And So It Begins...

Chapter Seven

The loss of her friend saddened Catherine, as it did the rest of the community. Jamie was a valued member and it was going to be hard to accept that she was lost somewhere in the tunnels, maybe never to be seen again and Father brought all the children together and reminded them of how serious it was to be by oneself no matter how experienced one might be. It was the last thing they needed at the time, they missed Jamie also, they didn’t need reminding that she had been alone when she had gone missing, neither did they need to be reminded that she had been in pursuit of an intruder, who it was said, looked very much like Vincent. Luke had added his penny’s worth too, telling about the ghost Vincent and Mouse not bothering to keep quiet since Jamie had gone missing had also mentioned that he too had seen the ghost.

Father and Catherine remained sceptical, believing it must have been a trick of the light, even when Olivia told them that her son was correct, and that there had been no mistaking the fact that it did look like Vincent, nor Kanin and Winslow’s report of the intruder climbing the rock face wearing a long black cloak, and hooded, which when fallen back had revealed to them a shock of tawny hair reminiscent of Vincent’s.

“Why are so many seeing him and not us, that’s what I would like to know?” Father remarked to Catherine when they were eventually alone. “It doesn’t seem fair. Out of everyone you and I and Mary meant the most to him. Oh I know Mouse was his friend, but why visit with these people and not us? And why when he appears does he run away? What is he afraid of? Does he think we would not be able to bear it?”

“Possibly. He might conclude that to do that to you would bring on a heart attack. He might be right Father have you considered that?” Catherine asked with obvious concern. She had wondered all afternoon how she might react to seeing the Vincent ghost as the children had termed him and if he were to come and go so swiftly she didn’t think she could bear it. He would need to stay so that she might talk to him, just like the time when her father had visited and they were able to chat awhile. Catherine wondered so much whether Vincent remembered that they had made love, mainly because it was something never far from her thoughts.

To think that she had gone into that cave and tamed the beast literally and then to have lost him to death was sickening, but the memory of their loving would be with her always. That kiss…oh that first sweet kiss… With her finger tips Catherine touched her lips unable to prevent herself from smiling…never had she been kissed so passionately. It was as though once she had made that first contact Vincent’s fears had galloped away to nothingness, and he had reacted swiftly, his arms coming up and around her holding her closer than a heartbeat, his lips and tongue seeking places he had never before travelled.

“Father do you mind if I go to lie down for a while?” Catherine asked as she realised that such memories were ones that she should dwell on in her own company.

“Not at all. Are you feeling unwell?” Father’s kind concern brought a soft flush to stain Catherine’s cheeks and she found it impossible to look at him. If he knew why she wanted to be alone…well Catherine didn’t dare dwell on what he might think to that!

“No, I’m fine, I just need to close my eyes awhile.” Catherine told him truthfully before rising and making her way across to him. She kissed his brow much the same as she had seen Vincent do countless times, and then bidding him the customary ‘be well’, she left him to his own devices as she made her way to the guest chamber.

Once there, the bed looked so tempting that Catherine pulled back the blankets and slipped beneath. She was actually quite tired, always seemed to be so these days and sighed when she found a comfortable position. There laying still her eyes drifted closed and she allowed the memory of her first and only time of making love with Vincent come to mind.

She would never forget those feelings. For three years he had kept her at bay, refusing to touch her in any way that might be deemed improper and would only permit chaste kisses, to her brow, her cheek or hair. How she had longed to feel his lips pressed close to hers, how she had taken from him when the chance arose. Believing that it was the kiss of life she had put her all into that kiss and revelled when she felt him move beneath her lips, his own mouth searching, nibbling at first, tasting her then expelling a groan of submission his arms had gathered her close and he had put his all back into the kiss, stunning her with its beauty and the blissfulness of his lips against hers. It was a wonder that now, she could remember everything in detail, but the last few months had afforded her time to remember those things. At the time though it had been one wonder after another as his hands had sought her breasts, and feeling no shame at all, Catherine had bared them to his hungry gaze revelling in his hot mouth slaking its thirst upon the tight rosy tips. Oh God, how she had yearned for that touch, how he had known and touched here everywhere her mind screamed to be touched. Their connection so recently lost to them blossomed and flowered and came back with a fullness never before known so that Catherine was able to know every one of his emotions, each clambering for supremacy, as his desire grew in leaps and bounds. She denied him nothing, his frustration at being denied the right to love her, rules imposed upon himself, had led to his fever, his illness, and now he was slaking that thirst as a man deprived of water and nourishment for far too long. Gladly Catherine offered him everything, giving of herself happily willingly shedding her clothing so that he might explore her curves more fully. And when she had felt his erection pressed close to her body Catherine had almost died with longing, her body readying itself immediately, the Bond telling him in no uncertain terms that she was waiting. That part was a little obscure. One moment Vincent was clothed the next he had been gloriously naked from the waist down and she had felt his firm and muscled thighs pushing hers apart, the soft fur against his legs tickling the soft sleek skin of hers. And when he had entered her…oh…Catherine thought it might go on forever! That and the soft growl against her ear echoing her own moan of satisfaction and how happy she had been at that moment, knowing Vincent, her Vincent was inside her, he moved with her, his undulating hips picking up the pace as if he had done it all his life as instinct told him what he must do. Of course it was all over far too quickly as first times are, but as Catherine had straightened her clothing and he had replaced his, she had caught him off guard and their eyes had met and in that moment she had seen the shyness in those blue pools even as he hid his gaze from her beneath a mane of coppery hair. Even so the madness had gone, replaced by a love so soft that Catherine had sighed with sheer bliss as he had lain back in her arms, his body relaxed and replenished seemingly at peace. To think that he had died then, and she had not known of it. That as she had sat with him weaving her dreams of their happy life together he had uttered his last breath. To have had him so wonderfully and to have lost him so tragically was more than Catherine could bear, so why did he not visit with her? It was so unfair and the only reason Catherine could think of was that he regretted what had happened and could not face her knowing that he had made her pregnant and had left her alone. It was the only thing Catherine could think of, for nothing else made sense.

Her eyes remained closed, Catherine did not sleep but she kept them tightly shut for at that moment to open them and not find Vincent visiting with her would be too much, far better to bury her head beneath the covers and try to sleep then know the disappointment of not having him there and slowly, slowly sleep came by and soon Catherine was deep in dreams. Dreams where everything was wonderful, Vincent was alive and they were living with their child in the tunnels and when Catherine finally woke several hours later she would remember those bitter sweet dreams and her heart would be filled with sorrow for what would never be. Strange to think that those were the words Vincent had used frequently to describe a relationship between them, how could he have ever known that one day they would move through and beyond such a joining of bodies and the words never be would represent Catherine unable to see him again. There was no telling how Vincent would have reacted had he known what the future held, but chances were he would still be alive and in love with Catherine.

Deep in the bowels of the earth as Catherine slept Vincent’s own thoughts were on similar lines as Catherine’s had been. As Jamie slept soundly Vincent wondered what she might tell him about Catherine and wondered how much he should ask. She had been about to say something earlier, something about Elliot, or something about Catherine and where she was now and suddenly the urge to see Catherine was so overwhelming that Vincent stood up, checked Jamie one more time, then with his cloak pulled from the back of one chair he swept it around his shoulders. No matter the pain of seeing Catherine with Elliot, he knew he had to see her. Dominic wouldn’t like it if he knew, but Jacob Wells had not been able to stop him going above and no newly acquired brother was going to do so either and with that determined thought in mind, Vincent swept from the chamber his feet taking him in only one direction…above to Catherine’s world.

*** *** ***

“Mouse is that you?” Winslow peered down the tunnel, where though it was light enough to see, he thought he detected movement yet could see no one there. “Mouse?” He enquired nervously as the hairs on the back of his neck started to rise. Why did the boy not answer him? Slowly, and holding his breath Winslow stepped forward. Each time he paused he released a breath, held it again to step forward, so doing until he reached the spot where he’d been sure he had seen something move. Once there, he saw nothing but rock and breathed shallowly his heart hammering with fright. “Mouse!” He hissed trying to be as quiet as he could and physically jumped when from out of nowhere a figure emerged as if from the very walls themselves. Ducking low, Winslow drew in and held another breath, knowing that it wasn’t Mouse and unsure of the figure’s identity. For all intents and purposes from his vantage point the figure could have been Vincent. Same height, same build, same ebony cloak with hood pulled tight to frame his head from view. The palms of Winslow’s hands became sweaty and he quietly breathed hot breath upon them in an attempt to cool them to little avail. The figure did not seem to know that he was watching and busied itself with whatever it had appeared to do. Some yards apart, Winslow watched fascinated, as the figure seemed to extract a wooden box from the wall itself and then from the opposite end appeared another figure, one smaller robust and uncloaked. Still Winslow did not recognise this person and he remained deadly quiet hoping that they would not discover him there.

From the rock wall the two figures carried the wooden box, that looked like a coffin and Winslow shuddered, who’s was it and where were they taking it? More importantly who was inside it? And it was only when the two stealthily moved into some sort of chamber that Winslow realised where he was. Of course the cave! The one where they had laid Vincent to rest. So who were these people? Winslow remembered Father saying that the cave would be used as a memorial tomb to all that died after Vincent, but he had not heard of any tunnel member dying since, and even if they had Father would not permit two strangers to carry their dead to lay within. The cave was a special place, Vincent lay there, and so far alone, though if they didn’t find Jamie, a memorial to her would be fashioned and set there alongside him.

Once they disappeared inside the cave Winslow was able to breathe more easily, but he desperately wanted to know who these people were and dared to inch his way forward keeping as flat to the tunnel wall as he could. Too much light down here, he grumbled silently, nowhere to hide, and where was Mouse? Suddenly fear gripped Winslow, what if Mouse had been inside the box? For a moment Winslow worried what to do, then looking down at himself and flexing his muscles he mentally tested his strength against those he knew to be inside the cave. He was one man against two, but he was strong and it was possible that a surprise attack would be all he’d need to overpower them. Not stopping to reason further, Winslow leapt forward his intention to jump whomsoever was inside the cave and shouting loudly he threw himself through the entrance and met…nothing.

Gasping for breath, Winslow’s gaze darted around the cave, but no one was there. He looked behind him as the hairs on the back of his neck rose once more but the tunnel both to the left and to the right was empty. Stepping inside eyes wide and incredulous his gaze finally came to rest on Vincent’s tomb and alongside it a wooden box, proving that he hadn’t imagined two figures carrying it inside moments earlier. But where had they gone? He had kept his eyes glued to the cave entrance and no one had exited, and there was no other way out. Gingerly, Winslow stepped inside and then as he remembered Mouse he hurried to the wooden casket and whispered hoarsely, “Mouse? Mouse? You in there, boy?” No reply.

He had no tools and the lid was nailed securely, but Winslow was strong and he prised the lid methodically all the way around, until at last it began to give. A strong smell of death assailed his nostrils before the lid fell away and at that moment Winslow regretted his decision to open the casket. Mouse was not inside but someone was, and his instant reaction was to refasten the lid hammering it down quickly before the scent of death wafted around him even more than it had. But Winslow was curious, and so pulling his jersey over his nose he dared to peer inside the box and immediately fell backward into a heap on the floor at the shock of seeing the old Negro woman they’d known as Narcissa lying therein. For long moments Winslow sat cross-legged unwilling to move until the strong smell of death almost made him vomit and he stood quickly grasping the fallen lid at his feet and bringing it up and over the casket in one fluid motion, his attempt to cut off the smell and the body from his sight as quickly as possible. There with the sides of his hands he hammered the lid back in place, his fists balled hammer like in order to seal it firmly. Then and only then did he hurry to one corner of the cave and with arms and hands forward he leaned on the walls and let the threatened tears fall. No tears of sorrow those, but rather tears of fear, regret and shame. He felt like some grave robber and fleetingly wondered how people could do such a thing. The stench of death seemed to have settled right through him, his clothes reeked of it.

Slowly his laboured breathing calmed and his heart beat returned to normality although the odd thump against his chest proved that he had received one shock too many this day, and turning he leaned into the corner of the cave and wondered about everything that he had seen during the hour past. Who had those two men been? One, true had looked like Vincent, from the back, but it had been impossible to tell for sure, but then he knew the answer. The dead did not bury the dead did they? His gaze rested uneasily on Vincent’s casket, entombed now with marble, a domineering presence in an otherwise empty cave. Empty except for the company of one, the small wooden casket laid at its side, a pauper’s casket, yet Narcissa deserved much better. Mentally Winslow told himself that first chance he got he would ask Catherine if she would provide some marble panels for Narcissa too, the old woman deserved the very best.

His next question was where had the two men gone? And where was Mouse? Winslow wasn’t stupid, he didn’t believe in apparitions that glided through solid rock, and he knew from of old some of Paracelsus’s tricks of illusion, and primarily this had been the domain of John Pater. It was possible then that Paracelsus had erected some kind of structure whereby grown men could pass through walls, and Winslow wished Mouse were around to ask him about such things. The genius kid would be able to work things out with his inventors mind and they might learn some answers.

“He’s got to be down here somewhere.” Winslow moved away from the wall, “I’m just not looking hard enough.” Even so, Winslow wondered if two men could disappear through solid rock then maybe Mouse had too, come to that maybe Jamie had? “I don’t like this.” Winslow spoke out loud and almost wet himself when behind him came the voice, “Me neither!”

“Mouse!” Overjoyed Winslow run toward the young fellow with the shock of blonde hair, now grimy with rock dust and hugged him hard, “Man, am I ever pleased to see you, boy. Where have you been?”

“Looking for Jamie.” Mouse looked dishevelled and alone, leaving Winslow with no room for doubts that his search had been in vain. “I’m sorry Mouse, I couldn’t find her either, but I did see two people, they left that here.” He indicated the wooden casket with a nod of his head and Mouse followed his gaze resting his own upon the new casket lain alongside Vincent’s. “What is it?” He asked nervously knowing exactly what it was, but hoping he might be wrong.

“Narcissa is inside. She’s dead, and two fellows brought her in here, the thing is Mouse, I didn’t see them leave.”

“Neither did I.” Winslow was stunned, “You saw them?”

“I saw Vincent.” Mouse stated firmly, his eyes as round as saucers. Winslow could see how frightened he was. “Vincent? You sure about that boy?”

Mouse shook his head, “Looked like Vincent, but…” his words trailed away and he looked around nervously, “Where’d they go?”

“Exactly what I’d like to know.” Winslow told him, “Mouse, can walls move? You know like some of them ‘the butler did it’ books that Father has, this reminds me of them.”

Mouse understood and nodded, his hands at once gliding across the rock face all around the cave. He felt nothing out of the ordinary, and began another circle this time tapping the rock with a pebble he’d scooped from the floor. Winslow watched fascinated, his heart thumping, knowing exactly what the boy was searching for and when Mouse hesitated and tapped on one piece of wall that sounded different to the rest, Winslow surged forward and stood alongside, hardly daring to ask, “Is that a false wall, Mouse?” But whispering it anyway.

“Could be.” Mouse replied hardly daring to breathe. “Jamie was last here.” He announced though Winslow knew that since they had found her crossbow inside the cave.

“Is there a secret button or something?” Winslow asked hopefully running his hands across the wall in a bid to find anything mechanical that might open up the wall before them. Suddenly Mouse caught his hand, “Don’t.” And pulled Winslow away from the wall, dropping to his knees and from the floor dragged sand away with the palms of his hands. “Help me.” Mouse asked Winslow, who dropping down also began scraping the sand away, knowing at once what Mouse was searching for and elated when he saw the first glint of metal. “I get it, I get it!” Winslow whispered hoarsely, “Keep away Mouse, I bet if you sat there on that spot and leaned against the wall it would turn around somehow and you’d find yourself on the other side with no way out. Do you think that’s where Jamie went?”

“Maybe.” Mouse replied looking excited and nervous at the same time. “Must tell Father.” He jumped back and started to bound away from Winslow his intent obvious, but Winslow caught his arm, “Not so fast, Mouse. We gotta think about this.”

Hesitating, Mouse looked around the cave he felt nervous and wanted to go home knowing they would need help before doing anything more. Once Mouse might not have waited, but he’d always been afraid of Paracelsus and anything he might have invented terrified him.

“What do you think Narcissa meant when she wrote those letters, Mouse?” Winslow looked around the cavern surprised that he hadn’t taken much notice earlier, but then other things had occupied his mind.

“H…N…D…” Mouse read them out and shrugging replied as if he had known all along, “Here Narcissa Died.” It seemed acceptable and probably to him and he moved forward toward the exit eager to be gone. Winslow moved with him, his lips reiterating the words Mouse had spoken and they’d gone a few yards down the tunnel when Winslow stopped and said, “Here Narcissa Died? Then she must have known she was going to die, or why else did she write them before she did?”

Not stopping, Mouse replied, “Might not have been Narcissa.” Leaving Winslow stunned, “Yes, of course, I never thought of that. Do you think those two fellows could have written it? If they did, then why did they not write HVD too, for here Vincent died? They have to be friends of Narcissa…” Winslow mused and Mouse told him, “Might not know Vincent.”

Winslow nodded, “Could be, you’re right. Still…you said that one of the fellows that took her casket into the cave looked like Vincent. I thought so too from the back…” Winslow puffed, “Hey Mouse wait up. Lord, I swear you must have four legs.”

Suddenly, Mouse stopped dead and Winslow ran into his back, “What’s wrong, Mouse?” Winslow peered around the boy. Something several yards ahead was definitely moving, and coming toward them, yet still around the corner was out of sight. Winslow dragged Mouse back searching frantically for somewhere to hide and finding a small crevice in the wall hoped it would suffice for the two of them. There they waited, hearts in mouth, breathing shallow, as footsteps sounded, closer and closer a few yards ahead. Any moment now, they swore that they would see the face of the intruder…and all would be revealed…

*** *** ***

The sudden knock at the door startled Elliot. He’d been reclining on one of Catherine’s sofas, just deciding he should buy something larger if he were to stay when the soft tapping at the door made him jump. His first thought was to ignore it. It would likely be someone for Catherine but since he could not be sure, Elliot decided it would be better if he let whomsoever it was, think that there was no one in. However, the knocking became persistent and when it was accompanied by a female voice enquiring ‘Cathy, you there?’ Elliot rose and went to open the door. “Hello?” His eyes lit up at the sight of the pretty young woman standing there, a woman who seemed genuinely shocked to find him inside her friend’s apartment. “You’re Elliot Burch aren’t you?” She asked then brushing past him into the apartment enquired, “Where’s Cathy, in the kitchen?”

Closing the door behind her, Elliot replied, “No, haven’t you heard? Catherine has moved out.”

“What already? Damn! I hoped to catch her before she left.” The woman sighed, “I’m Jenny by the way. Jenny Aronson.”

“Nice to meet you Jenny Aronson. Sorry you’ve had a wasted journey. You should have rung first.”

“Like you’d have answered it.” Jenny replied crossly, “I’ve been ringing for the best part of the day. All I get is that damn answer machine. You living here now, or just avoiding someone?”

“Astute aren’t we?” Elliot laughed, “A bit of both actually. Catherine loaned me the hide out but I was thinking I might purchase this apartment, never know when she might need to come back to it, and it’s a nice spot, great view of the park too. Care to join me in a glass of wine?”

Jenny laughed. She liked this man, had seen him often but had never had the opportunity to spend time with him, “I’d like that thank you. Mind if I curl up over here,” She indicated one of the sofas, “It’s been a long day.”

“Not at all.” Elliot’s eyes twinkled, he knew that feeling and he liked Jenny. Other than that he was dying for some company. He’d been holed up at the apartment for the past three days and he had never enjoyed watching television. He was a businessman at his best only when working. The sedentary life was not for him and he relished time spent with a beautiful woman, who might not be Catherine, but was one of her closest friends.

Flipping off her shoes, Jenny rubbed tired feet and sighed, “Ooh that feels good. I’ve been on my feet all day haven’t even been home. Bet I look a mess?”

“On the contrary, you look wonderful to me, a little frayed around the edges maybe, but nothing a glass of wine won’t cure. You hungry? I could rustle us up some sandwiches, Cathy left a lot of food around the place, guess she got hungry a lot.” Elliot laughed and Jenny drawing her brows together asked shrewdly, “You know about the baby?”

“Cathy’s baby? Yes, she told me. Gone to live with its father, lucky sod.” Elliot sighed, he didn’t want to reveal too much too soon. However that sigh had said it all, “Still hold a torch for her, huh? Can’t say I blame you, Cathy is a beautiful person.”

“Don’t I know it?” Disappearing into the kitchen, Elliot returned several minutes later carrying two plates loaded with sandwiches and clearly assertive once again. The slip he had made earlier had been due to three days surrounded by walls and furniture that had belonged to Catherine and had left him wondering all manner of things about her life there, and especially that bed. What had happened in that bed? Had the child been conceived there? What did her partner look like and who was he? More importantly why the cloak and dagger stuff? Why had no one ever seen Catherine Chandler’s partner? Maybe Jenny would know. Handing a plate to Jenny and also a glass of wine, Elliot sat on an opposite sofa regarding her sceptically and causing Jenny to feel uncomfortable until she was forced to ask, “What? Why are you looking at me like that? Have I got something on my nose?” She brushed her face with one hand, peering into her palm to see if she had removed anything, but found it empty.

Elliot laughed and apologised, “Sorry, no, your face is fine, I was just wondering that’s all, actually being nosey, how much do you know about the father of Catherine’s baby?”

Jenny grimaced, “Not a lot, and I wouldn’t tell you anything if I knew. Catherine will tell you if she feels you should know. I’m surprised even that she told you about the baby…what was that?” Peering past Elliot and toward the balcony Jenny’s gaze rested on the terrace beyond.

“What was what?” Elliot turned around following her gaze and then as he thought of something, he jumped to his feet, checked the gun holstered in his belt and went to investigate. Jenny froze not knowing what she should do, and was thankful when Elliot extinguished the lamp leaving the apartment in darkness. Jenny moved then and hid quickly behind the sofa and listened heart in mouth as Elliot lifted the catch to the balcony door and stepped out onto the terrace. She didn’t dare look and it seemed an age before Elliot came back, clicked the door closed locked it, drew the drapes and switched the lamp back on announcing, “You can come out now, I couldn’t see anything, might have been a buzzard.”

“Phew, sorry.” Jenny emerged from behind the sofa, “I could have sworn it was something much heavier. Sounded like something dropping twenty feet from above, I’m surprised you didn’t hear it.”

“I did, you were ahead of me though. Strange I have to admit, but who’d come up here? We’re eighteen floors up for goodness sakes!”

Strangely, Jenny was reminded of another time, a time when with hair dripping wet and huddled in a towel, Catherine had stood out there on the terrace as if she had been waiting for someone and had told her, ”its alright Jen, I won’t be alone tonight.” But she kept that incident to herself. She could not explain to a man she had only just met of the strange premonitions that she had, nor the visions of a man climbing eighteen stories to a balcony where his truelove waited eagerly for him. And even if she could it did not explain why he would come now…unless Narcissa had been right.

“Penny for them?” Elliot asked his eyes strangely mischievous and was surprised when Jenny replied, “ I was just thinking about something.”

“That I can see.” He chuckled.

“No, what I mean is…” Jenny hesitated. She’d hoped to come here tonight and use Catherine as a sounding board. Ever since she had gone into that trance while Catherine had slept her dreams had been plagued by those damn letters and a voice, an old cackling voice coming from dark lips on an equally dark skinned face, that Jenny assumed to be Narcissa whom Catherine had spoken of, and saying things hard to decipher, let alone accept what she had made out from them. “Elliot, if someone wrote the letters H, N and D in an area reserved for memorial tombs, what would you assume them to mean?”

“Whoa, not good to ask me that. Gives me the quivers just thinking about it, can’t we talk about something more entertaining, like you. Tell me about yourself, I’m intrigued to know how you and Cathy met?”

“Alright.” Jenny put her questions behind her. Elliot was probably right, he was the last person she should ask such things of. “Catherine and I met at college, there was a whole group of us, and we have remained friends and though several have moved out to Westport we all still keep in touch, although I never saw as much of Cathy as I would have liked, we were each so busy.”

“And now she’s with him…so you’ll see even less of her.” Elliot was fishing, and Jenny knew it. She decided not to let on that she knew. “Perhaps. As soon as she gives me her address I’ll endeavour to make more time to spend with her, especially when the baby is born, sure she’ll be glad of some support then.” Elliot was quick to ask, “Surely her partner will do everything that he can to help?” Jenny frowned. This man was good, she had thought she had covered her tracks well, but he had seen a loophole even so. “Well yes, of course, but some men haven’t a clue when it comes to babies.” Jenny told him hoping he’d accept that. Elliot laughed, “And a spinster would?”

“I have friends with children.” Jenny replied indignantly “I’m sure I could be of help.”

“You’ll be telling me next it’s a woman thing.” Elliot’s eyes crinkled at the corners and he found it difficult not to laugh out loud.

“Well so it is!” Jenny did laugh, couldn’t help herself. “Look, I don’t want to spar with you over this, its just that in my personal experience a new father is scared witless, and a new mother is glad of any female help she can get. Men are more capable of things like taking their son’s to a baseball game when the child becomes big enough to handle.”

“Maybe that’s true of some.” Elliot looked at Jenny and his eyes seemed to mock, ‘but not me.’ Jenny said nothing, just leaned forward to pick up her wine from the coffee table that separated them and sipped it daintily watching him over the rim of her glass. She liked the man, he was suave and intelligent and good company. He was also very good looking and Jenny had thought about him from time to time in the past wondering if he would ever notice someone like her, in the face of the fact that his vision was obscured by Catherine. A burning question erupted from jenny before she had time to stop it, “Have you dated anyone since Catherine, Elliot?”

Taken aback to put it mildly, Elliot was lost for words and only when Jenny apologised did he suddenly move and going across to the balcony she was surprised to see him open the drapes and the door, leave it ajar and return to his seat opposite her before replying by explanation, “Hot in here.” Then, “To answer your question, no. Catherine is my world. I cannot think beyond or past her, she means everything to me.” His words were edged with sorrow, and Jenny genuinely sad that she had brought it up moved from her sofa to sit alongside him where able to squeeze his hand affectionately apologised, “Sorry, Elliot. I didn’t mean to pry, nor cause you pain. Forgive me?”

Her hand felt good covering his and Elliot did not attempt to extract it, it was a long time since any woman had felt genuine affection for him. “Its alright.” He told her gruffly, “I know you meant nothing ill by it, and you are right, there has been no one for me since I met Catherine, seems I am a lost cause, huh?” He tried to laugh but instantly his eyes welled with tears, and immediately Jenny felt his pain and draped her arms around him, holding him close. They sat for a long time together thus, Elliot crying healing tears, tears he had not allowed publicly at any time, surprised now that he could, embarrassed that it had to be with someone that might tell Catherine that he still loved her, would always love her despite the fact that she felt nothing for him but that of an old acquaintance.

“I won’t tell her, if that’s what your worried about.” Jenny whispered gently in his ear. “And I have a feeling that you are.” She produced a handkerchief from her jacket pocket, “Here, dry your eyes.” But he shook his head, “I have my own, shame to soil one so pretty.” He smiled shakily and drew back from her arms, his eyes giving thanks for the comfort he’d received and then surprising her by saying, “I needed that. Haven’t cried in so long, are you disappointed with me?”

“For crying? No, Elliot. It shows what a compassionate man you are. And I’m sure had there been no other for Catherine she would have loved you as you love her.”

“You got that wrong.” Standing, Elliot walked toward the balcony but did not step outside and with his back to Jenny told her, “Had I not overlooked certain matters Catherine might be with me now…as it is…” He turned and played his hands either side of him and feeling his anguish Jenny got up, and true friend that she was, walked to his side and hugged him tightly, “I’m so sorry Elliot. Cathy told me about that, I always thought that she should have given you the benefit of the doubt, but she knew you better than I did then.”

“You know nothing of me now, but what you have seen this evening. Probably that accounts for more than most have ever seen, but still you know little of the person that I am.”

“I’d like to get to know that person.” Her words softly spoken surprised Elliot, they were filled with honesty and her eyes spoke volumes. He was flattered and to his surprise mildly interested.

“We’d have to take it slow. Perhaps slower than you have ever taken a relationship, and I couldn’t promise you anything long term.” Elliot told her sincerely.

“I appreciate that.” Jenny’s gaze rested on his, her heart fluttered, he was such a good looking man and he was also available, that’s if he ever got her best friend out of his mind and heart, but Jenny was optimistic that they had something between them that they could build from. “I’d still like to try.” She whispered holding her breath.

Elliot nodded, “Alright Jenny Aronson, you’re on. At least you know the terrain and the obstacles you are facing, but if through all that you are prepared to take a gamble you just might be the one to help me forget Catherine.”

“I’d never want you to forget Catherine, and besides if we are together there will come a time when we will meet up with her, or is that what you are ultimately hoping for?” Jenny had to know.

“Never crossed my mind till you spoke of it. I will find such times painful, but I promise never to hurt you intentionally. “ He looked down at her mouth, so invitingly open, pearly teeth peeking behind luscious red lips, strangely he wondered what they might feel like against his and without waiting to know he bent his head to seek the answer. Jenny gasped as his lips moulded to hers but she did not try to stop him. His mouth was warm and searching and strangely familiar as though she had walked this path a million times and more. Eyes flying open she saw his at close quarters, his ear fringed with dark curling hair, his scent worth coming home for. Jenny knew this man, she had seen him with her in her dreams all of her life, only now recognising him for what he was…and Jenny gasped causing Elliot to pull back slightly his gaze quizzical, asking unspoken questions. “It’s nothing,” Jenny told him, her hands stealing behind his neck to pull his delicious mouth back to contact with hers happy when he complied willingly. ‘Its everything.’ She told herself silently, ‘everything…oh Elliot…you’re the one…my soul mate…and all this time I never knew…”

*** *** ***

That a person could be in two places at the same time was impossible, still above the balcony, hovering half over the terrace a figure listened to the two would be lovers below with quiet distaste. He hadn’t caught everything that had been said, more when Elliot had opened the balcony doors, but the silence had spoken to him of things never experienced by his innocence except in dreams that were forbidden to recollect during waking moments lest they drove him crazy again. Only when he had heard the sound of breathless kisses had he known what was happening and had he recoiled to know that the two people that Catherine trusted most in the world were betraying her. Elliot and Jenny, embarking on an adulterous affair behind her back. Vincent was furious! And where was Catherine? Out he presumed, probably working. Working! And she with child? What sort of would be father was Elliot that he could let his…wife…was she his wife or his partner perhaps? Go out to work at this time of night when she was expecting a baby? He had to tell her…but no…he couldn’t… the predicament settled around Vincent and he grew incensed… how could he let her know?

Moving up and away from the balcony, Vincent alighted onto the elevator cables that would ride him back to basement level, where dodging sentries posted there he would make his way back to his new world, a world so far apart and removed from Catherine’s as his other had never been and for the first time in months Vincent grew resentful at the existence he now knew because he was trapped in a world he could never leave unless he chose another path, the one of oblivion, and that he was unprepared to do.

*** *** ***

At the same moment and sweaty with fear Winslow and Mouse pressed hands to mouths to keep from shouting out as a cloaked figure came into view yards ahead. If both could have read the other’s mind each would have heard, ‘It is Vincent!’ but of course they could not, even so, both could clearly see that it wasn’t Vincent as light from the lanterns revealed a perfectly ordinary human face beneath a shock of tawny mane that tumbled over broad shoulders and fanned behind his head.

Winslow’s heart was hammering, his mind screaming, “If he comes any closer he’ll see us.” No sooner had he thought it did the figure stop, sniff the air, just as they’d both seen Vincent do a thousand times before and then with a twirl of ebony cloak head back the way he had come picking up the pace as he went. Once out of sight, and sure that he wouldn’t return for a while Winslow and Mouse sighed with relief at not being discovered and then the questions began. “Did you see his face?” Winslow asked with disbelief.

Eyes wide, Mouse nodded, “Normal.” He told him.

“That’s what I thought. Maybe it happens. Maybe when your dead you lose all the disfiguring bits you had when alive.” Winslow shook his head, “Still can’t believe it though. Anyway best get outta here before he comes back. Looks like he was searching for something or someone and I’ve had enough of this place to last me a lifetime. Some pretty creepy things going on down here.”

Mouse said nothing, just nodded his agreement and like quicksilver made off leaving Winslow behind. He soon followed however, keeping Mouse firmly in sight though he had to run hard and fast to keep up. For nothing was he going to lose sight of Mouse again, and he shuddered to think what might happen if he did.

*** *** ***

To be continued in Chapter Eight.