Chapter 52: All the World to Me 
Joe squeezed himself into a narrow restaurant booth. The diner was crowded and loud at the height of the lunch hour, and he relaxed somewhat. “So what can you tell me?”
Greg Hughs looked up as he sat down. “Not a whole lot. We’ve got a tracer unit on her phone; she’s had five phone calls in the week since she…disappeared…all of them disconnecting before we could get a trace. No messages. I drove by Rita's house and it's definitely being watched. I also checked that brownstone Cathy bought and so far, it's not being watched, though I think that's because it's obviously uninhabited.” He looked up as the waitress delivered their menus, then waited until she walked away. “You have any idea where Cathy is?”
Joe eyed the other man carefully. They’d known each other for years, had worked together since his first cases at the DA’s office, and he knew Greg was as honest as the day was long. But then, I knew that about John Moreno too, he thought sourly. “No. She wouldn’t tell me where she was going and…well, you know Cathy.”
Greg laughed. “Yeah, I do. Hey, I meant to ask...where'd you get her keys?”
“Cathy gave them to me for emergencies after that nutcase damn near killed her out in the woods. Said it would save her the cost of a few doors.” Joe fiddled with his straw. “And are you sure you don’t mind…?”
The other man shrugged. “Cathy’s good people. And I don’t much like the good guys being threatened. I was able to pull a few strings to get the tracing equipment---much more than that, though, and there’s gonna be questions I might not be able to answer.”
Joe nodded. “Just keep it as quiet as you can for as long as you can. The Rotolos got to a sitting DA; no telling who else they might have gotten to.”
“Yeah, I hear you. And I’ll keep my ears open too.”
Catherine looked up as Vincent entered the study. “Are you ready?”
She smiled. “For an afternoon spent canning? It has to be more interesting than reading these transcripts.”
Vincent chuckled. “Don’t count on it. It’s a lot of work but…necessary.”
She closed the notebook containing almost all her notes on the Avery case and stood up. “Well, then, let’s get to it.”
“You might want to tie your hair back,” Vincent suggested. Only then did she notice that his was pulled back into a long thick ponytail, bright copper against the worn leather of his vest. The strong column of his neck, the strangely delicate earlobes, were revealed by the change in hairstyle. “It gets very hot in the kitchen when we're all working,” he went on and she smiled inwardly. Not to mention when you wear your hair like that.
Pulling her attention back to the matter at hand by force of will, Catherine remembered their housekeeper, Helen, canning jams and preserves. Helen had never let her do much more than watch the process, but it had always been warm when she canned. “Right,” she agreed and pulled her hair into a ponytail.
The corridors seemed strangely empty as they walked, though the usual ricochet of messages continued to clank on the pipes. “Where is everyone?”
“In the kitchen, or in the stockroom for the most part, or helping William with the cooking,” Vincent answered. “We all take turns helping---even if it's nothing more complicated than keeping an inventory of what's going into the stockroom or putting the jars on the shelves, there's always a job for someone.”
She rolled up the sleeves of her flannel shirt---an older, smaller one of Vincent's, worn, but comfortable. “Well, then, lead on.”
Marisol greeted them at the entrance to the commons. “Glad you're here, Vincent,” she said after a quick hug for Catherine. “William and Father will be having their…discussion again, I’m sure.”
Vincent folded his arms, a look of arch amusement crossing his face. “The lists, again?”
“The lists,” Marisol confirmed. “Frankly, Father needs someone at least as stubborn as he is to deal with him...at least before William blows a gasket.”
“The lists?” Catherine asked, looking from one to the other.
“Father wants the inventory lists organized alphabetically; William wants them organized by food type, since that's how they are in the stockrooms,” Marisol explained, and smiled. “Father has his own ideas, of course.”
“And every year, there is this eternal debate,” Vincent said. “It's become...sort of a running joke. Last year, we had Pascal call Father out on some 'strange noise' on the pipes, and by the time he returned....”
“The lists were organized as William wanted?” Catherine guessed.
Marisol nodded. “Si. But I doubt that'll work this year.”
“Yeah, I don't see Father falling for the same thing twice,” Catherine agreed. She glanced at the two of them, a pair of unlikely conspirators. “So what's the plan? If you have to distract Father, who's going to do it?”
Marisol sighed and looked at Vincent. Vincent briefly raised his eyes heavenward. “Oh, I see,” Catherine said, grinning.
Vincent took her hand. “The game's afoot, it would seem.”
Joe glanced at the note on his desk. It had arrived earlier in the week, a short note written on heavy bond paper, like his grandmother used to use. Joe—I'm safe. Radcliffe. Which was fine, in that he hadn't expected her to write a long letter from where she was, wherever she was, and he was glad to know she was all right. But the niggling questions just wouldn't be stopped---how had the letter arrived? He'd stepped out to buy a soda from the kiosk downstairs just as the sandwich guy was showing up, and when he'd returned, there was both a sandwich he hadn't ordered on his desk and this note, folded into neat thirds right under it. The sandwich guy? Naaahhh...it couldn't be. Could it? What's his connection to Cathy?
He leaned back in his chair, thinking. There were---there always had been---many things about Cathy's life which just didn't add up, starting with her ten-day disappearance in the aftermath of her assault. He'd read the initial police reports as part of her background check and found them...perplexing, putting it mildly. But Moreno had wanted her hired---best thing that SOB ever did---and Joe had shoved his doubts into a far corner. Later, she'd become his friend and there had been no good way to ask Cathy---upright, honest, fierce---if she'd lied to the police. So he hadn't.
She also had a surprising knack for turning up witnesses, something he'd hardly have expected from a pampered former corporate lawyer. Witnesses who had every reason in the world not to trust the police or attorneys, trusted her. And there were other mysteries too---times she'd disappeared for days on end, only to reappear with just the right witness, just the evidence they'd needed. It was nothing short of remarkable. She was nothing short of remarkable.
There were other questions too---who had rescued her from that sinking car in the lake? Someone surely had, and if Cathy didn't know...The rubber band he'd been playing with snapped in his hand, stinging. She knew. She knew and was protecting whoever it was. Why? Cathy's keys---two for the deadbolts, one for the lock---rested inside his pocket, but at the moment, they felt heavy far beyond their actual weight.
Joe knew he could go to her apartment and dig through her things, and try to find an answer to all the mysteries, all the careful stories when he'd sensed he hadn't been told the full truth. But he wouldn't. Cathy trusted him. He opened a desk drawer and placed the keys and the note inside it and resolutely ignored them both. There was work to be done.
The canning room was located in a wide, long space right off the main kitchen. Large cauldrons rested in the center of the floor; steam coiled from the bubbling water and rose through the natural ventilation shafts in the high arched ceiling. Catherine could just barely hear the clink of glass---canning jars, she thought---as they bumped against each other in the hot water. Boxes of canning jars were stacked on one table and Catherine watched as Valerie and Lena opened the boxes and set the jars into a neat row, unscrewing the caps and setting them aside. “So where do I start?”
“Best start with the jars,” Marisol said with a wink. “Without them, we won’t have anything to can with.”
Catherine nodded and Marisol guided her over to the table. “Ah, Marisol found a new victim, I mean, volunteer, did she?” Valerie teased.
“Guilty,” Catherine said, chuckling. “What are you doing?”
“Getting the jars ready to be sterilized,” Lena said as she made room for Marisol on the long bench.
Catherine studied the jars, which seemed far newer than almost anything else in the tunnels. “Aren't they already clean?”
“Yeah,” Valerie said. “Out of the box, they sure are, but they need to be sterilized before any food goes into them.”
“Got it,” Catherine replied. “Any particular way I should line them up?”
Valerie shook her head. “No. Whatever works is fine. The jars on that table”---and she pointed to a long table just outside the entrance to the kitchen--- “have already been sterilized; these are waiting to go in.”
About midway through her second box, a booming voice echoed from the kitchen. “Hot stew ready!” The assembled crowd picked up the cleaned jars and went into the kitchen.
“You’ll be hearing that a lot today,” Marisol said dryly. “From what I hear, he’s got jams, a couple of preserves and some vegetable stew ready to can.”
Valerie cut open a fourth box of jars with quick, deft motions. “It’ll be nice to have the stew later on, though.”
“How long does canned food last?” Catherine asked, unscrewing the tops.
“If you do it right, a hundred years,” Marisol said. “But nothing here lasts that long, not with all of us.”
The afternoon wore onto early evening and slowly, the once-empty tables began to fill with jars labeled and ready for the stockroom. The canning crews had rotated a few times in the last hours: Lena had left and been replaced by Warren, who was helping Vincent maneuver the large cauldrons back into the kitchen. Livvy had replaced Kanin at filling the jars and Jamie, Rhys and Jeremy, freshly released from their sentry duties, were now loading the canned jars onto carts destined for the storage rooms.
Catherine stood and arched her back and saw Vincent emerge from the kitchen only to be involved in an earnest discussion with Father. Marisol followed Catherine’s glance. “Oh, here we go.”
“The inventory lists?” Catherine asked as she sat back down.
“What else?” Marisol replied as she attached a label to the latest group of canned jars---winter squash, Catherine noticed, thinking of Gertrude’s gardens. “It’ll be interesting to see who wins this one,” Marisol went on. “Vincent and Father are more than a match in terms of stubbornness.”
“You don’t say?” Catherine said dryly and Marisol laughed. “I forget you know them so well.”
“Well enough to know that ‘stubborn’ hardly covers it,” Catherine said, grinning, and began to fill out her own set of labels. She looked around. “Where’s Mouse?”
“Banned from canning,” Valerie answered. “Or rather, Arthur is, but since Arthur goes where Mouse goes…”
“Do I even want to know the story behind that one?” Catherine asked.
“A few years back, we’d gotten a surplus of fruit from one of our helpers who owned a farm upstate,” Valerie began. “Fruit was sometimes difficult to come by, especially in winter, so William decided we needed to can the lot of it. He’d just cooked it down into a jelly---”
“Strawberry jelly,” Marisol put in. “It made the kitchen smell so good.”
“It did,” Valerie agreed. “And when William’s back was turned, Arthur snuck into the jam.”
“Caught red-pawed, as it were,” Marisol said, chuckling. “William was furious.”
Catherine laughed, picturing the scene. The sound of a raised voice distracted her—Father? All around her, heads turned to see Father nearly nose-to-nose with a flustered, surprised William. “The stockrooms don’t belong to you, William,” Father was saying, too loudly, not a trace of amusement in his tone. I thought this was a running joke, Catherine thought. Only then did she realize how utterly still the room had become----the others were as startled as she was. “You’re not the only one who has to find things in there.”
“But I’m the one who does the cooking---” William began.
“That doesn’t make you more important,” Father shot back with unexpected savagery.
Vincent stepped between them. “William. Father. This quarrel…stop it.”
“It’s not your concern,” Father retorted and a shocked hush fell over the room.
Even seated on the far side of the room, Catherine could hear the ominous rumble under Vincent’s words, feel his confusion and concern, the anger he controlled so fiercely. “If you’re going to act like a thwarted child,” Vincent said with a deceptive calm, “it is. If you two are going to…discuss…this matter, perhaps you might do so in private?”
William glanced between the two of them uneasily. “Come on, we've argued about this for years, it's not a serious thing, nothing worth really fighting over. If Father wants the inventory lists alphabetical, then…”
Father nodded in satisfaction and left, seemingly oblivious to the rush of murmuring. Catherine bit her lip, worried. This was not the man who’d offered such wise counsel not a week before, nor the leader who’d guided the tunnels through nearly forty years of adversity and danger. What’s really going on? she wondered and saw the same worries on Marisol’s face, on Valerie’s as they bent once again to their tasks. Something is very, very wrong.
A shadow fell over the table---Vincent, tense and concerned. Catherine capped her pen. “Is it okay if I take a break?”
“Go on,” Valerie said with a forced smile, casting a nervous glance where Father had once stood. “You’ve been here for hours. I think it’s time we all took a break.”
“What was that all about?” Catherine asked once they were back in their chamber, the solid wooden doors shut behind them.
Vincent sank down onto the couch in the antechamber, his head in his hands, a thousand thoughts tumbling over each other in his mind. “I’m…not sure,” he said slowly. “It’s so unlike Father to act this way. A disagreement is one thing, but this…tantrum. It’s not like him, not at all.”
“Is he…feeling all right?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Father doesn't discuss such things,” Vincent replied.
His hands clenched, the sharp nails biting deep into his skin. Catherine touched his hand. “Don’t, love.”
Vincent looked at her then, saw the understanding, her love. “No,” he said and forced his hands to unclench. “I don't know what to say, what to do. It's...uncharacteristic.”
“It is,” Catherine agreed. She looked down at their joined hands then back at him. “You’re going to have to talk to him, aren’t you? Everyone has their bad days, but if it’s more than that…you’ll know and can proceed from there.”
A dark rebellion rose---Why is it always my job?---and was quickly subdued between one breath and the next. There was, simply, no one else who could talk to Father and expect to get an answer. Peter was Father's oldest friend, but he was also a doctor and knowing Father's utter unwillingness to discuss his own health, Vincent didn't want to involve him unless there was some good reason. “You’re right,” Vincent said. “But I want to talk to the others first. It's possible there have been other...incidents I wasn't aware of.”
“How could that be?” Catherine asked, genuinely perplexed.
“I no longer...see him as much as I did.”
Catherine shook her head. “No, love. I won't believe that you---you of all people---would have ignored trouble with Father merely because you'd gotten married. That's not you.”
Vincent looked away for a time, guilt and fear roiling in his gut. If something was seriously wrong… “Perhaps.”
“There's no 'perhaps' about it, love,” Catherine replied firmly. “You have been busy—legitimately so---but if you'd sensed anything wrong, you'd have done your best to help. Whatever's going on, it's subtle...and not something you should blame yourself for missing.” She loosened the tie which had kept his hair tied back. “When will you talk to the others?”
The feeling of her hands in his hair was soothing and Vincent began to relax. “Soon, but not right now. You know how fast the rumor mill works here, Catherine. Doubtless there’s already a story of how Father and William challenged each other to a swordfight, or something equally outrageous. If I start asking questions…”
“You don’t want Father undermined,” Catherine said quietly.
“Yes,” Vincent said. “He still leads us. I don’t want anyone questioning his fitness to do so, or believing that I do, unless...”
Catherine wasn’t one for false reassurances and Vincent was grateful. “Whatever happens, whatever comes,” she said instead, “know that I love you.”
He looked up at her. “Quoting my words?”
“They’re good words,” she insisted, smiling. “Come on, love. Let’s get back to the canning.”
Click here for Chapter 53...
Click here for Chapter 53...
 Dar Williams, “I Have Been Around the World”