Beauty and the Beast ~ Book 1

The Winds of Change

by Tee Hoagland


Once Upon a Time in the City of New York



When the Sunday morning sun illuminated her room, Catherine stretched luxuriously against her sheets, a smile spreading slowly across her face while remembering the previous evening.

He came. He finally came!” she thought, picking up Great Expectations from her nightstand, tangible proof of his visit. Her smile remained as she started her day, determining that she would never again let so long go between visits, even if she had to track him down.

The smile lingered into her meeting Jenny for brunch.

“That’s a very enigmatic grin you’re wearing,” Jenny commented after greeting Catherine with a hug. “Especially since you told me you were going to break up with Tom last night. You did break up with him, didn’t you?”

“I did.” Catherine nodded, then hid her pleased smile behind her menu, letting just her eyes peek over the top.

“Care to explain that look, then?”

“Yesterday was just a very good day. Can’t I be in a good mood without provoking suspicions?”

Jenny set her menu on the table and folded her hands on top of it, gazing speculatively at Catherine. Then she nodded, picking up her menu.

“Okay, Cathy. I’ll let it slide for now. It is good to see you in high spirits.”

Catherine enjoyed her time with Jenny, grateful that she would not push her assumptions. She hoped to tell Jenny all about Vincent one day but did not know if the opportunity would ever come.

* * *

Monday morning arrived with no word from Carol Stabler. Catherine arrived at work, smiling her gratitude at the coworker who held the outer door for her as she entered, ready to dig into other tasks and give Carol time to consider her offer.

“Larry,” Catherine greeted her colleague as they passed each other through the office’s double doors. She thanked a workmate for holding open the half-door in the partition between the entryway and the cubicle-cluttered room that made up the office area of the Investigation Bureau. While heading for her desk, another associate caught her eye.

“Somebody’s waiting for you,” he informed her.

Catherine looked across the open space. Carol Stabler stood nervously near her desk.

“Carol.” Catherine let surprise and pleasure color her tone, navigating the maze of desks and smiling as she approached the other woman. “Hi. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Yeah, well.” Carol shrugged, looking around. “I didn’t expect to be here either.”

Catherine stepped around Carol to set her things down, watching Carol sit in the chair by her desk. She took her own chair as Carol spoke.

“I’m so sorry, what they did to you,” Carol said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

Catherine smiled softly, nodding.

“Maybe I can help you out,” declared Carol.

“You want to tell me what happened?”

Carol gathered her thoughts for a moment, then began, “I was working for this escort service. It’s called Mayfair. They have a pretty good, uh, clientele. You know, businessmen from out of town, that sort of thing.”

“And you’d… go out with them?” Catherine carefully inferred.

“Yeah,” Carol admitted, her gaze downcast, giving half a laugh. “More or less.” She paused briefly, then continued, “But it’s run by this man, Marty Belmont – a real bad character. He was using the service to shake down his customers. Sometimes he would have the girls carry tape recorders. Sometimes he’d, um…, get it on film.” Disgust oozed off her last words.

“And how did you get into trouble?” asked Catherine.

“When I wouldn’t go along with it, Belmont got it into his head that I was gonna… spill everything to the cops. So, he sent his men out… to get me.”

“So, the men that attacked you – and me – they were Belmont’s men.”

“Had to be,” Carol confirmed with a single nod.

“Would you be willing to testify against them, with me?”

“Yeah,” Carol agreed, nodding emphatically, “I’ll testify.”

“Good.” Catherine slipped her dress jacket off, hung it over her chair, then grabbed a notepad and pen. “Now, the first step is finding them. Do you know the names of the men who attacked us?”

“I never met them before the night they attacked me. That’s probably why they got you and me mixed up. But I did hear Marty talking to one of them on the phone once, I think about a week or so before the attack. He called the guy…” Carol’s eyebrows knit together. She stared hard at the desk, working the name out. “Mar… Mam… Manconi,” she said firmly, looking up at Catherine. “That’s what it was. He told him to get…” once more she thought hard about the name. “Vander…Vanger… VanGelder.” She brought her gaze back to Catherine again, confirming, “Manconi and VanGelder. Those are the guys who work for Marty.”

“Good.” Catherine nodded, smiling encouragingly. “But are they the only guys? And are they the right guys?” She watched Carol frown and shrug, then said, “Let’s see if we can find out. Come on.” She grabbed her notes and led Carol to the computer room in search of Edie.

“Am I glad to see you,” Catherine told Edie.

“You need my awesome skills again, Cathy?” Edie asked with a playful smirk.

“As a matter of fact, I do. Edie, this is Carol. I need you to check a couple of names for us to see if the faces match who we’re looking for. I only have last names, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t in the system.”

Edie began typing before Catherine finished speaking, then said, “Long as they aren’t Smith and Jones.”

Catherine chuckled, saying, “No, fortunately.”

“All right.” Edie’s fingers paused over the keyboard, and she looked up at Catherine. “Who am I looking up?”

Catherine answered, “First, see if you can find a Manconi.”

Edie typed the name into the computer and a short list of criminal records appeared. She opened the first file, for Ralph Manconi, and Catherine saw a mug shot of the stocky man from the street who shoved her into the van and cut her face. She looked at Carol and saw recognition in her eyes.

“That’s him,” Carol stated. “He’s the one who seemed to be in charge when I was attacked.”

“Let me have his file,” Catherine instructed Edie, her voice hard. “The second name I need you to check out is VanGelder.”

When Edie typed it in, another list, longer than the first, appeared. The third record, for a Lyle VanGelder, displayed the face of the tall, tattooed man that pinned Catherine to the floor of the van and broke her ribs with his knee.

“And that’s the other guy.” Carol’s voice wavered when she identified her attacker.

“I want his file, too,” Catherine told Edie. She realized a moment later that her hand had slid to her side over her healed bones. She put her hand down, standing tall. “Thank you, Edie. I just need one more, please, the file for Martin Belmont. He runs Mayfair Escort Service. Would you pull it up and print it for me? I’ll be back to collect them all soon.”

“You got it,” Edie agreed, her fingers already flying over the keys.

Catherine took Carol to a small, quiet conference room and led her through the process of getting her affidavit regarding the corrupt business dealings of Martin Belmont that culminated in the attack on Carol and herself. Then she took Carol out to the entryway and ushered her to a bench.

“It’s time for me to do my job,” Catherine told Carol. “Wait here for me, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Catherine retrieved the files for the three men from Edie and took them with Carol’s affidavit to Joe’s office, knocking on his open door and entering at his gesture.

“What do you need, Radcliffe?” Joe asked, looking up at her.

“Arrest warrants,” she answered, waving the files in her hand.

He smirked, inquiring, “For who? And why?”

She put the files for Manconi and VanGelder on his desk, stating, “For them. They’re the men who attacked me.”

He leaned back in his chair, giving her an appreciative smile, and remarked, “I thought that trail was cold. How’d you find them?”

“They mistook me for another woman, named Carol Stabler. Someone this man,” she put Belmont’s file on his desk, “sent them after because he was afraid she would expose his extortion racket to the police. Apparently, after they attacked me, they found out I told them the truth when I said they had the wrong woman. They attacked her later that night.”

“Why weren’t they arrested for her assault?”

“She was too scared to testify against them. I found her, talked to her, and she changed her mind.” Then she set Carol’s statement on his desk. “Here’s her affidavit.”

His appreciative grin widened as he said, “Nice work, Radcliffe.”

“Thanks. So will you order the warrants?”

“This one’s all yours. Handle it.”

Catherine smiled and turned toward the door.

“So, Radcliffe.” When she pivoted back, Joe remarked, “I guess now you’ll be moving on to greener pastures.”

“Why would I do that, Joe?” she posed, half inquisitively and half rhetorically. “Carol’s not the only person out there who needs justice.” She watched Joe’s smile warm before she left.

Catherine went back to her desk and made all the necessary phone calls to start the process of bringing Belmont and his men to justice.

“I want to set wheels in motion,” said Catherine on her final call, “for an arrest and search warrant to be issued tomorrow morning. Martin Belmont, Mayfair Escort Service, 232 West 52nd.” She listened for a moment, then clarified, “Fraud, extortion, aggravated assault, for starters.” A moment later, she confirmed, “I have the affidavit of a witness.” After another pause, she smiled, saying, “Thanks, Joel.”

She hung up the phone, grabbed her dress jacket, and put it back on as she walked to where Carol awaited her.

“Okay,” Catherine told Carol. “We’re all set.” She sat beside Carol on the bench and continued, “You’re not going back to your apartment.”

“Where am I going?”

“A friend of mine is renovating a brownstone in the village. There’s not much in it, but it’ll be a lot safer. Someone will meet you there with a key.”

Carol laughed lightly, then said, “Okay.”

“Larry will give you a ride over.” Catherine reached a comforting hand to pat Carol’s shoulder and added, “I want you to call me as soon as you get there.”

“There’s no turning back, huh?” Nervous resolve filled Carol’s voice.

“Carol, you sure you understand the risks? Don’t do this for me. I don’t want you to do anything that doesn’t feel right.”

“I’m doing this for me!” Carol sat up straight and nodded her affirmation.

“Okay.” Catherine smiled as Carol gave a relieved laugh.

Catherine introduced Carol to Larry, charged him with getting her to the safe house, then watched them leave. She went back to her desk, looked at the three files, and smiled.

I found them, Vincent,” Catherine thought to herself. “I found the men that hurt me.”

* * *

Larry escorted Carol down the elevator, leading her through the vestibule to the waiting car that would take them to her safe house. Neither of them detected VanGelder watching from behind a pillar, a magazine obscuring his face. VanGelder spotted them passing, then stalked out after them.

* * *

With Carol settled, Larry returned and brought Catherine the key to the brownstone. She finished her workday, pleased and hopeful for what the next day would bring, then went to a grocery store to pick up supplies for Carol.

The taxi that took Catherine to the brownstone stopped in the street to let her out at the stoop. She grabbed the bag of groceries, climbed the front stairs, and let herself in with the key. Closing the door behind her, she put the key in her pocket, then walked through the entryway to the foot of the stairs, looking up, wondering where Carol was. The soft noise of what sounded like a game show filtered down the stairs and the only lights in the brownstone came in through the windows.

“Carol?” Catherine called out. Only her own echo answered her. She set the bag of groceries on the floor beside the stairs and began to ascend the twisting staircase, with landings at every corner between floors. Searching for Carol, she absently noted the torn wallpaper and other signs of renovation in the house.

“Carol?” Catherine called again from the second landing, staring up the stairs to the second floor. She kept climbing up and called again, “Carol?” The top of the stairs let out on the third floor, where she entered a sparsely furnished apartment. An old-fashioned, mirrored coat board stood next to the door, while a high-backed armchair and matching loveseat, a floor lamp, and rugs on the hardwood floor decorated the room.

On top of the rugs, between the armchair and the lamp, Carol lay face down.

Catherine rushed to Carol’s side, kneeling beside her, noting Carol’s closed eyes and the blood tracking down her chin. Catherine gently touched Carol’s jaw, hoping desperately for some sign of life.

“Don’t bother,” said a voice behind Catherine.

She looked over her shoulder, seeing Belmont and Manconi standing near the door. Manconi held a butterfly knife, which he flipped open and shut over and over.

“She’s dead,” said Manconi, continuing to play with his knife.

“And so are you,” declared Belmont.

Fear spiked through Catherine, along with rage and determination. She watched Manconi put the knife in his pocket, Belmont reach into his suitcoat, presumably for a gun. She gave them no chance. Before they completed their actions, she rose from her crouch, grabbing the lamp on her way up, and charged them. She held the lamp sideways, using it to push them over backwards on top of each other, then she ran from the room.

* * *

Vincent sat with Father in his chamber, engaged in a game of chess. Suddenly, Vincent tensed with alertness; he felt fear and rage spike through Catherine, and knew grave danger threatened her life.

“Vincent?” Father asked, concerned. “Are you –?”

“Catherine!” Vincent cried out, leaping to his feet and rushing from the room.




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