Chapter 63: The Flames of Twilight Fought On 
Catherine reached her desk early on Monday, fully intending to get a jump on the week’s schedule of court appearances and motions before the phones started ringing off the hook. I know I left this desk clean, she thought, but the files towering on her desk bore Joe’s scrawled notations. He’s here early, then.
And sure enough, he came barreling out of the office like hounds were nipping at his heels. “Morning, Joe,” she called after him.
He jumped, startled. “You here this early? Again? You bucking for my job?”
“Hardly,” Catherine said dryly. “I’m covering some hearings for Peter Benitez this week, remember? Thought it might be a good idea if I at least read the case files first.”
“Good idea,” Joe agreed. He folded his arms. “You got a minute?”
“Not here,” he replied and Catherine recalled his real concerns that his office could be bugged. “Come on, let’s get some coffee downstairs.”
Catherine waved at Frank behind the counter, and picked up their coffee from the kiosk. “Okay, Joe, what gives?”
He balled up his napkin, fidgeted with the white plastic lid of his cup. “All right, you know the mess Moreno’s left us all in.”
She took a cautious sip of Frank’s strong coffee. “I’m not likely to forget, no. What about it?”
“When he was charged, I agreed to step in until a replacement could be found.” He grimaced. “I got a call from the governor’s office this morning. They want to appoint me to serve out the rest of Moreno’s term and have the election when it’s over.”
“And Moreno had just been re-elected the year he was arrested,” Catherine replied. “Oh, Joe.”
“Yeah. And…I don’t want this job, Cathy. I don’t play politics well, and the committees and the press and…three more years of this? This wasn’t why I went to law school.”
Catherine thought of Vincent, of Father, of the decision Vincent would one day have to make. They lived in such disparate worlds, but they had so much in common…“You weren’t so reluctant a couple of years ago,” she probed gently, remembering how much he'd seemed to desire a higher office. “What changed?”
Joe ran a hand through his dark hair. “I’ve had political ambitions, but I wasn’t ready to run. I thought, maybe five or ten years but…Cathy, this was forced on me. I didn’t get to choose whether this was the right time or not. And now I know: I’m just a prosecutor. I’m not cut out to be a politician too.”
“Have you given the governor your answer?”
“Not yet. He gave me the week,” Joe answered. “I’m still not sure what I’m going to tell him.”
“What are your options?” she asked.
“I take the job until the term is up, and then hopefully someone will be elected who really wants it and I can go back to being a trial attorney.”
“And if you refuse?”
“I can pretty much kiss the rest of my career goodbye. You don’t say no to the governor. I could find myself back to prosecuting misdemeanors again.”
Catherine grimaced, remembering the three month stint she’d done in misdemeanors right after she was hired. “Ugh. Long weekends and cigarette smoke. Don’t remind me.”
Joe’s easy grin surfaced. “Okay, I won’t. But you know what I mean, Radcliffe. I don’t want to do the job…but how can I say no?”
She took another sip of her coffee. “My friend Nancy gave me a good piece of advice. ‘Follow your heart.’ What does your heart say to do, Joe?”
The napkin was nearly shredded; Joe pitched it into the nearby trash. “I don’t know.”
Vincent looked up from the map Santos had brought with him—a map of the location of various manhole covers and access points of the city’s underground. “Public Works will not notice,” Santos had said, “besides, this is a copy.”
“Thank you,” Vincent replied and unfurled a much older map, scrawled in three very familiar hands---his own, Winslow’s more slanted handwriting, and Simon’s uneven notations. “We know of this area,” he said, gesturing to a honeycombed network of caverns to the northeast. “It’s a site we once considered for expansion.”
“What stopped you?” Santos asked as he compared the two maps. “It looks like there's easy access through some of the streets in East Harlem.”
Father tapped the area with the stem of his eyeglasses but his eyes were haunted. “We had some...difficulties…when we last explored there.”
Santos raised his grizzled eyebrows. “I...see. The area is off-limits, then?”
The name had not been as much as spoken in the years since his demise, yet Vincent felt the cold chill of the spectre again: Paracelsus. “Yes,” he said by way of explanation. “There is...there was...another community, led by a man who...”
“He died,” Father interjected bluntly. “Until his death, we were plagued by occasional encounters with him or his followers.”
Santos rubbed arms briskly. “Deus. Evil, yes?”
“Yes,” Vincent agreed, though the word seemed insufficient for all Paracelsus had been or done. “My companions and I were fortunate to escape with our lives during our earlier exploration of this area nearly twenty years ago. The rock-slides might have been accidents but...”
“You don't believe that,” Father said.
“No,” Vincent replied, remembering. It had taken them nearly a week to return, working their way around the various rock-slides which had closed off their normal return routes. Winslow had broken his arm and Simon hadn't fared much better. “No, I don't.”
“Then we will look somewhere else,” Santos replied. “Show me where you want me to survey...someplace safe for your community to grow.”
Safety, Vincent mused. Was there safety to be had below, even with Paracelsus dead and gone? His community still existed, though without his malice to lead them, it was impossible to know how much of a threat they still were. How far did they dare explore? His eye fell on a clustered network of tunnels closer to the main hub, and one of the few which was not marked with Simon's notation indicating a lack of ventilation. “This is a possibility. Looks like there's some access through streets in the west 60s.”
Father rubbed his chin. “Why did we not explore in that area before, then? It's certainly close enough.”
The map was old enough for some of the penciled notations to be faded and nearly illegible, even with his eyes. Vincent cautiously angled the candle towards the map. “Simon wrote here that it was too far from the main water supply to be of use.”
“But it's no longer so, yes?” Santos put in. “Matthew has repaired your pipes.”
“He's repaired some of them,” Father said. “The ones which contributed to our pipe rupture earlier in the winter.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Vincent, we should bring Angus into the discussion. If there’s a way to patch into the water system, this could be a real possibility.”
“We should also speak to Matthew as well,” Vincent suggested. “If we’ll need additional parts---”
“We’ve asked enough of Matthew,” Father said, suddenly terse, and Santos looked between the two of them, obviously confused. “Whatever needs to be done, we’ll do without his help.”
“I don’t understand,” Santos said quietly. “Matthew is a contractor, yes? Can you make the new lengths of pipe on your own?”
The muscles in Father’s jaw tightened---on the verge of an explosion, Vincent realized, stunned, as the waves of anger buffered him. “It’s not that simple, Santos,” Vincent interjected gently.“Matthew’s work on the pipes after their rupture was an emergency, a case of dire need. This…is not. And we try not to ask too much of our helpers. Even you.”
Santos nodded and Father subsided, the tumult of his feelings gone as if it had never been. “Will you call Angus?” Father asked. “I’d prefer to have his opinion on this soon.”
Vincent nodded and rose to bang out a message on the pipes.
“I never saw the driver of the other car, Det. Grier,” Catherine said. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t help you.”
There was a pause on the line and Catherine rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had been on the phone with the detective for almost an hour and yet he remained insistent that she must have seen something. “There were two men in the car,” he said. “Are you sure that doesn’t jog your memory?”
“Two men?” she asked. “No, I didn’t see either of them.”
The detective sighed. “We have the driver in custody and he’s singing like a canary. But he’s refusing to identify the other man in the car…the man whom we believe was supposed to be the actual hit-man. I was hoping if you and Miss Esteban---”
It took her a moment to realize he was speaking about Rita. “Her last name is Escobar. Rita Escobar.”
“Right,” the detective said, sounding unconcerned. “Her. Anyway, I was hoping if either of you saw him clearly…”
“I don’t know what Rita saw, but for myself…I didn’t see either of them.”
“And you’re sure about that?”
I’ve repeated myself four times at least, Catherine thought. “Yes,” she replied, keeping her tone even with some difficulty. “Is there anything else?”
“No, I guess that will be it. If you remember anything else, please give me a call.”
She hung up the phone and leaned her head forward into her hands. Just as she was closing her eyes, the phone rang again. “Catherine Chandler,” she said.
“Hello, Ms. Chandler. This is Susan Mueller.”
Catherine remembered her, a silver-haired grim figure on the other side of Herman Mueller’s bed in hospice. A nurse herself, she had held her brother’s hand during his videotaped testimony when Marge Mueller's emotions had become too strong for her to stay. After his testimony, he'd seemed to rally enough to go home and now... “Hello, Ms. Mueller. How may I help you?”
“My sister in law asked me to call you. My brother passed away at home last night.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Catherine said. “Thank you for calling me.”
“My sister in law wanted me to,” the other woman replied, almost brusquely. Her tone softened. “Marge, she has a good heart. She gave me a message for you: Herman wanted this, Ms. Chandler. She said she’ll call you in a week or so.”
“Thank you,” Catherine replied. “I’m so very sorry for your loss.”
She hung up the phone in time to hear the rustle of a bag---chocolate cheese nuggets, Catherine suspected---alert her to Joe’s presence. “Rough call?”
“Two of them,” she agreed. “Herman Mueller died last night.”
Joe closed his eyes briefly. “I’m sorry, Radcliffe. I know you liked him.”
She nodded. “I did. It took a lot of courage to do what he did.”
Vincent stepped into the commons after his meeting with Santos, Angus and Father. He was conscious of the increased intensity of Catherine’s feelings; normally they were a background murmur, as much a part of him as his heartbeat, but now there was a sense of deep sorrow mixed with determination. He wished briefly for the clarity of their connection as they had experienced it in Connecticut; at least then he could know for certain what was wrong. She was in no danger---that much, he knew---but….I am here and she is there.
He filled his mug of coffee and turned to see Mary and Santos enter the commons together. There was nothing at all untoward or unusual, but their body language told a story all its own: Santos’ light touch on Mary’s back as they took their places in line, the careful way he filled her coffee mug first with the exact amount of milk Mary favored.
“You needn’t smirk so much,” Mary said fondly as she sat down next to him.
“I wasn't smirking,” Vincent replied, trying and failing to keep the small smile off his face.
“Of course not,” she returned mildly. “Santos is getting our stew. Is there…do you…?”
“I have nothing to say,” Vincent replied. “Only that I’m glad to see you happy.” He paused, studying her, noticing the widening strands of silver in her hair---when had that happened? “You are happy?” He hardly needed to ask; her joy was a bright glittering light.
“He’s a good man,” Mary replied, touching his hand briefly. “I’m not…” Her hands tightened around her mug---hands which had combed his hair, hugged him and soothed him as a young boy. She was the only mother he’d ever known. “This is all so new. I never thought this could happen for me.”
Vincent saw the other man’s eyes scan the crowd for Mary, noticed how his face lit up when he found her. “If I had to guess,” he said quietly, “he feels the same.”
Catherine sagged against him almost as soon as her feet touched tunnel earth. “It’s been a day,” she said, “and I missed you terribly.” She bit her lip. “Herman Mueller passed away.”
The sorrow he’d sensed now had an explanation. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured.
“I can’t let it be for nothing,” Catherine said. “When I last spoke to him, he was so confident he was going to beat this thing and see Max Avery sent to prison. Now…” she rubbed her eyes. “I’m just tired, Vincent. Don’t mind me.”
“Your burdens are mine,” Vincent replied. “As you reminded me not too long ago.” He took her hand. “Would you like to light a candle for him in the Cathedral?”
“Yes, I think…he would like that.”
Hand in hand, they walked to the Cathedral.
Click here for Chapter 64....
 “I Remember You as You Were,” by Pablo Neruda
1 day ago