WFOL 2024





by Alyssa G

Whoever wishes to keep a secret must hide the fact that he possesses one.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The gentle night air, the soft sounds of Brahms floating down from the park above them, Vincent’s arm holding his Catherine close, all of this should have been enough to allow them both to find a measure of peace…and yet, Vincent acknowledged to himself, that peace remained elusive. When they had first set up their date for this evening, Catherine had insisted that there would be no “shop talk” while they listened to the concert, that at least for that solitary hour they would put their individual difficulties aside and just focus on the bliss that came from being in each other’s presence.

Through the first two pieces, they spoke softly of the music, of the depth of feeling between them, of the beauty of the night and joy of being together after spending over a week apart. By the third piece, however, Vincent began to feel Catherine’s anxiety rising, her worry for another filling her caring heart. He wanted to ask her what was troubling her, but when he turned to face her and opened his mouth to speak, she shook her head, smiled, and placed her finger gently over his lips before curling once more into his embrace. Vincent quietly laughed, shook his own head, and gently pressed a kiss to the top of her head, allowing Catherine to set the pace for this evening.

Once the last notes of the concert had ended, Vincent took her hand gently in his, looked at her with a small smile, and whispered, “I know something troubles you. Won’t you let me help?”

Catherine leaned in closer to Vincent, wishing that being held by him was enough to shield her from all the problems she was having at work. Or at least, that she could shield him from all the problems that her work was liable to cause his world. It had all seemed so simple when she had gotten a call from Joe early this morning. “Oh, Vincent, I’m not even sure where to start. To think that this mess started less than 12 hours ago…”

* * *

When Joe had said they were meeting with the FBI, she figured the DA’s office must have stepped on the toes of one of their undercover agents, or maybe got in the way of one of their investigations. She had even considered the possibility that someone they were prosecuting was of interest in crimes at the federal level. What she hadn’t expected was that they wanted someone she had been working to prosecute for months to go free.

“No way, Joe! There is no way we are letting Miller off the hook! You know how much trouble he’s caused, how many lives he’s…”

“That’s enough, Radcliffe!” Joe slammed his desk drawer shut and stood, crossing over to the front of his desk where Cathy had been lecturing him for the past ten minutes. “I don’t like this any better than you do, but you know how this game works – we’ve done it ourselves.” Joe waved his fingers at her in a gimme motion, letting her be the one to fill in the blanks. “You let a small fish go…”

“…in order to catch a big one.” Catherine shook her head and stared at the ceiling with a look of disgust. “I know, Joe, I know, but Miller? You just want to let him walk, after everything he’s done. We have an airtight case against him, and we are just supposed to let him get off without so much as a slap on the wrist?”

“Knock it off, Cath, you and I both know your case isn’t that airtight – your main witness keeps changing his story.”

“He’s just a little confused, Joe,” Catherine mumbled, as she turned to face the door, behind which she knew the federal agents were waiting for her and Joe to finish their conversation, just so they could swoop in and ruin everything. “He saw something traumatic and it has him rattled, that’s all.”

“That’s not all, Radcliffe, and you know it. One minute he’s talking about the entrance to the Battery Tunnel, the next he’s talking about some tunnel in the park, then he’s saying that there are no tunnels in the park, that we’re the ones who are mixed up…come on, Cathy, you can see where this is going.”

Yes, she could see where this was going, with far more awareness than Joe. Her main witness was Thomas Anderson, a 79-year-old shop owner and long-time Helper. When she had first gone looking for witnesses to Anthony Miller’s latest crime spree, she had been thrilled to discover that Thomas had not only been a credible witness, but he was also more than willing to put himself in harm’s way if it meant finally putting a stop to Miller’s criminal activities. That was 14 months ago. In the past three months, however, Catherine had been forced to reevaluate her strategy. Not only was Thomas’ memory starting to fade, but he was starting to jumble up pieces of information, even letting slip information about the Tunnel World on more than one occasion. He always quickly caught himself and retracted whatever statement he had just made, but how long could that last?

While Joe was concerned about the effect Thomas’s memory issues could have on the case, Catherine was far more concerned that Thomas might reveal certain long-held secrets in open court. And then what? If he simply mentioned people sleeping in the park, or even below the streets, well, this was New York. New York had been dealing with the issue of homelessness for years. But if he mentioned children living down there without their parents, or mentioned Vincent…there would be no question that someone would be sent Below to investigate.

Catherine let out a long sigh and brought her attention back to Joe, who was watching her with a knowing grin. She shook her head and managed to give him a small, bittersweet smile. “You know, Joe, you keep looking at me like you expect me to just cave in, and I’m going to have to dig in my heels, just on principle.”

Joe smiled back and offered her some of his chocolate cheese nuggets. “C’mon, Radcliffe, what do you say, ready to play nice with the Feds?”

Catherine felt nauseous at the thought, though in all honesty it may have been partially from the idea of eating Joe’s favorite morning snack. “Look, Joe, he can’t just walk. Can’t they just hit him with a reduced sentence?”

Joe just shook his head and smirked, popping another nugget into his mouth.

“All right, Joe, all right, I’ll give. What do you know that I don’t? Who’s the big fish?”

Joe shoved his snack in a desk drawer and wiped his hands on a napkin before answering. “Samuel Alonzo.”

Catherine looked at him in disbelief. “Slippery Sam? No way, Joe, forget it! That guy is so well connected that he slips away from whoever is trying to catch him. All we’d be doing is throwing away a chance to prosecute Miller, and Alonzo won’t get convicted anyway. Convicted! The last time anyone tried to prosecute him, they couldn’t even make the charges stick! Forget it, Joe! I’m going back to work on the Miller case, and when hell freezes over and Alonzo won’t just slip away from the charges, then we’ll talk.”

Catherine opened the door to Joe’s office, only to have him slam it closed and block her exit.

“Compromise. You go play nice with the Feds,” Joe held up his hand to stop her protest, “and tell them we are all on the same page if they can make the charges stick. If they can’t, we’ll keep going after Miller. But Radcliffe, you have to figure out what’s going on with your witness. Is it cold feet? Old age? Medical issues? Someone threatening to get him to change his testimony? If it’s fixable, fix it, otherwise you won’t be able to get Miller even if the Feds back off. We clear?”

“We’re clear,” Catherine grumbled before opening Joe’s office door.

* * *

“…and after I told them Joe’s suggestion, they left in a huff and said they’d take it up with their superiors at the Bureau. Frankly, part of me hopes they said that just to save face, and won’t be back at all, and another part hopes they just steamroll over me,” Catherine said, finishing her tale at last while snuggled in Vincent’s warm embrace.

Vincent held her close to him, as close as she already was to his heart. He kissed the top of her hair again, and thought for a time about her words, and the worry filtering through their Bond. “What troubles you the most, Catherine? The idea of one terrible man getting away with his crimes, as he has done so many times before, the idea that a different terrible man may be set free in order to stop the first one, or Thomas’s situation?”

Catherine tilted her head back to look into Vincent’s beautiful blue eyes, his hair falling over her for a moment, wrapping them both in its golden glow. She saw his eyes filled not just with compassion, but also the warmth and understanding that they shared as part of their love for each other. She closed her eyes, letting the quiet of the night and the steadiness of Vincent’s breathing calm her jumbled thoughts. “Thomas. Definitely Thomas.” She opened her eyes and looked into his again. “Vincent, what happens in cases like Thomas’s where, because of illness, injury, or old age, a Helper can no longer be trusted to keep the secret of your world? What then?”

“Such a simple question, Catherine, but one with no simple answer.” Vincent lifted his head to stare out at the night sky, as though the stars themselves could help him find an answer. “We have dealt with this type of situation before, but so rarely that I’m not sure there is a generally accepted answer. The last time this happened, I was barely older than Zach, and with so many of the discussions happening away from young prying eyes, I’m not sure what happened in the end. I do know there was a great deal of discussion about the Helper going to live with relatives out of state, or perhaps being taken in by another Helper, but I don’t think anyone was completely happy with the available options. The possibility of him moving Below was even discussed, but that never happened, though I don’t know why.”

Catherine frowned and shook her head, trying to clear it of her swirling thoughts. “I suppose I could ask Peter what he remembers, unless you’d rather ask Father?” She looked at Vincent with tears gathering at the corners of her eyes, taking his hand in hers as she continued. “I know talking to Father about it is probably the way to go, but it feels so much like betraying a friend. Thomas doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he doesn’t want the people living in the Tunnels to be in danger. The very last thing he’d want to be is a threat to you and the others Below…but just the fact that he knows the secret of your world means that that is exactly what he has become…a threat to your world.”

* * *

Three weeks. It had been three weeks since the night of the concert with Vincent. Three weeks since she had last been able to safely see him, and just over two weeks since she could be sure that it was safe to even send him a message, or have contact with anyone connected to the Tunnels, be it Tunnel Dweller or Helper.

Her early morning FBI meeting had gone from simple to disastrous, because instead of the FBI just wanting to pry into one of her cases, they now wanted to pry into her.

Catherine remembered how they had left that morning after hearing Joe’s compromise (which they had deemed an unreasonable ultimatum). They had promised to discuss it with their supervisors and return the next day with an answer. That answer, once it had come, had been the last thing Catherine had wanted to hear.

“What do you mean, you are now going to be investigating me?”

Agent Owens put on his most genial expression, the one designed to calm any uncooperative witness. Unfortunately, it seemed to be having the opposite effect on the woman who he had started to think of as his newest reason for wanting to take early retirement.  “Ms Chandler, you yourself said that Alonzo always gets away – well, we want to make sure that he won’t this time. The best way to do that is to make sure he doesn’t have a single way out – a single connection – that he can exploit. Which means every person, and I mean every person, that is working in any capacity on this case, will need to be thoroughly vetted and watched. And yes, that certainly includes anyone from the DA’s office who will be working with us on this matter.”

Catherine stood up from her desk and walked around it, coming within inches of Owens’s face. “This doesn’t make any sense! I’m not working on Alonzo’s case, I’m working the Miller case – which you are effectively derailing. What do you need to watch me for?”

Agent Johnson stepped between them, rolling his eyes at his partner and then turning to shoot a sly grin at the angry Assistant District Attorney. “Want to tell us what it is you’re hiding? Because I can’t see any other reason for you to be this upset.”

“If you are seriously accusing me of anything unethical or illegal…”

“That’s enough!” Joe shouted as he stormed across the office. “Cathy is willing to work with you, we all are, but that doesn’t mean we want to be under a microscope. So unless you have some actual evidence to suggest that Cathy is in any way connected to Alonzo, you need to back off.”

Johnson crossed his arms and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Anyone and everyone, from the lowliest paper pusher to the DA himself, is going to be carefully watched until this case is done. Phone calls, bank records, credit cards, you name it, we’re going to be going through it.”

“You have no legal right to – “

“Actually, Miss Chandler, we not only have the right to do it, we already have the necessary court orders. As of this moment, anyone you talk to, any money you spend or receive, anyone you so much as blink at on your way in to work, we are going to be having a little chat with. For that matter, as a precaution, since you’ve been working on the Miller case for well over a year, we are going to be going over all of your records for that time period as well. There is no way we are letting Alonzo off because you grab a glass of wine after work with the wrong person or have a one-night stand – “

Excuse me?!”

“- with some guy who is connected to some guy who is connected to Alonzo.” Johnson moved his eyes up and down over her with a sneer before continuing. “I don’t care that you’re rich, well connected, or have an ex that can buy and sell most men. This case is not being jeopardized because of you.”

“No way, Joe, there’s absolutely no way I am putting up with that kind of scrutiny of my private life. I’ll hand the Miller case off to someone else.”

Agent Johnson held up his hand, cutting Joe off before he had a chance to answer. “Won’t make any difference, Miss Chandler, if you do hand the case off. You were part of the case, so you’ll need to be vetted. Besides, the fact that you are still working for the DA’s office means that even though you aren’t officially working the case, you’ll still get consulted on it. So, no, passing it off isn’t going to change anything.”

Catherine knew she had to get out of this or she’d risk the Tunnels, the Helpers, Vincent… Nothing was worth that. She stood up taller, looked Agent Johnson straight in the eye, and played her last card. “Then I’ll quit.”

“And now I’m back to wondering what you are hiding. You can quit if you want, but we’ll still investigate you, only this time it will be because we are considering charging you with hindering prosecution, witness tampering, destroying evidence…it will be a fairly long list by the time we are done, and we’ll still be picking over every part of your life with a fine-tooth comb. Still feel like quitting?”

“Radcliffe…look, I don’t like this any more than you do. I’ll talk to the DA and see if there’s anything that can be done, but I think right now you and I are stuck.”

“And as for you two,” Joe added to the two federal agents, “cut her some slack. She’s found herself in the papers for everything from physical attacks on her to bad break-ups. No one would want to have their privacy invaded after that.”

Johnson and Owens traded looks, and after a minute Owens responded with another gentle smile, and a simple, “Sorry, but no.” He shook his head, then continued. “We can be discreet about it, keep her boyfriends and friends from spotting us. Hell, most of the time she probably won’t even spot us. But we will be there, and we will be watching.”




CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose







by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”


“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.