Home Chapter 26

“Where’er I roam, whatever realms to see,

My heart untravel’d fondly turns to thee,

Still to my brother turns with ceaseless pain,

And drags at each remove a lengthening chain.

                        The Traveler, Oliver Goldsmith

 

Devin remembered the way home.

If only he could get them there.

He gripped the wheel, ten and two, as his companion, strapped upright on the back bench seat, snoozed. A quiet Charles allowed Devin to focus on the road, avoiding or speeding past the increasingly aggressive trucks hell-bent on plowing their puttering ’82 Econoline off the highway. Thankfully, Charles kept himself busy during travel, a skill brutally learned during his years with Eddie. Under his flashlight’s beam, he’d finished his comics and then had his library books. They were working through adventures recently: Robinson Crusoe, The Call of the Wild, The Three Musketeers. Charles was a sponge for new ideas, and Devin had a million of them, like his latest—visit New York.

…the next crazy venture beneath the skies.[i]

They had gotten off later than Devin had wanted. First waylaid by a vet visit for a pecking order casualty, he’d been on the day’s third trip to town to pick up medicine and supplies when the tire blew. Another acquired and mounted, an isolation roost for the wounded chicken jerry-rigged, and after tossing all the new, unexpected bills onto their growing pile, they took off. With most of the day gone, they detoured through Pennsylvania to avoid the worst of the traffic and tolls … and hit construction outside of Allentown.

The closer they got, the more the universe seemed to throw obstacles in front of this little family reunion.

The night before, gazing in the bathroom mirror, the tight, itchy scars especially assertive under the one working light bulb, Devin considered why the desire to return home had transformed from a should to a must. They didn’t have the time or money to leave Maryland. Vincent and the baby could wait for them to get at least some of their shit together, right? That hole in the ground would still be there.

Why did it have to be now, this day, this minute? 

Because of Vincent’s letter with a picture of a baby tucked inside.[ii] Because going with his gut had gotten Devin this far. Premonitions and ghosts were bunk, but that urge …  go home, go home… he’d only felt that twice in the past twenty years.

With the endless suburb of northern New Jersey behind them and a yell of “Asshole!” when they were almost shunted towards Canal, they exited the Holland and finally arrived in lower Manhattan.

“You okay, Devin?” a sleepy Charles asked.

“Fantastic,” Devin growled, halting at a deserted intersection. Once released from the light, they jostled along patched roads until they turned onto Christopher Street. A wall of cars greeted them. During the slow search for a space, they passed Mojo’s Bakery. It still stood. Whether they could access the passage within would have to be a worry for later. The nighttime neighborhood wasn’t offering any parking that wasn’t illegal or expensive, neither of which they could afford.

Stupid town. Stupid car.

Circling the block, once, twice, a third time, they ended their road-trip odyssey by beating out a honking Volvo for a bump-in-front-and-behind spot. Charles stretched while Devin grabbed their packs from the van, then they backtracked to the sidewalk entrance next to the 60’s storefront. The metal supply gate yielded easily enough to his knife. Flashlights deployed, Devin ushered Charles down a set of rickety stairs and through the flour-filled air with a gentle grip that dodged his tumor scars. They passed what appeared to be a barricade of boxes to the uninitiated, under a low arch, and reached the Tunnels proper. 

Amidst concrete and brick, wet ground to dry, they traveled beneath the city, long enough for Devin to worry about Charles’ stamina.

“How you doing, big guy?”

Charles’ light bobbed from his shambling gate, but he answered, “I’m good, Dev. I want to see … everyone,” he stuttered out. “See, Vincent and the baby.”

You and me both, buddy.

“We’ll be there soon.”

Almost a lie. Not quite a lie.

They kept walking. The cold increased while the urgency to get there, to get home, grew.

Something was wrong.

The prodigal son tried to pinpoint the source of the unease, a skill hard won from the hundreds of dangerous nights away from this place.  

No sentry yet.

That was odd. Devin hadn’t picked the closest spot to the hub to enter, sure, but it wasn’t the farthest either. Much closer than their previous hasty return. And judging from the scrape marks across the flour-and-soot-covered floors of the bakery, Mojo’s was still a frequently used entrance on a regular route.

They’d been walking for over forty minutes. Although Charles was slow, they should have been stopped, welcomed—too much to wish for Vincent to be that person.

Someone should have met them by now.

For a half-moment, the oldest doubts returned.

You’re too late. They’re gone. They don’t want you. You aren’t worth waiting for.

The banging pipes, loud enough to decipher this far down, threw a logical blanket over his flaring fears.

They were here. Of course, they were here.  

Dominic—southern Park station, all clear. P—Gareth and Ben, go to North Well. Henry—East passage secure.

Locations and terse facts, as if coordinating for a battle.

“Charles, can we move a little faster?” Devin called out when he realized his companion trailed him by two yards.

“Sure, Dev,” Charles responded, lumbering quicker, but despite the surgeries that had freed him from many of the fibromas, he still limped from years of captivity.

Ten more strained minutes of holding back to wait for Charles to follow around corners and down uneven stairs before they reached the Whispering Gallery.

Damn! He hadn’t meant to go this way. This bridge was a bloody deathtrap! Last time, Charles hadn’t gotten over without Vincent. This route should have avoided it.

Devin, lost in mental paths, didn’t notice the person stepping out from somewhere on the other side until he spoke.

“It’s good to see you, Devin.”

Devin stumbled backwards, but the giant man kept him upright.

“Jesus! You scared me,” Devin panted, heart pounding, searching his brain for any recollection of this stranger. Nada.

 For a guy with a photographic memory, you’re forgetting a lot, Wells.

He dug through his past, but nothing came up, and that wasn’t the only thing weird thing about this guy. Long coat, baseball cap, an expression of goofy goodwill plastered on his face, and no weapon—not even a stick—the man looked less like a sentry and more like a bum, or worse, a writer or an artist.

Devin was about to start questioning how standards Below had dropped so far when the stranger uttered the magic words.

“They need you down there.”

Spinning to Charles, “I have to get to the hub, big guy. Can you see the torches on the other side? You can follow them.” He pointed. “Straight, then a right at the third junction. Shouldn’t take you more than twenty minutes, tops!”

Across the bridge before turning back, hoping Charles was following, Devin ‘s voice echoed. “I’ll send someone back for you, all right?”

“I think so … Dev,” Charles replied, juddering at the edge of the span, his voice barley audible over the snippets of voices. 

“Don’t worry,” assured the pacifist guard, holding out his hand to help Charles. “I’ll make sure your friend finds his way. Your brother needs your help.”

Vincent.

Torn in two, Devin hesitated for one more moment until Charles took the stranger’s grip.

Then, he ran.

Scraping against jagged walls, slipping on sandy ground, skidding around bends, Devin didn’t stop until he was standing, panting, in front of an antique desk that marked the heart of the Tunnels.

Hunched over, Jacob Wells sat, examining the contents of the table—a passport and stacks of wrapped cash—laid out like an obituary for a friend.

The old man looked up for a moment, but only a moment, as if the return of his reprobate son was a non-event compared to the terrible puzzle before him.

“Catherine had them in a safe at her home,” he said without preamble. “Jamie retrieved them, but I wouldn’t allow her… Catherine wants them couriered to Peter’s, but…”

He beckoned Devin to come closer.  

“Why does she want them? She cannot mean to leave us, Devin. This is her home. We are her family.”

Rounding the desk to the patriarch’s pleading and questioning eyes …

“They’re hers. I must send them, but … how can I? How can she run from us?” Shaking his head as if to clear it to find the truth. “Vincent won’t survive. She and the child … they are his whole world. If she disappears again, Vincent won’t …”

He reached out to Devin in fear for his son. 

“Go to her, Devin, please! She’s at Peter Alcott’s. Go to her. Convince her. Make her stay. Say anything.” He shook their clasped hands. “We will do anything to protect them.”

Devin studied the familiar artifacts of his own escapes. Money and a passport, that was all you needed; he knew that better than anyone. But would she really leave? Would she do that to Vincent? The love of his life? Mother to his child?

She wouldn’t be the first woman to disappear from their lives.

Margaret Wells.

Vincent’s mother.

His mother.

Could Catherine disappear like all those women before?

Would she do that to them? To Vincent?

Yes. 

Women leave. 

Maybe they don’t mean to, maybe they don’t want to, but they do.

Devin squeezed the hand grasped in his own.

They wouldn’t let her.

 In this, they could be united.

“Vincent needs her, Devin, and she needs him. He cannot … They …”

Jacob Wells was crying.

The old man was crying.

This wasn’t the browbeating tyrant of his youth. This wasn’t even the intimidating elder of his last visits. This was truly an old man, scared and weak.

Uncomfortably long moments, before swallowing pain to speak again.

Ut spirare conspirare—you understand?”

Latin

To breathe together

Or did it mean—to breathe, together? Only together.

“I understand,” Devin replied.

Devin Wells didn’t understand, but he was so used to lying, deceit was automatic.

It didn’t matter, anyway. In his experience, the truth wasted time, time he didn’t have.

Whatever the frightened father meant, Devin knew what he had to do.

Grabbing the cash and the passport, he pivoted towards the eastern tunnels.

“Don’t worry, old man. I remember the way.”

 

 

“A Woman is a Sometime Thing”

Ira Gershwin, Porgy and Bess

 

 

[i] On the Road, Jack Kerouac

[ii] From Union Chapter 23 https://everfixedmarkfanfiction.com/union-chapter-23/

2 Comments

  1. Brit

    Last night, I was beginning to wonder if I imagined Devin and Charles leaving for New York… I am so glad I to read they made it…. and just in the nik of time it seems. Devin… the rescuer whether he acknowledges that part of himself or not… Devin is a hero in his own rights… redeemable. (Said with a smile)

    Reply
  2. Crowmama

    Yay! I’m glad you remembered! It does seem like years since he started out. 😉

    Reply

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