ONCE UPON A MOUSE
Catherine was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the file room with stacks of files surrounding her.
“When I volunteered to help with this project, I didn’t realize it was going to be so dusty,” she said as she wiped her nose with a tissue after another sneeze.
“You volunteered because you knew that you’d get to spend some quality time with loveable ole me,” Edie said with a grin. “You just missed me that much!”
“Well, I did miss you,” Catherine admitted. “But if I’d known this was going to be such a dirty job, I would have settled for quality time at dinner somewhere.” She made a face and stifled another sneeze.
Edie handed her another stack of files from the drawer she was emptying. “These will take your mind off it,” she said.
Catherine dropped the pile on the floor and went back to sorting. “Closed, active, closed, pending…” she said as she moved files from that pile to other piles on the floor.
Edie eyed the piles and sighed. “At least no one wants all the closed files on a computer yet,” she said. “That will cut the data input.”
“How long do you think it will take?” Catherine asked. When the task was done, they’d all been promised computers on their desks. She was looking forward to that.
“Once my crew gets into a rhythm, it shouldn’t be too long. It’s the cross-referencing with the NYPD's files that will take time,” Edie told her. She looked down at Catherine, who was paging through a file she’d just picked up. “You know, if you stop and read every file, we’ll never get this done.”
“I’m not reading every file,” Catherine retorted. “This one just caught my eye. It’s old, but it’s marked ACTIVE. I was just checking to see if it was labeled wrong. But I can’t even figure out why we have the file since no one was ever charged.” She paged through it some more. “Oh, here it is. The DA at the time was considering charges. This was his personal file for the case. It was a kidnapping of a 5-year-old boy,” she found a photograph of a blond-haired cherub. “He was considering charging the grandparents, who had custody. But there are notes from both this office and the NYPD that someone from the family has called every year to get an update on the status. The last call was only a few months ago.”
Catherine looked at the photo again. “Strange. There is something about this kid.” She held the photo up so Edie could see it. “He look familiar to you?”
“No… maybe one of those kids you were looking for a couple of years ago?” Edie suggested.
“No, this file is…” she glanced at the date. “It’s sixteen years old.”
“Maybe you saw something in the papers or on TV at the time it happened.”
“I doubt it, I was a teenager at the time, and the only thing I was interested in reading was the teen magazines, romance novels, and the Sunday comics; I never watched the news.” She set the file aside. “I want to look at this later. I’ll make sure that you get it back.”
Not long afterward, Edie looked up at the clock.
“It’s after five, girlfriend,” she pointed out. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t get overtime.”
“Wow, you mean I’m getting to go home on time today?” Catherine asked with a grin as she got up off the floor.
“Probably only if you can avoid Joe,” Edie said.
Catherine picked up the file, then hugged Edie.
“It’s great to have you back. And I promise we will go to dinner… soon! I know this great Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.”
Catherine almost felt like she was playing hooky when she left the office only a few minutes later.
Once home, she changed clothes then went in search of something to eat. She’d skipped lunch and was hoping that there was some real food hidden somewhere in her kitchen. She considered herself lucky when she found a carton of William’s homemade tomato soup in her freezer. And it hadn’t even been there that long. There was also a loaf of whole-grain bread from the bakery and enough Muenster to make a grilled cheese sandwich. That was soup and sandwich fit for a king… or a queen.
As she ate, she paged through the file. There was nothing extraordinary about it, just one of their standard files with copies of the police reports and a lot of photographs.
The child’s name was Daniel Jarrod Grant, III, Danny to family. His parents had been killed in an accident when he was three, only two years before he disappeared. His grandparents Daniel Jarrod Grant, I, and his wife, Elaine, had asked for and were given custody.
Catherine knew the Grants, not well, primarily by reputation. They moved in the same social circles, and she knew that Mr. Grant had died recently.
The Grant’s lived on the opposite side of the park from Catherine, just off Park Avenue, and the police report said that the nanny, a Miss Anna Beckett, took the child to the park several times a week where he would play on the playground, or they would walk. She mentioned that Danny was fascinated by the park wildlife and would always get very excited if they happened to spot anything other than the usual squirrels and pigeons.
Danny had been diagnosed with autism a short time before his parent’s death. When he went to live with his grandparents, they had hired a nanny who specialized in working with children with developmental problems and a therapist who came to the house several times a week to work with him on his speech. Before his parents’ death, he’d had the same kind of therapy and had started talking a little, but the upheaval of losing his parents and moving had set him back, and at the time of his disappearance, he had only regained a few words.
The police interviewed the therapist, who told them that Danny was a very bright child, but he had a tendency to withdraw into himself when things around him got to be too much or too chaotic, or if he was bored.
Miss Beckett, the nanny, had agreed. She added that she thought that with time, Danny would likely be more highly functioning than many people with autism.
Miss Beckett was also questioned about the actual kidnapping. They had considered her a possible suspect or an accomplice in the beginning. But her story had never changed: Danny had been playing on the slide. He’d go up the ladder, slide down, then run around and do it all again. The slide was always his favorite, and he was captivated by it. There was a park bench where she always sat. It wasn’t more than 25 feet from the slide. He never wanted her assistance and seemed more comfortable with her off to the side, out of his direct line of sight.
She said they’d been there about ten minutes when a woman had come up to her and asked her the time. After Miss Beckett told her, the woman had struck up a conversation while standing directly in front of Miss Beckett. They had only talked for a minute or two, then the woman had thanked her and walked away.
When Anna had looked back at the slide, Danny wasn’t there. He wasn’t on any other playground equipment either; the small, flat spinning merry-go-round had been his second favorite. After looking for him and calling for him for a few minutes, Miss Beckett had waved down a passing police officer. He’d put out a call on his radio, and within minutes at least a dozen officers were combing the area. After an hour, they decided that the child hadn’t just wandered off but must have been kidnapped.
George Herman, newly promoted to detective, was assigned the case. He had surmised that the kidnappers knew who the child was and that his grandparents had money. He wrote that they’d probably watched for a time, learning Miss Beckett’s routine, and the woman who had stopped and asked her the time was probably part of it, distracting Miss Beckett from watching Danny.
The woman was the only person they had a description of, and a police artist had done a drawing. She was nothing extraordinary and wasn’t familiar to anyone in the family.
The police had descended on the Grant home, and at first, everyone had been a suspect. But after interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Grant, Miss Beckett, the therapist, and the household staff, Detective Herman had crossed them all off his list, one by one.
He also found that the Grant’s likely didn’t have any enemies. They were good people. Immensely wealthy, yes, but very generous with that wealth, supporting many programs for the less fortunate of the city. Whoever had kidnapped the boy had likely targeted them solely because of their wealth.
But for some reason, the DA had considered the Grant’s to be the prime suspects even after Detective Herman had crossed them off his list, and he’d continued in his investigation well after the police had dropped theirs.
A few hours after Danny disappeared, the Grant’s had received a phone call. The kidnappers wanted a quarter of a million dollars in small, used bills for the boy's return. They said they would call back in two days with the rest of the instructions. The Grant’s had immediately started pulling money out of accounts and in a surprisingly short time had $250,000 in $20 bills had been collected.
The police had advised them to stall the kidnappers, put them off or not pay the ransom at all, but the Grants were frantic to get their grandson back.
The Grant’s and everyone else had waited for weeks, but there was never any more contact. The kidnappers had never called back. That had caused Detective Herman to take another look at the grandparents as possible suspects, but there was just no connection.
The DA had seen Detective Herman’s original reports, which was why he had considered the Grant’s suspects. In his notes, he’d written that he suspected that the Grant’s had decided that having a less than perfect child was embarrassing or too much trouble. They had decided to dispose of him. He’d written that he only hoped that the child had just been sent away and not murdered.
But Detective Herman’s opinion had been that one or more of the kidnappers had panicked and that they’d dumped the child somewhere, or that something might have happened, and the child could have been hurt or died.
From what she could tell from the file, the investigation had gone on for almost a year before the NYPD had shelved it. Every hospital in a 50-mile radius had been checked repeatedly. They never found a body that could be identified as Danny Grant.
After reading all the notes and statements, Catherine didn’t know what to think. Her logical mind was leaning toward the detective’s conclusions, but she was curious why the man who had been DA at the time had been so adamant about the Grant’s guilt.
Back in the office the next day, the first thing Catherine did was contact Greg Hughes to ask him if the case had been resolved. He told her he’d check and get back to her. It was less than half an hour when he called back.
“Nope. It’s definitely a cold case but still open in our files,” he told her. “Someone from the family calls to check on it pretty regularly.”
“Someone calls our office too,” she told him. Then she thanked him and hung up.
She made copies of everything in the file then returned the original to Edie.
She asked John if he knew anything about the investigation. He told her that he’d been a new hire at the time, but he did remember that the DA had seemed to have it in for the Grant’s. In fact, he gave the impression that he hadn’t liked wealthy people in general very much. When he’d run for office, he’s presented himself as a DA for the common people. But his pursuit of the Grant’s over the kidnapping of their grandson had ended his political career. The people of the city had liked the Grant’s, and they were sympathetic with them. And the next time the DA had come up for reelection, he’d lost.
But John didn’t know much about the case because the DA had kept it to himself.
Joe overheard them talking and asked Catherine why she was so interested in a sixteen year old case.
“There is just something about this little boy.” She held up her copy of the photo from the file. “There is something almost familiar about him.”
“You think you might know him?” asked Joe.
“I don’t know; maybe I’ve just seen him as an adult or someone who looks like him.”
Joe looked thoughtful for a moment. “The police department has an artist who might be able to help you,” he told her. “He’d got a talent for aging people in photos. He can take a picture and make a drawing of what that person might look like ten, twenty, or even thirty years later.”
“That could be interesting if nothing else,” she said.
“I’ll get you his name and number.”
Joe went to his office, and Catherine followed. He flipped through his Rolodex and then copied something to a scrap of paper that he handed to her.
“Tony is good,” he told her. “He even gets calls from out of state.”
Catherine called, and Tony told her to fax the photo to him, and he’d take a look at it.
“How old would the kid be now?” he asked.
“About 21,” she told him. “He’s been missing for 16 years.”
“And someone has reopened the case?”
“Not really. It’s more my curiosity. I was going through files, and there was something familiar about the child. So, since it’s not official unless I wind up recognizing him as an adult, there is really no rush on this.”
“Is any of his family still alive?” Tony asked.
“His grandmother is.”
“Then I’ll work on it over the weekend,” he promised. “She deserves to know something.”
On Monday, there was a file folder on her desk. A note on top said, “This was on the fax machine.”
Catherine waited until she had her coffee and was seated before looking at what was in the file.
She looked at the drawing, and she was glad she was sitting down. Tony had drawn the young man with a that matched the one in the child's photo, but the face, even with a different haircut, had an uncanny resemblance to Mouse.
When she went out for lunch, she dropped a note for Vincent in the sax player’s case. She asked him to visit the first chance he got.
When she got home that evening, Catherine was surprised to find a note that had been slipped under her door. Vincent couldn’t join her tonight, but he suggested that she come Below. He’d send one of the children to meet her at her threshold at 7:00.
It made her wonder, but she didn’t hesitate. She was climbing down the ladder promptly at 7:00. Kipper was waiting for her.
“Vincent says he’s sorry that he couldn’t visit,” Kipper told her as they began to walk. “But he got hurt this morning, and Father won’t let him walk.”
“What happened?” she asked, concerned.
“Caty and Luke were playing on some stairs,” Kipper told her as they walked. “Two of the children were playing a stairway. One started to fall, and the other grabbed for him, and then they both started to fall. Vincent dove in and caught both of them. But he fell down the stairs and banged up his knee. Father says that nothing is broken, but it’s bruised and swollen, so he’s making him stay off it and use crutches for a while.”
Vincent was on those crutches when Catherine entered his chamber a few minutes later.
“Is something wrong?” he asked as she walked in.
“No, nothing is wrong. What about you?”
“I’ll mend. I think it’s just bruised. It hardly hurts, but Father has been a bit of a mother hen since I recovered.” He motioned her to his chair, and he sat on the side of the bed. “What do you have?” He nodded at the file she held.
“I just came across something…” She held up a file “…interesting in the files at work, and I wanted to ask you a few things.”
Vincent wasn’t sure what a file in the DAs office would have to do with him, but he was curious.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s about Mouse,” she told him. “Do you remember the date you found him? Not necessarily the exact dates, just month and year.”
“We first noticed that things were going missing from the food stores at the end of June 1973. We figured out that it was a person, and a small one at that, rather than an animal, but it was mid-July before I actually saw him. Almost two more weeks before I was able to get him to trust me enough to come out of hiding and let me touch him.”
“Do you have any idea of his age at the time?” she asked.
“Father wasn’t sure. Physically, he looked to be somewhere between 4 and 6 or 7, but his speech was more on the level of a 2- or 3-year-old.”
“And what was he wearing when you found him?”
“He was quite dirty and ragged.” Vincent closed his eyes as if picturing something. “I remember it being colorful. Mary always launders whatever a child is wearing when they come to us and then packs it up in case it’s needed later.”
“She still has the clothes Mouse was wearing when you found him?”
“Unless they fell apart when she washed them. They were in pretty bad shape.” He pulled himself up on the crutches, went to a pipe in the corner of his chamber, and tapped out a message.
Geoffrey arrived just as Vincent was sitting back down on the bed.
“What do you need, Vincent?” he asked.
“Will you go to Mary and ask her to give you the clothing that Mouse was wearing when we found him so you can bring it back here?”
“Sure, Vincent. I’ll be right back.”
He headed off at a run, and Vincent turned to Catherine.
“What is this all about?” he asked.
“I was going through files at the office, and I came across one that was interesting. A 5-year-old boy, Daniel Grant, disappeared, probably kidnapped from the park about 16 years ago. It just struck a chord with me. There was a picture in the file that somehow looked familiar.”
“And you think that child might be Mouse?” he asked, picking up on her train of thought.
She extracted her copy of the photo and handed it to Vincent.
“What do you think?” she asked.
He studied the photo a moment.
“His hair was a lot longer when we found him, but this child does look a lot like he did at that age,” he admitted.
Geoffrey arrived with a brown paper bag. Vincent motioned for him to give it to Catherine.
“You need anything else?” Geoffrey asked.
“No, and thank you, Geoffrey,” Vincent said.
Geoffrey left, and Catherine handed Vincent another sheet of paper before she opened the bag and started removing the items.
“That’s a description of what the child was wearing when he disappeared,” she told him.
He watched, glancing back at the paper as she removed each item from the bag. They were ragged but clean except for a few spots that had been permanently stained. There were blue denim overalls, a red shirt, a dark green button-front sweater, white socks, and red sneakers. Catherine checked the labels of each item of clothing as she removed it. There wasn’t anything cheap about any of it. It was all upscale children’s clothing. And it all matched precisely the description of what Danny had been wearing the day he’d gone missing.
“It matches,” Vincent commented.
“Exactly,” Catherine agreed. “The police department has an artist on their staff who has a talent for being able to age a person in a photo and make a drawing. I sent him the picture of the child, told him that he would be 21 now, and this is what he sent back.” She handed him the drawing Tony had made.
She could see the surprise in Vincent’s eyes.
“It looks just like Mouse,” he said. “Or at least what he would look like with a shorter hair.”
She nodded in agreement. “Was he ever able to tell you anything?” she asked.
“He didn’t speak much when we first found him,” he told her. “But there were a few things that he repeated several times: Mom-Mom, Pop-Pop, Nan, and what we thought was dunny. It’s slang for a toilet, I think, and Father thought he was asking for a bathroom, but now that I see this, I think he may have been saying his name, Danny.”
“That fits too. The detective who was working the case made a list of the words Danny used. All that you just listed were on that list. Danny had been diagnosed autistic when he was about three. He’d had speech and other therapy, but when his parents were killed in an accident, he regressed a bit. He went to live with his grandparents; they also had a special nanny and a therapist. He’d regained some of his words but not a lot at the time of his disappearance.”
“Are you going to tell him?” Vincent asked.
“I’d like to,” she told him. “His grandmother is still alive, and I think she deserves to know that her grandson is alive and that he’s happy and doing well. But the problem with that is explaining to her where he’s been for the last 16 years. I know Mouse would keep the secret, but I’m sure Mrs. Grant would have questions. And I would like to be absolutely sure of the relationship before we speak to either of them. We should probably talk to Father about it,”
Vincent pulled himself up on his crutches again and led the way out of his chamber and to Father’s.
When they got to Father’s study, Vincent handed the crutches to Catherine and used the railings to lift himself down the steps into the main part of the chamber.
“I thought I told you to stay off that,” Father scolded as Catherine handed the crutches back to Vincent.
“I’m not putting any weight on it,” Vincent assured him. “I’m using the crutches. This is important. Catherine has something to tell you.”
When they were both seated across the desk from Father, Catherine told the whole story again. When she was done, she handed both the copy of the photo and the drawing to Father, explaining what the artist had done.
“It’s Mouse?” he gasped in surprise after looking at the pictures.
“We think so,” said Vincent. The description of the child’s clothing matches what Mouse was wearing when I found him.”
“And what do you want to do?” Father asked.
She said the same thing to him that she’d said to Vincent, adding that she thought Mouse also deserved to know his grandmother if they were sure she was his grandmother.
“My father knew her, and I’ve met her,” Catherine added. “Elaine Grant is a wonderful woman who has devoted her life to working for numerous charities, much like Margaret did.
Father looked surprised and confused for a moment before he spoke. “So you think that all this is absolute proof that Mouse is this…” He glanced at the file. “… Daniel Grant?”
“Not absolute,” she said, “We should check DNA and see if there is a match. If Mouse is Daniel, he might actually recognize a photo. I could get pictures of the Grants. They are well known, and their pictures have been in the papers a lot over the years.”
“NO!” Father said emphatically when she finished.
“What do you mean?” Catherine asked, surprised at his vehemence.
“I won’t allow it,” he said insistently.
“What do you mean, you won’t allow it?” Vincent asked. “I think Mouse should have some say in this.”
“I doubt that he would understand what is going on.”
“Father, Mouse is not a child. If this is correct, he’s 21 years old and autistic or not, capable of making decisions for himself.” Catherine put in. “His grandmother has never given up on finding him. She still calls and asks about the status of the case. The last time was only a few months ago.” Catherine was surprised by Father’s reaction and felt the need to make her point.
“I agree with Catherine,” Vincent added. “Mouse may seem childlike, but he’s a grown man. He’s brilliant and resourceful. Even at five, he was able to survive on his own for months.”
“And if it weren’t for us and Catherine’s help, he would have been locked up either in jail or some kind of an institution long ago,” Father insisted.
Catherine was beginning to get angry.
“If he’d never been kidnapped, he’d still be living Above, and he’d likely be a functioning, productive member of society,” she argued.
Father snorted at that, and that was when Vincent got angry.
“Father, you’ve always underestimated Mouse’s capabilities. He needs to know this, and Catherine and I are going to tell him.” He pushed himself up on the crutches again, and Catherine stood too.
Father stood, and as Catherine and Vincent left the chamber, he shouted, “I forbid it!” after them.
Back in Vincent’s chamber, Catherine and Vincent looked at each other in disbelief.
“I didn’t expect that,” Catherine said as Vincent lowered himself to the side of the bed again.
“I expected a bit of reluctance, but nothing that extreme,” Vincent agreed.
“We will tell Mouse, won’t we?” she added, not quite sure if Vincent would still be willing.
“Of course. He should know this. How would you like to proceed? Do you want to tell him today?”
“Actually, I’d like to be positive before we say anything. I’d like to do a DNA test to see if there is a match. I can probably get Peter to handle it with Mouse; say he’s testing for a germ of some kind. I’ll tell Mrs. Grant the truth: that we might have found her grandson, but because of the circumstances, meaning the fact that she’s wealthy, we want to test to make sure that the young man really is Daniel.”
“You don’t worry about getting her hopes up and then letting her down?” Vincent asked.
“She’s never given up hope. She’s lived with it for the last sixteen years. And if I wasn’t already almost positive, I wouldn’t, but since I am…”
“I understand,” Vincent assured her.
“Good. I’ll call Peter, and I’ll let you know the plan.”
She stood and crossed to the bed, where she leaned down and kissed Vincent on the cheek. “I hope this doesn’t put too much of a strain on your relationship with Father.”
“It gets strained from time to time, but then he realizes that he’s wrong or at the very least being too stubborn to compromise, and then it’s all right again,” he assured her. “I’m sorry that I can’t walk you back to your threshold. I’ll call one of the children.” He started to get up to send a message.
“No, stay there.” She put her hand on his chest and gave him a gentle push back. “I can find my way. Besides, it’s getting late, and the children should all be in bed. I’ll talk to you as soon as I find out something.”
It was too late to call Peter when she got home, so she waited until the following day and called him from work. He must have been at his desk because he picked up his private line after only one ring.
“Good morning, Peter,” she said.
“Good morning, stranger,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been a while.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I’ve been playing catch up for the last few months after all the time I took off last spring. I’m trying to get back into Joe and John’s good graces. And now I’m calling you to ask a favor.”
“Sure. What do you need?”
She explained what she’d found and what she needed.
“That’s a good idea. I wouldn’t want to push Mouse into a new situation like that unless I was entirely sure. I can go Below and get a sample. How do you want to handle Mrs. Grant?”
“I’ll talk to her and tell her that we may have a lead on the case, but that we want to be positive, so we need a sample from her. She can go to her doctor, but I’d rather she came to you. That way, you can send the samples together, and the lab can compare them. Is it all right if I tell her to call you? You can bill me for all of it.”
“Of course. I’ll let my staff know to get her in as quickly as possible.”
The next call she made was to the number listed in the file. There was a note that the number had never changed over the years.
“Grant Residence,” a voice said.
“I’m Catherine Chandler, from the DA’s office. May I speak to Elaine Grant, please?”
“This is Elaine.”
“Mrs. Grant. I’d like to meet with you about a case. When would it be convenient?”
“Is it about my grandson?” she asked, getting right to the point.
“Possibly. I came across the file on a routine file inspection. I’d like to do a DNA test on you. We may have a lead, and if it doesn’t pan out, we can compare it to some samples we’ve collected and will have it on file just in case we come across something.” Catherine crossed her fingers at the last-minute adjustment she was making to the story.
“Of course!” she agreed. “I’m surprised that no one thought of that before. They use it all the time on that Maury Povich’s TV show to prove whether or not some man is a child’s father. Just tell me where to go and what to do.”
Catherine smiled as she gave Mrs. Grant Peter’s office number.
“Just tell them your name, and the receptionist will make you an appointment. Dr. Alcott will be expecting your call. And thank you.”
“No, Miss Chandler, thank you. You are the first person in over a decade that has taken any of this seriously. Do you have any boys… I guess he’d be a young man now,” she corrected herself. “Do you have anyone in mind as a possibility?”
“As I said, a possibility,” she warned Mrs. Grant, even though she was almost positive. “Dr. Alcott will be getting a sample from him in the next couple of days. He wants to send your sample and his at the same time, so it will be easy for the lab to make the comparison and get the results back to us as quickly as possible.”
“Then he’s alive?” she asked, hopefully.
“If this young man turns out to be Daniel, yes,” Catherine answered.
“Then I’ll call Dr. Alcott’s office right after I hang up.”
They said their goodbyes, and Catherine got to work on the assigned cases that were stacked in her inbox.
It took almost a month, but when Catherine got home one hot Friday evening near the end of August, the security guard in the lobby stopped her.
“A messenger left this for you,” he told her as he handed her a large Manila envelope.
She recognized Peter’s handwriting and hurried up to her apartment.
She glanced at all the complicated medical jargon, but it was Peter’s personal note saying, “It’s a match!” that she really saw.
She made a quick trip to the basement threshold to send a message to Vincent asking him to come up as soon as he could, then she went back to her apartment to change.
It wasn’t quite 11:00 when she heard Vincent land lightly on her balcony. She rushed out, and after a hug, she held the envelope out to him.
“From Peter?” he asked, also recognizing the handwriting.
At her nod, he took the papers out and started reading.
“He says that it’s a very good match,” he observed. “Absolutely no doubt that Elaine Grant is related to Mouse.”
“So, what is our next move?” she asked.
“I think that we should tell Mouse first. He might not want to have anything to do with this woman, and if that is the fact, then it would be easier to tell her that there was no match than it would be to tell her that there was, but that her grandson doesn’t want to meet her.”
“I agree. But how will we do it without Father interfering? I assume he’s still against it.”
“Adamantly! We haven’t spoken of it much, but when we have, he made sure that I know he’s against it.”
“Has he given any reasons why?” she asked.
“None, and I’ve asked. He just won’t talk about it.”
“How do you want to handle it?”
“I think you should come Below, and we should go to Mouse.”
“I get it; then we can present it to Father as a done deal if Mouse wants to meet Mrs. Grant.”
Vincent nodded. “When can you come Below?”
“How about tomorrow morning?” she asked.
“That’s perfect. Mouse always spends most of Saturday in his chamber tinkering with his latest project.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 9:00?”
“I’ll meet you at your threshold.”
He was waiting for her at the bottom of the ladder the following morning.
“I saw Mouse at breakfast, and he said he’d be in his chamber all morning,” he told her after they greeted each other.
“Did you tell him anything?” she asked.
“No, I thought I’d wait until you were here.”
“Good. While I waited for the DNA results, I found some old photos of Mr. and Mrs. Grant from around the time that their grandson disappeared. I figured that Mouse would be more likely recognize those than ones taken later.”
Mouse was feeding Arthur pumpkin seeds when they reached his chamber.
Catherine had gotten used to Arthur and didn’t flinch when the raccoon came over started inspecting the barrette she’d used to clip her hair back.
“Really, Arthur,” she told the nosy bandit. “That is not something to eat.” She leaned away, and Mouse laughed and moved Arthur to the large dog cage in the corner. He didn’t close the door, but Arthur seemed content and settled down for a nap.
“When did you get the cage?” Catherine asked.
“Found it next to a dumpster, Above,” Mouse told her. “Bottom was missing, but Mouse fixed it. Now Arthur has his own house.”
“And the door works, so when William goes on a rampage about varmints getting into his dry goods or vegetables, Mouse can lock Arthur up and prove to William that he’s not the culprit,” Vincent added.
“Brilliant!” said Catherine with a grin.
“You need Mouse’s help?” Mouse asked, getting to the point.
“Not exactly,” Vincent told him. “But Catherine has some questions she wants to ask you.”
Mouse turned to Catherine.
“Questions? Hope they aren’t too hard. Mouse didn’t study anything.”
“There are no right or wrong answers to these questions,” Catherine assured him. “Just the truth, or the best you can remember.”
“Mouse in trouble?” he asked hesitantly.
“Definitely not!” Catherine said. “I just wanted to ask you about the time before you were lost and Vincent found you. Do you remember anything?”
Mouse was quiet for a moment, then shook his head. “Not much,” he admitted.
“How about just before Vincent found you after you found your way Below; do you remember where you were staying?”
“Little chamber behind William’s stove,” he told them. “It was warm there.”
“And he was small enough to squeeze back there without burning himself on the stove,” Vincent put in. “He spent the days in there and only came out at night, after William went to bed and the stove cooled a bit.”
“Do you remember why you decided to hide in that chamber instead of asking the people you saw for help?” Catherine asked. She used some of the techniques she’d learned when she’d questioned children.
“Didn’t know if they were nice people,” Mouse told her. “Didn’t know if they were like the bad men or if they were like the people from before.” Mouse’s speech was becoming softer and more childlike.
“Can you tell me about the bad men?” she asked.
“They were mean. They hit Mouse and wouldn’t give food. Even when they were eating… they didn’t share. But they left their trash, and Mouse found it.”
Catherine looked at Vincent before she continued.
“How about the people from before?” she asked, using his terms.
“Nice people,” Mouse answered with a grin. “Big house. Mouse always had food and was clean. The people were good.”
“Did those people have names?” she asked.
Mouse nodded after a moment of thought. “Mom-mom and Pop-pop. And Nan, she was pretty, almost as pretty as Jamie.” Mouse caught himself and blushed.
“Do you remember what they called you?”
He pointed at himself and said, “Dunny,” just as Vincent had told her before.
“OK, Mouse,” she said, pulling some photos out of the file folder she had put on the table. “Do any of these people look familiar?”
She handed about six photos to Mouse. One was of her father, another of Jenny, but the others were of Mr. and Mrs. Grant, the nanny, the therapist, and a member of the household staff.
Mouse studied the picture of Charles Chandler and shook his head. The next one was of the cook who had worked for the Grant’s when Danny was there.
His face lit up with a smile. He handed the picture to Catherine.
The next photo was of Jenny, and he handed it to Catherine without a comment.
But the others all brought huge reactions. He told her their names, or at least the names he’d used for them, and they all matched what was in the file.
“Can you tell me anything about these people?” Catherine asked.
“They were nice,” he told her. “And Mom-mom smelled good… she smelled like Mary.”
“Do you know Mom-mom’s name or who she was?” Vincent asked.
Mouse shook his head. “She was nice,” was all he could provide.
“What if I tell you that she is your grandmother,” asked Catherine.
“Grandmother?” questioned Mouse, as if he didn’t quite understand what the word meant.
“Do you remember the woman who came Below with Brooke?” Vincent asked.
“That was Charlotte. Charlotte’s daughter, Hannah, was Brooke’s mother. That made Charlotte Brooke’s grandmother,” Vincent explained.
So, Mom-mom was Mouse’s mother’s mother?” he asked once he put it together.
“Not exactly; she was your father’s mother,” Catherine said.
Mouse looked like he wasn’t quite sure how it worked.
“She’s Mouse’s family?” he finally asked.
“I think so,” Catherine told him.
His brow furrowed, “How did she lose me?” he finally asked.
“It’s more like you were stolen from her,” Catherine assured him. “Do you remember anything about the day that the bad men got you?”
Mouse shook his head. “Not much. Was playing, and someone grabbed me before I could go up the ladder to the slide. When I woke up, it was dark and smelled bad. Was sick, and then I smelled bad.”
“Would you like to get to know your grandmother?” Vincent asked.
Mouse was quiet for what was quite a long time for Mouse.
“Don’t families live together?” Mouse finally asked.
“Some families do,” Catherine told him. “But once children grow up, they usually move out and only visit once in a while.”
“Don’t want to live Above,” Mouse mumbled.
“No one will make you live Above,” Vincent assured him.
“You can go and visit her at her home,” Catherine added. “Or you can meet somewhere else.”
“What if she wants Mouse to live with her?” They could tell Mouse was worried.
“You are 21,” Catherine told him. “No one can force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“Mouse’s family is Below,” Mouse said adamantly. “Maybe she can come here.”
“We would have to have permission from the council to invite her to visit, but I agree that we are your family too,” Vincent said. “I think we both agree.” He looked at Catherine, and she nodded. “And Catherine is a lawyer; she can help you if your grandmother becomes… difficult.”
“OK, but can you come too?” Mouse asked Catherine.
“I can,” Catherine told him. “I’ll set up a meeting and let you know.”
They left Mouse in a contemplative mood, and Catherine turned to Vincent after they got a little way down the corridor.
“I’d like to meet with Mrs. Grant, but how much can I tell her?”
“I’ll talk to the council members, individually, without Father,” Vincent told her. “But you are a good judge of character. Use your discretion about how much to tell her.”
That is a lot of responsibility, Catherine thought later when she called Mrs. Grant.
“You have news?” Mrs. Grant asked as soon as Catherine identified herself.
“I do. The DNA samples matched.”
“He’s alive?” Mrs. Grant asked hesitantly.
“Yes, he is,” Catherine confirmed.
“It’s Danny? Where has he been all these years? When can he come home?”
Catherine had been afraid of that.
“Well, he’s anxious to meet you, but he was adamant about not wanting to live with you. He’s happy where he is. You have to remember that it’s been his home for a lot longer than he lived with you. He’s got friends and people he considers family.”
Mrs. Grant was quiet for a moment.
“He doesn’t want to have anything do with me?” she asked quietly. “He’s got a mental disability; he needs guidance.”
“I didn’t say that,” Catherine rushed to assure her. “He wants to know you, but he doesn’t want to leave the family he’s been with for so long. And as far as any disability is concerned, you’d be surprised at how far he’s come. He’s quite intelligent and very capable of looking out for himself.” Most of the time, she added silently.
“Is he here in the city?” Mrs. Grant asked.
“He is, and I was wondering if you and I could meet and talk. I know you have a lot of questions, and I have a lot to explain.”
“Of course, Miss Chandler. Please come to my home. When will it be most convenient?
“Is tomorrow all right?”
“Join me for lunch at one?”
“You don’t need to go to any trouble,” Catherine protested.
“No trouble at all. I enjoy sharing a meal with someone. I don’t get to do it very often.”
Catherine agreed, verified the address then hung up.
The next day just before one, Catherine exited a cab in front of Mrs. Grant's building.
“Catherine Chandler to see Elaine Grant,” she told the door man.
He smiled and opened the door for her. “Mrs. Grant is in the West Penthouse. She’s expecting you.”
A few minutes later, Catherine knocked and was surprised when Mrs. Grant answered the door.
“Lunch will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Grant told her as she led her into the living room.
“You have a lovely home,” Catherine commented as they sat. “And a wonderful view.”
“It’s very large for just me,” Mrs. Grant said. “I’ve been thinking about moving to something smaller, but then, there is just so much to go through. The accumulation of decades.”
“I know the feeling,” Catherine agreed. “I recently had to clear out my dad’s place; I never knew that he kept so much.”
“Yes, I saw that your father had died. I was sorry to hear that. But it wasn’t until after I talked to you yesterday that I realized that I knew your father, or at least my husband did. I only met him a few times, and I think I met you once when you were about 12.”
“I thought I remembered meeting you too,” Catherine said with a smile. “But, Mrs. Grant, please, I know you have a lot of questions, and so do I.”
At that moment, lunch was announced, and it wasn’t until they were seated and served that Mrs. Grant started asking her questions.
“First of all, please call me Elaine. Mrs. Grant is just so formal.”
“And you should call me Catherine or Cathy.”
“What can you tell me about Danny? I don’t know where to begin with questions, so just start by telling me what you know about him. How long have you known him?”
“I’ve known him almost two years,” Catherine told her. “And I talked to some of the people he’s been living with, the man who originally… rescued him, and to Danny, and I think I’ve pieced together the story pretty well. “First of all, he’s known to everyone where he lives as Mouse,” Catherine added.
“Mouse? What an odd name,” Elaine commented.
“Well, when he was first found, I think he was trying to tell them what his name was, but they didn’t recognize it as his name. He kept saying ‘Dunny,’ and no one really recognized it as a name. But he’d been living rough within the community, hiding during the day and coming out at night to steal food. Their cook thought he had mice, but then it was verified that it was a child, and once they finally lured him out of hiding, the name ‘Mouse’ stuck. He’s become an integral part of that community.”
“He’s functioning, even though he’s autistic?” Elaine asked.
“Quite well. One of the people in the community worked with him on his language, and although his speech is still a little different, he’s quite articulate, and he reads. He attended school with the other children in the community and has taught himself a lot. He even teaches others some of what he’s learned.”
“What about this ‘community’ you keep mentioning? What is it? A religious community, a commune? Please don’t tell me it’s a cult. Where is it?”
“It’s not a cult,” Catherine assured her. “I guess it’s more of a commune. Everyone has their own spiritual beliefs. It’s just a group of people who have banded together to pool resources and take care of each other.”
“Where is it?” Elaine repeated.
“Surprisingly, it’s not far from here. But their location must be kept a secret.” Catherine decided to tell a little of the story and see how Elaine reacted.
“There’s nothing illegal, is there,” asked Elaine with concern.
“I’m an Assistant DA,” Catherine told her. “I wouldn’t be involved in anything illegal. I know where they are and how they live, and although there isn’t anything overtly unlawful, there might be people who would try to interfere because they thought they were doing the community a favor. So, everyone involved, the people in the community, those of us who don’t live in the community but who help, have all agreed that it’s best to keep it a secret.”
“So, you aren’t going to tell me any more than that?”
“Well, it’s been left up to me to decide how much I want to tell you. And I want to talk it over with my friend there before I tell you everything.”
“How long will I have to wait to see Danny?” Elaine asked. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears.
“Danny has agreed to meet you, but he’s very resolute about not wanting to live here; he’s happy where he is.”
“I can understand that.” Elaine sounded relieved. “But I don’t understand why it has to be a secret.”
“Well, if my friend agrees that we can trust you, I’ll tell you the whole story, then you will understand. But please, ask me anything about Mouse… Danny and I’ll answer the best I can.”
Catherine answered questions through lunch and had Elaine laughing at some of the things that Mouse had done. Catherine was careful of her words, so she didn’t give anything away, and by the time she left, she had agreed to bring Mouse to the house the following weekend.
“She won’t make Mouse stay?” Mouse asked with worried furrows on his forehead when Catherine told him about the meeting with Elaine.
“She can’t, Mouse,” Catherine promised him. “I’ll be there, and no matter how badly she might want you to stay, I’ll make sure that she doesn’t make you.” She hoped that she was not only assuring Mouse but Vincent, who was sitting on the side of his bed.
“Does she know about Below?” Mouse asked, looking from her to Vincent.
“Not yet. She knows that you’ve been living with a group of people in New York City, but I didn’t tell her any more than that. I thought I’d wait until you met with her, and I saw her reaction to you before I made that decision.”
“When do we go see her?” Mouse asked.
“Next Saturday evening. If you can be at my apartment about 6:30, we can take a cab to her house from there.”
Mouse nodded in a preoccupied way and got up to leave.
“And wear your Uptop clothes,” Vincent called after him as he walked away.
“Does he have Uptop clothes?” asked Catherine, turning toward Vincent.
“Everyone does,” Vincent told her with a smile. I’m just not sure if he knows where his are. I’ll check on him before he leaves.”
Catherine chuckled. “I just keep remembering how Elliot described him that time: ‘dressed as if he’s just escaped from Ruritania.’ I don’t think that would make a very good impression on Elaine.”
“I’ll make sure he’s dressed appropriately,” Vincent assured her.
Catherine was surprised when Mouse showed up on time the following Saturday, and she was even more surprised at the way he was dressed. He had on a nice pair of brown leather loafers, dark brown dress pants, a white dress shirt, and a dark tan corduroy sports jacket. He even looked as if he’d let someone trim his hair. It wasn’t as neatly combed as it had been in the photos of him as a child, but it was a lot neater than it usually was.
Mouse was unusually quiet in the taxi on their way to Elaine’s.
“What is she like,” he finally asked, just before arriving.
“She’s very nice,” Catherine told him. “What do you remember about her?”
Mouse shrugged. “She always smelled good, and she let me sit on her lap and watched cartoons with me.”
“I don’t think she’s changed much. She’s missed you a lot.”
The door was answered by a middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Elaine’s niece, Amanda.
Catherine quickly surmised that the family was being cautious and might think that this was some kind of a con. But Amanda looked surprised when she saw Catherine.
“You are with the DA’s office,” she said with surprise.
Catherine smiled, pulled out her badge and ID, and showed it to Amanda. Then she handed Amanda one of her cards.
“Yes, I am. And I’m happy to see that Mrs. Grant has someone looking out for her. This isn’t part of any official investigation, although I will be able to mark the file as closed.”
Amanda led Catherine and an unusually quiet Mouse into a small sitting room down the hall.
Elaine stood as soon as they walked into the room. She rushed toward them, and Mouse stepped behind Catherine as if to hide. Elaine stopped several feet in front of Catherine.
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking first at Catherine then at Mouse. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that you look so much like my son, your father. And it’s been so long.”
“Mouse stepped out from behind Catherine and studied Elaine.
“I know you,” he finally said. He slid a look at Amanda. “But I don’t know her.”
“No, you don’t,” Elaine agreed. “Amanda was living in California when you were born and didn’t move back here until just a few years ago… Please, sit down.” She motioned toward the sofa and chairs arranged comfortably in front of the fireplace.
Catherine sat on the sofa, and Mouse sat beside her. Amanda took the old-fashioned wingback chair across from where Elaine had been seated.
There was room on the sofa for three, and Catherine saw Elaine looking at the open spot next to Mouse. But she must have thought better of it, and she went back to the chair she’d vacated when they came into the room.
“What would you like me to call you,” asked Elaine breaking the awkward silence.
Mouse looked at her for a moment. Catherine could almost see the wheels turning.
“Vincent says Mouse,” was all he said.
“I heard the story of how you came by that name,” Elaine said with a smile. “Who’s Vincent?”
“Vincent is my friend.” Mouse was being usually tight-lipped.
Elaine looked at Catherine.
“Vincent found Mouse,” she clarified. “He’s the one who has tutored him, taught him to talk and to read.”
“Did he never think to call the police to see if the child he’d found belonged somewhere?” There was a touch of anger in Elaine’s voice.
Catherine knew the procedure that they followed Below. It walked a fine line to avoid the possibility of returning a child to a bad situation, whether that was with his family or in foster care. They had Helpers everywhere who could do the checking for them.
“They did investigate,” she tried to assure Elaine. “They knew people with Child Protective Services, and CPS checked their records, but somehow no one managed to make the connections between a child from one of the most prominent families in the city and a ragged urchin found hiding behind a stove in a kitchen and living off food scraps.”
Catherine also knew that the daily papers hadn’t always made their way Below; it had only been since they had acquired a Helper who ran a newsstand that it had happened. So, no one would have seen the stories and the pictures in the newspaper.
“I’m sorry,” Elaine apologized. “I didn’t mean to snap or be ungrateful. It’s obvious that he’s…” she looked at Mouse… “that you’ve been well taken care of.”
“You’ve missed a lot, Elaine,” Catherine agreed. “I think you have a right to be a little angry. I talked to several people about this case. One of them was the DA. He was only an assistant DA at the time, but he remembered that the DA of that time seemed to have it in for you and Mr. Grant. He was very intent on pinning a crime on at least one of you, and he was hoping for a murder charge.”
“I only heard a little bit about that,” Elaine told her. “I was so upset at the time that Daniel, my husband, did everything in his power to shield me. He insisted that I go up to our summer house on the coast of Maine. My sister, Amanda’s mother, and Amanda were with me. We were there for several months. I didn’t come home until it started to get cold.” She looked back at Mouse and smiled. “But enough about that. I want to know about you. What do you do? What do you like? Who are your friends?”
Mouse glanced at Catherine before he spoke. Catherine nodded and smiled, and Mouse began to talk.
“Mouse’s best friend is Vincent, but Mouse helps everybody. They couldn’t get along without Mouse. Even Father agrees,” Mouse began.
“Father?” Elaine questioned.
“Almost everyone calls him Father,” Catherine supplied. “I think the name started when he adopted Vincent. Vincent called him Father, and everyone else sort of picked up on in.”
Elaine looked at Amanda and raised her eyebrows as if sending a silent question. Catherine noticed that Amanda nodded slightly.
The conversation went on for over an hour. Mouse was very careful of what he said, but Catherine felt he told enough of the truth to satisfy Elaine.
“I was wondering if I could visit you in your home sometime,” Elaine said when there was a lull in the conversation.
“Don’t know,” said Mouse, looking at Catherine.
“I’d very much like to meet Vincent and… Father, and thank them for taking care of you,” Elaine told him.
“Have to make sure it’s okay,” Mouse told her.
“I think I mentioned that the community likes to stay under the radar, so to speak,” Catherine reminded Elaine. Way under, she added to herself. “We will have to get permission, but I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
Mouse was starting to get antsy. Catherine had never seen him sit still for this long. Finally, he bounced to his feet.
“Mouse’s ready to go now,” he announced.
“All right,” Catherine said with a smile for Elaine. “I guess it’s time to go.” She stood, and so did Elaine and Amanda. Catherine wondered why Amanda hadn’t joined the conversation.
She followed Mouse to the door, surprised when Mouse stopped and turned to Elaine.
“I hope you can come and visit,” he told her. “A lot to show you, and you can meet Arthur and Jamie.” That said, he was out the door.
“Arthur and Jamie?” Elaine asked.
“Arthur is his pet raccoon, and Jamie is a young woman who is about his age who joined the community about the same time as him.”
Elaine had to laugh. “He always was fascinated by animals. He loved the zoo and the park. I felt bad that we didn’t have pets since my husband had allergies.”
Catherine said goodbye and joined Mouse at the elevator he was holding, waiting for her.
“Is there a tunnel entrance in this building?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “You’d probably know more about that than me. Why?”
“Just want to go home,” he told her, his eyes darting around as they left the elevator in the lobby.
Catherine waited until they were on the sidewalk before she spoke again.
“We could get a cab, and you can use the threshold in my building, or we can walk a little way into the park. We aren’t that far from the threshold there.”
Mouse nodded, then bounded across the street, causing cars to come to screeching halts and drivers to lean on horns.
“Mouse! Wait!” she called after him as she waited for the light.
It changed, and she crossed the street, breaking into a run once she reached the other side. Glad she’d worn pants and low-heeled shoes, she followed Mouse into the trees.
She managed to catch up with him once they were through the trees and into a clearing.
“You’ve got to be more careful,” she admonished as she walked beside him.
“Sorry, was in a hurry.”
He managed to keep to a fast walk, and it was easier to keep up with him. When they reached the threshold, he turned to Catherine.
“Catherine coming Below?” he asked.
“No, Vincent said he’d meet me on my balcony to find out how it went. I’ll talk to him about Elaine visiting. He will probably let you know what the council says.”
“Okay, good. Thanks, Catherine,” and he was off like a shot again.
Catherine was still shaking her head when she unlocked the door to her apartment ten minutes later.
Vincent arrived just after eleven, and Catherine joined him on the balcony.
“Did you see Mouse?” she asked as she stood beside him.
“Only in passing, and I literally mean ‘passing.’ He flew past me on his way back to his chamber,” Vincent said with a frown. “He didn’t even say ‘hello.’ Did something go wrong?”
“No, it went quite well. But Elaine’s niece was there, so we were both extra careful about what we said. Elaine would like to visit, meet Father and you, and thank you both for taking such good care of her grandson.”
“What did you tell her?” Vincent asked.
“I told her that we’d have to get permission. I think she’s a little suspicious because of the request for secrecy. She asked about cults the first time I talked to her, and now that she knows what everyone calls Father, I think it has made her even more suspicious.”
“Can she be trusted?” Vincent asked. “I mean, if she thinks that we are all involved in some strange cult, she might do something.”
“That’s possible, but I think that would be all the more reason to invite her Below. That way, she can see for herself that Father isn’t some kind of Jim Jones copy.”
“I’ll remember to use that argument when I put it before the council,” Vincent said.
“You think there will be an argument?” Catherine asked.
“I know there will be,” Vincent said, turning to face her. “Father was looking for Mouse a couple of hours ago, and Jamie told him that he’d gone Above with you. Father put it all together and confronted me. He’s very angry, and I know he will oppose allowing Mrs. Grant to visit.”
“But since he’s the president of the council, doesn’t he only vote if there is a tie among the other six members?” Catherine asked.
“Yes, but there is always discussion before a vote, and Father is often able to sway the vote in favor of the way he wants it to go,” Vincent pointed out.
“Do you think you can sway them back in favor of allowing her to visit?”
“I’m going to try, but if I can’t, I have an alternate plan, which would include you telling her everything, preparing her, and then meeting me here at your home. I just hope that it doesn’t come to that.”
“I know what you mean. Father may never speak to either of us again. I just wish I knew why he was so adamant about all of this.”
Catherine knew that the council meeting was scheduled the next day after lunch, and she hoped that Vincent would find a way to let her know the outcome.
Her hope was fulfilled when someone delivered a pizza to Joe’s office for lunch on Monday. The young man passed her desk and dropped an envelope on the floor next to it. After making eye contact with her, he moved on. Catherine retrieved the envelope and opened it.
Catherine admitted to herself that it sounded ominous and hoped that Father wasn’t too angry.
That evening, Catherine blessed the weather gods for the rain because Vincent came inside without any argument. He carefully removed his wet cloak and boots by the balcony door and joined Catherine on one of the loveseats. After taking a sip of the hot tea she handed him, he seemed to relax a bit.
“Was it bad?” she asked.
“Bad enough,” he told her. “I brought up the topic. Father tried to put it off until the next meeting, but I pointed out that our rules specifically say that it takes more than one person to table a proposal until a later date. And I had everyone curious, and they wanted to know what was going on. I explained what had happened, and I used your argument.
“Father argued against it, but his arguments weren’t sound, and he was grasping at straws. In the end, the only people who voted against allowing Mrs. Grant to know the secret and to come Below were Mary and William.”
“William always has been very conservative about who to allow in and who not to,” Catherine observed. “He wasn’t happy when he first saw me.”
“And I’ve never known Mary to go against anything Father wanted since she’s been on the council.”
Catherine nodded, and after a quiet moment, she reached for a pad and pencil in the end table.
“So, how will we go about this?” she asked, pencil poised to take notes.
“Do you think we can get Mrs. Grant to leave her niece out of it? You mentioned that she watched everything like a hawk the other day when you visited.”
“I can ask. Make it a stipulation of being let in on the secret. I can tell her that we can decide Amanda later after Elaine knows everything.”
“That might make her even more skeptical of our legitimacy,” Vincent pointed out.
“I know, but I don’t know of any other way to do it. Maybe if I tell her that I want to speak to her alone and that if she thinks it’s necessary, and additional permission is given, she can then tell her niece.”
“Maybe that will work. How much will you tell her?”
“That is up to you,” Catherine told him. “I’d like to tell her enough so that she understands the need for secrecy. I might stop just short of telling her everything about you.”
“But didn’t you say that she said she’d like to meet Father and me? I don’t think that Father will be willing to meet her, and if he does, he’s probably going to be very abrasive. If she doesn’t meet either of us, it’s going to raise her suspicions even more.”
“You’d be willing?” she asked.
“I’ll let you be the judge, but if you invite her here, I can wait at the threshold Below. If necessary, you can come and tell me to come to your balcony. As long as it’s dark, I won’t be seen.”
“I suppose it would depend a lot on how much I tell her. I have that drawing that Elizabeth did; I can show her that. If she’s okay with it, you can just meet us at the threshold.”
“And if not, you can give me a warning when you open the threshold, then maybe Jamie can meet you. She is just about the best friend Mouse has Below.”
“Except for you,” Catherine said with a smile and a wink. “He’s very fond of telling everyone that Vincent is his best friend, and you couldn’t get on without him.”
Vincent surprised her by winking back. That caused her to laugh.
“We are getting awfully serious about this, aren’t we?” she said.
“I think it’s because of Father’s reaction to it all. I don’t understand it, but maybe it will work out.”
Catherine called Elaine, who readily agreed to come to Catherine’s.
“What about Amanda?” she asked after they agreed that Friday evening would be a good time. “Can I bring her?”
“Well, to be truthful, I’d rather you didn’t. If what I have to tell you goes well, we will go straight to where Mouse is living. And I only got permission to introduce you. If you feel it’s necessary, we can get permission for her too and take her later.”
Elaine agreed, and Catherine told her to wear comfortable shoes and bring a coat when she came and hung up.
After work on Friday, Catherine stopped at a deli, picked up something for dinner, went home, ate, and then changed.
When Catherine answered her door at 7:00, she found Elaine, grinning from ear to ear. Catherine smiled back.
“You should have seen me,” Elaine told her as Catherine took her coat and offered her a glass of wine.
“What did you do,” Catherine asked with a bit of trepidation.
Elaine seated herself on one of the love seats and took the glass of wine Catherine held out to her. Catherine seated herself across from her.
“I told Amanda that I was going to a book club meeting. She knows I’m a member of one, but she doesn’t know we don’t meet every month. And when she expressed a desire to join me, I told her that we read and were going to be discussing Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm. I remember her talking about one of her Literature teachers assigning it as an example of what can happen if someone else, like a bad editor, meddles with a story. I even have a copy of it.” She held up an old book she’d set next to her purse. “When she heard that, she told me to enjoy my evening and to be careful.”
Catherine had to laugh.
“I remember that one. I read it on my own when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I’d read Dracula, then some short stories by Stoker, and I liked them, so I picked another one at random. My dad had the complete works of Bram Stoker in our home library. I think the only reason I finished it was because I kept thinking it just had to get better.”
“I haven’t read it, but I’d heard that it was pretty bad, and I happened to come across a copy in my library and decided it might make a good cover story.”
She took a sip of her wine, then smiled at Catherine. “All right. Now, what is this big story you want to tell me?
Catherine admitted to herself that she liked Elaine Grant, and she was pretty sure that she could trust her with the secret and that even Vincent wouldn’t come as a huge shock. So, she started at the beginning.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about the homeless people who live in some of the tunnels under the city. They are in the subways, some of the maintenance tunnels off the subways, and even some of the old abandoned subway stations.”
When Elaine nodded, Catherine continued. An hour later, she could tell that Elaine was fascinated by the story, and Catherine had only told her about how the community started and given her a general idea of where it was.”
“That is intriguing,” Elaine told her. “How many people are there?”
“This time of year, there are fewer, so there are maybe about eighty right now. Once the weather gets cold, the population goes up.”
“And this Father and Vincent that Danny mentioned?”
“Father was one of the original group who found their way to the deeper tunnels and chambers. He’s become a ‘father figure’ to many, and when Vincent started calling him Father, a lot of the other children did too. It just stuck when those children grew up.”
“I find it amazing that there are children there.”
“Well, a lot of them are there with their parents or at least one parent. Some are foundlings. I mentioned that there are people who live Above, people like me, called Helpers. And if a child is found, they go to great lengths to make sure that no one is looking for the child. Some are old enough to tell them the conditions they were living under. If it’s verified that the child was being abused or molested, they don’t send them back to that situation. But if they just got lost and loving parents are looking for them. They call a Helper like me, or someone who works for the city, CPS, or the police department, and the child is returned home.
“When Danny was found, they thought they’d covered all the bases. I think it may have been because the DA at the time was keeping the case to himself in the beginning,” Catherine told her.
“It also may have had a lot to do with the fact that my husband managed to get the story pulled from most of the papers. He knew that it upset me when I saw something, so he used his connections to keep it out of the papers after the first few days.”
“That is probably true. Back then, they didn’t get the newspapers very often Below. Now they have a Helper who owns a newsstand, and he sends a lot of papers and magazines Below every day.”
“I take it that Father is in charge?” Elaine asked.
“They have a council that makes the major decisions. But Father is the president of the Council.”
“And how did Vincent wind up there?”
“He was one of the foundlings,” Catherine told her. “People Below know all the best places to go through the trash and find usable items. There are restaurant and grocery owners who intentionally leave food out for them. They like to go through the trash at hospitals because they find a lot of things like sheets and curtains, and the fabric is always usable. Sometimes they even find outdated medicines and other medical supplies.
“One of the women was behind St. Vincent’s and saw something move. She looked, and it was a baby. She took him Below, and they took care of him. He was only a few hours old at the time, and he’d been left out on a cold January night, presumably to die. But he survived and thrived. That was about 35 years ago.”
“It sounds like he’s special to you,” Elaine observed with a smile.
“He is,” Catherine said with a smile. “He saved my life almost three years ago, and he’s been an integral part of my life ever since.”
“It’s always wonderful when we meet our soul mates,” Elaine said. “Treasure every moment you have.”
“I do,” Catherine assured her. “He’s very special, not only to me but to everyone Below. Father calls him the community’s heart.”
“But there is something about him that is a secret?” Elaine asked. “I get the feeling that it’s not just the community that is a secret.”
“Your feeling is correct,” Catherine told her. “Vincent’s… appearance… sometimes frightens people.”
“But not you.”
“No. I know his heart. He’s the gentlest man I know. The children all love him, and he loves them. He took Mouse… Danny under his wing and taught him when even Father thought it was a lost cause.”
“I’m so grateful that Danny found someone like him. He sounds like he’d make a wonderful father.”
“Maybe someday,” Catherine said wistfully. “He might take some convincing.”
“So, can you tell me what it is about his appearance that frightens some people?”
“I have a drawing,” Catherine told her. She got up, went into her bedroom, and returned with an index card.
“There is a woman Below,” Catherine told her. “Her name is Elizabeth, and she records the life Below in pictures that she paints on the tunnel walls. The children love it when she agrees to do portraits of them. They take her all kinds of things to draw on. Someone found a whole package of index cards, and she did portraits of everyone. She gave this one to me, and I hear that she drew me that she gave to Vincent.”
She handed the pencil drawing to Elaine, who studied it closely for several minutes. She looked up at Catherine and smiled.
“He looks like someone out of one of my old storybooks,” she said. “Only he’s much better looking than any of the illustrations.”
“Then meeting him face to face won’t be disturbing?” Catherine asked.
“No, I look forward to it. He sounds like a lovely man.”
Hearing Elaine refer to Vincent as a man, made up Catherine’s mind.
“Then, we should go. He’s waiting Below at the threshold,” Catherine said as she stood and went to get their coats.
“Oh, good! Where is this threshold?”
“There is one in the basement of this building,” Catherine told Elaine while helping her with her coat. Then she had a sudden thought. “We have to climb down a ladder to get from this basement to a sub-basement. Will you have any trouble with it?”
“I can probably do it with a little help,” Elaine assured her.
When they reached the basement, Catherine ensured they were alone; then she moved the camouflaging boxes away from the metal door.
She leaned into the opening and called out.
“Vincent? Are you here?”
“I am. What do you need?” came the answer as he stepped through the hole in the brick wall and walked into the light.
“Elaine will need a little assistance with the ladder. I thought if I stay up here and you helped from the bottom, we would work it out.”
“It’s all right?” he asked doubtfully, looking up at her. He stepped back out of the light when another face appeared over Catherine’s shoulder.
“Vincent,” the smiling woman said. “It’s so lovely to finally meet you! And I can’t wait to see all the fantastic things that Catherine has described.”
When Vincent stepped back into the light, Catherine could see that he had a bit of a wry smile on his face.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Mrs. Grant. If you allow Catherine to help you up there, I can guide you down from here.”
Elaine moved back and watched as Catherine showed her how to get on the ladder. She was about halfway down when Vincent lifted her the rest of the way to the sandy floor.
By the time Catherine had rearranged the boxes, closed the door, and descended the ladder, Elaine was standing in front of Vincent, smiling up at him.
“Danny didn’t come with you?” she asked.
“No, we were waiting to make sure that Catherine thought that it was all right for you to come Below. Then I thought we’d take you to meet Father first before we went to Mouse’s chamber.”
“Of course!” she agreed. “I’m looking forward to meeting… Father… Ah, does he have another name?”
“His name is Jacob,” Catherine supplied. “But there are only a few people who call him that now.”
Vincent guided them by the shortest route, and the closer they got to the main community, the more people they met. Everyone was friendly and greeted them, but Vincent only introduced Elaine to a few of them. And then he introduced her as Catherine’s friend, not Mouse’s grandmother. He didn’t want Mouse to know she was Below until after she’d had a chance to meet Father. He wasn’t sure how that meeting would go.
Father was on his feet leaning over a map with William when they entered the study.
“I see no reason why we can’t extend the cold storage into that area,” he was saying. “We’ll just have our Helper Leo look at it to make sure that it will be structurally sound.”
Father stood up and began to roll up the map as William left. When Father turned to look at the newcomers, Elaine gasped.
“Jacob? Jacob Wells? We always wondered what happened to you!” she said as she stared at him.
“But not enough to answer any of my requests for assistance, obviously,” he retorted, dropping the rolled map into an old umbrella stand and turning to go back to his desk.
“You know him?” Catherine was shocked. Vincent guided them to chairs in front of the desk, and they all sat down.
“Yes. Jacob and my husband were friends in college, and his wife, Margaret, and I became friends.” She turned her attention back to Father. “I’m sorry, Jacob. But Daniel had to make a choice. His father was partners with Margaret’s father, and your friendship was a threat to their livelihood. My father-in-law told Daniel that if he didn’t break all ties with you, he would disinherit him, and he’d lose his job. I was pregnant at the time, and he made the difficult decision to cut ties with you. We did try to remain supportive of Margaret, but then her father sent her to France. She was gone for a long time.”
Catherine looked back and forth between Father and Elaine in disbelief.
“This is why you didn’t want Mouse to know about Elaine? Why you didn’t want her to come Below?” she asked.
“What else could I do?” Father said. “She hasn’t proven to be very trustworthy in the past. How do I know that she will be now?”
“We didn’t have any choice, Jacob!” Elaine was quick to point out. “Daniel didn’t have any choice. Daniel had a good education, but he’d never done anything but work for his father and Chase at Chittenden Research Institute. He didn’t even work in the research end; he had a business degree. If he’d helped you, testified as your lawyer requested, he would have been painted with that same brush and fired, and his father wouldn’t have helped us. And I doubt that we would have been lucky enough to find a place like this to live. Daniel was only thinking of his child and me. I wasn’t even in town. He sent me to my mother with strict orders not to let me see any of the papers.”
“He was always very protective of you,” Father said in a low tone.
“No more protective than you were of Margaret,” Elaine pointed out.
“But after the hearing, I was never charged with anything. I asked Daniel if he could give me a reference for another job, but he didn’t respond. I tried to call, and he wouldn’t take my calls in the office or even at home.”
“I don’t know what I can say, Jacob. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. But in defense of my husband, he was only trying to protect the baby and me.”
“Father,” Vincent finally interrupted. “You know what it’s like to do things that go against all that you know is right, to protect those you love. You were willing to go to jail, be tried and convicted of murder, rather than tell anyone who you were or where you were living just to protect everyone here Below. If Catherine hadn’t found you…”
“But that was different!” Father insisted.
“How?” Catherine asked. “How is it so different? We all do things that we might not ordinarily do when it comes down to protecting those we love. How is what Daniel Grant did any different from what I do to protect Vincent, or what he does to protect me, or what anyone here Below does to protect this place?”
“But Daniel was supposed to be my friend,” Father said.
“And you were his friend too. Would you have asked him to put that friendship before the wellbeing of his wife and child?” Catherine countered. “Granted, they probably wouldn’t have been destitute. Daniel had a good education, and Elaine went to college, but it would have been hard for them for a while, maybe a long while. His name was too well known, and anyone he might have found a job with would have known what he’d done.”
“As they knew what I’d done,” said Father. “I only stood up for what I thought was right, but because of people’s fear, suddenly what was right became wrong, treasonous.”
“You were lucky you weren’t tried, only questioned,” Catherine pointed out. “If you hadn’t dropped out of sight so quickly, anything could have happened. Being here may have saved you in more ways than one.”
Father took off his reading glasses, tossed them on the desk, then rubbed his eyes.
“As usual, you put forth a very pertinent argument, my dear,” he said to Catherine. “I’ve carried that grudge for so long, and the longer I carried it, the more clouded my vision became. You’re right. If I’d been thinking clearly, I would have never asked Daniel to put our friendship before his family.” He shifted his gaze to Elaine. “I’m sorry, Elaine. I’m glad that my son and Catherine went over my head about reuniting you with Mouse. He needs to know that he has a loving family Above, in addition to the one he has Below.”
“And I’m so glad to have found both of you again,” Elaine said as she brushed a tear off her cheek. “I just wish Daniel was here for it all.”
“Father, why don’t you take Mrs. Grant down to Mouse’s chamber. When I talked to him earlier, he said he’d be working in his workshop all evening.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Elaine agreed, looking at Father.
“Yes, I think it is,” agreed Father.
Everyone rose, and Catherine handed Elaine a small plastic bag of blueberries and strawberries.
“For Arthur,” Catherine elaborated, at Elaine’s confused look. “At first, Arthur didn’t like me very much. He’d stay away, and if I approached him, he’s growl and make other strange noises. But after I started bringing him his favorite treats, we became friends. Now he likes to go through my pockets, and I found him asleep in my backpack one time. I guess he’d gone looking for treats and fell asleep when he didn’t find any.”
Catherine and Vincent followed Father and Elaine out of the study, but they turned right toward Vincent’s chamber when Father and Elaine went in the other direction.
“I’m glad that is over,” Catherine said after she’d taken off her jacket and collapsed into a chair. “I never dreamed that they knew each other, but it made sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Father and my father didn’t meet somewhere along the line. He was about the same age as Peter, and they were friends in college. Then Peter went to medical school, and Daddy went to law school.”
“Father is a little older than Peter,” Vincent pointed out. “He was Chief Resident when Peter first started residency. That was when they met. How well did your father know the Grants?”
“They supported some of the same charities, and he was on some boards with Mr. Grant.”
“It’s not impossible that they might have crossed paths somewhere along the line.”
Vincent had put more wood on the fire in the brazier, then moved to the bed where he made himself comfortable against the pillows piled against the headboard. He picked up a book then patted the spot next to him.
“Shall we take up with Monsieur Valjean where we left off?” he asked as Catherine joined him and settled into his side.
“You might have to backtrack a bit,” she told him. “It’s been over a month since we were able to read.”
When Father and Elaine left the study, Father offered Elaine his arm, which she happily took. That gesture convinced her that she’d been forgiven. They walked in silence until they reached Mouse’s chamber.
“Let me warn you,” Father said to her. “His chamber may seem very chaotic, but he knows where everything is and what each item is for. And Arthur can be a bit… troublesome.”
“Yes, so I’ve been told,” she said, smiling and holding up the bag of fruit. “I’m not surprised he has an unusual pet; he was always fascinated by animals.”
Elaine was taken aback by the chaotic feel when they walked into the chamber, but she was also struck with a sense of comfort and home. Danny… Mouse was leaning over a table in the center of the room, explaining something to a young woman.
“You see this thingy?” he asked, holding up something. “It fits into this, you push this button, and then… bango, it works.” He demonstrated, and whatever they were working on lit up and started making a loud, shrill noise.
“Mouse,” Father attempted to shout over the din. “Please shut that thing off!” He glanced over at Elaine, who was smiling despite having her hands over her ears.
The sound stopped, and Mouse looked up with a grin.
“It works!” he exclaimed.
“I’m inclined to agree,” Father said. “But just what is it?”
“Alarm system,” Mouse told him as if pointing out the obvious. “Put one at each outer sentry post, and the sentries won’t have to call Vincent every time there is an intruder alert. They just push a button, the alarm goes off, it echoes everywhere, scares the intruder, and he leaves. Easy peasy!”
“And all our sentries will be deaf before the end of the year,” Father said so that only Elaine could hear. His comment made her laugh.
That was when Mouse saw her, and his smile was even wider.
“You came!” he said, rushing over to hug her.
She was surprised at the hug but then felt that maybe he was just more at ease on his own ground, or under it, in this case.
“I did. Catherine explained everything, so I just had to meet your family. Who is this?” she added, looking at the young woman.
“Jamie. Jamie’s my friend,” Mouse stepped back, put his arm around Jamie, and gave her an awkward side ways’ hug.
“And this is Mouse’s grandmother, Elaine Grant,” Father added when it was apparent that Mouse wasn’t going to.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grant,” Jamie said shyly before turning to Mouse. “It’s getting late, and I have an early sentry shift, so I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast,” she said before nodding at Father and Elaine and leaving.
That seemed to be Arthur’s cue to come out of wherever he’d been hiding and amble over to inspect Elaine.
“Oh, you must be Arthur,” Elaine said, turning toward the masked bandit. “I have something for you.” She dipped into the bag and came up with a large strawberry. The raccoon eyed it greedily but stayed still until she held it out to him. He very politely took it and moved to the other side of the table to devour it.
“His favorite. How did you know?” asked Mouse.
“This is Catherine’s doing,” she answered, handing the bag to Mouse. “She said that Arthur would be more likely to accept me if I came bearing gifts. He is very gentle for a wild animal,” she added.
“Arthur’s not wild,” Mouse told her. “Found him when he was a baby. He was all alone, just like Mouse was when Vincent found him.”
“I see,” Elaine glanced at Father.
“You meet Vincent?” Mouse asked.
“Yes, I did. He met Catherine and me at her threshold and guided us. He’s a lovely man!”
“Yes. Mouse’s friend!” Mouse abruptly turned away and grabbed a large roll of paper. “Got a map,” he said, unrolling it on one of the few clear spots on the table. “Might be a threshold in the basement of Mom-Mom’s building, like Catherine’s.”
“Really?” Father asked. Now he moved to stand next to Mouse, and they were both peering at the map.
Mouse pointed at a spot. “This is her address. Mouse saw it when we were there. Map shows a tunnel that runs right under the alley behind the building.”
Father put on his reading glasses and leaned closer to look.
“Do you know when your building was built, Elaine?” he asked.
“In the 1920s, I think,” she answered.
“Have you ever been to the basement?”
“Not lately. I have a storage room there. But I do remember that there was a door in the back wall. There are a lot of pipes coming from the ceiling that disappear through that wall.”
“Pipes are good,” Mouse said, looking at Father. “Might connect to ours. Mouse can check to see if it connects to the tunnels. Make it easy for Mouse to visit, even during the day. Won’t have to put on fancy clothes.”
“We will have to come up with some explanations,” Elaine said, looking at Father.
“You have staff?” he asked.
“Cook and a housekeeper. They don’t live at the house and are only there on weekdays, but my niece Amanda is staying with me. She’s there all the time.”
“Can she be trusted with the secret?” Father asked.
“I don’t know. Amanda is very protective of me, especially since she lost her mother. She’s very practical, and I don’t know how she’d handle all this. But if Danny only visited on weekends, maybe we could set up a schedule, she might get used to the idea of having him around, and we can eventually tell her.”
“I’ll leave it up to you and Mouse,” Father said, surprising them both. “Just give us warning if you decide to tell her.”
Elaine nodded and turned to look at the map that Mouse was studying.
“If there isn’t a threshold now,” Mouse told her, “Maybe Mouse can make one. Can visit any time. But you shouldn’t come Below without a guide. It’s a long walk from your house to Mouse.”
“Mouse… Mouse?” Father tried to get Mouse’s attention. When he finally looked up from the map, he continued. “I’ll leave Elaine here for now. When you are done with your visit, bring her back to the study, and Vincent will lead her and Catherine up.”
Mouse nodded and went back to enthusiastically explaining his plan to his grandmother.
Elaine nodded at Father.
“We will be fine,” she assured him. “I’ll see you in a bit.” She turned back to the map and seemed as enthusiastic as Mouse.
Father limped out of the chamber and headed back toward the main part of the community.
“Maybe now I understand where Mouse gets his joie de vivre,” mumbled to himself as he went.
Too bad Catherine didn’t have this video to show Elaine when she explained Mouse’s life.
Thank you Michaela Struchova for letting me post the link.