Chapter 14: Deeds of Green Thrilling Light
They left just before dawn on Monday. The plan was both simple and devious; Catherine would ride in one car with Greg Hughs and Rita would ride in another identical sedan with an investigator Greg would not name. “I trust her,” Greg had said simply, and Joe had nodded once, taking his words on faith and trust. They were, Catherine surmised with a kind of tired detachment, taking no chances that there would be a repeat of the car accident in New Jersey.
She and Vincent had awakened hours earlier; they had not discussed the details of her trip to Albany overly much, but had instead spent the few hours before dawn much as they once had on her balcony, reading poetry and grasping the last few calm hours before the chaos. During the planning the day before, Greg had offered to pick her up at an abandoned warehouse (for a brief wild moment, Catherine had feared Greg would suggest the Beaumont, now slated for demolition, but he had instead suggested a deserted tenement to the east of Isaac’s gym) and Vincent, with his unerring map of tunnel entrances, had known there was a safer route via the tunnels.
He had said little as they’d walked, and Catherine understood. His own fears were a low, choked hum on the periphery of her senses and she didn’t attempt to reassure him that nothing would happen. Something could happen, and those somethings had been the warp and weft of their lives for years now, but what words of reassurance she could give him, she did. She had embraced him in the last of the morning’s shadows, and murmured, “I love you.”
His grasp on her had tightened momentarily; a slight puncture through the lightweight sweater she wore. She ached for him, but he knew—as she did—that there was no help for it, that if Max Avery was finally to be taken off the streets, she’d have to go Albany. “You know, you can call me this time,” Catherine said, keeping her tone deliberately light. “You really couldn’t…before.”
At times there was a dissonance when she thought of Vincent; as Kristopher Gentian had once said, “What storybook did he walk out of, Catherine? What legend?” It made her smile somewhat, thinking of him using the phone, but he was as firmly rooted in his time as she was and so… Vincent nodded. “You’re right,” his voice rumbled under her ear, “but when should I call? I don’t want to disturb you.” He glanced down at her and this time, the warmth reached the blue of his eyes. “You don’t get nearly enough rest.”
Catherine chuckled. “And whose fault was that, I should like to know?”
“You could have said something,” Vincent said mildly, but there was an amused undertone Catherine knew very well by now. “You don’t get enough rest. You never did.”
“I barely got you to stay on my balcony the first time,” Catherine said lightly. “I wasn’t about to send you home just because it was nearly midnight. Besides, that’s what coffee was invented for.” The thought led to others and she looked up at him. “You need to make sure you get some rest while I’m gone, Vincent.”
He looked away briefly. “I’ll…try. It’s not always easy, without you there.”
It was a bald truth, not uttered to make her feel guilty, but simply a statement of fact. Father had been even more blunt; Vincent had kept up an exhausting pace of work when she had been at a conference early in the year, and even that had led to a only few snatched hours of sleep a week. “I’ll call you every night and I’ll do my best to stay out of trouble—” Catherine ignored his amused rumble at this “—but that goes for you too. Deal?”
A car backfired far down the street. The light of the rising sun struck the pavement and Vincent drew the hood of his cloak up further to shadow his face. Greg will be here soon,” he murmured as he ducked into the remaining shadows of the alley. “I’ll stay here until you are safe.”
She grasped his hand and he stopped. “Vincent. Promise?”
There was a glint of white—Vincent, smiling in the shadows of his hood. “I promise.”
After Catherine left, Vincent returned to the brownstone. The long walk back through the tunnels should have cleared his head, but this morning it just made him feel heavier, as if in Catherine’s absence, all his cares and worries had settled on his shoulders. He banged out a quick message on the downstairs radiator: Pascal— any trouble?
Vincent could almost see the other man, rising from his network of pipes to answer the message. Doubtless he had some coffee in his hands, and perhaps an early breakfast from the kitchen. All quiet on the western front, Pascal responded dryly. Are you…expecting trouble?
He noted with no real surprise that Pascal had answered using one of the softest pipes; it was doubtful anyone save he and Pascal would be able to hear their conversation. Not really, Vincent replied. Have you seen Angela yet?
There was a pause, then: No. Should I be looking for her?
Vincent shook his head, though of course Pascal couldn’t see him. No. I’ll be below in a few hours; we’ll talk then. But if you see her leaving the tunnels…
I’ll alert you, Pascal confirmed. Get some rest—everyone here is still asleep so far as I can tell. Except for Mary and Santos.
Vincent blinked. Mary and Santos?
Pascal’s wry smile was in the tones of his message. Yes.
Vincent had long suspected that had Pascal been a touch less discreet, he could have written volumes on the romantic lives of tunnel residents. I…see. Mary had been alone for so long…
First time he’s stayed for breakfast, Pascal went on, distracting him from his musings. With any luck, William will be so distracted by his presence that he’ll forget he wants to see Angela. I wouldn’t stay away too long, though.
Vincent gave into the yawn which was trying to escape. No, he agreed. Wake me if anything happens.
Will do, Pascal responded.
The brownstone was much as Greg had described it on their trip to Albany: an anonymous sort of building at the end of a row of brownstones in varying stages of decay. She had a sudden heartache, a tug towards the stained glass and clean brown bricks of their home, and towards the man who lived inside it. There was also a pull of memory, of Carole Stabler and the safe house that had turned out to be anything but. She fought down a chill. “My aunt got it ready for us ahead of time,” Greg was saying as he parked the grey sedan on the street. “Bought food and everything. But let me go in first, all right?”
Catherine nodded, shaking off her malaise. “Rita isn’t here yet.”
Greg turned the key off. “I’m sure she will be soon.”
“How far are we from the courthouse?” Catherine asked as she shouldered her purse, the weight of her gun a comforting solidness.
“About fifteen, twenty minutes if the traffic is bad,” Greg answered. He pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. “This is your set, and I’ll give Rita’s to her once she arrives.” He unlocked the door and stopped in the foyer. “There’s nobody else here right now. You should be safe enough; we’ll do some sweeps to, uh, make sure no one else is here.” Catherine nodded; she would have expected Greg to have known what happened to Carole Stabler. “You have your gun with you?”
“Yes,” Catherine replied.
Greg smiled. “Joe said you had sense. Follow me upstairs and I’ll show you around.”
After Rita arrived and they’d unpacked, Greg sat them down at the old beat up kitchen table and explained their security arrangements. “There are two of us looking out for you two—me and Diana over there.” The other agent waved from the battered couch, close enough to hear the conversation but not, somehow, close enough to really be present. Catherine studied her, a career’s worth of instincts beginning to sound a vague, distant alarm—not of danger, but something else. “This doesn’t really need to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway,” Greg went on. “Do not leave this apartment without us. You want to go jogging at o’dark thirty? Take one of us with you.” He chuckled. “If you do want to go jogging at o’dark thirty, take Diana. She runs laps around me.”
“It’s fun,” Diana drawled. “You should try it.”
Rita shook her head. “I’ll be in bed, thanks. But Cathy’s a morning person, so long as you have coffee.” She tilted her head. “You do have coffee?”
Greg nodded. “It’s always been one of the four food groups, so far as I’m concerned.” He drew out a map of the courthouse from one of the boxes he’d brought in from the car and indicated the markings for stairwells and doors and emergency exits. “You need to memorize your exit points; if something happens, it’s too easy to panic and get lost otherwise.”
Catherine had a sudden vivid memory of Isaac Stubbs saying much the same thing years before. “Situational awareness,” she said.
Diana nodded. “Yeah. We’ll be there with you every day, and we’ve reached out to some contacts in the Albany PD, but your own instincts are your best friends. If someone or something feels off to you, you need to tell us.”
“What time was your hearing today?” Greg asked.
Catherine looked at her calendar. “Pre-trial motions tomorrow, and the start of jury selection after lunch today.”
Greg took out a small notebook. “Which courtroom?”
“The notice I have here says Part II,” Rita said. “Looks like we’ll be assigned a judge then.”
“Good,” Greg replied, “that’ll make it easier for us to get the layout. Diana, you want to do the honors?”
Diana stood up and Catherine was struck by the bright red of her hair. “Sure. I’ll check in with the court clerk and see if they won’t mind me looking around. I’ll meet you guys there after lunch.”
After she left, Catherine turned to Greg. “So, where did you find her?”
Greg laughed. “Joe said your instincts were positively spooky. Diana’s a…recent transfer to Internal Affairs. She didn’t belong there anymore than I did.” He shrugged. “We went to the Academy together, and I…”
“Brought her along?” Catherine inquired gently.
“Yeah,” Greg confirmed. “She’s…well, she’s a mess. Did one case too many in the 2-10, and it was either take the transfer or…” He shrugged. “You maybe know how it is, how you’ll fight for a friend even when they don’t always want your help. I thought keeping an eye on a couple of attorneys should be a vacation compared to what she usually sees.”
Given the cases the 2-10 usually handled—some of which Catherine had prosecuted—she could see his point. And yet, she thought of all they’d already gone through on this case: witnesses disappearing or dying, an indecisive millionaire with immunity he hadn’t yet finished earning; the car accident in New Jersey and now this. “You’ve got…a very strange idea of a vacation, Greg.”
“So I do, Chandler, so I do.”
It wasn’t sight that led Vincent to Angela later that morning, but smell—the smoky, acrid scent of car exhaust and motor oil and cigarettes. City smells, he mused; clearly, Angela had gone above at some point. He followed the scent to an unused tunnel and then closed his eyes, assessing what his senses told him. Angela had come here, backtracked—possibly lost?—and then had left again, with more confident steps, towards the Mirror Pool.
And there he found her, sitting with her knees drawn up, Joshua resting on a blanket beside her. “I know you’re there,” Angela said softly.
Vincent remembered a letter from Devin, years ago now, where he’d described his stint breaking in wild horses on a ranch in the wilds of Montana. If I moved too fast, they’d run or kick, Devin had written. Wild things don’t know what else to do. “I’m sorry,” Vincent said, keeping his voice pitched at a soothing level. “I don’t want to disturb you.”
There was a short bark that might have been a laugh, then, “Come on in, Vincent. Sit down. I’m not going to shoot you.”
Angela had lived for however many years in the outer community; Vincent heard the implication that clearly she might, if she felt the necessity. Nevertheless, he sat down next to her, close enough to hear whatever she might say, but not close enough to feel threatening. She ground out the stub of a cigarette in the sand. “I went above to get a cigarette,” Angela began.
Father would have been greatly displeased; would, perhaps, have begun a lecture about the dangers of smoking, the specter of addiction, the risks it presented to their fragile ventilation Below. Vincent did none of these things, though he did wonder where she’d gotten them from. Cigarettes were expensive. Had she taken a pack with her? “You did?” he began, feeling his way carefully.
“Yeah,” Angela said. “I hadn’t, since Joshua and…I needed it.” She held it up for inspection. “My last pack, I swear.”
Vincent shook his head minutely; her smoking wasn’t the immediate concern. “Did your children come with you?” he asked, careful to keep his tone even.
“No. Susan stayed with Joey and Joshua.” She shrugged, thin shoulders under the layers of tunnel patchwork. “I wasn’t gone long. Didn’t you know I’d left?”
“No. There was…an incident in William’s storeroom that I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Susan broke the jar,” Angela said, as if it wasn’t particularly unusual that they’d stolen food from the community stores. “It was too heavy for her.”
“Why did she take food?” Vincent asked. “We don’t…steal here, Angela. I know we talked about this.”
“She…they…” Angela took a breath. “She was afraid they wouldn’t get enough to eat.” She ducked her head. “Things have been…bad and I’ve had to lean on her too much.”
Vincent breathed out, seeing the path of things much more clearly. “You left and Susan didn’t think you’d return?”
Angela’s head jerked up at that. “No! I wouldn’t just leave my kids.”
He didn’t say the obvious: if Susan had been afraid enough to make sure they had a supply of food, clearly Angela had left before, and for an extended period. The thought was unsettling—what had she gone above for? To forage or steal or worse? He tried a different tact, hoping to get through to her. “Our cook is…upset.”
Angela raised an eyebrow at that. “He seems upset a lot.”
It was, as Catherine would have said, the understatement of the century, and Vincent recognized Angela’s tactic, using humor to defuse a tense situation, but he didn’t rise to the bait. “He works hard to feed us all, and to make sure we have extra food when times are lean. It was…better that I found you before he did.” And he wondered if Angela understood how thin the ice she stood on was. She had rescued Father, but if there were further incidents, the council would not hesitate to return Angela and her family to Lucas or exile them altogether.
Joshua stirred; Angela readjusted his blanket and turned back to face Vincent. “I’ll apologize. It wasn’t Susan’s fault; she was just trying to take care of her brothers.”
“William will want something besides an apology.”
Vincent was sure the words had been said carefully, evenly, but the flare of angry, defensive fury coming from Angela was nearly painful in its force. “No one…will lay a hand on my children.”
Her hand made a motion—towards the gun she no longer carried, he wondered, or a weapon they hadn’t yet found?—and he held up both hands in what he hoped was a calming gesture. “We don’t…do that here. It’s not our way.”
She gave a short bark of something that might have been laughter. “Right. Then what do you want from us?”
Vincent took a deep breath. “That’s not really the question that needs an answer,” he said. “What do you want with us? What kind of life do you want here?”
Angela tilted her head back briefly, gazing at the small patch of revealed sky, the sun as it rose. “Been a long time since anyone asked me what I wanted.” She met his gaze steadily. “It’ll take some thinking on.”
He stood then. “When you…figure that out, William needs some help in the kitchen.”
He had just about reached the exit when Angela’s voice stopped him. “Vincent. You never told your wife about what you saw when you looked at Tamara. Why?”
His eyebrows rose; he hadn’t told Angela anything about his conversation with Catherine. He breathed out once, forcing a calm he was suddenly a very long way away from feeling. How had Angela known? I should have said something before Catherine left, he thought. But what? And when? She had been busy, her mind focused on the upcoming trial and the complications of being separated from her home yet again. How could he add one more thing to her burdens?
He opened his eyes and focused on Angela, kneeling next to her son in the reflected brightness of morning. “I…I had no words.”
Angela’s gaze was challenging and just slightly sardonic. “Really? Or were you…prevented from speaking?”
Vincent shook his head. This, too, he could not answer.