By Gwen Lord
The graduation ceremony would soon be upon them; all the years of dedication and study had finally paid off. Today, with the highest of marks, John Pater, Peter Alcott and Jacob Wells, would leave this mecca of learning.... Doctors.
Room mates since day one, Peter and John - then lanky teenagers - had become close friends, each seeking and needing the brotherhood of true friendship found in each other. As the months came and went, the boys they were, became the men they turned into.
It was in the last and final year of their studies that they were joined by a new room mate, a chap from England! It was due to lack of space of accommodation within the living compound of the students, that a place had hurriedly been made for the chap from across the sea - a certain Jacob Wells. May be it wasn't as strange as it seemed at the time, to have a stranger thrust upon them in the last year ... may be fate was playing her hand... Who knew what trump card she kept hidden. But the friendship of the now three room mates was an instant success, as Jacob added stability, whilst Peter contributed the humour (a gift always there when they needed it) and John's wisdom was a tower of strength at all times. Known now for their inability to go or do anything unless together, the entire campus referred to them as THE THREE MUSKETEERS.
As John placed his tasseled cap on his head, he saw through the reflection in the mirror, Peter's unusually worried expression.
"Grieve not for yesterday, look only unto the morrow." John's deep velvet voice - as always -found exactly the right quote.
"I'm going to miss you, pal, I ..." His voice now betrayed him as words couldn't be found to express the way he felt, deep inside.
"Come now, dear friend, look not on this as the end, it is a beginning for us, our Genesis... There is a life out there waiting for us, we have to take it with both hands, be strong; go forward."
The two men now ready, looked elegant and very much the part.
"May be you should take one of these to calm your nerves." John held out a small antique pill box, tapping it with his finger.
"Those drugs will be your downfall, John," Peter warned.
"I think not ... I think rather they could be my very salvation," he replied as he replaced the small pill box in the inside pocket, patting the packet flat to his chest.
"Where's Jacob...?" A worried look took over. "Shouldn't he be here by now?" Peter asked, looking for the tenth time in two minutes at his left wrist; the gift to himself of a very expensive watch.
"Have you forgotten? We are to meet him behind the stage, in line. He told us at breakfast he had to ring his brother in England."
"Ah, yes! Then let's go."
With robes swinging from side to side, they left their room, closing the door behind them. They joined a stream of uniformed clad figures like themselves, all going like programmed robots, In the same direction, their destination being the great hall, where families and friends awaited them.
On entering the side door, they were quickly caught up in the steady hum of voices as excitement mounted. Last minute touches were made here and there. The two friends scanned the sea of heads until they finally located Jacob.
"Here he is, over there, John." Peter pointed to where their friend was frowning, red-faced.
"You're late! Where in the name of heaven have you been?" he greeted them sternly.
"Nice to see you too, Jacob," quipped Peter, then the tension broke and all three laughed as they got into line.
Following the impressive ceremony was the traditional cocktail party for the participants, families and invited guests.
All three heads turned at the familiar voice as their friend joined them.
"Charles ... did you get a good seat out there?" Jacob asked as he patted his shoulder.
"I sure did, pal ... Just look at you all, don't you look the part? Dr Alcott ... Dr Pater ... Dr Wells. First time I've seen you guys dressed anything like decent since I've known you!" he laughed. "What a shame your last name isn't Watson, you being English and all that, then we really could have pulled your leg."
"In which way?" Jacob asked, stone faced.
"Dr Watson, I presume," and at this all laughed, before quickly collecting their champagne as waiters carried endless trays laden with full glasses.
Charles was a little older than his three friends, having graduated, just as they had arrived. Their paths crossed at a baseball game. Somehow fate seemed to throw them together ... or was it by chance? Having shared the game, urging on their own teams, it followed that they have a drink together afterwards. Charles offered them a lift home, so only then did they all discover they were almost back-to-back neighbours. From then on, whenever Charles could get away from the law firm of Klass & Davidson, that he now worked for, the THREE MUSKETEERS quickly became THE FOUR JUST MEN.
Changed now into T-shirts and jeans, the four jumped into the only wheels they had, owned by Charles, a clapped out old Ford, but under the bonnet a lion ruled with power that never ceased to amaze them. Their destination was Sam's Diner, this had been their haunt since Charles had first taken them there, way back. On the outside, the building looked bleak and cold, but the outside needed to be this way to ward off the gangs that roamed the streets, hell bent on crime; jobless, no money and no future. As you passed the steamed up windows, the glow from inside offered a welcome. The badly scared wood of the door, when opened, offered a whole new world to the weary traveler.
A table in the far corner was classed as 'theirs'. So here the four sat, now enjoying a meal, as conversation drifted in the direction of the evening's entertainment. Starting at nine o'clock prompt was to be the Grand Ball. This was to be the hold the place had held on them since their arrival. All had to attend, so plans to make this a 'neat' evening, needed special plans.
As darkness fell and the clear dark starlit heavens replaced the sun of the day, streams of cars: Buicks, Studebakers, flash Fords, could be seen dropping off the cream of the social set for what promised to be the occasion of the year.
"So, who are you bringing, Jacob?" asked Charles, as he set down his wine glass.
"Er ... well, no one actually, old boy ... Think I'll play the field tonight." He smiled a wicked smile. No one expected him to bring anyone, as Jacob wasn't ready to let go of his freedom to anyone; his ambitions came first ... well, for now at least.
"And you, John ... bringing anyone?" he asked with a knowing look, as he refilled their glasses.
"I shall darken the doors at midnight, with a raven haired beauty, you have yet to meet. Her name only will you know for now... she is called, Tamara." Mystery surrounded John; he seemed to feed on it, while an all powerful force seemed to guide him. As he said her name, it was plain to see, she held a special place in his heart... which was not like John at all.
"So, that just leaves you, Peter," Charles said, pointing a finger directly at his friend. "Will you have a lady on your arm tonight?" He kept up the demand.
"Yes, I will, as a matter of fact. You are a nosey lot!"
All three heads rose at once. "More, more!" they said in one voice.
"Before you all get really wild ideas, it's my sister, Caroline."
"Ah! Yes, I'd quite forgotten you had a sister," Jacob said as the red wine he drank loosened his tongue.
"She's been away at finishing school in France, she only came back to the States yesterday. Of course, I've kept quiet about her from you lot of rogues, but this seemed like a good idea for her to meet people and of course, to meet you lot," he laughed.
"This sounds fascinating, Peter... aren't you going to tell us something about her? How old is she? Has she got a boyfriend? Does she have gorgeous red hair...?"
"You'll all have to wait until this evening; not long to go, you guys.. and I'm warning you, she is my sister, my twin sister; you be on your best whatever, you get me?"
John held up his glass. "A toast, I believe, is in order: to Caroline. This evening holds more treasures than at first looked possible. 'Whose light in yonder window shines'."
The glasses clinked.
The well manicured lawns were now full of guests as they made their way to the grand ballroom, the chatter and rustle of ball gowns intoxicating. The friends made their way in their smart tuxedos. As they approached the doorway, the fairy lights festooned everywhere cast a kaleidoscope of colour of their stark black suits. The long line of cars stretched as far as the eye could see.
Drifting louder and louder was the lilting music from within; music of the moment; that of Glenn Miller and other big band swing. Once inside the doors, they were caught up in the spirit of it all as they made their way to the bar, to the pre-decided place they had agreed to meet up. Jacob felt Charles nudge him suddenly.
"Peter's here and... wow, hells bells! Get a load of..." Charles was stumped for words... A lawyer, speechless!
"Hi, you guys. I'd like you to meet the other half of the double act. Jacob, Charles, this is Caroline."
Jacob took her slim hand and kissed it. "I'm delighted to meet you."
"I've heard so much about you, all of you, I feel I know you already." Her voice was soft and happy.
"Caroline, this is Charles. Watch him, he is the legal eagle among us and has a way with words," Peter teased.
Charles saw before him, the loveliest vision he'd ever seen, his legs turned to jelly and his heart pounded loud enough, he swore everyone could hear it. She was so slim and dainty, about five feet four, he thought. Long golden wavy hair rested on such kissable shoulders. Her dress was ice blue net which revealed parts of her that set alight something in him, something new. When their gaze met, his brown eyes met her pools of green, which he would have willingly drowned in. He felt her hand, cool and soft in his. How could he let it go...? He wanted to speak, but where had his voice gone? Clearing his throat he tried in vain to say something.
"Charles, how is your mother? Peter tells me she's been very ill." She stood waiting for an answer, still holding his hand.
"My er... my mother... er... she's much er... much better thank you. How kind of you to ask. Can I get you a drink, or maybe you'd like to dance?"
"I'd love to dance with you."
And before anyone else could speak, Charles had taken her off in the direction of the ballroom. Mingling with the dancers, they slipped into each others arms as if destiny had made them for each other. MOONLIGHT SERENADE, STARDUST, I KNOW WHY, came and went. Caroline felt she'd waited all her life to have these arms around her. She looked up into the most gorgeous face she'd ever seen. With their arms around each other, they danced the night away and, with eyes only for each other, the rest of the world was forgotten.
Like Cinderella at the ball, at the stroke of midnight, John Pater, a stickler for the dramatic made his grand entrance. Everything was in full swing and they stood in the doorway just as the music ended. All eyes turned to them, a gasp went up as the two stood, enjoying the effect they knew they were having. No one was in fancy dress at all, so their costumes stood out against the dainty ball gowns and tuxedos. Both were in dramatic black; John was a magician with long flowing black cloak; Tamara was a witch with long painted head gear, black dress and matching cloak. Everyone started to dap. He bowed to her and with her hand resting on his, held waist high, they entered the ballroom.
"John, over here," they shouted.
His guiding hand took them to the waiting friends and, once together, John spoke. "Taniara, these are my friends: Peter, Jacob... where's Charles?" he asked.
"Don't ask. He has been taken over by an all powerful force called... love."
"This then dear friends, is Tamara.
The music and dancing went on well into the night and early morning. One by one the band nodded off, unable to keep awake any longer. Then, even that ended and a stillness descended. The few people that were still awake found a corner to curl up in and sleep; on the floor, on top of the grand piano, behind the bar, it didn't matter.
Jacob was the first awake, the early dawn casting wisps of light across the wood. Slowly he stood to stretch and ease his aching body. God, that was some bash, he decided, and I'm still alive, he smiled to himself. After a while, he found Peter sound asleep behind the bar, an empty bottle of vodka still in his hand.
Together they picked their way across the floor, looking for John and Charles. They couldn't find John.
"Where's Caroline, Peter?" Jacob asked when they couldn't find her.
"Charles took her home about one fifteen. Did you ever see anything like those two when they met. It was like destiny had them in its clutches. My little sister, gee, but didn't she look great last night?"
"Yes, she looked quite delightful. Lucky Charles, I never even got to have one dance with her," he smiled.
It had been decided earlier that all four would meet up in three months time to swap notes, news and information and it went without saying, that it had to be at Sam's Diner; it simply couldn't be anywhere else when this place held such special memories in their hearts.
The hour of their meeting was seven o'clock sharp. First to arrive were Jacob and Peter, who followed each other within minutes. The familiar chintz decor and friendly atmosphere was a haven for all those who found this unique place. Sitting at their table, they caught up on the last three months.
"Well, Jacob, so how goes it? Did you get that position?"
"Yes, I was accepted into the very research laboratory I wanted, at the Chittenden Research Laboratory. It's a brilliant opportunity for me, I love every moment of it. I've got on the nuclear physics program, it's fascinating. I expect I'll stay there 'til I'm a hundred and... I've got a special person in my life.., she is called Margaret."
"That's such good news, Jacob, I'm so pleased for you. This calls for a toast, don't you agree?" he grinned.
"Of course. Now tell me, how goes it with you? Did you get that large teaching hospital you wanted so badly?"
"Yes... and no."
"How can this be? Tell me."
"Yes, I got it, and no I didn't take it, I know that sounds strange."
"But you wanted it so much, why did you do this, Peter?" he urged.
Leaning forward he started to explain.
"The way they treated their patients... the rich got it all, Jacob. The full works; nothing too much trouble. Best drugs, no waiting... money talks, believe me. The poor among us got different treatment, it made me sick. They told lies about drugs not arriving on time; poor quality food, long waiting lists which never moved; it made my skin crawl and my blood boil. I flew through the interview, but my first week was an eye opener and I'd had more than enough so I just left. I tried so many places, my shoe leather is inches deep on the sidewalks of New York, pal, you gotta believe me," he smiled.
"So you don't have a job then?" Jacob quizzed.
"Sure I do, I'm working as an intern at St Vincent's Hospital and Jacob, I love it. You really get to see life there; real life. The drunks, women of the night, poor nice people, those who really need helping, and here I know I have found my vocation.
"You are a good person, Peter. This work will be so fulfilling to you."
"Jacob, I feel privileged to be there. Did you know, there's miles of tunnels down past the sewers, just below us, under our very feet. People who are homeless live there. Can you believe that? That is all they have in the world. While the rich buy large flash cars and spend fortunes on taking their bosses to lunch; buying expensive gifts for their mistresses, these people get nothing. Yet they are happy with their lot and will give to others. Doesn't that tell you something here, in your heart?"
Just then, the little bell above the door rang, announcing the arrival of new customers. Looking up they saw Charles... and Caroline, coming towards them.
"Sorry we're a little late, folks, but you'll have to excuse me, after all, a guy is allowed to be a little late on his wedding day."
"Wedding!" Jacob and Peter spluttered out together.
"Jacob, Peter, allow me to introduce you to... my wife, Caroline Chandler."
Why weren't we invited to the wedding, buddy? She is my sister!"
Caroline put her left hand on the arm of her brother, the new gold band gleamed in the light.
"You're all invited to the reception, here at Sam's Diner." She laughed as she snuggled up close to Charles.
Her husband took over. "We've been married exactly twenty-five minutes and they are the happiest twenty-five minutes of my life!" He planted a kiss on the side of her head.
Again the doorbell rang. All heads shot up once more, as John swept in very dramatically, wearing a large floppy hat, flowing short cloak, dressed in black from top to toe and, sporting a beard.
"Dear friends, we meet again.., and the lovely Caroline, I see. Charmed, I'm sure," and with a sweep, he took her hand to his lips. "This time I'll monopolise your time, my dear, instead of old Charles here."
"I think not, John. She is now my wife, my heart's best treasure.
"Your joking is not funny, Charles. This time she will be mine, won't you, my dear and he took her in his grip. As Caroline tried to get away from him, he couldn't fail to notice the gold band and a frown crossed his face. He was not amused.
Releasing her, he sat down, reached into his pocket, brought out his pill box, opened it up and popped a white pill onto his tongue. Within moments, his ruffled mood changed and smiling at Caroline, he wished her and Charles a happy life.
Taking Caroline's hand once more, he fingered the ring. "Such a charming and pretty thing; surely you can't want Charles when you could have me."
"John, behave yourself, you're embarrassing my wife." Charles coloured at his choice of words.
"So, where are you employed then, John?" Jacob enquired. "Do tell us."
"I've landed the perfect job. You remember Tamara, her father runs the Melrose Drug Research Station. It's good to have friends and to make use of them," he smiled wickedly. "When needs must and all that." A wicked smile tried to escape across his worn and lined face. "Tamara helps me with my experiments. A brilliant woman, she will do whatever I ask of her... not many like her around these days." John continued his self opinionated prattle about himself, whilst the others looked on, seeing a man who had been taken over by the drugs he took and worked with. He was a willing slave to the little pills he took and, unbeknown to Charles, Peter and Jacob, was still mad that Charles had taken Caroline from under his nose, when he so badly desired her.
Later on, John made a seedy collection of friends through drugs. His need of them for himself and his tests urged him into shady dealings that even put his job at risk. He started to steal from work; small quantities at first, which gradually increased until huge amounts were found to be missing and John was fired.
Jacob continued to do well at the Chittenden Institute. He became very liked and well known. He wrote about his findings and had them published. Life seemed almost too good to be true to Jacob, as since Margaret came into life, when he first saw her come out of a building and get into a cab, he thought she was the most lovely girl he had ever seen. It was love at first sight when they did finally meet and soon, they were married. Margaret had led a sheltered life; an only child doted on by her parents; but their life together was to be short lived.
Jacob's publication brought to everyone's attention, details that the Chittenden Institute wanted to keep under wraps. As a result, he was accused of being a communist; a thing of grave concern at that time. One thing led to another; he was charged and found guilty by the un-American Committee and left the Institute in disgrace.
Margaret was a loving, but weak person who, under pressure from her parents, allowed her father to end their marriage. So Jacob lost his job, his home and the woman he truly loved more than life itself.
He took to living rough. The down and outs became his friends; the gutters and trashcans his place for survival. As the months passed and the snow came, the temperature in New York city hit a record low.
It was a woman who found him, almost frozen to death. She helped him find a warm place to lay his head; some food to eat and friendship to treasure. Her name was Grace.
Charles and Caroline Chandler moved into a nice apartment and were ideally happy. Within the first year of their marriage, Caroline gave birth to a very special daughter. They called her Catherine.
Peter Alcott continued to work at St Vincent's Hospital. Helping the needy was a special bonus to him each day. The people who hung around the food rubbish cans and hospital trash interested him a lot. He even left out good stuff to help them. He worked his way into their confidence until one day, they took him to their homes, far below Central Park. Here he found mile upon mile of tunnels, with people from all walks of life living rough. This was a very secret place, a place of hope and a place that would in the fullness of time, be the center of much in all their lives.
As his life was once more taking on some kind of meaning, unknown to Jacob there was also a friend living deep in the core of the earth. John had taken one of his teenage girls below with him when he had to leave his much loved work. She too, was an outcast from the main stream of society. The loving and caring John showed her (even if it was false) made him very special in her life. He promised her marriage if she would live with him in his secret place.
An illegal marriage took place and Anna Pater fell in love with her husband. Even when she knew what he was doing, was wrong, she stood by him, at much suffering to herself, under his experiments.
His experiments on himself had made him unable to father children, but because of the state he was in all the time, on account of the drugs, he blamed Anna for failing to give him the son he wanted.
Anna would shed rivers of tears, then go above to seek the solace of the night as she walked the back streets and alleys.
It was on such a January night as Anna was rummaging amongst the 'goodies' at the back of St Vincent's Hospital, for her husband, that she heard a weak cry, almost like a kitten. Stopping, she listened and it came again.
Suddenly, she pulled back an empty carton and there, wrapped in rags, lay a very unusual baby. In the half light, she could see it was hairy, with claws, but she knew quite clearly that it was a baby and abandoned, most likely because of its differences.
Pulling the half frozen mite to her, she sped down the alley and into the drainage tunnel and home. When John saw her he knew something was amiss and when she opened her coat, he saw a child. The look in his eyes scared her, as she knew only too well what was going through his mind.
John did some tests on the strange child; he even, in his drugged state, felt it was his son. An overpowering affection sprang up, until Anna took it upon herself to take the baby away from him and seek help. She had heard of a doctor who lived below; a man people called 'Father'.
The way was long and Anna was not a well woman. Many rests along the way to gather her strength were needed, but at last the glow of the chambers came into view, making her steps quicker. When Anna showed 'Father' the child, he was deeply moved and when she told of her husband's ways, it was agreed that the child should stay with him.
On Father's orders, Anna spent three days and nights resting before returning to her husband. She had no idea Jacob knew John and, that for a while, both had ruled below; Jacob plotting the positions of the tunnels; John perfecting a form of morse code that would be impossible for outsiders to read, thus keeping their secret world in tact. The two men worked long and hard getting the chambers made and a way of life set up that was a perfect haven for the 'lost'. But things came to a head the day Grace died giving birth to Jacob's son and John, in his drugged state had let his evil heart speak. Jacob banned him from the home chambers, to the place he and Anna now lived in.
The tiny waif cried nonstop for the three days and nights that Anna stayed; then, just as suddenly, the crying stopped, the tears ended and two very blue eyes looked up at Father. At that moment a bond was forged.
"What shall we call him? Have you any ideas, Anna? If you have, please share them," he begged.
"I found him outside the hospital called St Vincent's... why not call him, Vincent."
"I like that, Anna. That is what we will call him and, dear god, let him live, he is so small and so weak," he prayed.
When Anna finally returned to her home, John was waiting for her. He was so mad when he found out she had left his son with his enemy, Jacob Wells, that he vowed to get his revenge, one day. He hated Anna for what she had done. His world was in pieces yet again, so, when he gave Anna her medicine, it was laced with a deadly poison. Anna died in her sleep, but her soul was in torment.
Helpers within the tunnels heard of her death and Jacob wasted no time in going to see John over this. The fight Jacob had with John years before had resulted in his broken hip, so the long trek to see him caused him great pain and much suffering.
The green and murky light of their cave home, with bats flying around him made Jacob wince at the thought of Anna having to have lived like that. Once inside the main area, all was still.
"You are a long way from home, my friend. Why do you seek me out old friend, that was?" The large, imposing shape of John seemed to peel itself from the shadows of the rocky walls.
"I'm here because of Anna.~
"You took away my son, you poisoned her thoughts, you are the villain here. You and your do good to all, makes me sick. You delight in taking away all I ever held dear. We could have been like two kings here below, but you couldn't do that could you, old friend?" he scoffed.
"John, you killed Anna, you know that and I know that and I can't allow you to stay here any more." He leaned heavily on his stick.
"You can't allow? Who are you to tell me these things? For your information I am no longer John Pater, I am known as Paracelsus.
"You will leave this place today; you will never return and I will see to it that the 'Silks' hear of what you have done. I don't hold with what they do, but they believe in a justice of their own and what you have done will cause them to track you down, so go... Paracelsus or whatever you call yourself and don't ever come back to these tunnels."
"I will go, but I will be back... old friend and I will want my pound of flesh." With that, he went into the laboratory where he was growing all the drugs, grabbed his hat and spoke to his assistant. "Tamara, we are moving on.
As John and Tamara made to rush past him, Jacob put his hand on his arm. "John, you tread a fine line here, between being a brilliant man and the downfall of everything. Remember that, learn from your experiences, be warned."
But John snatched his arm away and hurried quickly out of sight.
The years came and went, a whole new way of life evolved down Below. Vincent grew up into a strong and loving son to Jacob. His own blood son was unaware that Jacob was his father, as he felt, if he knew, all would know and he didn't want to single him out for special treatment. So Devin felt cut adrift and sometimes, unloved. He found friendship with a real wild boy called Mitch Denton, who told him of all he was missing living 'Below'. So, as soon as he was old enough, Devin fled the home he knew (the hole in the ground home he called it) and left behind a broken-hearted Vincent and Father.
Charles prospered, got his own law firm and took on a partner. But when Catherine was ten years old, Caroline died. Charles was so heart-broken, he wasn't able to share his grief with anyone, even his beloved Catherine. Losing her mother was a real shock to Catherine, which she kept bottled up inside her. Charles' cousin, Marilyn, worked for him as his personal right hand, so when Caroline died, Marilyn became her stand-in mother. One day, when little Cathy was playing in the office, she saw a photo of her mother on her father's desk. Going up to it, Marilyn heard her say, "Why did you have to die, mummy?"
Marilyn turned away, crying.
Peter's daughter Susan, and Catherine, soon became very close; more like sisters, so slowly the gap caused by the death of her mother eased a little for Catherine, but she always felt she was searching for something; yet she didn't know what it was.
Far below the city, deep in the tunnels, another soul felt that he was searching for something and didn't know what it was. This feeling he had was sometimes so strong it almost overwhelmed him, but with each new day, he felt that whatever it was, it was now getting closer.
Then, one night, early in the month of April, Vincent had to rid himself of the tunnels. He grabbed his cloak and with his long, powerful legs, ran all the way to the drainage tunnel entrance in Central Park. His sensitive nose picked up the sharp clear scents of the night and he hung back in the shadows, waiting... for what?
Then Vincent heard a van stop just in front of him; saw the side door open and a body thrown out. It rolled over and over and over. The van spun its wheels and made off into the night. Easing himself from the shadows, Vincent ran with care - not to be seen - to the body. All the while, the feelings he'd been having grew stronger and stronger until they were almost exploding inside of him. As he turned the body over and touched the blood covered hand, a peace descended on him and he knew, in that moment, that this was what he had been searching for; this was his destiny; here was what was meant to be.
With tender loving care, he picked her up and carried her many miles below, to his world, where she was able to heal and here she too, knew when she awoke and heard his voice and touched his hand, that what she had also been searching for was here, in this place, wherever it was. Here she had come home, and a 'happy life' was just waiting to start.