Home Chapter 28

 

Therefore the Love which us doth bind,

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the Conjunction of the Mind

And Opposition of the Stars

                                 – THE DEFINITION OF LOVE, by Andrew Marvell

 

“Catherine, you’re still up?” Peter’s voice rose to an incredulous tone.

Robed and pajama-clad, slippers shuffling into the living room, the yawning doctor did a close-to-comedic double-take when he spotted her sitting at the end of the couch.

In answer, she silently sipped her coffee that was both too bitter and too weak.

Still up. Never went to bed. Potayto, potahto.

Earlier that night, she’d changed and fed the baby, walked and sung to him to drown out the noise from the knocking reporters. They’d switched to a periodic half-hearted rapping before her routine finished, their lack of stamina laughable.

The elder had gone to bed before Jacob had settled as well, defiant against all intrusions into his life.

Before he retired, he’d asserted that she needed rest to be ready for the next steps. But finding sleep impossible, she’d dressed, gone downstairs and made terrible coffee.

As he said, she needed to be ready. And she was, as ready as she would ever be. But where was Jamie?  

Did Vincent find out their plan and stop her?

No.

He wasn’t hiding his feelings.

Impatience. Frustration. Unease. Questioning.

A conglomeration of emotions from him, but not betrayal.

Catherine said nothing of the maelstrom, only continued sipping from her “World’s Best Doctor” mug, too tired to alleviate the sourness of the brown drink with milk or sugar. 

Peter, suffering under the impression that he had to converse, offered, “At least the reporters have quieted down. And they haven’t gotten the phone number yet.”

That was true.

Of course, if they had, only she would have heard. She’d changed the answering machine to no ring. Might as well be the only person in the house not sleeping.

Two calls had come in since Agent Morrissey’s.  

One, a helper she’d never met named Roger confirmed Jamie had retrieved what she asked for.

And the other one …

The other one was trickier, messier.

Catherine kept her gaze on the beige carpet under her feet. Pressing the ball of her foot into the plush rug prompted a memory of Josephine and her ban on popsicles.

Coins from the glass jar in the pantry, counted out in front of girls driven nearly demented by the plinking music of the ice cream truck.

“Now you be careful in the street, my babies, and eat your treat on the stoop. I best never catch you with them colored icies in here. You keep your messy business outside my house.” 

Looking back, it wasn’t a singular experience or one-time admonishment from Jo. How often had Catherine visited during her mother’s sickness? How regularly after she died? Enough for Josephine to get over her fear of upsetting a half-orphan child and consider her one of her own.

Catherine loved her for that.   

Lost in reveries, she didn’t notice the man head for the flashing machine before it was too late.

Beep.

“Cathy, it’s Elliot. I’ve been working on your problem and have everything planned. I know the perfect place to get you some sun and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer. You need me, you said it yourself. I’ll pick you both up tomorrow morning—” 

Catherine pushed off the sofa, walked to the desk, and pressed the button to end the message.

The damage, however, was done.

“Cathy, what does he mean?”

Elliot—the rich man, the shifter, the grifter…

She sighed.

“It’s just Elliot being Elliot, doing exactly what I asked him not to.”

She ordered him not to contact her, but she knew he would. Somewhere between Dunn bringing him up in the interrogation, meeting with him at his office, and getting the call, she’d started to count on it.  

In return for her truncated explanation, she got a quizzical arch of the eyebrow, as the doctor silently waited for more.

“He’s trying to have his cake and eat it,” she continued in a low huff. “He wants to win.”

He always did. And all I have to do is surrender to his judgment.

The government couldn’t serve the inevitable subpoena if she left the country. And Dunn had nothing criminally actionable, or he would have used it before siccing the press on her. Without a warrant, maybe she could return when things died down. It was a long shot, but better than staying. If she waited, the opportunity for escape would expire and a contempt charge certain. She’d be the criminal Dunn assumed she was, and any investigation into her would lead to the Tunnels.

And there was the problem of the assassin …

Vincent, stay Below. Stay safe.

She’d decided after seeing Elliot to run, no matter what, with or without help.

But having Elliot in her corner… Elliot, larger-than-life real-estate mogul, would steer the press, the authorities, and anyone else following her in the other direction. With his connections and capital, he would defend and deflect.

Of course, the businessman would want a return on his investment. Nothing Elliot did was free.

But that was the real grift.

Instead of a woman, he would get a ghost—hell, a whole gaggle of them—murderers and mothers and artists and thugs.

And she wouldn’t love him, not in the way he hoped.

Unfair, but when was life fair?

She had only two choices before her: stay, and bring the weight of her decisions and weakness on the heads of the people she loved, or take the danger with her and be numb. 

For her husband, for her baby, she would choose ice.

“Elliot wants me to go away with him until all of this blows over.”

“But that might be never,” Peter countered.

“I think … I believe … he knows that.”

Did he? Did he understand that this could be the end of his New York dreams? A city he loved, loved more than her?

If he didn’t, more fool him.

Her stone heart thudded on, strong, unyielding, even when there were no right answers, even when the past killed the future.

“Though Lovers be lost, love shall not…” she whispered, but the quote hung unfinished. The person who could finish the thought kept his distance at her silent behest.

“I’m glad Vincent isn’t here to see this,” Peter said, staring at the large, black, sentinel front door as if he had x-ray vision.

The reporters might not be knocking, but they were undoubtedly waiting outside.

“Me too…” she agreed, following his gaze.

Then Peter’s scrutiny returned to her.

“You wouldn’t go with Elliot Burch?” he demanded, wanting her to declare the possibility preposterous. “You wouldn’t take the baby from New York?”

“No,” she replied honestly. “I couldn’t.”

His shoulders sagged in relief.

Then she clarified.

“I’d never take the baby from Vincent. He’s Jacob’s father. Jacob’s going to need him.”

She shouldn’t have said it.

“Cathy—” He spoke her name slowly, a protest warming-up, but she cut him off with a shake of the head.

After hours of sifting over the past and traveling every prospective path, she had no stamina to debate.

She’d already decided.

“I asked someone from Below to bring me some things. I’m sending Jacob back with them. He’s in too much danger here.”

“You’re right,” the doctor said, in flabbergasted agreement. “He isn’t safe here anymore, but neither are you. Why aren’t you going with him?”  

“Because I’m not going back to the Tunnels.”

Peter remained speechless for an instant, just staring, then sputtered, “You mean … you’d leave your husband? You’d leave your child?”

The disappointment in his voice, millimeters away from contempt, caused a lancing wave of shame so hot and severe she suppressed the bond.

Why couldn’t he understand?

If all New York would be a hunting ground, a hunt that could get Vincent killed, then she would leave New York.

She dropped to the couch.

She was so tired.

“But you’re nursing your baby!” Peter argued, as if she hadn’t considered it.

As if sitting in the dark, feeding Jacob, she hadn’t been bombarded with each possibility and every consequence.

If she left, her milk would dry, in a few days or a few weeks, then she could deny she ever had a baby.

The nursing, so complicated at first—not knowing when to follow a clock or fussiness, the initial weeks of teeth-grinding pain, the clumsy struggle to latch an infant with no head control but an abundance of flailing limbs—had somehow become natural. Hold him close, offer him milk your body continually makes for him, offer him comfort and warmth, repeat, repeat enough to grow into habit.

Would it ever become a routine for Vincent? Would he forget her past toil, only envying the later simplicity when it became his job? His harder, more complicated, more complex task—a reminder every bottle that she’d abandoned them.

Would he ever forgive her?

Part of him would—the adult, the thinking man. But the boy inside? The infant discarded in the January cold? The insecure lover who dreaded and expected rejection every day of their courtship? The fierce and beautiful aspect that fought to protect her? He would never forget and never forgive.

And neither would Jacob.

Would her son call to her from across the world just like his father?

No doubt. And it would kill her, but that didn’t matter.

She would absorb their grief, making sure none of hers returned to them. She would stay away, and the agents and the media wouldn’t be able to prove anything.

It was the only solution.

Peter, of course, didn’t see it that way.

“Cathy, you love Vincent. He loves you. You can’t throw that away. You should be together!” he pleaded.

Should be. Yes, we “should be.”

That’s what the stories say­. They promise that if you love with all your heart, you get “happily ever after.”

But that’s a lie. That’s a fairytale.

In real life, good people fail, good people die. It doesn’t matter how strong their love is.

But no one tells you that. No one writes those stories, because they don’t want to scare you.

In real life, love is sacrifice. 

“I’m not throwing anything away,” she protested, beseeching for understanding. “If I leave the city I can—”

When the blast came, it blew out the windows and threw Catherine over the sofa. She shrieked, but not from the breaking glass, or the sound, or surprise.

Pain, blinding.

She examined herself. No blood. No breaks. She was fine.

Jacob cried upstairs, in anger, in fright, but he wasn’t hurt.

Yet there was another part of her soul screaming with each breath.

Vincent! 

Cathy!” Peter yelled from where he’d fallen, then coughed from the invading dust. “Are you okay? Are you injured?”

“I’m okay,” she gasped out, “but … Vincent’s hurt!” 

Using the desk, the doctor pulled himself to his feet. “Can you pinpoint his location?”

“I think so,” she wheezed.

 “I’ll get my bag,” He crunched over broken glass navigating to the closet.

“I’ll get the baby!” she shouted, climbing the stairs two at a time and sprinting to the spare room. Jacob was thrashing in the basket, unharmed but frightened.

“Shh, baby.” She gathered him up and rocked him while orienting to her husband. 

Below? Below the house…

Something is broken.

Struggling to control the piercing empathy, she walked the whimpering baby to the landing above the vestibule. Just as she was about to tell Peter they were ready, more pounding came. 

Was it the reporters? 

As if in answer to her question, a graveled voice yelled—“NYPD! Come out! There’s been an explosion!” 

In slow-motion Catherine observed the doctor—her mind marking details—the leather bag clutched in his left hand, his sockless ankles peeping out between his pajama pants and shoes, the robe ties trailing while striding the hallway, unbolting the locks, turning the knob, too eager to comply with the voice of authority.

Wrong.

It’s a mistake. 

Why?

“Peter—” she called, but too softly.

Why did she ache to yell, to stop him?

Too soon.

Too soon for the police to arrive … and …

…and Gabriel used a bomb on Hanlon and Joe.

She almost had time to scream before Peter pulled the door wide.

The gunshot sent him sprawling across the marble entry.

Peter! 

Turning, running, she heard the shooter’s boots crunching on debris as he entered the house.

Peter, I’m sorry.

Through the second-floor hall and slipping down the servant’s stair, her instinct howled, Call your love! Save your baby! Save yourself! But she fought it.

Vincent was close but hurt. Trapped? If so, he would need all his focus to survive, to free himself.

Breathe, she told herself and anyone else listening in on her thoughts. Keep quiet, keep safe.

Into the kitchen she padded, pressing her cheek to the baby’s forehead. From behind the kitchen door, Catherine glimpsed a black flak jacket and platinum blonde hair under a police soft cap. Then the shooter walked out of sight. Over the hammering of her heart, she heard him stalk up to the second floor. 

Was the assassin Police? 

Peter, Im sorry. I’m so sorry.

Ill send help … as soon as I find some.

But from where?

She could take the back door outside into the dust-filled air and gathering crowds, or take the basement stairs Below. 

Which? 

Those she trusted were Below, sure help, but far away, possibly barred by wreckage from the explosion. Vincent was down there, but hurt, vulnerable.

Steps thudded above her head. Time was running out. Either the assassin would spy the empty bassinet and search the house, or else the baby would make a noise and give up their location.

Outside might offer safety—more commotion to hide in, more people to ask for help—or more dangers, more guns, more bombs, more ways to get her and her child killed. 

“Woman, you need to run!” Winslow yelled from the corner next to the stove.

Despite being dead, the large man persisted in being loud, opinionated, and right.

In another instant, the killer would find her and the baby.

“Listen, woman, I didn’t die trying to rescue you so some white-haired bastard could get you.” He pointed at the child in her arms. “I didn’t save that baby’s daddy for you to make the wrong decision.”

Below, her husband, her friends, her family, everyone—the community that wanted to protect her and her son…

…but with no weapons to combat an armed and trained killer… 

“If he catches you, you won’t just be hearing and seeing us. You’ll be one of us.”

She decided.

When the night air hit them, Jacob gurgled.

“Shhh,” she pleaded, hitching him up as she opened the gate to the alley.

So focused on looking behind and ahead for danger, Catherine didn’t even realize it was Jacob’s first trip outside.

2 Comments

  1. Maria

    Excellent and thrilling. Enjoy holidays and hurry back.

    Reply
  2. Stefania

    L’ho letto tutto di un fiato! Emozionante!
    Grazie per aver ripreso la scrittura… Non vedo l’ora di leggere il seguito. Un saluto dall’Italia.

    Reply

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