nodded. “Uh… sure … No problem, Cathy.”
As she closed the door, he leaned against the wall outside her door and muttered softly, “Wheewwww … pull yourself together, buddy. This one is way outa your league.”
As Catherine went into her bedroom, she sat on the bed to catch her breath. Breathe, Cathy, breathe, she told herself. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.
You can do this. You have no choice. You have to do this. She nodded her head as her resolve returned.
Fifteen minutes later, she emerged from her apartment with her hair smartly styled, and looking polished in tailored wool slacks with a short matching blazer that accented her femininity without making her look unprofessional.
Joe Maxwell whistled long and low. “Wow. When you said you needed to get dressed I thought you were gonna throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.”
“I’m representing the D.A.’s office, Joe. I need to look like I’m qualified.”
As they waited for the elevator, Joe commented again on her appearance. “Sheesh … Radcliffe, you even put on make-up. You look like you’re ready for a press conference or something.”
He must think I’m incredibly vain, she thought. She decided to explain, hoping he would understand. “Did you see the pictures of me in the paper last spring, Joe? Right after my attack?”
“Yeah … who didn’t? It was all over the front page. It was awful.”
She nodded. “The journalists and photographers were waiting for me at the police station. Yelling questions, gawking in horror. Trying to get pictures of my slashed face. It felt like I was being attacked all over again.”
Until that moment, Joe had assumed, like many of the other people in the office, that Catherine Chandler’s polished veneer, her aloof demeanor, was because she thought she was better than everyone else. With her few words of explanation, he suddenly realized that it was her way of protecting herself. “Jeez, Cathy. I never even thought about that. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”
Brushing off his apology, she explained, “I don’t go out of my door without make up on. I won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing my scars again. I’m not some tragic spectacle to be stared at or pitied. I’m finished with being a victim, Joe.”
They stepped into the elevator and Catherine hit the ground floor button.
Joe looked a little closer at her face. “I don’t understand. I don’t see any scars. I thought you had plastic surgery for that.”
She nodded. “I did. Dr. Sanderle did a wonderful job too, but he’s not a magician. He was able to greatly reduce the scars, and he assures me they will fade even more over the next year or so. Right now though, they’re still red and visible if I don’t cover them with makeup. You didn’t notice them when I answered my door?”
Joe’s face flushed. “Uh …no … no, I didn’t notice them at all.” He coughed.
Catherine thought he was just trying to be kind.
The truth was, he was too embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t her face that he had been looking at when she’d opened her door. There was an awkward silence until they were in the taxi.
As the driver pulled away from the curb, Catherine closed her eyes and leaned her head against the seat trying to prepare herself for any possible questions. You can do this … You have the strength, Catherine … you do… Vincent’s words came unbidden, as they had so many times over the last several months. The memory always gave her strength.
“Hey, Radcliffe, you okay?” Joe asked.
She took a deep breath. Okay, Cathy, you’re on. Make it good, she told herself. “What happened to her, Joe? How did it happen?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “All I’ve been told is that somehow the safe house was compromised. The guys she was going to testify against killed her. When you didn’t answer your phone … I was worried they might have gotten to you too.”
He hasn’t said anything about the three men Vincent killed. Is it possible they aren’t dead? She wondered. We didn’t check… Maybe they weren’t dead after all. What if they are looking for me? What if they’ve already told the police about Vincent?
Catherine looked up. “Me? You really think they’ll come after me?”
Joe’s nodded. “You aren’t just a deputy D.A. in this case, Radcliffe. You’re also a victim and a witness. Now you’re the only witness.”
She looked at him with feigned shock, hoping against hope that her acting would be convincing. “Do you think I’m in danger, Joe?”
They were shown to a private interview room as soon as they arrived at the police station.
When the door opened Catherine and Joe stood up. The detective nodded to Joe and then turned to Catherine.
“It’s good to see you again, Miss Chandler.”
Catherine extended her hand to him. His greeting sounded strange to her, under the circumstances. “I wish I could say the same, Lieutenant.”
He nodded. “Yes, well … you look much better than the last time we met.”
“Yes, I guess so.”
There was a strained feeling in the room, even Joe could feel it. “You two already know each other then?” he observed.
Catherine had not been comfortable with Lieutenant Herman from the beginning. He had doubted her spotty memory regarding her attack. He had always suspected that she was not being truthful about the ten days she had been missing, and Catherine had sensed his suspicions.
“Lieutenant Herman investigated my attack last spring,” Catherine answered.
“Is there any chance you have remembered anything new about your attack, Miss Chandler?” the Lieutenant asked as they all took their seats.
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I have told you everything I know.”
He nodded and looked at her dubiously.
Sitting down he began the interview. “Can you tell me what your relationship with Carol Stabler was? How did you manage to find her?”
“I knew that the woman I was mistaken for the night of my attack was named Carol. Since I work for the District Attorney’s office now, I was able to do a search for any women with that name who were attacked around the same time I was. When I located her, she didn’t want to cooperate. Then this morning she came to my office and agreed to testify against them with me.”
“When did you last see her?”
“After she gave me her statement, I asked Larry from the office to take her to the safe house. I went there after work to take her some groceries and to make sure she was all right.”
“And you didn’t see anyone, or anything, suspicious when you were there?”
Shaking her head, she answered. “No. Everything seemed fine.” You can do this, you can do this, she kept silently repeating to herself.
“Have you ever been inside the safe house?”
“Yes. My friend gave me a tour when he bought it. And of course, I was there earlier this evening, but I was only in the entry way.” I hope I didn’t leave any evidence to the contrary behind, she thought.
“Do you know anything about a tunnel underneath the house?”
“No” She tried to look confused. “What does a tunnel under the house have to do with this?”
“We aren’t sure. We think that the killer might have used an underground tunnel to get away without being seen.”
Don’t react ... They don’t know anything. “I wasn’t aware of any tunnel. I’ve never been in the basement.”
“Miss Chandler, there were three men found dead in the brownstone as well, we believe they are the men who murdered Carol Stabler.”
Catherine tried not to appear too relieved at the news. She furrowed her brow. “I don’t understand … I thought you just said they escaped through a tunnel.”
“We believe the men who murdered Miss Stabler were the men found dead in the brownstone … What we don’t know is who killed them, or where they went.”
Catherine tried to appear stunned by the revelation. She was sure that Lieutenant Herman was carefully scrutinizing her reactions, as well as her words.
“Would you be willing to come with me to the morgue to see if you recognize any of the men?” he asked.
Catherine stiffened immediately at the suggestion. She had no desire to ever see the men who had wreaked such havoc on her life, even if they were no longer a threat to her. She looked to Joe who had been silent thus far.
“I’ll be right by your side, if you want, Cathy,” Joe offered.
Catherine nodded to Lieutenant Herman. “I can try.”
As they entered the morgue, Catherine’s face became deathly pale. Catherine closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm herself. The room had an antiseptic smell and something else she was not familiar with: a sickening sweet, chemical and slightly rank odor that made her feel ill. The room was uncomfortably cool. Yet, Catherine thought it odd that despite the cold, her palms and armpits were sweating. She felt hot and cold at the same time.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Cathy?” Joe asked.
“I’m sure, Joe.” She nodded. “I need to do this.” Feeling slightly dizzy, she reached out and gripped his arm to steady herself.
The coroner led them to the large refrigerator where the bodies were kept, then opened the first huge stainless steel drawer. He unzipped the body bag, exposing a balding, middle aged man.
“Do you recognize this man, Miss Chandler?” Lieutenant Herman asked.
You can do this, you can do this, you can do this, she silently repeated to herself. She shook her head slowly. “I’ve never seen him before,” she lied. “I pulled a mugshot of Martin Belmont, the man Carole Stabler said ran the escort service. It looks like it could be him.”
“You’re sure you’ve never met him anywhere else, Miss Chandler?”
They moved on to the next drawer, repeating the process.
She shook her head again. “No. I’m sorry, I don’t recognize this man either.” She could feel her heart beating in her throat, as the stress of the lies was already beginning to weigh on her.
Joe was concerned about her. “Say the word, Radcliffe and I’ll get you outa here.”
She looked at him gratefully and squeezed his arm. “Thanks, Joe, but I’m going to see this through. I owe Carol that much. Just promise me you’ll catch me if I faint.”
“It’s a deal, kiddo.” He gave her an encouraging smile. He was actually pretty impressed that she was holding up so well. He never expected the rich New York socialite to be so tough.
As the coroner opened the body bag to reveal the third man, Catherine gasped audibly and began to shake. She could see the gashes on his face, from Vincent’s assault and a look of terror frozen on his dead face. The vision of Vincent tearing this man apart at the height of his rage flashed in her mind. She closed her eyes in an effort to block out the memory. As she did so her grip on Joe’s arm tightened.
She could still remember her attacker’s hot, fetid breath on her skin.
“Hey Carol, you've gotta remember to keep your mouth shut from now on...” he had said.
“My name isn't Carol.” She had whimpered in an attempt to explain.
“SHUT UP!” He had screamed at her.
The memory of his sinister smile sickened her. Closing her eyes had done nothing to stop the onslaught of memories.
“Every time you look in the mirror.” He sneered as he came closer and she felt the blade pierce her skin. The last thing she remembered was his maniacal laughter at the first sight of her blood.
The memories were still fresh and raw, after all these months.
Joe hadn’t thought that Cathy’s face could get any paler, but as he watched her, the blood seemed to completely drain from her face. Even through the cover of make up, he could now clearly see the thin red lines that marked what was left of the scars from her attack. She began to sway a little and Joe quickly guided her to the nearest chair.
“Come over here and sit down, Cathy.” He knelt down in front of her chair and rubbed her arm. “Hey … are you all right? Are you gonna to be sick?”
Catherine shook her head and then leaned forward with her face in her hands. Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, she finally sat up to see Joe, the coroner, and Lieutenant Herman looking at her with concern.
“Did you recognize that man, Miss Chandler?” Lieutenant Herman asked.
She nodded, unsure if she could trust herself to speak. The thought foremost in her mind was that she could not say anything to jeopardize Vincent.
She hugged herself in an attempt to control her trembling. With her voice shaking she finally said, “He’s the one … the one who … cut my face. The one who threw me into the van. He had a … knife.” She closed her eyes again …
“It figures,” said the Lieutenant, nodding. “Ralph Manconi. Knives and razors were his weapon of choice. Got his jollies by cutting people. Well, Miss Chandler, it looks like he won’t be hurting you or anyone else ever again.”
“What happened, Lieutenant? Who killed them?” she asked, even though she knew she was the only one who actually knew the truth.
“We haven’t figured that out yet, Miss Chandler. We were hoping you would be able to shed some light on that. You’re sure you didn’t see anything out of the ordinary when you were there this afternoon? Did Miss Stabler have anyone there with her?”
“No,” she lied, shaking her head. “I didn’t see anyone.”
Joe didn’t like the tone the Lieutenant was using. He could see that Lieutenant Herman wasn’t satisfied with Catherine’s answers. He stood up and reached for Catherine’s arm. “I think she’s had enough, Lieutenant.” Then turning to Catherine. “I’m taking you home, Cathy.”
Catherine looked startled. “Wait, where’s Carol? I haven’t seen her.”
“We don’t need you to identify her, Miss Chandler,” the Lieutenant said. “She’s already been identified.”
Catherine was adamant. “I need to see her. Please!”
“You don’t have to do this, Cathy,” Joe insisted.
“Yes, Joe, I do.” She refused to give in.
Lieutenant Herman nodded to the coroner, who led them to the far end of the refrigerator.
As the coroner pulled out the drawer holding the young woman, he said, “She was badly beaten before they shot her. I will be doing a full autopsy in the morning, but it looks pretty straight forward.”
Catherine came forward and gripped the side of the table as he unzipped the body bag. At first glance she swayed. Instead of Carol Stabler, she saw herself lying there on the cold table with her face beaten and slashed. She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. When she opened them again, she could see that it was Carol. Looking into the young woman’s bruised and battered face she whispered, “I’m sorry, Carol. I’m so sorry.”
Catherine couldn’t help but feel how close to death she had come. If it wasn’t for Vincent I would be lying on the slab right next to you, she thought.
Joe’s could see that she’d had enough. He came to her side and gently pried her hands loose. “Come on, Cathy. There isn’t anything more you can do for her. Let’s get you outa here.”
Turning to Lieutenant Herman, he said, “If you need to ask her anything else, Chuck, I’d appreciate it if you contact me first. You can always get a hold of me at the office.”
“Sure thing, Joe.”
Then turning to Catherine, he said, “You’re a very lucky lady, Miss Chandler. You must have barely missed crossing paths with these guys tonight. The milk in the grocery bags was still cold when we got there.” He had suspected from the beginning that the young woman was holding something back from him, he still did. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. But in all these months he had never seen her crack.
Catherine only nodded. She was too physically and emotionally exhausted to respond.
Neither she nor Joe spoke as he led her out of the morgue and ushered her into a taxi to take her back to her apartment.
It was Joe who finally broke the silence. “I owe you an apology, Cathy,” he said.
His words pulled her from her own tortured thoughts. “You do? Why?”
“You have no idea how I hate to ever admit that I made a mistake,” he explained. “but boy did I peg you all wrong.”
Catherine made no response, but she gave him her undivided attention.
“I thought you were just some rich guy’s daughter, looking for an adventure or something more meaningful than shopping, cocktail parties, debutante balls, and whatever it is you rich people do. I didn’t think you would last a week in our office before you went running home to Daddy.”
His words stung, partly because there was more than a shred of truth to them, but mostly because it hurt to know what people really thought of her. At the same time she appreciated his candor.
“Anyway, kiddo …” he continued. “You sure proved me wrong tonight. You showed real moxie in there, Radcliffe. First time I saw a dead body in the morgue, I lost my lunch. Everybody does their first time … but not you. You’re a lot tougher than I thought you were.”
Catherine could hear the admiration in his voice, but she was too overcome by the whole experience to verbally respond. She just nodded and looked away.
Despite the fact that she had turned her face to the window, Joe could see that she was crying. Oh man, he thought, now she’s crying. Stop with the crying, he silently pleaded. Crying women always made Joe panic. He didn’t like emotions. They were too … emotional.
“Hey … Cathy, I … I didn’t mean to make you cry … really… I’m sorry.”
She shook her head and looked back at him. “It’s not you, Joe. You didn’t.”
“Then what’s wrong?” he asked, handing her a handkerchief.
“It’s my fault she’s dead, Joe. I got Carol Stabler killed. It should be me lying there in the morgue right now … not her.”
“Hey! Radcliffe … No way! You can’t think like that.”
She looked up from the handkerchief to face him. “How else can I think? If I hadn’t guilted her into testifying … If I had left her alone like she asked …”
“Listen, Cathy, this was not your fault! You were doing your job. She knew the risk she was taking, and she chose to testify anyway. I won’t let you take the blame for those lowlifes. It’s their fault Carol Stabler is dead and that’s it! And as far as I’m concerned it’s their own fault they’re dead too. Whoever did that to them … they had it coming. It had nothing to do with you.”
His passion in her defense only made Catherine feel worse about having to lie to him, as well as to everyone else.
As the taxi pulled up to her curb, Joe said, “I’ll walk you up.”
Catherine shook her head. “That isn’t necessary, Joe.”
Joe refused to give in. “Yes, it is. You’ve had a rough night. I’m going to see you safely to your door, and that’s that.”
Turning to the taxi driver, he said, “I’ll be right back.” Before the driver could reply, Joe added, “I know, I know, the meter’s running. It’s not a problem. I’ll be right back.”
At her apartment door, she turned to him. “Thanks, Joe, for standing next to me through all of that. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.”
Joe shrugged it off. “Hey, it’s all part of the job. Anyway, I thought you might need someone to catch you, you know… just in case … But you did all right. I’ll see you at work bright and early?”
She nodded and unlocked the door. “Sure …tomorrow … bright and early.” Her fatigue was evident in her voice.
As he began walking away he turned back toward her. “On second thought, Radcliffe, you look like you could use some rest. Why don’t you come in a half hour late?”
“You’re a real prince,” she quipped.
Joe scoffed at that. “Yeah, yeah, Radcliffe, says you and my mother.”
With that she smiled a little. “Good night, Joe.”
He was relieved to see her faint smile.
As soon as Catherine had locked the door behind her, the reality of what she had just been through washed over her. She raced to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet in time to be sick.
She ripped off her clothes as quickly as she could before the stench of the morgue on them could make her sick again. But the smell of death was in her hair and in her nose. It’s acrid, bitter taste was on her tongue and burning in the back of her throat, making her gag and wretch again.
She brushed her teeth and her tongue twice, to no avail.
In the shower she scrubbed her skin so hard that it turned pink. Still the disgusting odor lingered like a cloud around her.
Finally, with her energy spent, she gave up and sank to the floor of the shower.
For so many months, she had tried to be strong. She had not allowed herself to fully feel the magnitude of all that had happened to her. She was afraid that if she did, she would never be able to get up again.
But the weight of all that she had been through, the vision of her attackers dead in the morgue, and her regret over Carol’s death was too much for her. She finally broke under its weight, and she wept like she hadn’t wept since she was ten years old. She wept until the hot water ran cold and she finally had to get out.
She soon fell into an exhausted sleep and was kept company by her nightmares until the early hours of the morning.
After his conversation with Father, Vincent needed solitude. He needed to think. He needed to think about what he had done. He needed to think about Catherine. And he needed to think about the things Father had said to him.
After scrubbing all of his clothes of any trace of his deeds, he took a bath, and then headed for the pool beneath the falls. Once there, he swam for what seemed like hours in the cold water, trying to sort out his emotions and trying to shield himself from hers.
The events of the day played over and over, like a loop in his head. The looks on the faces of the men he had killed were burned into his mind. He could still see their horror when they realized that they were about to die. In their frightened eyes, he clearly saw the terrible truth of all that he was.
And then he recalled the fear for him he saw in Catherine’s gentle eyes. The gratitude he saw there before they parted.
The memory of her scent and the feel of her touch seemed to fill every empty place in his soul. He wondered at her courage and at the same time he was laden with sorrow to know that someone as wonderful as Catherine could never be his.
Father is right, he thought. I have nothing to offer someone like Catherine. Any contact with her can only end in heartbreak or tragedy.
As he swam he asked himself if Father was also right that he was being selfish and irresponsible to even entertain the idea of a friendship with her.
Yes, he concluded. I have a responsibility to the people who have sheltered and loved me my entire life. I have no right to risk their safety for the impossible dream of something that can never be.
But he would not accept Father’s insistence that Catherine was shallow and superficial. He had never seen any evidence of it when he was with her. Not when she was recovering in his chamber for ten days or at any time since. Not even today, when she had seen him as he unleashed all his rage and fury.
No, Catherine is not shallow, he thought. There was no fear of me in her eyes. No revulsion in her countenance. Only acceptance, concern and gratitude. She did not recoil from my touch. It was Catherine who initiated the embrace. It was Catherine who insisted that we only part “for now.” She has been nothing but kind to me… even in spite of what she saw.
Even though Vincent was deep beneath the city he could still feel Catherine’s turmoil, in its aftermath. Her waves of panic alternated with stubborn resolve. He felt her strength, as well as her fear. He felt her nausea, her regret, and her overwhelming guilt. Then finally, he felt a release of anguish more intense than he had ever felt from her before.
Catherine’s emotions whirled around, and crashed against him as he swam. They churned and mixed with his own tumultuous thoughts and feelings until he couldn’t tell where his ended and hers began. Feeling her pain and at the same time knowing he couldn’t go to her or offer her any comfort was torture to him.
Finally, coming up out of the pool, his tormented roars echoed off the walls of the Chamber of the Falls. He waited under the falls, letting the frigid water beat down on him until he felt her finally go to sleep.
It didn’t bring him relief for long, however. Neither of them, it seemed, could escape her dreams.
Over the next few days he could feel her emotions even out, at least during her waking hours. But the night and sleep brought with it the terror of her nightmares. They seemed even worse than they had been in the weeks after her attack in April.
He could feel her terror. He sensed that she was running from something … or someone. Vincent feared that she was dreaming about him and what she had witnessed him do. Is she running from me? he wondered. Am I her worst nightmare?
How he wished he could comfort her in some way, but he was afraid his presence in her life might only make things worse.
It had been over a week since Carol Stabler’s death, and Catherine was still troubled by what had happened. She was determined to channel her guilt into making sure that she never lost another witness in such a way.
The first few days she had kept busy at work with the never ending stream of new cases that swamped her desk. At night though, alone in her apartment, she was still plagued by the memory and the guilt. As a result she had worked nonstop through the weekend. The following week she worked late every night, to ensure that she was too exhausted to think when she got home.
Even with that, she couldn’t escape her dreams. The nightmares that had plagued her for months after her first attack had returned, heightened by new images of a man with a snake tattoo chasing her with a knife, and dreams of discovering herself dead in the morgue.
“Cathy Chandler’s desk.” Catherine said, as she answered her office phone on Friday afternoon.
“Hi, Honey. How’s my best girl?”
“Dad! Hi. It’s good to hear your voice,” she said.
Charles Chandler was the one man in Catherine’s life who had never let her down, who could always cheer her up, and who had always loved her without reservation or condition.
“I was wondering if you have time to get together for dinner tonight?”
“You’re in luck,” she said, seizing the chance to have something besides work to occupy her mind for the evening. “I just happen to have an opening. Should I meet you at the office or at home?”
“Come by the office, and we can go from here. You’re welcome to bring Tom along, if you want to.”
“No thanks, Daddy, I don’t want to share you tonight. ‘Just the two of us,’ sounds good to me. Is six o’clock too early for me to come by?”
“That sounds perfect, Honey, I’ll be here. I’m always here … you know … just like …”
“I know, I know,” she said, rolling her eyes and groaning at his old joke. “Just like death and taxes.”
“I’ll see you later, then,” he said.
As she hung up the phone Catherine had a twinge of anxiety. She knew that she needed to tell her father what had happened. Not the whole truth, mind you, but she had to tell him something. She knew she should have done it immediately after it had happened. He deserved to know, but she had not known what to say to him. Of all the people she had lied to, Catherine hated lying to him the most.
As she walked through the reception area of the Chandler and Coolidge offices, she was relieved to see that nearly everyone had left for the day. She wasn’t in the mood to banter with anyone. She was greeted warmly in her father’s outer office though.
“Oh, Cathy, you’re certainly a sight for sore eyes!” her father’s secretary exclaimed.
Catherine smiled and walked into the woman’s open arms. “It’s good to see you too, Marilyn!”
“You look wonderful,” Marilyn said, as she looked, really looked, at Catherine. “You have recovered beautifully from your accident. Hmmm … You look … maybe a little tired, though. Are you getting enough sleep?”
Catherine smiled and squeezed her hand. “I’m fine, Marilyn,” she insisted. “Stop worrying.”
Marilyn was more like family to Catherine than just her father’s secretary. She had known and loved Catherine since early childhood and had been a big help to Charles with her after his wife had passed away.
“Is Daddy still working?”
“You know your father. What do you think?”
Catherine rolled her eyes and groaned.
“I’m glad you’re here to drag him away from it,” Marilyn said. “He’s been out of sorts for days.”
“Why? Is something wrong?” She was suddenly concerned.
“I’m not sure. All I know is, he hasn’t been himself. Do you want me to let him know you’re here?”
“No, that’s okay. I like to see his eyes light up when I show up unexpectedly.”
“But he is expecting you.”
Catherine raised her eyebrows and smiled mischievously. “Yes he is expecting me, that’s true, but I’m early. When was the last time that happened?”
Marilyn laughed. “I see, Cathy, you certainly have a point.” She laughed again. “Go on in.”
Stepping just inside his office, Catherine could see her father standing at the window, looking out at the city. His was slouching a little, as if carrying some great weight on his back. He looked uncharacteristically sad.
Without turning toward the door, he said, “Why don’t you go ahead and go home, Marilyn? I’ll wait here for Cathy and we will see ourselves out.”
When she didn’t respond, he looked in her direction. Immediately his face lit up and he smiled. “CATHY! What’s this? You’re early! I wasn’t expecting you to get here for at least another forty-five minutes.”
Walking toward his open arms, she said, “That was the old Cathy, Dad. What you see before you is the new and improved version.”
“I think I like it!” He laughed and they put their arms around each other.
“Hi, Daddy.” She gave him and affectionate hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You looked so sad, standing there at the window. Is something wrong?”
He hugged her a little tighter. “Oh, Cathy, nothing that a hug from my favorite daughter can’t fix.”
Still in his embrace, she asked, “Come on, Dad. What is it?” They looked at each other for a moment.
“Can we talk, Honey?” He sounded so serious, it immediately made her worry.
“Sure,” she said, as she took a seat.
He resumed his spot at the window as if he wasn’t sure how to begin.
“You’re scaring me a little, Dad.”
“I’m sorry, Cathy, it’s just that I don’t know how to start.”
“Just spit it out. Like ripping off a bandage.” She lowered her voice in an attempt to sound like him.
“Now you’re quoting your old dad, huh?” He laughed a little and sat in his chair behind his desk and decided to take her advice. “What’s happening between you and Tom, Cathy?”
She was surprised by the question. “Nothing,” was all she said.
“Is that, ‘nothing’ … as in nothing has changed between you? Or ‘nothing’ as in, you’re no longer a couple?”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Has Tom said something to you?”
“He is my client, Cathy.” Charles shrugged. “It’s only natural that he might mention you.”
She could feel her temper rising a little. “No, it isn’t ‘natural’, Dad. It’s Tom’s underhanded way of trying to control me. When I said, ‘nothing’, I meant there is no ‘me and Tom.’ I’ve tried to break it off with him several times, but he refuses to listen. As far as I’m concerned, we’re over.”
Realizing that the situation could affect him, she changed her tone. “I’m sorry … if that puts a strain on your business relationship with him.”
Charles looked surprised. “Don’t worry about that, Cathy.” He quickly reassured her. “Tom Gunther is just a client. You’re my daughter. If he doesn’t make you happy then don’t worry about it. I only want you to be happy.”
She relaxed, and sat back in her chair. “Is that what you were so worried about?”
“No, Cathy.” He shook his head and looked down at something on top of his desk.
“Have you read the paper much this week?” He tentatively asked. He didn’t want to accuse her outright of keeping the truth from him, but he needed to find out if she was.
“No, I guess not. I’ve been pretty swamped. I’ve been so exhausted when I get home from work, I just go straight to bed,” she explained.
He raised his eyebrows. “Really? I don’t recall that happening much when you were here.”
Catherine squirmed uncomfortably in her chair. She knew he was right.
“Have you read about the murders in the village?” he asked.
She knew immediately what he was referring to, but she didn’t want to appear as guilty about it as she felt. “Can you be more specific?”
“Yes … some prostitute that was going to testify for the police was killed along with some of the men she was going to testify against.” Charles slid the newspaper that was laying on his desk in her direction.
Catherine picked it up and read, “Bizarre Brownstone Murders Still a Mystery, Police Have No Leads”
She nodded. “Yes, I am familiar with this case,” she admitted.
“Read the third paragraph from the top,” he requested.
She read it out loud.
“According to sources in the police department, Deputy District Attorney Catherine Chandler was at the safe house only a short time before the murders occurred, but claims to have seen nothing suspicious.”
She continued staring down at the paper after she had finished reading.
“Can you talk about it, Cathy?” he asked.
Laying the newspaper back on the desk, Cathy rose from the chair and walked to the window. She knew she had to tell him something. She took a deep breath and began. “She wasn’t just a prostitute, Dad. She was a person… She was trying to do the right thing. Those men who were killed … they were the men who attacked me last spring.”
“What?” He sounded deeply concerned.
“They mistook me for her,” Catherine continued, attempting to keep her voice steady. “She was my witness. I’m the one that convinced her to testify. I sent her to that safe house. It’s my fault she’s dead. If I had only left her alone like she asked, she would still be alive.”
Charles was too concerned for his daughter’s safety to hear the regret she was trying to express about the death of her witness.
“When it says that you were there ‘only a short time before the murders occurred,’ what does that mean?” he asked. “Is a ‘short time’ hours, or minutes, or what?”
She could see the love in his eyes and hear the worry in his voice. She sighed, and said, “The police believe it was only minutes. They thought I might have actually seen something.”
“Did you?” He was trying valiantly to keep the panic out of his voice.
She had to answer him. I hate lying to you, Dad, she thought, but I have no choice.
She shook her head. “No … no I didn’t.” She was sure he would be able to see that she was not being honest with him. When she was a child, he had always had a knack for knowing when she wasn’t being truthful.
“I want you to quit your job, Cathy. I want you to come back to work here.” His voice sounded firm, and unyielding.
Surprised by his demand, she could only answer, “What? Why?”
“Because, that job is dangerous. You could have been killed by those men. If you had been there just a few minutes later … they would have killed you too. I don’t know what I would do if I ever lost you.”
She could see the fear in his eyes, she could hear it in his voice, but she refused to give in to it. “Daddy, I can’t just quit. I don’t want to.”
“Cathy, I don’t ask much of you. You know that,” he insisted. “I have always given you the freedom to make your own choices. You know that too.” He began raising his voice in and effort to convince her. “But I can’t let this go on. I want you back here at the firm with me.”
Catherine was completely flabbergasted by his tone and all that it implied. She was having trouble keeping her temper under control. “You’ve ‘given’ me the freedom?’ You can’t ‘let’… this … go… on?” Her voice was getting higher with each word.
“You sound like Tom! He said he wasn’t going to just ‘let me’ slip away. Like it was up to him! Like he owned me! I am not your property, Daddy. I’m a grown woman and I don’t need permission from you or from Tom or anyone else!”
Charles was not ready to back down. He wasn’t used to having his daughter defy him outright. She had always backed down when he insisted in the past. He stood up and began pacing the length of the window.
Turning to Catherine, he continued, “I just don’t understand. Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove? That you can make it out there on your own?” he asked, flinging his hand toward the city skyline outside. “I didn’t try to stop you before because I thought you needed to get your accident out of your system … but it’s gone too far!” he insisted.
Catherine stood up and yelled, “I WAS ATTACKED, Dad! It wasn’t an ‘accident!’ Why do people keep calling it that?” She walked around his desk to put some distance between them and stood behind her chair.
“There was nothing accidental about what they did to me! People keep referring to 'My Accident', like I tripped and fell down the stairs or something! They didn’t accidently slash my face, Dad. They didn’t bump into me and break my ribs. I wasn’t covered with accidental bruises.” She stopped and gripped the chair tightly to steady herself. Looking into her father’s astonished face she said, “They nearly killed me, Dad. Whenever people call it an ‘accident’… it makes me want to scream.”
“I’m sorry, Cathy,” he whispered.
“I’m not trying to prove anything.” She said, ignoring his apology. She was more exasperated than angry. She closed her eyes to try and find a way to explain to him why keeping her job was so important to her.
Opening her eyes again, she said, “I … I need you to try to understand …. when I was attacked last spring, I… something happened to me that I … something changed … inside of me … it’s like … like the old Cathy died … and this Cathy is what was born in her place … My priorities are different now. The things that were important to me before … they…” She paused and shook her head. “… they just aren’t anymore. I’m not really sure how to explain it, but I can’t go back to being who I was back then … I don’t think I could even if I wanted to.”
She sat back down and looked at him, silently pleading for him to try to understand.
When she felt a little calmer, she continued. “Here at the firm, Daddy … I was just ‘the boss’s daughter.’ No one here ever really took me seriously … And the sad thing is … I didn’t even care … not enough to try to prove them wrong anyway … At the District Attorney’s office it’s different.”
Sitting back down behind his desk, Charles leaned toward his daughter. “You mean they do … take you seriously?”
Shaking her head, she said, “No… not yet anyway. They treat me like some fly by night rich kid that’s there for an adventure. Most of them think I will leave when things get too hard.”
“Then what is it that’s different?” he asked.
“I’m different, Daddy… I care … I care what they think of me. I want to prove them all wrong. I care that I’m making a difference. I care that I’m helping people who can’t help themselves.”
He wasn’t ready to give in. “At least here, Cathy, I would know you were safe from …”
“Safe from what, Dad?” she interrupted. “Was I safe last April? … Did working for Chandler and Coolidge stop them from cutting my face to ribbons and leaving me for dead?”
They stared at each other for a moment, before she continued. Her voice softened as she felt his love, as well as his fear for her. “I’m not some fairy tale princess, that you can lock up in an ivory tower. We can’t hide from the world and just pretend that it will never touch us.”
She reached up to touch the scar on the side of her face. “We both know, now … that it can.”
Charles closed his eyes at the memory of the cold, hard dread he had felt for the ten days she had been missing, and then the horror of seeing what they had done to her. He nodded his agreement that they did indeed know that now.
“No one is safe in this city, Dad,” she said softly. “Especially if … if people like me …people who have the power and the ability to make a difference, just look away, and hide in their expensive apartments, pretending that the world is beautiful … There’s a lot of ugliness in this world … I just want to do something that makes a difference, … that makes it a little less ugly for … for someone besides myself.”
“Are you saying that I don’t?” He sounded hurt.
“No, Daddy… I know you do … make a difference… especially to me. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. It’s not what I meant. But you make a difference because you love what you do … and you’re good at it. But corporate law isn’t everything … at least not to me. I don’t love it the way you do … I don’t even like it.”
“Corporate law has provided a very good life for you,” he countered.
She nodded in agreement. “I know that. I’m not saying it to hurt you, Daddy. I can’t help it. I will never be a good corporate attorney. If I could have, I would have. I hope you know that. For so long, all I ever wanted to do was please you and live up to the standard you set. It’s not that I don’t love you … I do … and I know that you’re one of the best corporate attorney’s there is. But no matter how much I love you, Daddy… I can never be you.”
He sighed heavily. “I love you too, Cathy. I just don’t want you to get hurt…”
Her voice was filled with compassion as she spoke, “I could have gotten hurt climbing trees, Dad. Skiing in Switzerland, waterskiing in the Caribbean, scuba diving off of the Great Barrier Reef, on safari in Africa. For that matter, I could get killed crossing the street or driving a car. It happens to people every day. You never asked me to stop doing those things.”
“Believe me, if I thought I could have stopped you, I would have. But this … it’s … unnecessary danger.”
“No, it isn’t,” she argued. “What I’m doing is very necessary. Sooner or later, we all have to find some place to stand up and do something to make this world a better place. This is where I’ve chosen to make my stand.”
She could feel her father’s pain. She knew she was hurting him, but she didn’t know what else to do. Her heart ached for him and she spoke to him gently.
“Ever since I can remember, Daddy, you have always protected me, always kept me safe, smoothed the way. But I’m not a little girl anymore. You can stop now. I’m 31 years old … I think it’s high time you trusted me to try my wings and fly … or even fall … Don’t you?”
At her words, Charles was reminded of a promise he had made to her mother not long before her death.
“Will you promise me something, Charles?”
“My mother suffocated me with her fears. Don’t make Cathy carry that burden, Charles. Don’t hold her back by chaining her with your fears. When the time comes … promise me, you will have the courage to let her fly. Even if it breaks your heart. "
Charles sighed. “It was so much easier when you were a little girl.”
Catherine was slightly startled as she watched the wind go out of his sails and he began to acquiesce to her arguments.
“You’re right, Cathy, something has happened to you. Something I don’t understand. I thought it would pass as you healed from your … acci … attack … That after a while, the old Cathy would return. But you are different. You’re stronger than I ever realized.” He looked at her as if he was seeing her as an adult for the very first time.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.
“You suddenly remind me so much of your mother,” he said, wistfully. “She was the strongest person I’ve ever known. You must have gotten it from her. Before she died, she made me promise that I would have the courage to let you fly when you were ready … I guess I had convinced myself that you never would. If you’re this passionate about it, Honey, then I won’t try to stop you.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Daddy.” She could only guess at how hard it must be for him to say that.
“But I can’t promise that I won’t worry,” he added.
She smiled, “I love you, Daddy.” She came around to his side of the desk and put her arms around him.
He stood up and put his arms around her. Kissing her on top of the head, he said, “I love you too, sweetheart.” Then, suddenly changing the subject, he asked, “So where do you want to go for dinner? Delmonico’s, Tavern on the Green, The Oyster Bar?”
She took his cue and thought for a moment. “Do you remember that little diner on the corner of 83rd and Lex you used to take me to after my piano recitals when I was a little girl?”
“The Lexington Candy Shop?”
Her eyes widened and she smiled. “Yes! That’s where I want to go. I want the biggest milkshake they’ve got, and a big, juicy hamburger.”
“Are you trying to give me a stroke? Peter says I’m supposed to be watching my diet these days. He’ll have my head if he finds out I ate there.”
“Come on, Dad, we only live once. We have to get out and enjoy it every now and then. Tell Peter I forced you into it and you were powerless to resist my charms.”
Charles laughed. “So you want me to go with the truth then? That’s an interesting concept,” he said sarcastically.
They both laughed as they walked out the door arm in arm, but inwardly, Catherine winced. She knew her father had no idea how much his jest pricked her conscience.
Later that night, Catherine awoke in a panic from her haunting dreams. Her hair was damp with sweat and her heart was racing wildly. Looking at the bedside clock, she could see that it was after two a.m. She knew she would not be going back to sleep any time soon so, she sought the solace of her balcony.
Manhattan was a city that never really slept, but in the wee hours of the morning there was a peaceful lull to the city sounds. A lull that comforted her. Even the stars seemed to twinkle a little brighter in the quiet hours of the night. Fall was just beginning and she could smell it in the cool breeze that caressed her face. She took several deep breaths, to calm herself.
They are only dreams, she told herself. Those men can’t hurt me anymore.
“Are you … all right, Catherine?” she heard him whisper.
She jumped and whirled around to see him standing in the shadows. With one hand over her heart, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Vincent … you surprised me. How long have you been standing there?”
“Not long,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I frightened you.”
She didn’t run into his arms as she had before, he noted. Is it because she is afraid … now that she has had time to think about … what I am? he wondered.
“You’re troubled, Catherine. Your nightmares have returned. Is it because of me?” he asked, afraid that he already knew the answer. “Is it because of what I … did?”
She squinted in the dark. She could only see his silhouette. “What do you mean, ‘what you did’?”
The shame he felt about it made it difficult to speak. “Because I … killed those men. Because of the way I … killed those men,” he stammered. “Because you saw me … as I … as I was. Am I the cause of your nightmares?”
How can he even think that? she wondered. Shaking her head, she replied. “No, of course you’re not. Vincent, those men … were murderers. They killed a woman … they would have murdered me, if you hadn’t … done … what you did.”
“I don’t want to frighten you, Catherine. I’ll leave if you want me to.”
“No, please … please don’t leave.” She insisted as she reached for his hands and pulled him out of the shadows to sit by her side on the bricks.
“Vincent, the first time you came here, you told me that you can feel what I feel,” she said. “Is that really true? Is that how you knew that I was … in danger? Is that how you knew where to find me?”
“Yes … that is how I knew.”
Trying to understand, she asked, “If you could feel what I was feeling then … why do you think I’m afraid of you now?”
He thought for a moment, “Perhaps … because … you should be, Catherine … You should be afraid… of me. Perhaps it is me that is afraid. Perhaps the fear that I’m sensing is my own.”
She was even more confused by his answer. “You’re afraid … of me? Why?”
“Why would you be afraid of me, Vincent? Please … tell me.”
“Father says you have the power in your hands to destroy me … to expose our world and everyone who depends on the Tunnels to survive.” He couldn’t look at her as he said, “He believes that our … ‘friendship’ … is a tragic mistake, that I am jeopardizing myself and everyone Below. He has been scouring the newspapers every day since I … since I helped you … since I killed those men, to see if he can find any hint that you have said anything to the police or betrayed our world.”
“Why? Why does he think I would do that? He doesn’t even know me.”
He hesitated again.
“Vincent … please…” she begged.
“He says that women like you are not to be trusted. He believes that I am just a … novelty to you … that eventually you will tire of me, that you will soon forget about me.”
“Women like me?” she asked, searchingly.
“Wealthy socialites.” Vincent could feel her pain as soon as he said the words.
Catherine turned away from him and looked out at the New York skyline. She nodded almost imperceptibly. Her laugh had a bitter tinge to it. Father is a very wise man, she thought. He must have had some experience with wealthy socialites.
“He believes he knows who I am, then?” she asked.
“Yes … from the newspapers.”
“What you see in the papers … That isn’t … who I am, Vincent. Not anymore. It’s all a … charade … like a costume ball that never ends. The newpapers …” She sighed. “They don’t care who I am … they only care that my father is wealthy, and powerful, and that I am … beautiful … Like that means something. As if being wealthy and beautiful somehow … makes me more valuable than everybody else.” She paused for a moment. “It’s all so … shallow and … superficial.”
“Superficial?” Vincent he asked, surprised that she used the very words that Father had used to describe her and her world.
She nodded thoughtfully. “Yes … superficial.”
“Catherine, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I …” He reached out and touched her shoulder.
She turned toward him, wiping a tear from her cheek and spoke gently. “Please, don’t be sorry … don’t ever be sorry for speaking the truth, Vincent.”
Looking into his eyes, she asked, “What do you believe? Do you believe that I would … betray you?”
“No, Catherine. You made a promise and I believe you intend to keep it. That is what I told Father, but he doesn’t believe me. He thinks that my judgment is … flawed. He wanted me to come here and ask you exactly what you have told the police.”
“You only came because Father asked you to?” she asked. Not because you wanted to see me? she thought.
She immediately felt foolish for even thinking the question. At the same time she was overwhelmed and embarrassed by her sudden feeling of disappointment.
So was he. Can her disappointment really be because she wanted me to come here to see her? he wondered. It was something he was afraid to believe, even though he could clearly feel it from her.
“You can tell Father not to worry, Vincent. I told the police that I went to the safe house to drop off some groceries on my way home from work, and that Carol was fine when I left her there.”
“You lied then? he asked, surprised and concerned that she would do that for him. “You lied to protect me?” He felt her wince internally at his words, but her face did not betray her. “And they believed you?”
She nodded, sadly. “There is no one to dispute it. No one will ever know that I’m a … liar … except for me.” Looking away she said, “Apparently I’m better at it than I ever wanted to be … Or thought I could be.” Will he think less of me, she wondered, for lying?
“I’m sorry, Catherine … that you have had to compromise your integrity to protect me.”
She turned back to him and asked, “Have I? … compromised my integrity, I mean? I’ve actually been torn about that myself. I owe you my life, Vincent. I would be dead if … if it weren’t for you. Part of having integrity is doing the right thing. I have no doubt that protecting you and your world is the right thing.” She sighed and shook her head. “In this case … lying is the only way I know how to do that.”
“And yet you are still troubled by … something,” he observed.
“Yes …” She looked away. She felt embarrassed and exposed knowing that he could discern her emotions so clearly.
“What is it, Catherine?” Please, tell me,” he pleaded.
“It’s my father. He wants me to leave my job and go back to his firm and work with him,” she began. “He thinks I will be safer there.”
Vincent could feel her sadness and self-doubt. He waited for her to continue.
“I wanted a job in the District Attorney’s office because I thought I had something of value to offer. I thought I could make a difference. I thought I might be able to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.”
“That is a noble reason, Catherine. I have no doubt that you do make a difference.
“No, not this time,” she said, shaking her head. “Instead of making a difference … I got someone killed. She asked me to leave her alone, the woman those men murdered. She begged me to. Carol Stabler is dead because of me. If I had only done what she asked …”
“Catherine, surely you must know that isn’t true? You were trying to take criminals off the streets … so that others would not be hurt the way that you and Carol Stabler were. You are not responsible for her death. The animals who killed her are.”
"That’s what Joe said. … that I’m not responsible.” She sounded doubtful.
At the mention of the man’s name, Vincent felt a sudden stab of jealousy. “Joe?”
“My boss. He says it wasn’t my fault. So why do I feel so guilty?” she wondered aloud.
“Because you have a kind and generous heart,” he answered softly. “Because you care for others besides yourself. There is so much evil in your world, Catherine. No one person has the power to stop it all. You can only do your best.”
“And when my best isn’t good enough? What then?”
“I don’t have the answer for that. All you can do is follow your heart. Trust your heart, Catherine.”
She looked up at the stars. “I’m still learning how to do that,” she confided. “It’s still all so new to me.”
They sat in silence for a while and watched the night sky.
“I must go, Catherine,” Vincent finally said. “Father will be worried.”
There was something so resolute in his voice as he rose to leave, that it prompted Catherine to ask. “Will I ever see you again, Vincent?”
He shook his head. “Every time I come here, Catherine, it is not only at great risk to myself, but to the world I must protect as well. It would be selfish and irresponsible for me to continue to put them at risk by coming here. I can’t come back … no matter how much I wish I could.”
She reached for his hands and pulled him back down. She leaned a little closer to him so that she could clearly see his face … and so that he could see hers. “Please know this, Vincent, that Father is wrong. I have never thought of you as a novelty, and I will not forget you. I will remember you always as a dear and treasured friend. You not only saved my life, you’ve changed my life. You have changed me. I will be forever grateful, and I will keep my promise. I will not betray you, or your world.”
“I know that, Catherine.”
“You will always be welcome here, Vincent, if you ever change your mind. This connection we share … I know I can’t feel it the way you do … the way you feel me … but I do feel a connection to you. Sometimes … I hear your voice encouraging me, giving me strength. I don’t know what it means … if we can never be together, but I do know that I will carry you always in my heart.”
Vincent sighed. She wasn’t making it easy for him to leave. “Perhaps this connection … this bond between us … will fade in time … I don’t know… But as long as we feel this connection, Catherine … we will never truly be apart. I will be with you in spirit… wherever you go. If you ever really need me, you need only go down to the threshold below your building and bang on the pipes. I promise you, I will answer, I will come.
She smiled wistfully and whispered, “Like a guardian angel?”
He knew she didn’t mean to hurt him, but her words cut him deeply. He shook his head sadly. “No, Catherine, I am no angel, of that you can be sure. There is no place in Heaven for something as terrible as me.”
She could hear the pain in his voice as he said it. She squeezed his hands. “That isn’t true. Vincent, you are gentle and courageous and kind.”
Catherine had no idea how painful it was for him to feel her gentle touch, to hear her sweet words. She couldn’t know how they pierced him to the very soul, because he knew that they weren’t true.
And yet, the fact that she believed them so sincerely, made him want to pull her into his arms and keep her there forever. They made him long for a life that could never be. They terrified him.
Vincent stood suddenly. “I must go, Catherine.”
Before she could protest, he had fled. Without even one last embrace.
Catherine stood for a while longer, and looked out at the night sky.
I won’t forget you, Vincent. I could never forget you, she thought as she gazed at the stars…
…And although we cannot be together, we will never, ever be apart.
Illustrations supplied by the author