With his usual awareness of her every movement Father knew at once that his son’s preoccupation was very much with his ladylove right at that moment. The chessboard lay before them, it was Vincent’s move – had been Vincent’s move for the last five minutes but Father was loath to interrupt his son’s meditation. Catherine, Father knew, was in the park right at this very moment no doubt with Joe, some of the police department and a host of other officials in the hope of being in the right place at the right time to capture the latest criminal on their list.
*** *** ***
This one was being pretty evasive. Not only did they only have a vague idea of what he looked like but they neither knew his name, his real name that was.
This character was most wanted. Father well knew that to bring the entire police force to the ground on many occasions he was most certainly a dangerous man. Had the danger not have existed, Father might have met Vincent’s concentration on anything but the chessboard with much amusement, but not today. Father reached for the chess pieces with the intention of putting them away, when a large furry hand covered his to still his movements.
“Father don’t.” Father looked up at his son, and the words on his lips died as he met those kindly blue eyes. Vincent continued, “I was just about to beat you.” The laughter in his tone pleased Father, obviously though Catherine faced danger in her duties above, she was in no immediate danger at that moment or Vincent would have acted differently.
“No you were not!” Father retorted ready to begin their usual banter over the game of chess.
Vincent smiled. He didn’t need to reply. The answer lay in those eyes. Father looked away mumbling “Well maybe you might have.” The words so quiet that no ordinary person could have heard. But Vincent wasn’t ordinary much to his dismay in every occasion of his life except for maybe one, the ability to sense where Catherine was and to know if she was troubled or unhappy. That one gift alone for being different brought Vincent a sense of ease at being who he was although sometimes he thought he would gladly trade that gift for the chance of being a normal man.
“I thought perhaps you wanted to concentrate on Catherine’s whereabouts that’s all.” Father added by way of explanation. Vincent grinned, “And make use of the situation to finish the game that I was so obviously winning.” He didn’t say it didn’t need to do but Father could almost here that added word ‘again’ on the end of the statement. He didn’t know why he played chess with his son really. Nine times out of ten Vincent would win. But then the strategy that Vincent applied was always so intriguing, so entertaining and Father hoped that he could store away some of those famous moves in his memory so that he might beat him next time.
“Its all right Father, Catherine is well. Agitated but well.” Vincent grinned again imagining Catherine right at that moment. Obviously their culprit had escaped them yet again.
Father caught his drift, “Another night when women walk the streets in fear.” His voice was flat, “And it’ll be dark again in a couple of hours.”
“Yes. Although women should always walk in fear, to become complacent is the greater danger, but I do know what you mean Father. This particular man is indeed most wicked.”
“One of the reasons you fear for Catherine the most, I know. But she isn’t alone Vincent and she has stopped coming here via the park while that man has been stalking women at night. Its not just Catherine’s problem or the women above though, it has also stopped those from our world from venturing out after dark. Though perhaps that is a good thing.” Father scratched the stubble on his chin. He liked the tunnel dwellers where he could keep an eye on them, even if he would not admit to it.
Drawing up to straighten his back Vincent expelled a heavy sigh, “Will there be no end to it?” It was a question without answers, but Father responded anyway, “The violence?”
Vincent nodded, “Yes. Not just in the city above but in the world over. If only man could learn to see every other man as a brother and not encroach upon another man’s rights. Money might be a fine thing Father, but it is the root of all evil. Be it that we could trade and barter for everything we needed, just as people once did maybe the world would be a far better place for it.”
Father nodded reminiscing of the books he had read on such a subject, but appreciating that even during those times there was still violence. As if reading his mind Vincent went on, “I know, I know greed existed even then and perhaps it always will. But oh for a government that made everyone equal, what paradise that would be.”
Father nodded, “You speak like a prophet, the scriptures declare such a possibility, but the government will be of God’s making not mans.”
“Then I wish it would hurry along.”
“So do I Vincent, so do I.” Father sighed, “Tea?”
“Aren’t we going to complete this game?” There was a knowing twinkle in Vincent’s eye. Father shook his head, “I’ve lost heart in it now, and I truly could do with a drink.” Vincent nodded and began gathering the chess pieces while Father used his cane to pull himself up onto his feet, “I wish we knew when Devin was going to arrive.” He mumbled as he crossed the chamber to the kettle.
“His letter made no mention of dates Father. You know Devin, that he said he would come is gospel, but whether he will come this year or next is another thing entirely.” Vincent laughed as did Father adding, “but I understand your concern and I too miss him.”
A couple of hours later in the airport lounge minutes after collecting his baggage, Devin was sitting drinking coffee with a man who had boarded with him on the flight from Mexico. They knew each other little, but had appreciated each other’s company during the flight though both had dozed most of the way.
“So you will be, what? Going to visit your family as soon as you finish your coffee?” The other fellow questioned a sleepy eyed Devin.
Replacing his mug to the table Devin replied, “Yes, Ben, I haven’t been home in a long time, I’ve missed the old place.”
The fellow nodded, “It’s a lifetime since I last saw my folks. I doubt I will ever see them again.”
“Why is that?”
“Oh this and that my lifestyle and theirs. We never seem to coincide that’s all.” Devin didn’t think it much of an answer. If one was determined one could make certain that families came first. He knew that. For too many years he had shunned his own, telling himself he had no time to visit but it was all a farce really. When he found out where his roots lay, that Father was actually his biological father also, he had made certain that he visited home at least once a year if not twice. Besides he missed Vincent, his brother, so much.
It never failed to grieve him that he and Vincent could not go South of Oz and North of Shangri-La as they had so often dreamed of doing together. Vincent missed so much, but if his infrequent visits bringing tales of his wanderings pleased his brother, then a wandering Devin would continue to do.
Besides having someone to relate his trips to, made Devin take notice of everything in much more detail. Colours, shapes, scents, he noticed them all in order to relate every aspect to his brother on his visits home or through his letters.
“So where is your first port of call?” Devin asked the other fellow not really interested as it happened. Now that the time for parting was upon them and Devin doubted he would ever see the fellow again. What Ben did from this moment forth really didn’t concern him at all.
“Central Park.” Ben’s answer surprised Devin.
“That’s what I said. I have a rendezvous with someone there.”
“Oh I see.” Devin wondered if the basement in Catherine’s apartment building was still accessible. Obviously he couldn’t go home via the park now.
“Is there somewhere I could contact you while you are in town?” Ben’s question startled Devin.
“You look like the sort of fellow I could use.” Devin noticed that Ben did not meet his eyes when he spoke. It unnerved him, made him feel uncomfortable. He replied honestly, “It could be difficult. There are no telephones where I am headed.”
“No…telephones…you kidding?” Ben could see Devin was not, but he couldn’t believe what he had heard all the same. He fished inside his jacket pocket, “Here, call me. The city has telephone’s all over the place, if you ever step back into the real world, give me a call will you?”
Taking the card, Devin merely scanned it before placing it into his pocket. “Okay.”
Standing Ben downed the dregs of his coffee, “Must go. I don’t want to be late. Call me okay?” He stared at Devin willing a favourable reply from him.
Devin nodded, “Yeah” he replied even knowing that he would not. He really knew nothing about Ben Dover and something rankled at the back of his mind that was the way he should let it stay.
*** *** ***
Checking his watch for the umpteenth time, Joe swore turning Catherine’s gaze toward him and forcing a question from her. “He’s not coming is he? Are you sure you got the date right?” Through the question flowed humour, and despite the accusation to his good sense Joe grinned.
“Sure Radcliffe, that is if this is the 19th.”
Catherine smiled her teasing reply humouring him further, “Sure is Joe. Assuming it is October?”
With his hand, Joe swatted Catherine catching her on one shoulder, his eyes filled with amusement at her witty reply. They needed this, this light-hearted banter. The last couple of stress filled hours melted away.
“Could do with a coffee. Fancy taking a break?” Joe looked around at a few of the men scattered round about, “They would cover for a few minutes I’m sure.”
“Better not Joe.” Catherine drew a deep breath letting it out resignedly “I mean there’s nothing I would like more, but if they said October 19th, then October 19th it is. We’d best stay.”
Joe nodded, blowing into his hands to warm them, but even his breath felt cold. “Just wish they’d get a move on then. My stomach feels as if my throat’s been cut.” And then he groaned realising the implications of his words, “Oh Jeez Radcliffe I never thought…” The sorrow in his eyes pained Catherine deeply and she hastened to reassure him.
“It’s okay Joe. It’s just an expression. I understand.”
“But those women Cathy. Those poor woman. How can a guy do that to a woman?”
Though his reply posed a question Catherine did not answer, instead her mind conjured up the recent newspaper reports she had read, the recent cases she had been assigned to. The stories of victims left dying in the park with their throats cut to ribbons.
This man, this whatever his name was, was a danger to humanity. They had to wait here out in the cold. Their informant had been adamant that he would show. This guy BD or whatever his real name was, they knew, had a rendezvous with some woman in the park that night and they didn’t know who she was.
*** *** ***
Sipping his tea, Vincent had lapsed into silence again. Ever since his parent had passed the mug of steaming brew across to his son, Vincent had sat mug in hands, absorbing the warmth into his restless body.
Father knew well not to interrupt his son’s thoughts. Instead he watched him, over the rim of his own mug, his concern apparent but unnoticed by the leonine features of the man sitting opposite of him.
Vincent’s thoughts were cast inward concentrating fully on his true love’s anxiety and her whereabouts in the park above. She was distressed half for the length of time they had waited above and half for the length of time she was missing spending the evening with him.
Usually they would have met by now. She coming to him through the park, fresh with the scent of New York City night air clinging to her hair her eyes dancing beacons of joy, her upturned mouth ready with a smile that she reserved only for him. And the invitation of a kiss always applied but never accepted.
For some reason Vincent thought about that now. His mind filling with images of Catherine, her eyes of love shining upon him her lips moist and lush beckoning him to kiss her yet he had always vied away from that offer.
Now suddenly he wanted to accept that blatant invitation so much, so very much.
For what if on one such night as this she didn’t come back to him? What if on one such night when she was in police care, with Joe and the rest of their department she didn’t return with her eyes full of satisfaction that they had caught their man?
What if on one such night when it would be inadvisable for him to run to her in the midst of so many chaperons someone should take her from him? What if on one such night he should lose her forever?
Vincent’s heart seem to leave his chest as the implication of this fact shot through him, of the fact that for all the times he had told her he loved her. For all the times he had vowed to protect her, he should leave this world never knowing what it felt like to press his lips to hers. That fact he knew would grieve him the most, would torment and haunt him to his dying day. That for all her love he had denied her the most simplest of acts just because he was…he was what? Scared?
How could he ever justify that he was scared?
His gaze still resting upon his son, Father was startled when Vincent suddenly spoke sharply, and yet those deep resonate sounds were filled with such torment that Father could feel the pain inside that forced his son to utter them.
“I’ve never kissed her!”
Startled, for some moments Father just stared. Vincent didn’t appear to have noticed that he had spoken. His gaze was still inward, but those eyes were troubled, that much Father could see.
Almost timidly Father responded, “Who?” And then chided himself for his stupidity.
Blue eyes drifted out of their reverie and rested upon Father, seemingly at a loss to the question uttered by him.
“You spoke.” Father felt prompted to say.
“I spoke?” Vincent shook his head an act that Father well knew signified that his son didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Yes.” For a moment Father didn’t quite know what to say, but as his son’s gaze continued vague, Father added softly, “ You said you had never kissed her.”
Immediately Vincent’s pallor paled and he hid his face beneath a curtain of tawny hair, shamefully aware that he had said those words, and shamefully aware that he hadn’t meant to say them aloud.
“Its all right Vincent.” Father hastened to reassure his son, “Be it that you spoke your thoughts aloud, it doesn’t matter.” He paused letting those words sink in, before adding, “But if you would like to talk about it…” His words trailed away, their implication obvious.
For some time Vincent hid beneath his curtain of hair and fought the feelings within him. He wanted to speak, oh how he wanted to say something. How he wanted to confine in someone and let someone know how he felt, but telling all of what he thought wasn’t right. Really none of it was meant for any ears but Catherine’s. Everything that he wanted to say everything that he needed to do belonged only to Catherine. And so he shook his head mumbling his thanks and made it known that he could not speak on this subject at all.
However, Father well knew his son, and well appreciated the hidden word, the secret heart entwined with true love. Father knew because he had experienced these things with Margaret, his dear wife. He knew what it was to love so deeply, and he knew what it meant to keep those things treasured and safe until only the ears of his beloved could hear them said. Whispered one moonlit night, or over a candlelit dinner for two.
And because he knew and he understood, he left his seat and came to stand alongside his son, draping one arm around those great shoulders and hugging them tightly while bestowing a kiss upon the tawny head. “I understand Vincent. I do.”
In grateful thanks Vincent placed one large furry hand over one of Father’s that lay almost upon his chest and squeezed with just enough pressure to signify his appreciation for Father’s loving care. Had anybody else had said those words Vincent might have concluded that they were just words of consolation brought about by sorrow for his feelings. But coming from Father, Vincent knew that his parent truly understood his feelings and emotions and at that moment Vincent felt indebted to Father for his tenderness toward him.
As if by way of changing the subject subtly Father questioned, “Where is Catherine now? Do you know?”
“Above, in the park. She is agitated. They are still waiting. Catherine is apprehensive and I believe cold.” A slight chuckle left Vincent’s lips and Father caught the wry humour with some of his own.
It had become a standing joke between them, that Catherine would rush not only to Vincent’s waiting arms for his love but for his warmth, just as the children did after a winter’s day spent playing up in the park.
“Then she should be down here soon.” Father quipped thus bringing forth-another chuckle from his son and delighted to hear the sound.
“Yes perhaps you should boil the kettle again.” Vincent’s blue eyes twinkled knowing that would be the second port of call Catherine would head for. A warming mug of hot tea between the palms of her frozen hands. He could hear her now, “Oooh Father this feels sooo good.”
“If it wasn’t for the danger that man presented I would have William send up trays of steaming brew for all of Catherine’s team.” Father told his son much to Vincent’s surprise. There were many crimes in the city above, but this latest one had really got to Father. That he would risk the security of their world by taking a tray full of tea Above showed him how deeply his parent felt about that particular murderer.
“There was a man once…” Father began, “I know you know the story…Jack the Ripper they called him. Haunted the streets of London…” Vincent shuddered, yes he knew that story. He was surprised that Father had brought it up, what comparison was there? Was there something he didn’t know? Had the papers omitted some detail that Father knew of - something that caused his parent such obvious distress?
As if to answer the unspoken questions, Father eyed Vincent carefully, ascertaining how much he should reveal of his knowledge, finally conceding with the words, “Catherine told me.”
“She told you!” Vincent seemed at a loss. Catherine usually told him everything. Why would she omit this? Why would she not tell him the real danger that existed Above?
“She was afraid for you.” Father offered by way of explanation. “She knew if you knew then you could become a victim of his perverted ways. That he would see you as some freak of nature that he needed to track down more than any woman. She hid it from you for that fact alone. That is why she has blatantly ignored the warnings to keep off the streets at night. That is why she has visited here so often of late, to save you from having to go above.”
“Catherine is a remarkable woman. She shows great courage but this man is dangerous, she should have told me.”
“Courage be damned! Vincent she loves you. Are you too blind to know how deeply she loves you?”
Stunned by his parent’s outburst, Vincent could only sit and stare for long moments, watching Father’s chest rising and falling with suppressed anger. He knew that his parent longed to say more, but felt he had in all honesty, probably said more than enough as it was.
Still Father attempted one last overture, “And you have never even kissed her?” The tenderness of the question brought tears to Vincent’s eyes. He shook his head, letting the tears fall, “No.” He choked the word caught on a sob, “Never.”
“Then you should. And before this night is out too. Catherine loves you Vincent. She sees not the beast, she sees the man, and it is that man that she loves. It is, I believe, that man she would die for. Love like that doesn’t come twice my boy. Don’t let embarrassment, cowardice or pride stand between you and what is offered. Let her love you, and more importantly let yourself love her.”
Surprised at his parent’s omission Vincent stared for long moments, seeing everything laid before him in a nutshell. Put like that it was so easy. Yet seeing Father there telling him these things, and seeing Catherine stood there asking it of him was two very different things. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t know if he could. And Father knew that.
“Vincent, tonight Catherine may come face to face with one of the most dangerous men she has had the misfortune to meet. If only for that reason alone, when she arrives, let your thankfulness at having her home safe and sound drive you to push aside all your misgivings and take her into your arms and kiss her for goodness sake. Believe me once you have attempted it you will wonder what took you so long.” Father chuckled picturing this, hoping that it might take place before his very eyes. Now that would be a sight worth seeing - it surely would.
Vincent said nothing, but Father was pleased to notice that a twinkle now shone in his son’s blue eyes. That to Father said everything. Vincent was pondering his words.
*** *** ***
To gain access into the tunnels Devin had only ever used the threshold beneath Catherine’s apartment building on few occasions most of which he had not liked doing and doing so now was no different. Perhaps for someone of Catherine’s build being able to skirt the boxes stored in the basement was a task undertaken without forethought but for Devin it was not so easy. For one thing he was taller and for another he just wasn’t so well practised at hiding in small corners. Bending down to move boxes, his elbows caught smaller packages, sending them scattering. It was enough! The sound of the parcels hitting the floor in several directions, unnerved Devin enough to forget the whole silly notion and to believe that in four hundred acres of park the chances of stumbling into Ben Dover would be a remote one. And to believe that he could easily manoeuvre himself through the shadows without being seen to enter the tunnels soon had Devin striding out of Catherine’s apartment building and heading toward the park.
Funnily enough the park was unusually deserted that night. Few people frequented the area after a certain time of night these days Devin well knew, but he had always encountered someone. Still without too much thought as to why, Devin made the ever familiar journey toward his home beneath the city streets.
It was as he neared the drainage entrance that two movements drew his attention, one on either side of him in fact. He hesitated looking first one way and then the next trying to ascertain what it was that moved. Was it the wind in a bush, was it a flock of pigeons taking to the treetops, was it someone laid in wait for someone else? The last made him shudder, if that were so then from his vantage point he could well see that each would be unaware that the other could see them.
For a few seconds more Devin pondered. Whether to walk on, mind his own business or to duck out of sight sensing a possible danger to being caught in the middle of something in a literal sense.
Even though there was several places to hide, Devin ducked, crouching low to the earth, hoping that if he kept still enough he too would be mistaken for a bush or a rock or something that bore no threat to whatever was about to take place.
Watching, holding his breath Devin listened intently to the sound of muffled footsteps to his right. Heart in his mouth he knew they were coming his way. Sweat broke out on his skin, anticipating any moment the cold touch of a gun barrel upon the back of his head. When it did not come, when the person went on by Devin almost wet himself with relief.
The person on his left he could see had not seen the approach of the other. The person on his right had in fact skirted the area in such a way that he was in seconds literally upon the person on Devin’s left. Devin held his breath. What was he about to witness? He shouldn’t be there. He knew that. Whatever was about to happen could cost him his life.
He had to leave and now, had to get out of the area, had to mind his own business, lest he got caught up with something that he knew nothing about and died for the fact that he witnessed it alone.
It was as he stood up that he saw something else heard it and saw it at the same moment, the distinct glint and clink of a trigger being drawn back and hushed whispers round about that froze him to the spot. Then light so bright that he was momentarily blinded and in that light saw only one face. One that he recognised with clarity and without thinking he shouted a low warning, “Ben! Ben!” The figure did not turn, did nothing at the sound of the voice, Devin shouted harder though still low, and only when the fellow did not seem to hear him did Devin shout loudly by placing his hands to his mouth to carry his voice further, “Ben Dover!”
At the further sound of his warning, the lights went out, the shuffle of bodies was heard and at the sound of running feet in his general direction Devin went down, flat to the earth hoping against hope that the danger would pass him by.
Suddenly the sound of gunfire filled the air. There were bright flashes as bullets left barrels in an explosion of light. And then it was over. Over that was for a few silent seconds before voices of jubilation filled the air. Stunned Devin remained where he was too frightened to leave his place until he thought he recognised one of the voices congratulating others above the rest.
“Catherine?” He croaked, then swallowing with difficulty and sitting up a little he tried again, louder this time more assertive, “Catherine? Catherine Chandler?”
There was a sudden silence and then a man’s voice, “Who wants to know?” The tone directed his way belied a genuine fear.
“Devin!” Catherine’s obvious delight filled the air and then came the sound of running feet toward him.
Catherine threw herself at him, almost knocking Devin back to the ground from where he had started to rise, “Devin Thank you! I owe you my life.”
“Me!” Devin did not understand.
“Yes you. That was you that called out a warning was it not?”
“A warning?” Devin was clearly puzzled.
A firm hand gripped Devin’s arm, helping him to his feet, “Don’t know who you are but I sure as hell want to thank you.” Devin saw Joe smile as torchlight lit up the area, “ Thanks to you my best investigator is still alive to make out her report.” Joe did not recognise Devin even though they had met before.
“I don’t understand.” Devin shook his head. He didn’t. What could he have possibly done but save his own neck and that of Ben Dover’s? Hastily he looked around, where was the guy anyway?
*** *** ***
To be concluded in part two.