Chapter 28: The Snow, Carefully Everywhere Descending 
Snow was falling in earnest when Catherine returned above early the following morning. She pulled off her sweater---an older, much smaller one of Vincent's, the faint lingering traces of his scent unmistakable---and tried without success to find something both warm and appropriate for work. Then again, that might be why the dry cleaner called, she mused. Finally, she located a pair of wool pants and an angora sweater and changed while the messages on the answering machine droned on.
To her great relief, there was only one important message---Rita, saying Investigations had a lead on one of their more reluctant witnesses, a now-retired subcontractor who'd witnessed Avery's intimidation and extortion. If the information proved accurate, she and Rita would have to drive out to interview the man. If he'll even speak to us, that is, she thought. She'd had some experience in getting difficult witnesses to talk, but there was always a risk and given what they now knew and suspected about Avery, she couldn't blame any witness for refusing to cooperate.
Catherine brushed her hair and glanced at the snow blowing drifts against the patio doors. Stop dawdling, Chandler. Time to leave. She wrapped her scarf around her neck and pulled on her winter coat, and left one world for another.
Rita was exiting her cab as Catherine arrived at the doors to the DA's office. “Hey, Cathy, you got a minute?”
“Sure,” Catherine said. “You want to get some coffee?”
“Make mine an espresso and you've got a deal,” Rita replied as they walked to the kiosk. “Allen had to leave early this morning to see his parents and I've been up since.”
“Allen made a decision over the weekend that's been a long time coming, and now he has to tell his family.” Rita shook her head, scattering melting snowflakes. “They're...difficult.”
Catherine thought of her own clashes with Father. “I know what you mean. What's happening?”
“Allen's an attorney. Except he hates it. He went into the family law firm to please his father, but it's not what makes him happy.”
Catherine waved at the kiosk owner, a man named Frank who had---did he but know it---a tenuous connection to the tunnels through his sister-in-law, Renata. She ordered their coffee and she and Rita sat down at the small collection of chairs and tables scattered around the cart. “So he doesn't want to be an attorney any longer?” Catherine asked, sipping cautiously; Frank always made the brew too strong, even for her.
Rita nodded. “He's tried to make it work—doing pro bono work for legal aid to see if another area of practice might be better. But it's making him miserable trying to do something he's just not cut out to do. Anyway, he decided this weekend that what he wants to do is go back and get his credential to teach.”
“And his family won't like it?”
“And his family won't like it,” Rita agreed. “In fact, I'm sure they'll blame it all on me, 'forcing him' to quit a job he hates. How dare he want to be happy.” She took a sip of her espresso. “He chose to go up there alone; I'd have gone with him but my caseload is too heavy to get away, and he wanted to tell them in person.”
“He's doing the right thing, you know,” Catherine began. “I worked in my father's firm for years before I came to realize it wasn't for me. It took me a lot longer to decide to do something about it, though. Sounds like Allen's found a perfect solution.”
Rita fidgeted with the lid of her cup. “What else is going on?” Catherine asked.
“I had a couple of phone calls on my answering machine last night, then another early this morning after Allen left. Heavy breathing, then a dial tone. No words...but Cathy, my phone has been unlisted for years. And I don't get wrong numbers like this. When I received the third call, I asked who it was and the person...laughed. It was creepy.” She balled up a napkin in her hand. “Have you had any hang-ups?”
“Three,” Catherine answered. “No one spoke or laughed, though.”
“Do you think we should tell Joe?”
Catherine breathed out, thinking of the Watcher, thinking too of Vincent and what it would do to him—to them—to once again be faced with that kind of danger. “Yeah,” she said at length. “We have to.”
Vincent entered Father's chamber to find Matthew and Father engaged in a spirited discussion. “I'm telling you, Father,” Matthew was saying, “you're being too cautious. No one pays attention---”
Father bristled slightly. “Caution is what keeps our world alive, Matthew. You know that.”
Matthew nodded. “I know, but there's caution and then there's no-one-gives-a-damn-so-stop-worrying-already.” His voice softened. “I could go up right now and buy enough steel cable to fix the bridge and more besides, and believe me, with all the construction going on in this city, no one would so much as raise an eyebrow.”
Father leaned back in his chair. “Vincent, would you care to weigh in on this?”
He sat down across from Father. “I'd prefer not to put off the work on the bridge longer than necessary. It's not crucial nor an emergency but it is going to take time to repair, time we could well need for other projects. If Matthew is convinced his purchases will not attract unnecessary attention, there doesn't seem to be any reason to delay.”
The expression that crossed Father's face was mingled consternation and grudging acknowledgement. “All right,” he said, worrying the stem of his eyeglasses as Vincent knew he did when he was concerned. “If you're sure, then go ahead.”
After Matthew left, Father began setting up the chessboard. “Do you think I’m too cautious?”
Vincent fought down a smile but had the feeling---from Father’s wry glance—that he hadn’t been successful. “Are we talking about your game?”
“It’s a pity you’re too big for me to turn over my knee,” Father grumbled, though his heart clearly wasn’t in it. “No, we’re not talking about my game.”
Father chose the black pieces; Vincent set up the white ones on his side of the board. “Sometimes. We’ve had to be cautious to survive this long down here. I understand the impulse, but Matthew knows his business far better than we do. If he says there’s no risk, I’m inclined to believe him.”
“It’s hard to know what to do sometimes,” Father mused, and moved a pawn forward. “One thing you’ll have to do when you lead this community is balance what’s needed and necessary against what’s prudent.”
Vincent’s mind flashed back to a dark and murky cave, feeling again the strain of wrenched muscles and the heavy, miasmic fear that one or both of them would die there. He had promised, yes, but…the weight of that promise now halted his breath and a moment’s fiery rebellion rose. All the choices in my life decided for me by who and what I am…am I to have no choice, even in this? Aloud, he said only, “Let’s hope it's not something we have to think of for some time.” Time enough for me to decide, at least.
“And that’s all you’ve had? Hang-ups?” Joe asked them later in the morning. “You haven’t seen anything else out of the ordinary?”
“No,” Catherine said. “But I don’t get wrong numbers often either. And one here and two at home does seem a bit suspicious.”
“It does,” Joe agreed. “Rita, you said Investigations tracked down the witness?”
“Yes. He lives in New Jersey now. I called him and he’s reluctant, but willing to talk to us. He refuses to come into the city, though; he's too afraid. I don’t know what he’ll do if we need his testimony.”
Joe leaned back in his chair. “All right. When you set up a time to go see him, take a pool car. Don’t use yours or Cathy’s. And if you receive any more calls, let me know.”
As they were turning to leave, Joe said, “Cathy, did you call the accountant? The one Benitez used?”
“No, not yet. Why?”
“Because more bank records have arrived. Might want to call him before they take over the evidence room.”
Catherine managed not to groan---barely---at the thought of more boxes filled to the brim. “Great,” she said with a decided lack of enthusiasm. “I’ll get the bandages for the paper cuts.”
“That’s the spirit,” Joe said, laughing.
A brief flutter of something…unease, fear, despair…crossed their bond and was gone. Catherine rubbed the back of her neck and stared unseeing at the paperwork in front of her. If something were wrong, seriously wrong, I would know. I would. Never had she regretted the lack of quick communication more than she did right now. Vincent was deeply disturbed and all she could do was hope he sensed her concern. Dammit.
“Hey Cathy, you okay?” Rita asked. “You look a bit dazed.”
She looked up to find Rita standing by her desk, armed with a notepad. “I’m fine…just a little tired, I guess. What’s up?”
“I'm nervous about Mr. Mueller. How did you persuade the witness to come forward on the Denton case?”
She hadn’t thought about Jack Sweeney in a while, not since she’d received word he and his family had been safely relocated to Michigan…or was it Minnesota? “I had help there; it wasn’t just me.”
“But he did agree to testify against Mitch Denton, even though he didn’t end up needing to once Denton was committed. All I’ve managed to get from Herman Mueller is a promise not to throw us off his doorstep when we arrive.”
“Well, that’s promising,” Catherine replied, chuckling. “He’s a bit…feisty, is he?”
“He is,” Rita agreed, smiling slightly. “So, any suggestions?”
At lunch, Catherine managed to deliver a note to Vincent, palmed from her hand to Benny's with her payment. Are you all right? I love you. C. Benny winked and handed her change, and Catherine felt the additional thickness of another message folded within the dollar bills. “No rush,” he said for her ears alone, and she relaxed. It wasn't an emergency, then.
There were too many people milling about for her to read the note right then, so she ate her sandwich in pretended calm and made a few phone calls. One to Dara to see if she'd received a response to the offer on the brownstone, another to the forensic accountant---David Smith---that Peter Benitez had recommended. Neither was available, so she left a message and as soon as she could, disappeared into a vacant conference room to read her note.
I felt your concern. I'm all right. We'll talk tonight. V.
Catherine closed her eyes. Vincent was fine, or mostly so (she didn't for a minute believe he was completely all right) and doubtless had work to do, as did she. She folded the note into thirds and left the room.
It didn't take an empath to see the trouble in Vincent's eyes or the weight on his shoulders, Catherine mused as she descended the ladder, her workday over. “Tell me,” she said, his arms enfolding her.
“I will,” he promised. “Would you mind if we had a quiet dinner tonight? I'm...not up to the commons just now.”
“That sounds lovely,” she said.
“Good,” he replied, and offered nothing further. Catherine wasn't troubled; he would talk when he was ready, and not one minute before.
He remained silent until they reached the curtained doorway of their chamber. As always, Catherine felt the release from the burdens of her day almost as soon as the curtain closed them off from the rest of the world. “What's for dinner?” she asked, stowing her coat and scarf inside the armoire.
“Stew again,” Vincent replied. “William's trying to use the last of it tonight before he makes a new batch. He also gave us a loaf of his homemade bread.”
“Mmm, sounds good to me,” Catherine said. “It's freezing out there.” She watched him as he paced their bedroom. “All right, love, spill. What's bothering you?”
He didn't answer for a time and she didn't press, changing into her tunnel clothes and running a brush through her hair. Finally, he said, “When Father and I were trapped....”
“Something happened between the two of you.”
His eyes met hers, startled. “Yes, but how...”
“I always thought you'd had some sort of discussion. Who wouldn't?” When Vincent passed by her, she caught his hand, halting him. “Tell me.”
“I thought he would die, Catherine. You know how close it was.”
“I do,” she replied. Father had a cracked rib that had nearly punctured a lung, and with his mobility already limited by his hip injury, it was a wonder he hadn't developed pneumonia after their rescue.
Vincent sat down next to her on the bed. “Father asked me to lead the tunnels after his death.”
“And you promised.”
“I wanted to give him some last moments of peace, knowing what he'd built here would survive him, and then....”
“And then you were rescued. And Father said something about it today?”
Vincent nodded. “We've never talked about the promise, not once. He brought it up, still assuming I could, I would, lead in his place.” His fists clenched. “I'm not sure I want to lead this community. Or if I'm the best one for the job.”
She thought of Allen and Rita, the decision Allen had reached in defiance of all that his family wanted for him. “It would help if I understood why. Do you think you'd do badly at it?”
“It's not that, precisely. All my life has been a series of assumptions, duties, obligations. And I've accepted those, for the most part. I was the one who couldn't ever live Above, the one chained to this earth more than anyone in the tunnels, the one who would never have a family of his own. But then I met you and...you...our love...challenged all my assumptions. I see possibilities I never saw before... But to lead all of us as Father has done...do I have that sort of wisdom? And if it falls to me simply because I have no other choice...”
Choice. Vincent had been denied the power of choice almost his entire life, the ability to make decisions for his future because of who and what he was. Catherine bit back a sharp retort about Father's wisdom, and said instead, “Do you resent him a little for assuming you'd still want to take over for him?”
“Perhaps. I hadn't thought of it, but it's possible.” He looked down at his clenched hands. “I don't want to hurt him, Catherine.”
“I understand. When I left my father's firm, I didn't want to hurt him either, but some part of me resented that he'd had my entire future mapped out for me as if I didn't have the right to change, to grow. It was as if he didn't see my life had altered and I had other priorities than being 'Charles Chandler's daughter.'” Catherine touched his hands, feeling the strength of bone and sinew. “Vincent, if you decide you truly don't want to lead the tunnels, you need to talk to him before there's an emergency. Some other way will be found; this community is resilient, if nothing else.” She cupped his chin, forcing him to meet her eyes. “And whatever choice you make, now or later, I'll support you.”
His gusting breath, hot against her hand, marked the sudden release of tension. “Thank you.”
After dinner, Vincent shared the rest of his day with her---Matthew's delivery of almost all of their supplies, with promises to bring everything else down by the end of the week, the renewed discussions over how best to repair the bridge. “It'll still take time,” he explained, “but less time now since we have the proper supplies.”
“I'm glad,” Catherine said. She bit her lip. “I need to tell you something.” She related the story of the wrong numbers, the hang-ups on her phone and Rita's. “It may be nothing,” she finished. “After the Watcher, I couldn't take the chance.”
His posture altered slightly, stiffening, the pose of a warrior preparing to defend. “And you have told Joe?”
“I have, but there's not much he can do, Vincent. There's not enough evidence and wrong numbers are common enough.” She leaned against him, feeling the tenseness. “Rita and I have to go to New Jersey tomorrow to interview a witness.”
As she'd expected, that brought a flare of alarm and concern through their bond. Never mind New Jersey wasn't far away, it was too far for him to be there if something went awry. But he said none of these things. Instead, he asked, “You'll be careful?”
She reached up to touch the side of his face and felt him relax, if only a little. “I will.”
Click here for Chapter 29....
 “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled,” by ee cummings