SINS OF THE FATHERS
by JoAnn Baca
Catherine did not spare a moment more thinking of Kady – the girl was gone, and the threat she posed was gone with her. Her focus was entirely on the lifeblood of her beloved, too much of which was flowing from his hideous wounds. She was free now to press her hands hard against them, trying to staunch the blood that soon drenched her fingers and palms.
He didn’t reply.
She looked up at him. The young man seemed stunned by what had happened; he was standing now, looking down at his hands, but otherwise not moving. Was shock setting in over the sudden violence and how he had inadvertently caused Kady’s fall? Catherine couldn’t allow that to happen. She needed him to get help for Vincent as quickly as possible. He could fall apart later…right along with her.
He blinked as if awakening, his gaze moving between Vincent and her, but he didn’t react beyond that.
“Call Father,” she ordered him. “Tell him Vincent is bleeding heavily.”
He nodded slowly, yet still didn’t move from the spot where he was standing.
The rising panic in her voice finally shook him into action. He nodded again, more vigorously this time, and turned, rushing to tap out the emergency call.
Vincent’s face was pale, as pale as she had ever seen it. Her heart stuttered in her chest as she watched him try and fail to speak. His eyelids fluttered.
“You stay with me, do you hear me?! Vincent!!”
He managed a weak nod. “Tourn…tourn…” He was trying to speak again, but kept losing the breath to say more than one syllable at a time.
Suddenly, what he was trying to say leapt into her mind and her eyes widened. “Tourniquet!” Cursing herself for not thinking of it herself, her gaze raked the area for something to use, settling on the leather strips that decorated one shoulder of his cloak.
“Vincent, I need my hands free. Can you press against your wounds while I apply the tourniquets?”
Where he found the strength, she didn’t know, but despite his weakness, he managed. That freed her to tear off several pieces of the leather. She quickly tied them above each of his knees, eliciting gasps of pain from him as she pulled them as tight as she dared.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry,” she murmured, finishing, then replacing her stronger hands atop his wounds once more.
Strength exhausted, his arms fell to his sides and his head lolled as he lost consciousness.
Suddenly, Catherine felt Mouse beside her.
“Mouse will help,” he said, and relieved her. “Coming. Lots of them. Be here soon.”
With arms trembling from the effort of trying to control his bleeding, she moved to cradle Vincent’s head and began stroking his face, not caring that she was painting his cheeks and forehead red with his own blood.
That’s how the rescuers came upon them – a dozen men and women, two of them half-helping, half-carrying Father.
Father assessed the situation at a glance. The doctor in him was at the fore now, issuing commands, pulling medical equipment from his bag, administering emergency aid to the beloved son who was, right now, simply a patient in dire condition.
Catherine crawled to one side and just watched.
She watched as Father got Vincent stabilized and bandaged. She watched as Vincent was loaded onto a stretcher and carried at a trot to the hospital chamber, Father shaking his head against her wish to follow. She watched as several of the younger members of the response team used ropes to rappel down to where Kady’s body lay broken and brought it back up. She watched as they loaded the body onto another stretcher and went off with it.
Finally, she and Mouse were alone on the ledge, forgotten in everyone’s rush to attend to the grievously wounded Vincent, and in their haste to remove the body of the girl who had done so much damage, both Above and Below.
Catherine was disheveled from her ordeal, her hands sticky with Vincent’s blood. The adrenaline that had kept her going for so long had dissipated, leaving her shaking.
Mouse was in little better shape, staring down at the shoreline, opening and closing his bloody fists convulsively. He seemed fixated on the sand where one of Kady’s shoes lay. It had come off during her fall, and the recovery team had either missed it, or dismissed it as not worth retrieving.
Who knows how much longer they would have remained there, too shaken to leave, but Jamie came and found them. She had looked around at the other members of the recovery team once they were back in the Hub and realized that Catherine and Mouse were not among them. Apparently, just as she had done, they each must have thought that someone else would attend to them. Or perhaps they had believed the two had needed no help, not understanding that they were victims of violence, too, even if not physically harmed.
“Catherine? Mouse? Come on…come home,” she murmured, taking each by a blood-stained hand and leading them forward, unresisting, into the tunnels.
* * *
Father, exhausted, tugged off his surgical mask as he left the hospital chamber. It had been a difficult few hours, but thankfully his skills were up to the task. Vincent would recover.
He found Catherine slumped in a chair just outside, still bedraggled and dirty, still bearing his son’s blood on her hands. She rose to her feet and blinked bleary eyes.
“How is he?” She was so tired she was swaying on her feet. “Is Vincent going to be all right?”
Frowning, Father didn’t respond to her question, instead saying, “Didn’t I tell you not to come? Won’t the FBI be tracking you?”
She shook her head. “The agent who had been keeping tabs on me is dead… murdered by the same person who stabbed Vincent. No one followed me Below.”
He sighed, relief suffusing his face. “Thank God.” Realizing how that sounded, he added hastily, “I mean, not about the agent’s death, but that no one knows you’re here.”
“You’re right though. I need to get back Above, to explain the scene of the crime, the one she forced me away from. But without knowing how Vincent is…”
Patting her gently on the shoulder, Father said, “He’ll be all right. It will take some time, but…” He turned his head to look back into the hospital chamber then returned his gaze to her. “He lost a lot of blood, as you know. And with injuries this severe…well, his mind turns inward for days, keeping him in a state of unconsciousness as he recovers.” He took her arm and started walking her down the passageway. “You can do nothing for him now. None of us can. We must allow his healing process to do what we cannot.”
Father signaled to Jamie. “Would you escort Catherine to her threshold, please, my dear? She needs to return Above. They will be searching for her.” Before relinquishing her arm to Jamie, he added to Catherine, “Come back Below once you do what you must Above. We will have moved him to his chamber by then, and you can wait there for him to awaken.” He stroked her cheek and smiled. “I’m glad you weren’t hurt. And for Vincent’s sake, I am grateful.”
* * *
Catherine stepped out of the shower. It had been a gruesome task, washing away all that gore, but she couldn’t have Vincent’s blood on her when she re-appeared after being missing for so long. How could she explain it away? It wasn’t her own blood, or Agent Johnson’s, or even Kady’s…
As exhausted as she was, she couldn’t rest yet. At least the shower had revived her a little. Letting cold water sluice over her had left her chilled but somewhat refreshed.
She found clothes that closely matched what she had been wearing the night before, then returned to the tunnels. She had thought about her cover story, and felt it best to tell as much of the truth as possible. But for that to work, she needed to be found close to where she had disappeared.
* * *
Crime scene tape cordoned off the car and a good portion of the street as she approached. She’d made sure to scuff her shoes and dirty herself up a bit beforehand, so she didn’t look like a freshly showered witness.
Without need for much acting, she stumbled over to the first policeman she saw and identified herself. His eyes widened when he realized who she was.
“Hey, Sarge!” he shouted, turning to his superior. “It’s her! The missing D.A.!”
She gave him points for knowing where she worked, even if he had gotten her job title wrong.
The sergeant – his nametag identified him as Trujillo – turned to look in her direction, then spoke into a walkie-talkie. When he finished, he waved her over.
“Got a lot of people looking for you, Miss Chandler. You and that other one. Where’s she?”
Catherine shook her head. And so it begins… “I don’t know. After she forced me out of the car, she shot Agent Johnson. She had his gun. I had no choice but to go with her.” Catherine pointed in the direction from which she had just come. “We went that way for several blocks. When we got to an alley, she marched me down it until we were half a block in. She must have hit me on the head. Knocked me out. I didn’t wake up until a little while ago. I knew I could find police here, so I retraced my steps.”
Trujillo frowned. “No clue where she went?”
“None.” She turned to look in the direction of the car in which they’d been transporting Kady. “I’m so sorry about Agent Johnson. Kady had a knife, and used that for leverage to get his gun.”
Sergeant Trujillo nodded. “Pretty much what the waitress at the diner told us. She’d been watching you all heading back to the car and saw most of what went down when you got in and after.”
Catherine was immensely grateful for such a nosey witness. Other than confirming they had eaten at the diner – and that she’d had to put up with the annoying Agent Johnson – Catherine wasn’t sure what else she could count on from the waitress. However, since the woman had been looking out the diner window when Kady had shot into the car and then marched Catherine down the street at gunpoint, Catherine had solid back-up to most of her own story.
Agent Diallo arrived, grim-faced and suspicious. Trujillo barked, “Stay here,” at Catherine and hastened to intercept the agent as she got out of her vehicle. She listened to Sergeant Trujillo’s report, but her gaze never left Catherine. When the sergeant finished speaking, they both walked over to her.
“We’ll talk in depth later but, for now, I’ll take Trujillo’s oral report as factual. You witnessed Agent Johnson’s murder?”
“And Kady took you hostage?”
Again, Catherine nodded.
“And you lost her?”
Eyebrows raised at the description, Catherine related only what she had told to Trujillo.
Diallo’s gaze pierced hers, and Catherine forced herself to meet the other woman’s eyes steadily. After a moment, Diallo nodded. “OK, well, we’ll concentrate our efforts outward from where she left you.” Diallo turned and spoke into a walkie, pulling in searchers and establishing a new grid. Sergeant Trujillo followed her, ready to issue his own orders to assist the FBI.
Catherine was alone. But not for long.
A car squealed to a stop on the street, and Joe jumped out. He ran to Catherine. “You OK?” he demanded before throwing his arms around her.
“Yes, just tired…shaken. It’s been…a night.” She hoped he couldn’t smell the shampoo on her freshly washed hair. She’d had no choice but to use it, as blood had congealed on it, too. But apparently Joe was too happy to find her alive to notice. Nevertheless, she pulled away as quickly as she could.
“I heard the initial report from the eyewitness. I thought…well…I guess you know what I thought.” Relief flooded his features. “I’ve never been happier to see you, Radcliffe!”
“Same, Joe!” She mustered up a smile, even as she felt her knees go weak.
Her intense fatigue had finally caught up to her. As she slid to the ground, Joe managed to keep her from slamming her head on the sidewalk.
* * *
Sitting in the open doorway of the ambulance, Catherine shook her head, refusing transport to the hospital despite Joe insisting. “I’m fine. Just exhausted. And I can sleep better at home than in a hospital,” she informed him.
“If you’re in the hospital, you won’t have to give your formal statement to the FBI right away. If you refuse to go, I need to get you back to the office ASAP to do that.” Joe’s face made it clear which option he preferred.
“Let’s go. All I need is a couple of cups of that stale office coffee and I’ll be good.” She forced a smile to her face. She wanted all of this behind her as soon as possible so she could get back Below to Vincent. Even if he was sleeping, she needed to be by his side.
Reluctantly, Joe shrugged. “OK. I’ll take you in my car. C’mon.” He wouldn’t let her walk on her own, keeping a hand cupped under one of her elbows as they went.
* * *
Two hours later, Diallo was finally finished with her. But even as she closed her file folder, she asked one more time, “And you have no idea where Kady was going?”
“I kept asking her and she wouldn’t tell me.” And that much was totally true.
* * *
On a whim, Miller decided to leave his cozy hidey hole and head to a speakeasy in Brooklyn, one of those “ya gotta know a guy” places that still existed on the outskirts of the criminal world. He needed a drink and a think.
He’d heard that Alonzo was in Federal custody, but maybe not for long. Sure, there was some gun charge against him from a shoot-out at a college play, if you could believe the evening news readers. And then some new witness – a teenage girl, of all people – had promised to testify against him, but turns out she’d up and murdered an FBI agent, so… Miller suspected Alonzo’d find himself some fast-talking lawyer and get out on his own recognizance, something like that. And he’d slip away down another rabbit hole.
Miller knew he could put the final nail in Alonzo’s coffin, figuratively speaking, which made him a marked man in certain quarters. But was Alonzo still in touch with those “certain quarters”? Wouldn’t a smart man…and Alonzo was as clever as they came…hightail it out of town, maybe out of state, and lay low, maybe forever? Or start again under a new name, build a whole new life…
Heck, maybe, Miller thought, he should do that himself.
He never got the chance to take his own advice. A shiv slid into his kidney slick as sweat, and the man wielding it tried to pull it out to give him another just like the first one. But Miller wasn’t a dope. He never went out without protection.
Whirling around on his barstool, Miller ripped the knife from the grip of the man who had stabbed him and thrust high with his own switchblade, a wicked sharp thing he’d carried as a good-luck charm ever since he was a kid.
Caught the bastard right in the left carotid.
Before he bled out, Miller had the satisfaction of knowing that Alonzo beat him to Hell by a minute or two.
* * *
The information over the police radio was quickly conveyed to Agent Diallo, who ran for the elevator, stopping Catherine just as the doors were opening. “Come back inside for a minute, please.”
Catherine gave her a look heavy on long-suffering, prompting the FBI agent to smile and add, “It’s good news, for once.”
Intrigued, Catherine nodded and followed her back through the doors and into the meeting room, where other FBI agents and Joe were still assembled. She and Diallo sat down.
Without preamble, Joe said, “We found Miller and Alonzo.” He was smirking, so Catherine knew more was to come.
Joe nodded to Diallo, who shrugged and added, “Sadly, there will be no charges, no trials.”
At Catherine’s outraged look, everyone in the room broke out laughing.
“Turns out the two of them did us a favor and killed each other.”
The words took a moment to seep from Joe’s lips into her stunned brain.
“What the…?” She shook her head. “No, I don’t care what happened. I’m not happy the two escaped our justice, but am satisfied they got ultimate justice, if that’s what it took to get them off the streets.”
“Yeah, we’re all gonna take this as a win for the good guys,” Joe replied, laughing.
“And whether you believe it or not, Ms. Chandler, we are the good guys.”
Catherine fake-scowled. “Nice to know you’re finally including me under that umbrella.”
“Never doubted you for a minute myself,” Agent Diallo said. “I know Johnson was a hard-ass about you, kept hinting there was something hinky in your life. But he also thought aliens were among us, and probably that the moon is made of green cheese. Conspiracy was his middle name.” She shrugged. “He was a pain to work with.” The other FBI agents in the room either nodded or smiled. Sobering, Diallo added, “But killing a Federal officer is no laughing matter. We take that very seriously.
“We’ll keep searching for Agent Owens, of course. We’re wondering now if Kady Carruthers had something to do with his disappearance, although there’s no evidence of foul play…yet. But there’s not anything you can contribute to that case at this point.” Agent Diallo closed one of the two file folders in front of her.
“We’ll keep a BOLO out on Miss Carruthers…if that was her real name…for Agent Johnson’s murder. Nobody’s going to give up on that either. We’ll find her, wherever she surfaces, and then we’ll be back for your testimony at her trial. But until then, we’ve got all we need from you.” She closed the other file folder.
“Well,” Catherine said as she stood to leave, “I know I’ll be sleeping the sleep of the just for the next 24 hours or so. Boss,” she looked over at Joe, “don’t expect me in tomorrow.”
He nodded. “Take all the time you need, Radcliffe.”
“Thanks, I will.”
And just like that, her life was her own again.
* * *
The message that callers now heard on her answering machine said that she was out of town for a few days to rest from her ordeal. As soon as she’d dictated it, Catherine picked up her overnight bag and headed to her door. In minutes, she was traversing the passageways Below.
True to his word, Father had had Vincent moved to his own chamber. She stumbled in, using the last of her coffee-fueled energy, and would have collapsed at the foot of his bed had there not been a cot set up beside it, ready for her.
She stared at the cot, ready to sink down and sleep, but then her gaze lifted to Vincent, lying so deathly still in his bed. She carefully…so carefully…climbed onto the bed beside him. After slipping under the topmost quilt, she lay with an arm thrown over his chest, her head nestled against his shoulder. With a deep sigh, she succumbed to the exhaustion that she had battled all day and fell asleep.
* * *
“That poor child.” Mary’s lower lip trembled at the thought of such a young girl gone mad. Despite the attack on Vincent, her natural sympathy led her to feel sorry for the loss of the lovely teenager lying beneath the sheet.
The Council had decided to wait for Catherine’s return to seek her advice. Should the dead girl be found Above? If so, where? Or was it best to bury her somewhere Below? And of more immediate importance, how concerned should they be about the breaches of their security and trust?
Catherine had returned, but Mouse wouldn’t let anyone awaken her as she lay so peacefully beside Vincent. He sat vigil outside Vincent’s chamber, stubbornly refusing entry even to Father, who only wished to check Vincent’s wounds. All he would say was, “Earned their rest.”
So hours passed, and worries grew, not dissipated despite the news passed along by Helpers of the death of the man they had known as Eli Walker.
Finally, Catherine awakened. She crept from the chamber to relieve herself, finding Mouse dozing in a chair outside.
“Mouse? Are you OK?” she whispered. It was deep in the night, the tunnels hushed, only a few torches burning.
He woke with a start, but smiled upon seeing her. “Mouse is fine now! Vincent and Catherine and Mouse, all fine!”
“Thanks to you,” she murmured, as she bent and hugged him. “What you had to do…” She wasn’t sure how the fight with Kady had affected him, and seeing her fall to her death…
“Hurting people. Had to stop her. Not sorry.” He stood up, gazing directly into her eyes, and the brilliant mind behind his affect was clearly speaking as he added, “Not sorry, Catherine. Not sad.”
“OK,” she said, after searching his blue eyes for any hint of evasion. There was none. “OK,” she repeated then hugged him again. When she let him go, she added, “I need to use the bathroom, and you should go to bed. Thank you for keeping watch.”
He grinned sleepily and nodded. “Need to feed Arthur anyway. ‘Night, Catherine!”
She watched him scurry off, smiling in amazement at both his faithful friendship and his strength of mind.
She knew that Mouse looked up to Vincent like a father figure. Certainly, Father himself had little sway over the boy, but Vincent was his hero.
And now Mouse was Vincent’s hero…and hers.
As she was returning to Vincent’s chamber, William chanced upon her. He was on his way to begin making cinnamon rolls for breakfast; he liked an early start, free from interruptions.
“Good to see you safe and sound, girly,” he remarked, giving her a brief hug. “Council’s waiting on you for advice. Feel like talking with us after the morning meal?”
* * *
The shocked faces around her were testament to Mouse’s inability to relate what he had heard Kady say during the moments before he confronted her. That Kady was Tamara’s daughter, and Paracelsus’ step-daughter, raised by those two brilliant, talented, but insane people to become what she was.
“I had no idea…” Father shook his head, nearly disbelieving Catherine. “We kept watch…how could we not have known?”
“You didn’t know she was spying on you here,” Catherine reminded him, “so it’s no stretch to believe Paracelsus kept his secrets very close.”
“Tamara… I met her, several times,” Mary confessed. “She seemed to be a loner, raising a child in the safety of chambers far from the Hub. I tried to bring her here, to our home, but she resisted. Now I know why.” Tears flooded from the older woman’s eyes at a more recent, and painful, memory. “To think that she hurt dear Lou, our old Helper, to help Paracelsus try to kill us all at Winterfest…”
“What kind of parent would train their child to do the things Kady did?” William asked. “How could any love exist in such a situation?”
Rebecca chimed in. “It was different with Eli…or, I guess his real name was Alonzo. He seemed to really care about his son…Michael’s friend from college, Iain. He wanted to get to know him again, after not being in his life for so long.”
Catherine shook her head, reminding Rebecca, “Iain’s mother took him out of the country during his childhood. She must have had a good reason for such a radical move. What do you suppose Iain would have turned into if he’d had a criminal mastermind like Alonzo as his paternal example during his formative years?”
“He played on your kindness, Rebecca, said things you wanted to hear,” Pascal suggested. “He did the same to me, to Father…to everyone. I’m sorry, but he was a manipulator.” He shrugged. “Maybe he did love his son. But he was using all of us, hiding out here to avoid the FBI.”
“And don’t think he wouldn’t have given up the secret of Below if he had found it in his own interest,” Catherine said. “Kady, too.”
“Well, the child was doomed from the start then,” Mary concluded. “With parents like hers, she had no chance for a normal upbringing. So my suggestion to the Council is that we bury her in our Catacombs. Let her rest here, in the community that would have welcomed her, that would have nurtured her, all of us giving her the kindness and love she deserved.” She smiled as she added, “There’s a spot open near Anna. I think her spirit would want to keep watch over the child John raised.”
The vote was unanimous.
* * *
Catherine returned to Vincent’s side. She bathed him, read to him, helped Mary and Father change his bandages, and switched out the IVs that kept his body hydrated and fed. And she slept every night by his side.
Days passed and his condition didn’t change, even though his body was healing. Catherine couldn’t bring herself to leave him, even knowing he would receive excellent care in her absence.
She had Peter advise Joe that she was suffering from severe exhaustion and that he had prescribed complete rest for at least a month.
Joe didn’t argue.
* * *
Three weeks after the events that had led to Vincent’s injuries, Catherine looked up from the novel she was reading aloud to find a pair of crystal blue eyes gazing back at her. She dropped the book to the carpet as she surged to her feet and knelt by his side.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” she said, smiling.
He blinked several times, then looked down at his arm and the protruding IV tubes.
“You’ve been…healing.” She took one of his hands in hers. “It’s been weeks.”
His voice croaked more than rumbled as he asked for water. After he had sipped some, he merely said, “Tell me.”
She related what had happened as succinctly as possible.
“So…we owe our lives to Mouse?”
“We do.” She smiled at the seeming oddity of such a statement.
“And this young woman…she was raised by Paracelsus, and blamed us…blamed me…for her father’s death.”
“Throw in a huge dollop of jealousy over how much Paracelsus wanted you for his son, and yes, that’s it in a nutshell.” Catherine pointed to his legs. She knew he could feel the heavy bandages. “She did a lot of damage to you with her knife, and you lost a lot of blood. But Father says you’re healing very well. In fact, he said that you should be able to walk when you feel up to getting out of bed.”
Raising the blankets, Vincent gazed down at his bandaged limbs. “I’m lucky then.”
He settled the blankets atop his legs again. “What time is it?”
“It’s very early…or quite late, depending on your point of view, I suppose! The last chime was 2:00 a.m.” She indicated the fallen book. “I’ve slept so much, I wasn’t tired, and thought I’d read to you for a while.”
“You are reading an author I am unfamiliar with.”
“Elmore Leonard. Maximum Bob. It’s a fun read, very entertaining.” She smiled over his raised eyebrows. “It’s destined to be a classic,” she intoned, and they both smiled.
He looked around his chamber, then asked, “Are you sleeping in the guest chamber?”
“No. I’m sleeping with you. Well, next to you, on top of most of the covers, so I don’t accidentally roll close to your wounded legs.”
He frowned. “That can’t be comfortable.”
“Oh, it’s just fine.” She reached over and stroked his hair. “Lying next to you, I sleep better than I’ve ever slept before.”
“Don’t I look rested?”
“You do. Remarkably so.”
“Shall I go get Father now? He made me promise to get him no matter what time you woke up.”
“No.” He lifted his arm, indicating the IVs. “Could you take these out, please?”
She did as he asked, removing the catheters, hearing him sigh deeply once he was free of them.
He stretched in the bed, moving his arms, his hips, and even his legs, the latter seemingly without any pain. Then Catherine realized he wasn’t stretching so much as moving toward the middle of the mattress.
“You should be in bed,” he murmured. “Come.” He lifted the covers, inviting her in beside him.
Catherine kicked off her slippers and shrugged out of the woolen robe she was wearing. After she’d gotten into bed, Vincent draped the covers over her. “Isn’t this much more comfortable?” he asked.
She sighed deeply and snuggled under his upraised arm, which closed around her and tightened.
“Sleep,” he suggested. “In the morning, we can tell Father I’m awake.”
The warmth of his embrace went deep into her bones, suffusing her with a feeling of completeness, an all-encompassing sense of coming home. She welcomed it with gratitude and joy.
Morning found them wrapped together, foreheads touching, both deeply asleep. Father stood gaping from the doorway, while Mary, smiling, peeked over his shoulder.
“He doesn’t seem to need us,” she whispered. “Neither of them do.” She grabbed Father by one arm and tugged until he allowed her to lead him away.