A Cry of Players

Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub


Prologue

The two faced each other, rapiers drawn, through pools of light. One was a tall teenager; as his face came into the light, black hair and steady green eyes were revealed. He was lanky with recent growth, but his sword lay confident and steady in his hand.

The other stood taller, broader, his great black cloak cascading nearly to the floor. His hair was long, blond, silky; a great mane hanging to his shoulders. His sword, too, was steady and confident; the two circled each other, searching for openings.

The black-haired teenager passed into shadow, and the light fell full upon his opponent. His face was - inhuman; the broad, flat nose, bristling fur, and bifurcated lip made him appear a great lion. His eyes, though - they were clear, human blue; they brought the rest of that alien face into focus, made its differences almost unworthy of notice.

The swords flashed and met, metal sliding and ringing against metal. There was no advantage; each felt out his opponent, seeking a weak point or flawed garde.

Another had been standing in the shadows, watching them match swords; he was well-muscled, but another teenager - not more than 16. He flew into the light, forcing his way between them, seeking to stop the swordplay; he chided them,

" 'Gentlemen, for shame, forbear this outrage! --

Tybalt - Mercutio - the prince expressly hath
Forbidden bandying in Verona streets. --

Hold, Tybalt! - good Mercutio.'"

As he spoke, the lanky teenager - Tybalt's sword slipped through, and found its mark on his leonine opponent, Mercutio. At the end of the speech, he departed, leaving his opponent proclaiming,

" 'I am hurt; --

a plague o' both your houses! - I am sped. -'"

Vincent continued with Mercutio's death scene, laden with puns even as the wound sapped his strength. A skinny 14-year-old answered when he called to Benvolio; together they left the brightly lit front of the chamber that was being used as a stage.

From the deepness of shadow "off-stage" he watched the production of "Romeo and Juliet" proceed. Romeo, beneath whose arm Mercutio received his "fatal" wound, slew Tybalt in turn, and fled; the stage darkened.

Returning light showed an empty stage; a teenage girl almost bounded into view, deliriously happy and telling herself of the joys that awaited with the coming of night and Romeo.

She commanded the eye, and absolutely compelled everyone to feel with her. Vincent was glad he had no further part to play; nothing to distract him. He felt Catherine nearby, seated with Father, other Tunnel dwellers and Helpers; all just as enthralled as he was.

When Juliet left the stage, his attention wandered a bit, and he found himself remembering how all of this had come to be.

 

Chapter I

Vincent could not pinpoint the moment he'd known a group of the children had a secret. The knowledge had been growing in him for some time before he realized it. At first it was looks exchanged across a room; then it was giggles. Then he noticed various children vanishing, singly or in groups, sometimes for hours. The lifespan of a secret in the world Below was usually days; thinking back, Vincent could trace this one for months. After careful consideration, he decided to lay his concerns before Father. Then someone involved came to him.

Christine was a resident of the world Below of nearly four years' standing. Vincent had watched her change from a beaten, wary child, suspicious and hard, to a normal teenager - by turns exuberant and soft-spoken.

She lingered in the chamber following a teaching session on Shakespeare. "What is it, Christine?"

"There's something going on I think you need to know about, Vincent." Christine's words rushed over each other; she wouldn't meet his clear gaze.

"Tell me."

"No - you need to see. Come with me tomorrow; about one-thirty. I'll meet you here."

Vincent nodded, and she hurried away. Halfway down the corridor, she stopped, raced back, and added, "Don't tell Father."

"Christine - I have no secrets from Father."

"Just don't say anything now, Vincent; wait until you see this. Then you can do whatever you have to do."

Reluctantly, Vincent assented. Christine, long dark hair flying, vanished down the tunnel, leaving Vincent impatient for the resolution of this secret.

Chapter II

Christine turned up at exactly the appointed hour; Vincent had been waiting for fifteen minutes. Saying, "Follow me," she set off toward the surface. Vincent started numerous questions, but Christine shook them all off, saying only, "Wait and see."

They eventually arrived at a chamber dangerously close to the surface, in an unused area; a few torches gave a sporadic light. Christine checked quickly to be sure they were alone, then took Vincent's arm, and half-dragged him in.

The chamber was huge, and only the front was lit - with a few of the omnipresent torches, and an incongruous Coleman electric lantern. Christine pulled him to the depths of darkness at the rear of the chamber, and left him there, not sure what to expect.

Within minutes, ten of the children, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were milling around, chatting with each other, practicing speeches; it looked like students early for a class. Then, from a side tunnel he could not place, stepped a child he didn't know.

A little older than the others, she was not really a child; perhaps eighteen. She was clad in worn blue jeans, a black turtleneck, and a pink T-shirt bearing the legend "Go Lemmings Go". Not short or tall, or skinny or plump, she was - average. Her hair, a shade exactly between light brown and dark blonde, just brushed her shoulders. Her face fit the rest of her - not unusually lovely or strongly featured, not ugly or unpleasant - just a face. She would have faded into any crowd Vincent had ever seen. An electric-blue knapsack was slung over her arm by its shoulder straps.

She called out as she entered, "What ho, the players!" Her voice was the first remarkable thing about her. There was resonance and life there; the joyous sound of a bubbling spring rising from underground.

A chorus of voices rose in reply, "What ho, Madame Sarah!"

The teenagers quickly seated themselves in a semicircle. She turned to the gathered students and asked, "Who's first?"

Patrick, 15 and tough, sprang to his feet, then stood shyly waiting to be recognized. Vincent gaped. Patrick was a boy who took what he wanted, and observed social niceties only in the face of the sternest promptings. In his heart, Vincent had feared the boy would be lost to them before long, succumbing to the lure of the wild streets.

The stranger nodded to him, and went to stand before the far right of the semicircle. Patrick hurried off into shadows on the far left.

"Madame Sarah" turned her back, and signaled to Patrick. There was a moment of waiting silence, then Patrick strode into the light before the other children. Looking across the "stage", he began,

"He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

But soft - what light through yonder window breaks!

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! --"

Vincent hadn't known what to expect, but this wasn't it. Acting seemed out of character for the ex-gang member he knew; and "Romeo and Juliet" possibly the most unlikely choice of play. Listening to the emotion within the words, Vincent was impressed; as Romeo neared the end of the speech, he looked across to "Madame Sarah," who still had her back to her audience.

"O, that I were a glove upon that hand,

That I might touch that cheek!"

A simple, accidental motion turned the "teacher" toward her Romeo; as Vincent looked at her, he quickly revised his estimate of her age. She was much younger than he'd thought; surely no older than Patrick's 15. Her "Ah me!", Juliet's first spoken words, almost passed unnoticed. Patrick delivered a breathlessly excited rendition of Romeo's eight lines.

Then Juliet spoke. The realization stole over Vincent as he listened; he was in the presence of magic. For although he could have recited the passage with her, still he was hearing it for the first time. The words, so well known, were the only possible words that this girl could use, from the depths of her heart, to speak of what she felt.

No longer a stone chamber lit by Coleman lantern and torchlight, this was a moonlit garden. The girl before him spoke simply, in the only words fit to express her emotion.

"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet."

She stopped, to consider her words, and Romeo's aside slid into its place. Such was the magic that Vincent ceased to see Patrick, doing a very credible job of Shakespeare; he saw only Romeo.

Juliet denied that any important part of Romeo was a Montague, and pronounced words that have been bandied about for centuries:

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose,

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title..."

Despite endless familiarity with this scene, the words seemed new to Vincent. The young woman gestured with precision and economy of motion. Throughout the scene, he was enthralled. Juliet's exit, saying
"Good-night, good-night, parting is such sweet sorrow; That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow" still floated through the air over Romeo's declaration of his intention to find Friar Lawrence. Then Patrick exited the stage, the children applauded mightily, and Vincent had to exercise great restraint not to join them.

"Madame Sarah", once more the age Vincent first assigned her, stepped back from offstage, applauding Patrick with the others. Vincent was amused to note that Patrick's ears were red, but his expression was surely pleased.

"That was wonderful, Patrick!" the "teacher" enthused. "You really used your experiences. I could feel it."

This apparently was highest praise, for Patrick's ears turned redder, and he looked away and mumbled something incoherent. "Madame Sarah" scanned the circle again. "Who's next?"

Christine rose in response to the question.

"I'd like to try my solo, Madame." At nearly seventeen, she was the oldest of the children, and probably quite close to the "teacher's" age; the title could easily have seemed ridiculous. But it was clear the gathered crowd held her in great respect, and the title fell as easily from their lips as did the title "Father".

"Madame Sarah" stepped clear, and gave Christine the stage. "St. Joan?"

"Yes, Madame. Scene VI; Joan's last speech."

"Madame" nodded. Christine moved slowly to center stage, faced the audience. From offstage, heavy and dire, came a voice Vincent at first did not recognize as "Madame Sarah"s, proclaiming Joan's doom of perpetual imprisonment.

Christine faced the offstage voice. " 'Perpetual imprisonment! Am I not then to be set free?'"

As the scene proceeded, Joan repudiated her signed confession, declared the cruelty of confining her away from the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, and the church bells. Christine was trying, Vincent noted, but the words were just words.

The waiting audience applauded again, but the sound was more perfunctory, and faded quickly. "Madame Sarah" returned to center stage.

"Not bad, Christine." The resonant voice was warm, but with reservations. "But tell me - who is Joan? What has she been doing?"

"Well - she's a peasant girl who heard three saints tell her to lead an army to crown the young price, the Dauphin, king of France."

"Did she just tell the army what to do?"

"No, she lead them herself, dressed like a soldier." Christine's tone was increasingly puzzled, so the "teacher" took a different tack. "Christine - do you know anyone who is a leader - someone people listen to, someone physically and mentally strong?"

Christine's eyes flew to the back of the room, toward Vincent, invisible in the shadows; then she answered, "Yes, Madame."

"He or she?"

"He."

"Picture this person in your mind. Look at how he holds his body; see how he stands."

This was apparently a familiar exercise; everyone was nodding as Christine closed her eyes, then slowly started to change her stance. Her shoulders squared, she balanced her weight differently. Smiles crept around the semicircle; Christine opened her eyes, leaned slightly forward, and tilted her head to one side. Giggles followed the smiles; Vincent heard his name whispered by several of the watching teens.

"Madame" circled Christine, noting every detail of her posture. "Big man, is he?"

The watching semicircle giggled again, as Christine, embarrassed, replied "Yes, Madame."

"Very good - but remember, you and Joan are small. Not so much; pull it in. Think of your strong leader, and try the long speech again."

Christine complied; after two or three sentences, "Madame" interrupted her. "Not so softspoken; Joan is a peasant girl. Add in a touch of Patrick."

After the laugh this elicited, Christine resumed. Twice more the teacher interrupted; each time, there was less Christine on the stage, and more Joan. Then, Joan spoke longingly of the world Above, and the conviction that had gathered was lost. It was Christine reading lines again, not Joan explaining her decision to burn.

After she finished, "Madame Sarah" asked, "What do you value most in your life?"

Christine paused, giving serious thought to the question. "Friendship and love," she finally replied, blushing a little but looking straight into her teacher's eyes.

"Madame" nodded thoughtfully. "That is what they want to take away from you. Feel it in your heart. Let it show. Now - try the whole thing again, and use everything we've talked about." She stepped back off the "stage", and delivered the opening cue.

It was a different performance this time, and Vincent was moved by the rendition. The applause was strong, for improvement as well as for the actual reading. "Madame Sarah" returned to center stage, and solicited another volunteer.

Class continued for nearly two hours in the same vein. Two of the works Vincent did not recognize; the others were old friends, read and reread.

Then "Madame" glanced at her watch, and pronounced briskly, "Time for only one more; this week next meeting will be Friday at three."

She scanned the circle again; after a moment, Luke, 13, very shy, silent, and skinny, rose. "Madame Sarah"s smile was delighted. "I was hoping you'd think we were ready this time, Luke. So - this is from 'The Elephant Man'." She retrieved the electric blue knapsack, laid it in front of the audience.

The boy, known for monosyllabic answers to even the most complex questions, just nodded. He came to the front, lay down "center stage", his back supported by the bright knapsack. "Madame" sat beside him.

In a thickened voice, Luke began, "'I planned so many things to say. I forget them. You are so beautiful.'"

"Madame Sarah" was elegant now, charming; much older than eighteen, but ageless. Her voice was as delightfully British as Father's as she spoke. "'How charming, Mr. Merrick.'"

The first lines were politenesses exchanged; then suddenly they were discussing Romeo and Juliet. Luke's distorted voice said, " 'If I had been Romeo, guess what?'"

"'What?'"

"'I would not have held the mirror to her breath.'"

"'You mean the scene where Juliet appears to be dead and he holds the mirror to her breath and sees-'"

"'Nothing. How does it feel when he kills himself because he just sees nothing?'"

Once again Vincent was mesmerized; the play was not familiar, but "Madame Sarah" and Luke brought it to life. The scene was short; as it neared its end, Luke reached out, deliberately awkward, to take "Madame Sarah"s hand. He miscalculated, and his hand impacted against her side.

Vincent, watching the "teacher", saw her turn ghostly white, all color draining from her face. The waiting students saw too, but no one moved. There was a tension within the circle, but a familiarity as well - as though this sort of thing happened with some frequency.

Vincent prepared to reveal himself should the need arise, but only her color changed; Madame Sarah's posture and expression did not alter in the slightest. After a longish pause, she spoke her next line perfectly in character; the elegant middle-aged actress to the last. Slowly her color returned; most of it was back as Luke rose and bowed. Vincent could almost believe he'd never seen that sudden blanching.

The applause was thunderous; Vincent reflected that Luke had spoken more words, shown more feeling, than Vincent had seen from him in four years.

Madame Sarah remained seated on the floor. "Class dismissed." Her voice was still brisk. "See you Friday! Remember rehearsals!"

The semicircle broke; the students exited, one or two lingering for a moment of conversation with the teacher.

Within five minutes they were all gone, leaving Vincent still lurking in the shadows, and Madame Sarah seated in the lighted front of the chamber.

The absolutely average young woman looked over the room, then hugged her arms across her midriff. Her chin dropped down to her chest. Vincent watched uncomfortably as her tears fell in silence. She was as young now as the other children; a weeping child always hurt his heart. Nonetheless, this was not his secret. He had to speak to Christine.

After a few minutes, the girl sniffled and stood up slowly, stiff and cautious. Vincent's own misadventures let him recognize bruised or broken ribs. She leaned slowly down, turned off the Coleman lantern, and retrieved the knapsack with a groan. Vincent watched as the lively, wise teacher and magical actress exited, a wounded teenage girl.

 

Chapter III

Christine was waiting impatiently at the entrance to Vincent's chamber.

"Who is she, Christine? Where did she come from? How long has this been going on?" Vincent ushered her into his chamber, asking questions all the while.

"It's been about six months since the first time I saw her Below, Vincent," Christine began, wandering aimlessly around the chamber. "Jonathon, Patrick and I; we were exploring over that way. Suddenly we heard loud voices. A loud voice, I should say. We followed the sound to that chamber, the theatre; we peeked in, and there she was - Madame, with her electric lantern. Patrick and Jonathon wanted to go in, to see if she needed help - then I recognized what she was saying. She was doing Hamlet, Vincent; 'O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!'"

A chill crept up Vincent's spine; he wished he had been there, to see. Christine went on, "When she finished, we applauded; she bowed, turned, and exited. The boys checked it out; she went through a long, little tunnel that leads to the basement of an apartment building; it's about two blocks from Catherine's building."

"We went back a lot after that. She's the first person I ever met who reads Shakespeare better than you do, Vincent. Sometimes one or two of the other kids were along when we'd find her; I guess maybe 12 of us know about her."

"How did those classes start?"

"Well, one day she was playing the scene she did with Patrick today; Romeo and Juliet , you know, and listening to imaginary cues from Romeo. You've had us read that one often enough; Jonathon started to give her Romeo's lines. She just moved over, and beckoned him up. They finished the scene, she told him how to feel the scene more, how to show what he felt ... Pretty soon all of us were asking to read with her. She brought us some new plays, and poems - it just sort of - happened, Vincent. I mean, we started by reading scenes with her; then with each other; then meeting two, three times a week."

"Why was it such a secret, Christine?"

She shrugged. "I guess we all knew we shouldn't be there, with someone from Above; and 'Madame Sarah's very secretive herself."

"Her name is Sarah," Vincent mused. "I wonder -"

"Oh, no, Vincent; I don't know what her name really is. None of us do. When we were really starting to hold the class, the way you saw it today - she told us to call her Madame Sarah, because when we'd first met, she was doing Hamlet - like Sarah Bernhardt."

Vincent watched Christine fiddle with his stacks of book, deliberately avoiding his gaze. He rose, turned her to face him. He gazed into her eyes, which shifted away, ashamed, then returned to his face. "Why did you tell me about her, Christine?"

Christine's voice became earnest. "She needs help, Vincent. She'll never ask for it. But you saw her today; she was awkward, she barely moved."

"If that was awkward. . . " Vincent murmured.

Christine threw him a puzzled glance, then went on. "I know you saw when Luke bumped her, too - we all did. Three weeks ago she had a black eye. She'd powdered it down to try to hide it, but Vincent, her eye was swollen shut. Before that she limped for two weeks. Before that - Vincent, she needs help." Christine was pleading for her nameless teacher.

"Christine - she must ask for our help."

The girl's shoulders slumped. "She'll never ask, Vincent. I know. Besides, you didn't wait 'til I asked. You just helped me."

"Christine - you were still a child. And you did ask for help; you ran away, hid in one of the surface tunnels."

"Vincent; Madame Sarah is a hooker; like I used to be." Christine's voice lost some of its gentleness; as always when she talked about her former life, some of the brassy hardness returned. Christine had been a thirteen-year-old runaway-turned-prostitute when she had first come to them.

"Are you sure?" Vincent was shocked.

"I'm sure. She's been a "working girl" since before I came here. She's not really like I used to be; she's not a street girl, like I was; she costs plenty. Vincent, she's in Thomas Keithley's stable; very exclusive."

"Keithley?"

"Well - they say he can get you whatever you want, but his specialty is young 'virgins'." The quotation marks were clearly audible. "He works for Zachary Towers, Vincent."

The low, reverberating growl that echoed in the room came unconsciously from Vincent. Christine blinked, then continued, "You saw her as Juliet. Lots of men will pay through the nose for Juliet. Or Joan, the sainted virgin." Christine's voice was hard as the stone walls now.

The images Christine painted burned within Vincent's brain. Sensing she'd reached him, Christine pressed her advantage. Her voice became passionate and pleading.

"We have to help her, Vincent." She paced away, measuring the angles of the room with her steps. "I know what that life is like. On the good days, you feel like you're buried in cotton balls; nothing can touch you, not inside, where it counts. But the good days don't come often, Vincent. Usually your chest, your heart, is so tight with guilt and fear that you can't breathe; and you're always sure that all this is happening because you aren't good enough to deserve another life." She paused for breath, tears starting down her cheeks at the memories she had unearthed.

Vincent went to her, to comfort her, but she stepped away from him. "I'm safe, Vincent," she said. Her voice had returned to the Christine he knew. "I am happy, and I am loved." She stood straight and tall before him. "Please - can't we help her? You saw her as Juliet; if you ever could see Madame play Joan! So rough and graceless, but touched by fire and armored with innocence...." Her own eloquent words seemed to surprise even Christine.

"What would you have us do?"

"Something, Vincent." Christine was at a loss. "Can't you talk to her?"

"I don't think so." Once again Vincent marveled; Christine saw him through the eyes of love. She plainly did not remember that he was more likely to frighten a stranger than be trusted.

"Oh, yeah -" Christine dismissed his objection. "Don't worry about Madame. I'm sure -"

"I have to tell Father, Christine. Now."

"Can't you wait, Vincent? Do you have to do it now?"

"He needs to know. This has been going on too long already. You kept this a secret because you knew you should not be doing it, Christine."

"Yes, Vincent," she sighed; the exasperated sigh of the reprimanded teenager.

"Come with me."

"With you?"

"Don't you think you should tell Father yourself?"

"Oh, Viiiii ncent..." she moaned. "Do I have to?"

"Don't you think you should?" Vincent's voice was full of gentle encouragement.

Christine took a deep breath, then nodded firmly. "For Madame Sarah. I will. Let's go, Vincent."

 

Chapter IV

"You've been what ?" Father's voice was as stern as Vincent had ever heard it. Christine winced, but stood firm. "We've been meeting with someone from Above. For classes. About two, three times a week, plus rehearsal time."

Vincent could feel Father reining in his growing anger. "Vincent, did you know anything about this?"

"Not until today, Father. Christine brought me to one of the classes."

"You revealed yourself to someone from above, Vincent?"

"He stayed in the shadows in the back, Father." Christine's voice quivered, but she defended Vincent. "No one but me knew he was there."

"Why, Christine?"

She took another deep breath, to control the quiver in her voice that was rapidly spreading to her knees. Then she told Father the story, just as she had told Vincent. Father's expression remained highly skeptical. "For acting lessons you revealed yourselves?"

"Father - 'Madame Sarah' is magic." Vincent's soft voice cut through the tension.

"She needs someone to help her, Father; like you helped me." Christine's voice was pleading again; she forgot her own fear. "She has to get away from her life Above."

"Then why doesn't she? Everyone has choices to make, Christine; you made yours by running away, hiding where we found you. Even though you were still a child, you made the choice to help yourself." Father's voice remained as stern as before.

"She won't make that choice on her own, Father. Please; can't someone talk to her, tell her she has a choice? That there is somewhere for her to go?"

"No. We cannot risk everything, Christine, by revealing ourselves to someone who has taken no risk to find us. We cannot compromise what we have here; a safe place, Christine, for those who make the choice to live in it."

"Well - could Vincent or I talk to her, Father? I promise we won't talk about our world Below; only about choices. Someone did the same for me; that's why I ran away, all those years ago."

"Christine -" Father's voice verged on active anger, with a healthy dose of exasperation. "Can't you see she already knows of our world? Where do you imagine she thinks all of you come from - thin air?" Father was working on a full-length tirade.

Vincent put in quietly, "You should see this 'Madame Sarah', Father; barely more than a child, but with an incredible gift."

"Vincent -" Father turned his anger momentarily on his son, then abruptly shrugged his shoulders, stalked to the doorway, and dismissed them with, "Do what you will. I would advise Christine, and not you, Vincent, speak to her; but you will do as you wish no matter what I say. Just do me the favor of advising me of whatever you decide. "

"Thank you, Father!" Christine called after his retreating back. A snort was the only reply. She turned to Vincent. "I'll talk to her after Friday's class, Vincent."

"Very well. Come and tell me what happens."

Christine stood on tiptoe, planted a quick kiss on Vincent's furred cheek. "Thank you. Father never would have listened to me without you." With that, she bounced out of the chamber, buoyed by thoughts of how she could help her teacher.

 

Chapter V

"She wouldn't listen, Vincent; she didn't want to hear anything I had to say." It was a very downcast Christine who stood before Vincent on Friday, just before dinnertime; she had just returned from her "class".

"The class was great; just like always. Afterwards, I stayed 'til everyone was gone. I tried to talk to her; to let her know that everything wasn't always hopeless, that there were choices, even for people like her and me. But she wouldn't listen. As soon as I started talking about it, she just shook her head and laughed. Then she left. She even forgot her knapsack." Christine exhibited it to him. "I don't understand, Vincent. She refused to hear a word I said."

"As Father said, it must be her choice, Christine. Perhaps she isn't ready to take such a step."

"She's going to get hurt real bad - maybe killed - one of these days, Vincent; that's what happens to girls like her." Christine shuddered. "She's way too old now; the Juliet-and-Joan types don't last much over fifteen. It's only because she's so good that she's still working at all. I've seen this before, Vincent... she's not young enough. She's less valuable; she doesn't have to be protected so much anymore."

"Christine - you can't help someone who does not want to be helped." Even as he spoke the words, he couldn't fully believe them. They were Father's words; but he could not give them full credence.

"Vincent - could you talk to her? Maybe she'd listen to you."

"I'd be more likely to frighten her away from your classes forever, Christine."

"Not Madame Sarah; I'm sure, Vincent. Please - you care so much; you can help her, I know!"

As he had ruefully known he would, Vincent found himself agreeing. "I will try, Christine." As he tried to temper his words with cautions, she threw her arms around him, and gave him a hard hug.

"I knew you would, Vincent! I just knew it! She said today next class isn't 'til Wednesday; but she rehearses in the theatre chamber a lot. You can probably find her there."

"Christine; has 'Madame Sarah' ever spoken to you about anything but plays and scenes?"

Christine started a routine positive reply, then paused to think. "She's a great listener, Vincent; everybody thinks so. But I guess that's because she never talks about anything; only the scenes. She'll listen to anything you want to say; and she's always so interested . . . But she never talks about herself."

This bore out the portrait forming in his mind. "Madame Sarah" lived only in her scenes.

"Anyway - I know she'll listen to you, Vincent!"

"Christine -" Vincent tried again to inject a note of caution, of doubt; but the girl refused to listen. Her certainty replaced, she breezed away, calling over her shoulder, "Be sure to tell me as soon as you talk to her!"

Vincent shook his head and sighed. Such confidence in him was quite a compliment; but this was a job that might prove undoable.

 

Chapter VI

For the next three days, Vincent made it a point to frequent that unused tunnel, past the theatre chamber. For two days, the torches burned unattended, and the Coleman lantern was dark. The third day, from forty feet away her voice reached him.

"Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day:

It was the nightingale, and not the lark,

That pierc'd.....Damn!"

Vincent halted in shadows outside the doorway, looking in on the stage. "Madame Sarah", once again blue-jeaned and T-shirted (this one said "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank", Vincent noted wryly), knelt in the lighted area, her hand outstretched to an invisible Romeo. There was silence for a moment, then she began again,

"Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:

It was the nightingale, and not the lark,

That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;

Nightly she sings in yon pomegranate tree:

Believe me, love, it was the nightingale."

She paused, to hear the reply of her unseen lover. She gazed into his imaginary eyes; Vincent could almost see the apparition. Enough time passed; "Madame Sarah" gestured toward the window she saw clearly, and went on,

"Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I...."

She dropped her hand and cursed again. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, and stretched herself out on the floor. Vincent saw her body relax; then she curled against her invisible Romeo. Vincent watched, fascinated, as she awakened to the lark's song, then saw her lover awakened too. She made him see Romeo move to leave her; she took Romeo's unseen arm and began the speech. At "Believe me, love, it was the nightingale", Vincent heard his own voice replying,

"It was the lark; the herald of the morn,

No nightingale:"

"Madame" jerked in surprise, turning to stare at the entryway. Quickly she recovered and dropped back into character, stretching her hand toward him instead of her unseen acting partner.

After assuring his face remained well shadowed beneath his hood, Vincent accepted her invitation, and stepped onto her stage. He moved to the invisible "window", seeing Romeo's morning outside. He went on,

"... look, love, what envious streaks

Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:

Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

I must be gone and live, or stay and die."

He spoke, seeing himself with Catherine, on her balcony. So often he had been torn as Romeo was; knowing it was time to be gone, but almost willing to give his life to stay.

"Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I;

It is some meteor that the sun exhales,

To be to thee this night a torchbearer,

And light thee on the way to Mantua:

Therefore stay yet, thou need'st not be gone."

She was the embodiment of Juliet; desiring desperately that he remain, pleading for it; but knowing he must go even as she spoke the words. He understood what Christine meant now; he could feel himself swept away by the conviction, the passion, that radiated from her. At this moment he was teenaged Romeo, under sentence of death, awakening for the first time with his beloved. Still facing away from her, Vincent's Romeo turned her words back on her, joined her foolish game of denial. Juliet, seeing the game had to be over, ran to him and sent him away with a gentle shove; "O, now be gone; more light and light it grows."

"More light and light, - more dark and dark our woes!" replied Vincent.

She held her pose for several long seconds, then stepped back from him. Juliet was gone; "Madame Sarah" the teacher remained, surveying him with bird-quick motions of her eyes.

Vincent kept his face well hidden. She took in his great shoulders, his stance; then, after trying and failing to pierce the hood's shadows, she said, "And you must be the fabled Vincent. I knew sooner or later you would find us out." Another moment of study, and she added, "Christine had you to the life."

Vincent pretended puzzlement rather than attempt to explain he had witnessed that scene. She laughed, and related briefly the incident in class. "And that wasn't the first time. Your name hovers on the edge of nearly every conversation I have with my students. They know they are not to say it, I can tell; but I hear it behind my back, and see it in the work they do."

"You have my name; but neither I nor your students have yours." Vincent's slightly harsh voice was gentle. The awe of her performance still resonated through him, but over her facade of competent bravado was a different image: a crying teenager, hugging herself, then hobbling off.

"Some people believe that names give you power over their owners," she replied. "But I doubt if you need any power over me." She curtsied regally to the floor. "Miranda Stewart, at your service."

"Well, Miranda Stewart, that was a rare privilege."

"It certainly was. Thank you, Vincent." She stuck out her hand for Vincent to shake. He engulfed that hand in his great gloved one, and held it as he studied her face.

"Miranda Stewart, in life there are always choices to be made." Vincent spoke almost without thinking, the words that Christine had wanted him to use.

"Life is made of uncontrollable patterns, Vincent. There are no choices." Her tone and inflection mocked his; for an instant he saw the bitter stone facade of the hopeless child. With a jerk, she pulled back the hand he still held; she turned and headed for her own exit. Stopping only to darken the Coleman lantern, she strode away, then halted, and turned back to face him. The flickering torchlight glinted off the tears that stood in her eyes, overflowed down her cheeks; but her voice was once more "Madame Sarah"s. "You're welcome to come to my classes, Vincent - but I don't think you really need them." Then she turned her back to disappear into the darkness.

"Wait!" Vincent's voice was sharp. Miranda halted in mid-pace for an instant, then resumed her path. Vincent pursued her, his great strides making short work of the distance between them.

"Why don't you want to hear my words, Miranda Stewart?" His half-whisper was gentle, right behind her. "Is it because you know they are true - that the choices are yours?"

He saw her stiffen, but this time she didn't even break stride. As he watched her back retreat, he called after her, "Christine and I will not give up, Miranda; not until you hear us out."

She vanished from his sight; but he could almost feel the hesitancy within her.

The next class was Wednesday; Miranda Stewart had invited him to attend. He would be there - but first he would speak with Catherine.

 

Chapter VII

"Yes, Joe - tomorrow morning. 10:15. I'll be there." Cathy Chandler leaned back on her couch, phone in hand. The stars outside testified to the lateness of the hour; Mondays were always hectic. A weekend's worth of crimes and misdemeanors waited, some or all of which required attention from the District Attorney's office.

"Joe - any word on the request for continuance on the Francisco case?" She frowned as her boss' words poured into her ear. "But - but - Joe, what about - JOE!" The voice in her ear finally ceased; "Joe, we can't possibly have all the depositions ready by Thursday."

She lay her head down and closed her eyes, still holding the phone to her ear. With her free hand she massaged her forehead, trying to loose the tension building toward a headache.

Finally Joe hung up; Cathy sighed and dropped the phone into its cradle. She remained on the couch, too worn to drag herself up and get to bed.

She was trying to convince herself that it would be a mortal sin to sleep on the couch fully clothed when a soft noise outside her French doors revitalized her. She sat up, looked hopefully toward the balcony. "Vincent?"

His great form was a shadow against the starry sky. From unable to move, suddenly Catherine felt light and happy. She sprang off the couch, and just restrained herself from running to him at top speed. She knew that he felt her eagerness, her joy in his presence, and that increased her own pleasure.

He stood looking out over the night brightness of the city, his heavy black cloak swirling in the breeze as though it had a life of its own. She stood beside him, just letting his presence wash over her. He would speak when he was ready.

Vincent was remembering the scene he had played that afternoon. Yes, he understood why Romeo did not want to leave, even if it cost his life. He stood by Catherine, her presence filling him with joy. He felt that if the rest of his life could be spent just as it was now, he would have no regrets. But he had come, as was so often the case, to again beg Catherine's aid.

Reluctant to break the spell, Vincent allowed five minutes to pass in blissful silence. But finally, like Romeo, he knew the hour to be late and the morning advancing.

"Once more I have come to you for help, Catherine." He spoke without facing her, still side-by-side at the balcony rail. "I need information about a man named Thomas Keithley. He is a man who uses children for evil ends."

"I'll see what I can do." She sighed. "These men are usually squeaky clean; at least as far as provable offenses go." She looked at him, his golden mane blowing back, his eyes seeing things invisible and far away. "Did something happen today, Vincent?"

"Yes, Catherine. I met a child with an extraordinary gift." He paused, seeing her in his mind's eye. "I said a child, Catherine - that is true, and not. I would guess she is eighteen." He paused again, glanced out over the brightness of the city below. Looking back, he seemed to see her for the first time. "I am sorry, Catherine; the hour is late, and the story long. I should leave you to your slumber."

"No, Vincent - don't go!" She could never convince him that his presence was more vital to her than sleep or any other mere biological necessity. "Why don't we sit down and you can tell me?"

He allowed himself to be persuaded, and soon they sat side by side at the glass-toppped table. "Go on, Vincent," Catherine urged, her eyes drinking in his face and form.

Vincent did not need to look at Catherine; he was always aware of her, within his heart and mind. He looked instead up at the sky, as starry as a bright city night could ever be. "It started months ago, Catherine; a little after we - met."

He told her of his first suspicions, his secret observation, and finally the extraordinary scene he had played that afternoon. "I thought I understood, felt what Shakespeare was saying. She showed me things I did not suspect were there."

"Incredible. Where does Keithley come into this, Vincent?"

"Christine told me, Catherine, that she recognizes 'Madame Sarah' as a prostitute. An expensive one, in the employ of this man."

Catherine tried to find words to express her horror, but failed. Vincent felt the emotion from her, gently laid one gloved hand over her small one. "She hides in this gift, Catherine. It is both her strength and her curse."

He looked into her eyes, drowning silently in their depths for long moments. Then he roused himself, and stood. "I must go now, Catherine. The hour is late; and Father will need to know what happened today."

Catherine went to him, and leaned into the great curve of his shoulder, feeling the strength of his body against her. He wrapped his arms gently about her, and held her for what seemed to Catherine but an instant; then he put her gently away from him, and vanished over the balcony rail.

 

Chapter VIII

"Half an hour early should be plenty," Christine agreed, on her way to the Wednesday afternoon class with Vincent. Father wanted the students in his chamber following this class. Vincent hadn't told Christine yet; the pleasure of the class should not be spoiled by the anticipation of what was to follow.

Christine babbled on. "Sometimes she comes early and works by herself. That's always great. She's really exciting to watch!" Christine's enthusiasm was two parts truth, and one part nerves. She hadn't told the others Vincent knew their secret. And Vincent had explained that Madame hadn't really seen him. For now, he was still cloaked and hooded. Madame's real name remained his secret, even from Catherine; Miranda would tell the others when she wanted it known.

Once again, her voice reached them before they arrived at the chamber. Vincent frowned; this time it was a light and wondering voice, a child - but he did not know the work. He motioned Christine to stop out of view of the door; he wanted to listen unnoticed.

" 'He told me to look at my hand,'" she was saying, all the wonder and awe that existed present in her voice. " 'For a part of it came from a star that exploded too long ago to imagine. This part of me was formed from a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun. And this part of me - this tiny part of me - was on the sun when it itself exploded and whirled in a great storm until..'"

The lines stopped. There was a sound of frustration, then a deep breath. The same speech started again. This time she stopped after two sentences. Vincent heard pacing footsteps, muttered curses, and another deep breath. The speech started again. This time it took only one sentence before Miranda yelled, "Damn!" There was a very long moment of silence, then suddenly a completely different voice issued from the room.

It was masculine in tone and timbre; Vincent was momentarily confused. But Christine had an expression of delight on her face; she whispered, "Madame doesn't do this one much!"

The words uttered by the voice suddenly registered. Hamlet passionately raged at his own inability to accuse his mother and uncle of their crime.

" 'O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!

Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own conceit,

That from her working all his visage wan'd;

Tears in his eyes, distraction in 's aspect,

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!"

Miranda's voice echoed off the walls; the sound of her step was a solid slap as she strode the floor. Unable to resist, Vincent edged forward to peer in the door.

The "average" girl now looked like an average young prince; or mostly so. There were details that could be disguised better than by her ever-present turtleneck and T-shirt (this one bearing the legend "Reality is just a crutch for those who can't handle science fiction") and jeans; but the stride, the posture, the movements were all male. And raging male; Hamlet paced and gestured, the passion and fury his speech denied filling the air. Vincent felt he could touch the anger. Hamlet's litany rang throughout the chamber and corridor.

"'-bloody bawdy villain!

Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!

O vengeance!

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,

That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,

Must, like a--'"

The ringing voice broke off abruptly. Vincent, lost in Hamlet's fury, was dazed at the sudden cessation of sound. Before him, Miranda stood frozen - fists clenched, strong stance reflecting masculine tension and anger.

Vincent's memory placed before him the completed line upon which she had stopped: "Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words". In front of him, Hamlet crumpled into the Miranda he had watched before from the shadows; sinking to the floor, her arms crossed across her chest, her tears flowed silently but heavily.

Christine, who had been standing on tiptoe to peek around Vincent into the theatre chamber, started to rush to her; but Vincent checked the motion, then lead her silently away from the entrance. When they were out of earshot, he murmured, "You must let her keep her dignity, Christine; she would never have acted so if she'd known she were observed."

From far down the corridor came the noisy sounds of more of her class arriving. Beverly, Patrick and Kate were laughing and teasing; but they fell silent at the sight of Vincent.

Vincent let the long, embarrassed pause go on for nearly a minute; when the four teenagers began to visibly squirm, he relented. "Christine gave me your secret last week."

"Vincent," Beverly began, but he hushed her with a stern motion.

"We're sorry, Vincent." It was Kate this time, who went on talking despite him. "We all sort of knew it was wrong; but -"

"What was wrong was the secret, Kate. We will discuss this later. In the meantime; be aware that Father knows as well." Varying degrees of apprehension appeared on the teenagers' faces. "Now - isn't it time for class to begin?"

They all gaped; as did Luke and Jonathon, who had come in time to overhear Vincent's remark.

"Yes, it is, my players," came the familiar brisk voice from theatre chamber. "Madame Sarah" stood there; there were no signs of the storm that Christine and Vincent had witnessed. She bowed them into the chamber, waited until they were seated. "Short class today," she announced. The groans paid tribute to the students' feelings. "Sorry; I have places to be." A shadow flitted across her face, then was rapidly schooled away. Vincent wasn't sure if anyone else had seen it. She turned to him, seated on the floor with the others, enveloped in his concealing hood. "I'm warning you; there are no mere spectators in this class. You'll have to participate."

"Yes, Madame." A titter flew about the semicircle, now up to 11 with the arrival of another Patrick and Denise and Samantha.

With a sidelong glance at Vincent, the teacher continued, "Although you may still call me 'Madame Sarah', I suppose I should tell you that my name is Miranda." Dismissing the break of character with a shake of her head, she returned to being "Madame". "Who's first?"

Vincent stood. She glared up at him, as he said mildly, "I think I'm ready for the scene we rehearsed."

He could almost hear mouths drop open. Although he'd told Christine that he and Miranda had spoken, he had not described the encounter to anyone but Catherine.

Miranda was trapped by her own words. With a brusque nod, she moved to center stage. "Romeo and Juliet , Act III, Scene V." She lay gingerly on the stone floor, then pointed to Vincent. "You - down. We start at the beginning here."

Vincent pulled his hood further forward, to cover and shadow his face as much as possible. Then he obeyed Miranda, stretching his great length alongside her. She molded herself to his side, just as she had curled to her ghostly Romeo two days ago.

The scene played through; once again he found himself rising to her passion and challenge. He was no more aware of this afternoon's audience than he had been of one during their rehearsal. Indeed, the round of applause as he exited through the unseen window startled him. The watching children all rose to their feet, applauding and cheering.

After a moment, Juliet gave way to Madame Sarah, who clapped once, a resounding clap that echoed throughout the chamber. "Time is short, people! Next!" But Vincent saw her high color, and felt the pleasure the performance and applause had brought her.

Denise and Jonathon stood; after one run-through as Antigone and Creon, Vincent watched as Miranda lead them to insights and redefinitions of their roles. She called for the scene again, then looked at her watch. "I'm afraid that's all I have time for today. Next class Friday, usual time. Okay?"

There was a general movement of nodding heads and murmured assents. She glanced at her watch again, and shook her head. Then she turned her attention to Vincent.

"You need something else to work on. I've heard you like Shakespeare, and your Romeo certainly needs no work. How about a little casting against type? Mercutio - Act II, Scene IV. Luke, you take Benvolio; Patrick, you can work on your Romeo."

"Yes, Madame," Vincent replied, and this time there was no laughter.

"All right, everyone - remember to arrange your rehearsals, and see you on Friday!" She turned and vanished through her own exit.

Vincent waited until she was clearly beyond earshot. No one had left yet; rehearsal dates - and other dates - were being planned. Vincent raised his voice slightly. "Father would like to see all of you."

Silence descended; as much as they loved Father, his discipline was not to be taken lightly. "Now. In his chamber."

"Yes, Vincent." It was Patrick, his tone flat and hard, a harsh imitation of their greeting to Miranda.

The teenagers trailed behind Vincent as he lead the way back to the heart of their world.

 

Chapter IX

From behind his desk, Father's frosty gaze pinned each teenager in turn. "Jonathon, Beverly. Kate, Patrick, Patrick, Luke." Father acknowledged each one. "Samantha, Denise. Christine."

Uneasy nods and averted eyes were his only answers. "You have broken our rules," he began. A small shudder passed through the room; the last time they heard that formula, Mouse faced a month's silence.

"I have not convened a full council. I do not think one is necessary." He looked over the assembled children. "Does any one of you disagree?"

Small and large head shakes and murmured negatives answered him. "Nonetheless, I think you will agree this is a serious offense. All of you are guilty of revealing our world; to someone who has not sought refuge here, someone we do not know we can trust."

Five or six hot protests burst forth; Father stared them into silence. "Very admirable loyalty to your teacher; but there is no way you could have known for sure."

Vincent stood silent behind the ranks of teenagers. Father let the silence prevail for a moment, then stood. "Do any of you contest the charge?"

For a moment, Vincent thought Patrick was going to explode into speech, but a glare from Christine, and he subsided. Nine teenagers stood before Father, all silent, downcast, and apprehensive. Father let them stew for another moment, then looked at Vincent.

"I am afraid that there must be some punishment. Perhaps that will teach you to think more thoroughly next time." He paused again, eyeing each child in turn. "For one month -" even breathing stopped within the chamber - "For one month - you will not - attend these classes with your 'Madame Sarah'. At the end of that time, you may resume. Even Vincent seems to feel that she can be trusted."

The great collective sigh of relief gave way to noisy cheers. Christine, Luke, Jonathon, Beverly and Kate rushed to Father's desk, all trying to thank him.

Father seated himself again, waved them away in irritation. "Vincent, it will be your duty to convey this sentence to the teacher. Explain the reasons to her, tell her when the classes may resume."

"Yes, Father." Vincent's eyes shone with pride and love for Father's merciful justice. "I will find her."

 

Chapter X

Following dinner, Vincent decided to pass the theatre chamber. She seemed to spend much time there; and even if he didn't see her, perhaps the sight of it would help him puzzle out Miranda. Who was she beneath all her characters? Was there really anyone there, or only an endless string of other people's words, other people's emotions?

There was no spill of light through the entryway; one torch guttered dimly within the vast cavern. He stood outside, looking in at the darkness, and tried to remember every nuance, every word he had seen or heard from Miranda Stewart.

Everything she spoke, every move she made always carried the force of truth - but always the truth as written by, spoken by, someone other than Miranda. Her reply, when he'd spoken about choices; even that sounded quoted.

He was pulled from his reverie by a soft sound within the chamber. "Miranda?" he murmured, straining to hear.

Stepping into the chamber, he listened again. Faint and far away he heard it; no intelligible words, just an ongoing stream of soft sounds.

He followed the sounds across the dimly lit "stage" and to the other side. There stood the tunnel that Miranda used to enter. The voice was a little louder here, but not yet comprehensible. It was definitely coming from further down that tunnel.

Vincent moved silently toward the sound, all senses alert to the possibility of danger or discovery. The blackness within the first leg of the tunnel was absolute; Vincent trailed a hand on the wall to guide himself. Then the tunnel rounded a sharp bend, and bright light shocked his eyes, made him blink.

In a moment the red and black afterimages faded. About fifty yards down the stone corridor was the source of the light; a hand-held portable lantern, lying angled on the stone floor so that it pointed directly into his eyes. From the darkness behind the light came the voice he had heard. Even this close, he could not make out words. There were jerky pauses within the sound now, as though whoever spoke kept running out of breath. As he'd known, the voice was Miranda's; but its richness had been stripped away. There was no depth left, no beauty; but the sound still held his attention, even before he understood the words.

It was only two seconds' work to reach her side. She lay on the cold earth, unmoving; but as he reached her, the words became clear.

" 'Light your fire: do you think that I dread it as much as the life of a rat in a hole? My voices were right!'"

"St. Joan," Vincent muttered, as he turned the light onto her. Miranda was curled on her side, as if ready to enact Juliet's lark and nightingale scene; but both of her eyes were swollen nearly shut and darkening with bruises. She cradled her right wrist in her left hand, and her breath came shallow and jerky with pain.

Vincent knelt down beside her. "Miranda!"

For reply, she continued with Joan's speech. " 'You think that life is not being stone dead. It is not the bread and water I fear: I can live on bread: when have I asked for more?'"

His voice sharper, Vincent repeated her name. This time she heard him; Joan's speech ceased. Only the sound of her ragged breathing filled the tunnel.

As gently as he could, Vincent examined her, to see if he could safely take her to Father for aid. He stripped off his gloves, then eased the shirt up her back with the gentleness of a butterfly's wing. Her breath caught at that.

He turned the lantern onto her, and then had to look away. He steeled himself, looked back at the mass of raw flesh and bruises, then slid the pads of his fingers along her spine, as Father had taught him. About halfway through his gentle exam, there was another sharply indrawn breath. Beneath his fingers, all tension drained away as Miranda fainted.

He moved more quickly now, ascertaining that she could be moved. Then he wrapped his cloak about her cold body, lifted her into his arms and moved swiftly through the theatre back toward his world. A brief pause to tap a message on one of the omnipresent pipes, then he headed swiftly for the hospital chamber.

 

Chapter XI

Father was waiting when he strode in. Miranda had regained some degree of consciousness; but once again, she spoke only in other people's words. This time it was Juliet; a faint echo of the Juliet she had been earlier with Vincent.

" 'Farewell! - God knows when we shall meet again.

I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins,

That almost freezes up the heat of life....'"

The sinking, unsupported voice fell into the silence of the chamber. Vincent laid Miranda on the waiting bed, aware of Father's silent disapproval filling the room.

"This is becoming a habit, Vincent," were the only words he spoke, but Vincent could read every negative nuance of his behavior. "I take it this is the children's "Madame Sarah." Now - what happened here?"

As Vincent explained briefly how he'd found her, Father motioned for help to remove her shirt. He gave a brief involuntary chuckle at the message emblazoned upon it, then fell silent at the bruised flesh beneath. Filling the background, only a little louder than the messages running over the pipes, Miranda continued to recite Shakespeare.

" 'Shall I not then be stifled in the vault,

To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,

And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes? -'"

"Apt words for one from Above," Father murmured as he half-listened to the familiar speech. With sure, gentle fingers he probed her ribs; for the second time, Miranda fainted.

The disapproval faded from Father's face as he worked; anger grew in its place. As he cleaned, bandaged, bound, using Vincent as an assistant, he shook his head and began to mutter about the evils of the world Above.

This time consciousness did not return to Miranda quickly; Father gently pried the fingers of her left hand from the right wrist they still gripped. The grate of bone on bone brought a look of disquiet to his face; he shook his head while requesting the proper supplies of Vincent.

He probed once more with sure fingers, manipulating and aligning. With a sigh he placed a wooden splint over his handiwork, then said, "That wrist may not heal properly, Vincent. Some degree of stiffness may remain permanently." He stepped away from the bed, motioned Vincent to cover her with a blanket. Miranda still did not stir; Father lead Vincent out of the chamber to the corridor.

"What are you going to do now, Vincent?"

"How is she?"

"She will recover. That wrist may be impaired; she is suffering somewhat from exposure. Whoever did this was quite careful; no internal injuries, nothing life-threatening; just superficial damage." Despite a deceptively mild tone of voice, Father's eyes were gleaming with anger. He took a deep breath and released it, easing some of the tension that gripped him. "I must send for Mary," he murmured, stepping to the pipes.

"And Christine," Vincent added.

Father nodded. "A good idea, Vincent; someone familiar to her. By the way, Vincent, Catherine sent you a message earlier; she said she needed to see you tonight."

"I must go to her, Father."

"Do whatever you feel is right, Vincent; we shall discuss this situation later."

Chapter XII

Despite her heavy sweater, Catherine shivered as the November breeze blew across her balcony. The heavy file folder lying on the balcony table chilled her as well, as it would chill Vincent. He would be here soon; she'd sent for him.

She sat at her table, trying not to think about the contents of the neat brown folder lying in front of her. The existence of a market for teenage girls sickened her; the knowledge that there was not a way to stop it enraged her. Perhaps there might be a way to find a witness through Vincent; it had happened before. Anything to slow down this terrible trade -!

She closed her eyes and leaned back to await Vincent's arrival.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The breeze's cold caress through her sweater woke her; she sat up with a jerk and scanned the balcony. Still no sign of Vincent; a glance at her watch reported the hour to be midnight.

Catherine stood and stretched. She contemplated retiring to bed, weighed it against waiting up for Vincent. No contest; she strolled to the railing and glanced idly at the street below.

Only a moment had passed before she half-heard the familiar soft boot-falls; then Vincent was beside her.

He, too, looked out over the lights below; they shared their silence until Catherine said, "I have the information you asked for; about Thomas Keithley."

Vincent straightened; Catherine saw his fists clench, his whole body stiffen. "What is it, Vincent? Is something wrong?"

Vincent relaxed on an exhaled breath. "I will tell you later, Catherine. First tell me what you have found."

Catherine was uneasy at Vincent's mood. He seemed on the edge of violence; she almost expected his feline snarl of rage to erupt. But, she reminded herself as she fetched the brown folder, that was just how she'd been feeling a few short hours ago.

"Here's what Edie was able to find; and I did a little digging on my lunch hour." She was pulling papers from the folder as she spoke. "Everyone knows what he does - and no one can prove it. Not one shred of evidence. He's only been arrested once; nearly 20 years ago. On a charge of beating his pregnant girlfriend."

She showed Vincent a mug shot, face and profile, of a man nearing thirty, with lightish hair. "This is Keithley, then; his girlfriend wouldn't press charges, so the case was dropped."

She produced a sheet of evidence photos of the same vintage, of a woman who might be barely 20, obviously pregnant, with two black eyes, and numerous other meticulously documented bruises and bumps.

"Keithley is known for procuring young, frightened virgins and simulated virgins for high prices."

Catherine was about to continue when she caught sight of Vincent's expression. He held the photo sheet of Keithley's ex-girlfriend, staring at it as if it might turn into an animal and bite him. When he remained silent, she went on, "Just for background - the girlfriend went back home to Illinois. She had the baby and sued for child support. She won. Keithley paid regularly for 14 years. Then something happened; he returned from a trip and brought his daughter back with him. That was about four and a half years ago. Apparently he maintains an apartment for her -" she consulted one of her sheets - "about 2 blocks from here..."

"Catherine -" Vincent's always raspy voice was so rough Catherine could barely understand him. "Does this child have a name, Catherine?"

Flipping quickly through the assembled pages, Catherine found the answer. "Let's see - her name is Miranda - Juliet - Stewart (that's the mother's name) - Keithley."

The growl that echoed through the night didn't startle her; she'd almost been expecting it. "What is it, Vincent?" She went to him, took his clenched fists into her hands.

"I went to seek the children's 'Madame Sarah' tonight, Catherine. When I found her, she looked very much like this." He held up the photo sheet he had been staring at so intently.

"Vincent - how awful!" The words were inadequate, but Vincent felt the depths of Catherine's distress, and drew her close. "Catherine - there is more to this, and it is more evil than I can comprehend. I also learned "Madame Sarah's" name, Catherine; she told me it was Miranda Stewart."

"Miranda -" it took a moment for the import of that name to penetrate. "My God, Vincent; you can't mean - his own daughter?? Surely no one -"

"She bears an uncanny resemblance to him." Vincent held the picture of Keithley aloft gingerly, between his fingers, as though the photo could stain him with the evil of its subject.

"Such a wonderful gift; his own blood. And all he can do is drown it in mud." Vincent threw the photo from him, toward the table. It slid off, to land next to a potted plant.

"Where is she now, Vincent?"

"She is safe, below. Father has tended her injuries and says she will recover."

"Do you think I could talk to her, Vincent? If she's willing to testify -"

"I will speak to her when she awakens, Catherine."

Cathy sighed within the shelter of Vincent's arms. "I don't know if her unsupported word will be enough, Vincent; between her known career, and now this relationship; it would be an easy defense to say she's out to get him for reasons of her own." Her mind was searching for a sure way to dispose of Keithley, but kept coming up empty. "I'd hate to let him get away, Vincent; but even if we can get him bound over for trial, it'll be a rough time for her."

"Catherine - you must speak to her. But her strength is not the same as yours; I do not know how well she will hold up under what you call a 'rough time'."

He fell silent, contemplating the past week and pondering what Miranda's future might bring. As always, holding Catherine brought a profound peace and joy; but even that could not cancel the sights he had seen and the truths he had learned this evening.

Gently he put Catherine from him. She swayed back toward him, but he shook his head. "The hour is late, Catherine. Father told me he was going to summon Mary, and perhaps Christine to watch over her; but I saw his eyes. He will be with her when I return." He took a step away, then paused. "When she is able to see you, I'll send one of the children."

"Goodbye, Vincent," Catherine whispered, but he was gone before she finished speaking. She gathered the scattered papers, stuffing them back into the folder. Like Vincent, her skin crawled as she retrieved the photo of Keithley from where it had been flung. For a moment she held the two photo sheets side-by-side; she shook her head, then crammed them into the folder with the rest.

 

Chapter XIII

" 'Tragedy is clean, it is restful, it is flawless. It has nothing to do with melodrama - with wicked villains, persecuted maidens, avengers, sudden revelations and eleventh hour repentances.'"

Vincent entered the hospital chamber to the ongoing sound of Miranda's voice. As he had predicted, Father was seated next to her bed, shaking his head and watching her. He looked up at the rustle of Vincent's cloak, and beckoned his son to his side.

"I've been expecting you, Vincent. I knew you would not retire without another visit." He motioned toward Miranda, whose voice still ran under their conversation. "Fascinating. She's been drifting in and out of consciousness, Vincent; and all through classical - and, I assume, modern - drama." Before Vincent could speak he went on, "It seemed a shame to awaken Mary and Christine at this hour; and since I was already awake..."

Vincent gazed at Miranda as her voice faded to silence. Father had a cold compress lying across her eyes and the rest of her was still covered by the blanket; no signs of the brutal damage were visible. Once again she looked so young; as young as her middle name.

"You've only called her 'Madame Sarah', Vincent, and yet you've said that is not her name. Do you know what her name is?"

"Yes, Father," Vincent replied, feeling the shock of earlier this evening. "Her name is Miranda Juliet Stewart -- Keithley."

"Keithley? Vincent - didn't you tell me -?"

"Yes, Father. He is the man who put her on the streets some four years ago. He is also her father."

Father, who always expected the worst from those Above, was nonetheless speechless with outrage and fury. He stood and refreshed the cold compress over Miranda's eyes, his movements jerky with repressed anger. She stirred a trifle at the shock of cold, then her voice picked up again.

" 'Where is the beautous majesty of Denmark?'" She paused; as before, she listened to an unseen partner, then resumed, singing in a wavering voice,

" 'How should I your true love know
From another one?

By his cockle hat and staff
And his sandal shoon.'"

"Ophelia," Father said.

Vincent nodded. "The mad scene."

"That makes five plays, Vincent; three I recognized; and two I must admit are new to me."

As they spoke, Miranda's voice continued. Over this refrain, Vincent quickly told Father Miranda's history, as he and Catherine had pieced it together. As he finished, Vincent looked back to the still figure under discussion. Her lips were the only part of her moving; the resonance was gone; but Ophelia's pain, sorrow and confusion were alive in the chamber, permeating the words, drawing responses from both of their hearts.

"Listen to her, Father; hear, now, how Ophelia lives and breathes. Even now. And this gift is all she is. Even unconscious, she does not dare be Miranda."

" 'They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.'"

"If she knows who Miranda is," Father muttered in reply. The soft voice faded again, leaving them to empty silence.

The silence was broken when Father yawned. Vincent moved toward the chair Father had been occupying when he entered. "The hour is late, Father. I'll stay with her -"

"No, Vincent; I'm not too old for early morning vigils yet. I'll summon Mary and Christine in the morning."

"If you're certain, Father...."

"Good night, Vincent. Sleep well."

Vincent hugged Father, then stepped to the door. "She's fascinated you, too, Father and you've not really met her yet. I will predict that once her students know she is here, there will be no shortage of hands to help and eyes to watch over her. More likely an excess. Good night, Father."

"No doubt you're correct. Good night, Vincent." Father reclaimed his seat as Vincent exited the chamber.

 

Chapter XIV

The first thing she felt was the coolness against the throbbing ache of her eyes. She struggled to open them; blackness was the only result. She started her hand toward the coolness, stopping as pain flashed through her side. Years of training kept most of the moan trapped within her throat; but a little of it leaked out.

She heard footsteps; a gentle hand brushed the damp hair back from her forehead, and a gruff British voice ordered her to keep still. Her pulse was taken as she tried to clear her head and remember where she was, who she was supposed to be. It was no use; every breath hurt, scattering each gathering thought before she could grasp it.

"Where am I?" She hated the sound of her voice; too weak, unsure. And how cliched! Surely she could have thought of something better than that to say!

The gruff voice replied, "You are safe. Vincent found you and brought you here."

Vincent; her hooded acting partner. So she was wherever her kids came from. She tried to figure out what that meant, but her thoughts spun in all directions, refusing to focus.

"It hurts." She was almost unaware of having spoken; a small part of her listened, and filed away the sound of a dazed child in pain.

"Where?" The gruff voice had that indefinable professional sound that marked the physician.

"Everywhere."

The footsteps receded, then returned. One arm was swabbed with something wet and cold; then came the pinprick pain of an injection.

"I'm giving you morphine," the voice reassured her. "Just lie still and let it work."

The coolness left her eyes for a moment; this time flickering light came through her sealed eyelids, but nothing more. Then the cloth, fresh and wet, was returned to sooth her.

Damp air against her bared arm and shoulder sent shivers through her, each one leaving a trail of burning pain. This time she completely stifled the involuntary sound that tried to erupt; but the watcher could not be fooled. Before a second bout of shivering could begin, another heavy warm blanket settled around her.

"Thank you." The rising ringing inside her ears almost masked the sound of her own voice; but she could hear enough to despise the shuddering weakness, the fading whisper that mocked her.

"You're welcome." She heard a creak near her ear; the sound of a chair being occupied. Strong sure fingers, clad in half-gloves, took her left hand and held it. "You are in a place of safety, Miranda; no one can harm you here."

She wanted to laugh at that; she knew there was no such thing as safety. That voice was so tempting, though; she wanted to believe, to put all her trust in him and accept his decree.

Roaring sounds louder than the sea filled her head; she felt rising heat inside her ears. She clutched her awareness to her, struggling to ask another question; but no sound escaped. The last thing that penetrated before the roaring and heat bore her away was the gentle hand stroking the untidy hair from her forehead again.

 

Chapter XV

"It is eery, Vincent." Father spoke outside the hospital chamber. Through the arched doorway, Vincent could see Christine reading near Miranda's bedside. The ten teens had shared a round-the-clock watch since the news of their teacher's arrival had reached them.

"What is, Father?"

"So many voices she speaks with; each individual unto itself, a complete person within the words. Somewhere beneath all those speeches, there must be a very special person."

"I believe so, Father. So do all of her students."

As he spoke, lanky, dark-haired Jonathon came into view down the corridor. He nodded to Father and Vincent as he passed, then entered the chamber to take the watch from Christine.

On her way to her own bed, Christine stopped before Father. "Father - is she going to be all right? You can tell me; I mean, it's been two days, Father, and ..."

"There is no reason she shouldn't recover completely, Christine."

From within the chamber came the sound of Miranda's voice once again. Harsher and hoarser, still it painted pictures with words; still someone else's pictures.

Christine did not sound convinced. "But - you're sure she's going to be okay, Father?"

"Christine - nothing in life is sure. But there is no reason she shouldn't recover. She was conscious for a few moments last night. Between the morphine, the exposure, and her injuries, I am not surprised she's wandering a bit."

Reassured, Christine took her leave and disappeared to her own chamber. Soft-footed and unnoticed, Patrick had arrived. He stood uncomfortably next to Father and Vincent for a moment, then took a deep breath.

"Father . . ."

"Yes, Patrick?"

Patrick fidgeted and kept his gaze fixed on the stone floor.

"Father. . ." He paused again, struggled to find the right words. They escaped in a rush. "What's going to happen to Madame, Father? When she's better? You can't put her back up there -"

"Patrick -" Both Father and Vincent spoke at once. Then they both fell silent, each deferring to the other. Finally Father replied, "That depends on what your 'Madame Sarah' wants, Patrick. I'm afraid I shall have to wait for her decision."

"If she wants to stay, Father -"

"I said we shall have to wait, Patrick. I'm afraid you must be content with that for now."

Patrick was clearly not satisfied nor pleased with Father's answer, but Father was just as clearly finished. With his hands thrust defiantly into his pockets, Patrick deliberately turned his back to them and swaggered into the hospital chamber. He began a low-toned conversation with Jonathon that not even Vincent could overhear.

Father and son stood in silence, then Vincent's soft voice repeated Patrick's question. "What shall become of Miranda, Father?"

"Just as I told Patrick, that will be for Miranda to decide." The heat of sudden anger flared within his voice. "My God, Vincent - do you think I want to return her to the life you tell me she led - the life that led to that?" He waved a hand toward the chamber where Miranda lay. "But our whole way of life is based on personal choice, Vincent. I cannot tell you what she will choose when she awakens."

Inside the chamber, Jonathon removed the wet compress that still lay across her eyes. Father watched as he wrung it in a bowl of water.

"I wonder what will come forth this time."

Vincent looked puzzled. Jonathon replaced the freshly cooled cloth, and Miranda's voice resumed, so harsh it was painful to hear.

"'I found an old baby picture of me. And it was someone else, not me. That's who I started out, and this is who's left. That's what this is about. It's somebody I lost all, right, it's my own self. Who I never was. Or who I tried to be and never got there. Somebody I waited for who never came. And never will. So, see, it doesn't much matter what else happens in the world or in this house, even...'" Slowly her voice trailed off in its now-familiar manner.

"How bleak." Father shook his head. "She has a great repertoire of painful and tragic scenes - even for a teenager." He stifled a yawn.

"Why don't you go to bed, Father?"

"In a little while, Vincent. Mary should be along soon; I'll go then."

Knowing that Father had lived in the hospital chamber for the past two days, Vincent could only shake his head. "Yes, Father." His eyes told Father he wasn't fooling anyone. "Goodnight, Father. I shall return tomorrow, after my morning class."

"Goodnight, Vincent."

Chapter XVI

Vincent counted five visitors in the hospital chamber before he entered; once inside, the count rose to eight. This did not include Father, or Mary, who was trying delicately to convince the eight theatre students that they were not needed, without making them feel unwanted. She succeeded in shooing away all but Christine and Patrick; the two of them mulishly refused her polite hints.

"Out, you two." Father did not take refuge in politeness. His eyes were red, and Vincent could read the exhaustion in the deepening lines of his face. "You've been here nearly 18 hours; you need to rest. Somehow we shall cope without you."

Both teens started to protest, but Father was adamant. "Out!" They left with several backward glances, passing Vincent, who entered through the arched doorway.

Mary folded her arms. "You've been here for more than 72 hours, Father."

"That is true, Mary... but I am the doctor."

" 'Physician, heal thyself'; go to sleep."

Father's laugh was interrupted by a yawn. "Yes. You are right; there is nothing that you two can't take care of." He limped to another bed within the chamber, and awkwardly lay upon it. "Wake me if you need me." His eyes closed, and within seconds Vincent and Mary could see that he slept.

Mary shook her head, amused love shining through her eyes. "He must have the last word, mustn't he, Vincent?" she whispered. She started toward the chair, to sit by Miranda, now without the compress to mask her bruised eyes.

"Still no change?"

"None, Vincent."

"I am free for a while, Mary. You go - I am sure there are things you need to do."

"Well - if you're sure, Vincent -" Mary glanced out into the passage. "There are one or two things I've neglected the past couple of days."

"Go, Mary. I will stand guard over them." Vincent's nod included Father.

Mary left with only one backward glance. Vincent settled himself, pulled a small volume from a pocket within his cloak. Sinking into the words, time flew past.

He was roused from his book by the now-familiar sound of Miranda's voice. Shakespeare again, he mused.

" 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'" Miranda's voice was dry and harsh, but amused; and stronger than it had sounded last night. He waited for the rest of the speech to follow. When there was nothing but silence, he glanced at the bed, and met Miranda's gaze staring back at him. Even so bruised, Vincent saw wide-eyed surprise; but none of the horror or fear he'd encountered so often. "I see now why you wear the hood." She tried to swallow. "May I have a drink?"

"Of course." He complied quickly with her request.

"Much better. Thank you." The dry rasp had disappeared. "Was there somebody else here? I thought. . . " Her voice was wistful. For an instant, Vincent knew that Miranda spoke, not 'Madame Sarah', Juliet, or Hamlet; but in the next sentence the brisk competent "Madame" returned. "I understand I have you to thank for rescuing me and bringing me here." She frowned slightly. "Although I'm not sure how I know. And I'm not sure where "here" is."

" "Here" is where we - your students and I, and many other good people - live. It is a safe place."

"That's what he said."

"Who?"

"Someone talked to me - last night? Before now. How long have I been here?"

"I found you Wednesday evening. It is now Sunday morning; nearly noon."

"Three and a half days. A new record."

"Who did this to you, Miranda?"

"I walked into a door." Her tone was filled with sarcasm.

No matter how he tried, Vincent got no further answer. "Madame Sarah" sparred with him, spoke in Shakespearean quotes, and otherwise continued in character. Vincent shook his head. Perhaps someday she would tell him.

 

Chapter XVII

With a sigh, Father laid his book on the desk and gave up. He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. After reading the same stanza five times, he still hadn't the faintest idea what he'd read. His mind was not in Troy with Achilles and Hector; it kept wandering stubbornly several levels down to the hospital chamber.

It had been just over two weeks since Vincent had brought the children's "Madame Sarah" there, with Shakespeare running through her. The classicist within him marveled at how the words carried their full weight even then. The psychologist wondered at the pressures causing her to stay shielded behind those packaged scenes and emotions.

She was well on her way to physical recovery. There had already been two of her class sessions held in that normally quiet chamber, and it seemed full to bursting the rest of the time. Freed from their secrecy, the original twelve students had quickly bragged to their friends, and a large minority of the dwellers Below had been by to meet her.

But except in very brief flashes, there had been no sign of a Miranda behind "Madame Sarah". Yesterday Father had asked Vincent to speak to her; it would not be long before she was strong enough to make a decision about her life.

The report back had been what he expected; "Madame" had waved the words away in her no-nonsense fashion. But at least they'd been spoken; the subject was out in the open.

He rubbed his eyes again, replaced his glasses, and determinedly opened "The Iliad", applying himself to the play of words. Before he had read two lines, running footsteps outside his doorway caught his attention. As he looked up, Luke burst in, out of breath and greatly disturbed.

"It's "Madame", Father," he gasped, "You've got to come, quick!"

Grabbing his stick, Father forced himself from his chair. "What's happened, Luke?"

"She just started crying, Father; all of a sudden. She's crying so hard she can't breathe. I don't think she can stop; she's all sort of curled up on her bed, crying and crying. We were all really scared."

"It doesn't sound too serious, Luke," Father reassured the boy as they hurried at Father's top speed. The words bursting from Luke had startled him, despite Vincent's report of scenes he had seen played. Father doubted he'd heard more than four words at once from Luke before.

The corridors seemed longer than before, but it was still only moments before they reached the chamber. Father could hear Patrick and Christine's voices, worried; and the gasping sounds of hysterics, as he came into the chamber.

Christine and Patrick stood by her bedside, trying to talk to her, to make her look at them. But Miranda was curled tightly to herself, fists clenched and pressed against her forehead, the splint digging into her flesh. Deep shudders that must have hurt her healing ribs shook her entire body; she could not stop the sobs for long enough to draw a solid breath. Father seated himself on the bed, turning her toward him, forcibly moving her hands.

"I don't know what happened, Father." Christine looked over Father's shoulder, her eyes frightened and worried. "We were just talking; not even about anything. We were telling her about hide and seek in the Maze, and the bridge over the Abyss, and just stuff; and then she just started crying, and crying, and..."

"She will be fine, Christine. But I want you, and Patrick, and Luke to leave. Go fetch Mary. And tell Vincent." Luke fled the chamber immediately; Christine and Patrick hesitated. Miranda was fighting against Father, trying to return to her fetal position, still shaken with violent sobs and gasping for breath. Father crossed her wrists and grasped them firmly, but carefully. Patrick protested, "But, Father -"

"Go. Now." No one argued with Father when he used that tone of voice. As Patrick and Christine edged out, they heard the sharp crack of Father's hand against Miranda's cheek.

She stopped fighting him at the sudden and unexpected pain. Father smiled grimly to himself. Old remedies were often the truest; Miranda's sobs were subsiding, and he could hear the air reaching her again. As he had done on that first night she spent under his care, he soothed her damp and tangled hair back from her eyes. She instinctively moved toward him, some of the hectic flush leaving her face. Then her closed eyes flew open, and she stared up at him.

"They all call you Father," she whispered. She spoke jerkily; Father could hear her searching to find her own words within her. "And they all mean it. You're a father to them. This place, this place is a home, a safe place, a happy place. They're so lucky; I can't - I don't deserve...." Her hiccupping sobs began again, on the edge of returning hysteria.

"Miranda; hush, Miranda. Listen to me." The force of her sobs diminished a little; Father tardily released her wrists. Her hands fell limply to her sides; he lifted one, and held it quietly in his. It was icy cold. He snagged the blanket folded at the foot of the bed and covered her.

Her sobs were quieter now, but still present. Her eyes were open, awash with tears, the eyes of an animal in a trap. "Miranda, Vincent tried to tell you before. You may stay here if you so choose. Our world lacks many of the luxuries of the world Above; but it is a safe place, where we live together and help one another. This can be your world if you wish it."

She shook her head and averted her eyes. The words were a barely audible whisper, so foreign to her usual full tone. "No. I can't. You don't know me; what I've done, what I've been. You can't want me."

"You are a child with a wonderful gift who has been used very badly. That is in no way your fault. We know what your life was above; that does not matter. If you wish it, your life can start again; right here, right now."

" 'Such a dream you spin,'" she murmured. " 'And how easy it would be for me to get caught up in it.'"

"No, Miranda Juliet." Father's voice was somehow both stern and tender. "You may not hide now. We would all welcome you if you decide to remain with us; but it must be Miranda who decides."

Shyly and wistfully, she said, "No one's ever called me Miranda before. It's my name; but in school I was Julie; and - he called me M.J." She shuddered; Father knew she must be speaking of Keithley. She freed her hand from Father's and sat up shakily, keeping the blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

"I can't believe this." Father heard a touch of "Madame Sarah" return as Miranda looked around the chamber. "This has to be a dream."

"It's real, Miranda. As solid as these stone walls."

Miranda scanned Father's face thoroughly, seeming to study every line, every feature. She dropped her eyes again, and asked softly, "Could I call you Father too?"

"I should be honored."

Miranda yawned, as the last of the left-over adrenaline fled. Still clutching the blanket to her, she lay back onto the bed. Her eyelids slid closed. As reaction claimed her, he heard a sleepy "Goodnight, Father."

Tucking the blankets around her, he whispered, "Goodnight, Miranda Juliet."

 

Chapter XVIII

The sound of a heavy folder slamming onto her desk dragged Cathy from the depths of the deposition she was poring over. Joe Maxwell stood next to her desk, pointing to the familiar bulky brown file. "What the hell is that, Radcliffe?"

" 'That' is a request for a grand jury hearing for the Thomas Keithley case..."

"Wrong, Cathy," Joe retorted. "That is garbage. You couldn't get a grand jury to sneeze at this, much less indict."

"Joe, my witness is good. You need to hear her testimony..."

"Cathy, you need more than one lone witness for a guy like Thomas Keithley. And the entanglements of this witness - the defense would make mincemeat out of her."

"But, Joe -"

"Listen, Radcliffe - when you've got a case - that is, some evidence - bring it back. No one wants Keithley off the streets more than me, but they'll laugh this out of court." He turned on his heel and returned to his office.

"Yes, Joe," Cathy muttered at his departing back. She shook her head. This was going to hurt Vincent. And Miranda, who retreated into a character - how would this affect her?

She recalled the look in Miranda's eye, her sidelong glance at Father as she agreed to testify. Miranda's terror had seemed to reach out and grab at her; Cathy was sure only Father and Vincent's presence had enabled her to agree to testify in the first place.

Cynical for a second, Cathy decided Miranda would probably be better off without the endless interviews and cross-examinations. But the image of Keithley still selling his girls on the open market - and Miranda's eyes at the mention of his name - intruded; her moment of cynicism passed. She vowed passionately to find enough hard evidence for Joe - and for the grand jury. But Joe was right - it was not there now. With a sigh she took the file and and put it in her drawer, the one marked "Pending." It was a very full drawer.

 

Epilogue

"'For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'"

Luke strode off stage as the Prince, then all the players returned to bask in the echoing applause. They joined hands, bowed, as one by one the audience rose to their feet, still clapping. Patrick and Christine each took one of Miranda's hands, and dragged her out to take a solo bow. The volume of applause doubled, its roar completely drowning out the background of messages flying across the pipes.

The noise slowly subsided, then the audience surged up, surrounding the proud actors with congratulations. A large number of the children had engulfed Miranda, and Vincent could see "Madame Sarah" taking over the questions and requests for classes. Then Catherine reached his side. "She's everything you said, Vincent. What a loss to my world." She took his hand, her own eyes glowing with the force of his presence. "And you were wonderful."

"Thank you." Vincent enjoyed the afterglow of Shakespeare, and the nearness of Catherine. One by one, the audience members came to him with praise for his portrayal, the production, and a special word for the magic of Juliet. Slowly the chamber emptied, until only the cast, Father, Catherine, Mouse, and Pascal remained. Mouse was deep in discussion with Miranda about new machines to handle future lighting chores. There was an unlikely pairing; but there was something right about such a meeting of talents.

Pascal came over to Vincent. His eyes kept straying to Miranda and Mouse, as the two tossed themselves on the floor to pore over one of Mouse's inevitable blueprints. "That was wonderful, Vincent. I've never seen anything like it." Although he spoke to Vincent, all his attention remained on the pair arguing animatedly on the floor. He could have posed for a picture of Romeo staring at his unattainable Juliet on her balcony.

Taking Catherine with him, Vincent lead Pascal over, and brought Miranda to her feet. "Miranda, this is Pascal. Pascal, Miranda."

A ready smile lit Miranda's face as she acknowledged the introduction. With Mouse, she was more comfortable than she'd ever been in her life. There was nothing to prove, nothing to avoid, no pressures; only someone else who understood the burdens of being different, even in a world of unique individuals.

Pascal stammered, "You were just extraordinary tonight. Extraordinary," and their eyes met.

"Thank you," she murmured. There was a silence, then Pascal looked away. Vincent was amused to see both of them were blushing. As Pascal excused himself to return to the pipe chamber, Miranda stared after him, then shook herself as if coming out from under a spell. She returned to Mouse's side, but Vincent saw her glance steal over to look down the passage where Pascal had disappeared.

Vincent took Catherine's arm, to lead her back to their inevitable parting, as she returned to her world and he remained in his. They passed through the doorway into the corridor, and Catherine gazed back at the stage. "Thank you, Vincent. I don't think this play has ever moved me as much as it did tonight."

"Her students insisted that this be the first play, and that she play Juliet. They're all so proud of having found her."

They strolled slowly to the tunnel leading to Catherine's apartment building. Just outside the door at which they must part, the two stood together quietly, neither willing to make the first move to part.

Catherine shivered against the Tunnel cool and damp. Vincent drew her close, into the shelter of his cloak and the warmth of his body. They remained so for an eternity that was over before either of them was ready; Catherine pulled gently, reluctantly away.

Vincent released her, opened the door leading to her utility room, helped her through. Like a wraith, she vanished to the light of her world; and Vincent, delighting in her recent presence and despairing at her current departure, returned to the shadows of his.