We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
The whirl of the wheels, the feeling close to floating, the numbered lights illuminating, ascending.
Oh God, please not here…
Flash-flood panic surged through Catherine, sinking cold then heat rising, heart speeding, even before the elevator stopped. Floor five…too high…too far…
The doors opened. Joe and the receptionist exited and soon strode at least ten feet ahead, leaving her behind.
Catherine couldn’t speak, couldn’t make her feet step into the hallway.
She had been fine walking into the glass and metal entrance of the Federal Building. She had even been okay wading through the security checks where Joe’s word and badge were her only I.D., then through more glass doors to wait for their escort to take them to the elevators. Despite the narrowing of the world at each point, she had held it together, until now…
Joe turned, noticing she hadn’t followed him. He doubled back, reaching for her. “Cathy?” With the other hand he blocked the impatient elevator from leaving. Catherine could feel herself resisting and being led, like she wasn’t fully inhabiting her body anymore.
You are being weak. You can’t be weak!
The young secretary—with an unattractive bow on her blouse that bounced with each flustered step—backtracked, but only halfway up the hall. “Is she all right?” she asked.
They see right through you. You can’t hide this—not even from people who aren’t emotionally connected to you.
A scream shamefully close to exploding through her, Catherine covered her mouth and bit her lip for good measure.
Keep it together! For Vincent…For the baby…
“What’s wrong with her?” the secretary asked in a hushed huff.
I’m not here. She’s talking to Joe as if I’m not right here…as if I am nothing…
“Just show us where you want us and get her a glass of water,” Joe commanded, his gruff boss persona taking charge.
The hammering beats of her heart still dominating all sound, Catherine followed the woman, stumbling through the carpeted hallways. She would have fallen had Joe’s arm not encircled her. He kept it there unless they had to push past the numerous men and handful of women that traveled between the offices. At those times he fell behind her, pressing her forward with a hand at her back.
Most of the agents they skirted past wore nearly identical suits. The dry voice that existed on the outskirts of Catherine’s emotional storm queried, Do they all go to the same store? An approved list, maybe? Brooks Brothers—the official tailor of the F.B.I. She had to bite down on her lip again not to burst out with frenetic laughter.
They turned a corner onto another hallway filled with endless doors.
It was 1900 6th Avenue.
She knew it was wrong. She knew it was crazy, but the crushing hysteria seized her anyway.
They’re coming back.
They’re going to take you kicking and screaming into one of those rooms and lock you away, and you will fight, but not hard enough, and they will have you. You will never see the baby or Vincent again. You will try to get away; it won’t be enough. It was never enough…
She stumbled back into her friend, her feet beginning a clumsy whirl of escape.
“Cathy!” Joe whispered urgently, trying to get her attention without the whole building knowing.
“I can’t do this, Joe. I don’t know why, but I can’t!” It felt like a yell. It sounded like a whisper.
If I’m crazy, then I’m crazy, but I can’t do this.
She twisted in Joe’s arms, balanced on fainting or fighting’s edge, too close to ripping at his face to be free.
He held her, her arms tight to her sides, embracing and bracing.
She wanted him to stop and never to stop.
His expression, at first alarm, evolved and fell into something close to somber realization.
“It’s the building, Cathy”—an undertone explanation, his thick black hair brushing her forehead as he bent close. He glanced up, and she tracked his gaze to the florescent lights and then down to the carpeted floors. “It’s the hallways,” he continued, “the lights, the floors. It’s…everything. You’re just remembering.”
The rasp of artificial air through the vents…
The buzzing cold light…
Can’t get away…
And the odor—floral, chemical—something in the rug? A spray cleaner? The same smell from the other building, the other jail. She wanted to vomit.
“What you’ve endured will make you stronger.” Vincent’s voice. Joe’s grounding grip.
I’m not insane. I’m not weak.
Her feet unlocked.
Without a word, the secretary showed Catherine and Joe into a cramped meeting room—smaller than her living room, smaller than Vincent’s chamber. The décor—a lone, unshaded window, textured, off-white wallpaper, a glossy black table, and four metal and vinyl chairs. The secretary left, shutting the door with the air of checking off a task that needed done before moving on to others. It was clear, despite Joe’s request for water, they wouldn’t see her again.
Catherine stepped to the window on the far side of the room.
Identifying the panic’s origin had eased the feelings, but hadn’t dispelled them. The nausea remained, a reminder of her frailty. Her hand fumbled into her pocket, and for an anxious second, she found only seams, but finally—in the corner and up the side at a strange angle—Kipper’s heart stone. She held it as if she could slow the pounding of her heart by the force of her grip alone.
It took minutes, but the hammering quieted from deliberate resolve. The air conditioning slowly began to breach the wall of heat around her body.
Catherine looked out at the sun-stark city. Vincent would feel her panic. Would the baby? She had to focus, to relax, for their sake. She tumbled the stone in her fingers, rubbing it with her thumb.
“You were never helpless.”[i]
Vincent, I wish you were right. I’m trying…
Light dust covered the sill of the non-opening window. That was like the tower, but the view was summer now, not the rain and snow months of the cell days. The sycamores of Foley Square and the court buildings were easily discernible at this height.
There were people in the park, smoking, enjoying the day, waiting for buses or a court date. New lovers and old couples held hands. Parents stood watch over their playing children. Her former office, her former life, was a few blocks away, and that realization stung, but nothing in this view hurt.
While gazing out the window, she listened for Joe’s movements. He paced the room for a minute, then pulled out a scraping chair. He must have sat, because, eventually, he began tapping his fingers on the table.
Too quiet—they both needed a distraction. She turned from the world and focused on her friend.
“Tell me about the office. What’s happening?”
He looked up, nervous drumming stopped, and she glimpsed the Joe she knew.
“Well, you probably heard that Anderson got my old job.”
She had, from the article that announced Joe’s appointment as D.A.
“Yeah, I did. I’m sorry,” she said, then took the chair opposite and hunched over the table, mimicking his posture.
“You and everybody else.”
She chuckled in commiseration, but it came up short. “I thought you had final say on who got the position.”
He sat back, slouching down. “So did I, but any friend of the mayor’s…” He shrugged.
“Oh, Joe, that’s awful.”
“Yeah, but between me and the rest of the office giving him grief, I doubt he’s gonna stay too much longer before he goes looking for an offer—you know, offense to defense.”
“A defense firm?” she said and smiled, happy they could fall back into themselves. “You’d rather have him at the other table?”
“I would, ‘cause worst case, he runs for D.A. and then he’s our boss.”
He expects me to come back. Lost in the thought, her attention wandered.
After everything, he wants me to come back.
Joe seemed to take her silence for concern over Anderson. “Don’t worry, Radcliffe. I doubt he’ll try. He’s knows I know the skeletons in his closet. I think we’ve come to a decent understanding. As long as he doesn’t get too cocky.”
They were both silent for a moment. Joe unconsciously began playing his fingers around the corner of the table, not looking up when he spoke again.
“Rita took over most of your cases after you were gone. The Gomez trial got away from her, but Young and Lagrossa pled out, and she got ten years for Boyle.”
“Wow, that’s great,” Catherine exclaimed with genuine respect. “I didn’t know how we were going to get him.”
“Neither did I.” His words trailed off, but, after a moment, returned with a note of pride. “She came at it from a completely different angle. Uncovered a P.F.A order in his dirty domestic laundry, then tracked down his former brother-in-law, figuring he would want a piece of his asset-hiding, wife-beating ass. Got him to testify about the late-night shipments.”
“Good for her,” Catherine proclaimed with admiration for the young woman’s accomplishments.
At least he has Rita.
“Yeah, she really stepped up to the plate,” Joe added, now unconsciously playing with his briefcase handle. He backpedaled, apparently worried over how his last statement sounded. “Not that she could fill your shoes.”
Catherine shook her head, although she couldn’t say the words.
Someone had to, Joe.
When he met her sad smile, he finally offered her murmured truth. “We, uuh, needed to hire somebody.” To take your place, he didn’t say.
Swallowing. “And? What do you think?” she encouraged when he didn’t go on.
“She isn’t you,” he asserted in a way that flattered, because you could hear he wished the other woman was.
“What’s she like?” Catherine’s curiosity stirred.
“Well…when I say tight…” His teeth ground in disapproval. “She—Thompson’s her name—she blows a gasket if I drop anything on her desk after 3 o’clock.”
“Joe, it was kind of rude.” How many nights did those late files become her most reliable after-dinner companions?
“That’s the job. You know that,” he said, as if the other woman didn’t. “She loses it with the interns all the time—if they can’t find something, or if they screw up on a motion. You know, all the stuff you handled.” He looked back down at his case.
“Not happily,” she reminded him, playing her devil to his advocate.
“Yeah, but you handled ‘em.” He pulled a string from the leather stitching.
Catherine silently tilted her head at the compliment without speaking to it.
After another moment, Joe continued. “And witnesses just aren’t as open with her, ya know? She just doesn’t have your touch with them. She’s always…” he hesitated, trying to find the right term, “…on edge, uncomfortable.” A tired smile and shrug accompanied his next remark. “Silvaggio started the pool the day she got your desk.”
“I broke that pool,” Catherine argued.
Joe just quirked a larger grin. “You did,” he replied with a nod and raised brow that said he never bet against her. “But she isn’t you, and she won’t. I can’t get in ‘cause I can technically fire her, but…I’m guessing she won’t make Christmas.” He sighed. “Still…she’s a warm body, so… ” He shrugged again and went quiet.
Life had gone on without her, and as much Joe wanted to protest, the office didn’t fall apart when she didn’t show up, just like her father’s firm hadn’t. The system kept on working. Crime didn’t go unpunished. There was a bittersweet consolation in that.
Life moved on.
Catherine inspected the room again, reassessing where they’d been taken without the earlier agitation. This wasn’t an interrogation room, no two-way mirror. There wasn’t space for a huge team, just them and maybe two agents. Joe had fixed it—either charmed them or pulled strings to keep this small, intimate. She wasn’t going to be treated like a criminal, at least, not yet.
“So…watched any good TV lately?” Joe asked, startling her out of her thoughts.
It was an old joke between them. Her TV lived its last few years as her glorified news blotter, and he could count the nights of the week he got home before 10 p.m. on two fingers.
“No. Have you?” she asked, glad she didn’t have to carry the conversation.
“Actually, there’s this new show that isn’t too bad. Detective show, but they have the court stuff too. I kind of wish the guy they have playing the D.A. was actually running for the job.” Joe huffed a light chuckle. “He seems a lot better at it than I am.”
The highest ranking officer of the court of New York tapped his fingers into the table again, this time pounding a complicated rhythm. “Of course, he doesn’t have fifteen new things flying at him as soon as he walks in the door every day.” Joe seemed to enumerate his burdens with each beat, then added, “But, yeah, I could give it up to him.”
With no other heir apparent, Joe would have to face an election—fund-raising, shaking hands with “the right people”—not to mention the workload. It seemed too monumental to even talk about it, plus the weight of what he had done for her, the burden of it, taking time away from all his responsibilities, his future, to try to help her. As forced as it was, she should at least attempt to keep him occupied.
“But Joe, you’ve got so much going on and you’re watching a court show after work? Isn’t that…I don’t know, excessive…wallowing, maybe?”
He sniggered again. “You know me, glutton for punishment.” He slouched further into the chair and sighed. “‘Law and Order’—you should check it out. The stories are good, and they don’t get too much wrong.”
She smiled. “I’ll do that…as soon as I can.” She took his hand in hers, even if she couldn’t decide it was the right or wrong action. “And as for someone better…there really is no one more decent or hardworking than you, Joe. You know that.”
He didn’t reply and Catherine finally had to let go. The reticent quiet stretched until it would have taken more creativity than her weary brain could muster to come up with another topic. Of course, she couldn’t talk of Vincent and the baby, but what could she talk of that wasn’t Vincent and the baby? Every path her mind took led to them. Instead, Joe and she remained silent, just the muffled sound of traffic filling the space between them, knowing recording devices could be, and probably were, being used. It wasn’t admissible, but it was a way to find what was.
And they waited…and continued to wait, for close to an hour.
It was an old trick, to keep a suspect off guard, to emphasize who was in charge. Time was the agents’ to play with, and time was her enemy. Already the effect of Jacob’s lackluster last feeding was beginning to be felt by both mother and son—a tug, a tightening in her mind. Vincent shrouded his own feelings—his presence an expanse of black, calm water in her heart—but their child had no way of knowing how, nor why it might be important to keep to himself. The baby wanted her, wanted to be fed, but she could imagine Vincent, wisely, trying to hold him off, to save what she had left for the time being. She could block the need if she had to, and she had to.
There is no baby…no Vincent…
When she knew she would have to come here, she tried to lose herself in the old thoughts, imagining the details of the different paths, scenarios that could have been the truth.
no baby…no Vincent…
It hurt, the cold emptiness of that existence. Her mind rebelled, her heart fought, especially now, but she pushed herself, trying to slip on her prisoner persona.
I am nothing…I am no one…
But the minutes kept stacking. Walking the room, looking outside, neglecting inside, sitting, resting…nothing helped to banish the baby’s needs beating at her heart. His smell still clinging to her clothes, and the memory of his smile—early, fleeting, half-formed, but still true— overwhelming her mind’s eye, undermining every effort to stay unencumbered.
When it was getting close to the point where she knew she would have to leave—when she couldn’t stay in the cramped room any longer, the panic once again inching past her barriers—the air abruptly changed, and then a shuffling sound in the corridor, a signal of approaching people. For a split-second, old fears of who might be behind the door galloped her heart.
Two agents entered the room.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Miss Chandler, D. A. Maxwell,” the first of the two said into his file, not even looking up. He was the older, the thickness of a middle-age man beginning to show, with his brown, paling-to-grey hair groomed in the tight style common in law enforcement. The other agent, a stocky but well-built young man, at least had the courtesy to look embarrassed as he closed the door.
Livid, Joe barked, “Agent Dunn, we’ve been here over an hour! You think we’ve got nothing better to do than to wait here all day?”
“As I said, I’m sorry, Mr. Maxwell. We had some things to clear up,” the man asserted, his crisp, curt words conveying clearly that he wasn’t sorry.
The junior agent, just on the side of strangely young for this job, maybe late twenties, reached out a hand to Catherine. “Good morning, Miss Chandler, I’m Agent Morrissey, and this is Special Agent Dunn,” he said, nodding to the other man, who was still looking through his topmost file. “Thank you for coming.” He addressed her fully, making sure to keep her gaze.
She mustered as confident a handshake as she could, and he pumped her hand in an open way while continuing. “Mr. Maxwell may have told you we have been investigating John Moreno. We were hoping you could describe his role in your disappearance. Any help…”
Cutting the other man off, Agent Dunn turned to the topmost of his papers, finally looking at Joe and Catherine as he sat down.
“Let’s get started.”