“We’re all just walking each other home.”
— Ram Dass
Circumscribed to a few feet of pacing, bound to the corner of the study, Vincent waited with his wailing child in his arms. Concealed in that obscured place behind the door, swept clean but neglected in every other way, he tried to be patient. The afternoon light flooded the rest of the study, and when Peter left to look out for Catherine at the front hall window, Vincent’s vulnerability bombarded him full-force. His life had been spent enclosed, safety counted in layers of concrete, earth and rock. Just the glass and brick of Peter’s house seemed a scarce shelter, and he had retreated to the darkest part of the room. He wasn’t used to being this close to the sun.
Tethered to the security of shadows, his Jacob desperate for his mother, and Catherine’s want of him and the baby bombarding his senses—for a scant moment he missed the false peace after his madness.
She’s close and in pain. Three hundred paces away from the house, but a world away.
She’s trying not to run.
He couldn’t imagine her. What did she look like, walking—almost sprinting—down the sidewalk in the mottled sun and shade of late afternoon? Yet even without the image, he had the sense of her.
He couldn’t rush to her (shouldn’t, mustn’t). She was trying not to rush to him.
The front door crashed against the hall wall. Small clattering steps in heels along the tiles, followed by larger, heavier footfalls.
Catherine rounded the study door and stopped short, as if suspended, her usually green eyes now grey and reddened with disquiet and fatigue.
He couldn’t stop gazing, couldn’t move, and neither could she. Her urgency and relief interwove in an expression that said: Unendurable, but endured, tolerable only because you are here now. He’d seen that look too many times.
Immobility broke when Joe Maxwell entered the study behind her. She half-turned at the other man’s presence, time moving forward again. Heat radiated off her brushing fingers as she took the hungry baby from Vincent, tucking him into her arms.
“It all right, little one. Shhhhh…” She pressed him close to her cheek, trying to quiet the wailing boy. “It’s okay, Jacob,” she promised, sitting in the closest chair.
Her trembling hand nearly ripped open her blouse with an instinctive and unembarrassed urgency. “It’s all right, Jacob,” she repeated. “Shhhhh…”
Her shaking and flush confirmed his first suspicion.
“She’s ill!” Vincent snarled, closing in on Maxwell. His arms, suddenly empty, strengthened with savage energy.
Defensive fury met Vincent’s own.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Did I keep her out too late, Dad?” Maxwell snapped back. “I guess the Federal Agents kept her out past curfew?”
“Joe!” Catherine yelled, distracted from her efforts to calm the baby.
“But surely when she told them she had to leave—” Vincent persisted.
“Yeah, ‘cause it’s that easy?” Maxwell continued, edging perilously close to Vincent, seemingly blind to any danger. “You think I didn’t try everything I could to get her out of there? I finally had to threaten them!”
The child howled again, getting the men’s attention. Abashed, but still both aggravated, they backed away from each other.
“Sorry, Aretha,” Joe Maxwell snarled, pointing to Vincent, “but you need to call him off.”
“Mr. Maxwell, that’s enough,” Peter commanded as he entered the study.
It quelled the combat, and Catherine took the opportunity to focus on getting the baby composed enough to feed.
“We’re just happy you’re back,” Peter continued once she had gotten the baby nursing. The doctor carried a large glass of water and two pills.
“Vincent,” he said, turning his attention, “it isn’t uncommon for a nursing mother to run a fever, especially after being away from her baby.” Peter presented his offerings. “Here.”
Catherine took the glass, but eyed the pills with suspicion, perhaps bred from her imprisonment. Finally, she shook her head. She would let the fever pass on its own. She fought to smile for Peter’s thoughtfulness and to reassure him she would be all right.
He slipped the pills into his pants pocket and went to a blanket chest. He delved through, finally extricating a light, woven throw, and handed it to her. “What can I get you to eat?” he asked.
Catherine draped the blanket over the baby and her shoulder as she answered. “Anything, Peter. Thank you.” She closed her eyes, settling, some of the soreness beginning to dissipate, but her heart still raced.
“Catherine—” Vincent began to question her state.
She stopped him, attempting the smile again. “Vincent, I’m fine…” She breathed and added, “…now.”
You aren’t, but you’ll try to be. For everyone… Even me.
“And Joe—” she began. There could be no mistaking her rigid and exasperated tone. Her patience for challenges of any sort was at an end.
“Sorry. Sorry, Radcliffe. It’s been a rough day…” He glanced over and could have included Vincent in the statement, but turned away, the anger still sharp if, finally, silent.
Does the man never call anyone by their given name?
Vincent, deliberately leaving his place in the corner, walked over to the chair opposite and sat on the very end of the seat, ready.
The other man placed his briefcase on the desk and perched there, also on the edge.
Vincent wanted his cloak, left behind in the kitchen as cumbersome when the day’s focus became the baby’s needs. If the past had taught him anything, it was when his appearance was provoking. He wished for the cloak’s defense, even if only for Catherine’s sake.
The phone rang in the sudden stillness. Peter hurried to answer it in the kitchen. By his quick, sure words, it sounded work-related. While they curbed their conversation during the phone call, Catherine removed her shoes with her free hand. They had indented her feet with circling welts. She noiselessly tossed them away on the carpet.
Only after Peter hung up did she speak. “Have you ever started walking somewhere and thought, ‘It’s not that far,’ but when you’re in the middle you realize it’s much further than you’d thought, that you’d forgotten half the way?”
“Yes,” Vincent answered.
“Mmmhmmm,” Maxwell agreed.
“That was today.” She tried to find the humor in it. She half-smirked. “I was so certain. Just in and out, maybe one more time.” She shook her head and lowered. “How stupid…”
“Catherine—” Vincent began to protest, but Maxwell interrupted.
“We hoped, kid.” He tried to comfort her. “There’s nothing wrong with hoping.”
“But you know the worst part?” she continued. “I’ve been them, those agents. I’ve questioned people for hours on end, trying to find the truth, never seeing that the truth could be so complicated…” The words and her voice dwindled, leaving a bitter trail to silence.
Peter returned from the kitchen with a bowl of soup and a soft bread sandwich on a tray table.
“One of my patients just went into the hospital,” Peter explained. “I would normally stop at the office and then see what I could do, but I can get someone else—”
“We’ll be fine, Peter. Please go see your patient,” Catherine said, focusing in on the baby.
He tried to catch her eyes. “Cathy, you sure you don’t want something for that fever?”
“No, thank you,” she demurred, keeping her attention on the child.
He took a perch on the armrest of Vincent’s chair. “Before I go, tell me what happened.”
She didn’t offer anything, the uncomfortable break in the conversation lengthening.
“Well,” Maxwell started for her, standing from the desk. “They asked a lot of questions about Moreno’s role in her abduction. I have a friend at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, so I had an idea of what they were going for. They’re bringing Moreno up on charges of fraud, corruption, accepting bribes—it looks like they got most of the goods on that—so we were hoping that’s all they needed, but we think they want him on kidnapping too. It’s a…dirtier, sleazier crime—they want him brought down in the worst way— and that’s the one that brings Cathy into the mess.”
“Yeah,” she breathed.
“Usually abduction is a state crime,” he continued. “We could handle that, but—this is where it gets fuzzy—the FBI says it’s their jurisdiction. They say Gabriel’s men took her over state lines.”
“But they didn’t,” Vincent protested. He could never forget the warehouse on Vestry Street. He’d killed almost a dozen men there and still lost her.
“Yeah, well, she denied it today. But even if they didn’t, they say Moreno conspired in her abduction, and since he was a part Mafia organization, they’ll charge him as a leader, so anything done under his orders is a Federal crime, a RICO charge. We can fight the over-state-lines part, but the RICO stuff…That may stick, and they’ll probably want her to testify, possibly subpoena her, which opens up a whole other can of worms.”
“But wasn’t that a forgone conclusion, that she must testify?” Vincent asked.
“No, we were hoping they would just need information from her, that they wouldn’t try for the kidnapping. His involvement would be hard to prove without other witnesses, really just a ‘he said/she said.’ If they go for it, she’ll have to testify. I know Moreno’s attorney. His nickname is ‘Rottweiler’, and, in his case, it’s a term of endearment. He’ll dig and dig until he can bury her.” He looked to Vincent. “And we know he won’t have to dig too far.”
She said nothing, her weakness so pointedly underscored, wounded enough to take the few words she might have offered away.
“They questioned her over and over about what happened, and she did really well, but we knew they didn’t believe everything. The one agent, Dunn, seems like he’s pretty sure all of us at the D.A.’s Office were in Gabriel’s pocket, not just Moreno. They asked about our investigation and the book I had.” A look passed between Catherine and her former boss—another point of contention, it seemed, between them. “They kept asking her the obvious question—why they didn’t kill her. She kept dodging it.”
“So they didn’t know about the baby?” Peter extrapolated.
She shook her head.
“And Vincent?” Peter asked further.
“No,” her boss answered, “but they know she didn’t get out of the building by herself. She told them it was a guard.”
“A guard?” Peter asked, but no other explanation was offered.
Catherine picked at the food in front of her. Spiritless, drained, she looked ready to be finished.
She’d given the authorities so little. She didn’t trust them. She didn’t trust those whose job it was to uphold the law. If so, what were the implications going forward?
“They want to see us again tomorrow,” Maxwell informed them.
She exhaled, a too-familiar expression deepening around her mouth and forehead, on the edges of No, and Maybe, if I must, but please don’t ask me.
Joe, seeing her hesitation, knelt in front of her. “I know you don’t wanna go, but we give them an extra day, they keep digging. We’re bringing the fight to them, right?”
She nodded, accepted.
“I have to get back to the office. I can tell them we can’t come until the afternoon, ok?” he asked.
A breath of relief. “Would you, Joe?”
“Hey, on your side, remember?” He patted her knee.
She nodded, exhaling relief again, but then looked away, the audience over. She truly had reached her limit.
Maxwell stood, but stayed close.
Peter shrugged on his blazer. “I’m sorry, but I have to go. Anything in the house is yours, of course. Vincent,” he said, as he turned his attention. “Call my service and say that…,” he groped for a name, then offered, “that Josephine wants to speak with me, if you need me. Understood?”
“Yes, Peter. Thank you.”
Peter took his leave, and silence once more reigned over the trio. Finally, Maxwell took his briefcase and readied himself to depart. “I have a lunch meeting tomorrow, but I’ll stop by before,” he said as he stood over her. She was ready to protest, but he checked her. “We have some things we need to discuss, like that book.”
Her gaze shifted down and away sharply. Her avoidance of the subject might as well have been written in stone.
Either the man was too used to this evasion, or Maxwell had never encountered her true defiance before, because he continued as if he didn’t even notice. “Yup, looks like I’m sleeping at the office again.” He stretched up, yawning.
Her attention – and compassion – instantly returned to him. “Oh, Joe, I’m sorry…”
“Are you kidding, Radcliffe? I’ve moved up in the world. My new office has a much better couch,” he tried to joke. “And all my dry cleaning gets delivered.”
The joke fell; the intended audience was too tired to notice. She couldn’t even try to laugh.
Now it was Maxwell’s turn to be compassionate. “Speaking of sleep, it looks like you could use some.”
This she would accept. She rearranged the finally contented baby under the blanket and redid her blouse enough for a small bit of modesty. She moved the small table in front of her, rose, and dropped the throw into the chair.
Vincent stood as well, ready to help, but Maxwell was closer, set to steady her if she faltered. Sudden fury once again ascended through Vincent’s body, into limbs and hands. Maxwell’s attention, coupled with the smell of the world on her—of the city that swallowed her, of the men that questioned her for too long—brought a jealousy he had never known. Even the incidents with Elliot and Michael hadn’t provoked the heights of dangerous possessiveness he felt now. It soared swift and strong, and no logic could keep it from flying free in his heart.
Resentment, anger, fear—these are the consequences of trying to share her with the world, of building a life together. Are you truly up to the task? Vincent wrestled with the jealousy, nearly trembling with the effort to keep the feeling and its consequences in check. The only consolation—her weariness kept her notice from him.
“You really did good today, Radcliffe.” Maxwell placed his arm around her as they walked into the hall. “Some pretty slick lines you came up with in there, especially the one about the guard.”
For an instant, confusion. A line? A lie? What line, her expression implied. Vincent could feel her grasping at memory. Finally, she realized what he was saying, and somehow, for some reason, the words hurt. She gently shook off her friend’s arm.
“You mean when I told them that a guard helped me escape? That someone saw me as a person?” Her voice drifted low, as if it was dangerous for her to recount. “That someone wanted to help me?” Now in stocking feet, she shuffled noiselessly towards the stair. “It wasn’t a lie, Joe,” she said. “It was a wish.” The sound of the words, a rushed whisper dashing past a dark corridor of memory. “It’s what I wished for every day I was there.”
It was a wish that hadn’t come true.
She turned away from them, facing the stairs like a mountain. They watched her climb, every footfall work, exhaustion betrayed in each pull on the bannister and every pressing upward step.
The other man looked stricken and then spun on Vincent, unguarded accusation darkening his features.
She’s too good a person to have to lie like this and it’ll only get worse.
You don’t see it.
She doesn’t belong with you.
Joe Maxwell’s emotions painted the words in stark black and white blame.
As if this man’s reproach could be greater than my own.
Maxwell turned away in haste, trying to control his feelings, or to hide them, at least—as though he could—his attention back on Catherine.
She had finally reached the landing. She stopped, transferred the sleeping baby to her other arm, and then walked the darkened upstairs hallway.
Being left alone with his mute accuser, without her influence or dominion, further provoked Vincent’s acrimony. The animosity’s origin, however, was a lesson whose roots had been obscured for far too long.
You cannot trust their laws, their “justice”, Vincent. Either spurious, dogmatic, fearful, or corrupt—they have no mercy in them for you, or anyone beyond their comprehension…
And yet—with the irony not lost on him—Catherine had been a part of that Justice, a vital part, and it of her. And this was a man she trusted, a friend.
Her wish. She spoke of it, of that time of loneliness and terror. She recounted, even if it was scant recollection. Could the man not see what a gift that was? Did this man think he, too, was so blind?
Vincent spoke while still gazing up into the black hallway she had disappeared into.
“Please don’t delude yourself, Mr. Maxwell, that I do not see what this is doing to her. She is strong, but I see Catherine’s suffering.” He pivoted, looking at him in the full face of truth. “I see how she sickens without freedom…without the sun.”
Maxwell seemed more taken aback by Vincent actually speaking to him than by the assertion. For this man, the world suddenly made no sense. Still caught in the chaos, warring emotions caused a stalemate within and without. It wasn’t the first time Vincent had acted as the unwelcome emissary of an alien and undiscovered country.
“I’ve known since our paths first crossed what sacrifices she must make to know me.” Vincent gazed back into the darkness again. “I loved her from the moment we met, Mr. Maxwell. How could I not? But I’ve always recognized that my love was dangerous.”
He could only hope the other man could begin to understand.
“It wasn’t indifference that kept us apart for so long, I assure you.”
Having spoken his peace and depleting some of the antipathy’s power, Vincent made to follow her up the stairs. It was then he heard words he thought he would never hear from this man.
It was a curt apology, begrudgingly given, but still given.
It stopped Vincent’s steps.
“This whole thing—these people, the Feds, the politicians, the press—I’m on edge.” Maxwell ran a hand through his thick but thinning black hair. “I didn’t mean to—”
Vincent interrupted the unneeded explanation. “You care for Catherine. I know that, Mr. Maxwell. You should never apologize for that.”
In that place of confrontation, but also of understanding, a calm stole over the man—no fidgeting, no movement at all. He stared directly into Vincent’s eyes.
“The truth is, I’ve known Cathy for years. We’ve worked around the clock, shared meals, pulled too many all-nighters, had too many losses, and the few wins…she deserves a lot of the credit for.”
Vincent could see what those memories meant to the man. How could they not mean the world?
“We spent all that time together, and I thought…I thought I knew her.” Maxwell’s gaze was drawn once again up the stairs. “But seeing her with you, finding out about all this…”
A moment, a heartbeat, before he spoke again.
“I didn’t know her at all.”
“You’re wrong, Mr. Maxwell,” Vincent said, but with no rancor, his attention following the confused man’s. “You know her. Catherine is caring, intelligent…good.” He could go on, but there was a point to be made. “It is because of her goodness that she could ever look past these features and see the man inside this frame.”
Vincent stared at his empty, open hands. Claws, fur—weapons—not the hands of a man at all, lethal hands. Her hands…
“I know you’ve seen what I can do.”
Maxwell swiveled back.
I am the monster who loves her, just as you said. [i]
They balanced—two men, both, in his own way, capable of destroying the other—and they balanced for a reason.
“I know what you think of me,” Vincent began, “but, please, do not think less of her for loving me. Would you wish for her to come to harm if I could stop it?”
“No,” the other man accepted, although with valid reservations. Vincent broke Maxwell’s paradigm of justice, of nature, of New York and the world. Of course he was hostile, but didn’t he understand what he had?
“You know her,” Vincent asserted again, “worked with her. You shared a courtroom, an office—the places I can never go, shared friends I can never meet.” He shook his head. “I cannot begin to understand her brilliance, her joy in her work as you do. You knew her in a way I never will.”
Another heartbeat, and the next words escaped before Vincent could weigh the consequences.
“I envy you.”
“You…envy…me…” the other man repeated slowly, taken aback. Dismayed, then jolted into angry motion, Maxwell wrenched his briefcase from the floor and marched towards the front hallway.
Met with the man’s astonishment and fury, Vincent could only admit defeat. He bowed his head and again started climbing the stairs to Catherine.
Without warning: “Vincent.” The man at the door spoke, using the name like he was trying it, resigned to it.
“It’s Joe. Not ‘Mr. Maxwell.’”
Each man changed course, slowly turning and taking a step towards the middle of the hall.
“Just Joe, ok?” he asked.
Vincent nodded warily.
Joe looked past him, to where Catherine had retreated. “She nearly lost it today, ya know.”[ii]
“I know,” Vincent assured him.
“You know,” he echoed, through a short scoffing laugh. “You know,” he repeated under his breath, but then sobered. “She deals with it, puts it away,” he said, nodding at her efforts, “but it was the first time I realized how bad it must have been.”
“I think it was,” Vincent agreed.
“I failed Cathy before,” Joe said. “I didn’t get her out.” But you did, he implied, mutely acknowledging Vincent’s stake in her well-being, while also claiming his own.
“I didn’t see who was working with me or against me. I’m not going to let that happen again.” He shook his head and took a last glance up the stairs. “What I mean is, we’re in this together.” He shrugged, still dissatisfied, but reconciled. “So, we should probably be on a first-name basis.”
I see you. I may not like it, but I see you.
Joe Maxwell didn’t wait for Vincent to agree. He turned and opened the front door, slipping out into a busy and inaccessible city of light.