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 12 ~ VINDICATED

 

Catherine ran down the stairs, listening to Manconi and Belmont yelling at each other as they charged after her. On the second-floor landing, she saw VanGelder and another man coming up from below.

“Get her!” yelled one of the men behind her.

She sped down the second floor hall, searching for a hiding place or a weapon. Her mind flew over the training Isaac had drilled into her, but her heart longed for Vincent’s comforting presence and the confidence he gave her.

* * *

Vincent raced through the tunnels, taking the fastest route he knew to get to Catherine. His inner self roared, filled with rage that anyone would threaten his Catherine; he used that rage to power his legs and hasten his steps. He could not let her be hurt again. He had to save her.

* * *

Catherine swiftly glanced behind her, noting her pursuers were out of sight, then passed through a door, whose trim blended it with the molding of the surrounding wall, quickly and quietly closing it behind her. She listened for just a moment, then turned the deadbolt.

“Where’d she go?” cried a voice in the hall outside the door.

“Try in there!” another man ordered.

Catherine turned around, examining the cluttered room for anything she could turn into a weapon, as another voice declared, “She’s got to be in one of these!” Listening to doors opening and closing as the hunt continued, she grasped an antique picture in a heavy frame and tested the weight, shaking it in her hands. Then she heard someone yell, “Steve! Block the stairs!”

She put the picture down, looking around for a better weapon. Doors continued opening and closing in the hallway as the men sought frantically for her, somehow missing the decorative door concealing her.

“Nothing in here,” someone said. “Go check the other door!”

Catherine heard someone yell for Lyle to bring the car to the back alley in case they needed a quick getaway while she wondered how long she had been hiding. She thanked whoever watched out for her that the men had not found her, as she considered and rejected several potential weapons. She finally chose a sturdy, wood stool, picking it up by the seat. She stretched the feet out toward the door, familiarizing herself with the awkward weapon. Backing away from the door, she accidentally bumped into something behind her, which crashed to the floor. She heard the men call to each other, approaching her position.

“In there!” someone yelled. Bodies began banging against her locked door, trying to force it open.

Catherine glanced behind her, seeing another door leading out. She followed it through a bathroom, then another room, the path twisting back through the house, rooms connecting rooms. She heard the men pound on the locked door, heard it burst open, and knew they had entered the room she vacated.

* * *

Vincent, frantic to reach Catherine, slipped atop a subway roof, riding prostrate to hasten his journey to her. The wind rushed past him, whipping his hair back. He hoped desperately that it would be fast enough.

* * *

“There she is!” Catherine heard behind her, exiting the maze of connecting rooms to the hallway and stairs. She ran down the stairs, undeterred by Steve blocking her way. She plowed into him with a grunt of effort, knocking him backwards into the wall, grimly satisfied at his cry of pain on impact. He rolled haphazardly down the stairs, stopping in a heap on the first landing, a few steps up from the main floor. If she got by him, she could get outside, to help.

Catherine ran down the stairs, but Steve grabbed her ankle, tripping her. She fell headlong, curling her body as Isaac taught her to minimize damage, then rolled to her back, kicking her feet to free herself and hopefully cause him damage with her high heels, as she stretched for the bottle of wine in the grocery bag. Just as she reached it, Belmont came down the stairs, his hand pulling a gun from inside his suit coat. Manconi followed him, once again playing with the butterfly knife.

“Uh-uh-uh,” Belmont hummed, a satisfied smirk on his face as he took the last few steps down, crouching beside her and pointing his revolver at her chest. Then he told her, “Say good night.”

A strange rumble emanated from the back of the house, like a brick wall toppling over, followed by an angry roar echoing into the hall, drawing Belmont’s attention.

Catherine looked down the hall to where the noise originated and saw a door burst to shreds.

“Vincent,” Catherine whispered, though no one heard her.

Vincent roared his fury, charging Belmont and knocking the gun from his hand, then slashing his claws down Belmont’s chest. He dug into Belmont’s sides and threw him down the hall, away from Catherine.

Vincent turned to Steve, whose terror shone on his face, his gaze fixed on Vincent, his hands searching for a weapon. Vincent let all his sharp teeth show, snarling at Steve, prowling toward him. When Steve reached for a knife in a sheath at the back of his pants, Vincent grabbed him by the neck, hoisting him into the air and pinning his back against the wall, then snapped his neck.

Manconi held his knife ready, trying to sneak up behind Vincent, but he spun around, a growl still rumbling through him, and used his sharp claws to slash Manconi’s face open. The impact knocked Manconi over the stair rail onto the main floor, where Vincent pounced on him, letting his claws slice open the one who so gleefully cut Catherine’s face.

When the man lay still beneath him, Vincent turned to Catherine, his growls ending and his snarl melting away. He saw terror on her face. He moved off the man, sitting on a bench built into the wall of the stairs, and bowed his head, shamed that she saw him in such a state, certain she would want nothing more to do with him. If that was so, he could not care if the authorities caught and killed him.

With the danger to herself gone, Catherine breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for Vincent’s intervention, and thought of the danger to him. She knew that saying Vincent killed to defend her life would not be enough to make the authorities leave him alone. So, she went to him.

“We can’t stay here,” she said, taking his hands and trying to pull him up.

Vincent looked up in shock when she grabbed his hands, the hands he had just used to kill with, unable to believe she would touch him after what she witnessed. He stared at her for a moment, then rose from the bench. She kept hold of his hand as he led her to the back of the house, down into the basement, through the hole he had just made in the brick wall, and into the tunnels.

* * *

The report of a disturbance had patrolmen at the brownstone within minutes of Catherine and Vincent vacating into the tunnels. The bodies inside soon brought a swarm of police.

Lieutenant Herman arrived, and a patrolman informed him that they had arrested a fourth accomplice, adamantly declaring he had never been in the house and knew nothing of the activities therein, while he tried to escape in a getaway car in the alley. Herman oversaw the removal of Carol’s body, noting the difference between her death and the others. He followed the men carrying her down the stairs, giving instructions to other officers along the way, and found another detective taking notes in a small notebook near the dead men on the main floor.

“So, you got any ideas?” the detective asked Herman.

“No,” Herman replied, eyeing the dead men. “Looks like they were mauled… by a lion.”

“Lieutenant?” one of his men called.

Herman headed toward the back, absently perceiving another man calling from somewhere in the house, “Hey, Charlie, get us a doctor down here!” He followed two policemen into the basement and looked through a hole in the wall, using a flashlight to illuminate the passageway under the building.

“There’s some pretty strange things going on in this city,” Herman remarked. “And I hear even stranger are things going on underneath it.” He pulled back into the basement, glancing between the two policemen. “I don’t know what happened here, but I’m going to find out.”

* * *

Vincent led Catherine beyond a hidden door, closing it behind them to impede any authorities that might consider searching beyond the basement of the brownstone, then continued deep into the tunnels. When he felt they were safe, he stopped, turning to her.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, his eyes running over her in search of injury, his hands held out, ready to render aid. “Did they hurt you?”

“No,” Catherine replied shakily. “I’m a little sore from falling down the last few steps, but nothing major.” Then she looked him over. “What about you? Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

He smiled bemusedly, then replied, “No, I’m uninjured.”

“Why did you come?” She gazed up into his eyes, gripping his hands tightly. “How did you know…?”

“I felt your fear. Your dread that you might die. How could I not come?” He smiled softly at her, then ducked his head.

She took a deep breath, exhaling the last of the tension from the fight and flight. As the surge of adrenalin subsided, she thought of Carol. Tears sprang unbidden to her eyes.

“Oh, Vincent!” she cried out, sorrow overwhelming her. She stepped into him, wrapping her arms around his waist, burying her face against his chest.

He held her close as she cried, letting her have the comfort she sought, pressing his cheek to the top of her head.

“Vincent,” she sobbed, “Vincent, I got her killed.”

“No, Catherine.”

“I asked her to come forward!” She pulled her face out of the folds of his cloak, looking up at him, still clinging to him. “I told her she would be safe. But they found her! They found her… and they killed her.”

“Catherine,” he murmured, “you are not responsible for the evil that others perpetrate.”

“But, Vincent,” she took a shuddering breath, her tears waning, brought a hand to her face, wiping her eyes, then quickly slid it back around his waist. “If I had left this alone, she would still be alive.”

“There is always a risk in pursuing justice,” he stated. “But justice is always worth pursuing.” He watched her sigh as grief twisted her features, then she nodded in agreement. “I’m sorry for her, and for you. And as for those who attacked her…” Now it was his turn to sigh, torn between craving the solace of Catherine’s embrace and feeling unworthy of it. He put his hands on her shoulders, gently pushing her away. Then he stared at his hands, noting the gore still clinging to them. “I don’t know how you can touch me,” he whispered, soft and sad.

“Vincent.” She reached for him.

He stepped beyond her reach, saying, “After what I did… what you saw me do.” He hung his head.

“You saved my life…” she declared, “with the tools at your disposal. Like any… good Samaritan who stops a crime.”

“Good,” he mumbled. Then he looked up at her. “Catherine,” his voice remained soft, ashamed, “you see what I am, you saw what I can do, and you call me good?”

Catherine stepped close, staring into his face, studying his features. Then she took his hands in hers, examining them, running her thumbs over his claws, observing the remains of his defending her. She looked up at him again.

“I saw monsters tonight, Vincent.” When he tried to step away, to pull his hands from hers, she followed, clinging tightly to him. “I saw monsters with no remorse for the crimes they committed. I saw monsters who terrorized and assaulted people to keep them silent. I saw monsters, intent on killing the innocent, so they could cover and continue their felonies. But, Vincent,” she smiled up at him, “I also saw a good, honorable man defend those innocents and stop the monsters.”

“Good. Honorable.” His tone conveyed his skepticism in her assessment.

“Vincent, we all have the potential to be… beastly. But it is our choices, not our potential, which determines whether or not we actually are beastly. And I’ve seen your choices, Vincent; they are the choices of a good and honorable man.”

Vincent nodded, grateful for her viewpoint, yet still uncertain whether he shared it.

“Come.” He began to walk again. “We should get you home.”

Craving contact, she slid her hand into his elbow, since he kept his hands away from hers, now that they had both perceived the state of his claws.

“Will this cause problems for you at work?” he asked.

“I’ve already been formulating a plausible story. I’ll go home and clean up, then call the brownstone. If the authorities are still there, I’ll talk to whoever is in charge. If they’re not, I’ll call the precinct, tell them I have a witness who isn’t answering the phone and I need a safety check. I was never there, and I have no idea what happened. They still need to catch the man who went for their car, VanGelder – he’s the one who broke my ribs – but when they do, if he’s smart he won’t admit to being an accomplice to the murder of a witness and the attempted murder of an Assistant District Attorney.”

“I noticed a bag of groceries near the stairs.”

“I still have the receipt.” Catherine patted her jacket pocket. “If anyone pursues it, I can say I don’t know where they came from.” She turned her head to look at him. “I was so glad to see you when you came to visit. When can we visit again? Would you like me to come below? I’d love to see more of your world.”

Vincent glanced at her, remembered Father’s opinion, and replied noncommittally, “We’ll see.” Then he changed the subject, comparing differences between classical composers.

Catherine knew what he was doing, but let it slide for the moment, content to be walking through his world with him right now. When they passed a thin rivulet of water streaming down the rough face of a wall into a small pool that drained somewhere unseen, they took a moment to wash their hands, then continued on. Before long, they reached an area that seemed familiar to Catherine. Then they heard a young voice calling Vincent’s name. They saw a girl, Catherine guessed about eleven years old, coming toward them, wearing a handmade dress and with her long, sandy brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail,.

“Hello, Eleanor,” Vincent addressed the girl.

“Vincent, please, I know Father is a stickler, but you know I’d rather be called Ellie. Nana is Eleanor, not me.”

Vincent smiled, then replied, “I remember. I also remember how your mother feels about it.”

“Well, it’s my name,” the girl retorted. “Momma needs to let me be myself.”

Vincent chuckled, then deflected by saying, “This is Catherine Chandler.”

Ellie looked at her, clarifying, “The Miss Chandler who stayed with us a few months ago? It’s nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Ellie,” said Catherine with a smile.

Ellie grinned and shook Catherine’s hand, then looked at Vincent, telling him, “Father heard on the pipes that you were back and sent me to find you. He said to tell you he needs your help, but Zack heard him grumbling about you running off,” she used her fingers to put quotes around the last two words, “with no explanation.”

“Thank you for letting me know,” he replied. “Please tell Father that I’ll be there shortly. I need to take Catherine home.”

Ellie glanced at the ground and scuffed her shoe in the dirt, then looked up at him with a tipped head, saying, “Ordinarily I would do that, Vincent, but Father seemed rather piqued, as Momma would say. I don’t want to get in trouble. I hate to ask, but can I lead Catherine home?” She raised her face to him, adding, “That way if she needs a guide down sometime, and you aren’t available, off working or something, I can help, too.”

Vincent chuckled again, responding, “Very well. I will go see to Father’s being piqued.” He told Ellie where Catherine lived, then asked, “Would you mind waiting over there for a few minutes while I say goodbye to Catherine?”

“Sure, Vincent.” Ellie walked well beyond them, out of earshot, turning her back and leaning a shoulder against the wall.

“You don’t mind letting Eleanor take you home, do you?” Vincent asked Catherine.

“Not at all,” she answered. Though she would have loved for Vincent to walk her all the way back, she would not keep him from anything in his world that might be more important. She took a couple steps toward Ellie, then turned to look up at him.

“I owe you everything,” she told him. “Everything.”

“You owe me nothing,” he replied. “I’m part of you, Catherine. Just as you’re part of me. Wherever you go… wherever I am, I’m with you.” He took a deep breath, steeling himself, then said, “Goodbye.” His inner self roared a protest at the finality of his statement as he moved away from her.

Catherine reached up, hugging Vincent, her arms around his shoulders. He returned her embrace, sighing as he pulled her close. They held each other for a long moment. Then Catherine pulled back, looking up at him, her hands still grasping his arms.

“For now,” Catherine declared, determination in her voice and in her smile. Then she turned and walked away.

Vincent watched her briefly, then spun to go back into the tunnels. Before either one took many steps, they both twisted back, sharing a last look. Then they parted.

 

2 Comments

  1. Hi T. This was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed it very much. You are a great writer and I can’t wait to read more of your story.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for letting me know. Part 2 is in final editing right now.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

ABOUT CABB
~ NEW CHAMBERS ~

 DOWNLOAD POLICY
PRIVACY POLICY
COOKIE POLICY

CABB logo: crystal and rose

 

ABOUT CABB
~ NEW CHAMBERS ~

DOWNLOAD POLICY
PRIVACY POLICY
COOKIE POLICY

CABB logo: crystal and rose

 

ABOUT CABB
~ NEW CHAMBERS ~

 

DOWNLOAD POLICY
PRIVACY POLICY
COOKIE POLICY

CONTACT US