Chapter 12: Something in Me Understands
After seeing Catherine off to work, Vincent returned to the tunnels. There was work to be done, after all, and none of it would be accomplished by staying at Bluebird House and brooding. “I’m glad you recognize that,” Catherine said when he’d voiced this thought. “But you know, you are entitled to a fair amount of brooding. There’s been… a lot going on below.” Her green eyes had sharpened as she studied him. “And tonight, you’ll tell me what you saw…what Tamara looked like?” It hadn’t entirely been phrased as a question, Vincent mused, but he’d nodded just the same. There were no secrets from her.
As the false wall closed behind him, he heard Angus bang out a message on the pipes, wanting to see him. Another oddity, Vincent thought; he and Angus had forged a kind of tentative friendship over the last few months but the older man still mostly kept to himself. He picked up a rock and returned the message, responding that he would be at the main hub in fifteen minutes or so.
Angus was indeed at the hub, pacing back and forth in a way Vincent recognized only too well. “Angus,” he said, “what’s going on?”
The older man folded his arms. “What makes you think anything is?”
Vincent repressed a sigh. “You asked me to meet you here. The pipes aren’t leaking and nobody’s disappeared, so….”
Angus spread his hands. “You got me. I…I’m worried.”
Since Angus admitting this was almost the equivalent of Father deciding to dance a jig in the commons, Vincent’s eyebrows rose. “What are you concerned about?”
“Angela and her kids. Are you sure we should let her stay?”
“It’s the council’s decision,” Vincent replied, though the same thought had crossed his mind last night. Angela clearly needed their help; there was no doubt of that. And yet… “They’ll make their decision once Father recovers.” He studied Angus closely. “Have you talked to her?”
Angus nodded. “She seems nice enough. I ain’t got experience with kids so I can’t say as to them. But…it seem odd to you how easy Lucas let them go?”
“It does,” Vincent acknowledged. “But Lucas must have recognized that their youngest son would have died. Perhaps he saw a chance for a better life for his family.”
“But didn’t want to come with them?” Angus asked archly. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Very little does,” Vincent agreed. “I will…talk to her and if there’s reason for concern, I’ll speak to the council.”
Catherine paused outside the criminal courts building. It was never easy to walk the line between the worlds, between the life she shared with her husband and the life she led at work, and on days like this, the mental shift was even more difficult. With Avery’s trial looming ever closer and the risks the case had already posed, she couldn’t afford to make a mistake due to inattention or worry. Focus, Chandler. Focus.
Her routine, after all these years, was pretty much set. A nod and a smile to Frank at the coffee kiosk downstairs, and a fast cup---made just the way she rarely had time to make herself anymore. Then boarding the elevator with a bunch of other people, all of them studiously avoiding eye contact, and hoping one of them didn’t insist on conversation before she’d had a chance to take a sip of her coffee.
Her luck held until she reached her desk. She’d barely stowed away her purse when Rita pulled her into an empty conference room. “Before you go see Joe,” she began, “I need to tell you something.”
Catherine shifted her coat to her other arm. Rita looked alarmed, an uncommon expression on her usually serene features. “Tell me. What’s going on?”
“You know Gloria, Judge Alder’s clerk?”
Catherine nodded. The woman had been a fixture in the courthouse since Catherine herself had been in law school. “Sure. Nice woman, doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Eats unwary ADAs for breakfast.”
Rita laughed, but there was something a little hollow about it. “Right. Allen tutored her grandson last year and she let slip something today when I went down there to file the Emerson motion.”
Catherine raised her eyebrows. “ ‘Let slip’? Gloria?”
“Precisely,” Rita replied dryly. “Catherine, Judge Alder is going to allow the Avery case to be transferred to Albany.”
“What? Why?” Catherine asked, stunned. “He’s handled high profile cases before—surely it’s not the publicity he’s worried about. We can sequester the jury; it doesn’t have to be the circus it was the last time.”
“That’s the point, though, isn’t it?” Rita asked. “The Grand Jury is supposed to be secret, and Avery got to them. I also think Judge Alder doesn’t want this thing coming back on appeal, so he’ll kick it to Albany and be grateful for the opportunity. He knows Graham Sparks will argue excessive pre-trial publicity otherwise, and the appeals court will bounce it back to him. Or he can send the case to Albany and when the verdict comes in, it’ll be over.”
Catherine bit her lip. The timing was horrific---Avery’s trial could drag on for a month or more, and that would leave Vincent contending both with the renewed malice of Paracelsus’s followers and Father’s own condition…by himself. Alone, as she’d sworn he would never be again. She breathed in, muting her own distress by force of will---Vincent had enough to worry about. “All right. Let me go over my notes and see if I can come up with a better argument. Maybe I’ll be able to change his mind.”
Vincent found Angela in her chamber, a room which had previously belonged to Gonzalo and Alma until Alma had passed away a short few months after her husband. The chamber was located close to the noisier part of the hub (“too close to Father,” he’d heard at least one teenager mutter) and hence, had sat nearly vacant for years, used by newcomers, then abandoned once they found more suitable lodgings. Only someone with Mary’s skill could have scrounged up two Army cots for the children and a cradle for the baby, a dresser and a larger bed for Angela. It was bare, but given time, it would become a home. If they chose to stay. If they were allowed to stay.
Angela stood in the center of the room, hands on her hips and her head tilted back so her hair shone blue-black in the candlelight. Vincent hated to disturb her—he sensed moments of serenity had been rare in Angela’s life—but as he turned to leave, Angela spoke. “I know you’re there,” she said. “Come on in.”
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Vincent told her. “I just wanted to stop by and see if you or the children needed anything.”
Angela sat down heavily on her bed, gazing at Joshua asleep in his cradle next. “No…I think we’re fine.”
Vincent studied her. She was far too thin, the collarbones visible above the patched neckline of her blouse and her eyes held the harried look of prey run to ground. “Is there…anything you wish to know? You’ve only been with us a day, you must have some questions.”
“What happens next?”
He could have told her the absolute truth—there would be a council meeting once Father recovered—but she was tense, ready to bolt. Worried. Afraid. Better to stick to immediate—and universal—concerns. “Lunch, I presume. I believe your children are already there with Jamie.” Jamie, kind and no-nonsense, had offered to show the children around; she, too, had once been a frightened, hungry child.
“Be careful, they might eat you out of house and home,” Angela said with an attempt at humor. “Been a long while since we knew where our next meal was coming from.” She rubbed her arms as if taken by a chill. “When will you decide if we can stay?”
“It’s not my decision,” Vincent replied. “The council will decide, and they won’t convene until Father recovers. There will be….much asked of you, to give help when asked for it and accept that help in return. Do you think you can?”
“That’s it?” Angela asked, disbelieving. “I thought you’d want…intelligence on what Tamara’s planning.”
“The Council probably will,” Vincent stated. “Do you think she’ll regroup quickly?”
“I don’t know,” Angela admitted. “I wasn’t one of her inner circle; Lucas was, towards the end, but…he couldn’t talk about her, what she planned. He couldn’t.”
There was a hidden import to her words, more than a mere keeping of an oath. “Did she…bind him in some way? Prevent him from talking?” Vincent asked.
Angela started; her hand flew to her mouth. “You saw,” she said, her voice a fearful husk. “You saw.”
Images of what he had seen just the night before rose to his mind’s eye, the words of Yes, I saw her. I saw what she is rising to his lips before he clamped down on them, hard. This woman was not Marisol, known and trusted, or Narcissa, who accepted the uncanny with the same ease she accepted the rising of the sun. Nor was she Catherine, who might not believe but who loved, who trusted him. An instinct deeper than his blood demanded silence and caution. “I saw…something,” he said carefully.
Angela relaxed minutely. “Then you know.”
He rose then and Angela’s hand grasped his wrist, a talon’s grasp. “This isn’t over. Lucas thought it was and…he’ll learn.”
The chair creaked alarmingly as Joe leaned back in his chair. “What do you want me to say, Radcliffe?” he said. “If Judge Alder wants the case booted to Albany, there’s really not a lot we can do.”
Catherine pushed the hair back from her face. “It’s just…frustrating, Joe. The judge hasn’t stood for any of Graham Sparks’s shenanigans this entire process and now…”
“So make your arguments,” Joe retorted. “Argue the time and money this is going to cost taxpayers—we’re going to have to get you and Rita cross-designated to even prosecute in Albany County, and that’s not always an easy process. Plus we’ll have to sequester the jury there, and put you and Rita up in a hotel for the month—”
“Two months,” Catherine muttered. If they were very, very lucky.
“The two months this trial is supposed to take, then,” Joe went on. “And the expense on our witnesses and victims, the travel time—six hours round trip each day, away from their homes and businesses. And if we have to put them up in hotels, that’s another expense. The judge is an elected official, in an election year. Surely he can be…persuaded.”
Catherine glanced down at her opposition motion and saw Joe’s reasoning on the pleading paper. “It’s in my motion,” she said. “But I worry it won’t be enough. And if he doesn’t read it—”
Joe grinned. “You think his clerk will let him get by with that? Give ‘em hell, Radcliffe. It’s all you can do.”
Vincent’s day proceeded in a series of duties—taking part on the maintenance crews, then, later on, his English Literature class, lunch and then checking in on Father. Mary had taken him aside and asked for his help: “You know he’s the world’s worst patient, Vincent. And he can’t risk a relapse of his pneumonia, not at his age.” He had agreed, of course, but there was the small matter of what he could do to keep his aged parent in his bed and compliant with Peter’s directions. Father hadn’t invented stubbornness, it was true, but he certainly could lay claim to perfecting it.
He halted just outside Father’s chamber and watched, amused but unsurprised. Father was hobbling around, trying and failing to locate something on his desk. “I cleaned it, while you were out,” Vincent said. “I had…time on my hands.”
Father turned to look at him, not at all repentant. “I’d have thought it would have taken you a month at least. What did you do with my PDR?”
Considering that Father would never believe the actual truth—that his battered copy of the Physicians’ Desk Reference seemed to be a favorite target for one of the tunnels’ more mischievous spirits, Vincent didn’t answer the question. “Why do you need it this time?”
“I want to look up that antibiotic Peter prescribed for me. Never heard of it,” Father said with an odd edge to his words. Vincent recalled hearing that tone before---when plastic IV bags had replaced the old glass ones, when needles became disposable instead of something which needed to be sterilized after every use. It was the tone of a man who was forced to realize that his world had shifted again, without his knowledge or consent.
Father’s hands---gnarled, roughened by decades of medical practice---halted on a stack of books. “Do you know, Vincent, I wasn’t ever supposed to have patients?”
Vincent smiled. “No?”
Father shook his head. “No. Not unless they came in petri dishes. I was a research physician and now, if I took my boards, I doubt I’d pass. Too much time has passed.”
“Peter brings you medical journals,” Vincent pointed out.
“He does,” Father acknowledged. “And half the techniques I’ve never dare try. The world moves forward, with or without us.”
“I just saw Joshua,” Vincent said carefully. “He’ll be fine. And Angela and her children will have a chance to heal and thrive.”
“Joshua wasn’t an example of medical genius,” Father said tartly. “Anybody could see the boy was starving.”
“Except his parents,” Vincent replied, sensing the coils of despair beginning to encircle his parent. “He’s already looking much better than he did, I’m sure.”
“Food will do that,” Father said. He sighed. “Vincent, I’m an old man, and not much of a doctor anymore. Peter has been taking care of them all this time—I never knew how bad things had gotten there. Children, starving so close to us.”
“Peter has said before that you had your hands full with us,” Vincent reproved gently. “He wanted to help them, and had time to do so. You did your best and Joshua is alive.”
“Yes, about that…” Father began, then stopped. “When is the council meeting about Angela’s request to join us?”
“The council is…waiting until you’ve recovered,” Vincent answered. “For now, Angela and her children have been given Gonzalo and Alma’s old chamber. Mary has helped them settle in too.”
Father shook his head. “The council doesn’t need to meet, Vincent, not on this issue. They’ve—you’ve—handled this exactly the way I’d have suggested.”
Vincent heard the words You don’t need me all too clearly. “There are some larger concerns,” he admitted. “It’s something the council should be aware of.”
Father chuckled, a dry rasp with only the faintest note of humor. “I see what you’re doing, my boy. Trying to remind me that I’m needed. Well, I happen to know better. And I’d like to be alone now, if you don’t know what happened to my PDR?”
Vincent stood at the obvious dismissal, uncertain of what else to say or do to convince his parent that he was still necessary. “I’m…sorry, Father. I really don’t know where it is.”
Catherine exited the cab with a sense of weariness she’d not felt since the day after she took the bar exam. Everything ached, her heart first among them. How do I tell him this? How do I just…leave? The answer, of course, was obvious: she would do what her duty required. Vincent would ask for no less, nor did she expect it of herself. Duty. The taste of it was sour in her mouth. It wasn’t the first time they’d been separated because of her work—there had been the conference only a few months before—but the thought of another separation, another set of stolen moments, made her wince.
She paid the driver and trudged to the front door of Bluebird House. There was a faint light at the very edges of the curtains—Vincent was home, then. The old tumbled locks of the door opened with a series of clicks and soon, she was inside, the burdens of her day shut firmly on the other side. “I’m in here,” Vincent called from the kitchen. “Dinner should be ready soon.”
Her stomach chose that moment to reminder she hadn’t been able to finish the half sandwich and soup she’d meant to eat, not with the motion hearing on the Avery case so soon after lunch. She placed her keys in the basket by the door and toed off her shoes. “What are you making?”
“Spaghetti,” Vincent said. “It’s quick, at least and…” He looked at her and the tilt of his head told Catherine he’d sensed the depths of her emotions. “Things did not go well for you today either, I take it?”
The air was heavy with the scent of spices and sauce and under all of that, Vincent’s own scent of cardamom and something wilder all his own. It was a balm on her fraying nerves. “You could say that,” Catherine said dryly. “The judge ordered the Avery case transferred to Albany county.”
Vincent stopped stirring the sauce. She felt the instinctive flinch-withdraw-calm of his controlled unease in their bond. “I thought you said the judge was unlikely to grant the request.”
Catherine nodded. “We thought so but…I can’t honestly say I blame him. Avery’s attorney made it abundantly clear he’d appeal a guilty verdict if the venue wasn’t changed, which means we’d get to do this all over again, and given the delays, the trouble we’ve had keeping witnesses so far….” She touched his hand, feeling the coiled strength of muscle and bone. “I’m so sorry, love. If here was any other way…”
“There isn’t,” Vincent stated. It wasn’t a question.
“No,” Catherine replied. “We’ll be there on Monday, beginning jury selection, assuming all else goes well.”
“Then you must do what you must. As you have always done.”
Catherine nodded. “I will. And you…what happened to you today?”
“Not to me,” he said, his voice entirely too even. “It’s Father. He’s…giving up.”
There was such a wealth of jagged sorrow in those words that Catherine nearly flinched. “Father” and “giving up” didn’t even belong in the same sentence. “What? Why?”
Vincent turned off the burner on the stove and removed the sauce from the heat. “Many reasons. He’s growing older and feeling his age. I…did not have the words to reach him.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry,” Catherine said. “Surely he realizes how much you all need him?”
“I don’t know,” Vincent replied softly. “I’ve seen him despondent before—after Ellie and Dmitri died, but Peter was able to argue him out of it, somehow. This…” he trailed off. “I don’t know what to say to him.”
“And I’m leaving you alone to deal with all of this,” Catherine said, seeing the shape of things all too clearly. “Vincent, you know, you must know…”
His finger on her lips silenced her words. “I do. I always have.”
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