A/N: My thanks to Carole W for the James Bond book website. ;-)
Her awakening was slow and easy, the murmur of her husband’s heartbeat against her ear, then some hazy time later a chill at her side and the creak of the old mattress as he left the warmth of their bed. Catherine opened her eyes and knew---though how, she couldn’t say---that it was early yet. “It’s time, isn’t it?” Vincent asked, half-cloaked in the shadows of their bedroom entrance.
She rolled over and sat up, pushing the hair out of her eyes. “Yes. I should get up and look at my calendar to figure out what’s going on today.” Just as she reached for the day planner, which rested inside a drawer she’d determinedly not opened since coming Below a week before, something warm and fragrant was placed in her hands. “Coffee?” she asked.
“Coffee,” Vincent confirmed, smiling. “William made a fresh pot.”
Catherine sipped at it. “Thank you, love. What’s on your schedule today?” An ache in her heart reminded her---though she had never truly forgotten---that soon she would leave him, be separated from him, for the first time in a week. How could they? How could she? A moment’s rebellion, sour in her throat, rose and was quelled almost instantly.
“I’m teaching a composition class later on,” Vincent replied. “And then I’m meeting Warren and Cullen and Valerie to go over the designs for repairing the bridge. Then I'm teaching one of the literature classes and helping Mary with story time. After that, I’m free for the rest of the day.” He gazed at her, blue eyes serious and intent. “And then you will return home and we will see each other again.”
She took a deep breath, recognizing under his words the reassurance that though they were separated today, it would not always be so. “You’re right. But Vincent, that sounds like a lot of work in one day,” she replied. “I’m glad you’ll have some help with the bridge repairs at least.”
“You and me both,” he said. He cradled his own cup of coffee, the mug ridiculously small in his hands. “What about you? What will you do today?”
She pulled out the day planner. “Staff meeting later on this morning, a few court appearances, then Rita and I are going to meet on the Avery case.”
At the mention of Avery's name, he tensed a bit, ducking his head. “What?” she asked.
“You’ll be careful, won’t you?” he said after a time.
She knew he was thinking of Dinah’s warning, vague as it had been, and all the dangers they had faced before, dangers he had not always been able to protect her from. “I will if you will.”
At that, Vincent lifted his head. “Deal.”
Soon---all too soon---they were journeying to the threshold. “Gideon will be playing outside your building,” Vincent said, “if you need to get a message to me.”
Catherine nodded. “You seem worried still. Why?”
His hand rubbed the small ridge of her wedding band. “You will face many questions that you can’t answer, Catherine. I worry that your part of this is far harder. Below, we are accepted. Above…”
“Vincent,” she said, “don’t worry so much for me—I’ll be the topic of gossip for a few days until something else comes along. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
He nodded once. Catherine turned and placed one hand on the ladder and one hand on his chest, feeling the steady beat of his heart. Kissing him, she murmured, “I love you,” and was gone from their world, into the light.
The lights seemed too bright, the usual office noises---the gurgle of the coffee-machine, the humming of the copiers, the thwack of Joe’s darts against the dartboard---too loud and jangling after her time Below. Catherine felt much as Vincent had when they’d returned from their honeymoon, that sudden reluctance to cross the threshold between what had been and what now was. But this, too, was her life and gathering her wits, her work ID and her purse, she stepped into the thrum of the DA’s office.
Catherine groaned inwardly as she saw her desk, which was laden with files to the point that she thought the entire desk might collapse. Coffee first, she decided, shaking her head. She stuffed her purse inside a drawer and withdrew her mug, hearing the faint clink of her wedding band as it scraped the ceramic. “Don’t forget, there’s a meeting in ten minutes,” Rita said, arms full with her own files, “and I want to hear all about your honeymoon when we’re done. Do you have pictures?”
“The film’s out being developed,” Catherine replied, smiling, the lie coming easily but not without regret. “Why did I choose to come back today of all days?”
“Latent masochism?” Rita asked, deadpan, and Catherine chuckled. Fully armed with files and a full mug of coffee, she followed Rita to the large conference room.
Everyone was milling around as she entered, attorneys she’d worked with before as well as attorneys she barely knew. Catherine took her customary seat next to Rita, careful not to jostle her coffee. Joe sat down on her left and glanced at her hand. “Nice ring, Radcliffe,” he murmured, too low for anyone else to hear. She smiled at him and the meeting began.
“All right,” Joe said, flipping through the case roster. “Rita, you’ve covered some of the prep work for the Avery case while Cathy’s been out. What do you have for us?”
“Investigations was able to locate about half the witnesses,” Rita said, shuffling through her own set of notes. “I’ve begun interviewing them and I expect to have the reports ready by next week.”
“Very good,” Joe said. “Any luck untangling the bank accounts?”
Rita shrugged. “Not much. We could really use a professional to look at what we have so far. I know Cathy has a corporate law background and I came from a civil practice myself but neither of us are accountants and these records are going to be crucial.”
Catherine nodded. “I agree. Even when I reviewed the bank documents in preparation for the grand jury last time, it was a mess. And it’s only going to get worse the more we get from the various banks.”
Joe made a notation on his legal pad. “There’s a forensic accountant Pete used---what was his name?”
Peter Benitez looked up from his determined doodling. “David…David something. I have his business card at my desk. He did good work on the Farrell case.”
“Pete, make sure Cathy gets that info. Next…”
Lunch was pad thai at a local Thai restaurant with Rita and Joe, both of them curious and clamoring—in their different ways---for details about the wedding, her new husband, the honeymoon. “I don’t get it, Radcliffe,” Joe said. “You could have gone anywhere. But you went camping in Connecticut at this time of year?”
“What’s the matter, Joe? You don’t see me roughing it?” Catherine asked with a studied lightness.
“Well, no,” Joe said, expertly twirling the clear noodles on the edge of his fork. “You seem more of a Hilton and room service type to me.”
“We didn’t camp outdoors, Joe---we’d have frozen. We returned to my dad’s summer place. No hot towels, but we were…plenty warm enough,” Catherine replied, smiling, remembering just how they’d stayed warm in the caverns far below. “Besides, weren’t you always telling me I needed someone more ‘down to earth’?”
“It sounds romantic,” Rita said, spearing a leaf of her salad. “Allen and I eloped too, else we'd have had some hugely expensive society shindig. I'm still not sure his mother has forgiven us for that.”
Catherine felt the pull, the same tug she'd felt on many previous occasions---the endless conflict between what was she could and couldn't say, each word or phrase weighed for what it might reveal. How she longed---at her most fanciful moments, it was true---to bring the photo taken of them on their wedding day (Mouse had taken it as a wedding gift and a helper had developed it; both the photo and the negative were safe Below) and say, “This is the man I love.” With the ease of difficult, regretful practice, she pushed the yearning aside and said, “I understand that. Eloping was just easier for us too.”
“What’s he do, Radcliffe?” Joe asked.
“He’s…undercover, Joe,” Catherine said, not wanting to come up with a complicated story when a much simpler version of the truth would suffice.
As she’d hoped, he leapt to the immediate---and wrong---conclusion. “Oh, got it. Why didn’t you tell me he worked for the Feds?”
“Well, you know, I wasn’t sure how much I could say,” she replied gamely. “But yeah, he’s out of town at the moment.” Just underneath it, as a matter of fact, Catherine thought.
“Oh, quit badgering her,” Rita said, laughing. “Come on. Did you really believe Cathy would hook up with some mobster type? She wants to keep her private life private and I, for one, think she’s got the right idea.”
“You do?” Joe asked.
“Sure. Why do you think I’ve never brought Allen to the office? I don’t want to feed the gossips either. Cathy’s entitled to her privacy.”
“Hmm,” Joe replied, taking a drink of his soda. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“I know you hadn’t,” Catherine said, grateful---more than she could ever say---for Rita’s understanding. “But I got singed one too many times by the tabloids after the attack.”
“Gotcha,” Joe said; he’d had his own run-ins with the press since Moreno’s arrest. “Well, you love him, that’s obvious. Can we at least have his name?”
Catherine inhaled a bracing breath. “Vincent. His name is Vincent.”
After lunch, she and Rita returned to the empty conference room, and began breaking down the testimony of the first of their witnesses, a small contractor who’d paid protection money to men who were known associates of Avery. “Is there anyone Avery didn’t put the screws on?” Rita mused at one point, highlighting her copy of his testimony.
Catherine considered. “Maybe the janitors. Other than that, though…”
Rita shook her head. “Nope, he got the janitors too. Or at least one of his shell companies did---he pressured this contractor to use his cleaning service.”
“So much for that theory,” Catherine said.
“Say, Cathy,” Rita asked, “how come the mob isn’t after Avery? Seems like he’s doing things the mob traditionally does.”
“Avery’s wife,” Catherine answered. “Her father was the head of the Rotolo family; her brother runs it now. I think they let Avery have his rackets as a means of distraction; everything I remember about Avery suggests he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, certainly nobody they'd want mixed up in their business.”
“Yet he runs this racket,” Rita mused. “You think he's getting help from the Rotolos?”
“If he is, it's way under the radar, but it's worth looking into,” Catherine said, scribbling a note on her legal pad. “We didn't uncover any evidence of it before the grand jury, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there.” A thought occurred to her....it had been Moreno who had insisted that Avery was a small-time crook, Moreno who had directed the initial course of the investigation. Had he done so trying to protect Avery or minimize his involvement? Damn.
Rita must have seen the expression cross her face. “What?” she asked.
“Let's go talk to Joe,” Catherine said. “I have a feeling Avery is a lot smarter than we gave him credit for.”
“So you think Avery’s running much more than a two-bit extortion racket? You think he’s mobbed up?” Joe asked when Catherine had finished.
“Well, I think it bears looking into. Joe, how did the FBI find out Moreno was on the take?”
Joe frowned, rapping his pen on the worn wood table in a distracted rhythm. “You don’t remember? Oh, that’s right, your husband was sick when Moreno was arrested last year. From what I was told, officially, they ‘don’t comment on current investigations.’ Unofficially, they got a tip from a source that he was getting paid to bury cases.”
“And the source is going to testify against him?” Rita asked.
“Unofficially---or officially---the Feds aren’t commenting on that. Not to anyone,” Joe replied. “This stinks, Radcliffe. This really stinks.”
“It does,” Catherine agreed. “But it also makes sense. Avery’s connections---or Avery himself---leaned on him to make our investigation go away, and when he failed, they cut him loose and turned him into the Feds.”
Joe nodded, the pen coming to a reluctant rest on a pile of paperwork leaning precariously over one edge of the desk. “And of course, they couldn't just kill Moreno, and the investigation into his disappearance would be too risky.”
Catherine bit her lip. “And now I know why he was so insistent that I handle the grand jury. He was sure I wouldn’t be able to obtain an indictment.”
“Moreno was right, for the wrong reasons,” Joe said firmly. “You are absolutely the right one to prosecute this case. He always underestimated you, Cathy, and that was one of his mistakes. But the mob angle---if there is one---makes things even more dangerous for you.” He leaned back in his chair, tossing the ball of rubber bands up in the air and back again. “Let me put out some feelers to the Feds and see what information they have about Avery and his connection to the Rotolos. In the meantime, if you get even a hint of anything suspicious, bring it to me. Immediately. That goes for you too, Rita.”
After her court appearances, after the last bit of work, Catherine glanced at her desk, satisfied that her work was once again in some sort of order. She looked up as Rita approached. “I’m gonna knock off here early,” she said. “There’s a storm coming and I have to pick up Allen at the airport.”
Catherine glanced at the clock, startled that the whole day had passed so fast. Remembering Joe’s cautions about keeping an irregular schedule---not that it's been a problem, these last few years, she thought with an inward smile---she nodded. “Sounds like a plan. I’m done here myself. Let me check with Joe and make sure there are no other fires he needs me to put out, and I’ll head out with you. Want to split a cab?”
“You bet,” Rita said.
She looked over at Joe, who was on the telephone and gesturing wildly. He caught her eye and made a shooing motion. “I think that’s my cue,” Catherine replied, chuckling. She put on her coat and wrapped the scarf around her neck. Grabbing her purse, she said, “Let’s get out of here.”
Vincent had just arrived at the threshold as Catherine descended the basement ladder. She dropped the bag she was carrying and rushed into his arms, smelling of ice and snow and chill city air. “Hello, love,” he murmured against her hair, treasuring her nearness. “How was your day?”
“Mmmm,” she said, snuggling into his chest. “Long. Better now.” She lifted her head. “How was yours?”
“Busy,” he replied. “But better now for me as well.” He noticed the bag she’d dropped. “What’s in there?”
“Last week’s mail, plus some things from the apartment. Matthew is available Friday night to go over the inspection on the house. Can you be there?”
Vincent nodded. “Of course. First, though, dinner will be served in a few minutes. Are you hungry?”
“I am,” she said as they walked towards their chamber. “Tell me about your day. How were the kids in your classes?”
“Mischievous,” he replied, remembering one burgeoning spitball competition he’d interrupted. “They missed me, I think. They said Father was too difficult a task-master.”
“And why did they think that?” Catherine asked, her hand warm and soft in his.
“Father started them on Great Expectations,” Vincent said.
“That seems awfully…advanced for younger children,” Catherine replied. “I was in junior high the first time I read it and our teacher still had to explain parts of it to us. Dickens can be…dense.”
He grinned. “Curiously, your analysis and my students' was the same. Eric decided Dickens was dense. I doubt he was referring to the excessive use of words.”
Catherine chuckled. “Somehow, I doubt it too.”
After dinner, they retreated to their chamber where Catherine shed the last remnant of her workaday world by placing her planner in the drawer by the bedside. “How was your first day back at work?” Vincent asked, undoing the buttons of his chambray shirt.
“There were...questions. But none I wasn't able to deflect,” she replied, taking out a warm nightgown from the dresser.
He glanced at her. “Was it difficult?”
“It's always difficult,” Catherine said. “You know that. But it's worth it.”
Vincent sat down next to her, causing the bed to groan under his weight. To her great relief, he didn't dispute that it was worth it to her, nor did he question whether he was worth it, as he would have in the past. Instead, he said, “I confess to being curious. How did you answer the questions?”
“Father has almost all of the James Bond novels, Catherine. Devin and I found a stack of them when we were boys and we read them for hours on end. And your friends now think I'm a secret agent?”
“I never precisely said that,” Catherine replied, smiling at him. “Joe jumped to conclusions, but I might not have...corrected him.”
“I see,” Vincent replied, though the mirth was clear in his words. “Was that the worst of it?”
“Pretty much, yes.” She reached out to touch a lock of the wild amber mane that had fallen over his shoulder. “They asked me for your name, Vincent.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I gave them your first name, and they seemed satisfied.” She touched his hand where it rested next to hers. “Do you mind?”
He shook his head and smiled. “No, love. I trust your judgment. What else happened?”
“We found some new information on Avery. It may make things…more dangerous. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said, the reassurance soothing. “We both knew this was a risk when you agreed to take this case.”
“I know,” Catherine replied, looking at their clasped hands and thinking of the many times he’d had to protect her. These hands are my hands, she’d said to him once. And from the dark morass of memory and nightmare, she remembered sitting, anxious and anguished, in Father’s chamber just the year before: What he does, he does in my name. No, she swore. Never again. The words burst forth, almost too fast for conscious thought. “I don’t want you to have to kill for me, ever again.”
The look he returned allowed no argument. "You are my love, Catherine. My life. And what I have to do, I will do.”
There was nothing she could say to that. She gazed at him---her husband, her mate, her warrior----and thought all over again how great was this love they shared. “I love you, you know,” she said, leaning against the warm solidness of his chest, feeling the steady rhythm of his heart in counterpart to hers.
Her reward was his old gesture of affection: a nuzzle at the crown of her hair. “I love you too.”
Click here for Chapter 22...
 “Penelope’s Song,” by Loreena McKennitt