While on a trip home to visit his family Devin goes missing. An advertisement to his disappearance makes the tunnel folk assume he has just gone awandering. However, curious of the person that placed the advert Catherine sets off for South Africa where Devin was last seen.
Swallow On The Wing
I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.
I remember, I remember
The roses, red and white,
The violets, and the lily -cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built.
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,
The tree is living yet!
I remember, I remember
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow.
I remember, I remember
the fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky;
It was a childish ignorance,
But now ‘tis little joy
To know I’m further off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.
‘I Remember, I Remember’
Lying awake beside the sleeping form of her husband, Bethany stared up at the ceiling, watching as tiny fingers of sunlight penetrated through the chink in the curtains and eased the shadows away.
The promise of yet another hot and sunny day, did nothing to lighten her spirits, if yesterday had been anything to go by. No matter how hard she tried to prevent it, the dust would filter in from off the tireless savannah and cover everything with a thin film of orange, leaving everywhere looking dull and lifeless.
Bethany groaned, 'oh but to live near the sea again' to be able to walk down to the beach and dip her legs in the cool and silky ocean.
While here on the dusty plain on the outskirts of Mombassa, far from the ocean even so much as a water-hole could be as many as forty kilometres away. Too far to walk, even if it were safe. Forthe route to the nearest water hole was perilous with wildlife, lion, cheetah, elephant, hippo and crocodile. Even the smaller creatures brought their own threat, scorpion and snake. And smaller than that, the swarms of mosquito could give a deadly bite that would swell and itch and become infectious within hours.
Rolling over as carefully as possible, Bethany surveyed her husband.
A lock of black hair had fallen over his brow, and Bethany smoothed it away. He murmured but did not wake, and Bethany wondered for the thousandth time, what secrets lay hidden behind those beautiful brown eyes, for though she had known him almost four years, she always got the impression that there was much she did not know about this man she had married. Yet still she loved him.
The child in her womb stirred and Bethany winced, as a hefty kick caught her kidneys. And at the sound of her gasp, her husband’s eyes flew open, and Bethany manoeuvred herself into a more comfortable position.
“You all right honey?” His concern touched her, and she smiled, “Yes, I’m okay Devin, its just junior exercising again.”
He frowned, struggling just to stay awake, “You would tell me wouldn’t you, if there was anything happening, I mean you wouldn’t keep it to yourself until the last minute. I really want to share this with you Beth. All of it.”
“Quit fretting honey, nothing is happening, it may be days yet. And I promise, you will be the first to know.”
Her husband frowned, “How can I not worry. I love you. And besides, you are already overdue.”
Bethany’s eyes shone with love for this man. He was such a gem, always putting others ahead of himself. Like the time he kidnapped a deformed man named Charles from a freak show, and took him up to the mountains to live, just so Charles could feel the sun on his face. Where he could live a life in freedom and peace, never having the need to hide away ever again.
Bethany still missed Charles a lot, and Devin, she knew, sometimes ached just for the sight of Charles’ smile once more. It had taken Devin a long, long time to get over his dear friend’s sudden death. And Bethany had been overwhelmed by the love Devin had shown for the man, almost as though they were brothers.
And Charles had also been the only one, from whom she had received any insight into her husband’s past. A few names he had mentioned, Vincent and Jacob and Catherine. Devin had never mentioned these people to her, and she had never asked, but sometimes she found herself wondering about them, and what they had meant to him.
The bedroom was growing lighter now by the second, and as the sky lit up with a rosy glow, Bethany could just make out the forms of the various bits of furniture around the room. Half an hour ago, the only light had been from the dying embers from the stove.
The room was sparsely furnished, neither of them having much money when they married, and Devin wasn’t usually one for holding down a job long. This last time had been somewhat different though, for he had worked there before. He seemed to enjoy the work, and Bethany hoped they would stay, despite the dust, the heat and the flies.
Devin had, she knew, a wandering spirit, and she was more than surprised that he had stayed where they were now, for so long, but then the baby may have been a big part of that.
From the moment Devin had known that her period was late, Devin had married her. Bethany loved him for that. Though they had known one another a long time, she knew that he could have waited just to see why it was late. But that was Devin, impulsive yes, soft hearted definitely.
Bethany smiled at the memory, laying her hand upon her stomach, loving the feel of his child growing beneath her heart, and recalled his words at the time; “Beth I want to marry you. I’ve wanted to marry you for some time, and this gives me a reason to ask, and for you not to refuse me.”
Bethany laughed out loud even now at the memory, as she had then, and at the sound of her laughter, Devin was wide awake, struggling to sit up, asking, “What it is honey?”
“Just things. I’m sorry I disturbed you Devin. Go back to sleep huh?”
Devin rubbed his eyes, “What time is it? Dawn already. I should be getting up now anyway. The cubs will be getting hungry.”
“It’s still early Devin, and I miss you when you are gone.”
Devin rolled over to cradle his wife against his shoulder, “I won’t be far from home today, and you have the radio should you need me. I’m sorry I was out of range yesterday, but that lioness kept evading us. It won’t happen today, Jack is taking over. All I have to do is mind the cubs.”
“Do you think the lioness will look after the cubs if you catch her now?”
Devin shook his head; “No, too much time has elapsed. Looks like you and I are to be foster parent again. Mind you though the lioness still needs bringing in, that gash we saw on her hind leg looks bad.”
“Wouldn’t it heal by itself?”
“Possibly, but it would do no harm to catch her and have a look at it. Besides, Jack was talking of tagging her. If she is the old girl we think she is, she always has trouble with her litters. Jack mentioned it might be an idea to have her neutered for her own sake.”
“That’ll cost something.”
“Yes, but the cost is peanuts compared to the cost of hand rearing her cubs every year. Worse if any one of the births pulls her insides out. She has had breach births for as long as I’ve known her.”
“Was she the one who lost all those cubs the first time we came here?”
“Jack thinks so. Its not possible to be sure of course, not until we bring her in, and check her age, but Jack reckons, that her first litter could have died from suffocation at birth, because of being born backwards.”
Bethany shuddered, and Devin quick to notice hugged her tightly, “I’m sorry honey, all this talk about births, and you in such a delicate position yourself, don’t worry honey, you’ll be fine. The baby is the right way up isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I can’t help worrying Devin. Old Laura has delivered hundreds of babies or so she tells me, but what if something was to go wrong. What if I needed a caesarean, what then?”
“The radio is always working honey, and the flying doctor could get here within half an hour.”
“Its too long Devin. Anything could happen in half an hour.”
“If it came to the worst Beth, I’d perform the caesarean.” He told her quietly.
For a moment Bethany laughed, she thought he was joking, and then she grew cross with him, “Devin I’m serious.”
“So am I, you don’t have to worry Bethany, I won’t let anything go wrong for you. If it came to it, I’d deliver our baby whatever it took, it wouldn’t be the first time.”
Wide eyed, Bethany stared at her husband. “You haven’t?”
Devin nodded, not proud of himself. His father had raked him over the hot coals about it on a previous occasion, and Devin wasn’t about to go through that again, but Bethany was too interested to let it go.
“It was before I knew you.”
“I gathered that, but where, and why?”
“The people believed I was a doctor, and they were miles from a medical centre, and hell...Bethany, I don’t know, it just happened. I was there, the mother needed a caesarean and I performed it.”
“A caesarean! Devin! You can’t stop there, you’ve got to tell me, and I want to know. Are you qualified to perform such an operation?”
“No, but they didn’t know that.”
“They didn’t know, why should they know, if you just happened to be there as an onlooker so to speak?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Perhaps you should start at the beginning. I get the feeling I am missing something here.”
“I’ve already said too much Beth, perhaps its best you don’t know any more.”
“Perhaps its best I do. Devin there is so much I don’t know about you. Sometimes I get the feeling that I know you well, and other times I get the feeling that I don’t know you at all.”
“I’m sorry Beth, but some things are best left in the past.”
Bethany pondered that for a few moments, knowing the futility of pursuing it. She changed tactics, deciding to start from another angle.
“Tell me again about the lion that attacked you?”
“What again!” Deep inside Devin groaned. It was the only outright lie he had ever told his wife, and unfortunately for him she loved to hear it, over and over, and he hated having to repeat it. Sometimes he felt that he had told it so often that he had begun to believe it himself.
The day that they had met, Bethany had asked about the three deep score marks on his left cheek that Vincent had put there all those years ago. Devin told her he had received them from when he worked with lions at a circus, and it had been the very same lie, which had secured him the position he had now. With his flare for forgery along with the scars, his employers had readily believed his story, coupled with the fact that he told them the circus he had worked for had disbanded, and it was impossible for anyone to write off for references. It was the one time he had been grateful for what Vincent had done, though since then he had grown a beard, for he hated having to tell the same lie over and over to interested persons.
“Yes, tell me again how you got those scars,” Bethany was saying, breaking through his thoughts. “And how you wrestled with that lion.”
She eased herself back against the pillows, waiting for him to begin the story she loved to hear.
Would she think he were so brave, if she knew the truth?
If she knew he hadn’t fought a lion and survived to tell the tale?
So many times since they had been married he had wondered about telling her the truth.
When he had first spun the lie, he hadn’t known then that she would become a permanent fixture in his life. That he would fall in love with her, when day after day she would come up to his and Charles mountain home to tend to Charles infectious growths, taking away the pus and easing his pain.
She wasn’t a qualified nurse, but had knowledge of such things from a relative who had suffered, and from the moment she had met Charles on one of her walking expeditions through the mountains, she had taken it upon herself to provide this service for him. And Charles had grown to love her, as had he.
While she waited so patiently Devin was undecided about a lot of things. He knew she would wait all day if she had to do, and he was also aware that she knew of his reluctance to speak of it, so why did she always have to ask?
Again he thought about telling her the truth. If only he could. But did he have the right to do so? Vincent’s secret wasn’t his to tell, not really, even if they were brothers, yet Beth might understand, considering her feelings towards Charles.
Devin shook his head just slightly; it was hard knowing what to do anymore for the best. He hated keeping things from her, and he didn’t want to lie anymore. He loved her, and she trusted him, what would it do to her to hear him come clean after all this time?
As he remained silent Beth wondered about his reluctance to tell her. She had always known he didn’t seem to enjoy talking about it. At first she had believed that it was because he didn’t like to draw attention to himself, but a sudden thought crossed her mind, that maybe he didn’t like to be reminded of it, because of fear of the memory. Why had she never thought of that before?
Suddenly apologetic she told him, “Its all right honey, you don’t have to tell me, I shouldn’t have asked. Perhaps you don’t like to talk about it.”
Relieved and upset at the same time, Devin almost groaned aloud. This in a way was worse!
He didn’t deserve to have the love of such a wonderful caring woman, and really he owned her the truth.
But what could the truth do for her?
She would want to meet his family. And he didn’t know if he could go back there again, not now after so long.
It had been years since he had, not since he and Charles had left for the mountains in fact. Often he regretted that. But there never seemed to be enough time, or money come to that. Air fares did not grow on trees. Even if paper did.
And Africa was a long way from America.
Still he had his chance to take Beth to meet his family when they were living in America, but had refrained from doing so.
At that time they were only friends, good friends true, in fact he had hoped even at that time, that their friendship would develop into something deeper, but he couldn’t be sure it would last. Simply as soon as Charles had died, Devin had felt the need to get as far away from America as he could, and Africa had been as far as he could afford.
Now though, sometimes that was, he missed his home. He never believed he ever would, and maybe it was because of the lions he didn’t know, but sometimes he ached just to see Vincent’s dear face again.
Devin was so unusually quiet this time, Bethany searched his face for clues, “Honey, is everything all right?”
Devin managed a weak smile; “I’m fine Beth, just thinking.”
“Sometimes...” Bethany began, wondering if she should go on, “sometimes, you know honey, I wish you’d let me in on some of your thinking.” she bit her bottom lip, pulling at the soft skin with her teeth nervously. This was a subject she had longed to bring up, but hadn’t dared. “There are times Devin when I feel as though I am holding in my hand an egg, as if I know the shell with age old familiarity, but am afraid to know whether there is a chick or a yolk inside.”
Devin laughed out loud, “Beth, you have the most amazing way of thinking about things.”
Bethany felt hurt, and Devin was quick to notice. He apologised, “I’m sorry Beth, I didn’t mean to laugh at you.” he smiled and kissed her shoulder, “I love you.”
Bethany grinned back at him, finding the confidence in his smile to continue, “And sometimes honey, I’m afraid to squeeze too hard in case I should find something inside the egg that I won’t like.”
“Afraid I’ll crack huh?” Devin could not help saying, and to his relief Bethany laughed out loud, soon becoming serious again, “I know it sounds strange Devin, using that as an example...what was that?”
“I said eggsample. It should be eggsample.” Devin laughed, “Sorry don’t mind me, go on.” The corners of his mouth twitched with mirth.
“Oh you!” Bethany slapped him playfully. “Now where was I?”
“About to tell me why you used such an eggsample I think.”
Bethany smiled, “It doesn’t seem important now, not after that.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“It’s just that when I was a kid, my Nanna asked me to collect the eggs before breakfast, and at that time I knew nothing about broody hens. I shooed a hen off a nest and gathered her eggs, and when I took them inside to crack them for frying, little half-formed chicks fell out into the pan. I’ve never forgotten that horror Devin, and am always scared of what I will find inside an egg now.”
“I’m not sure how that applies to me though. Do you seriously believe that my past is filled with horrors?”
“Maybe. Are they? You’re the one that never wants to talk about them. I kinda get the feeling that you are withholding some great secret from me.”
“Some secrets aren’t ours to tell honey.” Devin spoke quietly, his mind drifting back to the past once more.
“Maybe not, but when not knowing affects the ones that love you, isn’t it only right to share them?”
“And what if knowing the truth affects you worse?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“When you say, knowing the truth. Have I been lied to all these years?”
Devin exhaled a deep sigh. “Beth, everything you know about me is true, but for one thing, and that is only because the knowledge is not mine to divulge. I have hated lying to you, and believe me Beth if I could, I would tell you.”
Bethany cheered up a little. She hadn’t exactly learned anything, but she had at last reached her goal, and knowing for sure that her husband did keep secrets from her, in some small way relieved her.
Before she had begun to believe she was paranoid, now she knew that Devin did have something in his past that he was unprepared to speak of, and that encouraged her. For it meant that some day he might feel confident to tell her, if she was patient enough and didn’t push it. Still there were just one or two more things that would satisfy her to know, and she wondered about asking while the subject was in hand.
Devin stretched, “Well I’d better get up I suppose. Did you sterilise those feeding bottles last night my love?”
“Uh huh, they’re in the usual place by the stove. Do you think the cubs will survive?”
“Yes, I think they stand a good chance, but it’ll be a long slog. Do you remember the other pair?”
“As if I’d forget.” Bethany laughed gaily, “eighteen months and more, before the ranger took them off to the park. Perhaps we shouldn’t let the others get so fond of us this time.”
“Its unavoidable Beth. Already they see us as mum and dad, they aren’t going to leave us until they are ready, and that could be another eighteen months.”
“It has its benefits though doesn’t it?”
“What you mean it adds weight and responsibility to my wandering spirit.” Devin laughed as Bethany nodded, as Devin went on, “That it does my love. I can’t just get up and walk out on the cubs and I can’t take them with me when I go, so I’m stuck. Any break we have away from here, has to be between cubs.”
Bethany frowned, “I like living here Devin. I know it has its drawbacks, but when we left before I longed to come back here for the isolation and the wildlife, although sometimes I do worry about bringing up a young child in a place like this. Despite the dozens of children Laura has had growing up here without so much as a hitch.”
“I don’t know how long we will stay honey. I know we have a responsibility to the cubs now, but you know what my wandering spirit is like. Sooner or later I am going to get itchy feet again.”
“Perhaps the baby will change that, wherever we go, it’ll need education and it wouldn’t be fair to drag it through school after school. A child needs security Devin.”
“And two loving parents. Security doesn’t come into it honey. It’s having parents that love you that makes all the difference.”
“So says one that knows I suppose.” she was laughing at him, he knew it, but it hit a nerve, and he grew silent.
Devin shrugged, “Its nothing honey, don’t worry.”
“A crop up from your past again huh?”
“Something like that.” he changed the subject, “Perhaps the child will inherit my wanderlust. And then you’ll find yourself outnumbered.”
“You wish.” Bethany laughed.
Silence lapsed between them for a few moments, and a nagging thought at the back of her mind, rose to the forefront again, “Devin?”
“Yes honey.” he replied, pulling back the mesh canopy around the bed to reach for his clothing lay upon a chair.
Bethany reached out a hand to hold him back, “Don’t get up yet, there is something I need to ask you.”
Devin let the mesh drop back into place, and lay back against the pillows, “What?” Something in her tone had made him wary.
“Will our child ever meet his or her grandparents... your parents honey?”
Momentarily Devin froze. Beth had never asked such an outright question before, in all the time he’d known her. Meeting her steady gaze, he could see she was holding her breath, almost afraid of his reaction, of his answer.
Drawing in a deep breath, Devin lay his arm around her shoulders, holding her close. For long moments, she didn’t think he was capable of replying. Something about the stiffness of his body told her that he was having difficulty telling her, and she began to wish she hadn’t asked. Whatever was in her husband’s past obviously distressed him. She should have let it be, should have known that he would have told her in his own time, had it of been possible.
He whispering sadly, “My mother died when I was born. I never knew her.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Devin, I should never have asked.”
“No, perhaps you should have, its a normal enough question, and you have been so patient, never asking about my past, about my family.” He whispered the last.
“Is it a large family?” She ventured gently.
“That depends on what you know. I grew up in a community, we thought of each other as brother’s and sisters, though some were closer than others.”
“Is your father still alive?” Beth asked gently.
“Yes. He’s alive.” was that bitterness there that Bethany detected, surely there was something in her husband’s tone that gave rise for concern.
Bethany waited, hoping he’d tell her more but he didn’t and she hadn’t the heart to pursue it.
“I expect those cubs will be getting hungry Devin.” She told him brightly, too brightly.
“Yes, perhaps they will. They’ll be gnawing each other’s tails if I don’t hurry.” Devin was relieved that his wife had changed the subject. He kissed her, and withdrew his arm to hold back the mesh, once again reaching for his clothing.
Pulling on his pants and then his jeans, he turned to look at her through the mesh, tapping it lightly, “Good job Jack erected this, the outside is covered with frustrated mosquitoes that died trying to find a way in.” He laughed, “just imagine how we would be itching without it. That reminds me honey, have you completed the one for the baby’s cot yet?”
“I did it yesterday. Laura helped me. I hadn’t thought about securing it beneath the cot, she showed me where the crafty little beggars could have got in.”
Devin laughed before asking, “Are you going to stay in bed a while Beth?”
“No, I think I’ll get up. I’ll have your breakfast ready. Did you want me to make you up a packed lunch too? There’s a few slices of meat left over from the weekend.”
“No, I feel pretty sure I’ll be close to the homestead today, in fact every day until the baby arrives. Jack understands.”
“Yes but if he should need you Devin, with Laura nearby I’ll be fine, don’t worry, if you need to go out, then go.”
“No Beth. You are too important to me. Okay so I am employed as a ranger and have responsibilities, but this is one time they will have to do without me, and one time you don’t have to take second place, to a bunch of lions.”
“Devin were you serious about that caesarean earlier?”
“What to perform one on you?”
“Yes and no, could you do that to me?”
“In the case of the other woman, it was either that, or she and possibly the child would have died, I had no choice, but doing it to you, I don’t know. Naturally you are far more important to me than she was, but I don’t know if I could take a knife to you my love, not like that, I don’t think I could stand it.”
“When you did it before, what made you think you could achieve it?”
“I’d read about the procedure in a medical journal, not long before it occurred actually. So it was still fresh in my mind.”
“I didn’t know you were interested in that sort of stuff. Is there anything else you can do?”
Devin shrugged, “I often assisted my father...” He hesitated, knowing he’d said too much, when her eyes lit up.
“Your father is a doctor!” Bethany was overjoyed; she’d learned something at last.
“That’s great Devin, so you had some knowledge after all, is that why those people trusted you?”
“Beth can we drop the subject, I am uncomfortable with it.”
“Too near the bone huh?”
“Trust you. Very apt and very true too. Beth I realise there is a lot you don’t know, and a lot you should know, but I don’t keep it all from you for the want of it honey, its all very complicated. If I should start to tell any of it, it’ll become like unravelling a ball of string, and one question will lead to another.”
“All right Devin, I’ll leave it for now. I have more important things to think about. But Devin, can you at least think about telling me some day. After all it will be important to our child to know where his roots lay.”
Devin nodded; he knew the importance of that. For too many years he had believed himself to be an orphan, not knowing the man that had brought him up had been his fleshly father. Up until then he had felt as though his circle of life had a missing link, he believed it accounted for his wandering spirit, always searching for he knew not what, and even when he had found out the truth, he couldn’t stop the searching.
Pulling on his boots, he was soon ready to go out to the compound, staying just long enough to satisfy himself that Beth had got out of bed safely, knowing only too well that a sudden movement could break her waters.
“Yes Devin. Off you go, and let the dogs out will you; they’ll be messing in the shed if you don’t. Bring them back in with you, I’ll get their food ready too.”
“I wanted to talk to you about the dogs actually. I noticed last night that the Bob was looking a bit off colour. It might be the heat, but he is getting on, if he’s no better today, we might have to get him to a vet.”
“He’s old Devin. He belonged to the last people, and the people before that. He must easily be sixteen. But I know how you love him.”
“When I was a kid I always wanted a dog. Bob makes up for that.”
“When I was little I always wanted a cat. We had a dog. It was a Labrador called Jolly. Didn’t you have any pets at all?”
“No, though someone that lived with us had a racoon, would you believe that?” Devin laughed, remembering Mouse’s pet racoon Arthur. He wondered if the animal was still alive. He betted his father would be relieved if it wasn’t.
“A racoon! Was it running about?”
“Yes but it never came near the home chambers, so I didn’t see it often.”
“The home chambers?” Beth smiled. For so long she had hoped to hear something about her husband’s past, and now suddenly he was letting little bits slip out. Devin realised this too, and he hadn’t meant to say it, but then generally he didn’t allow himself to think about it that much knowing how easy it would be to say something he ought not.
“I lived in a big place.” He felt compelled to explain. “Various people lived there, and we each had our own domain.”
“Arh, I see, at least I think I do. Does your father still live there?”
“Yes, as far as I know.”
“Don’t you know for sure?”
“I’ve not seen him in over ten years.”
“Ten years! Devin he could be dead by now.”
“Yes he could.”
“Does he know where to contact you. Do any of your family?”
“No, and he couldn’t if he were dead so what does it matter?”
“Devin, what a thing to say. Obviously you and your father don’t see eye to eye. What kind of man is he?”
“What makes you ask that?”
“Well you are such a lovely person, and if you two don’t get on, perhaps he isn’t so nice?”
“It’s not like that. He’s a nice enough bloke, other people like him.”
“But you don’t?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Devin sighed, feeling the need to explain something to her at least, “For a long time I was led to believe I was an orphan. Though he brought me up, he never let on that I was his son, his real son. Beth do you know what that did to me? Can you imagine that?”
“No.” Beth felt tears sting her eyes. Her husband had put so much sorrow into his words, and she couldn’t imagine it, both her parents had loved her.
Devin stared off into space, as he continued, “There were two of us that he had as son’s, I believed the both of us were adopted, yet he showed the other child more love than he ever showed me. In his eyes I was the rebel, and Vin... er, I mean, the other child received my share of love as well as his own.”
“Devin?” Beth could see his pain, and she wanted him to stop.
But Devin’s eyes glazed over lost in the tragedy. He heard the words tumbling out of him, and was incapable of stopping the flow. Now that they had started to come away, the bitterness, the sorrow, the deceit, the untruths just slipped out of his mouth, and he was unable to stop them.
“I loved my brother more than life, Beth, I still do, and he was different you see. Everyone loved him, and I wanted to protect him, and whenever Father caught us playing at some game that he disapproved of, I would always take the blame, because I knew that one day I could get up and leave, but Vincent...” He stopped suddenly. Too late he realised he had uttered the name to her, then taking a deep breath, went on, “well Vincent, he could never leave. And I didn’t want him to have any bad memories of a place he was forced to remain in for all of his life.”
Bethany walked over to her husband and put her arms around him, comforting him, Devin was grateful.
All his life, he had received too few hugs from the ones he loved.
Only Vincent had showered him with affection.
Yet the one that he had wanted to hug him the most never had, and now it was too late. And it didn’t matter anymore.
Who was he kidding, of course it mattered? And still it hurt.
“I’m so sorry honey.” Bethany told him sincerely.
Devin straightened, kissing the tip of her nose, “I really must get those cubs fed Beth.” she heard him sniff as he turned his face away, and saw him brush away a fallen tear, “I’ll see you later.”
Then he was opening the door and the screen and shutting them firmly after him, before too much dust blew inside.
Bethany sighed, ‘where had all that come from?’ Obviously she had unearthed a time bomb, she only hoped that in doing so, it wouldn’t go off and do her husband irreparable damage.
She vowed that no matter what, she’d be there for him if it did. It hurt her to know her persistence had probed too deep and caused him such pain.
*** *** ***
Devin trod silently across the compound. The sun was well up now, blazing in the sky, promising another scorcher, another day without rain. The dusty savannah rippled as far as the eye could see with shimmering heat waves.*** *** ***
Devin wondered why it appealed to him so much. At first he’d hated the place. The persistent flies had got him down, and at night there had been the mosquitoes. It was only thanks to Laura helping to make the mesh canopy around his and Beth’s bed that helped either of them get any sleep at night, against the high pitched beat of the mosquitoes little wings, homing in on their flesh. And he had learned to live with the flies.
And everything had to be covered. The flies could get inside the smallest of gaps. Same too with the mosquitoes. Thanks be to Laura, who had noticed that the baby’s cot wasn’t covered underneath. He too, like Beth wouldn’t have thought of that.
Thinking about his child, he wondered whom it would look like. Himself with his brown eyes and dark handsome looks, or Beth with her beautiful blonde hair and fair skin, and the bluest eyes he had ever seen save for Vincent’s. Devin smiled as he thought of those other compelling blue eyes, the ones he missed so much, more than any other person he knew.
Resuming his thoughts, he again turned to Beth. That was the worst for her, having such fair skin with all this sunshine. At first her skin burnt terribly, huge blisters had come up, but she had learnt through error to apply masses of sun block, until gradually her skin had hardened, and now, she could manage quite well with a minimum of cream over her skin. Yet she had seldom complained, and the only time she had left the country with him, he had been more than surprised of her desire to come back.
Scanning the horizon now, with a hand held to his brow against the bright sunlight, Devin could just make out a lone figure driving a jeep as swirls of dust indicated movement. Jack. He’d be out now, tracking that lioness.
And she was a devil to capture. But they needed to bring her in, and neutering her was more than a possibility, simply she couldn’t afford to have anymore cubs and neither could the association. Purely donations, and measly government handouts funded the park, and it was never nearly enough. Sometimes it would be months before he’d get any wages, and sometimes he’d get none at all.
For it wasn’t unusual for him to give up his hard earned cash to put towards saving the life of one of the animals, and Jack felt much the same. In their job one couldn’t let an animal suffer, not when the means was available to take away its pain, even if it did mean that he and Beth had to miss one meal a day to do it, as well as Jack and Laura. Yet Jack he knew could ill afford to spend his hard-earned cash on animal welfare, he had his own family to feed.
Taking up his binoculars now, Devin watched as Jack stopped the jeep and took out his own binoculars, to scan the shrubbery.
From his vantage-point, Devin could see Jack’s honey gold skin glistening with sweat, his receding grey/blonde hair thick with dust. Jack was almost part of the savannah himself, having been born there and never in all his life of sixty odd years had he been away from it. Laura he knew had come from Kenya. Brought up in a village of mixed race, and her being used to the wild country. Devin had never known a stronger woman. It was nothing for her to carry a large jug of water upon her head from the nearest well, a distance of some seven kilometres. And when the well dried up, as was often the case, he had even seen her attempt the nearest water hole some forty kilometres away, but Jack had chided her for her foolishness, walking barefoot no less, across such dangerous terrain. Laura had never attempted it since. From that day on, whenever the well dried up, Jack would take her in the jeep to the water hole.
Jack and Laura had several children. Devin was used to seeing them running about the compound, and marvel at the various colours of their skin. With Laura having black skin and Jack having white, Devin had been more than amazed when they had introduced two white skinned boys with blonde hair, to him as their firstborn twins. Since then the other seven of their children, both sons and daughters were born half-caste.
The twins had long ago left Mombassa to work elsewhere in the world, one choosing Britain and the other choosing France. Neither wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps, but both came home regularly every Christmas.
Replacing the binoculars inside their case, Devin continued his walk across the compound. The dogs were unusually quiet. There were times when their howling would start up, the moment they heard the click of the door as he went outside each morning. Today he wondered why there wasn’t a sound coming from the shed.
‘Perhaps they’ve got fed up waiting for me today’, he told himself, smiling wryly, ‘And where had all that come from? All his past, slipping out to Beth without his being aware of it? Perhaps now was the time to tell. Perhaps he had held it within too long'?
Reaching the shed, he lifted the fastener, and two very subdued dogs wandered out. This was most unusual. Peering inside the shed, Devin could just make out in the dimness through the dancing dust, the body of a large black and white collie. Bob.
Tears fell swiftly down Devin’s cheeks. Bob had been his companion for so long. In many respects his shadow, and on more than one occasion had saved his life.
Bending to lift the fly covered body, Devin carried Bob across the compound, the other two subdued dogs at his heels. Quietly grieving for the loss of their companion.
From the window of the lodge, Beth could see her husband carrying Bob’s body, and her heart lurched in her chest. Why now? Why did it have to happen today of all days? When her husband was already so sad?
Bethany opened the door and the screen, and went outside onto the veranda, just as Devin reached the steps leading up to it. There was no need of words. Standing there, with tears coursing down his cheeks, Beth’s heart went out to him.
He’d loved that dog.
“Fetch me an old sheet Beth will you. I can’t just lie him in the cold ground it wouldn’t be right. I’ve got to make him comfortable.” He spoke matter of factly, holding back his grief. Had he always done that, Beth wondered? Had he built up a hard exterior so that nothing could ever hurt him? Still the glistening tears spoke of his pain, though he tried hard to fight them back.
Beth went back inside wordlessly, found an old sheet, one she had been reserving for the baby, but Bob needed it now, and took it back outside to hand it to Devin, who was gazing down at the dead dog with eyes filled with sorrow.
Beth held out the sheet to him, and through his pain Devin recognised it, “No Beth, this is the one for the baby.”
“Bob needs it more.” Beth told her husband.
Devin loved her then for her kindness, and nodded, choking back a sob, unable to voice another word.
“Where will you lay him honey?” Beth wanted to know.
“Beneath the flower bed. It’s a place he always loved. Under the shade of the bougainvillaea. I’ll always think of him there.” Devin turned to head that way.
Beth nodded, it was a fine place to lay their old friend, and she would really miss him too. He would have been a great companion for the baby, trustworthy and faithful.
As Devin walked towards the flower-bed, Beth called back the two dogs that made to follow him, “Come Sam, come Ben.” They wagged their bushy tails at her, their eyes growing bright and tongues lolling. Beth bent down to fondle their ears, “I guess you two will miss your dad huh, still he taught you well, and now its time for you both to show responsibility and follow in his footsteps. Do you think you can both live up to that?”
Beth was rewarded by sloppy tongues drooling saliva over her face, “Pooh go away, your breath stinks, whatever have you been eating?” she scolded them. “Come on, inside the both of you, I’ve got your breakfast waiting. And you can share what was to be your father’s breakfast today.”
Holding the door open, Beth waited until the two younger dogs bounded in, before closing it again, and going across to where three dishes of meat and biscuits were laid ready, black with flies. “Sooner you than me”, she told the two collies, shooing away the cloud of flies, to place the three dishes upon the floor. “Whoever finishes first can start on Bob’s.” she told them. There wasn’t enough room in either of their own bowls for more food.
Beth walked back to the stove. It was hard to tell how long Devin would be now, and his own breakfast would spoil if she left it inside for too long.
Opening the stove door, she extracted the plate of lemon, sugared pancakes that Devin loved so much, and placed them on top of the stove, covering them first with the lid of a saucepan, and then with a tea-towel, tucked it firmly around the sides of the plate, before taking her own from the stove, carrying it across to the table, to sit down and eat.
From her position she could still see out of the window, if she craned her neck far enough.
She could see Devin digging a hole, beneath the cerise flowers of the bougainvillaea, stopping every now and then to wipe the sweat from his brow, or maybe the tears from his eyes, of this she wasn’t sure so far away. Possibly both, it was hot work, digging in such heat.
Taking forkfuls of syrup covered pancake to her mouth, Beth watched Devin while she chewed, only looking down when she had to cut off a slice with the side of her fork. It was on one such moment, that when she raised her eyes again, it was to see Jack stood at Devin’s side, and Devin throw down the spade, cover the old dog with the sheet, and run across the compound with Jack at his side. Now what?
The sound of the radio crackling made Beth stop chewing, listening for the familiar sounds of voices coming over the airwaves, Beth was not surprised to hear her husband calling excitedly to her. “Beth, I’ve gotta go with Jack, the lioness was seen coming this way, probably heard the cries from the cubs, I’ve not fed them yet. Stay in the house Beth, and keep the dogs inside, don’t go outside, we don’t know where the lioness is.”
The radio crackled and died. Beth knew they would be calling Laura, making sure she kept the children inside, until all was well again.
Beth looked down at her half finished breakfast, it no longer appealed to her. Besides, and she laughed out loud when she thought it, her eyes were bigger than her belly, if that were possible. She glanced down at her bulk, the baby had been unusually quiet this morning since she had got up, did that mean anything?
At each side of her the two dogs sat, looking up eagerly, Beth ruffled their ears, “What you two finished that lot already? Want some desert huh? I don’t know where you both put it all.”
Beth scraped back her chair, and reached for the plate, standing and taking the plate across to the three dog bowls on the floor, bending to pick them up, a job she had done thousands of time without any effort.
Now with the baby’s head solid in the engaged position, Beth found the act quite strenuous to say the least, and straightened as quickly from scooping the three empty dishes off the floor. Putting one aside, she cut up the remainder of her pancake and put half into each of the two bowls, and flopped them down to the floor again, “There, gobble that up, those pesky flies will swarm the trash can if you don’t.”
Two pairs of trusting brown eyes looked up at her eagerly for split seconds before their heads went down to bury their noses into the succulent syrup covered pancakes.
Sam looked up first, his face covered in syrup, his tongue trying to lick the offending substance from off his nose and jaws. Beth laughed, “Just look at you! Oh no, Ben don’t put your foot in the bowl!” she tried to push the dog away, picturing sticky paw prints all around the lodge floor, when a pain suddenly shot down her spine and wedged itself somewhere in the small of her back. Beth screamed.
For several moments the room span around her, and Beth leaned against the work surface for support.
The pain subsided, and Beth managed to walk across to her favourite chair, and slide herself down into it. Her mind raced. Was this it? Was the baby coming? She was already four days late, and the birth was imminent. For the first time her predicament hit her. Alone, unable to go outside. Laura unable to come across to her. Devin and Jack out on the savannah, though close by nonetheless if the lioness was near, still they had a responsibility to the nearest village. A lioness, injured, fretful, around humans, was a danger they could do well without. The village had no such barrage of ten-foot high fencing circling it. It was vulnerable. Children could be picked off. Had been picked off. Beth shuddered. No, whatever happened, she couldn’t take Devin away from that responsibility, she would just have to cope alone if it came to it.
Besides, she satisfied herself, didn’t first babies take hours? No doubt Devin would be home long before the baby arrived.
Out on the savannah, Devin put the binoculars back to his eyes, “You’re certain she came this way Jack?” He asked his long time friend and colleague.
“Sure. I followed her in you see. She was way out there for some time”, he indicted towards the game trail with one hand, “and then she just stopped, pricked up her ears, and loped this way, as fast as her injured leg would allow her.”
“I think she heard the cubs. I haven’t fed them yet. I was burying Bob first.”
“Aye, damn shame that. Good dog Bob. Could have used him today too. Though Sam is a good ‘un.” Jack looked around, “Where is he?”
“Sam’s okay, a bit skittish though, he’d rather play than work. Bob was the best tracker I know. I’ll miss him.”
Jack nodded, “Saved your skin often enough didn’t he? Can’t blame you for thinking about him like that. But to my mind, Sam has the makings of a good dog. Maybe now old Bob has gone, Sam will be pack leader and come into his own.”
“Maybe. Hope you’re right, we sure need good dogs out here. What do ya make of Ben?”
“No good. Ben’s a housedog. No good on the savannah. Funny that, two dogs, same father, same mother, separate litters.” Jack laughed, “A bit like the twins against the other children I suppose. Talk about chalk and cheese!”
Devin grinned. He didn’t feel like laughing today. Already he missed Bob at his side. Of all the days to die, today he needed him. The lioness could be anywhere.
“What do you think Devin, shall we get in the jeep and go outwards, or stay around the complex, any ideas?”
“I have to feed the cubs no matter what, that’s the first priority. Want to help?”
“Aye might as well, just in case the old girl is close if nothing else.”
“I need to go up to the lodge to fetch the bottles.”
“No need, I have some in the jeep. Laura washed them through a couple of days back before we caught the cubs, may as well use them. You got any formula over at the site?”
“Plenty. Wish I could use some. I’m starved.”
“No breakfast huh? Devin you should eat before you leave home. I’ve told you so before. Once you leave that doorstep, there is no telling when you will cross it again. Out here, anything could happen. One has to be prepared for the unpredictable, and that means not fainting with hunger, and always having a packed lunch with you, and a flask of water. Devin you know that, why do I have to remind you so often?”
“I had a lot on my mind this morning.”
"The baby huh?”
“No, not this time. Jack, and I don’t want to talk about it?”
“Are you and Beth having problems?” Jack refused to heed the warning.
“No, its nothing like that.”
“Something is bothering you, want to talk about it?”
“Sometimes outsiders can see things clearer than those close to the problem. Insight and all that.”
“Yeah I know, but Jack I can’t talk to anyone about this. Leave it will you. Its old news.”
Jack looked at his friend for several moments, trying to guess what lay behind those brooding eyes this day. For long enough he had wondered about Devin. There was so much he didn’t know, and Devin never spoke of his past. He didn’t think even Beth knew.
They reached the site where the shed was located, within the compound, in which were built the runs for cubs and injured animals alike. Stepping out from the jeep, Devin walked towards the door and stopped. A sound made him hesitate. What was that?
Jack heard it too. “Sounds like crunching.” he whispered. “Behind the shed. Careful Devin.”
Devin carefully unclipped the pouch in, which lay his gun, taking a round of shot from his pocket, and opening the revolver he placed the bullets inside.
“I’ve got my dart gun in the jeep.” Jack was telling him, but he knew that was futile. An animal this close if it decided to attack could tear out your throat, before the dart took effect. A bullet to the head was the only way.
“Do you think its her?” Devin whispered.
“Has to be, but what’s she eating. Sure the cubs couldn’t have got out?”
“No. I secured them well last night, but a lioness that determined could break in. But eating her own! That’s barbaric.” Devin told Jack distastefully.
“She wouldn’t think of them as her own. She’d only know she was missing something, and we know she is hungry. Perhaps the cub was dead already.”
Devin nodded. Silently he trod towards the sound of crunching.
Rounding the corner, the sight of the golden body of the lioness lay before him, crouched flat, gnawing at something dark. It couldn’t be a cub. It was blackish. Devin moved closer, as near as he dared. What was she eating?
He felt Jack behind him, providing back up with his own gun ready to fire.
Devin raised his binoculars again. A thought had sprung up that would not go away. What she was eating it looked like...looked like...Devin gasped. Blind rage filled his soul as the magnified sight through the binoculars showed him the body of his beloved Bob lay before the lioness, matted blood covering his coat.
Devin felt sick. His eyes filled with tears, and in a dream he lifted the gun, fired once, saw the lioness spring to her feet, fired twice, saw her swing around, heard Jack cry, “Devin, what are you doing!” fired three times as the lioness roared her pain, fired four times hitting her between the eyes as she lunged at him. Falling dead at his feet.
Devin was shaking, from anger, from fear, from pain.
“Why did you kill her?” Jack wanted to know, bending down beside the lifeless, twitching body of the lioness. "She never even knew we were here.” Had she of came at him first Jack could have understood, but Devin hadn’t given her a chance.
Devin could only point, his hands trembled, his eyes closing from the sight that befell them, and Jack understood.
“I’m through with it.” Devin flung down his gun, marching away from the scene. His heart bursting with sorrow and disgust.
Jack picked up the firearm, running after Devin, reached him, and lunged out to grab his arm turning the younger distraught man round to face him. “You can’t Devin,” he told him shaking his own head, “Hell I know how you must be feeling, but you’re good at this job, don’t throw it all away for the sake of one dead dog.”
“Bob was my friend!” Tears coursed down Devin’s cheeks, “Can’t you understand that.” He choked back his tears trying to speak further, “He didn’t deserve that. In life he saved my life, I owed it to him to lay him to rest someplace where he’d find peace as a reward for all he did for me, and now...” As the tears fell faster he was unable to finish.
Jack felt like crying himself, “I’ll bury him for you Devin, I’ll even cut the god-dammed lioness open and put the rest of him in the hole, only don’t leave here Devin, we need you.”
Devin shook his head, his whole body shaking now. He ached for the feel of Beth’s loving arms around him, or for the sight of his faithful friend’s wagging tail and bright trusting eyes. Groaning, he fell to his knees, “I can’t Jack.” he sobbed, “I just can’t.”
“Look Devin, I don’t know what the problem is, but Bob is only part of it. What say you take a break. Laura, the children and I can run things for a while. You and Beth take some time out, and when the baby comes, go away for a few days, go into the city, clear your head, only please return will you Devin, I couldn’t stand to be here without you.”
Devin looked up at his friend. His eyes told him he was being sincere, as he heard Jack mumble, “You’re like a son to me, even though I’m hardly old enough to be. I don’t want you to leave here Devin, not ever.”
“I don’t know Jack”. Devin rose to his feet, “ I really don’t know anymore.”
“You know what I think. I think you’re suffering from first time fatherhood. I was like that. It’s the fear of the unknown. Of hoping you’ll make as good a job of bringing up and caring for your child as your parents did for you. Its an awesome thought, and it can get its grip on you real bad, but you’ll see Devin, you don’t have to worry, it all slips into place, and you’ll wonder why you ever worried about it so much.”
Unwittingly, Jack’s statement brought a wealth of fresh feelings to Devin.
Why was everything today geared around his past?
He remained silent for a long while just thinking, as Jack waited for a response. There wasn’t any more he could say, not really knowing the depth of Devin’s feelings, or what was making him behave so out of character this day. Perhaps Laura could get something out of Beth later, and then he’d know.
“I’ll bury Bob.” Devin was whispering now, cutting through Jack’s thoughts.
“No it’s okay Devin, I’ll do it.”
“I said I’d do it!” Devin spoke sharply in response. And Jack backed away a little. “All right, you do it. But let me get the lioness away from there first.”
“No, I’ll do that too. Can you feed the cubs?”
Jack wondered about that before answering. He knew the bonding pattern. Whomsoever fed the cubs would become their parent. Did Devin’s intention of handing the job over to him mean Devin wasn’t going to stay after all?
Devin read his thoughts, “Just for today Jack.” he told him sadly, "They will be ravenous by now, and I want to bury Bob first.”
Jack nodded, relieved, without so many words Devin had made up his mind, he was staying, of that Jack could be sure, he simply would not walk out on the cubs until they were adults and able to fend for themselves, and that could be over eighteen months away. Jack sighed, at least he knew his friend would be around for another year at least, and anything could happen to make him want to stay longer in that time.
Straightening up, Devin traced a soil-clad hand to his brow.
For long moments he stood over the grave, silently voicing a tribute to his trusted friend Bob, before he found his eyes wandering across to the body of the lioness, where he’d dragged her not far now from his feet.
He had begun to regret shooting her. After all he couldn’t blame her. She’d been hungry and Bob’s body was just laid there for the taking. What was she to know? Bending down he examined her carefully. The gash on her leg had become badly infected, and Devin frowned. Perhaps in retrospect he had done her a favour. The leg would have been causing her much pain, and there were no guarantees, that they would have been able to save it. And a three-legged lioness was not to be, not out here. Maybe in a zoo with specialised care, but certainly not in the wild.
His eyes ran over her features. Her still open eyes, her muzzle and nose, and the fine lines that made him think with a jolt of another that had looked like her, as a hand stole to his cheek, and he rubbed the beard covering his scar.
For the first time in a very long time, Devin had an overwhelming desire to be with Vincent. Why, the very sight of the lioness’s lifeless body reminded him, that Vincent too could be dead for all he knew.
Suddenly saddened afresh, Devin thought of all those childhood promises he’d made his brother.
“I’ll come back Vincent I promise, when I leave here, I’ll come back, and I’ll bring you tales of all the places I’ve been to.”
He could hear Vincent now, “You’d do that for me. You’d come back and tell me about everything?”
“Everything Vincent I promise. I love you.”
Devin groaned, so many broken promises. What did Vincent think of that? Did he ever think of him?
Of course he did. Who was he hoping to fool? Vincent would never forget him, for as long as he lived.
Devin thought about Beth and the baby. Would they be all right on their own if he were to go to America to visit Vincent?
Such bad timing.
With the birth imminent, Devin knew he should wait before he could leave now, but the desire was so strong.
Whatever was wrong with him?
Yesterday he’d had no such desires.
Today everything had happened. He felt as though his head was bursting, and he needed to escape, and fast.
The vast plain beckoned. All that freedom, all those miles. From here unto infinity. Places he’d seen, places he was yet to see. Old friends, new friends. Freedom.
He loved Beth, he knew that. But this morning her questions had sparked off feelings he had thought long and safely buried. Now the burning desire to go home called strongly to him.
Perhaps if he just went away, didn’t say anything, Beth would worry of course, but he’d be back soon. Just as soon as he’d satisfied himself that everyone was well.
But what to do, to wait until the baby was born, or to go now?
Some of the things Jack had said came back to haunt him. Fatherhood. Yes he was fearful of that. It gave him responsibilities that he didn’t know if he were prepared for. But he loved Beth, and felt such pride that she carried his child.
The words spun around his head. A good feeling spread through him.
In all his wildest dreams he had never visualised having a child of his own. He didn’t believe he could give the kind of love a child needed. He was never in one place for long enough.
Meeting Beth had changed all that. Yet sometimes Devin didn’t know whether he should be thankful about that or not.
Looking towards the lodge, he thought about Beth, and their child. Tried to see in his mind’s eye his child, or his children playing out in the dust around the veranda. Jack and Laura’s children never had much, but they always seemed happy. Would his child be happy?
Yet what was there to do in this god-forsaken place. Even Below in the tunnels, they’d had more to do.
Devin wondered about that.
It was something he had never contemplated before. He frowned. Would his children prefer to live Below in the windy tunnels with all the fair sights the underground world had to offer? Or would they prefer to live on the heat scorched land, where some times it didn’t rain for years, and the earth remained barren and dusty, filled with flies, and hungry lion, mosquitoes and crocodile?
A perilous country. A beautiful country.
Yet which one of the two places were more perilous for children? Which was not?
Suddenly it seemed awfully important that Beth should be included in their child’s choice of future habitat, yet he could not include her in the choice, because he could not tell her. For the secret was not his to tell. Not unless...not unless first he sought the permission of those that depended upon the secret’s safety.
To see Vincent again.
Devin’s heart raced.
To go home.
Home to Vincent.
Home to heal.
Suddenly life’s sorrows weighed heavy upon Devin’s shoulders. Too heavy, and there was Vincent. Dear, kind, sympathetic Vincent who was a good listener and from whom words of wisdom would tumble and heal.
Devin choked back a sob.
He had to go.
Had to go to Vincent.
Simply he needed him, more than he needed anyone right now, not even Beth.
Looking back towards the lodge, Devin made a few steps towards it, then turned, back tracking towards the jeep. He would only be gone a couple of days, just long enough to see everyone.
Just to reassure him.
If he waited, waited until the baby was born, he might never leave.
Might find it impossible to do so, unless Beth came with him, and then that would mean explaining things to her, letting her in on the secret.
And he couldn’t do that.
For once he was thankful that his passport were kept at the association’s headquarters. It was a protection, against fire. Fire spread easily on the savannah, and legal documents, passports, birth certificates, wills etc. Were kept at the offices. Firm offices, brick built and safe.
And this month’s wages would be there too. Just enough to pay for a single fare to America. He’d find someone to pay for his passage back. Maybe Peter, his old G.P and long time friend.
Peter had loaned him some cash in the past, and Devin had always paid it back.
Peter would help, Devin was certain of it.
His mind made up, Devin got into the jeep, drove to the compound gates, got out opened them, drove through, got out closed them, and without a backward glance lest his heart hold him back again, Devin drove off towards the city.
*** *** ***
Jacob Wells eased his tired old bones into his favourite armchair, and grimaced, “Sometimes Vincent I wonder which creaks the most, this old chair of mine or my joints.”
Vincent smiled. His dear leonine face inches from the inside of a book, his furry hands holding the volume closer to his eyes in the dim candlelight, to see better. Father frowned at him, “Vincent, as loath as I am to picture it, I do believe you need glasses.”
“Father!” Vincent exclaimed indignantly.
“Its true Vincent. You aren’t as young as you used to be. And I’m sure you hold those books a lot closer to your face now than you used to do. But the problem is, who we’d find to test your eyes. I don’t think I know of an optician who could come Below.”
“Don’t fret Father. It’s just the light. I can see perfectly well. I have cat’s eyes remember?”
“Hum, perhaps. Have you finished with this mornings paper?”
“Yes, it’s on the table. Catherine hasn’t read it yet though, so don’t go cutting chunks out of it, until she has.”
It was Father’s turn to be amused, remembering the incident Vincent referred to, not long since, when Catherine had reached for the paper, and held it up to reveal gaping holes in it, her eyes staring straight at the culprit in mock annoyance. Vincent chuckled remembering the incident himself.
“All right Vincent, I promise. It’ll stay intact until Catherine has seen it. Can you just pass it to me though, I don’t think my old bones will get me out of this chair so soon.”
Laying down his book, Vincent got up to pick up the newspaper, and pass it to his father, then settled himself down to read again.
For some time each to his own, there was silence, until Vincent raised his head sharply at Father’s exclamation of, “Good God” and surprised asked, “What is it Father?”
“Vincent your eyes are worse than I thought. You say you read this newspaper?”
“That’s what I said.” ruffled Vincent replied, feeling some annoyance at the mention to his eyesight yet again.
“This advert, it should have leapt out at you. It did to me. Listen. ‘ Will Devin Wells or known relative please contact the following person urgently.’ then it goes on to show...” Father shook his head, who was this person?
“What Father? Tell me?”
“It gives a name I’ve never heard of her before...I wonder?”
Vincent stood up, leaving his place to stand behind Father, who was so obviously having difficulty reading anymore of the advertisement out to him. Placing his finger upon the advert, Vincent read to himself the part that Father had just read out, and then reaching the part he hadn’t, Vincent began to speak aloud, “Please contact Bethany Wells, Taniqua National Park, Mombassa. Father that’s in Africa isn’t it.” When Father didn’t reply, Vincent removed Father’s hand from off the rest of the advert, so that he could see it all, “Yes.” He answered his own question, now seeing the complete address, “It is.”
“I don’t understand.” Father told him, with a far away look in his eyes, “Unless.” for a moment he hesitated, as Vincent waited for him to continue, when suddenly Father’s expression changed to one of annoyance, “Huh! I should have known. I bet I know what has happened here. Devin has got itchy feet again, only this time he’s forgotten he has a wife now.”
Devin married? And not telling him? Vincent could not believe it. And if he were, he wouldn’t leave his wife surely? “Father, you can’t be serious. Not even Devin would be so irresponsible.”
“He would. Look how he upped and left you. Anything might have happened there. A row with his wife, anything, and he’s just upped and left her, with no contact address.”
“So what are you going to do? You can’t just ignore the advert.”
“Oh yes I can Vincent, and so can you. This has nothing to do with us, and I think we would do well to leave alone.”
They both looked up as Catherine came down the steps into the chamber, “What’s wrong?” she asked concerned as she caught sight of their faces. Without awaiting their answer she hurried over to the open newspaper, spread across the table to see for herself.
“Are you going to do anything about it?” she asked wide-eyed, “Who is this woman?”
“Father believes that she is Devin’s wife, and no, we aren’t going to do anything.” Vincent told her, as Father butted in, “I don’t think we should my dear, best not get involved, we don’t know what sort of hornet’s nest we might be opening up here. Perhaps Devin had a valid reason for leaving her, perhaps their marriage was a mistake. Without all the facts we can’t make a judgement.”
“Exactly. And for that reason I think someone should go and see this woman.” Catherine told them.
“Who?” Vincent had seen the rebellious look in her expression.
“Me. I’ll go and see her.”
Father was shaking his head, as Vincent told her, “No Catherine, it might not be wise, if the advert hadn’t made it obvious that Devin was missing, then we could have done something, but as it is we can’t possibly get involved. After all, Devin knows this woman better than we do, perhaps his leaving her is well grounded.”
“I agree with Vincent, had the advert of read, ‘will known relatives of Devin Wells please contact...this Bethany Wells, then we could have done something. But as it is, well I believe either Devin has had itchy feet again, or he has walked out on her for some other reason. We’d best forget it Catherine, and tell those of us that live Below to do the same.”
“I don’t like it.” Catherine told them, “This woman may have a genuine reason for wanting to find Devin. Is there a contact number, perhaps someone could ring her?”
“I’ve already thought of that, and no there isn’t. I expect right out there, there aren’t any phones. Someone would have to write to her or go out there, and before you get any ideas in that pretty little head of yours, this is one time I am going to over-rule you Catherine... I forbid you to do anything about it.”
Vincent reached for Catherine’s hand, he felt her sudden distress, it was rare that Father spoke so sharply with her these days, and he wanted her to know it was nothing personal, but when it came to Devin and his irresponsible manner, Father was probably right. He could well remember how Devin had left home at fourteen and didn’t return for twenty years. Everyone had thought he was dead, and the tunnels had been searched fruitlessly for weeks, in case he’d had an accident Below. While Vincent himself, had cried deep inside for most of that time for the brother he had lost.
Father was immediately apologetic as he sensed Catherine’s mood, “I’m sorry Catherine, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, I know how you always like to help, but really this time I think we ought to leave well alone. We’ll keep an eye on the papers, see if anything else crops up, but until something happens where we can’t ignore it, if it does, then I think it best we don’t get involved.”
Catherine nodded, she still disagreed. Perhaps it was woman’s intuition, she didn’t know, and perhaps it was the fact that out in Africa it looked as if she had a sister-in-law, and Catherine was happy about that and she wondered what this woman was like, and why Devin had left her.
*** *** ***
“Has there been nothing at all?” Beth was frantic, as Jack just returned from the city shook his head, “Not even a letter. Perhaps you should try again. A different newspaper, another state?”
“I haven’t the money, that advert took all of my savings.” Beth started to cry, and Jack came to thread his arm around her shoulders, “Don’t cry honey, we’ll find him. Look Laura and I have some money, we’ll use that, and whatever it takes Beth we’ll find him. I don’t think it’s a case of him not wanting to be found, I think he needs us.”
Beth choked back her tears, “Yes, we were so happy. If only I hadn’t of pushed it about his past that morning that’s what did it Jack, it pushed him over the top.”
“Now honey, we’ve been through all that, it wasn’t that way at all.”
“Maybe not, but I started it, Devin may have coped with the other things, if I hadn’t of caused his anguish to start with.”
“Maybe, but Devin has had years to push his past firmly away, I think it was a culmination of a lot of things, and Bob’s death and the lioness eating the body was the last straw.”
“He didn’t even come to say goodbye.” Beth sobbed afresh again, “And I needed him so badly.”
“Hush now honey, Devin loves you, and he looked forward to this baby so much, he wouldn’t just up and leave you not like that, no honey, I think we can safely say that Devin wasn’t of his usual mind that day he drove out of here.”
“That’s for sure. Its what caused it that I can’t live with. If only someone would contact us. There must be someone that still knows him.”
Jack rocked her in his arms, trying to comfort her, “Is there any one, any one at all,” he began gently, “some other name that he may have mentioned. Think honey. Perhaps you could write out an ad with their name on, see if that sparks more interest. Obviously with Devin being out of the area for ten years or more, people might not remember, but someone that is still there, then that might work.”
Beth brightened up, “Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I think it’s a start.”
“There was one name, Devin mentioned him the day he left...someone called Vincent, it seems that he and Devin were brought up as brothers...”
“Well there you are, use that name, that might bring better results.”
Beth bit her lip, tugging at the skin with her teeth thoughtfully, “There’s only one problem Jack.”
“This Vincent, from what Devin said I believe he is deformed in some way, and lives in a place away from the majority of people, he might not get a newspaper, or he might not even be able to read.”
“And if that is the case, he will have carers who will read it for him. That’s even better Beth, institutions hold a wealth of information on relatives and the like, they might not know where Devin is, but they will have records on his other relatives. Write out the ad honey, and I’ll go back to the city today and have it inserted for you.”
Beth sent Jack a watery smile, “Thanks Jack, what I would have done without you I don’t know.”
“Its all right honey, you and Devin, well you are family, and I want to help. Gee, I’d like to see Devin back here myself, he was a great guy to work with, really cared about the animals, you don’t get people like that all the time, look how many times he sacrificed his wages to save the hide of some dumb beast. He’s a good man. And he won’t have left here of his own violation, no matter how much he likes to wander, he loves you Beth, and he loves his job, and I aim to make sure we find him and bring him home. Whatever it takes, even if I have to hop on a plane and walk the streets of America until I find him myself.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” Beth smiled at him, “but thanks anyway, you’re a good sort Jack Duncan.”
*** *** ***
Three weeks after the first ad appeared in the New York Times, Father was reading the newspaper again, as he did every morning, but just lately with avid interest scanning all the columns. Going over it with a fine tooth pick, making certain he never missed a word, when he suddenly spluttered on his tea, and cried “Good God!”
Instantly Catherine and Vincent were at his side, and Catherine read aloud, as Father remained incapable, “ Would Vincent Wells...”
Catherine gasped, and read on wide-eyed, “Please contact Bethany Wells, of The Lodge, Taniqua National Park, Mombassa. Of up-most urgency.”
Catherine felt herself shaking, and had to lean against Vincent for support, as her eyes wide with fear searched his, “Someone knows about you Vincent.” she whispered, “But I can’t imagine that Devin ever would...” she could not finish, how well did she know Devin anyway? Only from what Vincent and Father had told her, and they were of varying opinions.
Vincent was shaking his head, “He wouldn’t, no I can’t believe that, he just wouldn’t.”
Father stood up, and exploded, “He must have! At least he’s obviously said something. She knows your name goddamit! Now what are we to do?”
“Well, that’s one thing that is for sure now.” Catherine told them both, “Now we are involved, in fact Father, more importantly, now I am involved, and this time nothing you can say will stop me. I’m going over there to see this woman.”
Vincent was about to argue, but he’d seen that set jaw on Catherine before, he knew it was futile to disagree, besides, this time he knew she was right, there simply was nothing less they could do.
“I forbid you...” Father was spluttering again, “Vincent you have got to stop her.” knowing this time Catherine would not listen to him personally. But Vincent was shaking his head, “If I could Father I would go. This time Catherine has my backing, I believe she should go. Simply this has got to be sorted. And it may be worse than we think, perhaps we have done wrong in ignoring it this far. The woman really may need our help.”
“I agree with Vincent, Father. Ever since the first advert, if it was the first, I have had it on my mind, I didn’t like having to ignore it. Now I am happy to look into this. I’ll leave this afternoon.”
“Then as Vincent so obviously won’t talk sense into you, I will step in as your doctor Catherine. I won’t let you go in your condition. Its preposterous, anything could happen to you.”
“Nonsense Father, and you’re not my GP Also I am only four months, and why it doesn’t even show yet. I won’t do anything I ought not, I have had babies before you know.” Catherine smiled, trying to take some of the edge off her words. Eventually Father relented, “All right, I know when I’m beaten, but Catherine just promise me, you’ll keep in touch, and don’t do anything without consulting us first.”
Catherine leaned over and kissed Father’s cheek, “I promise Father, I know the rules.”
*** *** ***
Bethany had just got her daughter to sleep, when the sound of whirling overhead distracted her, and she went outside to see better. Jack was there, his hand held to his brow scanning the sky, as a light aircraft circled the area of savannah in which lay the compound.
“What is it Jack do you know?” Beth called out.
“I don’t know. Certainly its not the doc, the plane is different, might be some supplies, but then I haven’t ordered any, and they generally come in by jeep anyway. I don’t know Beth, but I think we’re soon gonna find out, the plane is coming in to land.”
“Will you go out to them. Do you think its news about Devin?”
“I hope so honey. Look get Laura to sit with the young ‘un and come out to the plane with me.”
Beth needed no second telling, and Laura was only too willing to oblige, and within minutes, Beth found herself walking towards the aircraft at Jack’s side.
Catherine couldn’t believe the heat. As the aircraft doors were slid open, it was the first thing that hit her. Second was the flies, they were everywhere, third was the dust. Already her shoes were covered, and that was before she had alighted from the plane.
Beth reached her side as the pilot held out his hand to help her down, and the first sight Catherine had of her sister-in-law was one she would never forget. She was so pretty, and those blue eyes!
Catherine knew those eyes, Beth had Vincent eyes. Immediately she warmed to her.
And Beth liked Catherine on sight, whomever this woman was, she was simply beautiful, and Beth hoped she had brought some news. A smile that lit up her eyes, welcomed Catherine, and holding out a hand, she shook Beth’s and then Jack’s hands, before she told them, “I’m Catherine Wells, I’m here to see Bethany Wells.”
Beth’s face beamed, “I’m Bethany Wells. Thank you so much for coming. Please won’t you come to my home.” Tears coursed down Beth’s dust stained cheeks, leaving long trails against the skin, and Catherine found her own eyes pricking, as she followed Beth in, with the pilot passing Jack Catherine’s luggage, before taking off again.
A shiver ran through Catherine as Beth held open the compound gate and waited for Jack, before closing it again after him, “Is this necessary.” Catherine asked, nodding towards the high fencing.
“Absolutely.” Jack told her, “We are vulnerable humans living in the middle of wild animals. The fence has to be so high, and the barbed wire has to be around the top, hungry lions are our greatest threat.”
“And Devin lived here?” Catherine asked, amazed.
Beth’s heart lifted, this woman knew Devin. “You know Devin personally?” She exclaimed happily, her eyes lighting up. Even though the name was the same, she wondered if Catherine might be a distant relative perhaps.
“Oh yes, I know Devin,” Catherine laughed. Leaving Beth only to wonder at the way Catherine had said that. What secrets did this woman know that she didn’t?
They reached the lodge, and the door was opened from the inside, as Laura stood aside to allow them in. Jack put down Catherine’s bags, and then taking his wife’s arm, he told Beth, “If you need us, you only have to call.” he ushered Laura out of the door, with a parting word, “Nice meeting you Mrs. Wells, I take it, it is Misses?”
Catherine nodded, “Yes,” she told them all, “Vincent is my husband.”
“Can I offer you a drink,” suddenly nervous, when she found herself and Catherine alone, Beth asked. There were so many questions she needed to say, she just didn’t know where to begin.
Catherine nodded, “That would be wonderful, something deliciously cool would be lovely.”
“I have just the thing. Home made lemonade. Laura makes it. That’s Jack’s wife, you know the black woman who was here when you arrived. She was minding Claudia while I came out to meet you.”
“Yes, my daughter, she’s over there, sleeping in that cot.”
“May I?” Catherine beckoned, indicating that she would like to see the child.
“Please do. She’s Devin’s child.”
Catherine tilted her head to one side, a gesture she had picked up from Vincent, “Really? How old is she?”
Beth’s face grew sad, “He’s never seen her, she was born the day he disappeared. She’s almost three months old.”
Catherine walked across to the cot, her heart went out to this fatherless child, with her rosy cheeks, and bonny blonde hair. “I can’t understand why Devin would do that.” Catherine told Beth sincerely, taking the glass of lemonade offered to her. Beth stood at her side looking down at the baby, “Neither can I, he wanted this child so much.” Suddenly tears coursed down Beth’s cheeks, and Catherine instantly, set aside the drink to put her arms around Beth’s shoulders, “Tell me about it?” Catherine asked gently, “Tell me all you know.”
Beth beckoned for Catherine to sit down at the table, where she poured herself a glass of lemonade from the jug, and covered the jug with cling-film, “ You’d best drink that quickly.” She motioned for Catherine to pick up her glass, “The flies will have it if you don’t. They don’t need a second telling.”
Catherine smiled, shooing away a few flies that were already homing in on the sweet smelling liquid. She put it to her lips, and drank thirstily, it was good. Glass empty she put it down onto the table, where Beth’s soon followed it.
“I’ve known Devin for over four years.” Beth told Catherine, “We met in the mountains, where he lived with Charles. When Charles died...”
Catherine gasped, “Charles is dead?”
“You knew Charles?”
“Oh yes, Devin brought him Below, when he kidnapped him from the circus.”
“Below? What’s Below?”
Catherine shook her head, “Forget I said that. Please continue the story.”
Beth frowned, more secrets then? She went on, “We came to live out here for a while. Devin got a job as a ranger, right here with Jack. We had to look after abandoned lion cubs, and other creatures. Devin was really good at that job. He loved it. But Devin has itchy feet...” Beth laughed at the memory, and Catherine laughed along with her remembering Father’s words, as Beth continued, “And so as soon as we could, we went back to America to the mountains, and then to California by the sea. But as silly as it sounds I missed this place, and Devin returned as much for me as for himself, and got his old job back, and that’s where we have been these past months.”
“We married almost a year ago, as soon as I thought I might be pregnant,” Beth smiled, “Devin wouldn’t even wait to see if the test was positive, he told me he’d always wanted to marry me, and he hoped I was pregnant. We came out here after we were married. Before that we lived in the city for a time.”
“Tell me about the day Devin left?”
Beth took a deep breath, and told Catherine everything about that fateful day, pouring herself and Catherine a fresh glass of lemonade in clean glasses many times throughout, as the dust found its way into her throat, as was often with long conversations on the savannah.
When she had finished, Catherine asked, “So you think Devin might have been coming to see Vincent?”
“Yes. At least that’s the only thing I can think of. His employers contacted the airport, and found he had made a reservation on a flight to New York. Isn’t that where Vincent is?”
“Yes. Did you ask how long the ticket was valid for. I mean do you know when he intended to return?”
Beth shook her head, “No, would that kind of information be available?”
“Oh yes if you know how to obtain it.” Catherine smiled mischievously, “ He might have purchased a period return, it could give some indication. Would you like me to make enquiries?”
Beth shook her head, “I think you’ll find that type of information is classified”
“Yes, but I have a way I could find out. I don’t suppose you have a telephone?”
“No, that’s what makes all this so difficult. We have a radio, we can get through to the nearest village, and from there they relay messages to the city office, where there is a telephone.”
“How far is the city by road?”
“Sixty five kilometres. But the jeep is out. Devin took it, and the only other one we have is unreliable for that distance.”
“Hasn’t anyone found the jeep?”
Beth shook her head. “No, Devin’s employers believe it may have been stolen. With his disappearance not being reported for forty-eight hours, no one was on the look out for it soon enough. Until the insurance pays out, we can’t have another out here.”
“How much are they?”
“In dollars or shillings?” Beth asked.
“Let’s work it out. There’s a hundred cents to a shilling.”
“And a hundred cents to a dollar. That’s one shilling to one dollar. Pretty much the same really. How many dollars would a jeep cost?”
“Now you’ve got me, about, and I’m really guessing here, we talking new or old?”
“Anything reliable.” Catherine laughed.
“Out here, over this terrain, has to be new then.” Beth laughed along, the first time she had really laughed in ages. Then growing serious Beth shook her head, “I’m not really the person to ask, Jack could help. But why are we having this conversation anyway? How will it help?”
“I could buy one.”
Beth stared at her, “You could! But why would you want to do that?”
“Are you kidding? A young baby, no-way of getting out of here if the need be, you need a jeep.”
“I know that, but we’ve got by before.”
“Then let me buy one because Devin took the last one. That was irresponsible of him, even if he didn’t know what he was doing, he should have at least realised that.”
Beth nodded, “Yes, he should.” it was the first time Catherine had seen annoyance on Beth’s face when she spoke of Devin.
“Okay tell you what, let’s hire one. While I’m here, and up until the company getting the insurance, we’ll hire one, and then it can go back when you no longer need it.”
Beth was agreeable, “Okay, then I’ll radio a message through now, at least that way I will feel as though I am doing something.”
“How long will it take to arrive?”
“A couple of days, maybe a week.”
“Then let me make the call, that’s way too long.”
Beth showed Catherine how to use the radio, and after a few minutes it crackled and spat into life, “Go ahead caller you’re coming through.” A man’s sleepy voice told her.
Business like Catherine told him, “Good Morning. My name is Catherine Chandler, I work for the District Attorney’s office in New York.”
The response was immediate, and Beth was impressed, “How can I help you Ms. Chandler.” The sleepy voice, no longer sleepy sounded bright and full of interest.
“I need to hire a jeep for the duration of my stay at Taniqua National Park, and as soon as possible please.”
“Yes of course Ms. Chandler, I’ll see that they get one out to you today, are you staying at The Lodge?” He could see by the light on his control box that she was calling from there.
“Yes that is correct. And I shall be going to the city the moment it arrives, so I will bring back the driver.”
“Right, leave that with me, I’ll get in touch with the hire firm straight away. I’ll call back if I need any further details.”
Catherine clicked off the radio, rewarded by Beth’s whoop of joy, “That was great. I’ve never known them get off their sleepy backsides like that in my life. Wow, do you really work for the D.A’s office?”
Catherine burst into laughter, “Not anymore, but they don’t know that. That’s why I had to use my maiden name.”
Beth’s eyes grew wide, “Suppose they check?”
“Then they’ll find that I do work there. Joe, that is my ex-boss will verify it. He’ll know I am on with something and need some power behind me, don’t worry he won’t let me down.”
“Gee that must be some guy.”
“I was a good worker, and he owes me.” Catherine laughed, whatever would Joe make of this, she wondered, if they were to contact him, Catherine in Mombassa?
She could just imagine his face!
“Well now while we wait for the jeep, I guess you will want to hear my side of the story, what I can tell you. Some of it is...”
Catherine grimaced, and Beth added, “I know don’t tell me, its a secret right?”
Catherine smiled, “Yes. Did Devin tell you that?”
“Yes he did. He told me there were things from his past that he had no right to tell. That the secrets were not his to give.”
“That’s about the face of it. Still there are some things I can tell you. About myself, how Vincent and I met, those sort of things, would you like to hear it. I will keep back some things of course, so the tale might appear bitty, but it’ll fill you in a little.”
“Yes, I’d really like that. Here have some more lemonade. Talking is thirsty work out here.”
*** *** ***
Driving back to the city later that afternoon, Catherine and Beth could only wonder at what they might discover. Laura had agreed to look after Claudia, and with a stranger in the car, neither Beth nor Catherine felt much like conversation, until finally Catherine dropped the jeep’s driver off at the hire firm. From there he took her signed papers into the office, and the cash for a deposit on the vehicle.
Driving away again, Beth directed her towards the airport.
Finding a parking space wasn’t too difficult, and soon they were striding towards the Customer Services Department, while Catherine hunted in her bag for her old D.A. documents, that had come in handy more times than she could remember. She couldn’t thank Joe enough for allowing her to keep hold of them.
Knocking at the door they waited, Beth nervously, Catherine quietly confident, and as soon as the door was opened they walked in together, and Catherine showed her badge as she began, “My name is Catherine Chandler. I’m here on legal business from the D.A.’s office in New York. I should like some information please.”
The response was immediate, Beth was impressed all over again, “Yes of course Ms. Chandler, how can we help?”
“On the 4th September a passenger came through here, by the name of Devin Wells, taking a flight to New York City, the information I require is which type of ticket he purchased, was it period, or what?”
“Do you have his passport number?”
Catherine shook her head, and looked at Beth who shook hers too.
“Don’t worry that’s not important. I could have done it faster that’s all, on the computer. No matter, the 4th September you say, any idea as to the time of the flight?”
“It would be in the afternoon, that’s all I know.” Beth told him.
“And you are?” He asked.
“That’s not important.” Catherine told him, “She’s helping with my enquiries.” Catherine did not want him knowing Beth was related to Devin. It might hinder proceedings.
The chap nodded, “Okay, give me a few minutes huh? I’ll go check the files.”
Beth waited nervously, she didn’t speak, couldn’t speak. The sooner they were out of there the better, as far as she was concerned.
After what seemed an age he returned with a file in his hand, “Devin Wells, you say. Yes his name is here, caught the five o’clock to New Jersey, on the 4th September. The ticket was a single.”
“A single! What, you mean one way!” Beth couldn’t help exclaiming.
The chap looked at her curiously, and turned his attention to Catherine, “May I see that badge again Miss.”
Catherine fumbled for it in her bag, her hands shaking, and passed it to him, trying not to let him see how nervous she suddenly felt. He examined it, then took it through to a colleague in another office, leaving the door ajar so he could keep an eye on Catherine and Beth.
They could hear him speaking but not the content of his words, and when he came back to them another man came with him.
“Would you step this way please.” the second man bade them, holding open the door to his office. “I need to verify the information you have presented.”
Catherine spoke with as much authority as she could muster, “Of course. I was surprised when you didn’t the first time.”
The second man shot the first a look she couldn’t fathom, and picked up the telephone to dial the number shown on her badge.
Catherine found she had her fingers crossed beneath the table, as she waited. Beth’s face was ashen, her eyes wide with fear.
“Hello, is that the District Attorney’s office in New York”, as the call was answered with the words, “Joe Maxwell.” and then “Yes, what can I do for you.”
“Good afternoon Mr. Maxwell, I am calling from Mombassa International Airport, I have a woman sat in front of me name of Chandler, who tells me she is working on D.A. business, and I would like you to verify this please.”
Joe’s head was spinning. He smiled broadly, he hadn’t sent anyone out to Africa, and there was only one person he knew of that still held a badge for undercover work of her own, “That would beCatherine Chandler I take it.” He told the official from the airport.
Taken aback, the official replied, “Yes. I’m sorry to trouble you Mr. Maxwell, but I had to check.”
“That’s okay any time.”
Joe put down the receiver. Cathy in Mombassa, whatever was that girl up to this time!
“Well it seems as if you are telling the truth. I’m sorry about that Ms. Chandler, but I just had to check, you know passenger confidentiality and all that?”
“Yes I understand, and thank you for your time. May we go now?”
“But of course.” he pushed back his chair, and came round to take Catherine’s like a real gentleman, before helping Beth up too.
“If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“I won’t and thank you.”
Catherine and Beth left the office, and once outside leaned against the wall, sighing with relief. “I’ve never been so scared.” Beth told her wide-eyed, “I was having visions of them throwing us into jail and throwing away the key. Someday I’d like to thank that boss of yours.”
“He’s a great guy Beth, never lets me down.”
“Not like Devin huh?” something in her tone made Catherine look at her sharply, as Beth went on, “He bought a single ticket Catherine, you know what that means?” Before Catherine could answer Beth went on, “He wasn’t intending to come back.” as the threatened tears fell, Catherine hugged her, and replied,“ “We don’t know that, Beth perhaps he couldn’t afford the return fare.”
“Do you really think so?” Beth asked hopeful again.
“Do you know how much money he may have had on him?”
“Maybe. The office would know if they’d tell us.”
Catherine waved her badge under Beth’s nose, “Of course they’ll tell us. But this time I think you should wait in the jeep, its best they don’t see you.”
Beth’s mind was racing by the time Catherine returned with the information she had sought, plus she had made enquiries about the cost of the air fare during September, when she came to get into the jeep alongside Beth it was with good news. “Well”, she told her, drawing her legs into the vehicle, “Devin definitely didn’t have enough for the return air fare. But wait, not only that, but apparently when he made the reservation he told the clerk that he hoped his doctor would loan him enough to return home with.”
“She remembered that? And why would he think he’d get cash from his doctor?”
Catherine smiled, “Devin’s GP is a friend of the family, and has lent him money before. And as to the clerk at the ticket office, she remembers Devin spinning her, what she thought was a yarn, about his wife about to have a baby. And of his need to get to New York and back within twenty four hours, and under the circumstances could she let him have a return ticket for the same price as a single.”
“I bet she feels terrible now to know it wasn’t a yarn.”
“Yes, and concerned too, to know he is missing. She booked him on a flight to New Jersey, the only seat available, and suggested he got a cab from there to New York. Apparently he showed her his empty pockets and said what with, and told her he would hitch a ride to New York. Now Beth we are getting somewhere.”
“But he never arrived there?” wide-eyed Beth told her.
“No, but we know he did get to New Jersey, and that’s where we will have to start looking. Can you come back with me?”
Beth’s face lit up, “Just you try and stop me.
*** *** ***
“Peter! What a lovely surprise, its some time since you have been to visit us.” Vincent offered a seat beside the table as Peter came down the steps of Father’s chamber.*** *** ***
“I’ve been busy. There’s been a flu epidemic, or it seems like it, hasn’t anyone down here had it?”
Vincent shook his head, “Nothing but the odd snuffles.”
“Then you’ve been lucky. I even got it for a time, and I’ve had an injection against it.”
“So what do we owe the pleasure of your taking time out to visit?”
“Do I need a reason?”
“No, but I get the feeling something is on your mind.”
“I’m here.” Father descended the steps, much the same as Peter had moments before, except his bones gave out sound effects.
“Not taking the cod liver oil I take it then Jacob.” Peter told him, listening as the old man’s joints creaked.
Father grimaced, “Never, that fishy stuff, I’d sooner have creaky bones.”
“Actually I quite like the taste.” Vincent told the two of them, as they laughed out loud, neither said anything, but it was perfectly obvious, and Vincent spoke sharply, “I am not a cat!”
“If you say so Vincent.” Father laughed heartily, “Though I know no other who likes cod liver oil enough to drink a tumbler full per day, plus....and I might add.” he turned to Peter, “he actually puts his finger into the glass, and licks out the remainder, can you imagine that?”
“Ugh”, Peter grimaced, “Vincent how could you!”
For once Vincent smiled, he knew they were just teasing, and Catherine had taught him long ago, not to get so uptight about reference to his other side. Since then he had been mercilessly teased by such things, as ‘jumpy as a cat’, and ‘cat got your tongue Vincent’. He didn’t really mind, anymore, some of it was just for fun after all by people who loved him.
“Well, as it happens.” Peter was saying, “I do have a reason for being here, I got a telephone call this morning from Catherine. She is on her way home this afternoon, and she is bringing a woman and a child with her.”
Father and Vincent exchanged looks.
Peter went on, “Apparently the woman is Devin’s wife, and the child is his daughter. It would appear that Devin has disappeared. And his wife needs your help.”
“I told Cathy not to do anything without contacting us first.” Father exploded, “I can’t believe she would be so careless, as to bring a complete stranger down here.”
“She isn’t Jacob. She’s taking her to the apartment.”
“And then she will decide what to do. They have a lead on Devin, and plan to start there, the problem is they need someone to look after the baby. Apparently she is three months old.”
“My granddaughter,” Father mused, “flesh of my flesh.”
Peter nodded, “I take it you’ll have her here then?”
Father nodded, “Yes, there’s no question of it. I have to do, don’t I?”
“Then I’ll leave Cathy a message at her apartment.” Peter told him.
It had been a while since Catherine had been to the apartment, and Beth could tell straight away that this was the case, “Obviously you don’t live here now?”
“No, I live with Vincent, and Devin’s father, Jacob.”
“Vincent, Jacob and Catherine, but of course.” Beth murmured, as Catherine raised an eyebrow.
“Charles mentioned you three, Devin never did, and I often wondered who you all were.”
“Oh I see. Yes Charles was taken with Vincent, they had common ground.”
“Is Vincent deformed as Charles was?” It was the first time Beth had ventured to ask about Vincent.
Catherine’s face lit up, she shook her head, “No, Vincent is different, but he’s not deformed. To me he is beautiful. To many others also.”
“You said he rescued you after you were attacked, then many times after you made reference to a place called Below, can you not tell me what you meant?”
“Not yet. That information is not mine to give. First I’ll send a message to Father, that is your father-in-law, everyone calls him Father, he is head of the community where we live, and I’ll ask him to come up here to meet you. From there whether or not you can be told any more will be up to him.”
“Sounds strange. Creepy even.”
“Its not meant to be Beth. Where we live is a secret place that a lot of people depend upon for peace and security, the authorities don’t even know it exists.”
“So you have criminals there?”
“Never. Father wouldn’t allow it. The people there are kind, loving and generous. They needed sanctuary for reasons of their own, and Father took them in. Having said that the final say is not his, every newcomer goes up before a council, and they decide, having heard all the facts so to speak. People come away from there a better person than they went in, I can tell you.”
“But not Devin?”
Catherine shook her head, “I can’t judge on that. I wasn’t there when he left home, I only know the story as Vincent and Father tell it. As I understand it has a depth that only the three of them ever really understood.”
“The only time Devin spoke of his father, was with bitterness. I’m not sure I want to meet this man.”
“Don’t judge him Beth before you see him. Jacob Wells has had his own heartaches, and he is a good man. One day you will know everything, then you will see what I say is true.”
Beth nodded, “Okay, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but only because I trust you.”
Catherine nodded, “Then I’ll go and send him a message, maybe you’d like to freshen up while I’m gone, I won’t be long, and the bathroom is that way, feel free to use whatever you wish.”
“Thank you, Catherine... for everything. I don’t know what I would have done had you not come to see me.”
“Your welcome Beth.”
*** *** ***
Father met Catherine at the threshold, after she had been back to see that Beth was okay, and had called for pizza delivery. They had just finished the pizza, when Catherine told Beth, that no doubt Father would have had time to get there by then, and had gone to meet him. She was surprised to find that Vincent had come with him.
“Vincent, how lovely, I never expected to find you here too.” going across to him, Vincent enfolded her in his arms, “How could I not. I’ve missed you. Are you well?”
“I’m fine darling, and hopefully I should be coming home soon, that’s if Father takes to Beth. She’s really lovely Vincent, and the tale is a sorry one, she needs us.”
“Do you think its genuine Catherine?” Father asked concerned.
“Oh yes, as you shall see. And Devin hasn’t left her, somehow, and we don’t know why yet, but somehow he has gone missing, he vanished the day his child was born, so he has never even met his daughter yet.”
Vincent smiled, quickly followed by Father, “We can’t believe that Devin has a child, a wife even, its all so sudden.”
“Maybe to you, as it was at first to me, but Devin and Beth have been together for four years. Married for only one mind you. Oh, and Vincent, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Charles is dead.”
This saddened Vincent, he’d really had fellow feeling for Charles.
“Will you wait here Vincent, out of the way like, until I decide about Beth?” Father was asking, “I should expect she will be anxious to see me by now.”
“Yes, and be on your best behaviour Father, she has already made up her mind to be cautious of you. Something she got from Devin, though he never told her anything about his past, the little that did slip out, showed her the bitterness he felt for it.”
“Oh dear, so I’m the villain am I, we can’t have that. Vincent, flick on that charm switch on my back will you, let her see what a nice man I can be.”
Catherine laughed aloud, “Father!” she kissed his cheek, “When Beth gets to know you, she will see for herself how wrong first impressions were.”
Vincent helped them both up the ladder back to the basement, and then walked out of sight to await their return. Father promised him, that if they were bringing Beth, he should stay out of sight, or go ahead of them, unless he called out otherwise.
When Catherine unlocked the door of her apartment a few minutes later, and ushered Father in, at first Beth was nowhere to be seen, and Catherine grew anxious, but then the sound of a baby whimpering from her bedroom, made her exhale a sigh of relief. “I’ll. tell her you are here, she’s probably feeding the baby. Take a seat Father, I won’t be long.”
Opening the door, Catherine found that Beth was not feeding the child, but was stood behind the door, feeling shy and nervous.
“Its all right Beth, Father is in the lounge, please come and meet him, he is looking forward to meeting you.”
“He is?” Beth wasn’t so sure.
“Trust me, you’ll love him.” Catherine told her brightly.
Beth followed Catherine out into the lounge timidly, clutching her daughter against her firmly, and heard Catherine say, “Father this is Bethany and Claudia Wells, your daughter-in-law and granddaughter.”
Beth’s first impression relieved her. This kindly old man with the warm eyes offered no threat to her, and she liked him instantly.
Father stood, leaning on his cane for support, and offered her his hand, Beth took it and shook it firmly, before sitting down opposite with Claudia on her lap.
“May I?” Father beckoned to hold the child.
“Of course.” Beth lifted the child up and Catherine took the baby from Beth and put her onto Father’s lap. For long moments, Father stared down at the child, as memories over forty years old flooded to mind, he smiled, “Hello sweetie pie,” he told the child, “So you’re my granddaughter. And I can see that you are, for you have your daddy’s impish smile.”
Catherine thought she was going to cry, she brushed away a tear, and saw Beth reach for a tissue from up her sleeve to dab at her own eyes. Father too looked as though he could do with one.
Then leaning forward while he held the child firmly, he grasped one of Beth’s hands, telling her, “Welcome to the family my dear, I’m only sorry it couldn’t have been under happier circumstances.”
From then on, conversation was not a problem, Beth told him all she knew, Father told her all she needed to know, as Catherine supplied them with tea as throats became dry. Finally Father asked Beth, “I expect you are longing to come to my home. Has Catherine told you anything about it?”
“No, she wouldn’t.”
“Well Beth, that’s because I asked her not to do. I wanted to see you for myself before we spoke of it. It’s a place that a lot of people depend upon, and the secret of it is not to be spoken about lightly, especially to newcomers. I do hope you understand that my dear, it was nothing personal.”
“ I understand, don’t worry. And yes I would like to know about it, will you tell me?”
Father nodded, “Yes, but there is something you must know first. What, if anything do you know of Vincent?”
“Very little. Only that as boys, you brought both Devin and Vincent up, and that Devin took all the blame for things Vincent as well as himself did.”
Father frowned, “I didn’t know of this.” he looked at Catherine, “Did you?”
“Yes, Father its true, Vincent told me the same thing. You always believed Devin to be the rebel, when in actual fact he loved Vincent so much, and knew that Vincent could never leave, whereas he could, so he took all your wrath, so as to keep you and Vincent close. Because you’d be all Vincent would have when Devin was gone.”
Father shook his head, “It would appear I have a lot of apologising to do to my son, if ever I get the chance, but really he was the most tiresome boy.” he shook his head, “I used to despair with him. But I loved him, I really did.”
“Perhaps you could tell him of this, its never too late.” Catherine ventured.
“That’s if we ever find him.” Beth whispered tearfully, to which Father patted her hand, “We’ll find him Beth I promise you. Have you contacted the police?”
“No, I thought he was missing of his own violation, I didn’t see the need.”
“Then we must get on to it straight away. Do you have a recent photograph of him?”
“Yes, I have one in my purse, taken the day we were married. Just a moment I’ll fetch it and show it to you.”
While Beth was gone, Catherine asked, “What do you think of her Father?”
“Just as you say Catherine, she’s lovely. I think we can trust her with our secret, but how do you feel she will react to Vincent?”
Beth returned, “That reminds me,” she told them overhearing, “We never finished that conversation did we, do tell me about Vincent. Here’s the photograph.”
Father took the photograph from her, staring down at a face he hadn’t seen in over ten years, “He’s changed, what do you think Catherine?”
Catherine looked over his shoulder, “He seems happy that’s for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile like that.”
“No.” Father told her sadly, “Neither have I.” he handed the photograph back to Beth, “Show that to the police Beth, let them have some copies run off, and get moving on this, someone must have seen him.”
“He’s grown a beard now though.” Beth told them, “He kept getting people asking about that scar on his cheek, you know the one the lion caused, and he got fed up telling the story. It used to embarrass him, so he grew a beard to cover it up.”
Catherine and Father exchanged glances, and Beth quick to notice asked, “What?”
“I’m afraid my dear that Devin hasn’t been entirely truthful with you about that scar.” Father told her, not knowing whether he should or not.
Wide eyed Beth stared at him, “You mean it wasn’t a lion?”
“Not exactly.” Father took a deep breath, then turning to Catherine he asked, “What do you think my dear, should we just introduce her to Vincent or fill her in first?”
“Tell me,” Beth asked, “You’re scaring me.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of Beth.” Catherine assured her, “Vincent is one of the nicest people I know. No, he is the nicest person I know.”
“Look pardon me for asking, but has Vincent got some baring on Devin’s scar, is that what you are saying?” Beth asked anxiously.
Catherine nodded, “Yes, Vincent gave that scar to Devin.”
“Vincent did, but how, it looks like claw marks.” her eyes wide she grew afraid, what was this Vincent? On the one hand she’d been led to believe that everyone loved him, and he was kind and loving, and the next she is being told that he was violent and had used a weapon that had scared her husband so badly.
“I’m afraid my dear.” Father started to speak, “That Vincent is the result of someone’s warped mind in the scientific field. Vincent was brought to me as a babe, abandoned in the snow, at first we thought he was a mutation, but it became clear in time that he was the result of a scientific experiment that crossed a lion with a human being.”
Beth could not believe she was hearing this, “And you expect me to believe that?” she asked them, wide eyed.
“Its true,” Catherine told her, “But you can take away any thought of Vincent being a wild beast. To me, he’s more than a man, not less, and thanks to Father here, a wonderful man at that.”
“What does he look like?” Beth whispered, her voice high pitched.
Catherine smiled, “He’s different, hence the reason he can never leave the place he lives, though he does go out at night, hiding inside a large cloak with a hood to cover his face and hands. His features resemble a lion, but his stature is human.”
“He sounds very mythological.”
“He is.” both Father and Catherine erupted together, “And” Catherine added, “he’s beautiful.”
“And you married him?” Beth could hardly believe this.
Catherine nodded, “Yes, though it took some persuasion. Vincent thought I would be better off with a real man.”
Father laughed, “But he soon got to know how persuasive a woman can be when she gets her claws into her man.” Father told Catherine.
“Very droll Father.” Catherine laughed, as did Beth, thus easing the atmosphere.
“And she not only married him Beth, she gave him children too. Catherine changed my son’s life, gave him a reason for living, made him feel human, you don’t know what that did for him, without Catherine’s courage and love there’s no telling what future Vincent would have had.”
“But how did he come to hurt Devin so badly.”
“Childhood fighting. Both were as much to blame. Vincent should have known better than to lash out, and Devin should have known not to taunt him. Though Vincent has carried that guilt with him for ever after, as much as Devin has carried the scar.”
“So he’s not dangerous?” Beth asked.
“Not to those he loves. He can be. Many’s a time he has used his powers to help others. But always in the right direction, Catherine can vouch for that.”
“Yes, from the first when he saved my life, he has saved me many times since. And we share a Bond, a connection, that is, Vincent knows when I am feeling sad or fearful, and he can sense where I am.”
“That’s remarkable. Though I shouldn’t be surprised. The lions at the park in Mombassa also had that ability.”
“Really.” Father and Catherine spoke together, as Father went on, “Vincent, I feel would be most interested to hear about this.”
“Devin would be the one to tell it, he was the one that really looked after the lions. Though I do know quite a bit about them myself, but now I am beginning to see why Devin had such an affinity with them.”
“Well, how do you feel about meeting Vincent then Beth?” Father asked her, “Would you like to come Below now?”
“Below, there’s that word again. Where is Below?”
“One step at a time Beth, what about Vincent?” Father asked her, his kindly eyes smiling.
Beth thought long and hard, finally nodding, “Yes, I would like to meet Vincent, he sounds intriguing, now tell me about Below.”
*** *** ***
Walking through the tunnels some time later, Beth could only stare at the lanterns positioned upon the walls, as they walked deeper and deeper underground, “And you live down here?” she asked them over and over again.
Father smiled, “Not so much in these draughty tunnels, we live further down, we have chambers and they are warm and as homely as we can make them.”
“Where is Vincent, will I meet him soon?”
“Vincent is walking just ahead of us my dear, when you are ready, I’ll call him back.” Father told her.
“Oh.” Beth stopped walking, her eyes growing wide again, “And you’re sure he isn’t dangerous?” surprised when she heard a very tender, velvety voice just ahead of her reply, “I would never hurt you Beth.”
Catherine could have cried at the sight of Beth’s face, as it relaxed by the tone of Vincent’s gentle voice, and Beth whispered, “Where are you?”
“I am here, just a few yards ahead of you. Would you like me to come back there?”
Beth hesitated, “No, I’ll come to you.” as turning to Catherine she said, “Could you hold Claudia for me please?”
Father, and with Catherine holding the child, watched as Beth stepped forwards, and saw Vincent light up the lantern he’d been carrying, to give Beth more light. She approached slowly, suddenly seeing clearer as the light chased away the shadows to reveal a tall figure shrouded by a long cloak that covered him from head to foot. Wordlessly she approached, her heart in her mouth, until she was just inches from him, and with hands that felt like lead she forced them to rise until they were level with his hood, and holding on to it, gently eased it back away from Vincent’s face. Much as Catherine had done, when first she had seen him many years before.
The first thing Beth noticed was his eyes. Beautiful deep blue, kindly eyes, much like her own, and then his unusual features which held no fear for her, with reminding her of home. Beth smiled, as did Vincent, without showing his fangs, and Beth liked him instantly.
“You are truly beautiful.” she told him, and Vincent felt a tear prick at the back of his eyes.
“Sometimes”, he told her in his velvety voice, “Catherine tells me that, and I find it hard to believe her, but you, a stranger to me, somehow I find myself able to believe you.”
“Well thank you!” Catherine laughed out loud from her position listening to the conversation with tears in her eyes, and heard Vincent laugh. He held out his arms to her, and Catherine hurried into them. Beth thought it was wonderful when Vincent enfolded both Catherine and the baby into his arms, hugging them tightly, as he told Catherine, “Its so good to have you back Catherine, I’ve missed you.” Then watched with surprise and interest as his beautiful mouth sought out Catherine’s lips, and kissed her very passionately.
Father coughed, “You’ll get used to that my dear, these two are very affectionate towards one another, and to those of us living Below it is a fairy tale come true.”
“Oh Father you old romantic.” Catherine chided him, but Beth was quick to back him up, “Oh I think Father is right, Vincent is like someone that has stepped out of a dream, he’s what fantasy is all about.” she shook her head, “I’m honoured to know you Vincent, really I am. No wonder Devin missed you so much.”
“Obviously not enough, it is over ten years since we have seen him.” Vincent told her sadly. “He knew where to find us.”
“Perhaps that was part of the problem. I mean I don’t think he intended to stay away so long, he had Charles as a responsibility for seven of those years, and would not leave him, it was only when Charles died that we left for Mombassa, and then the lions proved their own responsibility. And in case you are wondering about that, Devin works as a ranger for the national park caring for wild animals, lions especially.
And Devin was good at his job, so good in fact that when we left temporarily and then returned there, his employers gave him back his old job without hesitation. Even now, they are holding his job open for him, despite not knowing where he is, or why he left. Its a strain on the other man, Jack, who is still there to do all the work by himself, but even Jack won’t hear of having anyone but Devin working there, and he hopes Devin comes back soon.”
Vincent smiled, “I find it unusual to think of my brother actually wanting to have anything to do with lions. Its seems strange to me.”
Beth looked at him, “Knowing you, yes I can understand that, but lions are beautiful creatures. One needs to show them respect Vincent, because they can be unpredictable, but you know from the moment they are born, a bonding takes place with their parents, and if that parent doesn’t happen to be the lioness, they will bond with whomever is around at the time. The first two years we were there, we had two cubs to foster, and they took to Devin like a duck to water. It used to amaze me, but Devin seemed to understand them. It never surprised him when they could sense where he was without even being able to see him. Even so much as coming in the jeep, long before the sound could be heard by the dogs, those cubs were getting excited, and waiting for Devin’s arrival at the gate, but they never reacted the same way with anyone else that drove in.”
Vincent was very interested, as were Catherine and Father, as the four of them continued to walk towards the home chambers.
“We had to remain at the compound until those cubs were able to go to another park, they couldn’t stay at our own because of the attachment to Devin, they’d never have left him, to them he was dad and mum rolled into one. But Devin missed them almost as much as if they were his children. That’s one of the reasons’s we left. And then when we returned, he looked after sick adult lions for most of the time, then just the day before he disappeared an injured lioness he’d been tracking gave birth, and abandoned her cubs, and Devin brought them in. He knew he had a fresh responsibility to those new cubs, and he knew it would be as long as eighteen months before they could leave him, but still he left, and that was most unusual. Devin would never have abandoned those cubs unless he had a very good reason for doing so.”
“Who’s looking after them now?” Vincent asked.
“Jack took it on.”
“And the lioness?” Father asked her.
“Devin shot her.”
“What dead!” Vincent exclaimed, after all Beth had just told him, he couldn’t imagine it.
“We had three dogs. One of them, Bob, was Devin’s constant companion. He was an old dog, and had remarkable instinct. A great tracker too. He saved Devin’s life more times than I care to think about. It’s a very dangerous job out there on the savannah. Not only lions, there are cheetah, hippo, elephant, crocodile, rhino, so many dangerous wild animals, and Bob risked his own life to save Devin so many times. He was fearless when it came to an elephant stampede, or a hippo charge. You can imagine how Devin felt about that dog. He really loved him.
The morning Devin left, he’d found Bob had died. Old age. Devin was heartbroken. He was burying Bob, when Jack called him away, to say the lioness had got into the compound. While they were tracking her, she crept behind them, and took Bob’s body off to eat. She was wounded you see, couldn’t hunt and she was ravenous. But when Devin found her eating Bob’s body, Jack said he just went mad, he held out his gun and fired it at her, killing her almost instantly. Its not something Devin would usually have done, he loves those lions, he’d give up his wages to save their hide, it was just grief that made him act so out of character, that and the fact that he was worried about me and the coming baby, and other things. A culmination of many things at once, it seems now that he was over stressed.”
They reached the home chambers, and Father told her, “We’re here, this is my chamber, welcome to my home Beth.”
“If you aren’t too tired after the long walk, I would really like to hear more about the lions and Devin.” Vincent told her.
Beth smiled, “I’d love to tell you. And no I’m not tired, could do with a drink though.” she looked all around her, “This place is lovely.”
“Is tea all right, herbal, it’s all we drink down here?” Father asked.
“Tea would be fine. Now where was I.” she took the chair Vincent offered, and placed the sleeping baby into the crook of her arm as Catherine handed the child back.
“Thank you for carrying her all this way Catherine, you must be tired. She’s quite heavy.”
“She’s light weight compared with our three. “ Catherine told her smiling, “And it’s wonderful to hold a baby again, although I shall know all about that again soon.” Catherine patted her stomach and Beth exclaimed, “I didn’t know you were expecting, you never said, and I let you carry Claudia all that way too.”
“I enjoyed every moment, don’t worry, it wouldn’t have harmed me.”
“This is true.” Vincent told Beth, “Had I of felt Catherine in any discomfort at all, I would have carried the child for her.”
Beth smiled, “Oh yes that remarkable Bond. I think you can see now from where you get that, for definite.”
Vincent nodded, “Yes, and that is why I am so interested. I have never spoken with anyone in my life that knows so much about lions.”
“Then it’s a pity Devin isn’t here, now he’s the intellect when it comes to that subject. But I too love lions. There is something so perfect about them, awe inspiring even. Did you ever see the series on TV, about Elsa or Clarence?”
“We don’t have TV down here Beth, so no.” Father answered her.
“I know the one’s you mean though,” Catherine told her, “ one was from Born Free and the other was about a cross eyed lion wasn’t it?”
Vincent laughed, “Cross eyed, you’ll be telling me next he wore glasses.”
Catherine shook her head, “No I don’t think so darling.”
“No”, said Father, “You’re the only lion that needs to wear glasses.” he laughed, and for a moment Catherine thought Father may have gone too far, when she saw Vincent stiffen, but then the moment had gone, and Vincent grinned. Father however, had realised he should mind his step in future. “I’m sorry Vincent, I do apologise. That was very uncalled for.”
“Which Father, the mention of my being a lion or the needing of glasses?”
Beth watched this challenging exchange with some amusement. There was a definite undercurrent. Father knew it too, and held Vincent’s steady gaze, “Why” he told his son, “the reference to the glasses of course.” then he hurried away, the sound of his mirth going with him, before Vincent could retaliate.
There was silence, as Vincent struggled to regain his composure. Beth watched with interest. It was almost like seeing one of the lions that wasn’t really hungry but had the chance of a kill, make a decision whether to kill for killings sake or not. Beth could almost see those rippling muscles taut up for attack, and then as Vincent relaxed, she visualised them soften again, and the lion slink away to hide in the shade someplace to sleep.
Catherine watched Beth’s scrutiny with some interest, and Vincent regaining his composure turned to find her watching him keenly. Beth smiled, “That.” she told him, “Was remarkable. If you could have only of seen yourself. I’m sorry Vincent, but loath as you were to accept it, Father’s parting shot, summed you up very well indeed. But you shouldn’t be ashamed of it, what you have as part of you, well I can tell you, knowing and respecting lions as I do, I’d exchange places with you any day.”
Vincent stared open mouthed at her, “With me, you’d want to be like me?” he couldn’t believe he’d heard right.
Catherine was hugging herself with glee, Beth was just what her self-conscious husband needed. Just like a dose of salts, or a breath of fresh air.
Beth would be great for bringing Vincent out of himself, she was one remarkable lady, and Devin had married her! Did Devin know what a gem he had here, Catherine wondered? She was a real treasure.
Just before Beth could say anymore, Mary came in carrying tea for five and introduced herself. Beth smiled, “Are you and Father married?” Mary looked away slightly embarrassed, and Father coughed, “Er, no dear, Mary is as much mother down here, as I am Father, but we are not married.”
Beth looked from one to the other of the two, under Vincent’s much amused scrutiny, taken aback when Beth with perception told Father, “Well you should be, you are made for each other.”
Father found his cheeks infused with heat, and Mary could not look at him. Beth almost laughed, the situation was so obvious, couldn’t anyone see that? She would have to see what she could do about it while she was there.
“Thank you for the tea Mary, and it is wonderful to meet you, perhaps we can spend some time together while I am here, I’d like to get to know all of you well.”
Mary smiled at her, she didn’t know what to say, the girl had hit a cord, and she was lost for words.
“Perhaps Mary would like to stay while you continue about your work with the lions,” Father ventured, and Mary nodded, taking up a seat beside the table, from where she poured the tea.
Father handed the cups around as they became ready, and then as Beth finished her own she started talking again, startling Vincent afresh with her words.
“Whoever created you Vincent was a genius, deserving of a Nobel Prize in fact. Obviously they had a purpose for you. I’d like the opportunity to learn all about you. Knowledge from you could prove to be an asset when I return to the park. I expect you have leanings towards your other self, don’t you?”
Vincent didn’t quite know how to answer. Especially with his family all around him.
Beth went on, “Is it possible that you could talk about yourself from a lion’s instinct?”
At last finding the words to answer her with, Vincent told her very quietly, “I don’t like to dwell on my non human side Beth.”
Father coughed again, watching with anxiety as Vincent tensed at Beth’s direct questions, telling her, “I don’t think my dear that you should be asking Vincent these things. You see we have tried for decades not to remind him of what he is made up of, and have almost succeeded.”
Vincent cringed, “What Father is saying in his clumsy old way is that I have been brought up as a man, a complete man, and do not wish to let the other side of me have his day.”
“Then that’s wrong.” Beth told them. “Vincent, you cannot deny it. If you do you will be like a dormant volcano, that will erupt, it will, and red-hot lava will become a threat to anyone in your path. Surely you have wondered about this other side of yourself?”
Vincent very quietly whispered, “Yes.” he lowered his gaze unable to meet anyone’s eyes, afraid of what he’d read there.
“Would you talk to me about it?” Beth asked him very gently.
Father stood up, “I hardly think Beth...” he thundered, but Mary lay a hand on his arm, Beth was right, maybe Vincent did need to speak with someone who could help him, after all they were incapable of doing so, as much as they loved him.
Vincent looked up, only able to meet Beth’s eyes, “I would...like to talk about it.” he told her, “but...I don’t know if I should.”
“Does it affect you badly?”
“Yes.” Vincent whispered.
“And that would be because you try to suppress it would I suppose?”
“Perhaps, I don’t know.”
Beth nodded, and turned to the others, “I know you will think this very rude of me, being a newcomer and all that, but would you all mind very much if Vincent and I went off alone someplace to talk. I think he will be able to open up more to me if no-one else is near?”
Vincent stared. How well this woman knew him, she was remarkable.
Catherine, Father and Mary looked at one another, as Father asked, “Its really up to Vincent, how do you feel about it my boy?”
Vincent nodded, words failed him.
And Catherine stood up, “Take Beth to our chamber Vincent, I’ll have the children brought up here so that you won’t be disturbed. Take all the time you need.”
Vincent smiled, but his heart was racing. Did he, did Beth, did any of them know what they could possibly be stirring up here? He was almost afraid of himself to know.
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To be continued in Chapter Five - click on 'Next' below:
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