“Sometimes we must leave our safe places and walk empty-handed among our enemies.” – Brigit O’Donnell
A little over a month after Jacob’s birth, Catherine peered out of a seldom-used natural stone gateway into the sunshine of North Woods. She wouldn’t lie. It was as beautiful as it was frightening.
She had to shield her accustomed-to-candlelight eyes, squinting through the mist to look into the Park. The leaves were larger than she expected. Still spring green, but almost in full flush, creating patches of sunlight and shade in the white, wistful sun of the early May morning.
Catherine’s clothes – her lightly patched shirt, large cardigan, skirt, stockings and boots – kept her comfortably warm in the Tunnels and were equally suited to the chilly early hours of the day. It was spring, when the Tunnels’ cool temperatures and New York’s equalized. It was the other time of year when the walls of the worlds must grow thin, she thought, when the realm of the spirits and a thousand other magical lands became accessible. Smelling the new grass, old leaves, and wet earth, she thought of Brigit.
Vincent stood behind her, holding the baby away from the touch of sunlight. Jamie and Dominic had gone ahead to scout the route and to let the family say their farewells alone.
Catherine turned back towards the twin suns of her twilight universe. Vincent, clad in his cream shirt, tan vest, jeans, and old cloak, cradled their tiny sleeping boy easily with one arm. The mysteries of the newborn, while not fully revealed, with Mary’s and the others’ help were daily discovered, each day bringing a new gift or understanding, moment-to-moment – a sleepy smile, a transient gas pain, old kicks and new calls – blissfully experienced with the man and baby she loved.
Dare she ask for more? She had been blessed by Fate. These two had sustained her for so long, locked away from the sun. They had been her hope, but because of them she was needed in the light now. She had to find out if Joe had done as she asked. For Jacob and Vincent’s sake, she would plead with the man if need be. She was greedy. She wanted both worlds for her son and safety for her husband.
Husband – such a new, beloved word, a fated word, she believed, despite his misgivings. Even after Father’s somewhat clumsy nudging and Catherine’s outright proposal, Vincent had balked at marrying before she could safely leave the Tunnels. He feared for her freedom – again, the old argument. Hades’ kidnapping of Persephone, he had said. She let him know in no uncertain, bordering on obscene, terms what she thought of that image. Her anger, while not as keen as it had been during her pregnancy, still flashed icy-hot at times. Jacob and he were her whole world, she had countered, no matter what happened Above. Their souls and fates were linked. She was his, and he belonged to her, forever.
Her next breath had teetered on the edge of tears.
Don’t you want to marry me?
The old fears hadn’t left them, not yet, and her emotions were intemperate and all-consuming; Summer storms, Mary called them, and completely expected after a baby. Of course he did, he had argued, but he didn’t wish for her to bind herself if she weren’t completely free.
It was their first true fight after the baby, all vehemence and passion, but, in the end, Jacob cast the deciding vote, his cries over their shared distress a reminder that, all ideals aside, they were bound by greater forces than man’s words, and one of those forces was a healthy eight pounds, with a howling need that could wake his parents from a dead sleep. The words were a formality, but a welcome one for all who had witnessed their simple vows, added with little notice to Jacob’s naming ceremony.
“Catherine, are you sure this is the wisest course of action?” Vincent asked, as he shifted their sleeping son – wrapped snugly in Sarah’s hastily, albeit beautifully crafted, naming gift – on his arm. He had been silent on their long walk here, his fear for her growing with each step towards the doorway that would take her to the unknown. It had been so long since she had tasted this feeling from him, not truly since Jacob’s birth.
“You sound like Father,” Catherine admonished softly, kissing the baby’s velvet head while inhaling his unique and perfect scent.
“Well, yes,” he countered, as she looked up from their child to see the dry humor in his eyes. “You made me one.”
“Well, I think I had a little help,” she lobbed back, smiling. She curled around the baby and nuzzled him one more time. Were all mothers addicted to their baby’s smell?
She stood back, placed her hand on her husband’s arm, and tried to soothe his worries. “Joe is a good man, Vincent. He hasn’t done anything so far. He’s angry; I’ll talk to him. I can make him understand. The worst he will do is just let me go, I’m sure of it.”
He looked down at their sleeping baby. “I wish I could be as sure, Catherine. I hope our trust is well placed.”
I do too, my love.
Joe had contacted Sammy two days before, wanting a meeting with her. Joe looked “awful angry,” according to the concerned Helper, and she didn’t doubt his assessment. She had kept a lot from Joe. She prayed he wouldn’t make her pay for it.
Catherine kissed her husband slowly, placing her hand on his rough cheek in parting, and again gently kissed her son, wanting one more moment with him, but trying to keep him sleeping for Vincent’s sake.
“I will see you soon,” Catherine said, attempting to swallow her threatening tears as she backed away from Vincent, away from her place of safety. She turned into the sunlight and shimmied through the crack that hid him and their child from those who wouldn’t understand.
If she looked back she would lose her nerve.
Jamie and Dominic, wearing close to regular clothing, fell in step with her as soon as she reached the path. Jamie, true to her word, would not let Catherine go alone, and had enlisted Dominic’s help, who everyone knew to have the best eyes in all the Tunnels. They were to keep watch for others, and protect her in case Joe’s anger got out of hand. She had made them swear they would slip away at the first hint of any real trouble. They did swear, and she didn’t need her years at the D.A.’s to know they lied like third-strike bagmen.
After about ten minutes of walking, silently taking in the Park – the birds staking their claims, the sound of wind in leaves, the sights of the cultivated wild, passing the odd early jogger – they came upon a series of benches near a row of stones and old trees. It was semi-private and not easily accessible by any type of vehicle, police cars specifically on their minds. Joe was already sitting on a bench, clothed in a ragged work suit, with a newspaper on his lap, staring off into space as if he didn’t notice her or her strange companions.
As she advanced towards him, watching for his reactions as one might approach an untamed animal, she read the headline: More Corruption Fallout from D.A. Arrest. Moreno had been taken into custody by Federal agents, along with a number of prominent businessmen with no discernible business and a half a dozen Albany “public servants.” Gabriel was the name of her kidnapper, the man whose warm and sticky blood she could still feel on her hands. She never knew his name when he held her; she had to read it in the Times.
Gabriel had been wrong; justice could move swiftly when it had to. Once Joe had contacted the Feds, Gabriel’s criminal enterprise washed away like a modern Atlantis, taking with it people and businesses, banks and law firms, investment corporations and real estate developers. The rest, it seemed, was to be scavenged and fought over by the established mobsters and the up-and-coming criminals. The chaos and bloodshed of the turf wars and power grabs reigned from Brooklyn to the Bronx and beyond.
Catherine sat on the far end of the bench, waiting for Joe to acknowledge her. Jamie stood a few yards away, just outside of the conversation’s radius. Dominic placed himself behind the benches on a small hill, their lookout.
Catherine took a quick glance at the man beside her before going back to staring into the Park, wondering how to proceed. Joe didn’t look sad or angry. He didn’t act relieved or excited to see her. He looked numb. She would have felt sorry for him. Unlike her, he had no place of love and support. He had never left this brutal city, had no one to tell him it would be all right, and that things would settle. She would have felt sorry for him, but she couldn’t, he was so changed. This was a Joe she didn’t know, and that frightened her.
Catherine had weeks to escape the memories, to leave that place of hate and isolation to history. She could almost imagine what happened in those months of captivity occurred to someone else. Her Winter’s Tale, Father had named it, after she told him of the feeling. It could almost be forgotten under the spell of Vincent’s voice, the images of her cell just a faded photograph compared to the vividness of their son’s immediate needs, the gentle jokes of Cullen, Rebecca and Lena’s company, the laughter of the children, Father’s doting on his namesake.
But last night the past came for a visit.
She had dreamt of Him the night before, the Other one, with Vincent’s countenance but not his spirit.
A sun-drenched Park chessboard separated them. The dream wove a fabric of experience not merely strange for the fact that it was midday in the center of Manhattan and everyone else seemed too interested in their own games to notice them, but because she didn’t play chess.
Catherine’s mind protested while being dragged through the dream’s fixed narrative. How could the future be predicted? she always questioned, looking at the patterned board that held no patterns for her. How could you begin to imagine what someone else would do, not just a move ahead but three or four moves on? Vincent seemed to be able to parse out prospective strategies with ease. He had told her the predictions came with time and experience, but she doubted there was time enough in the world for her to even get close to matching him. She respected him for his ability but never wished to pursue its cultivation, and yet here she was.
“Isn’t this…civilized,” Vincent’s shadow, her opponent, snarled more than said through clenched teeth, looking at the untouched board, waiting for her to make the first move.
She opened with her king’s pawn. “We can be civil,” she told him.
He countered. Soon the pieces were in motion.
“You’re right,” he answered with a feral grin when he took her opening pawn, as if to say she would have to do better.
She assessed her former tormentor from across the table. He still felt unpredictable, aggressive, but, somehow, amazingly, less harmful. “You can’t hurt me anymore.” Not truly telling him, more informing herself.
“You’re stronger now,” he acknowledged as he held up her pawn, examining it in his claws. “Besides, Catherine,” he continued as he studied her unintentional sacrifice, “I never did anything to you that you weren’t already doing to yourself.” He gently set the piece down on his side of the board.
She hesitated in her next move, unsure. “You’re right,” she acceded, and finally parried with her knight, and within that knight, in the dream truth, (unquestioned, accepted,) lived the essence of the man she would meet with today.
“Do you really think Maxwell,” her adversary asked, motioning at the piece with a nod, ”will help you, your husband…Vincent’s son?” He looked decidedly skeptical. “You want him to keep your family safe, but no matter his title, he is just a man of the world that betrayed you, and not a very open-minded one. Can you really trust him?”
“I trust Joe,” she told her opponent with sincerity, if not perfect certainty.
“He might not be the same man you knew. He might hate you, Catherine,” Vincent’s shade argued, the words so out of place in the beautiful sun-filled day. “He probably already does.” He studied the board to find a way around the knight. “He loved you, he wanted you, but you loved…”
Vincent’s shadow stood and put his hands down, palms open, to display the image of the person she loved beyond any other man, the one she chose despite every obstacle and every danger. He sighed and took his place again.
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He sounded resigned. “You’ve chosen. The queen moves across the entire board in ways the others can’t. She protects fiercely. It will be hard, but you’ve made up your mind, and you are my image.”
She looked back down to calculate what would happen next, but the board was empty. All the pieces – the knights, the rooks, the bishops, the pawns, her king, her queen – were all still there; she could feel their presence, but they were hidden.
Her last impression, the one that stayed with her long after all the other details faded, warned her – she would still be forced to play, no matter how inadequate to the game she felt, but from now on with invisible pieces.
“You look pretty good, Cathy,” Joe stated flatly in opening. She heard the words underneath the words – You survived. Somehow, you survived it all.
“Thanks, Joe,” she said, answering his statement’s face value. She couldn’t say the same about him, so she kept her mouth shut on the subject. He looked careworn and sleep-deprived and, for him, preternaturally still.
For a few moments all between them were the tree blossoms drifting away on the wind, blue sky, and birdsong, until he broke the silence.
“Some F.B.I. agents came to see me a few days ago. They want to talk with you.”
Of course they do, Joe. I killed a man, a man who would have killed me, who would have stolen my son, destroyed my husband. He deserved death, but I still murdered him, and there are consequences. I want to make this right. I want to finish this, but what did you tell them? Have you made that impossible?
Her heart raced as he continued with the words she knew he would say and wished he wouldn’t.
“I watched the tapes, Cathy.”
She closed her eyes.
“I watched the tapes and I read the files.”
And now you know everything…
I saw you, pregnant.” He seemed to reject the word as one might strike something away unexpectedly thrown at them. “I saw medical files…”
He finally turned to her, clearly meaning to provoke her, to challenge her to deny it. “And I saw him, Cathy.”
He didn’t even try to hide his revulsion.
“I saw a monster slash men, crush them, tear their throats out, throw them like they were dolls. I know he killed three guards in the building you sent me to. It was…”
He lowered his eyes as if he wanted nothing more than to erase the images from his mind.
Catherine remained silent. She could say nothing that would comfort him. She had seen what Vincent could do, had done, to protect her. She had felt his rage, and shared his rage. She wouldn’t deny it.
“Is this thing the father of your baby?”
She turned to him, fully looking at her accuser. “Yes.” A breath, the truth, defiant. “What are you going to do about it?”
This was the turning point. This moment decided if she hid from the sun for the rest of her days, or if she found a way to straddle both worlds. Whatever Joe said next would determine her life.
He shifted closer to her on the bench. “You know, at first I thought these records you asked me to take were a joke, just fantasies. I mean, the guy who took you was a loon, a goddamn criminal psycho. When I read…When I read his notes…that said that this creature was the father…I thought…you couldn’t…you never would…” He stopped at that, unable to finish his sentence, disgust apparent, killing the rest of his words.
But then his voice returned with the rough, angry sarcasm that she had heard many times but hoped never to receive. “Then I got this crazy idea, this crazy idea, that this thing knew you, so I went back through your files, through your cases, to see if I could find anything…” He nearly spit out words.
Catherine didn’t know if she could endure this, but she would, if only to find out what Joe might try to do to Vincent.
“How stupid did you think I was? How stupid have I been?” he yelled, slapping down his paper, his raging words like blows. “Killings, slashing, all related to you and the cases you were investigating – those serial killer kids, that crazy stalker who tried to drown you, that hitman who went after you and Erika, those foreign guys at the docks, God, so many – all dead because of this guy! So many, Cathy!”
His voice fell to a whisper. “I didn’t see it then, I can’t believe I didn’t see it, but now I do.”
Joe’s voice growled with conviction, “He’s a monster…”
She would hide.
She had made a mistake, another stupid mistake! She had put Vincent in danger, again. She trusted Joe when she shouldn’t have, just like Moreno, only worse. She had walked into this with her eyes open.
She rocketed off the bench to escape. The second she did, Joe grabbed her arm. Jamie ran towards them to intervene.
Catherine had been afraid of this, that the tapes would show a killer, not the warrior who had risked his life and soul to protect her. She was about to scream. She felt her fear, her rage, begin to surface. She tried to control it, master it, for Vincent’s sake. He couldn’t help her now, he could only keep Jacob and himself safe; daylight ensured it.
She would fight Joe if she had to, but Vincent would not. She would do anything to get back to her husband and child, anything but put them in danger. She had to do this without him.
She began trying to pull her arm away. “You haven’t the slightest…”
He interrupted her. “He is a monster,” he said, nodding, sure of this, but with more sad acceptance in his tone now than anger. “He’s a monster, but he loves you…doesn’t he? He takes care of you.”
Catherine stood rigid for a moment, looking into Joe’s resolute eyes, unsure what to do next. She descended to the bench which, after a few more moments, sent Jamie back, slowly, to her former place.
“You can see it,” Joe continued. “You can see it in the files if you read them right. It isn’t random. He fights for you…he defends you, like a knight in a goddamn fairy tale.” He let go of her arm and shook his head, as if disbelieving the words coming out of his mouth. “And he’s got a lion’s face, and claws, and gives you books by Shakespeare and Dickens, doesn’t he?”
He seemed to take her silence as acquiescence, and shook his head.
“Once upon a time in New York, huh?” He ran a hand through his thick black hair. “Jesus, Cathy, this is nuts.”
She sighed. “Yeah…”
“So how on God’s crazy Earth do you meet a guy like that?”
This was a crazy Earth. In this city of cities, under its asphalt and metal, glass and stone, there was magic, and fate, and honor, and goodness.
She could tell him at least part of the truth.
“He saved me in the Park three years ago, when I was first attacked and left for dead. He and his father made sure I survived…more than survived. He showed me my own strength. He’s been with me ever since.”
Joe blew a low whistle from his teeth that Catherine could see startled Jamie, who was understandably tense from his previous outburst. When it was a clear the whistle was part of the conversation, Catherine’s protector and friend went back to her silent scanning of the area.
“You’re not kidding, Radcliffe, the ‘first’ attack. He must be on you like butter on bread. I didn’t see it day to day but, reading those files…I had an idea, but…you’re a real danger magnet. Do ya think he knew what he was gettin’ into with you? I don’t know,” he shook his head, his familiar smart-aleck smile plastered on his face, “doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship to me.”
This was the Joe she remembered. Battered down, worried, hurt, but still there. This was the one she trusted, that she believed could understand.
Well, in for a penny….
”I know it sounds…crazy, but he knows when I’m in danger. He can feel what I’m feeling.” She sighed. “And I don’t know how, but I can sense what he’s feeling too.” Right now it was worry for her, indecision, helplessness. She allowed fragile relief to fly to him, and a tiny bit of hope.
“Jesus!” Joe burst out tense laughter. “Now I know it isn’t a healthy relationship!” But his laughter gave way – too little in this situation to laugh at – and he turned earnest.
“You know, Cathy, a couple of months ago a lot of people thought you were dead, and I was beginning to think they were right. There were a hell of a lot of things I didn’t think were possible, like you being alive after six months gone, or any good coming from Patrick Hanlan’s death. Then I got your note.” He stopped for a moment, maybe wishing she had never sent it.
“Then I started looking into Moreno, the man I thought of as a father, as living, breathing Justice. I saw it, and God, I didn’t want to, but I did. And then…I watched those tapes, and a lot of things that I never imagined suddenly became very real.”
He took her hand. “Cathy, if this guy, whatever he is, loves you, if he fights for you, than he can’t be bad because, despite everything, you’re the best person I know…,” then he added with a sniff, “always saving my dear Mother, of course.”
She laughed and relaxed the smallest bit. He pulled her next to him and hugged her close. He let her go after a long moment’s embrace, so they sat next to each other on the bench, her head resting on his shoulder.
“I destroyed the tapes, Cathy,” he whispered.
A cry of relief burst from her, like sunshine escaping through a cloud bank.
“We found some more…copies, at the guy’s house. I got rid of those too. I think you’re safe, Cathy. He’s safe.”
“Thank you,” she breathed through grateful tears as she turned and hugged him again. “You are a true friend.”
He let her go a little. “Yeah, well, I hope you feel the same way after you see what I did to your apartment.” He looked diffident. “I, ah, kinda wrecked it.”
She pulled back from his loose embrace, wiping tears from her cheeks, puzzled. “You wrecked my apartment?”
He let her go fully, looking out into the Park for a few moments before he would answer.
“After I saw the tapes, read the files, I gotta admit, I went a little nuts.” He turned to her again, eyes begging for understanding. “I needed to find out as much as I could about this guy.”
“Yeah, I figured, after what you told me before about loving someone, and then seeing the stuff in your apartment…” Joe dropped his elbows to his knees and looked away again. He seemed at a loss to explain his actions. “I think…I wanted a reason to hate him, Cathy, a reason to lock him up in a zoo, or a prison, or whatever, but everything I found, everything I read, told me this Vincent was a man, a man in love with you. There’re a lot of us in the same boat, Radcliffe…loving you.” His shy smile did nothing to hide his vulnerability. “I can’t argue with that.”
“Joe…” She hoped he could feel her instant forgiveness and smiled back. “You can argue with anyone, you’re the District Attorney of New York.”
“So, you’ve been keeping up on current events, huh?” More chagrin on his face. “Well, when Hughs and I brought the stuff to the Feds implicating Moreno, the mayor decided to reward me.” His tone made clear what he thought of the mayor’s reward. “I’m only acting D.A. until the next election in seven months and…four days,” he calculated, and then placed his hands together in prayer, motioning towards heaven. “Thank you, St. Jude!”
“…the patron saint of lost causes,” she added with understanding.
He had dreamed of rising this high, but never in this way. Catherine could sympathize. She knew a little about getting what you wanted, just not in the way you wanted to get it.
“And if we ain’t a pair of lost causes, I don’t know who is.” He took her hand in unfortunate solidarity.
There was so much to say, so much she might tell him, however, time and the second-nature secrecy that had grown like armor under her skin cut their conversation short.
“Joe, I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“Yeah, but wait, Cathy…the baby…is it…?” She could see his hesitancy, worried his questions could upset her if any of the sad possibilities running through his imagination were true, but he also had to know.
“He’s fine, Joe,” she assured him. “He’s healthy and beautiful…and getting hungry,” she said, looking at Jamie for a moment then Dominic. The plan to leave in Nick’s cab still seemed the best option. Once they circled, they would meet Vincent and Jacob under the Church of the Ascension to hide the entrances in the Park from anyone who might try to follow them. It felt both stupidly inadequate and immensely paranoid at the same time. “You’ll get to see him soon, and I’ll contact you about meeting with the F.B.I.”
“Yeah, I’m worried, Cathy. If you don’t show up on their doorstep soon…”
…they’ll come looking.
She nodded, hoping they weren’t already. She would fix this, for Vincent, the Tunnels, her baby; she had to, but she needed more time.
“If you need to reach me, you can contact me through Sammy, or at Nunzio’s near your apartment.”
“Wait…” He looked almost pained. “That little Italian place! How do you know about it? I love that place. They have the best pasta fagioli in New York.”
She looked behind Joe to Dominic, the son who could never go back home because of teenage mistakes that put him in the Mafia’s sights. Dominic, whose mother died of pancreatic cancer in the Tunnels surrounded by love and all her family, a wayward son included, because in that place of safety, she could.
“I know,” was all Catherine said in agreement as she caught her lookout’s sad eyes.
Catherine turned and hugged Joe goodbye as Jamie and Dominic walked towards them, their path, so far, clear.
“So this Vincent’s a good guy, huh?” he asked as they embraced.
Her joyous answer came with fresh tears. She tried to swipe them away again. “He is. He’s perfect.”
Joe looked down as he reached for her hand and kept his eyes there. “I’m glad, Cathy, because my only consolation in this whole mess?”
He squeezed her fingers warmly then let her go.
“I didn’t lose my chance with you. I just never had one.”