Home Chapter 20
“You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I…”
–“I Am Not Yours”, Sara Teasdale
Catherine and Joe were still scrambling into the slick backseat of the taxi when Nick pulled away from the curb and wove into the evening traffic. The disastrous meal Joe insisted upon was behind them, and Nick seemed as anxious to get Catherine home as she was to get there. That, or the Helper wanted to outrun the rain. The storm blowing in looked to be a terrible one.
Signs blazed as the cab picked up speed on 3rd, all the brighter in the coming darkness, proclaiming, “Look at me!” “Come inside!” “I have what you need!” The only thing Catherine needed was her family, safe, and no electronics store, boutique, or nail salon was selling that kind of peace of mind.
That day, the sole contentment Catherine received had been brought by Jamie.
Materializing from the crowd as Catherine and Joe exited the Federal building, the young woman had ushered them to Nick’s taxi that had been hiding in a yellow sea of them just past the courthouse. They’d escaped together, traveling numerous Manhattan miles to be sure no one followed.
Jamie brought the news Catherine needed to hear—Jacob was Below, protected, comforted.
His grandfather had even coaxed him into taking a bottle. Jamie must have realized how little, just a handful of words, could lift weight.
“The baby chugged it right down. Father said it was easy compared to getting Vincent to eat.”
He’s okay, Catherine assured her fears, with as much conviction as logic created.
The agents may know about him, but they don’t have him. They don’t want him, not like Gabriel. They’re only using him to get to me. Vincent is safe too, as long as he stays hidden.
Since Joe insisted they needed time to plan, the girl, with a promise to relay what had happened, had disappeared into the city.
Out the window, the wind tossed traffic lights, rattled street signs, and whipped tumbling newspapers down the sidewalks
Jamie must be Below by now…
She’d take messages to Vincent, to them all—be ready, be careful, be safe. How would this affect the day-to-day life in the Tunnels? How much upheaval? Hopefully not as much as her life.
Every manner of business slid past as they drove, notable only by how alien they’d become. When was the day she’d last set foot in a bakery, or a deli, or the dry cleaner’s? Did it matter? No going back to a regular life. For her husband, for their son, she’d hide, and that meant a lot of last times.
Riding in this cab, for instance. The last time for that, too.
The shape, the number, the license plate—traceable, targetable. Too many trips with her and the new District Attorney, and that was before Joe made Nick stop for food, despite the driver’s doubts and her objections.
“No buts, Radcliffe! You look green, for Christ’s sake. I bet our driver knows an out of the way place we can get a quick bite. Right, Nick?”
The diner had just enough corners and customers to make feeling safe impossible. The sandwich and salad stayed on her plate while Joe got his play-by-play of how Dunn and Morrissey ambushed her, both with the baby and with Moreno.
“Goddammit,” was all he said, and the rest of their meal was left to silence.
Everything was turning to ashes in their wake.
Time to make some decisions. Past time. She couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer.
“Back home, right, Mr. D. A.?” Nick asked, but it shouldn’t be a question.
“That’s right, Nick,” Catherine interjected before Joe could disagree.
“What?” He jumped forward. “What are you talking about, Radcliffe?”
“We’re dropping you off, Joe.” She gripped his shoulder.
“No way! We need to figure out what—“
“No. It’s over.”
Between staring at food she couldn’t eat and watching the door for men with badges or with guns, she’d decided. Thank goodness she and the Helper were on the same page.
“Nick’s going to take you home, and then you will let me handle this on my own.”
“Cathy—“ He turned to her.
She shook her head.
“I’m not going back to the F.B.I., and you can’t come to Peter’s again. It’s over.”
Dismay hurtled across his features. This couldn’t be easy. Joe never took her No’s for an answer. From the first, he had flattered, guilted, bargained, and bullied her into getting his way. Only his No’s counted. Only the walls he recognized couldn’t be scaled.
He didn’t understand.
“Thank you, Joe. Thank you for all your help.”
Why couldn’t he compromise? Admit defeat? She didn’t have the energy to fight anymore—to keep him safe, to keep him appeased, to do things his way. He’d tried. He tried so hard, but it had all blown up anyway, and they couldn’t afford any more explosions.
“Cathy, I won’t leave you to–”
“Joe, stop.” Palm up in defense. “I… I can’t. Today was the end. The F.B.I. isn’t playing fair anymore; you saw that. They know too much and don’t care about prosecuting Moreno.”
She took his hand in hers.
“And there were too many faces I recognized in those photos yesterday. The agents said whoever killed those people was also targeting cops, law enforcement.”
“Yeah, but you don’t think–”
“You have to stay away,” she said with what she hoped was finality. “The citizens of New York need you to keep things running. You have enough targets on your back.”
She ran her finger along his knuckles, and he winced, tightening his grip into a fist. Turning it, they both saw his bruised and split joints.
“I want you to be ok.”
She placed his palm on his knee.
“You have to get back to your job.” She tried to smile. “And I’ve taken too much of your attention as it is.”
His gaze left her to travel to his hand, then swung to the window.
Over his shoulder, streets buzzed past, a city that needed him. Everything must be breaking down without him in the office more than full time. It had to be.
Of course, he wasn’t giving up, not without a counteroffer, this one much more appealing. He was an excellent lawyer and D.A. for a reason.
“Cathy, I could pretend to be your baby’s father.” He angled to her again. “Peter would certify a blood test, right?”
It was a good idea.
His plan would fix so many problems. A father for the baby Above who understood why she needed one. An ally. He’d have reasons for standing by her side that nobody would question. The speculations from the agents, from the world, should cease.
For a moment, she rested in that place, the harbor of his ideas, where she wouldn’t have to scramble or scheme. The temptation to give in nearly buried her in relief. But sense—pitiless and unrelenting—pushed her back into the unknown.
Because Joe being the father was perfect, except for one thing. He’d have to lie, truly lie, commission not omission.
He’d have a hard enough job covering—for Vincent, for her, for all the things he shouldn’t know—especially when running for District Attorney. For Joe Maxwell—of no name, no background, no clout—there was no easy ride into public office. The Joe who might win against the odds was forthright, passionate, sincere. An outright lie that included others—her, Peter, maybe his staff, maybe more— would kill those qualities by inches. He wasn’t schooled in that type of dishonesty. With extra scrutiny from the press, from his opponents…
“I can’t do that to you.”
Tears … she didn’t want them. He was such a good man. A better friend than she deserved.
“And besides,” she said, trying for a smile, “for a lawyer, you have this terrible trait. You are too honorable.”
She grabbed his other hand this time.
“Cathy, you’ve got to be kidding—”
“No, Joe. I want that. You should be. After Moreno, the people deserve a D.A. they can trust. You have an election coming up, and you probably won’t run unopposed.”
Dear God, if I let go I’ll shake with doubt.
He offered. She should take the chance.
But she wouldn’t.
If there was one thing she knew about this mess, it couldn’t be Joe.
They screeched into a no-parking zone in front of the ten-story, middle-class high-rise that screamed her friend was too good to be on the take.
Joe, your heart and Vincent’s are the same. Noble. Too noble for this, too truthful.
If that’s the plan, a father for the agents and for whoever else who comes snooping, then I need someone very untruthful.
“I love you, Cathy.” Meaning, I’ll do anything for you.
“I love you too.”
I love you for who you are. I love you even for who you can’t be.
And if she didn’t get him out of the cab, she would cry with frustration.
It took minutes too long, while Joe tried to avoid the inescapable, but he disembarked, first surveying the street, then tugging her onto the sidewalk. A few people walked by, but they all appeared absorbed with themselves, harmless.
Joe pulled her into a hug, a long and hard goodbye.
“I’m not giving up on you, kid,” he whispered. The odor of him, of their work, surrounded her—faded deodorant, waning aftershave, and him, unique—exciting, challenging, frustrating. Her friend.
He finally let go. “You promise to call if you need me?”
He won’t leave if you don’t agree, even if you can’t.
“All right.” Shoulders slumping, head bowed, he swung towards the building.
He only looked back once, just after dodging a couple running from the impending downpour. Then he climbed the stairs.
She waited, watching, making sure he disappeared through the front door.
The air felt heavy, charged, the storm a moment from breaking. Wobbling to the taxi, she searched the slight amount of sky visible from the crowded street perspective. Nick stood, holding onto his driver’s side door, and followed her gaze.
The heat of afternoon succumbed to oncoming storm, the power of it, the smell, even, reminding her of Vincent, the essence of him carried on the air that whipped through the buildings.
Their connection reverberated with his approach, his anticipation, his anger. Why? How? Eyes shut, trying to perceive location. Not below. Not in the closest alley, but in the city… above her? How were they meeting here? Joe’s building was tall and mid-block, people everywhere. No way to come to her. Was she supposed to go to him? Weren’t they meeting Below? Why risk this? The sky was barely dark and only because of the clouds.
A patter of rain began, making searching overhead almost impossible.
Vincent, where are you?
Terror exploded through the bond right before she felt the shot.
I read this with one long-held breath! So much tension, so much dark looming. The acceleration in this chapter is nerve-wracking in the very best way!
Squee~ I’m so pleased!! I wanted to say so much more, but this chapter only takes place over a few minutes. (I clocked Joe’s Diner – oh the irony – to Joe’s apartment – at least where I put it – and it came in at about 6 minutes. Just about the time it would take to read the chapter. LOL) I’m sorry it isn’t longer, but that’s where the thing stopped.
Thank you, Carole, for your continued, loving support. 🙂 — Karen
Sooo good! Just discovered your writing and this story recently and I’m on pins and needles waiting for an update. I love the emotional honesty and intensity in your work. I’m dashing off to read all the shorter stories now. It’s so great to discover an awesome new (to me) writer in the Tunnels.
Thank you so much for your comment! It is very much appreciated. <3
I’m working on the next chapter, but having some computer issues. (I’m writing this on my phone. LOL) I’m hoping very soon Chapter 21 & 22 will be ready soon!
It is so wonderful to find a new writer you like. 🙂
Thank you again!