A Time Of Change

It was too dark. She could hardly see where she was going and the small flashlight she had dug up from her purse wasn’t helping much. “Dammit,” she thought to herself whilst hastily going through the sloppy filing system. “I need to find something now.”
Her heart was pounding at an incredible pace and here hands felt sweaty and stuck to the paper. There had been nothing useful on the computer. Nothing linking the man whose office she was in, John Medows, to the murder of little Katie Andrews. Katie had been terminated like an animal because she had witnessed something she wasn’t meant to have seen and Catherine was determined to find every single person involved in her murder. God, who even did that? Murder a seven year old! As if she were some thing inconveniently placed in their way to money and little pervert-games. An anonymous phone call had pointed out this guy, John Medows, respectable judge. She’d even known him before today. Superficially, yes, but still … It had chocked her greatly to find out he might be involved. So she had come to his office straight after she’d received the phone call, which was … well, it was now 10 PM and already pitch-dark. She blew her hair out of her eyes and sighed as she looked around. Boy, it would help if she at least had some clue as to what she was looking to find here. She opened another drawer and that was when she heard the noise – very subtle, very quiet, yet …
Suddenly the lights went on and there was no time for her to hide. Two men gazed at her, one in awe, one with a gigantic smirk on his face. She needed to fear the second, she realised.
“Well, well,” he grinned, pointing a shining gun in her direction. “Catherine Chandler, wasn’t it?”
It was the judge. She recognised him now. Dear God, he must have been the leader all along.
“Yes,” he continued, “I remember we met, under better circumstances. A party at Byron Gates’ if I recall correctly. You were wearing a long red gown and your hair was longer.”
She didn’t react at all, just kept glancing from the tips of her eyes, looking for anything that might save her: a letter opener, a small statue, something to throw at him, but she couldn’t find anything. And the man was losing his patience. “I’m sorry it had to end this way, Miss Chandler,” he said, partly serious, “I would liked to’ve known you better. Still …”
He shrugged, moving closer, still holding the gun. “… It can’t be helped.”
Just as he was about to pull the trigger, something busted through the door. The door didn’t smash open; something just came straight through it! Some gigantic animal it seemed! It freaked John out completely and he just kept staring at it in complete incomprehension. It just broke open the wood and stormed in the room. Like nothing he had ever seen before. It was big and tall like a really strong man, but it had the face of a lion and it roared at him. An angry, violent sound.
That’s when he remembered he had the gun! So he fired at the animal, but his hands were shaking too much and he just couldn’t hit it! And it didn’t give him many chances. He fired two times and during his third attempt it grabbed the gun away from him, breaking it in its large fists like it were a twig. Then it opened its mouth, standing one inch away from him, and roared in anger while grabbing him by the throat.
Catherine was yelling: “Vincent!” but it didn’t seem to listen. John was already hanging from the ground, watching one huge clawed hand moving in his direction.
That was the last thing he saw before his neck got snapped.

*** *** ***

He looked at her while she was sitting there, her head leaning against his shoulder. She looked so different than when he first met her: she had cut her hair much shorter and it lay somewhat messy, making her look younger, more playful. She had also lost weight, making her eyes come out larger. In general she had matured over the years, which was only natural considering what she’d been through, the things she had witnessed. But the look in her eyes was still soft, still bursting with love, and her smile was wide and dreamy. Still, there was something troubling her. Vincent could feel it. A sense of unsteadiness. Something she needed to tell him.
He considered asking her about it, but as he opened his mouth, she took a deep breath and called out his name, the remainders of slight hesitation ripening in her voice. “Vincent …”
Hearing her say his name still sent shivers down his spine. He suspected it always would. Because she pronounced it with such warmth, it made him feel like it was the most beautiful name in the world. Or just because he liked the way her lower lip moved when she did, a subtle gesture, hardly noticeable, yet wondrous to him.
He meant to state: “Something is troubling you,” but she beat him to it with a quick: “I’m sorry about the other night.” She moved in his loose embrace. “I should have been more careful.” Resentment towards herself. “You …” She looked at him and there were so many emotions coming from her heart. He only felt her shame after she had finished her sentence: “You shouldn’t have come out that night. I knew it was dangerous, but I went out on my own anyway.” She averted her eyes and when she paused, he responded: “It is what you do Catherine.”
The softness in his voice made her look at him again. The look in his eyes was calm and intelligent and clashed with his clothing: Two thick grey sweaters on top of each other, a long black cloak with his straw-blonde hair tangled up in the hood. “I know,” she said. Then, for a couple of minutes there was nothing but the ticking on the pipes and the distant noise of a metro rushing by, until all of the sudden she said: “I’ve decided to quit my job.”
It hit him like a bus for two reasons: one - it was the last thing he had ever expected from her, and two - he hadn’t sensed any decision of the sort in her. She saw his amazement and explained, a gentle hand on his chest: “I’ve been offered a job in a centre for young delinquents. Now I know it will be completely different work …” A grin dawned upon her face. “… and a great challenge to say the least … but I will be able to do good there and you know I love working with children.”
“Catherine …”
“I have visited the centre already,” she continued passionately, “They are understaffed. The children are treated like numbers. They are not getting the care and attention they need to make it back into the world safely.” Her grip on his chest enhanced. “Vincent they need me.”
“Yes,” he sighed after she had finally finished. “I have no doubt you would make a difference in their lives. Give it the meaning they so desperately seek. Yet …” He found it most difficult to ask her this so bluntly, but he needed to. “Catherine, are you quitting because of me?”
“No!” But her answer came too quickly and her laugh was too shaky. All he had to do was wait another minute for her to confess: “I need a job where I can make a difference. But I also need you to be safe.”
“Listen to me, please,” she pleaded, swiftly touching his raw chin. “I have helped many people in the past couple of years and that has given me much satisfaction. It has helped me regain the trust that I had lost in my world.” He knew what she meant. After her attack, she had made a promise to herself: to help prevent such suffering to fall upon others. She had put her life in danger many a time to save that of another. It was one of the things he admired about her, for in his life he had met very few people who were able to do that.
She insisted: “I can find a way to help people without endangering you and your world.”
He pondered for a moment before answering, but when he did it was with great determination: “It is your life, Catherine. It defines who you are.”
“No,” she said and he could feel her objection strong and wilful in his mind. “You are my life.”
She kept looking at him, strong and demanding and it made him feel somewhat uneasy. Finally, he got up, leaving her sitting on the ground by herself, and said: “I will not be the reason for this decision, Catherine.” Before she could object, he persisted: “I cannot rob you of your identity. It is too great a sacrifice for you to make.”
She swiftly rose to her feet and took his arm. “I love my job,” she said and her voice was emotional. “But I love you beyond reason.” He sighed and averted his eyes to the sky as if in turmoil, but she quickly put her hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. “Nothing is worth endangering you,” she assured him. “Nothing.”
He wanted to hold her and tell her how relieved her decision made him feel, but he didn’t, because he knew she would end up regretting it. So instead he told her: “I am stronger than you think, Catherine.”
“Yes,” she immediately piped in, clinging even harder to him, softly shaking his arm with every next word: “You are the strongest man I have ever met. But this is killing you.”
He wanted to turn away from her – hopelessly aiming to cover his fangs with his split upper lip as he sighed - but her grip was too strong. “Every time you’re forced to hurt a man it eats at your soul.” How he wished he could deny it, but it was true and she knew it all too well. “And you do it for me. For my job.”
She remained silent for a while and so did he, wildly panting, his heart pounding like drums in his chest. Then she said: “This is not a sacrifice, Vincent. It’s a gift.”
She planted herself right in front of him. “It will bring peace,” she promised him, touching his heart and feeling it pound beyond control. Oh yes, she needed to do this. In fact, she had already put it off for much too long. She should never have investigated that last case on her own, forcing the man she loved to become the beast he dreaded so. For God’s sake she’d had to wait an entire week before he permitted her to see him again! That was how much it horrified him! She finished her sentence with a sweet smile: “… for both of us.” And she knew he could feel her sincerity. His heartbeat steadied.
As he turned away from her, his head bursting with thoughts and impressions, he couldn’t give her any reply. She wasn’t sure if she’d fully convinced him and he would surely ask her to leave within the next couple of minutes – she knew him well enough – but regardless of his final point of view, she would go ahead with her decision. In her purse, she already carried the letter to Joe. With it this wonderful man’s suffering would have ended.

© Anita Meuris 2003
All characters belong to Ron Koslow