'When you need someone to run to
the shelter of my love is always near
let me be your cover whenever darkness falls
I'll be there...I'll be there.'
(Michael Bolton – A Safe Place from the Storm)
A Safe Place From The Storm
Breathing deeply of nature’s fragrance, Catherine surveyed her surroundings with a song in her heart. “Oh daddy it’s so good to be back. Why do we ever leave it so long?”
With his arm around her shoulder’s Charles Chandler drew his daughter close to his side until she could lean her head upon his shoulder. “I don’t know honey. It’s the same every time. We hate leaving the place and pledge to return before the year is out, but somehow we never do. Stupid isn’t it? We sit in my office and dream of the sun soaked beaches of Bali and Fiji, and what do we really need…?” he left the question unfinished, turning to gaze into his daughter’s luminous grey green eyes, that were now dancing with joy.
“To be here.” She finished for him, gesturing with her arms out wide, “This is all we need daddy, to be here. Far from the maddening crowd.”
Charles Chandler sighed, “That’s so true Cathy. Being here has everything we need to revitalise ourselves again. That and the fact that being here brings us closer to your mother.”
The sadness in his tone was easily detected and his daughter squeezed his arm, as tears threatened to close off her throat.
She missed her mother terribly. Even seven years after she had died the pain had not lessened any, but Catherine knew what her father had meant, that being here at the cabin brought her mother so much closer, for this was where the three of them had spent so many beautiful hours together.
“Everywhere I look I can see her Cathy.” Her father continued. “Why is it that I spend fifty weeks of the year missing her unbearably then come here for the two weeks to feel her close again? Why do I torture myself so throughout those fifty weeks?” He shook his head unable to understand it.
“We should come here more often daddy. Its good for us.”
“Yet it brings its own pain.” Charles looked down at his daughter watching her eyes carefully, not missing a thing. Catherine tilted her head a little trying to avoid those penetrating grey eyes of her father’s, unwilling to add to the burden of his own loss.
I miss her so.” The threatened tears rose from her throat to her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. “Yet I know that she wanted me to be happy, and I am happy daddy when I am here.”
“You too huh? Being here brings her back to us. We did so much together in this sunny glade, there are so many memories waiting to remind us. Its like she is here isn’t it?”
Catherine nodded and Charles speaking lowly replied, “She is really here.” His eyes someplace distance, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
He straightened then, drawing himself up to his full height and breathing deeply of the scent of wildflowers all around them the scent of pine on the air, the smell of fresh water from the lake. “With every breath I take I am coming alive.” He told his daughter, then felt immediately sad knowing they would both think of the same thing, that being there had not given life to Caroline Chandler. Nothing had been able to save her life. Not fresh air, not nature’s song, not even money. Nothing had been able to stop the cancer from spreading. Nothing at all.
Catherine shivered, “Cold honey?” Her father asked concerned.
“A little.” Catherine answered, though both knew that it was not from the air around them for the sun was hot on their backs. In fact, Charles had contemplated removing his jacket, for he had grown so warm.
“Would you like to go inside? If you rustle us up some coffee, I’ll bring in the bags.” He removed his arm from around her shoulders, and they turned wordlessly as one towards the car and the cabin beyond. Catherine hesitated as her father unlocked the trunk and removed some bags, as the coffee, milk and sugar would be in one of them. He reached for that first handing it to her, and with a small whispered thank you, Catherine took it and made her way to the cabin door, fishing the key from the pocket of her jeans as she went.
Stepping into the cabin brought a fresh flood of memories, this used to be her mother’s first priority. While Catherine and her father had unloaded the car, Caroline had gone into the cabin to make coffee. While to step over the threshold now and not to be welcomed by that spicy aroma made the cabin appear dank and dark inside with a mustiness associated with a dwelling unlived in for some time.
The threatened tears of her memories made Catherine work quickly. Not bothering to wait for the water to boil she poured hot water from the flask they had brought for the journey, and soon had the scent of coffee permeating the cabin, so at least her father would feel the welcome the moment he stepped inside. Her initial pain was worth it to see his smile of relief as he stepped into the cabin some five minutes later. Catherine had opened the shutters and the windows to let in fresh air, had set the checked tablecloth upon the table and had made coffee. The aroma of which wafted to his nostrils the moment Charles opened the door. He smiled at her, “This one mine?” He dropped a bag to each side of him and reached for the steaming mug of coffee. “Mm, just as your mother used to make it.” He told his daughter sipping the rich black brew.
“The cream is open if you’d like some, I’ve already put it in the refrigerator.”
Charles shook his head, “No, this is fine Cathy. Thank you.” His eyes focused on the rest of the room, and Catherine knew he wasn’t just referring to the coffee.
Sunlight filtered through the opened windows, bringing the whole cabin to life. “We’ll pick some wildflowers later for the table daddy. It’ll be just like old times.”
“Can we have pancakes for breakfast too?” He asked chuckling.
“Only if you make them.” Catherine laughed. It was well documented that cooking was not one of Catherine’s best assets. Charles laughed. “We’ll do them together.” Catherine laughed too, remembering the previous year when most of the pancake mixture had ended up on the both of them rather than in the pan, and then when her father had bragged that he could toss pancakes, one had stuck to the ceiling. At this sudden memory both Catherine and her father snorted with laughter into their coffee while trying not to spill any.
Two pairs of dancing eyes met over the rims of the mugs. Charles found his voice first. “We should come here more often Cathy.” He told her.
“Yes.” Catherine agreed with a mischievous smile, “We should.”
*** *** ***
They spent a pleasant day, leaving the unpacking while they explored around the cabin. Exclaiming at how large certain plants had grown, just happy to be together to listen to all the sounds of nature’s song as they walked along arm in arm.
It had been a long time since they had enjoyed one another’s company like this, too long indeed.
Reaching the cabin, Charles took his luggage to unpack in his room while Catherine prepared the vegetables for their dinner. He would cook them and turn them into a meal for the two of them, with a large salmon he had bought on the way up to the cabin earlier in the day.
“I have some letters for you Cathy.” His voice called from his room. Catherine stilled in what she was doing, “For me?”
“Yes, well they’re from Peter actually. I’m sorry to admit that I have had them a while. I put them in my desk drawer and only noticed them when I cleaned up yesterday morning. I’m sorry; I hope there was nothing important in any of them. I think they are from that pen friend of yours.”
Catherine put down the knife she was using to scrape the carrots and walked towards her father’s room. “From Vincent?” She asked curiously.
“I suppose so, if he’s the one you always write to. I must say the handwriting looks the same, sort of fancy. They’re at the bottom of this bag I think.” Catherine watched her father from her position in the doorway, tugging beneath some clothing for the letters, and pulled them out together with one mighty tug, almost making him fall backwards. Catherine laughed, “There seems to be a lot there?”
“There is. Peter sends his apologies. With his being away for a couple of months then us in Fiji the letters had piled up. He thought reading them would help while away the time at the cabin. This fellow writes an interesting letter so I am led to believe?” Charles asked raising one eyebrow in question.
Catherine laughed, “Now, now daddy, Vincent and I are just pen friends, why I have never even met him.”
Charles was surprised, “Never?”
“No daddy never.” Catherine smiled at him impishly her eyes dancing.
“Do you mean to tell me that in all the years you two have spent writing to one another and living not two miles apart that the two of you have never even met?”
“How do you know its two miles?” Catherine asked mystified.
“I don’t, that was just guessing. But he lives in New York doesn’t he?”
“Yes, but I don’t know where. He has never revealed it, and Peter would never say. I like it that way, it’s mysterious and I value his friendship daddy. Vincent has always been there for me over the years.”
“Meaning?” Charles asked gruffly.
“Meaning nothing daddy. You’ve never let me down either, if that’s what you thought I meant. It’s just that writing to a stranger can be so healing. I can tell Vincent things I would never tell another living soul, and receive some very good advice in return. Knowing Vincent is like having an invisible friend that is solid and real at the same time. I have used Vincent as a sounding board more times than I can remember, and his advice always comes good. He’s a good friend daddy, but no more than that.”
Charles nodded. Peter had told him much the same the other way on, when he’d questioned Peter about it as Peter had handed him the pack of letters. Catherine had become a good friend to Vincent too, in more ways than she would ever know, but somehow he’d been given the impression that this Vincent felt a little more for his daughter than just friends and he wondered if he should say anything to Catherine.
Taking the letters from him, Catherine frowned as she counted them. “I wonder how far back some of these go?” she spoke as if to herself. “I haven’t heard from Vincent in some time actually, and I feel terribly guilty because Peter won’t have any to take back to Vincent, for I haven’t written him any in six months at least.”
“Some friendship.” Charles retorted.
Catherine’s eyes challenged his, “I’ve been sitting my exams daddy you know that, and things like letter writing were the last thing on my mind.”
Charles nodded, “Well just see that you write this Vincent a long letter while we are here. I know, why don’t you write out a diary for him, a bit of something you do every day, from what Peter has told me about him, he’d appreciate that.”
Again Catherine’s head snapped back, and she searched her father’s eyes for clues.
“What?” He grinned at her.
“Let’s swap notes shall we? What did Peter tell you?”
Charles shrugged, “Just that this guy lives in a sort of commune out of town, with homeless people, nothing more than that really.”
“Yes. That’s all Cathy believe me. But surely you knew this?”
Catherine nodded, “Yes I knew that. There are only two things Vincent never talks about that’s himself or where he actually lives. That is his address. That’s why all mail goes via Peter. On the few occasions, I’ve asked anything I’ve received some very non-committal answers from Vincent so I haven’t pursued it again. Clearly, Vincent is uncomfortable with talking about those things. Do you know any more than that?”
“Peter told me that he’s different.” Charles started to put his shirts into the wardrobe, examining it first for signs of rodents that might have found their merry way inside during the winter months.
“Yes he told me that too.”
“And you have never wondered how different that might be?” Satisfied that the wardrobe was clear Charles reached for the hangers to put his clothing away.
“Sometimes. And a few times reading between the lines of his letters I have imagined those differences. I think a lot of them are facial. I’ve thought about Downs Syndrome, or maybe a burns victim, but Vincent has spoken of candlelight and lanterns, and never gives any indication of being afraid of a naked flame. I prefer not to wonder too much about it. Vincent is, as I said, a dear friend, and I have my own image built up in my mind as to what he looks like. I guess I want nothing to spoil the illusion of that.”
“How old is he do you know?”
Catherine started at the abrupt change in conversation. But she knew her father, and she knew he was still building romantic castles in the air.
“He’s about eighteen months older than me. Why do you ask?” Catherine eyes danced beneath lowered lashes, able to see him clearly but shutting her emotions off from him.
Charles shrugged, “No reason, just wondering.”
Catherine laughed out loud, “You are so transparent do you know that daddy? Why I can hear your mind whirling away from here you’ve got Vincent and I married off already haven’t you and don’t deny it? I know you daddy.”
Charles was caught up in his daughter’s infectious laughter “All right I admit it. Not so much married off though, not until I’ve met him at least. But Cathy, you know that perfect friends make perfect marriage partners, and from what you have told me in the past about the way Vincent’s letters have made you feel, well I can’t help believing that this Vincent is your long lost soul mate. I for one would like to meet him one day. I can remember many occasions when I owed him my thanks for turning your life around.”
Catherine nodded; she could remember those occasions too. And no doubt they wouldn’t be the only occasions. Hopefully she would always have Vincent’s friendship. Hopefully he would always be there for her whenever she needed him.
“Well, I’ll put these beside my bed daddy and have a flick through some of them in the morning. I feel too tired to read any now. I was thinking of having an early night do you mind?”
“Mind? No Cathy, of course not I too am tired. What do you say we both have an early night, then get up and drive down to the stables, take a horse each and spend the whole day out riding?”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea daddy.” Catherine came into the room to hug her father tightly, before turning to return to her own room, “Goodnight Daddy, I love you.”
“I love you too honey. Goodnight Cathy, pleasant dreams.”
*** *** ***
Always an early riser Catherine was awake long before her father on this first morning of their vacation.
She stretched languidly, allowing time for varying limbs to catch up and awaken with the rest, before surveying the room beneath half closed lids.
Everything was just as it had always been. In the seven years since her mother’s passing, Catherine had deliberately not altered anything. Even the furniture was still placed in the same positions. But today for some reason Catherine felt the sudden urge to move on.
True coming to the cabin brought her mother’s presence closer, and the memories would always be stored and treasured in her heart, but there came a time when one simply had to move on. And for some reason Catherine felt that her mother would be gladdened by this new approach.
Alighting from the bed, arms raised above her head in a full-fledged stretch, Catherine took in a deep breath of fresh air that only seemed available in the mountains, and then crossed the room to her clothing laid over the arm of one chair.
To her today marked the first day of the rest of her life. She felt wonderful. She looked wonderful. Surveying her reflection in the full-length mirror Catherine saw herself anew.
A beautiful young girl stepping into womanhood stood before her. Bright shining, enthusiastic eyes shone from a perfect oval face, with firm luscious lips just asking to be kissed. Catherine giggled at the thought.
She twirled in front of the mirror, seeing in her mind’s eye not jeans and a sweater but a gorgeous gown fit for a ball, her eyes lit by a glittering chandelier overhead. She could almost feel the rich fabric caressing her legs as the dress swirled around her.
Catherine had everything. Good looks, a rich father, gifts galore, wealth, health and happiness she could ask for only one more thing to complete the set. True love. That’s all she needed now, someone to love her for herself, someone with whom she could attain the happy life her mother had wished for her, someone who would complement her in the years ahead.
With that thought in mind, Catherine lowered herself into the rocking chair, determined to think on fresh thoughts, not old sentimental memories that would make her usual sadness return by sitting there. For her mother had held Catherine in her arms in that very chair and rocked her daughter to sleep on so many occasions, that generally Catherine was swallowed up with grief when she sat there.
Now with quiet determination Catherine fought back the memories, even speaking out loud, “Mother I love you, and mother I am so grateful to you for your compassion and tenderness, but I wish now to reach out for that happy life that you wanted so much for me to find. So please mother do not feel sad if I do not sit here and grieve your passing another day, instead rejoice with me that I am seeking the future that you wished for me to find.’ For long moments Catherine sat perfectly still, her feet planted firmly on the ground and ran through some thoughts in her mind, then she spoke aloud the questions that burned through her soul.
‘Where is he mother?
Where is my prince in shining armour?
Where is the man that completes this picture that you painted for me?
This happy life that you which for me to find?
Can you lead me to him mother?
Do you know where he is?’
In no way did Catherine feel foolish as she spoke out loud for she could feel her mother there with her. Not in spirit, no never that, but in her mind’s eye. And with her minds eye she could seek the things her mother had told her time and time again would be there, if only she looked in the right direction.
Her parents she knew, had married young, and Catherine envisaged the same would be true of her. Plus she would find the same happiness her parents had found. She had everything else; this then would be the icing on the cake. The very best of the best, yet did she have to look for him, or would he just cross her path and she would instantly know he was the one?
Delirious in her thinking Catherine giggled with a sudden spark of joy. Whatever happened from wherever he might come, she was going to enjoy and savour every moment, because she knew in advance where it would lead, and she knew that she would know from the moment she clapped eyes on him, that he would be the one.
In her mind’s eye, and now rocking gently back and forth in the chair Catherine contemplated her knight in shining armour.
He would be wealthy and he would adore her. He would bestow her with gifts and he would love her to eternity.
His eyes would be of the purest blue, and they would bedazzle her as he leaned in to take her lips beneath his own. Catherine squirmed at the thought, giggling just a little with a slight embarrassment.
Her mind conjured up images of her true love, but she could not decide upon the colour of his hair. Most romantic fairy tales told of a prince with black hair, or with blond hair, but for a reason Catherine could not comprehend she instantly dismissed those possibilities. Her prince would be different, a cut above the rest.
Wherever he went he would turn heads, people would stare mouths agape at his beauty.
Hugging her knees close to her chest Catherine delighted in her dream. Yes he would be perfection personified, but he would not know it. To know it would make him chauvinistic, and that would spoil the illusion.
Thus, he would be unaware of his beauty and his inner beauty would surpass the outer. He would be graceful and regal in his movements and everyone would love him, and he would have time for them all.
Catherine sighed deeply. ‘ Oh Mother’, she spoke aloud. ‘Does such a man really exist? Or does he only live in my dreams?’
The answer was swift, silent and penetrated her mind with a surety that would not be denied, ‘he exists my love, and he is waiting. Just as I found my own prince in your father so your prince awaits you.’
For a moment, Catherine’s startled eyes swept around the room. The voice had been so real. Though she had heard it only in the deepest recesses of her mind, it was almost as if it had been spoken in the room in response to her question.
Joy seared Catherine’s heart. He existed. He was waiting for her. Then if he was waiting for her, did she already know of him?
Her mind in a spin, Catherine dwelt upon all the people that she knew, raising them before her and dismissing them as quickly as they rose. No, not him, not him, not him she went on and on. ‘I know that I would know him, and he doesn’t fit any that I know.’ For a moment she panicked, ‘Mother where is he?’
If she had imagined a reply for her question, this time it did not come as no voice spoke either on the gentle breath of the wind that came in from the opened window or in the deep recesses of her mind, all was silent.
Catherine gazed around the room as if to find some clue that would bring his identity to mind. There was nothing. She knew this room like the back of her hand. Everything was firmly imprinted upon her mind so that in the days she was forced to live at the town house she could come here to this cabin any time that she chose, just by bringing forth the images that she knew so well.
There was nothing different about it, save for a pile of letters from Vincent next to her bed.
Catherine stared at those letters, as dawning became apparent, her lips forming his name in a gentle caress. ‘Vincent?’
This was a man that she knew to be different and this was a man that she knew to be noble but she had never seen this man and he had never described himself in any one of his letters to her in all the years they had been writing. And there had been some.
Catherine thought back to the first time Peter had suggested that they wrote to one another. Some of the content of his words had been lost over the years, but Catherine caught the gist of them now in her mind.
‘Catherine, how do you feel about having a pen friend my dear…there’s this young man I know…’ Catherine could remember that Peter’s next words had made her feel sad, her heart had reacted positively to writing to this lonely soul. ‘He hasn’t many friends Cathy because he is different, but he is a wonderful person. I think correspondence between the two of you would be good for him.’
Catherine had agreed without preamble. She was a sucker for lonely souls, but she was surprised when Peter had opened his briefcase and handed her a letter from this person straight away. She could remember Peter’s wry grin, ‘I took the liberty of asking him to write to you first’ he had told her.
Catherine had kept that first letter, in fact all the letters Vincent had written since. They were in a box tied with a midnight blue sash in her room back at the town house. But that first one had imprinted itself upon her mind at her tender age of eight and a firm friendship had sprung up between the two souls, each searching for something unknown to them each needing a friend to tell innermost secrets to.
In Vincent, Catherine had confided all her deepest passions, her deepest sorrows. He was her sounding board when she contemplated a future move. He listened, and he wrote the most beautiful letters, filled with wisdom that she had admired even at such a tender age.
Right there and then, Catherine wished that she were holding his first letter there in her hands, she wanted to read it so badly. She needed to know what it was he had said that had compelled her to rush from the room pick up a pen and paper and reply to his letter before Peter had departed so that he could take it with him to deliver.
Their lives were so different and Catherine had discerned from the very beginning that Vincent came from a poor family but that family was rich in love warmth and affection. He spoke of people that lived around him, he told her stories of their lives of how being with his family had altered their perspective, had given them courage to go back into the world they had known before and turn their lives around. For years, Catherine had imagined this world of Vincent’s to be some place magical, a place far from her own, yet within easy reach. In fact the way he spoke of his life and the people in it, he could well have been speaking about another world, a world apart from hers.
Her eyes fixed firmly upon the pile of letters at the side of her bed, Catherine rose to her feet, her intention plain.
She hadn’t heard from Vincent in a long time. It was probably their longest separation ever. As well as the holidays of both Peter and their own she’d had exams to sit and while she awaited the results she and her father had taken this trip up into the mountains. She had worked hard and hoped to secure herself a place at Radcliffe College. She knew that her father could secure her a place there with his money, but she wanted to do it the honest way. Somehow, she felt Vincent would approve of that. But she had never told him, had never asked his opinion on this occasion, and she knew that was because Vincent in his own way had over the years changed her ideals, had moulded her into a new way, had helped her to look upon things differently. To work hard and attain a good result brought joy, and Catherine looked forward with anticipation to the grades she had worked so hard to achieve over the past year.
Picking up the pile of letters held together with a large rubber band, Catherine had no way of knowing until she opened them which one was the earliest. Not even the dampness of the envelope, or the faded ink could highlight how long each had lain inside Peter’s house awaiting his return to bring them to her.
Turning them over in her hand, Catherine released the rubber band, and settled it onto the bedside table, then spread the letters across the bed, trying to work out their correct order.
‘I shall have to open them all. And read the dates within before I can start reading them’ she told herself, reaching for the envelope closest to her. As always, the red wax seal like royalty would use impressed her and the words ‘her prince’ rose to mind. Catherine giggled. Whatever would Vincent say if he knew what she was thinking?
As she unfolded the envelope, and pulled from it the thick parchment paper familiar with Vincent’s use, Catherine noted the date, and determined not to start reading, she smoothed the letter, and put it down next to its respective envelope.
Determinedly she went through the pile of letters, doing the same with each, sorting them into date order as she went along, and all would have been fine if she had not been curious with the ink smudges on one particularly shorter than normal letter.
Vincent’s usual perfect handwriting was smudged, by what looked like on closer examination, tears that had fallen. Catherine’s heart reacted violently. Tears from Vincent! But Vincent never cried. Oh, there was that time when his brother had gone missing and had been presumed lost maybe dead, but that was years ago. Whatever could have hurt Vincent enough to make him cry again?
Catherine spread the letter, knowing she had to read it, and took it across to the rocking chair intent on reading it there. Somehow it deserved the gentle rocking motion, as if that alone could ease his grief just as her mother had eased her own on the many nights she had been unable to sleep from some nightmare or another, or some eerie sound whispering from the mountains.
At that moment, a knock at her bedroom door brought her out of her reverie. ‘Are you awake Catherine?’ Her father’s voice called softly.
For a moment, Catherine wondered if she should ignore him and stay silent in the hope that he would think her still sleeping, until one look at her watch told her he would be concerned if she did. She never slept so late in the mornings.
“Yes daddy. I’ll be out in a minute.”
“I’m making a hearty breakfast honey, we’ll need it if we are to be out riding all day.”
Catherine looked back at the letter in her hands now undecided. If what Vincent had written would make her sad, it might rob her of the joy she would find out riding this day. If she left it until her return she might wonder what the contents were but that would not spoil her day out with her father.
*** *** ***
Her decision made, Catherine took the letter, and placed it on top of the bedside cabinet, then gathering up the rest not yet opened, she pulled open the drawer of her bedside table, and lay them all inside.
She’d read them tonight.
And she’d read that top letter first.
Flicking their tails, the two horses picked their way over the fern covered ground, taking their riders higher and higher up the mountain passes. The sun was warm on their flanks, the flies bothersome, but beneath the shade of the pine trees, the flies diminished, and besides it was marvellous riding in the dappled sunshine.
“Oh why oh why do we leave it so long?” Charles Chandler rode his body into the saddle to aid the mare’s ascent.
Catherine giggled, “Because we are stupid daddy. And because there is always one more case that needs rapt attention you know that.”
“A lawyers daughter you certainly are honey. It’s a wonder the pitfalls of that career haven’t put you off from following in my footsteps.” Charles reined in his mare to take time to survey his daughter.
“I’ve never thought of doing anything else daddy, you know that?” Catherine’s mare had found something good to nuzzle at in a bush alongside them, and her attention was drawn to see what it was. “Wild strawberries! Look daddy wild strawberries, we should pick some to have with the cream.”
“And where pray would we carry them? By the time we get home they would be squashed even if we did have a bag to put them in.”
“We could come up here another day prepared for that.” Catherine suggested.
“Same thing honey, by the time we got them back to the cabin they would still be squashed.”
Catherine grinned from ear to ear, “What?” Her father asked caught up in her mischief.
“Who said anything about taking the strawberries back to the cabin daddy? If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed….”
Charles Chandler laughed heartily, “You mean bring the cream up here?”
“That’s what I mean.”
Charles laughed, “Oh Cathy I can see you are going to be a force to be reckoned with, with a brain like that.” The pair laughed together, and simultaneously click clicked their tongues to move the horses onwards.
“How far are we going daddy?” Catherine asked as they re-entered the sunshine, leaving the shade behind, and the flies returned in full force. Catherine waved a hand in front of her face, “Remind me to wear my hat with the corks on next time will you daddy?”
Charles laughed as an image of his daughter wearing an Australian bushman’s hat came to mind. He had to admit though it was a sound idea.
“I’ve never noticed the flies this bad before Cathy. Do you agree that they are getting thicker the higher we go, or is it just my imagination?”
“They are certainly more troublesome that I can remember daddy. Perhaps there is something rotten up here someplace.”
“Wild strawberries could lead them I suppose.”
“But there’s been berries growing when we’ve come before. I’ve certainly not seen them so bad. Must be a plague of them this year. There doesn't appear to be so many in the shade though.”
“No. Well then we can either go back or keep riding up to the next canopy of trees, what do you say?”
With a hand to her brow, Catherine surveyed the way ahead. The next copse of trees was some hundred yards or so ahead. They could not trot because of the rough terrain and it being a constant ascent. “It’s a long way at a walk daddy. I would like to go higher though. I have missed that view.”
“Me too. Shall we put up with the flies then just this once? We could swat each others.”
Catherine nodded, “I think we need to keep our mouths closed too.” She spat a fly off her lip, and Charles eyes creased at the corners. He frowned. Though they had only walked a few yards on from when they had first started this topic, the flies had got denser, and the buzzing was growing unpleasant.
Charles drew his brows together, something wasn’t right. “Hold on honey.” He mumbled, wiping flies from his face, and squinting his eyes to stop them filling with the miserable little creatures. He drew his mare to a halt and dismounted, looking around him. Something had caught at his nostrils, something awful from his higher position upon the mare, but down on the ground it was worse.
Holding up his hand to his daughter, he bade her still, and stepped toward the area where the flies were at their loudest, with one hand held to his face against the stench. His stomach churned, something was obviously dead and it was something big.
Fanning the flies with his free hand he pressed on, his heart in his mouth, his eyes half closed against whatever he would see any moment, but even so he was unprepared for the sight.
The colour drained from his face as he caught glimpses of the body and he quickly turned and stumbled back towards his daughter his hand clamped to his mouth.
“What is it daddy?” Catherine’s concern was evident in her rising tone. She dismounted just as her father bent double to vomit on the ground. He waved her back as she made to pass him, grabbing her sleeve and holding her still. “Don’t go.” Was all he could manage.
“Daddy?” Catherine’s eyes wide and fearful looked from the fly drenched spot back to her father. Whatever had he seen?
“Have to go back down…” her father croaked, “call police…”
Catherine understood at once. “A body?” She whispered hoarsely.
“Murdered?” Catherine asked nervously.
“Yes.” Taking the reins of his horse, Charles tried to remount, but his legs were unsteady, as jelly. Seeing this Catherine helped him up into the saddle and on shaky legs she too re-mounted. Both looked back at the spot as they turned their mounts back the way they’d come, and for a long time neither spoke.
*** *** ***
It would be the first murder Catherine had ever heard of in these mountains. Of course, it was the perfect place to hide a body. Few people came there most of the cabins were owned by wealthy people that came only to get away from it all about once a year, or whenever they could manage it. So, a body could lie undiscovered for a long time but it was her father’s reaction that bothered her the most he had seen dead people before in his line of work though usually at the morgue when he’d been assigned to a case, or at the hospital.
It must have been bad for him to react so badly and Catherine felt nausea rise in the pit of her stomach. Who would kill another in such beautiful surroundings? And when had it happened? Had the murderer gone or was he watching them even now? The hairs on the back of Catherine's neck prickled and she urged her mare forward into canter behind her father's horse. She had to leave this place and fast, already invisible fingers were pressing around her throat threatening to choke her and in her mind's eye Catherine could feel eyes boring into her back. Someone was watching. She was certain of it!
Some seven stories beneath the lowest basement of Manhattan, music filled the air. Music so far beneath the city was it possible?
For here, another world existed, far from the maddening crowd. Unseen by the inhabitants of a restless city people came here to heal, to grow, to find nourishment for their battered souls and to seek and find love.
Jacob Wells, patriarch of the tunnels beneath Manhattan, sat with fingers idly tapping in time to the music watching with sparkling eyes as children, yes children, played harmoniously with instruments fit for an orchestra.
These, his progeny and the result of years of teaching, filled Jacob’s heart with pride and joy. Surely no where on earth could one find anything more perfect, more stimulating, more...Jacob’s mind searched for the words...he could find none to express how they made him feel. Simply he had left a world of evil behind and found his Elysium and those children were the springboard of generations to come. Generations that if unleashed upon the world above could only turn it into a better place for all of mankind. Those children could become teachers who would bring forth euphoria to every corner of the earth.
“Father?” A gentle tapping at his right shoulder brought Jacob out of his happy retrospect and he looked up to see the leonine face of his adoptive son leaning down to whisper into his ear.
Jacob turned his attention reluctantly from the musical recital to that of his son, “What is it, Vincent?”
“I’m going away for a few days from tomorrow. I shall be leaving early.”
Immediately concerned Jacob, otherwise known as Father to all those that lived below the city, gave his full attention to his son. “Is something wrong, Vincent?”
“I’m fine.” Vincent smiled, though Father was quick to notice the smile didn’t quite reach his son’s eyes.
“But?” Father knew there was more to his son’s need to go away, than the need to explore the endless caverns of the subterranean levels.
“But it is nothing. Don’t worry so, Father. I just need to get away for a while.” Vincent drew himself up to his full height and sighed deeply, “there are some things that I need to place in perspective, and right now the tranquillity of the lower levels seem awfully desirous to my needs.”
“Lisa?” Father prompted gently.
Vincent nodded, “Yes, Lisa. Father, I don’t blame you. I did, but no more. Please I have to do this. I have to make peace with my heart so that I might move forward and grieve no more.”
“Make sure you send word when you arrive at each way station, Vincent. I don’t need to remind you that I worry when you are gone.”
Smiling, Vincent bent to kiss his Father’s brow. “I will send a message Father, don’t fret so. The last thing I want to do is have you worry over me. I shall return in three days. It will soon pass.”
“Then go with care, Vincent. If you do not return in three days I will send out a search party. Will you be heading for the crystal cavern?”
“How well you know me, Father. Yes, the crystal cavern has certain healing qualities that I am in need of right now. Would you like me to bring any crystals back for you?”
“No, its all right, Vincent.” Father began, then as an afterthought added, “No, wait! Maybe some rose quartz.” He seemed to mumble his request causing Vincent’s blue eyes to dance with amusement.
“Rose quartz, Father?”
“It is rather a pretty stone, do you not agree?” Despite his fight not to do so, Father blushed. He hoped his son would not notice. He did, but chose to ignore his father’s discomfort.
“Yes, it is a pretty stone, and I’m sure Lydia will love it.” Vincent replied with a wink of one eye.
“You, my son are too astute for your own good.” Father almost grinned, and then before he made a bigger fool of himself than he already had, he bid his son goodbye.
“Goodbye Father. Be Well.” Vincent turned, laughter etched on his features as he contemplated his father’s request for rose quartz. It was long established that rose quartz aided fertility, and it was well known that Lydia was unable to conceive though she had tried almost everything, except old wives tales. And Father, as a doctor, had been unable to help her either. He didn’t hold with old wives tales but month after month as the woman’s desire for a baby had escalated to depression when her period had arrived, Father became more and more exasperated and it would appear, Vincent reasoned, that he had entertained the idea of using the power of crystals after all. Vincent was surprised. It was unlike Father to believe in such things, even though he had lived beneath the city and amid such treasures of the rocks for the past thirty odd years and Vincent hoped that the crystal would work, as much for Father’s belief in such things as for Lydia’s benefit. At any rate, it couldn’t hurt to try. Might hurt Father’s pride if it did, but they’d cross that bridge when and if they came to it.
Stopping by at his chamber before he left Vincent had but one reason to check his desk, to see if in his short absence to Father’s chamber, any letters had arrived for him. Disappointment flared when he saw it was empty. This then was another reason for his long trek to the lower levels. It would appear that his long friendship with the young girl Catherine, from above, was well and truly over. Oh, if only he could withdraw that letter he had written, the one where his fallen tears had smudged the ink. He had deliberated on sending it even at the time, but in the end his conviction that she would understand had won out and he had sent it to her. Now he regretted that decision very much. In six months, he had lost two friends and Vincent doubted that he would hear from either of them ever again.
*** *** ***
Their beloved mountains strewn with police Catherine, nose pressed against the bedroom window of the cabin, watched at her safe distance to the goings on outside. Her father’s figure bobbed into view from time to time, his face ashen, his body uptight, casting worried glances toward the cabin that sent shivers up and down Catherine’s spine. What was he trying to tell her?
What did he know?
It had been six hours already. The first bringing hoards of police and tracker dogs to the scene, the second a large black bag had been brought down the mountain on a stretcher, passing by her window and though she tried not to look, Catherine had found her eyes glued to what was so obviously the body inside. Her mind conjuring up all manner of horrors, trying to see what her father had seen while thankful that she hadn’t. It must have been bad. Her father had been sick for the best part of the day so far, every time he remembered what he had seen.
For an hour’s grace there had been relative peace and he had come into the cabin and had sat silently staring into space for a good ten minutes before he seemed to notice that his daughter was there. “Oh Catherine, what a terrible way to start our holiday.” He didn’t elaborate, but Catherine knew what his heart could not allow him to say, that this murder had spoilt everything they felt for these mountains had robbed them of the joy that they had in coming to the place, would forever mar their happiness and longing to be there. Suddenly Fiji and Trinidad seemed awfully appealing not that such things did not exist in those places, but because there it was expected, here it wasn’t.
“Should we go home?” Catherine ventured to ask. Knowing it was what her father really wanted.
“You don’t mind?” He seemed relieved and uncertain.
“No, in the circumstances, I think it is best. And you don’t look so well to me, daddy.”
“I’ll be all right baby, just give me time to get over the shock.”
“Was it very bad?” Catherine enquired timidly.
“And then some. Honey, believe me, you don’t ever want to know.”
“Would you like some coffee?” She wasn’t certain how to handle this, and smiled wryly, why did the offer of tea or coffee always follow a tragedy? What magic did it procure to alter things?
“Not for me, honey. Don’t think I could keep it down right now. Don’t let me stop you though if you’d like one.”
Catherine shivered. “No, I’ll go pack my things instead. Shall I do yours too?”
“Would you? Thank you Cathy. I’ll just sit here and close my eyes for a while, if that’s all right with you. The police will soon return to search for clues and I have to go up to the spot with them and make out a report. I need to prepare myself for that.”
Catherine said nothing, just nodded and made her way to her room her intention plain. Getting home might not completely erase the sights her father had seen, but being back and involved in other things might help to take his mind off of it.
As she packed, Catherine did not notice the top letter she had placed on her bedside table flutter onto the floor and glide beneath the bed. In fact even when she opened the drawer to pull out her personal things and along with them the batch of letters, they did not remind her of the one she had left out to read first, neither did she notice it missing when she picked up other things from off of the bedside cabinet.
Her mind was in turmoil. Her heart was totally with her father and how he was feeling. A shock like that could kill a person. The sooner they were back home and seeing Peter Alcott, their GP, the better she would like it. Finally, straightening and surveying the room to see if she had forgotten anything, Catherine carried her suitcase into the living room satisfied that she had packed everything of importance. The draught of air from the closing of the door floated the sheet of paper penned by Vincent further beneath the bed. It would be another five months before Catherine found it lying here.
*** *** ***
“I’ll try not to be gone too long.” Charles Chandler hated having to leave his daughter, especially as it was growing dark but neither did he want to have to stay at the cabin another night. As soon as he had shown the FBI where to contain their search he and his daughter could leave. That moment couldn’t come soon enough. He wouldn’t get any sleep that night, better he spent the time driving back to the city, tired as he was. If the worst come to the worst, Catherine could drive. She had gained her driver’s license several weeks earlier and the practice would be good for her. He planned to buy her a car of her own as a reward for good work on the arrival of her exam results.
“I’ll be all right daddy. I have almost finished packing your bags and when they are done I’ll spend the rest of the time cleaning up here so we can leave the moment you get back.”
“Thank you, honey.” His tone sounded strained, tired. Catherine wanted to erase the frown that had gathered upon his forehead with gentle fingers as she had seen her mother do on occasion for him. She hoped he wouldn’t be gone long. Catherine knew he had to help the police but the toll was telling on him. She wished she could have prevented him from seeing whatever it was that he had, and she wished that they had not gone riding that day. That whomsoever lay upon the mountainside would have lain there oblivious to them until their holiday had been over. Her father had needed this break and now it had been denied him. Maybe she could get him to think about returning to Fiji after all.
The door closed and Catherine was left in silence. It was the time of day that she loved the most in the cabin. The calm before the storm was the way her father looked at it. The moment when the day animals retired to their nests and dens and the night animals awoke. Within the hour, the night would descend and the sounds of owls, foxes, racoons, skunks and black bears around the cabin would be heard. Rustling sounds of animals edging toward the lake to thirst upon the clear cool water before embarking upon a night of hunting.
This night however, every little sound made Catherine jump. She could hear strange sounds, eerie sounds that she had never noticed before. She was sure the rocking chair in her bedroom moved of its own accord, though ever so slight she was sure it was moving now. Poised for flight Catherine listened intently and was certain that she could hear footsteps outside. She froze unwilling to look beyond the shutters, afraid of seeing a strange face pressed to the glass looking within.
When the door handle started to turn, she almost laughed with relief and hurried toward it eager to be enfolded in her father’s arms. Yet the door took an ungodly time to open, almost gingerly, hesitantly and likewise Catherine’s footsteps faltered as she walked toward it, the smile of welcome on her face disappearing as her apprehension grew.
A gloved hand worked its way around the door, one Catherine did not recognise and with a voice that wavered she called, “Who’s there?”
Immediately the door was pulled shut again and Catherine released a long ragged breath, waited a second and moved forward, only jumping back the instance the door handle moved again and the door creaked open.
Whoever it was it wasn’t her father. That on its own brought fear charging to Catherine’s throat and it wasn’t the police or they would have called out first. There was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run and Catherine seized the nearest object to hand. A rolling pin, it was the best she could do in the circumstances, but it alone gave her courage she did not feel as she waited, eyes wide, breathing shallow, for the door to open fully and reveal this intruder of the night.
*** *** ***
Funny how the gentle trickle of water could ease a troubled spirit. That and the fiery colours of the crystals all around provided Vincent with the healing that he sought. Here deep in his underground world Vincent was able to unwind and see things logically and for what they were. His love for Lisa had affected him strongly and her attitude toward his advances had battered his heart in ways he had not encountered ever before.
The worst of it all of course was that he had allowed himself to dream. Always knowing that the usual sort of relationships were never for him, Lisa’s company had altered that opinion gently, bit by bit like cool soothing waves upon hot sand although he grinned wryly for the total opposite had occurred. It had in fact, been him that had become like the scorching heat of the sun as his emotions had turned into desire for his young companion. He really had thought that she had felt the same. That was the worst of it. He had misread? Misjudged? The situation badly, having had no other experience to go on. Perhaps even Lisa did not realise. Perhaps in all fairness rather than flirt with him she had just been dancing to a captivated audience, believing that he just enjoyed seeing her dance. How could she have known that watching her had set his soul aflame? How could she have predicted that to suggest that the two of them be alone together was giving off any other signal but that of friendship? Of giving him the best seat in the house, and the privilege of seeing her dance privately before she embraced the world?
Oh how he berated himself now for those dreams. For that silly notion that she would welcome any advances of a sexual, romantic nature, from him! His actions had cost him Lisa’s friendship and his telling of it had cost him Catherine’s too. That too, was a bitter pill to swallow. They’d been corresponding for almost ten years, had shared dreams and sorrows. He thought he knew her, this woman of the world just as he had thought he knew Lisa. But he had been a fool, a blind silly fool, and he should have known better should have listened to Father that such things for him, could never be.
Well it had been a hard lesson, a dreadful mistake but he would learn from it. No more would he take friendships at face value. From now on, he would be secretive, give of himself when asked but not offer guidance, affection, and friendship unless someone made it acutely plain that was what they required of him.
Looking at the solid wall of crystal, Vincent symbolically placed piece by hardened piece around his heart in an attempt to guard himself from future heartache. This must never happen again. The pain, the embarrassment was too much. He could not bear it.
So, he would live his life as one, one different from the rest an outsider in many respects. Accepted yes, loved yes, but not by a woman, for what single woman could show him unconditional love such as he yearned for? Had not his mother disregarded him? If she could then he had to face it so would every woman. Never would he lay his head to a breast, never would he feel the embrace of a woman that adored him.
Vincent’s heart broke a little more as he contemplated his future his hollow, bitter future. How he would cope, he did not know. His dreams had shattered and he would allow himself the beauty of no other. For to sink into unreality - into fantasy, brought only pain and disillusionment. Father had managed all alone and he would too. He would concentrate on the needs of the children. At least they accepted and returned his love. Yes, from now on he would love only the children.
From his breast pocket, he took out a sheaf of papers letters from Catherine. His first intention had been to burn them, but he found the striking of the match impossible. His hands shook and his heart grieved him. When a slight breeze blew out the match, Vincent took it as a sign not to destroy them, but instead to place them inside an iron box and bury them in the sandy floor of the Crystal cavern. He seldom came to the place and when he did he would dig them up, and if he felt capable he would read through them again and remember the joy of having found a friend from the world above. But he would not dream that they might meet and fall in love. Such things were not for him and besides it would appear that he would never hear from Catherine again. That grieved him more than he cared to admit. He had unburdened himself in that letter, the one where his tears had smudged the ink. He had sobbed as he had written of his loss for Lisa. He had thought Catherine of all people would understand. He had been there for her when her mother had died. He did not doubt that she would return the favour and heal him as she had told him he had healed her. But in that too, he had been wrong. Well from now on, he would choose his friends carefully and not place all his trust in them no matter how they appeared to care for him. Heartache hurt, it hurt terribly and he could quite understand why some men died of it. Why some women committed suicide at the loss of a love one. Yes, he understood now. Even the poetry he had read and believed to have understood, took on a deeper, more fulfilling meaning since he had been subjected to heartache of his own but what a way to know. Vincent would have preferred not to have had that experience, more than anything.
The saddest thing of all though, the saddest most frightening thought of all was the years ahead. At 19 he was still a teenager, in many respects still a child and always learning. But the thought of spending X number of years alone filled Vincent with the deepest hurt possible. He knew Father’s wisdom would take away some of the pain but Father was getting on in years too, he wouldn’t always be there to shoulder Vincent’s emotions, his depressions and outrage. There would come a time when Vincent would have to take stock of his own life and possibly take charge as Father had done. People would in time look up to him. Could he become the source of wisdom and guidance that they so desperately needed? And how much knowledge could he really impart?
It was all becoming too much too soon too much to think about. He had to slow down and not think about things that might not happen for decades, but could just as easily happen next week, tomorrow even. Yet, Vincent did not want to dwell on such things now. Already he had had more than his fair share of responsibilities gone wrong. He had been responsible to Lisa, and that had gone wrong. He had supposed to be a friend to Catherine and that had gone wrong. But why, why on earth had unburdening himself of his love for Lisa to Catherine stopped her from writing to him? His following letters had begged her to reply, to explain how he had offended her. Some were full of apologies hoping she would forgive him. And then when he had found out that Peter had been away and all the letters had piled up and Catherine had not received them he was jubilant and had written to Peter asking for him to bring them back, so that he might sift through them and pull out the ones he had considered improper. But Peter had not seen his note until he had given Charles Chandler the batch of letters, and it had been too late. Even so, Catherine had had the chance to write, and Vincent had put himself over the hot coals all over again waiting, hoping anticipating a letter that did not arrive.
When it had not come, Vincent had planned for this trip to the crystal cavern expecting that here he would close another chapter of his life, and start a fresh one on his return.
With that thought in mind, Vincent delayed no more. He dug the hole, placed the letter filled box within and covered it over again. “Goodbye Catherine.” He whispered as the box disappeared from view, “Our friendship was nice while it lasted.” Who was he kidding? Their friendship had been beautiful; he had treasured what they had shared. Still it was over, he must remember that just as his dream with Lisa was over. Gathering his things together, Vincent stood and prepared to leave, one backward glance lingering over the place where he had buried the box and again whispered, “Goodbye Lisa, goodbye Catherine,” before starting out on the long journey home with a heavy heart and eyes blinded by sorrow.*** *** ***
Catherine knew that it would be useless to hide. She had already called out a greeting. Still she hurried across the room and stood behind the door intent to clonk her intruder over the head if they appeared to be menacing in any way. Maybe it was someone from one of the other cabins? But why did they not call out, why were they entering her home without even knocking? Gripping the rolling pin till her knuckles hurt Catherine watched the door swing back and stood quaking behind the presence of some person covered from head to foot in a long black Mac. She wanted to scream, but no sound would come and from her vantage point the figure already looked menacing and Catherine slowly raised her weapon above her head ready to strike.
When it came his voice startled her, “Where are you?” Yet, even so, his words brought a rush of relief as she decided he sounded friendly. How wrong could she be?
“Here.” She replied timidly and froze as he turned and she saw the blood soaked garments that he wore. Invisible hands seized Catherine’s throat rendering her unable to speak and she thrashed out with all her might with the wooden and marble object in her hands. He ducked each blow swiftly, even as he stepped toward her his eyes dark and thunderous, his mouth twisted into a sneer as he told her, “You don’t want to do that young lady. I’m not nice when I’m angry.” Throwing the rolling pin hard against his face Catherine heard the thwack as it struck bone and as he staggered she bolted for the door wrenching it open and rounding it even as he grabbed her arm in passing.
Adrenaline kicked in, Catherine fought and kicked, clawed and bit the arm that held her until he finally let go and she took off slipping on the dampened grass her eyes darting this way and that as she sought her escape.
Close behind, she heard him running, slip sliding on the wet grass, cursing as he followed her, endeavouring to cut her off, even though she knew not where she headed. There was nothing but open space, and though she knew her father to be up the mountain, she knew that dashing uphill would not gain her any ground over her pursuer’s long strides. She twisted, turning in mid stroke as he lunged for her and saw him fall to her left colliding with an outcrop of rock, feeling triumphant when she heard him curse and knew she had gained some distance. Ahead of her was her father’s car, she dismissed it as being locked, probably her pursuer had already tried that, but as she neared the vehicle she tried the handle anyway, jubilant when it clicked open. Throwing herself inside, she slammed down the safety catches, and sought the spare set of keys above the sun visor. They were gone!
“Looking for these?” Fear clutched at her heart as she looked up to see the man holding up a set of keys in one hand and her skin turned to ice as she noticed the glint of the axe her father used to chop logs in the other.
There was nothing else for it; she would throw herself onto the car horn and stay there, knowing that her life was ticking away. Any moment now the axe would come crashing through the window and she would be at his mercy. Still she had to try and so with her chest pressing tightly against it, the horn blared out eerily echoing for miles and miles leaving Catherine to hope and pray that the horrifying blade now hurtling toward her would bring death swiftly to her young life.
Strange, but her last thought before the windscreen shattered, was not of her father, or of her mother as she would have supposed, but of her pen friend Vincent, a young man whom she had never even met.
*** *** ***
“Vincent, you’re home? Was your trip rewarding?” Father’s face beamed at the sight of his son. It had only been three days, but it had seemed more like three months. Father worried so when Vincent was gone. Especially when he knew how venerable his son was at present. The experience with Lisa had cost his son much of his former joy of living and Father knew that the city girl had not eased the situation in any way. Had she of been there for him at a time when he most needed a friend Vincent might not have faced the predicament he faced now. For Father could see loneliness etched upon his son’s features even though Vincent replied that the trip had certainly done him good.
“Nothing untoward has transpired in your absence. You chose a good time to go. In fact we have all had quite a restful weekend. I expect that is what you aim to do now is it? Mary has placed clean linen on your bed, and some hot water bottles were placed within the sheets not long ago in anticipation of your arrival home.”
“Thank you Father.” Vincent bent and placed a soft kiss upon his parent’s brow, “I shall retire shortly. First a cup of tea I think.”
“Of course. How silly of me, I should have thought.” Father made to rise, but Vincent, with one hand to his father’s shoulder eased him down again, “I’ll make it Father. You rest. My legs are younger than yours.”
Father chuckled. How often had he told Vincent those same words? Certainly, this trip away had changed his son. Or maybe circumstances had done that to him. The bitter pill of adolescence and his first and probably, hopefully, Father almost snorted, last romance.
The tea made, father and son sat happy in one another’s company sipping their brew. Father watched his son over the rim of his glasses, unable to see through them for steam. His eyes were ever watchful, ever knowing. “How are you Vincent?” He asked at length. “How are you, really?”
“I’ll survive.” Vincent told him with a sigh. “The past is gone Father, let’s not dwell on it another day. I left it behind at the crystal cavern. This is the first day of the rest of my life and I want no reminders as to what led me here.”
Father nodded understanding totally. Surprised though when Vincent suddenly asked, “Have any letters arrived for me while I have been gone?”
Father shook his head, wondering even as he did so whether or not he would have handed them over even if the hoped for letters had arrived. From here on Vincent could heal, anything else might cause another setback. It would probably in all fairness be better if Vincent never heard from the young girl again. He could come to terms with it as two friends outgrowing one another. Still, Father had to admit, he too was grieved as to why she had stopped writing to his son. Had Peter told her what Vincent’s differences were? He had promised never to divulge that information, but had he? It would certainly make sense. Father wondered if the thought had crossed Vincent’s mind. He hoped not for that could only make matters worse. Still it would not be the first time someone had tossed Vincent aside for his looks, had not his own mother...still they could only speculate on those circumstances...even so...
“I think I will go and rest now Father if you do not mind?” Vincent replaced his teacup to the tray from where he had taken it and headed for the chamber entrance his pack slung over one shoulder.
“Of course, Vincent. I’ll ask Geoffrey or Kipper to bring dinner to you. Don’t worry about any duties. The morning will come around soon enough, you just rest.”
Vincent smiled, kissed his father and exited, a huge sigh of relief escaping as he entered the tunnel beyond.
Father had asked no leading questions as to his trip, and for that Vincent was grateful. After all what could he tell him that would not make him worry? From now on, he would live out his life dutifully fulfilling the way set for him, as in automation, knowing that for him even dreams did not exist.
*** *** ***
A lonely life, a life of existence until he took his last breath. Vincent hoped he would not live too long.
“What’s that?” Coming down the mountain one of the three men that had accompanied Charles Chandler back to the cabin stopped to listen.
“Sounds like a car horn.” Replied another. “Or have you got a burglar alarm fitted on your vehicle Mr Chandler?”
“No.” Charles picked up his pace, “It is a car horn. My car horn, Catherine must be in trouble.”
“How old is she?”
“Seventeen. I told her to stay in the cabin. Obviously, something dreadful has happened. Why would she be in the car?”
The four men hurried now running downhill as carefully as they could ever watchful by the torchlight for roots that might trip them. “Maybe she went out for some wood for the fire.”
“Yeah,” another went on, “Possibly got spooked by a black bear ambling by.”
“Catherine is used to the animals round these parts. I’ve never known her that frightened of bears before.” At the back of his mind Charles was uneasy. Rather than the body having lain there for days as he had supposed, they had found out that it had been put there earlier that morning. It was possible that whomsoever laid it there was still on the mountain.
“What’s that?” A sound of splintered glass sounded amid the blare of the horn and Charles ran faster heedless of the terrain.
None of them spoke now, just ran, allowing adrenaline to kick in, even more so as amid the sounds of owl and fox a human scream split the night.
“It is Catherine!” Charles shouted then as loud as he could he bellowed; “Catherine! Catherine! We’re coming honey. Hold on!” Beneath his breath he added, 'whatever it is, hold on honey, we’ll soon be there.'
Racing into the clearing situated around the cabin, the four men could at first see little but the glare of headlights, though the sound of crunching was clearly noticeable. It was coming from behind the cabin, where the bushes grew between loose granite.
"Sam, Ray you go see what that is I'll stay with Mr Chandler.” At the command of their superior the two men ran in the direction of the crunching and cursing as someone obviously slipped and stumbled on loose ground.
Charles ran around to the side of his car, shock and fear etched upon his features as he saw the smashed glass, and the ashen white face of his daughter staring straight ahead. He sprang forward intent on yanking open the door and found it to be locked. “Cathy, open the door honey. It's me, dad.”
He tripped then, something lay at his feet, and Charles bent to survey it with the beam of his torch and froze. An axe!
Colour drained from his face as he took in the picture presented before him. He felt sick. Someone had tried to kill his daughter. No wonder she was in such a state. She neither blinked nor turned her head just kept staring into space like a zombie.
“My God!” A voice sounded at the side of him and he did not need to turn to know it was the member of the police force that had stayed with him. “That’s an axe! What in God’s name went on here?”
“Isn’t it obvious!” Charles snapped. “That psycho has tried to kill my daughter! Get an ambulance up here can you? She’s in shock!”
The fellow ambled away taking his radio from his top pocket as he went and made the necessary calls. His face wore an expression of immense fear. He had sent two of his youngest colleagues after that lunatic and there was no way of knowing if he was armed or not. His heart ached for the young woman inside the car. They should have returned sooner should have realised the moment they heard by radio that the body had been placed there only that morning; that there was a possibility of the murderer still being in the mountains. He should have made certain that he not only set to in taking Charles Chandler and his daughter to safety, but also had checked on the other inhabitants of the mountains. That was the other people renting or living in cabins. But he had done none of those things, being absorbed as he was in the murder enquiry. Few things this exciting happened in these parts.
“They’re on their way. We need to keep her warm, can you get her out of the car, Sir?” Well he’d make up for his lack of efficiency now; at least he knew his first aid measures. A shot of brandy or hot sweet tea wouldn’t go amiss either, for any of them.
The sound of snapping bracken drew his attention away from Charles who having unlocked the door by carefully inserting his hand through the broken window was helping his daughter from the seat.
“Who’s that?” He called warily, sighing with relief when he heard one of his two colleagues answer.
“Its Ray. I lost them Edward, I couldn’t keep up. I’m sorry.”
Edward paled again, as nausea churned in the pit of his stomach, “You lost them. What do you mean by them? And where’s Sam?”
“That’s what I mean. I lost sight of Sam and whatever he was pursuing. I called for ages, but Sam didn’t answer at all.”
Edward felt someone walk over his grave. He didn’t like the sound of that one bit.
“How’s the young lady?” Ray asked walking toward the car. He could tell by her appearance that something was terribly wrong. What on earth had she seen to render her thus? And what had happened here. “Was it a bear?”
“A bear, my foot!” Roared Charles. “Does a bear wield an axe for God’s sake? Does this look like a bear attack?” Immediately contrite, Charles apologised, how was the fellow to know what they had discovered in his absence?
The sound of approaching sirens stilled each one in his thinking, first things first. The young woman must get to hospital; her father should go with her. The car could be taken down the mountain at first light.
“I wouldn’t come back up here Sir, if you don’t mind me saying. Where are your things? Best you take them with you now. Someone will return the car to you after it has been checked for finger prints.”
Charles nodded and pointed toward the cabin, “Catherine was packing while we went up the mountain. See if she got it finished.” His words trembled as the thought presented itself of what might have taken place inside the cabin. Had Catherine been inside or out when all this had taken place? What might he have found if she hadn’t been able to lock herself in the car? What might he have saved her if he had only left the keys in the ignition? Charles found his head spinning with possibilities. He hated to see his daughter like this. Supposing she never spoke again? Supposing the trauma rendered her an egghead for the rest of her life? That thought alone was the one that set the tears streaming down his cheeks, his beautiful talented daughter a vegetable for the rest of her life.
As the ambulance came into view, Charles responded on automation. Guiding his daughter with one arm about her tiny frame and holding a car rug around her shoulders his other clasped her ice cold hands in his he took her toward the vehicle as it came to a halt alongside his own. And then two paramedics, a man and a woman, jumped out from the cab and took charge of the situation.
“What is her name?”
“Its Catherine.” Charles relinquished his hold on his daughter with some apprehension.
“You can let her go, she’ll be in good hands now, Sir.”
“She was before! I’m her father!” Charles snapped.
“Sorry. You know what I mean.” The paramedic searched Charles eyes, his own filled with sympathy, and Charles was immediately apologetic for his outburst. “Yes, I do, I’m sorry, please forgive me. Its just that...” He was unable to go on. Suddenly everything seemed too much. The ghastly nightmare was never ending.
“I think we should have you in as a patient too Sir, if you don’t mind me saying. You look about all in. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but how about you letting us get on with our job and get you both comfortable inside the ambulance?”
Charles nodded. He did feel awfully weak, and old. And the shivers had started… he’d had one shock too many this day. He wished they could wake up and find it had never happened. He longed to start the day again to see Catherine smile. Hear her laughter. This wan frightened girl was a mere shadow of the vibrant young lady that she was only hours earlier. A lump formed in Charles throat. To think they had anticipated this holiday with such joy, to come here and be close to the memories of days spent with his dear wife Caroline, Catherine’s mother, and now all that spoilt forever by the unspeakable horror of what had been discovered and what had taken place this day. It would never ever be the same again. Charles shuddered, in fact, he couldn’t ever visualise wanting to return. And that too grieved him. Some lunatic had robbed his daughter of another piece of her mother and in many respects that hurt more than everything that had happened that day put together.
*** *** ***
“Vincent I wonder if you would mind doing me a favour?” Father asked his son on the very same day that Catherine and her father left the hospital to make the trip home to Manhattan.
“What’s that Father?” Vincent was mildly interested. He had his nose in a book, and a very good book at that. In truth, he would rather not have been disturbed, but if his father needed help, well the book would always be there when he came back. Well it would if he hid it. Every tunnel member read books avidly and new ones were pounced upon like gold dust.
“I haven’t heard anything of Narcissa for a long time. I know you have a fondness for the old witch...er I mean woman...I thought you might like to pay her a visit, take her some supplies, you know the sort of thing?”
Vincent laughed as he saw his father’s discomfort. He knew that Father thought of Narcissa as a witch, it was funny that he had spoken his feelings aloud without meaning to. But his request was something of a surprise, Narcissa was quite able to order and collect the supplies she needed without Father’s interference, in fact as the pair rarely saw eye to eye, Vincent wondered why Father was indeed concerned for the old woman’s welfare at all.
“Is there something I should know?” Vincent asked laying his book to one side. Temporarily forgotten the book took second place to the look in Father’s eyes, good as it was.
“Know? What is there to know?” Father averted his gaze and began to fiddle with things, his mind quite obviously seeking distraction.
Vincent thought of pursuing it, but decided against, however it rankled that his father was up to something. Something that did not concern Narcissa’s welfare at all, but rather, if Vincent was right, and he usually was, meant that Father wanted Vincent out of the way for the day. For no one lived further a field than Narcissa did and it would take a good day to visit with her and return.
“As you wish.” Vincent walked over to his father’s side, “When would you have me go? Now?”
“No, no not now. I thought tomorrow. Would that be all right?”
“Tomorrow is fine, but if you are concerned about Narcissa, I would have thought today would have been better. And I am free and willing to go.”
Father searched his son’s face for clues. What had he discovered? Had he seen through the facade? Worse still, was he wrong to insist on his son taking this journey? Wasn’t it better to tell him why he wanted him absence from the home chambers on the following day? Ever since Father had received Peter’s letter, he had been on tender hooks about this. He didn’t like strangers at the best of times but to have a request that one visit put Father on edge. What if they were to see Vincent? What then?
“What is it Father?” Vincent couldn’t help but ask. The vague distracted look that passed over his father’s face concerned him greatly. “What’s wrong? Why do you want me out of the way for a whole day?”
Despite himself, Father had the grace to grin, “There’s no fooling you is there?” He asked his son. “What’s so wrong with my requesting that you visit with Narcissa?”
“Because I know you Father. And you forget that that old witch as you fondly call her, fills my head with rubbish, or so you insist, and I cannot fathom for one moment why you should wish for me to visit with her when you feel so strongly against the things that she tells me. So come, give. Why do you want me out of the way for a whole day?” Vincent’s blue eyes twinkled.
“So, I’m that transparent am I?” Father voiced with a grin. Vincent nodded, standing with his arms folded in front of him offering a no nonsense stance as he waited.
“Oh if I must!” Father snorted and settling himself back into his favourite winged chair, leaned forward and extracted a sheet of paper from his desk drawer. “You can sit down Vincent, you are making me nervous.”
Vincent laughed, taking back his seat of moments earlier.
“I have a letter from Peter.” He held it up waved it to and fro before his face, and then pushing his spectacles further up onto his nose placed the letter before him and began to read.
I want to ask a very important favour of you. You remember the young lady that Vincent has been writing to over the past few years, well it seems that she has got herself into a spot of bother.” Father paused here and looking directly at Vincent told him, “I thought Peter was going to say she had got herself pregnant. I thought I would be sat here telling you that was why you hadn’t heard from her. I thought Peter was going to suggest that we offer her sanctuary, and I am afraid that I was on the defensive when I read on.” For a few moments more, Father searched Vincent’s face for clues, when none were forthcoming, he went on with the letter.
“Last week, Catherine and her father went to their holiday home where they stumbled upon a body in the mountains.” Vincent sucked in a breath here, picturing the shock that would cause to his young friend.
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience but they would have coped in time. However, the worst was yet to come. While Charles was showing the FBI the spot, the psychopath that caused the murder attacked Catherine in her car, and though she was unharmed...” Father cringed as Vincent stood and roared.
“Vincent please...sit down...save your outburst till I’ve finished.” Vincent sat uneasily. He was angry, furious that anyone could attempt such a thing to a friend of his even one that had blatantly ignored him when he had needed her the most.
“As I was saying," Father took up the narrative where he had left off, "...though she was unharmed, the experience left Catherine traumatised and she is undergoing counsel to help her recover. However, that was not all. One member of the police force who had given chase to the maniac was later found stabbed to death and this mad man is still on the loose. Obviously, the whole of the NYPD are incensed at these murders and attempted murder, and know that Catherine is the only witness to the murderer's identity. In cases like these, usually it is a straightforward matter of police protection, or witness protection, and especially as Charles Chandler is an attorney, he knows the strings to pull to protect his daughter. But though they have tried all of these things Charles has received threats on his answer phone both at home and at his office against his daughter’s life. And Catherine herself was sent a dozen red roses with a card edged with blood with the words; ‘You’re dead meat.’ inscribed in blood upon it. Naturally Charles and Catherine are very much afraid, and when they leave the hospital on Wednesday, they will have no safe place to go...which leads me to you.” Father paused again here. “I don’t have to tell you what this means Vincent. Peter’s letter makes it plain enough but how do you feel about it? This was the girl that deserted you when you needed her the most and you two have never met for God’s sake. You don’t need me to tell you that doing so could in all fairness take her over the edge after what she has experienced as sorry as I am to say it.” And he was sorry but there it was. What would it do to the young woman to see what Vincent looked like after all she had endured? Vincent understood at once and he was furious, beginning his notorious pacing with vigour.
“On the other hand...” Father spoke almost as if to himself as he watched his son’s mighty power glisten before his eyes, “You might make her feel protected. Your presence, the way you look, your immense physical strength could make her take refuge beneath the shadow of your wings so to speak. You might find that you will provide her with a safe place from the storm.”
Vincent stopped his pacing as the new thought presented itself. Was he hearing right? Was his father allowing this person, this stranger to come into their midst and suggesting those possibilities for her benefit or were they for his? Had Father deemed that he had said too much, perhaps the wrong thing in airing his views and was now hastening to make amends with poetic phrases?
Still whatever the reason the fact presented itself in stark reality, Catherine needed sanctuary, and they could provide it. No one would find her down here. She would be safe until she needed to identify the man but what if they never caught him? How long was it possible for her to stay? There was no answer to that question, it bordered on too many possibilities and they would have to cross that bridge if and when they came to it.
“My main concern...” Father was saying, breaking through Vincent’s reverie, “Is you.” Father looked at his son anxiously.
“Me? Why me, Father?”
“What having her here will do for you.” He didn’t have to say it, but he did so anyway, “After Lisa I mean.”
Vincent laughed and Father caught up in the nature of the outburst laughed with him, “Father, I think you have been reading too many romances, besides wasn’t it you yourself that admonished, once bitten twice shy when I told you how I had fared down in the crystal cavern. I want nothing to take me through that kind of experience again you know that. I shouldn’t worry Father, whatever there is between Catherine and I, know this that I see it as nothing more than friendship.”
Father breathed a sigh of relief, “So we’ll let her come then? Oh I know ours isn’t the final decision, but in the circumstances I’m sure the council will not stand in her way.”
“What of her father? Surely, it will be a risk for him to visit. He could be followed?”
“Peter’s letter makes mention to this fact. Both father and daughter will visit the tunnels... Lord, it might be that neither could contemplate staying here when they see the way we live and we’ll be worrying unduly, but from what Peter was saying once Charles has satisfied himself that he isn’t taking his daughter out of the frying pan and into the fire, he will keep well away. He knows his daughters’ life is at stake here and difficult as it may be he will leave well alone.”
“Well that’s something to be thankful for. So when are they arriving? Tomorrow I take it?”
“Yes tomorrow. They are leaving today and spending the night at Peter’s.”
“Is that wise? Why could they not come straight here when they arrive back in the city?”
“No reason. I just couldn’t think of a plausible excuse to have you away for the whole day until tomorrow.”
“Well, now you don’t need one. Send word to Peter and assemble the council then the moment Catherine and her father reach Manhattan we’ll have them brought below without delay. Anything could happen between today and tomorrow so the sooner Catherine is installed Below the better.”
Father nodded, “I couldn’t agree more.” And since his son had made it plain that he would have no romantic notions with the young woman from above, Father hastened to make plans for her arrival more at ease than he had been since Peter’s request had arrived.
*** *** ***
With her chin resting in the palms of her hands Catherine leaned with elbows to the table and watched the light from a dozen candles cast shadows on the unique features of the one sat opposite her. How she had ever found him grotesque she could not imagine. First sight and all that she supposed. Or maybe it was the fact that she had built her own ‘face’ for this man and her dreams could never have been further from the truth. What had amazed her more had been her father’s ready acceptance of him and Catherine would always remember that very first meeting:-
From the moment that Peter had shown them into Father’s chamber and their eyes had finally fallen from the room’s decor to the two men watching their arrival, her father had been awestruck with Vincent. Catherine had been awestruck too, but in a different way. She had been struck too dumb to scream.
They had stood there on the steps leading down into the chamber and openly stared at the strange man before them, until her father finding his voice at last, be that it wavered, had asked, “Are you for real?”
Vincent had risen then and with a courteous bow had welcomed the two of them into his home, offering them each a seat that would afford them opportunity to further examine his features without appearing rude in doing so.
“I am what I am.” Vincent had told her father extending one gloved hand in welcome. Her father, bless him, had taken the hand without preamble and had shaken it quite hard. He told her afterward that doing so impressed upon him the strength that Vincent possessed.
“How did you get like that?” Charles wanted to know, seemingly forgetting his manners by ignoring Father completely.
Vincent had smiled then, Catherine remembered that well. Her eyes never leaving his face had seen his eyes light up with amusement and a hint of sadness as he replied, “I do not know. My mother abandoned me at birth. I have ideas...” he spread his palms out to either side of him and shrugged, “but I do not know if any of them are in any way near the truth.”
“You poor thing.” Her father had replied, and Vincent's father was quick to reassure him.
“No pity is needed. Vincent has grown up with a wealth of love and a family that adores him. He has not missed out save for being denied the sunshine.”
“Really,” her father had added, “that’s so sad yet having said that often love in abundance more than makes up for that which has been lacking."
Vincent agreed with him, adding; "No man has been loved more than I. As regards the other things, I have regrets, who doesn’t, but I get by.”
“That’s a very admirable approach, Vincent. And I expect you are a force to be reckoned with too huh?” Charles smiled intending no offence but Vincent visibly paled before them. Jacob Wells noticed too and hastened to reassure their guests. “Vincent tries not to use his abilities in defence of us, though I am certain he would if he had to. However, we are safe down here, and as long as newcomers promise to keep our secret that’s the way it will stay.”
“Oh you have my word.” Charles told them at once. “How about you, honey?”
Catherine who had until then been silent looked to each man in turn, leaving Vincent till last. She didn’t know what to say although she knew deep down that she would never tell a living soul above about this place. And who would believe her about Vincent? But she was unable to voice those opinions, instead saying; “ I can’t believe this is happening.” And then instantly feeling very foolish as her remark was mistaken.
“It’s happening, because it’s a necessity.” Father told her sternly, “If Vincent were to be discovered, well surely I don’t need to explain what that would mean for him?”
“No, its not that, I wouldn’t... I mean...” Catherine faltered, unable to voice her thoughts.
“You have to promise not to tell. Had we of known how you would feel I would never have agreed to your coming here in the first place. It was partly because of your friendship to Vincent over the years that made me relent to Peter’s request, and although your loyalty has waned somewhat recently I saw no reason not to trust you with our secret. It appears I was wrong.” Father was standing now, leaning forward with arms on his desk glaring at the young woman, as if by doing so he could drop her with a glance.
Catherine drew a deep breath, then with head held high replied, “What you insinuate is wrong. What I meant, was that I can’t believe that I am here, that this place exists, that I never knew it existed, yet we must be what? Directly beneath the park, a place I have visited a thousand times. Its incredible.” then turning to Vincent she told him sincerely, “You, are incredible.”
Smiling Vincent told her, “I’ve been called many things, incredible has never been one of them, and I hasten to ask in what way you think that of me?”
She could see he was teasing her and Catherine blushed, and lowering her lashes so that he could not see her eyes she told him, “Unique.” while beneath her breath she added, “Grotesque.” But how could she reveal that to him?
“Some would say that I am ugly.”
Startled, Catherine’s eyes rose to meet his. How had he known what she had been thinking? Again she blushed but said nothing, too flustered to think of anything to say. Her father on the other hand had plenty to fill in with.
“That all depends on the onlooker. I am a great believer in beauty that shines from within and no matter what a person looks like that inner beauty can become like a beacon drawing everyone near. Yet with you, Vincent, there is something else, something quite remarkable, you are different yes, very much so, but please don’t be offended, you are beautiful too. Outside. You are beautiful outside. I saw it the moment I set eyes on you, and you’re strong too I bet?"
“Thank you.” Vincent replied humbly. He could tell Charles was being sincere, but Vincent worried about Charles' daughter. Though they had built up a closeness between them over the years, perhaps he had done wrong not to prepare her for the way that he looked, but then how could he? How could he tell a perfect stranger in a letter that his looks were animalistic?
“Hopefully it won’t have to be a long stay, “Charles was going on, “But I am certain Catherine will be safe down here. And I must admit my first impression while being led down by Peter greatly reduced when I saw the welcome we received by everyone along the way, and then saw all these candles, all these books, and you Vincent. In my opinion you are the icing on the cake. I can sleep at night knowing that Catherine is in safe hands. Talking of which are they reminiscent as the rest of you?” Charles nodded toward Vincent’s gloved hands.
Extracting his gloves, Vincent revealed his hands, bringing forth a gasp from both Charles and Catherine.
“Lethal.” Charles commented with awe.
Vincent didn’t like to think of them that way, and he hoped Catherine’s father wasn’t setting him up as some super hero for his daughter. Father thought so too. “That’s as maybe, but those hands rock to sleep the youngest member of our community with tender care. I know you mean well Mr Chandler, but please, don’t set Vincent up in your own mind as some guardian angel for your daughter. He has his differences and they are useful to us, of course they are, but to highlight those differences, I well know causes my son great discomfort and pain.” And reminds him of things best left forgotten, he added beneath his breath, but instead told Charles, “We will do everything in our power to see that your daughter is safe down here, but that role will not fall primarily on Vincent. We, all of us, will take equal responsibility.”
Charles nodded, and apologised before agreeing, “Yes I know you will, and I am grateful. Now how about visits? Will you permit me to come from time to time?”
Catherine looked fearfully toward Father, and hopefully toward her own, as Father replied, “I don’t think this is wise, do you? I mean if this psychopath knows of Catherine’s whereabouts above he might start following you when he cannot find her.”
“We’ve spoken of this.” Peter prompted, the first time he had spoken since their arrival, apart from making the introductions, and he turned in his chair to look at Charles, “You know the police advised that wherever your daughter was taken to, you should keep away from her. Unless you were prepared to co-operate and use her as bait.”
“That’s unthinkable!” Father rose again. “We could not allow that!”
“Relax Jacob.” Peter told his friend, “If we decide on that venture we would do it a long way from the tunnels. Don’t worry, we don’t intend to betray your secret no matter how difficult it is to find the bast...I mean...” Peter looked apologetically in Catherine’s direction, “fellow.” he finished lamely.
“Have you any leads?” Vincent asked.
“No. And Catherine is the only one that knows what he looks like. The murder victim still has to be formally identified and until he is, we have no way of knowing if he knew the murderer or not. That is, by Catherine’s help with the photo fit, we do not know who to show his photo to.” Charles spoke grimly as he addressed the problems one by one.
“The papers are covering it of course,” Catherine started to involve herself in the conversation. Now that they had left the makeup of Vincent behind, she felt able to converse in things she knew something about.
“Yes, and they are running the photo fit.” Charles added.
“But no photo fit could ever capture those eyes.” Catherine shuddered, and her words made both Peter and her father turn to her with worried glances.
“You’ve never mentioned it before.” Charles whispered, taking up her trembling hand in his. He could see Catherine reliving the moment in her mind’s eye as she became silent and withdrawn.
For long moments, silence permeated the chamber, each not quite knowing what to say, and all visibly jumped when Catherine began speaking again, almost in automation.
“Like a shark. You know, those deep, expressionless eyes, the ones that seem to go on forever. Black unmerciful eyes like those sharks we saw at the sea life centre in Florida.”
“Are you sure about this honey, it was awfully dark?” Charles asked her gently.
“Not in the cabin.”
Charles sucked in a breath. His daughter had not been able to bring herself to speak of that day, and up till now all he knew was that someone had attacked her with intent to kill, and that someone had killed twice before, maybe more, and was intent on killing his daughter still.
“He came to you in the cabin?”
There was silence again, and then Catherine seeming to shake herself from her reverie surprised them by suddenly saying, “Shouldn’t you be going daddy? We’ve been here a long time already.”
“What? Oh er...” Charles checked his watch, “Yes, perhaps you are right. I’m sure these good people have much to do. You will be all right won’t you honey?”
Catherine wanted to laugh, wanted to say something witty, something to ease the frown she saw gathering on her father’s brow, but for the life of her she could think of nothing like that to say. Instead she told him solemnly, “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. He’ll never find me down here.”
It was word enough though, for Charles visibly relaxed, “I know he won’t honey. Thank God for this place.”
“My sentiments exactly.” A voice came from the doorway, and all looked up to find a burly fellow, that some recognised and some did not, standing there.
“Come in William.” Father beckoned the fellow to enter, “This is Charles Chandler and his daughter, Catherine. Catherine is staying with us for a while.” Next he turned to their guests and told them cheerfully, “This is William...” but before he could add anything further William had extended a hand of welcome and added, “Chief cook and bottle washer...you’ll stay for lunch I take it?”
Dubiously, Charles checked his watch again, but though he was running late, morbid curiosity got the better of him. He had brought supplies down with him so that his daughter might not starve down here, but he was curious to know what the other half lived on, since none of them appeared undernourished.
“Well...” He began clearly tempted.
“It’s all ready, and you don’t have to come into the dining room, I can bring it to you here.” William shot Father a warning look in reply to the one from him that said ‘dining room?’
“That would be most acceptable. Thank you.” Charles replied reseating himself.
“I’ll be two shakes of a lambs tail.” William told them exiting the chamber, and true to his word returned moments later with a tray of steaming stew. Lamb stew no less.
The scent wafted in on the breath of candles to Charles and Catherine and was so delicious that their stomachs rumbled noticeably. “Guess I was hungrier than I thought.” Charles remarked with a grin. “Thank you William, this smells delicious.”
And so it had been with all the meals that Catherine had eaten there since. In fact since her arrival she had had not a single thing to complain of, save for missing her father of course, but that was to be expected.
She watched Vincent now with open scrutiny, something he had been exceedingly uncomfortable with at first, but accepted now, and as her thoughts of her first day there run their course, she asked him, “What exactly did your father mean, Vincent, when he spoke of my loyalty to you waning recently?” Out of everything that was said that day, that was the only thing that returned to bug her constantly.
At first she thought Vincent might ignore her comment, he visibly paled that was for sure, and he seemed at a loss as to know how to reply. Catherine waited, knowing he would speak in his own good time. That she had learned in her short time below. Vincent always chose his words carefully.
Finally, he replied, “You did not answer my letters.”
“You’re letters?” Clearly Catherine was confused, “I always answered them.”
A great weight lifted off of Vincent’s shoulders suddenly, ‘she’d written? Then what of the replies? Had they gone astray?’
“You sent them via Peter I take it?”
“Yes, always. I had no other forwarding address, and I think if I did the postman would pull his hair out navigating these tunnels. You’d have to install signposts for him.” She laughed merrily at the thought and Vincent did too. Funnily enough, it was the first open laughter they had shared since her arrival. The mystery of Father’s comment and the unreplied letters had always stood between them, though neither had brought the subject up to know what was causing the other such mistrust.
And you replied to all of them?” Vincent asked sardonically.
“Hey what is this, don’t you believe me?” Catherine grinned.
“I do find it hard.” Vincent told her sincerely. “I wrote to you over a period of six months and not one letter was replied to.”
Enlightenment dawned, “Oh those letters.” Catherine replied and Vincent’s joy plummeted. There had been a problem after all.
“Peter was away overseas when they arrived, and then we were out of town. He eventually gave dad a bundle to give to me. Then dad left them in his drawer at work and finally he handed them to me as we reached the cabin, then with all of this...” She waved a hand about herself to encompass the problem and her reason for being below, “I confess.” she added with a wry grimace, “I have yet to read them all.”
“You’ve not read them!” Vincent gasped, “You’ve not read any of them?”
“Hey, don’t worry, I will. I promise.”
“No, no, it’s not that. Do you have them here with you?” Catherine couldn’t understand why, but she was certain Vincent was elated.
“Well not on me, but yes, with my belongings somewhere. That is I’m sure I put them in my bag.” She nibbled her lower lip for a moment trying to remember, she had been undecided about bringing them that she did know. To read letters from a friend while in the company of that friend and all that. Suddenly her eyes brightened, “Yes I did bring them. I suddenly thought you might make reference to something within them, and I wouldn’t know what on earth you were on about.” She grinned, hoping he would understand how she felt. But he seemed not to notice, as he replied, “Can I have them back?”
Catherine giggled then, “What all of them?”
“Well not to keep, just to sort through.” He lowered his head then to tell her meekly, “There’s one I regret having written. I’ve berated myself over it ever since sending it, and lost a lot of sleep I can tell you. If I could have it back without you seeing it, I would be deeply grateful.”
Something pricked at the back of Catherine’s mind, and she replied softly, “the one with the tears on?”
“You read it?” Vincent’s tone was flat.
“No. No, I didn’t Vincent. I was going to. When I saw the smudged ink I guessed you had been crying when you wrote it. I put it at the top of the pile intent on reading it the moment dad and I returned from horse riding, and then we discovered the body...and well you know the rest. I never actually got around to reading it and I won’t now if you don’t want me to?”
“No, please no. I would prefer it if you didn’t know of those things. When I wrote the letter it seemed the most natural thing in the world to tell you but now I deeply regret writing it. Please may I have it back?”
“Because you see tears are a sign of weakness? Vincent every one is entitled to cry sometimes. Even you.” Catherine told him sincerely.
"No not because I am ashamed to let you see me cry, but because of its content. I told you things about another that was personal, and I shouldn’t have. In my defence I was hurt at the time and could not think past telling a friend of that pain, but now, well now I know there were things I should not have said. Please Catherine, can I have it back?” He pleaded with her.
Intrigued Catherine told him, “Of course you can. Why don’t we go along to my chamber and I’ll find it for you?”
“I’d like that, thank you.” Vincent told her with obvious relief. Catherine wondered what was in the letter, her inquisitive nature compelled her to know, but she would not peek even when she handed it over to him, at least that’s what she told herself as they walked side by side toward the chamber that had been loaned to her during her stay below. Perhaps something would stand out that she couldn’t help but read. That wouldn’t be classed as nosy would it?
*** *** ***
“I know it was here.” Catherine rummaged through the pile of letters still without their envelopes ten minutes after discovering them at the bottom of her bag.
Vincent held his breath anxiously waiting while she searched. Seeing his letters in her hands made him feel awkward. He felt compelled to snatch and make off with them, just to check if nothing else that he had made no further reference to the contents in the tear stained one. Then almost as if Catherine had the same notion she handed the whole bunch to him saying, “Here, you take them. Maybe we are mistaken about the smudges. Maybe beneath candlelight they are not so noticeable. You read them all. Find the one that you want and give me the others back. That’s if you want to of course?”
“Thank you Catherine.” Vincent was clearly relieved to be holding them, and Catherine couldn’t help but notice that if she should challenge him for them back now, he would defend them with his life. Again she wondered about those contents. What could be so important that he wanted it kept from her, and what had it been that had hurt him so much? When she thought back to her first impression of him, she knew then that she couldn’t have cared less to his feelings, but since she had come to know him, Catherine realised that she cared for him greatly, and yes, she faced the fact now with startling acceptance, her father had been right. Vincent was indeed beautiful.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” As Vincent caught her staring at him he became uneasy.
“You.” Catherine replied with her head to one side.
“What about me?” Immediately he was on the defensive cautiously awaiting her reply.
“I can’t explain it Vincent.” She replied at length, “except to say that you mean a lot to me.”
Vincent coloured, a blush staining his cheeks instantly and he looked away covering his face with a halo of tawny hair. He was also suddenly saddened. Lisa had told him the same thing over and over, and look where that ended.
“Yet when you have left here, you will forget all about me.” He whispered sadly sure that this would be so.
“I will never forget you, Vincent. Never!” Catherine replied vehemently, surprising him with her assertion. “Even if I live to be old and decrepit and start rambling about you and everyone thinks I am senile. I will know, and I will remember. Has anyone ever told you that you have the most beautiful eyes?” It was Catherine’s turn to feel embarrassed; she hadn’t meant to add that bit.
Yes somebody had told him. Somebody that had not proved true. “Are not the eyes the window to the soul?”
They laughed having spoken the very same words together, causing Catherine to add sincerely, “I think you have the most beautiful spirit Vincent. Truly, I always treasured our friendship and now that I know you better nothing will change. And if you would let me, I’d like to visit from time to time after this ghastly experience is over, if you don’t mind that is?”
“I’d like that, Catherine.” He told her warmly, “And if you don’t mind my saying, I think that you too have beautiful eyes.”
For a moment time stood still as each searched the other’s face for clues and dreams to come true, and for one brief moment Catherine was transported back to that day she sat in the rocking chair at the cabin and thought she heard her mother say that the man she searched for she already knew. Was it possible? Did her mother mean Vincent?
“What is it?” Vincent detected that something bothered her.
“It’s nothing, just a thought, don’t worry about it. I’m not.”
“Oh but you are.” Vincent blinked as his mouth dropped open, as did Catherine’s. How did he know that?
“What a strange comment.” Catherine told him.
“Yes, look forgive me. And thank you Catherine, for these,” he indicated the letters with a wave of the hand that contained them, “I’ll probably see you at dinner.”
“Yes, I’ll see you there. Be well Vincent, till then.”
“Thank you. Be well Catherine.” He exited as fast as he could, breathing and leaning heavily against the tunnel wall just outside of her chamber. What on earth had happened back there? Nothing had ever occurred like that before, not even with Lisa. For suddenly, out of the blue Catherine’s emotions, her thoughts, feelings and desires had crashed in on him so hard that he knew everything about her and before him she had no secrets. No secrets at all. Vincent was terrified!
*** *** ***
In view of what he had just discovered Vincent took the letters back to his chamber in a daze, laying them down upon his lap as he seated himself in his high backed chair, to think about his friendship with Catherine. And then his relationship with Lisa, and then back to Catherine. Something was different there. He knew Catherine had beauty, not just that her looks were magnificent but that inwardly she had something that he adhered to and that in many respects she hadn’t yet uncovered. He could tell her upbringing had blinded her to its existence, but it was there and when it eventually flowered, Catherine would alter. The woman she was becoming would change for the better especially if circumstances that were forced upon her now were allowed to mould and shape and change the life for which she had been adapted.
Vincent hoped he would be there when those changes took place. And he hoped that she would visit as she had proposed and that they would always be friends.
He shuffled and as the sound of paper brought him back to his senses Vincent picked up the pile of letters and began to scan them briefly searching for the one he had in mind. But just as Catherine had discovered earlier the one he wanted wasn’t among them. Where was it? Catherine knew of the one he referred to so had she been telling him the truth when she said she hadn’t read it?
Frantic, Vincent bestowed all of the letters into a drawer in his desk, hoping to ask her about it at dinner, if he could do so privately without any one overhearing what he had to say. Yet the chance never seemed to come as evening after evening during dinner Catherine would sit and relate all the things she had done in her life so far and when the children learned of it they would file in one by one and would sit eyes wide, mouths agape at the stories she spun for their benefit. And she glowed, yes she positively shone when she related these tales, and Vincent felt on more than one occasion a sense of pride that he had this friend that could charm the birds from the trees if she did but know it.
Certainly she had Father eating out of her hand. Vincent had never known his father to play chess so infrequently, as evening after evening he would invite Catherine to sit with him and tell of her experiences and those of her father’s imparted to her on cold winter evenings while they stayed at the cabin during happier times. The only sadness to etch her features being the times she spoke of her mother, and it was easy to see that she missed this parent very much. In that both she and Vincent were kindred spirits, each yearning for a mother lost to them. One guided by memories, the other guided by wishes.
Vincent commented as much to Father one evening as they sat enjoying Catherine’s chatter several weeks after she had been living with them, “You hardly play chess these days Father. Perhaps Catherine could team you?”
Father’s eyes lit up, “Yes, do you play Catherine?”
“Marginally, I learned at school, but there is much you will have to remind me. Is that how you two usually spend your evenings, playing chess?”
“That and reading. When Vincent’s not here I usually read.”
Catherine was interested by that comment, “Why where do you go, Vincent?”
“Above? You go above? I didn’t know that! Where do you go?”
“Usually to the park. Sometimes I sit on the rooftops...”
”Much to my annoyance, my dear.” Father snorted, showing his obvious disapproval.
Vincent went on, “And sometimes I don’t quite go above. I have a quiet spot beneath the bandstand up in the park where I go to listen to the concerts.”
“That sounds divine! Would you take me?” Catherine asked breathlessly.
“To the concert?”
“Yes. When is the next one?”
“There’s one on tonight as it happens.” Vincent told her beginning to get caught up in her excitement while determined not to analyse why. Ever since that day he had been assaulted by her emotions he had tried everything to prevent himself from taking that liberty again, choosing not to know even though there were times when he would have loved to have given in to the pull.
“Will you take me, Vincent? Please?”
How could he deny her? “Yes of course.” He heard himself replying although his heart hammered at being so close to her and he sent Father a look that asked for help to refuse her innocent request.
Father noticed but chose to ignore the look that Vincent sent him misinterpreting it for one of embarrassment. Though why he should be embarrassed for Catherine to see their ‘best seat in the house’ he did not know. Catherine, would surely by now, be aware that she couldn’t expect velvet seating and an usherette bringing round refreshments? But it wasn’t that at all, Vincent had hoped Father would help him find a way to thwart Catherine’s enthusiasm to go because of his growing sense of awareness to her nearness whenever they were alone together. But of course, Father knew nothing of this feeling and in all innocence urged them to spend the time alone together. Two young people out together? It would be good for them. And besides they were only pen friends after all so what was the harm in it?
*** *** ***
The harm, Vincent reasoned, after he and Catherine had sat shoulder to shoulder for an hour or more listening to the concert in silence, was that he was very much aware of everything about her. As she leaned against him, he could feel the softly rounded contours of her breast touching his arm and he could see the dancing lights of her eyes every time she looked at him at the start of a new piece of music. And he knew, though he tried to prevent it, that he was falling in love with her, hook, line and sinker and that made him very miserable.
He didn’t think it was possible after Lisa. He thought he had painfully learned that particular lesson. Yet even so, he could not deny the way his body betrayed him as he caught a whiff of the perfume Catherine favoured or how much he longed to place his arm around her shoulders and draw her close.
“Oh Vincent!” Catherine broke through his reverie, her delight plain in the tone of her voice, “I haven’t heard this piece since high school in fact just before we broke up for summer vacation, actually. Then Daddy took me to Fiji. That island is the best Vincent.” For a long moment she was silent remembering, and for once Vincent wished he could see the pictures of her mind, to be transported to wherever she had suddenly gone, and her next question caught him unawares. “Do you swim Vincent?”
“Yes.” He was looking at the sheen of her hair clearly visible by dappled moonlight. He longed to run his fingers through the silken strands.
“Will you take me? Can we use the mirror pool?”
“Yes.” He replied without thinking.
“Then let’s go now. I bet its wonderful swimming there with the reflection of the stars on the surface.” Catherine gathered herself to stand pulling him up with her, “Come on, the concert is almost over and the night is still young, let’s go get wet!”
Her laughter exhilarated him and he went unthinking, eager to pursue whatever game she was playing, sure in his fevered mind that she was flirting with him, much the same as Lisa had done. He could hear her now, “Come watch me dance, Vincent. This one is just for you.”
Catherine took his arm as they walked; she was at ease with him now. He was so easy to get along with, and none of her earlier first impressions toward him existed anymore. He was her friend, and because of his differences, no matter what her mother whispered in the silence of the night, Catherine felt he would only ever be that.
And friends shared things together, and right now with memories of the warm waters of Fiji firmly implanted in her mind, Catherine wanted to swim. To splash and have fun with her over large friend.
They reached the mirror pool and found it deserted. Any activity that had taken place there that day was visible only by the damp footprints left around its edges signifying by their impressions that the children had been swimming there earlier.
For a second Catherine hesitated, she had brought no swimwear, but decided that bra and panties would suffice as much as a bikini and so she quickly began to peel off her thick sweater and jeans. Vincent stood watching her mesmerised until she stood before him half nude and his pulse began to race.
Suddenly aware of his predicament he sought a means to escape, but Catherine was laughing and tugging at his clothes, “Come on Vincent, don’t be shy. Off with these.”
Swallowing convulsively, Vincent slowly removed his clothing, not quite sure of her reaction. To date she had seen his face, hands and bare arms, what would she think of the rest of him? Everyone else that lived below knew, he had not been so self-conscious when accompanying them for swimming lessons, but with Catherine?
He took a deep breath. He had to remember that Catherine saw him as no more than a friend, and that she was in no other league to him than the other people he swam with regularly. That in mind, and with eyes tightly closed he lifted his sweater, vest and thermals over his head as one, discarding them at his feet and without looking at her at all, unfastened his jeans until he stood clothed only in a pair of shorts before her.
“Come on, I’m freezing my butt off here.” Catherine called taking his hand, “let’s dive in together!”
For the first time in the last half hour Vincent smiled, she was in for a shock if she thought she would get any warmer once in the water. Catherine tugged at his hand believing his hesitancy to be one of nerves at swimming with her, and determined to ease his fears she prepared to drag him in with her, sure that once in they would have too much fun to be embarrassed about seeing one another half naked.
For she had noticed him. Couldn’t help but do so. As he had pulled his clothing over his head, Catherine had had a moment to observe and take delight in the rippling biceps and triceps, the flat planes of his stomach, the delightful way an arrowhead of curls descended down beneath his navel as if drawing her gaze to whatever lay beneath. Catherine had found herself blushing then and it was that as much as a willingness to swim that made her want to get into the water and fast. Few men had made her feel that way. What way? Catherine had a hard time putting a name to it. But for a certainty it made her feel good.
Standing on the edge of the pool, they toppled into the water, Vincent grinning from ear to ear knowing what to expect laughing out loud when Catherine screamed as her skin touched the cold water and it cascaded over her head. She came up spluttering, teeth chattering, eyes accusing. “You might have warned me! Vincent, its fr...fr...freezing!”
Laughing out loud, Vincent replied, "I thought you were brave swimming at this time of night.”
“What...has...n..n...night...got..to..do..w..w..with it?” Catherine chattered treading water in a bid to get warm and fast.
“Its a little warmer in here when the suns rays are on the surface of the water.”
“But the bathing pools are so warm, I just assumed...” Catherine began as Vincent answered; “They have underground hot spots, one reason we channelled them that way. This pool is natural, good for the skin if you can stand being in it long enough. Come, if we swim we will get warm.”
Catherine grimaced, “Well I suppose I should never have expected it to be like Fiji. At least there’s one consolation...”
“There are no sharks.” Immediately she said it she wished to extract it. Vincent’s eyes seemed to alter before her very gaze, reminiscent of those very same creatures, dark, deep and merciless.
“Vincent?” Suddenly nervous Catherine pushed herself a few yards back. What did she know about this man anyway? In this close-knit community, few said anything about him. What did they know that she didn’t? She said the first thing that came to mind hoping to divert him unwilling to show him how nervous he had suddenly made her feel.
“What?” Vincent’s heart hammered painfully against his ribs. The water was unusually cold this night, but the heat assuaging his body was turning the water warm. This woman had seen him half nude and had not been disgusted and he was with her now, she in a skimpy set of underwear that if she did but know it was almost transparent when wet. Above the surface of the water he could clearly see the creamy white swell of her breasts and as she moved, once or twice he caught sight of the proud stance of a rosy nipple.
“You never said, did you find the letter you were searching for?” Why was he looking at her like that? Catherine found her breath rose and fell in exaggerated pants.
Had he not heard her? It didn’t appear so. Either that or he had some other intent on his mind and chose to ignore her, in fact as he swam the few feet that separated them and took her in his arms Catherine was unsure whether to scream or to wish that he would kiss her.
They trod water Vincent’s arms holding her steady, his gaze never leaving hers and Catherine finding herself drawn to his warmth placed her hands upon his arms her eyes tracing every fine line of his face, a face that edged toward her until she could feel his ragged breath upon her cheek.
And then he kissed her!
Catherine gasped! Pulling herself back and away from his lips to regard him from a few feet away warily, incredulous when he seemed to return from someplace he had gone, contrite and full of apology and embarrassment.
“Catherine! Forgive me!” Swimming to the side of the pool, Vincent hauled himself out of the water gathered his clothing and without looking back at her he started to run.
For long agonising moments Catherine, dazed by what had happened, trod water and then with a hand that traced the kiss he had placed upon her lips, she slowly lowered herself beneath the icy depths of the mirror pool as a means to deaden the flame that had suddenly started to burn within her.
*** *** ***
Checking his rear view mirror, Charles had a funny feeling steal over his bones. That car again. That was the fourth time in as many days. It couldn't be coincidence. He had staggered his route and his leaving times from home and the office. He was convinced he was being tailed.
At first he thought it was the police and it had given him a sense of security that they were looking after him, but then the car directly behind had turned off leaving the one following directly on his tail. Then in his rear-view mirror, he had gasped! The driver looked uncannily like the photo fit that Catherine had had made up. From that moment on, Charles, palms sweaty, pulse racing had tried to lose him to no avail, always he kept pace, always he negotiated where Charles was heading and would come out behind him again several blocks up.
Being followed by a psychopath, Charles had never been in such danger. He had watched a documentary once where such people told of their methods. They would watch an intended victim for weeks, months, even a year before striking. But once they had chosen that victim, there was absolutely no way the person would ever get away from them. From the moment the choice was made the victim was as good as dead. Sometimes they even befriended that one, earned their trust.
This wouldn't be the case though, for Charles knew, that he knew, he had been recognised. As much as he tried to stay calm, he knew he accelerated sometimes breaking the speed limit in a bid to outsmart the fellow. He never did. The guy always seemed to anticipate his next move and was one step ahead.
What worried Charles the most was who was the victim here. Was the intention of the psycho to follow him in the hope he would lead him to Catherine? Or was his intention to hurt Charles in order to bring Catherine out of hiding? Either way Charles now realising for a certainty that he was being followed decided not to go to the police after all but rather to visit Peter.
Thus walking into Peter's surgery later that morning Charles was agitated as he awaited his turn flipping through some magazines without seeing and wondering about what he was going to propose.
Peter finished with his last patient just before noon, and as Charles prepared to knock on his office door, the outer door opened and idly looking to see who it was Charles gasped! He was certain that it was the fellow who had been following him!
For a few nerve-racking seconds the fellow stared at Charles then taking up a seat on the opposite side of the room, picked up a magazine intent, it seemed, on reading.
Sweat broke out on Charles brow. There was one thing, Catherine had been right. Assuming that this was the psycho she had seen. At any rate, those dark eyes seemed to look right through him. There had been no emotion within their depths whatsoever. And he didn’t know what kind of trick the fellow was playing but Charles was very much concerned with the long ride down in the elevator back to his vehicle beneath the building when he had finished his visit with Peter.
Suddenly a buzzer sounded making Charles jump and Peter’s voice came over the Intercom. "Next please."
Charles rose, his heart hammering, his eyes averted on the fellow trying to take in every aspect of his appearance. He supposed he should tackle him, supposed he should call the police. But he knew he had to be careful. If the fellow could blazingly walk into the same room as him then he must have come prepared for anything.
His eyes, therefore fixed upon the fellow, Charles entered Peter's office, closing the door quickly behind him and in a hushed whisper blurted, "Peter! Call the cops. That psycho is outside."
For a moment Peter thought he was joking, till he realised Charles would never joke about something so serious. "Your sure?" He asked reaching for the phone.
"Sure, I'm sure. He followed me right on in here. Been following me for four days now. He's in the waiting room I tell you, call the cops."
"It's not that I don't believe you. But if he's here, it could be a coincidence. It could be that he is a patient. Far better for everyone concerned if I put a name to the face. Just give me a minute." Peter rose coming round to Charles side of the desk his intention plain as he headed for the door.
"No!" Charles grabbed his arm, "He's dangerous. He might have a knife, or worse a gun."
"Then I'll take a look through the two way mirror. Don't worry Charles, he won't see me."
Charles wasn't convinced, and he watched nervously as Peter sidestepped the outer door and entered a small room that Charles had always supposed to be a cupboard. Now he could see it was some sort of lab, with a large two-way mirror in one wall over looking the waiting area.
"I can't see anyone." Peter called softly. "Where was he sat?"
"Straight across from the door. He's probably behind the panel."
"If he was, I'd see him. The mirror positioned opposite affords me the chance of seeing all areas of the room. And its empty Charles. There is no one out there."
"He was there!" Standing and pushing back his seat Charles made for the door, yanking it open before avidly searching the waiting room. It was empty. "He was there I tell you!" He came back into the room, where Peter was now standing beside his desk a look of sympathy on his face.
"Why are you here Charles? Were you feeling unwell?" Peter reached a hand to check Charles brow.
"I'm not hallucinating if that's what you are thinking! Peter he was there! I saw him. We stared at one another before he went to read a magazine. His eyes, Peter...they are just as Catherine described them. Deep and unfeeling, void of emotion. Just like a shark."
Peter looked at his friend with concern and sighing deeply, told him "I think you've been overdoing it Charles. You need to take a break."
"You don't believe me do you?" Charles tone was flat, despondent. When his best friend didn't believe him, who would? It was as well he hadn't gone to the police.
"I want to, but Charles, see for yourself. No one is out there." Peter shrugged, "Its hard to believe in something that's not there. A bit like God really."
"Except with God all his works are around us, plainly proving his existence. And if there were some way to prove that that psycho has been following me I'd prove it, but you only have my word."
"It's not good enough Charles, I'm sorry. See it from my point of view. I see cases like this every day. Caused by stress most of the time, that and a bad experience. Like the one you have endured recently. And you've got to admit it does sound far-fetched. Why would the fellow come here anyway?"
"He was there." Charles spoke flatly.
"Okay. Have it your way. In the meantime, would you accept some medication? And you never actually told me why you had come here today?"
"He was following me. I didn't want to go to the police. I thought of you."
"Very flattering, thank you. However, that only tells me that your subconscious is well aware that you needed to see a doctor. What you saw or thought you saw, was not necessarily so."
"I thought of you, for one reason only!" Charles almost snapped as his patience wore thin. "I hoped that you could get me a place where Cathy is. I think we would both be safer there."
"You want to go below?"
"Keep your voice down." Charles had a sudden thought, "Hey are you sure that intercom is off?"
Peter checked it, "Yes, I'm sure." For a moment he panicked, understanding what Charles was thinking at once. He breathed deeply with relief, it was definitely turned off.
"You want to go below?" Peter asked at a whisper. Even with the intercom switched off he felt jumpy. Briefly he wondered why Charles could make him feel like that. He' d only been seeing things after all.
"Yes. I think it would be best. I can't stand it Peter. Waiting for him to strike. He's following me to get to Catherine." For the first time since his arrival Peter wondered if Charles might be telling the truth. That is, might really have been followed as he maintained. Certainly that idea made sense. If the psycho was following Charles to find Catherine then it really was a possibility. Peter chided himself on his stupidity. He hadn't realised that the psycho might do that. He had thought that Charles was saying, that the fellow was following him now instead of Catherine and Peter could see no reason why that should be so.
"Why didn't you ring me? We could have discussed this over dinner." Peter asked.
"Mainly because I wanted the guy to assume I needed to see my doctor. I have realised these past four days that he anticipates my every move. And for once I was one step ahead of him, I hope..." Charles voice trailed away as he hoped with all his might that to be so. The last thing he wanted was to have the fellow following Peter. He went on; "If he thought for one moment that you and I were closer than GP and patient then he could start to hound you in my absence. I thought this way was safest."
Peter nodded, "Yes I see your point of view, and thank you for thinking of me. Charles, I hope you are wrong. I hope that this is just coincidence, but a little voice deep inside keeps reminding me that you have always been sound of reason, and though you have had a traumatic experience recently, the chances are that you right in what you suppose. I'll get word below at once. Do you want to go home first to fetch anything? I really think you ought to bring the police in on this. Have them escort you home and back into town again."
"You really think I should? I thought at first to leave them out of it, then when he showed up I didn't want them missing an opportunity like this. Now he's gone, though I suspect he's close, it really puts the wind up me. Call the cops Peter. Tell them I'll wait here for them."
"Will do." Peter checked his watch. "My receptionist should be back from her visit to the dentist soon. I'll just leave a note for her on her desk not to disturb us, and then I'll make that call."
Leaving Charles for the briefest of moments, Peter made his way to the waiting room, heading for his receptionists desk. It was here he paused; something prickled the back of his neck as he became aware of a feeling, a pervading scent wafting near by. He'd smelt that somewhere before. It was warm, coppery, he could sense the heat in the scent and glancing over his receptionist's desk he staggered as his eyes beheld the most horrendous sight he had ever seen.
And then Peter screamed.
*** *** ***
Head in hands Vincent sobbed, his tears slipping between his fingers to trickle down his arm and he seemed not to notice that they fell on the words spread across his journal, blotching the ink.
Two days ago he had kissed Catherine at the mirror pool, and ever since then she had avoided him. Why oh why had he done it?
Something about the situation he supposed, but then he had swum a thousand times with young women from the tunnels, he had never become so aroused in their company so why now? What was it about Catherine, that made him aware of her every thought, every emotion, every desire? And why, when her longing had become his, did she avoid him now? Why when he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the yearning to be kissed had come from her, did she now not seek him out? She'd had plenty of opportunity. He'd not left his chamber in two days, too embarrassed to face anyone, feeling everyone would know what had happened though of course that was impossible.
It was also impossible that Catherine was avoiding him deliberately. She too, had spent a restless two days. Something was happening. Something that she had little control over and something that was unexpected, forbidden and downright stupid. How could she have a relationship with one such as he? Why should she want to? And why could she not get the thought of his kiss out of her head?
Of similar thought, the memory of that kiss played out in Vincent's tired mind over and over. The touch of her lips beneath his, the warmth, the lush soft flesh yielding to him for the briefest of moments. Vincent thought he would die of embarrassment and longing each time he recalled it to mind.
Catherine was his friend, nothing more. She trusted him, welcomed him as a confidante. And he had betrayed that trust. But why? That was the very thing he could not understand. Why? After everything that had happened with Lisa, he had admonished himself never to hurt a woman again. Never to touch a woman, want a woman in that way ever again, never even to dwell on such possibilities. Never to allow himself to dream.
Yet Catherine had wanted this. He had felt it from her. Knew her needs, could feel her heightened sense of sexuality reaching out to him. Her desire when she had seen his body for the first time. Had gloried in her acceptance of him. He couldn't therefore understand her horror when she had pushed him away, her blatant refusal to return his kiss.
Head in hands, Vincent looked without seeing at the blurred print of his journal. He'd tried to write everything down, everything that had taken place, tried to make some sense of it yet all it had done was reduce him to tears and the worst of it all was losing Catherine's friendship.
From now on would it forever be this way? Every time he found someone who he thought he could trust would he frighten them away by his blind belief that they might be able to love him?
As he sat there musing on his loss of Catherine’s friendship a slight movement from the doorway caught his attention, but not enough to rouse him until he heard a whisper calling his name. "Vincent? Vincent?"
Looking up he couldn't believe whom he saw. Catherine, standing nervously, her eyes wide and luminous in the light from a dozen candles as she asked timidly, "May I come in, Vincent?"
He nodded, unable to find his voice, the flat of his hands brushing the telltale tears from his cheeks and watched her warily as she moved across the room toward him.
"I'm so sorry, Vincent."
She was sorry! Aghast, Vincent stared at her. "You have nothing for which to feel sorry for, Catherine. It is I, who should apologise."
Walking in to the chamber, Catherine shook her head whispering softly, "No." Then for a long timeless moment she stared down at Vincent, knowing exactly what she had to do and he watched mesmerised as she leaned slowly toward him to bring her lips to his, kissing him tenderly.
His eyes opened wide, but he did not pull back, neither did he part his lips beneath hers. Just allowed himself the joy of feeling her lips against his, warm and oh so willing. His heart raced and heat thundered through his body at lightening speed as she stepped closer her intention to place her arms around his neck to deepen the kiss. It was then that Vincent drew away, watching her with wary eyes; unsure as to the game she was playing. Lisa too had played games, and he had given over his heart to her and she had slung it back at him. Vincent was afraid. Was Catherine playing games too?
Searching his eyes for clues Catherine watched him, anticipating his move, while daring not to hope anything from him, just wanted him to know that she was sorry for her reaction of the other night, that he could kiss her anytime he liked.
They stared at one another, saying nothing. Two hearts beating rapidly, the temperature of two bodies slowly rising accessing the situation, wondering, waiting for the other to make the next move.
Uncomfortable, Vincent moved in his seat and a shudder ran through him as Catherine leaned in for another kiss. This time he met her half way, his arms coming up and around her pulling her down into his lap, delirious when her small hands clasped behind his neck to pull his mouth to hers.
"Catherine, Catherine." Vincent murmured against her lips. He had no idea where this might lead, just the touch of her mouth on his gave him feelings that were new, exciting and exhilarating and he never wanted to stop.
She slanted her mouth to his, teasing his lips open with the tip of her tongue, stealing within until he breathlessly parted them to allow her access. He moaned deep in his chest when her small tongue brushed against his and wallowed in the luxurious feel of her there. The taste of her inside him sent his mind spinning.
Acutely aware of the sharp tips at his fingers Vincent touched her with reverence. His claws lightly scraping over her skin sent tingles coursing through her. Rather than frighten her as he had dreaded she cleaved to him seeking out the places that he had desperately tried to ignore over the last two days.
If she should touch him there, either purposely or accidentally Vincent didn't know how he might react, just that she was coming dangerously close to an area that pulsed with a life of its own, straining against her, needing her closer than a heartbeat.
"We must stop." He told her, his ragged breathing and restless body placing some distance between them. "Catherine, we must stop."
She looked at him; her lips honey kissed and full, causing something to well up within Vincent that he had felt for no one in his life before. He wanted her and he couldn't take her. He knew that would be wrong. A few kisses were one thing...but that? A tree did not a forest make did it?
They gazed at one another, struggling to regain control. Catherine could not believe how she had adhered to his kisses, how right it had seemed to be in his arms. No, more than right. It had been as if she had come home. A fleeting thought of those whispered words of her mother's flashed through her mind and were gone. But Catherine had heard enough. This was her prince. He was the one.
"Vincent, I think I love you." She whispered softly.
Eyes closed, hand to heart Vincent drew deep gasping breaths to still the longing those few words brought to his fevered brain. He loved her too. He knew it, but he could never do anything about it. She was too beautiful and he...too...too...grotesque...he could never defile her beauty with his monstrous body. Never!
"I think you should go, Catherine."
"Go? Go where? Surely not above?"
"No not above. Return to your chamber."
"I want to stay with you."
"You can't. I'm not going to be here." Vincent was surprised to hear himself say that, but knew it was so. "I have to visit with Narcissa."
"I'll come with you." Catherine had heard all about the old woman, she was curious and wanted to meet her.
"No. Catherine, please. What we have done must never be attempted again. I can't love you Catherine. I am different. Please try to understand." Tears gathered in his eyes as he spoke.
"What is there to understand?"
"We can be no more but friends, Catherine. No more, please know this." The tears of sorrow began to fall as he spoke.
"I have heard that friends make the greatest of lovers, Vincent. The same could be true of us." She told him with head held high. She was not to be put off.
Hiding beneath a curtain of hair so that she did not see him blush, Vincent whispered, "Not this time. Catherine, please try to understand. You taunt me when you are here like this, when you offer yourself to me I want..."
"Yes, you want what, Vincent?" Catherine almost laughed. She was acting like a temptress.
"I want things... that I can never have. Such things are not for one such as me. I am humbled by your love, but I cannot accept it. Please, Catherine, do not set your sights on me. There will only be heartache for both of us." Vincent knew he couldn't stand to have his heart broken a second time.
"You don't know that, Vincent. How can you be so sure when you have never loved before?"
For long moments he could not answer her and just when Catherine was beginning to feel elated that she had put before him the winning argument he replied, "Catherine, the letter I wanted was not among those you gave me. Do you know where it is?"
Looking at him blankly Catherine shook her head. What a thing to say. It had absolutely no bearing on what was happening between them at that moment. Or had it? What was so important about the stupid letter anyway?
"Don't change the subject Vincent. Please let me go with you to visit Narcissa. I would like to meet her."
"No. It is a long journey, I will travel it a lot faster alone."
"Then you will soon return?"
"Perhaps. But when I do, we must not pursue this type of relationship between us. Its wrong, Catherine. And I can offer you nothing."
"You could love me. If I had your love it would mean more to me than riches and glory, know that Vincent for it is true."
"You are rich Catherine, and I am poor but because of that alone we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. It would never work."
What was he saying? That he loved her? Not in so many words, but by saying that she was rich. How cleverly he had given it a double meaning with the addition of his status.
Catherine sighed, and then felt silly standing there with him looking at her. She knew now that she loved him but because of it she felt overwhelmingly sad.
Feeling her sorrow, he too sighed deeply. "It will pass Catherine, if you do not dwell on it. And I think it best if we saw less of one another during the rest of your stay here."
Catherine couldn't agree however, she could see that nothing she would say right now would alter his perspective on things. But tomorrow was another day, and when it came she would try to alter his point of view. She loved him, and she knew that he loved her. If only he would admit it. What was his problem? It wasn't as if he had women throwing themselves at his feet down here. She was beautiful, and she knew that he wanted her, so what was the problem? Because not for one moment did Catherine believe it was for the reasons he had given. No, there was something else, something deeper, and Catherine wished that she knew what it was. Maybe with that eased out of the way, she could make him believe in a happy ever after for the two of them. After all, her mother believed in it so it had to be right. And by that alone Catherine knew that she would make him see they were made for each other, however long it took.
*** *** **
Rushing out into the waiting room, Charles hurried across to where Peter was staring ashen faced at parts of someone's anatomy strewn around the floor behind the desk. "Oh no, not again!" Charles cried, as thoughts of that other body raced to remind him what he had seen on the mountain.
"Peter, come with me." Clutching Peter's arm he forced his friend back into his office, seating him down with pressure to his shoulders, aware that Peter was in the same sense of shock as Catherine had been that night in the car.
"I'll call the cops." Mind dazed he dialled the number, gave sketchy details in an automated tone, and added that the psycho could still be in the building. Then he hung up and waited, his breathing laboured and worried about Peter who had said not a thing.
It seemed an age before he heard sirens outside, even longer before several uniformed men barged into the waiting room. Charles went to meet them, indicating what they could find behind the desk. Gingerly they looked, one was physically sick, the rest paled, and getting onto their radios sent for the designated personnel to seal off and investigate the scene.
"Who is this?" One of them indicated in Peter's direction.
"Dr. Alcott." Charles replied carefully watching Peter's face for any sign of consciousness.
It was as if he was sleeping with his eyes wide open. He just did not move, could only stare out into space. The horrors of what he had seen stayed locked in his mind.
"Do we know who the victim was?"
"I don't know, Peter might. Surgery had finished for the morning. The only person he was expecting was his receptionist."
"Well the paramedics will be here soon to see to Dr. Alcott. I'm used to such horrors, but its gonna take some time to deal with this. Any ideas where he keeps his appointment books, we'll need to cancel this evening's schedule?"
"I think it’s over there." Charles pointed to the desk reluctant to retrieve it.
The officer understood, "we'll get onto it don't worry. Now the switchboard told us that you felt you'd been followed by that psycho, we'll need a statement. If you feel capable, you could do it here and then I'll have someone escort you home."
"Actually, I'd prefer not to return home if you don’t mind...I was thinking of staying with my daughter."
"Might be a good idea. Why don't you go into the office make the necessary arrangements with the phone in there and then we'll have someone escort you to wherever your daughter is staying?"
Charles was in a dilemma. Without Peter he couldn't get to the place his daughter was staying. He knew there was access to it from the basement of Peter's surgery building, but he also knew that Peter hid the key to the door leading there. He had absolutely no way of getting down there without Peter's help. And one look at his friend told him the impossibility of that happening for a while. There was another way down, he knew that. Via the park, but how or where he just hadn't a clue.
There was only one thing for it, he'd have to bluff it, pretend he couldn't get hold of his daughter and then return to his own home. But none of this filled him with any optimism. What that psycho had done today was sick; no one knew where he was or where he might strike next. As he was thinking, there was a knock at the door; the paramedics had arrived to deal with Peter. He let them in and then deciding he needed the bathroom, made his way toward the toilets adjacent to the waiting room. He opened the door, took two steps in and froze.
Now it was Charles's turn to scream. On the mirror facing him and written in blood were the words: 'CHANDLER - WHERE'S YOUR DAUGHTER! KNOW THIS - THERE'LL BE ONE A WEEK TILL I FIND HER!
*** *** ***
Three days passed. Vincent had not returned from visiting with Narcissa, but Father didn't worry unduly, some days his son would stay with the old woman for as long as a week. What they did together he did not know, didn't want to know. And he gruffly admitted that Vincent always returned in high spirits. Not a good choice of words in the circumstances but there it was.
Catherine, he'd noticed had become subdued, he expected it was due to her confinement but he was also aware that having received no word from Peter or her father she was feeling very much forgotten down beneath the streets of the city. As it happened Father had to admit he was wondering why no one had contacted her. Though it had been thought best that her father kept well away, Peter had brought regular items down from him that had kept her feeling close to the life she knew above.
Seated at his desk that morning, Father spread open the local newspaper that had been left rolled up for him as it did each day and with the intention of reading while he ate his cookies dipped in tea, he prepared for an enjoyable hour alone before he began the day's activities.
He always read the headlines first, but this morning they leapt out at him in large bold letters making him fumble for his cane and prepare to stand knocking his cup of herb tea onto the floor at his side.
"Damn!" He cried then, "Mary! Mary, Come quick!"
Never far from his chamber at this time of the morning Mary dashed in ashen faced, "What is it Jacob? What's wrong? Are you unwell?"
"No, no. It’s not that. Mary have you seen the papers this morning...no you couldn't have...Mary see this!" And he shoved the headlines beneath her nose before standing at her side to read along with her.
Wide eyed Mary read the report before her noticing first a photograph of Catherine sprawled across the front page with the words:
'HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL?
This is the face of the young woman that reportedly is the only witness able to identify the psychopath that has slain two people (that is known of) in the past month. For her own protection she has been taken to a safe place...but I tell you that no place is safe while she is kept hidden. Why? Because I am that psychopath and I promise to slaughter one young woman a week until Miss Chandler's whereabouts are made known to me.
So if you want to keep your daughter's safe... tell me.
You can write it on the walls of the very streets themselves and I will find it.
Help me and I'll help you. Why should many have to die to save the one?'
"I've never seen anything like it Jacob, fancy the editor running this! Its awful."
"I agree my dear, and the gall of the man to expect to have it printed. He sounds well educated, how does someone like that kill for kicks that's what I’d like to know."
"What I'd like to know, is what are we to do about it, Jacob!"
"Well no one knows where she is, except her father and Peter, and they won't say."
"There's more over the page look. An editor's comment. I'll read it to you. 'There is nothing to prove or disprove that today's headlines are genuine. However, I can tell you that Mr Charles Chandler, Catherine's father received a similar threat just three days ago, when he and his general practitioner Dr Peter Alcott were subjected to a horrendous experience at the hands of this so called psychopath. A young woman alleged to be Dr. Alcott's receptionist was slain at the surgery's waiting room, while Mr Chandler was visiting with his GP in the very next room. A similar blood written message was also discovered on a mirror in the gent’s washroom at the same location and directed at Mr Chandler.
Mr Chandler maintains that the psychopath had followed him to the surgery in an attempt to discover his daughter's whereabouts and that he had been following Mr Chandler over a period of several days.
It should not be overlooked that the photograph submitted with the letter received by this office late yesterday evening had also been taken from Mr Chandler's house shortly after the homicide at Dr Alcott's surgery on Wednesday.
For more on this story please see pages 3,4,5,6, & 7.'
Neither Father nor Mary could speak. Left in a state of stunned silence they looked to one another with their minds racing. So much lay heavily on this problem. Their main fear that Catherine could be discovered below and what having a man like that in the tunnels could do to them. Their other fear that an innocent woman would die each week until Catherine's whereabouts had been highlighted.
It was awful, and simply they did not know the way out of it. Neither was there anyone that they could ask and for certainly they could not contact Peter now. That would be much too dangerous!
Neither noticed that Catherine had been standing at the entrance and had heard ever word!
*** *** ***
To be continued in Chapter Six -please click on 'Next' below.
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