TO LIVE AGAIN
Aunt Di was invited to Jacob’s 5th birthday party and she had no idea what to take him. She had nieces, and Barbie dolls or anything for those beloved dolls were always a sure thing for them, but that didn’t help with Jacob.
Action figures? she wondered as she wandered through the toy section. Maybe not, they’re all of TV and movie characters and he doesn’t watch either.
She stopped in front of a huge tub of OD green army men and all their hardware. She almost picked it up, but then decided that it probably wasn’t such a good idea…Father was such a pacifist...most of the time.
She continued to wander, turning down the next aisle. There in front of her was the largest Lego set she had ever seen. It also had a pretty large price tag, but she could afford it and she also knew that it was the perfect gift for Jacob; he and the other children Below would love it. He loved to build things and was always dragging books off the shelves in his grandfather’s study, stacking them and turning them into forts or castles.
As she carried her treasure home, she realized that both Vincent and Father would be appalled at her extravagant gift. She had three days to come up with something…maybe she could make it look like she’d bought it used in a thrift shop.
Three days later, as she wrapped the gift in the comic pages from the Sunday newspaper, she was pretty proud of her handiwork. She’d found that inside the large box, the Legos were packed in a sealed plastic bag. She’d cut the bag open and dumped the blocks into a large used brown paper grocery bag and taped it closed. She set that aside and went to work on the box. She flattened it and put it on the floor in a high traffic area of her loft and walked on it for three days. There was an instruction sheet in the bottom of the box and it went to her desk where she handled it a lot with her other paperwork. By the time she retrieved it to put back in the box it had coffee spills, spots from a couple lunches (she recognized chili and mustard along with a few that were unidentifiable) and even a little fingerprint ink smudged off one of the police files she’d been working on. She was sure that it looked convincing.
Now that the gift was wrapped and she was sure that she would impress the son, she went to work on herself in hopes of impressing the father.
It had been five years. Even Diana had a hard time pinpointing exactly when she’d fallen in love with Vincent, but she knew she was in love with him and had been for some time.
Before she met him, when she was spending hours in Catherine’s apartment trying to get some kind of an idea of what Catherine’s life had been like, she’d fallen in love with the idea of the relationship that Catherine and her lover had. It hadn’t taken long to come up with a name for the man: Vincent. Even that had a special ring to it.
At the time she was investigating Catherine’s disappearance and murder, she had been seeing Mark Suberati. That relationship had suffered greatly in comparison to what she’d sensed was between Catherine and her Vincent.
Mark had always been understanding and knew how she worked when she was on an active case, but even she’d realized that this case was different. When Mark left that last time, he’d told her to call him when she had the time; she’d just never gotten around to it.
Early in the case, she’d realized that there was something special about Catherine Chandler. She’d interviewed people Catherine worked with, people she used to work with at Chandler and Coolidge, and friends. When she was done she knew that at least two of the lawyers at Chandler and Coolidge had been in love with her, several of her male acquaintances were more than just a little captivated, and then there were Joe Maxwell, Elliot Burch and even Steven Bass, not to mention the mysterious Vincent. Even the women who called Catherine friend all thought the world of her.
As she’d gone over Catherine’s financial records, she’d realized that Miss Chandler was a very wealthy woman. She had a trust fund from her mother and grandmother, and she’d been the sole heir to her father’s estate when he died. Yet she’d kept the comparatively modest 800 square foot apartment on Central Park West and sold her father’s much more spacious 2500-square-foot uptown penthouse. And she wrote checks to charity every month that amounted to more than her whole salary from the DA’s office. And that didn’t include the checks that she wrote to several different small businesses around the city on a regular basis. At the time, Diana suspected that those checks were for some kind of charity also, but the business owners weren’t very forthcoming with information. A couple had said that she was helping them out and one had said that she was paying for things that he sent off to different charitable organizations on her behalf, but that he was not at liberty to say who the recipients were, since Miss Chandler had wanted her donations to remain anonymous. She’d found out later that the other charity was the community Below. She was disguising what she was sending Below by filtering it through other Helpers.
Catherine’s will had also been interesting. She’d left everything to Dr. Peter Alcott with the stipulation that the money be used to set up an education trust fund for unspecified students and to support “various charities” that they were “both involved with.” When she talked to Dr. Alcott, he’d said pretty much the same thing that the business owner had told her: Miss Chandler didn’t want any of the recipients to know where the money was coming from. If she wanted or needed additional information out of either of them, she would have to convince a judge and get a warrant. Now she understood and was glad she hadn’t pushed for information at the time.
And when she’d finally found Vincent, she hadn’t really been shocked. Finding Vincent at Catherine’s grave hadn’t surprised her; it had been the logical place to look. She knew he’d be back there sooner or later. When Vincent was hurt he obviously thought he was mortally wounded and wanted to die as close to his lost love as he could.
From everything that she’d encountered while working on the case, she knew that there was something about Vincent that needed to be kept secret. At first she’d considered the possibility that he was some kind of criminal or ex-con, but the more she dug, the more she realized that Catherine would never be involved with someone like that. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought she would find what she did.
Once she had Vincent at her place, the temptation to do a thorough inspection had been great, but she’d managed to resist it and had settled for checking him for injuries and dressing the wounds she could find. When she’d heard about the explosion of the Compass Rose and the discovery of Elliot Burch’s body, she was pretty certain that Vincent had been there when the boat had exploded. She just couldn’t put her finger on where that certainty came from, but she surmised that they were working together to find Catherine’s murderer, as unlikely as that might have seemed.
Now, five years later, she could see signs that Vincent was finally starting to recover from his loss. She knew from her psych classes in college that everyone handled the death of a loved one differently, and although a year seemed to actually be an average for the process, some took longer and some never really got over it. She knew from the beginning that it was going to take Vincent a long time, and she was even beginning to think that he might be one who would never really recover. She had come to the conclusion that she just might have to settle for loving him from afar and being his friend.
He’d told her that, in the beginning, the only thing holding him in this world was the knowledge that Catherine had given him a son and that the child was in the hands of the man who was responsible for Catherine’s death. She had worried right from the start that once he found the child he would hand him over to his family Below and then go off somewhere to die.
She found out a couple of years later that he had almost done just that. He’d gone so far as to write a letter to Father. It had been just before Jacob’s first birthday. He had planned to leave the letter for Father and then take that step off the bridge into the Abyss, but the day before his first birthday, Jacob had called him “Daddy” for the first time and it had changed his perspective. He realized that Catherine would want him to live and raise their son, so he’d destroyed the letter and made the active decision to go on living and be the best father he was capable of being.
In spite of that resolution, he’d not been able to attend any of Jacob’s birthday celebrations until this year. He’d told both her and Father that now that Jacob was old enough to remember his birthday celebrations, he didn’t want him to question why his father never attended any of them.
As she’d been remembering all of this, she’d been almost mechanically showering and dressing for the party. She’d shampooed her hair; it took forever to dry, even with a blow dryer, and now it hung down her back in a silky auburn cascade of waves. She stood in front of the mirror in her underwear wondering what to do with it. If she left it loose it would be in her face, and she didn’t want to put it up…too formal…or put it in a ponytail…too casual. She finally settled for braiding pieces on each side, pulling them back and securing them with a small barrette.
As she finished her hair she considered again just when she’d really fallen in love with Vincent. She didn’t think it had been when she’d watched him lift his son out of the crib that day at Gabriel’s house. She’d felt a pang at the bond she knew existed between the two, but it hadn’t been love. Nor had it been at Jacob’s naming ceremony. She’d been given a place of honor for the ceremony and afterward he’d thanked her again and told her that she would forever be considered one of them and would be welcome Below anytime she wanted to visit. When she’d left, she’d considered calling Mark; she’d felt the need for company, but had changed her mind by the time she got home.
She finally decided that it had to have been the week after Jacob’s first birthday. The NYPD had finally decided that the case was closed and had released some personal items of Catherine’s that had been held as evidence. She’d told her captain that she knew the family and would see to it that the items were returned to them. The captain had handed her a small box that, from the weight, obviously didn’t have much in it.
When she got home she opened it and was a little surprised at what she found. There was a small, bound notebook only about six inches square. The pages in it were unruled and were crammed with handwriting that she recognized as Catherine’s, even if it was much smaller than her usual writing. There was also a small pen, the kind that was usually found next to the phone in a hotel, a pair of diamond stud earrings, and a watch.
The notebook appeared to be a journal. She’d opened it and read only part of the first entry:
July 12, 1989
I’m hoping that you get this someday and my real hope is that I’m the one who gives it to you, but realistically, I don’t think that is going to happen.
A week ago I asked the doctor if there was some way I could keep a journal. I asked if I would be allowed to have some paper and a pencil. He just looked at me and I assumed that the request would be denied, along with all the other requests I’ve made, but I was wrong. The next time I saw him he slipped something into the pocket of my robe as he helped me off the exam table. As soon as I got back to my room I went to the one place where I knew the surveillance cameras couldn’t see me and I looked. He’d managed to slip me this little notebook and a pen. He’d included a note suggesting that I find a good place to hide it so it wouldn’t be found and confiscated.
That was yesterday. I started the journal today. I asked the guard what the date was and was shocked when he told me it was July 12th, my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. I’m 32 years old today.
Diana had quit reading at that point; she felt like she was intruding, and even though she knew that the other detectives on the case had read it from cover to cover, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She had known about the journal; she’d read in the file that it had been found jammed a tight spot under the pedestal sink in a bathroom in an office building that had been owned by Gabriel. That was how they knew that Catherine had been held there.
She held onto the items for a few days trying to decide how to give them to Vincent. Finally she had written a note and put it and the items back into the box and left it with a Helper to be delivered to Vincent.
Several weeks later he’d visited the roof of her loft and thanked her for sending them.
“You don’t know what that journal means to me,” he told her. “She shared her feelings for the child she was carrying, her fears and concerns for him. She was able to tell me how much she loved me and missed me….” He hesitated and took a deep breath before he continued. “She seemed to know that Gabriel planned to kill her as soon as the child was born, she was just praying that somehow I would find her before then. She wanted, more than anything, to live to see her child grow up.”
He’d broken down then and Diana had comforted him. That was when she knew she was hopelessly in love.
Diana shook off the melancholy mood and smiled at herself in the mirror. She’d picked her clothes for this occasion weeks ago. She seldom wore skirts or dresses, usually only when someone, like her mother, dragged her to church, but her choice for tonight was a skirt that hit her at mid calf. It was a dark chocolate brown challis with a warm brown, gold and dark orange print on it. She added a long-sleeved, cowl-neck sweater in the same warm brown as the skirt. Combined with the soft leather boots and dark brown shawl she wore, she felt that she might even fit in Below.
Now she had the five-block walk to the threshold in the basement of a small neighborhood grocery that belonged to a Helper. Vincent had promised that someone would be waiting to guide her to the dining chamber where the party was.
She found a tote large enough for the gift, put her purse into it with the gift on top. She folded the shawl over her arm and left her loft.
She was surprised when she almost ran into Mark, who was getting ready to ring the bell.
“Mark, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“I was in the neighborhood…” he began with a grin, and they both laughed.
“I was just on my way out.” She indicated the large tote bag she carried. “I’m going to a birthday party.”
“I can go with you and then we can talk afterward,” he suggested hopefully.
“I’m sorry, Mark,” she said with a shake of her head. “It’s a private party and I can’t bring an uninvited guest.”
“I won’t eat anything, or take up any space. I’ll just stay in the background until you’re ready to leave, then we can go somewhere for coffee and talk.”
She hated to lie to him, but it looked like she was going to have to. “I can’t do that, Mark,” she said. “It’s for a child, and he has some issues and can’t tolerate strangers; but I’m going to be off for a few days, so why don’t you call me and we can meet somewhere?” She started off down the street. “My number hasn’t changed,” she called back over her shoulder.
She was afraid that he might follow her; he didn’t, but she was pretty sure that he stood there and watched her until she turned the corner at the next block. It gave her a funny feeling and made the hair stand up on the back of her neck.
It didn’t take long to reach her destination, and when she walked into the grocery, Mr. Lewis looked up at her from the ball game he was watching on TV and smiled. The store was empty except for him.
“Hi, Miss Bennett. Eric is waiting for you in the basement.” He waved toward a door in the back of the store. “Just go on down.”
Eric was sitting on the end of an old sofa reading a book when she reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Am I late, Eric?” she asked as he marked his page, slipped the book into a pocket and stood.
“No, ma‘am,” he said with a conspiratorial grin. “I came early so I’d have some time to read in a quiet place. Ever since the twins were born, it’s hard to find a quiet spot anywhere Below.”
“Twins?” she asked as she followed Eric down the stairs to the sub-basement.
“Olivia and Kanin’s,” he said as he turned and took the bag from her.
Diana had known that Olivia was pregnant, but she hadn’t seen Vincent or anyone from Below in several months, so didn’t know that the baby, or as it seemed, babies, had been born.
“Last I knew she was pregnant, but I didn’t know about the twins,” she told Eric as they walked. “When did they find out it was going to be twins?”
“Right after the first one was born,” he said with a laugh. “Olivia hadn’t seen Dr. Peter, so Father was in charge of her care and he swears he never heard a second heartbeat. They were both just under five pounds but healthy.”
Diana found it a little odd that a fifteen-year-old boy would have taken so much interest in something like this, and she asked him about it.
“I’m planning to go to medical school,” he told her. “Dr. Peter said that the trust fund that Catherine left will pay for it and that he will help me. If I stay here in New York, I can even live with him while I’m in school.”
As they walked along, he filled her in on all his plans. She’d heard the story about how Eric had come Below and she was sure that Catherine would be very proud of him.
When they reached the dining chamber, neither Vincent nor the birthday boy were in sight, so after she left her gift with the others that were stacked on a table on one side of the chamber, she dropped her bag and shawl on a chair and headed over to Olivia to congratulate her.
“If I’d known ahead of time, I’d have brought a gift, but this way you get to tell me what you really need,” she said as she took the chair next to Olivia.
“How about adding about ten hours to the day for me to sleep?” suggested Olivia with a laugh. “Luke kept me busy when he was little, but the twins are…well, there are two of them.” They both laughed.
“Funny,” said Diana, “your request must be universal. My sister always wanted the same thing. The best gift anyone ever gave her was to go over to the house and take over the care of the baby while she just slept. My mother and I did it for her a lot. But seriously, what do you need? I can come down and babysit so you can nap and I will do it, but there must be something else.”
Olivia thought for a moment. “How about some baby bottles…those plastic ones? All we have down here are the old-fashioned glass ones, and since I quit nursing them, we’ve had several mishaps.”
“Mishaps?” asked Diana.
“Winslow…we named our boy after an old friend…has a good arm. Kanin swears that he’s either going to be a baseball pitcher or a football quarterback. Winslow is good about holding his own bottle when he takes it, but when he empties it, he has a habit of pitching it through the bars of the crib. These stone walls and floors are not glass-friendly.”
“Plastic baby bottles it is!” said Diana with a grin. “What did you name the other one?”
“We had a boy and a girl; the boy is Winslow, after a friend, as I mentioned, and the girl is Catherine.”
“Won’t that be a little confusing?” Diana knew of at least one other Catherine Below.
“No, not really. Lena’s Catherine is called Cathy and ours is Caty, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” Olivia assured her.
“And it doesn’t bother Vincent?” she asked quietly.
“He said it doesn’t and it doesn’t seem to. Before they were born we had two names picked out, since we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl. He thought that they were both good choices. I’m just happy we got to use both of them.”
Just then Kanin joined them with a squirming baby in each arm.
“Help, before I drop one of them,” he begged in mock panic.
Olivia leaned forward and took one baby and Diana automatically reached for the other one.
“You two are wonderful!” he said as he leaned down and kissed his wife’s cheek just before escaping to the other side of the chamber where there was a group of men.
“I assume that I have Caty,” said Diana as she shifted the baby in the pink t-shirt so that she was sitting on her lap.
She and Olivia were joined by several other women and they talked about babies and men until Vincent and the guest of honor finally arrived.
Jacob was thrilled with all his birthday gifts, but Diana was pleased to note that after all of them were opened and the people who had given them thanked profusely, it was the Legos that Jacob and several of the other children wanted to play with.
“You really shouldn’t have, Diana,” she heard Vincent say from behind her as she was watching Jacob.
“Shouldn’t have what?” she asked innocently as she turned around and smiled up at him.
“Shouldn’t have given Jacob such an expensive gift,” he said.
“It wasn’t bad. I found it at a thrift store,” she told him, as she glanced back over her shoulder at the children. She didn’t want to meet his eyes.
“I will admit that you did a good job making the packaging look worn, but when he opened the bag it was obvious that the blocks were fresh from the factory. They smell of nothing but plastic; they haven’t been handled much.”
“Maybe that was why they were in the thrift store,” she suggested. “The previous owner lost interest and his parents sold them.”
“Uh, huh,” was all Vincent said as he tilted his head and continued to look at her.
“OK, so I spent a little more than I should have for the gift, but it is worth it. Look at how much he and all the others are enjoying them. I only give him things once or twice a year, so let me splurge a little. Isn’t that what aunts are for? I do the same thing for my sister’s daughters.” She knew she sounded defensive.
Vincent surprised her by laughing. “You and my brother,” he said. “Devin sent brand new camping gear: sleeping bag, packs, equipment, even a small tent.”
“Must be what uncles are supposed to do too,” she commented as she allowed Vincent to take her by the arm and lead her to a table near the door.
“I’ll go get us some cake and ice cream; I’ll be right back.”
Diana leaned back in her chair as she watched Vincent cross the room to where the refreshments were being dished up. He certainly looked good for a 40-year-old man. Her oldest brother was 40 and he was starting to put on weight and was developing a bit of a gut. Not Vincent. He was dressed a little differently from the way she’d been used to seeing him. He was wearing black leather pants that fit just right, not too tight, but not a bit baggy either, and a black leather vest. His boots were polished for a change and his shirt looked like heavy silk, and it was a slightly different style from the other dress shirt she’d seen him wear. This one was less of the poet’s shirt and a little more tailored, although the tailoring was somewhat in the style of a hundred years ago, with an old-fashioned neck cloth that was tied simply at his throat.
When he’d returned and seated himself next to her, she reached out and touched his sleeve.
“New duds, Vincent?” she asked.
“Also compliments of my brother,” he said. “He said it was time I updated my look. He sent the pants, vest and boots, but Mary made the shirt.”
“I like them.” She approved. “I used to have some leather pants when I was in college. I loved them. They were the most comfortable pants I had. I wore them as much as I wore my jeans.”
“They are comfortable,” he agreed. “More than I expected them to be. I thought they would be hot for some reason, but they aren’t as hot as I expected them to be.”
Remembering the sight as he’d crossed the chamber away from her earlier, she had to smile. “Well, that is a matter of opinion,” she mumbled.
“How do you mean, Diana?” he asked. She’d forgotten his almost superhuman hearing.
“I wore mine almost year round, and in the winter all I had to do was wear heavy tights under them and I stayed toasty warm. They are skin, so they breathe,” she told him, glad that she could think quickly on her feet.
They sat together talking until the party was over. They didn’t notice until Jacob came over and crawled into his father’s lap.
“I love the Legos, Aunt Di,” he said as he relaxed against his father. “I’ve always wanted some. We have a few in the playroom, but not enough to build anything with; now there are enough to build almost anything.”
“I’m glad you like them, Jake.” She looked over at the table that was piled with gifts. “How are you going to get all that back to your chamber?”
“Mouse said that he had another gift for me and that it would help me get everything home.”
“Please, God,” she heard Vincent whisper as they followed Jacob to the pile of gifts, “not another catapult.”
She caught herself giggling just as Mouse arrived pulling a simple, if slightly oversized, wagon.
“Built it myself,” he told her as they all helped pile the presents in the wagon. “Ball bearings in the wheels make it roll easier so you can pull a heavier load.”
“It really is clever,” she said to Vincent as they watched Jacob pull the wagon out of the chamber with only a little help from Mouse.
“And useful,” he agreed.
“What was that you said about a catapult?” she asked as they followed.
“The bridge over the Abyss in the Whispering Gallery was being repaired a few months ago, and for a while our trips to some areas of the tunnels were lengthened considerably. Mouse experimented with a catapult to shorten the trip. Thank goodness he experimented with produce instead of people. After several watermelons wound up in the Abyss and several more were dripping down the cavern walls, he admitted that it needed some work and he dismantled the whole apparatus and hauled it back down to his work shop. We finished the bridge before he managed to work the flaws out of his design.”
“A catapult? He actually intended to use a catapult to transport people?” she gasped through her laughing.
“He was never really very clear on what he planned to transport with it. I wondered at the time if it was just an excuse to lob a few watermelons with the catapult that I knew he’d had in the corner of his workshop for several years.”
“Well, I guess everyone needs a little comic relief in their lives. Mouse surely provides you with plenty.”
“Not to mention worry and headaches,” said Father, as he came up behind them.
“There have been few of them in the last few years,” defended Vincent.
“Thank God for that!” exclaimed Father as he passed them.
“Would you like a hand helping Jacob find a place to stow all his gifts?” Diana asked, as they followed the child into the chamber next to Vincent’s.
“I think he would like that,” said Vincent with a smile. “He’s been asking me where you were.”
“I had a case,” she explained. “And you know how I get. I didn’t think this one would ever end. Then all of a sudden we got a break and everything started to fall into place. We moved and made our arrests a little over a week ago, and I’ve been writing reports and tying up loose ends ever since.” She looked up as she started folding clothes that Jacob had received as gifts. “Now I have some time off.”
“Until the next case,” added Vincent.
“Yes, you know me too well: until the next case.”
Diana stayed and read a bedtime story to Jacob, then said good night and left to go back to the dining chamber for her shawl and tote bag while Vincent said goodnight.
“May I walk you home?” Vincent asked when she met him back near his chamber.
“Thank you, I’d love that,” she said with a smile.
They stopped at his chamber so he could pick up his cloak, then he led her to a different threshold from the one she’d used earlier.
“This one is closer to your loft,” he explained, “but it can’t be used during the day or by most people.”
She understood when he climbed a ladder attached to the wall and pushed a heavy manhole cover aside. He never ceased to amaze her. A manhole cover had to weigh several hundred pounds; most city employees who accessed the sewers or maintenance tunnels below the city used a special lever, but Vincent just shifted it to one side as if it weighed no more than his five-year-old son. Once they were in the alley, he leaned down and slid the cover back into place. He stood, pulled his hood up over his head, shadowing his face, and they left the alley.
The two-block walk to her loft was accomplished in silence. She was trying to come up with a reason to invite him in.
Idiot! she admonished herself as they neared the building. Just ask! The worst he can do is turn you down.
“It’s not late,” she said, glancing at her watch. “Would you like to come in for a while? And before you dash off into the alley…there is no one else living in the building, so you can come up in the elevator.”
He hesitated for a moment, then surprised her by accepting her offer.
She unlocked the door and he held it for her to allow her to precede him in. Out of habit he glanced up and down the street to make sure he was unobserved. When he didn’t see anyone, he followed her inside.
He missed the man standing in the shadow cast by the phone booth across the street. The man walked a little further down the block where he found a cinderblock. He dragged it around the corner into another shadow, then sat on it and continued to watch the building.
Once inside her loft, Diana took Vincent’s cloak and hung it on the coat rack next to her door. She tossed her shawl over the back of the chair at her desk.
“Would you like something to drink?” she offered as she pushed the sleeves of her sweater up. “I have beer, wine, soda, tea, coffee….”
“Tea?” he suggested.
“Tea it is.” She headed for the open kitchen where she filled the kettle and put it on the stove. Why the hell do I feel so awkward? she wondered as she worked. I’ve done this a hundred times!
But not with Vincent, she reminded herself.
As she was getting mugs out of the cabinet, she glanced over to where Vincent was looking at the books on the shelf next to her stereo.
“You can turn the radio or the TV on if you like,” she suggested.
She turned back to what she was doing and was startled when the stereo started playing loud Motown. As the speakers blared The Commodores singing “Brickhouse,” she rushed over, pushed a couple of buttons, and the sound was replaced by a Liszt Etude from the radio.
Before she could get the tape turned off, Vincent got a good earful of the lyrics:
The clothes she wears, her sexy ways
Make an old man wish for younger days.
She knows she’s built and knows how to please,
Sure enough to knock a strong man to his knees.
“I was cleaning house earlier; it’s good cleaning music…keeps me moving,” she said with a nervous laugh demonstrating a couple awkward dance steps as she mimed dusting with a duster .
“It certainly rhymes,” observed Vincent as he walked back to the sofa.
Diana hurried back to the counter. “Would you like an herbal tea or regular?” she asked.
“Whichever you prefer,” he told her.
She pulled her favorite Earl Gray out of the cabinet and started filling the stainless steel tea ball with loose tea. That done, she opened a fresh coffee cake she’d bought that morning, cut a few pieces and put them on a plate.
She was being so industrious, making sure everything they needed was on the tray, that she didn’t notice Vincent standing a foot away from her. She almost walked into him.
“Oh!” she exclaimed as she stopped abruptly. “I didn’t know you were there; you startled me. My brother is almost as big as you but he sounds like a whole herd of elephants when he’s around; can’t miss him. You, on the other hand, are as quiet as the proverbial mouse.”
She began to side-step around him, reaching for the sugar bowl on the counter behind him, when he stopped her, grasping her upper arms lightly.
“Relax, Diana,” he directed. “Why are you so nervous?”
She looked up at him. “Because this is only the second time you’ve been inside my place in the almost five years that I’ve known you, and although I spent the whole morning cleaning it, I know that I didn’t have time to move all the furniture and vacuum under it.”
“It’s all right, Diana,” he assured her. “I don’t think I’ll be moving any furniture to see if the floor is clean under it. In fact, if I did, I think you’d be quite justified in pointing me to the vacuum cleaner and inviting me to clean it myself.”
She couldn’t help but laugh at the picture that brought to mind.
“I’m just a little paranoid, that’s all,” she told him. “My family doesn’t like my place. They keep asking me when I’m going to move into a ‘real apartment’. But I like it here, I get a lot of light during the day, it’s quiet, secure, there are no other tenants and the rent is low.” She took a deep breath, then let it out. “OK, now I’m relaxed.”
“Then may I hug you?” he surprised her by asking.
“Of course, Vincent.” She couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d asked her to go skydiving.
He stepped closer and took her in his arms and held her lightly. She followed his lead and put her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his chest. She wondered what it was all about.
“It just dawned on me that you’ve been a good friend to me, Jacob, and all of us Below for five years, yet, where we, Below, are always expressing our feelings for one another, I have been a bit remiss in that department with you. I hug Father, Jacob, all the children Below and many of the others, but I’ve seldom hugged you. I really am very grateful for your friendship, Diana. It’s meant a lot to me.”
She leaned back, looking up at him, with her hands and forearms flat on his chest. She could swear that he was beginning to lean closer and his eyes had taken on a dreamy, slightly unfocused look when the kettle began to whistle. He started slightly, dropped his arms and moved away.
Diana turned quickly, snatched up a potholder and grabbed the kettle as she turned off the burner. She rinsed the teapot, dumped the water, dropped the tea ball in and then poured in the hot water. She fussed in the kitchen for another minute before she picked up the tray and carried it out to the living room area where she put it on the coffee table before sitting on the opposite end of the sofa from Vincent.
It took a few moments for them to get over the awkward moment, but she was convinced that Vincent had been about to kiss her. She was sure now, that he’d made a full recovery from his loss.
Once they started to talk, time passed quickly. Vincent filled her in on the happenings Below since her last visit and she told him about the case they’d just closed. They laughed together over Vincent’s description of Father’s flustered reaction to the arrival of Olivia’s twins. Before they knew it, the announcer on the radio said that it was after 3AM.
“I didn’t realize it was so late,” Vincent exclaimed as he looked at the clock on the stove in the kitchen to verify what he’d just heard from the announcer. “I should be going.”
“Is Jacob OK, with you gone so long?” she asked as she started putting things back on the tray.
“He’s fine. Father is close and they both know that I’m often not in my chamber at night. I take sentry duty, go on patrol, or sometimes just come Above to walk in the park.”
She rose and picked up the tray to take back to the kitchen.
“I thought you didn’t come Above very often anymore.”
“Not often, but occasionally when there is a full moon.”
He rose and went to retrieve his cloak from beside the door.
She got into the elevator, rode down to the first floor with him and accompanied him to the door. She had enjoyed the evening and hated to see it end, and told him as much.
“I enjoyed it too, Diana,” he assured her. “I haven’t had such a pleasant evening in a long time.”
“Then you’ll come back soon and we’ll do it again?” she asked.
“You just need to invite me,” he told her as he pulled the door open and checked the street outside.
“Thank you again, Diana,” he said.
She grabbed his arm and held him a moment.
“Wait,” she told him as she stretched up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “Come anytime. I’ll see you soon,” she told him, then let go of his arm and allowed him to leave. She watched him until he turned the corner before she went back inside, locked the door and went back upstairs. Neither of them saw the man still sitting quietly on the cinderblock across the street, and neither of them noticed as he rose and followed Vincent down the street.
Vincent knew he still had several hours before dawn, and he felt the need for a walk and some fresh air. He decided that he’d use the entrance in the Park. He had a bit of a walk to the Park, but at this hour he could walk in relative safety. Once he got to the Park, he could relax. He felt better than he’d felt in a long time.
He didn’t know he was being followed. Vincent’s route was pretty straight most of the way, and his tail wore athletic shoes and stayed about a block behind. He took a chance at being seen or heard once Vincent reached the Park, when he shortened the distance between them. Once Vincent started to run, he found it difficult to keep up; he was almost ready to give it up and stop to catch his breath when Vincent veered off the path and headed straight for a drainage culvert set into one of the rocky hills in the Park. Mark slowed and stopped but kept his quarry in sight; Vincent hardly broke stride as he bent and entered the culvert
Mark was leaning over with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. He looked at his watch. It was getting late, or early, depending how you looked at it. School started at 8AM. There would be no time to sleep, but a couple bennies and a large coffee would keep him going until he dismissed his last class at 2PM. He could crash after that.
Vincent was still bemused when he reached Jacob’s chamber. He stepped inside to make sure his son was all right then he went on to his chamber. He could catch a few hours’ sleep before Jacob woke sometime between 8 and 9AM; it would be enough to get him though the day. But when he was in bed a short time later, sleep wouldn’t come. His mind drifted over the last five years, searching for the moment when the memories of Catherine had ceased being as painful as a knife being driven into his chest.
He’d noticed during the last few weeks, maybe months, that when Jacob asked about his mother, he’d been able to tell him stories and not feel as if his heart was being ripped from his chest. It had even been pleasant, sharing his memories with his son. He wanted Jacob to know his mother, to feel the love that she had for him, but not very long ago, giving Jacob those memories had been painful, almost too painful.
He almost felt guilty about the changes. Catherine was the love of his life, the mother of his son. He owed her more than that.
Then it was almost as if he could hear her voice in the quiet…No, Vincent. I love you and I know I live in your heart and in Jacob’s, but I want you to live your life! Just as you wanted me to find my Happy Life when you tried to send me away, now I want you to find your Happy Life. I love you, Vincent.
He jerked awake as his son hit the side of the bed.
“You gettin’ up today, Daddy?” he asked as he bounced up and down.
“What time is it?” he asked as he stretched and yawned.
“Time for breffass,” Jacob informed him. Vincent had forgotten that although Jacob had learned to dress himself, read and do math, telling time was still beyond him; his sense of time was a lot like Mouse’s.
Vincent glanced at the antique clock on his mantle: 8:30AM; then he looked at his son who was still in his pajamas.
“Go brush your teeth and get dressed,” Vincent told him with a smile. “If we hurry we can still get some breakfast.”
They made it to the dining chamber with only minutes to spare.
“I was wondering if you two were going to make it today,” said William as Vincent and Jacob collected bowls of oatmeal, fruit and glasses of milk.
“I was up late last night,” Vincent explained. “I overslept.”
Diana woke to sunlight streaming into the room and the phone ringing. She pushed hair out of her face and groped on the bedside table for the phone.
“Bennett,” she mumbled when the phone was next to her ear.
“Diana?” came a familiar voice. “It’s Mark.”
She stifled a yawn. “Oh, hi, Mark,” she said as she looked at the clock on the table next to the phone. Noon; been asleep almost 8 hours, she noted.
“Um, you said to call?” he said, hesitantly. “I was wondering if you’d be free for lunch tomorrow. It’s a teacher’s work day and I’ll be off at noon. Will you be free?”
The fog was beginning to clear as she sat up and swung her feet off the bed. “Lunch? Sure, sounds good.” She owed him that much. She had kind of left him hanging five years ago. “You still teaching in the same school? We could meet in that little Italian place up the block from there.”
“I’m still there,” he told her, “but the restaurant is a Greek place now. The food is still good, though.”
“Greek sounds good for a change. Around 1PM? Miss the lunch crowd.”
“I’ll see you there.”
Diana hung up and stumbled out to the kitchen in search of coffee. When the pot was on she went back to the bathroom. When the coffee stopped dripping she was standing there with mug in hand.
Half a cup later, she was beginning to feel semi-human.
“I will never be a morning person,” she said out loud as she gazed out the window, sipping her coffee, “no matter if morning starts at 6AM or noon.”
An hour later she was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, at her desk, putting the finishing touches on reports as she wondered if she’d see Vincent that night.
She leaned back in her chair. Wonder what all that was about last night? she thought. All that mumbo jumbo about hugging his family and friends Below. Sounded a lot like the ‘stretch in the movie theater to disguise slipping the arm around the girl’s shoulder.’ She smiled as she remembered. The hug was nice, and the kiss I almost got would have been nicer, I’m sure. She sighed. “Don’t get impatient, Bennett. He’ll get around to it.”
Mark did what he’d promised himself that morning. He dismissed his last class, packed a stack of papers into his briefcase and headed home, where he crashed. He slept for twelve hours, and by 3AM he was wide awake.
He had breakfast at a 24-hour diner and headed back to the Park to investigate the culvert where he’d seen the man in the cape disappear the night before. The investigation didn’t take long; the tunnel ended in a square junction that had two other tunnels branching off of it. One of the tunnels was blocked by a heavy steel plate and the other exited in another part of the Park. He made his way back to where he had entered and headed for a clump of tall bushes. Maybe the guy in the cape was out tonight and would come back here again.
He didn’t have to wait long. He saw a figure approaching; it looked like the same guy. He passed so close to where Mark was standing that he could have almost reached out and touched him. Just before he stepped into the culvert, the man turned and looked toward the bushes, almost as if he sensed someone there. Mark leaned back into the darkest part of the shadow, but he managed to catch a glimpse of the man’s face.
Not exactly a man, Mark thought as he stifled a gasp as the creature ducked into the culvert and disappeared.
Not really believing what he’d seen, Mark felt almost compelled to follow. He was as quiet as he could be and reached the junction just in time to see the creature step through the place where the gate and the steel plate had been the night before. He pulled the gate closed behind him and then the steel plate closed.
“What the hell was that?” Mark whispered, as he began to back down the tunnel toward the Park. He only went a few steps before he turned and ran the rest of the way back to Central Park West where he hailed a taxi.
He kept repeating the same thing to himself off and on all morning. Diana knew that creature; took him into her home…to her bed, for all he knew.
Diana wasn’t sure how she felt about meeting Mark for lunch. Within months of the last time she’d seen him, she’d been wondering what it was that had drawn them together. They didn’t have a lot in common. She hadn’t even known him that long. The only thing she could think of was that, in her family, if you weren’t a cop, you were either a housewife or a teacher. Her father and grandfather had been cops, her two older brothers were cops, her two sisters were teachers, and so was her youngest brother.
It had been her little brother, Michael, who had introduced them. Mike had substituted at Mark’s school and they had hit it off. For some reason Mike had thought Mark would be perfect for Diana. Her brothers and sisters were always doing that. Every three or four months, ever since she graduated from college and moved back to the city, one of them would invite her over to dinner and there would be the inevitable “perfect guy.” Mark had actually been the only one that she had ever dated.
She reached the restaurant and removed her sunglasses as she entered.
“Table for one?” ask the hostess.
“Actually, I’m meeting someone,” she said with a glance at her watch. “I’m a little late so he might already be here; a little taller than me, with dark, curly hair?”
The hostess giggled at the description. “That could describe most of our waiters,” she said with a sweeping gesture, and Diana saw that all the waiters, being Greek, fit her description, “but only one customer.” She led the way. “He’s in a booth in the back and he said he was expecting a woman with red hair.”
Diana saw Mark at the table and smiled at him as she slid into the booth.
“Sorry I’m late,” she apologized automatically. “I had a hard time getting a cab.”
“That’s OK,” he told her with a smile. “I’m in no hurry and I haven’t been here long.” He indicated the bottle on the table. “I ordered you a beer.”
She picked it up and took a drink, then turned the bottle to read the label.
“Hmm, Greek beer; I guess every culture makes beer.” That made her think of William’s home brew and she smiled.
“So, how have you been, Mark?” she asked.
“Good…busy. I’ve been trying to get a position at Bishop Eustace,” he said without much preamble. “I was wondering if I could use you as a personal reference?”
Diana recognized the name of the school in New Jersey where her brother Michael taught.
“Sure, any time.” She was used to the request from friends. There was something about a reference from an NYPD detective. “I thought you were a Brooklyn boy, born and bred?”
“Yeah, but the public schools are getting me down. Sometimes I feel like I’m there more to keep them from killing each other than to teach them. Maybe a private school will actually give me a chance to teach.”
“Mike loves it there,” she said. “He was in about the same frame of mind you’re in when he moved.”
They made small talk until their lunches came. After the first few bites, Mark broached a new subject.
“How was the party the other night?”
“It was fun. Typical kids’ party: kids on one side of the room, adults huddled on the other trying to remain inconspicuous. Birthday boy made out like a bandit. Cake and ice cream were both homemade and the best I’ve ever had.”
He was silent for a moment and when he did speak his voice was completely different and made her look up. The anger on his face made him look like someone else.
“I saw the guy you brought home…was he the birthday boy?” he said in a low voice.
“…Brought home?” she spluttered. “What do you mean?”
“I waited. I wanted to talk to you, but you had company, so I waited some more…. He was there all night. Was it good for you?” he said sarcastically.
“Mark, were you spying on me?” She laid her fork down and tried to be calm, but the hair on the back of her neck was standing up again.
“Not spying. I was waiting. I told you, I wanted to talk, but you were too busy earlier, so I waited. But then you got busy and didn’t give me a chance.”
“Mark, you do realize that it is none of your business who I’m seeing or spending my time with, don’t you?”
“What do you mean? You let it be my business. You were mine, then you just dumped me.”
“That was five years ago, and I was never yours!” She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to this.” What he was saying was making her nervous, and she started to gather her things and slide out of the booth. His next words stopped her cold.
“How could you fuck something like that?” he whispered.
She slowly turned her head to look at him. “What are you talking about?” she asked evenly.
“I saw him. I followed when he left your place. I watched him go into a drainage culvert in the Park. I went back early this morning and saw him again; only this time I saw his face. At first I thought it was a mask, but then when I saw how naturally the skin moved, I knew that was what he really looked like. How could you, Diana? What is he? Some kind of mutant? I’ve heard that there are mutant snakes and alligators in the sewers, but I always thought it was just one of those urban legends. ”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she lied as she started to get up again. She was standing next to the table when he delivered the next blow.
“How many of them are there down there? I know the city is riddled with tunnels: maintenance tunnels, subway tunnels, utility tunnels. Is there a whole colony of mutants down there?”
She turned and looked at him, hoping her acting skills were adequate. “Have you totally lost it? What are you talking about? Yeah, homeless people are known to live in some of the maintenance tunnels, but a whole colony? I doubt they would be able to avoid the city crews that are down there all the time. They’d run them off.”
“Are they all like him?” Mark asked, as if he hadn’t even heard what she’d said.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mark,” she said as she leaned over him and put on her best cop face. “I don’t want to see you anywhere near my place,” she said quietly. “If I do, I will have the NYPD down on you so fast you won’t know what hit you. Threatening a police officer is a serious offense!”
She turned and stalked out of the restaurant. She didn’t relax until she was in the back of a cab and headed home.
How the hell am I going to neutralize this one? she asked herself.
Mark was obviously unbalanced, to put it mildly. After he’d told her he’d waited outside her place and seen her come home, she’d taken a closer look at him; she had noted some tell-tale signs of drug use…probably amphetamines. His pupils were dilated, his eyes glassy, his hands were a little shaky and he had a slight nervous tic, all things that had not been there five years ago. It could be stress from his job in one of the rougher schools, but he’d been there for several years before she knew him and it hadn’t stressed him out that much back then.
Once she got home, she almost called her captain and told him that an old boyfriend was stalking her, but just the fact that he had seen Vincent kept her from doing it. She could claim that drugs had made him delusional and paranoid, but what would happen if they picked him up, took him in, did a drug test and found he was clean? It might make more than few people wonder.
No, she’d have to handle this one herself. Hopefully her threat would be enough to warn him off.
As she made herself a sandwich and opened a can of diet soda, she tried to convince herself that it was nothing. Sure, Mark had seen VincentŁ but Mark was a smart guy and knew better than to start talking about what he’d seen. Especially if he was trying to get a job teaching at Bishop Eustace. It was a good private high school, one of the best, very Catholic and very conservative.
By the time she’d finished her laundry later that afternoon, she had almost convinced herself, but her intuition kept nagging her. Just to be safe, she wrote a note to Vincent:
I don’t know if you were planning to come up this evening, but please don’t. Something has come up. I will explain as soon as I can.
PS: It might be a good idea if you just stayed Below until I get a chance to talk to you.
She knew it sounded cryptic, but she knew that Vincent would understand. If it blew over and turned out to be only a temporary wild hair on Mark’s part, she didn’t want to get everyone Below all riled up over it.
She walked to Mr. Lewis’s grocery and asked if he could see that Vincent got the note as soon as possible. He told her that he’d take care of it. Before she left the store, she bought a carton of coffee ice cream with chocolate chips. Have to be seen as having a reason for walking all that way, just in case Mark is watching, she told herself.
Back in her apartment she dished up a bowl of ice cream and plopped down on the sofa to watch a baseball game.
The game ran into extra innings and she dozed off before it ended. She woke up later to find that a TV preacher was healing people. She turned off the TV and went to get ready for bed. She had turned out the lights and was getting ready to pull the covers up when a little voice in her head told her to go up to the roof and check the street below, just to make sure no one was watching.
She pulled her old terrycloth robe on over her t-shirt and sweatpants and went up to the roof. There were places where she could look down on the street in front of her building without being seen and, when she looked, she thought she saw something move in the narrow walkway between two buildings across the street. She moved her telescope out of the nook that sheltered it from the weather and used it to get a better look. Sure enough, there was a figure standing just off the sidewalk between the buildings. She adjusted it and the figure came into focus. It was Mark. He was leaning casually against the building and looking at the windows of her loft just below her.
She hadn’t turned on any lights when she came up to the roof, and Mark obviously thought she wasn’t expecting any company and had gone to bed. After a few minutes, he pushed away from the building, turned and walked up the street.
She knew she had a problem. She didn’t think that Mark was any real threat to her, but he could make real trouble for Vincent and everyone Below.
Diana spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to come up with a way to convince Mark that he had been mistaken in what he thought he’d seen, and that there wasn’t any chance of them becoming a couple again. She thought she’d probably be better off working on the latter. If she made too much out of what Mark saw, he would be sure to realize that it was real; that is, if he doubted what he’d seen…. He didn’t sound like he did when they’d talked.
She dressed and, after she tidied up the loft a bit, she headed back to Mr. Lewis’s grocery. On her way she stopped at a drugstore to pick up a newspaper for Father. Father usually got his a day late and it was always a treat when he got it the same day it was published. While she was waiting for the clerk to make change, she glanced out the front window of the store and saw Mark standing across the street. If he was that inept at tailing someone and staying out of sight, she wondered how he ever managed to follow Vincent all the way to the Park and Vincent never noticed. At least, she assumed he’d not noticed. Maybe he had.
If she stayed on foot and went to Mr. Lewis’s grocery to use his threshold, it just might look suspicious. She didn’t know if Mark had followed her the other two times; she didn’t think he had, but she couldn’t take the chance. She went over the other Helpers she knew and tried to remember who had thresholds. She remembered meeting Henry and Lin Pei at Winterfest the previous year, and Lin had said something about a threshold, but she didn’t remember if she said it was in Henry’s restaurant or somewhere else.
She looked at her watch; it was almost lunchtime and the restaurant would probably be open. Maybe Henry would help her out. She considered taking a cab, but she wasn’t that far from the restaurant, so she began to walk. Maybe she could throw Mark off the scent if she looked like she was just doing normal Saturday errands. She was glad she’d grabbed a large tote bag when she left. She stuffed the paper in it. She made two other stops before she got to the restaurant.
She was in luck; Henry was at the podium inside the door, seating people.
“Diana,” he said with a smile as he led her to a table. “It’s so nice to see you again.”
He indicated a table and Diana took a seat against the wall so she could watch the door.
“Henry, do you have a minute to talk?” she asked as she took the menu from him.
“Sure. Just let me get someone to cover the door and I’ll be right back.”
While Henry was gone, the waiter came and took her drink order. She leaned to one side a little so she could see out the front window. Mark was across the street, pretending to look in store windows.
Henry came back and sat on the chair across the table from her.
“What can I do for you?” he asked with a smile.
“When I spoke to you and your wife at Winterfest, she said something about having access to a threshold?” she began.
“Yes, in the back of her grandfather’s shop,” he told her.
The waiter brought her a pot of tea and took her lunch order, and they continued the conversation.
“I’m being followed and I need to get Below and talk to Vincent and Father, and I was wondering if it would be possible for me to use that threshold.”
“I don’t think that would be a problem. Grandfather Wong’s shop is only open until mid-afternoon on Saturdays. Lin is here today, but she was planning to go back and help him close up after lunch. You can walk with her.”
“Thank you, Henry.”
She was able to relax and enjoy her lunch as she watched Mark loitering on the sidewalk across the street. Lin joined her at the table just as she was finishing up.
Diana was surprised to see that Lin was pregnant.
“Looks like congratulations are in order,” she said as they left the restaurant.
“Thank you,” said Lin with a broad smile that show off her dimples. “We’ve been married six years and were beginning to think it was never going to happen.”
They made small talk as they walked along the crowded sidewalk. Diana occasionally glanced in shop windows, checking the reflection of the street. Mark didn’t seem to be making any effort to cover the fact that he was following them. He was parallel to them on the other side of the street.
“Who is it that is following you?” asked Lin as they waited at the corner for the light to change.
“An old boyfriend,” Diana told her. “He turned up on my doorstep earlier this week wanting to talk, but I was on my way to Jacob’s birthday party Below, so I told him to call me. He called the next day and we met for lunch yesterday. He’s changed, was going on about how I dumped him. Just kind of weirded me out. He waited outside my place while I was at the party. He saw Vincent come back with me and when he left, Mark followed him. He saw Vincent using the Park threshold and I wanted to let them know that someone knows about that entrance.” Diana wasn’t usually one to share a lot with relative strangers, but she knew she could trust Lin.
“Well, if we act like we’re old friends, he will think you are just coming in for a visit. Grandfather lives over the shop and Henry and I have the other apartment on the top two floors. I’m going to be doing some work in the shop…I do the deposit, and keep the books, and Grandfather just got a new shipment that needs to be unpacked. I’ll be in the shop for several hours, so you can come back up that way and leave by the front door. If he hangs around, he will just think that you and I were upstairs drinking tea and having a girl talk session.”
“I should just leave his ass standing in the street and come up some other way,” she said with a laugh, “but then that might make him even more paranoid and suspicious.”
When they got inside the shop, Lin pulled the shades at the windows and showed Diana where the threshold was.
“Do you know how to call for an escort once you get down to the pipes?” she asked.
“That is about all I know,” Diana told her. “I learned Morse code in Girl Scouts, but their pipe code is totally different. Vincent did tell me that I could use Morse code in a pinch. Pascal and Nick both know it, and so do several others.”
Diana thanked Lin and told her that she’d see her in a couple hours at most.
When she reached the pipes she tapped out her request for an escort and signed it with her name. She was surprised when it was Vincent who showed up only a few minutes later.
“I was working not far from here,” he told her after she told him that she needed to talk to him and Father.
They were only a short walk from Father’s study and when they got there, Father had just finished reading to a group of children. They were leaving and Vincent and Diana stepped aside to let them pass.
Father was putting a kettle on the brazier as they walked in. He looked up and smiled at them as Vincent dropped his cloak on a chair and offered to take Diana’s things. She remembered the newspaper and handed it to Father.
“We got your note,” Father said after he thanked her for the paper. “What is going on?”
She began at the beginning, explaining who Mark was, and told them the whole story. She only left out the part about Mark thinking that she was sleeping with Vincent. She didn’t feel up to one of Father’s lectures and she didn’t want to embarrass Vincent.
“He does sound as if he is rather obsessed,” agreed Father. “Do you really think he might tell what he’s seen if he is arrested?”
“There really is no telling, Father,” she said with a shake of her head. “Like I said, I think he’s using something, at least amphetamines, maybe more. That would take away some of his credibility, but all it would take would be one person to take him just a little bit seriously and go and investigate. I’m really at a loss for what to do and I’m not used to feeling like that. If it was just me, I’d call my captain and have the guy picked up. They might not be able to hold him, but it might put the fear of God into him. But I’m not the only one involved here, and I wouldn’t put anyone here Below at risk for anything.”
“Do you think that you are in any danger?” asked Vincent.
“I doubt it,” she assured him. “I know Mark, and he’s a wimp. He had a fit when he saw a roach in his apartment. He moved. I doubt very much he’d be much of a threat to me.”
“We can divert traffic away from the Park threshold until this blows over,” said Father.
“That would probably be prudent,” agreed Vincent, “and I’ll stay Below until Diana lets me know that it’s safe to go Above again.”
“I’d hardly say it is ever safe for you Above, Vincent,” said Father, bringing up an old argument.
“Then let me qualify that, Father: safer.” Vincent looked over at Diana and she could have sworn he winked, but it was so quick that she wasn’t sure.
They were walking back to Dr. Wong’s shop when Vincent asked Diana again if she was sure she was safe.
“I can’t be positive,” she told him, “but like I said, I know Mark and he might have some mental problems that weren’t apparent when I was seeing him five years ago, but I doubt that he is a threat. He was actually a very understanding person when we were dating, hardly ever complained about the crazy hours I put in. Even when we quit seeing each other, all he said was to call him when I found the time.” She shrugged. “I guess I never really found the time.”
They reached the shop and Vincent went up with her. Lin was inventorying the delivery as they entered the shop. She greeted Vincent with a quick hug and he asked her how she was and how the baby was doing. Diana used the phone to call a cab and Vincent walked to the front of the shop with her to wait.
“I’ll meet you at your place,” he told her as they waited.
“You don’t need to do that. I thought it was agreed that it was safer for you to stay Below?” she protested.
“Is he still out there?” he asked.
Diana peeked out through the blinds.
“I don’t see him,” she said, letting the blinds fall back into place.
“I’m still going to meet you at your place,” he insisted. “I just want to make sure that you get there all right. I’ll use the manhole as soon as it gets dark and I’ll meet you on your roof.”
“Even if he’s out there somewhere and I’m just not seeing him, he won’t be able to follow me since I’m taking a cab home,” Diana told him.
“But he will probably figure out that you are going there,” said Vincent.
The cab pulled up out front and honked.
“OK,” she told him with a resigned sigh, “I’ll see you in a few.”
He opened the door and let her out, then closed it and locked it behind her.
The walk back to her place would only take a few minutes, but it was starting to get dark, and just in case Mark was there somewhere and she just wasn’t seeing him, she thought it a good idea to take the cab.
The cab stopped in front of her place and she went up.
The sight that met her when she walked in was too much for words. She’d been gone since late morning. She knew that Mark had been on her tail until at least 1PM, but sometime between that time and now, he’d been back and completely trashed her place; she was sure it was him. He’d had about five hours and he’d done a thorough job.
She pulled her gun out of the holster she wore in the small of her back and made a thorough check of the apartment.
There was broken crockery and glass all over the place. Papers were torn up, files scattered, her bedroom had been completely torn apart, the sheets from the bed shredded. It looked like someone had taken a knife to the mattress. She found one of her kitchen knives under a chair. She’d never seen anything like it.
She was still standing in the middle of it all when Vincent looked down at her from the skylight. When he saw the mess he was at her side in seconds.
“Are you all right, Diana?” he asked as he joined her.
“I’m fine. I checked; he’s gone,” she answered as she re-holstered her gun.
“Was it him? Mark?” asked Vincent.
“Probably,” she said. “I didn’t see any sign of forced entry, and Mark had a key to my place that he never returned. I never thought to have the locks changed.”
“Someone could have come in from the roof,” Vincent told her. “That door was lockedŁ but someone might have found the key you keep hidden up there.”
“I doubt it. I didn’t keep a key there when I was dating Mark. That is something I’ve only started doing in the last year or so, and you are the only person I’ve told.” She looked around. “God, what a mess. This is going to take forever to clean up.”
“Leave it,” Vincent urged her. “Pack a few things and come Below. You aren’t safe as long as he has a key.”
“I’ll get a locksmith over here first thing Monday morning to rekey the locks,” she told him. “I’ll be fine until then. I am armed.”
“But you have to sleep,” he pointed out.
“My gun is always close,” she began.
“Come Below!” he repeated.
“I can’t leave it like this! It would worry the hell out of me, thinking about coming back to this mess.”
“I’ll help you clean it up, then come back Below with me.”
She looked at him with a weak smile. “You have a deal!”
The two of them made short work of the mess. She was surprised that the damage, other than the shredded bedding and mattress, was superficial.
Vincent was helping her carry the destroyed mattress down to the basement.
“Why would he do this to your bed?” he asked.
“Jealousy,” she answered truthfully.
They propped the mattress against the wall and were back on the elevator before she answered.
“Yes,” she began, hoping she didn’t embarrass Vincent too much with what she was about to say. “Mark and I were all but living together before he left. He was spending more nights here than he was at his own place. He assumes that you are the man in my life now and that we are sleeping together.”
“He thinks we are lovers?” Vincent asked, surprising her with the ease with which he said it. “How do you know that?”
“Because that was what he said when I talked to him. That was one of the things that tipped me off to him being unstable. To be that obsessive right after a breakup I might accept, but not five years later.”
“You said that he told you that he saw me at the Park threshold yesterday morning,” Vincent said. At her nod he continued. “I thought I heard something, and I looked around before I entered the culvert. He saw me then, saw my face.”
“Yes, he did. I think it rattled him a bit,” she said.
“And he is wondering what I am and how you could love someone like me.”
She had to be honest. “Something like that,” she agreed.
“He shared that bed with you, and now that he thinks that I have also shared it with you, he thinks that somehow it has been desecrated.”
“I can see that I have shared way too many of my cases with you,” she said with a laugh, trying to lift the mood. “I’m beginning to rub off on you.”
“He really isn’t thinking clearly, Diana. He could be dangerous.” Vincent was thinking of the man who had tried to drown Catherine. “You must come Below until this is cleared up. Didn’t you say you’d taken some time off work?”
“Yeah, a couple of weeks.”
“Then please pack up a few things and go back Below with me. Cullen can come up and rekey your locks tomorrow. We have a Helper who owns a furniture store; you can go there whenever it’s convenient and buy a new mattress. We will have someone from Below come up and meet him when he delivers it,” Vincent urged. “I am grateful that you want to keep the police out of this to protect me and the rest of the community, but doing that puts you in jeopardy. I can’t very well stay up here with you to protect you, so I would feel much better if you came back with me.”
“What if someone calls me and gets worried when I don’t answer?”
“Call your family and your work and tell them you are going out of town.” He looked at the clock. “It’s still early, you can call now.”
She knew when she was beaten. She reached for the phone with a sigh.
Vincent sat in the chair at her desk and listened.
“Hi, Mom,” she said after she dialed the number.
“No, Mom, I won’t be at dinner tomorrow…or church. I’ve just finished a case and have decided that I need a little vacation.”
“No, Mom.” He could hear the exasperation in her voice. “Not this time. I’ve rented a car and I’m going to drive upstate, just see the sights. I thought the trees might be starting to change in the mountains.”
“I’ll do that, Mom. I’m not sure when I will be home, but I’m supposed to be back to work two weeks from Monday.”
“OK. I love you too, Mom. I’ll see you in a couple weeks. Bye.”
She hung up the phone, looked over at Vincent and rolled her eyes. “I love my mother, but she is such a…well…an Irish mother.”
She picked up the handset and dialed another number.
After a pause, she spoke. “Hi, Captain. This is Bennett. Thought I’d let you know that I sent all the reports over to you this morning. If you don’t already have them, they should be in your distro Monday morning. I’m taking off for a few days. I’ll be out of the city, so if you need me for anything, just call and leave a message on my answering machine. I’ll be checking my messages while I’m gone. I’ll see you in a couple weeks.”
She smiled at Vincent as she hung up. “That one was easier, I just left a message on the machine in his office. The Captain can be as bad as my mother.” She turned toward her bedroom. “Just give me a couple minutes and I’ll pack a bag.”
Vincent had on his cloak and was waiting when she came out carrying a duffle bag and a metal box. She relinquished the duffle bag to Vincent, but she put the metal box in a tote bag along with her purse.
“I know Father’s not keen on guns,” she told him as she locked the door to the roof behind them, “but I can’t leave mine here. Once we are Below, I’ll lock it in the box and put it up where I’m sure none of the kids can get at it.”
The trip to the manhole in the alley was uneventful. Now that Vincent knew that it was possible that they were being followed, he was ultra-vigilant and made sure that they hadn’t been followed.
He pulled back the cover.
“Is there anything breakable in here?” he asked, indicating the bag.
She shook her head and he dropped the bag into the hole, then motioned her to go first. He followed her and moved the cover back into place.
“Where will I stay?” she asked as they walked along.
“We have several guest chambers. There is a new one that is just down the corridor from Father, Jacob and me. I thought that I’d put you in there; it has a private bathing chamber, with one of the new showers.”
“You haven’t eaten tonight, have you?” asked Vincent when they reached the chamber.
“No, but I had a big lunch at Henry’s restaurant. I’ll be OK until morning,” she told him, not wanting to be a bother.
“I didn’t eat either,” he reminded her. “William won’t mind if we raid the refrigerator. There is always something to make sandwiches with or some leftovers.”
“Well, I could eat a little something. My evening meal usually consists of something left over from lunch or some cold pizza.”
“Cold pizza doesn’t sound very appetizing,” he commented as he put her duffle on the bed.
“You’d be surprised,” she said with a laugh. “Let me put this away and we can go.” She pulled her gun out of the holster, removed the clip and put them both in the metal box and locked it. Vincent took it from her and placed it out of sight on the top of the armoire while she took the holster off her belt. “OK, now lead me to the food.”
“It isn’t fancy,” he told her as he leaned over and started pulling things out of the refrigerator. “There’s a big bowl of homemade soup from yesterday.”
He handed her the bowl and he picked up the butter.
“That sounds good,” she said as she put the bowl on the counter, took off her sweater and started hunting for a pot. She found one in the dish drainer, dumped the soup in it and put it on the stove.
Vincent lit a couple of kerosene lamps, then went to work slicing bread.
She looked over at what he was doing.
“I love homemade bread,” she commented as she stirred the soup, then started hunting for bowls. She didn’t know her way around William’s kitchen, but she found the bowls on a shelf under a long prep table.
As she moved around the kitchen, Vincent occasionally raised his head from slicing the bread and some pound cake he’d found to watch her. He’d been with her most of the afternoon and he’d noticed that she was wearing some kind of scent. She didn’t usually wear perfume. What she had on today had smelled good when he’d first seen her, but had intensified and combined with her own scent as they had worked in her apartment. It was interesting, not the usual floral, but a little spicy.
Vincent carried the bread and butter to the table with the silverware, then went back to the cabinet for glasses.
“What would you like to drink?” he asked as he passed her again.
“There wouldn’t happen to be a beer down here, would there?” she asked.
“There might be,” he told her. “I’ll be right back.”
He returned a few minutes later with two bottles of William’s homebrew. She had just finished ladling out the soup.
The food was on the table and they enjoyed it and each other’s company immensely. They hadn’t shared a meal since Jacob’s naming ceremony.
Vincent was lost in the moment and didn’t think he would have noticed anything outside the kitchen short of a major explosion. The thought amused him.
They finished and sat at the table for a while, talking and enjoying the quiet moment.
“This has been nice, but we’d better get this cleaned up,” Diana finally said as she stood and picked up the dishes. She put the leftovers away while Vincent ran water in the sink to wash the dishes. He rinsed the beer bottles and took them back to the store room.
Diana took over at the sink and was just finishing rinsing the pot when Vincent came back into the room. She turned from the sink, the towel in her hands, just as he came up behind her and they nearly bounced off each other. She stepped back and bumped into the sink and wobbled a bit on her feet.
He reached out and grasped her upper arms to steady her. They locked eyes for a moment, then she leaned toward him and kissed him. It was just a light, quick kiss, but he was surprised and suddenly wanted more; she could see it in his eyes. She tossed the towel onto the counter and put her hands on his chest.
He caressed her face with the backs of his fingers and then leaned down and kissed her lightly. Even he was taken aback at his actions, but once his lips touched hers there was suddenly magic in her kiss. Her moist lips, the way she lightly swept her tongue across his upper lip, made him gasp. He put his arms around her pulled her toward him as he kissed his way down her jaw and nuzzled her neck. He could feel goose bumps along her arms as he continued to kiss down to her shoulder.
The perfume was there again, her own scent enhancing it. It was becoming intoxicating, but he knew he had to stop. He drew in a deep breath, brushed another kiss across her lips, stepped back and turned away from her to lean on the counter.
“What is it, Vincent?” she asked, putting her hand on his back. He thought he could hear disappointment in her voice.
“I shouldn’t be doing this, Diana…” he began.
“Why not?” she asked. “It isn’t as if both of us haven’t done this before; we are consenting adults.”
She felt his body stiffen under her hand.
“What is it?” she repeated, stepping to his side and trying to see his face through his hair.
“It’s nothing,” he told her. “I just shouldn’t…”
“Shouldn’t what?” she asked. “It’s OK, you know. There isn’t any reason to feel guilty or bad.”
“It isn’t that,” he assured her, but couldn’t seem to find the words to tell her what it was.
She suddenly had a flash of intuition.
“You have done this before? I mean, you have Jacob.”
“I must have,” he admitted without looking at her, “but I don’t remember it.”
“Don’t remember…?” she began. “How?”
“I told you about my illness, the one that caused the loss of the Bond I had with Catherine. It happened then, during one of the times that I can’t recall. I’ve had a few dreams....” His voice faded away.
That shocked her and she wasn’t quite sure what to think…or say, for that matter.
“Maybe we should call it a night.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s not late for me, but I know you get up early.”
They walked back to the guest chamber without speaking and, when they reached it, Vincent said a quick “Goodnight” and kept right on walking. Diana reached out and grabbed his arm.
“It’s OK, Vincent,” she said quietly, aware of how sound could carry in the stone corridors.
“No, Diana,” he insisted. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“Why not?” It had grabbed her interest and she had to have an answer.
“It just shouldn’t. It’s not right.” He continued to stand with his back to her.
She could tell that this was the root of it all and she felt compelled to push it.
“Why isn’t it right?” she asked. “Did Catherine tell you that it wasn’t?”
“No, she never did. She always said she loved me, and in the journal you gave me she told me everything that happened when…when Jacob was conceived,” he told her, as his shoulders slumped and he leaned against the wall.
“Did it not go well?” she asked, placing her hand on his back and rubbing lightly.
“No…I mean, yes. I don’t really know. She said it did.” She could hear the pain and confusion in his voice.
She was beginning to understand what troubled him.
“And no one was hurt?” she asked.
“Not that was apparent,” he said.
She decided to take a chance. She moved closer and slipped her left arm around his waist from behind; she rubbed his back soothingly with her right hand as she laid her head on his back.
“It’s all right, Vincent,” she whispered. “You made love to her. You loved each other and you have Jacob because of it. It must have been beautiful; I’m really sorry that you don’t have that memory.”
They stood that way for several minutes, then she felt his hand cover hers on his chest.
“Thank you, Diana,” he whispered gruffly. “I should go check on Jacob.” He grasped her hand and finally turned around.
“You OK?” she asked, looking up into his eyes.
“Yes, Diana.” He even managed a small smile. “Will you join us for breakfast in the morning?”
“Well, considering how early it is…at least for me…I will probably be up early enough. What time do you usually go?”
“William serves from about 8AM on Sunday and Jacob is usually up between 7AM and 8AM,” he told her.
“I’ll probably be up, unless I stay up reading. How ‘bout I meet you there if I make it up early enough?”
“We will see you then,” he told her. “Good night, Diana.”
“Good night, Vincent.”
She turned, went into the chamber and dropped the drape down in front of the door. She showered and got ready for bed on auto-pilot. She had a lot to think about. She pulled a paperback out of her bag and climbed into the comfortable bed. She opened the book and stared at the page blindly for a while.
Vincent was for all intents and purposes a virgin.… The idea staggered her, and she began to second guess what had almost happened earlier. Not that she would have made love with him right there in the kitchen; she would have coaxed him back to the guest chamber or his chamber. But she had to admit that she’d been willing…more than willing.
Diana tried to read for a while. She finally gave up, turned out the light and tried to go to sleep, but her mind kept going back to his kisses. He didn’t kiss like he’d never done that before.
When Diana woke, it took her a moment to get her bearings and remember where she was. When the faint tapping on the pipes made its way through her morning haze, she started to stretch, and that was when she realized that something warm was lying against her back. She carefully scooted away from it and turned over. She was surprised to find Jacob curled up beside her. She looked over at the clock on the shelf across the room. It was a few minutes before eight.
She placed her hand on the child’s shoulder and shook him gently.
“Jake,” she said quietly. “Jake…it’s time to wake up.”
Jake stretched and yawned, then looked up at Diana.
“’Morning, Aunt Di,” he said with a sunny smile.
“Good morning, Sweetheart,” she said, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Woke up and came to find you,” he told her.
“How did you know I was here?”
“I dunno. I just did. Kinda like how I find Daddy,” he said.
Diana knew Vincent had a Bond with his son similar to the one he had shared with Catherine, and she was surprised to hear that Jake might also be able to sense people other than his father.
“So you just woke up and knew that I was Below?” she asked.
“Uh huh,” he said. “You goin’ to get breffass with us?”
“Well, I’m awake now, so I guess I will. Why don’t you go get ready and I’ll stop in your chamber on my way?”
Jacob bounced up and hugged Diana and was sliding to the floor when his father appeared in the doorway.
“Jacob, what are you doing here?” he asked as the child ran across the floor and grabbed him around the knees.
“I came to see Aunt Di,” he told his father, as if it was understood that he should do that.
Vincent looked quizzically at his son, then ruffled his hair. “Well, now you need to go brush your teeth and get dressed so we can go to breakfast.”
“Aunt Di is goin’ with us,” Jake informed him as he ran out of the chamber.
Vincent looked at Diana with a wry smile. “He’s been spending too much time with Mouse; he never walks anywhere any more. He’s always running…. I’m sorry he woke you.”
“He didn’t wake me. I woke up on my own; here he was, curled up next to me, sound asleep. I think he’d been there a while.” She got up and reached for the robe on the chair next to the bed. “Did you know that he can tell when I’m Below?”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Vincent told her. “There are several people besides me he can feel: Father, Mary, Mouse, Jamie, and apparently you.”
“That’s interesting,” she told him. She was lost in thought for a moment before she looked up at him with a smile. “So, how long do I have to get ready for breakfast?”
“It will take me a little while to get dressed and make sure that Jake is properly dressed. We can stop for you in about half an hour.”
“I’ll see you then.”
Vincent left and Diana went to the armoire for clothes. She was tying her shoes when Vincent and Jacob arrived thirty minutes later.
Diana could tell that Father was surprised and a bit shocked when she walked into the dining chamber with father and son.
Vincent suggested she go sit down with Father, while he and Jacob got brought their breakfast to the table.
She took a seat across from Father.
“Good morning, Father,” she said with a smile.
“Good morning, Diana,” he said rather stiffly. “You’re down early.”
“Actually, I was here late. I came back with Vincent last night.”
“You did?” His eyebrows rose almost into his hairline and she could tell he was dying to ask a question, but he wouldn’t dare.
“Yes, I went back to my place and found that it had been broken into and vandalized. Vincent helped me clean it up, then insisted that I come back here, at least until I have the locks rekeyed…. Your new guest chamber is very comfortable,” she added to ease his mind.
He smiled broadly at her as Vincent and Jacob arrived with breakfast. “I’m glad you were comfortable, my dear.”
“I’ve already talked to Cullen,” Vincent said as he put a plate in front of her. “He said he would go up right after breakfast; he just needs your keys.”
She fished the keys out of her pocket and handed them to Vincent, who handed them to Jacob with instructions to take them to Cullen and come right back. Jacob only detoured to three different people before he made it to Cullen, and two more on his way back.
“So what would you like to do today?” Vincent asked her when Jacob finally made it back to the table.
“You don’t have to entertain me today,” she told him. “I know that you spend Sundays with Jake, and I don’t want to intrude on that.”
“You won’t be intruding,” he assured her. “I doubt that Jacob would want it any other way.”
“Daddy, can we finish the book today?” Jacob asked between bites of his oatmeal.
“We might not finish it, but we can continue it,” Vincent told his son. “Where would you like to read this time?”
“The Mirror Pool?”
“That’s a good place. There is plenty of natural light.”
“What are you reading?” Diana asked as they left the dining chamber and headed back to Vincent’s chamber to get the book and a quilt to sit on.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Vincent told her. We’re just starting chapter sixteen.”
He handed her the book and he picked up the quilt.
“Do you have everything, Jacob?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Jacob.
“You might need a sweater,” Vincent reminded him.
“OK, be right back.” He ran off, and Diana and Vincent followed him out of the chamber. They were almost to his chamber when he met them. He carried a dark purple hooded sweatshirt with the white letters “NYU” on the back. Diana had given it to him the previous Christmas.
Diana hadn’t seen many of the wonders Below and this was her first trip to the Mirror Pool. Vincent spread the quilt and they all made themselves comfortable. Vincent settled back against the wall and she sat next to him as Jacob stretched out in front of them on his stomach.
Vincent opened the book and started to read. After several pages he handed the book to Jacob, who began to read. Diana knew that the five-year-old could read, but she was surprised at how well he read.
They went off and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn't no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don't get STARTED right when he's little ain't got no show--when the pinch comes there ain't nothing to back him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; s'pose you'd a done right and give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I'd feel bad--I'd feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what's the use you learning to do right when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn't answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn't bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.
He had sounded out a few of the longer words out and s’pose and a few of the other colloquial words had given him some trouble until Vincent explained them, but he did surprisingly well and continued for two full pages before he stopped.
“He doesn’t talk very good, does he, Daddy?” he said, laying the book down on the quilt.
“No, he doesn’t speak very well,” agreed Vincent. “He didn’t have the benefit of any formal education.”
“Or a daddy to tell him when he says something wrong,” Jacob added.
The conversation about Huck’s lack of education or supervision continued for some minutes. Diana was fascinated watching the interaction between father and son, how it became not only a reading lesson but a life lesson as well.
Diana took her turn at reading, then they took a break and Jacob sat on the edge of the pool and watched the clouds. He occasionally pointed out one that he thought looked like something other than a cloud.
“Every child should be blessed with a father like you,” she said as they watched Jacob. “There’d be a lot fewer juvenile delinquents and probably less of a need for prisons.”
“Thank you, Diana, but I’m the one who is blessed. I enjoy his company. It is so interesting to see things from his point of view. Sometimes it gives me a whole new perspective,” Vincent said. “He is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.”
That last comment made Diana flinch a little, and she was glad that Vincent was watching his son and didn’t see her reaction. Maybe she was wrong when she thought that Vincent was beginning to recover from his loss.
The reading continued through that chapter and the next one, then Vincent called a halt and announced that it was time to head back and get ready for lunch.
In the dining chamber, Cullen came over and slid onto the bench across the table from Diana and Vincent.
“There’s a problem,” he told them.
“What is it?” asked Diana.
“The locks on that building are old, probably at least forty, maybe fifty years old, and I can’t rekey them. They’re going to have to be replaced.”
“That’s not a problem for me,” Diana told him. “My uncle owns the building and he is renovating anyway. I’ll pay for them and get him to reimburse me. Will you need cash up front?”
“No, I’ll get them from a Helper and have them bill you,” said Cullen, “but I won’t be able to get them until tomorrow morning. Once I get them I should have them installed in a couple of hours, though.”
“If you don’t mind having me another night, then that works.” She looked up at Vincent.
“You can’t go back until you’ve got a new bed, and you can’t pick that out until tomorrow anyway,” he pointed out.
She looked back at Cullen. “Go ahead and get the locks; make sure they are good ones.”
“She wants all of them replaced,” Vincent reminded him. “Three doors: the building door, her apartment and the door from the loft to the roof; three dead bolts and three door handles, all keyed to the same key.”
Cullen nodded as he rose to leave.
“It will be nice to have to only keep track of the one key instead of six,” said Diana.
She spent the afternoon following Vincent and Jacob around as they “inspected” part of the pipe system.
They had just turned back toward home when Jacob stopped.
“Daddy, can we show her the falls?” he asked. “We’re gonna pass that tunnel on the way back.”
“That’s a good idea, Jacob,” Vincent agreed. “We still have some time before dinner and that will be a good place to spend it.”
Jacob grabbed her hand and tried to hurry her along with him. She was laughing as they went.
“This must be a pretty special place,” she said as they walked.
“Not just special,” Jacob told her. “It’s exceptional.”
She had to laugh at the choice of words. “That’s an awful big word for a five-year-old,” she told him.
“It’s a good word,” he informed her. “Grandfather uses it a lot.”
They reached an opening in the wall of the tunnel. Diana could hear a very faint roar and smell damp in the air.
Vincent went first and held his hand out for hers and the three of them went down the short, dark tunnel hand in hand.
The sight took her breath away. The chamber, more of a cavern really, was enormous. They stood on a wide cliff overlooking a river that was fed by a falls at the distant end.
“Is that sunlight?” asked Diana, indicating the light that came through the opening above the falls.
“It is,” said Vincent. “No one has ever been able to climb up there, so we aren’t sure exactly how it gets down this deep. The top of the falls is still several hundred feet below the surface. The water is fresh, and very cold. This river runs much deeper after it passes here. I don’t know if it ever sees the surface.”
She looked down at the river.
“There’s a path that goes down the cliff,” she observed.
“Yes, some of us used to swim here when we were younger, but when Father found out, he ordered a stop to it. The current is very swift and the water temperature is dangerously cold. He was worried that someone would become hypothermic and be swept off by the current. He made us promise to restrict our swimming to the warmer pools.”
“Not nearly as manly, though,” she said with a grin.
“No, not nearly, but then we all decided that pulling kitchen duty for a month if we got caught breaking Father’s rules was even less so.”
They spent a little longer there, Vincent pointing out several interesting sights, before they headed back for dinner.
After breakfast on Monday, Vincent took Diana to the Helper’s furniture store via the tunnels and the Helper’s private threshold.
As she looked at the furniture, she saw several pieces that she liked, and by the time she was done, she’d purchased not only a new mattress and box spring, but a whole bedroom full of furniture. As she closed the deal, he promised to have the furniture delivered the first thing Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday morning Vincent asked Cullen to walk with Diana from the threshold in Mr. Lewis’s grocery to her place. When they got there, he showed her how the new locks worked, and handed over the keys. She gave one back to him and asked him to give it to Vincent to hold for emergencies.
He stayed until the furniture had been delivered, and he helped the delivery men carry the old stuff back to the truck. Diana had promised to send it Below.
Once everyone was gone, she locked up and went back to her bedroom to make the bed and finish putting her things away in her new dresser. That took less than an hour, and then she was at a loss for something to do. She tidied up unnecessarily…they’d cleaned the place thoroughly before she’d gone Below.
She looked at the clock on the stove. It wasn’t three in the afternoon yet. Vincent had promised to stop by and check on her that evening, but that wouldn’t be until after he put Jake to bed at 8PM. She started checking the refrigerator and the pantry and decided that a trip to the grocery was called for. She was out of milk, coffee and a few other necessities. She figured she’d be safe enough on a city street in broad daylight.
Even though she thought she’d be safe, she still wore her gun under her jacket. She grabbed her purse and left, making sure all the locks were securely locked behind her.
She was back in a little more than an hour. She unlocked both the locks on the downstairs door, then relocked them from the inside. She did the same thing when she reached her apartment. She carried her two bags of groceries into the kitchen and set them on the counter before she shed her jacket.
She’d just finished putting the milk in the refrigerator when someone grabbed her from behind. She quickly reached for her gun, which was still in her holster, but he was quicker. He had her in a head lock, his left arm across her windpipe and the muzzle of the gun pressed to her temple before he spoke.
“Where have you been for the last few days, Diana?” asked Mark. “Off on a little romantic getaway with your new boyfriend?”
She had both her hands clamped over his forearm, trying to relieve the pressure on her windpipe as he dragged her across the floor and pushed her into a chair. He kept the gun pointed at her as he pulled a ball of nylon cord out of his pocket. He handed the cord to her and instructed her to wind it around her wrist and the arm of the chair; he then held the ball and helped her tie a knot. While all this went on he kept the gun pointed at her. Once he was sure that hand was secure, he put the gun on the coffee table, cut the cord with a pocket knife then tied the other hand to the other arm. After checking that the knots on both were secure, he dropped the ball of cord and the pocket knife on the table.
He paced for a while before he sat on the coffee table in front of her, picked up the gun again and began to fiddle with it.
“What do you want, Mark?” she asked evenly.
“Same thing I’ve been asking for since I saw you last week. I just want to talk, that’s all, just talk.”
He rose to his feet and started to pace again, and as he paced, he talked. He didn’t seem to expect answers, so Diana listened with only half an ear while she occupied her mind with coming up with a solution to her predicament. She studied him. He was obviously high on something; his movements were even more jerky and agitated than they had been on Friday. She did notice that as he paced and talked, he was absently waving the gun around. When she’d known him before, he had always been very uneasy around her service weapon; now he was either more experienced with guns or he didn’t really realize what he was doing. From the way he was handling it, she suspected the latter. She hoped he didn’t accidentally shoot her.
As it got later and the sun started to go down, she started to worry about Vincent. She was expecting him sometime between 8:30 and 9PM. When he arrived, he usually tapped on the skylight to alert her so she could go up and join him on the roof. If he tapped on the skylight now, she was afraid that Mark would shoot him, or at least shoot at him. She doubted that he could shoot with any accuracy, but he might just get lucky.
Mark suddenly said something that caught her attention.
“I see that you’ve got a new bed; in fact, a whole room full of new furniture.” He stepped over to her and ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “Maybe we should go and try out the new bed, see if it has the magic the old one had.” He leaned down and kissed her. “What do you say, Babe?”
She jerked her head to the side and glared at him. “You try that again and I’ll bite your tongue off.”
He sat on the coffee table in front of her again and just stared at her for a few moments. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. When she opened them she was staring straight up at Vincent, who was looking down at her through the skylight.
He looked from her to Mark, then back at her. He nodded, then jerked his head in the direction of the roof door before he disappeared.
She sat up straight and looked Mark in the eye. If she could keep him concentrating on her, then Vincent might be able to make it in without Mark hearing him.
“Mark, do you realize just how stupid this stunt is?” she asked him. “Let’s see. When they catch you, they’re going to throw the book at you. We have breaking and entering, two counts; destruction of private property; threatening a police officer…”
She noticed movement in her peripheral vision, but didn’t dare look and give Vincent away.
There was a sound from behind Mark. It was faint, but it was enough to pull his attention away from her. As he turned to look, all she could think of was that she had to keep him from shooting Vincent. Thankful that Mark hadn’t thought to tie her feet, she kicked up and caught the hand holding the gun. The gun flew up into the air and her foot continued up, catching him in the shoulder and throwing him off balance. He fell backward over the coffee table and hit his head on the brick hearth in front of the fireplace.
Vincent ran forward and kicked the gun well out of Mark’s reach before he reached over and checked for a pulse. Satisfied that the man was still alive, although unconscious, he rushed over to Diana. He picked up the pocket knife and cut the nylon cords that secured her to the chair. Once she was free, he pulled her out of the chair and into his arms.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Did he hurt you?”
“I’m fine,” she assured him, returning the embrace fiercely. “Is he OK?”
“He’ll live,” Vincent told her. “He’s just unconscious.”
“We need to restrain him,” she told him. “Then I need to call the cops. My cuffs are in my purse.”
Vincent finally let go of her and went to get her bag off the counter. She fished the cuffs out and handed them to Vincent, who deftly put them on Mark.
“What if he wakes up?” he asked.
She’d retrieved her gun from where Vincent had kicked it. “I’m armed now; I think he’ll stay put.” She turned and looked at Vincent. “I need to call the police, so you’re going to have to go. We can talk later.”
Vincent turned and headed toward the door to the roof.
“Vincent,” she called after him.
He turned and looked back at her.
“You did it all,” he pointed out.
“But it was you that distracted him so that I could do what I did…. Now go. I’ll see you later.”
She waited until she saw his shadow pass the skylight before she picked up the phone and called the station.
Greg Hughs was there in less time than it should have taken him.
As two uniformed officers escorted the now conscious Mark Suberati out of the loft, Greg sat down across from Diana to make sure he had her statement correct.
“You said that he broke into your place and trashed it on Saturday? Why didn’t you call someone then?” he asked.
“Long story, Greg,” she said with a sigh, “and he didn’t break in, not that time. He had a key that I gave him five years ago when we were an item. It honestly looked like a childish tantrum, and there was no real damage, just a lot of broken glass. I thought he had it out of his system. I took the precaution of having all the locks changed and thought that was the last I would hear from him…. I was wrong.”
“Looks like he came up the fire escape and in through the roof door. A pane is broken out of it.” Greg stood and closed his notebook. “They’re taking him to the ER to make sure his head is OK. They’ll also do blood work and check for drugs. Although it’s pretty certain that they will be in his blood; he had a whole plastic bag of capsules in his pocket when they searched him. If the hospital turns him loose, we’ll book him and he will probably be arraigned in the morning. I’ll make sure that the DA requests that he not be given bail on the grounds that he poses a threat to you.”
“Thanks, Greg,” she said with a weak smile. “I appreciate it. Let me know if he is out on bail, will you?”
“Will, do,” he said as he turned to go. “I’ll see myself out. You get some rest. Come down to the precinct when you get the chance and sign the statement.”
“I’ll do that.”
Reaction to what had happened was beginning to set in and all Diana could think of was trying to relax. She stumbled into her bedroom and fell onto the bed, not even pulling the blankets down or taking off her shoes. She rolled into almost a fetal position and closed her eyes.
When Vincent heard the detective leave the loft, he went over to the side of the building and watched until he saw him get into the car parked in front. Then he made his way back to the door into the kitchen.
He studied the damage and decided that there was nothing that could be done about it tonight. He went inside then to the bedroom door. Diana looked like she was asleep, so he went back out into the living room. He removed his cloak and hung it on the rack before he went back and returned all the furniture to its proper places.
He found the broom and dustpan and cleaned up the broken glass. His next thought was to make sure that the building was secure, so he went downstairs and locked both the locks on the front door, then back in the loft he locked those locks and went back to the bedroom to check on Diana.
She hadn’t moved a muscle.
“Diana,” he called quietly. She didn’t respond.
He said her name again, and there was still no response. He thought he knew what was wrong, but couldn’t be positive. He didn’t think he should leave her alone.
He carefully removed one of her shoes. He looked at her face and she didn’t move or wake, so he removed the other one and dropped it to the floor.
He went around to the other side of the bed where he pulled off his boots and quilted vest, then lay down beside her. He cuddled up to her back and put his arm around her. He was surprised to find her body as stiff as a board. He knew she couldn’t be asleep. He just held her until he felt her body start to relax, then he started to talk.
“You couldn’t have known, Diana,” he said quietly. “It could have happened to anyone. You are a good detective, but sometimes even you make mistakes.”
He went on in that vein for almost ten minutes before she drew in a deep breath and spoke.
“I was so scared,” she began.
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of; anyone would have been scared. He was holding a gun on you.”
“No, it wasn’t that…” she protested. “I knew you were supposed to be here and I was scared to death that you’d walk right into the middle of that and he’d kill you. I’ve never been that scared before, for you more than for me. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”
The tears started then. Diana didn’t cry often or easily. He turned her into his chest and held her tightly until she’d cried herself out and fell asleep.
The sun shining in the windows woke Vincent the next morning. Neither of them seemed to have moved much all night. They were still in the same positions, spooned together. He was so comfortable that he didn’t really want to move. He’d only spent the night in circumstances even remotely like this a few times. Catherine had often fallen asleep leaning on his shoulder either on her balcony or somewhere Below; he’d woke in her bed that one time when he’d been sick. He’d even held her as she slept after her father’s death. But this was different. He’d held Diana all night, held her close.
He was thinking this when Diana stirred, stretched a little, rolled over onto her back and looked up into his eyes.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile.
“For what?” he asked.
“For talking me down and staying with me. I don’t think I would have slept at all if you hadn’t stayed.”
“What happened, Diana?” he asked. “I’ve never known you to react like that; you’ve always been so in control.”
“It wasn’t just me,” she told him. “If it had been just me, I wouldn’t have been as concerned; I would have come up with something. I was OK until I thought about you walking in on that; I knew I had time constraints then. I was afraid that you wouldn’t see what was going on….” Her voice trailed off.
“But I did see, and you did handle it. I did very little.”
“Thank God, it turned out all right,” she said as she hugged him. “Dealing with people who are under the influence of drugs is always the worst. They are so unpredictable. I thought I knew Mark, but this Mark was so different from the nice guy I used to know.”
“People change,” was all Vincent could say.
Diana scooted out of his arms and swung her legs off the bed. “I hope you never do,” she said as she padded across the room to the bathroom. She closed the door behind her, leaving Vincent staring at the ceiling, wondering what she’d meant by her last remark.
When he heard the shower in the bathroom, he got up and went out to the kitchen where he filled the kettle and put it on the stove. While he waited for the water to boil, he made coffee.
Diana walked over to stand next to Vincent at the window and he handed her a large mug of black coffee.
“You are an angel,” she said before she took a long drink. “And you make good coffee,” she added. She looked over at his mug. “You don’t drink it?”
“Sometimes, with lots of milk and sugar, but I prefer tea,” he said, turning back to look out the window at the traffic in the street below.
“Looks like you’re stuck here for a while,” she said conversationally. “Should you maybe call someone?”
“I left Jacob with Mary last night, and Father knows where I am.”
Her head snapped back around and she just stared at him.
He glanced over at her, then his eyes went quickly back to the view from the window.
“I wanted to talk to you,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t misunderstand what happened the other night.”
“And what did you think that was?” she asked, as she turned and strolled back toward the kitchen. She needed to put some distance between them.
“That’s just it,” he said, turning to watch her. “I’m not sure. I know what I was feeling, but I don’t know what you were feeling, or thinking. You seemed so unconcerned about it, as if, had it gone any further, you would have been all right with thatŁ but it didn’t and that was fine too. The only thing you seemed surprised about was that I didn’t remember my part in the act that had resulted in Jacob.”
“I was surprised about that,” she admitted, “but I wasn’t unconcerned.” She turned around to face him and leaned on the counter. “I wanted you. You kissed like you’d been kissing women all your life, so I assumed you’d done other things too.”
“And when you found out that I hadn’t, you changed your mind?” She could hear something in his voice…pain?
“No, Vincent,” she protested. “I didn’t change my mind, but I did decide to consider what I wanted and look at it from your point of view. I thought that maybe it was still too soon for you.”
“Too soon?” he asked. “You mean too soon after Catherine? Diana, she’s been gone five years. Yes, it took me a long time. Maybe too long, but I decided that wallowing in my grief wasn’t good for anyone, especially not good for Jacob. He deserves to know his mother, but he deserves to know her as the vibrant, loving woman she was, not the dead shell that I carried back to her apartment that night. When I started telling Jacob about the real Catherine, that was when I started to heal. She will always have a place in my heart, but she no longer holds my whole heart. I owe so much to her, but she would never want to see me mourn her for the rest of my life.”
Diana set her coffee on the counter and walked over and took Vincent’s mug out of his hands and set it on her desk.
“What are you saying, Vincent?”she asked, holding his hands and looking up at him.
“I’m not saying it well, am I?” he said with a shy smile. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to try again, and that you are the person I’d like to do it with.”
“Try what?” she asked, wanting to be sure she understood.
“Living…loving?” It was almost a question.
She took his hand and led him toward the bedroom.
“It isn’t difficult, Vincent,” she told him. “It comes kind of naturally.”
Diana looked so beautiful, standing there with the sunlight turning her hair to gold. She moved closer and slipped her arms around his waist, leaning against him, letting him get used to the feel of her body.
His hands moved tentatively until he was holding her. They just stood like that, outside the bedroom door, until she felt him begin to relax.
She leaned away from him slightly and he let his hands drop back to her sides. She surprised him by untying the belt of her robe and letting it fall open. She wore a bra and panties under it. Before he had time to react, she leaned back into his chest and put her arms around his waist again.
He shyly brought his hands up, under the robe, his callused palms ghosting over her bare back.
Diana savored the feeling for awhile, then she leaned back and reached for the buttons of his shirt. He wore only a denim work shirt. She unbuttoned the shirt and ran her hand down his chest, her short nails making a trail through the soft hair from his neck to his waist over and over again. He heard strange sounds and realized that he was making them; she was making him feel so good.
She pushed him gently back through the bedroom door until the backs of his legs met the end of the bed. He abruptly sat, then pulled her toward him, and rubbed his cheek against her midriff. Then he nuzzled her breast through the bra. She reached up behind her and unhooked it. She let the robe slide off as she pulled the bra off and dropped it on top of the robe. He nuzzled her breast again before taking one nipple in his mouth and sucking as he stroked the other.
Diana was holding his head, urging him on. When she was sure he was OK with what they were doing, she hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her panties and slowly pushed them down. He was mesmerized by what he saw. He kissed her stomach lovingly, nipped her hipbone lightly, before he stood.
The taste of her skin was indescribable; she was delicious. Diana suddenly became more forceful and pulled Vincent’s head down for another kiss. She kissed her way across his cheek to his ear and told him “It’s your turn now,” as she slowly unbuttoned his jeans and pushed them and his underwear down. He stepped out of them and kicked them aside with one foot and slipped the shirt off.
"Diana, I want you," he whispered, surprised at his own boldness.
She pushed him back to the bed. She sat on his lap, facing him, her long legs almost wrapped around his waist. She kissed him again and it seemed to go on forever. She was teaching him things he’d only read about. She slid her hand down between their bodies and touched him, guiding him. He slowly entered her and she moaned and dropped her forehead to his shoulder as he began to move. He pushed deeper and then deeper still and she moaned again. Diana turned her head and kissed him on the neck.
He was doing the same to her and his hands were on her bottom pulling her closer, holding her tight. They were making love and Vincent couldn’t believe it.
He thrust as she pushed hard against him and it seemed to last for an eternity, in and out, side to side, and her pushing, moaning, and telling him he was wonderful. They were both breathing hard and beginning to sweat. He kissed her shoulder and tasted the salt. He wanted to hold her whole body close to his and he moved up the bed and rolled, keeping them joined during the entire maneuver. He held her tightly for a long moment after the change of position. He lay above her, resting on his forearms, and she looked into his eyes for the first time.
He started to move as their eyes locked. He wanted to see her when she reached ecstasy. She didn't hold back; the sounds she made were unbelievable. Finally he couldn't wait any longer; he thrust into her one more time and she heard him say, “I love you, Diana!”
Spasms overtook them both and she held him tight. They were together on another plane of existence and he couldn't believe what had just happened.
There was no talk after that; they held each other and drifted into sleep.
She woke knowing that he was looking at her, and she smiled even before she opened her eyes.
When she did open her eyes, the look in his made her insides melt. She reached out and burrowed her fingers through the hair on his chest. He captured her hand and kissed it.
“I love you, Diana,” he said simply.
“You said that earlier,” she said. “I was afraid that it might have just been the extremity of the moment that inspired it.”
“Afraid?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said as her face began to tinge pink and she pulled the covers up further. “Afraid that I’d messed up a good thing by seducing you….”
“Seducing me?” he asked doubtfully. “I thought I started it and was worried that I was going to drive you away.”
“There is no way in hell that is going to happen, Vincent,” she told him adamantly. “I love you and now that I’ve had you, I’m not letting you get away. I was wondering the other day just when I’d fallen in love with you.…”
“You love me?” he interrupted her.
“Well, you don’t think I go around sleeping with every guy I meet, do you?” she asked, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “Of course I love you. What’s not to love? You are the perfect man. You are the world’s best hugger, a damn good kisser, and as a lover, you are leagues ahead of everyone else. Of course I love you! How could I not?”