Chapter 13: I Am My Beloved’s
For the rest of the evening, as if obeying some unspoken plan, Catherine and Vincent did not speak of Father or her upcoming trial. They talked instead of Catherine’s upcoming lunch date with Dinah Goldstein, the public defender who had once been her law school classmate, and the possible difficulties Vincent foresaw in acclimating Angela and her children to tunnel ways—the kind of pleasant conversation they hadn’t had time to indulge in recently.
Finally, Catherine set down her fork and looked at him over the salad bowl. “Vincent, I was thinking…”
“Really? I am astonished,” he returned dryly.
She threw her napkin at him. “Yes, really. When…all this…is over, we should go back to Connecticut.”
Vincent considered. Two months—if Catherine’s estimate of her trial’s length was accurate—would bring them into early fall. He closed his eyes, feeling again the warmth of the autumn sun on his face, smelled the damp earth and heard the slow, steady creak of the porch swing as they…. “We should,” he replied. “But Catherine, if I have to…” Words failed him then—could he really be expected to fill Father’s mammoth shoes? To lead their community as Father had always done? No. I didn’t choose these chains. I didn’t choose this.
Catherine clasped his hand then, and the invisible fetters fell away. “Vincent, even if…” she swallowed and made a gesture with her free hand that somehow encompassed the tunnels below them “…you will still need a break from everything. Everyone does, now and then.”
Vincent didn’t mention that Father had only twice journeyed above of his own free will, and both of those had ended in near-tragedy. “And you will as well, after this trial.”
She chuckled. “You’re not kidding. I used to wonder, back when I was first hired and Joe had me stuffed in misdemeanors, why the other ADAs used to disappear for a week or two after a big trial. I don’t wonder anymore.”
He clasped her hand. “You’re doing what’s right, what you’ve always done. And we…we will survive this.”
Her eyes glimmered in the candlelight. “I know, but sometimes, I wish we didn’t have to.”
Their nighttime routine was one which varied little since their nights in Connecticut and it was one of the few uncomplicated joys in Vincent’s life to watch his wife—his wife!—ready herself for bed. Her hair had grown longer in the near year since their marriage; honey-blonde and thick, it was prone to tangling though (he noted with some amusement) her morning bed-head would never achieve the gravity-defying heights of his own.
Catherine had just emerged from the shower and was wearing nothing more than a pale silken robe which clung to her curves and left very little to his imagination. She smiled at him as she sat on the edge of their bed and handed him the wide-toothed comb. “Brush my hair?” she asked softly.
The folds of the robe opened at her thighs as she settled against him. “Of course,” Vincent managed. The nearness of her was stirring something in his blood, a persistent, demanding need which would be answered this night. But not now. He drew the comb through the damp strands and the faintest traces of her scent—shampoo, soap, something indefinable which whispered mate—surrounded him. Welcomed him. He could almost taste it as he breathed in. He could almost taste her.
“You’re…breathing a little faster,” Catherine stated as her nails grazed the short bristled fur of his thighs. “Are you feeling all right?”
The question was asked in apparent innocence, but the rich mischief flooding their bond told a different tale. The comb glided through the strands of her hair, soft as a whisper of silk. “Yes. Shouldn’t I be?”
She shifted a little and he couldn’t stop the short gasp at her movement. “Well, then clearly I’m not doing something right.”
In the time since they’d become lovers, Vincent had often been astounded at how the simplest of touches could set fire to his blood. Though he supposed, if he was being honest with himself, Catherine had always possessed that ability; hadn’t their first hug, the chaste embrace at the basement entrance to her apartment, necessitated a long walk before he was composed enough to sleep?
She leaned back and Vincent felt his heart stir, the rumble of a distant, joyous thunder. “I love you,” he murmured to the soft curve of her neck.
Catherine’s smile was sunlight on water. “I love you too.” She turned in his arms and he was reminded again of the solid reality of her. She was light, but hardly fragile, no longer the frail woman he’d once rescued on a damp April night. Her hands took the comb from him and brushed back the solid mass of his hair from his shoulders. “You’re thinking too much.”
He smiled; she’d clearly caught the direction of his thoughts if not the actual words, the realization that their time together would again be wedged in between other moments, the ordinary necessities of the life they’d both chosen. “I was. Can you help me…stop?” His hand rose of its own accord to touch the smooth curve of an exposed breast.
The robe fell to the floor. “If you stop, I’ll….”
She was so close, nearer to him than his heartbeat. “I won’t.”
“Promise?” she breathed.
Catherine started when the phone rang. Vincent had gone Below just after breakfast to discuss some complaint of William’s—an urgent one, to judge by the force of his tapping on the pipes, which had echoed in their downstairs radiator. “He sounds…insistent,” she had observed.
Vincent nodded and—she suspected—barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Yes. William has two moods—not bothered at all, and bothered too much. I would assume this morning it’s the latter,” he replied dryly. “Will you be Below for lunch?”
“I’m not sure. I hope so,” she told him. “I’ve got to get these files organized and ready to go before we head up to Albany on Monday and it’s going to be a process.”
He brushed back a lock of her hair that had fallen over her forehead. “Make sure you eat, then. I’ll send a message if I’m going to be delayed.” He had gathered up his cloak and departed, heading for the basement entrance to their other world.
Now, Catherine capped her pen and answered the phone, all the while wondering who could be calling on a Saturday. Rita? Joe? “Hello?” she asked.
“Radcliffe, it’s me,” Joe said. “Am I…disturbing you?”
“No, not at all,” she replied, repressing an inward sigh. She had been making real progress on her witness list too… “What’s up, Joe?” Abruptly, she became aware of the traffic sounds in the background; he was calling from a payphone, then.
“I’ve got some news about your Albany trip, but I really shouldn’t be saying more on the phone, you know?”
She nodded, although he couldn’t see her; his concerns about his office being bugged were very real. “I do indeed.” She glanced around the living room, doing a quick visual check, trying to see it as a visitor might. There were flowers on an end table, fresh from Renata’s garden, Vincent’s poetry books neatly stacked on the coffee table, and photos—New York city scenes taken by her friend Nancy as a housewarming gift. Would Joe think it odd that there were none of her husband, of the two of them together? Would Rita? “Would you like to come by and discuss this?”
Joe chuckled. “An invite to the palace. Man, I really am moving up in the world. Sure, Radcliffe, I’ll come by.”
She gave him the address. “I’ll call Rita and see if she’s available…so, see you both in an hour or so?”
“Better make it two,” Joe said. “We can make it a lunch meeting too, and I can hear more about what you and Rita are planning for Max Avery.”
“So, we’ve found a place for you and Rita to stay in Albany,” Joe said, looking incongruous in Catherine’s dining room later that afternoon.
“You did?” Catherine asked with a smile. “Let me guess, a one bedroom hostel with roaches for company?” She studied him, thinner and more careworn since assuming the duties of the head DA, and wondered what he saw.
Joe took a drink of his coffee. “That what you think, Rita?”
Rita leaned back against the overstuffed couch. “If anything, I told her she was being too optimistic.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “What am I thinking, sending you two to Albany for a couple of months?” He shook his head. “I think you’ll both be impressed. We found a furnished two bedroom apartment in a brownstone.”
Catherine swallowed, remembering Carole Stabler and the “safe house” in another brownstone which had turned out to be not at all secure. “Who does it belong to, Joe? I know the department doesn’t have that kind of money.”
There was a knock at the door. To Catherine’s astonishment, Joe rose to answer it. “I told him to be here around eleven, and he’s punctual as usual.”
For a moment, Catherine had the fear it might be Elliot Burch at the door (who else would have a roster of available properties at his command?) except that Joe genially detested Elliot and would as soon have called Max Avery. The door opened and Greg Hughs stepped inside. “Nice place you got here, Chandler,” he said with his usual laconic drawl.
“Greg! What? How?” Catherine asked, astonished. Last she’d heard, Greg Hughs had been promoted to the dubious honor of an Internal Affairs desk job.
He jerked a thumb in Joe’s direction. “This guy decided I was wasted in Siberia and got me reassigned to his protective detail. Which means I’m on your protective detail while you two are in Albany.” His smile faded. “Max Avery’s got fingers in a lot of pies, Chandler. I was glad to be able to help you out.”
She glanced at the clock. “The pizza will be here soon, Greg. Why don’t we all sit down and you can explain how you happened to have a convenient brownstone in Albany?”
“It belongs to my great aunt; one of her investment properties.” Greg grinned again. “I’m her favorite, so I called in a marker or two. Of course, that means I’ll be in attendance for her mystery meat casseroles on Sunday for a few months but you’re worth it.”
Catherine smiled. In many ways, it was perfect; a furnished apartment in an anonymous brownstone should draw far less attention than a busy hotel, and while there certainly weren’t tunnels that far north, it would feel a lot closer to home. “Thank her for us, please.”
Greg nodded. “Will do. I’d invite you over to dinner but she’s still entertaining a hope of marrying me off to ‘some nice girl’ and the little matter of you two being married wouldn’t slow her down one bit.”
The doorbell rang again. “That will be the pizza,” Catherine said.
Vincent repressed a heavy sigh. Before he’d even arrived at William’s, much of the morning had felt like he was careening from one crisis to another—a set of leaking pipes, a security alarm of Mouse’s that had malfunctioned (again,) the mediation of a small quarrel between Mouse and the accidental instigator of the malfunction, Kipper. Finally, with the problems sorted, he’d been able to make his way to the commons. “William, it’s Vincent,” he called. “I’m sorry I’m late. What can I do for you?”
He leaned against the rock walls of the kitchen and observed the high red color spreading on William’s neck and face. The older man was furious. “ ‘Bout time you came. We’ve got ourselves a thief,” he announced without preamble. “Probably those…kids you brought here. Or their mother.”
It wasn’t uncommon for newcomers, particularly those who’d endured hunger or starvation, to hoard food, Vincent knew. Still, it was a serious allegation and one which shouldn’t be made lightly. “What makes you say that?”
William jerked his head towards the storeroom. “Come see.”
Vincent followed William into one of their large storerooms. These were William’s private domain and the cook’s pride and joy. “Found a broken jar of stew there,” William said, pointing to the stain on the rock floors. “I guess it was heavier than it looked.”
“What else was taken?” Vincent asked.
“Three, four loaves of bread. Some milk from the cold storage room.”
Vincent nodded. All in all, it wasn’t a lot of food, he mused, but theft was theft. “And what makes you believe Angela or her children took the food?”
William blew out his breath in an exasperated huff. “You can’t be that naive, Vincent. They came from…there. You know. Those people steal all the time.”
“Yes, they do,” Vincent said slowly, “but Angela made a choice for a better life for herself and her children by coming here.” Even as he said the words, he wondered if they were true. Yes, she had left Lucas, but there was just so much they didn’t know about Angela. Was theft only the start of it?
William shook his head. “Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you are that naive. Vincent, they can’t be trusted.”
The older man’s short temper had been the cause of many an argument in his years in the tunnels; Vincent fought the answering sparks of his own anger back with sheer will. “It’s a matter for the council to decide,” he retorted. “And they’ve granted Angela and her children asylum for the time being.”
“But,” Vincent went on, “These thefts are serious and I will speak with Angela. If she knows anything about this, it will be handled.”
William nodded curtly. “See that you do. Before anything else comes up missing.”
Father leaned back in his chair. “That is a…difficulty,” he said when Vincent told him of the thefts. “It’s not as dire as if it had occurred in the dead of winter, but it’s very concerning. What do you plan to do about it?”
Vincent eyed the older man. This was the type of scenario which used to be Father’s calling—settling new families in, and arbitrating the more serious disputes. To have the decisions, the choices of what to do next, placed entirely upon him now was…disquieting. “I was hoping for suggestions.”
Father shrugged. “Hoarding food isn’t a rare thing and given the conditions in Lucas’s community, I’m frankly astounded they haven’t stolen more. If it is Angela or her children, that is. What does William want done?”
“He wants the food replaced, or if that’s not possible, then he wants the thief to help him replace it.”
Father nodded. “Which means several uncomfortable hours working for William in the kitchens, but that’s just.”
“It is,” Vincent agreed. “And yet—”
“It troubles you, because it’s too easy for Angela and her children to be suspected, and William likes jumping to conclusions. Have you talked to Angela yet?”
“I went to her chamber,” Vincent replied. “Both she and her children were out.”
“And yet you didn’t put a message out on the pipes asking for her location,” Father stated. “Why?”
Vincent spread his hands; the thick claws only one reminder that he was, and forever would be, different. “Who knows what she’s been told, Father? If Lucas’s community is allied with the remnants of Paracelsus’s followers, then she knows me as a monster, or worse. I won’t frighten her further by demanding her presence.”
He was startled to feel Father’s hand, that rough, calloused surgeon’s hand, clasp his own. “It’s a wise decision. It will be lunch soon, and perhaps then Angela will arrive at the commons. You should…see about finding her before William does.”
Catherine had no sooner shut and bolted the door when the phone rang again. She had planned to bang out a quick message on their radiator and head below to salvage what remained of her day, to spend some quiet hours with Vincent before her duties separated them once again. She bit back a muttered curse and almost—almost—ignored the ringing phone. Almost. “Catherine Chandler,” she said tersely.
“Cathy, did you skip your coffee today?” Dinah’s voice said lightly on the other end of the phone, the same banter she’d used a thousand times when they were in law school together. 
Catherine smiled. “No. Just…preoccupied, I guess. How are you, Dinah?”
She had the sense that the other woman’s smile had faded. “Not good. Look, I have to postpone our lunch. Uncle Saul’s in the hospital.”
Catherine had a sudden, vivid memory of Dinah’s uncle and remembered how he had given her first bit of confidence as an attorney when she had interned at his legal aid clinic. “Oh, no, I’m so sorry. Will he be all right?”
Dinah breathed out. “They don’t know yet, Cathy. You know how he is, always putting everyone else first and himself last. He might have been sick a long time before this caught up with him. He’s in the ICU now, but…” Dinah drew a ragged breath. “Dammit, I hate not knowing.”
Catherine nodded, though of course Dinah couldn’t see her. “How is your daughter taking it? She and your uncle were close, I know.”
Dinah snorted. “He’s been more of a father to her than Avrom ever tried to be. She’s…well, I’m going to pick her up in a few minutes and take her to see him, and if the hospital won’t let Chava in, I may have to bully myself in there. It’s going to be a rough weekend.”
Considering this was the same woman who had been abandoned by her husband early in her pregnancy, who had also completed law school as a single mother, Catherine wouldn’t have bet against her. “Chava and your uncle could have no better champion,” she told her. “Look, Dinah, I’m going to be in Albany for the next couple of months,” Catherine said. “Will you—?”
Dinah drew in a quick breath. “The Avery trial?”
“Yeah,” Catherine said. “Never a dull moment, but you know that.”
“I do,” Dinah replied dryly. “Just…please be careful, Cathy. Do you have a phone number up there yet?”
“No, not yet, but I’ll call you as soon as I get one. Will you please let me know how Saul’s doing?”
“Of course, Cathy. He mentored a lot of interns over the years, but you were one of his favorites. He was pleased as punch when you went to work at the DA’s office.”
“Was he?” Catherine asked, startled. She had interned for Saul for two summers until her father demanded she start spending time at his firm. How long had it been since she’d talked to Saul? He had sent her a condolence card when her father had died, but there had been so much she’d let go by the wayside in the aftermath. “I should have kept in touch with him, Dinah.”
“He understood, Cathy. After your…after you went to work for the DA’s office, he knew you were busy. So did I.” There was the sound of background noises on the other line, then, “I have to go now,” Dinah went on. “I’ll call you if…anything changes.”
“Thanks, Dinah. Take care of yourself,” Catherine told her.
She heard the smile return to the other woman’s voice. “I will if you will, Cathy. Bye.”
Vincent paused at the steps of the basement entrance, absorbing the currents of emotion flooding their bond. His wife was…lost. Torn. Feeling unsure, and uncertain of the path she’d been asked to follow. Doubting.
He opened the door and closed it behind him, crossing swiftly into their home. “I’m here,” he murmured.