Chapter 29: The Chasm Between Two Contradictions 
Catherine was up early before the first renewed taps on the pipes could be heard. Almost certainly it was dawn or a little after, but Mr. Mueller was receiving physical therapy in the afternoon and wouldn’t be available after his appointment. She sighed. The traffic was sure to be horrid and added to an already-reluctant witness…some days, I think I should stay in bed. I'd certainly be more productive.
She glanced down at Vincent, saw the covers she had bunched under his chin in an attempt to trap as much of her warmth as possible. Though she knew it wasn’t any colder than it had been earlier in the week, it seemed chilly to her, as if winter’s grip was felt, even this far Below. Never mind that braziers kept out the worst of the cold, Catherine still sensed it, deep in her bones. Acclimation is a process, she reminded herself, and reluctantly removed her flannel gown.
She reached for a sweater—the rare tunnel sweater not decorated with patches or decorative seams---when she felt the solid warmth behind her. Vincent, awake.
He nuzzled at her neck with a distinct purpose and she smiled. “That’s not fair,” she murmured, not really minding, her hands wound in the thickness of his hair.
“No?” he asked.
“No,” she said, enjoying the little darts of pleasure that sparked and jumped along her nerves. “I have to meet a witness.”
His teeth gently scraped the junction of her neck and shoulder. “I know but...I wanted to give you a proper goodbye.”
“I'm meeting Rita at my apartment soon.”
“We're driving to Elizabeth, NJ,” she responded, deciding she ought to muster up a token protest although her body very much had other ideas.
“That's only twelve miles away,” he replied with the air of someone who walked such distances regularly.
“You've never seen traffic jams like New York City is capable of creating. I guarantee if you walked to New Jersey, you'd get there faster than we will.”
His breath was hot against her neck, her shoulder, bringing another sort of warmth altogether. “If you're sure.”
Catherine turned to face him. “You know I am, but I wish I didn't have to be.”
His answering smile said he did indeed know and had not truly expected or wanted her to stay when her duties called her elsewhere. “Very well.”
She stood on tiptoe to kiss him on that strange, beloved mouth, felt his smile in the instant before he released her. “On account?”
Catherine reached her apartment about ten minutes before Rita was due to arrive. I have got to work on my timing. Too much later and I’d have found her on my doorstep when I came up from the basement. She stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the slight flush that had nothing to do with exertion, and smiled. I look like what I am. In love.
She ran a brush through her hair and put on the most minimal of makeup, then heard the doorbell ring. She walked to the door. “Rita?” she called.
“Yup,” Rita said. “I brought coffee.”
Catherine laughed. “Then you can definitely come in.”
Rita handed her the covered cup of coffee. “Did you pick up the pool car?”
“I did,” Catherine said. “It looks like something out of The Blues Brothers, but it’ll do.”
“Are we on a mission from God?” Rita asked drolly.
Catherine laughed. “Worse. We’re on a mission from Joe.” She picked up her heavy coat, notepad and tape recorder. “Let’s see if Mr. Mueller will let us into his house long enough to interview him.”
Vincent found he was unable to sleep after Catherine left, so he padded into the kitchen. The ovens were cool and no lights were lit or turned on, but the dimness was pleasant. He waited for the coffee to finish percolating, and saw a work request posted to the large bulletin board outside the entrance to the kitchen. Warren, seeking help with the joining of his chamber with Lena’s and the expansion of Katie’s bedroom. Kanin and Cullen had already signed up, and Vincent added his name to the list. He smiled and noticed the nearly illegible scrawl; Mouse, too, had volunteered.
He walked back to the chamber he and Catherine shared, finding it strangely empty. How odd, he thought, looking around the antechamber, I've lived here all my life and it's her presence or absence that changes how I view my world. How I view....everything.
“Ah, good morning, Vincent,” Father said from behind him. “Catherine is gone already?”
“Yes. She had to go to New Jersey to interview a witness.”
“Nothing dangerous, I hope?”
“No, I don't think so,” Vincent said, though the fear was a stone in his heart. “She's not going alone. She should be quite safe.”
Father nodded. “It's early yet. Could I interest you in a chess game?”
“I'd like that,” Vincent answered.
“Ugh,” Rita said as they stopped for what seemed the thousandth time. “When are they going to invent a transporter?”
“I hear you,” Catherine replied. “This traffic is insane.” And it was; it felt like they'd traveled two miles in the last hour. “Rita, can you see if there's an accident or something? Maybe there's an alternate route.”
“You mean, besides us walking to New Jersey?” Rita asked, grinning. She turned the dial on the radio. “Here you go.”
A few minutes later, after the traffic report had ended, Catherine sighed. “No accident and no detour. I guess we just keep...plodding along.”
“Yeah,” Rita said.
“How did Allen's talk with his family go?” Catherine asked, as she kept a wary eye on the merging cars.
“Not well,” Rita answered. “His mom came up with the old, 'If you love me, you would...' She talked about tradition, about how it was his duty to continue in the family firm. Never mind he's miserable. And she blamed me, pretty much as I thought.”
“I'm sorry,” Catherine said, and thought of Vincent and the similar decision he would also be faced with one day. “What did Allen say?”
“He told her he was still leaving the firm at the end of the month, long enough to tie up his cases and transfer them to the other attorneys.” Rita looked out the window. “She told him if he left, he wouldn't receive any inheritance from her at all.” She laughed. “I don't think it bothered him nearly as much as she'd counted on, but Allen hasn't ever been the type to rely on an inheritance.”
At least Father isn't going to cut Vincent off, Catherine mused. “It sounds like he made the right choice, then.”
“Oh, yes. Marco could have told them that.”
“My kid brother. He was failing Civics last year until Allen stepped in and made it understandable for him. He ended up pulling a C—which isn't great, but which is pretty good considering he was going to fail the class. He graduates from high school next spring.” She paused. “You ever see someone who was meant to do something? That's Allen. He was meant to be a teacher.”
Catherine's mind flashed back to a class she'd watched Vincent teach late one afternoon before they were married. She had left work early for a dental appointment and on a lark, had come Below once it was over. She had found Vincent on the floor with a dozen of the tunnel children gathered around him---Ezra, Samantha, Eric, Kipper, Geoffrey, Paul, Jessica, Riona, Heather, and others whose names she didn't yet know---listening as he guided them through Cry, the Beloved Country. He surely had been aware of her presence, but his entire attention had been on his students, answering their questions and challenging them to come to their own conclusions. “I know someone...just like him,” she answered.
“The rock looks softer here,” Kanin said, as he ran an expert hand down a wide swath of Warren's wall. “I think this would be a good place to make an entrance between your chambers.”
Lena grinned up at her fiance. “Bet you never saw that coming when we became neighbors, did you?”
Warren smiled at her. He was easily a foot taller than Lena, but Vincent saw the love and affection as he gazed down at Lena. “Nope, sure didn't. Will it be possible to enlarge Katie's room too?”
“I don't see why not,” Kanin said. “It'll be easier to do it when we're joining your chambers. With any luck, we should have it done by your wedding.”
“When is the wedding?” Cullen asked.
“Early January,” Lena told him. “Between Thanksgiving, Winterfest, and Christmas, the holidays are so busy around here.”
“That they are,” Cullen agreed. “We should have more than enough time—don't you think so, Kanin?”
Kanin nodded. Vincent studied the notations he'd written on a drawing taped to the wall and absently calculated the approximate man-hours it would take when something...a chill of unease...fear...shot through their bond. His breath froze, his vision greying to the headlights of a car, the swirling of snow. Catherine?!?
There was a touch on his arm: Cullen. The man's alarm and concern flooded through the contact. “Vincent? You all right? Is it Catherine?”
He managed to shake his head. “She's well, for now.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded raspy and hollow, as if coming from a great distance.
“Then what...?” Cullen began.
“I don't know!” Vincent said, trying to keep from snarling. “Forgive me,” he continued, and tried to force some calm. “I don't...understand what I'm sensing.”
He bolted for the chamber entrance, but Kanin's warning brought him up short. “Vincent, it's daylight up there. You can't go Above.”
Vincent nodded, the words lost in the jetsam of feeling. And fled, not knowing or caring where he went.
“Looks like this is the place,” Catherine said.
Rita glanced at the addresses. “I think so.”
Catherine parked the car and they climbed out, their breath cooling in the frigid air. Snow lay in drifts against the neat row of houses, piled in miniature mountains away from doors and sidewalks. “Ah, springtime in New Jersey,” Rita quipped, and Catherine laughed.
They stopped at the last house on the block, a small yellow house with black shutters. The snow hadn't yet been shoveled, Catherine noticed. She remembered Herman Mueller's physical therapy appointment and wondered if he had any help. She reached up to knock just as the door swung open and the angry, florid face of Mr. Mueller greeted them. “Dammit, Mickey, if you'd show up on time....” He glanced down at the two of them. “You're not Mickey.”
Catherine shook her head. “No. I'm Catherine Chandler with the District Attorney's office. This is Rita Escobar. You talked to us on the phone?”
“Yeah, I did, but I'm not in the mood right now.”
“Herman, don't be such a grouch,” a woman's voice called from inside the house. “Remember your manners and let them in, for heaven's sake. It's freezing out there.”
He opened the door enough for them to enter. The living room was small, sparsely furnished. Family photos decorated the walls. “Thank you,” Catherine said. “As I was saying---“
“I don’t have time for this,” Mr. Mueller growled. “Marge, you want to talk to them, you talk. I’m done.”
Marge grabbed her husband by the arm. “Now, Herman. You promised these nice ladies you’d let them ask you some questions. I was there, I heard you say it.” She paused. “There's coffee ready and the cookies are cooling. Why don’t you sit down and make yourselves at home?”
Catherine glanced at Rita. “Sure,” Rita answered. “That sounds wonderful.”
They seated themselves on the couch; Herman sat opposite them, one hand resting on his cane. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” he said. “I’m not a contractor anymore.”
“You retired,” Rita said. “That doesn’t mean---“
“Sure, if that’s how you'd describe it,” Herman retorted. He stretched out his leg, enough for Catherine to see that it had been seriously damaged and was not yet fully healed. “My leg got crushed in…an accident.”
“Some accident,” Marge put in from the kitchen. “A pallet just happens to fall on you.”
Catherine took out her notepad and saw Rita do the same. “Why don’t we start from the beginning, Mr. Mueller? When did you first meet Max Avery?”
After a lengthy, indeterminate period of time, Vincent looked up and realized he was on the ledge overlooking the Chamber of the Falls. The grip of the precognitive vision had lessened somewhat; he no longer felt as if he might drown in its throes. But his fear for Catherine ground like glass shards in his throat; she was too far…too far…and there was nothing, nothing at all he could do.
“Ah, Vincent, there you are,” a voice said.
Father. Come all this way, Vincent thought. He must be worried. “I’m here.”
“Cullen said you were….”
Disturbed? Terrified? Concerned?
“…that there was an…incident…today. Do you want to talk about it?”
Vincent glanced down the carved rock steps, knowing Father had needed to shout to be heard over the roar of the water, that only ears like his would have heard anything at all. He nodded.
It was quieter at Father’s level, the roar of water only a slight murmur. “What happened?” Father asked.
“I had a…vision…that Catherine was in danger,” Vincent said.
“And is she?”
“She might be. But it’s daylight Above still.” He clenched his fists as the helpless feeling rose again in him.
There was a shallow natural ledge at the lower level; Kanin had carved it to be a bit wider since his return. “Vincent, let's sit down,” Father said.
Once they sat down, Father continued, “You believe you had a precognitive vision. But you've been worried about Catherine being hurt where you couldn't help her. Is it possible that---”
Vincent stood, anger roiling, battling the urge to pace, a snarl threatening to emerge in spite of long years of discipline. This, again. Why is it always what I know that is questioned and disbelieved? “Why can't you believe what I'm telling you?”
“Vincent, calm down. These visions are real to you, but there might be another basis for them. That's all I'm trying to say. Tell me what you saw.”
He related the vision---the swirling of snow, the glare of headlights, the hiss of twisted metal---and when he’d finished, he was conscious of Father’s gaze, acceptance and concern in the grey eyes. “I don’t know what to say,” Father said at length. “But what do you think you can do now? She’s surely on her way back here, or will be soon.”
Precognition. From the Latin precognere, to know before. What good is the knowledge if I can’t help her? If I can’t prevent her from being hurt? “I hope so,” Vincent said and sank onto the bench once more.
When they left the Mueller household, it was just past noon. “You’ve been of great help, Mr. Mueller. Thank you. We’ll be in touch once it gets closer to the preliminary exam. In the meantime, here’s my business card. If you have any questions, please contact me,” Catherine said.
The older man slowly raised himself out of his chair, and his wife stepped close to help him. “Will you need his testimony?” Marge asked. “He doesn’t travel well.”
“I travel fine,” Herman protested. “It’s that I don’t want to go into the city, not if I can help it.” He glanced down at his leg. “I've seen what Avery's reach can do.”
“I know what we're asking of you both,” Catherine said. “But if you want to put Max Avery away---if you want him behind bars where he can’t hurt anyone ever again---you have to testify in open court. Your statement won’t be enough; the defense attorney has the right to cross-examine you.”
“Huh,” Herman said. “He has the rights and me, I’ve got a bad back and a leg that ain’t ever gonna be right and I can’t do a job I loved. Where’s the justice in that?”
“I understand,” Catherine told him, thinking again of Jack Sweeney, miles away from all he and his family had once known and loved. “And I’m sorry. But…”
Unexpectedly, his craggy face softened. “But it’s just the way things are. I know.”
Marge glanced out the window. Snow was falling once again, and a bitter wind was beginning to blow. “It’s looking ugly out there. Do you ladies want to call your husbands or your office to let them know you’ll be late?”
“We're not expected back at work today,” Catherine said, smiling at her. “And my husband is…out of town, right now. Did you need to call Allen, Rita?”
“He’s working late again tonight,” Rita replied. “But thank you, anyways.”
“You two drive safe now,” Marge said.
“That went very well,” Rita said as they started the car. The heater kicked in almost immediately, welcome against the bracing cold.
“I thought so too,” Catherine replied, feeling again the fear and unease that had skittered through their bond during the interview. Vincent. His warning had reached her across a continent once; she knew far better than to discount whatever was making him so uneasy.
“I was surprised he talked to us,” Rita continued. “I really thought he’d throw us off the front step.”
Catherine nodded. “I wouldn’t give odds on Mickey---whomever he is---getting the same courtesy, though.”
They were just outside the city when Catherine noticed the car; a grey Ford sedan with its lights on bright in spite of the swirling snow. “He’s close, isn’t he?” Rita asked.
“Sure is,” Catherine said, and switched lanes. The car followed, too close for safety, but thanks to the lights, she couldn’t see the face of the other driver.
The car continued to follow them until they merged onto the freeway. Catherine slowed, cautious of black ice and snow. He’s following us. And I can’t pass him safely, or speed up. Maybe he'll follow me to the police station, assuming I can find one.
Almost as she had the thought, Catherine felt the hard slam against their rear bumper. The car began to fishtail, then spin; she steered into the skid but the tires slid on a patch of ice and the car fell into a shallow embankment. Her last sense, before the darkness rose up to meet her, was the roar of agony.
Oh, Vincent, I’m sorry…
Click here for Chapter 30...
 “As Once the Winged Energy of Delight,” Ranier Maria Rilke