Five hours already, and the jury still deliberated on voting on a verdict beyond all reasonable doubt. Never had there been a case like this one, and as they approached it again for the eighth time of going over old ground each member hoped that one of the others might think of something different that would help them make a unified vote.
“Look let’s take it from the top again.” One member suggested as the rest head in hands groaned ‘Oh no, not again.’
“We’ve got to do. We can’t go home tonight until we reach some agreement then we can sleep on that and come in early and if we are all still in agreement we can offer that to the judge.”
“But its six o’clock already and some of us have families to go home to. My children will have been picked up by the sitter hours ago but she will soon want to go home herself. How much longer will we be at it?”
“As soon as you stop whinging.” Another told her.
“Right then,” said the first speaker, “Let’s go through it again briefly this time and try to iron out those problems. Does anyone object if I do it?”
There were murmurs of ‘no’ and so the speaker nodding, drew in a deep breath and started to talk.
“Right then, first of all we have this fella, this strange cat man, I think we ought to start thinking what it must be like to be him, in all of this. Imagine what being like that would do to ya. And this geezer that turns up and says he created him. I heard through the grapevine since the trial finished that it was hoped that whomsoever created the poor sod would carry the can, but since its for something decent like protecting wildlife that has been excused.”
“Yeah I heard that too. But can it be? I mean its all very well crossing a zebra with a donkey and getting a zebdonk but crossing a bloke with a bloody lion well that’s way over my head. How dumb can you get?”
“Maybe some woman wanted a guy that could purr when she touched him.” Someone laughed.
“Joking aside, we gotta think of something pretty smart.” The first speaker went on with a grin, there would be a thousand and one catty jokes they could make but it wouldn’t solve anything. He grimaced at his own little pun.
“Okay let’s get down to brass tacks. We bin going round and round this dumb case for the best part of an afternoon and now it’s going into evening and I want to get home. We all want to get home, so lets run through it and fast, okay?”
The twelve members looked at one another all seated around a large polished table smeared with endless pools of coffee rings.
“So we can’t blame the creator, the government would have our hides, they’d be sure to protect him. Not to mention the environmentalists. But we have to cast a vote on that. Obviously, the fellow is carrying some genes that will be of benefit in years to come, so his creator will want rights to them, or at least to be able to extract them when needed. Look this is what I propose see if you all follow, okay?” The others nodded, with it being so late in the day, they would practically agree to anything providing it was feasible.
“Well I don’t think the cat man should go to jail or the chair, I think that had he of been anyone but he would have been dead by now. I mean, that woman he protects, Catherine Chandler hereafter referred to as Cathy, okay? She has been involved in some pretty hair raising stunts, and ordinarily if you had to protect someone like that from armed bandits you would be dead or she’d be dead or both. Unless you went in their with blazing guns in which case you’d be on a murder charge. This guy, this Vincent Wells, hereafter known as VW, well he ain’t like your regular guy, he can’t be called ahead of time, he just follows his gut instincts. We heard how the Asiatic Lion knows the whereabouts of its mate so he just acts on that and can’t do a bloody thing about it. So he just goes on in there and protects Cathy with whatever means he has at his disposal, which for you and I would be our bare hands and teeth, okay? He don’t carry a gun, or a knife, he don’t go racing in there with a method, he just charges on in real mad like and with the way he looks and the sounds he makes… Okay so I know we never heard them but the reports say he roars, and that Dominic bloke says only the Asiatic Lion can roar, so there you have it. So this guy he protects the woman Cathy and anyone else he sees suffering with his own bare hands so what right do we have of convicting him for anything?”
“Hey, you’ve got a point there. He ain’t done nothing. He never carried a weapon.” The enlightenment astounded the members of the jury. “So what he did was justifiable homicide, and without a weapon not even that. He didn’t ask for geezers to come along and molest or assault his woman, he didn’t expect it to happen even though she has some choice assignments that might make any one of us anxious if we knew a family member going out to deal with them, but Christ surely that responsibility lies with the firm that sends her out? And I bet she gets danger money or she wouldn’t do it. So picture this, there’s this guy, VW, he acts on instinct, fights with his own bare hands, scares by what he is rather than fight, and hell he’s got a conscience we’ve seen that. He pleaded guilty for God’s sake, not just to one case but to all of them. And look what he did in exposing himself in the first place.”
Everyone nodded and amid murmurs of agreement the speaker went on, “I suggest we return a verdict of not guilty without justifiable homicide and state that VW be available for Mr Haley to extract the genes from him anytime within the next 50 years. Of course Haley’s not gonna live that long, so we have to pass an agreement that allows whoever Haley gives that right to in his will to collect within the next four to five decades. What do you think?”
“Perfect, or should I say Purr…fect?” Someone spoke up while the others chuckled among themselves and confirmed their agreement. “But what about that woman, you know the one they say tried to pervert the course of justice?”
“Forget her. She’s had her own burden to carry all those years, she was after all the critters mother, well she carried him. It’s all in the past, and really not for us to pursue. If Haley or Wells want to do something about it, that’s up to them, but the woman has eight kids and that can’t be easy. She couldn’t afford a fine and she couldn’t afford to go to prison, I say forget her, or rule not guilty on her.”
“Yeah, okay. That makes me feel a darn sight better. All of it is a great idea Greg, thanks. So to re-cap, it’s what? A verdict of not guilty for Wells, and not guilty for Windsor, rights given to Haley and anything else?”
“I’ll ask you each in turn. Helen?”
“Agreed.” And so it was through the whole twelve, they all returned agreed, until the speaker finished with, “Okay then let’s go home. We’ll meet back here at 8 o’clock in the morning ok?”
A united ‘agreed’ rose up among the members of the jury and then grinning they began to pack up and head out of the door, each feeling greatly relieved and happy that they had not only reached a uniformed agreement but all of them felt easy about it.
*** *** ***
“Sometimes I look at you Catherine and I see a certain sadness reflected in your eyes, and other times I see a purposeful resilience that tells me that nothing can touch you.” Vincent remarked as they sat together in his chamber, Catherine lounging on the bed, Vincent in his large ornate chair opposite her.
Catherine didn’t reply. Her eyes luminous in the light from a dozen candles begged him to tell her which way he saw her at that moment. He didn’t disappoint her. “Tonight I see the resilience and somehow I find that resilience bolsters my own flagging optimism. Catherine everything will be all right won’t it?”
“I don’t see how it can be anything but. Any intelligent person can see the man that you are. You have compassion Vincent and you pleaded guilty to crimes where justifiable homicide would have been acceptable. My only hope is that the jury will do you justice, that is the justice that will turn out well for you, and for us.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you Catherine.”
“You wouldn’t have needed to do. Vincent I owe you everything and yet you are here taking the blame. It should be me on trial, not you just because you are different, for let’s face it that’s what all this is about isn’t it?”
“Yes, I suppose it is. My differences again.”
“Blast the differences…I don’t see them, and no self respecting human being should see them either.” They were silent for a time then Catherine asked, “What are you going to do about Dominic?”
“Do? What do you mean by do?”
“Well obviously you aren’t going to invite him here, even if he could make it in his condition, but will you see him at all?”
“Marginally, I owe my life to him but it’s not a life I would have chosen. I am in two minds about him. I accepted him as my father, but I have no other father than the one I’ve always had, no one could take his place, not ever. I think I will leave it for the court to decide and not go beyond that. Joe mentioned that Mr Haley might have certain rights to the genes that I carry, but he told me that I have certain rights too. I don’t have to agree to anything. Mind you, it certainly makes me feel better about myself, knowing that I am here for a purpose and not a freak of nature or some warped scientific experiment. There were genuine reasons for the way I am what I am, even though I think it was wrong of them to have done it.”
“Vincent…all this aside, when its over will you do something for me?”
“Anything Catherine you know that?”
“The judge offered you American Citizenship, will you accept it? It will mean that you will have rights and you can have your birth registered. It might even mean that you will be able to walk freely in some parts of America, even in daylight.”
“I think the likes of Patricia Belmont would see that I couldn’t.”
“Yes I know, but will you do it for me?”
“I would do anything for you, but the reasons you give are not the reasons on your mind, so tell me, why do you really want me to do this?”
Catherine looked at him long and hard. Everything about him was beautiful to her. She loved him so much, and she knew how much it grieved him to think she was tied to him in a world where her friends could not look in and where she would be forced to live without sunshine. But as an American citizen with rights, all that could change. They needn’t invite people to the tunnels, but they could assemble at the apartment. They could be an unusual couple true but what did it matter what anyone else thought providing they were happy? “I want you to do it Vincent so that we can be married up top in front of all our friends, in a church with a white wedding with all the trimmings. Would you still deny me this?”
Vincent searched Catherine’s eyes. They were sincere, she really meant it, and he loved her more at that moment then he had ever loved her before. Rising from his seat, he crossed the short space that separated them and gathering her up against him he held her tight, brushing his lips against hers.
“Will you marry me Catherine?” He asked as he settled her down to the floor. She gazed into the blue of his eyes, read the love she saw there and marvelled that there were doubts within them, no doubts at all.
“Yes Vincent my love my life, I will marry you.” And then they kissed and sealed the contract that would bind them for all time.
*** *** ***
‘Nine o’clock and all’s well,’ thought Joe, as he kept his fingers firmly crossed when the judge joined the courtroom and acknowledged the already present jury, who gave nothing away by their demeanour. As everyone sat back down there was not a sound to be heard but the rustle of bottoms touching seats and then nothing as silence flowed through the courtroom, until the judge started to speak and remind everyone of the case, as if they needed reminding.
Joe looked swiftly toward Catherine and Vincent sitting as if they were both scared stiff and clutching his fingers together even tighter Joe waited anxiously as the judge directing his attention toward the jury started to speak. “Members of the jury have you reached a decision?”
“We have, Your Honour.”
“And this would be a burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“Then how do you find the defendant on the count of manslaughter in the first degree with intent to cause serious physical injury on September 25th 1987 against Martin Belmont?”
The judge’s mouth dropped open, then he mouthed the words ‘not guilty’ as if it had been the last thing in the world he had expected to hear, and only the rumpus from the back of the court coming from shrieks by Patricia Belmont and angry shouts from her two sons brought him round. He ignored them and went on to ask the jury, “And of the second count of assault in the third degree of intent to cause physical injury whereby on October 2nd 1987 you attacked the two employees of a Mr Jason Walker, namely brothers Joseph and Michael Dullen?”
The judge began to smile, just a little, assuming what was to come. Vincent Well’s looked as though he couldn’t believe he was hearing right and he kept rubbing his eyes as if he thought that he must be dreaming. The judge could well understand this for it was a dream come true.
He asked the jury about the other counts, and each was returned with the same ‘not guilty’ and as they returned the same with the final count, the whole courtroom went wild. People got up and danced in their places and hugging one another and whooping for joy. Joe hurried across and shook Vincent’s hand who still staring into space was anywhere but in court at that moment, until Catherine’s cry of joy beside him brought him to his senses, when rising from his seat he stunned everyone into silence as he cried, “Objection!”
“You wish to say something Mr Wells?” The judge enquired dumbstruck.
“The jury are wrong, either that or too kind. Please just because of what I am doesn’t justify that what I did was correct, or needs no punishment. I killed with these hands. I should be punished.”
“Speaker.” The judge turned to the member of the jury who had returned the verdicts, “Could you please explain how you reached the verdict of not guilty. Mr Wells does have a valid point.”
“He said it himself, Your Honour. He said he killed with these hands. Be it that those hands are different from those of yours or mine is immaterial. We felt that Mr Wells acted only with what he had available to him, and at no time did he carry a weapon, therefore he was justified in acting as he did to protect Catherine Chandler. And the fact that he acted on instinct when he felt her emotions was something we felt if found in the same situation, none of us could ignore. The crime actually relates to those that caused it, namely the criminals and not to Mr Wells who was only protecting his own just as we all would do.”
But Vincent wasn’t happy, something was niggling at the back of his mind and he blurted, “But I can ignore the connection.”
“That’s as maybe Sir, but would you be expected to do. Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t turn aside from helping another when they knew about it would they?” The speaker asked.
“If they knew about it no, but what if they didn’t know about it?” Vincent asked him. Catherine shook his arm and whispered ‘Vincent!’ sharply wishing he would let it go. He was digging another grave for himself, but Vincent shook his arm free and gazing down at her Catherine could see that he had to do this, or it would eat at him all his life and ruin whatever future they had together.
“What do you mean, if they didn’t know about it? You explained that you have this gift, a connection that enables you to know when Miss Chandler is being threatened, or when her life is in danger, do you mean to tell us that that isn’t so after all?”
“No, it is so. I do have that connection, but I can shut it off, that is, there are times when I do not wish to encroach upon Catherine’s rights so I am able to close down on our connection and give her that privacy. If I had applied that when I knew she was on certain dangerous assignments, then I would never have known that she needed help.”
“And she would be what? Dead?” The judge asked. “Mr Wells, can we ask that of you? Do you think it would be reasonable to expect that for the sake of the people that put Miss Chandler in danger you would have to close down your connection with her? I think not. I wouldn’t do it. If I had a gift like that, I’d use it to its full advantage. Just think what potential such a gift could be if given full rein to help others. I for one would sleep easier in my bed knowing there was someone out there with that ability to do something like that for me. Miss Chandler helps hosts of people in her line of work and your part in this makes certain that this continues. You are a team Mr Wells whether you like it or not, and I for one have absolutely nothing against it. If it works then use it, between you the rest of us can feel a whole lot safer around here. But if you wish to pursue the idea of punishment then I can rule for justifiable homicide and give you a short term of imprisonment or a hefty fine. But since you have no money, someone would have to pay that for you and then that would make you either feel guilty that you owe them, or dissuade from the punishment entirely. That leaves a short prison sentence, but I feel that the people in this courtroom would revolt even if I suggested it. So do you know what I think you should do?”
Vincent shook his head.
“Go home Mr Wells, go back to wherever it is you come from and thank your lucky stars that you are still free.” A huge cheer went up from the people.
Finally, Vincent head bowed murmured his thanks, and in full view of everyone Catherine grabbed him, tugged him toward her and kissed him passionately on the lips. Another cheer broke them apart and the judge suddenly surprised everyone by announcing, “There is one thing you can do Mr Wells?”
Looking up Vincent asked what it was and the judge told him with a very devious grin, “You can accept American citizenship and then a form of punishment.”
Brows drawn together, Vincent clearly didn’t understand and then everyone laughed out loud as the judge went on, “You can marry that woman.” He cried jovially.
“That would not be a form of punishment Sir,” Vincent told him with tears in his eyes, “It would be a pleasure.” He kissed Catherine’s brow, “I love this woman more than life itself.”
While this had been happening Joe had been scribbling something down on a sheet of paper and he handed it now to the judge who read it and whispered, ‘is that so?” Then, “Mr Wells it has been brought to my attention that you have never had an opportunity to sit in the sunshine, something we all take for granted. And as I do not think that any form of monetary compensation for the things you have suffered would be acceptable in your case, I rule this. That you accept American citizenship, marry Catherine Chandler and have the wedding of a lifetime at the expense of the crown prosecution and then a honeymoon of at least one month on an idyllic island in the sun. And I won’t be happy until you have sent me a postcard showing that you have done this, is that understood?”
Vincent smiled, the first time he had truly smiled since the case began, and everyone that could see his face marvelled at the beauty presented before them. His eyes like a blue lagoon shone with happiness and his rugged kingly features resembled the golden hue of the sun at dawn. He shone, he physically shone and as those that were furious of the outcome were ushered from the court, everyone else joined Vincent and Catherine with tears in their eyes happy to have been a part of this great day that would certainly never come again.
“It’s understood, Your Honour. Thank you.” Vincent replied at last, only seeming to realise the request required an answer.
“May I be the first to congratulated the happy couple.” Joe stepped forward with hands outstretched, surprised when the judge who he had never even seen leave his seat brushed past him and made everyone laugh out loud when he said, “No, Mr Maxwell, you may be second. I’m going to be the first.” And with his own hands outstretched, he not only grasped Vincent and Catherine by the hands but he tugged them into a warm embrace and whispered, “You two have a happy life you hear, or you’ll have me to answer to.”
“We’ll try.” Catherine began, and then changed her mind as she saw the look of disapproval in his eye, “No, make that we will.” She added reassuringly.
“That’s better my dear.” He told her with a wink and then looking at these two, the judge didn’t doubt that they would have their share of problems but in the main they would be good for one another and work-wise they did make a great team. And with that thought in mind, suddenly he had an idea “Miss Chandler, before you leave I wonder if you and Mr Maxwell would be kind enough to accompany me to my chambers. There’s something I’d like to run by the two of you.”
Catherine looked toward Vincent and with a shrug followed the judge out of the courtroom along with Joe while Vincent sat back down to await their return. By the clock on the wall above the bench he noticed that they had been gone some thirty minutes when John Moreno came in from the back of the court and at the bailiff’s request he too disappeared inside the back room, surprising Vincent no end. He worried that Catherine might be in trouble but that anxiety evaporated when the four came back out soon after with faces wreathed in smiles. A few members of the public and the jury were still in the court and a few reporters had wandered in. All had stayed to see what was happening and to hear what the judge had suddenly thought of.
Making his way back to the bench the judge soon enlightened them when he announced. “It crossed my mind that as Mr Wells pleaded guilty and while the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, there was nothing to say that in the future Mr Wells would not protect Miss Chandler and find himself back here with more manslaughter charges against him. So, I had an idea and when I asked the three Attorney’s what they thought about it this is what we proposed. That Mr Wells was put on the District Attorney Payroll and acted as Miss Chandler’s bodyguard. True, there would still be conditions to be met and crimes to be paid if for instance he overstepped the mark, but rather than kill to protect he could be trained in combat to turn his aggression into fighting, thus using his hands as other men would use their hands and fists to aid another. This then would be considered self-defence and protection, and wherever possible while he held the assailant at bay Miss Chandler could call for back up in the way of her colleagues or the police department. That way they could truly become a team, and knowing that they were on any one case would in itself hopefully deter any would be assailants from attack.
However, after discussing the idea with Mr Maxwell and Mr Moreno it was considered that Miss Chandler is fully capable of starting up alone as her own attorney. But with one condition that Mr Wells takes up the partnership with her and together they set up The Alpha/Omega Agency of Attorney for Abusive Youths a name, which I am sure, you will agree, speaks for itself. As the word abusive covers a wide range of emotions that youths of today often display, violent, vicious, offensive, obnoxious, insulting and sadistic to name but a few. All we need to ask for is Mr Wells’ consideration and hopefully acceptance of this idea. So, Mr Wells what do you say? But before you so answer let me tell you that with someone like yourself helping to keep kids in line in this city I would sleep easier in my bed at night. The city needs someone like you with your compassion and ability to protect and to show that you’ll stand for no nonsense among the younger generation. Naturally, there are a lot of loose ends to consider but between us, I’m certain that we can iron these out. All we need now is your willingness to help. So, what do you think Mr Wells? Naturally you will be working with Miss Chandler in the daylight hours and for that we will arrange protection for your own back.”
Vincent didn’t know what to say but one look at Catherine’s face told him that it would work, and they would be together all the time. They’d work together and they’d be helping young people from broken homes and those that had got into bad company a bit like the way Father aided such youths that came to live in the tunnels. And any time that Catherine had to work on a case that involved being out of the office, he could protect her so long as he only used his hands for fighting. That might be difficult learning to rein in his anger, but with training? He found himself nodding, and wasn’t certain that he had until Catherine threw her arms around him and was telling him ‘oh thank you thank you, Vincent…I know it will work. It will.’ And he suddenly found that he had to agree, for yes, it surely would work, because together they made a great team.
“Thank you Mr Wells, I’ll have the necessary papers drawn up. And what about the name, you do not think it will bring back certain bad memories?” The judge asked him.
“On the contrary, no I think it is a wonderful name.” Vincent replied honestly, “And it doesn’t offend me at all. In fact, I have always found the name to be appropriate in my case and now I know certain facts I hope that it will always be so.”
“I suppose you refer to Dominic Haley when you say you hope that there will never be another like you?” Joe asked him.
“Yes, because its not been easy being me and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.” Vincent told them and they could tell that was an understatement.
“I can imagine.” The judge told them. “But now you can use the way you are not only to your own advantage but to the benefit of young offenders to prevent them re-offending probably in a better way than anyone who has ever tried. Vincent, I don’t have to tell you that you’ve got your work cut out for you, are you certain that you’re up to it? Maybe you need time to consider?”
Pausing before replying Vincent really thought it through. To be able to help the children in the city as well as those beneath it, to be able to walk in the sunlight, to be accepted for what he was by the people of the city to be known among them as an American citizen, and to be with Catherine all the time? What was there to consider? It was perfect and he told them so adding, “I don’t think I have ever felt so at peace with myself. Thank you, all of you.”
The judge drew in a deep breath, much more of this and he would start to cry, he had always considered himself a soft touch, but didn’t want to make that known among his colleagues. “Well, I’d say its been a good day, what do you all think?”
Everyone agreed in their own way that it had been for what ever reason they deemed it had been so, and finally they started to drift out of the courtroom, bidding one another farewell with handshakes and embraces, until finally only Vincent and Catherine remained in the now empty courtroom. The clock ticked loudly on the wall signifying time going by and listening to it neither felt capable of speaking. There was something indescribably wonderful about standing there - just standing there, and knowing that within these walls something had taken place that day that would never happen again. Vincent had found his freedom, not just from guilt of the lives he had taken, but within himself and he felt as though he was standing on the brink of time, and any next step he took would take him someplace wonderful, but he dared not make that first step.
Thus in limbo he lingered, treasuring, savouring the moment knowing that Catherine watched him with love shining from her eyes as she contemplated their future and their dream come true until finally he could stay silent know more and gathering her close he whispered, “Thank you Catherine, thank you for everything. I love you.”
Her heart full of love for this unique and special man Catherine hugged him tight and then with her arm around his waist attempted to guide him toward the entrance near the court that would lead them down to the tunnel world where his family anxiously awaited them. But he held her back to gaze down at her, his eyes serene lagoons of love and peace and Catherine knew then that she had never known him be this happy in all the years she had known him. “Vincent.” She whispered wanting so much to convey all that she felt at that moment.
“Yes?” He husked his warm breath fanning her cheeks.
“In you I have found my first and my last my beginning and my end. Vincent, I love you so much.” Feeling tears prick his eyes Vincent pulled Catherine toward him and they stood embraced for long moments without speaking until Catherine finally went on, “Vincent, when they first bestowed that title upon you I was so incensed but now I find it fits you perfectly, for it covers everything you are to me and you know something, Vincent?”
Listening Vincent held his breath, knowing that he would believe anything that she told him at this moment because she loved him and would say nothing that would bring him pain.
“Tell me.” He whispered, brushing her face with soft kisses.
Holding him tightly and never wanting to let him go Catherine made him believe her as she tenderly replied, “Whichever way you look at it Vincent, they were right to give you that name because you know what?” She searched his eyes wondering if she should tell him, and then knowing for sure that he would understand she added the truth of the whole matter. “Vincent, you are and always will be my Alpha and the Omega.”