Beauty and the Beast ~ Book 1

The Winds of Change

by Tee Hoagland

PART 1:

Once Upon a Time in the City of New York

CHAPTER 9 ~ BEGINNING

 

Soon after returning home from the safe shelter of Vincent’s world, Catherine decided to take self-defense lessons, hoping any future attack would have a different outcome. She researched her options while her injuries healed, and during her first days on her new job she made an appointment to begin training.

The Friday evening ending her first days with the D.A.’s Office, she took a taxi to the small gym she had selected, led by a personal trainer with an excellent reputation in self-defense instruction. Once inside the brick building, she climbed the stairs, entering the gym via double doors with safety glass windows in the top half. Soft jazz music quietly streamed through the large, open room.

“Hello?” called Catherine, taking a few steps in and scanning the area. Part of the room served as living area, complete with appliances, furniture, lamps, and decorations. A door in one corner led out of the main room.

“Mr. Stubbs?” She moved into the section of the room dedicated to the gym, looking around for the man expecting her, noting the seating area, a metal rack full of dumbbells and free weights, punching bags and life-sized dummies hanging from the ceiling’s exposed I-beams, and a thick mat padding the floor.

“Anybody here?” She raised her voice, wondering if he was gone.

“We know you’re here,” said a deep voice behind her as an overhead light flashed on, revealing the man she sought holding the pull chain of the light.

Catherine gasped, spinning around to face him.

“You should always know what’s coming up behind you,” the man said, gesturing to himself with his dropping hand. “This time, it’s good news. I’m Isaac.” He stepped close to Catherine, extending his hand. “Isaac Stubbs.”

Catherine grinned and shook his hand, replying, “Catherine Chandler.”

“So, you want to learn to take care of yourself.”

“That’s right.”

“Because… something bad happened to you.”

Catherine glanced at the floor and nodded.

“And you don’t want anything like that to ever happen again.”

Catherine solemnly replied, “Never.”

“Okay.” Isaac nodded. “Now, I don’t teach none of that Oriental stuff.” He moved around a punching bag, slightly leaning into it, his left hand holding the straps it hung from while his right hand animated his words. “No Kung Fu, no egg foo young. This is New York City, so what I do teach is New York City street fighting – mean and dirty. Only philosophy that counts around here is doing whatever it takes to come out alive. You use what you got. Let me see your shoe.” He held out his hand toward Catherine’s foot.

When she pulled the black pump off her foot, he said, “Okay,” taking it from her. Keeping his eyes on Catherine, he drove the stiletto heel into the neck of the mannequin hanging beside them, creating a nasty gash through which the pellets that stuffed the model flowed freely.

“You can kill a man with a shoe.” He knelt before her, returning her shoe to her foot. “Now, it ain’t fancy,” he continued, looking up at her, “it ain’t pretty, but it works…” he rose to his feet, “if you got the stomach for it.” He watched her, awaiting her decision.

Catherine nodded, asking, “When do we start?”

“That’s up to you,” Isaac countered. “We’ll start when you want, and you can come as often as you like, days off, weekends, or after work. Whenever we meet, you just let me know when you want to come back, so I can make sure I’m available. But unless you brought a change of clothes, we can’t do much today. You’re gonna want to wear something you can move in. Expect to get hot and sweaty. With what you’re wearing now, we can’t do much more than talk.”

“So let’s do that,” Catherine responded. “Tell me whatever you think I need to know, and I’ll come back tomorrow with proper attire for… more in-depth instruction.” She stood straight, shoulders square, holding his gaze determinedly.

Isaac smiled and nodded, gesturing toward the living area.

* * *

Two levels under the street, Vincent stood in a tunnel beneath the building in which Catherine was meeting a man she sought help from. He sensed her determination to learn to protect herself, and smiled, nodding his pleasure at her finding her strength.

He stood fast against his inner self’s desire to go to her, compromising only in this semi-nearness when he stood in the tunnels below her location in the city, always when she was otherwise engaged to preclude closer contact – a compromise he was making far more often than he had originally planned. Yet, he could not even make one week before the compulsion for this nearness overwhelmed him. He swore to himself to never reveal these excursions to Catherine, and he hoped with everything in him that Father never found out.

Already Father claimed to see differences in him, saying he was broody, withdrawn, and distracted. A handful of times now, when Father mentioned these supposed new behaviors, the question ‘It’s not that woman, is it?’ followed, never failing to make his inner self bristle. Father clearly stated his opinion that Catherine did not belong in their world. Still, for the moment, deflection threw Father off the scent of his longings. But if Father ever discovered the reason for his now frequent walks, he remained certain that all hell would break loose.

Reluctantly, he turned toward home. Dinner would be called soon and, it being his week helping with kitchen cleanup, he needed to be on hand. Even as he forced his steps away, he turned toward her.

“Be well, Catherine.”

* * *

The next week at work, Catherine entered the computer room, finding several people engaged in various tasks. She went to Edie, one of the computer operators whom she had requested some information from.

“Edie,” Catherine asked, walking toward her coworker’s workstation, “do you have those addresses for me?”

“Yeah, I got ‘em,” Edie snapped. “Here, take ‘em.” She shoved a few sheets of printouts at Catherine with a scowl.

“Thanks.” Catherine grasped the papers, giving Edie a brief smile, and began perusing them. “I really appreciate it.”

“Yeah, you should appreciate it,” Edie groused. “I’m doing all your work.”

Catherine lowered the printouts, giving Edie her full attention, declaring, “Oh, I’m sorry! The D.A.’s really got me running. They’re testing me.”

“Who are you kidding? I know the way you uptown girls operate. Swing in here, shed a few tears for humanity, and then you go shopping.”

Catherine laughed lightly, stating, “That’s not true.”

“It’s not, huh?” Noting Catherine’s name on her security badge, she began typing. “Catherine Chandler. Let’s check you out.”

“Most people call me Cathy,” Catherine openly offered.

The information Edie’s monitor listed for Catherine contained the police report reading: “Aggravated Assault. Victim’s Name: Chandler, Catherine. Date of Incident: 12 April 1987. Victim Account: Face severely slashed with knife or razor. Punched and kicked about the body and head. Unconscious body dumped in Central Park by three Caucasian males at approx. 8:30 pm.” The last line gave the file number.

Catherine looked at the computer, noted the account of her attack, glanced at Edie to see her reaction, then turned her eyes on the papers in her hand, stifling a smile, and pretended to ignore the old news.

Edie sighed hard, frowning in anguished shock. She hit a few keys and Catherine’s picture, taken by the police at the hospital, replaced the written report.

“Oh, God,” Edie murmured, viewing the picture of Catherine’s slashed face. She looked up at Catherine, nearly whispering, “I’m sorry, Cathy.”

“Don’t be,” Catherine replied with a forgiving grin. She glanced at her photo, adding, “It’s an old picture.” Her smile broadened as she left the computer room, proud that she survived and came out stronger.

* * *

That night as Catherine exited work, she decided to investigate her own assault. With no progress so far in the search for her attackers, she figured her intimate knowledge of the event might get her further.

While crossing the street, she noticed a steam vent. Slowing, she fixed her eyes on it as she walked leisurely over it. Smiling, she thought of Vincent, hoping he would be proud of the way she handled it when confronted with her attack.

As Catherine remembered him, Vincent sat in the high-backed chair in his chamber, with Great Expectations in his hands and Catherine on his mind, sensing her warm feelings toward him, torn between pride in her progress and anguish at not getting to share it with her.

“Vincent,” Father called, entering the chamber. He stopped, noting his son’s morose posture, saying, “Vincent, talk to me. What’s wrong?” He sat in the spare chair beside Vincent.

Vincent sighed, finally confessing, “I miss her, Father. I wish I could see her again.”

“You mean that woman?” At Vincent’s scowl, Father amended, “You’re speaking of Catherine?” He tempered his tone, adding conciliatorily, “Vincent, she was only here for a few days. You barely know her. I think it’s best if… you just forget her.”

“I came to know her quite well during the ten days she was with me. And I came to love her. I could never forget her.”

“We’ve talked about this before.” Father tried to keep his tone soft, mollifying. “She’s of the world above, my son. That is her life. She’s… not a part of us. She… never will be. Vincent, you know… this can never be. Why torment yourself?”

“She touched me, Father. When she looked on me, accepted me, extended affection to me, and received it from me, for no other reason than she wanted to, she touched me… deep inside. How can I forget the only woman who’s ever… given me a dream that… I could be more than what I am?”

“Oh, Vincent.” Father paused, weighing his words. Then he looked at his son, leaning toward him. “She can only bring you unhappiness.” He watched Vincent snap his head up, for a moment staring incredulously at him.

“Then I’ll be unhappy!” Vincent declared, rising from his chair, staring down at his father for a long moment.

Father leaned back in his chair, dropping his gaze.

“But I can’t forget her.” Vincent turned his back, taking a few steps toward the entrance of his chamber. “We’re still connected. I can feel what she’s feeling.” He turned halfway back. “I know what she’s thinking… when she’s frightened… when she’s happy… or sad.”

“Vincent,” Father sought appeasement and reason, “your senses, your… empathic powers, are quite… extraordinary. It’s your gift. And these powers have been… heightened by the concern, the love that you… feel. But don’t let your act of kindness… destroy you.”

Vincent looked at the book in his hand, turning it over, solemnly declaring, “Maybe I have no choice.” He looked at his father. “I’m drawn to her, as I’ve never been to anyone. Not even…” He returned to his chair. “I can’t simply make this stop.”

“Vincent, I just can’t help but feel –”

“Please, Father, no more. I know how you feel.”

They lapsed into silence, then Father reached out, grasping Vincent’s hand, the only comfort he knew to give.

* * *

As the days flew by, Catherine’s competency and familiarity with the workings of the DA’s office improved swiftly. Her determination to stay safe motivated her rapid mastery in her self-defense training with Isaac, which she practiced for a few hours every evening after work and each Saturday. Her only disappointments remained the absence of leads on her attackers and the continued lack of contact from Vincent. The longer their separation persisted, the more she thought about him and longed to see him.

Catherine’s kindness and humility soon won Edie over, and before long the two became fast friends. One afternoon found them sitting in the computer room, relaxing and joking during a break. With more than two weeks of making no progress in the investigation of her attack, Catherine decided to ask for help.

“Listen,” Catherine opened. “I need some help and it’s a little tricky. A woman was attacked by mistake by three men, and I want to find out if these men ever went after their intended victim.”

“You got the date of the mistaken attack?” asked Edie.

“Last April twelfth.”

“Aggravated Assault?”

“Aggravated Assault.” Catherine speculated that Edie guessed she spoke of her own attack, though Edie had the discretion to not ask.

Edie blew out a long sigh and began typing. Catherine stood, moving behind her to see the screen better.

“Whew!” exclaimed Edie as the screen filled with results. “A lot of guys hitting on a lot of women out there. Can we narrow this down? Umm… the make of the car?” She looked up over her shoulder at Catherine.

Catherine remembered the van coming toward her out of the alley, but only recalled a dark shape with headlights.

“Some kind of van. I don’t know,” she told Edie.

Edie thought a moment, then asked, “How about the intended victim’s name?”

Catherine recollected the man that grabbed her calling her Carol, so she answered, “Try Carol.”

Edie narrowed the search parameters with the name, and when the new information appeared she said, “Okay, here are all the Carols. Um… let’s punch it to the files.” A few keystrokes later, the screen went from a list of attacks to the information on the first attack in the list. They glanced over the file, then Edie pulled up the picture.

“Mm-mm.” Catherine hummed the negative, seeing a woman that looked nothing like her. “Let’s try the next one.”

Edie hit more keys. The next file appeared, for a Carol Stabler, a woman near the same age as Catherine, with approximately the same height and weight, similar facial features, hair, and eye color. Catherine studied the woman for a long moment, until Edie looked up at her.

“This could be it,” Catherine remarked. “Let’s pull the file.”

A few pressed buttons later, Edie printed a copy for her.

* * *

That night, Catherine studied Carol Stabler’s file over dinner at home. She wondered who this woman was and why she was attacked. The similarities in their assaults – three men in a van, grabbed off the street, their similar look and size, even taken in the same area – made Catherine almost certain that the men who abducted her mistook her for this Carol. The next day being Saturday, she decided to find Carol’s apartment and try to talk to her before training with Isaac. She hoped that solving this case and bringing these men to justice would help Carol as much as she hoped it would help herself.

 

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