Vincent dives in to save Catheine's life when a
tidal wave hits Manhattan.
A shorter version of this story first appeared in the 1999 edition of 'A Moment In Time Conzine' pages 1 to 34.
“Catherine, what a lovely surprise! I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow. Good Lord, its not Saturday already is it?” Father gasped.
*** *** ***
“Catherine chuckled, “No, Father its still Friday.”
“Thank goodness for that.” Father sighed. “I know I’ve been engrossed in this book, but I didn’t think I had been reading all night!”
Catherine laughed, and she pictured that happening as she hurried down the last few steps into Father’s chamber and bent to brush a feather light kiss upon his brow. Father loved his books.
“Does Vincent know that you were coming today?” Father closed his book at a convenient place before laying it upon the table to speak to her further.
“No Father,” she replied, “Is Vincent here? I thought he might have come to meet me.”
Father shook his head, “No just prior to your arrival my dear there was a message relayed on the pipes that an intruder had been spotted near the park entrance. Vincent went to intercept whomever it was.”
Catherine grew fearful and her frightened eyes told Father of that fear, “Its all right Catherine.” He patted her hand, “Vincent knows not to show himself until he has accessed the situation.” Catherine released a sigh of relief at his words, but before she had the chance to reply the sound of cheery voices could be heard approaching the chamber, and Father’s eyes lit up as he recognised them both.
Ready with a smile and a greeting Father rose from his seat to meet their entrance, and with a cry of delight embraces his eldest son, whom he hadn’t seen for the best part of a year. “Devin! How good it is to see you.” They were friends now, not so much father and son but the affection was there as it never was before or at least as it was never shown from one to the other before. In the past they both hid their feelings much to their detriment.
“Yes.” Vincent was saying, relinquishing his hold on his older brother, “Look what the wind blew in.” His blue eyes sparkled as they met Catherine’s, and it wasn’t difficult to see how much his brother’s long overdue visit meant to him. However Catherine’s reason for her sudden arrival to the tunnels was about to dash his joy. “Never a truer word spoken in jest Vincent.” She told him, and slowly all eyes turned to her, as Father asked, “Why do you say that Catherine?”
Catherine drew in a deep breath not really wanted to say this, but knowing she must, “The reason why I had to come tonight. I bring news - not good news. There is a hurricane heading towards Manhattan.”
Father frowned, “I remember the last one only too well. Do you know the wind speed my dear?”
“Uh huh. The forecast presumes it could be as strong as one hundred and twenty miles an hour with gusts up to two hundred. But that’s not the worst of it.” She paused, and Father asked, “What could be worse than that? Its already cold down here without hurricane force winds leaking in.”
Catherine went on, “The weather reports say we should expect tidal waves and the city is being evacuated even as I speak.” Her eyes grew anxious, “But Father what will you all do down here? Where can you all go when water heads into the drains?” Her words had a sinister ring to them, and the three men understood only too plainly what her inner fear was, ‘but what of Vincent? If the water swamps the tunnels where can he run to?’
Vincent knew her thoughts and hurried to reassure her. “Don’t worry Catherine, we have tackled hurricanes before. Do you know how much time we have before it is expected to hit us?”
“Yes its scheduled to reach the island in about ten hours from now.” Despite his assurances, Catherine found her fear did not relinquish its hold on her. She knew that it could get pretty nasty for all involved that had made their home in the tunnels beneath New York City.
Father’s inner fear was also for Vincent and he took charge at once. “Then there is no time to lose. Its as well you arrived when you did Devin. You were here the last time a similar catastrophe broke, do you remember?”
“How could I ever forget.” Devin replied with a wry smile and Catherine hoped to ask someone about this event later.
“Well your help proved very valuable that last time Devin, however I fear that those particular water ways have been long sealed up.” Father rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Devin’s bright idea of opening up vertical shafts between levels had saved their lives, during flooding in the tunnels before.
As Father pondered on the past Vincent brought out the maps that showed all the vast underground network, and Father shifted some candles so that the maps could be spread before the four of them onto a table. “We shall have to put sandbags here and here as before.” Father pointed to the places, “Can the two of you organise some teams and all that needs doing?” He looked up at his two sons hopefully.
Nodding simultaneously Devin and Vincent listened intently when Catherine asked “Is there anything I can do? There must be something. Something that you need perhaps, something that money can buy.”
Father looked at her with eyes filled with hope and consternation. He would dearly have loved to have said ‘yes’ straight away, but feared that Vincent, who didn’t like Catherine spending her money on them, would refuse this kind offer. Thankfully he didn’t. “That would be a wonderful gesture gratefully accepted,” he told Catherine much to Father’s relief and Catherine smiled turning her attention toward Father who knew exactly what it was they needed most urgently.
“Sandbags.” Father told her, “Lots of sandbags. The ones we used before are past it. They’ll suffice in normal flooding conditions, but with the force of a tidal wave…” He shrugged, “well who knows?”
“Consider it done Father.” Catherine replied, “How many will you require?”
“Is three hundred too many?” Father didn’t like to ask but that number was necessary. He knew it, Catherine knew it and the more bags they had the better.
“Three hundred is fine, four if you need them?”
“No three will be ample. Thank you Catherine.”
Nodding Catherine asked, “So where shall I have them delivered? We don’t want to risk that many being delivered to the park entrance do we?”
“No. We’ll do the same as last time. Do you know Jake’s Store on fifty forth?”
“I know the one. Never had cause to shop there before though.”
“Well Jake is a helper. Have the sandbags delivered there. Jake’s basement has direct access to the tunnels. I will arrange a team to meet the delivery. Do you think you can arrange all of this in time?”
“Well I’ll pull out all the stops to do so. Don’t worry Father, even if it means carry the whole lot there myself I’ll do it.”
“There would never be enough time.” Devin grinned as he spoke, his eyes dancing beacons of fun, “Sure like to see you trudging through the streets with sandbags though Chandler.”
Father grinned he couldn’t help himself. Devin was right, but by the firm set of Catherine’s jaw he marvelled at her resolution to carry this out if the need arose. But then he could well understand her devotion to his son, and the people she had come to know as her family who relied upon the tunnels as their home. Truly Catherine would do anything, go to great lengths, exert herself beyond what was normal, anything at all just to preserve alive those that she loved with all her heart and unknowingly Catherine notched up another point of pride in her capabilities within Father’s heart.
Heading towards the threshold Vincent hurried to keep up alongside Catherine in her haste to get started. Usually his long strides were way ahead of hers, but on this occasion though she almost ran Vincent had to increase his stride to maintain her pace. “Slow down Catherine.” Vincent caught her elbow. By no way was he puffed, but he feared for her. Her heart was pounding. Catherine slowed reluctantly, and took some deep breaths, “Sorry I didn’t realise I was going so fast, but there is no time to lose you know. To get the sandbags ordered, delivered and then return to help out – well that might take all the time we are allocated Vincent.”
Catherine by no way chided him, but Vincent felt reproached. He stopped his thoughts directly on her welfare, “Catherine I do not think you should return. You should go to your apartment where you will be safe. When the waters have receded I will come to you.”
Catherine searched his eyes. So many questions vied for supremacy in her mind. Desperately she wanted to be where he was. Desperately she had to know that he was well. When the hurricane hit and the tidal wave befell them anything could happen. Catherine couldn’t just sit in her apartment and pray that his life had been spared. She had to be there, had to be below knowing exactly what was going on. Besides another pair of hands at a time like this could be a godsend. It was then that she remembered something she had heard earlier on the news bulletin.
“I cant Vincent. The entire city is being evacuated. Chances of my getting back to the apartment would be very slim. I’d be ushered away. The only chance I’d have of getting there would be via the threshold. So if I’m going to come into the tunnels to get home, I may as well come to your home instead. Besides I want to be where you are.”
Despite their plight and the time they were wasting, Vincent chuckled. Catherine could certainly put up a good argument when she wanted to get her own way, but he had to make her see that being below at a time like this would be no holiday either.
“Everyone will be busy. You will feel in the way as people bustle about. You’d be better off in your apartment.”
Catherine noticed his underlying fear. His eyes spoke of what his lips could not. She knew that all his excuses bordered on his fear for her safety, but she was adamant. “Vincent surely another pair of hands would be gratefully accepted?”
He nodded - this was true.
“Is that a yes you agree or a yes I can come?” Catherine teased him lightly her eyes softly sparkling.
Exhaling a breath of humour Vincent replied, “Both. I fear nothing short of an atomic bomb would stop you from coming to offer your help.”
“Maybe not even that.” Catherine grinned, gazing up into the blue of his eyes.
Vincent grew serious again. The sudden thought that Catherine would risk anything for him brought forth some fresh trepidation. “Catherine, I would prefer it if you went to your apartment. I know that you want to help and that help would be gratefully accepted, but there are miles upon miles of tunnels to cover, I simply won’t be still for a moment.” He paused then started again, “Catherine to know that you are below, then I would not give my fullest attention to the project in hand and…” His voice wavered and stilled to a halt. He knew he was edging around the real reason for his reluctance to have her below and he knew also that she knew it too. He became embarrassed suddenly and hid behind a curtain of beautiful hair.
Exasperated Catherine sighed, “All right Vincent I’ll go to the apartment.” Wishing for once he would say what really troubled him.
He did. Surprising her no end. “It’s just that I care for you so deeply… If anything were to happen to you…” His voice still wavered but slowly his head rose affording Catherine the delight of his intense blue eyes once more.
Catherine stepped closer and hugged him, “It won’t. I’ll go to my apartment. Don’t worry Vincent. You just concentrate on helping your family.” And you, she whispered in her heart.
Much relieved Vincent returned her embrace, “Thank you Catherine. I will see you as soon as I possibly can.”
“Keep the bond open Vincent, and promise you’ll get word to me if you do need my assistance…in anything…okay?” Her eyes pleaded with his.
“I promise.” They hugged one another tightly - almost as if it might be the last time that they would before breaking apart reluctantly to go their separate ways.
*** *** ***
Catherine had a difficult job getting so many sandbags delivered at such short notice, everyone wanted them, even people who were vacating the city hoped to protect their homes in the wake of the storm and the streets were jammed with traffic. Catherine offered twice the going rate for delivery to Jake’s store, but was only told that everyone had a right to protection, not just the rich and famous.
*** *** ***
“Then what is the problem” Determined Catherine asked the retailers, “Just highlight it and I’ll work around it.”
“The problem lady is this, my staff are working overtime now all the hours that God sends to get bags to places that need them the most. The traffic is horrendous and the lorries can’t get through let alone return for fresh supplies. I just can’t make any promises in the time allocated.”
Still unprepared to give up Catherine asked, “What if I sent someone to collect the bags?”
There was an exasperated sigh at the other end of the line, “Lady if you can find enough people left in this city willing to shift three hundred sand bags in the next couple of hours then so be it. But remember they are heavy.”
“Thank you, thank you. Just have them ready and I’ll find someone to collect them. The name is Chandler.”
Replacing the receiver Catherine wondered about her next move. Who could she contact to collect the sandbags and deliver them to Jake’s? All the helpers would be otherwise engaged with their own welfare and family safety as well as helping those below in any way they could already but what choice did she have? Who else could be trusted to deliver so many bags without asking too many questions? Three hundred sand-bags wouldn’t carry themselves, so Catherine left her apartment to go to the threshold and tap out her SOS message.
Father received it within minutes and knew exactly what to do, a similar thing had occurred before, “This is getting more and more like a re run” he told Pascal and Mary. “Devin and Vincent are off with their teams and they need those bags. It’s a good job we have so many loyal helpers.” Within half an hour Father had made all the arrangements for the collection and Catherine found a slip of paper pushed beneath her door bringing her reply. She sighed with relief and switched on the TV and saw that an earlier news update on the storm was being relayed again. Stunned Catherine recoiled in horror when she heard that the hurricane had changed direction and was now hurtling straight towards New York destined to hit five hours ahead of schedule. Catherine checked her watch that report was issued three hours ago!
Flinging on her coat, Catherine fled the apartment heading straight for the threshold, and amazingly finding Vincent waiting for her there. “I never expected to see you so soon Vincent.” She told him as he swung her down off the ladder, “I have urgent news. The hurricane has altered course and will arrive here in less than two hours!”
“I was passing this way and I felt your fear. I waited for you. Come we must send Father a message at once.”
When Vincent had completed tapping it out Catherine hastily explained the problem with the sand-bags and Vincent listened gravely. “Even with all our helpers we would never get all the bags to Jake’s store and into position before the hurricane arrives. Most of the helpers that are with us are already stationed in position within the tunnels to receive the bags as it is.” He told Catherine.
“Perhaps the tidal wave will be delayed long enough, perhaps everything will be achieved in time.” Catherine spoke hopefully.
Doubtful Vincent shook his head, “Even as we speak great shafts are being opened up within the drainage system. Look this is how we do it.” He knelt down onto the dusty floor, “See this is the tunnel.” He drew a line into the sand with one clawed finger, “and in many of these tunnels there are chambers positioned below. Others have vertical shafts. By opening up these shafts we can channel the water straight down to subterranean pools below, but those vertical shafts that open up into chambers we have to block up with sandbags. The problem arises if anyone from Above should check the drainage systems are operating properly. As the drainage systems are the city’s defence against flooding people Above will expect that the great underground network will drain away the excess water. If we should be discovered living down here and blocking up the drainage systems…well you don’t need me to tell you what that would mean.” He looked at her gravely.
“For you?” Catherine looked at him anxiously, “Vincent do whatever you have to do. Whatever it costs. Remember what use is money in the bank when lives are at risk. Anything you need down here Vincent just say and I’ll get it whatever it costs.”
Father’s message was relayed back to them as Catherine finished speaking not giving Vincent a chance to answer, but he was swamped by a great feeling of gratitude for the love his Catherine showed to his family, warmed by the love she showed him too.
Father’s message told them that as the helpers were already in their positions forming a chain from all the tunnels needing attention all the way to Jake’s store. Simply there was no time to bring them all away send them to the wholesalers and get them all back into position again.
“What can we do?” Catherine searched Vincent’s face anxiously, hoping some expression of his might show that he had a clue.
“Do you know anyone Catherine, a large group of people that would help? Perhaps if you offered to pay them Catherine.” Vincent was well aware that her offer of only moments ago was already being accepted.
Catherine raked her brains trying to think clearly as well as think of anyone that may help. Her mind was all over the place. “Think! Think!” She told herself angrily, frustrated that she just couldn’t bring anyone to mind.
Vincent watched her wishing he could help, and was surprised when suddenly she grabbed his sleeve and cried, “I’ve got it! Vincent go back to your post. If these people I am thinking of are still in the city then they will do it. I’m certain of it.”
Something in her tone however made Vincent uneasy, “Catherine, are these people dangerous?”
“They would sell their soul to the devil, Vincent. But what choice do we have?”
“Then tell me where you can locate them and I will be close by. Should you need me.” His anxious eyes sought hers. Catherine nodded his offer made her feel a whole lot better.
She highlighted the area. Vincent knew it and he again had grave misgivings of her going there. “Don’t worry Vincent.” Catherine told him as brightly as she could, “I won’t take any unnecessary risks. I promise.”
Vincent wasn’t convinced. He well knew how determined Catherine could be when she put her mind to it. But like she had said, ‘what choice did they have?’
The group of people Catherine had in mind lived in an area where she least liked to go. A row of derelict brownstones was home to drug addicts and thugs alike, and Catherine had had the misfortune to meet with them before. But on the other hand she knew them to be loyal to one another and ready and willing to help others for a price.
*** *** ***
Feeling Vincent nearby gave Catherine great comfort, nonetheless all that Isaac had taught her now came into focus. Gingerly opening what served as a door to one of the brownstones, Catherine stepped through the entrance into what appeared to be a dark hall while trying to be as quiet and inconspicuous as she could. However the hairs on the back of her neck surfaced as someone closed the rickety door behind her blocking out the light from the street beyond and a rough hand encircled her throat.
“Look what we have here. Miss Princess herself.” Catherine elbowed the man throwing him over her shoulder and standing her ground before he had a chance to say more. The sound of his fall brought several men out from a room just ahead of her and they sauntered toward her with malicious intent in their eyes.
“I don’t want any trouble.” Catherine declared as they advanced, and the man she’d felled rose to his feet. He staggered to the wall and leaning on it heavily glared at her. “That wasn’t very ladylike Princess.” He drawled, “Neither was stepping in here uninvited. And you don’t want any trouble?”
“I’m sorry. But I need your help.” Catherine tried to keep the nervousness she felt out of her voice.
“Car broke down has it?” The fellow sneered rubbing his arm where it had taken most of his weight as he had fallen.
“No. I need help in another way.”
“Well what do you know lads, the Princess here needs our help.” The eruption of dirty laughter that followed sickened Catherine to the pit of her belly.
“I can pay you.” More raunchy laugher followed. Panicking a little now, even with Vincent close by, Catherine was well aware that she had placed them both in a very risky situation.
“Pay us you say?” Though this was spoken in a suggestive tone Catherine relaxed. There was definite interest in the fellow’s voice now even though his comrades continued to laugh.
“Yes whatever you like.”
The laughter trailed away and grew silent and another fellow stepped from out of the shadows. He came close walking with determined strides until he was face to face with Catherine. She stood her ground, refusing to look away. A thought went through her that she would remember his expressionless eyes probably forever. “And what if our payment doesn’t come in the form of dollar bills.” He told her sinisterly as he trailed his hand from her knee to her inner thigh. Catherine shook her head, “Please.” She heard the word leave her lips unaware that she had uttered it.
“Would that be a please yes or a please no?” The fellow tightened his grip on her inner thigh, and Catherine wanted to vomit as she felt his fingers touch her intimately thankful that she was wearing jeans.
“Look I don’t want any trouble.” To her dismay she stammered. “I need your help to carry some sandbags. A lot of sandbags, a great deal of people’s lives depend on them. I can pay you whatever you want.” She paused for emphasis and then continued, “but only with cash.”
For long moments the fellow said nothing while Catherine’s stormy green eyes challenged his, until finally she expelled a sigh of relief as he replied, “Okay lady you got yourself a deal. How many bags are we talking ‘bout here?”
“Three hundred.” Even to her own ears her voice sounded strained, high pitched. Catherine was annoyed with herself.
At her reply the fellow whistled. “That’ll be a lot of helpers you’ll be needing.”
“Can you do it?” Catherine was growing agitated. Time was running out for the tunnel dwellers.
“Can you pay it.”
“Let’s see. You look a wealthy kind of woman. Designer clothes huh?”
Catherine nodded eager to get away back to Vincent. Back to the comfort and security of his arms.
“A hundred dollars per bag.”
Catherine gasped. “A hundred dollars?”
“Take it or leave it.” The fellow was aware of her predicament. He had it in the bag; apparently disinterested he made to move away.
“I’ll take it!” Catherine had no choice, and besides she did have the money. And what price could one put on a life anyway? Especially when it was more than one life at stake, though the one life she desperately wanted to protect was priceless to her.
The fellow nodded, and gesturing to his comrades soon had them running to pass the news on to the others that lived inside the houses. “Give us a couple of minutes.” He told Catherine, “And we’ll be with you.”
“No. Look I haven’t time to stay longer.” From her coat pocket she took out a pre-written note and shoved it into his hand. “Here’s the addresses of the places where you should collect and deliver the sand bags. I’ll meet you at Jake’s Store and pay you on delivery.”
The fellow caught her arm, “Nope. Something up front first.”
Exasperated Catherine shook her arm free; “I don’t have much on me.” She fumbled in her other pocket “Here’s two hundred. I promise I’ll meet you at the store. I’ll go to the cash dispenser on the way.” Eager to get away and desperate for fresh air, Catherine tugged at the door. It opened slowly catching on the floor as she pulled it back. In the time it took for her to secure her escape the fellow had caught her again with an arm firmly around her waist. “Wait Princess. Zoë here will go with you. No tricks Princess. Zoë is good with a knife. You get my drift?”
Nervously Catherine nodded, “I won’t let you down I promise. Can you hurry there isn’t much time?”
Releasing his hold the fellow nodded, “I never forget a face Princess. Don’t even attempt to cross us.”
Wide-eyed Catherine told him, “I won’t. My promise is my bond.” The word made her think even more strongly of Vincent, and Catherine hurried out into the street eager to return to his side.
Together in silence they hurried. Catherine stole glances at the girl named Zoë. She guessed her to be around sixteen, certainly not much older. Perhaps a year or two younger even. She was unkempt and so obviously high on something. Catherine found her presence to be threatening, but she did not see a knife.
Reaching a cash dispenser at last Catherine was grateful that she had only brought necessary items with her that day. She’d left her purse at home, bringing only her credit card and minimal cash with her. Now slotting the card into the machine Catherine withdrew three thousand dollars while Zoë looked on seemingly disinterested.
“I’ve given the guy back at the house two hundred dollars already.” Catherine told Zoë as she shoved the bills into the pocket of her jeans. “Would you be offended if I gave you some of this money?”
“Why?” Zoë stared at her.
“If you don’t want it.” Catherine replied, adding, “I don’t need a reason to give it to you do I?”
The girl shook her head and held out a grubby hand, “I’ll take it.” She told Catherine.
Placing two hundred dollars into the girl’s hand Catherine was stunned as right there before her very eyes Zoë wiggled her hand up her skirt down her pants and shoved the money between her legs. She grinned at Catherine’s obvious surprise “It’ll be safe enough there until tonight. By then I will have thought of somewhere to hide it.” And Catherine knew then that Zoë’s previous disinterest had been merely a game. The girl knew exactly what she was doing.
They finally reached Jake’s hardware store within the next half hour and even before they rounded the final corner Zoë knew that her friends had carried out their part of the bargain and telling Catherine so as they made their way to the store. In fact Catherine knew too, she could smell that they were there and a very frightened Jake was more than delighted to see Catherine walk in. He’d never met her before, but Vincent’s description matched her perfectly.
Careful not to greet her by name Jake nodded a greeting letting his eyes speak of his relief at seeing a friendly face.
Extracting the dollars from her pocket Catherine counted out the promised money to many willing hands and within seconds the store was clear. Catherine did not see where everyone had gone.
Jake reached for a can of air-freshener and sprayed it all around them. “God what a stink.” He told her grinning wryly, “Shoot me if I ever have to live like that.”
“Makes you grateful for small mercies doesn’t it?” Catherine grinned, then added, “You must be Jake. I’m Catherine Chandler.”
Bright-eyed Catherine nodded. Her beautiful smile said everything.
“I get the distinct impression that Vincent means more to you than just a friend?” He asked grinning from ear to ear.
Catherine laughed, “Yes.”
“May I take it that there will be wedding bells some day between the two of you?” And Jake could swear that Catherine’s eyes blazed with a fiery passion at this question.
“Oh I hope so.” Catherine breathed, “And believe me if it happens you will be one of the first to know.”
Jake nodded, “Aye that’s probably truer than you think. I hear most of the messages being relayed below. Come see my basement has direct access into the tunnels. On second thoughts not today…” he checked his watch, “there isn’t much time left for you to get yourself nailed down somewhere safe before the hurricane breezes in.”
“What about you? Where will you go?” Catherine looked around her. She knew there was a flat upstairs, but that wouldn’t stop water breaking through. “Will you go below?”
“No I’ll be all right. My family is upstairs. We’ll see it through together. Done it before.” Catherine saw how he averted his eyes and she made a rapt decision.
“Come with me, you and your family. Hurry please. Get some things together and meet me in the basement. We can take a short cut through the tunnels to my apartment building. You and your family will be safer there.”
Jake was so relieved. He had worried so much about his family’s survival. The store would never withstand a tidal wave, he had two young children to think of and neither could swim and his wife was heavily pregnant. He ran through the store and up the stairs to collect his family and a few possessions together.
In the meantime Catherine made her way to the basement where three hundred sandbags were already being transported by tunnel dwellers down to the places that needed them the most.
By the time that they arrived at the apartment building the doorman had long since gone, and from the safety of her apartment Catherine and her guests watched intermittent TV that was going on and off as the wind grew more intense and disrupted the signal.
*** *** ***
The hurricane was well inland by now, had been for the past hour and the ocean was churning readying itself for its part to play.
People that had been out in boats had long since left their craft to fend for itself in their rush to get out of the city, and these bobbed wildly on their anchors as the waves beat at their sides mercilessly with the thunderous hooves of foamy white horses.
Most people had headed for the Appalachian Mountains several hours drive away, and considered safest because of their height. Catherine wondered if Devin knew that. He and Charles had made their home in those mountains, and Devin would worry about Charles knowing that so many people were converging onto the mountains. Fortunately the cabin they lived in was tucked well away from prying eyes, but Catherine knew that Devin would still be anxious if he had heard that’s where people had gone.
Standing by the balcony doors Catherine looked out over the city through sheet rain. It was hard to see anything, and the sky was as black as night. She searched through the Bond for Vincent, drawing comfort from his love and to let him know that she was safe. That done she settled herself down to sit out the storm in the company of people who had known her love for decades.
Below in the tunnels much was happening not a single person was still for a minute and Vincent was happy to know that Catherine had returned to her apartment. He could sense her way up high. Most of the sandbags had been taken from Jake’s store and had been positioned in their respective places. The hurricane had finally arrived and the first gusts of wind were so ferocious that even so far beneath the city the tunnel dwellers were forced to wear extra clothing to ward off the wind chill.
*** *** ***
For added warmth, Father thought it best that once the work had been done, everyone assembled together in the Great Hall. Around his chamber a small group had collected, all the usual faces, Mary, Pascal, Cullen, Jamie, Winslow, Mouse. Father looked to each of them as he spoke, “I think it’s best that we locate Narcissa and bring her up here. Has anyone seen her recently? Today even?” He looked to Mouse as he said the last, but Mouse shook his head. It had been some days since he had travelled Narcissa’s way and the old woman had been as well as ever then.
“Pascal, would you send a message to her of our intentions? I will organise two people to help her up to the home chambers. If she stays down there she may get awfully wet before the day is out.”
“Narcissa can be pretty stubborn.” Pascal replied, “You’ll have your work cut out persuading her Father.”
Gravely, Father nodded, he knew this. And Narcissa had rarely listened to anything he had had to say before. “We still have to try.” Father replied, “I would never forgive myself if we didn’t at least try.”
For a moment every one was quiet. Each to his own thoughts, Narcissa was very much one of them, and none could image life without her in the tunnels. They hoped that she would see sense and come to the higher levels where hopefully she would be safer.
Father broke through their reverie, “Has anyone seen Devin or Vincent recently?”
“We’re here Father. Just got back.” Vincent came through the entrance and flopped himself wearily into the nearest vacant chair. Devin leaned against the table, “Its getting rough up there Pops.” He told his father.
“Where’s Catherine?” Father looked toward the entrance, “Isn’t she with you?”
“No she’s at her apartment.” Vincent replied.
“Is that wise Vincent?” Father’s apparent concern drew Vincent’s interest rapidly and he sat up. “Why?” He asked, “What do you mean Father?” His blue eyes grew anxious.
“Well if the wind is as perilous as predicted then high rise blocks could fall over like a stack of cards. Catherine would have been safer in the circumstances staying down here with us.”
Vincent fidgeted in his seat. Torn between what he had presumed best and what his father saw best Vincent wasn’t sure which way to turn. The buildings were sturdy, they’d withstood hurricane’s before. But tidal waves? He could well remember the last one and how that had caused a domino effect in some areas of the city. But that had been before stronger construction. Still what was to say that until proven any safer that these new buildings would withstand the force of water any more than the last buildings had?
Distressed that he had put Catherine’s life at risk, he leapt from the chair with the intention of going to her at once.
“Where are you going Vincent? Its daylight above or have you forgotten?”
“Most of the city has been evacuated Father, do you think those remaining are seriously going to bother if they should see me? I only have to go through the threshold and up the stairs to Catherine’s floor.”
“Vincent don’t act careless now. I understand your concern but its not necessary yet. I will have someone take word to Catherine and bring her back with them. You can wait at the threshold for her if you have to, but please don’t venture beyond that. I have enough to worry about as it is with gathering everybody together into the Great Hall.”
Vincent was clearly surprised, “To the Great Hall Why?”
“I think it would be best, and certainly it is big enough to bring everyone together.”
“Your chamber would suffice too. Oh I know it would be a squeeze, but Father have you thought about this seriously? The way to the Great Hall is always windy, but today of all days…” Vincent left his statement unfinished for impact.
Father understood at once, “Oh my Lord, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right Vincent. Pascal can you hurry and put out a message of the change of plans at once. I hope no one has left for the hall yet. I did ask them to wait until they had heard the final word from me.”
Pascal nodded and hurried out of the chamber.
“Why oh why do my bright ideas always back fire.” Father groaned into his hands. Assembling everyone in the Great Hall had seemed such a bright idea. He hadn’t thought about the way there.
“Not all of them Father. I apologise for causing you added concern over my going to Catherine in the daylight. You were right about that. Someone else will perhaps go in my place.” He looked toward his brother appealingly.
“I get it.” Devin said, “You want me to go and bring Chandler down here?”
“If you wouldn’t mind?” Vincent whispered with a grin. Though the concern was still apparent in his eyes.
“Like now?” Devin leaned away from the table. He wondered if his legs would support him back up top again. Vincent’s determined expression wore him down, “Okay now it is.” He drew a deep breath, “You coming or what?”
“Yes I will accompany you as far as the threshold.” Vincent told him.
“Good, then I can lean on you.” Devin quipped.
Catherine had started to grow worried. Looking through her terrace doors she could see a continuous curtain of lashing rain, but beyond that the buildings seemed to be shuddering in the force of the hurricane. At first she thought she had imagined it, but each time she looked harder she could swear that the buildings were swaying with every sudden gust.
*** *** ***
The howling wind tore through the streets taking everything in its path, and it was terrifying to see vehicles being swept up like match sticks, lifted from and thrown down to the ground where they rasped along the road further still in a twisted heap of metal and broken glass.
Beside her Jake’s wife Nicole stood looking out at the street below with terror written in her eyes.
“Do you think we will be safe up here.” Catherine heard the fear in her tone.
“I don’t know.” Catherine told her truthfully. She didn’t like it one bit, “I wish we were below.”
Nicole smiled a little, “Anywhere with Vincent is preferable right?”
Catherine smiled too. A little bit of humour helped a lot right now. “Don’t you like the tunnels Nicole?”
“Not much. But even I can see the beauty of being anywhere with Vincent. He’s so strong isn’t he? Looking at him you’d find it hard to believe that even a hurricane would have difficulty knocking him over. I can imagine how being in his protection must feel.”
Catherine nodded her eyes were pools of dizzying pleasure, “Like being in the shadow of a heavy crag in a hot and tired land? Yes Vincent is pure refreshment for the soul Nicole. I can vouch for that.”
“The children can too. They love him. He offers them such protection just by being nearby, and not just because of who he is outside, but because of who he is inside.” Nicole replied with tender affection for this wonderful man.
Catherine felt tears gather in her eyes. Right now she’d give anything to be embraced by her stronghold. Again she wished she were below.
Nicole patted her stomach, “Its this little one that I worry about right now.”
“Yes I can appreciate that.” Catherine had said nothing before but this fact had concerned her a lot over the past hour or so. “How long before the baby is due?”
“Three weeks. But you know babies, they are apt to surprise their parents, and with everything that is happening… Catherine, I am so frightened…I try not to be, try to think of something else, but my mind just won’t allow me to shut down where this little one is concerned. It is always there at the back of my mind, and the more I tell myself that become stressed will make matters worse, the least able I am to stop worrying.”
Catherine said nothing. She had no arguments to make to the contrary. A mother she might not be, but she had been around long enough to know that babies do put in an unscheduled appearance at the most horrendous of times. Just when they should be safe in the womb they decide that they don’t want to miss out on all the excitement of what is happening in the outside world. Or so it would seem.
Catherine drew Nicole toward her hoping a heartfelt hug would suffice, and together they stood for long moments with arms around one another as the hurricane continued to tear the city apart in the streets below.
“Don’t worry Vincent. Indications show that the tidal wave hasn’t happened yet. These tunnels wouldn’t still be dry if it had.” Devin and Vincent were almost to the surface, having hurried as fast as they could.
*** *** ***
“I shall always worry until I know Catherine is safe.” Vincent replied grimly.
“Yet you must know where she is well or not?”
“Yes. And I can feel her unease and her desire to be below. I am relieved if nothing else that we are almost there, but how foolish I was to think that she would be safe in the apartment at all almost tears me apart.”
Devin said nothing. There was so much he wanted to say. So much that he had wanted to express for such a long time, but now was not the time. Vincent wasn’t thinking clearly enough to see the light right now. But if he ever got a chance Devin would tell Vincent straight, that he should allow Catherine to be living below all the time with him. Devin could see that that would be the answer to everything.
Back up in her apartment Catherine and Nicole were discussing the hurricane again. Jake had taken the children to Catherine’s bed and was reading to them with the curtains tightly drawn so as to block out the sight of the storm. The children were already afraid by being in a strange home and he hoped they might sleep through the event if he could only get them to sleep at all.
*** *** ***
He was worried about Nicole and the baby and it was hard to way lay his fears as he read the children’s chosen book. It was hard to pretend everything was all right when it wasn’t and children are no fools. Still when he saw their eyelids beginning to droop, Jake was elated. But his joy was short lived.
A loud banging startled them all, and Catherine looked toward the door anxiously. ‘Who could it be?’
The silent question was also apparent in Nicole’s eyes. She prayed that whomever it was wasn’t about to evacuate them from the building into the storm outside. That would be too much. She had said nothing, but her back had decidedly started to show signs that she recognised as the onset of labour.
The knocking persisted and then came the shouting, “Cathy are you in there?”
Recognising the voice at once, Catherine hurried across the room and tore open the door, “Devin what is it!” A hand seemed to have gripped her heart and was squeezing the life out of it.
Sensing her distress, Devin reassured her, “He’s all right, Cathy. Vincent’s all right, and so is everyone else. We would just prefer to have you below with us. Father fears a domino effect could happen if one of the buildings should fall.”
Catherine shuddered. That had been her secret fear, one she had pushed resolutely away. To have someone else think of it scared the hell out of her. “Come in Devin, I’ll pack a few things.”
“There’s no time Cathy!” Devin yelled, and it was then that he saw that she was not alone. “Nicole? Is that you?” Devin peered into the room. Nicole was still by the terrace doors.
“Hi Devin, yes its me. Wish I could say its great to see you, but under these circumstances…well you know…” Nicole didn’t like the way that came out, it sounded rude. Fortunately Devin understood and didn’t take offence. “Is Jake with you?” He enquired.
“Yes I’m here Buddy.” Came Jake’s distinctive voice from the bedroom, “Is the invitation to go below extended to us too?”
“Of course. Its cold down there though can you bring something warm with you? Cathy have you some blankets?”
“Yes. I’ll get them. Devin take the family down the stairs, I’ll follow in a moment. Don’t worry I’m not bringing my suitcases, just the blankets.” ‘And one or two precious items’ Catherine added under her breath.
Devin had waited. After ushering the family down the stairs with the instructions to head for the basement where Vincent was waiting, Devin strode up and down impatiently outside of Catherine’s apartment, ‘whatever was keeping her?”
*** *** ***
“Chandler whatever are you doing?” He called angrily.
Inside the apartment Catherine was torn. Desperate to flee with her life she hunted through drawers for the last photograph taken of her mother and father with arms around each other at the cabin by the lake. It was a treasured possession, and Catherine always kept it safe, but in her frantic search she couldn’t remember for the life of her where she had put it when she had bought new furniture recently.
“Whatever it is leave it!” Devin came into the apartment and tugged at her arm. “Come on we have to go. NOW Chandler!” He tugged harder and snatched up the blankets in passing. Catherine had no choice but to go with him. Wistfully, as she pulled the door closed behind her Catherine hoped that wherever the photograph was that she would find it again, and then she forgot all about it as she ran down the stairs toward the basement with Devin clutching tightly to her hand.
Waiting beneath the basement Vincent paced anxiously. They were taking an ungodly amount of time, whatever were they doing up there. All manner of things flew through Vincent’s mind. More than once he had made up his mind to go up and find out, until thoughts of Father came to mind. As worried as he was about Catherine he simply could not add to his father’s problems by risking being seen above himself.
*** *** ***
At length he heard noises and then voices and he began to relax, though he was a trifle concerned again when he realised that there were more than two people heading his way.
Ducking out of sight Vincent watched from a safe distance until he recognised the newcomers. He stepped out to greet them, “Jake, Darren Debra!” The children hurried up to him, “Vincent!” They cried happily, hugging his legs tightly.
Vincent’s eyes searched anxiously past them, “Is your mother with you?”
“Yes, she’s with Catherine.” Debra told him.
‘With Catherine’ the words soothed all his fear away. Vincent sighed deeply any minute now he would see his dear love’s face. He stroked the hair of the two children as his eyes tried to peer through the blue white light that beamed through the threshold door. It flickered intermittently, and Vincent was glad that at such times they only had candle-light below. When storms broke over the New York they would often render the city in total darkness as power lines were severed. It could take twenty-four hours before the city had electricity again. How awful if that were to happen in the tunnels. Thank God for Rebecca and her candles.
A sudden shout had his heart hammering, “It’s coming!” The voice was Devin’s, and in a split second first Nicole and then Catherine appeared through the light. “Vincent!” Catherine ran to him, “The water is coming. Devin saw it – a huge wave breaking over the city.”
Vincent held Catherine close, “Where’s Devin?” He asked anxiously.
“I’m here bro and in the words of the poet, let’s go, go go!” Devin jumped down from the basement to the threshold not bothering with the steps. He left the doors open, but with a flash of afterthought he raced back up the steps and pulled them closed. “Not that they’ll stop the water, but they might hinder its progress. Come let’s get outa here!”
The main group ran as fast as they could. Nicole hurried with the aid of her husband’s arm guiding her steps. He spoke consolingly to her every step of the way, but still Nicole could not find it in her to tell him that labour had began. If only they could outrun the water she’d tell him then. “Leave me Jake, keep the children safe. I’ll soon catch up.”
“The children are safe!” Jake retorted almost angrily, “Nicole, I’m staying with you. Can you move any faster?”
“I’m going as fast as I dare now.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry Nicole. Should I carry you?”
“Only if you want a hernia.” Nicole tried to make light of it all. She laughed despite the ever-increasing pain around her lower back. Surprised actually that she could.
“What was that!” Catherine stopped dead in her tracks causing Vincent to stumble with a child in his arms as he crashed into her.
“Catherine!” He shouted at her unable to stop himself.
“Sorry Vincent. Are you all right?” Catherine’s anxiety grew rapidly. Her gaze was diverted quickly from Vincent’s recovery to a standing position back to the area from where the noise had come. “Oh my God!” Catherine spoke dryly, then shouted, “Jake Nicole hurry, hurry!” While waving her arms frantically.
“Here take Darren.” Vincent bundled the wide-eyed child into Catherine’s arms and ran toward the couple. Catherine could only stand and stare aware of Devin racing ahead with Debra on his shoulders and knowing she should be keeping pace with him for Darren’s sake, but being unable to move for fear of Vincent, Nicole and Jake. For behind the three came the most awful sound Catherine had ever heard. It sounded like a roaring train thundering through the tunnels proceeded by a horrendous rasping sound, as if something was being swept along and caught up from time to time. That thought, that one word swept was all Catherine needed to spur her into action! The water of course! It was following them! How could she be so dumb?
“VINCENT!” Catherine screamed. The child in her arms started to sob making her feel awful. “I’m sorry honey, don’t cry. We’ll make it honey don’t worry.” The child buried his face in Catherine’s neck, afraid to look back. The sound of the water now was deafening.
“CATHERINE RUN!” Immobilised Catherine stood still aware that the warning had come from both back and front of her. Both Vincent’s and Devin’s voice where they once might have echoed in the tunnels sounded flat and desperate. Devin’s second shout sent her running. “CHANDLER MOVE IT!”
Catherine started to move. At first her feet felt rooted to the floor, but once she started to run the adrenaline pounded through her veins and she felt almost as though she had wings, she couldn’t believe how fast she could move when she needed to.
Aware now that Vincent was close behind, Catherine wasn’t surprised when he over took her with Nicole in his arms and Jake close on his heels. “Keep going.” Vincent needlessly shouted over the sound of the roaring water as he passed her by.
“Don’t worry, I wasn’t thinking on sight seeing.” Catherine told him. Despite it all her reply made him chuckle. It was just what he needed at a time like this. A little humour in a desperate moment.
Catherine didn’t look back, but Darren risked doing so. His frightened cry startled her, “It’s coming, It’s coming!” Before he closed his eyes and buried his face tighter into her neck again. Catherine’s breath rasped in her throat. Her legs might have wings but her lungs were bursting, and Darren was quite heavy.
As if suddenly realising that he was the only one doing little Jake stopped dead and waited for Catherine to catch up. Nicole was safe and way ahead with Vincent, Devin and Debra had made it to relative safety and Catherine was the only one that dawdled now, and that was only because she carried his child in her arms. “Here let me.” Jake cried as the pair drew level with him, “You look exhausted.”
“Thank you.” Catherine relinquished her hold on the child, who turned to reach for his father in the space of a heartbeat, “Daddy!” His little arms clasped firmly around his father’s neck. “Let’s get out of here son.” Jake started running again with Catherine in hot pursuit no time to even catch her breath now she only had herself to carry.
Up ahead Catherine could see that Devin had stopped running. He had even put the child to the ground. She couldn’t understand it, but as they drew closer she made out that he had jumped over an opened shaft that she had never seen before, and was in a safe position. Hopefully the water would disappear down the shaft and not reach the place where he was standing.
That was the theory anyway. Much of it depended upon the force and the amount of the water behind them. And by the sound of it…
Catherine’s heart was in her mouth. There was that awful rasping sound again. It was close now. She dared to glance over her shoulder, but could see nothing. All the lanterns had been extinguished by the water’s spray. The tunnel behind was pitch black, but the scent of salt water was very strong. ‘God I hope there’s no sharks in it’ Catherine thought as she started running again, ‘that’s all we need’.
She didn’t know how it happened. One moment Catherine could plainly see Vincent helping Nicole across the open shaft into Devin’s arms. One moment Jake had followed with Darren, and one moment Vincent was holding out his hand for her to jump over with him, when suddenly the force of something heavy caught her behind the back of her knees, and Catherine fell headlong toward the tunnel floor. But she didn’t hit it. Holding out her hands to break her fall Catherine was stunned to feel not sand but water. Water that collected beneath her in greater and greater depths and vaguely she heard Vincent scream her name, and then nothing except the roaring of water gathering in her ears, and the terror of falling head first into nothing.
For long heart stopping moments, the group stood frozen by the spot where Catherine had disappeared. Having been caught from behind by one of the threshold doors, Catherine had been swept down the shaft on the bulk of a thousand tons of water. For a few more agonised seconds, Vincent stood staring at the spot and then with a mighty roar he jumped feet first into the surging water with the sound of the group shouting “VINCENT! NO!” ringing in his ears.
Anxiety washed over the gathered tunnel dwellers as below in Father’s chamber the news arrived that the water had entered the tunnels. “There’s nothing more we can do.” Father buried his head into his hands for not the first time. “Except pray of course.” He mumbled through his fingers. His heart hammered painfully, perhaps too painfully. He took some deep controlled breaths knowing the necessity of calming himself down. At his age pounding hearts could bring on an attack. How he chided himself for sending Vincent and Devin off to bring Catherine below. Her building was sturdy after all. It was possible that she could have survived up there. But what of his two son's? He had sent them toward an approaching tidal wave and now they were lost. With the sentries dashing for their lives as news that the ocean had arrived and with no SOS on the pipes from either Vincent or Devin Father was desperate.
“Perhaps they are at the apartment with Catherine.” Mary suggested while she massaged Father’s shoulders to try to ease his tension. She knew the futility of that hope. Devin might well be at the apartment but Vincent would have waited at the threshold and would have been in direct line for the huge capacity of water. But Mary hoped to allay some of Father’s fear for the sake of his heart. It did no good though. Father one step ahead of her had already thought this through. His answer was so tired and desperate it broke her heart “Vincent wouldn’t have been at the apartment.” He said no more he didn’t need to. Everyone in the chamber understood and clutched at their companion for comfort.
The pipes were silent. With the tunnel dwellers accumulated in one chamber there was no one to send messages to one another and each listened intently. The silence was uncanny. Save for the rush of the wind there was nothing. No subway train passed overhead. The long associated sound of trains rumbling on tracks had ceased. The ever-present tapping of the pipes had stopped and each member of the community now held their breath along with the deathly silence.
The children in mournful expectation – in the arms of their parents and guardians conscious only of a racing heartbeat beneath their ears.
Unaware Mary continued to massage Father’s shoulders. His tension never eased one iota. Beneath her hands she could feel his body was like a coiled spring ready to leap into action the moment that they heard anything.
Mouse was silent. His thoughts were constantly of his friend, willing him in his mind’s eye to return to them safe and well.
Tears gathered and fell from Pascal’s eyes. Sobs caught in his throat. He felt so desperate.
A feeling of unreality lay suspended over the large group of people.
And the deathly silence continued.
*** *** ***
Staring at the place where the surge of water had swallowed up his brother Devin could say nothing until Jake shook his shoulders for the umpteenth time. Through a haze Devin heard the desperate pleading of the other man and slowly came back to reality.
*** *** ***
“What?” His startled eyes stared at his companion. He was slowly becoming aware of movement around him. Of where he was and what he was doing there.
“Where does it lead? Jake asked gruffly. Devin stared back at the water now rushing over the edge of the shaft as if it were a rapid. The foam swirled and collected in ringlets before disappearing over the edge. In other circumstances Devin would have stood transfixed by its beauty. This moment he stood transfixed by the horror of what that water had taken from him, his brother and the woman that his brother loved more than anyone else in the world. So much so that he was prepared to risk his own life to save her.
“Where does it go? Come on Devin snap out of it! Think man, think!” Jake shook him roughly.
Slowly Devin shook his head, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” A sense of unreality washed over him. He was dreaming this he had to be.
“Well can they survive it then!” Jake was screaming now. Devin stood immobilised like some statue, Jack slapped his hand across Devin’s cheek. That worked. Stunned Devin blinked rapidly, “What you do that for…” he began rubbing his cheek hard. The instant he spoke he started to tremble, words poured out of him, “He’s gone Jake, Vincent’s gone.” Falling to his knees Devin sobbed harder and harder, his heart breaking.
Desperately Jake looked around him. They were safe true, but still a long way from the home chambers. Their legs were wet and cold from when the water had reached them just as they had arrived at the shaft. Only the children were dry, but they too sat shivering, Jake supposed from shock as much as anything else. His children loved Vincent to bits. He had to get them to the main hub and quickly too. They would also need to send a message about Vincent and Catherine. Oh Lord what would that do to Jacob Wells?
Jake’s mind was full. He didn’t quite know what to do first. Devin was still on his knees…Jake didn’t like the look of him…usually so full of life…usually not letting anything get him down…Vincent’s descent into the surging waters had rendered Devin incapable of anything. If only something would happen that would jolt him out of his grief.
A scream, loud and right beside him, had Devin spinning around on his knees and scrambling to stand as Nicole screamed a second time.
Jake stared at his wife, saw her clutching her belly and knew at once what was happening. ‘Oh no’ he thought, ‘not that, please let it not be that.’
The pain was suffocating. Her lungs bursting Catherine struggled against breathing in well knowing that she was still under water. It had seemed hours since she had last taken a draught of air into her starved lungs. Her eyes were tightly closed more from the pain in her head than for any other reason, though she would have seen little even if they had of been open. Beneath the dark and ice cold waters sight could have accomplished nothing.
Reminiscent in many ways of the time she was locked in the boot of a car pushed into a river, Catherine began to see a fuzzy but distinctive light somewhere far away that ebbed closer like an incoming tide. In her minds eye she could hear whispers, and as if her eyes were opened she could see two figures beckoning her towards them. Catherine recognised them instantly. Happiness surged through her heart, she wanted to run and leap for joy and feel the long denied embrace of being once again in her mother’s arms. The desire was so great, all she had to do was reach out and take their extended hands. But something pinned her to life. Something held her back. She wasn’t ready yet to be enfolded by death. Though the thought of letting go was so overwhelming Catherine struggled against the pull and as she did she heard a sound in her heart. Through it all she almost laughed at that. How could one hear a sound in their heart? It was ridiculous! But hear it she did, and not just once, but over and over a desperate pleading from one calling her name.
Her parent’s image slipped away as realisation dawned. Vincent! Vincent was calling her back.
Fight returned to Catherine’s weary limbs, fight and a will to live so strong that Catherine’s need for air became supreme. Whereas moments ago she would gladly have surrendered to it now she was fighting against unconsciousness.
A sudden calmness washed over her, and Catherine was amazed that she felt no fear. It seemed even that her lungs had filled again with air from some unknown source. No longer did they feel like they might burst through her rib cage at any moment. Her senses returned, and Catherine knew that Vincent was forcing life into her from wherever he was.
He felt close, but that too was ridiculous. If nothing else Catherine was well aware that she had been swept some great distance and she was also aware that miraculously she was uninjured. Though she had been swept head first down the never ending shaft the capacity of the water around her had cushioned her descent. And in many respects had it not of been for the unknown danger of her plight Catherine could well relate the experience to some exciting water world attraction that she had undertaken in Florida.
Yet even as she thought of the distance that must be separating her from Vincent she felt his love searing her soul and knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was close by as incredible as that might be. With that thought in mind Catherine struggled to raise her arms above her. Maybe Vincent was running along a ledge above. Her disorientated state did not allow for the good sense to know that this was impossible. To Catherine Vincent could do the impossible and he was going to save her life yet again.
Placing her full trust in her survival at his hands Catherine did everything she could to aid him.
*** *** ***
The sound when it came startled them. Each member lost in his own thoughts clearly jumped when the first rattling messages stung the pipes.
*** *** ***
Father raised a hand, though unnecessary, for everyone stilled further to listen.
“Its Devin! Thank the gods!” Father exclaimed rising unsteadily to his feet. Mary held his arm guiding him to reach for his cane, and let go reluctantly when Father unknowingly shrugged her off.
More of the message was coming through. All listened intently mouthing the message as they deciphered it. “Jake, Nicole and family with me - Nicole in labour. In labour!” Father bellowed, “What the…” Suddenly something dawned on him, and he raced to the nearest pipe to send back a message to his son. The tunnel dwellers read it as he tapped it with their eyes wild with distress and their short lived relief crashed around them as they realised what Father had realised just moments ago.
“You said the family is with you and not us…Devin… Where is Vincent?”
Again the darkness consumed her. Despite Vincent’s closeness and her recent spell of recovery Catherine knew that she desperately needed air and now!
*** *** ***
Thrashing her arms around her Catherine felt her finger nails break against hard rock as the water twisted her body round and round like washing in a machine. And then for a split second her face broke the water and she was able to snatch a mouth of air. It was enough! Though the water surged over her head again, Catherine carefully monitored the air into her starved lungs as the water carried her ever forward.
Not so many yards behind now, Vincent was swept along on the same mountain of water praying that he might reach Catherine before too much time had lapsed. His cloak had been swept up over his head with the force of the water as he had jumped in feet first, but he had tackled that successfully and now he was virtually lying on the garment so that his arms and hands were free.
His lungs able to bear a greater capacity of oxygen than Catherine did not feel the pressure of exploding to the degree that Catherine had, but Vincent was well aware that he would soon need to replenish his supply.
Suddenly he was thrown up at the very same spot where Catherine had gulped in air, and doing likewise Vincent was greatly relieved to feel his mind returning to him slowly.
Able to think relatively straight again Vincent infused more of his strength into his love. He felt her answer him if only briefly, but enough to surge his heart with joy to know that she was still alive, but it was impossible to see in front of him. The water was a choppy surge of foam and darkness and even his remarkable eyesight could not penetrate the inky blackness around him. And apart from the sound of the roaring water Vincent could hear nothing. Had he of been able to utter his own voice that too would have been lost to him, so it was impossible to hear any sound that Catherine might make. No, thankfully the only connection he had with his love was the Bond, that wonderful, beautiful miracle that ebbed and flowed between them and linked them when all else failed.
Sitting with his head in hands again Father wept. He would rather have not known…wished with all his might that he had not of asked…for Devin’s reply had almost killed him. Truly he had felt his heart stop beating.
“I’m sorry Dad I don’t know. The water swept both Vincent and Catherine down a shaft.” Devin refrained from telling that Vincent had jumped in of his own accord. He was still having difficulty getting his own head around that.
“Here’s the maps Father.” Father became aware of Winslow’s voice at his side. Aware of other people helping to spread the large maps open onto the table in front of him.
“They could make it Father. All is not lost yet. It’s possible that the water will take them down to the nameless river. Don’t give up Father, you know how strong Vincent is.”
Yes Father did know, but Catherine too had become like a daughter to him. And what would become of Vincent if he were to survive and Catherine were to drown? It didn’t bear thinking about.
Reluctantly Father took an interest in the spread maps, watching without seeing as Winslow traced a finger along various shafts and waterway down to the nameless river. Yes it was possible, providing they snatched air at all the possible places and providing they were uninjured, it was possible that they could survive it. There was the cold though, that was an added hindrance, the water would be so very cold. Father shuddered imagining the feel of it, putting himself in their place. He would never survive an experience like that...but someone younger...someone agile...maybe, maybe they could. It was a slim hope but it was all Father had to hold on to. And hold on he did with all his might.
Rounding a bend Catherine found herself going feet first, the surging water had lifted and tossed her most of the way headlong and she had held out her arms in front of her as straight as an arrow to save hitting her head against solid rock.
*** *** ***
Now having been twisted into a feet first position Catherine found the desire to sit up so strong that she willed herself against doing so. At the speed she travelled a low ceiling could kill her. And as she had no way of knowing where she was or how wide the tunnels were she made herself lie flat. Rounding another bend Catherine twisted her body round as she felt her feet sucked around ahead of her. Her lungs were at bursting point once more and Catherine knew that they couldn’t take much more of this torture. Straining an arm upward Catherine almost cried out with relief when her hand broke through the water and cold air assaulted her skin. Then using her knees as brakes Catherine drew on all her failing strength to push herself back against the surging tide of water until her head broke the surface and she was able to take great gasping breaths of delicious though ice cold air.
Catherine could see nothing but with arms outstretched she latched on to the first piece of rock where she could maintain a hold. Bit by bit she edged her way into a standing position ever careful of the fact that at any moment her head could strike a low ceiling. She was mobilised now, the water surged around and between her feet planted firmly on the slippery floor and she manoeuvred herself carefully until her back tight was against the tunnel wall. Holding onto the rock tightly with hands behind her back Catherine drank in deep draughts of air, filling her lungs in the hope that should she be sucked down again, the amount of air would suffice until her face broke the water again.
The worst of it was yet to befall her. In the water her senses had been taken up with just going with the flow and seeking air. Now that she stood above it she began to be aware of other things. How cold she was for one. Her teeth chattered and shivers stole through her at an amazing speed. Catherine didn’t think she could ever feel warm again. She was also very much aware of her predicament unable to go back and unwilling to go forward, Catherine was stuck where she was. Which was precisely nowhere. She would die if she didn’t move and she could die if she did.
Ironically she laughed. Chiding herself, ‘Chandler you’ve escaped worse things than this. Think woman think!” Her brain seemed numbed by the cold and telling herself and doing it were two very different things, but just as all seemed desperately hopelessly lost another burst of warmth filled her through the Bond that she shared with Vincent.
Laughing hysterically now, Catherine couldn’t believe how dumb she was. That was the second time she had forgotten about Vincent. How on earth could she do that? Why when moments ago feeling his presence had given her such peace had she concluded that she was all alone in her predicament? The ice cold water must have fried her brain. Catherine giggled even there she had got it wrong. How could ice cold water fry her brain? Surely to say freeze her brain would have been more appropriate?
Stupid really, the things one says and thinks in times of disaster. She would laugh about it some day if she ever lived to tell the tale. “God Chandler, you had to remind yourself didn’t you?” She spoke aloud reprimanding herself.
Thinking seemed impossible but Catherine willed herself to think straight, to work out a plan. This air came from some where, if only she could trace it back to its source she might find a way out. Suddenly she started to lose her balance as something large nudged past her legs and blindly Catherine reached down with one hand to untangle herself from whatever debris has wound itself around her feet.
It was material. Catherine held on fast tugging it with all her might. It was solid at one end and instantly she knew what it was. Wedging her back against the rock wall, she used both hands to pull on the garment, elated when it began to fight back against the water itself. A sound broke through the water, and then a spluttering choking gasp and the splash of water over her face. “Vincent! Oh Vincent!” Catherine squealed with delight, helping to pull him up to a standing position alongside her. He was breathing heavily, sucking in great draughts of much needed air until he was finally able to croak, “Catherine I thought I had lost you. Oh Catherine!”
They held onto one another tightly rocking back and forth with the force of the swirling water around them, bracing their feet and each other to prevent toppling back into the murderous depths.
“Catherine.” Vincent sobbed her name over and over, and she became aware of something unbelievable amazing and very delicious all at once. Vincent was kissing her!
Not just chaste kisses either. In the darkness his lips sought hers, and there in this unbelievable instance Catherine returned his kiss with all the passion she had kept firmly hidden for him over the last three and a half years.
It was unreal, that’s what it was. A moment in time suspended, dreamlike. Their distress at having nearly lost one another made them both act out of character, and they clung to one another as the kiss intensified.
Vaguely Catherine remembered her earlier thought that she may never be warm again. She wanted to laugh with dizzy happiness, right now she was feeling decidedly hot and it had little to do with warmth. But what a place for it to happen!
Holding her tighter Vincent broke the kiss, his gasp of love and happiness washed over her as he tucked his face into her neck and murmured endearments beneath her ear.
Her mind full of love and happiness for long moments Catherine could only be still as she relived every part of his kiss again but then the questions began.
“Did you fall in too Vincent?”
Never taking his face from her neck Vincent replied, “No. I came in after you.”
Catherine gasped, “You could have drowned!”
“So could have you Catherine.” He eased back a little now. His breath was level with her jaw. “I fear we still might. We have a long way to go in this water yet.”
Catherine shuddered, “Where do you think it will take us Vincent?”
“Subterranean. It probably goes down to the nameless river. Its impossible to tell how far we have come, or how much further we can continue to travel. Water can get through anywhere we my love may not.”
The two of them were silent for quite a while, before Vincent went on, “I don’t know how much water there is still to come, but if we could hold out until it has completely passed us by, then perhaps we could go back up the way we have come.”
“Is that possible Vincent? I know it wouldn’t be too difficult where it is flat but what about the shaft we came down. How would we ever climb back up that?”
“I’ve climbed shafts before Catherine, the only problem is that with my hands being wet for so long, my claws are not as strong as they could be, we may have to wait at the bottom of the shaft until my claws harden again.”
“And how long will that be?” Catherine thought they were going around in circles and now that they had stopped kissing her teeth were beginning to chatter again.
“Oh Catherine I don’t know. But we can’t stay here, we have to do something. Perhaps Devin is still at the top of the shaft, perhaps he will put down a rope for us. Perhaps he will come down himself.”
“That’s a lot of perhap’s Vincent.” Catherine smiled into the darkness despite herself, “And perhaps this blast of air comes from somewhere we can get out of.” She suggested.
Vincent held up a hand. True there was a blast of air, and it came from above them. How far above he couldn’t tell. With the force of the hurricane blowing in it could be a mere gap, but if the hurricane had subsided then it could be a gap large enough to let them pass.
Vincent told Catherine what he was thinking adding, “The problem is that there is no way of climbing up there. Even if you were to stand on my shoulders I don’t think we could do it and without your support the force of the water could knock my legs from under me and then that would prove dangerous for you.”
“But we have to try Vincent. There is no way of knowing how many other air locks are below. We can’t risk letting the water take us any further, or staying until the water subsides. The cold will kill us if we don’t get out of here soon. Even if we could find ways to warm one another up.” She laughed and Vincent was glad of the darkness that hid his blushes from her. Her laughter subsided and Catherine continued, “Look let’s try it shall we? If you wedge yourself in this crevice, or at least wedge your bottom into it, maybe I could stand on your shoulders and we can see if getting out is possible or not. Just make your hands into a stirrup and hoist me up.”
Vincent did as she asked steadying her ankles with both hands as she stood upon his shoulders, keeping himself tucked into the crevice as well as he could with the water swirling and tugging his long cloak around him. He wished he could take it off but wet as it was, they might need it yet.
Way above his head Catherine held up her hands until she was able to clearly ascertain from where the draught of air came. “Can you stand on tip toes Vincent?” She called down to him.
Complying with her wishes Catherine was given that bit more height to reach further and was elated when her fingertips touched not only a ledge but the feathered end of a broken rope!
“There’s a rope here!” She cried joyous. “Vincent someone has been this way before.”
The relief was tremendous. If someone had been there to put in a rope then they would have had to do so from above, and to do so from above would mean they had come down the shaft from above, and that was good enough for Vincent. There was a way out, if only they could reach it.
Pulling on the rope Catherine found it firm, “I think I could climb it Vincent but there’s not enough slack for me to get a proper hold on it.”
“What if you swing yourself, or if I hoisted you further could you do it then?” He asked hopefully.
“Perhaps, but that’s not the answer Vincent. Even if I could get up there I would never be able to help you up. You’d be far too heavy for me.”
“Then have you an alternative suggestion?” Vincent was certain that she had.
“Yes. You will have to stand on my shoulders. I’m sure you could pull yourself up...what? What’s the matter?”
Vincent was spluttering…”Me… stand on your shoulders! Catherine…I could crack your collar bone if I didn’t drown you first!”
“Then what do you suggest Vincent? You have the strength to haul yourself up on the rope and reach down for me. Please Vincent at least try it this way?”
Vincent was silent for a few moments weighing up the possibilities. Eventually he resigned himself to the fact that simply there was no other way and reluctantly replied, “All right Catherine you win, but promise me if you find my weight too much you’ll say so.”
“I promise.” She agreed half-heartedly.
“Catherine...” Vincent growled.
“Okay I promise I promise…not quit wasting time. Arguing about it is not making me any warmer you know.”
Reluctantly Vincent helped Catherine back down and just as reluctantly reached up a foot to place upon her shoulders as she bent down a little. “I don’t want to do this Catherine.”
“I know you don’t, but I would never suggest it if there was any other way. What’s a cracked collar bone to survival?”
“Hum.” Vincent agreed with resignation and bit by bit he allowed Catherine to bare his weight as he reached above for a swinging rope caught by the breeze.
Devin sent Father another urgent message. The baby was well on its way, and they were still some distance from the main hub. He would have to come or Devin would be forced to deliver yet another baby.
*** *** ***
“I shall have to go.” Father told Mary as he rose to his feet “Can you get me my bag Mary?”
“Would you like me to come with you?”
“No Winslow can steady me there.” Father chuckled, “If need be he can carry me there. Would you wait behind Mary and get everything ready for the child?”
Mary said it would be no bother. Besides she was quite looking forward to it, and also having the child to deliver would take Father’s mind off of other things.
There had still be no word either from or of Vincent. The scouts had gone out to see what they could do, a party had even been sent to subterranean level in the hope of intercepting their descent, and also in the hope that they could actually get down there and not be prevented by the water level.
“Jamie, Mouse” Father called to the two on his way out of his chamber, “Listen out for any more messages from Devin. If he calls to say the water has receded will you please let the teams know?"
“Of course Father.” Jamie hugged him tight, “Don’t worry I know Vincent and Catherine are okay. They have to be.”
Father nodded, but could say nothing. Every time someone mentioned those two names he felt even more terrible than he did before.
Standing with one foot on each shoulder Vincent hauled himself up against the rock in an effort to take as much of his weight off of Catherine. She hadn’t complained, hadn’t even said ouch, but he was certain he must be hurting her. The sooner he accomplished this the better all round.
Beneath him Catherine closed the Bond firmly. She winced as the pain shifted from her shoulders down her back, but resolutely she pushed any sound she might have uttered away. Vincent must not know how her body was almost sagging beneath his weight. In fact mustering all of her strength she even managed to bolster him up a few more feet by straightening up completely. Fortunately those few seconds when she took his entire weight were short lived as Vincent cried, “Got it!”
The relief was immense. No sooner had he spoken then his entire weight had shifted from off her completely. Instantly Catherine reached up and rubbed her shoulders glad for the darkness that would prevent him from seeing this.
Moments later a scuffle of boots against rock told her that Vincent had reached the ledge just prior to his calling, “I’m up Catherine. I’ve made it.” Her silence worried him, “Catherine are you still there?” He searched the Bond, and found it closed, “Catherine?” His tone echoed his fear.
“Yes.” Came the plaintive reply.
“That bad huh?”
“Let’s just say you should cut down on the chocolate cake.” Vincent detected the bubble of laughter in her voice and he smiled. He was relieved that even with the agony his weight must have caused her she could still make a witty remark. Truly she was an amazing woman.
“I’m tracing the rope to its source Catherine. Hold tight as soon as I can I’ll throw a length down to you.”
Optimistic that the rope being there meant something, Vincent walked back several feet until he was happy that he had sufficient rope and then he snapped it clean in two and took the required length back to the ledge.
“Catherine? Are you still there?”
“No. I’ve gone swimming.” She answered dryly.
Causing a grin from Catherine, Vincent laughed out loud. Oh what wit in the circumstances!
He refrained from a comical reply, saying instead, “I’m throwing the rope down. Catch it Catherine, and I’ll pull you up.”
Listening intently Catherine heard the rope slither over the ledge several feet above her hearing it thud from side to side of the shaft and she reached up for it. When she felt it graze her fingers for the second time, she caught hold of a feathered strand and quickly ran her fingers up its length until she had a good hold. Then adding her other hand she called, “I’ve got it Vincent.”
By the sudden tension he knew this and was pulling her up even as she spoke.
It was bliss to be out of the water but still their predicament stood. Not knowing where they were, wet and cold and in total darkness Vincent and Catherine embraced for some minutes just giving and receiving comfort from one another. Then Catherine felt Vincent fumbling around her, and between wondering what he was doing she also realised that he was strapping the rope around her waist. “We don’t want to come adrift a second time Catherine. I’ll tie one end to you and the other to me. Where thou goest I goest.” Catherine detected the hint of humour in his tone. Despite everything she had seen a different side to Vincent this day, one she could easily live with.
“Vincent thank you for jumping in after me.” She told him sincerely with tears in her eyes. His unselfishness had always amazed her. Rescuing her from dangers untold on occasions too numerous to count, but throwing himself down a shaft of raging water was a real risk to his life. Catherine felt humbled by his love of her.
“Do you think I could have let you go alone? Catherine you could have drowned down here. There was no time for thinking it through, I just had to follow you down.”
“Well I’m glad that you did. What of the others, do you know if they got across safely? Oh what about the children?”
“As far as I can remember everyone but you had jumped the opening over the shaft. I’m sure everyone must have made it to safety, simply by the fact that we encountered no one else coming after us all the time we were in the water.”
“Yes of course. Maybe Devin has the search parties out even as we speak.”
Drawing her against him Vincent hugged her close and kissed the top of her head “Yes I’m sure he has.” He refrained from telling her what worried him the most. There was no telling how far they had been swept along and that the rescuers would not know where to look. It could be days before anyone found them. And in that time they could have died from hypothermia.
A depressing thought he knew, but a possible fact nonetheless. And in the total darkness who knows? They could just walk round and round in circles.
Still they had to try to make their way, and so leaving his anxieties behind, Vincent urged Catherine forward through the inky darkness.
*** *** ***
Father reached Nicole’s side as soon as he possibly could, but he was way too late. He found the baby cradled in its father’s arms, with Devin looking as pleased as punch hovering nearby.
*** *** ***
“Hi Pops” Devin greeted his father, “I’ve left you the gory stuff.”
“What do you mean?” Father puffed. The pace he had walked had almost exhausted him.
Nicole smiled, “He means that he delivered another baby, and has left you the afterbirth.”
“Devin!” Father’s anger rose.
“Well what could I do? I had no other choice. Jake has never delivered a baby, Nicole was needed at the other end, that only left me who had the merest experience of how it should go.” Devin replied in his defence.
“Don’t worry Father.” Nicole spoke up again, “Devin explained how things were the first time he delivered a child. And really we did have no choice. At least he had some experience even if prior to it he had learned the technique from a text book.”
Father glared at his son, and questions and answers began between them. “Has the cord been cut?”
“Tied in two places and severed in between.”
“Has the baby been checked?”
“All fingers and toes accounted for Captain.”
Father glared at his son, “Don’t be insolent Devin. Is the child warm enough?”
“Wrapped in the drier parts of the blankets Catherine brought from her apartment.”
At the mention of Catherine, Father’s eyes were diverted from his son to somewhere behind the group of people. “Where did she go in?”
“Catherine. Where did she and Vincent go in?” Suddenly Father looked awfully old and tired.
“Later Pops, here let me help you down. See to Nicole first and then I’ll take you back to the spot.”
Gruffly Father agreed. For that few moments he had almost forgotten his need to be there, “Yes of course. I’m sorry Nicole.” Devin helped him bend and assisted as needed.
In time Nicole was clean and comfortable with her child at her breast taking its first nourishment from her. “I love this part.” Nicole confessed.
“Mmm the bonding.” Father agreed, “Makes me wonder why so many mothers use a bottle. They miss so much.”
“I agree.” Tears welled in Nicole’s eyes. How any mother would chose to bottle feed rather than breast feed she could never understand.
“He’s hungry. Have you thought of a name for him? Only guzzle guts might be effective right now.” Everyone laughed at Father’s remark. It was so out of the blue considering his recent disposition.
Nicole and Jake looked at one another with their eyes they conversed in silence. Jake nodded, and Nicole smiled and began to tell Father, “Well actually we thought it would be rather nice to bestow that honour upon Devin.”
“Me!” Cried Devin flabbergasted.
“Yes you. Only this time you can have the honour of a child being named after the real you. And we can carry on the family tradition with the letter D. So we will have Darren, Debra and Devin. Has a nice ring to it don’t you think?”
“At least it’s better than Harvey.” Devin retorted dryly. “Makes me wish I had used a different alias that time. Fancy being saddled with the name of Harvey!”
Everyone laughed, “Its not a bad name.” Father commented, “It’s strong at least.”
“I guess so. Don’t know why I chose it…oh yes I do…” he paused and his lips twitched with mirth.
“Do tell?” Jake grinned.
“I was drunk.”
“When are you never?” Jake replied with a chuckle.
Indignant Devin replied, “I’m not drunk now.”
“That’s only because you have been otherwise occupied. Go on.” Nicole said.
“I ought to be drunk. In fact I ought to get drunk, after what I’ve just done. The shock is just coming out.”
“Devin will you get to the point?” Father exasperated.
“Oh I guess I’m making more of it than there actually is. I was drinking, and someone asked my name. I hadn’t up until that moment thought of an alias, and as I was holding a bottle of Harvey’s in my hand, that’s the first name that sprang to mind.”
“I hope you didn’t tell them your surname was Bristol Cream.” Jake laughed heartily.
Devin said nothing. Just grinned.
“You did didn’t you?” Jake’s mouth dropped open, “And they believed you?”
“Well yes and no actually. I told them my name was Harvey Bristol.”
Father sighed, “Thank goodness. You’d have been the laughing stock had anyone of guessed.”
Again Devin grinned, from ear to ear this time.
“Oh no, don’t tell me you were?”
Devin was in full-fledged laughter now, causing everyone to wait for the climax expectantly. Devin always had to usher in a grand finale. One that left people wondering if he spoke the truth or not.
“They believed me well enough…” Devin paused for impact he had everyone’s full attention now, “until I was leaving…I think then that they wasn’t sure… Oh not the people with the child I’d brought into the world by Caesarean …they believed me well enough after all they thought I was a doctor… No it was some friends I had made…it was they that I left wondering I think…”
“Devin what did you say?” Father asked dryly he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.
“I told them my wife’s name was Sherry.”
Despite all that had happened over the last few hours, the joke was just what everyone needed. They laughed and laughed until their sides ached. And for a moment at least all their worries flew clean away.
Walking one behind the other and only side by side as room allowed Catherine and Vincent kept the breeze of air on their faces knowing that wherever it came from it was ahead.
They were colder than ever now. Catherine’s teeth still chattered, and she wished her eyes could penetrate the darkness. Vincent said little but he seemed to know what he was doing. Catherine wondered what he was thinking about. It seemed aeons ago now that they had kissed.
“Is there anywhere the water could still come through Vincent?” Catherine asked at length.
“No.” Vincent reassured her. “The sandbags were positioned at the start of each entrance and this tunnel would be filled with water by now if it had come this way. Besides which several shafts were opened up to take the flow.”
“But that was several levels up. Surely no one did anything to the tunnels right down here?”
“This is true, but we are making gradual ascent and water cannot go upwards unless pumped. I know you are aware of this fact Catherine, but you may not have realised that we were walking slightly uphill.”
“No I didn’t. It all seems the same level to me.”
“It is, but from time to time when we have climbed over rocks, we have started upon the next level. Sometimes it is not noticeable when climbing in the dark. It just feels as though you are climbing over an obstacle.”
“Are there any pipes this far down?” Catherine asked hopefully. She was feeling, oh so tired.
“No. But all is not lost. That is we aren’t lost. Did you think that we were?”
“Yes. I did. Do you mean to tell me that you know where you are going?”
“Of sorts yes. The cold air rushing in is a good indication that we are walking toward a turn off, perhaps a cross-road, walking uphill also signifies that we are headed in the right direction. Soon we should encounter a lamp or a sentry that will help us further.”
Catherine sighed with relief.
“Can I presume you’d rather not be in the darkness with me?” Catherine heard the laughter in Vincent’s question.
She teased him back, “I’ve told you before Vincent. There is no darkness when I am with you.”
“So you have.” Keeping pace he fell silent and Catherine guessed what was coming next. She was right.
“Back there, in the water…when I…” he found the words were lost to him.
“When you kissed me? It’s all right Vincent really.”
“It is?” He stopped sharply causing Catherine to walk into him.
“There’s no need. You didn’t know I had stopped walking.”
Another silence ensured. Catherine heard Vincent take a deep shuddering breath. They were close, so very close. Catherine could clearly feel his chest against her shoulder.
“Was it really all right Catherine?” Vincent asked at last. He had to know.
“It was more than all right Vincent. It was wonderful.”
In disbelief Vincent snatched a breath, “You didn’t mind?”
Catherine grinned and made another small step closer. Their bodies were pressed tight now. “I didn’t mind then, and I wouldn’t mind now. Kiss me again Vincent.”
There was silence. Catherine could hear the rapid beat of Vincent’s heart close to her ear, but he made no movement or sound other than that.
“Unless you didn’t enjoy it Vincent?” The thought suddenly occurred to Catherine.
“Unless…I…didn’t…Oh Catherine!” No more words were said. Catherine felt him shift and his arms came around her, his hair brushed against her face, and his warm breath fanned her cheeks. Eagerly Catherine raised her face to meet his kiss with one of her own.
For a long time they melded together. Vincent’s wandering hands sought areas only before permitted in dreams. Catherine’s hands wound beneath Vincent’s mane of hair and held his face firmly to hers. She never wanted their kiss to end.
She needn’t have worried Vincent had no intention of breaking away. On and on the kiss went, deeper and deeper each seeking out the hidden depths of the other, each drinking in fragrances only associated with the closeness of the other. Finally they had to come up for air. Just the merest of snatches, just enough to fuel their lungs, before their lips met again in a trail of blazing kisses.
Vincent’s kisses set Catherine’s soul on fire, and an old Abba song came to mind. Unwittingly Catherine hummed it to herself.
“What is it that your heart sings to me Catherine?” Vincent murmured against her lips.
Catherine grinned, “This Vincent.” And she proceeded to sing softly, “kisses of fire burning, burning, I’m at the point of no returning. Kisses of fire sweet devotion caught in a landslide of emotion… Do you want me to go on?”
Vincent could tell Catherine’s eyes were smiling. Even though his eyesight was good in the dark, this pitch darkness was just too much to see, but he knew, he could tell that Catherine was smiling, and smiling up at him.
Huskily Catherine continued, “I’ve had my share of love affairs and there is nothing compared to this, I’m riding higher than the sky and there is fire in every kiss, kisses of fire, kisses of fire…”
A shudder coursed through Vincent, “Do I really do that to you?” He asked with disbelief.
“That and more Vincent.” He heard the smile in her answer, and with one clawed hand to the back of her head drew her against him, “Oh Catherine, if you could know the joy I feel to hear you say this.”
“I know, I know. I share your joy Vincent. Believe me I have wanted to enjoy your kisses for so long…come to that…” her fingers crept as a spider down his chest, over his hip down towards his thigh before he stopped their purposeful ascent with his hand. He was breathing hard, and harder still as Catherine continued, “Come to that Vincent, I have wanted other things with you too.”
Vincent sucked in a breath, “Catherine you don’t know what you are saying!” He sounded shocked.
“Can you honestly tell me that you haven’t wanted those same things with me?” Catherine teased lightly.
“No.” Vincent could not deny that.
“Then why shouldn’t I want them with you?”
“Because you are forgetting something.”
“That you are different? I am different too Vincent. From you.”
“I know. But you are beautiful.”
“You are too.”
“Not to me Vincent. You are truly beautiful to me.” Catherine snuggled closer, “And the words to that song I gladly apply to you. Your kisses are like fire, and they do make me hunger for more."
Beneath her hands now laid upon his chest Catherine felt Vincent tremble. “I’m cold Vincent, but you could take this opportunity to warm me up.” The huskiness in her voice made her meaning plain.
“Catherine!” Vincent sounded shocked. Catherine giggled.
“Well you know. We are here, now in the darkness. And you know what they say about the cold light of day Vincent?”
“Well...”Catherine’s fingers walked across his chest now, deliberately tracing circles that tantalised him to breathlessness. “I just thought… That perhaps…We could…” Catherine paused deliberately. She sensed Vincent’s discomfort and loved it. “Only if you are going to revert back to the Vincent I knew before this experience I just thought perhaps we should get it all over and done with before you change your mind again..." She rushed the last smiling sweetly, and continuing to let her exploring fingers walk free.
There was absolute silence. Even Vincent’s breathing had become so shallow and Catherine held her own breath as she waited for a response from him.
After some time she had to let it out quietly and she began to wonder whether she might have said a little too much. What did he think of her?
The silence was unbearable. “Vincent?”
He said nothing.
“Vincent do say something.”
Catherine swallowed repeatedly, hard.
And then…”You would contemplate making love with me?” Everything was in his question. Disbelief, unease, fear, hope. It was all there.
There was only one answer, “Yes.”
A rush of breath was expelled from Vincent. He had hoped and he had dreamed, oh yes all those things, but never had he once believed that Catherine would even consider allowing those things to happen between them.
“I don’t know what to say.” Truly he didn’t.
“An affirmative might be a start.” Catherine teased.
“Catherine I can’t get my head around this…and despite what you suggest…this isn’t the time or the place. Definitely not the place.” He paused, his body shuddering with what she wasn’t quite sure.
“And if it was?” She ventured. She had to know this, just had to hear him say it.
“I think we had better move on Catherine.” She detected the despair in his voice, but though he made to walk ahead she stood firm. With the rope holding them together he had no choice but to stop walking.
“Just give me an answer Vincent? Please?”
A deep sigh was expelled from Vincent “I can’t Catherine. I just can’t.”
Sadly Catherine picked up the pace and as they walked along again in silence, Catherine was left to wonder just what he meant. Could it be that he couldn’t give her an answer? That didn’t matter she would work on him, wear him down.
Did he mean that he couldn’t make love to her? The result was the same. Catherine grinned and began humming that tune again deriving much pleasure in knowing that it caused Vincent such obvious discomfort.
Now that they had kissed, Catherine felt much like the cat that had got the cream. The rest would follow in time, she was sure of it. And if nothing else time had proved that she could be patient. At that moment Catherine Chandler was one very devious and very happy lady.
*** *** ***
To be continued in Chapter Seven - click on Next' below:
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