There are two versions of "The Mirror": this is the second. Thefirst, "Kindred Spirits", was written during the second season, whenI first dreamed up the character Victoire, and qualifies as a Classicstory. This version came to be after the third season, when I beganwondering what would happen if it were Diana who met Victoire first.While the settings, the time, and even Vincent's moods are differentin each story, the fundamental interactions between Vincent &Victoire are similar - at some points, identical. And for them, theoutcome is the same, no matter what else goes on around them. "TheMirror - Always Here" is rated R.

 


THE MIRROR - ALWAYS HERE, ALL ALONG

By C. B. McWhorter

 

PROLOGUE

 

Across the world, in a circus tent outside Marseilles, a crowdsits in delighted distraction, "oo-ing" and "ah-ing" over the featsin the single ring. This is a typical European circus: one ring, asmall audience, a small band, and impeccable acrobatics. A typicalFrench crowd jams the wobbly bleachers: all ages, entire families,young couples on dates, bunches of young men, all enjoying the showwith typical French verve. In the ring, the acrobats are finishing uptheir performance. They are dressed in tawny red, gold and blackSpandex, bright with sequins, glitter in their hair and on theirfaces. One woman, four men, she all red and gold, they striped liketigers. As they execute one wild flight after another, they shriekand whoop with excitement, and their enthusiasm goads the audience toeven greater heights. There is jungle music, tom toms and wild pipes,and occasionally, a lion's roar. This isn't the usual acrobatic show.These artists have designed something different, very fast,bewildering in the way each stunt gives way to another.

And then they stop, a man at each corner of the ring, the girlbalanced on the trapeze in the center. The drums beat louder andlouder for several heartbeats, until the girl gives a thrillingshriek, and all the acrobats snap into action: the men at each cornerfly diagonally, somersaulting, to change places. They look as if theywill collide in the center, all four of them, but worse, just as theyhave launched themselves towards the center, the girl has droppedfrom her perch, spinning in a triple twist on her way to the netbeneath her. She threads the center of the paths of the men as theyfly past her, straight as an arrow, and bounces gracefully back upfrom the net as the men light on their corners. The audience criesout in fear, and then in admiration, as these madmen barely avoiddisaster mid-air.

In the shadows of the tunnel that leads into the ring, an old manleans against the wall, smoking nervously. He hasn't taken a breathfrom the moment the drums began their crescendo, and now that thestunt is done - and, oh!, how it was done! - he gasps for air, not somuch with delight as relief.

The men drop from their ladders into the net, and bounce off tojoin their queen on the sawdust of the ring, bowing to thunderousapplause. They are all handsome and well made, but all eyes are onher, with her graceful movements, and her glowing red mane. Theringmaster bellows into the microphone: " Mesdames et Messieurs,Leonie and her Flying Tigers!" But the man cannot be heard over theapplause, and the performers seem to like it that way. After all,they're sure that the people know who they are.

As the elephants, trick horses and clowns take the ring for thefinal promenade, the acrobats dash down the tunnel. Leonie runslightly up to the old man.

"Well?" The costume mistress hurries up to her with a golden satincape, which she begins to attach to her shoulders.

"Eh, bien ", the old man smiles. "The routine is nearly perfect.Next week, you show America how to fly!"

The men are also getting into capes, and others are bringinghorses into the tunnel. As a horse is brought up to her, she tellshim, "I'm getting more and more excited about this tour."

"You want to play in the Florida sun? What is wrong with ourRiviera?"

She laughs down at him from the horse. "Florida! Phaugh! It's NewYork I want to see again."

"Are you ready for New York?"

She becomes grave for just a moment. "Yes, at last." She wheelsher horse to lead her men out of the tunnel, and calls back at him:"I'll make you proud!"

He watches her ride out into the parade around the ring, andrelishes the screams of the audience as the Flying Lion and HerAmazing Acrobats wave and bow. "I am always proud," he says tohimself. "Never more than now."

As he wanders back towards the costume tent, he leaves behind theposter on the wall, the first poster for the Flying Tigers nine yearsago. It has her likeness on it, very well done: the flaming hair, theblue eyes, and the face that sparks so much controversy. Does shereally look like this? The beautiful cat-like face mocks the viewer:this is fantasy, she says. Watch the flying, dream, and wonder.

 

*****

 

Diana is lingering over her morning paper, enjoying a second cupof coffee. Her apartment is filled with the early autumn sun,Catherine's rose bush is blooming, she has no current case tofrustrate her, and, after she drops off a report at the office, sheplans to go shopping. It isn't often she has days like this. Maybe,tonight, a movie with her sister....

She turns a page of the entertainment section, and stops short.She stares at a large ad for an acrobatic group: "Leonie and theFlying Tigers". The usual hype about the act doesn't register. It isthe face of the young woman, Leonie, that makes her stare: the wildmane, the straight nose, the curved mouth - it could be Vincent infemale form. Why would someone choose this make-up for a gimmick, ofall things? Finally, she studies the ad: "Four shows only! The famousFrench troupe!" Well, Europeans have dramatic tastes, certainly. InAmerica, a similar group would probably dress up as aliens.

Two sections of the paper later, she goes back to theentertainment section. Then she calls her sister to invite her to ashow.

 

 
THURSDAY

 

Late in the evening, Diana leaves the shower, toweling her hair.She turns on the TV, and flops onto the couch. The theme music forDavid Letterman is on, and she pays little attention, until theannouncer says "And straight from the Cote d'Or, where all the foodis French, Leonie and the Flying Tigers!"

She waits impatiently through the monologue, and the latestbarely-dressed starlet, and the Top Ten, until Letterman announcesthe acrobats. On a section of the stage, a scaffold is raised, withtrapezes and a net. Some unusual New Age music starts, and after afew moments, a man in shining black Spandex sails across the space.Before he can land at the top of a scaffold, another flies fromanother direction, and then two more. They swing and sail, as themusic builds up into a definitely non-New Age pitch. At the crash ofa cymbal, a woman in black and silver flies as if out of nowhere. Sheis tall, and athletically built, with a wild mane of red hair thatframes a decidedly unusual face. Diana barely blinks through theperformance, willing the camera to close in on that face as theperformers move faster and faster. Soon enough, it ends, and theacrobats line up to bow, Leonie in the middle, glittering black andsilver. Letterman crosses the stage to shake their hands, and mugsfor the camera as Leonie kisses him, French style, on both cheeks.And still there isn't a good close shot of her face. As the scenefades to a commercial, Diana is relieved to see Letterman lead thefive to the couches.

After the commercial, Leonie is ensconced in the chair next toLetterman's desk, her henchmen lined up behind her, one on the arm ofher chair. Letterman is his goofy, flirtatious best, and Leonie playsall the way up to it. She is charming, breathless, with just enoughaccent, filtered through her cleft upper lip, to be delicious. Shesparkles when he cracks jokes, and she describes her American tour asif it were the greatest treat she's ever had. And she is undeniablysexy. At one point, Letterman snatches up her hand to kiss it, andthe man on her chair moves to stop him.

"Oh, ho ho! These jealous Frenchmen!," he cries. "Now. Tell me,was that the famous African Star?"

"Oh, no! We can't do the African Star in a space this small." Shelaughs as he looks past her at the stage set up behind them. "Yes,that stage is too small," she says, almost soothingly.

"Then the African Star must be a really big stunt."

"We need a lot of height for it, yes." She looks over her shoulderas her partners mutter amongst themselves. She says something to themin French, and the man next to her rattles off an indignantspeech.

Letterman looks at them with some nervousness. "What is it?"

"Etienne says that the African Star is not just a stunt," shesays.

"No?"

"Non!" says Jimi, emphatically.

"Well, what is it?"

She consults with them, stirring up a storm of French until theaudience chuckles. She turns back to Letterman. "In my opinion, thebest word is 'phenomenon'", she coos.

He laughs at that. The men say something else. "A phenomenon, eh?"says Letterman.

"Yusef says it's sheer insanity and I won't repeat what Raoul saysit is."

"Why not?"

She bats her eyes at him. "Mr. Letterman, American television isnot as , er, open as European television is." The crowd mumbles alittle at this. She turns to them: "In France, we could have donethat act nude!", she cries, and they cheer as Dave stares foolishlyinto the camera.

He leans forward to her: "Really?"

A beat. "No." The audience applauds as loudly as if she'd said"yes".

He tries to turn the conversation to seriousness: "There is agreat deal of speculation in Europe about your appearance, Mlle.Leonie," he says. She blinks at him innocently. "They talk aboutwhether you always wear make-up, whether you've had your appearancesurgically altered. You are a stunning woman, and if this is make-up,it's very well done."

"Thank you," she says, and there is an air of mischief that goadshim: others have tried this. Let's see how you fare.

"Tell me.. and it's just between us, no one else needs to know:have you had plastic surgery? Have you altered your appearance,enhanced your appearance, changed your appearance in any way?"

"Really, Dave", she says, almost sternly. "Do you know anycelebrity who hasn't changed her, or his, appearance?" she smilesprovocatively at him until he mugs at the camera.

"The best hairpiece that money can buy," he says. The cameracloses in very tightly on the top of his head, but never getsparticularly close to Leonie. Intimate details of her cat face arestill a mystery. Only partly satisfied, Diana turns off the TV, andretrieves the videotape she had the presence of mind to put in theVCR. Her niece, an aspiring acrobat, would love this.

 

 


SATURDAY

 

The Saturday matinee crowd files out of the theater, bustling andbabbling, adults leading, losing and stumbling over excited children.Diana, her sister, and her niece wander into the lobby. The littlegirl is so excited and overwhelmed that she chatters about the shownonstop.

"Did you see the way they flew at each other, like they were goingto kill each other! Of course you saw it, you were there! Isn't shebeautiful! I love her make-up! And the costumes!"

"Jessica! Stop for breath!" her mother says. "Where'd your auntgo?"

"Over there, at the lady selling programs," the girl says, andruns up to Diana. "Aunt Diana!" she cries. "Buy me one!"

Diana turns smiling, "What do you say?"

"Please! Oh, please, please, please!"

"Jessica, you don't need that," her mother starts, and then sighsas Diana hands one over.

Jessica clutches the program to her chest, and then moons over theback cover. "Look at her, isn't she regal?"

Diana laughs. "Where did you learn a word like regal?"

As they head for the door, Ellen notices that Diana has boughtherself a program. "You got yourself one?"

"Yeah, it was kind of cool."

 

*****

 

After midnight, Paul Marpot closes up a dressing room door,carries a coil of cable and a ledger into another dressing room toleave the book on the dressing table, and closes that door. He hasbeen with the Flying Tigers for nearly their entire career. Beforethat, he was with the small Cirque de Joie, the French one-ringcircus that the troupe had grown up in. A heavy-set middle-aged man,Marpot was a bricklayer before he was hired by Jean-Luc Dedeaux totravel with the circus one slow summer as part of the tent crew. Itwas strange work, moving from town to town, presenting shows thatvaried little from night to night. And yet, Marpot enjoyed it. He hadno family and few friends. Association with the circus gave him aninstant group to belong to, and he didn't have to put much effortinto friendship. He'd watched the acrobats grow from dreamyadolescents to the international sensation they have become. Himself,he's never left the ground, but satisfies himself with building thescaffolds and moving equipment. Working for the Tigers gave him achance to travel all over, and by taking advantage of whatopportunities for ingenuity have come his way, he's been able to setaside a fair bit of a retirement fund. No, crewing for a travelingacrobatic troupe isn't going to make him rich, directly, but it giveshim a chance to see the world, and to plan a future that might beless strenuous. He shrugs into a windbreaker as he crosses the depthof the backstage area, struggling with the coil that keeps trying tocome unwound as he moves. Fumbling for a pack of cigarettes in hisbreast pocket, he skirts around the curtain at the very back of thestage, and stops cold. He hadn't expected to find anyone here.

"What the hell are you doing?" he growls at the man who islounging on the pile of mats and rope.

The man laughs at him as he withdraws a finger from the center ofa small sandbag. It's covered with a white powder, and he licks itwith greedy relish.

"You think you're smart?" Marpot cries as he lunges at theman.

The sandbag falls to the ground, spilling powder and small plasticbags. Marpot lands a punch solidly into the man's belly, making himdouble over. He follows his punches with a kick to his face, but theman swipes at his knee, knocking him off balance. Marpot struggles tohis knees, saying "I'm not going to let you ruin..."

He never finishes the sentence. His opponent has caught up theknife he'd used to slit open the sandbag, and he stabs Marpot in thebelly.

As Marpot stops in shock, clutching at the knife, the man laughsagain. "Sure, I'm smart," he says. Marpot suddenly arches his back,and, making strange guttural noises, he falls forward. He twitcheswith convulsions, ignored by his murderer, who gathers up severalother sand bags, and walks away.

 
SUNDAY

 Diana smiles as the door of the park tunnel entrance slidesopen, and she sees Mouse standing there. "Hey, kiddo."

"Diana! Vincent says wait a minute. He'll be here. Want to see mynew gizmo? Have to show you outside."

She follows him to the mouth of the culvert, where he produces asmall plane made of very light balsa wood. "Comes back", he says, andtosses it in the air. Sure enough, the plane swoops in a circle, andreturns straight to his hand. "You try."

Diana tosses the little plane, and it wobbles wildly. "No, notthat way," says Mouse. "Straight up." A few more false tries, and shehas the knack. They take turns tossing the toy and catching it. Oneof the things that Diana finds so engaging about Mouse is how hemakes her feel like a little kid, in a way she never did when she wasone. She finds herself laughing and chasing after the plane, tryingto knock it from the boy's hands, or catch it out of the air. Hersensitivity to people draws her into the life-wonder where Mouserevels, and she almost forgets that she's waiting for Vincent, untilshe feels him come down the culvert. She turns to find him in theshadows, watching them and laughing.

"You two are going to attract too much attention," he says,reluctantly.

She offers him the plane. "Wanna try?"

"Yes, I do, and you're wicked." But he doesn't really mean thecensure, as much as she knows he'd love to step out into thesunshine. She joins him in the culvert. Reluctantly, Mousefollows.

"Told her, Vincent," he says. "Told her for you, you werecoming."

"Thank you, Mouse." And the young man scampers away, to seekwhatever fascination comes next.

Vincent turns to Diana, smiles at her breathlessness and flushedface. "So, good morning."

"Hi. Sorry to tease you. I got caught up in the moment." He shrugsgood naturedly. More and more, lately, a tiny bit at a time, she hasseen some contentment slip back into his life, even now, so soonafter the anniversary of Catherine's death. After three years oflooking at him through the fog of grief and anger that surrounded himfrom the night she met him, Diana rejoices in any moment of happinessshe sees him enjoy. She credits Jacob's beauty and irrepressiblysunny nature for much of his father's healing, and never thinks thather steady friendship may have an influence as well. Her love for himis a problem she accepts as her own, none of Vincent's business, anddoesn't see it as a factor he has come to trust. "You're in a goodmood today."

"I suppose. Somehow, I woke up with a conviction that somethingwonderful will happen soon."

At this, she becomes serious. "Well", she says, slowly, "I came totell you about something strange." She tells him of the show she saw,the French acrobats and their splendid act. "The strange thing istheir lead performer. She goes by the stage name of Leonie..."

"And?" he prompts when she trails away.

"I guess the best thing is to show you her program". And she handsit to him. She watches his eyes dilate at the sight of the cat-facedbeauty on the back cover. "Too weird?"

He doesn't answer, but flips through the book, enthralled.

"Why would she go for that make-up?" Diana asks.

"Why do you assume it's make-up?"

She flounders there. She hadn't imagined anything else. "I don'tknow. Show people strive to be remarkable any way they can. They haveto, so people will notice them. But, if this face is real, would shereally be able to keep it public without trouble?"

"That would be difficult. The actors in "Cats" take their makeupoff."

"Exactly. Apparently, there is a lot of publicity in France abouther appearance. She's a celebrity there, and the tabloids allspeculate on her real face. There is a rock band, called "Kiss", whonever go out in public without their make-up. They have the presspretty curious about their real faces, too."

"Do they look like this?"

"Not even close."

"Perhaps this is her real face."

"Vincent, I wouldn't go too far with that...."

"Look at her, Diana. How altered could this photograph be?"

"I admit, I don't know. And I couldn't get seats close enough tosatisfy my own curiosity. They were on Letterman the other night - Itaped it, if you want to see - and there never was a good cameraclose-up. I suspect that was on purpose. She probably wants to keepthe controversy alive. It sells tickets. Vincent, I'm worried thatsomeone who's seen you is exploiting that knowledge. That comes alittle closer to home than I like. Anyway, I thought this wouldinterest you."

"An understatement. Do they have another show?"

"Tonight."

"I think I need to see that show."

"And how do you propose to do that?" She has to repress a mentalimage of Vincent walking up to the ticket window.

"The Walden theater used to have easy access to the catwalks andlighting bays from the basement. As children, we used to creep in towatch the Children's Theater Performances. That access may still bethere."

"Sounds like fun…" she starts, and then her cell phone rings.She fumbles with her pockets, wanders closer to the mouth of theculvert so she can hear. He follows her, and sits down next to her asshe settles on her heels. He's grown accustomed to her devices. Thephone and the beeper once made him nervous for reasons he couldn'texplain, but now they are nothing more than an extension of her job,and sometimes an intrusion. "Bennett." She listens for a while, askssome questions. Vincent pages through the program until he hears thetone of her voice change. "You're kidding... Me?... Why is thatsupposed to be a qualification?... All right, all right, I'm on it."She puts the phone in her pocket, and looks at Vincent quizzically."There was a murder at the Walden last night."

"Leonie?"

"No, a stage hand. But they want me on it because the troupe isforeign, and I guess because the star is … different. And youknow my reputation."

"Do they think she is involved?" She shrugs. "I was going toinvite you below.." he continues.

"Nuts. Not today," she says. "Sorry." She looks at him for a bit,fighting the urge to touch him that sometimes comes so violently itbrings tears to her eyes. "So, I guess we'll both be at the Waldentonight. I suppose it's pointless to suggest you stay away justbecause the police are going to be all over the place like arash."

"Surely, they'll be gone by tonight?" She shakes her head no. "And are we sure there will be a show?"

"The matinee is a lost cause for sure, but the troupe isdetermined to perform tonight, regardless. Perhaps you should avoidit...." she gives up when she sees the stubborn look on his face."Just be careful, OK?" When he nods, she turns to leave.

"Until later," he says, and she's glad he can't see her face.Sometimes it's just too hard to control her expressions.

*****

The cavern backstage is dark, chilled, and noisy. Stage equipmentand acrobatic props are scattered about the floor, and people bustleabout, almost all of them people from the Police department. Hollowbooms come from the direction of the stage as parts of thescaffolding are rearranged. Diana wanders through the messtentatively. There is a terrible sensation sizzling about her, as ifthe echoes of death have not yet died away. But only Diana can feelthat. Yellow police tape festoons the back part of the area. A youngpoliceman stands in front of it. He recognizes Diana, and nods toher.

She ducks under the tape, and behind the great curtain that is theback of the stage. Behind that last curtain, there is a space aboutfifteen feet wide. A hodgepodge of mats, scaffolding segments, ropecoils, sandbags and so forth is piled there. They had been organized,but they are scattered now, and in their midst lies the unnaturalform of a man. He is middle aged, heavy, lying on his side in atwisted position that tells of a tortured death. His hand clutches ata knife in his belly, and his face is contorted. The coroner kneelsby him. "Who found him?", Diana asks the sergeant who comes up togreet her.

"One of the French crew. Found him about an hour ago."

She watches silently as, for her benefit, the coroner rolls thedead man onto his back. Beneath the body is a two-pound sandbag. Itis slit open, but what spills out is not sand. It's filled with smallwhite bags, some of them torn open, the powder inside scattered overthe floor and the man's hands. "Well," says Diana, "anyone want toguess what the story is here?"

The coroner looks up. "That stuff isn't exactly what you think itis."

"No?"

"It's amphetamine."

"Terrific." She paces around the area, scanning as she goes. Theheavy, clay-like feeling of death hangs over this place, and sheknows it will stay here until hours after the body is moved. It'salways like that for her: she feels the lifelessness of that body,the absence of its soul, like there's a blank spot in the realityaround it. Moreover, something tells her that this isn'tstraightforward, even if it isn't novel. There's something else tothe sense of wrongness, an irritation in her mind. She returns to thepoliceman who stands at the margin of the yellow tape.

"Where are the theater people?"

"They've been asked to wait in the front, in the lobby. There area lot of them, Detective. There's supposed to be a matinee, andthey're all showing up for work."

"Good. They can assume that they're showing up for questioning."She finds her way off the stage, and walks up the aisle of the emptyhouse to the lobby doors. Even with all the noise on the stage, thetheater seems massive, and as she walks past vacant rows, Diana feelsvery small and isolated. She's never been an empty theater, come tothink of it. It's oddly spooky, and she's just as glad to arriveunder the protective overhang of the balcony.

That paradoxical feeling is quickly forgotten as soon as she opensthe lobby door, and the "wrong" feeling suddenly amplifies. Funnythat the simple barrier of the door should block it. There are dozensof people milling about, most of them upset, and many of them beingupset, loudly, in fluent French. One of the French company isshouting at the policeman who is stationed at the door Diana hasopened. "Your people, they do not let us go to our equipment! How canwe put on a show if we cannot prepare?"

"I'm detective Diana Bennett," she flashes her badge to thepoliceman, who looks very relieved by her diversion. "Who's in chargeout here?"

The Frenchman turns on Diana with typical French verve, but he isdistracted: "Jules", a silky voice comes from behind Diana. She turnsand nearly gasps: she is face to face with Leonie. Cleft lip,straight, broad nose, and shocking blue eyes - she is Vincent allover again. The acrobat barely glances at Diana before she continuesto address her stage hand in French. He gazes at her in shock, andthen stomps off, looking for another Frenchman to share his outrage.Leonie smiles sadly after him, then turns to Diana and the policeman."I'm sorry. We are all on edge, and he didn't know that the matineehas been canceled. Madame, are you the detective the Sergeant saidwould be coming?"

Diana barely collects herself. "Yes, I'm Diana Bennett." Sheautomatically moves to shake hands, and the cat-woman responds.Before she can fathom it, Diana looks down to find herself holding ahand much like Vincent's. Smaller, and more slender, but muscular andclawed - and the claws are painted bright red. Well, why not?

"I wish we could meet under happier circumstances," says thelioness.

"I, uh, saw your show yesterday. I brought my niece. She's a bigfan of yours."

Leonie seems genuinely pleased. "Really? Thank you. That makes mefeel very good." Diana listens for a note of insincerity, but shedoes not hear it. She also doesn't hear much of the French accent sheheard the other night. In fact, the woman's accent is hard to place.There's a flavor of French inflection, but the vowels seem also tohave an English lilt to them. It's the speech of someone who hastraveled far and long.

"Once I talk to my men, will you have some time for me?"

"Of course. My name is Victoire Dedeaux. I will be in themanager's office." She points towards the door near the box office,and then the lioness is gone, Diana staring after like a foolishteenager.

"Something else, isn't she, Detective?" says the policeofficer.

"You have no idea." She ducks back into the theater, and realizeswith annoyance that her hands are shaking. She didn't need to looktwice to know that the lioness was no product of make-up, and hardlya product of plastic surgery. Where does this woman come from? Arethere more like her? And if Vincent meets her, what then? Would shehurt him? Or worse, love him? Once her mind articulated that lastthought, Diana conceded defeat. No way can she go about this casewith a clear head. 'Everything I don't have is threatened by thatwoman', she thinks, and laughs at herself. Worse is the possibilitythat Victoire may be involved in this death, although the man wasclearly killed by ordinary human means. Can she find a way to keepVincent from coming to the theater tonight? Diana seats herself inthe back row of the orchestra, watches the group a people roilingaround the stage, and tries to organize her mind. There's no way shecan get off this case. She's going to have to work her way throughit. And get used to the existence of the lion goddess who is acounterpart to the lion god who lives below her feet. And thatscratching at her mind will not stop.

Heeding that, focusing on it - it is, after all, why she does thisjob - she heads backstage again. The closer she gets to that areabehind the last curtain, the smaller the new sensation gets. Thisisn't the usual way a crime scene feels. She is in the presence ofdeath, yes. She looks at the dead man. It isn't his body that scrapesher nerves raw. It's his killer.

The coroner wanders over. "I have one bit of news," he says. "Forwhat it's worth."

"Yes?"

"It isn't the knife wound that killed him. His belly's too heavy,and the blade too short. I don't think any vital organs were hit. Andit doesn't look like he hemorrhaged to death."

"So."

"So the junk on the knife killed him."

"That's not very much speed."

"Nope."

"Someone's smuggling some pretty pure stuff."

"Yup."

Great. So someone has got a courier buried in Victoire's troupe,who can smuggle very high-grade stuff all over the world in acrobaticequipment. Perhaps the dead man found the stash. Perhaps theconnection fought him and killed him to save his stash and his neck.Except the killer didn't look underneath his victim, and left behindone last sand bag. And that person is here. Once she accepts thatidea, the strange resonation in her mind leaps, like a flame. That'sit. He's here. Probably wandering around this lobby, warily eyeingpolice, and chattering to his comrades. Perhaps it was even excitableJules. Diana shivers: he's here. Or she.

She searches out the sergeant: "Have we set up a schedule fortalking to all these people?"

"Yeah, for what good it'll do. Maybe someone saw something, but Idoubt it."

"No one is to mention the drugs just yet, all right? I'll give youa hint. He's here. He may even be one of them, the Frenchmen."

"Get out."

"That's my hunch."

 

*****

She pauses outside the office door, and listens. Victoire is onthe phone, sounding distressed - no, hurt. The liquid tones of hervoice come through the door, and Diana nearly shivers. Vincent'svoice has the smoky warmth of velvet, and this voice is similar inits near-hoarseness. But it does not evoke velvet. Sueded silk.Damask, something lighter and soft, that whispers as it passesthrough the fingers. The French accent is audible even as the wordsare not, and it adds to the exotic nature of the sound. As shelistens, she realizes that the policeman who commented on her wasseeing her in an erotic light: he saw a very desirable woman, and notsimply because of her strangeness. After a brief scandalized thought,she accepts the fact. After all, Vincent is nothing if notdisturbingly masculine, and Diana knows enough women who agree withher. What else could this extraordinary woman be to a man? She stopsher wild thoughts, and knocks on the door.

"Oui?"

"It's Diana Bennett."

"It's open." And Diana pushes the door open. Victoire is still onthe phone, but she motions Diana to a chair with an apologetic shrug.She cradles the phone against her shoulder as she rifles throughairline tickets. She is seated on a couch, one foot tucked under her,papers scattered all about her. She wears well-cut camel hairtrousers, slim boots, and a beige silk man-tailored shirt with ascarf tucked at the throat. Jewelry is minimal: a gold watch, asimple ring on her right hand, and earrings are not visible beneaththe tumble of red corkscrew curls. She finishes off the call withobvious words of affection, and hangs up with a sigh. "That was myuncle, "she says. "Back home. He and Paul played poker together. Paultook good care of us. He wasn't the first to sign on with ourundertaking, that was Eduardo, but he has been the most reliable. Hewas very defensive of the equipment. He said it was his job to keepus alive up there, and he used the rigging to do that. All that stuffback there - it was his baby. And his baby killed him." She looks atDiana for a moment. "Do you think this can be settled quickly?"

All Diana can do is shrug. "I think we've already asked you for alist of everyone in your troupe. We'll be talking to everyone, thismorning, if possible. Do you think they are all here?"

"I'm sure of it, since we have all come to prepare for thematinee. I also called over to the hotel to tell them that the policewill probably want to look at Paul's room. They will keephousekeeping away until then."

This is a bit of foresight Diana hadn't anticipated. "Oh."

"Do you think it was a robbery?"

Diana debates withholding the knowledge of the drug packets fromher for a moment. Standard methods advise against it. But, againstthat better judgment: "I think you should know that we foundamphetamines near the body."

"Paul? On drugs? No."

"The drugs were packed into a sand bag."

A long silence follows as Victoire absorbs this with completeastonishment. She settles back against the couch, and stares at Dianaas if she can read her thoughts. "One of our sand bags."

"Yes."

"Merdre." As Diana watches, a rage comes up in the lioness thatDiana can nearly feel herself. She looks so like Vincent, that Dianawaits for her to roar her outrage, but she does not. In a voiceterrifying in its quiet, she says: "One of my people is smugglingdrugs?"

"Do you know anything about it?"

Abruptly, Victoire rises, and stalks to the door. At these closequarters, her height is imposing - she's at least six feet tall. Atthe door, she stops. "You probably shouldn't have told me this."

"No."

"After all, I could be the murderer. Or connected in someway."

"You are neither."

"Just like that, you know this?"

Diana doesn't answer. She's busy hoping her judgment has not beenclouded by her feelings. This woman is so like Vincent, and sodifferent. Diana has a full set of preconceptions that lead her toexpect certain behavior from Victoire, and her expectations so farhave been fulfilled. But how much can she really trust her? She findsshe has to actively remind herself of this, because, almost in spiteof herself, she likes Victoire. A lot.

"At this point, we are all suspects, non?"

"Of course."

"Especially me."

"I wouldn't go that far."

"Look at me, Detective. Just whom do think will be accused first,if not me?"

"Are you telling me you have no alibi for last night?"

Victoire chuckles a little. "Oh, that." She looks at the door asif she can't remember why she went to it. And perhaps she can't. Atthat point, Diana realizes that although, totally unlike Vincent,Victoire lives as far out in the open as any human can, she still hasharsh limitations on her life, as Vincent does, restrictions and uglyrealities imposed by her face. 'She makes it look easy', Dianathinks. 'Where was she going? To run?' It doesn't matter. Victoireseats herself back on her couch, and rubs her eyes. "When was hekilled?"

"Why don't you tell me what you did last night?"

"After the show, four of us went clubbing. We went to three orfour nightclubs, and closed down the last one. Then we went back tothe hotel, and I went to bed. At which point, I cannot prove mywhereabouts."

"Who was with you?"

"Etienne, Jimi, and Yusef."

"Those are three of the other performers." Victoire nods. "Wherewas the fourth?"

"Raoul and his wife, Henriette, didn't join us. She is oursecretary. I don't know what they did. They are newlyweds. It'slikely they didn't leave the hotel."

Which would make their alibis less than airtight... "Which clubsdid you go to?"

"We started at a place called Colorado, and finished at Xanadu.I'm not too sure of the others. The boys should know, unless they aretoo hung over."

Diana makes a rather wry face. "Well, I don't think that it shouldbe too hard to corroborate your story. I doubt any club managementwould forget you were there."

"I can give you better than that." She smiles at Diana'squestioning glance. "Call any tabloid. Photographers followed useverywhere."

And it was also likely that a photographer waited outside thehotel to catch her if she left later, as well. While it could proveuseful to the investigation, it also gave Diana a hint that, ifVictoire were inclined to murder or drug traffic, she'd be a fool. Ifphotographers follow her here, they must be horrendous in Europe. Anda real deterrent to shady behavior. "Don't you get tired if it?"

Victoire shrugs. "It's a two-edged sword. Without publicity, we'rebroke. And they're perfectly annoying. But perhaps, today, I'mgrateful for them?"

"You are, I think. Paul was killed between midnight and oneo'clock."

Victoire smiles. "Then we can be sure about Etienne, Jimi, andYusef."

"And you."

"I knew about me," Victoire says flippantly. She looks at Dianafor several long minutes. Diana returns her gaze, but she feels thatVictoire is looking not so much at her as into her, reading her soul,perhaps. Sometimes, these days, she catches Vincent looking at herlike that, and it always unnerves her, as Victoire's scrutiny doesnow. "You do, too," Victoire says, abruptly.

"What?"

"You know about me."

"I already told you I didn't think you were a murderer."

The lioness shakes her head, and smiles ruefully at her. "Thatisn't what I meant. Everyone I meet nearly bubbles with doubts: isshe real? Is it make-up? Is it surgery? If they decide I'm a naturalphenomenon, they are afraid of me. In you I see no doubt, and nofear, even though I distress you. You know I'm real, Diana Bennett.Why do I worry you?"

"What makes you say this?"

Victoire makes a small gesture, that may convey apology, orself-deprecation. The slow tilt of the head is achingly reminiscentof Vincent. "I know things," she says. "I sense things about people.I can't help but feel the killer's presence. Perhaps the brutality ofthe action lingers here. Or perhaps he does, wandering around thisplace ..."

"You sense that?"

"Yes. His nerves rattle all over here, like a rattlesnake coiledin the corner..."

"No. More like a cicada."

They stare at each other with a new understanding. "You do this,too."

Diana nods. "I can't shake the feeling that he's here, either. Wehave to interrogate everyone today, before the show. We'll probablyask that none of you leave the country until we have finishedcollecting evidence."

"Is this going to take long?"

"Honestly, I don't know. I also think you should keep the newsabout the drug to yourself. We'll try to get the preliminary stuffdone by show time." She rummages through her bag for a notepad,preparing for the long & tedious grind of the interrogations."Victoire? Is there anyone in your group you suspect?"

"Please, don't ask me that now. I can't bear to open my mind tothe thought that one of my friends is a killer."

"It may be that you'll have to accept that."

"Yes. But not this morning."

 

*****

The house lights fade in the Walden Theater, and an expectant hushfalls over the audience. The curtain rises silently on a darkenedstage. There is silence, and darkness, until a rustle passes over theaudience. Then, faintly, the sound of chimes. Across the stage, alight floats, dances, swirls so fast that the eye sees streaks oflight. Another comes from another direction, then a third and fourth,each joining a dance pattern that becomes rhythmic, almost hypnotic.A flute joins the chimes, and, at the crash of a gong, the stagelights flare, and four dancers appear, leaping so quickly that theeye still sees the swirling lines of the lights. The audience breaksinto applause.

High above them, hidden behind an urn on the decorative moldingthat runs around the ceiling, Vincent catches his breath. It took himan hour to climb up here. He got lost several times in the strangelittle passages in the wall, and thought he'd have trouble gettingback out once or twice. But he's here, and nearly trembling withanticipation. The men on the stage below him change their tempo.Still no evidence of Leonie, and Vincent begins to wonder, when sheappears in a cloud of smoke, wrapped in a bronze satin cape. Furthercurtains rise behind the dancers, revealing scaffolds and trapezes.The men run to climb ladders; the woman spins a series of somersaultsacross the stage. She slides into a split and tosses her hands intothe air. Applause. Vincent stares. A cloud of red hair, and a long,lithe body, but he cannot see her face very well.

There is a narrow channel behind the frieze that runs along thetop of the wall. The carvings along the low parapet are lit bylightbulbs set behind them. Gambling that everyone in the placeshould be focused on the stage, Vincent creeps farther down thatchannel, closer to the stage. It will make it harder to get outlater, but he ducks down behind another urn, and settles in.

*****

Diana lets herself in by the stage door. There is a clot ofreporters outside the theater, which she avoids. She stands in thewings, watching the last half hour of the performance. From thestage, the activity of the crewmembers on the ground is hard toignore. Dressed in black, they handle ropes and wires with intenseconcentration. For one of the acts on the tightrope, Diana hadn'tbeen aware, seated in the audience, of slim ropes that the acrobatshooked to harnesses under their clothes. Each aerialist is guarded bya man holding a rope that slips through a pulley above the stage. Atthe first sign of a lost foothold, that man is ready to put tensionon the rope, and save the performer a fall. To Diana, rather thanseem like they were cheating, this marks the treachery of the jobthese people take on. On each side of the stage, a manager dashesfrom place to place, monitoring the ropes, and the set changes, andmoving people in and out. Diana learns in a matter of moments that,much as her presence is accepted, she is meant to stay out of theway.

Eventually, she is pushed farther forward until she stands in thedownstage wing. From this position, standing nearly underneath theirladders, the African Star is more frightening than anything else; thesymmetry of the acrobats isn't as apparent, but the collision courseis more obvious. Henriette, also dressed in black, and managing arope from the wings, turns & smiles at Diana.

"It is so strange," she says, "that this show is standing roomonly." An odd commentary, that murder will boost sales. You'd thinkthat people wouldn't want to be in the same place as a dead man, soto speak.

After the curtain calls, Victoire is ebullient, as performersoften are. She bounces off the stage, and catches first Henriette,and then Diana, into bear hugs.

"Diana! You came! Did you see? How did it look?"

Before Diana can answer, people with questions swamp Victoire, andDiana steps back to snuggle into a corner and watch the crew as theywork. She observes the interaction of the French crew with each otherand the American theater workers. Jules is stomping around, barkingout orders and comments to whoever looks like a target, although noone seems to be paying attention. They know what to do, and are doingit whether he tells them to or not. One Frenchman, Bruno, seems to bethe only one who stops to taunt him. At one point, one of the othersstops him from baiting Jules.

A few reporters come in from the alley. The security guard getsrid of them. Eventually, Diana wanders out to the stage to watch thescaffold come down. She looks out at the house. The seats are allempty. Vincent is still here. She looks up into the catwalks abovethe stage, but the lights prevent her seeing them very well. He couldbe anywhere. Sometimes, she can pinpoint where he is - in the park,for instance, she can walk straight to his hiding place. But tonight,she can only assume he's here. She's sure he's aware of her presence,or that he takes for granted she's around. She toys, only briefly,with the notion of going to the basement and trying to find his pointof entry, to meet him if he leaves. She has work to do, and Vincentis not that work.

Victoire joins her on the stage. She is dressed in a sweater andblue jeans, but she retains that annoying fashionable flair thatFrenchwomen seem to have no matter what. "Well," she says to Diana."I can honestly say I don't care if I never see this place again."She seems to have come down off her post-performance high. "I think Iwill finish the paperwork tonight, give it to the manager, and forgetabout it. You know, I really was excited to come here. I couldn'thelp but believe that something wonderful was waiting in NewYork."

In spite of her goosebumps, Diana says "Like what?"

Victoire shakes her head. "I don't know. Nothing I can think of isworth a death. I guess I was overly optimistic. I'm off. What are yougoing to do?"

"I think I'm going to hang around and watch the closing-downroutine. I suspect it isn't too different from what went on lastnight." Victoire nods. "I need to get a feel of this place, picturewhat happened."

Victoire regards her gravely. "I know what that is like. I getimpressions from places, and I don't like how I feel when I walk backthere." She nods towards the rear curtain. "I can't imagine purposelyseeking those feelings out."

Diana shrugs. "It's my job."

"Better you than me. Well, if I don't see you later, I'm sure I'llsee you tomorrow."

"Yeah."

As Victoire wanders off to her dressing room, Diana looks over hershoulder, back at the light bays, then up at the catwalks again. Noone. But she knows he saw her.

 

*****

Vincent waits until the audience has gone. He sets out to find hisway to the stage, knowing that it's a foolish risk, but unable toresist. She was amazing, and beautiful. And he has no doubt that sheis real. Occasionally, he heard a lion's roar, as if it were part ofthe music. He knew better. He ventures out onto the catwalk above thestage, and sees Diana looking out at the house. Looking for him, he'ssure. As he watches her, the lion goddess joins her. It astonisheshim, the ease with which she walks among all these people. And theytake her for granted. She holds herself as if she's never known amoment of doubt, or fear. In her blue jeans, her extraordinary faceseems more unusual, and yet, not so. It isn't a shock to look at her.He's on one of the lower catwalks, just above the downstage lights,and he can catch bits of their conversation. He hears her say thatshe was expecting something wonderful to happen, and it jolts him.Hadn't he just this morning admitted to the same feeling? He has tofind Diana. He has to meet this woman, and he knows she can helphim.

*****

 

The stage is empty, and dark. Trouble lights, and the light fromthe dressing room corridor, barely penetrate the gloom. Victoire& the theater manager are still there, and the security guardwanders around. But for the most part, the place is deserted. Dianacircles the stage, and goes to the area behind the curtain. The pileof mats is still there, as are some coils of heavy rope. She sits onthe mats, and settles in, to absorb the noises and fetid aura of thisplace, and to imagine what happened here nearly 24 hours ago. Part ofher strains to capture a sense of Vincent, where he might be, and shehalf expects to hear him behind her at any moment. But for the firsttime, she finds she can concentrate on her job.

Meanwhile, Vincent remains in the catwalks above the stage. He'dhad to draw out of sight when some technicians came up, and then hewas caught by surprise when the lights were turned out. Now he creepsthrough darkness almost as deep as he's ever encountered below. Hesees the light below him, near the stage door on the left hand sideof the building, but the only exits from the catwalks he recalls areon the right. He feels his way along. He senses Diana below him, inthe space behind the rear curtain. Perhaps he can get to her beforeshe leaves.

The click of the stage door is surprisingly loud, and it seems toecho several times. At first, Diana thinks it may be the securityguard, but she does not hear the rattle of keys, or the tread of theheavy-soled shoes guards wear.

Out of her line of sight, a young man in a football jacket and aknit cap makes his way quietly towards the back of the stage. Helistens intently for the sound of the security guard, and the lightin the dressing room corridor unnerves him for a moment. He makes itto the wings, and works his way from curtain to curtain until he isbehind the last one. At this point, Diana can hear him, and she'ssure that it isn't Vincent she hears.

Above her, Vincent has found a ladder that goes to a balcony walkthat surrounds three sides of the stage. With a rising sense ofurgency, he starts to look for a stair.

Victoire has finished her paperwork, and folds it to tuck into herpurse. She wonders if Diana is still lurking on the stage. She admitsto a guilty fascination with Diana's work. Perhaps she will wanderonto the stage herself, and see what perceptions she can gather.

Once he's sure that he's hidden by the shelter of the curtain, theintruder lights a flashlight. The beam makes Diana flinch, but hedoes not shine it her way. Instead, he moves towards a locker againstthe back wall. He fumbles with the padlock - Diana realizes with adull shock that he has a key (had her men not searched thoselockers?) - and raises the lid. As Diana watches, he pulls out moresandbags, and stuffs them into the backpack he carries.

Victoire reaches the backstage area, and she sees the flashlightbeam. After a brief panic, she turns and heads for the light controlboard.

Shifting as quietly as she can, Diana pulls her gun out of herpocket. After the man closes the locker, and locks the padlock, heturns to find the street door.

"Police! Freeze!" Diana shouts.

The man cries out in surprise, and nearly drops his backpack. Hetries to run, but at that moment all the lights for the backstagearea and the stage come on. He staggers to a halt, then wheels toshoot wildly in Diana's direction. He runs for the door again, butVictoire is running towards him. He tries to aim at her, but Dianafires a shot that speeds past his head. He spins back towards Diana,which gives Victoire all the advantage she needs. She leaps at himwith a roar, knocking him to the ground. He tries to strike at herwith his gun, but she can grab his hand, and she pins him to theground with her knee, snarling terribly while she twists the handbehind him. When he tries to resist her, she yanks on the arm untilsomething snaps, and he screams. By the time Diana has run up tothem, Victoire is in possession of the gun.

"Thanks!," Diana says to Victoire. "Do you know this guy?"Victoire shakes her head. Diana shoves her gun in his face. "Who thehell are you?"

The theater manager runs up, and then the security guard.

"My arm! You're breakin' my arm!" the man cries. Victoire onlysnarls again.

"How do you do that?" the guard asks her.

"Trade secret."

When Diana cried out, Vincent leapt over the side of the balcony,landing a little harder than he expected near the mid-stage wings. Heran straight out toward center stage, and found himself exposed whenthe lights went on, but he doubled back to the rear curtain just intime to turn & see Victoire's attack and mastery of the intruder.The sight of her ferocity astonishes him, and he stops to stare. Shetosses her head back to smile triumphantly at Diana, and hand her thegun, then dismounts from the poor man's back to allow Diana tohandcuff him. When the security guard runs up, Vincent thinks to moveout of sight just as Victoire starts to survey the area. Toolate.

"There's another," Victoire says, and strikes out across thestage.

Diana panics. That has to be Vincent. "No, wait, I think it's ourguy!" she calls. She shoves the man at the security guard. "Takehim!" And she runs after Victoire.

Vincent pulls behind curtains, and tries to find his way out. Hedoesn't know how to get back onto the catwalks, and any approach tosafety he sees is flooded with light. He manages to find a space thatseems to be walled off, but he backs up too far, and bumps into achair. Caught.

Diana reaches Victoire just as she reaches for the curtain, andsees her jerk it aside with a snarl. The snarl fades into a gasp ofastonishment. Vincent returns her gaze evenly at first, but thelonger he looks at her face, this mirror of his own, the less he candisguise his wonder. Diana can almost hear an electric crackle as thetwo lion creatures stare at each other, making a connection.

"Mais," breathes Victoire. "Je reve."

"I, too," says Vincent.

A siren in the alley causes them all to turn.

"Vincent, you'd better get out of here," Diana says. They'dforgotten her, and they snap their eyes to her in shock. Halfunaware, Victoire reaches for Vincent's cape, clutching it to keephim from leaving. That he cannot bear to leave is so obvious thatDiana makes a decision she does not want. "Go! I'll bring her to you.At my place. I know you'll know when."

He looks about for an exit. Victoire points to a low ladder to acatwalk. He swarms up, and is gone. Diana turns away from Victoire'sinquiring gaze, walking quickly to meet the entering police, butVictoire catches up with her.

"You know him?"

"Not now, Victoire."

"Who is he?"

"Victoire, not now! His existence is hidden. No one knows him, andas far as I'm concerned, it stays that way."

"But you said you'd take me to him!"

"You're not no one." Diana keeps walking, but Victoire turns tolook up into the catwalks, locking her gaze on Vincent's for a fewmoments before the police enter the stage.

 

*****

 

Diana and Victoire enter the elevator to Diana's loft. They havefallen quiet, each with her own thoughts. Victoire can barely containher excitement. Diana has a heavy heart. She has told Victoire only afew things about Vincent, leaving the rest for him to tell. Victoireis aware of the unrest in Diana, an impression she has always hadfrom her. She is accustomed to people being uncomfortable around her,but she is also knows fear is the source of that discomfort.Victoire's appearance seems to be what draws Diana to Victoire. It iswhat inspires her trust. And yet, Victoire senses a regret in Diana,a reluctance to embrace a friendship that Victoire believes isentirely possible. Perhaps Vincent is the answer. Diana is veryprotective of him. Or of herself?

When they reach the loft, Diana points to the door to the terrace."Don't take your coat off. He's up there." She turns away to take offher coat.

Victoire watches her a moment. "You're afraid I could hurt him,aren't you?"

Diana turns in surprise. "No!" Oddly enough, she never thought ofthat.

"Then what are you worried about?"

"He's waiting," Diana says. After a beat, Victoire goes throughthe door.

She finds Vincent leaning against the wall, watching the stars. Heturns when she opens the door. They stare at each other across anendless terrace. The connection they formed in the theater hassimmered in their minds during the past two hours, so that neitherhas been able to concentrate well on anything else. He neglected hisusual precautions Above, some of them even instinctive, because hismind remained focused on the link to her. He was lucky that heencountered no one on his way to Diana's. Victoire had to continuallydraw herself back to the moment, talking to police, listening toDiana. Now the connection leaps in intensity, drawing them close to atrance. Finally, she remembers to breathe.

"I'm Victoire."

"I know. I heard them call your name."

"You were there all night?"

"Yes. The show was wonderful."

"Thank you." She makes the first move towards him, crossing theterrace slowly. "You were there the whole time. I knew something wasdifferent. Funny, I viewed it in some romantic light: that tonightwas special, as a tribute to Paul." She shakes her head. "I'm notusually that sentimental." She stands next to him now. Tall as sheis, she still looks up to him. Breathless again, they stare at eachother. "You're doubting me. I can't believe it. Vincent, I'm just asreal as you are!"

It's his turn to shake his head. "I don't doubt that. I keepwaiting for you to vanish, or for me to wake up."

She reaches up to touch his face. That does it. They embrace,almost convulsively. She raises her face to be kissed, and hehesitates only a moment. Not since Catherine... But the feel ofVictoire in his arms is too real, too strong, and the warmth of herbody intensifies the awareness he has of her mind. As their mouthsmeet, their minds open to each other. Wishes made and dreamsfulfilled go through them like thought, and they cling to each othertighter, until she finally stops, laughing. "I can't breathe!"

"Forgive me!"

"That didn't mean I wanted you to let me go!"

At this moment, Diana opens the terrace door. She nearly winceswhen she sees them in each other's arms, and Victoire feels a smallpang of regret. That answered that question.

"I've been beeped back in," Diana says. "It's cold out here. Whydon't you two come in and sit?" Vincent hesitates, almost guiltily."Vincent, you may be used to the elements, but Victoire is from awarmer climate. It's OK. Come on." And he relents.

As they pass Diana, Victoire tries to scrutinize her face, but sheis too much shadowed. And Victoire gives herself a talking to. 'If Iwere to reassure her, what would it be about? And would it betrue?'

They settle themselves on the couch, holding hands, sharingsilence for a long time after Diana leaves. At last, she says: "Dianasaid there was a woman..."

"Catherine."

"And?"

And it all comes out. How he found her, how he felt. Those firstmonths away from her, and the months waiting for her to accept him,and to love him. The time he wasted over pointless worries and guilt.Paracelsus, and the madness he brought to their lives. And Gabriel,the man who killed her, when Vincent could not find her or saveher.

Somehow, Vincent avoids telling her of Jacob. He doesn't know why,but he feels that Jacob should be withheld. And almost out of habit,he leaves out the story of the Tunnel World. She knows he keepssomething from her, but she does not press. He tells her of walks inthe park with Catherine, of sharing concerts and reading books. Hetalks about Elliott Burch, and Stephen Bass, and the Stalker whonearly killed her. He talks about Halloween, and the gifts they gaveeach other, until somehow, he runs down. Two years, a little more.That's all it was. How could all that be all it was?

He finds tears in her eyes, and in her heart. She caresses hisface, a gesture that she has made entirely her own: no one hastouched him just this way, and no one else ever will.

"I wasted time, Victoire. With bootless fears that make no senseto me now. I could not trust myself with her, no matter how shetrusted me. Even the few times she was afraid of me, that fear camefrom within her, not from something she saw in me. I could see that,and yet, I still didn't believe in my own love for her." He shakeshis head. "Perhaps that is my greatest regret."

"Foolish to torture yourself," she says. "When love comes again,you'll know better."

"Again!" He stares at her as if she's committed blasphemy. "Howcould there be anything like what Catherine and I shared?.."

"There won't be. Every human soul is different, and deserves lovein different ways from every other. And you shouldn't be sohide-bound that you think you won't open your heart again. Not you.You have so much to give, and life has so much waiting for you, youcannot keep yourself barred up inside yourself."

"There are so many good things waiting for you Vincent. Just openyour arms..."

The echo of Catherine's words resounds in his heart, so like whatthis extraordinary woman has just said. He looks at her as if he seesher for the first time. She's so sure he'll love again. And, lookingat her, he believes that she could be right. For a moment, a flickerof guilt.

"After everything I've had, how could I ask for more?"

"Do you think you'd get a choice? Love doesn't come when called,and it doesn't ask permission to come."

She strokes his face again, and he leans his cheek into her handwithout thinking. There is a loving silence. In that space, theyreach for each other again, with their hearts, and the connectionbetween their minds takes over. He perceives the voice of herthoughts - not that he hears, as he hears her voice. This does nothave the warm damask burr of her throat. No, it is a light, clearfeeling, as if his own thoughts have taken a different timbre, a newwavelength. A wavelength that carries intimacy and love, thegreatness of her joy in him. And a sentence, very discreet:=Catherine was right, you know.= The words, in his mind, not in theair, make him jump, as she starts beside him. They draw back, notphysically, and look at each other in wonder.

"Tiens. That was strange."

"It's never happened to you before?"

"No."

"Nor I."

"So odd. I heard her words within you."

"They were nearly the last words she ever said to me."

She slips her hand into his, and they contemplate this link theyhave found, both a little wary.

"I've been in love half a dozen times," she says. "Never was itthat beautiful. Perhaps I didn't open myself to it well enough."

"Why not?"

"You know why. Caution is the best word for it, I suppose. Andthere are so many reasons to be careful. I have to maintain arelationship with two strikes against me. There, I did a veryAmerican analogy, didn't I?"

"Two?"

"Being involved with such an unusual-looking person is one thing.Being involved with a celebrity is another. But when your lover isboth..." She makes a very Gallic shrug. "And so I always half expecteach romance to end even as it begins. As if expecting him to leaveme will make it hurt less when he does."

"And does it?"

"Of course not. Someday I will learn." And someday, you mustlearn, too, she does not add. "And how does Diana come into yourlife?"

If there is a logical connection to Diana and her previoussubject, he ignores it. "She saved my life, more than my life, morethan once. She was assigned to solve the mystery of Catherine'smurder." A ripple goes through him when he speaks of Diana, asensation he resolutely ignores. But Victoire, so sensitive to allthat goes on within him, hears it, and recognizes it. Poor Diana. Hetells how Diana found him on Catherine's grave on the night Elliottdied, how she brought him here, helped him heal. How she helped himdefeat Gabriel.

"Brave woman to bring you into her home like that."

"Yes."

"Must have been a mess. Did she put you in her bed?" He looks ather quizzically. "You. Must have been a mess. I doubt that river isexactly clean. Never mind the smoke, and bilgewater, and fuel oil,and blood. You probably stank to high heaven."

He stares at her, a little stunned. "I don't remember being..."and his voice fails him. It never occurred to him. His clothes wereclean when he left. Dear God, what had Diana done? He'd thought therecould be no horrors left from that story, and now he sits in Diana'sapartment, paralyzed with shame, while Victoire dissolves intogiggles beside him. "She never said a word to me." Thank God she isnot here. He looks sharply at Victoire. "You won't say..."

She shakes her head, still chuckling. "Of course not. Oh." Shesettles beside him. "Men are so impractical." His stern glance nearlysets her off again. "Well it's true. Any woman would have thought ofit right off. Extraordinary woman, Diana. I wonder how many nightsshe waited in that cemetery for you?"

"I think I've talked enough about myself, " he says.

And so it's her turn. She tells him of a life almost totallydifferent from his, and yet, very like.

"Jean-Luc and Emilie Dedeaux raised me as their own daughter, "she starts.

"What of your own parents?"

A small hesitation. Someone else might not have noticed. "Whoknows? I never knew my parents. I.. was an orphan, and to be honest,the story has gone through so many changes, I can't tell you how itall started."

"I think I could say the same thing," he says, somewhat sourly."And so?"

"So, the Cirque de Joie was a very small one in the beginning, andvery typical. We had dwarves and acrobats and trick ponies andclowns. We also had oddities: the bearded lady, the sword swallower,and such. I fit right in. I was part of a special group, and I knewall the children around me. European circuses are still a lot likeAmerican circuses once were: very small, and limited in theiractivity. The show travels in the summer, and stays in our home townduring the winter. We live in a town near Nice. Many of us havesecond businesses there, and the children go to school there.Families stay behind even in the summer. Some children are too youngto go with the show, or people stay to keep the shops open, and soforth. It's home, and it's safe."

"But no one ever kept you hidden?"

Another tiny hesitation. "No. What was a lion child among thedwarves and bearded ladies? I occasionally was teased in school, butthe circus children kept together. Even the children of the trainersand acrobats - the "normal" children, if you will - were sometimestroubled by the other children. After all, we were different. We werebohemians, circus people. We learned to defend ourselves, and we alsolearned how to break down barriers and make friends."

"Defend yourselves?"

She shrugs. "At one point our another, all our fathers taught ushow to fight. Me especially."

"They teased you more?"

"No. I was a troublesome child, with a vicious temper. Me, Lu-Luhad to teach how to... how to... Ooof, English fails me at last. Notbe so hard. Be careful. He sent me to learn Savate."

"What is that?"

"It is a fighting, um, martial art. I guess you could call itFrench karate. It's taught me more than self control. It's taught mehow to control a fight, physical or verbal. Lots of things. Lu-Lualso started me tumbling earlier than the other children. Anything tochannel all that energy."

Vincent nods. "My Father had me reading books, and studyinganything he could get to take my interest." And shattering passagesand rooms out of granite. Some things are not everything theyseem.

"We started a fashion, Lu-Lu and me," she says. "Pretty soon allthe circus kids went to learn. It's useful for them, too. Life on theroad isn't always safe."

"I can't believe you've been all over the world."

"All over? I haven't. Most of Europe. Now America. I went toschool in England..."

"School?"

"College."

"You went to college?" the dreaminess in his voice was not lost onher, nor was the wistfulness he felt. "In England?"

"Yes. I chose England because I wanted to work on my English. Andbecause I thought that the paparazzi would leave me alone there."

"Did they?"

A scornful noise. "Of course not. I was young and naive."

And so the conversation flows, for hours. They talk of dreams theyhad as children, and how they learned to accept that some of themwould never come true. Or that they would come true in ways theycouldn't expect.

"I dreamed of roaming the world. My brother Devin and I used tolie awake at night and talk of all the places we would go."

"Your brother?"

"My foster brother. His father raised me."

"Ah. So, you were an orphan?"

"Yes." She waits, but he offers nothing more.

"And what does Devin do now?"

He sits quiet for a long moment. "He does all the things we saidwe would do."

She feels the ripples of regret flow away from him, and somesorrow.

"He went without you." He shrugs in answer. "Diana said that veryfew people know that you exist. You live in hiding?"

"Yes."

She hates it. Something about that shudders in her soul so deeplythat he nearly hates it, too. Of course the truth isn't quite thesame as what she thinks. And yet, to tell her the truth... He sensesher probing his thoughts, and, to turn her away, he says: "Hidingisn't he same as confinement." After all, he clearly goes where hepleases. She sees the adventure there. She also feels the small bitof sorrow for Devin.

"The wild romance Devin seeks came to you, didn't it?"

"I suppose. And yet, he's never had to lose as much..."

"You don't know that."

"Perhaps. He searches for a place to belong, and the place heleft..."

"Is where he belongs?"

"Honestly, I don't think so. But that reflects more his spiritthan anything else. I think what I learned is that belonging isn't aplace."

"He doesn't know that?"

"He's so busy looking, he can't see."

"Funny. New York should have enough adventure for anyone."

This gives him pause, and she feels that he nearly answers, andstops. She looks at him, and into him. But he withdraws. There wasmore. What? She shakes it off and settles against his shoulder.

"I wanted to be someone I could never be," she says.

"And who might that be?"

"Cybil Sheperd."

"Who?"

"You really don't know?" He shakes his head. "She was a greatpassion in France when I was a young teen. The ultimate Americangirl: blonde, sexy, beautiful flawless face, long legs. Desired byone and all." She shrugs. "What girl doesn't want that?"

"Let me guess. Her teeth were all the same length."

"Brilliant, Holmes." Her grin bares her teeth - especially thelong ones. "How was I to know that I was to be a sex symbol myself?That the same French magazines that went on about her regimen for herclear skin would spend as much space speculating on the appearance ofmine? That others would devote a spread to my work-out secrets?"

They touch on the difficulties of being alone among so many, evenif those people are loved ones.

"I know there are times that I have regretted being what I am, butmy true regret is that I don't know why," he says. "It nags at mesometimes: why this? What sort of genetic twist, or fantastic storyresulted in me?" She has become very still, within. Almost opaque tohim, and her withdrawal alarms him. "Do you ever wonder?", heasks.

"All the time," she murmurs. She slips away from melancholythoughts, and smiles at him. "Given a chance, I could drive myselfmad with it. You mean, you have no clue? No fantasy about itall?"

"Have you?"

"I don't let myself fantasize about it at all any more. I justaccept that the best and the worst of me, no matter what I look like,lies in my humanity. It doesn't seem it can come from anywhereelse..."

"What do you mean?"

She turns her gaze on him, her eyes searching his face, but sheslides her heart and her thoughts away from him. He finds himselfmarveling at her face: the symmetry of her cheekbones, the wild blueof her eyes. And the question arises in the back of his mind: couldhe seem to be this beautiful? She finds that question, and laughssoftly. "Are you beautiful, my love? You are magnificent!"

For some reason, this stings. "Don't."

"What?"

"I don't know. Just.. don't."

She lets it go. She has made a fortune on her face, parlayed herwildness into a career, and in doing so, has nearly forgotten thetimes when that face set her outside from others, left her alone, andeven with faithful circus friends, she felt that isolation. If'living well is the best revenge', then she has revenge aplenty. Butshe knows how easily she can be cast out as a beast. Mere words can'ttake the pain of that away. She remembers her reaction to Diana'squestions earlier that morning: for one blinding moment, she had beensure that she was the prime suspect in Paul's death, only because ofher strangeness. The relief she'd felt when she realized her alibihad saved her was close to ridiculous. Had anyone tried to call herbeautiful then...

She takes his hand in hers, plays with his fingers, snuggles backagainst him. He leans against her, and their foreheads touch. Shereaches up and kisses him lightly. He kisses her back. Perhaps later,he will look back on his automatic responses to her, and regret them.But tonight, he feels her delight in him, and his delight is no less.If there is a sexual promise in their meeting, it seems condign, andhe does not question it. On her part, she cannot deny that her mindis wide open to possibilities. Poor Diana. If I had not come into herlife, could she eventually claim his heart? And exactly what am Igoing to do? She kisses him again. I know what I want to do.

"And so you live in hiding, but not in confinement? Where do youlive? And how?"

He almost keeps it from her again, but he comes to the decisionthat she must know about the tunnels - and he can't fathom notintroducing this unbelievable woman to Father. "That's rather a longstory. Perhaps I need to show you rather than tell you. Can you meetme tomorrow?"

"Tell me where."

 
MONDAY

 

In the morning, an officer knocks at Victoire's hotel room door.She is up and dressed, even after so little sleep.

"Ms. Dedeaux? These are Mr. Marpot's things. I thought we ought togive them to you to take back to his family." He hands over asuitcase. Sadly, she accepts it.

"I imagine you looked through it for some information you coulduse?"

"Of course. We didn't find much."

"He didn't really have any family that we knew of. He never spokeof any."

"You might find some in his address book."

The detective takes his leave, and Victoire sets the suitcase in acorner. She sits at the window with a cup of coffee, her mindwhirling. What a night! This was what she felt, what she knew waswaiting: Vincent. Was it worth a death? She looks over at thetattered suitcase, and guilt makes her go to it. For 24 hours, she'dneglected the thought of informing his family. Who were they?

She finds a scuffed black book, with a calendar. She smiles sadlyas she reviews the listings of the stops on this tour. Paul had beenso eager to come to America, and then so scornful of Americans oncehe got here - so like a Frenchman, she thinks. She pages through theaddress book. It isn't very full. Most of the names she knows arepeople associated with the circus. Vendors, agents and repair people.Several women's names, including one well-known madam in Marseilles,which makes Victoire chuckle. Paul, eh? Who would have thought it?How many would really care? There are also several slips of paperstuffed into the little book. One jumps out at her, and for a moment,she can't understand why. It's a phone number labeled "Rino", and shedoesn't know anyone by that name. And then she realizes: this is nota French phone number. It is an American number. She pulls the NewYork phone book out of the desk, and looks through for the prefixthat would match it. None do, and then she realizes that the areacode is wrong. She rummages through her own briefcase for herappointment book. She scans her list of important American numbers:the area code is for Miami. She has no listing in her book for aRino. She flips on through the pile of papers in the book; there itis: a New York number. It isn't in Paul's handwriting. Furtherperusal of the book shows nothing else, and no family-typeentries.

She sets the little book aside, pours herself a second cup ofcoffee - so faint, American coffee. She turns her thoughts toVincent, just as, with a small shock, she realizes he's waked up. Inher heart, she watches him remember last night, and feels hishappiness. "Bon jour", she whispers, and nearly drops her cup when hestarts as if she's whispered in his ear. He couldn't have heard that,could he? His smile touches her heart, and then: =Good morning.=

She laughs. =Incroyable!=

=Believe it.=

Something distracts his attention; she feels his regret. Shewithdraws from him, thinking: 'This could get too close for comfort,I think.'

And perhaps it could. She's always had a sense from the peopleclose to her, but she's never 'heard' their thoughts, and no one hasever heard hers. If this happened when she was younger, she mighthave been tempted to immerse herself in him, but now... Now, even sosoon after receiving this gift, she knows to be cautious. And is itworth a death?

She retrieves her coffee. The book draws her attention like amagnet as it sits closed on her desk. She is obsessed with this.Why?

She tries to turn her mind back to Vincent, but the book recallsher again and again, in a way she has learned to respect. There issomething there.

With a sigh, she picks up the phone, and, consulting her ownlittle black book, calls Diana.

Diana's voice is sleepy, and Victoire feels a stab of guilt atwaking her, after giving her such a bad night. "Diana?" she says."It's me."

*****

Later that morning, Diana's phone rings again.

"Bennett? Neal Sherman here."

"Neal? Where have you been?"

"Over here in Vice where I've always been."

"Remind me to quote you out of context. What's up?"

"Got a question for you."

"Uh huh."

"Those numbers you got this morning."

"Uh huh?"

"Where'd you get them?"

"Why?"

"Because I think you've hit a jack pot. We've had that New Yorknumber tapped for weeks."

"Huh?"

"Ever heard of a guy named Callende?"

"Drug trafficker. Moves anything anywhere for a price. Doesn'tproduce, just ships. UPS for the Cartel and more."

"Give that girl a gold star."

"And you thought I never paid attention to you."

"We know that's a connection number. And we've been looking forthe connections in other states, and I think you got us the Floridaone. Come on, Diana, where'd you get it?"

So she tells him. She outlines the murder, and what she's learnedso far. She's vaguely surprised that the story doesn't take longer totell. So much has happened that she hasn't told, can't tell, anyone.Then she says: "Your turn."

"What?"

"There's more. Give." He hesitates. "Sherman, so help me God, I'llfeed you misinformation next time!"

"OK, OK. Someone's called that number four times. From thetheater. And from a room at their hotel."

"Whose hotel?"

"Cut it out, Diana. The acting troupe's hotel."

"Acrobats."

"What? Whatever."

"Who's room?"

"A guy named Marpot." He pronounces it Mar-pot. Like a kitchenpot, and it's all Diana can do to keep from correcting him.

"That's my murder victim," she says.

"Yeah? I wonder if Callende's crowd had this in mind?"

"I doubt it. The whole job was way too messy. There was nothingprofessional about it. My guess is robbery, or... Oh, I don'tknow."

"At any rate, it looks like your victim wasn't so squeaky clean. Iwonder who else in the troupe is dirty?"

Unbidden, her alarms go off in her head. "Good question."

"Mind if we check out your people?"

"Hold it, Neal, this is still a murder investigation."

"Yeah, but.."

"And if the connection is dead, what do you have to go on?"

There's a pause. "Someone called that number from the theateryesterday."

"Shit."

"Any thoughts?"

"Marpot had a roommate." She pronounces it right.

"Who?"

"The dead guy. There are also two other crew members who don'thave alibis for that night."

"The murderer may not necessarily be the telephoner."

"True enough. But my first choice for either one would be theroommate."

"He'd have a chance to see what's-his-name acting funny and tosnoop through his things."

"Yeah. What's more, he's a creep." And now she knows why her eyeswere always drawn to Bruno at the theater. That sick buzzing of hernerves - it came from him.

"Well, that won't hold up in court, Diana."

"You know what I mean. I've been living with these people for thepast 24 hours, and I've got a bead on most of them."

"Can I come by? Or are you coming in?"

"Come by, I'll show you my notes."

"You're a princess. I'll be there in about an hour."

"It'll cost you."

*****

What does a European eat in America? McDonald's? No, they havethat at home.

Victoire, Etienne, and Yusef are seated in a delicatessen, withpastrami on rye, pickles, and potato salad, among other things. Theychat openly and easily, in French. Yusef is suspicious of the potatosalad, to say the least, sniffing it and poking it with his fork.

"Give me peace, Yus, it doesn't bite!" Victoire is amused.

"It's yellow."

"Yes?"

"Where were you last night, Vicki?" asks Etienne.

She knew this was coming. They've grown up together. She's spent agood bit of time deciding what to say when this question was asked.And now, she hesitates to lie to him. "I went to the police station,"she says. So far, this is not a lie. "I think I've learned more thanI ever wanted to know about American police, or police ingeneral."

"You came in so late."

"How do you know how late I came in?"

"I waited up for you in the lobby. I went to bed at two."

"Why did you wait for me?"

He casts her a reproachful glance. "This is New York, Vicki. Andyou don't blend into crowds anymore here than anywhere else. If I letsomething happen to you, Lu-Lu would kill me."

Almost as if on cue, a young man approaches them. "Are you theFlying Tigers?"

Yusef makes a fleetingly sour face, but he has his back to theman. Etienne and Victoire pick up their roles immediately. "We are,"says Etienne, pointing to Yusef and himself. "This is Leonie, theFlying Lion." His accent is very thick.

Victoire flashes her sapphire eyes at the man, and smiles. Hefalls into those eyes, as most men do, and then recollectshimself.

"I'm a photographer," he says. "Mind if I take a candid?"

They pick up their sandwiches, he snaps, and is gone. Theyexchange almost bewildered glances. "That one wasn't bad," saysYusef. He has finished his potato salad.

"You shouldn't have spoken," growls Etienne.

"Leonie?" asks a woman at her elbow. She has a notepad.

"Yes?"

"I'm Hilary Marks from the New York Post," says the woman. "Wouldyou mind?..."

"Oh, Ms. Marks, I just talked to an Aaron Abbot from your paper onthe phone this morning," says Victoire. "I'm sorry. We are hoping tohave some time to ourselves."

If this reporter is nonplused about being caught in a lie, shedoesn't show it. "I just wanted to say how sorry I am about PaulMarpot's death...."

Victoire's eyes fill with tears. "Oh, no," she whispers. "Notthat. I just can't talk about Paul anymore, please."

Yusef rises from his chair, and stares grimly at Hilary Marks."Please leave us alone. He was a father figure to us. We can't bearit. Please go."

As soft as his words may be, his manner is stern, and the womanbeats a retreat. "Vicki," he asks. "When can we go home?"

She shrugs, dabs the forced tears away. "When they let us." Shesighs. "It is a bit much." She pats Etienne on the hand. "Don't waitup for me tonight. I'm getting out of the hotel."

"What!" they chorus together.

"I told you I have friends here."

"And what if the reporters get your friends involved?"

"Don't worry. I have it planned. They won't know I'm out of thehotel."

They exchange worried glances, but make no argument. She'sexecuted hotel escapes successfully for years, and they used to worryLu-Lu sick. Now the men worry, but they are accustomed to the resultsof arguing against it.

Yusef makes a tentative effort. "You haven't got a lover here,have you?"

She laughs. "Nosy. Change the subject. What arrangements have beenmade for the equipment?"

"Eduardo has arranged for it to go back by surface on a freighterthat sails Thursday," says Etienne. "If we get it back from thepolice. There's another thing. Why do they need to keep our set?"

"Did the police say what was going on?" asks Yusef.

Another moment of truth. Diana had asked her not to tell her crewabout the drugs found under Paul's body, and that had been easyenough yesterday, but last night's events raised too many questions.While she's debating what to do, Etienne speaks up.

"You know Eduardo says he's quitting."

"He always says that," says Yusef.

"This is different. He says he's too old to get killed likePaul."

That does it. "Well, there are some extenuating circumstances withPaul."

"Like what?"

She takes a breath. "I'm not supposed to tell you, and the othersbetter not learn from you."

"All right."

"Paul was killed over a sandbag full of contraband drugs."

There is a long silence. "Someone's using our equipment to smuggledrugs?" Etienne whispers, grateful for the noise around them, and forthe fact that they can hide by speaking their native language.Victoire makes a tiny nod. "And they think that the smuggler killedPaul?" Well, perhaps. But her suspicion that it was Paul himself whohas put their company at risk leaves her disillusioned and sick. Shesimply lets that question hang in the air before them.

Yusef and Etienne stare at each other in horror. "One of ourpeople has betrayed us," says Yusef.

In unison the men say: "Bruno."

*****

Early in the afternoon, Victoire emerges from the hotel. Shealmost blends in as she walks purposefully down the busy side walk, agraceful young woman in a long suede skirt, boots and a voluminousblack denim coat with a hood. The look of the coat is veryreminiscent of Vincent. The hood is pulled far forward on her head,and only people who look straight at her notice her face. One manstops and turns to look, but people on the streets of New York arefamous for ignoring each other. She passes two ratty-looking youngmen, who see her face, and grin at each other. They have found somesport. They start to follow her. She is aware of them, and is wary,but something in her manner is a little disdainful. They catch upwith her as she crosses an alley, and flank her.

"Hey, funky lady. Aren't you a little far from the Village in thatget-up?"

"Don't feel bad if you are. We like a little wild life."

They find themselves amusing. She gives them a cold glance, andwalks on, but they block her way.

"Don't be so cold, baby. We wanna invite you for a party."

"Whatsa matter? Cat got your tongue?"

Her scorn becomes intense, and she pushes the first one out of herway. He experiences a moment of doubt when he feels the strength inher arm, but his buddy pulls her down the alley, and he goesalong.

"Come with us a minute," says the second man.

"You won't like it", she says. The deadly quiet of her voiceshould be a warning, but they are too cocky, and too drunk, tonotice.

"Oh, yeah? Get this, man, and what you gonna do?"

"Let go of me."

The second man shoves her against a wall. "When I'm ready." Hegrabs her face roughly, and moves in to kiss, when she snarls at him.It gives him pause, but not enough. He moves toward her again, whenshe roars, and he jerks as if something has happened to hismidsection. And indeed, it has. She has raked her claws through hisclothes, and serrated the skin of his side. He clutches at the wound,and then he finds himself flying across the alley, hitting the wallhard. He slumps to the ground, and looks at his bloody hands. Thefirst man pulls a knife. He'd run, but Victoire is between him andfreedom. When he lunges clumsily for her, she grabs the knife handand swings him around, still roaring in his ear. She throws him ontop of his friend, and he finds he has embedded his knife in his ownthigh. They try to scramble to their feet, and the first man makes tomove towards her, but she starts at them, flinging her arms in theair, and snarling like some monster out of B-grade horror movie. Theyfall back on each other, then they start crawling for the street in ablind panic. She advances on them as they go, snarling softly. At thevery edge of the alley, one of them looks back at her, and his faceregisters a look of greater terror. He screams, staggers to his feet,and runs. She watches them run down the street, with her hands on herhips, and an attitude like that of a lady shooing small boys awayfrom her apple tree.

Then she turns and smiles at Vincent. He had burst into the footof the alley in time to see Victoire throw a grown man through theair, and he stopped when he realized that she was not the one indanger. He watched in fascination as she drove them away, and as hisown appearance sent the last man out in blind panic.

She saunters up to him, still smiling. "Good afternoon. Friendlypeople you have here in New York."

"We need to get out of sight," he says, and taking her hand, heleads her down a staircase into a basement. He leads her through ahole in the basement wall, and into the tunnels.

"Where are we going?"

"To my home."

"You live underground? All alone?" She looks around with barelyconcealed dismay.

"It isn't what you're thinking. I have a great story to tellyou."

By the time they reach the outer core of the tunnels, he's toldher about the Tunnel World, or at least he's started the story. "Iknew you were holding something back," she says. He returns her gazefor a moment, nearly telling her that he had the same thought abouther, but she slides her thoughts out of reach too quickly. How didshe do that? One moment, she was open to him, the next, closed tohim, with an artificial opacity that he's seen before. Catherinecould shield her feelings from him when she needed to, and it feltjust like this. And since then... She distracts him when she says:"That ringing. That's a message system, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"What are they saying?"

He listens for a moment. "Mouse wants to know when Jamie isbringing him lunch..."

"Mouse?"

"...And the sentries have seen me come into the tunnels with astranger." He smiles a bit. "And one says no one will believe who thestranger is. Or what."

"Dramatic."

"What do you expect?"

"Who's Mouse? Or what?"

*****

Diana is making the third pot of coffee of the day. Shermanglances up at her. "You know, you look wiped out."

"Well, thank you, Neal."

"When did you sleep last?"

"I got a couple hours earlier this morning."

He drains his mug, finishes his deli sandwich. "I say we ask fortails for all of them."

"All ten of them." Oh, no. This would not do.

"I know. It's a lot."

"You can cut out the star."

"Why?"

She looks at him sharply. "Funny. I can show you why. They were onLetterman last week. I taped it for my niece, who's a gymnasticsfreak." She puts the tape in the machine, watches his face as hewatches the troupe. His eyes widen when he sees Victoire, and thenthe expression on his face does the same thing she's seen repeatedseveral times by her cops: adolescent lust, pure and simple.

"Whoa," he says, finally. "Is she for real?"

"Yeah, she's that good."

"Bennett."

"She always looks like that. Photographers follow her everywhere,in Europe, and even here."

"So she's not the killer. And I can see the argument against herserving as a courier."

"Way too visible."

"Amen."

Another thought comes to her. She kneels in front of the VCR, andrewinds. "Look. I can show you the other crew members." She rerunsthe tape of the performance, on slow motion. She didn't notice theaction of the black-clad men when she first saw it, but now thatshe's been on the stage, she finds their job almost as interesting asthe performance. One by one, she's able to show Sherman the crew,even if the images are fuzzy.

He sits back from the TV. "All right," he says. "You want to keepan eye on your roommate?"

"Would you watch your grammar?"

"Huh? Oh. Sorry. I mean.."

"I know what you mean. We're on him."

"OK."

But that doesn't mean that Victoire is safe from scrutiny, and hermovements may not attract the right sort of attention. Now what?

*****

Vincent takes Victoire to the Painted Tunnels first, hoping thatthey might simplify some of the telling of the story. Once they standfacing the images, he realizes that there is a great deal more herethan just the beginning of the story, and some of the images are fromchapters that he doesn't necessarily want to tell. But others...

"That's Catherine," she says, pointing to the portrait ofCatherine in the white dress she wore to Winterfest, the nightParacelsus nearly killed them all.

"Yes."

"She's beautiful, Vincent. You could love her for her facealone."

"And there was more to her than that."

She moves on. "Who's that?"

"That was Paracelsus."

"Humph. After all that, he just looks like a man."

"After all that, he couldn't escape that that was all he was."

"Human nature at it's finest..." she muses. " It's a strangeparadox, you know. Who would have known, just looking at him, that hewas such a threat? And just a look at us leads people to draw theopposite conclusion - just as erroneous."

"Is it really erroneous?"

"The worst in me is most assuredly from my human side, of that Ihave no doubt."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Look at him. How can you not be sure?"

They wander through the gallery, he tells her more stories aboutthe Tunnel World, shows her pictures of those whose names she knows,like Elliott Burch. She pauses before the portrait of young Fatherholding the infant Vincent.

"So, you were born here?"

"No. I was brought here by Father when I was an infant."

"He knew your parents?"

"No."

Another tiny beat, "You were an orphan?"

"I assume so. Father found me in a trash heap outside ahospital."

Her reaction surprises him: something leaps in her, cries =I knewit!= before she can pull it away from him. She's wracked to her owndepths, and the mix of horror, shock, and delight confuses himenormously. "What is it?"

She is regrouping beneath his inquiry, pulling her thoughts inwhere he can't follow. "It sounds so dramatic. Can it be true?"

"So the story goes." He touches her shoulder. "Are you allright?"

She smiles at him, as if the question is silly. "Yes." She movescloser to the painting. "So that is your Father."

"Victoire, I thought..."

"What?" She faces him, blue eyes questioning, acting asconvincingly as any professional, except that she can't fool him. Yetthe plea comes to him: =Please?=

He casts about for a distraction. "You know, perhaps ourchildhoods weren't so different. I had a group of friends who knewme, and accepted me for what I am. We had countless adventures downhere, and Above, at night. And they protected me from the WorldAbove, when we went too far, and risked meeting people who couldcause us - me - harm. When it came to the World Above, none of usreally fit in there. Our World was so much safer, to us."

"We had sawdust and trapezes. You had tunnels and darkness."

"Darkness isn't so bad."

"Nor are trapezes. But plenty of people are afraid of them."

"Just so."

Near the end of the murals, there are family groupings, includinga picture of Vincent with Jacob. She stares at that with someconfusion.

"The baby?"

Why does he want to hesitate to answer this? "My son, Jacob," hesays finally, and then he knows why he held back. A surge ofsurprise, and then a deep sadness.

"Son?"

"Catherine gave birth to him just before she died. Her pregnancywas why Gabriel did not kill her outright. He wanted the child."

She leans against him, searching his thoughts. She knows hismelancholy, and when he speaks of this, she glimpses the cavern ofgrief within him, and pulls back from its edge. "If I go there, Ifear I will be lost forever," she says as she moves her body awayfrom him , and his thoughts as well.

"So would I have been if at had not been for Jacob," heanswers.

*****

After Neal leaves, Diana makes a phone call. "Hi, this is DianaBennett," she says.... "I'm doing pretty well. Haven't seen you in awhile, not since Winterfest.... Of course I'll be there. If they askme. What's that I hear in the background? ... Good Lord, is shetalking already?... Listen, could you get a message down there forme?"

*****

They are walking through wider passages, lit by torches and theringing of the pipes.

"Well?" she says.

"Well, what?"

"You are deeply into something. What?"

"Those men in the alley..."

"What about them?"

"You enjoyed that."

She smiles wickedly. "Is it so bad? They were so surprised!" Sheshrugs. "I guess that is rather bad of me. It isn't as if they had achance."

"You could have killed them."

She shakes her head. "Not at all. Fools learn more from terrorthan actual harm." He remains unhappy. "What is it, my love?"

"It was like I was watching myself, there in that alley. I'venever seen anything so frightening, or so magnificent. And you wereholding back..." He paces on a moment, then turns to face her. "I'veknown that rage - it was there in you. I know the force in thewellspring of that anger. And so many times, I've yielded to thatforce because I could honestly say that I was entranced by it. Forme, the only thing to follow is self-hatred. But you. You reveled init. And you controlled it."

"Yes."

"I have never felt that I could do that."

"I learned early about my strength. I told you that Lu-Lu sent meto classes. The discipline is.. well, a discipline. I learned how tobrake my anger, how to command it, and not be commanded by it. Andonce I learned that I am the one in control, I then learned thatevery fight doesn't have to be desperate." She caresses his cheek,and as always, he leans to her hand. How have they lived all theirlives without each other? "I think, my darling, you have neverlearned that the violence of your anger can be controlled, even asyou let it loose. You keep such a terrible rein on yourself that youdon't know how to deal with a very basic emotion when it presentsitself. To you, it's all or nothing, non?"

He ponders this. "Not always." He remembers times he stalked menin the tunnels who came to deal death to his family. Those actions,however repugnant to him, were taken with method, and no emotion. Hehas mulled over these memories for several moments before he realizesher presence, not just beside him, but within him, watching some partof his thoughts with understanding. How far can this go? Obviously,not far enough to fully understand the import of those memories, orshe'd be more distressed. The terrorizing of fools is one thing;taking life is another.

She touches his arm. "What?"

"I have killed, Victoire. Too many times; sometimes withjustification I can bring myself to accept. But even then, I've beenswept by a black tide that carries me beyond what I can condone. AndI loathe myself."

That was more than she'd anticipated, but she recovers, and stayson the subject. "You let your passion frighten you."

"Why shouldn't it?"

"There is always time for fear later. If you're into a fray, theremust be reason, and there must be something important at stake. Whywaste time with philosophy? Your rage, and your strength, are yourservants to command. They deserve no respect from you, only fromthose you oppose. If you respect and fear your own anger, it getsaway from you: what good is your action if the first person youfrighten is yourself? It is battle, and battle is best engaged with astrategy in mind."

She says all this so simply, with the straightforward grace he hasheard from himself. He looks to her to see if she is joking, but shereturns his gaze, and his thoughts, with all the blue-eyed serenitythey share. For the second time today, he's seeing himself in her,and this time it is a self he can trust.

"And sometimes, when you are out in the world, no matter howstrong your principles, or your will, some stranger will force you toviolence. That happens to anyone, you know. Some people succumb, andare hurt or killed. Some fight back."

"But when we fight back, we have an unfair advantage."

"There are no unfair advantages in war," she retorts sharply."There is nothing unfair about defense. If there is a choice betweenthe health and welfare of someone who means me harm, and the healthand welfare of my self or someone I love - phaugh! That is not achoice! There is one regret that is impossible to swallow: hangingback and allowing evil to occur."

"You truly believe the evil is not in yourself?"

The question rocks her. She's spent a lifetime being different, asdifferent as possible. She has fought, step by step, for the right togo out into the world, and to conquer it in her own way. She hasstruggled against prejudice, and fear from others. And she hasprevailed. She has prevailed by accepting that the world will notchange at her bidding, but even so, she can manipulate the world,just enough that she can carve a niche in it. She has used thedifference that has foretold her life as a tool to make her life.Never has she entertained a concern that the difference made herevil. As she said to Diana, she's always known about herself.

"You think that you are evil?"

"There have been times when I've been sure of it."

"There is evil in everyone, Vincent. How can there not be? Butthat evil does not lie in our shape. It lies in our minds, and ourhearts. It isn't my claws that make me good or bad. It is, indeed, inhow I use them. The same goes for you. I told you, my love. All thatis the best, and the worst in me lies in my humanity, nowhere else.It doesn't need to be anywhere else."

*****

In Father's chamber, Father and Mary are sitting on opposite sidesof his desk, she with a list, he with a ledger.

"All right," he says. "What is the expiration date on theAugmentin?"

She consults her list. "August '99"

"We'll have used it by then. The Keflex?"

"May of this year."

"We can eke another 6 months out of that if we have to..." Helooks up as Vincent enters the room. "Vincent." He knows his son'sface too well. "What is it? You have someone with you. Who?"

"I don't think I know where to begin. But there's someone I wantyou to know." He turns towards the chamber door. "Her name isVictoire."

Even with the cryptic messages on the pipes, even with the waythey have come to accept that inexplicable things surround Vincent,they are not prepared for the black-cloaked woman who enters theroom. She stops at the top of the short stair, and raises her furredhands to sweep the hood back from her face. Her gaze sweeps the room,and she appraises both Father and Mary with great gravity. But whenher eyes meet Vincent's, she smiles.

"My God!" Father murmurs. Mary remains speechless.

"Father," Victoire says. "And Mary, I presume."

"Yes", Mary breathes, and then she realizes she is staring. Sheputs away her list, and rises from her chair as Victoire descends thestairs and comes to Vincent's side.

"I don't know which question to ask first", Father says, and hesits back weakly in his chair. "Please, have a seat."

By the time Vincent and Victoire have pulled up chairs, the othershave regained some composure. "Two mysteries", Father says. "Never inmy life could I have thought there would be two."

"Victoire has an acrobatic company that is visiting New York ontour," Vincent begins. "Diana told me that this unusual French troupewas here, and I went to see them last night."

"Acrobats?" Father says.

"French?" Mary breathes.

At this point, Victoire begins to laugh. "Vincent, this isn't niceof us to surprise these people like this. They're your parents."

Mary starts at this, and stares at Victoire. "Yes, I suppose weare."

"Have I shocked you horribly?"

"I'm not sure," says Father. "How many of you are there?"

"Until last night, I thought I was the only one on the world",says Victoire.

They are distracted by a small shuffle in the tunnel. "Who's outthere?" Vincent says, and Samantha and Jaimie appear at the door,looking rather sheepish.

"Excuse us," Jamie begins. "Kipper said..."

"Never mind," Father says. "Come in and meet Victoire."

They run down the stair, and into the room, introducing themselvesall at once, and trying to be cool. At which point Pascal comes in.He says nothing, but stops and stares at Victoire in fascination.

"Pascal," Father says. "Just how many people do you think we mayexpect?"

"The pipes are still being rather mysterious," Pascal says. "Icame because I was standing watch. I suppose I could put out the wordthat everyone can meet Vincent's twin at dinner?"

Vincent and Victoire are both absorbed in Pascal's word "twin",when Mary says, "Victoire, you will be with us for dinner?"

The twins exchange a glance. "Thank you," Victoire saysdistractedly.

"Actually," Vincent says slowly. "I asked Victoire to stay thenight."

Father coughs at this, but he recovers. "Vincent told you hisstory, and ours, I suppose?" he says. Victoire nods. "Will you tellus yours?"

"I saw your ad in the paper," Samantha says. "I thought it wasmake-up."

"Lots of people do," Victoire says. "I'm a foundling, likeVincent. Only I grew up in France, and Jean-Luc, whom I call Uncle,had a circus. It was perfect for me."

"You grew up in the circus?" says Jamie, who is obviously morethan a little taken with that thought.

"Sounds like fun, doesn't it?" The girls nod. "It was. We went toschool in the small town where the circus wintered, and in thesummer, the older children traveled with the circus all over France,and sometimes all over Europe. I began tumbling lessons when I wasvery young, and I was performing with the troupe by the time I was12."

"But now you have a different act," Father says.

"Yes. After I finished college, I thought it was time to branchout. Two of my partners and I had come up with a new act for thecircus, and we just expanded it for the stage. It started small." Sheshrugs and smiles. "It hasn't stayed that way."

"College?" Mary says.

"Yes. I went to a small school in the South of England."

"What did you study?" asks Father.

"Business."

"Business!" This is not what Father had envisioned.

"Of course. I am to assume the control of a growing entertainmentconcern. What else would I study?"

"How can you be sure your act will always be so popular?" Jamieasks.

Victoire nods approvingly. "You can't, and we don't count on it.There's more to it than that. One of my partners, Etienne, has adegree in engineering. A few years ago, he and I designed a systemfor scaffolding that is portable and strong, but lightweight. We hada local manufacturer make it up for us, and we patented it. Wearranged with the factory to sell the product, and then, Lu-Lu boughtinto the factory last year. So far, it's doing well, and we arethinking of some new products to add. One can fly only so long. It'sa retirement plan, when our joints won't climb the rig anymore."

Father leans forward in his chair. "Tell me, Victoire. You go allover the world. You went to school. Even in a circus, you had tostand out. Aren't you taking risks? How do you handle theexposure?"

She smiles apologetically. "I'm afraid I exploit the exposure,"she says. "When I first started touring with the summer show, we madea point of making up the whole acrobatic team to look like me, andLu-Lu had at least one other person in cat-face whenever we went out.I believed it was for my protection, but lately, I wonder if hedidn't know what kind of a gimmick it was. We carried cards for theshow with us wherever we went, and when someone gawked at us, wehanded them a card, and told then to come see us.

"I exploited the same gimmick when we started the stage troupe.The press became interested in me, and we marketed the "mystery ofLeonie" until we were blue in the face. Once people came to see us,we knew we had to give them a good show - but that was the easy part.The first job was to get everyone's attention."

"Has no one ever wanted to... to study you?"

A hesitation, small, but there. "Perhaps, when I was small. Iwouldn't know. Lord knows, in my profession, I am forever sprainingand breaking things. The company doctor knows me well."

"And he does not reveal what he knows to the press?" Vincent asks.She shakes her head.

"But," says Samantha. "The press know about you already."

"They know what I look like. They think it's make-up, or that I'vehad some sort of plastic surgery. The big desire is to catch aphotograph of my 'real' face."

"And so the press follow you everywhere," Mary says.

"Quite so."

"That seems horrible to me," says Father.

"It brought an audience into the theater," she says. "It made usfamous. It gave us the chance to show what we could do."

"It's the opposite of the life Vincent has lead," says Father. "Onthe other hand, if there were a soul who knows why you are the wayyou are, he would have come forward by now."

Another hesitation. "I'm not sure that would be good forbusiness."

*****

They sit on a rock outcropping in the waterfall chamber. She hasher head on his shoulder, and he has his arm around her. The sight ofthe waterfall and the river fills her with a quiet awe that she waitsa long time to explain.

"I have seen this before", she finally says. "In my dreams, whentimes are bad. I dream I am here, listening to the water, watchingthe light. And I always wake up feeling better."

"This is a part of our world I especially love." He waits,smiling, letting the picture form in his mind until the suspenseprompts her to poke him, and he relents. "When I am sad, I dream of agarden, and a bench under a lemon tree." He can feel her smile. "Anda white-washed house with red tile roof, and flowers everywhere."

"Like a Van Gogh painting?" He nods. =Home!= "Vincent, that's thegarden of my house."

They sit up, and look at each other. Finally he grunts, "huh", andthey laugh.

"All along," she says. "We've been here all along."

"Vincent?'

They turn to the tunnel entry, where Mouse is standing. "Mouse."The young man comes forward, gaping at Victoire.

"You could be him," he says. "Only a girl."

She laughs. "You must be Mouse!"

"How did you know?"

"Who else would you be?" He turns beat red, and stands somewhatconfused under her smile. "Vincent says you're one of the smartestpeople down here."

That's more than the boy can take. He stammers a while before hecan say; "Good with gizmos."

"Mouse," Vincent says. "Were you looking for me forsomething?"

"What? Oh!" He fumbles in a pocket. "Message. For you. FromChinatown."

He gives Vincent a crumpled slip of paper, and smiles shyly atVictoire. "Coming to dinner?" he asks. "It's soon."

"We'll be there," she says. And Mouse wanders back out the way hecame. "What's in Chinatown?" she asks.

"We have some helpers who can get a message to us through thepipes from there. This is from Diana. She says that if I see you, andif you come Below, it would be wisest if I brought you back by herloft. There's a chance that the police will be tailing you."

"Tailing me? You mean, following me? Now what?"

All he can do is shrug.

*****

They wander back towards the Center, passing by the nursery tocollect Jacob on their way to the dining chamber. Victoire has mixedfeelings about meeting the boy. Vincent probes. =What's wrong?=

She squeezes his hand. "I'm a little jealous," she says.

He releases her hand to wrap his arm around her. They stop in thedoor of the chamber. Jacob is easy to pick out among the otherchildren: tall and very slim, his blond hair is wild about his head,and his blue-green eyes flash. In appearance, he is Catherine allover again, but he moves like his father. He doesn't even turn to seewho is there before he launches himself at the doorway. "Daddy!"

He leaps into Vincent's arms and hugs his neck. "I'm hungry!"

"Me, too," Vincent laughs. "Look, Jacob, here's a friend for youto meet."

But the little boy has already seen Victoire, and he stares at heropen-mouthed, as do all the other children in the room.

"Hello, Jacob," Victoire says, as she reaches to touch his hand.Jacob does not recoil from her as others might - why would he? But inhis astonishment, he does not speak. "I'm Tante Victoire," shecontinues.

"Hi," he says finally, and flashes a blinding smile that piercesher to her heart. "You're just like Daddy."

"Oh, no," she says. "I'm prettier."

He laughs at this, and waves good-bye to his friends as he ridesVincent's arms out of the chamber. Victoire glances over her shoulderat the other children, and at Brooke and Rebecca, who are with them.If the two women were surprised, they only smile back at Victoirewith delight now.

"See you at dinner!," Brooke calls.

*****

Dinner was a wild affair, since more people than usual showed upto meet Victoire. Those who might have eaten in their own chamberswith their families, and those who might have found reason to goAbove, came to the dining chamber instead, and Victoire found herselfbesieged.

As much as she loved it, she was loved. This was Vincent's firstglimpse of Victoire the performer. She sparkled among his friends,spreading delight and charm. As far as he could tell, very little ofit was an act, although she was a good deal more amused by the clumsyadvances of the younger men than she let them see. Mouse, for one,was quite smitten.

She sat across from Vincent, his mirror, and in odd ways, hismirror image. Where he might be grave, she was vivacious. But whenshe turned her head just so, or watched someone's face with suchgentleness, the similarities were impossible to escape comment. Sheloved William's meatloaf, and Rebecca's candles. She was delightedwhen some tried out their rusty French, and answered as if theiraccents were perfect, and their grammar flawless. She told Fatherstories of England, and even better, she listened. She wasparticularly taken with the children, who surrounded her like she wasthe Pied Piper. And perhaps she was. What circus child worth her saltdid not learn a magic trick or two? (At one point, she looked overeager heads at Vincent. =Who's Sebastian?= He only smiled.) The olderchildren were enthralled with tales of travels, and adventure, andshe was glad to provide. What circus performer does not learn how totell a good story?

And so the evening wore on. Before anyone would leave, a story wasdemanded from Vincent, who was, it seemed, only halfway throughWatership Down. Rather than repair to the children's dormitory - theusual place for bedtime stories, it was decided that the readingshould take place right there in the dining chamber, and the book wasbrought.

Everyone settled into their seats, and Jacob came to claimVictoire's lap. It seemed that, among the children, the right to sitin her lap was deemed his. He clambered up onto her knees, andsnuggled into her, and she reeled from the sensation that he broughtwith him. The gift that was his father's, and Victoire's, was alsoJacob's, although she had to touch him to feel it, and as he leanedhis head under her chin, she felt awash with childish trust andcontentment. As Vincent told of the adventures of the hapless rabbitsin the story, she felt Jacob's responses: happiness, and fear, andhope again. She leaned her cheek on his silky hair, and closed hereyes. "I love you, Tante Victoire," she heard him whisper, and shesqueezed him as hard as she dared.

"I love you, too," she whispered back.

Eventually, they meandered back to their chambers, Jacob's headheavy on Vincent's shoulder. He was readied for bed, and tucked intohis little cot in a new chamber hewn next to Vincent's, and kissed,and blessed.

And now they wander to the guest chamber. "What a family," shesays. "You are lucky."

"Yes." They smile at each other. "Now more then ever," he says. "Ishould tell you. I sent a message back to Diana that you are here. Iasked if you should return Above tonight. She sent a reply that youshould be at her loft in the morning. At dawn."

"I wonder what's going on?"

"You'll be bound to learn that tomorrow."

Now what? They stand at a crossroads they hadn't anticipated.Parting. They've been together hours, and now, to separate seemsunnatural. She moves into his arms, and feels the power of histhoughts surge through her. And she feels her own happiness wash backfrom him. She's been poised all night, but now... now she is awkward,and so is he. When she leaves his embrace, he stands still, andeasily, as if he's always watched her walk away. Just as she hasschooled herself to control her anger, he has learned to master hisimpulses, restrain his happiness. Catherine never felt his yearningwhen she turned away from him to climb that ladder, but Victoire isnot Catherine. She sees the effort in his apparent calm. And itbrings her back into his arms. "Dream of me," she whispers, and hechuckles.

"How can I not?"

And she breaks away from him to enter her room. His footstepsrecede down the passage as she stands inside the doorway and listens.She takes stock of the chamber, warm with candle light, and almostfilled with the old oak bed. She pulls her clothes off absently, andthen dives into her bag.

Minutes later, she is perched cross-legged on the bed, brushingher hair. She is dressed in satin pajamas the color of autumn leaves,and the matching robe lies across the coverlet next to her. She canfeel him moving about his own chamber, readying for bed, checking onJacob. She can feel his wistfulness, matching hers. And then shefeels him slide away from her, closing a window. She nods to herself.They could move into each other's souls with much too much ease, andthen what? Both of them such strong individuals, how would they do,drowning in each other? On the one hand, the thought is romantic, anddraws her. On the other, she finds the logical extreme daunting.There are depths to him that frighten her, just as she yearns toexplore them. But was this much closeness ever intended for mortalsto share?

She leaves the bed, and seats herself upon the cold stone floor.Long ago, she learned that she could clear her mind while shestretched her muscles, and she would slip into a near-meditation whenshe warmed up for work. She adopted the practice when she needed tocalm fears, or restore order to her thoughts, and now she slides intothe routine, stretching over her knees and listening to her heartbeat, and the air move through her body. One with her world, she letsthe world slips through her limbs, and out into the ether.

 

In his chamber, he settles into his bed. He can hear his son'sbreathing, feel his peaceful sleep. And through walls of rock, hefeels Victoire, his mirror image, closing her own window to him. Hefeels the release of her mind as she slips into herself, but hecannot follow her there.

"All along," she'd said. She's been here all along, some odd tinypart of her, deep in his mind, with a dream all her own. From theother side of the world, she's always come to him, and he's gone toher, although neither of them knew that was what they were doing. Howcould this be? What was it that made this phenomenon possible? Hecannot shake the conviction that somehow, she knows. She knows whyshe is the way she is. She knows where she's come from. And she hashidden that from him, hidden it so deeply that he can't even say forsure that the knowledge is there.

He sits up to rest his head on his knees, and reaches for heragain, feeling the stretch in her limbs, and the peace in her mind.Just like that, she can leave care, and find a pool of stillnesswithin herself, a feat he has always found impossible. How does shedo that? And how is he going to bear it when she leaves?

 

She sits up abruptly. She heard that cry in his heart. How will hebear it? How will she? When she leaves, it will be the effort of herwill that will carry her away from him, not his. And then she makes adecision.

 

He raises his head as she enters his chamber. She stops next tothe bed, tosses her robe across its foot. "All my life, you've beenhalf a world away, and now I cannot bear to have you a few feet downthe corridor. Move over. I'm staying here"

He reaches to stop her as she pulls back the covers. "Victoire, Ican't..."

"Shhh!", she says. He watches in surprise as she curls up next tohim, her back to him. "Go to sleep!" After a moment's consideration,he lays beside her, snuggles in spoon-style. When he throws his armaround her, she accepts him with a sigh. He realizes that her mind isagain open to him, and he follows her. She takes him to that stillplace she'd left a few moments ago, and he finds the peace she keeps.Before he knows it, he is asleep.


TUESDAY

 

He awakens before dawn to find her next to him, her face turned alittle towards him. The astonishment of her is nearly beyond hisgrasp. He raises up on his elbow to study her face, so like his own.All his life, he's thought of himself as repugnant, horrifying tosee. Catherine's first reaction at the sight of him was fear. (Ofcourse, it was no help at all that he snarled at her.) And yet, whenhe looks at this remarkable woman, he can only see her as beautiful.Strange, yes. Wild, yes. And lovely. Before he explores thenarcissism of what this means to his self-image, he kisses herforehead, and then her cheek.

She stirs, and smiles. "I love you", she murmurs. The delight thatflashes through him at this jolts her fully awake, and she opens hersapphire eyes to his. She caresses his cheek, and he kisses her, along and sensual kiss, hinting at passion. She responds, pressing herbody against him with a sigh. The combination of the warmth in theirbodies and the pleasure in their minds is a little more intoxicatingthan he's anticipated. Reeling, he pulls her over to rest her head inthe hollow of his shoulder. She molds her body to his. Through thenearly insubstantial fabric of their clothes, they can feel eachother's heartbeats, count each other's breaths. She spreads her handacross his chest, and traces down his arm, feeling the dense musclethere, the body of a stonemason. When she reaches his hand, shetwines her fingers with his, stopping again to regain control of herfeelings. The very act of touching him this way is sensual enough.Feeling the thrill in him as she does this is nearly maddening. Hebrings their hands up to his lips, kisses her fingers, then, almostfascinated, watches their two hands together. Father's words echo:'Never would I have thought there would be two.' Their two handsdance before them, claws and fur, before he brings them to rest onhis chest.

Maddening, yes, but irresistible. Impish, she wriggles her fingersfrom his, finds the edge of his shirt, and slips under it. He gaspsas she begins an exploration, sliding her claws into the dense lineof fur that runs down his belly, and following it up until it fansout over his chest. She finds the hollow at the base of his throat,and then traces his collarbone over to the bulge of his shoulder. Nowhe's barely breathing as she slides straight down to the nipple,teases it under the flat of her palm, and then leaves it - a smallbreath from him, and her, as she does.

There is no peace to be had, however, as she finds the tenderflesh on the side of his abdomen, and learns that he is ticklish. Theshiver in his flesh that makes him buck also rushes through her, andshe recoils, chuckling. They exchange amused glances, and she reachesfor his side again. He's too quick for her, though, and with a growl,he seizes her hand, flips her on her back, both wrists pinned againstthe bed. She gazes up at him with wicked intent: just wait till yourelease me. He shakes his head: "That is not a sensation I wish toexperience twice again..." He forms an intent of his own, however,and reaches, quick as thought, for her ribs.

Now she laughs aloud. "I'm not ticklish..." But she finds she'sdisappointed, though not as much as he is. Before she can sayanything else, she finds herself distracted by the feel of his handagainst her bare skin, and she sees his look of confusion, for he isnot caressing fur, but soft skin. 'How much we don't know about eachother,' she thinks. Holding his gaze fast, distracting him fromprobing her thoughts, she begins to unbutton her satin shirt. Thewhisper of the fabric across her breasts as she pulls it away fromher body nearly takes his breath away, and all thought stops at thesight of her nakedness. The modesty he's held fast for so long isforgotten when she slides her hands under his shirt. He pulls it off.The light from the stained glass window casts a glow over them. Itisn't enough, and he reaches to turn on the little light by the headof the bed. The stare at each other, fascinated again, she swathed inrusset satin, he framed by the window. She can see the light downyfur over his chest, thinning at his sides to non-existence, and theheavier dark ruff that plunges from his chest to his groin, alldelineating rather than hiding his power. She reaches up to tracethat line again, downward this time, and he closes his eyes andtrembles. The shock goes through her as well, so that she almostjerks her hand away. Instead, she spreads it flat against his belly.He takes a breath, sees her lying beneath him, eyes closed, lipsparted just a bit. =Oh, God. =

Her eyes fly open, and she nearly leaps into his arms. There is nomere hint at passion in this kiss, this time, she is wide open tohim, and he to her, on every level. She perceives the grip of herhand in his hair, as he does, the softness of her breasts against hischest, as they feel to him; he feels the ridge of his arm across herback, the sharpness of his own teeth against her tongue. Thoughts,sensations, come together in a vortex that draws them deeper intoeach other, until, nearly at the same moment, they panic.

They collapse on the bed, panting. He buries his head in hershoulder. "We've both wondered how far this could go", he says.

"I didn't think it could go that far," she untangles her fingersfrom his hair, kisses his forehead. "That was a little scary." Theyrest against each other. A melancholy steals over him. "All right,"she says. "Say it."

That embarrasses him. "Catherine."

"I know."

"It could have been like this with her. And I denied herthat."

There is no point in saying anything, and no point in remindinghim that it might not have been like this. The thought had to come,it had to be dealt with. He is so good at denying himself so much,that this grief has to be allowed. She pulls him closer, and lets itall wash over both of them, until it is gone, back into that hiddenplace in his heart that grief will always claim, back to its home.Later, he realizes that somehow, she has taken part of it to herself,so that he could move through it, but now, he only senses her sharingwith him his grief, and he is grateful. Finally, she says: "It willalways be there. How can it not be? That does not make it alandlord."

Against her neck, he nods. He runs his hand over her naked arm,over alternating fur and flesh, and once again, his curiosity isaroused. She rises up on one arm, lets the light fall across her.While his body is covered in a pattern that is symmetric, she hasless of this. She has no heavy ruff across her chest, no stripe downher belly. Fur runs almost in stripes across her ribs, interspersedwith large patches of fair, totally human skin. There are similarpatches on her arms, and across her bosom, so that parts of herbreasts are softened with a light golden down. Her nipples harden ashe touches them, and he cannot help but caress them. She sighs underhis hand He draws her down to him, kissing first her mouth, and thenher neck, and then those nipples, first one, then the other. Theresonance of the sweetness this brings her causes his hand to spasmagainst her back, and even the sharpness of his claws against herskin is sweet. But it stops him. This was just a little of the painhe was so afraid of causing in passion, and yet, she presents noobjection. In fact, she murmurs when he stops. It easy to think thatit is different with her, so like him, but he knows that isn't true.He had been so careful with Catherine that he had denied her thewhole of himself, and he might be so afraid again, if he ever camethis close with ....

And in his mind, he runs from that thought, but too late. She'sseen it, felt it, and knows what she's suspected all along. He kissesher, but she's searching, questioning, and he hides from her. Novortex this time. It's just a kiss.

She stops, and suspends herself above him. She tries again toreach inside him, but he closes her off. He cannot meet her eyes, buthe presses her more tightly against his chest, a closeness she doesnot resist. "This isn't right for us, you know", she says. Shebrushes the hair from his face, and smiles at him sadly.

He frowns, and blocks her again as she tries to show him that partof him she's found. This isn't Catherine that comes between them now.It isn't the past. "Victoire, I can't..."

"Shhh. Stop." She has to pull her body away from him. Like aquerulous child, her flesh cries out for more of him as she rollsaway, props herself on her elbow inches - miles - away from him. "Itold you that I have always expected a romance to end before itbegins.."

He sits up abruptly. "You don't think I would leave you!"

She puts a hand against his lips, unable to resist a small smile."Of course I don't. It's I must leave you, actually. We both havefamilies that need us, and mine is not here. But even if that werenot so, if we persisted with this, I know you would not leave me,which almost makes it worse. I know your heart....This part of youisn't mine." Her fingers trail regretfully across his chest. He feelsher regret, matching his. But she's right. This part of him isn'thers, and this part of her shouldn't be his. There is some resonancethat should not be reached here, some likeness to the bond thatshould not be breached.

Revelation. Is this what she really means? There is more aboutthem that she knows, and she will not share....

"Victoire, won't you tell me what you know?"

"What I know?"

"About us."

"What I know about us has nothing to do with this, and you knowit."

"There is something. Can't you tell me?"

"Of course I will. But right now, my love, I only know half astory. I need to learn more." She rolls onto her back. She's beingnoble, but it's too hard to look at him while she does it. Her bodystill wants him - badly. "I'm to meet someone today who will help me.Why don't you come with me? I have an appointment with him at oneo'clock." One o'clock. At mid-day, with her. At mid-day. "Oh,Vincent, not even for this?"

"Perhaps especially not for this." He is right. What guarantee canshe give him of safety? She can guide him through the streets, andshow him what to do with the stares, but once they reached theirdestination, what could she really promise him?

He waits, but she offers nothing more. Yet, it is enough that shehas said that she will. Eventually, he turns towards her, draws herinto his arms again. She snuggles against him. She debatesconfronting him further, but the warmth of his arms around her isdistracting, and it's work enough for her to resist again making loveto him. One thing at a time.

*****

They walk through the tunnels, and then through the streets, handin hand, sometimes with their arms around each other. High abovethem, the sky is becoming pale with the autumn early dawn, but thestreets are as dark as they could ever be. He had wanted to make thewhole journey via the tunnels, but she insisted on walking the lastfew blocks in the open. "There are two of us", she said. "And if wedid encounter someone at this hour, do you think they'd be in anyframe of mind to believe what they've seen?"

He smiled at this. There have been times when someone has lookedstraight into his face and believed none of what they've seen. Hey,Halloween was yesterday, buddy. But... "And if that person we'veencountered is a policeman?"

"Easy. Just you don't speak English." Her manner was impish, butbarely. She's done this before; she's practiced at this.

They avoid discussing the night's intimacy. If it were possible topretend it never happened, when their bodies are still warm, andtheir minds still clamoring for more, they would try. As it is, allthey can do is close their minds to each other enough to stayisolated with their own embattled feelings, and talk about anythingelse. He can tell that she is annoyed with herself, as if she feelsshe should have known better. He struggles with guilt, but he won'tdefine or cannot face it's true nature. He repeats to himself thathe's not ready to betray Catherine's memory. Victoire can sense hisfeelings of loss. The last woman he held is dead. And it's almost asif he returns to that memory by force of will. He hides behind hisgrief. There is another who would willingly fill his arms, if he werenot so stubborn. Yet he avoids her. Victoire can't yet put her fingeron his reasons, but she has a growing knowledge of the man, and shecan guess.

"This meeting you have today," he surprises her with the question."Do you know the man?"

"Yes, I do."

"Can you trust him?"

"I won't tell him about you, if you're worried."

"I'm not concerned about that. I trust you to know what's right.But can he hurt you?"

She smiles. "No. He's known the secret of Leonie for years. I'mnot worried." He tries to pursue this without words, but she blockshim. Later. He must wait until later.

He grows more distant as they approach Diana's loft. He has hisarm around her shoulders, and he slows his pace, pulls her closer tohim as they get nearer. "What is it?" she asks.

"I'm reluctant to leave you," he says, slowly. Just as she's aboutto challenge him for a poor liar, he grasps the bottom rung of a fireescape, and pulls himself up.

"No," she says. He looks at her in surprise. "We take theelevator."

He freezes on the ladder. He's never done that - that he recalls.She stares him down. He drops to the ground. "Shame to wake her soearly," she says.

"She's awake," he says, before he can catch himself.

Diana buzzes them in without asking who's at the door. Who elsecould it be? He sweeps Victoire into his arms as the elevator moves,one last heartfelt hug before... the heat is still there. Perhaps itwas a mistake to hold her so close. As the door slides open, he'soverwhelmed by a sense of incomprehension that he cannot fightthrough.

Diana stands by the stove as they enter, making coffee. Her hairis still tousled from sleep, and her face still pink from thescrubbing she's just given it to wake herself. In spite of the air ofcalm collection that usually surrounds her, she seems a littlelost.

"Hi," she greets them, as normally as if she sees people at thishour every day.

"Bonjour," says Victoire. "If it is yet really day."

"Give it time," says Diana. At first glance, they seem terriblyhappy, and Diana suppresses a wince. If he's happy, she won't denyhim that, even in fantasy. But on second glance, she finds a tensionbetween them. What happened? She wants to prod into this, but sherisks opening herself to them, to him, in doing so. She isn't sure heknows that she can sense him. She's guarded herself against him foryears now, protecting him from the possibility of invasion,protecting herself from exposure. Now is hardly the time to let thatgo.

"So," says Victoire. "Why am I coming here and not to thehotel?"

It's been a long night, full of nightmares and even tears forDiana. She'd felt their connection the moment it was formed. She'dspent the night struggling to accept that she may never again be ableto hope for anything but friendly affection from Vincent. Early inthe evening, she'd also struggled with the possibility of hiding thetruth from Victoire - after all, it was against regulations to tellher what the investigators were doing. But she couldn't see how shecould lie, so she'd once more settled on telling Victoire everything.That was hours ago - she'd almost forgotten all about it. "Let's see.When did I see you last?"

Victoire looks at her watch. "We spoke nearly 24 hours ago."

Diana flops onto the couch, sighing. "Is that all?"

Vincent looks at her with concern. "What's happened, Diana?"

"Those phone numbers you called me with?" Victoire nods. "You wereright, they're special. They are phone numbers for a drug merchant,both here in New York and in Miami." She lets that sink in a moment."We happen to know that an especially large shipment of very pureheroin came in to town this week." She waits again.

Victoire sinks onto the couch next to Diana. "Those were in Paul'sbook..."

"Yes."

"Paul's been... All these years..." Once again, Diana watches arage build in Victoire, as powerful as any she's ever sensed inVincent. The affront, and the sorrow, and the sickness rise, andDiana can almost feel their bitterness in her own throat. Victoiretakes a slow breath, straightens her back, and spreads her fingers infront of her, just for a moment. And she channels it all somewhereelse. Diana, without thinking, tries to find it, but it's nowhere. Norage, no turmoil. Just a tired melancholy, a decision to find a wayto correct whatever this new problem will bring her. Diana can almosthear her thoughts, and another, comforting thread, and realizes thatshe's feeling it all through Vincent. Hastily, she shuts theconnection down, hoping Vincent hasn't noticed. "I hoped it wassomeone else in our group," says Victoire, a little sadly.

"It is." Two pair of blue eyes fix on her, and she admits thatit's a disturbing sensation. How alike can two people be? And howdifferent? "Someone called that number after Paul's death. One of theVice detectives has now taken an interest in the case. To me, it's amurder investigation. To him, it's something else. He's hoping itwill lead him to the boss of the set-up. And it's a matter of timebefore the FBI gets involved."

"And the Vice detective wants to put police tails on everyone inthe troupe," says Vincent.

"Yes."

"Including me?" asks Victoire.

"Yes. I wouldn't be surprised if they noticed your absence. If youshow up at the hotel now, when they have no record of your leaving,it might lead someone back to the Tunnels. I can't take thatchance."

"So, where did I spend the night?"

"Here."

"Wouldn't that be considered highly irregular?" says Vincent.

"Sure. But I'm known to be irregular, and at least it leaves youout of the line of suspicion for last night."

"Well," says Victoire, looking at the arms of the couch. "It's anice couch. I've slept worse places, most definitely."

"The possibility of the FBI bothers you," Vincent says to Diana.Damn. She thought she'd shut it down. Or is he drawing on priorknowledge? She only nods. "So, the sooner you solve this murder, thebetter," he finishes. She nods again.

"If it's been Paul trafficking drugs, who killed him?" saysVictoire. She rises from the couch, and wanders over to the bulletinboard behind Diana's desk. She surveys the collection of photographs,notes, and artifacts that covers its surface is no obvious order."This is all of it."

"No. If it were all of it, the answer would be there," says Diana.She joins Victoire before the board.

"You once said that the answer is probably staring you in the faceup there," says Vincent, as he moves to stand with the women.

"It may be," answers Diana. "But as I recall, at the time I saidthat, the answer wasn't there at all."

"No."

"You've got photos of everyone," says Victoire. "How did you dothat?"

"I have my own paparazzo."

"Ah." She scans the photos once more. "I see. There are groups.Those who could not have killed Paul. Those who could. And of them,those who wouldn't, and those who might."

"Close enough."

"You asked me who I thought it might be."

"I did. And you stonewalled me."

"It was Bruno."

"Just like that, you know?" says Vincent.

"I can't prove it. But perhaps it's up here, as you say. Thesefour performers are accounted for that night." She points to theirphotos, including her own.

"Four more crew members playing poker..."

How many times has Vincent stood here with Diana, reciting withher whatever she knows, listening for what does not ring true? Howmany times have they finished each other's sentences almost beforethey were completed even in mind, trading thoughts as if the wordswere unnecessary? He falls into the pattern automatically, takingVictoire along with him. "With no other witnesses for theiractivities except each other..."

"But there's no evidence of more than one killer at thescene."

"One gone to a movie and God-knows-where, with no proof of thatexcept a club match book, and some girl's phone number..."

"Just what was he hoping for, with that phone number? We werescheduled to leave New York in two days..."

"It's a hint of an alibi."

"The matchbook from the club may still lead to anidentification.."

"It was a strip joint."

"What of it?"

"Believe me when I tell you that people aren't talkative in thoseplaces."

"I don't suppose there's a chance of finding the girl..."

"Since the phone number was fake."

"Or written in error. Even so, it is this one, I feel."

"That's Bruno."

"Two in the hotel bar."

"Plenty of witnesses there."

"But only till midnight."

"One said he went to bed."

"The other has nothing to say."

"Doesn't matter. You're both right. It was Bruno."

"And Raoul and Henriette."

"A room service order at 12:30 settles Raoul and Henriette."

"Really? What did they order?"

=Don't.=

The word shoots through Diana's mind like an echo, but it was nota spoken voice. A silence falls. Or was it always a silence? Who hadjust said what? Or did anyone actually say anything at all? And thatlast voice was unmistakably his, in a way she's never heard it. Isthis what Victoire hears from him? Is it really hearing? 'It's tooconfusing, the three of us alone together in a room,' Dianathinks.

"I know," says Victoire, and Diana gasps.

"Did I say that out loud?"

"I think so." Diana looks a little green, and she doesn't darelook at Vincent, even though she knows he steadfastly would not lookat her. But Victoire has swiveled around to face her, and herexpression is almost amused. "I think I could get used to it."

"Could you?" asks Vincent.

"It's only fair after all," she says. "Each of us has beeneavesdropping on other people one way or another all our lives. Weshould get a taste of our own medicine." She smiles at them, and seesthem together, really sees them, for the first time. 'Tien, she's asstubborn as he is. But she's not afraid of the same things.' "It'salmost easier."

"Except that there's a forced honesty that could be hard tocompromise with," says Diana. That didn't come out the way sheintended.

But Victoire understands. "Sometimes we need to leave our privacyand take a risk," she says. She exchanges a glance with Diana thatthe two of them fully understand.

Vincent looks at them with a small sense of shock. Sometimes wemust leave our safe places and walk among our enemies empty-handed...There are no enemies here. He trusts them both implicitly. And theyboth know that that is not true. He only trusts them as far as hetrusts himself. They've both closed him out, left their communicationbetween themselves, and he admits something he's refused to see foryears. Confronted with the false opacity he's learned to recognize asVictoire's shielding the privacy in her mind, and recognizing itcoming from two sources, he has to admit: Diana has been aware of himall along. And she's hidden it all along.

Disturbed, he paces to the window. Light is growing outside, andhe starts. "It's late," he says, turning back to them. "I can'tstay." They stand nearly side by side, and his heart bumps. There'sso much there - he could almost fantasize Catherine standing betweenthem. That thought frightens him in a way he hadn't expected. Andbefore he can shake himself, Victoire has invaded him: =Catherine wasright, you know.= In despair, he looks to Diana, and finds herstanding behind her false wall, where she's always been. For thefirst time, she feels very far away from him. How much of this did hegenerate himself?

Victoire breaks the stalemate by coming to him for a hug. Herecruits some humor. "You don't have to keep saying that," he says,and is surprised to feel the small ripple of pain that comes fromDiana. She is aware of him, and of the communication he has withVictoire.

As she moves past them to undo the deadbolt on the terrace door,he almost reaches out to touch her shoulder. Instead, he hugsVictoire, and turns away. Diana will never hug him. She almost nevertouches him, and with chagrin, he realizes that he's never noticedthat. Never wondered why. He stops at the door, tries to make eyecontact. "Thank you, Diana." She glances at him briefly, then away.He leaves.

*****

A dose of crisp morning air swirls around the room after the doorclicks behind Vincent. To Diana, it seems that the room shrinkswithout him, and that the electric charge that had filled the room -and her - has somehow diminished. Admittedly, it's always this waywhen he leaves her; there's always a feeling of deflation, as if hersenses have weakened. But the strange communication that justoccurred might have been a figment of her imagination. She glances atVictoire. Does she feel his leaving to be a loss, as Diana does? Acompetitive thought, and unworthy of herself, she decides. She startsto take mugs from a kitchen cabinet. Truth be told, he seemedsomewhat eager to get out of there, as if being in the same room withthe two of them frightened him somehow.

"I think our three-way telepathy bothered him," says Victoire.That she has so accurately pinpointed Diana's own thoughts gives hergoosebumps. She covers by pouring coffee - amazing how busy one canmakes oneself with the most mundane act. She holds up a mug, looks aquestion at Victoire, who shakes her head. "Black," she says. "Thankyou." She sips. "Mmm! It's real!"

Diana smiles at this. "I like it stronger than most." She watchesthe cat woman settle into her easy chair. She moves with a dancer'sgrace, and Diana reflects that that is the best description. Notexactly cat-like, but more trained, athletic, with a learned art thather brawnier male counterpart has not acquired, graceful though hemay be. She wouldn't blame him if he loved her. And she couldn't helpbut love him. Would she want to entice him away with her to France?And if she went without him, how would he take it? Watching himendure another heartache is almost unthinkable.

She's jolted out of this reverie by Victoire: "So it is known thatPaul was using his job with us to traffic drugs. Did he workalone?"

"I'm not sure. Someone else has that number. Someone else may betrafficking."

"Tiens. Knowing Paul, I'm sure he worked alone." Victoire dropsher head against the back of the chair. "Our reputation may never bethe same," she groans. "I can't imagine how to control our publicityover this. You don't want me to act on any of this knowledge you'vegiven me, do you?"

"You're not supposed to know it."

Another groan. "What difference would it make? I might as well golive underground like Vincent."

Something in her tone catches Diana's ear. "There could be worseplaces to live."

"And worse people to live with."

Diana sits on the couch. She stares at Victoire for a long moment."You didn't like it..."

Victoire's eyes fly open, and she starts to speak, but then shelaughs. "Not entirely. If I tried to stay very long, the darknessalone would give me claustrophobia." She hides behind her coffee mug."I tried to hide that from Vincent, but he'll figure it out soonenough."

"What are you going to do?"

Victoire gets up to get herself more coffee. "I think that'scalled an open-ended question. If you are asking about our lovelymurder, and our reputation, I will wait just until you tell me I cando something, and I will call our lawyer and our public relationsfirm, and get some, er, spin control - isn't that what it's calledhere?"

Diana nods. "I have your beeper number."

Victoire laughs at this, but then she becomes serious. "If you areasking about my "twin" as those Below call him, I don't know what todo."

"Twin? Or mate?" Diana blurts this out before she can think, andshe is further humiliated by the deep red blush that floods her face.Victoire sits to face her on the couch.

"He isn't my mate," she says. "Although I think he believes thatit would be easier for him if he could be."

"I don't understand."

"He's a stubborn man. The last five years have brought him enoughchange and enough loss to shake his deepest foundations. Part of himbelieves that the only way he and those he loves will be safe is ifhe refuses to accept anymore changes. Even ones he yearns for."

"And where do you come in?"

"Ah. It's a certainty that I will leave. Even if we wanted to, wecannot stay together. And he would never leave his home."

"Speaking of change."

"An absolute cataclysm. So. He must stay. I must go. There's anend-point. It's safe."

"Weird definition of safe." Diana drains her own mug. There areplaces this conversation can go that she does not want to explore.Especially not with Victoire. But at least she can let herselfbelieve that she gave herself a bad night for no reason. "Are youhungry?" she asks. "How about some waffles?"

"You have an iron?"

"Yup."

"Wonderful." Diana digs into a cabinet. Victoire watches her for amoment. "You know, Diana, you may just have to trip him."

Diana bumps her head on the cabinet. Rubbing her head, she looksat Victoire with definite fear. Of all the places she did not want togo, this was the first. "What?"

Victoire only smiles at her wickedly. "First of all," Diana says,"Vincent is not the sort of man you trip." She casts about, remembersthat she was about to make waffles, and starts rummaging for flourand sugar.

"It would take some planning," Victoire admits. "Any man can betripped."

"I don't think I want to have this conversation," says Diana.

"What's the second thing?"

"What second thing?'

"First of all, you said, he couldn't be tripped. What's the secondthing?"

"Not couldn't. Shouldn't."

"Perhaps you're right. You're just going to have to be honest withhim. He's wasting time."

"Vicki?"

"Yes?"

"Can we change the subject?" To her complete surprise, theFrenchwoman shrugs.

"Of course." She'd done what she wanted to do, anyway.

The waffles are made, and bacon fried, and all washed down withmore coffee. Conversation has ranged all over the world: Diana hasheard about going to school in England, Victoire has learned Diana'sversion of the Gabriel story. They've discovered a mutual love forcooking.

And then the phone rings. "Your workday starts early," Victoirecomments. "It's barely light."

"It's almost 7:30. Hello."

"Diana?"

"Neal."

"We may have a problem. Or we've struck paydirt."

"What?"

"We're missing an acrobat."

Diana raises an eyebrow at Victoire. She'd been right. "Yeah?"

"No one's seen Cat Woman since last night."

"I have."

"Huh?"

"She spent the night here."

"You're kidding."

"No."

"What did you do that for?"

"She wanted to get away from the paparazzi, so we tried it. Iguess it worked."

"You knew we wanted to keep tabs on everyone."

"And we did."

Neal Sherman laughs. "Her buddies told us she said she wasspending the night with friends. They decided she had a lover."

"Don't go there, Sherman."

*****

The sprint across the lawn of the Park to the tunnel entrance addsthe last bit of adrenaline to his early morning. The sun is truly up,and the open area well lit as he ducks into the culvert. He stopsbefore the tunnel gate. Above him, he can hear a park service cartrumble on the asphalt path. Just barely.

He sets off for his chamber, but the thought of facing that emptybed alarms him as if it could speak to him. This was not what hethought would happen. This is not how he thought he would feel. Hissteps slow as he realizes he doesn't know where he's going. He stopsaltogether, and leans against a wall. Two episodes of extraordinaryexposure in a matter of hours, and he's not sure how to assimilatethem. "Confused," he mumbles to himself. "I'm confused." He reachesfor Victoire, not at first realizing that it is an old habit: hereached for Catherine when he was worried or unhappy, drawing comfortfrom the vibrations of her mind. Now, he searches for her, and findsthat she is in deep thought, and concentrating on Diana. He recoils.The juxtaposition of those two is too disturbing.

Shaking this off, he moves on down the tunnel, deciding eventuallyto make his way to the dining hall. It was still early enough that hemight be able to get breakfast before most of the others.

He finds William alone in the kitchen, beating a large bowl fullof eggs. "Good morning!" he says stopping to wave the whisk atVincent. "You're up early."

"Yes."

"I'm making omelets today. Would you like yours now?"

"Yes, thank you."

William ladles egg mixture into a hot fry pan. "Where'sVictoire?"

"I just took her back above."

Vincent helps himself to a mug of tea while William creates. Theolder man watches him. "You miss her already?"

Vincent thinks about this. "No, I don't have to."

A sharp glance under beetle brows. "No? Why not?"

"Because all I have to do is reach for her with my mind and she'shere."

William busies himself for a moment with filling the omelet withcheese and ham. "Like you had with Catherine?"

"No. It's... more - different." He hunches over at the table,trying to find the right words. "I could sense Catherine, but shecould barely sense me. Victoire is like me. And when she wants to,she barges into my mind like it's a bus station." This isn't thethought he wanted to express, but it describes some of how he feels.Stranger still, William seems to understand him quite well.

"That would explain why you two seemed to be having a privateconversation while you were on opposite sides of the room lastnight," he says as he slips the omelet on to a plate.

Distracted as he's been, Vincent finds the aroma from the stoveirresistible. He is gratified to see that William sits down with himwhen he brings the omelet to the table. In his own domain, William isusually a whirl of activity, but this morning, he's more at ease.

"She was quite a hit," William says. "Everybody loved her."

"Yes."

"And there are plenty of people who think it's a good thing foryou she showed up. It's time you moved on, fell in love again, theythink." Leave it to William to state things as plainly as possible,leaving nothing close to doubt. While Vincent stares at him, heshrugs. "Maybe they're right. A good man deserves a happymarriage."

"And what do you think?"

"About you and Victoire? I never thought two people with so muchin common could be so unalike. You're opposite ends of thespectrum."

"I suppose growing up in a circus could make one gregarious."

William shakes his head. "You would still be you if you grew upthat way. And, no, Vincent, you're not really a loner, but I can'timagine you acting like a ringmaster." Neither can Vincent. "Don'tlet that omelet get cold."

Obediently, Vincent returns to his plate, while William pourshimself another cup of coffee. They fall into a companionablesilence, and Vincent's thoughts drift towards the events of thenight. The memory of her touch is still strong, his body still achingfor more. Instinctively, he reaches for her, to find that she'sfighting the same memories. =Stop that= she says. =You're nothelping.= But what is he supposed to do? "We almost made love thismorning," Vincent says, surprising William and even himself at theintimacy of this confidence.

"What stopped you?"

"I don't know." Too many things. "It wasn't... I don't know."

"That's hard to do - start and then stop like that. Takes a whileto get over, even if your mind is made up. Especially if it's been along time." This last is delivered with such a masculine edge thathis meaning is unmistakable. "I wonder if it's as hard for them."

"Them?"

"Women... Stopping."

Considering the regret he's just felt from Victoire, Vincent says:"I'm sure it is."

William makes a satisfied grunt. "Well. Maybe you'll change yourminds later."

"I doubt that we will."

William watches him brood, finishes his coffee, and makes adecision. While they're having this frank a conversation, he might aswell press on. "You know, Vincent, I know that what you had withCatherine was close to magic. But that doesn't mean that you won'tlove again. And the last thing it means is that you shouldn't. Youdeserve the happiness love brings, never doubt that. Just don't denyit when it comes."

Vincent looks at the older man sharply. "You sound likeVictoire."

"Do I? Well, she may be nothing like you, but she's no dummy. Soyou've heard it twice now."

*****

Victoire swings through the vestibule of the elegant restaurant inher hotel. To the photographer who has shadowed her from theelevator, she appears oblivious. He skulks behind a pillar while shewaits for the hostess to locate her reservation, and he doesn't hearher say to the young woman: "Watch this". He is about to snap a shotwhen she swings on him, smiles, and walks straight up to him."Hallo," she says. "Come here. I need you." She grasps him by thehand that holds his camera, and hauls him to the artistically drapedcurtain by the restaurant door. "Mademoiselle," she says to thehostess, "would you be so kind as to take a picture of me with myfriend, here?"

Before the poor man can collect his wits, she's snatched thecamera from him, and tossed it to the hostess (who is barelyconcealing a grin). The photographer babbles in panic to watch hiscamera sail through the air, but the young woman catches it, and aimsit at them. The lioness has wrapped her arm around him, and shepurrs, "Smile". A snap, and the hostess is giving the camera back tohim. As Victoire walks away, the hostess whispers to the man: "If Isee you again, I'm calling security." He hastens away before thingsget worse. He'd wanted an exclusive of Leonie, but this picture isone he could never sell.

The hostess leads Victoire to a small private dining room off themain dining room. It has a table big enough for four, and a smallsideboard. The door is shielded by another artistic curtain, whichhas been let down. The hostess bows her in, murmuring the usualthings. Victoire sweeps aside the curtain, and smiles at the manseated at the table. He is older, with thinning silver hair. Hissmile is filled with delight as he leaps to his feet. "Vicki! Mydear! Look at you!" Rather than look, he wraps her in an expansivehug, which she returns with affection. Then he holds her at arm'slength. "It seems you've taken New York by storm." He has a mellowedGerman accent.

"I doubt that," she says. "But this tour has been a little moreeventful than I planned."

He looks about the little alcove. "This is an interesting idea,"he says. "I must say it makes me feel rather young and wicked."

She giggles. "You were almost wicked on record. A photographernearly followed me on in. For that matter, who knows if there wasonly one? Edna is an understanding wife, no?"

"About you, certainly. About my getting my picture in the New YorkPost, no. But tell me, what is all this murder and intrigueabout?"

In between reading the menu, and placing orders, and all thein-and-out that comes with starting a lunch, she tells him what hashappened. When the waiter comes in, she changes the subject, so that,if he eavesdrops, he learns no more than what has been in the papers.They speak in German, hers somewhat accented, but she wants to takeno chances.

Her companion is horrified. "You mean to say that the man who hasbeen one of your most trusted stage hands has been using your toursas a front all along?"

"Who knows how long he's been doing this?"

"Did he have no care about your reputation? What if he'd gottenthe rest of you implicated in his antics?"

"I doubt he cared for a moment about our reputation. It remains tobe seen what sort of a name we'll have left, but at this point, ifPaul were alive, I'd want to kill him."

"I can sympathize with that."

They discuss the rest of the tour, and the cities she's been to.When the salads are taken away, he becomes serious. "My dear, youhave no idea how it pleases me that you want to spend some time withme. I have always thought you were terribly angry with me."

"I was, twenty years ago. I was a brat, wasn't I?"

"You had some justification. I'm just so glad you've done so well.I can't really take any credit for it, but I am so proud."

She becomes shy at this. "Thank you, Papa."

"But," he says, patting her hand. "I have the feeling that thereis more to this visit that reminiscence. Ordinarily, you wouldn'tmind eating out on the sidewalk, and let the paparazzi have theirheyday."

"Maybe at home. This is New York. They would know who you were,and those are not rumors I want to wade through. This year."

They wait as their main courses are set before them, and oncemore, the waiter leaves them alone. "But you're right," shecontinues. "I have some questions for you, if you don't mind. Isuspect it surprises you that there would be more to ask."

"A little, yes."

"It's about the other baby..."

*****

"Cooper speaking."

"Coop, it's Diana Bennett."

"Yoh, D. I got something for you."

"I'm all ears."

"Well, the knife was too bloody to get prints off it, except forthe dead man's."

"It was his knife?"

"No, he was trying to pull it out."

"OK."

"And the sandbag was rubbed clean of anything useful underneaththe guy."

"Coop, you're killing me."

"But there were partial prints on two of the little baggies insidethe sandbag."

"And?"

"They match Bruno Dorni's."

"Hallelujah. Cooper, you're the best."

"I know."

*****

Victoire saunters up the front steps of the police precinct. Shetakes stock of the hubbub the boils around her as she climbs thesteps to the second floor. She's passed three people on the steps,and an officer seated at a desk downstairs, and no one has evenglanced at her. She's thinks of reaching for Vincent, to tell himabout this (See, my love?), but she changes her mind. She has a basicidea of where she's going, but now she needs to ask for help. Shestops at a secretary's desk.

"Excuse me. I'm looking for Detective Bennett."

The secretary gapes at her a moment. "Um. And you are?"

"Victoire Dedeaux."

"Oh! Yeah! Right! She's, um, on the third floor, in DetectiveSherman's office."

"Thank you." She heads for the steps, pointedly ignoring the waythe woman stares after her, and motions to other people in the officeto look at her.

She finds Diana easily enough, visible through a wall of glassjust ahead of the stairs. And she's pretty visibly upset.

*****

"Look, let's pick him up, and we can work on it from there. Who'sto say he won't talk?" Diana says to the men who have - how did thishappen? - backed her up against the wall. She looks to Neal Shermanfor support, who refuses to meet her eyes.

"You sound like you're bargaining with us, Detective. I told you,this is no longer your case," says the man in the camel sportscoat.

"If we don't pick this guy up, he's going to bolt out oftown!"

"Detective, there is no 'we'," replies the man with the recedinghairline.

She crosses her arms and glares at them.

"Your files, Ms. Bennett," says Camel Coat.

"Are safe in my loft."

"Where one of the suspects could examine them during your pajamaparty last night?" says the other man.

"Oh, aren't you just too cute. Proving to me that you have solittle understanding of the case that I have absolutely no confidenceleft in your ability to handle..."

"We are the FBI, Ms. Bennett..."

"Meaning? What? You don't make mistakes? Just how long have youbeen working on this case?"

"We'll interrogate the suspects on our own."

"Then you don't need my files..."

Before they can answer this, Sherman speaks up: "Well, hot shots,looks like you're in luck. You can interrogate the star right now."He nods towards the door, where Victoire stands, ready to knock. TheFBI agents turn in time to see her opening the door. For a moment,their stuffy demeanor slips.

"Diana?" she says. She looks over the three men in the room with aglance that is almost dismissive. Diana suppresses a grin. Being ableto eavesdrop on each other's frame of mind has its advantages.

"Hi. This is Neal Sherman, whom you know about. And these areAgents Scott and Venable, from the FBI."

Victoire shakes hands with Sherman, and nods to the agents."FBI?"

"Yes. They are assuming control of the case, as they put it."

Victoire looks at the government men more sharply, and studiesthem until they both look uncomfortable. "And why is that?" Heraccent is thickly British, not French, and painfullyaristocratic.

Camel Coat, otherwise known as Agent Scott, rouses himself. "MissLeonie.."

"Dedeaux."

"What?"

"My name is Victoire Dedeaux."

"Um..."

His partner jumps in. "There are some new facts in the case thatare important to another case we've been working on for some time,and we believe it would be to our mutual benefit (a snort from Diana)for the Federal branch to assume the burden of the case."

Victoire looks to Diana. "You've identified the murderer, haven'tyou?" Diana nods. "And how long have you gentlemen been working onthis other case?"

Venable starts out in good authoritative form: "Ma'am, the detailsof the situation, I'm afraid, aren't..." He catches a glimpse ofVictoire's unblinking stare. He clears his throat and takes anothertack. "If you'll excuse us, we have to discuss..."

"No, I won't excuse you," injects the lioness. "One of myemployees has been killed here, in your country. You have themurderer, and you presume to tell me that I don't need to know who itwas? At exactly what time yesterday do you think I was born?"

Diana finds herself glad that she doesn't work for VictoireDedeaux.

"Tell me, have you arrested the murderer?"

"No, ma'am."

"No? Why not?"

"They don't plan to, just yet," says Diana. The FBI agents startat this. Victoire rounds on Scott, who is glaring at Diana. "Why inHell not?"

He makes an effort to regain some authority. "Are you aware thatyour employee was smuggling drugs?"

"Which employee?"

"The dead man."

"And who killed him?"

"Do you know anything about the drug smuggling?"

"Why? Do you think the killer will try to hurt the rest ofus?"

"Er, no."

"That never crossed your mind, did it?"

"Ms. Dedeaux..."

"Who killed Paul?"

The two FBI agents exchange glances. "Ma'am, we'll be setting upinterviews with your people. I'd appreciate it if you'd get hold ofthem and ask them to remain available at the hotel."

Victoire stares him down, and then smiles sweetly. "Of course,Agent Venable. I will talk to them as soon as I have finished at theFrench Consulate."

"The French Consulate?"

"Of course. If you are going to put us through another round ofinterrogation, I believe it is time our own government be availableto assist us. And they will be very interested to know that theAmerican police have identified the killer of a French citizen -however spotted that citizen may be - and they are going to let thatman walk free."

"I'm going to ask you not to make that information public..."

"And I am going to refuse."

"I hope you're not going to obstruct justice.."

"Allow me to remind you that you are the fool letting a killerwalk around. And if you talk of obstructing justice, then arrest mefor going to my own embassy. Believe me, my famous first phone callwill be to alert them to what you have done. And the press will havea wonderful day!"

"There is more at stake here than Paul Marpot's death!" Scottroars.

"Really?" Victoire coos. "Am I to take your word for that?"

"Agent Scott, Venable. May I have word with you? Over here?" saysDiana, motioning them to the other end of the room. Not having anybetter ideas, they go to her. "Had enough of the French ego?" sheasks. They look uncomfortable. "I'd like to point out that I had apretty good working relationship with her before you came and triedto put the strong arm on her. She isn't an American citizen, youcan't pretend to have authority over her..."

"If she's trafficking drugs, we'll have plenty of authority.."

"It's damned unlikely that she is. If you had this woman as anally, your job would have been a whole lot easier. The crew takestheir cues from the acrobats, and the acrobats follow her lead. Ifshe goes back to that group and tells them that you do not have theirwell-being at heart, you are going to encounter this kind of, ofhaughtiness 12 times over. There's no way you can be bigger snobsthan these people."

"What are you saying?" says Venable.

"If you play it straight with her, she'll work with you. If youlie to her, or keep up the attitude, she'll do nothing to help you.And she will go to her government."

"How do you know she isn't involved?"

"Oh, for God's sake. Look at her. She's been all over the worldfor ten years. She's got paparazzi following her at all hours. Youknow how we confirmed her alibi for the night of the murder? Thefront page of the New York Daily News. Paul Marpot operated for yearswithout getting caught, until his greedy little roommate ferreted himout. If someone as high-profile as Victoire Dedeaux were involved indrug smuggling, don't you think some reporter would have blown hercover long ago?"

"Stranger things have happened."

"Of course. But that doesn't mean they have to. You guys aresupposed to be so smart. Then play it smart. Offending Victoire isjust going to make your life harder. And at this point, you've gother pretty offended. I don't want to know what happens when theFrench government gets involved. Once they discover that the murdereris another French citizen, they'll be screaming 'extradition' beforeyou can dream up a report number. Your best hope is to get Dorniarrested before that happens. Not that I haven't been suggestingthat.."

They confer for a moment. Venable sighs and goes over to Victoire."Ms Dedeaux, we need to ask for your help to get through this." Sheonly stares at him, impassively. "We have reason to believe that thekiller can lead us to Marpot's drug connection. We've been trying tocrack that ring for almost a year."

"A year! And how long are you going to keep us in New York?"

"Actually, we were going to ask you to make plans to leave on theweekend."

"I'm very relieved to hear that - I'll set that up this afternoon.But why?"

"We think that it might make the killer try to contact Marpot'sconnection within the next few days."

"Why?"

"Because the killer is one of your crew."

She takes a deep breath. "Bruno Dorni."

"How do you know?"

"I didn't. He's the most likely candidate. It was a shock to me tolearn that Paul Marpot was smuggling. He'd been with us for years,and I would not have thought that he would put us all at risk for hisown personal gain. But then, that is the sort of question no one hasever asked me. For the last three days, I've been thinking about mycrew a good deal. And Bruno Dorni is just the one I would point to asthe sort of man to kill, and run drugs. I wasn't crazy about hiringhim a few months ago, and my opinion has not improved over time. Iwas planning to fire him once we got home. I suspect he knowsthat."

"So he has motivation to get some other sort of... job," saysDiana.

"One that doesn't require too much work." Victoire paces a moment,and the men in the room watch her walk in fascination. "What if hegets away?"

"We've got people on him now. Tailing him. We'll know if he triesto leave the country."

She frowns at that. "I'm not as sure as you are."

"Look, we know it's risk. But it's a risk worth taking if we canclose this import service down." Everyone in the room seems to knowthat the balance of power has shifted. "Ms. Dedeaux, is there anyoneelse in your group that you think could be involved?"

"In smuggling?"

"Yes."

"There's one back home, who did not come with us. I plan to asksome harsh questions when I get home. But of these people, no. Paulwouldn't have diluted his earnings like that. His ambitions weren'thuge. I know he was hoping to get enough money to be able to retireearly. He's talked to my uncle about a small vineyard he's wanted tobuy. Easy work, compared to being a carney. Furthermore, he was theforeman of the group. He wouldn't put his authority at risk, or leavehimself open to blackmail.

"So, if the question is whether someone else might have beenworking with Paul, he wasn't the sort to take a partner. And BrunoDorni is generally disliked. No one would work with him. He isn'ttrustworthy."

After giving all this some thought, Scott says: "Thank you. We'regoing to want to talk to everyone tomorrow. We'll be at the hotelearly in the morning. I'd appreciate it if you would not discuss anyof this with them."

"At last, you are making sense. I'll tell them only that they areto prepare for another series of questioning. I suspect that Brunowill assume that you've gotten nowhere, and are starting over."

"If we are lucky, you will be right. We'll arrange to talk to himfirst, so that he can have time to act on our interview."

Victoire looks at Diana. "Are you heading out of here?"

"I guess so."

"Good. I have favor to ask of you."

"Lord knows I have time to do something, since I am currentlywithout a project."

They leave the room. The FBI agents whistle in unison, after thedoor closes. Sherman shakes his head. "Meeting two lionesses in theirdens," he says. "You guys nearly had your you-know-whats handed toyou. Twice."

"She is.. something. Is she for real?" says Venable.

"Ooh, yeah. Bennett is a firecracker. And the best there is."

"I meant the French girl."

Sherman shrugs. "I don't know what her deal is. But the two ofthem sure know how to play good-cop-bad-cop." He laughs, and leavesthe room.

"So", says Diana, as they walk down the stairs. "What's thefavor?"

"Take me Below tonight."

"Sure, I guess. Won't Vincent know if you're coming? It isn't asif you'd get lost."

"No, it isn't. But I need to talk to Vincent. And I think he'llneed you there."

Diana looks a question at Victoire, who only smiles. "Allright."

"By the way, how do you know it's Bruno?"

"There's this amazingly persistent guy in the fingerprintlab."

"Ah."

*****

Father & Vincent are in Vincent's chamber, playing chess -and, for once, Father has won. He sits back in a glow.

"Must be a miracle," says Vincent.

"Nonsense. There are better uses for miracles. But I'm willing totake advantage of your temporary disability. Shall I let you win thenext one?"

"Let me?... Certainly, we'll play another, but it must be later.Victoire is coming, and I think she wants to see you."

"Did she say so?" Vincent tries very hard not to look like this isa silly question, and with anyone but Father, he would havesucceeded. "So, the gift is back at last," says Father.

Vincent nods. "It's been back quite a while, but it is very strongwith Victoire."

Before Father can ask anymore, Victoire & Diana appear at thechamber door, with Mary in tow. Vincent rises, and goes to Victoire.They embrace. Then Vincent turns to Diana. "What's wrong?"

She meets his eyes, and tries to shut him out, but finds that shecannot. He's in her mind - like it's a bus station - and she's tooupset to put up much of a barrier. "It's a long story," is the bestshe can muster.

"Three letters," says Victoire. "F.B.I."

"What does that mean?" asks Father uneasily.

Diana sits heavily onto the edge of the bed. "It means that we'veidentified the killer, and the F.B.I. has taken over the case. Andthey won't arrest him."

"Why not?"

"Because they hope that he'll lead them to their quarry. He's apossible connection to a drug transporter that they want to catch,"says Victoire.

"And if he escapes?"

"It'll probably turn out to be my fault," says Diana glumly.

"And meanwhile, they're keeping the whole troupe here in NewYork?"

Victoire answers this with a heavy sigh. And then she shakesherself, and turns to Vincent. "It's time for a talk."

"You've learned what you wanted to know?"

"Yes." She seats herself next to Diana, leaving the third chairfor Mary, and pulls a thick envelope from her purse. She gathers herthoughts for a moment, and then she begins: "You assume that I wasborn in France because I said I was raised there. Well. I was bornhere. In New York City. The story of my birth has always been a closesecret - first to protect someone, then to enhance the box office, soto speak. Although, truth be told, the true story of why I am Leoniewould cause quite a stir." She settles into the pillows at the headof the bed. "I'm just not sure it would be a good stir.

"I spent the first six years of my life in the home of a Dr.Helmutt Brauhier."

"I think I know that name," says Father.

Victoire nods. "Well you might. He's an obstetrician, about yourage, and a geneticist, and the chairman of the Genetics Department atone of the Universities here. I've long thought he was the greatestvictim of this story. Now I think he may be the only one.

"When I was six, he took me to Europe. His intention was to takeme to family he had in Austria, where I could grow up in relativeobscurity. But we stopped in Paris, and I changed his plans ratherradically.

"I was quite adventurous, and rebellious even then. I ran away,for a lark, and I got lost. Jean-Luc Dedeaux found me. The rest youcan guess. It took poor Papa Helmutt two years to find me."

"Why so long?" asks Diana.

"Well, as far as anyone else knew, I didn't exist. He couldn't goto the police and ask for help. He couldn't let anyone know what Iwas like. It was a challenge. I thought he did rather well finding meat all."

"At any rate, Papa came to the South of France to see me thatsummer, and I was simply hateful to him. When I lived in his house,I'd been kept hidden. He and his wife were so afraid that mydiscovery would cause trouble - for him and for me. I was a greatthreat to his career, you see. I hated the confinement.

"I'm rambling. On my sixteenth birthday, Papa sent me a letterdescribing the circumstances of my birth. The original is in a safein France. I keep a copy with me when I travel. Perhaps the easiestway to do this is for you to read this, Vincent." She hands him theenvelope. "It also applies to you."

Diana can only imagine the enormity of this last sentence toFather and to Mary, as well as to Vincent. His hand trembles a littleas he opens the envelope, and slowly unfolds the papers. "It's yourcopy," Victoire says.

"This is.." he says, and falters.

"This is it, my love. The fantastic story that resultedin...us."

He's almost afraid. He looks into her eyes for a long moment,trying to find some hint, but she's closed him out. Then she smilesat him. =Just read it.=

And he does. "My dear Vicki," it begins.

"I want to wish a very Happy Sixteenth Birthday! I think that thisis the birthday upon which you deserve to learn how you came to be asyou are. Keep this letter safe. It may be a help to you. It may alsodo you great harm.

"When I was just starting my career, I did research on earlyembryonic development. The techniques for maintaining cells alive inculture - living in a test tube - were just new then, and we werelearning how to maintain embryos in culture, at least for a shortwhile. My partner was a brilliant geneticist and veterinarian namedPatrick Meecham. Together we studied the earliest form of the embryo,called the morula, which has 16 cells or fewer. (You may have alreadystudied about this in school: the fertilized egg divides into twocells, then four, then eight, and so on. At those stages, the embryoremains a solid ball. After the sixteen-cell stage, it starts toorganize its parts into a different configuration.) We used anythingwe could get: chicks, rats. Sometimes we fertilized the eggs in apetri dish. Meecham became very good at that technique. We watchedthe clusters of cells organize themselves and migrate around as theytried to form a new creature, and we took notes on everything wesaw."

"Meecham," says Father. "I remember that name, too. It isn't verycommon for a veterinarian to come to medical society meetings, but hedid. I guess he came with Brauhier."

"You remember him?" asks Victoire.

"He was hard to forget. He was a tall charismatic Irishman, allred hair and ruddy cheeks, full of bluster and yarns. Held his whiskyrather well, and yes, he was a genius. A loud one. Some people didn'tlike him much, because he was so.. so.. Oh, all I can think of is'over-the-top'. But he was brilliant. I think I could recognizeBrauhier, now, too."

"Really?"

"Yes. A bit taller than I am. Broad-shouldered. German accent.Rather shy, especially compared to Meecham."

"Yes."

"I didn't know you were interested in reproductive sciences,Father," says Vincent.

"The medical community was smaller then, especially among thebasic scientists. We had some rather eclectic meetings. Never mindthat. Go on."

And Vincent reads on: "I had finished my residency in Obstetrics,and I was just starting out in my own practice. In the course ofpatient treatment, in a day when our treatment options were few, Iperformed hysterectomies on many young women. Careful pathologicexamination of the organs I removed from these women produced, everyso often, a viable egg in the Fallopian tube. These finds I stored,frozen, not knowing what else to do with them.

"My partner knew about them, since I kept them at the lab weshared, but we never discussed them. I never dreamt that they mightbe viable, but Meecham thought otherwise. He was the staffveterinarian at the zoo, and he had had to perform a hysterectomy ona lioness who turned out to be pregnant. He salvaged eight embryosfrom the uterus, and froze them next to my human eggs.

"What happened next may have been triggered by the tragic loss ofPat Meecham's sister, who died of kidney failure. She was a good tenyears younger than he was, and he adored her. He kept talking abouthow he should have known how to save her life. I suppose I shouldhave thought that something beyond normal grief was at work, but Imissed the signs. God forgive me, Pat Meecham was going mad before myeyes, and I never noticed until it was too late.

"As I said, maintaining embryonic tissue in culture was new. Thetechniques that became the almost routine methods for in vitrofertilization, and surrogate gestation, were things of which we onlydreamed. Some researchers have done experiments wherein they fusedembryos from two different individuals, and incubated them to theircomplete forms. These mixed forms are called 'mosaics'. The bestknown of these experiments involved salamanders, but to date, thereare no published efforts involving mammals. Meecham knew of theseefforts, and imagined beyond them, overstepping the bounds of ethicsto unbelievable lengths.

"He later told me that his intention was to develop a method ofcreating organs that could be transplanted into those in need, likehis sister. He dreamed of a safe, plentiful supply of donor organs,and he thought he'd found a way to achieve this. All that at a timewhen organ transplantation was still barely a possibility!

"Unbeknownst to me, he began a series of experiments involving hislion embryos - and my frozen human ova. There is a way to separatethe cells in a morula. If ones does so, and allows the separate cellsto sit, they divide on as if they are eggs themselves. They form new,identical individuals. You know this happens in nature from time totime, and a woman will bear identical twins.

"Meecham fused the cells of human and lion embryos, thinking thatthe lesser life form would act as a vehicle for the human organs,serving as an incubator of sorts until the vehicle was sacrificed togive up the donor organ. I don't know how many of his initialattempts failed, but he finally found a way to produce a viableproduct.

"The first batch of successes, Meecham implanted in a lioness atthe zoo. How he thought he could risk the life of one his chargeswithout having to answer a lot of questions later, I'll never know.He was behaving pretty strangely by that time, and I worried a littleabout him, but I was also seeing very little of him. The unfortunatelioness suffered a prolonged gestation, and a difficult delivery ofthree badly deformed, nonviable cubs. He wrapped them up, and broughtthem to our lab. While walking in from his car, he feared thatsomeone was following him, and he hide the most obviously deformedcub in some debris under a dumpster outside the hospital where ourlab was."

Vincent's voice fails at this point. He stares into space,stunned. Finally, he looks to Victoire, and then to Father, who hastears in his eyes. "Dear God," he whispers. He looks back at the pagein his hand, and then gives it to Diana. "Please," he says, "willyou?"

She takes the sheaf of papers, and reads: "When he went back toretrieve the corpse of that failure, he could not find it. He assumedthat some wandering dog had taken it. I remember I found him in thelab that morning, very distressed, alternately raging and weeping. Ithought that the loss of these lion cubs reminded him somehow of hisdead sister, and I begged him to go home. I never examined the littlecorpses. I never questioned.

"Meecham had time to try once more before he went perfectly mad.This time, he found a human surrogate mother, a young woman whom hepromised a large sum of money. Who knows what he told her, but heimpregnated her with his last unbelievable experiment, and shortlyafterwards, suffered a complete breakdown of mania."

"Oh, no," murmurs Father.

"A few weeks later, the woman came to the lab, at first demandingher money, and then begging for help. I had no idea what she wastalking about, and she had no clue what she carried.

" I went to the asylum to see if I could learn anything fromMeecham, and it was then that I learned of the incredible things hehad done. Alternating between grandiose triumph, and wild despair, hetold me the whole story. He told me where his notebooks were hidden,and even begged me to carry on in his place! The interview ended withhis obsessing on the whereabouts of the missing cub's corpse - therewas an element of paranoia that some unseen rival had purloined thespecimen, and was even "beating him to it", whatever that was.

" I remember telling the psychiatrist at the asylum that Icouldn't make heads or tails of Meecham's ramblings. It's a wonder Ididn't suffer a breakdown of my own. My partner in research hadendangered a young woman's life after nearly killing a lioness, andlosing lives that were half human anyway. That young woman waswandering around the city - I was nearly frantic with fear that shewould go into labor and go to a hospital - and then what? If thisbecame public knowledge, my career would be ruined. Guilt byassociation, and Meecham was not able to answer for his owncrimes.

"Secretly, and terrified, I delivered that baby - you, Vicki. Yourfirst few days were tenuous at best, but you rallied, and you throve,the world's only living human mosaic.

"I never told him about your birth. I lacked the courage, and whenI did go to see him, he'd become nearly mute as he descended onto thedepressive phase of his illness. He occasionally mumbled some words,most often calling his sister's name. I didn't admit to anyone that Iknew what the rest was about. Not long after, he managed to killhimself, even in the asylum.

"As you grew, I constantly marveled at your intelligence. Edna andI may have made a mistake in keeping you so closely guarded, but wemeant to do right by you. I admit, I think of you now, and I cannotthink of Patrick Meecham's effort as a total failure, or even asevil. That isn't possible.

"This is your story, my dear. Write to me with your questions.Mama Edna and I want to come to France in the summer. Perhaps we willsee you then."

Diana stops reading. They sit in a shocked silence.

It's Father who speaks first. "I don't know which question to askfirst."

"As I recall, my first question was: 'Which part of me iswhich?'", says Victoire.

"Can you tell?" asks Mary.

"Most definitely. I've learned a bit more embryology in my daythan the average aerialist. After the morula stage, the embryo startsto flatten out, and the cells wind up in sheets." She holds her handsout, one on top of the other. "The cells on top migrate about to formcertain organs - specifically the nervous system. The middle cellsform heart and muscle. The inner cells form the gut, and so forth.Wherever one of those 16 cells goes, it stays, and contributes tospecific parts of the body. Very few of my organ systems are mixed.My heart and kidneys are leonine, my gut and liver are human. And,obviously, my brain is human."

"How do you know?" asks Diana. "About your heart and liver, Imean?"

"For the heart, mostly by the shape. And then there's the labwork.My liver functions are perfectly normal for a human, and my kidneysfunction along lion parameters."

"Well that would explain Vincent's unusual physiology. It'sprobably quite normal," says Father. "If we just knew what we werelooking at."

"What keeps your body from rejecting organs?" asks Mary.

"I have bone marrow from both sides, and have had from thebeginning. So I have white cells from each species that recognizeboth sets of native organs. That is one of the happier things. Whatgerms the human cells are susceptible to, the lion cells are not, andvice versa. I'm rarely sick."

"Neither is Vincent," says Mary.

"Vincent," says Diana. "Say something."

He shakes himself. "I was just thinking how disappointedParacelsus would be." He shoots an apologetic look at Father. "Arather inappropriate thought, isn't it?"

Father nods. "The irony is there."

"Well," says Victoire. "That's what you are. An ordinary lion. Anordinary human. Not particularly mysterious, except for the appallinglack of judgment on Meecham's part. Perhaps, if he'd lived now, hisbipolar disorder could have been managed. It's a shame his creativitywas lost."

"I think the term is 'thinking outside the box'", says Diana.

Victoire chuckles. "Well outside." She takes a breath. "I saw PapaHelmutt today, and I had quite few questions to ask him about the cubthat was lost by the dumpster. I must tell you that, when he asked mywhy I was interested in that, I told him you live."

Father and Mary look a little alarmed at this, but Vincent nods."What did he say?"

"Well, nothing for several moments. I think he was near tears. Healways carried a burden of guilt about that child. He said he had aname for it - for you. He called you the 'man-cub'."

"Kipling," says Father, and smiles, as does Vincent.

"Devin would call me that, sometimes," he says.

"Papa was so relieved to learn that you survived, and that yougrew. I told him that you have a child, and he was delighted. Ididn't tell him where you live - actually, I said you grew up outsidethe city." There's some laughter at this. "But I did tell him yourname. He said it was so odd that we'd have such similar names. And hewants you to know that you may write to him in complete confidence.He'll never give you away."

"Now I know why you laughed at me when I asked you about him thismorning," says Vincent.

"Yes."

"I get the impression," says Diana, "that the other two cubs werenot, um, bipeds."

"No. They are shaped like lions."

"Are?" says Father. "Have you seen them?"

"Yes, Papa has kept them. And he's kept Meecham's notebooks. Todayhe offered to give them to us - the notebooks, not thespecimens."

"Why were two babies quadruped and two biped?" continuesDiana.

"Because two have lion brains, and two have human brains." This ismet with confused looks all around. "The development of the skeletonand musculature is governed by the growth of the nervous system.There were experiments done in the 70's that proved that if the nervebud to a limb of a developing fetus was microsurgically removed, thatlimb would not develop. The experiments were done in lizards, but itis assumed that the same is true of mammals. I guess you and I provethat, Vincent. We may have feline muscle and bone, but we standupright."

"That must be why you are so strong," says Mary. "And I guess itexplains your profession."

"Acrobatics?" laughs Victoire. "No. I am very strong, but I don'tthink that's where the grace required comes from. Do you thinkVincent could tumble?"

Vincent answers that with an emphatic "No!"

"I know that my human mother was a ballerina. It more likely comesfrom her."

"How do you know that?" asks Father.

"There were only two eggs left when Meecham made his last attempt.One was from a 44 year old woman with fibroid tumors. The other wasfrom a dancer in her twenties, who was quite fair." She pulls up hersleeve. There is a stripe of golden fur running down its side, andnext to it, creamy human skin, dotted with a few freckles. "My humanskin is very pale. So it must be the dancer. She had uterine cancer.This sounds very strange, but she died before I was born." Shebecomes wistful.

"Um," Diana starts, and then she loses her nerve.

"What?"

"Never mind. I don't know what I'm talking about."

"Perhaps you do."

No use for it. Someone would have to ask at some time. "It waseggs Meecham stole from Brauhier. Not embryos."

"That's right."

"He had to fertilize them."

"Yes."

"Oh, dear," says Father.

"No," says Victoire. She looks at Vincent. His face is unreadable,but she doesn't need to read it. "There are worse things than beingPatrick Meecham's children."

"You're right," he says, finally. "I could be any of the thingsI've fantasized, when I've hidden in the dark." But then he does looktroubled. "What does this mean to Jacob?"

"I don't have anything very currently in the manic-depressivesyndrome," says Father. "Looks like I'm sending a message to Peter -who would be fascinated with this, by the way." He looks under hisbrow at brother and sister. "Victoire?"

"Who is Peter?"

"A medical school classmate of mine, and one of our first Helpers.He's helped take care of Vincent, and of all of us, when the need hasarisen."

"Then he can be trusted with a secret."

"Yes."

"Then trust him."

"Have you yourself suffered any mental trouble?" asks Father,abruptly.

"Father," protests Vincent.

"No, love, it's a fair question. I had a bad bout with depressionwhen I was about eighteen, after Tante Emilie died. I can trulysympathize with Meecham's grief. Fortunately, Lu-Lu knew what to do,and I was gotten into treatment right away. There are medicines now;they make a real difference. That was the only bad time. I thought Iwas slipping again a few years ago, and I sought help. I started somemedicine so quickly, I don't know if it was real or not."

"You've never had an episode like mania?"

"No. And now that I've met Vincent, I'm reasonably sure that atheory I've had for a long time is true."

"And what is that?"

"I think that there a lot of things that are part of a continuum,and the mania is only one of them. The depression I felt wasn't justa dense sadness. I was separated from everything around me. Icouldn't feel anything in a way that I was used to. That alienationalone was horribly distressing. It was as if I'd become blind to myown feelings, as well as everybody else's. What if the bright side ofthis unawareness isn't always the fireworks of a manic attack?"

"What if it is a continuous awareness of the world that is sosharp, you can feel not only your own thoughts, by those of others?"says Vincent.

She smiles at him. "Even of another you've never seen, half aworld away."

It suddenly comes to Diana that she's been saved from the fear shespent the better part of last night facing. Victoire is not, as sheso clumsily put it to herself only a few days ago, a threat toeverything she doesn't have. She closes her eyes, and thinks that,for a moment, she can hear the whir of an arrow just missing herheart.


WEDNESDAY

 

The following morning, Agent Scott crosses the hotel lobby, anddials Victoire's room number on the house phone. A few moments later,he hangs up in disgust, and joins Venable. "She's not there."

"I wonder how much trouble she's going to give us," gripes Venableas he goes to the front desk. "I'd like to leave a message for Ms.Dedeaux," he says to the clerk.

"Oh, Mlle. Dedeaux says that if anyone is looking for her, she isat breakfast," says the clerk. She points towards the restaurant.

Venable clears his throat, adjusts his jacket, and strikes out forthe restaurant. She's easy enough to find, even though she has takena table near the back of the room. She is talking on a cell phone asthey walk up, and she covers the mouthpiece. "Good morning,gentlemen. Please, have a seat. I won't be a moment." She waves forthe waiter, and points to her coffee cup, and to the agents as sheresumes speaking into the phone in rapid-fire French.

The men sit and chafe as she talks on. Her tone is impassive,business-like, as she takes notes. She is clearly giving instructionsto someone. That they cannot understand her irritates both of them.The waiter brings cups, and a fresh pot of coffee as she turns offher phone. "I apologize. That took longer than I thought."

"May I ask who that was?" says Venable.

She raises an eyebrow at him. "That was my lawyer."

Ms. Dedeaux, we specifically asked you.."

"Well, aren't we just a little narcissistic?" she interrupts. Hedecides that he's going to hate this. It isn't just that she giveshim no credit for authority. It isn't just that she interrupts. Shedoes so with such authority herself that he feels like a schoolboy."There are more things in this world than catching a killer. Theairlines are being difficult about the return tickets. Or, to be moreexact, the return fares. And the insurance company is already balkingabout their contract. This unplanned vacation in New York has eraseda good portion of the profits for this tour, and recovery is going tobe a headache. Have I satisfied your curiosity?"

There is an uncomfortable silence as they drink their coffee.Victoire cuts up an under-ripe slice of cantaloupe. "You're eatingfruit?" says Scott.

"You expected Little Friskies, perhaps?"

"Um..."

"Look. Where do you want to start? My people are all here, andnervous, I might add. Although they were delighted to know they cango home."

"Venable and I will be talking to Dorni," says Scott. The otherswill interview the rest."

"Be sure you ask about his knife."

"Are you telling us our job?"

"No. I'm telling you ours." She digs in her skirt pocket. "Nocarney is ever without a good knife." She tosses a pocket knife onthe table.

"Why not?"

"Rope. There's always rope to shorten, or splice, or whatever.There's always a knife. Where was Paul's?"

Scott looks to Venable, who looks a little alarmed. He flips openhis briefcase, sifts through a file. "One three-inch pocket knife,brown tortoise shell handle, left rear trouser pocket. In a leathercase."

"And where's Bruno's?"

"Presumably, it's the murder weapon."

"Hmm."

*****

"Vincent."

"Good morning, Mary." He relieves her of a heavy load of freshlylaundered and folded blankets.

"That was quite an evening last night."

He smiles at her. "An understatement." As if Mary would ever makeanything but an understatement. "It's odd how it changes everything,and nothing."

"The important facts of life can be like that."

"Father once said that there is a greater truth than allothers."

"Love."

"Yes. And I think that is the part that has not changed." Theyenter the children's dormitory, and he drops the blankets on a nearbybed. To her surprise, he turns to her, and gathers her into his arms."You loved me from the beginning, and you never let me feel that Iwas anything but loved. No matter what. Whoever my biological motherwas, she could not have given me more than you did."

She raises a tear-stained face to him. "All of the children arelike my own," she says. "But you..." She stops a happy little sob inthe collar of his jacket. "You are the child of my heart,Vincent."

*****

Venable scribbles another note in his book, and glances up atDorni from under his brow. "I find it a little unusual that you canshare a hotel room with a man for weeks, and fail to notice whetherhe's even made phone calls."

A police department translator, a young man from Haiti, whom Brunohas been treating with heavy scorn, translates for him. Brunosnickers. "You assume I actually spent time in my room," he says. "Ihad places to go. The old man could hang around in the hotel if hewanted."

"Places to go? And where might those be?" interjects Scott.

"What sort of American connections have you yourself made?" asksVenable, and almost at once regrets the wording.

Dorni laughs again, and blows smoke into the translator's face."Certainly, connections!" He makes a crude gesture with his hands."Some people like sight seeing. I like sights, too. And sound." Hemakes a feminine sigh. Casts a taunting glance at the translator."Especially the black ones." The word he uses is a racial slur inFrench. The young man winces a little, and Dorni laughs at him.

"Connections like this?" asks Scott, holding up a matchbook with aphone number.

Dorni snatches the book away from him. "That's mine. You shouldn'thave kept it."

"I can't understand why you would say that," says Venable, takingit back from him. "Since it's fake."

Bruno blinks at him. "Fake?"

"Fake. The number does not exist."

"She gave me a fake number."

They stare at him, unblinking.

"Or else she was very drunk. She wrote it wrong."

"Very drunk. Everyone in this bar was very drunk. Not one personin the place remembers seeing you there, from the bouncer to thebartender. And they have never heard of a 'Marilyn' there."

"Maybe she lied about her name."

"Maybe you did." Scott holds the matchbook up. "The seven in thisnumber is crossed."

"Yes."

"Americans don't write sevens like this. Frenchmen do."

"Where were you, really, on Saturday night?" asks Venable.

"I told you. I went out and got drunk."

"Where else did you go, besides the Bombay Club?"

"All over. There are a whole row of clubs on that street."

"Where no one recognizes your picture."

"This is getting repetitive," says Scott.

"What did he say?" Bruno asks the interpreter.

The young man shrugs. "Police business."

"What did he say?" To which the interpreter only smilesvindictively.

Scott stands up. "Well, Mr. Dorni. We have more people tointerview. You've given us a great deal to think about. Don't go toofar away."

"What do you mean?"

"I'd like to ask to you to stay close to the hotel."

"Why?" But the agents only leave the room, taking the translatorwith them.

*****

Yusef drops the oars of the rowing machine, and props his arms onhis knees. "Vicki."

Victoire looks up from spotting Etienne, who is lifting weights."C'est moi."

"What's going on?"

"Eti is slowing down in his old age."

Etienne blows an indignant breathe up at her as he hefts the bar,and drops it into the rack. "Don't play the age game with me! Anddon't change the subject."

She looks as if she'll make another joke, but she shrugs instead."All I know is that we can leave. And the airline is trying to extorta fortune from us in the process."

"Why are they letting us leave all of a sudden? Does that meanthey've found Paul's murderer? And that they don't think it's one ofus?"

She shrugs. It's easier to lie to them now that she knows there'san end in sight. "I don't know, Eti. These jokers aren't veryinformative."

Etienne stands up, and puts an arm around her shoulders. "Vicki. Ithink you know more than you say."

She looks him straight in the eye, and loses her resolve. "I knowmore than I'm allowed to say."

"It's the Rat, isn't it?" says Yusef.

"The Rat?"

Yusef nods towards the picture window that opens on to the hotelswimming pool. "Him."

The three of them watch as Bruno pulls himself out of the water.He looks up to find them watching him, and he leers. "Why did we hirehim?" Victoire grumbles.

"We didn't," says Etienne. "Paul did."

Victoire didn't know this. She pulls away to stare at Etienne inshock just as Bruno slouches into the room.

"Oh-oh, Eti," he says. "Don't offend the lady. You won't get anytonight if you do."

Yusef slaps the back of his head. "Watch your mouth."

"Hey!" Bruno snarls. "Keep your hands off me!"

"So, Bruno," says Etienne. "How did the FBI treat you?"

Dorni sneers. "They're idiots."

"Really? Why? Because they haven't arrested you for murderyet?"

"What?"

Victoire pokes Etienne in the back, and tries to throw a warningglance at Yusef, but he's already entered into coalition withEtienne, and it's too late to stop them.

"Sure," says Yusef. "The others all say the same thing. All theFBI wanted to know from me, was questions about you. Why are they sointerested in you?"

"You're full of shit," says Bruno.

"You know they are," says Victoire, glaring at her friends. "I donot want this kind of dissension, guys. Keep it civil."

"You're awfully high-and-mighty," says Bruno. "Who do you thinkyou are?"

"She's the person who signs your paycheck," shouts Yusef. "I toldyou to watch your mouth."

"Although you might not be getting that paycheck for much longer,"says Etienne.

"I'll say what I want, to anyone I want," Bruno growls at Yusef."I don't take orders from some desert snake. And I don't have to takeorders from any other freak." As he says this, he blocks Victoire asshe moves to the stair machine, leering. It's the wrong move.

Victoire grabs the towel draped around his neck, and nearly jerkshim off his feet as she snarls in his face. He's never heard herlion's voice before, and he cries out in alarm. She treats him to alow growl before she drops him. He backs away from her, still tooalarmed to speak. "Get out, before I change my mind," she says, inher human voice. He runs.

"Well, Vicki, you haven't lost your touch," says Yusef. "The FBIdon't scare him, but you have him wetting his pants."

"If I had my way, the FBI wouldn't have to be troubled with him atall."

Yusef & Etienne exchange glances.

"Is that what you can't tell us?"

She flashes Yusef a look. She hadn't meant to say that aloud. "I'mpretty sure that it is."

"Are they sure?" asks Etienne.

"I don't know if they know what they're doing." She climbs on tothe stair machine.

Etienne crosses to stand by her. He watches her work until sheturns to face him. "Now what?"

"There's something else, isn't there?"

"What?"

"Something else is happening that you haven't said anythingabout."

"I told you," says Yusef. "She has a lover."

"Never let it be said that you do not have a cruel streak," shesnipes at him. And to Etienne. "Not a lover."

"There's something here for you," he presses.

Victoire works away at the steps for a while, considering. "You'veknown me too long."

"It isn't hard to see," he says. "You've been God-knows-where thelast three nights. You had a secret tete-a-tete at lunch yesterday.And you look happier than I've seen you look in years. What is goingon?"

She smiles an apology. "That is something I can tell you about.But not until we get home."

"Why not?"

She shrugs. Etienne waits. Finally, she says, quietly so thatYusef cannot hear as he grunts away at the rowing machine: "Not alover." And louder: "Let's go to lunch at the Tavern on the Greentomorrow. I'll have a new dress to wear."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. I'm going shopping this afternoon. Want to come?" They makefaces. "Get something pretty for Miriam, Yus?"

He looks thunderstruck. "Oh, God, I forgot!"

*****

Bruno Dorni leaves the hotel, and strikes off down the street. Hestops into the first likely-looking bar he can find, and settles atthe bar, orders a beer. He's at loose ends. And he's worried, now. Itisn't exactly to his taste to sit in his room and do nothing. Andhanging around the hotel bar doesn't strike him as the safest thingto do. Not with those bastards tossing around accusations he'd justas soon not hear again. What if they were heard by the police? He hashours to kill before nightfall, and no creative ideas how to killthem. He drains the beer, and sourly reflects that he can't evenindulge in this the way he'd like. Now is not the time to bedrunk.

The bar door opens and closes. A man slips in, and sits at atable. The only reason Dorni notices him is that he's wearing ajacket much like one Dorni has at home, and for a moment, he wildlythinks that the coat might have been stolen, until he recalls that hedid not bring it with him.

After a while, Bruno sighs, and slides off the barstool. He tossesmoney on the bar, and trudges out the door. A half-hour gone. Nowwhat?

He strikes down the street, and spots a movie theater. Lacking anybetter ideas, he buys a ticket. It isn't until later that he realizesthat he saw the man in 'his' jacket stop and buy a ticket aswell.

Two hours later, Dorni is back on the street. He stops in aChinese restaurant for an early dinner. And the man in 'his' jacketwanders by the restaurant window. Something clicks in Dorni's mind,and a cold tide of panic overtakes him, just for a moment. For now,he's safe. For now, it doesn't matter if someone knows where he is.And there follows a small exultation: he's beaten the American FBI!Seen their spy sent to follow him, and now he can shake that man.

He leaves by the back door. Ducks into a drug store from there,and spends some time looking for interesting magazines. After afutile search, he nearly laughs aloud. Americans are really idiots.They deal their drugs right on their streets, but their pornography,they hide behind the cashier at the drug store. Fools.

Twenty minutes after leaving the store, he catches a glimpse ofthe jacket. Merdre! This will never do. If he can't get rid of thisbastard within the hour, his plans will be ruined, and his lifeworthless. He stops at a music store, and browses down the aisles. Ifhe weren't so distracted, he might have found some time to gape atthe selection available, and the prices. At home, American music isthe fashionable stuff to know, and to buy. Here, it is cheap, andthere are many artists he's never heard of. Under othercircumstances, he might have bought who knows how many? But tonight,he can't weigh himself down. And the jacket man slips in the door.The man is good. He doesn't even so much as glance Bruno's way.

Bruno waits until his tracker gets to the back of the store, andhe nearly runs out the door. He checks his watch: time is runningout. He runs through a parking lot, and down an alley. He can hearfeet in the parking lot behind him, and he ducks down behind adumpster. There's only one way out. He fumbles in his pocket, tenseshis body, and waits.

*****

Victoire, Etienne, and Yusef enter the hotel loaded with packages."Whoever heard of shopping in New York?" scoffs Etienne.

"What are you talking about?" says Victoire. "We found plenty ofthings."

"But we're French. We have Paris. We aren't supposed to need to goto New York."

"And when was the last time you made it up to Paris?"

"Eh." A long time. Enough said.

"Now what?" says Yusef.

"Supper next door?"

"OK," says Victoire. "But I think I have just a little time. Ihave a date."

"With whom?" Etienne speaks a little more sharply than he'sintended. And she grins wickedly at him.

"With the people I'll tell you about when we get home."

"People?" says Yusef. "She's got two lovers."

She pokes him so that he drops his bags. "You two have to help meget out of the hotel tonight."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking for a favor."

*****

Diana leaves the bookstore loaded with textbooks the likes ofwhich she never imagined she'd buy. How many times has she been inthis part of town, and she'd never given any notice to this store, atechnical store devoted to engineering, math and science, and, it sohappens, veterinary texts. She'd gotten lost in there, and she laughsat herself that she can spend hours even in a bookstore like thisone, loaded with what can only be called tomes. Choosing the rightbooks had taken longer than she'd expected. But then again, shecouldn't say she knew what she was looking for. In the end, she'dselected a book that dealt specifically with the medical problems ofbig cats, a book of veterinary pharmaceuticals, and, of all things, aveterinary Merck manual. Admittedly, she doesn't know how to choosewhat Father might be able to use, but she feels she's been prettysuccessful.

It's a surprise to her that it's nearly dark. The sun had been outwhen she'd gone in there. She struggles with the bag as she opens thetrunk of her car, and dumps the heavy load in. Just as she slams downthe trunk lid, she catches a movement out of the corner of her eye. Aman is walking through the alley, lighting a cigarette as he walks.Oddly enough, it seems to her that his hands are shaking, but he'stoo far away for her to really be able to see that. Something iswrong with the appearance of the man, something that gives her an alltoo familiar frisson of sickness. As she looks at him, the buzz inher rises, the same electric 'zing' she felt as she stood in thetheater where a murderer moved about, carrying his poisoned thoughtswith him. He raises his head to blow a stream of smoke, almostdefiantly. It's Bruno Dorni.

Diana watches him proceed to the street, and he turns towards herto walk down the sidewalk. She ducks to reopen her trunk, keeping herface down. He doesn't notice her as he passes. She looks around forhis FBI tail as she shuts the trunk again. With a dull feeling, sherealizes that she won't find the agent. Dorni has killed again. Shelets him get farther down the street, and follows him.

*****

The three acrobats return to the hotel, and head for the housephone. Victoire dials. "Jimi?" she says. "How is your headache? Wantto go to a movie?" She listens, meanwhile, she is scanning the lobby."Probably something with a lot of explosions, or else Yusef won't go.Oh, wait. Talk to him yourself." She passes the phone to Yusef. Andshe cuts her eyes over towards the hotel bar for Etienne. He shufflesaway a bit, fiddles with his jacket zipper, and spots the paparazzolounging by the fountain. He looks over his shoulder at his boss, andmakes a face. She grins.

Yusef hangs up the phone. "He's coming. He'll bring a paper withthe movie listings."

"Let's go sit over there," says Etienne, nodding towards a clusterof chairs near the fountain.

"You know," Victoire mumbles as the saunter across the lobby."With all the practice we get dodging reporters, how does the FBIthink they can tail any of us?"

"At least the crew doesn't have our experience," says Yusef.

They settle in the chairs, and then Victoire says, "This coat istoo light. I'm going to get my sweater, and check my messages. I'llbe back."

They nod at her, and sit back to wait. Presently, Jimi joins them, and they devote a good twenty minutes to choosing a movie. Jimiraises his head, looks towards the elevator.

"So where is she?"

At that moment, the concierge calls towards the men, "Mr.Guillaume?"

Etienne jumps up, goes to the concierge's desk. The man holds atelephone out to him. "What are you doing?"

When he returns to his friends, he says, "I thought this wouldhappen. There were messages when she got to her room. She won't becoming out - she has to call Japan."

"Why are you speaking in English?" asks Yusef.

"Oh! I forgot."

The men walk out the door, trailed by their photographer.

On the mezzanine above them, Victoire watches them go, and watchesa little longer the movements of people in the lobby, until she issatisfied there is no one else to bother her. She walks slowly downthe corridor, and finds a service stair. She slips into thestairwell, and stands by the door, waiting. Minutes pass. No onecomes. She runs down the stairs.

Moments later, she opens the door by the silent loading dock, andpeers out into the alley. No one. An eerie noise rings up the alleyas a nearby manhole cover begins to move. She descends the stairs,and glides over to crouch next to the floating metal disk. When theopening is clear, she pauses to grin at her brother below her beforeshe drops into his arms.

*****

For more than half an hour, Diana has trailed the Frenchmanthrough the busy sidewalks of Manhattan. Over that time, the crowdshave thinned, and the night grown cooler. She'd pulled on her glovesand a cap minutes ago, stuffing her red hair out of site. But it'sbecoming harder to follow at a distance without being noticeable.

He's consulted a slip of paper several times, and checked streetsigns. Obviously, he's headed somewhere with purpose. They're gettingcloser to the Park. Bruno stops abruptly, takes his bearings, andDiana clumsily ducks into a store doorway. Then, with as littlewarning, he crosses the street and strides briskly down the ramp ofan underground parking garage.

Diana thinks about this for a moment. Has he made her, and this isa trap? Is this where he's headed? As a meeting place for dealers,it's a typical choice. She digs in her bag for her cell phone. Shehasn't had a chance to call for backup till now. And now is a goodtime to do so. She leans against the window of a video store.

"Yeah, this is Detective Bennett. I've got a make on a suspectwho's supposed to be under surveillance, Bruno Dorni. He's gone intoa garage under the McKenzie building....I don't know about thesurveillance, I picked him up at the parking lot across fromDetweiller's Books on 43rd. I'm going into the garage, requestingbackup." She hangs up before there can be an argument, and before sheloses her nerve. She hasn't done this kind of grunt work in a while.But then again, she's dealt with more psychos in the last few yearsthan garden variety criminals. There has to be some extra training inthat.

She crosses the street, and heads down the customer entrance ofthe garage, digging in her purse as if searching for keys. Who knowsif the attendant is just an attendant? She pushes open the door tothe elevator room. There's a stairwell next to the elevator, and shegoes into it. Now that she's out of sight of the man in the booth,she stops, and listens. The cicada shrilling in her mind tells herthat Dorni is nearby. Vincent could use that sense as a locator, butDiana has never been that good. And with all these concrete walls,how good would Vincent even be?

Quietly, she moves down the stairs, listening and feeling, untilshe reaches the bottom. She opens the door. At this level, there isno enclosure around the elevator. There are also very few carsparked. She looks around as if she can't get her bearings. Who knowswho's watching? She slips behind a pillar, listening. The low rush ofair that echoes in parking structures becomes almost deafening thelonger she strains her ears. But she hears no voices.

Now what?

The best plan of action seems to be to walk up the parking ramps,and so she does. One level up, she hears voices. She runs back intothe stairwell, and up two flights, exiting above the level where sheheard the voices. She looks around, they're still there. She glidesover to the edge of the ramp, crouching down by a truck.

There! Across the drive ramp, several men. And Bruno Dorni standsfacing her, would see her if he just looked up. She eases backwards,and peers around the wheel of the truck. She can barely see anotherman, and the legs of a third behind him. Dorni is not within hersight this way. But she can hear.

"I can replace Marpot for you..."

"Forget it. Every narc in the world is going to be watching thatgroup for the rest of our lives. Marpot's death soured a safeshipping zone for us for years. What an idiot!"

"He was old. Old men make mistakes."

"There was dope missing! The bastard who killed him stole ourmerchandise." Diana cranes forward to watch the man, who speaks witha Puerto Rican accent, thrust his face into Dorni's. "You wouldn'tknow who killed him?"

Dorni swallows. "All I know is that I can be useful to you. And Ican get merchandise back into France for you tomorrow."

"How? In your suitcase? I told you, your little troupe is going tobe watched like a girl in a bikini!"

"It won't matter. The riggings go back on a freighter tomorrowmorning. They're waiting already at the dock to be loaded. I canchange the shipping labels, and one crate will not make it back tothe circus school. It will go wherever you like. The manifest hasalready been checked, the crates are secured. I can do it."

The other man paces away from him, kicking at the ground andwhistling tunelessly between his teeth. "It would only work once.What do you think you can do for us after that?"

"I don't plan to go back to France. I want to come work foryou."

"Why should I accept a wimp like you?"

Dorni's English fails at this point, but he knows he's beeninsulted. He hisses a few epithets in French at his desiredemployer.

The Puerto Rican laughs at this, and returns fire in Spanishbefore he becomes sharply vicious. "No one who works for me treats mewith disrespect, I don't care what language he uses!"

"If I worked for you, I would not treat you with disrespect,"Dorni replies, pretty evenly for someone who is straining to maintainhis bravado.

"I don't think you're smart enough to work for us."

"I'm smart enough to figure out what old Paul was doing."

"You yourself just said he was old, and careless. Maybe he wasdumber than we thought."

Diana eases farther back from the edge of the pavement. It figuresthat Dorni isn't going to admit to this crew that he was the one whokilled their man. But what she's heard is damaging enough. Now istime to slip out of the way, and wait for the backup she called toappear. What was taking them so long, anyway?

*****

"Where are we going?"

"No place in particular."

"Vincent, this is me. I can feel her through you, and she is, ifyou'll pardon the expression, nervous as a cat. What in the world isshe up to?"

He shrugs. "Working, I suppose."

"On what? She's off our case."

"That's according to them. Not necessarily according to her.Something happened an hour ago. I think she's following yourman."

"Where is she?"

He points away from the Park. "Over there."

"Then lets walk over there."

They stroll down the paths of the Park. Occasionally, they passsomeone: a jogger, a couple. No one takes any note of them.Admittedly, in the dark, their faces are hard to see, especiallysince they are both hooded. As they amble along, holding hands, theyare no more remarkable than some other people they have encountered -who were in far more unusual clothing.

"Victoire."

"Yes?"

"Something troubles me."

"What?"

"Yesterday morning, you would have made love to me."

"Mmm."

"It was not the concept of incest that stopped you."

"No."

He stops, and faces her. "How could it not?"

She pauses before answering. "You remember that I told you that Iknow which of my organ systems are which? That I know my heart andkidney are lion, and my gut and liver are human?"

"Yes?"

"You can make some deductions on your own. Your brain, of course,is human. And so is your reproductive tract. You have a human son.There's only one way you could have conceived him." At this point,she turns away from him. There is an ache in her now, the same sorrowthat he felt in her every time she looked at Jacob. "I don't havethat good fortune. My womb and ovaries are...not human. On a ratherfundamental level, I am not a woman, and sex with me is really a formof bestiality..."

He gathers her into his arms. For the second time that day, awoman cries on his shoulder. He kisses her forehead. "You don'treally see it that way?"

She pulls herself together. "Oh. In a way I do. And I so resentnot being able to have children! I mean, I suppose I could deliver afine litter, but really...!" Bad joke. It isn't funny. "Sex, for me,is truly just a sport. There can be no higher purpose to it. To somemen, I could be some sort of ideal, but if there is to be any sort ofreal relationship - here's this stupid truth that gets in theway!"

"Who else knows of this?"

"My uncle, and my doctor. Certainly no lover ever heard about it.But I did lose one romance when he learned just that I cannot have ababy."

"Not much of a love there, was it?"

"No. I suppose not. But I loved him."

"So. What did stop you?"

"Yesterday? You know what did. I learned a long time ago that youcan't replace a love in a man's heart, no matter how hard you try.Giving in to desire and - I'll admit it - curiosity would only make adifficulty between us."

He walks on in silence, struggling. "Victoire...."

"Stop it. You can't lie to me. And you do too good a job of lyingto yourself. You love her, Vincent, and you're wasting time!"

"It isn't that easy."

"Haven't you figured out yet that love is not easy?"

"She may not want my love..."

All she can do is open the floodgates of her mind, and let herresponse assault him, broadside.

"Some day, you are going to have to tell her the truth... GoodGod! What was that!!!"

*****

Slowly, and as silently as she can, Diana creeps back down thelength of the truck. Normally, she carries a Dictaphone is her purse.Tonight, she did not bring it. It might have been useful just now, ifits recording quality could have been trusted. She ducks under thetruck for a moment to scan for the nearest fire exit. Certain thatshe's far enough from the edge of the ramp that she will not be seen,she stands.

And then, with a shock that nearly paralyses all thought she feelsthe hard metal of a gun against her head. As she turns to face theman holding the gun, Diana tries desperately to sort out her options.Perhaps if she could silence him, and neutralize him before he alertsanyone else to her presence.... But too late for that, as he shouts"Hey! Look what I have here!"

Roughly, he grasps her arm. For the first time in three years,after a dozen scrapes, shocks, and near-misses that she got into andout of with asking for help, she allows her mind to wail forVincent.

*****

"How can you find her?" Victoire asks.

"She's in that building," he points up, to the top of the McKenziebuilding that they can see through the trees. "Below ground. Probablyin that garage."

"Let's go." To her surprise, he runs away from the street. "Whereare you going!"

"Underground!"

She races after him.

*****

Damn. Where's backup? This isn't even supposed to be her case, andshe's about to get killed for it. The FBI might think that a goodidea. She's thought up and discarded a dozen options as the man hasdragged her around the ramps - and what is that on his breath, dearGod? - and the only one she's struck on is to play the idiot woman."What are you doing?" she whines. "You're pulling my hair! Let go ofme!"

Once she's hauled into the little group, she gives up. No wayDorni will not recognize her, and by the look on his face, he does.To her surprise, he doesn't reveal that recognition. He's smarterthan she thought.

One of the men in the group snatches her purse. "Oh!" she gasps."Take whatever you want! Just don't hurt me, please! And let me havethe picture of my baby, please!"

"What the hell is this?" growls the Puerto Rican. "Are wekidnapping the general public, here?"

"She was watching," says her captor.

"No!" she wails. "I was looking to see who was arguing. I wasafraid that someone was going to hurt me in the elevator!"

Her apparent fear seems to be working, and the men look at herwith the disgust she'd hoped for, until the man with her purse findsher badge. She drops the pose as the men stare at it withnear-horror.

"Oh, great," says the leader. He strikes Bruno across the jaw."You brought the cops right to us, you little shit!" Bruno falls tohis knees, and his assailant says to one of the others: "Tie herup."

The man with her purse says, "She don't have no handcuffs."

"Figure out something." The Puerto Rican paces while Diana'scaptor leads her over to a column. Someone else opens the trunk of acar, and pulls out a rope. The knots aren't exactly expert, butthey're tight.

"Ow!" she complains. He laughs. Note to self, she thinks. Kickthat one in the nuts first chance I get.

The Puerto Rican stalks over to Diana. "What the hell am I goingto do with you?"

"Give me that little turd, and I can take him in where he needs tobe."

"Just like that, eh?"

"Sure. He just added cop-killer to his resume."

Dorni jumps at this, and looks like he's going to run. His formerfuture employer turns on him. "Yeah? You don't say? So now you thinkyou can make me be one, eh?" he grabs Bruno's collar. "You littlepunk! Don't you know that's one way to get the NYPD after you untilyou're DEAD!"

"Actually, it wasn't NYPD," says Diana, offhandedly. "It wasFBI."

"FBI? FBI!" And Bruno gets hit again. The man rounds on Diana."Why?"

"Because he killed Marpot. And they thought he'd lead them to youguys. And they were right."

*****

Vincent and Victoire crawl through a sewer conduit, and into thealley behind the McKenzie building. "Now what?" asks Victoire.

He looks about, finds a service door. "There."

He forces the door, and they run down the stairs into the garagelevels. "I hope there are no security cameras," she says.

They stop at the third level, and peer through the window in thedoor. The group is plainly visible from there, and they can see Dianatied to a pillar, and Dorni on his knees, rubbing his jaw.

They run down one more flight, and begin to quietly work their wayup the ramp. She slides behind the outer row of cars, and stopsbehind a minivan. =Listen.=

All they can hear is the agitated conversation above them, but noone else. No footsteps of a sentry. Nothing.

=I can go in.=

=No! Not alone!=

"Look," she says in a whisper. "There are just four of them. And Ican think up an explanation for my being there. But two of us? Howwould we explain you?"

"They are armed," he says.

"So? There are only four. Diana and I can handle that. You justmake sure no one sees you."

=Diana is tied.=

She gives him her knife. =So untie her.=

She leaves before he can argue more. He follows her at a distance,and settles at a point where he can see her approach. She's beentaught well about attack and surprise, and she cases the group forseveral minutes before she moves behind the cars near the men. Shekeeps drifting until all four men have their backs to her.

=Vincent?=

=Yes?=

=Growl.=

A low, evil rumble floats across the pavement at the embattledgroup in the middle. The men look up, and Diana suppresses asmile.

"What the hell is that?" says the man who guards Diana.

"What's what?", she says, just to be perverse.

The growl becomes louder, and then seems to come from all over,and Dorni begins to scream.

The Puerto Rican grabs his collar. "What the hell are youscreaming about?"

"She's here!" Dorni babbles. "She'll kill us!"

"Who?"

=Allons!=

The roar that accompanies her attack resounds off the concretewalls with terrible force. Only Diana realizes that it comes from twodirections. Victoire leaps into the back of the rear guard, knockinghim to the ground. His gun flies from his hands, and goes off as itlands. It slides across the floor towards Diana. "Grab that when youcan!" Victoire shouts to Diana.

In the first shriek of confusion, Diana is able to land asatisfying kick in the groin of her guard, and as he falls to thefloor, again in his belly. When he rolls to his back, she plants herfoot firmly against his throat. It's a tenuous stance at best, butshe can't do any better. She nearly jumps when she feels tugging onthe rope that wraps around the column.

She looks up in time to see Victoire lift the pistol-whipped guardoff the ground. She holds him with one hand, and draws her fist back."Victoire!" Diana yells. "I need them alive!"

Victoire tosses her a scornful glance. "I know that!" she replies,and punches the man into unconsciousness.

Just as the group's leader tries to aim a gun at Victoire, sherounds on him, and kicks it away with a deafening roar.

The man at Diana's feet rouses, and rolls away from her reach -well, she tried anyway, and the rope on her hands is almost gone. Heapproaches her, furious and frightened. Not a good combination. Hegrips her throat and begins to throttle her. From around the pillar,a strong arm strikes, and the man falls unconscious. He never hearsthe furious snarl that accompanies the blow.

She looks up into Vincent's snarling face. "Thanks. Can you get meundone?" He saws at the last of the ropes, and soon her hands arefree. "Thanks. OK. Who's next?"

Victoire has dropped her latest opponent into a heap on top offhis guard. Vincent grabs the collar of Diana's would-be strangler,and drags him over to join them. He picks up the fallen gun, andhands it to Diana.

She checks it. "Good," she says. "My own gun is in my purse overthere. I hope."

He retrieves the bag and opens it.

Victoire has Dorni backed up against the rail. "Salaud!" shehisses in his face.

"At least I'm not a freak!" he retorts. She raises her hand, clawsspread, above his head. He screams, expecting her to rip out histhroat, but she deals him a blow to the base of his neck, and hecrumples. She practically throws him near to the others.

"Define freak," she says. She looks up at Diana. "So, how have youbeen?"

"Peachy," says Diana. "What brought you here?"

"You called," says Victoire.

"Fortunately, you were close," says Vincent, as he gives Diana hergun. "And here we are."

"Well, you did better than New York's finest. I phoned themminutes ago." She passes the other gun to Victoire. "Do you know howto work one of these things?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Even if I didn't, I know how to lookthreatening with one."

They contemplate the pile of men. A siren wails. "Ah!" saysVictoire. "I believe I hear them!"

"I must go," says Vincent, and he runs to the stairway door.

Diana watches him go. "He heard me?"

"I tell you, dear, you're going to have to trip him."

*****

Three people sit in the interrogation room at the police station:Venable, a somewhat battered Frenchman, and a small woman of about50. The air is heavy with impatient silence. The Frenchman smokes,and tries to look defiant.

Venable leans forward. "We have evidence that proves you whokilled Marpot."

"Fuck off," says Bruno, in French, casting a leer in the directionof the neatly dressed woman. To his dismay, she translates thatwithout blinking. Worse, she imitates his tone of voice as she doesit. He has a lot to learn about New Yorkers.

Outside the room, Diana, Victoire, and an Assistant DA watchthrough two-way glass. The lawyer paces nervously. "He isn't talking,is he?"

"He may be stupid, Mr. Bertrand, but he's sly. And he's been introuble with the police before, I think," says Victoire. She glancesat Diana sourly. And no, I didn't know that when I hired him.

"What do you think he's doing?" says the DA to Victoire.

"He doesn't know what they know for certain. Whatever he says canbe used against him, and he doesn't want to give them the opportunityto fool him."

"Bottom line, Al: French low-lifes aren't really any differentfrom American ones," says Diana.

"That's a relief, I guess."

"Just how unorthodox would it be for me to speak to him?"

Bertrand looks at Victoire for a moment, and shakes his head.

Agent Scott enters the room, looking grim. "We've found Wilson inthe alley behind the parking lot where you picked him up," he says toDiana. "Stabbed." He looks over at Victoire. "Now we are veryinterested in his knife." He watches the people in the room for amoment.

"How's it going with the other guys?" asks Diana.

He shakes his head. "Two of them are still at the hospital." Heturns to Victoire again.

"Just what did you do to them?"

"I hit them."

"Is that all?"

"I also scared them witless. I seem to have a gift for that. Idon't think it should be a surprise to you that any seasoned circushack is also a good street fighter."

"No," says Scott slowly. "It wouldn't be. Just one more question.How did you know where to find her?"

Diana and Victoire exchange glances. "You don't want to know theanswer to that," say Victoire.

"Yes, I do."

They confer again, again silently. That they correspond seemsobvious. And eerie. The Assistant DA, who knows Diana, speaks up."She's like you, isn't she?"

Startled, Diana nods.

"Meaning?" says Scott.

"Detective Bennett is what you would call a profiler," says thelawyer. "She has a way of knowing things that isn't easilyexplainable."

"Hogwash," says Scott. "You want to tell me that you two arepsychics?"

"Phaugh!" says Victoire. "Telling the future and reading yourfortune? This is the real world!"

"It's more of a form of communication," says Diana. "Of hearingwhat isn't exactly spoken, knowing what was felt. It's the way thecircuits in the mind work. And when two people with similar circuitrymeet, they communicate in more than the usual ways."

"I wasn't far away when Diana was caught," says Victoire. "I felther adrenaline, if you will."

"You mean, my panic."

"I was able to follow that sense, and I found her. That I wentdown into the garage & not up into the building was luck."

Scott doesn't look as if he's willing to buy that. "Next you'regoing to tell me you can read my mind."

"With the two of us in the room, we could probably triangulate apretty accurate assessment. And right now, you don't want us to dothat, because you're too upset about Wilson to want to talk about it.Apparently, he was a friend of yours."

He looks at the two of them as they stand on either side of him,and decides not to challenge that statement.

"Meanwhile, back at the police station," say the DA. "Your buddyis getting nowhere."

They all look into the room. "I'm telling you, I can convince himto talk," says Victoire.

"You might taint his testimony," says Scott.

"What?"

` "If he can say later that you intimidated him into talking, thenhis testimony can be thrown out," Diana explains.

"Merdre."

"Let me see what I can do," says Scott. And he opens theinterrogation room door. "Let me see your knife," Scott says, as heapproaches the table.

"What knife?"

"Your knife. Every circus crew man has a knife. Where'syours?"

Taken aback, Bruno moves to reach for his back pocket, but hishandcuffs get in the way. Venable retrieves it for him, and tosses iton the table. It is a hefty four-blade knife, with a bone handle, andobviously brand new.

"How long have you had this?"

Bruno shrugs. "Three, four years."

"You're lying," says Venable. "That's a new knife."

"Not to me."

Scott picks up the knife. "What will I find when I send this to alab?" asks. Bruno says nothing.

Another stalemate. Scott looks sideways at the window, and nods.The lawyer opens the door for her, and Victoire enters the roomquietly, but she lets the door close with a loud click. The occupantsturn and stare at her as she stands against the door. She whisks anairline ticket out of her coat pocket and waves it playfully in frontof her, smiling. She crosses the little room to stop at the table,the heels of her low boots tapping a rhythm as she steps, and as shespeaks, in French, to Bruno.

"Don't say a word, Bruno. They can't use what you don't tell them.And who knows? They may not have very much evidence against you forPaul's death. Or for that other body in the alley. And who knows whatyour little friends in the garage will do to you if they think you'vetalked to the police? Of course, I'm sure they think you aretalking.... But just keep your mouth shut, and maybe, if you playyour cards right," she slaps the ticket onto the table in front ofhim. He jumps. "You can go home." She leans on the table, and smilesinto his face. "With me. I'd like that."

And very quietly, one corner of her upper lip curls, and shesnarls. The others in the room can barely hear her, but Bruno pales.She picks up the ticket, her claws scraping evilly on the table asshe does. She leans back a bit, looks at him speculatively while sheslips the ticket back into her coat pocket, then turning on her heel,leaves the room.

Bruno stares at the door for a long moment after it closes. Whenhis cigarette burns down to his fingers, he starts, and looks at theFBI agents like he's never seen them before.

Diana watches him though the window. "What did you tell him,Vicki?"

Victoire shrugs. "Nothing he didn't already know. I reminded himthat freedom wasn't necessarily safe. There are advantages to havinglegends circulated about one."

Diana laughs. "Which reminds me. There is a report about two youngmen who were brutally savaged by some sort of supernatural beast onMonday. Do you know anything about that?"

"Two young men?"

"Uh hunh."

"In their early twenties?"

"Yup."

"One about six feet tall, the other shorter?"

"Maybe."

"One stabbed in the thigh with his own knife?"

"Exactly."

"No. Haven't heard a thing."

The DA laughs at this. "So, uh, what do you think happened?"

"I think they found out that it's probably safer to try to assaultsomeone who's a little more normal looking." She sighs."Unfortunately, I doubt they learned to avoid hurting people at all.But you can't have everything."

"Are you interested in pressing charges?," he asks.

"Heavens, no! At this point, they think the creature who scaredthem witless might still be out there, waiting for them. That's amuch more powerful deterrent than anything you can come up with."

"Sad, but true."

"Vicki, what do you think he'll do?" Diana nods at the window.

"I suspect he'll think about it long enough to save face, andhe'll give them whatever they want. Another thing: they still havethe death penalty in France. Once he hears the word "extradition" forsure, he'll cooperate just fine."

"It would be so good if this worked," say the DA. "You know wemight ask you to return to testify?"

"Count on me."


SATURDAY

 

It's ending, and beginning. Police business is done. The equipmentis shipped (and checked for contraband, just to be sure). Half thecrew have already left on what flights could be arranged. AndVictoire is ready to go to the airport for a stand-by flight herself."Let's hope there's a seat," she says. "I hate sitting aroundairports. You'd think I'd be used to it by now."

She'd checked out of the hotel the night before, when Yusef andEtienne left. Etienne had been nervous about her plans.

"Why can't you go somewhere that we can reach you if we needyou?"

"Stop. You're not the least bit worried about needing me. I'll seeyou on Sunday." For some reason, his concern always has given her awarm feeling. From someone else, she'd feel confined, but when it'sEtienne who worries - somehow it seems right.

She'd spent Friday Below, teaching children to tumble, andlistening to a string quartet in Father's chamber. And spending hoursalone with Vincent, both of them aching at the parting to come.

"At least now I'll know what it is I'm dreaming about," hesays.

"Maybe you'll see me in the dream," she answers. "Oh, how I wishyou could come to the airport with me!" she clings to him a littleharder. "A part of me really wants a crowd to see two of us bidding afond farewell at the gate."

"And the other part?"

"Is just as happy the world will not know I am not unique..."

"You are. You and I couldn't be more different."

They embrace for a long time, allowing their thoughts to say therest.

Diana's voice echoes down to them. "Are you there?"

"Yes, worse the luck," Victoire replies. They climb up the ladderinto Henry and Lin's shop. Lin gapes at her.

"You're so beautiful!" she cries, and then blushes.

"Thank you. My brother has wonderful luck in friends," sayVictoire. She shoulders her carry-on. "Thank you for letting us makeour escape from here."

"You are always welcome." Lin holds out a small package. "Ithought you'd like some goodies for the journey. Airports can beawful."

Almost overcome, Victoire accepts the packet with thanks. Sheturns to Diana. "I'm ready."

One last breathless embrace. One last look. He brushes away a tearfrom her cheek. She takes a deep breath, and walks out the door.

Lin lays a comforting hand on Vincent's arm. "Now you have asister."

He covers her hand with his. "Yes. Even to see her leave doesn'ttake away how good that is. Now. Where is my goddaughter?"

 

THE END

 


C. B. McWhorter has been a passionate devotee of BatB since itsbeginning, but she only came to find the wonderful fanfic websites in1998! She wrote stories to amuse (and console) herself during theintervening years. This is one of the first. She'd be interested infeedback: mcwhorterstl@yahoo.com, if you feel so inclined.