Chapter 56: May the Clay Dance to Balance You 
“So this guy, Martin Flores, gets arrested in a chop shop bust,” Greg said, nearly three weeks after
Catherine’s disappearance. “And one of my buddies over at the 27 calls me, said he wants to talk to me and no one else.”
“You’re kidding,” Joe said, looking across the table at the other man. “Is he an old collar of yours?”
“Yeah,” Greg replied, stirring his soup absently. “Years ago, though. He was a kid then; we’d busted an auto theft ring and there wasn’t enough evidence to tie him to the case, so we let him walk. I guess that’s why he remembered my name. Anyway, I went over to the 27 and he had this wild story to tell. Said his sister had just divorced a guy who told her he was a hitman for the Rotolos.”
Joe groaned. “Now that’s what I call hearsay. What else did he tell you?”
Greg leaned forward, voice low; no one walking by---or eavesdropping---would have heard a thing over the noise and clatter of the busy diner. “Flores told me his ex-brother-in-law was involved in a failed hit in New Jersey. And the target was ‘two lady DAs.’ That made me sit up and take notice.”
“And you think he’s credible?”
Greg snorted. “As credible as they usually are. He didn’t come to me out of the goodness of his heart; he wants a deal, of course. I made a few phone calls; between what Flores told us and the information we received from the police in New Jersey, it’s entirely possible he’s telling us the truth. It’s nothing that’ll hold up in court yet, but…”
Joe closed his eyes. If Cathy had lost control of her car… “You think he knows more?”
“Maybe, maybe not. You know how this all works; it’s always the low-level guys left hanging. It all depends on how much specific information Flores knows about his sister’s ex-husband…and how much he’s willing to tell. I’ve asked my contact in the Elizabeth PD to keep me informed as the investigation progresses.”
Joe nodded. “And your end of the…investigation---it’s still unofficial?”
“As unofficial as I can make it,” Greg assured him. “I…heard about the garage clerk. I don’t want that kind of trouble for Flores.”
Vincent’s birthday came while the steam pipes were being repaired, so his party was held in the commons for warmth. The children had been left in charge of the decorations and had even worked together in the kitchen to help William make a cake---though Catherine thought William might have described the experience as something other than helpful, to judge by the flustered look on his ruddy face. The decorations were makeshift and the gifts---a handmade afghan from Mary, bookmarks and drawings from the children---simple, but heartfelt.
Matthew, who’d been supervising the repairs, stopped in for a bit to get a slice of cake. “Where’s Father?” he asked.
Catherine poured some hot tea into a mug and gestured to the cluster of children sitting around Father’s chair. “If you hurry, you might be able to catch his story.”
“Which one is it this time?” Matthew asked as he took a bite of cake.
“I think the majority wanted to hear about the night Vincent was found,” Catherine replied, and the ache of the thought---Vincent, an infant, abandoned in the cold, left to die---surfaced again, as it had every time she’d heard the story. Who could do that to you? Why?
A strange look crossed Matthew’s face. “I think I’ll pass,” he said quietly, for her ears alone.
“Why?” she asked.
Matthew folded his arms and looked at the ground, then back at her. “One of these days, I’ll tell you. But once Father’s done, he and I need to have a chat.”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”
Matthew nodded. “He’s stubborn. You might have noticed?”
She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. “I…might have noticed it once or twice, now that you mention it.”
Matthew chuckled, though the humor didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Well, so am I. And this rupture didn’t need to happen.” He took a sip of the coffee. “How’s Vincent doing by the way?”
“Healing,” Catherine replied. “And”---she looked over her shoulder, where Vincent sat surrounded by yet another cluster of children, walking them through the beginning moves of chess---“resting, as he should be.”
“And if he wasn’t?” Matthew asked, teasing.
“I have my ways,” Catherine said dryly.
He smiled at her over the rim of his mug. “I’m sure.”
“How long will the repairs take, do you think?” she asked.
Matthew shrugged. “If we’re very fortunate and the new bypass system Mouse and I are working on actually works, maybe by this weekend; we're hoping to test the system tonight.” He sighed. “Some of those pipes were from my grandfather’s era; it’s a damn miracle they didn’t blow long before this.”
The frustration made his voice sharp and she saw Father’s head lift slightly, clearly hearing the tone if not the words. “Well, it’ll be fixed now for good.”
“Nothing ever stays fixed down here,” Matthew replied with a rueful shake of his head. “But they should last at least another twenty, thirty years so long as there’s proper maintenance.”
There was a time, Catherine reflected, when she wouldn't have noticed the slight emphasis he placed on proper maintenance. But that had been a time before the DA's office, before Vincent too, before she'd learned to hear the meanings hidden behind words. Matthew was troubled, and deeply so. “I think Father's almost done,” she said quietly.
Matthew finished the last of his cake. “It'll wait,” he said, and she sensed he was talking about more than just the timing of their discussion. “But not for long.”
The party concluded not long afterwards; William enlisted the help of the children to clean up his kitchen before lunch (“How on earth did you get flour up there, anyway?”) and Catherine and Vincent made their slow way back to their chamber. “You seem...concerned,” Vincent said quietly as he shut the door behind them. “Is something wrong?”
“Not with me,” she reassured him, though of course, he knew that already. “Matthew. He's worried.”
Vincent nodded. “I sensed...something of the sort. He's going to talk to Father?”
“Yeah,” Catherine said.
The pain in his ribs had lessened, to be replaced by a fierce aching itch as the bones healed. Vincent ignored the discomfort and instead, drew her down beside him on the old couch. “This...conflict between Matthew and Father isn't new.” At her inquiring look, he continued, “Matthew is one of our oldest helpers, and a contractor. Do you think he couldn't have replaced our pipes years ago?”
“Oh,” she replied. “Father wouldn't let him?”
“Father wouldn't even hear of the idea. You remember the discussions about the bridge repairs, how I told you Father wanted to spread the purchase of the materials over several months, and Matthew argued it was unnecessary and no one would notice? ” Vincent folded his arms. “There's always...tension here, Catherine, a tension between our ideals, our vision of ourselves as a self-supporting separate community and the help we have to accept from time to time. It's a line Father's walked for years and while I don't necessarily agree with his decisions---”
“Really?” Catherine put in dryly. “I would never have guessed.”
Her comment made him smile. “Regardless, I do see his point, even when I don't think he's right. We are not...a charity case.”
“No,” Catherine agreed. “And I can understand why he wouldn't want to be too reliant on the helpers. But Matthew thinks the rupture didn't need to happen.”
“He's likely correct,” Vincent answered, “though he and Father will disagree on how to prevent the next one. I expect we'll hear the results of that...discussion...over the next few days.”
“I see,” she replied. “There's so much going on here I never understood before.”
“How could you?” he asked. “It's not as if I ever told you about our squabbles before.”
“No, you didn't...but even with all the arguing, all the challenges, this is such a magical place.”
“It is,” Vincent said dryly. “Sometimes made more magical by the fact we've survived all these years.”
Catherine laughed. A speculative look crossed her face as she gazed at the closed door. “Vincent, what time is it?”
“Just before lunch. Why?”
“And the kids will be eating lunch before they return, right?”
He nodded. “Yes. And they're probably still helping William in the kitchen.” He reached out and cupped her chin in his hand. “What are you thinking?”
She smiled. “Well, you're feeling better---”
“And the children will be gone for at least an hour, probably more.”
She pressed a kiss to the inside of his palm. “I don't suppose we could...it's your birthday, after all.”
Vincent chuckled, enjoying the feeling of being able to laugh without the harsh pain that had plagued him for days. “We could.”
The feel of him...after...the long length of him, loose-limbed, relaxed...sated...Catherine brushed the wild copper strands of Vincent's hair away from his face and grinned up at him. “Still alive?”
He slowly rolled to his left side and smiled. “I believe so, yes.”
“That's good,” Catherine said. “I'd hate to have to call Father in to check on you.”
Vincent's breathy laugh still carried echoes of his earlier aroused rasp. “That might be an...interesting conversation.”
“No doubt,” she replied. She propped her head up on one hand. “We've got some time before the kids come back, right?”
“Some,” Vincent murmured. “Not forever, though. And from what I've heard from parents here, tunnel children have...radar.”
“Nancy says the same,” Catherine replied dryly. “I don't think it's just tunnel kids.”
Vincent yawned and stretched. The blankets slid still lower and she thought the stretch--- seemingly a bit longer than normal---might have been a gentle, if deliberate, provocation. “We probably shouldn't,” she began, as if he'd spoken aloud.
“Shouldn't what? Stretch?” Vincent asked, all innocence.
One of the bolster pillows had ended up within her arm's reach; she threw it at him and heard his deep, satisfied chuckle as he caught the pillow and stuffed it behind his head. In a swift movement Catherine wouldn't have expected given his healing injuries, Vincent pulled her on top of him. “So, you were saying? We shouldn't---” and Catherine felt the silkiness of the fur on the back of his hands, softer than velvet, brushing over her bare back--- “do this?”
His breath was warm at her neck, her ear. Time unwound, suspended in this moment. The earth might have stopped spinning or the sun stopped rising, but Catherine no longer cared. All her universe was him, in the arms that surrounded her and the intertwined heartbeats which anchored them both to the earth.
As it turned out, they hadn't---quite---missed lunch. They arrived at the commons just as William was placing the largest of the soup tureens on the long sideboard. “Stew took a little longer with all the kids in the kitchen,” he explained as he set the tureen down. “They'll be decent cooks in a few years, but right now, most of them are all thumbs. Now you all eat some of that before it gets cold.”
A line formed and Vincent and Catherine took their places just as Father and Matthew entered the commons. She glanced at the two men, wondering if their disagreement was solved, if it would escalate as Father's argument with William had a couple of weeks before. Their heads were bent together, apparently deep in conversation, but everything seemed calm. On the surface, at least, Catherine thought; she was under no illusions about how heated things could become, how fierce Father would be---how fierce he'd had to be---to preserve the tunnels, to keep this world and its people safe.
She was startled out of her musings by Vincent's low murmur. “Everything's all right for now,” he said. “Don't worry.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes...and no,” Vincent replied with his usual equanimity. “Matthew and Father have disagreed many times over the years, but they respect each other. They'll argue, they'll grumble but at the end of the day, or the week, they'll have come to a consensus.”
She nodded and they filled their bowls and made their way to the table. Father sat down next to them. “Vincent, Catherine, it's good to see you. Vincent, after lunch, I want to see how you're feeling.”
“I'm fine, Father,” Vincent insisted. “Truly.”
Father glanced at him over his glasses. “Yes, well, until you hang out your shingle, why don't you let me be the judge of that?”
Vincent raised an eyebrow at him and reached across the table for the pepper mill. His quiet catch of breath should have been nearly inaudible, but Father's eyes narrowed. “What have you been doing, Vincent? Overdoing it?” he demanded, somehow all the more forceful for not raising his voice.
Catherine thought Vincent might have blushed a bit, but in the torchlight, it was difficult to be certain. “Nothing, Father.”
“Uh-huh,” Father retorted. “Catherine, I thought you were going to keep him in bed, resting.”
A bed had certainly been involved, but....“Well, um...”
“She did keep me in bed,” Vincent said smoothly, but his thigh brushed her own under the table even as he tapped out a gentle rhythm. I'll handle this. “I merely...overextended myself. It's nothing.”
“Well, you can come see me after lunch so I can check on the 'nothing,' then,” Father began, unmoved. “Really, Catherine, I'm used to Vincent ignoring his health, but I expected better from you.”
Matthew chuckled. “Jacob. Leave them be.” Before Father could resume his rant, Matthew lifted his mug in salute. “Catherine, you've been admitted to a rare, select group. I salute you.”
“Oh, I have?” she asked, bemused.
“Yes,” Matthew responded. “There's only a few people he'll rant at. Welcome to the club.”
Click here for Chapter 57...
 “Bennacht/Blessings,” by John O'Donohue
 Chapter 38, “The Snow, Carefully Everywhere Descending”
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