Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Scroll down for "April In Paris" 




Janet Rivenbark

If anyone is interested in reading Tales of The House-Episode 1, it can be found in the 2022 Onzine TOGETHER FOREVER VOL. VI: WHEN YOU WHISPERED MY NAME. It’s online at https://www.treasurechambers.com/Onzines/Onzines.html#2022



Catherine was getting off the elevator in the lobby Thursday morning and heard the doorbell ringing. It couldn’t be Erika or Rita; they both had keys. Besides, the office didn’t open until 9 a.m., and the first appointments weren’t until 10 a.m. It was only 7:45.

She was surprised to see Joe with a huge bouquet of spring flowers as she walked to the front door.

“Happy first day in business,” he said as she opened the door. He handed her the flowers.

“Thank you, Joe!” She reached out and gave him a one-armed hug. “They’re beautiful.” She headed back to the elevator. “Come on upstairs. I need to find a vase for these.”

Joe left his coat on one of the hooks inside the door and followed her to the elevator, which was barely big enough for two. The big bouquet made it a tight fit.

“How are things at work?” she asked as they moved upward.

“Same stuff, different day,” he told her with a grin. “We miss you.”

“You mean you miss the unattached single woman willing to put in all those extra hours.”

Joe feigned a hurt look as he followed her into the kitchen on the fourth floor. “I miss your sunny disposition,” he grumped.

They joked as Catherine found a vase, filled it with water, and put the flowers in it. They were getting out of the elevator in the lobby when Rita let herself in the front door.

“And you stole one of our other valuable employees,” he retorted, hugging Rita.

“Better hours and working conditions,” said Rita, gesturing at their surroundings. “Not to mention better pay and benefits. Can you blame me?”

“Guess not,” Joe conceded with a grin.

There was a large round table in the middle of the lobby, and Catherine put the vase of flowers on it.

“Perfect!” she announced. “Now we can all enjoy them.”

She led him back to her office, stopping in the kitchenette for coffee.

She handed a cup to Joe, who took a sip and smiled.

“Real coffee,” he commented. “Not sludge. Now I know why you and Rita left.”

“And it’s ready when we get here,” she pointed out. “All I have to do is set up the pot before I leave in the evening. The timer does the rest.”

They spent some time in Catherine’s office, catching up. One of Joe’s sisters was pregnant, and his mom was ecstatic to be a grandmother finally. Joe sounded like he was looking forward to being ‘Uncle Joe.’

Joe was getting ready to leave when they heard voices in the lobby. The next thing they knew, Erika stepped into the office.

Both she and Joe were surprised.

“You’re here early,” said Catherine, glancing at the clock. “It’s not even nine; your first appointment isn’t until ten.”

“Ah, yeah, but I’m still getting used to that computer, and I want to make sure that I’ve got it up and running and I have a chance to look over the information Rita got from the client.” She turned and nodded at Joe. “Hi, Joe. How have you been?”

“Good,” he said in a flat voice.

“I’d better get to my desk,” Erika said and rushed out.

“I wondered if you hired her,” he said. “You never said.”

“She’s really motivated, Joe,” Catherine said in a low tone as they crossed the lobby.

“You think you can trust her?” he asked, surprising her.

“Of course, I can. She just made some bad decisions, Joe. I’m sure we’ve all been there and done that. Seduced by the glamor of a cushy job, a big paycheck, and promises of more and greater things in the future. You must admit you were tempted when she hinted that Proctor & Brannigan were interested in hiring you.”

“I get it… I guess,” Joe said. “But you weren’t the one she used to achieve her goals.”

“I know she’s a beautiful woman, and you were captivated, but maybe you were using her just a little bit too? Especially when she said that her boss had been following your career.”

Joe frowned. “Not the time or the place for this discussion,” he declared as he grabbed his coat and turned for the door. He reached out and pulled her into a hug. “But I’ll admit you’ve given me something to think about.”

She watched as he walked out into the blustery March day.


“I was surprised to see Joe here this morning,” Erika said later when she met Catherine at the coffee pot.

“Me too,” she said. “But Joe can be surprisingly thoughtful.”

“Yeah, he can. Did he bring the flowers?” Erika leaned on the counter.

“Yes. They are the perfect thing to liven up the lobby,” she answered as she poured some coffee.

“You and Joe ‘an item’?” Erika asked.

Catherine looked at her for a moment before answering. “You really are fond of him, aren’t you?”

“More than fond,” was all Erika said.

“Well, if it makes you feel better. Joe and I are not ‘an item.’ I love him like a brother, and he’s one of my best friends, but my heart is with someone else.”

“It’s not like I have any kind of a chance,” Erika pointed out as she followed Catherine into her office.

“I wouldn’t write him off completely. Joe trusted you, and you betrayed that trust. He doesn’t trust all that easily. Give him time to recover; you never know what might happen. I imagine you’ll see him around here now and then, and one of us might have reason to go to the DA's office occasionally.” She shrugged and smiled as the intercom buzzed.

“Erika’s client is here,” Rita announced.

“She’ll be right out,” Catherine answered.  

Erika left, looking like Catherine had given her as much to think about as she had Joe.


It was over a week later when Rita walked into Catherine’s office with a frown on her face. Catherine and Erika were going over some paperwork from a client’s file.

“We have a problem,” she stated. She looked at Erika, but she handed Catherine a file.

“What is it?” asked Erika.

“Your client, Ann Roth, has been arrested,” Rita told her.

“What? Why?” asked Erika.

“Looks like the charge is ‘attempted murder.’ It appears she hit her husband with a rolling pin,” Catherine said as she flipped through the papers in the file.

“No more than he deserved,” commented Erika. “But she had a restraining order. How is it that he was close enough for her to hit him with a rolling pin?”

Catherine handed Erika the file. “She came home from work and found him in the apartment.”

Erika looked through the file. “I told her to have all the locks changed,” said Erika with a shake of her head. “It says here that she hit him in the back of the head and fractured his skull. He’s in the hospital.”

She shuffled the papers back into the file and stood.

“I’ll head downtown and talk to Ann; find out what happened,” she said.

“Let me know,” Catherine called after her. They’d all met Ann Roth and had liked the woman and her three girls. “And find out where her daughters are.”


Two hours later, Erika stopped at a pay phone and called the office.

“Cathy is with a client,” Rita told her. “What did you find out?”

“Long story,” Erika told her. “But tell Cathy the girls are with Ann’s sister, so they are OK. They weren’t home when it happened. They were at school.”

“That’s good to know. You coming back to the office?”

“Not yet. I’m going to the DA's office and talk to whoever will handle this.”

The DA's office wasn’t far, so Erika braved the cold wind and walked. She felt the need to fortify herself in case she should run into Joe.


It was a good thing she did because when she asked at the reception desk if the ADA handling the Roth case was free, she was shown to Joe’s office.

“You’re handling this?” Erika asked, surprised that the DA, even the interim DA, would take individual cases.

“I saw in the file who her law firm was,” he told her, waving her to a seat in front of his desk.

“I’m handling her divorce and custody case. I’m not sure if we will continue if there is a criminal trial. She might need a criminal lawyer.”

Joe got up and went to close his office door.

“I doubt there is anyone more qualified than Cathy to handle it if it comes to that,” he told her as he returned to his desk. “There has been a new development.”

“What, he didn’t die, did he?” Erika went pale at the thought. Something Joe didn’t fail to notice.

“No, nothing like that,” he assured her. “I just had an update from the hospital. He’s fine. It was only a minor concussion, not a fractured skull, as originally thought. However, before he left the hospital, one of New York’s finest went over to get his statement and find out if he wanted to press charges. Roth told him that if his wife would get rid of the restraining order and take him back, he’d drop the charges.”

“Why that sorry…” Erika began.

“Temper, temper, Miss Salven,” Joe said with a slight smile.

“It’s almost as if he wanted something like this to happen so he could blackmail her,” she retorted.

“My thoughts, exactly,” Joe assured her. “You need to let your client know that she shouldn’t even consider it if anyone approaches her with it. Considering the restraining order, the fact that he was in the apartment when she came home, and the police records of all the times they’ve been called to the apartment to find Mrs. Roth in need of medical care, he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making any charges stick. She’s going to have to go before a magistrate.” He glanced at his watch. “Probably within the hour, but I’ve already recommended that she be released without bail. I’ve talked to his lawyer, and I think I’ve convinced him to get his client to drop the charges.”

“Thanks, Joe,” she smiled at him as she stood. “I should probably get back there so I can take her home and talk to her.”


It was almost 5:00 by the time Erika got back to the office.

“… and that is how it all worked out,” she said as she finished telling Catherine what had happened. “I guess it really does pay to know someone in the District Attorney’s office.”

“It’s good to know they will be OK,” Catherine said. “Did the girls go home?”

“No. It’s Friday, and Ann’s sister used the excuse that they were going to have a sleepover with her girls, so they are staying for tonight. Ann called in sick for tonight’s shift; it will allow her to relax and regroup.” She got up to leave, then turned back. “Oh, and I got a locksmith over, and he rekeyed the locks on the apartment door. Ann, her sister, and the building manager are the only people with keys. I paid for it.”

“Does the manager understand that he’s not to let her husband into the apartment if he should ask?” asked Catherine.

“Yes. I made that abundantly clear,” said Erika.

“And Erika, take what you paid the locksmith out of petty cash,” Catherine called after her as she left the office. 

Catherine leaned back in her chair and sighed.

TGIF! she thought. It had been a busy week, and she looked forward to a quiet evening with Vincent.


Erika went to her office, gathered her briefcase, and was passing Rita’s vacant desk when the phone began ringing. She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t quite 5:00 yet, so she picked up the phone and answered.

“Chandler Law,” she said. “Erika Salven. May I help you?”

“Just the person I wanted to talk to,” said a familiar voice.

“You want to talk to me, Joe?” she asked, puzzled.

“Yeah. I was just wondering. I remember you telling me that you like jazz and I heard that there will be some jazz musicians at a little place I know tomorrow night. Would you be interested?” he asked.

“With you?” she asked.

“Yes, with me,” he answered.

“Are you asking me on a date, Mr. Maxwell?” she asked, surprise creeping into her voice.

“You might want to call it that. Or we could call it ‘two people sharing a common interest.' Would you like to go?”

“I think I would,” she said, smiling.

“I’ll pick you up at 7:00 tomorrow evening?” he asked.

“How about I meet you there,” she suggested, “about 7:30? Just tell me where.”

“Done. It’s a new place across the street from Katz’s Deli. Do you know where that is?”

“Everyone knows where Katz’s Deli is,” she told him. “I’ve been there a few times.”

When she hung up, she stood in stunned silence for a moment. Catherine saw her when she came out of her office.

“Everything OK, Erika?” she asked.

“Yeah… fine… that was Joe. He asked me on a date.”

Catherine broke into a grin. “See, I told you. You just have to let him work it out for himself.”


The next day seemed to pass very slowly for Erika. She did her usual Saturday chores: shopping, laundry, and cleaning, but when she finished, it was still only 4:00. If she’d been in her old place, she could have taken a long, leisurely bath, but this apartment only had a shower, and she was lucky if the water was more than just tepid when she showered… which she did.

Good God! she thought as she tried to decide between two outfits. I’m as bad as a 16-year-old girl getting ready for the school dance. She finally tossed a pair of tailored dress pants onto the bed and went in search of a sweater. She settled on a teal turtleneck that she knew would go well with her hair and eyes. After all, he did say ‘two people sharing a common interest,’ her more practical side pointed out, but then her positive side took over and pointed out that at least it was a step in the right direction and showed that Joe was willing to try.

When Erika exited the cab in front of the club, Joe was waiting. There was a short line, but they were inside at a table in a short time.

The waitress arrived. Joe ordered a beer, and Erika ordered a glass of wine.

They were waiting for the show to start, so it was relatively quiet, and they could talk.

“Did you get things straightened out with your client?” Joe asked.

“I think so. As you probably know, the restraining order is still in effect. I told her not to take the deal if it was offered. And we had the locks changed. He’s not going to get in again. She said that she will have to talk to her girls and make sure that they know not to let him in or go anywhere with him.”

“It’s always hard to make the kids understand,” he commented.

“Yeah. They love their dad. They’ve never seen his rages; they’ve seen the aftermath, but Ann has always passed the injuries off as her own clumsiness. They don’t know what he's capable of. He’s always been good to them.”

“How old are they?” Joe asked.

“Ten, eight, and six,” she told him as someone introduced the musicians.

An hour and a half later, they were back on the sidewalk. And Joe suggested they head across the street to Katz’s and get something to eat.

The crowd wasn’t too bad, and they gave their orders at the counter.

“Why don’t you go find us a table,” Joe suggested. “I’ll find you when the order is up.”

Erika found seats near the back along the wall, and Joe joined her a few minutes later.

He set the tray on a vacant table next to them and put their food on their table.

“Switched to beer, I see,” he said as he took off his coat and sat beside her.

“This,” she said, pointing at the pastrami on rye and fries, “goes down so much better with beer.”  

“I have to agree,” he said.

They were both quiet for a while as they ate.

“Is this an awkward silence?” Erika finally asked.

Joe shook his head, finished chewing, and swallowed.

“No, I think I would call it a hungry silence,” he told her. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

She nodded in agreement. “Neither have I.” She didn’t add that she’d skipped lunch because she was too nervous. “It’s a wonder those drinks didn’t go straight to my head.”

After that, the conversation was light. Joe mentioned his impending unclehood, and Erika congratulated him.

“You are going to be one of those uncles, aren’t you?” she added.

“What do you mean, ‘one of those uncles’?” he asked.

“The one who spoils all his nieces and nephews.”

“Isn’t that what uncles are supposed to do? I have an uncle Vito, actually, he’s a great uncle. He’s my mom’s youngest uncle, and they are the same age; he always took me to baseball games. I was convinced that only uncles could take kids to sporting events. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my friend Brian’s dad took him to games.”

“Wasn’t your dad a baseball fan?” Erika asked.

“My dad was a cop, always working. He was killed when I was fourteen.” Joe took a bite of his sandwich.

“I’m sorry, Joe. I didn’t know.” She knew she’d touched on a sore subject.

“Not many do. He was a cop in the South Bronx, 52nd Precinct, near our home. He usually walked to and from work. He was getting off work after working the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift, and two guys jumped him. He was only a block from home. They took his gun and his watch… and slit his throat… and left him to bleed to death on the sidewalk. They were juveniles, only fourteen years old, so nobody went to trial.”

“Oh my God, Joe. They were the same age as you,” she exclaimed.

“Yeah, and I was a total innocent compared to them. Since they were juveniles, their names were never released in the press, but word got out in the neighborhood. Everyone knew who they were. And it was probably good that they were in juvenile detention until they turned 18."

"You would have gone after them?” she asked.

“Yeah, and I would probably be buried right next to my dad. They weren’t just kids playing around. They were gang members, and Dad likely wasn’t their first murder, just the one they got caught for. I had to take myself off a case a few years ago because one of them was the perp. But, I’m happy to say that it was his third strike, and they sent him up for life.”

“And the other one?” she asked.

“Dead. Killed in a gang fight about six years ago.”

They were both quiet as they finished their sandwiches.

“I should have gotten a piece of cheesecake for us to split,” Joe said after he swallowed his last bite.

“No! Oh, please don’t say cheesecake. I love it, but I think I will burst just thinking about it. You are going to have to roll me out to the cab. I don’t think I can move.”

They were both laughing as they walked outside a little while later.

“I don’t know where you live; Cathy did mention you’d moved,” Joe said. “Will we be able to share a cab?”

“Actually, I live not far from you,” she told him. “So sharing would be nice.”

They were settled in the cab and had given their addresses before Joe spoke again.

“I could have picked you up at your place,” he pointed out.

“I know, but I wanted to leave us both an out if things got too awkward,” she told him.

“So, how do you think it went?” he asked with a mischievous grin.

“How do you think it went?” she countered.

“I think it went pretty well… got a little too serious there for a few minutes, but all in all, I think it was… well.. pretty damn good!”

“Me too,” she agreed.

“So, next time, you’ll let me pick you up at your place?” he asked.

“There’s going to be a next time?” she threw back at him.

“How come you keep answering my questions with more questions? And, yeah, there will be a next time… that is, if you want it,” he quickly added.

“I’d like that, Joe. Call me.” She handed him one of her business cards. “My home number is on the back.”

The cab pulled up to the curb.

“This is the lady’s stop,” the cabbie told them. When she reached into her purse for the fare, Joe waved her off.

She got out, stood on the curb, and watched the cab drive off before going to her apartment. 


“So, how did it go?” asked Catherine when she saw Erika on Monday morning.

“I think it went very well,” Erika said with a grin.

“You have a second date?”

“Not yet, but I gave him my home number and told him to call me when he suggested it.”

“I told you that he just needed time,” Catherine told her with a smile.

She’d seen Joe through several crushes in the time she’d known him: Gina from California, Cassie, a lawyer in the Public Defender’s office, and even a new neighbor, but none seemed to be quite what there had been with Erika. After that breakup, she’d felt the same way Joe had: Erika had just used him to benefit her law firm and her career. But since she’d gotten to know Erika, she’d rethought that conclusion. She was sure now that Erika really did like Joe. She wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘love,’ but a spark was there.


The roof quickly became one of Catherine and Vincent’s favorite places, even when it was chilly.

The all-season room behind the stairs was a great place to hang out when it was rainy or extremely cold. The large roof garden on the front was lovely, but it was the small terrace on the back, behind the all-season room, that seemed to become their private world, much like the terrace at Catherine’s old place had been. It was about the same size, and she’d put all the furniture from the old balcony there. It wasn’t as high up, only the sixth floor and maybe 70 feet above the ground, but it overlooked the backyard and was quiet and private.

They were sitting on that small balcony the following Friday evening, and Catherine was telling Vincent all about her week.

“So things have been going well?” he asked.

“Better than I thought they would this early. The District Attorney’s Office has been referring clients to us. We’ve set up a sliding fee scale and only charge what our clients can afford, and we don’t charge some of them anything.”

“How do you manage that?”

“Well, we are applying for non-profit status, and once we are granted that, I will start asking for donations. I want to be able to add a couple more attornies to the staff.”

“You aren’t going to hire any more away from the DA’s office, are you?” Vincent asked with a grin.

“No.” Catherine chuckled. “Joe would never forgive me, and I think I’d like to keep an all-female staff just to make our clients more comfortable. Most of the attornies with the DA are men. But I do know of a couple of women at Chandler and Coolidge.”

“I’m sure Mr. Maxwell will be grateful… Have you seen him lately?”

“Not since he was here on our first day. He stopped by to wish us luck. But Erika has seen him a couple of times since then. Once in an official capacity and once personal.”

“She’s seeing him?”

“I don’t know yet, but she’s been out with him once, and she said he’d suggested they get together again. She gave him her number.”

“I’m surprised that he could forgive her so easily.”

“I don’t think it was easy, but I think there was a spark there, something more than his usual flings and crushes. It has been over two years. He’s had a lot of time to think about it. Although, he didn’t sound all that forgiving when we talked the last time I saw him.”

“But, she was cleared of all the charges,” he pointed out.

“Yes, and it was the DA that cleared her. And even the BAR Association didn’t pursue anything. She never lost her license to practice law.”


Erika had just finished her weekly Saturday chores and was heading out to the market when her phone rang. She considered letting the answering machine pick it up but decided against it.

“Hello?” she said after picking up the handset.

“Erika! It’s Joe. Sorry I didn’t call earlier in the week, but it’s been crazy at the office. How have you been?”

“Hi, Joe. I’m good. We’ve been busy too,” she was happy to hear his voice; she’d begun to wonder if he’d felt he’d made a mistake.

“I was just wondering. A friend just called. He has tickets to the theater, and he can’t make it tonight. He offered them to me. I know it’s short notice, but would you like to go?” he asked.

“I’d love to,” she said without thinking. “I haven’t been to a show in ages.” 

“Great! I’m at the office right now, so I will have to run. Curtain is at 8:00. I’ll pick you up at 6:30?”

“Sounds good,” she said. “I’ll see you then.”

After she hung up, she started to laugh at herself.

I didn’t even ask what show it was, she admonished herself with a shake of her head.


Later, just before 6:30, Erika was checking herself in the mirror. She’d chosen to wear something similar to what she’d worn the previous weekend: tailored pants and a sweater, only this time she’d chosen brighter colors and a blazer. Joe hadn’t said anything about dinner afterward, but she wanted to fit in anywhere he chose if he did intend to suggest dinner.


“What play is it?” she asked after they were settled in the back of the cab.

“You know, I didn’t think to ask,” he told her with a laugh. Craig just told me to go to the box office at the Eugene O’Neill Theater and give them my name.”

Erika was pleased to know that he’d been in the same state she’d been in.

They were both pleasantly surprised when they got to the theater.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Erika said. “I saw the movie on TV years ago. I’ve always wanted to see it on stage. And I love Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning.”


When they left the theater, Joe suggested having dinner at a place up the street.

“Don’t you usually need reservations at any of the places around here?” she asked as they strolled up the street.

“Not at this place… at least I don’t. We might not get the best table in the house, but we will get a table,” he assured her.

“What? The DA has connections?” she asked with a grin.

“Family connections,” he assured her. “My uncle… my mom’s brother owns the place.”

They reached the restaurant, and Joe opened the door for her. The heavenly smells of Italy wafted out, and Erika drew in a deep breath.

“I didn’t realize I was hungry until I smelled that,” she said.

The head waiter at the podium inside the door saw Joe and broke into a grin.

“È da un po' che non vieni qui, cugino[i],” the man said as he hugged Joe.

“Non ho avuto nessuno su cui volessi impressionare[ii],” Joe answered. Then he turned to Erika. “This is Erika. Erika, this is my cousin, Sal.”

Sal shook hands with Erika. “Great to meet you!” He turned back to Joe. “The family table in the back is open. Is that all right?”

“That is perfect. It’s quieter than the table next to the kitchen.”

They followed Sal through the crowded restaurant to a table in the back. It was set for four, but Sal picked up two place settings. After they were seated, he handed them menus and took their drink orders.

“What would you like to drink? Something from the bar, wine, or something softer?”

Joe looked to Erika to see what she wanted.

“Other than some water, I’ll let you pick the wine,” she said.

Joe ordered, and Sal left.

“With a name like Maxwell? How did you become Italian?” she asked.

“I never told you,” he said with a grin. “My mom is Italian, and my dad was Scottish. They were both Catholic, so it worked.”

“That is an interesting combination,” she mused. “Haggis with spaghetti sauce?”

Joe rolled his eyes and made a face. “Mom’s parents were born in Italy, but she and all her brothers and sisters were born here. Dad’s family has been here for several generations. His family wasn’t much into Scottish food. I was raised on Italian food. This place is almost as good as my mom’s.”

“Don’t let Dad hear you say that,” said a man as he approached the table with a bottle of wine and two glasses. “He’s libel to have you thrown out, family or no family.”

“Erika, this is another cousin, Sal’s brother Tony.”

Tony greeted Erika and then poured their wine.

“Sorry, I can’t stay and talk,” he said, setting the bottle down. “But it’s busy tonight... maybe later.”

Throughout dinner and the rest of the evening, Erika met several more of Joe’s cousins.

“Are all the employees family?” she asked after they were settled in the cab and headed back to her place.

“Not all, but about half. And everyone in the kitchen is family. I worked there when I was in high school. Mom has a lot of brothers and sisters, and it’s her oldest brother who owns the restaurant. He likes to employ family. He says it keeps the younger ones out of trouble and gives the older ones a way to support their families.”


When they reached Erika’s, she invited him in.

She took his coat and invited him to sit.

“Would you like something to drink?” she asked.

“I think I’ve had enough for tonight,” Joe said with a smile as he sat.

“The wine was good,” she agreed. “Something else? Coffee or a soft drink?”    

“A soft drink sounds good,” he agreed.

She went to the kitchen and was back in a few minutes.

“You kept your furniture,” he commented as she joined him on the couch.

“What would fit,” she said. “Didn’t make sense to get rid of it and then have to buy more.” She kicked off her shoes and put her feet on the coffee table.

Joe moved closer and put his arm around her. She snuggled in closer.

“I had a good time tonight,” she told him. “Thank you for thinking of me when your friend offered you the tickets. And the food at your uncle’s restaurant is out of this world. Makes me wish my ancestors were Italian.”

“Where does Salvin come from?” Joe asked.

“My great-grandparents came here from England, but they were descended from the Norman invaders, so I guess it’s French. I’ve never really paid a lot of attention.”

Joe leaned down and kissed the top of her head. She tipped her head back, and he kissed her lightly on the lips. One kiss led to another, and before they knew it, they were both breathing heavily.

“You know,” Joe began, looking down at Erika after they regained their breath. “I think we need some time…”

Erika looked up quickly, and Joe could tell she was alarmed.

“No… not that… I mean time together, somewhere we can talk and figure this out.”

“How do you mean?” she asked warily, moving away and turning to face him.

“Well, we have a history… a history that is… let’s face it… kind of rocky. And although you did something that wasn’t exactly ethical, I also messed up. I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt and judged too quickly. And as Cathy pointed out to me, I was probably using you as much as you were using me. When you told me that your boss had been following my career, it kinda blinded me to a lot of things. All I could see was a ladder into the stratosphere. The kind of job every lawyer dreams of.”

“But not with Proctor & Brannigan,” she said wryly. “Maybe something more like Chandler & Coolidge.”

“Nah, I don’t think corporate law is for me,” he said with a grin.

“But you don’t want to go into criminal defense… You are too ethical for that. I can’t see you putting your all into a defense of someone who you know is guilty.”

Joe was thoughtful for a moment. “You’re probably right about that one.” He agreed.

“So sticking with the DA’s office is probably still more up your alley. You want to put away the bad guys. But then you have to look to your future. If you stick with me, that could jeopardize your political career, what with the black marks in my background.

“Hey, I’m not that sure that I have a political career. I’m only Interim DA for the rest of John’s term.”

“But the mayor appointed you to fill the term for the next couple of years because he thought you had potential. He said so when he made the announcement. He wants you to run in the next election, giving you the time to prove yourself to the people. The Proctor & Brannigan thing was all over the news and the papers; my name was right in there with them. That might not do you any good,” she protested.

“But you were cleared,” he pointed out.

“People don’t remember things like that,” she told him. “They remember the bad stuff, the dirt.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to continue this?” he asked.

“No! It’s not that. I do want to continue to see you. I want to see where this takes us, too, but I just want to make sure you realize that a relationship with me might not be the best career move for you. Hell, if you don’t run for DA and get elected, the next DA just might decide that I’m a hindrance or a distraction, and he might fire you. Then where would you be?”

“Maybe Cathy would put in a good word for me at Chandler & Coolidge,” he said with a chuckle.

“But you just said that corporate law wasn’t for you. You wouldn’t be happy.”

“Yeah, but at what they pay, it would be easier to be miserable,” he joked.

“Speaking of which… you got quite the pay increase when you were appointed DA. Can I be nosey and ask why you still live where you are?”

“I saved the difference for a while, then had Cathy refer me to an investment broker. I’ve been investing. Hopefully, no matter what happens, I’ll be able to keep it up and wind up with a nice nest egg to retire on in 25-30 years or so.”

“It’s nice to know that you didn’t go crazy with it,” she said with a smile. “But we are getting off-topic here.”

“That is why I think it would be nice for us, just the two of us, to get away somewhere that we have an uninterrupted conversation about where we both want this to go,” he reminded her.

“All right… Let me think about it, OK?”


Monday at work was quiet, and Erika was in the lobby with Rita when Catherine joined them.

“What happened to our clients?” Catherine asked as she pulled a chair over and sat.

“Mrs. Michaelsen called and rescheduled. She said one of her kids was sick and had to stay home from school. She’ll be in on Friday, and there aren’t any more until 1 p.m.”

Catherine shrugged. “So, did I miss anything?” she asked with a grin. “Any juicy gossip?”

Both Rita and Erika laughed.

“Now that you mention it,” Erika volunteered. “Joe suggested we go away together for a couple of days to talk and decide where we would like this to go.”

“Hmm, sounds serious,” Rita said with a grin. Where are you going?”

“We haven’t decided,” Erika said. “I’m supposed to be making up my mind if I want to go.”

“Do you?” asked Catherine.

“Absolutely. I’d love to have a couple of days alone with Joe. I’d love to talk about our relationship, but I honestly don’t know where we could go where we could do that. There are hotels, but hotels aren’t that private, and we need someplace private where we wouldn’t constantly have to stop to go out to get a meal or have a lot of people around—someplace casual. And I definitely don’t think we should share a room, at least not to begin with. ”

Catherine was thoughtful for a moment.

“You could go to Connecticut,” she finally said.

“Connecticut? What’s in Connecticut?” asked Erika.

“I have a house on a lake up there about two hours from the city. It’s very private in the middle of about 10 wooded acres. The lake is still too cold to swim this time of year, but the woods are beautiful in the spring. You could walk. The house has four bedrooms, a master suite on the first floor, and three more bedrooms and two baths on the second floor, so you wouldn’t have to share if you didn’t want to,” she winked at Erika, who grinned back. “It’s easy and quick to get to. You could go up on a Friday night and wouldn’t have to return until Sunday evening. There’s a kitchen; you can cook and won’t have to go out.”

“But I’m not much of a cook,” Erika protested. “Except for breakfast.” 

“But Joe can cook,” Catherine pointed out. “His mom taught him when she taught her girls. Let him cook dinner for you. You can cook breakfast.”    

“That actually sounds great. I’ll talk to Joe and see what he thinks of it.”


“Joe says ‘OK’ and ‘thank you,’” Erika told Catherine later that week.

Catherine looked up and grinned. “When do you want to go?” she asked.

“Easter weekend? Unless, of course, you were planning on using it then.”

“No, I haven’t been up there in a while. I thought I might go up sometime this summer or next fall.”

“Joe said that his office will close at noon on Good Friday, and they won’t return to work until Tuesday.”

“Same as us,” Catherine observed. “You’ll be able to drive up on Friday afternoon and won’t have to return until Monday evening. I’ll let the caretakers know someone will be there. The caretaker’s wife will go in and clean, turn on the fridge water heater, and turn the heat up. There’s a fireplace and plenty of wood in the back if you want a fire. And there are plenty of towels in all the bathrooms. You just need to take whatever food you want, but some canned goods and staples are in the pantry.” She looked at Erika. “Do either of you have a car?” she asked.

“No,” Erika laughed. “A parking place costs almost as much as apartment rent,” she reminded Catherine. “He said he’d rent a car.”


The following Friday, Joe picked up Erika and they headed out of town. Catherine had given them directions to the house, but she’d also told them they would pass through a small town with a grocery store about fifteen minutes before they reached the turn-off. 

“It was a good idea for us to shop together,” Erika commented as they entered the store.

“One cart or two?” Joe asked.

“One, we can make sure neither of us picks something that the other hates.”

“So you’re cooking breakfast three mornings. What are you planning?” he asked.

“The usual,” she said. “Eggs… I make a mean omelet… bacon or ham… whichever you prefer, and biscuits, muffins, or toast. I can make pancakes, too, if you want.”

“Too sweet in the morning. But the rest sounds great. I’m doing dinners. What about lunches?”

“Sandwiches?” she suggested. “Or we could do brunch and dinner and skip lunch.”

“Planning to sleep in?” he asked.

“Maybe. It depends on how late we stay up.”


On Tuesday morning, Catherine and Rita were waiting none too patiently to hear the outcome of Erika and Joe’s long weekend. They let Erika get her coffee before they started their questioning.

“Well?” asked Rita.

“It’s a deep subject,” quipped Erika as she turned toward her office.

“Erika Salvin, get your butt back here and tell us how it went!” demanded Catherine.

“Is that an order, Boss?” asked Erika as she tried to hide her expression in her coffee cup.

“No, it’s a very strong request, as your friend,” Catherine said.

“Well,” Erika turned back toward her office, then looked over her shoulder at the other two women. “You can tell your caretaker that his wife will only have to change the sheets on the bed in the downstairs master.” She winked at her friends and then escaped to her office.


[i] You haven't been here for a while, cousin.” Italian

[ii]I didn't have anyone I wanted to impress.” Italian


Saturday, February 10, 2024


Janet Rivenbark


Catherine woke to find herself squashed between two large men in the backseat of a car.

Still? she wondered. Or again?

She didn’t know how long this had been going on. She’d been drugged so many times that she’d lost count. She glanced down at herself.

So, that part was real, she mused. I was moved from the first place, allowed to shower, and given clean clothes.

The white surgical scrubs looked like pajamas but were stiff, scratchy, and smelled of bleach.

She was startled by the harsh voice when the man on her left spoke.

“What’s the holdup?” he demanded.

His comment made her aware that the car wasn’t moving.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” the driver answered.

Then, there was a loud bang, and the car jerked as it was hit from behind.

The driver swore and got out. Catherine could hear arguing outside, then the man on Catherine’s left got out and went back to where the driver was arguing with the driver of the car that had hit them.

Catherine slowly raised her head and looked around. She still felt a little groggy, but her head was clearer than it had been for a long time.

Traffic was at a standstill; she glanced at the clock on the dash.

A little after five, she absently noted. Rush hour traffic.

After a few minutes, the man on her right turned and looked through the rear window at what was going on.

“Damn, we don’t have time for this. The Boss expects us by six,” he growled.

Then Catherine watched incredulously as he exited the car and left the door open.

She didn’t give it any thought; her hands and feet were free. This was her chance. She slid across the seat to the right side of the car, and as soon as her feet hit the pavement, she was running. She stumbled a little when she reached the curb but managed to stay upright.

She didn’t know how long she ran; she had no idea if or when she was missed. She dodged in and out of the after-work crowds and didn’t look up until she’d gone several blocks.

When she finally slowed down enough to catch her breath and look around, she realized she was standing in front of the building where Chandler & Coolidge occupied two floors, twenty stories up.

The clock had said that it was after five; the offices would be closed, but maybe someone would be there. Even if no one was, she still had the combinations to the locks. She still had an interest in the business side of the firm, so she still had access.

She didn’t want to be seen by anyone in the lobby, so she used one of the lesser-used entrances. Again, so she wouldn’t see anyone, she took the stairs.

The last few days of little or no food or water were catching up to her. It was slow going, but she took her time and eventually made it to the floor that housed the suite of offices where the senior partners of Chandler and Coolidge were.

The reception desk was unoccupied, but the hall door from the waiting room to the offices stood open. Someone was still there. She hoped it was Jay… he often worked late.

She used the phone at the reception desk and buzzed Jay’s office.

“Pat, I thought you went home an hour ago,” Jay said as he picked up.

Catherine gave a sigh of relief.

“It’s not Pat, Jay. It’s me, Cathy, and I need your help. I’m coming back.”

She hung up before Jay could respond.

Jay met her halfway, and she ran into his arms.

“Cathy. What happened? Where have you been? Half the city is looking for you.”

“I’ll explain, but first, I need to sit down before I fall down.” She was realizing just how exhausted she was.

Jay led her back to his office, and when she was comfortable on the sofa, he went and got her some water.

“You look like you’ve been through the wringer! You rest while I call the police and let them know you’re back.”

Catherine almost choked on the water.

“No! Don’t let anyone know,” she sputtered. “I don’t know who can be trusted. Especially after what John did.”

“John? John, who?”

“My boss, the DA. He had me kidnapped, then he turned me over to someone else. I heard the name Gabriel associated with the title of Boss a few times, but that is about all I know.”

Jay looked stunned as he sat next to Catherine.

“All right. Catch your breath, drink some more water, and then tell me everything.”

It took a while for Catherine to collect her wits, but eventually, she got around to telling the story.

“Something is going on in this city,” she told Jay. “It appears to be a big corruption ring. Joe met with a friend, a lawyer who worked for someone involved and was willing to expose everything, but only after he got himself and his family out of danger. He gave Joe a book containing everything, but it’s all in code. He promised to send the key as soon as he and his family reached safety.

“But someone was onto him, and he was killed in an explosion right after he and Joe left the bar where they’d met. Joe was injured, and when I went to see him in the hospital, he told me to get the book out of his coat and keep it safe until he could deal with it.

“I did that and took it home. I took it to the office, made copies, and gave a copy to John. I looked at it, but nothing made any sense. So I decided to take a chance and take it to Elliott Burch. I figured that if anyone had the resources to break the code, it would be him. I asked Elliott to let me know as soon as he had anything.”

“I was leaving the office the next day when I was kidnapped. I was in my car, and someone approached and stuck a gun in my face. I hit the accelerator and almost got away, but they chased me. At one point, I got out of my car, intending to go back upstairs to the office; I thought I’d be safe there, but the elevator opened before I got to my floor. John was there; I thought I was safe, but he had me taken somewhere down near the river.

“I was questioned about the book, but when I didn’t talk, they tried beating it out of me, but when that didn’t work, they tried drugs; that was when I lost track of everything.”

She remembered thinking she’d heard Vincent calling her name, that he’d probably tried to rescue her in answer to her messages on the pipes, but she left that part out.

“I was moved at one point. I’m not sure where, but I was allowed to shower there and given clean clothes.” She gestured at the scrubs she wore. “But then they started the drugs and the questions again. I completely lost track of what day it was.” She looked at Jay quizzically. 

“It’s been almost two weeks,” he supplied.

“That’s long?  I had no idea.” Then she continued. “I don’t know how long I was at the second location, but earlier today, they were moving me again. I have no idea where or why.

“We got stuck in traffic, then there was an accident, and we were hit. The driver and one of the guards got out, and they were arguing with the driver who hit us. Then, the other guard got out and left his door open. I didn’t stop to consider; I just took off. I found myself in front of this building, so I came in.”

“You did the right thing. And who knows who we can trust, except maybe Joe Maxwell.”

“Do you know if Joe is back at work yet?” she asked.

“He’s not. It’s been covered in the papers pretty closely. His injuries were pretty bad. He had a couple of surgeries and was just released from the hospital yesterday. He won’t return to work for at least a couple of weeks.”

“We need to get word to Elliott and tell him to send the book to Joe at home, not the office.”

“Assuming he’s had the code broken,” Jay pointed out.

Catherine nodded. Then looked up at him.

She briefly considered asking him to help her get to Peter Alcott. She knew that Peter could get her Below, but after a moment, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to risk Peter or the tunnel community.

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what to do from here. I can’t go home. This Gabriel saw value in keeping me, at least until he recovered the book. But I think the long-range plan may have been to have me killed when I was no longer useful.”

“And we don’t know who can be trusted,” Jay agreed. “Look, you can come home with me tonight and just stay there until we know something. It’s probably the last place anyone would look for you.”

Catherine nodded.

“I’m just so tired. That’s probably the drugs. And I haven’t been able to keep anything down, so I haven’t eaten very much.”

“OK, we are leaving here now,” Jay said, rising and going to his desk, where he picked up his briefcase. “We’ll get you fed, then you can sleep. I’ve been told that my guest room is pretty comfortable.”

That was precisely what Catherine did for the next 48 hours. She ate, slept, got up and ate, then went back to bed. Jay was a widower, so the house was quiet during the day when he was at work.

Two days later, she was feeling much better, and her brain was functioning almost normally when she joined Jay in the kitchen for dinner.

“I took it on myself to let Mr. Burch know that you want him to get the book to Joe at home once the code is broken.”

“You didn’t tell him where I am, did you?” she asked.

“No, I told him that you mailed a letter to me before you were kidnapped and that you’d asked me to do a few things in the event of your disappearance. I made it sound like you realized you might be in danger.” 

“That was a good idea. Thank you.”

They were eating when she spoke up a few minutes later.

“I can’t stay here indefinitely,” she pointed out. “Have you heard anything?”

“Nothing definitive. Burch seems to think that his companies are being targeted. There’s been a major fire in one of his buildings and some other dubious accidents at some of his construction sites. He says he thinks it’s because he wouldn’t go along with some questionable business deals that may be related to what you uncovered. But I think that someone may think that he might know where you are. It all started within hours of you escaping from them.”

Catherine looked like she was in pain.

“I really need to go someplace where no one can find me,” she said. “Do you think the cabin in Connecticut would be safe?”

“Absolutely not!” Everyone who knows you knows that you own that place. I think you might be safer going somewhere no one would think of, maybe out of the country.” He looked thoughtful.

“Do you have an idea?” she asked.

“I just might. Let me make a few phone calls, and we’ll talk.

Two days later, Jay came to her with a plan.

“Do you remember my wife?”


“Bennett! Good, you’re here. In my office ASAP!” Diana looked up at her Captain’s order. He sounded irritated.

What have I done now? she wondered as she followed him across the room, weaving among the desks, to his office.

Once inside, he waved her to a seat.

“You got anything pressing for the next few months?” he asked sarcastically.

“Work,” she answered hesitantly. “Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas?”

“No kids graduating from somewhere, babies or grandbabies due, special anniversaries or birthdays?”

“You kidding?” she asked with a laugh. “What’s this all about?”

“The commissioner met with a bunch of other commissioners at some World Police Commissioners Convention somewhere, and he got the NYPD into a program; it’s kind of an exchange program. All the cities involved are paired with another city in another country. NYPD was paired with the Paris Police Department.”

“Paris, France?” Diana interrupted.

“Where else?” he returned.

“Well, there’s a Paris in Texas, Kentucky, Maine, among others,” she pointed out.

“Yes, Paris, France.” He sounded exasperated, but then he always sounded like that. “The Commissioner of the Paris police department, the Prefect of Police, contacted our commissioner yesterday, and he said he has someone lined up to work with us for a while. It has to be someone from the 210 since the Paris Prefect of Police wants to send someone from their Special Crimes Unit to work with us and see how we do things.”

“So what’s the problem?” Diana asked. “It’s a trip to Paris.”

“The problem is that all the other detectives in the 210 are married. None of them want to be away from their families for that long, and most of them have the excuses of something special they need to be home for.”

“Just how long is it?” she asked.

“Six months.”

“That is a long time… Am I to assume you are asking me if I want to go?”

“I am,” he said with uncharacteristic hesitance.

“Well, I’ve never been to France,” she mused.

“How’s your French?” he asked.

“Passable. I studied it in high school and college. All my teachers told me that I understood what I heard or read well but that my accent was awful.”

“You think you could get by?” he asked.

“As long as I have a partner who is a native speaker.”

“I thought you didn’t work with a partner,” the Captain said.

“In this case, I’d make an exception.”

“Then you’ll go?” he asked.

“How the hell else am I ever going to get to Paris otherwise?” she countered with a grin. “When do I have to leave?”

The Captain looked doubtful, and wouldn’t look her in the eye when he answered.


“Friday? It’s already Tuesday! I’ve got to finish writing up the case I just closed, get laundry done, pack, do something about my mail, and set up something to pay my bills. That’s not enough time!” she insisted.

“Look, finish what you are doing, then take the rest of the week off. I’ll send you the ticket and the information about the hotel and everything else you’ll need by messenger tomorrow.” He looked at her closely. “You do have a passport, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, I have a passport. It’s a requirement for the job in case we have to go somewhere to pick up a prisoner. I just hope I have enough time to get ready.”


Her ticket arrived the following afternoon. She saw that she had a layover in London. It was about a seven-hour flight from New York to London. She would leave JFK around 7pm and arrive in London Heathrow around 7am local time. She would leave London at 9:30am and arrive in Paris around noon local time. The note said her assigned partner would meet her at the airport. He'd take her to her hotel and see that she got checked in. Then, he would pick her up for work on Monday morning.

Maybe I’ll be able to sleep on the plane, she told herself. Because I don’t think I’ll get much sleep before I leave.

She’d finished her laundry and was ready to start packing, but as soon as she told her family what was going on, they insisted they had to have a family dinner before she left. At least they had agreed that the dinner would be in a restaurant since time was short, and they left the choice up to Diana. She’d chosen Henry Pei’s restaurant in Chinatown with the intention of killing two birds with one stone.


Diana was the first to arrive at the restaurant Thursday evening. When Henry showed her to the private dining room, she held an envelope out to him.

“Would you see that this gets Below?” she asked.


“Henry said it’s from Diana,” Kipper said as Vincent took the note he was holding out to him.

“Thank you, Kipper.”

Vincent opened the envelope, but it didn’t hold the news he’d hoped to see.


I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be around for a while, six months to be exact. I’m going to Paris on a work assignment.

Detective Jergen is taking over the Chandler case, and I’ve asked him to keep Dr. Alcott updated on any progress. I know Alcott will let you know.

I’ll write in care of Dr. Alcott.



Cathrine leaned on the doorjamb of the open door of the bookshop that had become her life. It was the beginning of April; she’d been in Paris since July. It was drizzling, more of a mist than anything. It was warm enough to make the shop a little stuffy, so she’d opened the door.

The strains of an old song wafted from the café across the street:

April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees.
April in Paris, this is a feeling
No one can ever reprise.

I never knew the charm of spring,
Never met it face to face;
I never knew my heart could sing,
Never missed a warm embrace,

Till April in Paris.
Whom can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?

Yes, April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees.
April in Paris, this is a feeling
No one can ever reprise.

I never knew the charm of spring,
Never met it face to face;
I never knew my heart could sing,
Never missed a warm embrace,

Till April in Paris.
Now, whom can I run to?
Oh, what have you done to my heart?

I never knew the charm of spring,
Never met it face to face;
I never knew my heart could sing,
Never missed a warm embrace,

Till April in Paris.
Whom can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?


“Homesick?” asked the woman at the register behind her.

“A little. It comes and goes,” Catherine told her as she turned and walked back into the shop. “I just realized how long I’ve been here. It’s been over eight months, and Jay still hasn’t found anything.”

The woman at the register was Jay’s sister-in-law Margot. He’d called her the previous July and asked if a client could stay with her until it was safe for her to come home. He’d insinuated that she was involved with a case and that her life might be in danger.

Margot had welcomed Catherine, whom she knew as Caroline Stewart and the two women had quickly become friends. Margot had offered Catherine the apartment over the small bookstore that she owned. Catherine had quickly fallen into the habit of working in the store just to fill her time. Margot insisted on paying her for her work, and when Catherine pointed out that she was already providing the apartment, Margot reminded her that she still needed to eat.  

“Perhaps Jay will be calling to tell you to come home soon,” suggested Margot, who always insisted on speaking English with her friend. She said she needed to learn more to help her English and American customers when they came to the shop.

“I hope so, but the last time he wrote, he said there hadn’t been any progress he’d heard of. No one knows how long this will take.” Caroline sighed and walked to the other side of the small shop. “I suppose I should stop lollygagging and blocking the door and get back to work.”

“Lollygagging?” queried Margot, clearly not familiar with the word.

“It means wasting time, not working,” Caroline said.


Diana had put off shopping for souvenirs for friends and relatives until just before it was time to go home, not because she wasn’t thoughtful, but because she hated shopping. Now, she was out shopping only a few days before she was supposed to leave Paris. She’d found something for everyone except her niece, Alexandra, but when she spotted the bookshop, she had an idea.

Diana looked around the shop. One woman was at the register, taking care of a customer, while a woman who looked familiar was on the other side of the shop, taking books out of a box and stacking them on a table.

It took a moment to sink in, but then Diana realized that the woman looked just like Catherine Chander. Her hair was a little darker, and her face was in shadow, but Diana just knew.

Diana crossed the shop to the woman.

“Um, excuse me, do you speak English… My French is really rotten, and I’m trying to find a book.”

The woman looked up and smiled.


Catherine recognized a Brooklyn accent in the voice addressing her. The familiar sound made her smile.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said, holding up a book. “We might have a few here.”

The woman laughed. “Well, not just any book. My niece is studying French in school in New York, and I’m trying to find something suitable for someone her age but is in French.”

“How old is your niece?” Catherine asked.

“Alexandra is 7, going on 28,” the woman said.

Catherine chuckled. “I’ve known a few like that. Are you interested in the classics or something that is typically French?”

“Either, or maybe both? How about a book translated from English into French, something she might already be familiar with, and one that is what French kids are reading in school.”

“How long has she been studying French? Catherine asked as she led the customer to the corner of the store where the children's books were.

Diana studied the woman and listened to her voice. She was definitely from the States, and if she wasn’t Catherine Chandler, Diana was committed to eating her badge.

“Since Kindergarten. It’s an experimental curriculum. They start the kids early, learning to Speak, then in the 2nd grade, where she is now, they start reading it.”

“I wish they’d had something like that when I was in school,” Catherine commented. “How about some fairy tales?” She pulled a book off a shelf. This one is the same as one I had when I was little, only it’s in French.” She pulled another off the shelf. “And this one is a book of classic French fairy tales.”

The red-haired woman took both books, leafed through them, and nodded.

“These are perfect.” Then she looked up at Catherine. “You’re from New York, aren’t you?”

Catherine hesitated, then nodded. “Yes, I’ve been living here in Paris for a while, though.”

“Maybe we know some of the same people,” Diana suggested. She had an idea. “By the way, my name is Diana Bennett.”

“It’s a big city,” Catherine pointed out, then introduced herself. “Caroline Stewart.”

“Yeah, but I’m with the NYPD, and I know a lot of interesting people… I help out some friends now and then. They live near the park… their names are Jacob, Mary, Rebecca, Cullen, and I can’t forget Mouse and Vincent.”

Catherine was stunned by the names Diana had reeled off, but she maintained her calm. She shook her head and turned toward the front of the shop.

“If those books are satisfactory, you can follow me to the register.”

While Margot rang Diana up, Catherine bagged the books, then quickly scribbled a note on a piece of paper and put it in with the books. She didn’t know who Diana Bennett was; she hoped she wasn’t making a mistake, but she had to speak to her if she really was a Helper.


Diana paid for her books, took the bag and left the shop. Had she been wrong? She didn’t think so. When she’d rattled off the names, there hadn’t been much reaction, but she had heard a quick intake of breath when she’d gotten to Vincent. She had to be right and come up with a way to speak to the woman again.


Diana had skipped lunch earlier and decided to stop and eat; she went to a little place she’d found a few days after she arrived. Once seated, she set the bag with the books on the chair next to her. It fell over, and a piece of paper fell out. Thinking it was her receipt, she picked it up but found that it was a folded paper. She opened it and found a hastily scribbled note:





Diana smiled. It was signed “CC”; she’d known she was right. She had a lot to tell Catherine.


Margot always left the shop around 5pm to go home and start dinner for her family. She’d shown Catherine how to total the day's receipts and close up the shop.

This evening, Catherine started the closing procedure almost as soon as Margot left the shop, and when she saw the red-haired woman coming up the street, she breathed a sigh of relief; maybe the note had been a good idea.


As soon as the woman was inside the shop, Catherine went outside, closed the shutters over the shop windows, then came back inside, and closed and locked the door before she turned to her.

“You’re a Helper?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m a detective with the NYPD.” She pulled something out of her oversized tote bag and showed it to Catherine. It was her badge. “I was assigned your case after you disappeared.”

“You know who I am?”

“After all the pictures I’ve seen of you, how could I not?”

“Please, come upstairs.” Catherine turned toward the back of the store. “I’ll make some tea. I have a lot of questions.”

Once the two women were settled in the small living room upstairs, Catherine wasn’t sure where to start.

“How about I tell you what happened after you disappeared,” Diana suggested.

At Catherine’s nod, Diana began.

“To begin with, I’m with a special crimes unit, the 210, with the NYPD. Joe Maxwell requested me for your case once he returned to work.”

“He’s OK? My contact in New York said he was, but I was always worried that he might be trying to shield me from any more bad news.”

“He’s fine. He’s got a few new scars to show for his adventures, but the last time I saw him, he was back at work.”

“How did you meet… well… our mutual friends?”

“A long story,” Diana told her. “I was on your case, and I’d been through all the evidence. I got access to your apartment, and although it had already been gone through, they missed a few things. I knew you were in a relationship. Everyone seemed to know. I’d talked to Joe, your friend Jenny, Dr. Alcott, and some of your co-workers, but none of them knew who you were seeing.

“After I went through your apartment, I managed to find a name, but only a first name, and I just had a feeling that there was something different about him.

“But as I said, no one seemed to know what went on in your private life. You managed to keep it very private. But when I talked to Joe, he mentioned that you had recently taken time off to be with a sick friend and that there were a few times when Park Police had reported seeing you in the park late at night. I figured that maybe this Vincent was the sick friend and you were meeting him in the park somewhere. So I decided to take a stroll in the park late one night, and I all but ran into a man in a cape. Actually, I almost stepped on him. He was lying in a little patch of trees not far from a drainage culvert.

“I thought I’d stumbled on a murder victim, and when I bent down to check for a pulse, I saw his face, and it all fell into place. I knew this man had to be your Vincent. He opened his eyes and realized he wasn’t alone, and he tried to cover his face. I told him it was all right and asked him how I could help. He seemed surprised but told me that he would appreciate it if I would help him get back on his feet and get inside the culvert.

“I wound up helping him quite a way in. We reached some pipes where he stopped and tapped on them.  I realized it was a message when I recognized some Morse code. While we waited, we talked a little. He didn’t question why I hadn’t seemed surprised at his appearance but seemed relieved when I told him I was a detective and had been assigned your case. When help arrived, I gave Vincent one of my cards, and then Kipper escorted me back to the threshold and let me out.

“About a week later, I was surprised when Vincent arrived on the roof of my loft. He’d seen a headline in the newspaper that had said that the NYPD feared that you were dead. He wanted me to know that he knew you were alive. He explained about the Bond and how, as he’d recovered from his injuries over the previous few days, the Bond had returned, and with it, he knew that you were alive but also that you were very far away. He compared it to a time you’d taken a trip to LA. Only this time, it felt like you were even farther away and to the east instead of the west.”

“I’m so glad he knows I’m alive,” Catherine said, clearly relieved.

“He knows, but I think I am one of the few people who believe him. Father says that he’s afraid it’s just wishful thinking. Everyone was pretty sure that you’d been kidnapped by someone by the name of Gabriel, who was mentioned in a book you left with Elliot Burch. But it was a well-known fact that this Gabriel was ruthless. So it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that you were dead; that it was just that no one had found a body yet.”

“I’ve got so many questions.” Catherine interrupted.

“Ask,” Diana told her.

“When you found Vincent, how did he get injured?”

“There was an explosion. He’d been meeting with Elliot Burch regularly…”

“He knows Elliott?” Catherine was surprised.

“He and Burch have been exchanging information since shortly after Burch’s people broke the code in the book and handed it over to Joe. Vincent went to Burch to share some information and to ask for help. They’d begun to meet on a boat that belonged to Burch because it was easier and safer for Vincent to get to. Someone obviously found out that they were meeting, and one night, when they were there, it exploded. Burch thinks he was probably the target since he’d refused to go along on some proposed business deals.

“They both wound up in the water and managed to help each other to the shore. He said Elliot offered him a ride wherever he needed to go, but he declined because he hadn’t shared everything with Burch yet. He’d managed to get to where I found him before he passed out.

“After that, they no longer met but exchanged information in notes and letters. But that was when things really started happening. Burch was one of the other people who believed Vincent when he said he knew you were alive, and he stepped up his efforts to find Gabriel. He figured if he found Gabriel, he’d find you.

“About six weeks after you disappeared, there was an intruder in the tunnels. He was heavily armed, killed a sentry, and threatened several others, and Vincent went out to find him. He said that they were stalking each other. He found out the man’s name. He called himself Snow. Vincent led him into the maze, and when the man started shooting, there was a cave-in, and the man was buried. They dug him out, but it was too late; he was dead. They dumped the body in the Abyss, but not before Vincent removed some identifying items: a ring, a wallet, and some papers. He gave all of those to me.

“I was able to find out some information about the man. His real name was Raphael Volkov, and his name was associated with Gabriel Volkov. We think that it is the Gabriel who started all the mayhem. Raphael, or Snow, was his younger brother. But since his body was dumped in the Abyss, no one knew he was dead.”

“Then, about a month later, there was another intruder. This one was just as heavily armed as Snow but seemed much less rational. He kept yelling that he wanted ‘the creature,’ ‘the monster.’ Finally, Vincent went out to meet him.

“As soon as he saw Vincent, he started shooting, and Vincent ran. Eventually, they got to the bridge over the Abyss. Vincent was on one end of the bridge when the man stopped in the middle. He started talking to Vincent. He told him his name was Gabriel and that he knew that his brother was dead or maybe being held prisoner somewhere in the caves. Then he started shooting again, but he wasn’t a very good shot, or maybe just too irrational to realize what he was doing. Vincent ducked behind some rocks, and the bullets were ricocheting all over the chamber. Something, a bullet or a piece of rock, severed one of the ropes holding the bridge, and the other wasn’t strong enough to hold, and it broke, and Gabriel joined his brother in the Abyss.”

It took a moment for all of it to sink in.

“Gabriel’s dead? I can go home?” Catherine asked incredulously.

“Yep. No one knows it. It’s not official, and no one will ever know it under the circumstances. But since his disappearance, his people seem to think he just bugged out on them and left them holding the bag. The ones arrested by the task force that Maxwell put together have been offering to tell everything they know in exchange for immunity or reduced sentences. Even a few who weren’t arrested have been voluntarily coming forward. It’s been beautiful to see… and by the way, the DA was one of the people in Gabriel’s book. Seems he’s been in Gabriel’s pocket for almost two years.”

“I’ve got something else to add to his list of charges,” Catherine told her.

“What’s that?” asked Diana.

“Kidnapping. John was the one who kidnapped me and had me sent to Gabriel.”     

They talked a little longer, and then Diana glanced at her watch.

“It’s getting late. How’s the café across the street?”

“It’s good. I’ve eaten there a few times,” Catherine told her.

“Why don’t we go get some dinner, and we can make a plan while we eat.”

Catherine agreed, and over dinner, they discussed what they would do.

“I’m leaving here on Monday,” Diana told Catherine as she wrote her itinerary. “See if you can get on the same flight, and we can travel together.”

“Are you going to tell anyone that you found me?” Catherine asked.

“I’ll let Peter know so he can tell Vincent, but I’m leaving the rest up to you.”

“Please ask Peter not to tell anyone but Vincent. I’d like to keep it quiet for a while. I’ll call my contact tonight and let him know and ask for a few things. I want to be home for a while before I tell Joe I’m home.”

“So you’ll start with Joe. Makes sense, start with the DA,” Diana agreed.


“Yeah, that was something I didn’t mention. When Moreno was arrested, Maxwell was appointed the Interim DA to fulfill the rest of Moreno’s term.”

Catherine nodded. “It’s not how he wanted to get that job, but maybe he can prove himself and get elected.”

“When I left, he was still undecided about whether or not he was going to run, but he has the backing of the mayor and the police department if he does,” Diana told her. “And I assume you want a little time alone with Vincent,” she added.

“Yes, it would be nice, but if we go Below, that won’t happen. He’s always in demand.”


Catherine called Jay the following afternoon. It was the beginning of his day. She told him what had happened and told him she was coming home. She also asked him to send her a credit card and real passport as quickly as possible. She didn’t know how he did it, but she received it two days later. She went to work booking her flights and making her arrangements.

Margot was sad to see her go but happy for her.


She and Diana made arrangements to meet at the airport on Monday evening. Diana was surprised that Catherine had only one small suitcase and a backpack.

Catherine smiled and shrugged when Diana commented on it. “It’s not like I’ve been attending fancy dinner balls,” she said. “I almost didn’t bother, but then I figured that what I have might be useful Below.”

After they picked up their boarding passes and checked their bags, they were heading for their gate when Diana looked at her boarding pass.

“There’s been a mistake,” she said to Catherine.

“What is it?” Catherine asked.

“This is for First Class. My ticket is supposed to be in coach.” She stopped and was about to turn around and go back when Catherine grabbed her arm.

“No mistake,” she told Diana. “I upgraded you. It was the only way I could get us seats together, and don’t worry. I paid for it.”

“Cops aren’t supposed to accept gratuities,” Diana stated.

“Not even from victims who are grateful for their hard work?” Catherine grinned. “It’s OK. I know the DA. I’ll make sure he’s okay with it.”

Diana started walking again. “I’ve never flown First Class before,” she said, returning Catherine’s smile.    


A meal was served about halfway through the eight-hour flight.

By the time they were done, Diana was almost laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Catherine asked, although she had a pretty good idea what it was.

“Now I know why you booked first class,” Diana said with a grin. “The seats are like sitting in my dad’s recliner; the service is better than most restaurants, and the food? Wow! Choice of appetizers, salads, main courses that I could choose from chicken, fish, or beef, and a choice of two different desserts, a different wine with each course. And even the coffee is better than what they serve in the back.” 

“It’s a long flight,” Catherine pointed out. “I once flew from New York to LA on the city’s dime. They booked me in coach, and that flight was half the length of this one. I flew coach to Paris last summer so as not to draw attention to myself, and  I swore I wouldn’t do that again.”

“I went to Ireland when I was in college,” Diana told her. “But I think I had a milk run. I booked the cheapest seat I could find, and we landed in Newfoundland and Iceland before we made it to Dublin. I don’t think that flight even had a first class. And it was the longest, most uncomfortable flight I’ve ever had. It was a little better coming back. I flew from Dublin to Heathrow and had a non-stop flight out of London because the airline I’d originally booked with had gone out of business during the six weeks I was in Ireland. My dad found me a way home.”  

Later, after dinner, Diana was reading a book, and Catherine sat gazing out the window.

Do you know I’m coming home, Vincent? she wondered. Of course, you do. She smiled and sent a wave of love out over the ether, hoping he’d sense it.


Vincent had already finished his breakfast when Father joined him.

Vincent was just taking a note out of an envelope.

“Anything important?” Father asked.

“A relayed message from Peter. Pascal says that Peter said that Catherine will be home today. Her plane is supposed to land just after 10pm.”

Father wasn’t surprised. Vincent had told him Catherine was alive as soon as he’d gotten the first message from Peter.  

“I’m glad I was wrong,” he told Vincent.

Vincent reached across the table and put his hand over Father’s. “No more than I am, Father,” he stated


Catherine had a book open on the tray table in front of her, but she hadn’t even looked at it in over an hour. She was staring off into space when Diana spoke to her.

“Do you always sleep with your eyes open?” she asked.

That made Catherine jump and then laugh nervously.

“I guess I was off in la-la land,” she conceded. She looked over at Diana. “Do you think he will be there?”

“I know he will be,” Diana assured her.


“I called Peter’s office before I left the hotel and left a message. I told the receptionist my name and asked her to let Dr. Alcott know that I was on my way home; my plane would land a little after 10pm and that I was bringing a mutual friend. He will know to pass that on to Vincent, but I doubt Vincent will need that. He probably knew the instant the plane took off.”

“Thank you for that. I really do hope he is there. I don’t want to have to go Below to him. If I do, we won’t have a moment alone. I’d like to have him all to myself for at least a few hours before I have to share him.”

“I know what you mean. I swear, his chamber is as busy as Times Square on New Year’s Eve, sometimes. I used to try to update him on your case at least every couple of weeks, and I preferred to do it privately, but his chamber was far from private. We usually wound up at the falls. I don’t know how he can stand it. I like my privacy; it would drive me nuts.”

Catherine was agreeing with that last statement when the announcement was made that they were on approach to JFK.


Vincent stopped in Father’s study on his way to Catherine’s.

“You’re on your way up?” Father asked needlessy. Then he spotted the beat-up leather duffle Vincent was carrying and raised an eyebrow. “You’re planning to stay?”

“You know as well as I do that Catherine and I won’t get a moment alone if she comes Below,” Vincent said defensively. “I’d like to have her to myself for a while before sharing her with everyone else.”

Father held up a hand. “I understand,” he assured Vincent. “When can I expect you back?”

“Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow night,” Vincent answered.


Catherine and Diana made it through Customs quickly and were in the taxi on their way to Manhattan a little more than an hour after landing.

“Will you come up?” Catherine asked when the taxi pulled up to the curb.

“I thought you wanted to be alone with him,” Diana said with a chuckle.

“I do, but I’m sure he would like to see you and thank you,” Catherine told her.

“You’re sure?”

“Positive,” Catherine said with a grin. “As long as you don’t stay and chat.”

The women got out of the cab. The doorman recognized Catherine and greeted her as if she’d only been gone a few days. Diana left her bags in the lobby, and they headed to the elevators.


Vincent dropped to Catherine’s balcony just as a taxi pulled away from the curb down on the street. He watched as two women carrying luggage crossed the sidewalk and entered the building. He knew one was Catherine; he assumed the other was Diana; it was hard to tell in the dark.

He crossed the balcony and dropped his bag. He tried the door to the living room. It was locked, as he had expected. He knew that there was a loose brick that hid a key. It took a moment to find it and extract the key.


Catherine reached behind a framed print on the wall outside her apartment. She pulled out a key and started to unlock the door.

“Not very secure,” Diana commented.

“I left it for Joe; he had a bad habit of kicking in my door if I didn’t answer,” Catherine explained.

She pushed the door open and stepped inside.


Vincent crossed the threshold into Catherine’s apartment at the same time he saw the front door start to open. He watched as Catherine walked into the room.


Catherine pushed open the door and stepped into her apartment for the first time in months. She looked up, and he was there. Just as she’d pictured him. Their eyes met, and he stepped toward her and held out his arms. She dropped everything she was carrying and flew across the room into his arms.

“I missed you so much!” he heard her whisper as her arms went around his neck. His arms closed around her waist, and he almost lifted her off the floor.

He looked up to see Diana standing in the open door, smiling at them.

He nodded and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

She nodded back, shoved Catherine’s abandoned luggage farther into the room, picked up the key she’d dropped and put it on the table, then turned and left, closing the door behind her.

Vincent watched as she did that and didn’t move until the door closed. He hadn’t wanted an audience for his next move, not even Diana.

He pushed Catherine far enough away from him to see her face, then he bent and kissed her.



E.Y. Harburg/Vernon Duke