WFOL 2024

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ROUND ROBIN

SINS OF THE FATHERS

CHAPTER 7

by OKGoode

Catherine looked up into the young woman’s face. They both opened their mouths to speak, and then, in unison, closed them.

The tall girl did not move her head while she pointedly cut her eyes hard to her right, one eyebrow lifted ever so slightly

Catherine didn’t know who this teenager was, and she didn’t know exactly what was being communicated to her, but something told her to not show any hesitation or confusion. Her professional mask firmly in place, she gave a polite nod while she resisted the urge to look where Kady’s glance had indicated.

Instead, Catherine turned to Joe, who was leaning against his windowsill, arms crossed. He was wearing a pair of threadbare jeans and a faded old Westfield law school shirt. She suspected that he was none too pleased about this late-night meeting being co-opted by the FBI, and was resigned to play-acting that he hadn’t already planned on it being a surreptitious meeting with Catherine and their witness.

“In case you agents haven’t noticed,” Joe said, eyes fixed somewhere over Catherine’s shoulder, “the city doesn’t provide us lowly DAs with offices that ya could call exactly spacious. Let’s do this in the conference room.”

He gestured in the direction Kady had indicated, and Catherine seized the opportunity to look now. Next to the filing cabinets stood a tall young woman with heavy-handed eyeliner. It looked like she’d made a less than adequate attempt to wipe some of the pancake makeup from her cheeks.

“After you, Your Grace,” Catherine said to the agent.

“Special Agent Adelaide Diallo, Miss Chandler.” She shook Catherine’s hand with a steel grip. “Hope you enjoyed the play.”

“The postscript was a bit more dramatic than I’d have liked,” Catherine answered as they walked to the conference room.

And but for that one little thing, Mrs. Lincoln would have enjoyed the play…

“Worth it, since it drew out Samuel Alonzo to see his son. I had a hunch it might, and I was right. Makes all those weeks of rehearsals worth it.” She shut the conference room door once Catherine entered. “It’ll sound like I’m bragging, but if I do say so myself, I’m kind of the star of undercover work, right, Johnson?”

Agent Johnson scowled at Diallo. “Not as funny as you think you are, rookie.”

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Joe said, “since this was so urgent that you had to get us all here at this hour.  Johnson said that you caught Alonzo tonight, so what couldn’t have waited until morning?”

“Alonzo is with our Assistant Special Agent in Charge, hopefully singing his heart out. Our ASAC’s given us orders that we need to wrap up the loose ends that unraveled tonight. Starting with what this young lady,” here Diallo indicated Kady, “knows about Alonzo and how it can help our case. And since she told us all that she would only speak with us if Miss Chandler was present, this seemed the best way to bring that about.”

All eyes moved to Kady, who was clearly uncomfortable with the scrutiny, and her face seemed to harden into a disguise, rigid and feelingless.  She gazed from agent to agent, from Joe to Catherine. After she looked at Catherine, something seemed to occur to Kady. She paused, looked down at her lap for a long moment, and closed her eyes. She drew a shaky breath and looked up again, the callous facade shattered. Suddenly she looked like just another lost teenager, over her head and all at sea.

Kady started fiddling with a crystal necklace as she looked at Catherine. She gave a little nod and said, “My name is Kady Carruthers. I work – or, well, I worked – for Thomas Anderson. In his resale shop on West 111th, across from Morningside Park. I guess it’s gonna be closing now, now he’s dead. Anyway, I know you knew Thomas, Miss Chandler. He always talked about you and what a kind, helpful person you are, so I figured I could trust ya.”

Catherine nodded in what she hoped was a message received kind of way. She didn’t know Kady, but the necklace really looked like it had come from Below. Perhaps the way she’s fidgeting with that crystal is her way of telling me something? She could be one of the Helpers that I’ve not yet met.

“I saw you at Thomas’s funeral, Kady,” Catherine said. “I knew you looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place you at first. And of course I’ll help you. However I can.”

“Well, my father started out as an accountant. But he had a gambling problem, and… anyway, long story short, he ended up on Sam Alonzo’s payroll. Not that Sam gave him any kind of choice about it, you know? Once he was deep enough in debt to him, he really had to do whatever Sam told him to. When I was younger, I thought he was literally washing dollar bills for Sam, because I didn’t know what he meant by laundering money.

“Then, my dad died last year, and Sam kinda took care of the rent, and… I thought he was being really nice to me. At first. And then it made me feel like I owed him, you know. I didn’t have anything to pay him back with, so… he… you know…”

Kady looked around the room with a shrug. Diallo nodded encouragingly with genuine empathy written all across her features, and Catherine was certain she wasn’t just acting this time.

“Well, anyhow,” Kady continued, “I thought he really cared about me. I convinced myself that he wasn’t just using me, but…”

Catherine patted Kady’s hand. “You’re safe now. We can make certain that he cannot hurt you – or anyone else – ever again. You’re doing great. Please go on.”

Kady’s watery smile said she really wanted to believe that.

“A while back,” she continued, “Sam said the heat was really on, and he needed to lay low for a while. He knew about some underground tunnels where he could hide out. Said that they ran between somewhere around Columbia University and a thrift store on West 111th, across from Morningside Park. He told me to get a job at the shop, so I did. That way I got access to the sub-basement. And I started helping him hide out, brought him food and newspapers, new batteries for his flashlights, that kind of thing. I was trying to be really tough and strong, like I thought he wanted me to be. I would have done anything for him. Almost anything.

“I guess I’d still be stuck under his spell, except that he…”

* * *

Peter assisted Rebecca down the ladder from his threshold into the Tunnels. He had managed to get to Rebecca’s side when people started waving guns around shouting. He had to strong-arm her into quietly exiting the theater amidst the chaos, then calm her as they waited for Catherine to join them.

“Oh, Peter, how could I have been so stupid? How could we all let ourselves be fooled by Eli Walker? I mean,” she burst into tears all over again, “Alonzo.” She dabbed her face with Peter’s handkerchief once more. “I was sure he really cared about me. About all of us!”

“From all I heard and read about Sam Alonzo, he’s a criminal psychopath. Has been for decades. One smart enough to evade all the charges the authorities have tried to get him with for all these years. It’s not your fault – or ours – that we believed him.”

Peter gave her shoulder an avuncular squeeze before he secured the false wall over his entrance. He picked up a rock and beat out an emergency message on the pipe there.

“We need to get down and tell Jacob and Vincent what’s happened tonight. Catherine is probably still being watched and she won’t be able to. We have to assume we’re the only ones who can alert the tunnels. I don’t know what kind of security plan they can implement, but they need to get on it. Stat.”

* * *

Michael looked up as soon as the elevator doors opened. “Iain! Finally! I thought they’d never let you out!”

Iain walked straight into Michael’s arms. He rested his forehead on Michael’s shoulder and sighed deeply.

“Let’s get out of here, Iain,” Michael suggested, feeling the stare from the FBI security guard at the reception desk. “We can get some coffee on our way back to the dorm.”

They walked in silence for a while. Michael opened his mouth at least half a dozen times, but each time whatever he thought he might say suddenly struck him as lame and pointless. What could possibly make anything any better for poor Iain?

“You don’t have to say anything, Mike,” Iain said with a pale attempt at a grin. “I don’t even know what to think, let alone what to say. I couldn’t even tell you what I’m feeling. I sure don’t expect you to wrap your head around all this, if I can’t.”

“Both of our fathers suck,” Michael said.

“You can say that again.”

“They’ve embarrassed us both, Iain, and let us down in one way or another. Over and over.”

“And neither one of them think they’ve done anything wrong,” Iain agreed.

“Right. They’re both self-centered jerks.” Michael turned around and, in the general direction of the FBI building, flipped the bird to Iain’s father in absentia. “Take that, Iain’s dad!”

“They only think about themselves.” Iain’s smile was growing more genuine now. He also turned back toward the building where he’d been told his father was being held and raised a hand to his mouth, saying, “‘I bite my thumb at you!’”

Michael clapped Iain on the shoulder, so happy and relieved to see that he’d managed to improve his mood. If only temporarily. “Yeah,” Michael added, “but you know what?”

“What?”

“Your dad did do one thing right. He made you. I’m glad for that.”

“I feel the same way about you, Michael.”

* * *

 “This is catastrophic, Vincent.” Father held his head in his hands, shaking it slowly back and forth. His hair was plastered flat on one side and stuck out on the other, having been woken by Peter’s emergency alert. “That a criminal has been among us all this while, and a criminal of this magnitude, no less!”

“He knows so much about us!” Mary sighed as she escorted a weeping Rebecca from the study. “Let’s get you settled, dear.”

“I’ve sent teams to all the tunnel entrances that we know Alonzo’s aware of,” Vincent said as he studied a map that covered the whole top of Father’s desk. “We know how to seal and camouflage them so that they won’t be easily detected or breached. We’ll have to reroute all of those tunnels to dead ends, though, as a precaution.”

“I’m worried that he may know more than we think,” said Peter. “I think we should assume so and err on the side of caution as much as we can. If you need any additional building supplies for the false walls and such, I’ll finance them.”

“Thank you, Peter. We appreciate that, and I won’t say no,” Father said.  “The stakes are far too high for pride. Vincent, can you make Peter a list of whatever we might need?”

“Right away. Thank you, Peter.”

* * *

“So, you can take us to Owens’s body? You sure of that?” Agent Johnson asked with gritted teeth as he leaned over the conference table, intent on Kady’s every nuance.

“Yeah. I just told you so. I mean, I can take you where we left it. I don’t know if he might have gone back and moved it or something.” Kady shrugged. “I mean, I don’t think he did. But I don’t know.”

“And you’ll sign an affidavit about everything you saw? And testify in court against Alonzo? His crime network, everything you know, his murder of a federal agent, everything?” Diallo asked. “We’ll protect you if you do. And we won’t bring any charges against you for harboring a fugitive.”

Kady looked toward Catherine. “If Miss Chandler reads everything first and tells me it’s okay, I’ll agree.”

“Kady, please understand that I work for the District Attorney’s office. I can’t act as your attorney.”

“I know. But Thomas said you were a good person and I’m gonna trust you if you say that they’re doing right by me. That’s what Thomas would have wanted done.”

Catherine pivoted to face the agents. “And since she’s under 18, she should be represented by a Guardian ad Litem.”

Diallo nodded. She gestured to Johnson and said, “Let’s update the ASAC and arrange some cars to take us uptown to this shop basement. By the time we recover Owens’s remains, it’ll be morning and we can fast track Kady’s guardianship through the courts. While we’re doing that, Kady, please write down everything you’ve told us about Alonzo, what you’ve seen him do, what he’s done to you, and how he murdered Owens.”

Diallo slid a yellow legal pad and pen across the table to Kady and then she led Johnson from the conference room.

Joe smiled at Kady and said, “You’re very brave, and you’re doing the right thing. I think your friend Thomas would have been proud of you.”

Kady stroked the crystal necklace at her throat and her eyes misted with her long-delayed emotions. “I hope so.”

“I know so,” Catherine said as she gave Kady’s hand a squeeze.

“I’ll go arrange the paperwork for Kady’s guardian,” Joe said as he left the room. The door latched with a soft snick.

“Quick, Kady,” Catherine whispered as she pointed to Kady’s crystal. “Are you a Helper?”

“A Helper? What do you mean, a Helper?”

 

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~ NEW CHAMBERS ~

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WATER FUN

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?”

“Okay.”

“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.