WFOL 2024

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ROUND ROBIN

SINS OF THE FATHERS

CHAPTER 8, part 1

by Linda S Barth

Please note: There is occasional use of strong language and some depictions of violence in Chapter 8, Parts 1 and 2 that might be disturbing to some readers.

~ ~ ~

 

Catherine sighed. She’d been certain she was on the right track, but the girl sounded genuinely puzzled. So, if not a Helper, then what was she to the tunnel community? Had she truly been nothing more than a pawn in Alonzo’s criminal schemes? Was everything she had confessed simply the truth?

Kady tilted her head. “What’s a Helper?” she repeated.

Catherine looked carefully at the teenager. The confused frown marring her otherwise flawless face, the wide-eyed waiting, the slender fingers stroking the crystal at her neck in what seemed to be an unconscious self-soothing ritual. Everything about her screamed victim, and yet…

A prickling scraped along Catherine’s spine, a chill of instincts she couldn’t ignore. Something was wrong about this. About Kady’s story, about her sudden appearance in the DA’s Office, about Kady herself. She would bet her life on it.

Maintaining a look of sympathy, she shrugged. “Just a thought – it’s not important.”  She gestured toward the crystal glinting at the hollow of Kady’s throat. “That’s lovely. Where did you get it?”

Kady’s fingers tightened reflexively on the smooth, faceted surfaces. “It was a gift from an old family friend. I treasure it. From the moment I got it, I’ve never taken it off.”

“It looks handcrafted. Whoever made it is a very talented artisan. Maybe it’s from a crafts fair or one of those great little boutiques in Soho.”

Kady shrugged. “Yeah, must be, I guess.” She glanced pointedly at the legal pad and pen on the table. “I should probably start writing, like that woman – what was her name? Agent Dially? – said I have to do.”

“Agent Diallo. And, yes, you should. Your testimony will be invaluable to us.” She watched the teenager pick up the pen. “Let me know if you need anything – water, maybe some coffee, or a nice cup of tea?”

Kady wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never really liked tea, but coffee would be good. Black, no sugar.”

“As soon as Joe gets back with the guardianship paperwork, I’ll see what I can find.” Catherine smiled warmly and leaned back in her chair. “For now, I’ll just keep you company.”

Without hesitation, Kady began to write, quickly recording her story in a smooth, flowing script. With a secret smile of satisfaction, she noted that her breathing was slow and even, her mind was clear, her hands didn’t shake at all. She hadn’t broken her facade, not for a second. She didn’t know why she’d been foolish enough to doubt herself.

After all, if there was anything she’d learned from Eli Walker or Sam Alonzo or whatever name he chose next – assuming he’d live long enough to choose one – it was to be careful about who you’re pretending to be. It was almost funny, really, how he’d thrown that platitude in her face so many times, as if telling her something she didn’t already know.  Hell, she’d learned that lesson back when other kids her age were learning their ABCs.

And she’d never forgotten it.

She smothered a snicker, wishing she could laugh – or, better yet, spit – in Catherine’s face.  These clowns had no idea who they were dealing with.  Pretending? For some people that was just a game; for her it was an art form – and she was no amateur. She had learned her craft from the best.

“Kady? I’m sorry to disturb you.” Catherine glanced at her watch, then stood and walked toward the conference room door. “I’ll just go see what’s taking so long with that paperwork.” She frowned. “I hope there aren’t any problems.”

“Thanks.” Kady widened her eyes. “I hope not, too.”

“Be right back.”

Take your time, bitch. Kady allowed herself a long suppressed smirk.  If I had to spend one more minute stuck in here with you…  She smiled as she pictured what she planned to do, first to Catherine and then to all the rest of them.

She slid a hand down to the concealed pocket in her jeans, letting her fingers rest for a moment on her precious knife. Great security they’ve got here. Real genius level.  By now even that wimp Alonzo probably will have weaseled his way out of custody.

She snorted her disdain. Idiots. Every single one of them. Doesn’t matter where they live, up here or in that sewer. Just like Mom and Dad always said – nothing but mindless cattle who deserve everything they get – so long as none of it’s good.

* * *

After closing the door behind her, Catherine paused in the hallway and nodded to the patrolman on duty. “The witness is still writing out her testimony. I need to talk with Joe, but I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

She walked slowly toward Joe’s office, her mind roiling with colliding waves of doubt and conviction.  Maybe she was wrong about Kady. The girl could be exactly who she’d claimed to be.

And yet she could not ignore the feeling that Kady knew much more than she was letting on. The disconcerting looks that flashed in the teenager’s eyes. The way her answers sounded too purposeful, almost as if they’d been rehearsed. And most unsettling of all was her undeniable connection to the tunnel world.

It just didn’t add up.

Kady had worked for Thomas, who had surely revealed far too much information to her, yet she claimed not to know what a Helper was.  She’d spent considerable time in the tunnels as an accomplice to Alonzo, a man who had been active for months throughout the underground community, but stated she didn’t know much about the area. And the crystal, allegedly a purchased gift, yet nearly identical to the one Catherine wore concealed beneath her blouse.

Catherine knew she must do whatever it took to get the rest of the story before the girl chose to reveal anything more with the authorities present. Even if Kady didn’t have a hidden agenda, she was harboring secrets, potentially dangerous ones, and could easily blurt out damning information. Catherine could not allow that to happen. She would let no harm come to a single person in her chosen family or to the tunnel world itself.  For Vincent, she would give her own life.

Vincent. Not even a year had passed since they’d nearly lost him to the madness induced by Paracelsus and his ungodly torture.  Miraculously, he had fully recovered, and she had vowed that nothing would stop her from keeping him safe forever.  Nothing.

By now Peter and Rebecca would be Below, telling everyone what had happened after the play. His worry for her would magnify as soon as he sensed her unsettled emotions.  Taking several deep breaths, she covered herself in a mantle of controlled calmness, then walked into Joe’s office.

* * *

Kady scanned the page and a half of fiction she’d completed. You know, I’m great at this, too. Maybe I should go pro – makeup artist, costumer, actor, writer – I really can do it all.

For just a moment, her eyes clouded with memories of two others who once had possessed expertise in the art of illusion. They’d been master talents, geniuses whose accomplishments had changed lives.  So much glory… and then so much loss.

All that amazing intellect – smothered.  All that supreme talent – destroyed.  Just when everything had been within their grasp, it was ripped from them… from her.  She’d been left behind, completely alone with no one to understand her, to nurture her, to continue to train her in their image. It was all so brutally cruel, horribly unfair. Sometimes she wished she had died, too.

Her face hardened in a mask of frozen rage.  But she had survived to become their legacy, their avenging angel. And now those responsible for her unbearable loss were going to pay. One by one, for as long as it took.

She snickered again as she glanced around the conference room. It would be fun to see what happened to these fools up here, too.  If she took out a few of them as well, then so be it. Collateral damage, right?

Just like she had been.  And would never be again.

* * *

Joe shook his head. “I don’t know, Cathy, are you sure about this?”

“I’m sure.” She flicked her gaze toward the wall clock. “It’s going on three in the morning.  We all need some sleep, and Kady would be much more comfortable at my apartment, even for a few hours.”

“She’s skinny but she’s almost a head taller than you. Think she’s going to fit on one of your dinky couches?” He grinned. “Well, I suppose even that would be better than trying to take a nap on a conference room chair. She still writing down what she knows?”

Catherine nodded. “I left her there with a guard outside the door. She’ll probably be finished soon. But you never told me how you found her or why she decided to turn state’s evidence.”

“We didn’t actually find her. She just turned up here, saying she had escaped and needed protection, and that she’d tell us everything if we could guarantee her safety.” He shrugged. “Sounds kind of out there, but it could be true. And if her information pans out, then we’ll have a lot more evidence for prosecuting Alonzo. With Thomas and Miller gone, we need everything we can get. Plus Agent Owens’s family could get some closure once Diallo and Johnson check out that location.”

Catherine knew the remains of Agent Owens might be discovered, but they wouldn’t find anything else, no matter how diligently they searched. The tunnel entrance near Thomas’s shop had been sealed and concealed, along with all access below Columbia University.

She frowned, remembering something Kady had said. Something about Alonzo possibly moving the body but not knowing where he might have hidden it. Why add that detail? Did she know the body had been moved, and was hoping to subtly urge the agents to investigate further, maybe find some clue that would lead them to the tunnel world?

But to what purpose? She confessed she’d used the tunnels as a hideout along with Alonzo. While investigating the location could yield further evidence against him, it might also implicate her as an accomplice. So why risk handing that information to the Feds?

Unless, Alonzo wasn’t her real target. Unless someone else was.

“What’s going on, Cathy? You’ve got that look on your face, the one when your mind is going a million miles an hour.  I want to hear your take on this.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s nothing. Just trying to figure out if she’s legit or we’re being snowed.” She hated to lie to Joe, but right now there were more compelling needs to consider. She summoned a tight smile. “She probably is just a kid who’s been through a lot and didn’t know where else to go for help. I think we need to give her the benefit of the doubt.  If she’s telling the truth, she’ll be doing us a huge favor, so giving her someplace safe to rest for a few hours is the least we can do.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I thought this guardianship would be a done deal by now – there’s usually someone on call 24/7 – but every department is shorthanded lately.” He rubbed a hand through his hair.  “Poor kid. After the hell she’s been through, she deserves a break, someone to take care of her.”

Catherine felt her heart accelerate.  Say yes!

He sighed. “Okay, I’ll clear it with the Feds.”

“Thanks, Joe. I’ll go tell Kady the good news, and as soon as you get the approval, we’ll be out of here until everything’s settled.”

She was halfway to the door when his voice called her back. “And I’m sending someone with you – a uniform or one of the Feds.”

She spun toward him. “That’s really not necessary. We’ll be fine on our own.”

He pushed himself away from his desk and followed her out of the office. “And what if you aren’t? What if someone else is watching the girl? We can’t take that chance.” He slung an arm around her shoulders. “You’ve only been back, what – six months now? I’m not losing you again.”

She leaned into him. “You won’t lose me. I’ll be careful. Really, Joe, I can handle this on my own.”

He raised a hand to prevent the argument he knew was about to hear. “Nope. Non-negotiable, kiddo.”

If she didn’t give in, she’d lose everything she’d gained. “Okay, you’re right.”

It was only a minor snag. She would still make this work. She had to.

* * *

Catherine glanced over her shoulder at the young woman, who appeared to be falling asleep. Then, trying hard not to grit her teeth, she glanced toward the driver of the nondescript black Ford Escort.  Why did it have to be him? Why had he grabbed the change in assignment like it was a winning lottery ticket?

Her mind paced back to their earlier encounters. She knew why. But there was no way to change things now. She’d have to work with what she’d been given.

She took slow, shallow breaths of the cigarette-stained air. “Agent Johnson, the fastest way would be to –”

He made no attempt to hide a sneer. “Miss Chandler, don’t you think I know exactly where you live and how to get there? We’ve already spent a lot of time together, haven’t we?”

She summoned a tight smile. “Of course. I was just trying to be –”

“Helpful?  Yeah, I’ve noticed that’s one of your many…” – he shot a leering look at her – “…attributes.”

Catherine forced herself to remain silent.  She would not allow that arrogant jerk to bait her into responding. She gritted her teeth and stared out the window at the darkened, nearly deserted city streets.

In the back seat Kady held her breath, dying to laugh out loud. This whole night was like watching one of those crap movies on tv, the ones she and her mom loved mocking back when they’d lived in their fourth floor walk-up. She could almost taste the stale discount popcorn and off-brand soda from the bodega. She could almost hear her mother’s voice as she trained her little girl, pointing out everything the movies got wrong with hair and make-up and costuming. She could almost…

She shook her head hard. Stop. Enough. Those days were gone forever. If she thought about them now, she might lose her focus, start to become soft, just like Alonzo had. She shoved them away, burying them. Right now she had to figure out a way to get rid of that idiot Johnson so she could force Catherine to do what she wanted.

Not that any of it would be difficult. Not for someone like her. It really was almost too easy.

Was this what it had been like for her mom and stepfather? They’d been so brilliant, devising deceptively simple strategies, then enacting them with deadly precision.  They’d manipulated and used people as they wished – to gain wealth, take revenge, right perceived wrongs, sometimes just to see what would happen, sometimes just because they could. And they did it all so easily, so well, inevitably escaping fates that would have condemned anyone else.  Over time, they’d become invincible.

Or so they’d believed.

An unexpected shudder ran through her, soul-deep, as she remembered a lecture she’d covertly listened to over a year ago. The leader of the others, the one they called Father, the man who had betrayed her own adoptive dad, had been describing the concept of hubris in Greek literature. He’d explained it as the melding of extreme self-confidence with unbridled arrogance, something he’d called “the pride that blinds”, adding that those who embraced its false promises were most often destined for destruction.

She frowned. Was that what happened? Had her mother and stepfather become too complacent, so blinded by their own brilliance and ambition, they couldn’t see or care about anything else? She shook her head.  She hated to think of her mother that way, but it was difficult to ignore the shards of truth embedding themselves in her heart. She loved her mother, had grown devoted to her stepfather, but there were things even the most faithful daughter couldn’t deny.

Tamara’s image floated in her mind’s eye, and Kady now saw what she hadn’t been aware of as a child. Even though her mother never entirely lost sight of what mattered most – her daughter, her art – she’d fallen completely under the alchemist’s spell.  His darkness had called to something within her, echoing, reverberating. She’d recognized it immediately, embraced it eagerly, thus creating the life she was meant to lead, and imposing an undeniable legacy on her only child.

At first, Kady had been scared. She’d begged her mother to take them away from this strange place, to take them home. Even the squalor of the city was better than a world of dark endless caverns, winding subterranean passages, terrifying nightmare faces of the few others who dwelt there to serve the man they saw as their master.

But as weeks turned into months, she felt herself evolving, transforming, just as day gives way to night, and soon she knew she, too, had found the place where she was meant to be, her true home – with him.

Kady felt a rare sense of contentment as the memories surrounded her. As the years passed, she’d found freedom in what to some would be enforced captivity. She’d explored the tunnels, silent and unseen, eventually discovering the others. She’d spied on them,  listened to their secrets, reported back to the man who’d become the father she’d secretly craved all her life.

How he’d praised her for every scrap of information she eagerly offered, especially if it was about that hideous creature Vincent. How her heart had glowed with every word of approval, every tight-lipped half-smile, every glint from his lidded eyes.  Just as he’d done with her mother, he rewarded her for becoming who and what she really was. And she’d reveled in it.

She raised a hand and cradled the crystal at her throat. How happy she’d been when he gave her that gift, whispering that it symbolized a special, neverending bond between them. He’d even laughed softly as he’d called it “a piece of eternity.” At last, she had tangible proof that he recognized her, loved her as his own. So grateful to be bound to him forever, she’d promised she would never take it off.

Not long after, she had overheard him telling Tamara how he’d once yearned to make Vincent his son, to mold him in his own image, and how his betrayer had corrupted and destroyed those dreams. She’d waited for him to say that it didn’t matter anymore, that Kady was his true child and she would carry on his legacy. He hadn’t said the words, but she knew they were the truth.

Then, far too soon, everything had changed. Her father’s purpose for living had become laser-focused on one supreme goal. His rage, his hatred was unleashed, uncontrolled as it shaped the distorted design of their lives. And within months would lead to their deaths.

Kady could not forget how it had begun – the violent arguments, the deadly innuendoes, the subtle but unmistakable threats that smothered any doubts her mother might have begun to consider. Driven to take down his perceived enemies in the most devastating, irrevocable way, he’d been willing – even eager – to sacrifice everything.  Nothing else mattered to him. Not her mother. Not even her.  Once having stepped foot on his chosen path, there was no turning back.

Kady let a single tear burn the length of her face. No matter how hard she tried, she could not forget her mother’s agonized screams when she’d been told that her husband’s doomed obsession had ended not in gloriously imagined victory, but instead in his violent death. Kady had shared only that he’d died at the hands of the beast, mercifully concealing what she had seen and could never forget.

As she cradled her mother, trying desperately to ease her shuddering, quell her sobs, she could find only one shred of solace. At least they still had each other. They would find a way to begin again.

Just two days later, Kady, from an impossible to discern hiding place, had watched the others inter her father’s remains in the catacombs. Her mother was already gone, lost forever in the depths of the abyss where, devoured by despair, she’d sacrificed herself.

Now there was no one left to share Kady’s sorrow.  No one who might help her find her way. But she wasn’t lost, not anymore.  She knew her fate, and embraced it willingly. She would be a true daughter of her parents, the only people she would ever love.

She pictured those who were soon to become the target of her grief-fueled revenge. She knew who they were, how to hunt them, trap them. And then, they’d pay for what they had done. One by one by one until no one was left.

She would save two of them for last. Another father and his so-called child. One would see the other die and then follow him to hell. And maybe, just for fun, she’d make Catherine watch it all happen. Considering what she herself had witnessed, it was only fair.

It would all play out just as she’d planned. She might be her mother’s devoted daughter, her father’s willing protegee, but she wouldn’t reenact their mistakes. This time she would be the victor.

Still, she needed to continue leading a few of her already captured sacrificial lambs to their slaughter.  She glanced out the car window. They were still well below Houston Street, and soon they’d be beyond the part of the city she knew best. She knew what to do, but she had to act now. Erasing a satisfied smile from her face, she leaned forward.

“Miss Chandler?” She had no difficulty keeping her voice soft with just the slightest quaver. “I think there’s a 24-hour diner a couple of blocks north of here. Do you think we could stop and get something to eat?”  She paused, silently counting out just the right number of seconds, then murmured, “The last meal I had was…I think it was two days ago.”

Catherine turned toward her. “Oh, Kady, I’m so sorry. I should have thought of that.” She forced herself to smile at the man next to her. “Agent Johnson, we can do this for our witness, can’t we?”

“Don’t you have something you can feed her at your place?”  Then he shook his head and chortled a self-satisfied laugh. “What was I thinking? You society chicks don’t cook. You have people to do stuff like that for you, right?”

Seething, Catherine summoned what she hoped was a light, self-effacing tone. “Well, I can’t entirely disagree with you on that one. So, really, it would be best if we stopped on the way.” She pointed toward flickering neon lights on the side of a building up ahead, the only place open in the hours before dawn. “I’m sure it won’t take long.”

“You’re always so sure about everything, aren’t you? And we’ve all seen how that’s worked out for you.” He snickered. “Yeah, okay, but we’ve gotta be out of here in half an hour, no later.

Minutes later, the two women were seated opposite each other in a booth, sipping coffee from chipped mugs while the FBI agent sat at the counter, annoying the overworked waitress.

“Thanks a lot, Miss Chandler. I really appreciate this.” Kady made sure to offer a tremulous smile, before blinking hard several times as if to quell sudden tears. “It’s been a long time since anyone was so kind to me.”

For just a moment, Catherine wondered again if she’d been wrong about the girl. Maybe she really wasn’t hiding anything. Maybe she was just one more person who’d made bad choices and needed a break.  She glanced toward the window next to them, and caught a glimpse of something hard and cold in the girl’s reflected image, so brief it vanished as if only imagined. But it was enough.

“Kady, you don’t have to thank me. We should be thanking you for what you’re doing for us. You’re helping to bring a very dangerous criminal to justice.”

“I’m just trying to do what’s right. It’s what I have to do.”

Catherine smiled warmly at her as the waitress deposited plates of scrambled eggs and toast on the cracked vinyl tabletop.  “You must be starving. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like.”

“I will. Thanks.”  What I’d like is to get the hell out of here. I can’t wait to hear you scream like my mother did while you watch me kill that freak and its father.

Catherine forced herself to eat quietly for a few minutes, hoping the silence might wear on Kady, luring her into saying something more, something that might offer a clue to the truth she was obviously working hard to conceal.  But before that could happen, she heard Agent Johnson’s exasperated voice collide with the unwavering tone of the waitress.

He swiveled off his stool and sauntered toward Catherine and Kady. “Looks like I have to go out to the car if I want a smoke, even in a crappy hole like this.” He looked at his watch. “And you two have exactly five more minutes. Don’t make me have to come back in here to get you.”

Catherine nodded. “We’ll be there on time.”

“Yeah, you will.” The door slammed shut behind him.

“I’m sorry, Kady.” Catherine shrugged. “I hate to rush you, but I don’t think we have a choice.”

The teenager swallowed a last bite of food. “No, there’s no choice at all.” She turned as if to search for something. “But I need to use the ladies’ room. I’ll be right back.”

“Hmmm, good idea.” Catherine paused only long enough to hand some cash to the waitress, then followed Kady. “It’s too early to worry about rush hour traffic, but you never know if there will be a delay of some sort.”

Oh, there’s going to be a delay of some sort, Kady silently parroted as she locked the door of the bathroom stall while Catherine waited for her. You can bet your life on that!

Moments later, they were on the sidewalk. The cool metal blade of the concealed knife Kady had transferred to the sleeve of her jacket was a reassuring presence. Another gift from her stepfather, she had no doubts about her ability to use it, having often observed his prowess with an identical weapon. It was almost as if he were there with her now, and for just a moment she offered him a smile of gratitude, forgiveness, undying love.

From the driver’s seat, Agent Johnson leaned over and pushed open the passenger door. He inhaled a last puff of smoke and tossed the remains of his cigarette past them into the gutter, then flicked his gaze toward Catherine, before turning to Kady. “You can get in the back again.”

Kady hesitated, pressing a hand to her stomach. “Would it be okay if I sat in front for now? I’m not feeling too well. I think I ate too much.  And sometimes…” She hunched her shoulders and bit her lower lip. “Well, sometimes I get car sick.”

“Then, of course, you sit up front.” Catherine helped her get settled, then took her place in the back seat.

A look of disgust glared from Johnson’s face. “You better not puke in my car.”

“I think I’ll be fine now.” Kady offered the agent a grateful smile, as with one flawless motion, she held the razor-sharp blade to his throat. “In fact, I’m sure of it.”

Instinctively, Johnson raised his arm to ward off the attack, but it was much too late. As the knife began to ease into his taut skin, he felt the warmth of his blood exposed to the night air. “You can’t do this!”

“Oh, you know, actually I can.” Kady’s laugh was a high-pitched screech. “In fact, I already have. And unless you’re even stupider than I think you are, you won’t talk or move until I say you can.” She swiveled to shrug off Catherine’s hand as she’d reached to grab at the girl’s shoulder. “You either, bitch.”

Catherine knew she had no option. Her instincts about Kady had been right. Why hadn’t she acted on them much sooner? But it wasn’t too late. It couldn’t be. “Kady, you don’t have to go through with this.”

The girl rolled her eyes and sighed. “Just another one of the many things you’re wrong about.” She turned to the agent and pushed her blade a bit deeper. “I want your gun.  Now.”

Johnson started to shake his head, then froze when he felt further drops of blood ooze along his neck. His training kicked in and he stifled all thoughts of trying to overpower the girl. “It’s in my jacket pocket. You can take it.”

Kady snorted a laugh. “Gee, thanks so much!” She grasped the weapon and pressed the barrel against his temple. “Any last words?”

“Kady, don’t!” Catherine leaned forward again. “Don’t shoot him!”

Kady shot her a disgusted glance. “Don’t tell me what to do.”  She raised her arm and smashed the agent in the temple, swiftly withdrawing her knife as he slumped forward unconscious against the steering wheel. She shoved him hard to make sure he wasn’t faking, then turned the gun toward Catherine. “Get out of the car. And don’t even think about running, because you won’t get far. I’m an expert shot.”

There was nothing else to do. Catherine’s heart pounded as the girl joined her on the sidewalk. “Why are you doing this?”

The teenager shook her head. “Man, you just don’t get it, do you?”

“No, I really don’t.” Catherine forced her voice to stay smooth and calm. “Will you please tell me?”

Kady snickered. “You’re asking me for a favor? That takes a lot of balls.” She gave Catherine an appraising look. “But you know, if you don’t give me any trouble, maybe I’ll explain it all on the way.” She snickered softly. “In the end, it won’t matter what you know – or don’t know.”

Catherine suppressed a shudder. “Where are we going? Can you at least tell me that?”

“Oh, you’ll figure it out soon enough.” She held the gun just out of Catherine’s reach. “And don’t try anything stupid. I have plans for you, but if I have to destroy you now instead of later, I’m okay with that.”

She gestured farther along the darkened street. “Start walking. And don’t forget I’ll be right behind you.  Just have to take care of one last, little detail.”

The explosion of the single gunshot and the shattering of the windshield’s glass echoed off the buildings, then died away to silence. Catherine pivoted, her breath drawn in a harsh gasp.  “Kady, why –”

The girl shot her a look of disgust. “Did you want all that crap splattered all over you? Eeeewww. I didn’t.”  She gestured with the gun again. “Move. It’s not like anyone is going to come running in this neighborhood, but, you know, and I hate to take chances.”

They walked swiftly in silence for nearly two blocks.  Catherine’s mind spun – the techniques Isaac had taught her, the possibility of an unseen witness calling 911, the unlikely chance of wresting the gun from Kady’s grip before being shot herself – but most important of all was the need to protect the man she loved more than life itself. With extreme effort, she smothered the turbulence he would sense through their bond, terrified that he might have already done so.

Catherine knew her best hope was to keep Kady talking. It was far too late to help Agent Johnson, but she could still protect the tunnel world. And the only way to do that was to learn exactly what Kady knew about the community and what she intended to do next. Then, Catherine vowed, she would use that information to ensure their safety, no matter what it cost her. More lives than her own depended on it.

She looked back over her shoulder at her captor.  “Kady, will you please tell me what’s going on?”

Kady shrugged. “Sure. You’re going to find out everything soon enough. I don’t mind telling you some of it on the way. It’ll help pass the time.”

The teenager’s pivot from coldly calculated violence to casual self-control was unnerving, and Catherine forced herself not to reveal her revulsion. “I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”

The girl snickered. “Not sure you’re going to be thanking me after you hear what I have to say.” She sidled up beside Catherine, then shoved the gun against her ribs. “I want to see your face when I tell you.” She jabbed the gun harder into Catherine’s side. “And just in case you’re thinking of trying something, don’t forget I can pull the trigger faster than you can move out of the way. Got it?”

“I won’t try anything.”

“Then let’s see, where should I begin?” Kady paused as if considering the answer to her own question.  “Most people are only interested in hearing about themselves, so I guess the first thing you want to know is what I’ve got planned for you.”

She didn’t wait for Catherine to reply. “One of the things on my to-do list is to ruin your life. I was just going to take you out along with the others.” She glanced Catherine’s way as if to be sure she had her complete attention. “But things changed. Want to know how?”

Catherine nodded. “If you’d like to tell me.”

“I’d love to tell you!” Kady grinned, then the grin vanished as if it had been scraped off her face. “This is all your fault, you and your friends. If it wasn’t for you, I’d still be happy. I’d still have…” She shrugged her shoulders. “But that’s never going to happen. So now you have to pay for what you’ve done.”

“But, Kady, what have I done? If somehow I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry. Won’t you tell me how we can fix things?”

Her eyes narrowed. “There’s no way to fix things! Your friends saw to that. And you’re – what do you call it? – guilty by association. So, now I’m going to punish you…and then it’ll be their turn.” When Catherine’s steps slowed, Kady shoved her. “Keep going.”

Catherine didn’t move. “I will if you’ll explain all this to me, like you said you would.”

The girl stared at her, a look of respect flashing across her face. “You know, I’d almost be able to like you if I didn’t hate you so much.” She snorted a harsh laugh. “Let’s see, where were we? Oh yeah, you’re a big deal in the DA’s Office. That must mean a lot to you, right?”  She tilted her head when Catherine remained silent, then poked her again with the gun. “I said, right?”

“Yes, you’re right.” Catherine nodded as they resumed their pace along the sidewalk.

Kady snickered. “So, what do you think is going to happen when the powers that be find out you’re responsible for the disappearance of a key witness? Just a young, defenseless girl who was only trying to help them solve a terrible crime, and now she’s gone. That’s not exactly the kind of thing that gets you a promotion.” She looked at Catherine with an expectant smile. “More like a prison sentence.”

The girl’s giggle was discordant in the night air. “They’ll look for me, but they’ll never find me. And what do you suppose they’ll think happened to me? Like whose fault was it?” She pointed at Catherine. “Yours!”

“I don’t understand any of this.” Catherine forced herself to stay calm. “Why would they think I was responsible for that?”

“Because I’m the only one who can prove you were in on Alonzo’s schemes the whole time!  That you both tortured and threatened me until I agreed to help you. And when I turned up at the DA’s Office,  you took me out of there before I could tell them what I knew about you. Then you got rid of me.” She made a slashing motion across her own throat, then grinned.

Catherine stared at her with escalating fear that was difficult to conceal. “But none of that is true!”

“Truth doesn’t matter. Now all that matters is what I want.  I thought Alonzo would be the one to make it happen, that he’d take you all down, but he got soft. It was disgusting to see how he fell for all that crap.” She shook her head. “I knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on me. So, I had to change my plans.  Too bad for you, I knew exactly what to do.”

“And that was?” Catherine asked quietly.

Kady sighed. “Still not catching on? I thought you were smarter than that. Guess I was wrong. Let me spell it out for you. I have ways of finding out things, like how your boss was meeting with the Feds tonight after the play. So, I thought I’d get in on the fun and see if I could set you up. You’d be the one to do what Alonzo wouldn’t.”

Catherine shook her head. “But, Kady, I’ve never had any contact with Alonzo. How could I know what you wanted him to do?”

“You didn’t have to know. I just had to make it look like you did.  I could just picture their faces when I told them you and Alonzo were partners.  I didn’t really have to – it wouldn’t change my other plans for you – but I just couldn’t resist.”  She frowned, her eyes narrowing to slits. “But they almost spoiled all my fun ‘cause the Feds figured you were super involved even before I said a word. I know because I heard them talking. Agent A-hole was so excited when your boss told him why I was there. Informed all his pals that he was about to get all the proof he needed to blame you for everything.”

She pouted. “He almost spoiled all my fun. What did you do to make him hate your guts like that? I don’t think it’s the same reason I hate you.”

“Kady, you don’t even know me. Why are you doing this?”

The girl sighed heavily. “Because I have to.“

“What do you have to do? I still can’t make sense of this!”

It was as if Kady hadn’t heard her. “Alonzo was a fool, but I never wanted to hurt him. He didn’t actually do all those things to me like I said he did. But he told me he heard the Feds were never going to stop until they proved you were guilty. He he was going to tell the others so they could protect you.”

She shook her head in mock regret. “He was going to ruin all my plans, and I couldn’t let that happen. So I had to take both of you down – him first by ratting him out to the Feds, then you even though it had to happen sooner than I wanted it.”  Her eyes glinted in the muted light. “But it worked. What’s that old saying – kill two birds with one stone? I never really got that before – but I do now.”

Catherine took a deep breath. She was getting closer to deciphering the teenager’s coded story, but she needed to learn more, without doing or saying anything that might set off her volatile temper. “All right, let me see if I’ve followed you. It sounds like Alonzo and I – and people I know – all have done something to hurt you, and now you’re going to hold us responsible for it.”

Kady nodded excitedly, as if she were pleased Catherine had begun to get it right at last. She bounced lightly on her toes in anticipation. “And then what?”

“I’m not sure I know what’s next.”

The girl’s face crumpled in disappointment and she jabbed Catherine viciously in the ribs as they continued walking.  “Next, you’re going to do exactly what I say. First, I need you to get something for me. After I’m done with you, I’m going to dump you somewhere the Feds will find you, and then I’m going to disappear. You were the last person I was seen with, and they already know you can’t let me give my evidence.  That’s why you had to make sure they’ll never find me.” Her face hardened to a gleeful death mask. “They’ll probably think you killed me.”

Catherine slowly turned her head toward the girl. “But what if they don’t? Maybe they’ll believe you changed your mind and somehow got away from me and ran off.”

“Yeah, right.” Kady chuckled. “Don’t you suppose their pal’s dead body might give them something to think about when they can’t find me? You know, the guy who was with the two of us right before it all happened. Nope, they’re going to figure you got rid of me. After all, they’ll think you already killed one man.”

Her eyes widened in excitement. “Oh, I mean two! I forgot about Owens! That’s what they’ll think – first him, then that jerk back there. And when I said I was going to tell, you killed me, too.” She chortled with laughter. “I can hear them now.  ‘Poor Agent Owens, and then Agent Johnson, and then that lovely young girl!  How could that horrible Catherine Chandler do such a thing? She must be crazy!’”

Catherine took slow, deep breaths. “And what’s the proof that will make them believe I shot Agent Johnson?”

The girl rolled her eyes. “Your fingerprints are going to be on the gun. The one they’ll find when they get their hands on you. But I don’t feel like telling you how that’s going to happen. I want it to be a surprise!”

With effort, Catherine softened her voice. “Kady, it’s not too late to change things. A lot has happened, but I can get you out of this. Let me help you.”

“Haven’t you been listening to a frickin’ word I’ve said?!” The girl stared at her in disbelief. “Why would I want to change anything? It’s all working out exactly the way I planned it! And completely screwing with your life is only the beginning!”

Her burst of anger simmered to renewed amusement. “I bet you’re dying to know more, aren’t you?” She gave Catherine an appraising look.  “I think you would have figured out some of it on your own sooner or later, maybe while you’re rotting in jail. You’re not an idiot.” The sneer returned to her face. “Even though you’re obviously a pervert, what with that mate of yours.”

Catherine felt an uncontrollable surge of anger and fear sweep through her, then watched her worst nightmares take shape with every word the girl continued to utter.

“I’ve seen you two together, you know. It’s really disgusting. How can you stand that freak touching you with those paws? And you actually kiss its hideous mouth!” Kady shuddered, then made exaggerated vomiting noises. “I’d rather kill myself!”

Seemingly satisfied she’d hit her intended mark, she smiled, a sinister mirror of her father’s madness. “But that’s not something you’ll be doing again any time soon. Oh, wait, I mean ever.”

She stopped abruptly outside a darkened warehouse, then gestured with the hand that held the gun. “Back there, past the loading dock.  You go first and don’t turn around.”

Catherine hesitated. She knew where they were. She knew what would happen next.

Kady raised the gun and pointed it at her head. “Don’t make me say it again.”

Catherine did as she was told.

 

 

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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.