The Alpha and the Omega
Two nights later Vincent met with Joe - time and unforeseen occurrence having prevented the two to meet before the start of Catherine’s trial. They had much to discuss as well as setting eyes upon each other for the first time, and as he waited for Vincent to arrive at their designated meeting place Joe had time to reflect on what he was about to do and whom he was about to meet.
He’d seen footage of Vincent caged at the zoo, more footage since he had last spoken with Catherine. It was no more a private affair, as news bulletins had reeled throughout the day all that the television stations had been permitted to transmit to the general public and told the truth behind the Alpha and the Omega. That is the truth as revealed by the zoo personnel. People gasped when Vincent’s ferocious fangs seen snarling and slavering as he pounded against the bars terrified them. What had been in their midst? Who was this woman, this Catherine Chandler that had set such a wild animal free? How was it that he had remained in secret for half his life while people had gone about their every day living oblivious to such a horror stalking their children?
Joe could not condemn them for such thinking, he had only in mind what he had seen, yet his loyalty to Catherine and knowing her as a level headed woman allowed him not to make judgements even though he quaked with fear as he awaited the menacing unknown. Catherine had said that Vincent would keep him safe, but would he? Perhaps he only kept Catherine safe because he loved her. Perhaps Joe would be his next victim. Perhaps he would see through Joe’s demeanour and know that he too loved Catherine and would therefore know him to be a rival for her love.
In two minds as to whether to go or stay Joe lingered just long enough to hear his host, the helper announce Vincent’s arrival. He cowered close to the door, his hand on the knob just in case he needed to flee, just in case it offered him the only chance he would get of escaping before those mighty claws and fangs ripped into his flesh.
Heart in mouth, Joe watched the shadows knowing the area from which Vincent would arrive, and thus scared witless he almost melted with relief when he first heard Vincent speak.
“Mr Maxwell. I am very pleased to meet you at last.”
That voice shook Joe. He had not imagined what it may sound like, but in his wildest nightmares it would have sounded gruff, hoarse deep and foreboding any one of those, and certainly not the soft velvet over gravel with which he was presented.
“Come…into…the…light.” Joe managed with a definite squeak. He shook with fear and the need to run was paramount even as his legs grew weak and his feet were frozen to the spot.
“Please, do not be afraid. I will not harm you. Perhaps if we were to sit around the table?” Joe noticed the cloaked figure nod toward their host and he in turn without preamble brought up three chairs around the circular table before them.
“Yes.” Joe heard himself agree. Sitting would definitely be better, for though it would mean letting go of the doorknob Vincent’s power would definitely be at a disadvantage when sitting, surely it would?
And so, around the table beneath the light from one solitary bulb swinging slightly above the circle between them Joe watched fascinated as Vincent slowly and cautiously lowered his hood.
It helped, Joe decided that Vincent’s hands visibly shook as he deftly gathered the black material with his fingers to reveal his features, but Joe found that rather than watch for the face to appear his eyes were riveted to those hands. Those deadly looking claw tipped fingers covered in golden hair of the coarse rough texture that resembled the kind that grew on the manes of horses or the manes of lions. Joe shuddered, his own hands grasping the edges of the table and praying that he might wake up at any moment to find that it was all some ghastly dream.
And then his gaze slipped from those lethal looking talons to the golden hair revealed before his sight. And in the light from the bulb swinging above, a halo appeared around the silhouette of the figure before him as light filtered through the edges of what could only be described as a mane shrouding a face that Joe could only stare at without thought or feeling. And those eyes! Even in the such poor lighting Joe saw a million fragments of life dancing from those eyes. Hope, love, pity, sorrow, anxiety, fear…yes fear…and it was that last that brought Joe to his senses. Here before him was a man? A creature at any rate with immense physical power, with the ability to rent a man in two at the slightest provocation and yet he was afraid? Of what? Of him? Joe had not for one moment expected that Vincent might fear him!
“Please, trust me Mr Maxwell. I will not harm you.” That deep resonate sound hit Joe somewhere in the gut and held fast and in an instance his whole body relaxed and he saw himself extend a hand across the table in greeting and heard his own voice say, “Call me Joe.”
In that one word Joe heard the relief in Vincent’s tone and knew that now they stood on even ground and despite their differences of which there were many they were very much alike in many ways, and each loved the same woman, of which both were acutely aware. And yet, in so doing, they were united and in that instance each knew that he could trust the other with his life.
“Catherine said that you were a good man, Joe.” Vincent smiled drawing Joe’s gaze to his face with outright fascination. Vincent did not seem to mind however and said nothing even when Joe replied absentmindedly “Then we are at odds, Catherine told me nothing of you.”
When Vincent chuckled, Joe found that he was surprised that he could. And even the glint of fangs did not faze him.
“Catherine kept my secret well. I owe her my life.”
“As I understand she owes hers to you?” There was a question and Vincent answered.
“Yes. Which I believe is why we are here. Joe, Catherine needs my help. There are things I must request of you, possibilities I must ask you to consider. I am not important here, Catherine is.”
“Well you won’t have me arguing on that score buster, so blast away.” Joe leaned back a little suddenly aware that he had leaned in so close to see Vincent more clearly that they weren’t far off rubbing noses. For some reason he saw the funny side of that and grinned. In response, Vincent grinned too, revealing a row of stunning white teeth that once again held Joe’s gaze fast.
Then that deep velvety voice eased away a day’s anxieties as Joe listened to Vincent’s questions. He felt as if he were wrapped in the softest cotton wool or floating upon a cloud, and wondered if the sound of Vincent’s voice made Catherine feel this way. He felt cosseted as if there was nothing in the world to harm him, and told himself that at that moment there probably wasn’t. With Vincent nearby, he need never be afraid of anything ever again.
Dreamily Joe dreamt on.
“What? Oh, sorry Vincent. What was you saying?”
Vincent grinned. He had always been amazed by the adverse reactions of people who met him for the first time, but only with Catherine had he ever noticed anything like this! Must be a lawyer thing, Vincent surmised with a chuckle.
“I am sorry Vincent.” Joe was apologising profusely now, much to the chagrin of their host who rose with the intention of bringing tea down to the two men. “If you’ll excuse me, I should think that kettle has boiled by now.” He told them and nodding in acknowledgment, Vincent directed his attention back to Joe. “Should I start again?”
Blushing Joe nodded cursing himself for how he must appear yet knowing that these circumstances were unusual to say the least. It wasn’t every day that you were introduced to a creature that was half lion and half man.
He’d done it again! “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, oh what must you think of me?” Joe was so embarrassed.
Vincent chuckled, “It is to be expected and perhaps it is wrong of me to presume that I should ask you questions at our first meeting. It is I, that should apologise, please, there must be a host of questions that you need to ask me. So please fire away.”
“I’m not sure where to start.” Joe muttered truthfully.
“Most people ask how I came to be like this.” Vincent told him quietly, and Joe could tell by his tone that that particular question held its own sorrows for the man before him and vowed he would not ask it. Instead he asked, “How did you and Catherine meet?”
Surprised Vincent replied, “Has she not told you?”
“Well yes as it happens, well in a way that is. Since learning of you I presumed that you had met when she had been flung from that van in the park…” Vincent was just about to say that was correct when Joe surprised him by continuing; “But Catherine set me straight on that. Said you had known one another long before this, but she didn’t exactly say how you had met.”
A little stunned and perplexed as to why Catherine should lie, Vincent felt the first stab of caution run through him. If Catherine should lie to Joe of all people about something that did not appear to represent any danger, then he too should be careful in what he revealed. And by his experience, Joe knew at once when Vincent made the definite decision to be cautious. Body language revealing to him that something had suddenly worried the strange looking man.
From that moment, they tiptoed around one another as the earlier trust between them evaporated.
“I cannot reveal more than Catherine permitted you to know, and really it is not important in the face of what is before us now.” Joe detected the caution in Vincent’s tone and frowned. His lawyer self came into gear and he felt the need to dig. What was it that the couple were hiding? What was it that they did not trust him to know? And what was so wrong about knowing how the pair of them had first met? These questions became paramount in Joe’s mind almost over riding the reason why he had wanted to meet Vincent in the first place. However, the return of their host with three steaming mugs of tea brought him back to earth.
“So, have you two worked out a way to save Catherine then?” He asked depositing green and white striped mugs before each of them. Joe noticed the various rings on the cracked varnished table, and thought perhaps this was like one of them, ever increasing circles. Going round and round perhaps chasing his own tail…getting nowhere…did Vincent have a tail?
“No. We have yet to discuss Catherine’s trial.” Vincent told the helper who had sat back down at his seat and was sipping the steaming tea.
“We seem to keep going off the subject.” Joe felt he should explain then felt ridiculous when the helper accused, “Then you shouldn’t! Catherine means everything to a lot of people, none more than Vincent. She has already stood one day in court and as I hear she has not been allowed to return to her apartment this night, but rather spend the night in a cell. Today’s hearing went badly against her, hell Mr Maxwell, did you see the film that they showed of Vincent!”
“Yes.” Joe began surprised when Vincent cut in sombrely, “I bet they didn’t show my good side.” Causing Joe to laugh out loud, “And then some!” He retorted.
“Actually they didn’t have any of those.” Vincent said sadly. “And I doubt they revealed the ones where I just wanted to curl up and die.”
The silence that followed almost choked Joe. He shook his head suddenly realising the severity of all that Vincent had suffered. Suddenly wondering what it must have been like to be caged and shackled and told that you were going to become the main exhibit in a collapsing organisation and something that would help it rise again from the dust and make it more important in status than any other organisation on earth. And that would have been the truth of it, because Vincent surely was the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. And suddenly Joe heard himself whisper, “So where did you actually come from?”
“This is fruitless!” The helper fumed, “You’ve been here over an hour already Mr Maxwell and neither of you have come to anything concrete that will help Catherine get out of this mess. Why, if tomorrow is anything like today it will be cut and dried - she’ll go to prison. The whole of New York, and probably the whole world believe that she set a wild creature loose in the city. She’s being branded a nutter! Might even be sent to a mental institution, where they’ll shoot electricity through her head or something!”
Vincent gasped, he had not known this and Greg, the helper, was right they should stop pussyfooting around and make some headway. It would soon be morning, another day, another trial for Catherine. And one night in a cage was enough for anyone, he could not allow Catherine to spend another inside one.
“I have a suggestion.” Vincent caught both Greg and Joe off guard as he went on, “As I see it the only way Catherine can be acquitted is if she has a very good witness that will plead her innocence, and there is no better witness than me.”
Joe’s mouth fell open, as did Greg’s, only the latter recovered sooner, “Vincent! No! You can’t!”
“I have to.” Vincent spoke adamantly.
“You’d do that? Risk everything?” Joe was amazed!
“For Catherine, I’d give my life.” Vincent answered simply. There was no arguing, both could see he had thought about this long and hard and his mind was made up.
“You’ll need a good lawyer.” Joe told him simply, “If you would permit me to…”
“Offer?” Vincent lifted one eyebrow.
“Yes offer. I’d do it for you Vincent. For Catherine, but it will not be easy for you. I can’t promise success but I can promise that once people see you as I have seen you this evening they can no longer see you as a threat to their children and loved ones of this city. However, there is just one problem…” Joe’s tone was flat - grave.
“I know. Catherine has already highlighted that possibility. I might get into the court room without too much fuss, my being there might even get Catherine acquitted, but it is doubtful that I would walk free. I understand this and I accept the possibility.”
“Father will have a fit!” Greg jumped to his feet, “Vincent you can’t be serious!”
“Who’s Father?” Joe asked.
“Vincent’s father!” Greg was not looking at Joe only at Vincent, his chest rising and falling with rage. He could not believe Vincent would do such a thing, endangering not only his own life but the very security of the tunnel world itself.
“You have a father?” Joe questioned clearly mystified. “I thought you were the only one of your kind.”
“His adopted father…” Greg’s voice drained away as he realised he had revealed too much. His face reddened and he looked guiltily toward Vincent.
“But I thought…”Joe drew his brows together. “Vincent where do you live?”
Guarded Vincent frowned, ‘what exactly had Catherine told him? And how could he answer without knowing?’
“Surely Catherine has told you?”
“That’s the second time you have answered such. Is it possible that Catherine revealed more to me than you know, or is it that you are revealing more to me than Catherine wished for me to know?”
Suddenly Vincent knew the answer. Under no circumstances would Catherine reveal the tunnels to anyone, and he answered in a way that he hoped would suffice. “I have no fixed abode.”
Joe nodded and did not see the sigh of relief that crossed Vincent’s features, nor Greg’s as he contemplated what was taking place before his eyes. He cursed his own mouth and decided to play it any way Vincent wanted from now on and as cautiously as possible. After all Mr Maxwell, friend or not was still the Senior District Attorney for this city so they had to be careful what they said.
“Catherine told me that.” Joe was careful what to reveal knowing now that it was obvious Catherine had not had the time to see Vincent or to contact him by way of a message before her trial began, and certainly not before this meeting had been confirmed, so he was tempted to ask pointed questions, when suddenly he decided against it. Why should he know anyway? Did it relate to the case? There was obviously more here than he was permitted to see, and he would never know by crossing these people. He knew Catherine, knew she had impeccable sense. She worked on logic and reality, was not likely to be misled by fabrications. If she deemed this cat man to be authentic in good deeds and love then so should he and in so doing, he might learn the very epitome of Catherine’s secret. He decided therefore to reveal little snippets that would aid Vincent to go along with whatever it had been that Catherine had told him two almost three days earlier.
“This friend then, the one that drives you into the city, could he not be a witness for you rather than you revealing yourself?” Joe waited and watched as Vincent’s eyes registered the titbit and snatched it up understanding at once.
“No. He is sworn to secrecy and besides there is no way of contacting him. He comes into the city rarely.” Vincent didn’t feel he was lying, for though Catherine had, he felt that there was a great possibility that she like he had both thought of Devin as they’d spoken. In fact to dwell on his brother in that way, he could release information to Joe that was in no way lying but could be misinterpreted to mean something entirely different, sort of corrupting the truth, bending it to fit rather than an outright lie. Thus, Vincent felt better and his conscience only pricked him only a little.
“Then he leaves you here while he goes from place to place. Isn’t that a little dangerous?” Joe asked reasonably.
“Only to me. There are places, people I can trust who will take me in. Father for example, I have known him all my life.”
“Yes, but I think it would be fair to assume that you would not want this to be made common knowledge, nor the fact that there are people that look out for you, or that you spend any deal of time lurking about the city. Vincent, if I could be frank, Catherine made better sense. She was looking ahead as she always does, and determining the way the law and a jury might interpret it. That there are people out there that deem you a hero, there are many that have been swayed differently since those news bulletins rolled this evening. A lot of people are frightened Vincent, and if you are seriously intending to walk into that courtroom all hell will break loose. We have to think of a way whereby we can steal you in there without too much fuss. Would you mind terribly if a sack was placed over your head or perhaps a blanket? For I doubt that the hood of your cloak will do, in fact I think you should leave that at home, wherever home is, because to put a cloaked and hooded figure into the minds and midst of this city will create panic like you have never seen.”
Vincent nodded as his face grew serious and grave. He was going to have to portray himself to the people as they themselves were, and though different, not mark those differences any more than he had to. Joe was right. Being as he was, was one thing, dressing like something or someone that had walked the earth five hundred years ago was something else. It would present disbelief and anxiety in the hearts of the people and make them wonder about places existing that they did not know existed.
As if reading his mind Joe went on, “And it might make people presume that you are a member of some religious cult. Maybe even by your looks make you Satan himself.” Vincent winced at that possibility and Joe apologised. “I’m sorry but we have to face every eventuality. Do you have any other gear than that? A suit and tie would be nice.”
Vincent shook his head. “Not a suit and tie but I do have some regal clothes.”
“Are they modern?” Joe asked unsure.
Vincent shook his head.
“Then you can’t wear them. Greg do you have a tape measure? We need to get Vincent’s measurements to a tailor quick smart and get him a suit to wear.” To Vincent he directed the question; “Is it possible to cut off some of your hair?”
Vincent shook his head adamantly, a very firm half growl issued, “No!”
“I’m sorry, shouldn’t have asked. But can you tie it back? If we can present you as the modern man well as possible as we can, it will go a long way toward achieving our goal here. Next, we need to work on your defence. I’ll do that too, if that’s ok, you’ll need someone with you when you go in there as well as someone to defend you when you are arrested though I guess there would be none better to plead your case than Catherine, but she will be required to give evidence so that wouldn’t be possible.” Joe was thinking out loud, racing ahead as he thought of and dismissed certain ideas.
Greg brought the tape measure and as Joe highlighted the things that they would need to do and say he wrote down the measurements in silence. When he was done, he handed them to Joe, whose eyes opened wide in astonishment. “I shouldn’t be surprised by the looks of you, but seeing it here in ink I find that I am. Are your legs really that thick? God you must be solid muscle!” Vincent detected the humour in Joe’s tone and chuckled but said nothing.
“Can you get on to this Greg? Have a suit found in this size before morning, is that possible? I have some connections if not.” Joe asked hopefully.
“Can we really have everything done by morning?” Vincent wanted to know. “There seems to be an awful lot of ground to cover let alone my appearance by morning.”
“Stranger things have happened, and its not as if a suit has to be made from scratch. Someone must have one that they can add a few tucks to, extend a bit here or there, don’t worry we’ll find something.” Joe was scribbling down a few contact numbers as he spoke and handing them to Greg, “Here try these people, tell them Joe Maxwell sent you, tell them the order is needed like yesterday, I’m certain they can come up with something.”
“Right, I’m onto it!” Greg made for the door, pausing as Joe called him back, “And tell them its for Catherine Chandler’s sake.” He added hastily before adding beneath his breath, “that should get them moving.”
No one could argue that fact. A lot of people still admired Catherine Chandler.
Two people in the room loved her.
*** *** ***
Led handcuffed and between two officers Catherine was bade to sit alongside her defence lawyer before the cuffs were removed for the second time that day. The morning’s hearing had not gone well and her hopes were sinking fast. With so much proof stacked against her, she was sure that she faced going to prison. Absentmindedly, she rubbed at her wrists searching the sea of faces for someone familiar, and was surprised to see first Elliot then Joe, two faces that had not been present earlier. In actuality, Joe had been there that morning but Catherine had not seen him sitting at the back. This afternoon he was at the front speaking to the judge and passing on some information that she hoped would free her.
She could not hear what was being said but as the courtroom filled up and people waited with a hushed silence odd words filtered across to her. She was surprised when the name Mr Wells was mentioned. Mr Wells? Surely Father had not come forth? And if he had what good could he do? Unless he was prepared to reveal the tunnels for her sake and she thought that highly unlikely, what business would Mr Wells have with her case? Of course it could be an entirely different Mr Wells, someone that she did not know, but whomsoever it was, was causing quite a stir with the judge. His hands gestured that something displeased him and he kept shaking his head as Joe whispered. Finally, they seemed to reach an agreement and shortly after Joe returned to his seat, the judge addressed the court.
“It is with reluctance that I have agreed to a new witness coming forth in Miss Chandler’s defence. However I would ask that all journalists refrain from taking photographs in this room and any one that does so will be in contempt of court, arrested and charged.” He gestured to Joe who rose and went to the back of the courtroom, opened a door and went through it. He seemed to be gone an age as the court waited in expectation for something they were sure would cause quite a stir.
Catherine’s heart raced, not knowing what to expect, whom to expect. Oh Lord surely he wouldn’t…surely…She could hardly bear to look even as her eyes were riveted to that door. Finally, it opened and loud voices could at first be heard on the other side. Joe’s raised and angry, the judge rising from his seat and police officers holding people back as those eager to know who was coming ion rushed to the door cameras at the ready. No photography in the courtroom sure, but nothing was said about behind those doors.
As sudden as Joe Maxwell led in his witness the whole courtroom went wild. Varying degrees of anger, hushed whispers, laughter from some, disbelief from others, flash photography stunning Joe and Vincent as they entered the courtroom, caught up in the bustle as officers charged forth to arrest the offending people. What did it matter? What did a fine, a prison sentence have in connection with the biggest scoop of the century? The judge had been afraid of this, and banging at his desk for order he finally had the courtroom under control.
Catherine sat there frozen to the spot, her mouth agape, her eyes riveted to Vincent’s, the fear apparent within them, the anger and rage that he would do this rising with every heartbeat.
Vincent, via their connection felt it all, and instilled his love and patience into her, trying to make her understand that what he had decided was indeed necessary. Then with quiet deliberation Joe led Vincent to the witness stand where as the sea of people grew silent in expectation, he entered and faced them.
In a dream Catherine took in his demeanour, this man that she loved above all else, and marvelled at the way he was dressed. Clearly Joe had had a hand in this, bless him, for Vincent looked immaculate. She even managed a grin as she saw all eyes of the female populace fixed firmly upon her truelove like they had never seen anyone so gorgeous in all their life and never would again.
Catherine could identify with that, he was beautiful to her and for her he had done this. It seemed unreal, and in the setting laughable yet serious too. His hair groomed back where a black velvet tie pinned it behind the nape of his neck, a black suit and white shirt hugging his body and a pale blue silk tie setting off the colour of his eyes to perfection. ‘Nice one Joe’ Catherine couldn’t help admiring the effect knowing she had her colleague to thank. However well dressed appearance or not, to the rest of the world Vincent was something else and he may just have well been wearing those bin liners that they had already seen him in than the designer suit he now wore.
The judge addressed him, asking him details and the court waited in expectation to hear him speak. When he did, Catherine almost smiled with satisfaction as they like she had once done could not believe that such a perfect voice, such a husky, sexy, beautiful voice could emanate from one such as he. Well what did they expect a roar? Despite the seriousness of the occasion Catherine heard herself chuckle and that was music to Vincent’s ears. Whatever he had unleashed be it good or bad, his intention had been in her best interests and he had done it solely for Catherine’s plight and not for his own. That Father would kill him when he found out he’d rather not think about just now.
“My name is Vincent Wells. My date of birth is January 12th 1954. I have no fixed address.”
From around the courtroom zoo personnel froze and whispered amongst themselves. This was, they knew the one whom they had captured and held in a cage, yet here he was sitting as large as life for all the world to see and acting like a decent if different human being. They could go to jail for holding someone such as he against his will. Thus, the table had turned and many people were frightened by what might happen this day.
Others rushed from the courtroom with justice in mind. As Joe had perceived many were seeking assistance and relatives of lost and loved ones slain at Vincent’s hand and despite all his good intentions Joe knew as his client had surmised that Vincent would not be allowed to leave the courtroom that afternoon. For the moment he set foot outside he would be arrested, and Joe hoped and prayed that despite expecting and accepting that this would be so, that Vincent did not do anything unlawful that would be held against him further and only convince the world that he should be shut away in a cage like a wild animal after all.
Everything pended upon the next few hours, they might not be able to change what would be, but whatever Vincent said now, would hopefully go a long way in his own defence later when he would definitely be brought to trial for murder!
*** *** ***
To be continued in part six.