The Alpha and the Omega
Stepping down into Father’s chamber Catherine brought with her the scents from above and filled with a sense of well being did not at first notice the sombre expression in the old man’s eyes as he regarded her contemptuously.
*** *** ***
“Hello Father. Have you had a good day?” Catherine began with her welcome continuing before he had the time to reply with the words, “You remember that I promised the children I would take them someday to Central Park Zoo, well it appears that particular excursion will have to be sooner rather than later. Have you heard the news?”
Looking straight at the patriarch of the tunnels, Catherine began to realise that things were not as well as she had presumed and her first thought flew in only one direction, “It’s Vincent isn’t it? He’s had a relapse? Oh why didn’t anyone send for me, how is he Father?”
His reply chilled her to the bone, “I’d rather hoped that you could tell me that, young lady.” Now for the first time Catherine detected the hostility in his tone and drawing her brows together asked, “I’m sorry Father, I don’t understand, please explain.”
“Explain! Explain?” Getting to his feet Father hobbled round to Catherine’s side of his table, “You take my son from me, and expect me to explain?”
Confused Catherine stared blankly at Father. “I never took Vincent from you.” She stated at last a high rise to her tone, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“He isn’t here Catherine. But then you know that. He’s been with you hasn’t he?” for the first time Father felt a merit of fear run through him. He had been so sure that Vincent was with Catherine these past three nights when he had not come home, so sure.
“Not here?” Catherine was shaking her head trying to make sense of it, then looking up at Father asked, “Then where…” her voice trailing away as she realised that Vincent wasn’t below and Father so obviously had assumed he had been above with her.
“When was the last time you saw him!” She cried anxiety now taking its grip upon her.
“Three nights ago. When he walked you home, he never returned. I just assumed…” His words trailed away, “You mean you haven’t seen him since then either?”
Catherine was shaking her head even before Father had finished speaking. “I’ve been away on business. Only returned a few hours ago, I wasn’t due home till the weekend and thought I’d surprise him. Oh Father, where is he?”
“I haven’t a clue. I know it is highly irregular that he would not contact me, but I assumed that you and he were in your apartment, and well you know after what happened in the cave, that you and he were…well you know…and neither of you thought past that to consider how worried I have been.”
“You know about that!” Catherine was surprised. She hadn’t told anyone that she and Vincent had made love, and was surprised that Vincent had.
“Assumed. Though now you have just confirmed it. I only know what I heard, the cave echoed my dear, as soon as I recognised the sounds I bade Mouse and Winslow away, but I felt positive I knew what the two of you were doing.”
“Father!” Catherine exclaimed more than a little embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t continue to listen, you must believe that. I knew how Vincent felt about it, I knew his fears against such a thing happening between the two of you, and I had to know, purely from a medical point of view that he wasn’t hurting you, that you were a willing participant. As soon as I was sure I too moved away out of earshot. You must believe that Catherine.”
“I do. Father it was the most beautiful experience of my life, but since then I think Vincent has forgotten it. He’s never made mention to it, and we have certainly never repeated the act since, much to my sorrow.” Her tears were genuine as they slid down her cheeks, Father could well see that and he marvelled that one so beautiful could give herself to one so… well so… different. He thought his son beautiful too, but then he was biased, it was a parent’s prerogative.
“Still it doesn’t alter the fact that we have a problem on our hands. If Vincent isn’t with you and he isn’t with us, then…oh Catherine where is he?” For the first time the enormity of the situation rose and fell on Father’s shoulders and he slumped into the nearest chair.
“Father I don’t know, but I aim to find out. Please apologise to the children Father, I met some of them on my way in, and I’ll go above to make some subtle enquiries while you do whatever it is you need to do here.”
“Why should I apologise to the children?” Father was mystified at that request.
“Central Park Zoo is closing down, I promised I would take groups of the children there before it was no more. Some have never been. Naturally that needs to be put on hold but I’m certain they will understand in the circumstances.”
“Oh they will, nothing is more important to the children than Vincent. All right my dear you go above and make certain enquiries, I don’t need to tell you the subtle the better, and I’ll work on the search parties here, if we hear anything you’ll be the first to know.”
“Likewise.” Catherine hugged the elderly man tightly and added, “Don’t worry, Father, we’ll find him, he can’t have gone far, and no one knows these tunnels better than Vincent. I’m sure everything will be alright.”
However, though they both wanted to believe that, both also knew that Vincent rarely went missing without leaving some kind of word as to his future whereabouts. That he had made no mention at all worried them both greatly.
Vincent was missing…and thoughts of that alone brought forth all kinds of horrors.
Where on earth - or beneath it - was he?
Mouse stared blankly ahead. It was no use, he had been here a thousand times already over the past week and knew that Vincent had not been there within that time. Still he looked still he listened as if just by imagining that his friend was there, he would be.
Mouse had never known life without Vincent. At first when Father had grumbled that Vincent was spending time above with Catherine Mouse had not understood why Father had appeared so agitated about that. Mary had enlightened him, made him see that Catherine and Vincent needed to spend time together since his illness as it was to help Vincent recuperate. Mouse did not witness the wink that Mary gave to Jamie as she told him this. Now though Mouse cursed the fact that for three days he had been in a false sense of security whereas he could have spent that time searching for his friend. Any trail now would certainly have gone cold.
These last few days since the search parties had been out and returned miserable had been the worst of Mouse’s life in the tunnels. No one smiled anymore. There were a lot of whispers and a lot of ranting usually by Father, and it stressed Mouse to know that a lot of those outbursts had been directed at Catherine. Catherine who had spent the last four days doing everything possible within her power to make subtle enquiries as to Vincent’s whereabouts to her colleagues in the world above.
All of it was fruitless, Vincent it seemed, had simply vanished.
Dragging his feet on his way to the dining area, going only because his stomach told him he ought Mouse encountered several other tunnel dwellers making their way steadily in the same direction. Each to his own, no one spoke, all looked thoroughly miserable. Only William’s voice could be heard upon their arrival as with grunts they responded to his greeting.
“You lot sound like a herd if swine, you know that?” He tried to make light of the situation, knowing its seriousness and in no way disagreed with their feelings, but William was aware that despondency bred laziness. It was a fact that if they all felt down hearted they would wallow like pigs in muck in their misery and do little about the situation, now that they thought they had looked everywhere, tried everything.
“Now who wants stew?” He bellowed, grateful at least when a few signalled that they did. He served them, bringing a large ladle Mouse’s way, “You want some boy?” He asked him, grateful when Mouse leaned back to reveal his empty bowl in front of him.
Its bad then, William found himself thinking, worse than bad if Mouse has lost his tongue and a large ball of fear gathered somewhere in William’s gut and began twisting itself round and round as the sudden thought that Vincent might never return seized him.
Next brought by the aroma of lamb stew Father hobbled in supported by a bleary eyed Mary. William could tell she had been crying and possibly not sleeping. Vincent’s disappearance affected them all, even the children pushed food around their plates this day, with appetites lost to them.
“We’ve got to do something.” William found himself blurting to no one in particular, “A guy can’t just vanish like that. And not Vincent. Paracelsus is gone, so it can’t be anything to do with him. Did Catherine and Vincent have an argument at all?”
Father looked up, he’d thought of that possibility and dismissed it, now he wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know but I think Catherine would have said. However, he could have been upset about the fact that she would be out of town for three days. The thing is he just didn’t return that night, while she was still in her apartment. Why go anywhere while she is still in town? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Then there is only one conclusion.” William drew in a deep breath and exhaled it swiftly, “He’s been kidnapped.”
“NO!” Everyone spoke at once, their eyes wide with fear and horror as the implications of that possibility rose before them.
“Well why else hasn’t he returned? He’d know by now that Catherine was back. Had he gone to the lower levels he would have returned when she did. If he was injured he would have crawled to a pipe to make contact by now, and if he couldn’t he would know to make his way to somewhere where he would be discovered by a search party. I don’t think he is below though. I think he’s above. Narcissa might be able to throw some light on this, anyone thought of asking her?”
“Narcissa!” Father fumed, “What would she know, that crazy old woman.”
“Vincent believes in her, and at a time like this when every straw is clutched we should too.”
“If Vincent had been discovered we would have heard something by now, the papers would be full of it.” Father retorted.
“Not necessarily. Depends who discovered him.” William began before father cut in with, “It doesn’t. Do you think Vincent would allow himself to be kidnapped and not go down fighting? I think not.” Cynical laughter erupted from Father.
“Might be someone used a dart, its happened before. I think we ought to be looking for clues above, maybe even search the newspaper. There might be things printed therein that would mean little to anyone but us. That’s if the news of his discovery is subtle that is.
Personally, I think it would make a front page spread. Catherine could get hold of all the newspapers and we could scan them with a fine tooth comb.” The more William said the more he convinced himself that he was speaking wisely.
“I’m not convinced that I want Catherine to have anything more to do with it.” Father shocked everyone with his sudden outburst. “If it wasn’t for Catherine he sneered, my son would be with us now. If it wasn’t for Catherine my son wouldn’t have just undergone the most terrifying experience of his life, we almost lost him you know…”
“And Catherine brought him back to us.” William reminded him, “If it wasn’t for Catherine Vincent could be dead now, and you’re forgetting something Paraselsus played a very big part in that latest event. You can’t blame Catherine for that.”
“If Vincent could hear you speaking about Catherine like that Father he would be furious. Catherine has been nothing but good for him. You’re just jealous ‘cos he likes to spend more time with her than he used to do with you.” Jamie flared joining in the debate.
Father glared at her hotly, his temper visibly rising before he snapped, “How dare you!” But could say nothing further. Deep down inside he was asking himself if she might be right. Did he really resent Catherine for that? No matter whether he did or not, it didn’t alter the fact that but for Catherine things would have been so very different below. Vincent wouldn’t have undergone so many near misses with his life for one thing, as if that wasn’t enough.
To antagonise him further, at that moment the person herself walked into the dining room, and with one look around the sea of troubled faces feared the worse, “What is it? Have you heard something?” Catherine looked from one to the other, wondering why no one had informed her.
“Nothing has happened!” Father snapped. He glared at the woman, as if seeing her for the very first time, and hackles rising he was ready to slay the dragon. “If it wasn’t for you…” He seethed shaking off Mary’s restraining arm, “My son would be here now!” He stood holding the table for support and glared at Catherine.
“My if looks could kill.” William whispered under his breath, desperately sorry for Catherine and furious with the patriarch of the tunnels instantly. “Its not Catherine’s fault.” He blurted, “Catherine would never do anything to harm Vincent, Father you know that!”
“DO I!” Swinging his gaze from one to the other, Father’s eyes blazed, “The way I see it is everything was hunky dorey before SHE came into our lives.” He pointed at Catherine, “I told Vincent it would all end in heartache, but would he listen? No of course not. Fool that he was. I brought him down here to keep him safe not have him exposing himself time and time again to save the life of this ungrateful wretch.”
Catherine sobbed unable to believe the outburst directed at her, and from Father of all people, Father whom she had become to love as a daughter. After the week she’d had it was the final straw. With tears blinding her vision she ran from the dining room unable to speak to anyone or dispute Father’s words. Deep down inside she wondered if he was justified in his thinking, maybe she had been the cause of Vincent’s exposure, maybe because of her he had been above when he ought not to have been. Maybe because of her he had been discovered and was being held captive. If that were so he would be miserable, suicidal, Catherine remembered the last time when Hughes had locked him in an iron cage at the laboratory. The experience would have killed Vincent had she not of come along when she did. And in the possibility that someone held him even now would his love and trust of her be enough to see him through until she could find him again? And would Father ever truly accept her in his son’s life even if she did? More importantly should she really be in Vincent’s life if the risk to him was so great in the knowing of her? Maybe Father had a point. Perhaps he didn’t say it too well, but that was grief and fury talking, nevertheless he was probably right. Being in Vincent’s life she risked him every second of every day, the way things were. Things would either have to change or she would have to get out of his life. Either way she had some serious thinking to do, and right now, not knowing where Vincent was Catherine couldn’t even begin that thought process. It was too painful, but not as painful as Vincent being missing. Right now that took priority over all else. Time enough for other things when he was back home again. But Catherine knew she would never relish that time, it was something that she just didn’t want to think about, and deep down inside was more than grateful that she could put it off until the day when Vincent was found.
A week went into ten days. Nothing. No news, no discoveries. With the all clear still applicable to the pipes, the tunnel world was deathly quiet, and people rarely spoke. It wasn’t unusual for people to wander off as they suddenly had a notion that Vincent might be in that place or this place, well aware that those places had been checked already, but hoping something, some clue had been overlooked.
Mouse bless him and Jamie had volunteered for the long trip down to the catacombs to visit with Narcissa and hadn’t as yet returned. Those that believed in her ways waiting with bated breath. She would tell them for sure or at least give some sign to give them hope.
Devin had arrived, drafted in from the mountains where he lived to help with the search, going to places only he and Vincent knew existed, and finding nothing.
Catherine remained above. Taking extended leave from her job unable to concentrate, she set her mind to meditating on the connection she and Vincent had shared before his illness had snatched it away. It had never been so strong her end, but now more than ever she needed to establish some way to get through to him. The Bond was a miracle and only she possessed it with him, surely she could find traces of it, traces of some feeling that would indicate his whereabouts however slight.
Her apartment was strewn with newspapers and she had scanned every article with great deliberation, first glossing over the headings then backtracking and reading every column seeking anything that might make her wonder, might lend a clue. There was nothing. In fact, most of the local newspapers were filled with the same thing, the losses incurred at Central Park Zoo and how its closure would affect the community. It was sad true, the zoo was a marvellous place to visit, but Catherine had to admit it was the same old thing, have something under your nose and you take it for granted, rarely visiting and lending it your support. She could count the number of times she had visited the zoo in all her lifetime on the fingers of one hand and had lost count of the number of times she had promised herself that she would visit again.
Flicking on the television set, Catherine listened to the news, it too was filled with reports on the zoo, how the animals were looking for new homes, how the big cats and large mammals were having to be darted and drugged in order for transportation to other zoos. She had listened to the same old thing for days. It was immaterial and had little to do with her current problem. If she wasn’t so wrapped up in that she might have gone to the zoo and offered a donation that would have eased her conscience a little for the visits she had neglected to take.
A lot of people felt the same, donations were being handed in at an amazing rate but it was not enough to save the zoo, although…
Something made Catherine cast her eyes to the screen more avidly than she had over the past few days as something caught her attention. ‘What was that?’ she asked herself listening carefully, ‘I’ve only ever heard that expression used in the Bible.’
Inclining her ear, Catherine listened, but nothing more was said. She switched channels and checked tele-text only to find that there was no mention of the phrase she had heard. ‘I will have to listen tonight’ she told herself checking the clock. The next news bulletin was in four hours. Catherine shrugged, ‘then again what does it matter? Its hardly got anything to do with Vincent has it?’
Minutes later she had forgotten all about it. And it would mean nothing more to her until another three days had lapsed.
*** *** ***
Missing Vincent was as alien to Catherine as it was to those that had known him longer. The tunnels were just cold without his presence, people miserable, short tempered. Father hadn’t yet forgiven Catherine believing her to be at fault. If she had not of come into their lives Vincent would still be with them and if it hadn’t been for Catherine there were a good many risks that Vincent would not have undertaken. Nothing Mary said to the contrary about the happiness Catherine had brought Vincent in the years they had known one another made one iota of difference. Father’s heart and mind was set against the woman who had stolen his son’s heart and he had forbidden visits from her into their world beneath the city streets.
The children of course were upset by this decision, they loved Catherine, as did most of the tunnel folk and they all believed Father’s views to be unreasonable yet unmoveable. It was their belief that all would resolve itself when Vincent returned but as the second week drew to a close and there was still no news or sign of him the possibility of that fact stretched further and further away.
Catherine however refused to obey Father’s rules. She missed Vincent dreadfully and she wasn’t about to forsake those that knew of and loved him as she did. They all had each other who did she have? Who could she turn to and talk to and discuss the loss of the love of her life? Up above there was no one. Not Joe, nor Nancy, nor Jenny or Elliot. No one but Peter, oh at least there was Peter, but he was such a busy man that Catherine did not like to go to him on a whim, purely for a shoulder to cry on. Below there were women for that, women that would understand, sympathise lend an ear when she wanted to unburden her heart. Of course Peter would be there for her, he would hold her hand discuss the possibilities of Vincent’s whereabouts, but Catherine wasn’t entirely sure that he approved of the relationship that she shared with Vincent, much the same as Father didn’t, and possibly for similar reasons. Their differences seemed to worry everyone and no one more than Vincent himself, but Catherine didn’t see those differences when she was with Vincent. To her, he was the man she loved and if he had to be different, it was only because he was more than that of the usual man not less. And due to that fact, Catherine knew that she had every right to be a part of his family, no matter what his father might deem to be correct and proper in the circumstances. Whatever he thought was only due to worry and stress and he ought not shut her out for that for they both were of the same mind when it came to it.
So first day off she had Catherine went below with one sole intention in mind. To take the children to the zoo as arranged before the place closed down. Surely, Father wouldn’t begrudge that kind of help? It would be good for the children to go out have some fun, though she wasn’t entirely sure that seeing the lions wouldn’t remind them of Vincent again, but they could always avoid that part of the zoo. There would be ways, she was sure, to give the children and enjoyable day without reminding them of their loss.
Entering the tunnels though was quite another matter. Catherine chose the entrance via her apartment building and found it bricked up. That was a shock! Who would have carried out Father’s instructions? Surely, he was her only foe when it came to people below?
Apparently not for Catherine could not imagine anyone carrying out that instruction to prevent her entering the tunnels. Undeterred Catherine decided to use the longer route through the park. It was early morning yet still there were several people about, joggers mainly. Catherine loathed to use the park entrance during the day too many prying eyes. And it was not unlike people to have binoculars trained from their apartments onto sights within the park either as she and Vincent well knew. Using the park entrance posed some risk that she would rather not have taken. Not for her of course, there was no risk associated with her own well being but rather that of the tunnel folk she would do nothing to jeopardise their secret home.
Pretending to be a jogger Catherine made a big pretence of searching for a place to squat to relieve herself around about the shrubbery. It wasn’t something she had ever done herself but had seen others use this way in an emergency. The public conveniences were stationed all over the park, but it was a jogger’s nightmare that one might get the call of nature between posts. Catherine hoped that anyone overseeing her exercising through the park might assume that she was searching for some such place and not think twice about her entering the storm drain as the place to go. Dangerous true, getting caught literally with one’s pants down in such an area was asking for all the trouble one could get, but Catherine was devoting her attention to the people watching with binoculars rather than those actually in the park with her. Those she could see well enough, and did not enter the storm drain until she was certain that none of them would see her do so.
Believing therefore to have covered every eventuality Catherine entered the storm drain with some caution, her breath held while she listened intently for sounds from within until finally convinced all was well she stepped into the dim interior.
How many times had she been here? Countless over the past three years that was for sure. Usually Vincent would be waiting for her and leaving the area would be no more precarious than entering with his guidance and love to surround her. This day Catherine shivered as she reached up for the mechanism that opened the huge sliding door and found it jammed in place. It was deliberate any fool could see that, another ploy of Father’s to keep her out.
Tears gathered and fell from Catherine’s eyes. These people were her family did he hate her so much that she was denied visiting rights? Were they aware of what he was doing? Were the children? That hurt her the most, wondering what the children would think. Surely, at a time like this when they all missed Vincent so much they should not be denied her visits? Catherine knew how much they loved her too. They would feel deserted by the both of them. Catherine’s heart ached wanting to go below so much and being unable to do so. What would be the use of going to the other entrances that she knew of? If they weren’t blocked the sentries that had willingly carried out Father’s instructions to keep her away would surely prevent her from coming in no matter what entrance she used.
There was no other thing for it she would have to consult Peter. Maybe if no one else could do anything he at least could contact Father and help him see reason. And what if she had news of Vincent? Would she have to trust it by way of hand messenger? More to the point what if they had news of Vincent, would Father permit her to know of it?
Anxious and frustrated Catherine only just remembered in the nick of time to pause before walking back out into the sunlight and it was well she did for a group of people had congregated outside. She waited, her mind a mass of jumbled thoughts, not listening to anything but her own anger and irritation until one word caught her attention. One that she had heard recently and wondered about then had forgotten it entirely.
“Alpha and Omega then?”
Her attention caught Catherine strained her ears to listen over the sudden pounding of her heart. What was it with that phrase?
“Certainly, for sure he’s the first and the last. I think its very fitting.”
“And you say he was found, where? Here?”
“Yes that exact same spot as you’re standing. Couldn’t believe my eyes I can tell you. Never seen anything like it in my entire life. But man, is he magnificent or what?”
“He’s certainly that. But the first and the last, how can we be sure?”
“Well we can’t not entirely. Unless he tells us and that’s unlikely. But I’d bet on it that he is some mutation and the fact that he’s sterile gives us the likelihood that he’s the beginning and the end of his line. I think we can’t go wrong on this one. It couldn’t have come at a better time, just what we need to keep afloat I say.”
“Yes, I think so too. So are we all agreed? We’ll name him Alpha and advertise him as ‘The Alpha and the Omega?’”
Catherine heard a round of muffled affirmations before the group walked away from the storm drain. Her head was reeling her heard hammering…a thought had set a seed in her mind that was beginning to flourish and grow at an amazing rate…and she didn’t want it to do. She hoped and prayed that what she had just heard wasn’t what it sounded like, but in the circumstances and with what had been said there was a very real possibility. And that was that this Alpha and Omega that they had spoken of, being the first and the last, the beginning of his kind and the end, was in all likelihood none other than Vincent himself!
*** *** ***
Below in the tunnels an argument was taking place as Father asked for another entrance to be sealed and Mouse wondered how Catherine might get down if her usual ways were blocked.
Father however knew the whole truth, that is, the reason why he wanted the tunnels sealed. He wanted to keep Catherine out. He didn’t for one moment believe that anyone had been into the tunnels and kidnapped Vincent, but neither did he seriously consider that Vincent was above. He remembered distinctly that the night his son had gone missing, he had only walked Catherine back home and sentries had reported that Vincent had never left the tunnels. What none of them knew was that on his way back Vincent had stopped by at the music chamber beneath the park, and hearing a commotion above had lifted the cover alighted into the park and gone to see what was happening, helped sort out the problem, and then had returned home via the park entrance. Or at least that had been his intention. He had not known that he was being watched all the while or that someone had been watching out for him for several months and were prepared for capture.
So, with the belief that Vincent was somewhere below Father had no qualms about sealing the tunnels. Those below knew of other exits, ways that Catherine had not been shown and he felt justified in keeping her out of their lives believing that she brought his son nothing but pain and trouble.
The problem that he didn’t foresee was the chance that Catherine might be the one to find a lead on his son’s whereabouts, and in ‘protecting his son’s interests’ Father might prevent her from being able to make contact to give him such news.
Therefore, he went about his everyday life worrying and fretting about his son when above Catherine was making positive progress to Vincent’s whereabouts.
That day when she had overheard the conversation outside of the drainage culvert Catherine had wasted no time in seeking out the possibility that they referred to Vincent. Naturally she couldn’t be sure where they came from, or what specifically they talked about, but she had heard enough to presume, and being a lawyer her first instincts were usually right.
Unable to follow the people in question, Catherine set about making enquiries as to the phrase Alpha and Omega and very soon she began to get rewards actually from jenny who in the publishing business had been contacted recently about a proposed book on that very subject.
“That is interesting Jen,” Catherine told her friend as the two discussed the forthcoming presentation of the book over lunch one day, “And you’re sure that the zoo have some connection?”
“Well not in so many words. The synopsis of the book didn’t exactly highlight its source, but reading between the lines I felt it was some kind of creature environment that was behind its production.” She smiled, “Actually I can’t acclaim to having such insight if you must know, I heard the expression on one of the afternoon news bulletins when they were speaking about the closure of the zoo and I put two and two together.”
“If the zoo is closing I can’t imagine why there is such a hoo ha over this. Its almost like they are using it as their trump card.” Catherine commented thoughtfully.
“Oh I believe they are. And between you me and the gatepost, I believe that the zoo never was closing. Shifting some animals maybe but by the pretence of closure they would generate interest enough to captivate the hearts of the public who would issue donations like there was no tomorrow. Personally, I think the zoo will rise up out of the dust with a brand spanking new attraction, and probably one that nobody has ever seen before but unless they have revived the Dodo or have captured a Yeti I doubt that I will hot foot it over there. The book should be interesting though, and certainly with the name Alpha and Omega, if it is applicable to the zoo, then it’s a dead cert that they have something there that is the only one of its kind. Could be a hoax though, a Doctor Dolittle idea. You know a camel with two heads or something like that. I wouldn’t put it passed them.” Jenny laughed knowing deep down that the zoo would be mad to generate such interest only to fob off the public with such a ruse.
“Well I promised the children I would take them to the zoo so if it stays open then we will certainly go.” Catherine told her friend absentmindedly.
“Whose children? Nancy’s?”
“What? Oh!” Flustered Catherine quickly made amends, “Oh no, some children of friends of mine.” Then realising jenny was included in her own circle of friends hastily added, “That is colleagues, work colleagues.”
“Oh.” Jenny smiled envisaging Catherine with a hoard of children, “And will uncle Joe be accompanying you on this trip too?”
“Quit matchmaking Jen.” Catherine laughed relieved that Jenny had seemed to accept her lie. It was awful expecting it of her, but Catherine had no choice. None of her friends knew about Vincent or the tunnels, least of all the tunnel children that loved Catherine to bits.
“Well, look at the time! Doesn’t it fly when you are having fun. Look Cath, sorry to leave you with the check but I have to dash, here this should cover my share.” Jenny pulled several dollars from her purse and placed them onto the table.
“Thanks Jen, but really there was no need.”
“There’s every need. Friends share everything. I’ve gotta go Cath sorry,” and she bent to place a kiss on Catherine’s cheek, “Take care and ring me okay?”
“Yes, sure oh and Jen?” Her friend turned and waited for Catherine’s request, “Yes?”
“If you hear anymore about the Alpha and Omega let me know will you?”
“Yeah Cath sure. See you.”
When her friend had left Catherine remained thoughtful. The things Jenny had told her worried her greatly. And though it was true that the zoo might not be involved, Catherine felt that she had no other choice but to go along there and see for herself. Maybe she could glean something, anything. After all no body would be expecting her to be their to make enquiries about their new attraction, because so few people would be aware of it. So maybe, if she played her cards right she could find out as much information as she needed and then she would take it from there.
*** *** ***
Do you speak?” The creature was prodded with a long thin cane through the bars of his cage, and the fellow answered his own question, “Guess not.”
“I’ve not heard him utter anything coherent, he just lies there. I have a terrible feeling he’s fretting, won’t even eat. I think he’s gonna die either that or he’s gonna look so poorly by the time of the big opening that they’ll shut us down anyway.”
“How do you think he got like that? I mean half human half cat. Do you suppose it’s a mutant like Fred assumes? I reckon its more like some laboratory thing, an experiment that went wrong.”
“I don’t know what to think. Fred’s been watching him for months, says he has seen him rip a man to shreds, but he is selective goes only for the scum of the city, helps the innocent get away. If he has a heart like that I’d say he is more human than cat. In a way I admire him.”
“Well you’ve always been a soft touch. Anyway, I have to get off now, I’ll relieve you in the morning okay?”
“Okay Sam, and don’t be late.” Barry grinned, for it was well known that Sam was always late.
When Sam had gone, Barry was left to guard the creature that he had wondered about constantly over the past three weeks. He had told Sam that he admired the creature and that was so and in its own way the creature was beautiful. “I believe you can talk.” Barry whispered “I believe you know everything that is going on, that you are intellectual and selective. Why else would you help the innocent and slay the wicked? An animal doesn’t do that, not a wild animal.” He paused looking for signs of acknowledgment, when none came he went on, “I also believe you are clever. Possibly because you trust no one, but I’d like you to know you can trust me. I’d like to be your friend.”
Blue eyes stared back at the man, assessing the truth of his words, and finally the creature whispered, “Friends do not keep other friends locked up.”
Triumphant Barry smiled, “I knew it! You can talk. Tell me are you the only one of your kind?”
“As far as I know.”
“Do you have a name?”
“What is it?”
The creature remained silent and after a moment or two Barry went on, “They are going to call you Alpha. You know Alpha and Omega - first and the last. Do you mind if I call you Alpha?”
“Then what should I call you. My name is Barry.”
“My name is not important. Can you get me out of here?”
Barry shook his head, “’Fraid not. More than my job is worth.”
“I could find you work, better paid if you would free me.”
Barry laughed derisively, “You! I think not!”
The creature regarded him coolly and Barry wondered about what he had said, did he really have such authority that he could find him a better job?
“I have a friend.” The creature told him, “A woman, can you at least tell her where I am?”
“I’m sorry mate, its not possible. If I lose my job my family will suffer.”
“If I do not return home so will mine.”
“I thought you said you were the only one.” Barry was puzzled.
“I am, but I still have a family that love and care for me. My father will be worried sick. Can you at least let them know that I am alive?”
“Soon everyone will know that you are alive. I wouldn’t worry about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“The zoo are making you their new attraction. Two days from now buddy you are going on show.”
Barry grimaced, “Sorry mate,” he drew a deep breath and exhaled it in a rush, “The zoo was going under and you came along just in the nick of time to revive it. There has been extensive advertising on you, it is hoped people will flock by the thousand to get a look at you. There’s only one thing…”
“I don’t think I should tell you.”
“Well they plan to exhibit you as you are now…naked.”
“NO!” Shame filled the creature’s heart, he would rather die than go on show in any guise but naked?
“Sorry mate, but that’s the way of it. Your cage backs onto an outer wall, all they need to is lift the panel and everyone can see you as you are now.”
“Please…you must help me. You say you wish to be my friend.” The creature asked frantically, “then be my friend. You must get me some covering of some sort. Where is my cloak?”
“Your cloak? The items you were found wearing? I don’t know. Maybe even on show too. I have to tell you though, it would be better if you let no one else know you can speak as you are wanted for a hell of a lot of murders in this city, even though most of it was scum. Hey don’t look at me like that, I won’t tell a soul.”
“Please get me some covering, I can’t be seen like this.”
The sound of the fear and shame in his tone made Barry relent a little, he tried to imagine what it would be in the same situation and how he would feel, he had an idea.
“I’m off duty till the day of the opening, I won’t be able to get back before then for any reason. I showered and put on clean clothing before I came here tonight, the only thing I can offer you are the boxer shorts that I’m wearing beneath my jeans. Would they do?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“You will have to remain naked until just before the opening or they will get them away from you. If you hide them somewhere, under the straw perhaps, you can don them just before the panel is removed before the eyes of the public. Okay?”
“Just a minute then I’ll go to the gents and remove them. Won’t be long.”
The creature sighed with relief. He and the fellow named Barry were different builds but boxer shorts were often baggy and hopefully they would fit. And if they didn’t he would make them do, perhaps even turn them into some sort of loin cloth for he couldn’t, just couldn’t stand there naked for the whole world to see. He would rather be dead.
To be continued in part two.