Chapter 67: The Astonishing Light of Your Own Being 
Warmth at her neck---his heated breath, nuzzling. The soft waves of his hair as it brushed the open collar of her gown…the gentle brush of his furred hands. Catherine opened her eyes to see her husband curled next to her. “Good morning,” Vincent rumbled with his early morning rasp. “I was beginning to think I’d lost my touch.”
Her eyes focused on the long pillar of the wax candle on their dresser. It had only burned down a small amount since they’d lit it last night… “Vincent, it's not even dawn.”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “There’s something I want to show you.”
She studied him, all golden bronze in the light of the candles. The shadowed blue of his eyes was nearly cobalt and the faint impression of mischief crossed their bond. “What could you be planning, love?”
He handed her the robe she usually wore against the tunnels’ perpetual morning chill. “If you put on some shoes, I’ll show you.”
She sat up, reluctantly withdrawing from the comfort of the covers. “I better put on something heavier if we’re leaving this chamber.” She raised her eyebrows. “We are leaving this chamber?”
Vincent nodded and she noticed he was already dressed in what she’d come to think of as his “construction clothes”---heavy chambray shirt, jeans, and scuffed, scarred leather boots. “We’re going to the brownstone,” she guessed.
He smiled. “Maybe. Were you as persistent as a child?”
She tugged on a pair of jeans and a faded sweatshirt, her own boots. “I was more persistent, if you can imagine that.”
“I can,” Vincent replied, the chuff of amusement a gentle wave in their bond. “If we stop by the commons first, I’m reliably informed William has made coffee already.”
Catherine pulled her hair into a quick ponytail. “You’ve been up for a while.”
“Guilty,” he responded, utterly unrepentant. “What I have to show you required some…help. I couldn’t do it alone.”
Asking for help, recognizing he had the right to ask, was something Vincent only recently had begun to learn, and Catherine was touched that he’d done so on her behalf. “I’m intrigued. Lead on, Macduff.”
Catherine halted before the locked basement door of their brownstone. “Vincent, what…?”
“Ssssh,” he murmured and tapped out a quick rhythm on the pipes, too fast for her to follow. Almost immediately, an answering message rang back and the basement door opened.
Cullen grinned down at them, looking entirely too awake considering the hour, Catherine thought. “Mouse and I did a quick check---there’s no one outside this early. The sun will be up in a few minutes, though.” He tossed the set of keys at Vincent, who caught them in his left hand. “Have fun, you two.”
Vincent did nothing more than incline his head, but Catherine had the muted impression of delight---he was up to something, then. He stepped back into the shadows as Cullen opened the front door. “We'll lurk outside for a bit, just to be sure.”
Vincent nodded. “Thank you, Cullen.” The heavy door shut behind him and Vincent turned to her. “Shall we...go upstairs?”
They hadn't gone upstairs together in months; the initial restoration work had focused on the downstairs and only recently had work begun on the upper floors. Cullen and Kanin had carved the missing balusters on the staircase; and the steps and the balusters now awaited staining. The air was heavy with the scent of sawdust and new wood as they walked up the stairs.
When they reached the very top, Vincent turned. “Close your eyes,” he told her. “It's not far.”
He guided her down the hallway and by the creak of a door, Catherine realized they were inside one of the upstairs rooms. “Look,” he murmured. “Look.”
There was color everywhere, touching the walls, the scuffed, battered wood of the floors....everything. “We uncovered a stained glass window last week,” Vincent explained “It had been...plastered over all these years. When it was rehung, I thought...”
Vincent's hair was highlighted with a splash of blue light, layered with the faintest of green rays as the sun rose. The soft bristles on his face were tinted with just the smallest hints of red. “To see you in the sunlight,” he said hoarsely.
“Every morning,” Catherine whispered over the knot in her throat. “Every morning we could awake in this room and see...” She reached up to touch the untamed mass of his hair, turned a burnished copper as the sun rose. “You're beautiful.”
She remembered as if in the half-shadows of a dream, standing with him before the glory of a New York sunset...a sunset Vincent had never, until that day, ever seen. She had feared for him, for his utter weariness and defeated hopelessness...but even as his illness had escalated, his avowal had strengthened her for all that followed. “I love you,” she murmured against his shoulder.
Vincent gazed down at her and by the unusual brightness in his eyes, Catherine knew the same memories were in his own mind. He kissed the top of her hair. “There are other bedrooms on this floor but I thought, perhaps...”
“This one should be ours,” Catherine finished. “Yes. Oh, yes.”
They didn't linger in the brownstone overly long, just enough to watch the sunrise. As they descended into the main floor, Catherine cast a speculative glance on the area where their kitchen would one day be located. Boxes of tile and grout rested against the wall, as did a copy of the work schedule Cullen had written out. The sight of the kitchen—-and her own eventual work in it---brought another thought to her mind. “Vincent, when does William start cooking for the evening meal?”
“Usually about an hour or so after the dishes are cleaned from lunch. Why?”
“So he has time in between?”
Vincent stopped and eyed her. “What are you up to?”
“I've been thinking---”
She shook her head, smiling. “Yes, really. A total shock, I realize...anyway, with all the work which needs to be done, I thought I might talk to William and see if he can teach me some simple recipes to feed you all in the evenings. Maybe plug in a crock pot or two. I won't have everyone starve while they're working on our home.”
There was a certain reluctance, something almost like...embarrassment in their bond; Catherine thought if Vincent had been a small boy, he might have shuffled his feet and looked at the floor rather than meet her eyes. “Catherine, I....”
“...didn't think I could cook?” she said dryly. “I can see why, considering the size of my kitchen. And we usually get take-out when you come Above. But I can cook, I just...don't know how for large groups of people. That's why I want to talk to William. I'll need to know how much food to buy and so on.”
“Catherine, you don't---”
“I do,” she said firmly. “Vincent, let me help. I won't have the renovation of our house be a drain on the community's resources.”
Vincent took her hands in his own larger ones. “Catherine, you’re a part of the community. There’s no need---”
“There is,” she insisted. “I saw Cullen’s schedule. He’s got people in and out of here all hours of the night working.”
“Everyone on that list volunteered,” he put in mildly.
“So they did,” she agreed. “But they’ll be hungry after they finish, and either I feed you all or William will have to compensate somehow for the extra meals. Seems like it would be easier if we handled the meals here. That way, William doesn’t have to cook more, or raid the community stores for extra meals.” She smiled up at him. “What do you think?”
“I think…you’re very generous,” Vincent said, drawing her close. “But you also work a busy, demanding job during the day. How will you have enough time to prepare the meals?”
“Oh, well, if I can’t manage it in time,” she said, grinning up at him, “that’s what take-out is for.”
Rita intercepted her almost as soon as she walked into the door of the Criminal Courts building later that morning. Her mind was still a few hours away and the taste of cardamom and cinnamon---his taste---lingered from their kiss, and so, she almost didn’t hear Rita call her name. “Gosh, Cathy,” Rita said with a fond smile, “you looked like you were a thousand miles away.”
“Sorry, Rita,” Catherine replied, forcing her attention to the present with some difficulty. “What’s up?”
“Mrs. Mueller’s waiting in reception. She showed up first thing this morning and won’t talk to anyone else.”
“Nothing serious, I hope?” Catherine asked.
“She said no,” Rita answered. “She had a box with her, though.”
“A box?” Catherine mused. “I wonder what…” She took a sip of her coffee. “Let’s not keep Mrs. Mueller waiting.”
“So where did this box come from, Mrs. Mueller?” Catherine asked as they seated themselves in the vacant conference room.
The older woman fiddled with the handles of her purse, clearly uncomfortable. “I was…cleaning out some of Herman’s things last weekend when it arrived. I had to sign for it too. There was a letter from some attorney upstate taped to it.” Mrs. Mueller bit her lip. “Ms. Chandler, we aren’t…the kind of people who hire attorneys; Herman didn't even have a will. We’ve always led a very simple life, but then this….”
“May I see the letter?” Catherine asked.
“Oh, of course,” Mrs. Mueller said, taking it out of her purse. “I must have read it four or five times trying to make sense of it but then I thought…well, you’d know what to do.”
Catherine smiled. “I hope so, Mrs. Mueller.” She opened the letter and skimmed it briefly. It was from an attorney representing the estate of Aaron Geller---Max Avery’s accountant, Catherine recalled with a shock---indicating that he had been instructed to deliver the box to Herman Mueller once Max Avery was back in custody. My client believed Herman Mueller would see the contents of this box delivered to the proper authorities, the letter concluded. He believed his life was in danger and he knew Mr. Mueller to be an honest man.
“I don’t even know an Aaron Geller,” Mrs. Mueller said. “Who is he, Ms. Chandler?”
Catherine refolded the letter and handed it to Rita. “Mrs. Mueller, have you…looked inside the box at all?”
“No,” Mrs. Mueller replied. “My girls, they wanted me to get rid of it, said it must have been a mistake, but looking at that, I knew it wasn’t.”
“You’re right,” Catherine told her. “Rita, would you please see if Joe is available? He needs to see this.”
Some hours later, after Mrs. Mueller had received a police escort home, Joe replaced the lid on the box. “I don’t know what to say,” he said finally, balling up the fabric of his tie and tossing it to the far corner of the table. “Elliot Burch’s records were one thing, but this…it’s unreal. Critical evidence just doesn’t walk through the door---it’s like something out of James Bond!”
Catherine made a face at her mug—her coffee was ice cold---and nodded. “I know. Do you think we’ll be able to get any of it introduced as evidence in court? It’s not as if anyone can cross-examine the accountant.”
“Not this accountant, no,” Joe said, tapping the one of the battered ledgers. “But our accountant can review them---David Smith can testify to what these records mean, and Graham Sparks can call his witness and dispute our conclusions, same as always. I don’t see a problem.”
She released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. “I was hoping you'd say that. You know....”
“What?” Joe asked.
“We could always get Max Avery on tax evasion. From what's in here, I doubt he was claiming his income from money-laundering and extortion.”
Joe spread his hands. “It worked for Al Capone, didn't it? I don't care how Max Avery ends up behind bars, only that he does.”
“Right,” Rita said with a tired smile. There were seven or eight thick ledgers in the box and they'd been going over them for hours. “I'll contact Investigations about getting transcripts of his tax returns.”
“Good idea,” Catherine replied. “Once we have those records, we can amend the complaint to add the tax evasion charges.”
“Why, Radcliffe,” Joe said dryly. “You sound as if you don't believe Max Avery is an honest businessman.”
Catherine shook her head. “That would be because I don't.” She fought back a yawn. “Why don't we call it a night?”
Catherine had sent a message; she would be delayed somewhat and would meet him at the brownstone. Vincent paused a bit in wonder at the small piece of paper. The brownstone. Their home, their place between the worlds. Would the day ever come when this seemed...normal? He opened the basement door to find a barrage of scents and smells; over the scents of paint and mastic and sawdust, plumbing and new metal wiring, there was...Chinese food?
“Hi love,” Catherine announced from the general vicinity of the kitchen. “Hope I got everyone's orders right.”
Cullen and the others---Warren, Mouse, Angus, and Kanin---who had been working on the brownstone since the late afternoon, looked up and waved from where they sat. Catherine handed him a container. “I got you kung pao chicken with noodles; Henry was kind enough to send a carafe of tea as well.”
Vincent considered that his mouth was hanging open slightly in astonishment, and closed it. “I...thank you. This is why you were delayed?”
“Well, no, not entirely,” she replied, kissing him briefly. “I was delayed because we had a break in the Avery case, then I realized if I was hungry, so were you and then I got to thinking about Cullen and his crew and....” She reached up to touch his hair. “Go eat, love.”
Vincent sat down cross-legged on the floor next to the others and watched, bemused, as Catherine removed the copy of Cullen's work schedule which had been taped to the kitchen wall. “All right,” she said, coming to sit next to him with her own meal. “This is my first time here at night. What do you need from me?”
All I need, I have right here, Vincent thought, content, and from the quick flash of Catherine's answering smile, knew she felt it as well.
Click here for Chapter 68...
 “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being,” Hafiz.
2 months ago