HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Catherine was startled when a file folder dropped on top of the papers on her desk.
“What the…?” She leaned back and looked up. “No, Joe! Not another file. I still haven’t waded through the stack you gave me this morning.”
“No, not that, Radcliffe. I just wanted to know your ideas on this caped crusader guy. You know, another set of eyes and thoughts?” Joe said as he made himself comfortable on the chair next to her desk.
“Caped Crusader? You mean Batman?” She was a little confused.
“Batman? No, that Superman guy who has been rescuing people in the park,” Joe said.
“Superman? He’s not the Caped Crusader. He’s the Man of Steel.”
“What are you talking about?” Joe asked. “I’m talking about that guy in a cape who has been saving people from muggers in the park.”
Catherine stared at him a minute, reordering her brain. “Oh, you mean the guy the police are calling a vigilante.”
“Now I think we are on the same page,” Joe said with a laugh.
“I only know what I’ve read in the papers,” she told him with a shrug. “It seems to me that he’s making the NYPD’s job easier.”
“I think they are more concerned that he is making them look bad,” Joe told her.
“He’s doing the city a service, as far as I can see,” she said. “No one has been hurt. He stops the mugging, ties the mugger up, then tells the victim to stay put while he goes and calls the police. The PD gets the call, and when they show up, they find the victim and a tied-up wrongdoer.”
“Yeah, but none of the victims have been able to give a description of the vigilante. The only thing we have is he’s big, over 6 feet, and wears a hooded cape. No one has ever seen his face, although a few have caught a glimpse of long, light-colored hair.”
“Any or all of that could be a disguise,” Catherine pointed out.
“Well, at least we know it isn’t Batman,” Joe said with a laugh. “But then this isn’t Metropolis either.”
“Gotham,” Catherine said.
“What?” It was Joe’s turn to look confused.
“Batman was in Gotham, Metropolis was where Clark Kent worked for the Daily Planet.”
“Who the hell is Clark Kent?”
“Clark Kent was Superman’s human persona…” Joe just continued to look confused. “Didn’t you ever read comic books when you were a kid?” she asked.
“Nope. They weren’t allowed at St. Anthony’s. If the nuns caught us with one, we were in very deep hot water. And as far as my mother was concerned, if it was good enough for the Sisters of Christian Charity, it was good enough for her… You telling me that you, the Park Avenue Deb read them?”
“I loved them!” she said with a laugh. “When the Superman movie came out, I think I was the first one in line! And Dad indulged me because he read them too. The bookcase in his home office had a special spot for them… two actually. One for DC Comics and the other for Marvel.”
Joe stood and shook his head. “I come here wanting to talk about a legitimate case, and we wind up talking about comic books and superheroes,” he said with a laugh. “What is the DAs office coming to?”
He walked away, chuckling, but he left the file.
Catherine opened it. It had copies of police reports on all the incidents. They took place all over the Park and on the sidewalks that circled it, but nothing that fit that description from anywhere else in the city.
There were newspaper clippings, and the papers had taken to calling him the Protector of the Park or the Park Protector.
What is it with newspapers being so in love with alliteration? She wondered as she browsed the file.
All the victims’ descriptions were about the same. Some even described his voice as low and whispery, but no one ever saw his face. One woman gave the best description of how he was dressed: boots, dark pants, a dark hooded cloak that looked like it had been patched together, gloves, and long light hair, but even she didn’t see his face.
Catherine shook her head, set the file aside, and went back to breaking down the witness statements she’d been working on all morning.
Catherine was running late, literally. She’d given up her Sunday and had spent the day at her Dad’s. He’d been entertaining clients she’d been roped into playing hostess. She’d left later than planned, but she was determined to get her run in, but since it was still only April, it got dark early.
Sometimes she ran the entire perimeter of the Park. It was about 6 miles, and she tried to do it two or three times a week, but she’d started late today. When it began to get dark, she’d decided to cut her run short. She turned off Park Avenue onto East 86th Street Transverse to head back through the park to Central Park West. By the time she was halfway across the Park, it was so dark that she had to use her flashlight.
She was approaching the bridge just south of the reservoir where E 86th passed under West Drive when she got a strange feeling. The streetlight just before the underpass was out, and although she could see the lights on Central Park West just a little beyond the bridge, the area under the bridge was pitch black. Even her flashlight, which was admittedly a little dim, didn’t penetrate it.
She stepped up her pace, planning to sprint through the dark area under the bridge. As soon as she stepped into the shadow, she sideswiped something. She would have sworn it was a wall except that it let out a loud “Oof!” when she hit it.
She tried to sidestep off the sidewalk and into the road, but hands reached out and grabbed her by the upper arms. When she struggled to get loose, she tripped and went down, with her assailant rolling on top of her. She dropped her flashlight. The light went out, and it rolled away.
“Make it easy on yourself, Lady,” a voice said, and she felt something cold and sharp against the left side of her face. “Hand over anything valuable, starting with that watch, and we can part friends.”
Catherine tried to slip away from him. She managed to get out from under him, but not without injury, she felt a sharp pain in front of her ear. She started to crawl out from under the bridge toward the relative light on the west side of the bridge, but he grabbed her ankle and pulled her back. He squatted down in front of her and buried his hand in her hair. Pulling her head back so that she had to look up at him. She could see a ski mask, so there would be no way to identify him later.
“The watch, lady!” he demanded, “And anything thing else you got. Rings, necklace, earrings. Lady like you only wears the best.”
“OK, back off a little, and you’ve got it.” He let go of her hair but remained sitting on her legs. She worked at the band of her watch. She took it off, then held it out to him. “I don’t have anything else,” she told him. “But it’s got diamonds. My dad paid a lot of money for it.”
He took it and stood, then all hell broke loose. There was what sounded like a growl then the man disappeared into the dark. The watch dropped to the ground. Catherine scrambled for the light, then jumped to her feet when she reached it. She saw the flashlight and grabbed it. She listened to the sounds of scuffling as she traced the flashlight beam around, then finally found two figures in the tunnel.
One figure, the larger one, had a second pinned face to the wall. She assumed the one pinned to the wall was the guy who had grabbed her. The second one was wearing a long dark cloak, and she could have sworn he was growling.
She watched as the larger figure used a length of cord to tie the smaller man’s hands behind him. Then he turned to her, not turning loose of the cord.
“Are you all right?” he asked in a soft, gruff voice.
“I think so,” she answered. “I think he scratched my face, but it’s OK.”
The man turned and shoved the would-be mugger out from under the bridge to where there was some light coming from the street light on that side. He made the mugger sit, then he tied his feet with the other end of the cord.
He turned to Catherine, and she knew she was facing the guy from Joe’s file. She couldn’t see his face, but she could see the gleam of eyes. They looked blue, but she wasn’t sure.
“Will you allow me to look?” he asked.
For some reason, Catherine felt that she could trust him. She nodded and angled her head so he could see.
Fingers on her chin, he turned her head slightly so that she was in the light. She tried, but she couldn’t see his face from that angle, even though he was quite close. He touched it gingerly. He was wearing gloves, she noticed. He nodded, then pulled a clean white handkerchief out of a pocket somewhere and pressed it over the cut.
“There’s a rather deep cut. You should probably clean it well and see a doctor at the first opportunity. It might need stitches.” He stepped back. “Now, if you will wait here, I’ll go call the police. They should be here in a few minutes.”
“If you tell them that the victim is Catherine Chandler, they will be here sooner,” she told him.
He turned back and looked at her with his head to one side. She sensed a question.
“I’m with the DAs office,” she told him. “The NYPD knows me.” She reached into her pocket and took out the small folder she used to carry her ID and some money. She pulled out one of her business cards and held it out to him.
He took the card, glanced at it, then nodded and jogged off. Catherine looked down at the flashlight in her hand.
Now, why didn’t I use this? she wondered to herself as she pointed it at the mugger who was struggling on the ground trying to get free of the cord.
“Don’t even think of it,” she warned, brandishing the flashlight like a club.
Weekends were never long enough, as far as Catherine was concerned. Especially when they went like the one that had just ended.
“Heard you had some excitement this weekend Radcliffe,” Joe said, walking into her cubicle as she was hanging her coat on the hook.
“The kind I’d rather not have,” she said, turning around.
“You able to add anything to the other descriptions in the file?” Joe asked.
“Not really. I think he might have blue eyes or at least light eyes, but I didn’t see any more than anyone else.” She pulled a paper out of her briefcase. “This is a copy of my statement. You can add it to your file.”
Joe glanced over the statement. “You said that he’s about a foot taller than you?”
“I clarified that later by saying that I am 5’4”, so he’s at least 6’4”,” Catherine pointed out.
“Yes, it’s hard to tell with the cloak, but he seems to have the muscles to go with the height. His shoulders are broad.”
“Could be padding,” Joe observed.
“I don’t think so. He almost picked the mugger up with one hand. He didn’t have any trouble making him do what he wanted him to.”
“So maybe we should tell the cops to add gyms to their canvasing,” Joe suggested with a chuckle. “Anything else?”
“I gave him my business card,” she said with a shrug.
That made Joe laugh, then he got serious. “What were you doing in the park at that time of night anyway?”
“It wasn’t that late!” She pointed to the time on the report. “That was the time the officers arrived. It was only about 7:45 when it happened. I’d cut my run short and was going through the park trying to get home before it got completely dark. I probably would have been better off sticking to the sidewalk around the outside of the park where I normally run.”
“Remember that,” Joe told her. “You might not be so lucky as to get rescued the next time or get off with only a cut. How is that?” he leaned to look at the cut that had a patch of gauze over.
“It’s OK. I put some antibiotic ointment on it and then some butterfly bandages. It will be fine.”
“Didn’t see a doc?” he asked, with concern.
“I didn’t think it was necessary,” she insisted. “I’m up to date on my tetanus shots.”
Catherine had just returned from lunch and was reaching for her pencil when her phone rang.
“Catherine Chandler,” she said, tucking the phone between her ear and her shoulder.
“Miss Chandler, this is… ah… we met yesterday.”
The voice was vaguely familiar, and her first thought was that it was one of the men who’d been at dinner at her Dad’s Sunday afternoon. Then it dawned on her who she was talking to.
How could I possibly mistake that sexy voice? she asked herself with a slight smile. It’s even better on the phone. I wonder if he works for a radio station or does voice work of some kind.
“Hello,” she said, sitting up and shifting the handset to her hand. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m not sure if there really is anything you can do, or if you will even be willing, but I felt that I needed to tell someone, and you seemed the logical choice.” He was being vague, and she wondered what he was trying to say.
“What is it. I can’t do anything if you don’t tell me,” she said. She knew she sounded a little short, and she hoped it didn’t make him wary enough to stop talking.
“As you’ve probably realized, I spend a lot of time in the city at night…”
“I assumed that. You should see the file we have in our office,” she said when he hesitated.
“I’ve seen the papers, so I can only imagine,” he said.
“Is this about all that or something else?” she asked.
“It’s something else.” He sounded sincerely concerned about something, but Catherine looked up and saw Joe heading toward her desk.
“OK, I hate to do this, but can we talk later? I’m not alone. Call me at home this evening.” She hastily told him her home number, hoping he got it, then hung up.
“Do you need something, Joe?” she asked, looking up at him with a frown. “You know, if you keep coming over and asking how I’m doing on the Delaney file, you just keep slowing me down.”
“I know. This time I’m here to let you know to stop working on it. Mrs. Delaney has changed her mind; she’s not pressing charges. And since there are no witnesses, we don’t have a case.”
“Damn, Joe! Why do they do that?” she said loudly. “She should realize after ten years that he’s not going to stop. I just hope the next time you drop a file on my desk with the name Delaney on it, it’s not a murder case.” She threw her pencil down in frustration.
“I know, Radcliffe, but we can’t do anything about it. She’s talked to the police and to a counselor. Everyone has advised against dropping the charges, but she’s made up her mind. She’s going to give him another chance.”
Catherine stacked the papers and shoved them back into the file folder before picking it all up and handing it to Joe.
“Get that out of my sight,” she almost growled in frustration.
Joe took the file and left. She pushed her chair back and turned it around to face the window.
I hope that guy on the phone has something for me, she thought to herself. Something that will go a little farther than the last three domestic cases I’ve had. God, I’m so tired of doing nothing but domestic violence investigations. I really need to talk to John about doing something else.
She turned back to her desk and pulled out the next file, and got to work.
She didn’t notice that the room had almost emptied until Rita came over and dropped some more files in her IN box.
Catherine looked at them then at Rita and rolled her eyes.
“It’s time to go home, Cathy,” Rita said. “It’s after five.”
Catherine glanced at her wrist, where her watch usually was, realizing again that she’d forgotten to retrieve it after it had been dropped.
“You’re still here,” she pointed out.
“Only long enough to drop those off,” she nodded at the files and held up her purse. “Joe said that you yelled at him earlier, and he thought it might be safer if I brought those over.”
“I wasn’t yelling at him,” Catherine pointed out as she straightened her desk and put away the file she was working on. “It was the circumstances that made me angry.”
“I get it,” Rita said as she watched Catherine stand and put on her blazer, then get her purse out of the drawer. “I’ve seen so many women in those same kinds of relationships. Some of them were… are… in my own family. I don’t understand their decisions either.”
“I guess we can’t, unless we are going through it,” Catherine agreed as she and Rita walked toward the elevators.
Catherine wondered if that guy would call. If nothing else, she’d just love to listen to him talk. She hoped she hadn’t put him off by cutting the earlier call short. She was curious to hear what he’d seen. Her apartment overlooked the park, but at over two hundred feet above street level, she never saw much detail.
After she changed out of her work clothes, she called the police precinct. She checked her copy of her statement and asked for the detective who had signed it.
“Greg Hughes,” answered a voice after a couple clicks and a ring.
“Detective Hughes… This is Catherine Chandler. You took my statement about a mugging in the park yesterday evening.”
“I remember, Miss Chandler. You had a cut that was bleeding rather heavily. Did you have it taken care of? How are you today?”
“I’m fine. It wasn’t much. But I was wondering if any of the officers on the scene happened to pick up my watch? It was dropped, and I forgot all about it in the excitement.”
“Let me check the file.” She could hear papers shuffling. “No, I’m sorry. The only evidence listed was the cord that the vigilante used to tie the mugger up and the mugger’s knife.”
“Thank you, Detective. I guess I’ll just have to buy a new watch. We were on the roadway, and I doubt that it would survive being run over. But maybe I’ll check anyway, in the daylight. It was a gift from my dad.”
“Good luck,” Hughes told her before they hung up.
Catherine had just finished straightening the kitchen after dinner when her phone rang.
This time she recognized the voice.
“Speaking,” she said as she sat at her small desk and picked up a pencil, preparing to take notes.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said politely.
“Not at all. I was looking forward to your call. What is it you wanted to tell me?”
“It’s rather hard to explain, but as I said earlier, I’m out walking in the city at night a lot. I live… near the park, and I usually start there, which is why I’ve interrupted several muggings. But later at night, I’m often in other parts of the city, and I’ve seen a few things that I find… unsettling.”
“What kind of things?” she asked. She could listen to him talk all night. She couldn’t really detect any kind of an accent. He enunciated clearly as he spoke as if he was possibly compensating for a speech impediment. There was a slight hiss… maybe a slight lisp. Maybe it was his teeth?
“It looked to me as if women were being forcibly taken… abducted off the street.”
“And where was this?” she asked.
“In several different places,” he told her. “But most often, it’s been in the West Village the other side of Hudson, close to Greenwich, Washington Streets.”
“From what I hear, that is an area that is favored by prostitutes,” Catherine said as she made notes. “Are you sure you didn’t just see girls with their customers?”
“They were forcibly dragged into vans,” he told her. “I’m sure it wasn’t consensual.”
“Was that the only place?” she asked.
“No, a couple of times, I saw it happen in nicer neighborhoods.”
“Do you remember where?” she asked him.
She was amazed at his memory as he listed half a dozen incidents all over the city.
“One of those women managed to get away and run up the street to a small store that was still open.”
“Can you tell me how many times you’ve seen this happen, both in the West Village and other places?”
“I can’t say how many exactly,” he told her. “I’d have to check my journal for an exact number and all the locations.”
“You wrote them all down? Why didn’t you tell someone? Call the police?” She was upset that he hadn’t said something earlier.
“I’m sorry, Miss Chandler, that wasn’t an option.”
“So why is it an option now?” she asked.
There was a long pause before he spoke again. “Because I feel that I can trust you… if any of my… secrets were to become exposed.”
She had no idea what kind of secrets they could be, except that he was the “Park Protector,” but she didn’t want to go into that just now. She forged on with her questions.
“Did you happen to get any information on the vehicles? Was there more than one?” she asked.
“There appeared to be three different ones, all vans,” he told her. “Two different ones in the Village, both were quite beat up. One was white, and the other looked like it was medium blue. I only saw one in the nicer part of town. It was newer, black or dark blue and in much better condition… The strange thing was that in the handful of times I was able to see a license plate on any of them, it was always the same plate.” He gave her the number and then the makes and models, and approximate age of all three vans. She wrote it down, hoping he was a reliable witness.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked her.
“Only one thing. Do you have access to a fax machine?”
“Yes, there is one I can use. Why?”
“Would you mind faxing me what you wrote in your journal about each of these incidents? You wrote that when it was still fresh in your mind, and there might be additional details.”
“Of course. Would tomorrow be good?”
“That will be fine.” She gave him the fax number in her office. “Give me a call at my work number before you send it, and I’ll be at the fax machine waiting for it.”
“I’ll do that,” he told her.
“Thank you, Mr. …?”
“Vincent,” he provided.
“Thank you, Mr. Vincent. I’ll check on this first thing tomorrow.”
“No… it’s just Vincent. That is my given name.”
“All right, Vincent. If you want an update, please call me, and I’ll be happy to let you know if I was able to find anything.”
“Thank you, Miss Chandler. This has been weighing heavily on me, and I’m glad I found someone to share it with. Goodbye.”
He hung up before she could respond. She sat for several minutes reading the notes she’d taken. She knew that her first step would be to check for missing person reports from the nicer neighborhoods on Manhattan. She doubted very much if any of the prostitutes’ pimps would have bothered to report them missing. Even their friends might not report it.
Vincent stared at the phone that he’d just hung up in Peter Alcott’s basement. He’d taken a chance, one he was sure that Father would disapprove of, by calling Catherine Chandler. But as he had told her, the things he’d witnessed had been on his mind a lot. Where he could help with the muggers in and around the park, this had been harder to find a solution for. He couldn’t take on the kidnappers by himself. There were usually two or three of them, and then there was also the van's driver. He could probably handle them, but not without a lot of noise and the possibility of calling attention to himself. If it had only been himself, it wouldn’t have been as big an issue, but there was always the possibility of exposing the whole tunnel community. He couldn’t take that chance.
He turned to use the threshold in the basement when he remembered the watch he’d picked up after the police had left the scene on Sunday evening. He still had it in his pocket. He’d meant to tell her about it and arrange to return it to her. It was obviously valuable.
I’ll talk to her again, he assured himself. I’ll tell her then.
Catherine’s first stop the next morning was in the data processing center in the Criminal Courts Building to ask her friend Edie to do a search for her.
“Good morning, Girlfriend,” Edie said with a smile. “I see you come bearing gifts,” she eyed the two cups of coffee Catherine carried. “What do you need?” She winked.
Catherine handed Edie one of the cups.
“I need a list of all the missing person reports from the last 6 months,” she told Edie. “As complete as you can get it with names, addresses, dates, where they might have been seen last or disappeared from. And any reports made by women of attempted kidnappings off the street and reports by anyone who might have witnessed anything that looked like a kidnapping.”
Edie nodded as she wrote. “All precincts?” she asked.
Catherine nodded. “I might need more later, but I need to get some more information first.”
“I’ve got a couple other things I need to do first, but I should have this for you after lunch. Stop in then, and I’ll have it ready for you.”
“Thanks, Edie,” Catherine said with a smile, then went to her desk.
It was a little after 10am when Vincent called and told her that he was ready to send the fax. She crossed the room to the fax machine to wait for it. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t feel ready to share this particular project with anyone yet.
Maybe I just want to be sure I’m not on a wild goose chase, she told herself as the machine lit up and started printing. She had around 20 pages when it finished.
She had too much to do on her assigned cases to take the time to look at what she’d received, so when she got back to her desk, she put I all in a file folder and then into her briefcase.
On her way back from lunch a few hours later, she stopped to pick up the printout Edie had promised.
She was amazed at the height of the stack.
“Oh, my God, Edie. How many were there?” she asked as she reached for the stack.
“A little over 5000 in the last 6 months,” Edie answered. “The program only prints three to a page, so there are almost 1700 pages there.” She laughed. “That stack is over 6 inches. I hope you have a strong arm; you have over 3 pounds of paper there.”
Catherine laughed. “Looks like a weekend project to go through them.”
“What are you looking for?” Edie asked.
“Patterns, Edie,” she said. “It’s always about patterns. Thanks for this.”
She picked up the stack of paper and headed up to her desk.
Patterns, indeed, she thought as she added it to the file in her briefcase.
Her next stop was Joe’s office to ask if there had been any additions to the file on the Park Protector.
“What do you want it for?” Joe asked as he added a couple sheets to the file and then handed it to her.
“Just curious,” she told him. “I just thought it would be interesting to read over a file that doesn’t involve some low life beating up his wife for a change. Besides, if I can come up with something on this, maybe I can convince John I can do something besides interview domestic violence victims.”
“Well, you know John,” Joe began.
“Yeah, I know.” She scowled. “But at least he’s hiring women. I’m just trying to get him to think outside his box a little more.” She held up the file. “Can I keep the file for a few days?”
“Keep it as long as you need it. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”
Back at her desk Catherine added the file to her already bulging briefcase and went back to work on her latest domestic violence case.
She didn’t have time to start on any of what she’d begun to refer to, at least to herself, as Vincent’s Case, until Saturday afternoon.
Her dad was out of town for the weekend, so she wouldn’t be called on to do hostess duty for him. She took some things to the cleaners on Saturday morning, then back at home, she did laundry and cleaned her apartment. After lunch, she finally pulled out a pad of paper and started reading through what Vincent had sent her.
He had been incredibly detailed, she noticed. He’d make a good lawyer, she said to herself. He had dates, times, and places for every incident he’d witnessed. And he’d noted that although he’d seen three different vans, the times he’d been able to see the plates, they’d all had the same license plate. The only thing that really had her wondering was why he hadn’t called the police after the first incident or the second at most. Why had he waited so long? He’d said it was because he felt he could trust her, but how could he feel like that when he’d only met her that one time, and then under strange circumstances.
She was looking at the fax machine number, written on the cover sheet of the fax, when she noticed something… The sending fax number was familiar.
She sent and received a lot of faxes, most of them at work, but she had a list of all the numbers she used in the back of the address book she kept in her calendar organizer. She got the book out of her case and checked the numbers against the one on the fax, but there was no match.
Could it be one of her personal contacts? She checked it against that much shorter list, and there was a match. Vincent had faxed the journal pages to her from Peter’s office fax machine.
That’s odd, she thought as she reached for her phone. How is Peter connected to all this?
She dialed and the other end picked up after the second ring.
“Peter, it’s Cathy.”
“Hi, Cathy,” he said. She could hear the smile in his voice. “Susan just asked about you last time I talked to her. I told her I hadn’t seen you in ages. Everything OK?”
“Everything is fine,” she assured him.
“They still overworking you?” he asked.
“What do you think?” she countered with a laugh.
“So, what can I do for you?” Peter asked.
“Well, it’s kind of an odd question, but do you let your employees use your office fax machine for personal stuff?”
“Occasionally. We keep a log, so we know who has used it.”
“Do you have a man working for you by the name of Vincent? Or is one of your female staff involved with a Vincent?”
“Why do you ask?”
Peter’s voice had changed, and Catherine could tell he was hiding something.
“It’s just that I received a fax last week with some information for a case I’m working on, and I just noticed that it came from the machine in your office.”
Peter was quiet for almost a minute.
“You still there, Peter?” she asked.
“Yes… Yes, I am. It’s just that… I faxed that last week for a friend,” he admitted.
“Vincent?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s his name. Have you met?”
“Kind of,” she told him. “He pulled a mugger off me last weekend. We only spoke for a moment before he went to call the police. Then he called me at work to talk to me about something else. That’s what I’m working on now. How do you know him? Do you know anything about what he does or about this case he gave me?”
“I’ve known him since he was a baby,” Peter told her. “I noticed that what I was sending were handwritten pages, but I don’t know what it was about. I didn’t realize that I was sending it to you.”
“Can you get a message to him for me?” she asked.
“Sure, what is it?”
“I have a lot of data to go through for this, and I was wondering if he’d be available to work on it with me. I’m a little vague on what I’m looking for. He’s actually seen a lot, and he might be able to spot something I would miss.”
“I don’t know, Cathy. He’s not really one to meet strangers.”
“Yet he hangs out in the park helping mugging victims, and he apparently wanders the city, all neighborhoods at all hours of the night. What’s his deal?”
“No deal, as you put it. He’s just… different, and he’d rather not meet strangers.”
“Different? How?” she asked.
“I can’t really tell you that,” Peter told her. “But, I’ll tell you what. The next time I see him, I’ll tell him what you said, and find out if he will agree. That’s about the best I can do.”
“When will that next time be?” she asked.
“Maybe this evening, if he’s home,” he told her.
“Better than nothing,” she agreed. “Thanks, Peter. Now I’d best get back to work on this.”
Peter hung up thinking, Small world. But, since he was expected Below that evening for dinner and a game of chess with his old friend Jacob, he’d make the time to talk to Vincent.
When one of the children met Peter at the junction near his threshold later that evening, he asked if Vincent was around anywhere.
“I think he’s in his chamber,” the boy answered.
“Good,” said Peter. “Take me there first. I need to talk to him, and I can find my way to Father after that.
Vincent was lounging on his bed reading when Peter called out, asking permission to enter.
“Come in, Peter,” Vincent answered, adding as Peter entered. “You are the only one who does that. Everyone else just walks right in.”
Vincent rose and went to sit in his chair, motioning Peter to another.
“Just trying to be polite. Everyone else here Below is afforded that courtesy.”
“Everyone just walks into Father’s study,” Vincent said.
“Yes, but that is his study, not his bed-chamber,” Peter pointed out with a chuckle.
Vincent nodded and smiled. “So, is there something you need?” he asked.
“Just…” he hesitated. “…clarification? Or… well… I’m not really sure.”
“Just tell me,” Vincent urged.
“That fax you asked me to send last week… you didn’t tell me who it was going to.”
“I gave you the number,” Vincent said.
“Yes, but you didn’t tell me it was going to Cathy Chandler.”
“You know her?”
“Only since she was born… I delivered her. I’ve been her doctor all her life.”
That revelation startled Vincent. “I didn’t know. I guess what they say about it being a small world is true.”
“My thoughts exactly. She said you pulled a mugger off her in the park last weekend. Did she see you?”
“No. We spoke, and she gave me her card before I went to call the police, but she didn’t see my face.”
Peter’s face lit up as he connected the dots. “You’re the Park Protector?”
Vincent’s face flushed a little as he nodded. “I didn’t start out to get that kind of publicity, but yes. Please don’t tell Father.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. He’d worry himself sick.”
“He would. Which is why I don’t want him to know. But that isn’t why I’m… corresponding with Miss Chandler.”
“You sent her pages from your journal?” Peter prompted.
“Yes, it’s about another matter. I’ve witnessed some things in my wanderings in the city. I felt that I could trust her to help.”
“If you can trust anyone, it’s her,” Peter agreed. “But what’s going on?”
Vincent went on to explain about the abductions he’d seen.
“And why her?” Peter asked.
“Well, she gave me her card, so I knew how to contact her, but also…” Vincent stopped and decided to start at the beginning. “You know about my empathic abilities?”
“I do. It’s always fascinated Jacob. He never believed in anything like that until you convinced him.”
“Well, when I touched Miss Chandler, I could tell what she was feeling, just like I do with most people. I could feel her physical pain from the injuries she’d sustained from the attempted mugging, and I could feel her curiosity.”
“Isn’t that always the way it is?”
“Most of the time. Sometimes I can sense strong feelings just by being in the same room with someone, but I have to touch them most of the time. But this was different. It started when I touched her, but it didn’t diminish when I wasn’t, or when I came back here, and she went home. Even now, I know what she’s feeling, almost what she’s doing.”
Peter looked interested at that revelation.
“But hasn’t that happened before?” He was sure he would have heard something if it had.
“One time when Devin fell and broke his arm, and one other time when Father injured his hip.”
“That was it?” Peter asked.
“The only times. And then, I only felt the pain they were feeling. I didn’t know where they were. I know where Miss Chandler lives. Right now, she’s that way.” He pointed to the northwest. “She lives in the apartment building on Central Park West between 73rd and 74th,” he said. “Somewhere above the 10th floor.”
"21E, to be exact,” Peter told him. “That is uncanny.”
“This has never happened before, but I know that I can trust her completely with my secrets if she happens to learn any of them.”
“And Jacob probably wouldn’t agree with that.”
“Most likely wouldn’t,” Vincent agreed. “But what did you want to know?”
“Well, she recognized the number those pages were faxed from, so she called me. She says she has a lot of data to go through for a case you gave her. She was wondering if you’d agree to meet with her and work with her on it.”
Vincent was taken aback by that request. He hadn’t expected it.
“How could I be of help?” he wondered.
“She said that you might spot something that she would miss.”
“I don’t know, Peter. I might frighten her, and then she might not want to go on with the case.”
Peter laughed. “If there is anything I know about Cathy, it’s that she doesn’t scare easily. And I could prepare her, explain… and you could meet her at my house.”
Vincent was quiet for a long moment before he spoke.
“No, tell her the whole story and bring her Below. I know she can be trusted, especially when she knows how many lives lie in the balance.”
“Jacob won’t approve,” warned Peter.
Vincent gave a wry chuckle. “He will have a fit, as the children say. But he will get over it. Especially if it’s already done. As Devin always said, ‘It’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.’”
“I’ll make sure I’m around when he meets Cathy… just in case he has a stroke,” Peter said, joining in the laughter. “So when do you want to do this?”
“How soon do you think you can talk to her?” Vincent asked.
“I can invite her to lunch tomorrow, then bring her Below afterward if she seems open to it. Should I use the threshold at my place or another one?”
“Maybe your threshold would be best. It might be prudent to let her think that access is more limited than it is.”
Peter called Catherine about ten the next morning.
“There are a few things you need to know before I tell you more about Vincent,” he told her. “And I thought we could talk over lunch. It’s been a while since we did that.”
She agreed, and they set a neighborhood diner not far from Peter’s house to meet for a late lunch.
Since it was a family diner, Catherine dressed casually. In dark green slacks, a cream sweater, and low-heeled boots. She topped it with a brown leather blazer. It was mid-April but still a bit chilly, and she might be out after dark.
They were seated and had ordered before Catherine finally asked the question that was on the tip of her tongue.
“Did he agree?” she asked.
“He did…” she broke into a grin, and he held up a warning hand. “But there is a lot you need to know first.”
“OK, I feel as if I’m about to be briefed on something classified,” she said with a laugh.
“As far as a lot of people are concerned, this is Top Secret,” Peter told her. “And before I tell you anything, you need to promise that you won’t discuss any of it with anyone but me or others that you already know are involved.”
“Of course,” she told him. “I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone anything that was told to me in confidence. Client, attorney confidentiality applies. I promise.”
That made Peter feel better. He knew that as soon as she’d given her word, she was good for it.
The waitress brought their drinks, and he started his story.
“I’m sure that living in the city all your life, you’ve heard stories about people living in tunnels beneath the city.”
“We all have; it’s a real urban legend,” she said with a smile. “I’ve heard that there are hundreds of miles of tunnels under the city with thousands of people living there. They have found abandoned subway tunnels and stations, sub-basements under some buildings, and old utility maintenance tunnels. They’ve probably been there since the 1920s.”
“So the story goes,” Peter agreed. “And a surprising amount of it is true. Some have even formed communities with rules and a government of sorts. Their own version of a city beneath a city.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“For a fact,” Peter said with a smile. “I’ve been helping one of those communities since the early 1950s.” He held up his hand to stop her when she started to speak. “This one is one of the few permanent groups. They are deeper than most of the others… You see, there are natural caves in the bedrock beneath the subways and basements. Some of those caves show evidence of very ancient habitation.”
“And you are telling me that Vincent lives in one of those communities?” she asked.
“He does. The group he lives with numbers anywhere from 80 to a little over 100, depending on the time of year. They have made a fairly comfortable home for themselves. They have families with children. For some, it’s just an interim stop until they are ready to integrate back into society Above. For others, it’s become a permanent home.”
“But he sounds so educated,” she protested. “He speaks well, and when I read over his journal entries, I found that his handwriting is impeccable, and so is his use of the English language.”
“Vincent is well educated,” Peter told her. “His father, Jacob, the man who took him in when he was first taken Below as a newborn, is a doctor. He was Chief Resident when I did my residency back in the 1940s. Jacob educated him, and all the children Below are well educated by Jacob and Vincent, and anyone else who has knowledge or a skill they care to share.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Why, what?” countered Peter. “Why is he there, or why are any of them there?”
“Both, I guess.”
They paused as the waitress served their meals, then Peter continued.
“There are any number of reasons. A lot of the children are foundlings. Imperfect children who were abandoned, some as babies and some older. Children who ran away from abusive home situations. The adults all have their own stories: everything from the loss of their families to the inability to find work. Their stories are as numerous as they are in any community.”
“How do they feed themselves?” she asked. “What about medical care?”
“That is where people like me come in. The members of the community scrounge on the streets at night. Some restaurants are owned or have staff members who are Helpers. They leave as much as they can. Same for some grocers. There are other Helpers. Often, they are people who have spent some time Below, getting back on their feet. And when they came back Above, they became Helpers.
“As far as medical care is concerned, as I said, Jacob is a doctor, and I and a few others provide supplies. Everything from bandages to antibiotics.”
“It all sounds almost unbelievable,” Catherine said. “But I still don’t get why Vincent lives there, or, for that matter, that doctor.”
“Jacob was a victim of McCarthyism back in the early 50s,” Peter told her. “He was working in research and exposed some unethical practices of the company he worked for in relation to a government contract they held. For that, he was labeled a communist. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he’s considered a natural born American citizen because his mother was American; he was born here, he would have probably been deported. As it was, they revoked his medical license and blacklisted him. He would have likely died on the street that first winter if someone from the group hadn’t found him and taken him Below.”
“And Vincent?” she prompted. “You said he was taken… Below… as a baby?”
“Yes, he couldn’t have been more than 24 hours old,” Peter told her. “One of the women found him in a cardboard box near the trash behind St. Vincent’s Hospital.”
“In the trash?” Catherine looked shocked.
Peter shrugged. “No one knows how or why. Except that he was different. Perhaps it was done out of fear.”
“Different? How? Does he have some kind of birth defect?” she asked.
“At first, Jacob and another scientist who lived Below at the time thought it was a defect. Jacob called me in since I had more experience with babies than either of them had. I examined him, and I concluded that it wasn’t a birth defect or even an abnormality, but that for him, it was normal.”
Catherine’s brow was furrowed as she tried to follow what he was saying.
“Let me explain,” Peter said. “The scientific community has only recently started studying the human genome. There is even talk of the government funding a project to study it. But as of right now, not a lot is known. There have been some private studies and some articles published. One speculation is that all life on earth, at least all mammal life shares a good bit of its DNA. Look at the manufacture of insulin. Since the 1920s, it’s been extracted from the pancreases of pigs and cows. There is enough of a connection there that the human system can use that insulin.”
“What has all that got to do with Vincent?” she asked.
“It might account for his differences.” When Catherine looked even more confused, he had to laugh. “You know me… I get to talking medical science, and I tend to go on and on. Remember that cat Susan had when you were little?”
“Yes, Gertie,” Catherine said.
“Well, Gertie’s mother belonged to a neighbor. She was a Hemingway cat, she had six toes on each foot, but Gertie only had the usual number of toes. Gertie had three litters of kittens before we took her to the vet and had her spayed. There was at least one six toed kitten in each of those litters even though the male cat she mated with had the normal number of toes. The scientific term for that is called atavism. It’s a biological structure modification where an ancestral genetic trait reappears after being lost through the evolutionary change in previous generations.
“My theory about why Vincent is as he is comes from that idea. But in him, it would be more about somehow activating a different set of genes than just a genetic trait resurfacing. Jacob still thought it was a birth defect until Vincent started to grow. The other scientist, John, thought Vincent was more of an experiment gone wrong, somehow. It was his wife who brought Vincent Below originally.”
Catherine nibbled at her food for a few moments as she thought over what she’d heard.
“So, what does Vincent look like?” she finally asked. “How is he different?”
“Well, as you know, he’s tall, muscular, and those muscles aren’t just for looks. He’s strong. Much stronger than the average man. And I guess the best way to describe him is to superimpose a lion’s head or face over that of a man.”
He could tell that the idea had Catherine thinking. “His eyes are blue,” she said. “That was the only thing I could see.”
“Yes, his eyes are totally human, except that he sees better than most people. His physiology is human, only more efficient. His heart rate is lower, as is his respiration, but his blood oxygen levels are excellent.”
“And he looks like a lion?” she asked.
“More like a blend of man and lion. That was why John thought he might have been the result of a hybridization experiment. But his brain, thought processes are entirely human, as far as we can tell. And he is very intelligent. He’s studied medicine with Jacob and me and several other subjects like engineering, chemistry, architecture, not to mention the fine arts on his own. He’s seemed to have mastered them all.”
“From his observations and attention to detail in his journal, I thought he’d make a good lawyer,” she said.
“No doubt. I haven’t seen him do anything that he didn’t do well. He can even cook,” Peter added with a chuckle.
“Is he willing to meet with me?” Catherine asked.
“That is what this has all been about. He is more than willing, but he wanted to make sure that you knew what to expect and so he wouldn’t frighten you.”
“I think that if I hadn’t already met him, so to speak, I might be. But I know that he’s an intelligent person who is concerned for and willing to help other people. So I look forward to meeting him and thanking him.”
“When we are done eating, we can walk back to my place. We can go Below there.”
“From your place?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, it’s a bit of a walk, and we will need a guide since they change the ways occasionally for the sake of security, but I have a threshold in my basement. There are others, throughout the city, but they do try to limit them, to keep accidental intruders out.”
Catherine didn’t even notice what she was eating as she finished her lunch. She was too busy thinking about everything that Peter had just told her. She turned down dessert and after dinner coffee because she was in a hurry to see everything Peter had described. And she was busy compiling a list of questions. Questions that had nothing to do with either the Park Protector case or the one that Vincent had given her.
Peter talked as they walked back to his house from the diner, but Catherine wasn’t paying a lot of attention. Her brain was working overtime.
Is any of this real? she asked herself as they walked. How could all this be going on under our feet? It’s amazing!
“So, this is why you always had a lock on your furnace room,” Catherine said as Peter unlocked the door to the furnace room. “Did your wife know about all this? And for that matter, how about Susan?”
“Both of them knew,” Peter said with a chuckle. My wife lived Below for a short time. I met her there on one of my trips Below to check on Vincent. As you know, she was a nurse. She lost her job at the hospital, and someone on the staff there helped her and took her Below. She lived there and helped Jacob while she looked for work. When I met her, I told her that the practice I had just joined was looking for nurses. She was hired, and the rest is history… ancient history. Susan was in on the secret once she was old enough to understand the need to keep it a secret.”
There was another door in the back wall hidden behind the furnace. It was also locked.
“The locks work from both sides, and there are hidden keys. I keep a phone here in the furnace room for anyone below who needs to make a call or receive one. It’s a different number from the house number. There is an answering machine on it. If, for any reason, you ever need to send a message Below, you can call me or call this number and leave a message on the machine. I’ll give you the number. Or you can pass a note through several Helpers Above. I’ll give you all the information later if you need it.”
Catherine followed Peter through the second door then down a flight of wooden steps. They crossed a room with a dirt floor then exited into a brick corridor. It was lit at regular intervals with utility lights. They followed it several hundred feet before Peter stopped at a cast iron pipe and started tapping on it.
Catherine listened closely.
“Is that Morse Code?” she asked.
“A derivative of it,” he told her. “I just told them who I was, where I am, that I have a guest and I need a guide. Now we wait until that guide arrives.”
“Who will they send?” she asked.
“Anyone available. There are usually several children in the pipe chamber. Pascal uses them to pass messages to places where there isn’t pipe access, or when someone needs a guide.”
“Pipe chamber?” she asked.
“They use the pipes to pass messages. And there is a huge chamber where a lot of pipes just seemed to have been routed over the years. Pascal is the custodian of that chamber.”
“How long have they been down here?” she asked.
“This particular group has been here since the early 50s,” he told her. “Vincent was born in January of 1955, and Jacob had been here for several years by then.”
As they waited, Catherine looked around. There wasn’t much to be said for the man-made tunnel, lined with old bricks. Several of the lights were out, and it was damp and smelled moldy.
How can someone live like this? she wondered. But then, if it’s the only shelter you can find, I guess it’s better than a cardboard box or a bench in one of the parks.
They only waited a few minutes when they heard movement from around a corner. They were soon joined by a familiar cloaked figure.
“Vincent. I didn’t realize you would come,” Peter said as Vincent joined them.
“I knew you were bringing Miss Chandler down, and I wanted to keep that from general knowledge as long as possible.” He held his gloved hand out to Catherine, and she put hers into it. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze as they shook before releasing it. “I’m glad you could come down,” he told her.
“I’m glad that there was a way we could meet. I think I’m really going to need your help going through all the files I have. There have been over 5000 missing person reports filed in the city in the last 6 months. Many of those people have probably been found. Maybe one of the ones who have been found will know something about what you’ve witnessed. I need to have something more than the word of an unknown witness before I can take this to my boss or the DA.”
Vincent nodded. “I understand, and I appreciate that you took the word of an unknown witness.”
“Well, you said you talked to me because you felt that you could trust me, and I feel the same way.”
Up to that point, Vincent had kept his hood up, and his face shadowed. Now he reached up and pushed his hood back. The light was dim, but it was enough that Catherine could see his face and those startling blue eyes.
Vincent stood still as Catherine studied his face.
Catherine was startled by his appearance but didn’t find him at all frightening.
After a short time, she smiled and nodded. “I can certainly see why you stay out of sight.”
“It saves a lot of questions,” Peter added. “Have you told your father yet about what has happened?”
Vincent turned to Peter.
“Not yet, or at least not all of it. He’s been catching up on the news and read the reports in the papers about the Park Protector, and when he saw the description this morning, he asked me if it was me. I couldn’t lie, but I could reassure him that I didn’t go looking for people to help and muggers to apprehend. But I haven’t told him about the other incidents.”
“Are you going to?” asked Peter.
“I’m afraid that it might just make him worry all that much more. Especially when he hears that the person I called on for help works for the DA’s office.” He looked at Catherine.
“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” she repeated what she’d said to Peter earlier. She paused before continuing. “But I might have an idea of what you can tell your father… Keep it as much the truth as possible. Tell him that I am one of the people you helped and that I gave you my card. We can keep it to that one part of the story. You can tell him that since I work in the DA’s office and with the police, I offered to help keep the focus off the Park Protector. You won’t have to mention the other incidents. When we finally get that case to the point where I can take it to the DA, I’ll come up with a story that I got anonymous tips that I followed up on. We’ll do the research and see if we can come up with a solid case. Once we get enough evidence, we can turn it over to the police to do the legwork.”
Vincent looked at Peter, who nodded. “Sounds good to me,” Peter said. “Why don’t I go on ahead and talk to him while you talk to Cathy.”
They started walking, and after about ten minutes, they reached appoint where Peter told Vincent he could find his way from there.
Catherine had noticed that the conditions had improved as they had walked. They had gone down several sets of hand-hewn steps. The walls were now solid bedrock, and they were dry in most places. It was chilly, but not cold or damp as it had been where they stopped.
“Where can we talk?” she asked after Peter had left them.
“I thought that I might show you some of our world while we talk. We can give Peter some time to prepare Father.”
“I’d love to see it,” she told him. “I’ll admit that I wasn’t very impressed there close to Peter’s, but my impression has improved as we walked.”
“We are closer to the levels where we have made our home.” He told her as they began to walk. “The deepest subway in the city is about 175 feet below the surface, but where we live, it’s about 200 feet. We even have chambers that we estimate as closer to 300 or 400 feet, but we don’t live there.”
They walked for a few minutes, as Vincent pointed out some interesting things. They came to an opening and turned toward it.
“It’s not far,” he explained as he took her hand to guide her.
It was only a few steps before she could see light, and when they stepped out of the short tunnel, the sight took her breath away.
“How?” She didn’t even know what question to ask.
“We speculate that the river that we can see at the bottom of the cliff has been running through here for thousands of years, and it has carved the cavern we see. Sometimes the falls at the far end is bigger, and at other times smaller, as it is now. We didn’t really have a lot of snow this past winter, and there hasn’t been a lot of rain yet this spring, so the falls is now probably as small as I’ve ever seen it.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said as he guided her to some flat stones where they could sit.
He let her look her fill before he spoke again.
“What is it, exactly that you want my help with?” he asked.
“I was taken by surprise when I got the computer print out of all the missing persons, possible witnessed kidnappings and attempted kidnappings from the last six months. There have been over 5000 missing person reports alone. What I want to do is go over the reports with you, since you witnessed some. I want to know if any of them are the ones you saw and if there are any things in any of the other files that might match up with what you saw. It’s tedious work, but I don’t think I know enough about it all, even with your journal entries, to do a thorough job. We could work in my apartment if you are willing.”
“I’m more than willing, but I think it might be better if we worked down here. If we worked Above, it would seriously limit the amount of time I would be able to put into it. I wouldn’t be able to get to your apartment until after dark, and it would be quite late at that because I’d have to wait for pedestrian and vehicle traffic to be lighter. You have to get up early to work, so we would only have a short time in the evening. If we work Below, you could come down right after work and during the day on the weekend. We would finish it much faster.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” she agreed. “How would I get down here? Peter has an entrance, and he says there are others. Is there one I could use?”
“I’m pretty sure that we open a threshold in the basement of your apartment building,” he told her. “I know what building you are in, and if you can find the access to the subbasement under your building, it will be easy.”
“How do you know where I live?” she asked, a little suspicious.
“That is something else that I have to tell you about,” he told her, then he took a deep breath. “Did Peter tell you anything about me?”
“Only that your father adopted you and that someone had abandoned you behind St. Vincent’s hospital. One of the women from down here brought found you.”
Vincent tugged off one glove and held his hand out so Catherine could see it.
“My differences are more than just my face, and they aren’t all physical.” He pulled off the other glove. “I am extremely empathic.”
“That means you understand and are sympathetic to the feelings of others?” she asked.
“For me, it goes beyond that. I can feel a person’s physical and mental pain when I touch them. That was why I touched you when I checked the cut on your face. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t serious, but I also wanted to know if you were hurt anywhere else and what your mental state was. Skin to skin enhances it even more.”
“You can tune in that well?” she asked.
“Yes, and with you, seemingly, it works even better. The connection didn’t go away when I stopped touching you, not even when I left you to call the police. Ever since that night, the connection has remained, even strengthened. I’ve felt your pain, your anxiety, your hunger, knew when you were asleep and awake. I was even able to tell where you were. I knew the building; Peter told me your apartment number.”
Catherine looked at him, wide-eyed, for a long moment.
“You’ve been inside my head the whole time?” she asked, stunned.
“Not inside your head,” he rushed to assure her. “I can’t read your thoughts, and I’m able to put it in the back of my mind so that I’m not tuned in, as you put it, all the time.”
“Wow!” she breathed.
“Wow, indeed,” he agreed. “I thought you should know. I hope it isn’t too upsetting.”
“Not upsetting, but it is fascinating. It will take a little getting used to,” she said.
“I agree. I’ve never had a connection with anyone like this before. It will take some getting used to for me too.”
“OK, then. We will work down here,” she said, changing the subject. “When do you want to start?”
“I can do the work to open a threshold under your building this evening or in the morning. Would it be convenient for you to bring everything Below tomorrow after work?”
“I can do that,” she agreed. “What time?”
“Whenever is most convenient for you. I will know and will meet you,” he told her.
“Right. That connection you spoke of,” she said with a nod of understanding. “I get off work at 5pm, and hopefully, I’ll be able to leave on time tomorrow. If the traffic isn’t bad and I can get a taxi, it takes about 30 minutes to get home. All I need to do is change.”
“I’ll be waiting,” he told her. “Now, we must beard the lion in his den.” At her startled look, he chuckled. “About some things, Father is much more of a lion than I ever dreamed of being,” he told her. “Especially went it comes to protecting our world and me.”
It was only a short walk to the main part of the community. They passed people who nodded and smiled at Vincent and looked curiously at Catherine, but no one stopped them or asked any questions.
They reached what was clearly a well-used entrance to something, and Vincent allowed her to precede him into the chamber.
For a second time that day, the sight took her breath away, but for a different reason this time. The chamber had two levels, and the upper level appeared to be a library, but there were so many books in stacks on pieces of furniture and the floor that she wondered if the whole place was some kind of a library.
Peter was seated on a chair, in front of a desk, and behind that desk was seated a man who looked like someone out of a Shakespearian play.
He looked up and frowned as she and Vincent entered.
“Vincent, this is highly irregular,” were his first words. Catherine was somehow not surprised to hear an English accent.
“I know, Father,” Vincent said as he pulled a chair over so Catherine could sit next to Peter. “But it’s necessary.” He pulled another chair over and sat next to Catherine. “This is Catherine Chandler, Miss Chandler, this is my Father, Dr. Jacob Wells. Miss Chandler has volunteered to help us with the Park Protector problem.”
Dr. Wells directed his gaze at Catherine, but he didn’t speak.
“Please, everyone, call me Catherine or Cathy. Miss Chandler sounds so formal.”
“And why would you volunteer to help in this matter?” Dr. Wells asked.
“Vincent helped me,” she pointed out. “I had just spoken to a co-worker a few days before about this, and I said that I thought this Park Protector was doing a service for the city. He obviously can’t be lauded for his service, but I can help protect him from those who would label him a vigilante.”
“Is there something in this for you?” asked Dr. Wells, obviously not willing to concede the point too quickly.
“Job security?” she said with a smile and a shrug.
Peter got the joke, and she heard him chuckle, but Dr. Wells didn’t seem amused.
“This is a joke?” he said accusingly.
“No, it’s not. But what Vincent has been doing has pulled quite a few bad people off the streets. A citizen’s arrest is a real thing, and essentially that is what he’s been doing, and I intend that it be considered that. There were over 2000 murders in this city last year,” she quoted, “and close to 83,000 aggravated assaults. Those are included in the almost 180,000 violent crimes in New York City last year, and that is only violent crimes. This city has a population of 17,825,000 people. The odds of anyone in the city being a victim of any kind of crime are very high. I welcome Vincent’s help in getting some of the perps off the streets. Although, I think you would agree that it is worrisome that he is so willing to put himself in jeopardy to do it.”
That last sentence seemed to almost win Vincent’s father over, and he almost smiled.
“And you are sure that you can ethically keep our secret?” he asked, but his tone was more conciliatory this time.
“I most certainly can,” she said adamantly. “I can’t see where you are doing anything illegal. I don’t think there are any precedents on how far below the surface the city has jurisdiction; especially this deep below the tunnels that the city built.”’
The three of them watched as Dr. Wells appeared to relax. He even smiled.
“Welcome, Catherine,” he said.
They discussed the issue, sticking strictly to the Park Protector problem. In less than an hour, Catherine had been invited to call Dr. Wells, Father, and she had been invited to join them for the tea that Vincent left to get.
It was early evening when Vincent escorted them back to Peter’s. Catherine arrived at her building a little over an hour later. She decided to go down to the basement to see if she could locate the subbasement entrance before she went up to her apartment.
She was wandering around the basement when she was startled by a voice.
“Can I help you, Miss Chandler?”
“Oh… Hi Alex.” It was the building maintenance manager. “I came down to see if I had a cardboard box in my storage, but I don’t. I was looking to see if there were any sitting around, loose,” she quickly ad-libbed.
“There’s usually some back here,” he told her, leading the way toward the back of the basement where there were several large boxes stacked against the wall. “How big?”
“Not too big. I just need to store some files,” she said as she watched him shift some of the boxes around.
When he moved one stack out of the way, she noticed a large, slightly rusted metal door in the wall.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Just the door to the subbasement,” Alex told her. “It’s not used very much anymore.”
“Does it open?” she asked as he held up a box that he thought would be perfect for her needs.
“Sure. I check it now and then and keep the hinges oiled.”
“Can I look?” she asked, feigning curiosity.
“Sure, but there isn’t much to see.”
He showed her how the latch worked, and she leaned into the musty space and looked down. It was a small room with brick walls, and the dirt floor was about eight feet below the door's level. One wall seemed to be lined with heavy cast iron pipes, and the other had electrical cable. She was relieved to see that there was a ladder set into the wall under the door. She didn’t relish having to drop down eight feet to get to the floor below.
“Interesting,” she said she backed away from the door. She was also happy to note that although the hinges looked rusty, they didn’t make a sound as Alex closed the door again. “Aren’t you here a little late tonight,” she asked, looking at her watch.
“Mrs. Costello on 15 had a stopped-up drain. It took a little longer to clear than I expected. I’m usually out of here by 5:00,” he told her as they walked back toward the elevators.
“Do we have someone here to do maintenance after hours?” she asked, wondering if she was going to have to contend with someone if she wanted to use the threshold.
“If it’s a real emergency, me or one of the other guys is on call after hours, but the security guys try to take care of the little things, so we don’t have to be called,” he told her.
“That’s good to know,” Catherine said as she took the box.
They parted at the elevators. Alex headed for the basement parking, and Catherine headed up to her apartment.
Once inside, she looked at the box and shook her head. At least it had made a good excuse. She took it into the kitchen, where she cut the packing tape and flattened the box before putting it between the wall and the refrigerator where she stored her paper bags.
Distraction was her middle name at work on Monday. Her mind kept drifting back to the world below the city and the uniqueness that was Vincent.
“Where were you in there?” asked Joe as they left their Monday staff meeting.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You had that faraway look in your eyes, you didn’t ask one question, where you usually have a bunch, and you didn’t take any notes.” He nodded at the blank legal pad in her hands.
“It was really pretty much the same stuff as last week,” she said, hoping that was the fact.
“Yeah, but that usually doesn’t stop you.” He grinned at her. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“Great, as long as you don’t show up with more work. I’m still working on last week’s stuff.”
Catherine picked up her phone and called Edie and asked her to run the plate that Vincent had seen. It was only a minute before Catherine had her answer.
“Looks like that plate was stolen,” Edie told her.
“When,” she asked.
“Looks like it was last August. It was reported on the 31st.”
“OK, thanks, Edie. I’ll talk to you later.”
When Father joined Vincent for breakfast, he found him staring off into space.
“Something on your mind, Vincent?” he asked.
Vincent was glad he’d explained his connection to his father. Father had called it a Bond. It made his next words easier to say.
“Catherine is distracted. I know she’s at work, but she doesn’t feel like she’s there, mentally.” He shook his head. “This Bond, as you called it, is interesting. I’m learning to put it in the back of my mind, but it pops up at interesting moments.”
“Did you two come up with a plan for how she’s going to handle this Park Protector case?” Father asked.
“We talked about it a little,” Vincent told him. “She’s coming Below after work tonight and bringing the files with her. She will also come Below whenever she has an update for me.”
“What threshold will she be using?” Father asked.
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” Vincent said. “Her building was built in 1905, and it has a subbasement. I want to open a threshold there, so she won’t have to go all the way over to Peter’s or to the entrance in the Park.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Father asked dubiously.
“I think it’s better than her using the one in the Park. It could put her in danger, and she might be observed entering the culvert. It would be more convenient than having to go all the way to Peter’s. It can always be closed again if she doesn’t become a regular Helper.”
“All right for now,” Father said. “But the council will have to give its official permission at the next meeting.”
“I understand, but it could be moot by then. We might not be working together very long.”
Vincent hoped that wouldn’t be the case but realized it was a possibility.
Catherine managed to be out the door at work by 5:05pm.
Some kind of record, she thought as she hailed a cab. I don’t think I’ve left this early since I started here.
And even better, she walked into her apartment at 5:30 and left again at 5:45. She had packed all the files and the sheaf of paper into a backpack the night before. She slung it over her shoulder and headed for the basement.
“Alex?” she called when she exited the elevator in the basement. “Is anyone here?”
When there was no answer, she figured she was safe. She found the rusty door in the back wall and pulled it open. She leaned in and dropped the backpack to the floor, then turned and lowered herself to the ladder. After she closed the door behind her, she started down the ladder.
She let out a startled squeak when she felt two large hands wrap around her waist and lift her down.
She turned when her feet touched the floor to find a rather sheepish looking Vincent behind her. He took a step back.
“I’m sorry, Catherine. I didn’t mean to scare you. I was going to speak, but you were on the ladder, and I was afraid I might startle you and cause a misstep.” He leaned down to pick up the backpack. “I was worried that the ladder might not hold. I just opened the threshold and didn’t have a chance to test the ladder.”
“Thank you for your concern,” she said as they turned to leave the small room.
She looked at the rough opening in the wall that they stepped through.
“What if someone from my building gets curious and opens the door?” she asked. “Wouldn’t this look suspicious?”
“If I get permission from the council to make this a permanent threshold, I’ll finish it to make it look neater, more like something the utility people would do. Then we will erect a false wall a little way down the tunnel toward our community. I’ll show you how to operate it. If you turn left when you leave the subbasement, it dead ends and leads to a manhole in the alley behind your building. Another dead end will look natural.”
“You have all of this figured out,” she said as they walked.
“Our people have been doing it for a long time. We have systems in place,” he assured her.
When they reached Vincent’s chamber, the first thing that caught Catherine’s eye was a stained-glass window that was in the wall over his bed.
“That’s lovely,” she commented as he put the backpack on the large table he’d brought in for them to work on.
“Thank you. It was found Above at a site where there had been a house fire. It had been tossed onto a trash heap.”
The chamber was warm, so Catherine took off her jacket and hung it on the back of the chair that Vincent pulled up for her. She started to unpack the backpack, and Vincent smiled.
“I was wondering what you had that was so heavy,” he said as she laid out the stack of paper Edie had given her, Joe’s file on the Park Protector, two yellow legal pads, and a handful of pencils.
She held the Park Protector file out to him.
“I thought you might like to read that,” she said as he took it. “Our files are usually confidential, but since that isn’t an official file, just something Joe was keeping, I feel I can share it.”
“Joe?” he asked as he opened the file.
“My boss… well, not really the boss. John Moreno is my boss. He’s the DA, Joe is one of his Deputies. He’s in charge of Investigations, and I work in Investigations as an Assistant DA,” Catherine explained.
After Vincent had read a little bit of the file, Catherine explained to him what she wanted to do.
“I went through your journal entries, and I listed the individual incidents you witnessed. The printout,” she pointed at the stack of paper, “is listed by the date that the missing person report was filed. Since you said that the first incident you witnessed happened almost 6 months ago, I had Edie go back to October 1st. I want to go through those months and see if we can match any of the missing persons to the incidents you witnessed.”
He nodded and reached for the stack of papers.
“I separated them by month,” she pointed out. “I thought it would be easier to deal with one month at a time.”
It was a little after nine when Vincent looked up at her.
“You didn’t eat any dinner,” he observed.
“I didn’t even think of it,” she admitted. “But I did eat lunch.”
“I’ll go get us something,” he said, rising. “I won’t be long.”
Catherine took that opportunity to stretch her legs, and she walked around the room looking at the odds and ends that were spread through the chamber.
“You have an interesting collection here,” she said when Vincent returned carrying a tray with two bowls of stew, fresh bread, and a pot of tea.
“Things picked up on the street by me and everyone else down here. The children love to bring me the little treasures they find.”
Catherine picked up a book and read the title.
“Great Expectations,” she said with a smile. “I remember reading that in junior high. It started my life long love affair with Charles Dickens.”
“His characters are so vivid and real,” Vincent agreed as he moved some papers around and set out the food.
“That smells wonderful!” Catherine exclaimed, retaking her seat. “I didn’t realize how hungry I am until I smelled it.” She tasted the stew. “That’s good!”
“William is a magician when it comes to food. He can take few ingredients and make it into something wonderful. He is making our meat ration spread to 3 meals a week now.”
Catherine looked down at her bowl, then back at him. “I’m not taking anything away from someone down here, am I.”
“No, no,” Vincent rushed to reassure her. “There is always enough for a guest or two. What is left of tonight’s stew will have more vegetables and broth added and will become soup for tomorrow.”
“You’re sure?” she asked.
“I’m positive,” he said with a nod.
They didn’t get much more work done that evening, and Vincent escorted Catherine back to her threshold a short time later.
Catherine made a phone call to Peter on her lunch hour the next day.
“How is the investigation going?” Peter asked.
“It’s going well; we got more accomplished in a few hours than I expected. I hope to have something to take to the DA next week. But that isn’t what I’m calling about.”
“OK, what is it?”
“Vincent and I had a bit of a talk about the food situation, Below,” she said, glancing around to make sure no one was within earshot.
“It is better sometimes, but it’s never really great,” Peter admitted.
“I was wondering if there is anything I could do to help in that area?”
“There’s plenty,” Peter said enthusiastically. “I provide vitamin supplements for the children and the pregnant women, but they really could use more good quality protein, dairy products, and fresh vegetables. They have helpers who are grocers and butchers. Still, it gets expensive trying to provide enough nutrition for a hundred or so people.”
“What can I do?” she asked.
“How much are you willing to spend?” Peter countered.
“However much it takes to improve their diet. Their cook does wonders with what he has; I got to sample some of it last night; just think of what he can do with more and better quality ingredients.”
“All right. I will contact the Helpers who provide as much fresh food as they can and get them to let me know how much it would cost to add to what they are already sending. I’ll let you know.”
“Don’t bother,” Catherine said. “I want it to start as soon as possible. Just tell them to contact… I think Vincent said his name was William… and get him to give them a list. They are to send what is needed as often as is needed and send the bills to me. And Peter… this is anonymous. I don’t want anyone Below to know where it’s coming from. Tell the Helpers that too. No one Below is to know.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Peter promised. “And Honey… thank you, on behalf of everyone Below. This will make their lives so much easier.
Catherine and Vincent continued their work through the weekend until they finished late Sunday afternoon.
“Do you think you have what you need?” Vincent asked as they restacked the papers and packed them back into the backpack.
“I think so,” she said with a smile. “I’ll organize our notes and get them typed up and take them to Joe and Moreno later this week. I’m just sorry we couldn’t find any missing person reports that matched the incidents you saw over in the Village.”
“Well, as you said, pimps aren’t likely to report one of their girls missing.”
“I might just go and talk to some of the girls, myself,” Catherine said musingly, “I might get more information that way.”
“That might not be a good idea, Catherine,” Vincent warned. “And would they even talk to you?”
“They might,” said Catherine, choosing to ignore the warning, “if I lead off with the fact that I think someone is kidnapping women off the street and that I want to help.”
“I’ve not met many prostitutes,” Vincent said, “but it’s been my experience that they aren’t very trusting.”
“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try,” she said.
“Will you stay for dinner tonight?” asked Vincent. He was reluctant to see her go so soon, knowing that they were done with their work and that he might not see her again for a while.
“Thank you, I’d love to. Are you sure it’s OK?”
“Yes, very sure. It seems we have acquired an anonymous benefactor who has contacted our food suppliers and has directed them to send us more food. William was told that he should order what he needs to cook wholesome meals, and he gets a delivery every few days. No one has had to go scavenging for food at night for almost a week.”
“That is wonderful!” Catherine exclaimed, avoiding looking Vincent in the eye for fear she’d give herself away. “I haven’t seen any more newspaper reports of the Park Protector lately,” she added, changing the subject.
“I haven’t been out at night for over a week,” he explained as they walked toward the dining chamber. “I’ve had sentry duty, and then I’ve been going straight back to my chamber to sleep. Father would prefer that it stayed that way,” he added with a chuckle.
“I can understand that, but I was wondering… Why do you go Above at night?”
“It’s the only time I can do it safely,” he pointed out. “As much as I would love to see the park and the rest of the city in the sunlight, the night is the only safe time for me.”
“I get that, but… I meant more like, why bother? But then I guess it might get a little claustrophobic down here.”
“Not so much claustrophobic, but although this place is my refuge; where my family is, at times, it is also my prison.”
Catherine surprised Vincent by slipping her hand into his as they walked.
“It’s just not fair that you should be held prisoner by other people’s narrow minds,” she said sadly.
Dinner was delicious. William had set up a carving station with a large ham, and there were several sides and even dessert. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the rather festive Sunday dinner.
“I just hope people don’t start to overdo it,” Father said, as Vincent and Catherine joined him. “We don’t need an epidemic of obesity here.”
“You know this won’t be the norm, Father,” Vincent said with a smile. “William said that he was making up for not having enough to do justice to a traditional Easter dinner earlier this month. He’s just making up for it today. Since we started receiving more food last week, he’s been very good about serving nutritious, balanced meals.”
“I do admit that having the extra milk for my tea has been welcome,” Father admitted.
Catherine was glad that someone had thought to add dairy products to the grocery list.
By the middle of the week, Catherine had organized the notes and had them typed. She headed to Joe’s office with the Park Protector file and her own file.
“Got a minute, Joe?” she asked from the open door of his office.
“Sure, what do you need?” he asked, looking up from what he was reading.
“I just wanted to return this,” she said, putting the Park Protector file down on the desk, “and talk to you about this.” She held up the other file she carried.
“What have you got?” he asked with interest. “Have a seat.”
Catherine sat on the beat-up sofa across from Joe’s desk.
“Well, I was talking to someone, and he mentioned that he’d seen some strange things going on in different parts of the city. He said it looked to him as if women were being kidnapped off the street. So, I got a list of missing persons for the last few months, and I think I came up with some matches for what he witnessed.”
“Is he reliable?” Joe asked.
“Absolutely, Joe. He was able to give me a plate number. He told me that he saw that same plate at different locations and on different vehicles.”
Joe held his hand out for the file, and Catherine stood to hand it to him then sat back down.
Joe paged through the file, and several minutes later, he looked up at her.
“I don’t know, Radcliffe. There isn’t much here.”
“But he saw those women abducted,” she argued.
“Will he come to the office and give a statement?”
“That’s impossible,” she told him.
“And why is that?”
“Well, he doesn’t live in the city.” Technically that was true.
“But he must be here often enough if he’s seen all that this alleges.”
“He does visit, Joe, but he can’t come and give a statement, and if we find someone to prosecute, he can’t testify.”
“If we take this to the boss, he’s going to laugh us out of the office if he doesn’t fire us both.”
“Joe, this is real. Someone is kidnapping women. God knows what is happening to them.”
“Have any of these missing women showed up since they were reported missing?”
“Some who were on the original list I got, but none that match up with what my source reported.”
“And what about these women that your source saw being grabbed in the Village?”
“There have only been a few reports from that part of town, and none of them fit my source’s description.”
“How about unidentified bodies?” Joe asked.
“I didn’t want to go into that until I got you on board with an investigation,” she said.
“You might not need the job, Radcliffe, but I do,” he told her vehemently.
“I’ve done nearly all of this on my own time,” she retorted.
“Fine, then continue to work on it in your own time and when you have something more than what you have here, come back, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Catherine stood and held her hand out for the file, and Joe handed it to her.
“I guess it will take someone important being kidnapped before this is crucial enough to bring to John’s attention. I just hope this doesn’t turn into a full-blown kidnapping ring before I’m able to find anything else!” She retorted as she took the file and left the office in a huff.
She was still steaming when she arrived at home that evening. Even after a hot shower, dinner, and two glasses of wine, she was more relaxed but still angry.
She decided to go out onto her balcony to see if some fresh air would cool her head.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard something land on the balcony behind her. She quickly turned and was surprised to see Vincent standing there.
“I’m sorry I startled you,” he said, stepping forward and joining her at the outside wall. “I seem to be saying that a lot.”
“It’s just that I’ve never had people literally drop in before,” she said with a smile. She looked up. “How do you do that?”
“I used the fire escape on the back of your building, cross the roof, and since you are only two floors down, it’s an easy drop,” he explained.
“And you were able to pinpoint my apartment,” she commented.
“As I said, the Bond helped me find the building, and Peter told me the apartment number,” he told her.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“I felt your anger and frustration and came to see if I could help.”
“That!” Catherine said, venting even more frustration. Then she went on to explain what had happened with Joe that morning.
“And he’s not going to do anything?” Vincent asked incredulously.
“Not until I can give him more than a few vague information. He wants more hard facts. And I get that. He needs the job, and he’s afraid that if he backs too many of what Moreno considers to be pointless schemes, Moreno might bump him back down to Assistant DA or even fire him. Joe has worked hard to get where he is.”
“But lives could be in the balance!”
“And I agree. That is why I’m going to start digging to see if I can come up with more. I just hope I can come up with it before more women are put into jeopardy.”
“What will you do?” Vincent asked.
“I’ll talk to people involved—those who made the reports that match up with what you saw. I’ll check with the coroner’s office. I might even go and talk to some of the girls down in the village and ask if any of their friends are missing.”
“That last might be dangerous,” Vincent observed.
Catherine laughed. “Don’t worry, I have a weapon, and I’m licensed to carry it. And I intend to dress in a way that will make it clear that I’m not a “working girl. At least not that kind of work.”
“I’ll be close,” he promised.
“The Bond, I can tell where you are, but I’ll stay out of sight unless you need me.”
“You will be careful?” she asked.
“Very!” he promised.
Catherine’s frustration didn’t decrease over the course of the week. She managed to speak to one person who had made a missing person report, and she even talked to one woman who had been abducted. But it turned out that she’d been kidnapped by an ex-boyfriend, who was determined to hold her until she agreed to marry him. He hadn’t meant her any harm but had thought that he could convince her that he loved her by doing something rash and crazy because she’d told him that he was boring and not spontaneous enough. By Friday afternoon, she’d decided that she would have to resort to her final choice in plans.
After she ate dinner that night, she dressed in one of her business pantsuits. It had been rainy all day, so she topped it with a trench coat. She didn’t bother with a purse but put everything she might need: cash, ID, business cards in an inside pocket on her suit jacket. She put her gun in the pocket of her coat.
On the street, she hailed a cab and told him where to take her.
She wasn’t disappointed. It wasn’t quite 9pm yet, but there were half a dozen girls spaced pretty evenly on the block where she got out of the cab.
She took a deep breath and walked up to the one closest to her.
“Excuse me,” she began.
The girl turned with a smile, then she laughed.
“Sorry, but I’m not into girls,” she purred. “But my friend Adele,” she pointed to a woman standing a few feet away, “she’s fine with it.”
“No, that’s not why I’m here,” Catherine began. Adele, having heard her name, walked up. “I’m investigating the disappearances of young women from different parts of the city.” She looked from Adele to the first woman she’d spoken to. “Have any of your friends gone missing lately?”
Adele laughed. “Hey, girls come and go,” she said. “They get into trouble, get arrested, their pimps beat them up, Johns beat them up… Hell, sometimes that’s the only way we can get a day off.”
“But have any disappeared and not come back?” she asked.
“None that I know of,” answered the first woman, and Adele nodded.
“Thank you.” Catherine pulled out a couple of her cards and handed them to the women. “If anything does happen, if anyone does disappear or you think of anything, please call me.”
She moved on to the next woman and repeated her requests. No one was rude to her, but none of them seemed to be willing to say much more than the first two.
She was halfway down the second block before she found someone who would talk.
Catherine explained her reason for being there and handed her a card.
“I got a friend,” the woman said quietly. “Her name is Beth.”
“And what’s your name,” Catherine asked.
“Cass… my friends call me Cass.” Cass stepped toward the alley behind them and beckoned for Catherine to follow. “Don’t want my guy to drive by and think I’m bein’ lazy,” she explained.
Catherine nodded and followed, but she put her hand in her pocket. The feel of the gun was reassuring.
“What can you tell me, Cass?” Catherine asked when they were in the shadows.
“Her name is Beth… Elizabeth Warner. She’s just a kid, really. Just turned 19 and hasn’t been working long.”
“And she’s missing?”
“Yeah, she has been for a couple of weeks now.”
“Do you remember the last time you saw her? The date, and what happened?”
“It was the middle of the week, Tuesday or Wednesday, about two weeks ago. It was a slow night; it was raining. Beth had a customer, and they went into an alley and just didn’t come out.”
“Did you check on her?” Catherine asked as she took a notebook out of her pocket and started taking notes.
“Yeah, I did, after about an hour, I went and looked, hoping I wouldn’t find her dead or beat up, but she wasn’t there. I figured she went off with the guy in a car.”
“Did you see any vehicles leaving the alley?”
“No, but it’s open on both ends. Coulda gone the other way,” Cass told her.
“Did you report her missing?” Catherine asked.
“Naw. I mean, I didn’t even figure out that she was missing until she’d been gone a couple of days. Her pimp came down here and asked us if we’d seen her.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Same thing I just told you.”
“So you don’t think he had anything to do with her disappearing?”
“Not if he was asking us if we’d seen her.”
Have you heard of any other girls disappearing?”
“There’s been talk, but no one that I know personally.”
“What kind of talk?”
“Just that there is someone in an old beat-up white van, maybe a religious freak, who is on a mission to clean up the streets.”
Catherine made a note of that, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a twenty that she handed to Cass.
“For your time,” Catherine told her. “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” Cass said with a smile. “Any time.”
Catherine turned to walk away and move on to the next woman when a man seemed to come out of nowhere, reaching out to grab Catherine’s and Cass’s arms.
“Just what I’m looking for. Two ladies,” he said with a leer. Both Catherine and Cass were struggling to get free when a beat-up white van came down the alley from the other end. It stopped, and the driver jumped out. He grabbed Catherine and shoved her into the van through the side door. Cass was pushed in on top of her, and the first man climbed in and closed the door. The driver got back in and backed the van out the way it had come in.
By that time, both Catherine and Cass were shrieking like banshees and struggling. But the guy was able to use a cord to secure their hands in front of them before he gagged them both.
Vincent had been keeping an eye on Catherine from the roof of a building across the street. As soon as he saw the van, he realized he should have stayed closer. He was too far away to help her, and he had to settle for following the van.
By the time he reached the street, the van was out of sight, but he was thankful that he had the Bond so he could do that even when he lost sight of it.
He didn’t pay much attention to what he passed, as he ran as fast as he could to follow. Many people saw him that night, many more than Father would have thought safe, but he was moving so fast that he was just a blur to most.
By the time he reached the building where the van was parked, the vehicle was empty.
The ride in the van didn’t take long, only a few minutes, and Catherine knew that they were somewhere north of where they had started out, but that was all.
The men weren’t gentle when they hauled the two women out of the back of the van. A quick look around told Catherine that they were in a residential neighborhood, not too rundown, but definitely not affluent. The van was parked in an alley.
The men pushed them through a gate into a yard that was overgrown with weeds. It was a small yard, and only a few steps took them to the building's back door. One of the men unlocked and opened the door, and Cass and Catherine were shoved through into a dingy hall.
They were halfway up the back stairs to the second floor when there was an explosion of sound from behind them.
Catherine crowded Cass toward the wall as the man holding her arm was plucked away. There was what sounded like a lion's roar, a thud, then a groan before the second man turned around to look to see what had happened. He was gone as suddenly as the first man. There was another thud as both Cass and Catherine made it to the landing and slid to the floor.
Before Catherine could take another breath, the cord that bound her hands were cut, and a pocket knife was put into her hand. She looked up as Vincent pulled the gag out of her mouth.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Both of you?”
“Yes. Neither of us is hurt,” Catherine told him.
“I’ll tie up the other two and check the rest of the house,” he told her as he eyed Cass, who was trying to roll over to see what was going on. “You free her, and if everything is under control, I’ll leave… but I won’t be far.”
Catherine cut the cord on Cass’s hands then removed her gag, staying between her and Vincent, who was at the bottom of the stairs.
Vincent used the stairs in the front of the house to check the other floors, and it was only a few minutes before he was back. Catherine and Cass were checking their erstwhile captors. Catherine was making sure that the cords were tied tight.
Vincent stayed around the corner in the hall as he spoke to them.
“There are five women upstairs in a large attic room. All of them are on cots, and I think they’ve been drugged. They are all breathing and seem to be fine; otherwise. These two,” he referred to the two men, “seem to be the only others staying here. The rest of the house is empty, and there are only two bedrooms on the second floor that appear to be in use but are not currently occupied.”
“Thank you,” Catherine said, pointedly avoiding using his name. “You need to go. I need to call the police, and you can’t be here when they come.”
“You sure you are all right?” he asked.
“We will be fine. Now go!”
They listened as footsteps retreated down the hall. Catherine turned to Cass.
“You know that guy?” Cass asked.
Catherine nodded. “But we can’t say anything about him,” she rushed to say. “We will have to come up with a story, and I think that we should keep it as simple as possible.”
“How ‘bout we just got lucky. I tripped on the stairs, and you took advantage of it and managed to push the guy holding you down the stairs, and I took the hint and kicked the one holding me in the balls, and he fell too. They were both stunned,” Cass provided.
“Sounds good. And I managed to get a pocket knife out of my pocket and cut the cords, and held my gun on them while you made sure they weren’t going anywhere.”
“Do you think they saw that guy?” Cass asked as she followed Catherine toward the front of the house, where they saw a phone.
“Probably,” she said. “But if they say anything, we should just laugh it off as two guys not being willing to admit that they were overpowered by two women.”
That should work,” Cass said with a grin.
Catherine picked up the phone and dialed a number she had memorized.
“Hughes,” answered a voice on the other end.
“Good, Detective Hughes, I was hoping you’d be on duty. This is Cathy Chandler, and I’ve just been the victim of an attempted kidnapping.”
“Where are you?” he asked quickly.
“Ah, I’m not sure.” She looked at Cass. “Do you have any idea where we are?” she asked.
“No…” Cass looked around then spotted mail that had been dropped through the slot in the front door. She grabbed it checked the address on several pieces then held one out to Catherine.
“There’s some mail here addressed to OCCUPANT, and it has an address on it.” She read the address to Greg.
“Are you safe?”
“Yeah, we got lucky, and the kidnappers were kind of clumsy. They are both tied up. And there are other women in the house. They appear to be unconscious, maybe drugged.”
“OK. There are uniforms on their way there right now, and I’ll be there right behind them. Be careful, in case there are others there.”
“I have my gun; I just couldn’t get to it when they grabbed us.” She could hear sirens. “I’ll see you in a few, Detective. Thanks.”
Four uniformed officers arrived, and Hughes was only a few minutes behind them. Catherine was talking to him when Joe arrived. He was disheveled as if he’d just gotten out of bed.”
“What the hell is going on, Radcliffe?” he demanded as soon as he walked in the front door.
“Just doing what you told me to do, Joe. I got more information on those cases I brought to you.”
“Yeah,” Greg said with a chuckle. “Seems she just busted the human trafficking ring we’ve been tracking for almost a year.”
“Human trafficking? Why didn’t the DAs office know something about this?” Joe demanded.
“Because we didn’t have anyone to prosecute, no witnesses and no suspects. The police do keep a few things to ourselves until we have made arrests.”
Joe shook his head and threw up his hands before sitting on the steps next to a woman.
He looked over at her, “Who are you?” he asked with uncharacteristic rudeness.
“That is Cass, and I was talking to her about the disappearance of one of her friends when those two guys,” she nodded toward the two men being escorted out of the house, “grabbed us.” The look Cathy gave Joe made him cringe.
A few minutes later, several ambulances arrived to transport the unconscious women to the hospital.
Cass and Cathy rode down to the precinct with Detective Hughes, where they both gave statements. Obviously, they both told pretty much the same story because no one questioned either of them about it.
But Hughes did question them about the stories the two men were telling.
“They both say that someone jumped them from behind,” Hughes said. “A big guy.”
Cathy and Cass looked at each other and burst into laughter.
“I think someone has a bruised ego,” Cathy said as Cass nodded in agreement. “They aren’t little guys, and for them to admit that they were overpowered by two women who together probably don’t weigh as much as one of them would be like admitting that they love cuddly puppies and kittens.”
Hughes chuckled. “Yeah, it would. They have to maintain that tough, macho image to the very end, I guess.”
“Look, Detective, it’s late, I’m exhausted, and I’m sure Cass is too. Can we leave?”
He looked over what he had in the file in his hand. “Yeah, I think we have everything we need from you tonight. I know how to get hold of you, but is there a number where I can reach you, Miss Connor?”
Cass gave him a number then she and Catherine left the precinct building.
Joe hadn’t been able to do much, but he’d volunteered to go back to where the evening had started and get Catherine’s car for her. It was parked in the lot with the squad cars.
“Can I drop you somewhere?” Catherine asked as they left the building.
“Thanks. It’s too late to go back to work,” Cass said with a laugh. “And it’s a good thing that I’m an independent, so I won’t have to explain to someone why I didn’t make any money tonight.”
“Can I reimburse you for that lost time?” Catherine asked, concerned for the other woman.
“Nah, don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt to take a night off now and then,” Cass told her with a wink. “I have a part-time day job; I just do this to raise my standard of living. Besides, I’ll get a lot of mileage off the story about what happened tonight.”
“Just don’t mention our rescuer, OK?” Catherine asked with concern.
“Hell no. It tells a whole lot better when we rescue ourselves.”
They both laughed as Catherine pulled out of the lot.
“So, where do you want me to drop you?”
It was almost 3am when Catherine reached home. She was startled when she heard a tap on the balcony door after she locked her front door.
She could see a figure through the sheer drapes and knew it was Vincent and didn’t hesitate to open the door and step onto the balcony.
She was surprised to find herself pulled into Vincent’s arms for a tight hug.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t closer,” he told her. “I was too far away to put a stop to that.”
She pushed back so she could look up at him.
“Well, I could have done without the rough treatment, and so could Cass, I imagine, but I did what I set out to do. Only it happened differently and a lot faster than I expected. I can’t wait to read the statements of those two guys. I talked to Joe briefly, and we both agree that they were not likely the brains of the operation, but we might be able to convince Moreno to offer some kind of a deal to them if they give evidence that will allow us to find someone just a bit farther up the food chain.”
“I just wish that the danger to you could have been avoided,” Vincent said as his arms tightened and he pulled her close again.
“Vincent, I live in New York City. I endanger myself every time I set foot on the sidewalk… Have you seen how some of those cabbies drive?”
Vincent had to chuckle at her resilience. “How did you explain what happened?” he asked.
Catherine told him the story that she and Cass had agreed on, and he nodded.
“And what about them?” he asked. “I’m pretty sure one of them saw me.”
“I don’t think so, at least not clearly, and if he did, he’s not willing to admit to what he saw. When Detective Hughes told us that they said that there had been a big buy there, we laughed it off as bruised egos and two men not willing to admit that they were overpowered by two women.”
“I hope it works,” he said dubiously.
“I’m sure it will. I won’t be allowed to work the case in any way since I was a victim, but I will get to read the file, and I’ll be able to refute what they say in an addendum to my statement.”
“Then I’ll leave and let you get some rest. At least tomorrow is Saturday, and you won’t have to get up early to go to work.”
Work on Monday was crazy. First, John Moreno chewed Catherine out for not taking back up with her, then he shook her hand and congratulated her on a job well done.
“We need more people like you to take the initiative,” he told her. “Joe, I’m putting her on your team. She has solid investigative skills.”
Catherine was grinning ear to ear when she left Moreno’s office a few minutes later. She still had a smile on her face later when she met Edie at the elevator as they left for lunch.
“So, no push-button burgers for lunch today?” she asked as they got on the elevator. “Where are you taking me?”
“I’m sorry it’s not 21 Club, but we needed reservations, and neither of us has that kind of time. But I do promise you dinner there, or at your favorite restaurant, sometime soon. Today we will lunch at a little tavern around the corner from here.”
“What did I do to deserve all this?” Edie asked. “But then we all know that I deserve the best.” She winked at Catherine as they left the elevator.
“Always, Edie,” Catherine said with a laugh. She explained what had happened Friday night and her subsequent move to investigations as they walked to the restaurant.
“So now you’re in Investigations, and you are buttering me up to do more of your work?” Edie asked with a lifted eyebrow and a grin.
“You are an integral part of the whole operation, and you know it,” Catherine told her with a grin. “Your whole section is. We would never get anything done if we had to spend all our time searching through paper files for what we need. I’m just trying to show my gratitude for all your help.”
Lunch wasn’t exactly leisurely, but Catherine had told Joe what she was doing, and he’d told her to take her time, he’d make sure that Edie’s supervisor knew she’d be a little late.
“I’ll tell him it’s official business,” he’d told Catherine.
So when they got back, Edie went to Catherine’s desk with her before going to her work station.
They looked at Catherine’s calendar together and set a date for their dinner at 21Club. Catherine called and made the reservation before she started working.
Catherine decided that she had to go Below and let Vincent know that his tips had resolved a case that the NYPD had been working on for almost a year.
Vincent met her at her threshold, and she told him the whole story as they walked.
“Now, all we have to do is worry about the Park Protector issue,” she said as they reached Vincent’s chamber and entered. “Maybe if you could just ease up a bit on that?” she added.
“If I see something happening, I won’t just walk away,” he told her. “I could never do that.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” she told him as she took off her jacket and sat on the chair he offered.
She watched as he crossed the chamber and took something out of a dish on one of the shelves.
“Before you go on,” he said, turning back. “I keep forgetting to give this to you.” He put her watch on the table next to her. “I went back to the bridge after I called the police. I watched until everyone left; I wanted to make sure you got home all right. As I was leaving, I saw this in the gutter.”
“Thank you!” she said with a smile, and he could feel her relief. “Daddy gave it to me, and it means a lot to me. I’ve had it forever. I didn’t get around to replacing it, and I’ve been lost without my watch lately.”
“So what were you thinking about?” he prompted as he sat across the table from her.
“Oh, yes.” She put the watch on as she talked. “When you rescued Cass and me, you made some pretty threatening sounds. And when you helped me in the park, I’m sure I heard growling.” She smiled slightly to soften the words. She could tell that it bothered him. “If you are out and you see something about to happen, maybe you could stay in the shadows and try using those sounds before you intervene physically.”
Vincent looked thoughtful. “I could do that,” he agreed. “That is the method we use down here when we come across an intruder. We use that and the fact that sound echoes and sometimes amplifies. We try to herd the person or people back toward an exit… But it could backfire,” he added after another moment of thought.
“It might start stories that one of the cats has escaped the zoo and is loose in the park. People might start hunting it… me.”
“Or the NYPD and the Park Police might step up their patrols. It might make it harder for you to walk safely in the park at night, but it might also cut the number of muggings there in the evenings to the point where the Park Protector won’t be needed anymore,” she pointed out.
“If that happens, then all I would have to do is stop walking in the park at night,” he mused.
“You could walk in other places,” Catherine suggested. “Or… you could come up and visit me. My balcony has a nice view of the park and lots of fresh air.”
He smiled at her and nodded before he leaned across the table and covered her hand with his.
“And excellent company,” he agreed.
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Songwriters: Jim Steinman / Dean Pitchford
Sung by Bonnie Tyler