CHAPTER FIVE

AS A MOTHER WITH HER CHILD

 


It made sense. It didn't make sense.

If Alexandra predicted an event, you had better listen. That was partly why she was a growing force in the Tower. She could anticipate any sudden catastrophic event that threatened the Nobles.

Now she was telling me the name of my future murderer. At the same time, I couldn't imagine why Layla would kill me...

Well, she did hold a knife to my throat, right?

But that was because she didn't know what was going on.

And what if she becomes that confused again?

But...

I quickly sat up. "How?" I asked Alexandra. "Where?"

"With a gun," she said softly. "I'm not sure where. But I saw the act clearly."

"Do you know why?"

"You know that it is the one area where I always fail, Jacob."

Right. Alexandra was a woman who could summon the whole world to walk through her mind. She could trace the movements of every person, find out where they came from, learn where they were going. But she was also a woman who had very little contact with other people. She had little understanding of the rationales people used for their actions. This recluse could navigate easily the outside world. She got lost in the realm of the human heart.

That was the flaw which hampered her gift. When her father had given her a rare collection of Keats poetry as a birthday gift, she did not see that the gift had been obtained through blood. Poetry was one of the few indulgences in her ascetic life. I was one of her indulgences as well. Could our love be interfering with her gift as well? The very fact that she lost control could be a sign of a flawed prediction.

Or a sign that her prediction was correct.

I crawled over to Alexandra. I placed my hands on her shoulders. Her expression was distant, but she didn't flinch from my touch.

"I can't understand what's it like to have this gift. And I don't know how I would react if I...saw the thing you did. But this gets back to our original problem."

"Meaning you can't love a killer," she said in a blunt voice.

I quickly embraced her to my naked chest. She kept her hands to herself for a few moments, then reached around my back. Her torn blouse fell open, and I could feel her breasts against my skin.

"I came here," I whispered, "because I want you to come back to the Tunnels. I want them to see what I love about you."

"How?"

I reached and picked up the book she had been reading. I showed it to her.

"Will you come?" I asked.

She looked at the book, then nodded. I kissed her on her forehead. I felt an urge to continue what we had almost done last night, what our lovemaking should have been a few moments ago.

Then I remembered that her father was in the next room. It wasn't just his unsettling proximity. He was a reminder of everything dangerous in my affair with Alexandra. I had to keep perspective and not lose myself in intimacy, no matter sweet it might be.

I gently pulled her away. She did not try to hold me.

I found my shirt and jacket. As I put them back on, I said, "Can you tell me why you...came on so strong there?"

"Because I've been thinking about losing you," she said.

I walked over to her and kissed her again on the forehead. "I'm not easy to get rid of," I said with a smile. "Ask anybody."

She didn't smile back.

"Tonight, then?" I sighed.

"Tonight."

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I passed by Bradbury as I left Alexandra's room and headed for the elevator. He had the receiver of his old-fashioned phone pressed to his ear. He nodded to something being said on the other end. He showed no hint that he had heard anything from Alexandra's room or that he noticed my departure.

After I pressed the ground floor button in the elevator, I suddenly got the shakes. I had to sit down in a corner of the elevator. When the doors opened for the ground floor, I couldn't get back up. A well-dressed couple outside of the elevator stopped in the middle of laughter and stared at me. None of us moved. The doors closed.

I took several deep breaths. Then I stood and pressed the ground floor button again. The doors opened. The couple had gone. I left the building.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I needed to talk with Father. I needed to talk with someone. When I entered Below, I immediately headed for my father's chambers.

As I got closer, I heard something peculiar. It was music, but not the kind I usually expected to hear from Father's room. Instead of string quartets and orchestras, I could hear fiddles and a southern voice declaring, "Right or wrong, I'm still in love with you."

Then I remembered that Father had exactly one country album in his collection of vinyl records. He would only play this on his gramophone if he had a certain visitor.

I ran the final steps to his chambers. As I burst into the room, I realized that I might be acting like Gareth did last night in my room.

Fortunately, the couple here was not engaged in real hanky-panky. A fully clothed Father was seated on his bed with pillows piled behind his back. A woman lay against his chest with one hand casually playing with a strand of his hair. They were both looking at the gramophone. I think she enjoyed the music more than he did, but he was smiling.

They turned to me as I ran into the room and said, "Diana!" She rose from the bed, walked over to me and shared a hug.

I said jokingly into her ear, "Shit-kicking with my dad, I see."

"That's Bob Wills," she replied. "Be respectful."

We pulled apart, but our hands remained touching. "I thought you were out of town on a case," I said.

"I was. The case is over."

"Ah, solved it with your usual Holmesian panache."

"We got a lucky break. The FBI doesn't need me anymore, so I have some free time. And where better to spend it than Below?"

"Well, I'm glad to see you."

"Same here. So what's been going on?"

I stopped smiling. "You, uh, don't know?"

Diana Bennett stopped smiling as well. She turned to Father. "What don't I know?" she asked him.

Father rose from the bed and said, "There have been some...incidents that have occurred since you've been gone. I thought it best that Jacob explained them to you."

She looked back at me. "What happened?"

I suddenly realized that I needed Diana's help more than Father's. He could give me strength and moral support. Diana, however, had a special talent perfectly applicable to my dilemma.

Father knew this. He walked over to Diana and squeezed her shoulder. "I will leave you two alone," he said, then left his chambers.

Diana slowly pulled her hands from my touch and placed them inside her pockets. Her face took on that cautious expression when it was time for her to analyze, interpret, and profile. "Well?" she said.

I motioned to two chairs. We each sat on one. I told her about Alexandra and Masilela. Her distant face showed some surprise when I told her about meeting Layla for the first time.

"Layla Mubarak?" she said.

"You know her?"

"A bit. Remember that I was working for Joe at the time of his death."

"That's right. I forgot."

"I met her once at his office." She paused, then said, "And she held a knife to your neck?"

"Well, you have to admit that I would look suspicious to an outsider."

Diana frowned. "Especially to someone who has a habit of letting her self-righteousness overwhelm her better judgment."

"That's your profile of her?"

"That's what Joe told me about her."

"Oh. Huh. Did you know..."

"I know. They were lovers. But that doesn't excuse her going off half-cocked."

I raised my hands and smiled. "Remind you of somebody you know?"

"I won't argue about distinctions between you and Layla, but...watch yourself around her."

I coughed. "Funny you should say that..."

"Why? And what does Layla have to do with this?"

"Thus starts the second act..." I told her about the incident in the Library. Diana leaned forward with a rapt expression. I could sense her imagination digging into my story. Alexandra once said that Diana had a gift similar to hers. Both of them could penetrate the surface of things and see a deeper truth. Their talents differed in width and objective. Alexandra's gift was so quick and far ranging as to be supernatural. Diana could only focus on one person at a time and learn things in small portions. She could also see, unlike Alexandra, the reason why an event happened. It was how she caught murderers.

And now I was asking her to look into the soul of my love.

I was understandably hesitant about pushing Diana into doing this. This wasn't some serial killer that needed to be caught; this was Alexandra. I was equally hesitant about relating what had happened between me and Alexandra today, but Diana needed to know everything. It was the only way she could help me. And if I couldn't tell the woman who had practically been my mother, who could I tell?

When I was done, she turned her eyes to my shoulder and remained still for several moments. Then she leaned back and said, "I think she's right about Layla."

"You do?"

"Jacob, she threatened you with a knife."

"But we're okay now."

"Now you might be 'okay.' But what's going to happen in the future? Your girlfriend did try to kill Layla. How is that going to affect things?"

I grimaced. "Is this going to be one of those sci-fi deals when a prediction causes people to do the thing predicted?"

"I don't know. I do know that a woman with precognitive abilities has predicted that another woman will commit murder. And the latter seems capable."

I scratched my palms with my fingernails as I considered Diana's words. I eventually said, "I trust your gift. And I trust Alexandra's. But I'm not going to accuse Layla of doing something she hasn't done yet."

"I'm not saying you should. I'm saying you should be careful." Diana paused, then added, "Besides, I suspect there was more to Alexandra's vision than what she's told you."

"Really?"

"Remember how uncontrollable her anger was. Something unique had to set it off."

"Yeah. Me getting killed."

"There had to be more."

"Uh, that's not enough?"

"For Alexandra, yes. She's not like you or Vincent. She rarely does anything on impulse. And why would she be shocked so badly by the realization that somebody wants to kill you?"

"Oh, thank you."

"You know what I mean."

I did. For much of the past year, I had been alienating my closest friends and family. Who knows what my enemies wanted to do? And I had made plenty of those in a year of kicking the asses and taking the names of criminals, thugs and general bastards.

Diana was right. Alexandra's description of her vision had been incomplete. If it had been exactly as she told me, she would have warned me last night, not tried to kill Layla on the spot.

"So what should I do?" I asked.

"For now, watch and wait."

I groaned and looked away.

"What's the matter?"

"There's been too much of that already. The whole damn Tunnels are doing nothing but watching and waiting for the Tower to make a move."

"Well, maybe they're..." She stopped herself.

"What?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I just assume Vincent and Mister Wells know what they're doing."

"I hope they do." I paused, then said, "Alexandra is coming here tonight. So is Layla, too, I think."

"You invited them?"

"Who else would have?"

"Have you told the others?"

"I haven't, but I'm sure they'll be okay with it."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"No chance in hell am I letting her in again."

"Jamie, I assure you that it'll be fine."

"I heard the same thing last night. Look what happened."

Jamie turned to Grandfather. The three of us were gathered in his chambers. "I am your Head Protector," she told him. "And I'm telling you -- Alexandra is not putting one toe Below."

Grandfather shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Might that be a little extreme?" he wondered.

"No, trying to kill somebody with your teeth is extreme." Jamie looked at me. "If she does that to a guy like Crown, okay. But not here and not to somebody who did nothing to her."

"What if," I said, "I told you she did have a reason?"

I told Jamie and Grandfather about Alexandra's vision. When I was done, Jamie looked a bit mollified. "Well," Grandfather said, "perhaps it's Miss Mubarak who should be kept out of the Tunnels."

"Actually...she's coming tonight as well."

Jamie said, "Christ, Jacob, you've got a deathwish. If you believe what Alexandra has told you..."

"I only know that Alexandra didn't just go crazy on us. And right now I've got no cause to push anybody away."

"This isn't just about you. Things are very delicate right now." Jamie returned her gaze to Grandfather. "You know what's at stake."

"You don't need to tell me." Father's firm voice was a reminder about who was in charge around here.

Jamie looked uneasy, but she wasn't backing down. "Even if Alexandra hadn't gone crazy last night, she did a pretty good impersonation of a crazy person. I say err on the side of caution and keep her out."

Jamie was one of my oldest friends, but she was irritating me at that moment. That's why I said, "You know, it's a good thing you weren't Head Protector fifteen years ago."

She gave me a brief puzzled look, then realized what I had meant. "Alexandra is not your father," she said sternly.

"No," a voice said. "She is not."

Everyone looked up to an upper level. Father had just emerged from the shadows up there. "I am not you, either, Jamie," he said as he descended the stairs. "We are all different from each other in the Tunnels. We accept that. And some of the Dwellers have done morally questionable things. We accept that as well. We don't chase them away."

He stopped in front of us. "That doesn't mean we look away from sin. It does mean we accept the possibility of redemption."

"But, Vincent," Jamie said, "Alexandra isn't one of us."

"That is the way many people think Above. If someone isn't 'one of them,' they push that person away."

Jamie sighed. "I know what you're saying. It doesn't change the fact that the Tunnels have borders. Am I supposed to guard those borders or not?"

"Alexandra was welcome here last night. Let's make her welcome again. Let's show her forgiveness. If we don't...then how are we different than the Tower?"

Jamie tightened her mouth. She looked at Grandfather, then at me and finally back at Father. She knew that she couldn't argue against all of us.

She pointed her finger at me. "I'll be watching her every step of the way."

"I know."

"The same for Layla. I mean, if Alexandra is right..."

"I get it."

"Okay, then."

The meeting was disbanded. "Walk with me," Father whispered in my ear. I joined him on a slow trot through the connecting tunnels.

"I overheard what you said about Alexandra," he said. "Did you tell Diana about this?"

"Of course."

"What did she say?"

"She thinks that Alexandra is still holding back something. I think she's right. She also says that we should wait and watch."

Father nodded.

"I appreciate you standing by me on this."

"You're welcome."

"I mean, you were there, too. You saw what Jamie saw, but you..."

"Yes, I was there." Father abruptly stopped, making me stop as well. He looked at me with eyes that seemed darker than before. "I have more reason than anyone to empathize with Alexandra. And I wish very much that you find some kind of happiness with her. But, son..." His voice deepened. "…she tested me last night. She unleashed darkness from inside herself. I almost unleashed mine in return. If you love her, tell her not to test me again."

My throat felt hollow and dry. I could say nothing. Father walked away from me. As he strode down a tunnel, he looked like a king of shadows walking among weak shades.


Continued in chapter 6