THE SEARCH

by Joan Stephens



PROLOGUE:

Vincent raced up the stairs to the roof, hoping to rescue Catherine from her captors. Too late, he watched with anguish as the helicopter lifted away from the building. “Catherine!” he roared in agony as a cold smile crossed the face of the man sitting in the chopper, staring down at him. The helicopter banked sharply and began to drift away, followed by Vincent’s tormented shout, “Catherine!” He slumped in defeat, but as he turned to leave, he heard her voice.

“Vincent,” she uttered softly, so softly that he thought at first that it was the wind carrying her shouted name back to him. But she stood at the top of the stairs, white-faced and perspiring despite the cool breeze, gripping tightly to the railing that kept anyone from accidentally falling into the stairwell. She began to sway as if her legs were unable to hold her up, and he sped to her side. “Ah, Vincent,” she sighed as he caught her in his arms.

Easing her down on the roof floor, he gazed in rapture at her face, not recognizing at first the fine sheen of moisture on her face or the lethargic way what she lay in his arms. “Catherine,” he whispered, finally noticing how pale and listless she was. “Catherine?”

Smiling painfully at him, she took several deep breaths as she summoned her waning strength to tell him. “We loved.... There is a child...”

“A child?” The words didn’t really register with him, his fear for Catherine eclipsing everything else.

“He’s beautiful,” she whispered, smiling a mother’s smile.

She began to breathe heavily in little short gasps, frightening Vincent even more. “Catherine ...Catherine?” he said, trying to keep her with him.

But she knew she was dying, and with her last remaining vestige of strength, she raised a shaking hand to caress his cheek. Gathering the tiny bit of energy that remained in her, she quoted, hoping it would give him the strength to go on alone, the lines of the poem that had been so important to him while he was ill, “Though lovers be lost...”

“...Love shall not,” he finished the quote and gazed in stupefied horror as she drew her last breath and fell back limply in his arms. Numbly he gazed at her, unable to comprehend that she had left him, and then holding her closely, he finished the quote, “And death shall have no dominion.” Kneeling on the roof floor, he rocked her lifeless body back and forth, totally unaware of what was happening around him. He threw back his head in an anguished roar, directing it at the golden full moon that blazed coldly in the ebony vault above. How could it still be shining so serenely when the world had come to an end? Why weren’t the stars falling from their lofty heights in sorrow? How could everything remain the same when his world had crashed and disintegrated? In his agony and heartbreak, he never heard the thrum of the returning helicopter.

Gabriel had had second thoughts about leaving such a dangerous enemy alive. If the woman was strong enough to make it to the roof after being given enough morphine to kill her, she would surely have told him of the child. This he could not allow for as persistent as the lionman had been in searching for the woman he loved, he would be just as tenacious in searching for his lost son. Gabriel directed the pilot to return to the building. Hovering alongside the tall building, he instructed Pope, his second in command, to kill him.

Pope leaned out of the helicopter and fired several rounds of ammunition into Vincent’s back, who jerked as each bullet slammed into his body until he fell over Catherine’s limp form.

Gabriel watched with satisfaction the destruction of the most potentially relentless enemy he had ever known. He could not risk leaving him alive to search for his son. With a pleased smile, he thought, There is no one now to take my son from me. The chopper swung in a big arc and sped away into the night.

* * * * *

Secrets Revealed

Joe sat on the cold, windy rooftop staring at the couple entwined in death as they must have been in life. So this was your big secret, Cathy. This man ...His thoughts trailed away as the wind gently lifted the golden tresses from the strange alien face of the man. Man? He must have been a man or Cathy could never have cared for him, and Joe had seen the look on her face as she told him about her friend’s illness. If that wasn’t love, he didn’t know what was....

Continuing to recall the last six months, he remembered his shock when Cathy disappeared from the elevator on her way to the basement garage. How could it have happened in the building where he worked? Where was security? He had always thought that he worked in the safest building in the city.

Her case had been given to the Missing Person’s Squad, and he was warned by D.A. Moreno to let them handle it. After four months of fruitless investigations by the M.P.S., he had turned to Diana Bennett, a detective in the 2-10 who had a phenomenal record of cases solved, for her help. She was gung-ho for the first month, telling him that Cathy had a secret life and possibly a secret love, Vincent. It hadn’t surprised him as his friend had been very protective of her private life. Then Diana did a complete about face, saying that it was all in Cathy’s imagination, that possibly her abduction two years ago had led to this delusion of a secret lover. He couldn’t accept this as he knew Cathy to be one of the sanest people he had ever met or worked with. Angry with the female detective, he had refused to accept her assessment of his friend and co-worker.

Then early this morning the telephone rang as his hand tightened on the door knob ready to fling the door open. If he didn’t hurry, he would be late for work. It was Diana, telling him that she had found out where Cathy was being held and asking him to meet her in front of the building at 1900 6Th Ave, right off 53rd St., and to tell no one. Grabbing his jacket, he dashed out of his apartment, never thinking to call in and say he would be late.

She was waiting for him as he hastily exited the taxi. As they surveyed the building, he asked her how she had found the address. She gave him a cryptic smile. “I can’t reveal all my secrets, but I’ll tell you this: I found the old warehouse where they had held Cathy and followed the paper trail. It led to a man named Jonathan Pope, who is in the employ of a man by the name of Gabriel. I figure he’s the one who’s holding her prisoner.”

“How did you...?”

“Secrets, Joe, secrets. And remember I’m supposed to be clairvoyant.” Smiling slyly, her gaze traveled up the facade of the sinister–she couldn’t help feeling that way–building.

“You’re amazing,” Joe said, congratulating her. His respect for her had risen another notch.

Deciding to case the building before settling on what they were going to do, they circled it, ending at last in the alley. Their future actions were decided for them. The building appeared strangely quiet, and the alley door looked as if a tank had smashed through it. Inside the door several bodies were strewn about in various poses of painful death. Slowly and very carefully they canvassed each floor of the high-rise, finding bodies, slashed and broken, on each stair landing.

“My god, Diana, what kind of animal did this?” he finally said, unnerved by her calm acceptance of the carnage that they were wading through.

“I hope you never find out,” she replied and would answer no more questions, saying, “Let’s just find out where Cathy is.”

Reluctantly he agreed. On the top floor they found a central monitoring office for the cameras they had seen ubiquitously placed throughout the building. A small clinic and an unlocked room with a bed and chair filled the other part of the same floor. They guessed that that must have been where they kept Cathy.

There was no one alive left in the silent building. Finding a set of stairs that led to the roof, they inched their way up the steps and stepped out onto the roof. There was no one alive on the roof either, only a couple, lying entwined in the stillness of death.

A harsh gasp was wrung from Diana as she dropped to her knees beside the two unmoving bodies. Joe recognized the honey-brown hair that belonged to Cathy. “Ah ...God, no,” he breathed as he practically fell to the floor.

With a trembling hand, Diana placed a finger to the woman’s neck. She looked up at Joe and slowly shook her head. “She’s dead, Joe. Cathy’s dead.” Retreating into professionalism was the only thing that kept him from breaking down.

A tear or two trailed down Diana’s cheek as she checked the man’s pulse. Her face was transfused with joy as she cried, “He’s alive; Vincent’s alive.”

“Vincent?” Was this the Vincent that had inscribed so many of the books that Cathy had?

Leaping to her feet, she said, “I’m going for help; stay here. Don’t let anyone up here. I’ll call for help.”

“Call the EMU’s!”

“I can’t. Just trust me, Joe; I know what I’m doing.” Trust her? That’s all he had been doing for the last month or so. She rushed away and Joe settled down after covering the couple with his coat. The wind blew the man’s hair off his face, but he was too numb right now to be shocked by what he saw.

* * * * *

How long he sat there he didn’t know. Staring at the man that Cathy loved, Joe started when he moved. “Lie still,” he cautioned softly, placing a firm hand on the man’s shoulder.

“C - Cath ...rine?” he whispered.

“She’s right here, Vincent, in your arms.” He didn’t have the heart to tell him that she was gone. “Save your strength, pal; Diana’s gone for help.” He knew now why Diana had backed off on the investigation. She had become the keeper of Cathy’s secret.

“Diana?” Moving carefully, he gathered his strength. “Tell ...tell her ...to - to find ...my son ...Catherine’s son.”

“Cathy had a baby?” Joe responded inanely. That’s what the little clinic was ...a birthing room. The shocks were coming too fast and furious for him to make sense of it all.

“Our son.” Vincent moved painfully to place a kiss on the top of Cathy’s head. “Find him ...please ...take ...to ...Father.” He lapsed into unconsciousness.

This was another shock that Joe would have to deal with later when he had the time. Vincent was the father of Cathy’s baby. Joe wondered briefly what the child would look like, but at this moment it wasn’t all that important.

“Hang on, Vincent, hang on,” Joe muttered as he felt for Vincent’s pulse through the fur that covered his wrist. He had never wanted anything as badly in his life as he did for Vincent to live. He had so many questions that needed answers. There was a beat and just as he was about to think Vincent’s heart had stopped there was another long, slow pulse and then ...nothing.

Diana raced onto the roof. “They’ll be here soon,” she gasped as she dropped to her knees beside Joe.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said numbly. “He’s gone, too.”

Diana sobbed once, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” Joe commiserated, patting her on the shoulder. “You loved him?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know ...possibilities? Maybe. He fascinated me, but he loved Catherine and only her. He’s a dear friend.”

“Looks like we’ve both lost a good friend,” Joe said.

“You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did ...knew from the first that she had someone very special in her life, but I never suspected anything like this,” he smiled bitterly at her. “Oh, before he died, he asked me to tell you to find his and Cathy’s son.”

“They had a baby? I never thought...”

“Yeah, and I figure Gabriel took him.”

“My god,” she exclaimed, “and that monster has him?” She grabbed his arm with a viselike grip. “Joe, we’ve got to find him!”

“I know that,“ he complained, prying her fingers loose from an arm that was rapidly losing all sensation, “but it’s not going to be easy.” He knew that he would do all in his power to save Cathy’s child.

“We can never give up until we do, no matter how long it takes,” she declared, settling down on the roof floor beside the still bodies. Pulling her coat tightly around her, she wrapped her arms around her waist. “It’ll take a while before they get here.”

“Before who gets here,” Joe demanded. He was sick and tired of secrets. “Tell me,” he almost shouted.

“Vincent’s friends. I can’t tell you any more than that ...not right now anyway.” She lowered head, seeming to draw into herself and said nothing more.

He kept checking his watch, wondering why the delay. After about thirty minutes, Diana rose to her feet as they heard the sound of feet pounding up the stairs.

Joe stood up as several oddly dressed men, carrying a stretcher, burst out of the stairwell. Joe gaped at them, wondering what century they came from.

“There’s no hurry, Kanin,” Diana said quietly to the man who seemed to be in charge. “They’re both gone.” Her voice was gray and emotionless.

“Oh God, no!” he said as his shoulders slumped. “This’ll kill Father.”

There were exclamations of grief from all the men. A young bond-haired man started to cry. “Can’t be?! Can’t be dead? Not Vincent. Not Catherine. Not right.”

“We need to get them Below as soon as possible. Someone might accidentally find us,” Diana said, stepping away from the bodies.

“Below?” questioned Joe.

“I’ll explain later. Let them do their job.” Diana drew Joe away and whispered, “Say nothing about the child.”

Mystified, Joe agreed, “Ok, but why?”

“Later,” she repeated.

The men had Vincent’s body on the stretcher and Kanin held Catherine’s body in his arms. As they started down the stairs, Diana called out, “Kanin, tell Father I’ll be right down as soon as I can, and that I’m bringing Joe Maxwell with me. Tell him not to do anything with them,” here her voice choked, “as I want to examine them.” He nodded soberly and then they were gone, the sounds of their clattering boots fading into silence.

Silently, Joe and Diana left the roof, following in the wake of the tunnel dwellers. They stayed behind, searching for any clues to the whereabouts of Gabriel and the child, but with no success, as the building was surprisingly void of any personal or business papers.

Diana said, “Let’s go, Joe. There’s nothing of importance here.”

* * * * *

“Where to now?” Joe asked as they emerged from the building. “Below? Wherever that is.”

“Follow me, Joe. You’re about to be amazed.” She hailed a taxi and directed the driver to take them to Cathy’s apartment building. This was the only sure way she could find the home tunnels. On the way there she made him promise that what she told him would be their secret, that he could tell no one about it.

He promised, and he heard the most amazing story of his life. A hidden society in the heart of New York? Where? But he could get her to answer none of his questions. She just told him to wait and see, which frustrated him almost past endurance. But at last they arrived at their destination, and she led him through the lobby to the elevator and finally into the basement. “This is Below?” he quipped.

“No, not yet,” she answered calmly. He followed her into a small storage room where she removed some cardboard boxes to reveal a small door set in the wall. Opening the door, she descended into the sub-basement followed by an astonished Joe. “See. I told you you’d be amazed.”

“Yeah,” he breathed, wide-eyed, looking all around. “What is this place?”

“You know there are miles of tunnels under the city, don’t you?” He nodded. “Well, this is where I’m taking you.”

“You gotta be kidding,” he joked feebly.

Before she could reply, a blond young man stepped out of the shadows. “Diana ...Father waiting.”

“Thanks, Mouse. How is he?”

He shrugged, finding it hard to come up with the words he needed. Finally, he said, “Real strange. Awfully quiet. Waiting. All else crying. Not Father. Like stone.”

“Shock, I imagine,” she said to Joe. “God, I hate to do this, but we’ve got to tell him what has happened.” Taking a deep breath, she continued, “Let’s go and get it over with.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m going to say to him.”

“Wish I could help you, but I kind of feel out of my element right now,” Joe griped as he followed Diana and the strange young man.

As they descended further into the tunnels, he heard tapping on the pipes that seemed to have some order to them. “Message,” Diana answered shortly to his question.

Joe became more and more uncomfortable as they met some of the people of the underworld. They were red-eyed and weeping, looking lost and afraid. Even though he didn’t know them, he felt deeply sorry for them. At last they came to a large book-lined chamber that was filled to capacity with unhappy and sad people. Children were being comforted by several women with tear-filled eyes, one of whom looked up at them as they entered. Joe had to look away from the stark misery in the grey-haired, older woman’s eyes. As he glanced around the room, he saw a tall, thin, silver-haired man, who looked out of place, standing to the side of an old battered mahogany desk. He was attired in a well-cut business suit but looked as heartbroken and upset as everyone else. Joe tried to remember where he had seen him before, but with all that had happened today, his memory didn’t seem to want to cooperate.

An authoritative man dressed as all the tunnel dwellers were in castoff, well-patched but clean clothing rose stiffly from behind the desk. He looked to Diana with dead, pleading eyes that asked her to tell him that it wasn’t true, that at any minute Vincent and Catherine would come laughing into the chamber. He sagged when he saw the truth in her eyes. “What happened, Diana, do you know?” he asked, his voice ragged with sorrow and held back tears.

She went to him and enclosed him in a firm, desperate embrace. He held onto her as if he would fall if he let go. Stepping out of his embrace with a nod of compassion, she turned to face the crowd, and beckoning Joe to stand beside her, she said, “This is Joe Maxwell, deputy D.A. of New York and Cathy’s good friend and co-worker.”

Sunk deep in their sorrow and pain, the fact that he was a law enforcement officer never resonated with them, and the only thing that did was the fact that he was Catherine’s friend. He stood stiffly beside the auburn-haired detective, after nodding to them. Diana told how they went to Gabriel’s building after she had found out where it was and what they found there. “Cathy was already gone but Vincent was still alive.” She turned to Joe, “Tell them what he said before he ...died.”

“Ah ...he told me that he and Cathy had a child, and that he wanted Diana to find him. I understood that to mean that Gabriel had taken the baby.” A murmur of surprise arose from the group.

Father exclaimed, “A child? Are you sure? They’ve never ...At least I think they never...” Frantically, he looked at the man standing beside him for support and sank into his chair. “ A child, Vincent’s child ...dear God,” he said in disbelief.

The other man nodded as if this revelation answered a question he had, and Joe suddenly remembered who the man was: Peter Alcott, Cathy’s friend and doctor.

“That’s what he said,” Joe reiterated. “I can’t bear the thought of the man who killed Cathy raising her child and twisting him to be like he is. Diana and I are going to do our best to find him.”

“And bring him home,” someone shouted from the silent crowd.

“Yes, to bring him home,” Diana said, “not only for his sake but for Cathy and Vincent.”

There was a growing mutter agreement. The older woman that Joe had noticed stood up and said, “We can’t let Vincent’s child be raised Above by a criminal. We’ve got to find him.” She glanced at the tunnel leader with determination. “Don’t you agree, Father?”

“Agree? Of course, I agree. Vincent’s son should be raised here where he can learn about his mother and father and the great love they held for each other.”

Keeping a cool-head, Diana spoke up, “Before we go off in all directions, we need to calm down. We need to go about this in an orderly manner.”

“Yes,” Father said, “first we must see them properly buried. That will be hard enough as it is. Let us focus on that. It will take time for us to recover from that.”

“Don’t you think Cathy should be buried Above?” Joe interjected. “What about her friends?”

A chorus of nos greeted his words.

Peter Alcott spoke for the first time. “She’s been missing for six months. Everyone assumes she’s dead, and she has no family. As her godfather, I, for one, think she should be buried here; she would want that.”

“It was just a suggestion,” Joe said helplessly, battered by all the dissension he felt.

“Ok. Now that that’s settled, we, Joe and I, need to see the ...them.” She couldn’t bring herself to say ‘bodies.’ Still, she had settled into her investigative mode, pushing all the sorrow and pain to the back of her mind. “Are they in the hospital chamber, Father?”

On his brief nod, she spun on her heels, taking Joe by the arm, and left. A burst of chatter followed them down the corridor. Everyone, it seemed, was ready to start searching for the child right now. She hoped that Father could keep them under control.

In the hospital chamber Diana stood in the doorway staring fixedly at the two sheet-covered bodies. Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, she approached the beds and examined both bodies, finding numerous needle marks in Cathy’s arms and several gunshot wounds in Vincent’s back.

 “Why do you suppose they killed him?” Joe asked from beside her. “It wasn’t like he could go searching for his child.”

“I think that’s exactly what Gabriel feared. He knew that Vincent was the father, and he didn’t want anyone to have ties to the baby. The easiest way to be sure of that was to kill the father, now that he had a chance.”

“Makes sense to me. God, Bennett,” nervously he ran his hands through his hair, “we’ve taken on a saber-tooth tiger; you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do, but it has to be done and mostly by you and me. We really can’t trust anyone else.”

He looked stunned. “Not even the tunnel folks?”

“It’s not that I don’t trust them, but they have no idea of what we are up against, and they might get careless,” she explained as she replaced the sheets over Vincent’ and Catherine’s bodies.

They returned to Father’s chamber which now was deserted except for the tunnel leader and the older woman, who introduced herself as Mary, and Dr. Alcott, who sat with bowed head in a chair beside the octagonal table. He looked up at Joe and Diana with red-rimmed eyes, then lowered his head as a sob shook his shoulders. Mary was trying to compose herself, folding and refolding a scrap of linen in her hands, dabbing at the occasional tear that escaped to trail down her cheek. Father’s steely reserve had faded, and he looked old and grey. Wearily he looked up at the young detective. “What are your plans, Diana?”

“We’re not sure; we haven’t discussed it yet. When we know, we’ll let you know,” she responded gently, sitting down beside the desk. Joe pulled a chair up beside her and sat down, bowing his head and leaning his elbows on his knees. “I know that his has been a terrible blow to you,” Diana continued, “but we’ve got to find the child before Gabriel thinks to leave the States.”

Peter and Mary moved their chairs closer to be able to hear what was said.

“I still have trouble believing that the child is Vincent’s. Could it be Gabriel’s?” Father asked, directing the questions to Joe.

“No sir,” Joe said vehemently, staring steadily into the sad, grey eyes. “Vincent specifically told me it was his and Catherine’s child. That’s why he wants us to find him.”

“Catherine would die...” Peter gulped at what he had said but bravely finished his thought, “...be - before she would let Vincent believe that he was father to someone else’s child.”

“And if Vincent said it, then we must believe him,” Mary said in a soft determined voice. “Vincent would never lie to us.”

“No, you’re right of course, my dear. I ...I just don’t know how I’ll go on without him. I always thought that I would go first.” He lowered his head as tears started in his eyes.

Mary moved to take him in her arms like a small child in need of comfort, tears standing in her own eyes. “You know we are all with you; we won’t let you down. We’ll carry on until the baby is brought home. Then things can go back to as normal as they will ever be, without Vincent and Catherine.” She raised his head to smile mistily at him, and with brave cheerfulness, said, “Why... just think, Jacob, you’ll have another child to raise and love. Think of that. Vincent’s child home here in the tunnels where we can all watch over him.”

“Oh Mary,” he sobbed into her shoulder, “what would I ever do without you?” He straightened up with determination, drying his eyes with a cloth he had removed from his vest pocket. “The funeral will be day after tomorrow. Will you be able to come?” he asked Joe and Diana.

The young detective nodded and Joe said, “You couldn’t keep me away.”

“I’ll send a message to your loft with the time, Diana.”

“Thank you, Father,” she said as she rose to her feet. “Joe and I need to get back. We need to be around to see if anyone asks any questions.” Going around the desk, she hugged the old man, “Try to get some rest. Good night.”

Joe reached across the desk to shake the tunnel leader’s hand. “Good night, sir. I’ll see you day after tomorrow. Good night, Mary. Good night, Doctor.” He followed Diana out of the chamber.

* * * * *

The funeral was unlike any that Joe had ever experienced. A long procession of candle-bearing tunnel dwellers proceeded the biers followed by Father, Mary, Diana, and Joe. They wound through long, dark passages, descending ever lower into the depths beneath the city until they reached a somber chamber containing crypts and tombs of long-departed residents. Diana whispered to Joe, “This is the catacombs.”

“Good name,” he replied in a whisper as a chill ran up his back. He had always hated funerals ever since his father’s, and this burial was as traumatic as that one had been.   

A single raised crypt had been built off to one side. Both bodies were placed inside and the heavy slab was pushed into place, sealing the tomb with the soft slithery sound of stone against stone as it settled into place. Amid quiet sobs and sniffles, Father spoke of how Vincent had been brought to the tunnels and of his lonely life until the night he had found Catherine severely beaten and slashed about the face, close to death. And how from that fateful meeting a great love had arisen until they were closer than any other lovers before. He spoke of the trying time that led to this catastrophe, and how they had faced it with courage and determination. “And now they have come home to spend eternity together, never to be parted again.” His voice broke on the last word as he placed a loving hand on the crypt that held his son and the woman he loved. He stepped away from the vault and one after another various members stepped up to tell little anecdotes about the two lovers and how they had affected the lives of those who knew and loved them.

Father looked around searching for Joe and found him standing in the back. “Would you like to say something, Joe?”

“Well...”

“Come forward, please.”

Joe wended his way through the crowd and then said, “I didn’t know Vincent, but I did know Cathy. She was my friend and a better friend you could never have. I knew that she had someone she loved, but she never betrayed this world. She was a good worker, a good lawyer, and a stalwart friend. She had a sense of justice that is not found in most people. Now that I’ve met you all, I’m glad that she had a place to come to where there were friends who loved her.” Turning to the crypt, he laid a single yellow rose on the lid, “Good bye, Cathy. I know wherever you are that you are happy, that you are with the man you love. I miss you. I’ll find your son, I promise.” He returned to his place in the back of the chamber.

Diana shook her head when Father asked her to come to the front. “Everyone has said it all, more eloquently than I could. There’s nothing more I can add. I didn’t know Vincent that long but long enough to become his friend. Cathy, I didn’t know at all, but I know more about her than she knew herself. I wish I had known her; I think we would have been good friends. But I give my sacred promise that I will find and return her child to his grandfather.”

Father turned away with slumping shoulders, overcome with grief and remorse for his many attempts to separate the two lovers. Mary quickly hurried to his side and guided him from the catacombs. The tunnel society said its last farewell to the couple in the tomb as they filed by and then returned to the home chambers.


Part Two

Crusade

Slanting through the window of the tasteful and expensively decorated nursery, the warm autumn sun shimmered in the golden, downy hair of the baby lying so quietly in his crib. He was unnaturally still, seeming to conserve what energy he had so that he would be able to suckle on a bottle of baby formula. As young as he was, he felt the lack of something in his short life that was of vital importance to him. The nurse knew he was failing a little each day the doctor, too. Gabriel wanted to know why and what to do. The doctor was not a pediatrician, but he knew ‘failure to thrive’ when he saw it. As crazy as it sounded, he wondered if the child missed his parents and knew that the cold, dark man was not his real father. The child continued to slightly weaken daily regardless of what was done for him.

“What do you suggest?” Gabriel asked one day as the doctor was examining the child.

Gusting out an impotent breath, the doctor shrugged and backed away.

Spearing him with a deadly stare, Gabriel continued, “Has medical science nothing to offer?”

The doctor spread his arms in a helpless gesture, “There’s no logical reason for this illness.” He added in his defense, “I’ve tried every test.”   

“There are reasons for everything,” Gabriel said flatly. “I’m disappointed in you, Doctor,” the smooth as cold glass voice said. He stood over the crib, gazing speculatively at the child that he had decided would someday take over the reins of his criminal empire.

“I know, sir, but I’m not a pediatrician; I don’t know that much about children,” the doctor said. He wore his fear like a prisoner wears his chains.

“Yes, you only know how to kill your patients,” said Gabriel, gazing at him disdainfully.

“You told me to, sir; I only followed your instructions.” He defended his actions, shaking so badly that he almost dropped his pen.

Gabriel waved a negligent hand as it was of supreme indifference to him whether or not the doctor killed any of his patients, but it gave him surpassing pleasure to needle him about it. He thought about the child for a minute, which led him to thoughts of Catherine Chandler. “She had a personal physician who was also a pediatrician. Bring him here.”

The doctor nodded, not needing to be told whom his owner meant by ‘she.’

* * * * *

That afternoon as Peter Alcott, M.D. left his office he was accosted by a well-dressed, hard-faced man who surreptitiously shoved a gun into his stomach and ordered him into the car parked at the curb. A black hood was dropped over his head, he was told to shut up as his hands were tied, and he was taken to an unknown house somewhere in New York.

“What’s the meaning of this?” he demanded of the stony-faced individual who greeted him when the hood and bindings were removed.

Without a preamble, he was informed rather unemotionally that the man’s son was ill and that his services were required.

“Well, why didn’t you take him to emergency?” Peter complained.

“My son is no ordinary child. His comfort is all that matters. This way, Doctor,” the child’s father ordered and proceeded up the stairs.

With two goons staring balefully at him, Peter thought that discretion was the better part of valor and followed him. The child was awake but still, too still for a healthy child. Looking into those bright, intelligent, blue eyes, Peter knew instantly the parents of this child: Cathy and Vincent. He hadn’t had the trouble that Jacob had in believing that the child could be Vincent’s, and the living proof was looking back at him.

The effrontery and hubris of the man staggered the doctor. He had to know that Peter would know who the child was and where he belonged. He must believe that having rid himself of the child’s parents that there was no one he need fear.  

He gave the man, who refused to give his name, the same diagnosis as the other doctor, adding, “This child needs to be touched and loved.”

“I have all the love the child needs,” the baby’s purported father said. “I will make him strong and fearless.”

The cold insanity of the man’s eyes frightened Peter, and he quickly made his suggestions for the care of the baby, hoping he would soon be away from the man’s evil atmosphere. A sudden cold thought passed through his mind, What if he wasn’t going to be returned to his office? Still, he was a doctor and this child needed him. He changed the formula and prescribed vitamins. There was really nothing more he could do. What the child needed was not to be found with this man.

The man paced to the door and opened it. In whispered conversation with one of the thugs that had kidnapped Peter, he nodded at the uncomfortable doctor.

What now? Peter worried as he glanced around the nursery and noticed for the first time the unique tile floor. A strange floor for a nursery, but he imagined that the room had been used for other purposes before now. Since he had no idea where he was or where the house was, for that matter, he scrutinized the tile pattern. Maybe Joe or Diana could make use of the information. He was hooded again and returned unharmed to his office. He immediately called Joe and learned from the secretary that Joe was no longer available and could be reached at his home.

* * * * *

“Leaving kind of early, aren’t we?” Rita Escobar joked as she leaned casually against the door jamb, surveying her boss and friend angrily throwing his personal property into a cardboard box.

“Not leaving early,” he grated disgustedly. “I’ve been put on suspension.”

“What?” she asked, stunned. “Why?”

“I guess I’ve spent too much time trying to get the Missing Persons to move their asses faster searching for Cathy, and it’s ruining my health,” he answered sarcastically. He looked up at her. “Hell, I’ve cut back, even cut back on the number of personnel from our own department, but it’s not enough to satisfy Moreno.”

“What’s going on, Joe? Something just doesn’t seem right.”

“I know: I’m beginning to wonder myself.” He shoved his dartboard into the box. “Well, I’m off to take care of my ruined health,” he said wryly. As he passed her, he asked, “If you should hear anything–you know what I’m talking about–would you let me know?”

“Sure, Joe.” She watched the angry man stalk out of the office and returned to the pile of work that sat on her desk, reflecting on Joe’s angry statements.

* * * * *

His phone was ringing as he barged into his apartment. He threw the box on his sofa. “What?” he barked.

“Ah ...Joe?” Peter Alcott’s hesitant voice began. “I need to talk to you.”

“Yeah, what about?” he answered brusquely, settling onto one end of the cough. Then forcibly calming himself, he said, “Excuse me, Doctor, but I’ve had a bad day.”

“Well, I haven’t had all that good a day myself. What happened that made your day so bad, if you can tell me?” Peter’s voice held sympathy for the upset man.

“I don’t really know; I’ve been put on suspension.” He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “Something about not looking so good since I’ve spent so much time searching for Cathy.”

“It’s a rather moot question now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, you’re right but I need to work; I need to be on top of things. You know why.”

“That’s what I need to talk with you about, but not over the phone, Joe,” the doctor said quietly.
 
Joe sat up straight, suddenly interested, forgetting his distractions for the moment. “Yeah, ok. Umm ...I’ll meet you in Central Park in half an hour, the entrance by Columbus Circle.”

“That will be fine. I’ll see you then.” Peter hung up and Joe thoughtfully replaced the handset in its cradle. Whatever Dr. Alcott had to tell him had something to do with Vincent and Cathy. That would be the only reason he was being so secretive.

* * * * *

“Over here, doctor,” Joe called when he saw the tall, thin form enter the park.

“Hi, Joe,” Peter said as he shook the D.D.A.’s hand. “Let’s find a quiet place where we can talk.” They walked off the path into a small grove of trees.

“What did you want to see me about?” Joe asked, leaning against an old oak.

“I know where Cathy’s baby is,” Peter said bluntly.

Joe’s slightly interested look became one of intense excitement. “Where?” he demanded as he straightened up, strung wire tight.

“I don’t know exactly, but I was literally kidnapped from in front of my office and blindfolded. They took me to a house–I don’t know if it was large or not, but it felt immense–where the owner wanted a consultation on the state of his ‘son’s’ health. I took one look at the baby and knew him to be Vincent’s child. He has the same blue eyes and golden hair. That man radiated the most intense evil I’ve ever felt.” Peter shivered at the thought of the person who had the little boy.

Joe’s excitement had crashed when he heard that Alcott didn’t know exactly where the location of the house, and he slumped back against the tree. “There’s no way you can tell us where the house is?” he asked hopefully.

“No ...sorry, Joe, but I was able to get a good look at the nursery floor, and I made a drawing of it as soon as I could. It’s an odd pattern, but I know I’ve seen it somewhere. In Europe, I think. Maybe you and Diana can trace it.” He handed the scrap of paper to Joe. “I’m going Below tonight; anything you want me to tell them?”

Joe looked the diagram over carefully. He had never seen its like anywhere. “Just tell them what you’ve told me and find out if they have anything for us.”

“All right. I certainly hope that this will be of some help.”

“Me, too, Doctor, me too.”

* * * * *

“Diana? It’s me, Joe.” His voice rang tinnily from the intercom. As soon as he and Peter had parted, he had headed for Diana’s loft. They had their first break in the search for Cathy’s baby.

“Ok, I’m sending the elevator down.” If she hadn’t recognized his voice, she would never have lowered the lift. Both she and Joe had to be very careful; they had no way of knowing just how much Gabriel knew about their search for the child.

“Let’s go up on the roof,” she said.

Joe nodded his understanding. They couldn’t take the chance that her loft might be bugged. The night was cool but not too breezy for an October evening. She turned to him with an expectant look on her face. “Peter Alcott called me today,” he said. “I met him in the Park. It seems he was kidnapped and taken to Gabriel’s house...”

“Great, where is it?”

“He doesn’t know; his eyes were covered, and he couldn’t see anything.”

“Damn!” she uttered sharply as she pounded her fist once on the brick wall that surrounded the roof. “I thought for a minute that we had him.”

“Well, Dr. Alcott gave me a sketch of the nursery floor. I’ve never seen anything like it, maybe you have.” He handed her the drawing.

“No, I’ve never seen it before, but I do know an expert in various types of surfaces. I’ll see if he can help us. If not, I guess we’ll just have to do some plain, old detective work and contact all the tile manufacturers we can. It could be stone though.”

“At least, it’s a start,” Joe said, pulling his light weight jacket around him. How did Diana stand the cold with only a sweater on?

“Yeah,” she said reflectively. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” She had noticed him shivering a little bit.

“A really hot one,” he answered, grinning at her.

She noticed that he had a very charming smile and wondered why she had never seen it before. She had taken him for granted, but now working so closely with him, she was beginning to see the man behind the lawyer.

Sitting at the small kitchen table, she asked him about his confrontation with Moreno and his resulting suspension.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he commented. “I’m really at a loss to explain it.”

“I’ve heard rumors, Joe, but that’s all they are. Has your own work been suffering?”

“I don’t think so; I’ve lost a couple of cases lately, but only because new witnesses turned up at the last minute.” He shook his head, “I just don’t know.”

“Well, it gives you more time to look for the baby,” she said, trying to ease his feelings of betrayal by a man he had trusted.

He looked at her in gratitude, observing not for the first time, just how lovely she was. She dressed down so that she wouldn’t intimidate her co-workers, but Joe found himself attracted to her, even to her unorthodox style of life. He liked strong, independent women.   

The evening passed pleasantly and quickly with no mention of either Vincent or Cathy. It seemed as if both of them had decided to leave any thought of the search until tomorrow. Tonight was for relaxation and discovery. Finally, a huge yawn split his handsome face, and he apologized profusely, “It’s not the company; it’s the late hour.” He looked at his watch, exclaiming, “Holy cow, it’s two o’clock.” He jumped to his feet. “I really should be leaving,” he said reluctantly.

Diana laughed at him. “Don’t worry; I seldom go to bed before one or two, anyway.”

“Thanks for the nice, quiet evening; I’ve needed that.”

“I’ve enjoyed myself, Joe. I didn’t know that you could be so mellow.”

“Who? Me? Why I’m the mellowest guy you’ve ever seen.” He grinned crookedly at her, finding it difficult to leave. “Diana? ...do you suppose...?”

She answered his question by leaning forward and kissing him.

He stared at her as he licked his lips. “That was nice,” he said softly. He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. Then putting her from him, he said, “I really think I should go home now.”

Slowly she nodded her head, averse to having him leave. He turned on his heel and almost sprinted to the elevator. Soberly he watched her as the elevator sank out of sight.

Thoughtfully she prepared for bed, asleep in no time. For the first time in many months, she didn’t dream of Vincent; instead, she dreamt of a dark-haired mellow fellow with a crooked grin.

* * * * *

Joe slept in late the next morning; there was no need to set his alarm. Last night with Diana had restored his sense of balance, and he could look at the morning sunshine with a smile. He was sitting at his kitchen table, drinking a cup of his lousy coffee and reading the morning headlines when someone knocked on his door. Elliot Burch stood in the hall with two bodyguards.

“Hi, Joe,” he said tentatively.

“Burch! What’re you doing here?” he demanded, glowering at the strangely hesitant man.

“Can I come in? I need to talk with you.”

“Please, Joe, it’s important; it’s about Cathy,” Elliot pleaded, taking an uncertain step into the apartment. “I know where she’s being kept.”

Joe stepped aside, letting him enter and closed the door on the two bodyguards. Oh, oh. Burch could cause trouble. He still believed that Cathy was alive. Joe would have to play it very cool if he was to keep the architect from interfering. “What about Cathy?” he challenged, disbelief tinging his words. “And how come you know where she is?”

“I just do, Joe; I have my sources.” He stared at the other man. “Why were you put on suspension?”

“For my health. It seems I was spending too much time on Cathy’s case.”

“Doesn’t the DA’s office look after its own?” Elliot stood irresolutely until Joe motioned for him to take a seat on the couch.

“Yeah, it’s supposed to,” Joe agreed grudgingly.

“Joe, there’s somebody in the DA’s office that’s been bought and paid for, by someone very powerful.”

Joe settled onto the couch next to Elliot. “Yeah, I’ve been wondering. There’s been too many strange things happening in the office.” With a speculative look at the other man, Joe said, “And you think you know who it is.”

Elliot boldly stated, “Yes, Moreno.”

Joe jumped to his feet. “You’re out of your mind if you think it’s John,” he snarled, pacing agitatedly back and forth in front of the sofa. “John’s as honest as the day is long.”

“He’s not, Joe,” Elliot said softly. “He’s in Gabriel’s back pocket; he was instrumental in having Cathy kidnapped.”
 
“No way, Burch. John wouldn’t do anything like that.”

“But he did, Joe,” Elliot insisted. “Gabriel’s very powerful, has a lot of money, and is involved in all aspects of law enforcement. That’s how he gets away with all that he’s done.”

“I don’t believe it, and I won’t ...until I’ve seen some evidence to prove it.” But a nasty suspicion was forming in the back of his mind, fostered by Elliot’s words.

“The next time you see him ask him about 1900 6th Ave. That’s where Gabriel has Cathy. See how he reacts. I think you’ll find that I’m right.”

“Yeah sure, the next time I see him, which could be next year the way things are going.”

Thinking rapidly, Joe felt the need to see Diana and let her know the latest. He strode purposefully to the door. Flinging it open, he said, “I think you’ve said enough; it’s time for you to leave.”

Like a weary messenger, Elliot rose to his feet. At the door he stopped and said, “Be careful, Joe, don’t let Moreno know that you’re still looking for Cathy or that you know where she is. It’ll go right to Gabriel and you won’t stand a chance. It I can be of any help...” He spread his hands cajolingly.

“In your dreams, Burch,” he growled. “But I’ll be careful; I don’t think I could face Moreno right now anyway.” Closing the door behind the oddly sad and sympathetic man, Joe waited until he heard them moving off. Then he dove for his telephone. As he dialed Diana’s loft, he thought better about it, and grabbing his jacket, he hurried after Elliot and his guards. He watched them drive away, waited a few minutes until they were out of sight, and then flagged down a taxi. He hoped Diana was at home.

* * * * *

Seated beside Diana on her sofa, he told her of all that had transpired with Elliot.

“You didn’t tell him that Cathy was dead, did you?” she asked anxiously.

“Nah. I wasn’t even tempted. Do you suppose he could be right about Moreno?” He needed assurances that the man he respected and trusted wasn’t crooked.

“Well ...as I said, I’ve heard rumors about a mole in the DA’s office but with no sure identification.” She gazed at him sympathetically. It was hard on the heart to have someone you trust betray you; she knew the feeling intimately.

Shaking his head, he sank back into the sofa’s softness, his hands scrubbing his face. “It can’t be John; it just can’t be.”

“I’m sure that if John is involved, he knows by now that Cathy is dead. I’m sure that Gabriel will have told him. Or maybe not.”

“You’re assuming that John’s guilty,” Joe said angrily.

“Yes, I’m assuming,” she said calmly. “And you can’t go anywhere near him. Gabriel must think that he got away with it.”

He subsided, silently and furiously thinking about New York City’s District Attorney. Diana’s voice brought him back to the matters at hand.

“I’ve given a sketch of the floor tile to my friend. He said he’d do what he could. And I’ve made a list of businesses we could contact. I thought we’d divide them between us.” She handed him a sheep of paper with the names listed neatly in a column. “You take the flooring contractors; building suppliers, both retail and wholesale; tile flooring companies; and cleaning services. I’ll take realtors, tax appraisers, insurance companies, and importers. Together the three of us should be able to find where the tile came from.”

For the next week, they spent every available hour going from place to place and making phone calls. Diana hit pay dirt when she showed the sketch to Isadore Fanconni of Italian Imports, Inc. The tile was ‘turn of the century’ style and very, very expensive. The businessman had imported that tile specifically for four residences in the city. Using her police credentials, Diana was able to find out who owned the four houses. Three of the deeds were relatively straightforward, but the fourth was owned by a corporation, and the paper trail dead-ended in a mishmash of convoluted, backtracked records.

“This has to be it, Joe,” Diana said, staring excitedly at the piece of paper she held in her hand. It was a day after she had found the importer of the tile, and the two of them were leaning on the low wall that surrounded the roof, gazing out over the bustling city.

“We don’t want to make a mistake and reveal our hand; so let’s stake it out for a couple of days and see what happens.”

“Ok, we’ll do that.” She smiled up at him. “Wanna share a pizza with me? I’m craving something Italian.”

“You call that Italian? You oughta taste my Mom’s veal parmigiana. Next time she makes it I’ll invite you over.”

“I’d like that, Joe,” she said, softly intense. “I really would.”

“Well, I’d like to introduce you to my mother. She keeps ragging on me about not having a girlfriend or any prospects.” He winked at her. “Would you be one of my prospects?”

Teasingly, she said, “Just how many prospects do you have?”

“You’re the only one, Diana,” he answered seriously. “I’d like you to be the only one.”

Reaching across she caressed his cheek, tracing the angle of his jaw from ear to ear. “Joe, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Let’s wait until after we rescue the baby ...if we can, and then see what develops.” Leaning over, she kissed him to reassure him that she was not turning him down.

“Ok,” he said and kissed her back, “We’ll wait.”

* * * * *

Three days were long enough to confirm that the mansion belonged to Gabriel and to destroy Joe’s faith in John Moreno. He was observed entering and leaving through the gate that led to the large house. “Well,” Joe said glumly to Diana, “it looks like Elliot was right. Damn his soul.” He deeply resented the fact that it was Elliot Burch who had given him the clues to Moreno’s double-dealing. Anyone but Burch. He knew that Elliot still loved Cathy, and that he had caused her a lot of pain. Joe disliked his smooth urbanity; the man just rubbed him the wrong way. But he was beginning to think that maybe he should be told the truth and brought into the search. The handsome–God, how he hated to admit that--architect had resources that they didn’t. He’d have to ask Diana first, of course. He’d leave it up to her. He would wait until the end of their surveillance and then broach the subject.

It was well after dark, and they were siting in Diana’s living room cum office, drinking a beer when he told her of his feeling about bringing Elliot into the search. They had been discussing just how they could effect the rescue and coming up with scenarios that found both of them dead and the baby still in Gabriel’s evil hands.

“Di.” He had taken to calling her by this diminutive as a sign of his affection for her. “Di, what do you think about telling Elliot the truth about Cathy and asking for his help?” He waited for the explosion but there was none, only a curious shocked look as if she’d never even thought about Joe’s idea. “I know,” he said at her astonishment, “but we’re getting nowhere and we need an army. We’re in no position to get the police involved. I’m practically fired and you’ve been dropped from the case,”

“Yeah, they’ve effectively closed it. Put it in the unsolved case file. But do you think it’s a good idea to bring Elliot in?” She rose and went to the refrigerator and came back with two more frosty bottles of beer.

He waited until she handed a brown, wetly beaded bottle to him. “I don’t know, maybe not, but where else can we turn. There’s only the tunnel world, and they couldn’t take on Gabriel’s guards. We’d be sentencing them to death, no matter how much they want to help. You don’t happen to know of any mercenaries, do you?” he joked feebly. She shook her head as he leaned back, rubbing his face wearily. “Hell,” he said explosively, “we don’t even have enough money between the two of us to rent a corporal and a private, let alone an army.”

Silently and morosely they sat, twirling the bottles around and around until Diana took a deep breath. “Well, if we do consider bringing Elliot in, we’ll have to consult Father and the council first. He’ll have to be told that there is a safe place for the child. I don’t even know if Father would allow it.”

“Surely he would,” Joe remonstrated. “After all, it’s Vincent’s son and his grandson.”

“He’s very protective of the tunnel world, Joe, but I think he’ll allow it. I’ll send a message to him that we’re coming down tomorrow night and that we need to talk to the entire council.”

“Ok. It’s late, Di, and I’m tired. I think I’ll go home now.” He climbed to his feet. Rising to follow him, she caught him at the elevator and, turning him around, kissed him with unreserved passion. “You’re quite a guy, did you know that, Joe Maxwell, to be doing what you are for a friend?”

He matched her ardor with his own. He smiled down into her soft, blue eyes, “So are you, Di. Gal, that is.”

Holding on to him tightly, she said, “I thought I was doing this because I loved him, but I’m really doing it for both of them. Their legacy needs to be raised with love and care.”

His heart expanded with a love for her that he had never felt for any woman before. “I love you, Diana Bennett,” he said quietly but intensely, placing a hand on each side of her face and kissing her tenderly.

She melted into his arms. “And I love you too, Joe. It frightens me just how much I do, and I don’t want to lose you the way Vincent lost Catherine.” Convulsively she tightened her hold on him.

“Heck, you won’t lose me; I’m invincible with you beside me,” he boasted as he gave her a cocky, crooked grin, caressed her cheek, and turned to go. He gave her a jaunty little wave as the elevator dropped from sight.

So this is love, she thought, getting ready for bed. Is this how Vincent felt for Catherine and she for him? I’m scared to death that something might happen to Joe, and I don’t know how I could go on. But I know I can’t and would never talk him out of this venture. And he would never try to talk me out of it. With a deep sigh, she got into bed, turned over, pulled the covers tight around her, and fell asleep, not dreaming of anyone or anything.

* * * * *

When Diana and Joe entered Father’s chamber, the entire council was present including Pascal, who rarely left the pipe chamber. They hadn’t been Below since they had started the search for the child. Diana noticed that Father had lost considerable weight and looked much older than his sixty-odd years. All the council members looked strained and dispirited. The tunnel world had had the heart ripped out of it with the loss of Vincent, and the loss of Catherine was an added burden of pain and grief.

Joe and Diana sat in the chairs that were obviously reserved for them. The council members all leaned forward expectantly, hoping that the two investigators had found where the baby was being kept. They weren’t disappointed. After telling them that they had found Gabriel’s residence, they added how difficult it would be to get to the child.

“We’ll help,” William boomed. “We can distract them somehow. We’ll fight them if we have to.”    

Diana raised her voice over the ensuing babble from the other council members, “You can’t do that! You’d all be slaughtered. Gabriel’s men are all trained killers.”

Joe instantly voiced his agreement. Their combined efforts silenced the troubled council members, making them realize how unqualified they were to engage Gabriel’s men. A situation that both William and Pascal thought should be changed. Without Vincent, the tunnel dwellers needed to learn to defend their world.

Father sighed helplessly. “Then what can we do?”

“Since we know where he lives, we need to keep an eye on him. I’m afraid that if he gets even a whiff of what we’re doing, he’ll decide to leave the country. Joe and I can’t keep track of him all the time: we need you to do that for us.”

“Just how dangerous is that?” Pascal asked.

“Not very,” Joe answered. “You people look very innocuous and can blend into the background. All you need to do is keep an eye out for any sudden flurry of activity.”

With a worried frown, Mary asked, “How are you going to save the baby?”

They had been waiting for an opening like this. Joe glanced in Diana’s direction, giving her a slight nod. Now was the time to bring up the topic of Elliot’s help.

“We have a proposition to make. Please hear us out before you say anything?” She gazed directly at each person until they nodded in agreement, saving Father for the last. When he reluctantly nodded, she began, “Joe received an unexpected visit from Elliot Burch the other day.” She waited patiently for the members to quit squirming; she’d known that they would react to Elliot’s name, especially Father, but they respected her request not to interrupt until she was finished. She turned to Joe who picked up the narrative.

“He wanted to tell me that he knew where Gabriel was keeping Cathy. Evidently Gabriel has covered up what happened there, and no one is the wiser.” He decided not to tell them about Moreno as it had no bearing on their part in the rescue. “He offered to help in anyway he can. I turned him down flat.” He could tell by the way they all nodded their heads that they agreed with him. “But there is a way that he can help.”

Warily staring at him, they all sat up straighter in their chairs. Diana continued, “Elliot has the money and the contacts to get us what we need.”

Father couldn’t contain himself any longer. “What needs?”

“If we can talk him into it, a small army or something like that.”

“An army?” Father was astounded, “Why would we need an army?”

“Gabriel will have a small force of security guards,” Diana explained patiently. “They will be of the worst kind of criminals you could find. We will need someone who knows how to handle people like that.”

Father nodded. This would not be an easy task to accomplish, and he suddenly appreciated the risk they were taking and effort that Joe and Diana were putting forth.

“But to get back to Elliot Burch, there is a problem.”

Oh God, what now, Father thought as he wearily rubbed his forehead. “And what is that?”

“He’ll have to be told about Cathy and Vincent ...and the baby.”

“Of course, that is only to be expected.” He noticed the strained look on the two young people. “And...?”

“He’ll need to know that the baby will be raised in a safe and loving environment,” she answered quietly, “And that means telling him about your world.”

A troubled silence followed as each member struggled with the idea of telling a man they didn’t trust about their world.

“What if we say no?” Father asked.

“Then we’ll do whatever we can,” Joe shrugged helplessly. Diana just shook her head; she’d been afraid that this would be the reaction.

A long silence stretched into minutes. “Jacob, we can’t let that poor child down, no matter what happens,” Mary broke the quiet as Father raised his head to stare at her in amazement. She seldom called him Jacob and only then in times of trouble.

Pascal was slowly nodding his head while Jamie looked at him, smiling a tight smile. William sat immobile, his hands clasped in front of his ample stomach. With shadowed eyes, he glanced at Father to see what he would do.

“Can you guarantee that he will not betray us?” the tunnel leader asked.

“No, I can’t,” Joe said, “but I know he loved Cathy in his own way, and I don’t think he would willingly do anything that would hurt her. And to hurt her child by revealing his whereabouts would hurt her. I think he would feel that it was his duty to protect her child. That’s the only guarantee that I can give you.” Leaning back in his chair, he waited for the tunnel patriarch’s answer. Everything depended on him.

Drumming his fingers on the table top, Father struggled with protecting the world he had created and the welfare of his grandson. Vincent’s legacy ...how could he betray that? But how could he deliver the tunnel world into the hands of a man that had caused his son so much pain? And Catherine? She would expect him to take care of her son, to raise him as he had raised Vincent. There was only one road to take, but he had to poll the other members of the council first; he might be outvoted.

“Jamie, have you reached a decision?” he asked the youngest council member.

“There’s no decision to make, Father. If Elliot Burch can help, we need him. I say tell him,” she said, seriously and a trifle nervously. This was the first major decision she’d had to make since her election to the governing panel.

“Mary?” the tunnel leader turned his attention to her.

“I agree with Jamie,” was her succinct answer.

“Pascal?”

He nodded slowly, his face a closed book.

“William?”

The rotund cook raised his head to look into Father’s dark, unreadable eyes. There was no help there. He couldn’t in good conscience delay his vote and said, “It seems we have no alternative but to tell this man about the child and consequently tell him about our world. I agree.”

“It is unanimous then. I agree also.” He turned to Joe and Diana. “Please, if you can, get him to promise not to reveal the location of our world.” Silently he prayed that they were doing the right thing.

“We’ll get the promise first, Father,” Diana said, sagging with relief. She looked at Joe and found him wiping his forehead with the same relief.

Heartened, the old man collapsed into his chair. “Hopefully, he abides by his word,” he muttered.

* * * * *

With the tunnel council’s agreement, Diana and Joe returned to her loft. Plopping down onto her couch, Joe said, “Well, where should we do it? Not his office, it’s too public and is probably bugged.”

Diana agreed, “I think Gabriel has someone watching Elliot; a lot of bad things have been happening to him lately. I think he’s trying to force Elliot to work for him.”

“In other words become another Moreno,” Joe said bitterly.

“Something like that. We may have to just forge ahead and meet him somewhere public, where we could talk privately in the open.”

There was silence for about five minutes then Joe had a brainstorm, “Hey, how about the library? There are private rooms and dark corners, and I’m sure that they wouldn’t be bugged. We could go there long before Burch arrives. No one would even know that we had net.”

“How do we get the message to him?” They thought long and hard until Diana exclaimed, “Of course, this is just the kind of thing that the tunnel dwellers could do for us. They have lots of helpers Above, and Father would know the best way to slip the word to Elliot.”

“Helpers?” Joe queried.

“Yeah, they’re people that the tunnel world has helped, and they return the favor by supplying what food and other essentials they can and running errands that the folks Below can’t.”

“Oh.” He rubbed his eyes briskly, trying to stay awake. Turning away from her, he smothered a yawn, not wanting her to know how tired he was.

His attempt to hide it was fruitless. She knew that he hadn’t been sleeping well lately, worried about their safety and wondering just how they were going to effect the rescue of the baby. Bringing Elliot on board might help to alleviate some of that anxiety or add to it with the unknown quality of his trustworthiness.

“Joe, go home. Try to get a good night’s sleep for once. I’ll send a message to Father to have someone from the tunnels come here and get the note for Elliot.”

“Let me write the note first; I think Elliot will agree to meet me because he’ll think it has something to do with Moreno.” Diana got pen and paper for him from her desk and sat beside him, reading over his shoulder as he wrote. With a bleary-eyed sigh, he gave it to her.

“Now! You’re going home,” she said with finality as she hauled him to his feet, which was not as easy as she had thought, and steered him toward the elevator.

At the elevator he pulled her into his arms, kissing her tenderly. Stroking her cheek, he smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She returned his smile. “Come for breakfast; I make a mean omelet.”

“I’ll be here. What time?”

Leaning back in his arms, she gazed at him affectionately. “Not too early. Nine ok?”

“That’s fine. I’ll be here with bells on. Good night, Di,” and releasing her, he stepped into the lift.

“Good night. Now you be sure to get a good night’s sleep,” she chastised him as she watched until his dark head was no longer visible. Smiling to herself, she thought, It’s good to have someone to worry about other than me. Makes me feel alive.

* * * * *

Scowling darkly, Elliot emerged into the dull misty morning. His day would be filled with meetings and rounds of construction sites, checking to see how his projects were progressing. All of them were plagued with little niggling problems. Not severe enough to halt the projects completely, but serious enough to delay his completion dates. He was almost knocked off his feet as a young boy careened into him. As he righted himself, a slip of paper was roughly shoved into his gloved hand. With presence of mind, he surreptitiously slipped it into the right-hand pocket of his camel’s hair overcoat.

Seated in the back of his limousine, he unfolded the note. It was from Joe, asking him to meet him at the library at seven o’clock tonight and to destroy this note as soon as possible. Somehow, Joe just didn’t seem the type to be overly dramatic; so, this meeting had to be of some importance. He had assumed that the young D.D.A; would never contact him, and he was curious, wondering if the young lawyer had conceded that his boss was crooked. He decided that he would be at the library at seven tonight. Dropping the note into the car door ashtray, he lit it with the automobile’s cigarette lighter and watched it burn.

* * * * *

Striding confidently into the foyer of the massive library, Elliot felt someone come to walk beside him. He glanced to his left to see a nondescript young woman, blond hair tied back in a ponytail, handing him a flyer. She turned aside to pass out other flyers to people leaving and entering the building. Had he known, he would have realized that she was a member of the tunnel world. Diana had made arrangements with Father to have someone direct Elliot to their meeting place.

Glancing at the leaflet, he quickly read the directions, and folding it, he stuck it in his coat pocket. The woman behind the information desk, with her reading glasses perched on the top of her head, looked exactly as a librarian should in his imagination. Asking where the reference books were, he was pointed in the right direction. He found Joe Maxwell and Diana Bennett in a dark corner waiting for him. The last rays of the setting sun streamed dustily through a tall narrow window, making the corner even more inky. Diana was lazily turning her hand in the golden beam. Nodding his acknowledgment of their presence, he addressed his first words to Joe, “Have you found out that I’m right, Joe?”

Joe grimaced at the reminder of his boss’ duplicity. “Yeah, Elliot, you were right,” he answered grimly. “But that’s not why we’re here.”

Diana moved restively. Enough small talk, she wanted to get this meeting over and done with quickly before they were discovered. “We’re here to talk about Cathy,” she said harshly.

Elliot started and turned to her. “Cathy?” he questioned, confused. “But I told Joe where she was being kept. Haven’t you done anything about rescuing her?”

Joe’s shoulders sagged. “Yeah, we did, but we were too late.”

“Late? What do you mean ...late?”

Looking into the man’s bewildered blue eyes, Diana said as she reached to touch the man’s shoulder in sympathy, “She’s dead, Elliot.”

Elliot fell back a step, holding out his hands as if to ward off the meaning of her words. Diana’s hand fell to her side. “Dead?” he gasped in disbelief. “She can’t be. There’s been nothing in the papers about it.” Suddenly he was angrily defensive. “Why are you doing this? Because you’ve been unable to find her? You come to me and tell me she’s dead? Well, I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it, Elliot,” Diana said sharply. “But that’s not the worst of it. She had a baby.”

“A baby? You mean that monster...?” He couldn’t finish. Just the thought turned his stomach.

Joe grasped his arm so tightly that Elliot felt it begin to go numb. “No! Listen to me ...Listen to us. We’ll tell you all we know.”

Breaking loose, Elliot rubbed his numb arm then ran his fingers through his hair. He sputtered, “But ...but...” Finally he agonized, “How?” Forcing himself to be calm, he took several deep breaths. “Go on. What happened?”

Between the two of them they told him everything they knew and conjectured on what they didn’t. Elliot didn’t say a word until they mentioned Vincent.

“Vincent. That was the man she loved.” It was more of an envious statement then a question.

“Yeah, he’s the father of her baby,” Joe answered quietly, feeling suddenly sorry for this brokenhearted man that he had resented so much. Here was another who would mourn Cathy the rest of his life.

Elliot closed his eyes, sighing bitterly. At one time he had thought that he might be the father of her children.

Diana picked up the threads of their narrative and told how they had found the lovers dead on the roof top and the baby gone. For the present Elliot didn’t need to know too much about Vincent.

A single tear slipped down Elliot’s cheek as he looked at them, one at a time. “What do you want from me?” he asked as he searched for a handkerchief.

“We need your help,” Joe said flatly.

Elliot nodded, wiping the tears away. Of course, he thought bitterly, they needed his money and contacts, but first he would be apprized of a few facts. “A baby. The father ...Vincent?” They nodded in unison. Jamming his hands into his coat pockets, he leaned against a stack of books, staring down at the toe of his highly polished shoe. “A baby,” he repeated, bemused. “Both Parents dead. What happens to the kid now? I believe Cathy was an only child. Any aunts or uncles or other relatives to care for the child?”

“None,” Joe intoned.

“This Vincent ...Does he have any relatives?”

Diana glanced at Joe. They were getting close to the crux of this meeting. Then turning back to Elliot, she said, “Yes, he has a father and an extended family.”

“So ...you’d take him to them?” He straightened up decisively. “I’ve never even heard of this Vincent. Cathy didn’t date. I know,” he said with conviction, “I tried to date her. How do we know that the child would be safe with ...What’s the man’s name?”

“Vincent’s father?”

“Yeah! Who is he? Where does he live? Can he support a child? Why the hell is there so much mystery surrounding Cathy?” he almost shouted.

“Shush!” Diana said. “Not so loud.”

“Why not for crying out loud? What the hell are we hiding from?” Frustrated he felt like shouting out his anger and pain. Cathy completely lost to him and leaving a child behind that should have been his. Why couldn’t she have loved him instead of this mysterious Vincent?

“If you’ll calm down, I’ll tell you all about Vincent’s father and why it’s imperative that we get the child to him.” Diana grabbed him by the arm and shook him. He looked down at her from a far distant place. She pitied him because he would never be able to understand why Cathy had loved Vincent and not him. “Gabriel originally took Cathy to force her to give him a small black notebook. But when Vincent tried to rescue her, he got a good look at him.”

“Well, what’s so special about him?” Elliot demanded.

“Well, he’s kind of hard to explain, isn’t he, Joe?” Diana turned to her companion who nodded his agreement. “But what I’m about to tell you is the truth no matter how fantastic it sounds.”

Elliot looked skeptical but adopted a waiting attitude.

“Vincent is a man, of that I can assure you, but his features are a beautiful–at least to Cathy and those who love him–combination of man and lion.”

Elliot snorted. “Oh ...come on, you really expect me to believe this?”

“Yes, we do,” Joe said, “because it’s true. It was hard for me to accept it until I saw him.” His look was a look of awe and wonder. “But he’s amazing. Truly amazing. I wish I’d had the chance to know him before...”

“All right, let’s say I believe you, but what about the future of the child? Where can he go to be safe from Gabriel? You know he has ties in all levels of society and governments.” Elliot was having a hard time keeping the look of doubt from his face.
 
“Yeah, we know, but we also know of a safe place for him. One that very few people know about. But before we tell you about it, you must promise not to reveal its locations.” Elliot was struck by the seriousness in Diana’s voice.

Joe looked at him gravely. “What’s the most sacred thing in the world to you, Burch?”

Without even thinking about it, Elliot replied, “My love for Cathy.”

“All right, swear by that. Promise that you will never reveal the secret of Vincent’s world.”

“Vincent’s world? He doesn’t live here in New York?”

Joe ignored the question. “Swear, Elliot.”

“All right, I swear on my love for Cathy that I will never reveal the location of Vincent’s world. There! Is that enough?” he asked caustically.

Not responding to his sarcasm, Diana related the site of the tunnel world. Elliot stared at them in disbelief.

“Tunnels? They live in the tunnels under the city? What kind of place is that to raise a child?” he exploded.

“Don’t judge before you’ve seen it, Elliot. It’s warm, safe, and loving. I go there to get my bearings whenever my work becomes too heavy for me to handle,” Diana said, a soft look coming over her face.

“I want to see it before I send any child to live there,” he grated, still shocked that that was where they meant to take Cathy’s child.

“The council has given us permission to bring you Below, to see for yourself,” Joe informed him.

“What? They have a government down there?” he asked partly in jest and partly in amazement.

Joe grinned at him. “Yep, I think you’ll be amazed.”

“Ok, when?” He wanted it to be now or as soon as possible.

Joe and Diana had decided to wait until Elliot had seen the world Below before they asked him for any financial help in obtaining some kind of an army, gang, or whatever.

“How about now?” they asked him. On the off chance that he would agree to be silent, Father had had Mouse show them the tunnel entrance below the library. It was called Vincent’s Threshold as he had used it throughout his life to read those books that were not available Below.

Elliot nodded abruptly and followed them to the elevator.

* * * * *

As they led Elliot through the tunnels, they could hear him muttering to himself. “This is horrible. Why would anyone want to live down here? It’s cold, damp, and dark. I’ll be damned if I’ll even consider it.” Joe wondered if he knew that he was muttering out loud.

The closer they came to the home chambers, the brighter and warmer it became. Elliot could see the torches and electric lights attached to the walls, and that the floor of the tunnels was covered with dry sand. People had begun to stick their heads out into the corridors, staring at him. A young man with blond hair and excitable blue eyes met them at a junction of two tunnels and guided them to a large book-lined chamber. A lone man, in his late 60's, sat behind a large scarred mahogany desk. There was an aura of deep sadness about him but, also, the set of his shoulders indicated determination and strength. He rose to his feet, smiled grimly at Diana and Joe, and turned his clear-eyed attention to the young architect.

“Mr. Burch,” he said in a firm, deliberate voice.

“Elliot, this is Jacob Wells, Vincent’s father,” Diana introduced the two men.

Both men stared at each other, taking the measure of the other man. The man named Jacob Wells indicated a chair by the desk. “Please, sit down, Mr. Burch. Would you care for a cup of tea?”

“Not really,” Elliot said brusquely. “What I really want to know is what’s going on? Why was I brought into this mess? What do you expect from me? And how in the world can you take care of a child in these deep, dark tunnels?”

His reaction and attitude grated on Father’s already tightly strung nerves, but he swallowed his retort and smiled bleakly at the man who had tried to take Cathy away from Vincent. How he wished that he had succeeded. Maybe then Vincent and Catherine would still be alive. But past is past. There was nothing he could do to bring either one of them back. The only thing that he could do was to help bring his grandson home to the tunnels.

“Joe and Diana have told you what has happened?” he said with difficulty. He hoped that the time would come–and soon–when he wouldn’t have to speak or think about that ghastly event.

“Yes, they’ve told me a wild story,” the other man clipped off.

“Oh, it’s true, Mr. Burch. But the important thing is to find my son’s child and bring him home.”

“To live here? In these abominable conditions?”

Father bridled at Elliot’s words. “You know nothing of how we live.” Calming down, he said, “Let us show you our world. Mouse, will you show our guests around, please.”

Joe was glad that he had been asked to go. He was as curious as Elliot about this world. Diana took his hand and they followed Elliot and Mouse into the outer corridor. When they returned, Elliot had a clearer impression of how the tunnel members lived. It was like camping out but with a lot more amenities than he had thought. Joe was floored at how well the tunnel dwellers lived. He particularly liked the smells that emanated from the kitchen.

Seated around the old man’s desk, the trio was more relaxed, and Elliot gladly accepted the cup of tea that was graciously offered to him by an older woman, whom he later learned was named Mary. He was nobody’s fool, and he settled back in his chair, twirling the cup around in his hands. They needed something from him; he calmly waited for them to ask.

Sipping the last of her tea, Diana cleared her throat. Here it comes, Elliot thought. “We need your help, Elliot. We don’t know where else to turn.”

“What do you need: money, arms?”

“No, we need a small army.”

He gaped at her. “A small army! What makes you think that I can supply one?”

She had the grace to look uncomfortable and replied hesitantly, “Well ...we ...that is I ...thought that with your background you might know someone who could help us that way.”

He looked at her coldly. “You know nothing about my background.”

“On the contrary, Elliot,” she responded coolly, “I know all about you. I had to investigate you when I was looking into Cathy’s disappearance.”

Joe felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that Elliot wouldn’t help, and from the look on Father’s face, he wasn’t too sure, either, that the young man could leave his bitterness behind to assist in the rescue of his rival’s child, even if the mother was the woman he loved.

Elliot was silent for a while, staring down at the faded carpet. Then he glanced at Diana with a tight smile. “Then you know that I can’t be coerced into anything.”

“We’re not trying to coerce you, Elliot. We desperately need your help.” Shamelessly playing on his love for Cathy, she asked, “Do you really want Cathy’s child raised by Gabriel? You know what he is capable of. For God’s sake, the man killed both of the baby’s parents.”

A harsh angry, set look came over his face. “If she’d loved me, she’d still be alive,” he said bitterly.

“Yes, and if rabbits ran instead of hopping, they wouldn’t bump their tails. What’s done is done. We can’t change it no matter how much we want to.” Diana placed a gentle hand on his arm. “But we can do something for her son. You know as well as I that she would want your help. Think of her, Elliot, not your selfish pride.”

She looked at Joe with pleading eyes, but all he could do was shrug his shoulders. He didn’t know what to say to the man; she had said what he would have said.

“Mr. Burch, you saved my life once; I don’t imagine you even knew that, but there is an old saying that a person is responsible for the life they save.” Father brought the attention of the young man back to him. If there was any way he could get him to help, he was willing to do it. Even use a little emotional blackmail.

“So?” Elliot said cooly, turning to the older man.

Father took a deep breath. If he ever needed to be persuasive, now was the time. “My grandson needs you, Joe and Diana need you, and Cathy needs you. Please, Elliot ...may I call you Elliot?”

The other man brusquely nodded his head. Finally, his rigid shoulders relaxed and he said, “I’ll see what I can do ...if I decide to help you. I know someone that I think can help us. He’s helped me before in a similar situation. I’ll talk with him. I’m sure he can point us in the right direction.” Cleon Manning was a man of many talents, and if anyone could help them, he was the man.

“Thanks, Elliot,” Diana said softly. Joe echoed her sentiments while Father nodded his approbation.

Directing his next words to Father, Elliot asked, “May I ...see where she’s buried? Sir.”

“You understand that she’s not alone? We buried them together as befits the oneness they found in their love.” The pain in Father’s voice was almost palpable.

Elliot winced. “I know, sir, but I have this need ...Closure, I think they call it.”

“I fully understand, Elliot,” the patriarch of the tunnels said, “I’ll get Mouse to show you the way.”

Diana jumped to her feet. “Let me send the message, Father. I think I know the proper code.”

Father smiled his acceptance and the young detective hurried into the tunnel. A few minutes after she returned a breathless Mouse arrived.

“Need me, Father?” He skidded to a halt before the large desk. Excited that Father needed him, he could hardly contain his eagerness.

* * * * *

Hand in hand, Joe and Diana followed the duo to the catacombs. Standing to the side, they watched Elliot tentatively approach the crypt. He placed a hand on the lover’s tomb and bowed his head. Not in prayer but with a vow to save all that was left of the woman he loved. “I’ll find a way to save him, Cathy, even if it costs me everything. I’ll bring him home to you. He’ll grow up where you can watch over him.” He raised his head and, with a determined step, paced to where Diana and Joe were standing. Mouse was waiting at the entrance to guide them back to Father’s chamber.

Silently, they walked back and, on sinking into their chairs, Elliot spoke, “All right, I’m fully committed to saving Cathy’s child.” They noticed that he didn’t say that he was Vincent’s child but that was all right. If he would do it for Catherine, he was doing it for Vincent as well. Even he knew that you couldn’t separate the two.

While they had been gone, Father had brewed another pot of tea and filled their cups with the hot liquid. A silent pledge was made as they each took a sip at the same time.

Elliot drained his cup and jumped to his feet. “I need to get in touch with my contact.” He turned to Joe and Diana. “Are you coming?”

“We’ll stay for a while,” Joe said, getting agreement from Diana. “We need to talk with Father about arrangements for taking the child when we’ve got him.”

“Ok, who should I contact when I’ve made all the preparations for this little expedition?”

“Only when they’re complete, ok?” Diana asked.

Father interrupted, “Do you know of ‘The Flower Boutique?’” Elliot nodded abruptly. “Any message you need to give Joe or Diana can be given to the owner. He is a Helper and can reach us immediately. We can give the message to Diana.”

“Ok,” Elliot agreed. “All right, young man, take me to the surface.” With a big grin and a sense of importance, Mouse led their newest comrade in arms back to the library threshold.

Diana looked at Joe and together they looked at Father. “Whew, I think that went rather well, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think it really hit home until he had seen her tomb.”

“I believe you’re right, Joe,” Father agreed. “Hopefully, we have a chance now.”


Part Three

Rescue

Elliot had been as good as his word. On leaving the tunnels he had contacted the PI that worked for his company. Cleon Manning had been a green Beret during the Viet Nam conflict and had kept in touch with many of the men with whom he had served. He had been instrumental in supplying the security force that had protected Elliot during his conflict with the coronistas from Santo Irisado. At first he had demurred not wanting to get involved in a shooting war with Gabriel and his goons, but Elliot had persuaded him with logic, played on his sympathy for a child to be raised in an evil environment, and money. After a week, he reported to Elliot that he was able to find the same men they had hired before. Elliot pumped Cleon’s hand thankfully.

“I knew, if anyone could, you could. Thanks, Cleon. I hope you won’t regret it. Scotch?”

“Yeah, I’ll take a bit. When do you need them?” He took a sip from the glass Elliot had given him. The scotch slipped smoothly down his throat like water flowing over silk and settled in his stomach. The warmth spread through his limbs. Damn good scotch, but what would you expect from Elliot Burch. Nothing but the best.

“I have to contact my partners. I’ll let you know.” Elliot savored the liquor then let it slide down his throat. Best scotch he had ever bought.

* * * * *

“Joe?”

“Yeah, Di, what’s up?”

“Nothing much, love. Can you come for dinner tonight?”

“Sorry, sweetheart, I’ve got to go to my mom’s. Hey, she’s having veal parmigiana tonight. I promised I’d take you home when she had made some. Can you come with me?”

“I don’t see why not. It saves me from cooking. Not one of my better talents. What time?”

“Five, is that all right?”

“Sure, see you then.”

“Ok. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Diana hung up. Actually, going to his mother’s was about the safest place they could go for her to give him the news of Elliot’s success.

* * * * *

Nervously checking her wristwatch, she noticed that it was five. He should be arriving soon. She devoutly hoped that Joe’s mother would like her.   

“Di?” the intercom squawked with Joe’s voice.

“I’ll be right down,” she answered. Hurrying into the lift, she hit the down button. He was waiting for her in the foyer.

He was casually dressed, but she could see that the clothes were new. It made her feel good that he had gone to all this trouble for their date tonight. She was wearing a lovely frock that complimented her pale ivory skin. Her hair had been freshly washed and brushed to a burnished copper, plaited in a large braid that hung halfway down her back. She was beautiful, and he was proud that she was going to be with him this evening.

“Di, let’s keep it light until after dinner and then we can go out in the back yard and sit on the swing.”

She agreed readily; she was nervous enough and didn’t want anything to interfere with the dinner. He handed her into the cab he had asked to wait for him and minutes later they pulled up in front of his mother’s house.

* * * * *
Uncomfortably full from a wonderfully delicious dinner, Diana sat with Joe on his mother’s back yard swing. Rocking back and forth, they were companionably quiet, enjoying each other’s company. She had never felt so relaxed in any man’s company as she did with Joe.

He had forgotten that it was the regularly scheduled family night at his mother’s. His two sisters, their husbands, and their five kids were there when he had ushered Diana through the front door. During the ensuing noisy riot that passed for a quiet family dinner on Tuesdays, he was able to introduce everyone to her. Even with her superb mind, she soon lost track of what name belonged to who and was only rescued by Mrs. Maxwell when she ordered everyone to be silent and announced that dinner was ready. Joe had graciously put up with witty barbs and innuendos about his romantic life or lack thereof. Mrs. Maxwell was courtesy personified. Skillfully she elicited from Diana that she was a good Catholic girl even though she was negligent about attending mass. She nodded approvingly at Joe who had been listening as well as he could over the boisterousness of his nieces and nephews. She commented with great understanding on the difficulties of Diana’s chosen profession. At the same time she dropped little tidbits about Joe’s upbringing and his ambitions. In fact she monopolized the young detective’s attention during the entire meal. By doing so she made Diana’s first meal there, if not comfortable at least a lot less stressful. Finally the cannoli had been served, eaten, and the last sip of wine had been taken. At last, Joe could have her all to himself, and he whispered to his mother that they didn’t want to be disturbed and then escorted his lady love to the backyard.

“Kind of overwhelming, aren’t they?” Joe’s voice broke the silence.

“Whew!” she blew out a breath. “They sure are. Is it always like this?”

“Pretty much. Rosie and Carla aren’t too big on discipline.” He grimaced. “They’ll pay for it in the future.”

“I like your mother,” she said shyly.

“And I can tell that she likes you. She usually doesn’t interrogate my dates as she did you. That’s a good sign; she was trying to find out if you were worthy of me,” he finished with a laugh.

“Worthy of you?” She gave him the evil eye, a look over the eyebrows. “Are you worthy of me?”

“I think we’re both just fine, don’t you?” Leaning over, he kissed her lightly on the cheek and then more forcefully on the mouth. “I love you, Red.”

She raised an eyebrow at this appellation. “Yes, we’re fine. And I love you, too.”

“But ...getting back to the need for this meeting, beside the obvious one of meeting my family, what have you got?”

“Elliot has found ten men who are willing to help us ...for a price, of course. We need to meet with him and set a date, and then let Father know when to expect us with the baby.”

“You’re assuming that everything works out the way we want it.”

“Yes, if God is with us, we can’t fail.”

“Well, if it’s all right with you, I think I’ll put some of my faith in guns and men and you and me.”

“All right,” she laughed, “we’ve enough faith to spread around.”

* * * * *

Crouched in the dim light of the tunnel that led into the basement of Gabriel’s house, Joe turned to survey his companion. She looked remarkably calm while he was nothing but a bundle of nerves.

“Well, kiddo, here goes nothing,” he feebly quipped.

She raised a disdainful eyebrow at him. “Kiddo?” He certainly liked to use nicknames?

“Ok,” he said sheepishly, “I was just trying to lighten the atmosphere.”

“Humph,” she muttered. At that moment all hell seemed to break loose. A cacophony of yells, shouted instructions, banging of doors, dogs barking, and the pop and whine of bullets penetrated the basement and into the tunnel.

In his excitement Joe forgot Diana’s aversion to nicknames and said, “Here we go, babe,” and kicked the tunnel grill out of the way.

Checking that the safety was off her gun, Diana scrambled out behind him.

The long awaited day had finally arrived. Elliot was bringing the small mercenary force that he had hired, fortunate enough to have a fully seasoned crew and commander.  Having used them before, he was well acquainted with their competence.

The time and date had been arranged after Joe and Diana had gone to the tunnel world to see if there was access to Gabriel’s house through the tunnels. Knowing there would be a need for secrecy, Father had sent Mouse and Jamie to find out if there was a way. Fortunately there was. And now the rescue was in full execution.

Before dashing up the stairs, Joe grabbed Diana and kissed her energetically. He grinned at her tightly, “I needed that,” released, her, and hurried to open the door to the hallway.

He peered into the deserted hallway and motioned her to precede him. Sneaking closely behind her, he covered their rear. The noise of the conflict outside the house was almost deafening. He wondered what their small force was using to create such a racket. Fireworks?

Diana paused at the end of the corridor. It seemed that the house had emptied at the first sign of the invasion. Quietly ascending the stairs, they heard a voice softly murmuring. On a map Peter had drawn from memory of the house, it seemed to be coming from the room he had indicated was the nursery. She turned to look at Joe with frightened eyes. Who knew what Gabriel was capable of? He might be trying to take the child with him or something more sinister.

They couldn’t wait. Joe broke through the door. Gabriel was standing over the crib with a pillow in his hands. Diana gasped. He was going to kill the child.

“Stop right there,” Joe ordered, waving his gun at the madman. “Put down the pillow.”

Gently placing the pillow on the end of the crib, Gabriel slowly turned with a venomous smile on his bony face. “Or what? You’ll shoot me? I don’t think so; it’s not your style. You believe in the law.” He swung his gaze to the young, red-haired woman. “But you? Now, you’re something different.”

“You’re right; I won’t hesitate to shoot you. Now, back away from the crib.” Gabriel insolently complied with her demand and backed into a corner. “Joe, take the baby.”

He looked at her with askance. “Me? Why not you?”

“Don’t argue, Joe, just do it. I have a few words I wish to convey to Gabriel.”

Joe scooped the baby into his arms and turned at the doorway. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet,” she replied. “It all depends on him.” She nodded coldly at the man leaning nonchalantly against the wall. “After all, I have Cathy’s gun.”  

Raising an eyebrow, he commented casually, “You could shoot an unarmed man? You’re quite the tigress, aren’t you?” He smiled nastily at her.

Diana just stared at him, which seemed to get under his skin. He couldn’t faze her; so, he tried another avenue. He wanted her to make a mistake, to approach him so he could wrest the gun from her.

He began to talk quietly in a low sort of monotone. “You know what prison is: a place to grow stronger. No court will convict me. Jurors have families too. And even if they did; you can rule the world from a prison cell. My dear young woman,” he said condescendingly, “I own nations. I’ll have the child back. In the end I always win.”

“Not this time, Gabriel. You murdered the child’s mother and father. You squashed them as if they were little bugs, unworthy of your consideration. All because you think this child can secure your hold on the criminal world. You’ve sentenced yourself.” In her anger she had edged closer to him. At Joe’s shout of warning, she raised the pistol and fired. Gabriel crumpled, with a look of surprise on his cold face, as he realized Catherine Chandler had her revenge: he was shot with her gun.

“Come on, Di; we gotta get out of here. The fight’s tapering off and I think I hear sirens.”

With one last look of satisfaction, Diana turned and hurried after Joe’s running figure. They made it to the basement where he handed the baby to her and pulled the grill shut after them.

Neither one of them was surprised to find Father and several of the tunnel dwellers waiting for them as they came into the home tunnels. Father held out his arms for his grandchild and wept softly as he gazed into blue eyes that would forever remind him of his lost son. He raised damp, grey eyes to the couple standing before him, beaming with pride of accomplishment. “How ...How can I ever thank you?”

Joe placed an arm around Diana, pulling her close. “Just take care of the little guy, get him well, and let us see him once in awhile.” Diana was sniffing, trying to hold the tears back; Joe rummaged in his pocket and found a not so clean handkerchief and gave it to her. She didn’t mind in the least and wiped her nose and eyes.

“Joe, Diana, you are always welcome here. Even Elliot. Will you convey our thanks to him and tell him he is accepted here too?”

“Sure,” Joe said. He looked down at Diana. “Shall we go home or do you want to stay here for a while?”

“Here, Joe. I need to stay here. I need to spend a little time with the baby.”

“Ok. I’m kinda tired myself.” He grinned suddenly. “And you know what, I’m starved.”

William’s voice boomed out. “I can fix that ...follow me.”

Surrounded by their tunnel friends, they proceeded to Father’s chamber where the baby was admired by all and Mary finally got to hold him.

* * * * *

As he strode into the chamber, Peter’s somber look turned to one of joy when he saw that Father was holding a bundle in his arms. It was Cathy’s child; he was sure of it. He hurried to get a look at the baby and to hold him in his arms.

Busy talking with Cullen and Kanin about the raid and the rescue, Joe caught a glimpse of Diana’s face. There was no mistaking the soft, yearning look in her eyes. He moved to her side and whispered in her ear, “I can solve that problem for you, lady.”

Startled, she looked up into his smiling face. “It’s funny; I never thought that I would want children, but to see Cathy and Vincent’s love in living form has made me change my mind. He’s a tribute to their love.”

“I know; I want the same thing for us.” He squeezed her against him and proudly stood there thinking irrelevantly, Won’t Mom be pleased.

Mary, Father, and Peter were cooing over the baby; the tunnel physician had finished his examination of the child and agreed with his friend, declaring that all he needed was love, which he was sure to get enough of here in his father’s world.

“Well, we’ve fulfilled our promise, and I feel very good about it. It’s going to be great watching him grow up, taking him to ball games, fishing, and all that good stuff.”

Diana sighed deeply, silently agreeing with him. “You’ll spoil him, Joe.”

“Not any more than ours,” he boasted confidently.

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?” She smiled brightly at him and he dissolved. He loved her so much, and he remembered his love for Cathy as that of a good friend or big brother.

“Don’t I have a right to be?”

She patted him on the chest. “Yeah, I guess you do.”

Father interrupted their little tete-a-tete by calling to them to come over and tell him all that had happened.

“May I hold him?” she asked, holding out her arms. Mary gently laid the tiny boy in her arms and left for the kitchen to get a bottle of formula. “Hello, little one,” Diana said as she rocked him back and forth. “Look, Joe, he’s smiling. He knows he’s where he belongs; look how happy he is. Oh Joe, it was worth all the trouble and danger to see him like this.”

“Yeah, it was.” The child immediately grabbed onto Joe’s finger as he tickled the little chest. “Wow. He’s strong for a little kid. Aren’t you, little guy?” Joe was instantaneously wrapped around the finger of the little blue-eyed child.

At this moment William’s head popped around the corner of the entrance and bellowed, “Soup’s on; better come and get it before I throw it to the hogs.” He’d been dying to say that for years and now seemed rather appropriate as everyone was so happy. A big grin split his broad face, and he ducked out of sight. Suddenly everybody was hungry, including the baby, and a mad rush was made for the door, Joe leading the way. Mary returned with the warm bottle and took the child, settling in the chair that had always been reserved for Vincent and began to feed the baby. Diana hurried to find Joe, knowing he would be stuffing his face with William’s delicious food. He had never eaten any of the big cook’s cooking, and Diana wanted to watch him realize that there was someone else who could cook as well as his mother. She could just imagine the look on his face.

* * * * *

The child had thrived, as Peter had thought he would, on all the love and care he received from his grandfather and his tunnel family. He was a lively, happy baby, constantly smiling and talking baby talk to whomever was holding him.

It was his Naming Day and the entire tunnel world, Helpers, Diana, Joe, and Elliot were in attendance. With Peter beside him, Father stood proudly, holding his grandson, who made his presence known by his babbling and chuckling.

When all had settled down and were quiet, he began the ceremony. “It has been said that the child is the meaning of his life. Today we celebrate the child. This new precious life that has been brought into this world. We welcome the child with love that he may be able to love. We welcome the child with gifts that he may learn generosity.” He glanced quickly at the pile of gifts on his desk. “We welcome the child with a name.” He looked lovingly down into the face of the child in his arms, noting the beautiful combination of his parents’ features. “We, Peter and I, give him the name of Chandler Vincent in honor of two,” his voice shock slightly, “whose love created him.” There was a general release of breath in numerous ahhs. Many an eye was surreptitiously wiped free of tears. Joe, Diana, and Elliot looked at each other with justifiable self-satisfaction, and each one silently pledged that they would love him and do their best to ease his life.

Eric spoke up, “Who’s going to open the presents?”

“I believe Mary has that honor,” Father replied. “And William has outdone himself in the festive repast he has provided. Shall we repair to the dining chamber? We don’t want anything to go to waste.”

“No way,” Geoffrey shouted as he bolted out of Father’s chamber and headed for the communal dining chamber, followed by a grateful community.

* * * * *

Searching through the crowd of happy celebrants, Father found them, the auburn-hued head resting closely against the dark-haired one. Joe’s arm was wrapped around her shoulders, holding her securely against his side. Elliot stood stiffly beside them, not yet feeling at ease in the company of his rival’s family. They were clustered about Chandler’s tiny form held securely in Mary’s arms, Peter standing proudly beside her. Father felt a sudden pang of jealousy. That was his grandson they were appropriating ...but then he was no more a blood relative than they were. Still he considered himself the child’s grandfather, as did Peter, but for all that they had done to save him, it was their right to act as his aunt and uncles. Chandler would need all the assistance he could get as he tried to live in both his father’s and his mother’s world.

Evidently Diana felt his pensive gaze centered on them. She turned and smiled lightheartedly at him. Then her smile changed to one of invitation, and she held her hand out to him. Come, her beckoning hand seemed to say, Come, join us. After all, we’re all his family.

As he started to rise from his chair, something compelled him to look up at the library balcony. Two beloved forms, arms around the other’s waist, stood smiling down at the happy group that surrounded their son. Father sighed deeply; they were at peace knowing their child was safe in the tunnels. They faded away as he rose stiffly to his feet and limped to join the guardians of Chandler Vincent Wells.


Fini