III. What Lies Beneath
After breakfast, Catherine and Vincent returned to their chamber. As the door shut behind them with a weighty thud, Catherine became aware of a distant, pained tension in their bond. She glanced up at Vincent and saw the tight, drawn lines around his eyes; a headache, then, she surmised. He’d put a good face on it during all the clamor of breakfast, but Catherine knew it was only through the ease of long practice—even now, he would not reveal any weakness to his tunnel family. “Why don’t you go lay down, love?” she murmured. “I’ll put some tea on.”
Vincent smiled. “That would be…very much appreciated. Thank you.”
The chamomile tea was easy enough to find, lodged between the jar containing a haphazard collection of buttons and the small—if somewhat perplexing—-statue of a seated monkey examining a human skull. She heard the creak of the armoire in their bedroom and the answering groan of the mattress springs echoing in the stillness as she set the tea to steep in the old enamel pot. Vincent, settling into their bed, the vision providing a sudden warmth utterly aside from the heat of the brazier. It was still, after almost a year of being married, a source of wonder to her that she could walk into their bedroom and find him there.
The teapot began to whistle and she poured the tea—mint for her, chamomile for him—into the chipped teacups which were so ubiquitous below. “The tea’s ready, love,” Catherine said and walked into their bedroom. Vincent was sprawled on the bed, one arm over his eyes, but at her approach, he sat up. “How bad is it?” Catherine asked as she handed him the teacup.
“Not too bad,” he replied, taking a sip of the tea. “Chamomile. It’s very good. I remember when Peter first brought this to us---”
Catherine shook her head. Vincent could, she knew, hold forth on the origins of tea leaves as easily as he could the lineages of the medieval kings of England—and would, if it would distract her from being concerned. But she’d done her share of cross-examinations of reluctant witnesses and knew the start of a diversion when she heard one. “Vincent,” she said again. “Your ‘not too bad’ is everyone else’s ‘excruciating’ and don’t think I don’t realize exactly what you’re doing.” Indeed, through their bond, it was impossible not to know—unless, as Vincent was doing now, he blocked her from that awareness.
Very gingerly, as though he feared he might drop it, Vincent placed the teacup on their night-stand. “Very well,” he responded. “I feel…unwell.”
“Should I let Father know?” Catherine asked.
Vincent closed his eyes. “No, don’t. There isn’t anything he can do, and Angela and Lucas need him more.”
Catherine nodded, acknowledging the truth of this even as she regretted not being able to give him so much as an aspirin. “All right.” She studied him, the way the lines of strain made creases around his eyes and a memory arose of their trip to Connecticut.  “Vincent…was it the meeting?”
He opened his eyes. “Yes,” he replied. “How did you know?”
“The cougar in Connecticut,” she answered simply. “You had a headache then and you told me it was common after that kind of mental contact.” She took his left hand in her own, feeling the ridge of his wedding band as it rubbed against her own. “Has this happened every time you’ve gone to a meeting?”
“Not always, but today…there were a lot of strong emotions.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” Catherine replied, struck again by awe and wonder that he could know such things. “You seemed fine during the meeting.”
“I can…ignore it, push it aside,” Vincent murmured. “Most of the time, at least. I could hardly do anything else, living as we do. But people tend to…think very loudly in a meeting. Emotions…shout.”
Catherine had a sudden, vivid memory of her first week at the DA’s office. Used to the carpeted, paneled walls of her father’s firm, the quiet tones of negotiations concluded behind closed doors, she’d been astounded by the level of noise—phones ringing, people talking over cubicle walls, the constant din of harried voices and typewriters and other office machinery. It had been almost a month before her days had ended in anything other than two aspirin and a glass of water. “I see,” she said softly.
Vincent smiled. “I know you do.” The look in his eyes turned inward, reflective as, she thought, he struggled to find the words to describe what he’d never been able to discuss before. “But if…when…Catherine, I may have to do what I must. What duty requires, if there’s no one else who can, or will. If there’s no other solution.”
“I know that, too,” she said simply. “All I ask, all I want for you is that it truly be your choice.”
After Vincent fell asleep—the one true cure for his headaches—Catherine retreated to her study and cracked open the notebook containing her notes on the Avery case. Jury selection would begin the following week and there were still a few loose ends she’d need to tie up before she ever set foot in court. Getting Mrs. Mueller’s evidence admitted would be a large hurdle; Aaron Geller, Max Avery’s accountant, was long dead and now, so was Herman Mueller.  There was no way to cross-examine the dead and the judge might prevent the use of the records based purely on those grounds. Well, she thought, they certainly had enough other charges against Max Avery, but the records—proof of his tax evasion—were a treasure she was not quite willing to abandon just yet.
There were other concerns, too. Despite his grant of immunity, Elliot Burch was still an unknown quantity; Catherine knew that despite his subpoena, Elliot could hire a firm of lawyers to dodge every attempt to actually have him appear in court. They simply couldn’t rely on Elliot to make their case; the other witnesses—frightened people she and Rita had convinced to testify, plus the remaining witnesses from the first grand jury—would have to do.
Catherine turned to a blank page in her notebook. Opening statement, she wrote, then stopped. How could she possibly distill all that Max Avery had done into a brief paragraph? He’d had his fingers in so many pies—extortion, racketeering, murder, attempted murder, tax evasion—-that everything could have been summed up with Max Avery is a very bad man. And yet, that wouldn’t be nearly sufficient, though (she thought with an inward smile) it might win points from the jury for brevity.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, she wrote, Mr. Avery’s attorney is going to tell you a story of a self-made man wrongly prosecuted for the crimes of his relatives. He’s going to insist that Max Avery is innocent, and ask you to acquit him of all charges. The story I have to tell you is a far different one, of a made man with the Rotolo crime family who has, for the last decade, run a sophisticated extortion racket with ties to every large construction project in this city. Even the most powerful developers have had to pay him off or see their projects halted, their crews injured and their machinery stolen or damaged. You will hear (I hope, Catherine thought grimly) from one of these developers as well as several small contractors, including one who was permanently maimed because he refused to pay Max Avery’s crews so he could continue working. At the end of this trial, ladies and gentlemen, I will ask you to find Max Avery guilty on all charges.
Catherine leaned back in her chair and stretched. It wasn’t a great opening statement, but it was a beginning, at least, a start for the case she hoped to present in full to a jury. She jumped, startled, as a message rang out on the pipes: Quinn and Rhys leaving for outer ring. Will send message when we arrive.
“They should have accepted your offer of a ride, as Father did,” came Vincent’s soft, graveled voice from the doorway, raspy with sleep.
Catherine nodded, and noticed he looked a bit wan. “I did offer. They…Quinn said it was best not to spring too much at once onto the outer community.” She saw again Quinn’s broad, friendly face, tense and shuttered with unease, and hoped the woman hadn’t miscalculated. “Did the pipes wake you?”
“No,” Vincent replied, seating himself in the overstuffed chair that had once belonged to her grandfather. “I awoke from a dream of…danger. But when I tried to recall what I’d seen”—he spread his hands—”the fragments vanished.”
That brought her up short. Vincent’s dreams were very often nothing of the sort; his visions were deep and true, as she’d once learned to her great cost. “Is it danger to Father, or to Rhys and Quinn?”
Vincent sighed and leaned his head back against the worn velvet of the chair. “I don’t know.”
“You’re worried about them,” Catherine said. “And there’s reason to be, from all you’ve said. But…try not to worry.”
He smiled tiredly. “Do you know how?”
Catherine felt a rueful grin tug at her lips. Letting go had never been a skill either of them possessed. “No, but maybe we’ll learn together.”
Father leaned back in his chair and waited for his patient. Upon his arrival, he had been guided to a rough-hewn, anonymous chamber, provided with tea and several stale cookies and told Angela would be with him shortly. Then he had been left alone and he was finding the strange quietness of this place—no constant tapping on the pipes, no chatter of voices—to be greatly unnerving. The outer ring community was, at best guess, half the size of Father’s own, yet there should be some sound, some noise. Unless, he thought uncomfortably, he had been brought to this isolated place precisely because it was apart from them?
The rustling of fabric against stone announced Angela’s arrival, that and the fretful wail of a newborn. Angela entered, trailed by her two other children—a girl of about nine and a boy of five. “I brought Joshua, Doctor,” she said softly, cradling her infant son. “He’s…sick.”
Father cracked open his doctor’s bag. “What seems to be the problem?” As he removed his stethoscope, he cast a physician’s eye on Angela. She was thin, too thin, and both she and her children were clad in clothes which were far removed from the sturdy patched layers he’d worn for so many years.
“Joshua, he won’t eat,” Angela said, sitting down in the lone chair next to the bed. The baby’s foot poked out from the edge of a ragged blanket and his toes curled in the cool air. “Fed my other babies before him, no problem. But he won’t eat.”
Joshua was the youngest of the three babies born to the tunnel communities that spring and summer; Benjamin, Marisol and Miguel’s son, had been the first, followed by Leah, the daughter of Valerie and Cullen. At Joshua’s birth less than a month before, he had weighed more than either of the other infants, but now… “May I hold him?” Father asked gently, his every instinct urging caution. Angela seemed almost skittish and he had the sense that if he spoke too loudly or urgently, she’d bolt.
“Oh, of course,” Angela said and placed the child in his arms.
The boy had lost some weight, Father observed, but he wasn’t dehydrated, not yet, and his heart and lungs were clear. But soon, the boy would be in real trouble. “How much does he nurse?” he asked over the infant’s cry.
“Often,” Angela said shortly and Father stifled an inner sigh.
“I’m not trying to attack you,” he said gently. “Perhaps—”
Angela bit her lip. “Lucas said you’d do this.”
“Try to make me stop feeding him.”
That rocked Father on his heels for a moment. Most women in the tunnels breastfed, but for those who couldn’t or didn’t wish to, there was always some formula in one of the stockrooms. “No, that’s not my intent,” he assured her. He took in Angela’s thinness again, the sharpened angles of her collarbone and wondered how to phrase his next question. “Angela, a nursing mother needs between 500 and 1000 extra calories per day to feed her child. Has there been a…food shortage recently?”
Her faded blue eyes darted nervously towards the door. She gave a short humorless laugh. “When isn’t there?”
He wanted to murmur what had become a uniting truth in his community: help existed for those who needed it and they in their turn, passed that help on. But this community—largely lawless, hidden, existing on what could be stolen from the world Above—was far more precarious and ultimately, untrusting of any offers of outside assistance. “The baby has to eat,” Father tried again. Just the year before, Angela had come to Winterfest and she had looked far healthier. Now, he wasn’t sure who was more ill, Angela or her son. “You have to eat. Would you consent to try some formula with Joshua?”
“Lucas won’t like it,” Angela protested.
“Lucas isn’t the one who’s at risk of starving,” Father retorted. “Angela, once Joshua is fed, then if you’ll show me your stockroom, we can see about helping you out with some food to tide you over until…”
“Until Lucas and the men can steal some more?” Angela retorted in her turn. “You don’t have to dodge the words, Father. I know how my husband gets our food.”
She seemed utterly unconcerned by either the deed or its possible implications, so Father did his best to set aside his instinctive reaction—bunch of damned fools, putting us all at risk!—to help his patient. “I…see. Will you let me help?”
“It’s not like that,” Angela said suddenly. “I know what you’re thinking, that Lucas isn’t doing well by us.”
“That’s not at all what I was about to say,” Father replied, though his thoughts had been running on a parallel course. As a leader---if Lucas was their leader---he should have asked for help. But he hadn’t.
“He does his best,” Angela insisted. “But there’s only so much he can do when…”
When it’s harder to steal, Father thought but did not say. “Times are…difficult.”
“He thinks what he and the others bring should be enough. We’re…missing a few people.”
“Did they leave?” Father asked, though he suspected he knew the answer. The size of this community must fluctuate with arrests and disappearances and so forth. It was just the devil’s own luck that the missing people hadn’t yet led anyone to investigate further.
She shrugged. “Who knows? I have my ideas about what we should do but Lucas…”
Lucas won’t listen, Father heard, as clearly as if she had spoken. Joshua set up a fretful wail, and Father’s attention returned to his smallest patient. “Will you let us help you?”
Angela picked up Joshua, wrapped him in the faded blankets. “Yes. And my husband be damned.”
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 “When Fall Comes to New England,” Chapter 13 “Providence,” Chapter 63