To Hope Anew

Chapter Eight


"What do you mean 'don't worry'? No one has seen or heard from her in four days. I'm not supposed to worry?" Joe was very near to consuming the receiver of the telephone he was strangling in his hand. Trying to rein in his Italian-Scottish temper to a semi-professional level, he instead threw a pencil across the room, narrowly missing his secretary, Andrea. She, by now, was used to dodging her boss's legendary outrage at departmental and bureaucratic inefficiencies, and merely stood beyond range in the far corner of the room until it was safe to proceed.

"I was supposed to meet her on Monday... Yeah, yeah, I know she has unorthodox methods when she's on a case... Listen... But... I want to know the minute she reports in; is that understood?... Fine ."

The receiver was slammed into the telephone's cradle with every ounce of frustration Joe had been battling the past couple of days. He ran an anxious hand through his hair, thinking a mile a minute. Andrea was about to approach his desk, a sheaf of letters, folders, and court documents slipping from her arms, when her driven boss suddenly blew past her. "I'm taking an early lunch, Andi. Hold down the fort until I get back."

"But you need to see these briefs... And there's a letter that came by messenger here."

"Later," came the reply shouted over the shoulder of the retreating District Attorney.

 

It was happening again.

Joe knew it as certainly as he knew anything in his life lately: Diana was missing. Something had happened to her. She wasn't just burying herself in her work, trailing leads on her own without keeping anyone informed of her whereabouts. Something had happened to her.

Why wouldn't anyone believe him?

First Cathy, now Diana.

He wasn't about to find himself identifying Sergeant Bennett's body in the morgue tonight. He hadn't been able to keep Cathy safe. He hadn't been able to find her through all the agonizing months. It wasn't going to happen again with Diana.

Joe tried to clear his head as he rode in the taxi to her loft. Placing himself back into his investigator's mindset, he attempted to sort through the details he knew as best as he could:

On Saturday, she'd been preparing to visit Jacob and Samantha's family. She had promised to meet him Monday. She never came to his office, never called in to her captain, the one procedural protocol she'd been forced to accept from her superiors.

Something had happened to her between Saturday and Monday. She wasn't just involved in her investigations.

The cab pulled up to the building where Diana leased her loft. Paying the cabby an unintentionally large tip in his distraction, Joe stood before the door of the building and attempted to collect his thoughts, let reason overtake emotion.

He was overstepping his authority, he knew. He had no search warrant, no rational reason to back up his thinking. At best, he was opening himself up to a highly embarrassing situation of over-reaction, or, at worst, criminal charges. But this was Diana, her disappearance he was contending with. He wasn't about to abandon his concerns for her and stand on policy.

Since Cathy's death, Diana had been just about the only person beyond family he had allowed to get close to him. There was nothing romantic about it, he knew. Cathy's loss had just about built a hermetical seal around his emotions, his heart. But Diana was a friend, a real and actual, trusted friend, someone he'd been able to talk to during his blackest moments, someone he could rely on for truth, no matter what the cost. She drove him to distraction at times, and he seriously questioned whether or not she inhabited the same plane of existence as everyone else in the world did, but he knew she cared, deeply, about what she was doing with her life. About him. He needed someone to care. And to care for. He'd be damned if he'd let anything happen to her now.

Joe's persistent buzzing at the front door finally ellicited an appearance by the elderly super of the building. Talking to him almost made his blood freeze in its veins: the old gentleman was concerned about Diana's apparent absence from her apartment as well. He said a man had come around on Saturday evening asking about her, after she had left with the two children who were frequent visitors to her home. Without a hesitation, the super let Joe into the apartment.

Once inside the light-flooded, plant-filled flat, Joe took a cue from Diana's own working tactics and stopped a long moment to place himself into the apartment as he had been on Saturday. He surveyed the living room and kitchen area slowly, minutely, attempting to note any details that might clue him in to Diana's present whereabouts.

The baby stroller was folded and tucked neatly into a corner of the hallway. Toys and books were still piled into the laundry basket nearby the couch, and on a small chest of drawers against the wall on the far side of the room. Joe came over to the brightly painted dresser and opened the drawers filled with baby necessities.

Diapers, both cloth and disposable, were carefully piled into one drawer. Outer clothes in another were pretty much new, not showing sign of much laundering. That wasn't so strange. Everyone gives babies new outfits to wear. For the most part, the clothes were basic little items, T-shirts, pants, socks. But in another drawer there were some items that looked obviously made by hand -- a pair of long pants with heavy patches on the knees, a knitted pullover sweater. There was also a sturdy pair of heavy little sneakers.

So Diana had new and old clothes for the little boy she occasionally cared for, items for warm weather and cooler temperatures. There wasn't much to point him towards anything there, he conceded.

Moving to the kitchen proper, Joe saw that the glasses and dishes Samantha had served their snack from had all been washed and left to drain in the basket on the sink. There were no dirty dishes. Time had been taken to clean up before they had left. Diana and the children did not apparently quit the apartment in a hurry.

Suddenly, Joe recalled the grocery bags Diana had been juggling when he first met her on Saturday. They had been filled with fresh produce, mostly fruit. He remembered that neither Diana nor Samantha had taken the time to unpack the bags while he was there with them. Nothing had been placed in the refrigerator that he'd noted.

Joe opened the appliance now, a little self-consciously. It was well stocked with milk and juices, sandwich fixings and leftovers in plastic containers. But there were only a few pieces of fruit left in the crisper drawer -- some apples and a bunch of grapes. The only fresh vegetables were a head of lettuce, some carrot sticks, and some sliced tomatoes in a small bowl.

Where had all of Diana's green grocery gone? Had they taken the bags of food with them, then, when they went? It appeared that they had indeed done so. That fact, and the older-looking, handmade baby clothes seemed to connect in Joe's mind. Was Jacob's family perhaps in need? He remembered Samantha's clothes had been spotless and sweet, but more quaint than common. And he'd never dreamed of Diana wearing the simple cotton shift that she had been on Saturday. Though it suited her time-suspended beauty to wondrous effect, it wasn't like anything he'd seen on a contemporary young woman lately, that was for certain. Did it, too, come from wherever the children were from?

The door to Diana's bedroom was ajar, just a few steps off the kitchen area. Looking into the room from where he stood, Joe felt uneasily as though he really was intruding on his colleague's private life without reason. Checking over the more public areas of her home was one thing. Going through her bedroom was another. Still, the earnest young DA was not feeling any easing of the foreboding that had taken hold of him. Diana would understand that anything he did was the result of his concern for her well-being. And even if it all turned out to be an innocent situation that kept her absent from her home, the worst he needed to fear was a tongue-lashing from her. He was used to that by now.

Pushing the door open fully, Joe stepped into Diana's bedroom, which wasn't so much an actual room as a space walled off from the larger loft living area. A low bookcase overflowed with volumes both literary and modern. What looked like a wooden student's desk had been improvised into a dressing table, with a mirror above it. The platform bed was neatly made up with a comforter in an abstract design of soft water-color tones, combining with some antique-looking linens on the pillows. A bed table held a generously sized lamp, a vintage alarm clock, the latest John Grisham novel, and a small stack of mail. A large old wardrobe stood against the far wall. In all, the room, like the rest of her apartment, seemed to really reflect Diana's complicated personality: many disparate details that somehow all came together for an attractive, functional and strangely comforting, environment. The bedroom also showed no recent sign of any male presence, he noted, almost in relief. He wasn't certain how he would have felt if it had. Who was the man that had asked the super about Diana on Saturday? He obviously didn't have a key to the apartment. There were no photographs in the room.

Hesitantly, Joe reached for the pile of mail on the bed table and began sorting through it: There were several pieces of junk advertising for credit card offerings and record clubs, a postcard reminder of an upcoming dentist appointment, a form thank you letter from a foreign children's charity noting a donation of $50, and one other letter, postmarked from Massachusetts. Urged on by his growing anxiety, Joe slipped that last letter out of its envelope. A photo dropped to the floor. He bent to pick it up. It was of a little girl, about five years old, being led around on a pony by a tall young woman with shoulder length deep auburn hair. The back of the photo was captioned, "Alex's first ride. County Fair, August 1990."

Joe smiled at the photo, despite his state of heart. He had a little niece about the same age. His sister lived in Rhode Island, and he never could spend as much time with her and her family as he wished, aside from the large and noisy holiday gatherings at his mother's house.

Unfolding the letter, Joe began to read: "Hi, Sis. Needed to send this out to you before I forgot. You know I'll be a nervous wreck by next week -- Alex's first day at kindergarten will be Tuesday. I'll give you a call so I can cry on your shoulder long distance... "

Without continuing, Joe replaced the photo and letter into the envelope, setting it back on the night table once again. He tapped the top of the cloth-covered table with impatience. At himself. For thinking the worst. Perhaps Diana was only overstaying a visit with her sister in Massachusetts. Or with Jacob's family.

Or perhaps she was in trouble and no one was bothering to take that possibility seriously. Her captain was so used to her keeping to her own solitary work habits that he hardly questioned such a circumstance. As long as she kept giving the department her astonishing results in her investigations, he didn't worry what her habits were.

With renewed conviction, Joe came over to the portable crib set up on the near wall of the bedroom. Once again he found himself thinking that she certainly was well-equipped to care for a baby.

And a young girl, too.

Beside the crib was a rolled up slumber bag in a bright floral print, as well as a small teddy bear dressed in an apron made of the same fabric. An old fashioned canvas bookbag rested beside the sleeping bag.

Joe picked up the bookbag and emptied its contents onto the bed. There were several colorful hair ornaments, a brush and comb, a small bottle of spray cologne and a pocket mirror in one compartment. Besides the grooming accessories, Joe retrieved a tourist map of the city, some ticket stubs and a guidebook to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the front cover of the booklet, in neat penmanship, were several notations: "Mary Cassett" "see Cloisters" and "Unicorns".

Samantha apparently enjoyed art museums. She had taken in some of the city's sights. Diana did say the children were not from the city. There was nothing strange about sight-seeing with a bright eleven year old. The articles were returned to the bookbag.

Crossing the room, Joe opened the door to the wardrobe. The closet was modestly filled with three middleweight, finely tailored suits with both skirts and slacks, a couple of additional skirts cut long and neat, and a few neutral colored sweaters and shirts. The drawers held several pairs of sweat pants, tee shirts and jeans. Everything was basic, well constructed, not flashy or even particularly feminine. When he opened a drawer with several white cotton camisoles, shorts, and a long button front shirt, Joe was startled to realize he'd stumbled onto Diana's more intimate apparel. There was hardly a bit of lace or frill to be seen. Well, he thought with blushing, defensive humor, his co-worker surely did not invest all of her paycheck in her wardrobe. Nor did she seem to believe in attracting attention to herself through her clothing.

Then something caught Joe's eye; a flash of metal coming from the floor of the wardrobe, behind a pair of dress leather boots neatly settled next to two pairs of sensible flats and a heavy pair of hiking shoes. Reaching into the closet, Joe pulled out a large tin box, like the ones fancy cookies were packed in. This one was decorated with Currier and Ives winter scenes in soft tones of gray, blue, and snow.

It took Joe a long moment to stare at the box. He'd lived with sisters long enough to recognize a "hands off, keep out, private stuff" keepsake box when he saw one. But if he was to find anything out about Diana's current whereabouts, this was probably one possibility he had to go on. He lifted the lid of the box open and set it onto the bed.

The box was indeed filled with momentos of Diana's personal life. You are being neurotic, Maxwell, paranoid, Joe told himself. How can you possibly go looking through this stuff? Taking a deep breath, Joe paused a moment before continuing. But Diana's gentle, yearning face, watching the children as she had on Saturday, urged him on.

Another stack of letters was in the box, carefully tied with a white ribbon. They were in various hands and postmarked from different cities across the country over a timespan of several years. About a dozen of them, at the bottom of the stack, looked older. They were all from California. Joe set them all aside, not even daring to contemplate opening any of them. He pulled out, instead, a small stationery box that held several dried flowers, including what had once been a rosebud corsage, gently cradled in tissue paper. Typical stuff to hold on to, he reasoned, but not anything that could send him in any particular direction today.

Then the citations came out of the box.

From the City of New York to Patrolwoman Diana Bennett, for conduct and bravery in the call of duty, in the line of fire, dated five years ago, February 1985. Those did not surprise Joe at all, as he reflexively let out a low whistle. It was just like Diana to keep something like that to herself. She'd been shot on duty. The sudden confirmation from those documents sent an unexpected tremor through him. He knew she was a crack shot now. Thinking of her once vulnerable and wounded only reinforced his present urgency to locate her.

Following the citations, a photo came to light: A gentle-featured woman with light brown hair, looking no more than 44 or 45, neatly dressed, standing next to a younger version of the woman in the Massachusetts photo. A police officer in dress blues, a lieutenant, by the insignia Joe could make out on the uniform, was beside the women, his arms unselfconsciously encompassing another uniformed figure: a young woman with coppery red hair carefully braided off her face -- Diana, probably on her graduation from the Police Academy, surrounded by her well-wishing, laughing family. She obviously favored her father in heredity, fair and bright haired, with the same warm smile. Joe thought he hadn't really seen Diana smile as freely as she was in that photo. The scene was so filled with warmth, pride, and easy affection, in sharp contrast to the quiet -- desperation -- he'd felt from the young police woman in recent months. The DA could remember just such a time in his own life. Before his father had been killed. When he pulled out a yellowing newspaper clipping next, Joe felt another pang of sympathy for his missing friend. It detailed the shooting death of an off-duty policeman, Lieutenant Timothy Bennett, who'd stepped in to intervene in a domestic abuse situation in his own neighborhood. Vaguely, Joe recalled the incident which had produced a good deal of publicity. Lieutenant Bennet had pulled a young woman and her baby to safety after her drunken husband had begun hitting her in the corner grocery store. The man was carrying a concealed gun and shot the officer once, in the back of the head, as he stood comforting the terrified mother. Diana's father had been executed half a block away from his own home, helping a neighbor on his own time.

Looking away from the piece of paper in his hand, Joe had to stop to catch his breath. He wondered how much the tragedy had influenced Diana's own life, as his father's death had done to his. Her own citations were dated a year and a half after the incident and he remembered his own raging recklessness as a teen, robbed of his father by gunmen his own age. How had her own run in with the fateful devastation of having a cop for a father fueled Diana's consuming response? The unexpected kinship Joe had felt for the young police woman was becoming clear to him now: His tested heart had silently responded to another that had endured the same pain. And now, where was she? What had her own inner demons drawn her in?

Reaching, finally, the bottom of the box, Joe pulled out two well-worn, slim volumes -- poetry books. The first was a copy of the works of Dylan Thomas. The second was Thomas Gray's Elegy in a Country Church Yard. To Joe's anxious spirit, the books looked somehow familiar, though he couldn't imagine why. Pages in each of them were marked with strips of paper serving as temporary bookmarks.

Joe read the poems that were singled out with nervous interest. English Lit was never his best subject in school, but he could still appreciate the timeless quality of the classics and their universal messages to all ages. Then he noticed something: The book of Thomas' poetry had several lines underscored lightly in pencil on one page that was dog-earred as well, seemingly returned to again and again by whomever had been reading it: "Though lovers be lost, love shall not. And death shall have no dominion."

A cold shudder ran through the DA without warning at the words. He recognized the books at last -- They were similar in age and type to the ones Cathy had had in her apartment. Quickly checking the front pages for any inscriptions, Joe found none on either volume. But his inner alarms were all going off at once, telling him without doubt where those books came from.

What he had long attempted to push from his mind as pure conjecture and coincidence was suddenly staring him right in the face.

Shakily, replacing all the articles he had gone through in their proper places, Joe walked out of Diana's bedroom with an indescribable feeling of anxious, forbidding confusion that demanded to be resolved only in one particular direction.

The taxi ride back to the office was in no way a help in enlightening him, as the crawl through city traffic gave him too much time to think and piece together details that should never have fit.

Diana had relinquished to him all of her working notes and journals on Catherine's murder investigation, or so he had thought at the time. She'd been eager, even desperate to put the case behind her, he remembered, not surprisingly considering what she'd been forced to go through with the inquiry. The books, the notes and bits of Catherine's personal life she had been studying, all of Cathy's private effects, had been turned over to some doctor, as Joe recalled, per the dictates of her will, an enigmatic document in and of itself. This doctor was trustee of some sort of private benevolent foundation, and Catherine had left everything she owned to it.

Except those books had apparently been left behind, remaining in Diana's possession. She had never handed them over to him with her paperwork, the DA guessed. Why? Two old books of poetry, written mostly about death, loss, and grieving. Why had she kept them, of all things? Why were they important enough for her to risk disciplinary action, to slip them into the box with her own cherished personal momentos?

They had been Catherine's books, or at least in Catherine's possession. He was certain of it. Why would Diana want them?

The parallels in the lives of the two women began to merge in Joe's mind uneasily. He was positive that Diana had dug up more on Cathy's private life than she had been willing to share, even with him. Hell, he'd threatened her with legal action during the course of her work when she suddenly backed off conclusions she'd insisted on having him keep an open mind to.

There were too many pieces that came together in her investigation without explanation. He told himself it was because of the way she worked, but his gut told him that was only part of the truth.

Things were too similar to be pure coincidence. She'd been in too many places one step ahead of him throughout the entire investigation. It wasn't just damn good police work, her brilliant grasp of criminal psychology and how the players in the tragic drama were destined to move.

It was eerily as if Diana, in placing herself so completely into Catherine's existence for her work, had never quite managed to return to her own life. Could she now possibly find herself entrapped in Catherine's own unexplained personal world somehow?

But not against her will, it would seem.

Joe's mind kept returning to the hour he had spent in her company Saturday morning, her interaction with Samantha and Jacob -- happy, easy, but somehow tinged with unacknowledged... regret... at the same time. The children had to be part of it all, as well. Diana had seemed to be grappling with some deep pang of emotion, especially where the baby was concerned. She had seemed at once blessed and... haunted... as she had held the child in her arms.

The child. A little boy, about a year old. With a golden halo of curls and eyes that could reach into your soul. Jacob.

Catherine's child.

That was the only answer. The missing baby. Gabriel's other victim.

Why had the maniacal drug lord taken the child from Catherine? Why had he wanted it, a baby, an innocent, powerless? Gabriel fed on power. Joe knew the type, too well, from experience. They devoured people, body and soul, without a pang of conscience.

A helpless baby.

With a powerful father.

Joe had thought... Elliot Burch... Catherine's rebuffed suitor. Burch had it all: wealth, power, influence, and a legacy of concrete and steel in the city that would long outlive him. His chameleon-like adaptability to confound his detractors, and his undeniable charm and intelligence would have been an asset to any ally.

Still, Gabriel had disposed of Burch too easily, too quickly. If he had been holding the child hostage to manipulate the father, why was the baby still alive months after Burch's death? The nursery that had been found in the fortified mansion on Staten Island that served as Gabriel's stronghold: Everything pointed to the fact that the child was still alive, or had been up until the police raid on the building. Why would Gabriel keep the baby if he had already used his father?

Because Elliot Burch could not have been the man Gabriel had ultimately been after.

Elliot may have loved Cathy as much as he was capable; he may have asked her to marry him, but she had turned him down. They may have remained friends afterwards, despite his repeated lapses of conscience, but Joe could not bring himself to think Catherine capable of bearing a child under the circumstances of a casual love affair. She was so much deeper than that. Love meant so much more to her, he knew, from the few times she had haltingly opened her inner struggles to Joe in their relationship. Bearing a child would have meant a profound embodiment of love to her.

That left only one conclusion, the one that was most incredible.

Joe stared out at the city passing slowly by him as the taxi wove its way through noonday traffic. He suddenly felt weary and sorely tested. This city had once been a magnetic place of possibilities in his hopes. That had all changed these past two years. He saw it now in its harsh, disgusting reality, beneath the glitter and polish: The city was peopled only by users, of every manner and morality. The few idealists left were forced to watch their dreams corrupted by the powers that be. And the innocent were left without hope, without protection.

Cathy had been swallowed up by that soul-eating revelation of humanity. Gabriel had simply used her for his own ends -- first for the criminal evidence against him, then, for the child, for his own twisted purposes, whatever in damnation they could have been.

A child. A baby. To be used to wreck anguish in the hearts of those who loved him. A simple pawn in a powerplay from hell.

If Elliot Burch had not been Gabriel's real target, who was? Who did the monster want to control? The child's mother had already been murdered, her knowledge neutralized to a mere nuisance. That could only have left the baby's father to care, to mourn, to risk everything in order to save the child, to open himself up to being used by a demon like Gabriel.

The child's father... Vincent.

And Diana had become embroiled in the powerplay herself with the investigation.

She had seemed willing to risk everything of herself at the time. Joe had threatened her career. Her very life had been placed in jeopardy more than once by armed men. Still, she had clung tenaciously, desperately, to her own agenda in the case. Her movements had been indecipherable, her leads unintelligible, her total commitment to resolving the case unshakable.

Yet, she had held back, from him, he knew. She was somehow able to continue her work even as she protected, at all costs, her sources of information in the investigation. Joe was positive of that:

She had been protecting the child's father even as he was attempting to protect the baby himself.

Gabriel had wanted power to manipulate, fed on power fueled by desperation. What more frightening power could he own than that of a father seeking to save his child regardless of the risks, the costs?

A father who was already terrifying in his own strength and abilities?

What would such a man be willing to do to save his child?

Diana had described Vincent as Cathy's protector, an avenging angel of justice. Joe had resisted that conclusion with every fiber of his being, for all the evidence he had to go on pointed to an avenging angel capable of inhuman strength and rage. If they were both right, then Vincent had killed more than once to keep Catherine safe, with animal ferocity. What would he have been capable of in attempting to protect his child?

His child -- Joe could not reconcile the sweet, bright, happy baby in Diana's apartment Saturday with a savage, less than human, parentage. There wasn't even anything unusual to call attention to the child beyond his enthusiastic, precocious embracing of life. He was a beautiful, attentive, heart-warming little boy.

With eyes that could touch your soul.

Joe remembered the uncanny feeling he had been overwhelmed by when Jacob had turned his gaze fully upon him Saturday. He had felt as though the child could read his soul. Diana had hinted at some sort of -- connection -- between Cathy and Vincent, some sort of shared bonding that drew the shadowy figure to Catherine's side whenever she was threatened.

Perhaps that was Jacob's legacy from his father, the power that Gabriel had sought to control and manipulate.

In the past, Joe would have dismissed out of hand such thinking as ridiculous conjecture, the stuff of paperback novels. That was, until he'd met and worked with Diana. Time and again, the DA had been forced to marvel in awe at the scope of her powers of observation, her capabilities of turning senseless bits and pieces into provable wholes. And that was just as a result of her own highly intuitive nature and willingness to see what others refused to see, refused to contemplate. What if Gabriel had recognized such a power in a being as seemingly threatening as himself?

But that was all in the past. The murky, painful, never to be understood past that had so threatened his own hold on sanity and hope. The fact of the matter was that Diana was missing now, her disappearance was in the here and today of the city. She may have sought to protect Vincent, reunite him with his stolen child a year ago. But she was in danger now herself:

Diana was still entangled, somehow, with the realities of Catherine's secret life.

Joe closed his eyes and eased against the back of the car seat wearily, attempting to calmly sort out what he felt from what he knew for certain. It was not an easy task. He had to admit that all the labyrinthian details of Diana's investigation a year ago did not have to necessarily add up to a sinister aspect in her disappearance now. Diana was nothing if not forthright and level-headed. She'd proven herself capable of taking care of herself numerous times in the year he'd known her. Her own captain had dismissed his worry. Yet, if Diana was level-headed, she was also generous, sensitive, and capable of a depth of empathy Joe had not been able to expect this side of heaven. He'd felt it reaching out to him time and again when his own spirit had faltered.

What more poignant human drama could she become a part of than that of a lost child, a motherless child, left in the heartbreaking care of an anguished father forced to hide his very existence from the world at large?

There had to have been some redeeming qualities to the mysterious figure of Vincent, Joe conceded in honest justice, or else Cathy could never have fallen in love with him, borne him a child. The reality of that conclusion made the DA's heart lurch. "There's someone I care about, someone I... love... " she had confessed to him once in his office when she'd been so obviously in pain. Joe had to take hold of his own heart at the tender news, and it nearly broke when he'd seen tears shimmering in her soft eyes. "He's going through a hard time... he's not well... " she'd spoken quietly, and Joe had drawn her into his arms for comfort.

That had been only a couple of weeks before she had disappeared.

No, Catherine's love would have redeemed Satan, himself, Joe thought.

And Diana's would have protected him.

. . . Did protect him... A shot into the heart of one of hell's own had proven it. Diana would never have complicated her already painful life so totally, if it wasn't to share her awesome conviction of heart with someone equally as in need as herself.

That was the only conclusion Joe could come to. Somewhere, somehow, Diana was now within the mysterious reaches of Vincent's world. Because she wanted to be, because of some catastrophe, he couldn't begin to decide. But he knew she would not be found until she was ready to be.

If she was still alive.

Another nightmare for him to struggle through, alone. The young DA was just about to concede defeat, fling up his hands in frustrated surrender. Heaven had seen fit to torment him for some obscure reason with the need to care about two wondrous, lightning-drawing women he'd never be able to fully comprehend. One was dead, partly as a direct result of his actions, the true circumstances of her life only a puzzling, disjointed, painful mystery he'd never be able to solve.

The other could be a part of just the same circumstances as the first, though by her own doing, it would seem.

And there was nothing Joe could do to unravel it all, find the thread of sanity through it all, prove to himself that the nightmare would not again cost him the life of someone he cared for.

 

The files on his desk were still waiting there when he returned, mentally exhausted. Andrea had slipped a handwritten envelope on the top of the pile. Without even thinking, Joe loosened his tie and settled back into his chair with the envelope.

It was addressed simply to him, with only his name. Joe recalled something about a messenger Andrea had pointed out as he had made his distracted way past her earlier. Who would send him a letter by messenger? It didn't look official, just a personal note, on heavy, vellum paper in what looked like the ink of a calligraphy pen. The handwriting was unfamiliar. He opened the letter.

A flood of emotions, relief being foremost, washed over him, as he quickly read the lines:

"Joe, I know you well enough to realize you must be frantic with worry by now. First I apologize for putting you through it. Second, I appreciate your concern, though I know you'll never own up to it.

"I'm sorry I haven't make it back to the city yet. I'm sort of stranded here with Jacob and Samantha's family. There was an accident here Saturday evening. The children and I got caught in it. They're all right. Samantha dislocated her shoulder, though. And I've gotten myself pretty battered."

A twisting in the pit of his stomach confirmed that he'd been right in his concern. But how right, he wondered?

"My leg is broken badly and it looks as though I will need to stay put for at least 3 weeks until I can be moved. I'm getting wonderful care, but the community here is a bit isolated and I can't get back to New York until I have some of my own capabilities back."

For God's sake, Joe railed inwardly, his frustration at the fractious information mounting even as his relief was. Where on earth was she? An "isolated" community -- Had the no-nonsense police officer fallen in with some strange survivalist cult, his black humor questioned? But his heart answered his objections with the truth: she was isolated because Vincent was isolated.

"You can get a hold of me if you really need to through Dr. Peter Alcott there in the City. Otherwise I'll send you a note from time to time letting you know how things are progressing.

"Please let Captain Phillips know what's happened. He probably thinks I've buried myself in the Abbot care and hasn't even noticed I haven't checked in."

In spite of himself, Joe had to put his anxiousness aside. She even knew her captain's reaction to her disappearance: indifference. How could that possibly make her feel, in reality? Like she was only being used, for her capabilities and nothing more. God, didn't the woman have a single heart that was opened to hers? Could their own stormy relationship be her only link to emotional sanity? Maybe in this world.

"Don't worry, Joe. I'm sorry I missed our chance to keep talking Monday. I'll be fine, but you have to do me a favor." At the next lines, Joe felt tears well up into his dark eyes as he realized who the favor really was for: "Take a couple of days for yourself. Go someplace quiet and find your strength. No one's taken it from you. You've only been forced to bury it, hide it, in grief. I'll be back in no time to try and convince you of that . You'll see. Don't make the angels cry. Sincerely, Diana."

The tears were very much beyond his tested control as they slipped silently down his cheeks. She was safe... She was hurt... She was still looking out for him.

But who would ever be looking out for her?

Then Joe felt the chill run through him again, the foreboding he'd felt in her apartment, when he'd felt her threatened and his own helplessness at doing anything about it. He read the note again just to be certain: "Dr. Peter Alcott."

That was the name of the doctor in Catherine's will.


Continued in Chapter 9