Vincent watched Catherine as she dressed early the next morning. The clothes were simple enough, the courtroom garb he’d seen her wear a thousand times in their years together---dress pants, a sweater, a blazer and in deference to the weather, low heeled shoes. But there was something curiously formidable about her clothing—or maybe it was the air she assumed when she wore them…the air of a woman preparing to go and engage in what promised to be the first round of a long-running battle.
She ran a brush through her hair, though its gilded smoothness---to his mind, at least---didn’t require it. “I’m ready,” she said, hands clenching and unclenching, fidgeting with her wedding band or the non-existent speck of lint on her sleeve.
“You’ll be fine,” he said.
Catherine smiled, her hands relaxing, some of the tension leaving. “It’s that obvious, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps,” Vincent replied, pressing a kiss to the bright crown of her hair, and remembered a time when even that brief caress would have felt forbidden, dangerous. “Benny has the sandwich route today if you need to get a message to me.”
“I’ll write as soon as I’m done,” she promised. “And I’ll be careful.”
He knew she would, but he felt reassured all the same. “I love you.”
Catherine wound her hands through his hair and pulled his head down for a kiss. “I love you too.”
Catherine stepped out of the cab and noticed the milling throng of reporters already in place at the courthouse. Shaking her head, she tightened her scarf around her neck and ducked into the DA’s office. At the elevator, she found Joe, fussing with his tie as though he couldn’t wait to unknot it. “You ready for this, Radcliffe?” he asked.
“About as ready as I’m going to get,” she replied. “Right now, I’m glad arraignments are simple enough. Any idea who’s representing Avery?”
Joe followed her as they entered the elevator and jabbed at their floor number. “Didn’t I tell you? Graham Sparks.”
“Of course,” Catherine said, leaning against the wall. “Who else?”
“Now, I know you’re no fan of the guy---“ Joe began.
She raised her eyebrows. “Why, because he lied during the Patel case and said he never got the toxicology report? That makes him a charmer in my book.”
“Yeah, Sparks is no prince, but at least you’ve had some experience with him; you’re not going into this blind.”
“True,” she acknowledged. “I wish I’d have gotten someone a little less enamored of the cameras, though.”
“Oh, you saw that when you came in, huh?” Joe asked. “Yeah, he's angling for bigger things---and of course, his client is an innocent businessman being unjustly prosecuted.”
She chuckled, thinking of Dinah's similar comment about her clients. “Well, my part of this is easy,” she said. “I just have to arraign him this morning. You have the press conference this afternoon.”
Joe groaned. “Don't remind me.”
The elevator doors opened and they stepped out.
Inside the packed courtroom, Catherine waited for Max Avery’s case to be called. Her hands were damp, but there was a steady warmth surrounding her heart, and a sense of Vincent’s presence so strong that she almost expected him to be seated in the crowd. A motion out of the corner of her eye caught her attention: Dinah, on the other side of the courtroom, waving, also waiting for her cases to come up. She waved and smiled back, and breathed out slowly, forcing calm.
Four more cases---a petty theft, a drive-by shooting, an embezzlement and a bank robbery---came and were arraigned before her case was called. She rose and stepped further into the courtroom, cautious of the low swinging door that always threatened to bruise her kneecaps. “Catherine Chandler for the People,” she said
The judge nodded. “Very well. And for Mr. Avery?”
“Graham Sparks for Mr. Avery,” he said. As always, Catherine was struck by how incongruous he looked. He reminded her of no one so much as her Elizabethan Lit professor in college, tweedy and rail-thin, instead of a defense attorney whose clients included some of the city’s most powerful mobsters.
She watched Max Avery while keeping one ear on the judge’s listing of the charges against him. “And how do you plead?” the judge asked.
“Not guilty, Your Honor.” Max Avery looked every inch a tired, worn grandfather instead of what he was---a crook, an extortionist and, possibly, an associate of the Rotolo family.
“So entered,” the judge replied.
“I’d like bail for my client,” Sparks said. “He’s a member of this community with a wife, children and grandchildren. He’s willing to give up his passport as well.”
The judge turned to her. “Your thoughts, Ms. Chandler?”
“Mr. Avery fled this jurisdiction after the grand jury returned their indictment two years ago. He’s a known flight risk and if he’s allowed bail, he will flee again.”
“I agree. Bail denied. Does your client wish to waive his right to a speedy trial, Mr. Sparks?”
“No, Your Honor,” Sparks replied.
“All right. Mr. Avery is to remain in custody pending future hearings. Next hearing date is scheduled for December 1st at 9:30 am. Next case…”
“So how’d it go?” Joe asked. He was tossing a ball of rubber bands dispiritedly from his left hand to his right, though his tie was still mostly straight.
“When I left, Graham Sparks was telling all the reporters about how his client is an innocent man, that he’s being prosecuted because of his in-laws. Leaving aside, of course, that he fled to Florida after the indictment,” Catherine replied, sinking into the nearest chair. For a brief moment, she felt the echo of Vincent’s soothing embrace from the night before. I’m here.
“And what did you tell them when they asked?”
“I told them this case wouldn’t be decided by the media and that I had no further comment.”
“Good response,” Joe said. “Avery chose not to waive his right to a speedy trial, I take it?”
“Got it in one,” she answered. “Though he might change his mind later, that’s his position now.”
“Well, we expected that. He refuses to waive time, gambling that we won’t have our act together by the time of the next hearing.” Joe tossed the ball of rubber bands into a cup already overflowing with them. “Do we have our act together?”
Catherine nodded. “We were ready two years ago, and we know more than we did then.”
He glanced at the clock. “Well, it's nearly lunchtime and Benny should be here soon. I can't think about this press conference on an empty stomach.”
Benny was already at her desk when she left Joe’s office. “Hiya, Cathy,” he said, “I got your sandwich right here. Special delivery.”
“Oh?” she asked, fumbling through her drawer for the letter she'd written right after the hearing. “Roast beef?”
“Yup,” Benny replied, smiling.
“Fantastic,” Catherine said. Two of Rita’s interns were advancing on the lunch cart. She buried the note in the money for her sandwich, palming the payment to Benny before they arrived. “You have roast beef?” one of them asked.
“Nope,” Benny said. “That one was just for the lady. How about a nice tongue on rye?”
“Ewwww,” the intern groaned, looking faintly nauseated. “No thanks. I think I'll go to the roach coach downstairs.”
“Suit yourself,” he replied, winking at Catherine over the intern's head and whistling as he pushed his cart to the next desk.
She waited until the crowd had dispersed before opening the wrapped sandwich. Tucked in between the mustard and the salt and pepper packets was a small folded note. I love you. I believe in you. V.
Catherine refolded the message and placed it into her purse for retrieval later. Do you feel my love for you, Vincent? Your belief in me helped me to become a stronger, better person. I love you too.
After lunch, she settled in to work on the other cases she had piling up on her desk. When the phone rang, she jumped, nearly knocking one file to the floor and causing her cup of cold coffee to slosh over the edge of her mug. “Catherine Chandler,” she answered, dabbing at the mess with a rumpled paper towel.
There was only the sound of breathing, then the dial tone as the phone disconnected. She hung up and considered. Wrong numbers weren’t that unusual, and if she started jumping at shadows now, she’d be a basket-case by the time the trial actually began. Yet her experience with the Watcher and Dinah’s warning sent a cold frisson up her spine. If it happens again, she promised herself, then I’ll say something.
A shadow fell over her desk and she jumped involuntarily. It was Joe, shrugging into his suit coat and attempting, without much success, to straighten his tie. “I hate press conferences,” he muttered.
She stood and put her blazer back on. “You want some help?”
“Would you?” Joe asked. “I’m horrible with these things. They really ought to give lessons in law school.”
It was his turn to laugh. “About as ready as I can be,” Joe replied, echoing her statement from earlier that day. “Let’s get this over with.”
Work—a repair to one of the security gates---made Vincent late for lunch. Mouse, Warren, Kanin and Cullen had already eaten, their scraped plates in a stack between them. A spirited discussion spiraled from their huddle, one his keen ears couldn’t disregard – some disagreement over the exact plans for repairing the old rope bridge over the Abyss. As he settled to the bench at the worn wood table, Valerie slipped in next to him. Her hand nudged his. “Kipper caught me in the corridor; the note came down a few minutes ago.”
He didn't have to open it to know it was from Catherine; wisps of her scent clung to the yellow legal paper, along with the cold-fuel-asphalt-city smells of the world above them. He placed it in his shirt pocket for later reading. “Thank you, Valerie.”
She nodded and sat down next to Cullen who---uncharacteristically---didn't notice her, so engrossed was he in the discussion. “I'm telling you, Mouse, I'm not asking her to do that. It's too dangerous.”
Valerie darted a wry glance at Vincent, then turned to Cullen. “Are we talking about the bridge again?”
Cullen glanced at her. “Sorry, Val. Yes, we're talking about the bridge again. Mouse has this fool idea---”
Mouse opened his mouth to protest but Valerie's voice stopped him. “Cullen, don't you think you better let me decide what's 'too dangerous'?”
Vincent ducked his head to hide a rueful smile. How often had he made that mistake with Catherine, how often had he tried to tell her what was best for her? “As we discussed the last time,” Valerie went on, “I'm the lightest one here and I'm not afraid of heights. Jamie and I talked---she's the next smallest one but she doesn't like heights any more than Kanin does. Marisol’s pregnant and is petrified of heights. That makes me the ideal person to attach the cording and the planks. Doesn't mean I like the idea of being over the Abyss, but who else is going to do it? That bridge won't repair itself, and we can’t afford to lose our only access to that section of the tunnels.”
“She's right,” Kanin added. “I can't do it—I'd be useless that far up—-and Vincent is just too damned big.”
“Thank you,” Vincent said dryly, buttering his bread. “I think.”
A chuckle went around the table. Cullen's face, though, was a stormy mixture of pain and love; Vincent, seeing his expression, was reminded of the man's muttered words during his fevered delirium some years earlier: “Don't leave me, Bess. I'm no good without you.”  Valerie reached out and touched Cullen's hand. “Cullen, I know what I'm risking. You think I'm looking forward to this? Drew was killed in a fall, remember?”
“I remember,” Cullen shot back, pulling his hand from hers and standing up. “I was beginning to think you'd forgotten.”
Valerie drew back as if he'd struck her, and the room grew quiet. “I never forgot. But it's my risk to take, not yours.”
She stalked out of the chamber then, and ignored Cullen's outstretched hand.
After dinner, Vincent walked to the Falls to read Catherine’s note. The security gate fixed and his classes done, his working day was nearly ended, as was hers, and the Falls---one of their favorite places---seemed as good a place as any to read her message.
The flood of an anguished mental presence reached him through his barriers, halting his steps. Cullen, sitting on the ledge overlooking the Falls. “Hey, Vincent,” Cullen said. “You come looking for me?”
“No,” Vincent said. “Are you well? I didn’t see you at dinner.”
“I couldn't go,” Cullen replied, tossing small pebbles into the waters far below. “What I said…”
Vincent climbed up the uneven pathway and sat next to him. “Valerie ate in her chamber, alone. Go to her, Cullen.”
“Nah, you don't understand, Vincent. I really messed things up.”
Vincent folded his hands on one bent knee. “It was a misunderstanding, Cullen. It happens.”
His ears caught the plink of another stone thrown into the waters. “Not like this, it doesn't.” Plonk went another stone. “Do you remember when Drew died?”
Vincent nodded. “Drew was a good guy,” Cullen went on. “And one of my first friends below. I was the one who found his body when he fell. To remind his widow---to remind Valerie---of that...what was I thinking?”
“That you love her,” Vincent replied. “That you don't want her to be hurt.”
“That wasn't what I said, though.” Cullen ran his hands through his hair. “I'm not good at this. Given half a chance I say the wrong thing.”
“Go to her,” Vincent said again. “Don't be so concerned about what's 'right' to say...just speak your heart.”
“'Just,'” Cullen said. “You make it sound so easy.”
“It's not,” Vincent replied, remembering how, even with their bond, he'd frequently found himself awkward and unsure with Catherine. “But would you have her think you don't trust her judgment?”
For a long time, Cullen studied the roiling waters far below them. “Valerie's in her chamber, you said?”
“Her old one, yes.”
Cullen dusted the dirt off his patched jeans. “I best go, then. If I hurry, maybe I can catch Renata before she closes down for the night.”
Vincent reached the threshold just as Catherine was descending the ladder. “Hey, love,” she said, standing on tiptoe to nuzzle his neck. “I missed you.”
She was everywhere, everything and oh, he'd missed her too. “What did I do without you?” he asked, feeling her curves under his hands.
His answer was the brush of Catherine's hair against the slightly open collar of his shirt, the press of her lips there. “Thank you for your note,” he said, feeling the sparking along his nerves with her touch.
She chuckled, that slightly wicked laugh he loved to hear. “I thought you’d like to know I have tomorrow off. I have some files to work on but I don't need to be in the office to do that.” She stepped back and gazed up at him. “That's okay, right? I mean, I know you have work to do...”
He silenced her with one finger on her lips. “Hush. Yes, of course it's all right. This is your home, Catherine. I have a couple of classes to teach tomorrow, but I will be glad to have you here.”
She smiled. “And I'll be here when we meet Matthew and Annie.”
“Even better,” he said as they began to walk.
“So how was your day?”
“Busy. But not nearly as…interesting as yesterday. I had no visits from Kristopher, for instance.”
Catherine chuckled. “He’s so fickle. Ghosts these days, I tell you…”
Once they reached the interior of their chamber, Catherine was conscious of a sudden lifting of the weights and worries that bowed her shoulders---the upcoming trial, the mystery of the hang-up on her work phone, all the cares and concerns in between. She stretched, and felt the muscles in her back suddenly relax in the absence of all tension.
“What are you thinking?” Vincent asked, leaning up against a large cabinet.
“They should prescribe your world for all stressed-out New Yorkers,” Catherine said, “except then it wouldn’t be quite so private or so relaxing, would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” he replied, laughing. “But I’m glad you find it so.”
“I do,” she said, taking off her blazer and hanging it in the armoire. She sank to the bed, hearing the now-familiar groan of the mattress springs. Her shoes were next, neatly paired under the end table. The rest of her work attire was exchanged for jeans and a patched tunnel shirt. Comfortable once again, Catherine was not surprised to find her husband’s arms enfolding her, holding her close. “You didn’t miss dinner,” he said against her hair, “there are still leftovers. If you’re hungry, that is.”
She was, but his warmth, his very presence reminded her of other hungers. “I am,” she said, turning to nuzzle the strong lines of his neck, knowing how much he loved it. “But…could we have dessert first?”
His eyes had gone very dark and very blue. “I don’t see why not.”
Click here for Chapter 24...
 “I to My Perils,” by A.E. Housemann
 “Clenched Soul,” part of the Hearthside Stories for WFOL 2011. http://onethursdaynight.blogspot.com/2011/02/hearthside-stories.html