CHAPTER ELEVEN


She sat on the edge of the bed and folded her hands in her lap. Then, aware of what she was doing, she jumped up and paced nervously from the bed to the window and back. An automatically cautious glance to the corner of the room reminded her there were no cameras here. If she had nothing else, she had privacy, and she could be grateful for that.

But, she reminded herself, she had much more. Books. Music. Television. Things to keep her mind occupied. Paper for writing.

The telephone on the desk shrilled. She jumped, startled, and reached to answer it.

"Cathy?" A man's voice.

"Yes?"

"This is Butch, at the guard station. Your friend Mr. Maxwell's on his way out, and I just wanted to be sure you're okay."

She remembered Arlen telling her someone would check. "I'm fine."

"All right. We'll let him go, then."

"Yes. Thank you."

She cradled the phone and managed a little smile. Maybe they would be able to keep her safe, after all.

The tray Morris had left was beside her hand. She peeked under the aluminum cover, but had no appetite for the soup cooling there. She turned her attention to her surroundings.

A small closet took up one corner of the room; inside she found a set of built in drawers. Most of the drawers were empty, but the top one held a limited selection of sweat shirts, sweat pants, and t-shirts, all size medium. Rolled cotton socks and underwear filled out the drawer. Catherine breathed a sigh of relief. High fashion it wasn't, but virtually anything was an improvement over that horrible hospital gown. She remembered with satisfaction how she'd burned the hated garment years ago in a barbecue grill in a roadside picnic area in Colorado.

Beside the closet was a tiny bathroom containing a shower, toilet and sink. The medicine cabinet held an array of toiletries, like soap, deodorant, shampoo, and toothpaste. Catherine took her own toothbrush from her coat pocket and laid it beside the one supplied. Her hairbrush went on the narrow counter top.

"Guess I'm moved in," she murmured to herself. She slipped out of her coat and hung it in the closet, then moved to examine the scanty supply of books on the shelf. A much-used hardback copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary was flanked by a Robert Ludlum spy thriller and a Stephen King horror novel. Two tattered paperback "The Cat Who..." mysteries were lying on their sides. Not much here she considered pithy reading, but far, far better than nothing. Tomorrow she'd find the facility library and see what it had to offer.

She sat at the desk and peered again at the congealing tomato soup. She still had no appetite. She'd never been hungry before, either, she remembered. She used to force herself to eat, conscious always of the new life inside her that required nourishment. At least she wouldn't have to do that now.

And then, deep in the recesses of her mind, a small hope flickered into life. She and Vincent had been together every night since the concert in the park. It had happened before.

She might be carrying Vincent's child. And if she was, she needed to take care of herself. Care for the child. Hope fluttered, warming her from the inside. She removed the aluminum cover and picked up the spoon.

Much later, she lay in bed, secure behind her locked door. A small light burned in the corner of the room. She'd grown used to sleeping with a light, though she wished it could be a candle. She'd eaten the soup and the crackers; now she curled beneath rough blankets instead of soft quilts and tried to picture Nicholas.

Not as she'd last seen him, surly and taciturn, but his usual boisterous three-year-old self, bright and inquisitive and full of energy. His face, from a dozen angles and bearing a dozen expressions, flitted through her mind and she felt the corners of her mouth quirk, just a little. It was hard not to smile when she thought of him. She tried to picture him growing up, wondering what he would look like at four, at seven, at ten. He already promised to be tall, like his father. She hoped his fair hair wouldn't darken the way hers had.

Right now he'd be getting ready for bed. Maybe Vincent was helping him with his pajamas, or washing his face. Or perhaps the more mundane process of preparing for sleep was over, and they were cuddled together reading. When Nicholas was relaxed and drowsy from the story, Vincent would tuck him into his bed and perhaps press a kiss against his cheek. Maybe he'd give Nicholas an extra one, from her.

And then what would Vincent do? She imagined his hands reaching for her, cradling her face before he kissed her. Remembered the lean, hard length of his body in bed beside her, the feel of his mane as it slipped through her fingers, the rasp of his cheek caressing hers.

Despair overcame her, and she turned her face into the pillows and cried.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Her sleep that night was scattered; she came awake at every small noise, her heart thumping madly. When the sun began to lighten the room, she got up, knowing further attempts to rest were useless. She made her bed, took a shower, and dressed in the soft, loose-fitting clothing provided. She pinned the keys to her room inside the waistband of her gray sweatpants, opened her door, and ventured out into her new life.

"Morning." The casual greeting came from a lightly-built Hispanic man in a guard's uniform. "You must be Cathy."

"Yes," she acknowledged cautiously. "Who are you?"

His grin flashed against his olive skin and twinkled in cheerful dark eyes. "Miguel Alberto Garcia Torres y Alvarez," he pronounced. "But you can call me Mike."

His charm was difficult to resist; she smiled. "Mike. What are you doing outside my door?"

He gestured overhead. "Fluorescent tube's burnt out. I'm changing it."

She noticed the small stepladder and long white glass tube behind him. "Don't you have maintenance people to do that sort of thing?" she asked, her suspicions roused. She poised nervously, ready to spin back into her room and slam the door.

"Other floors have maintenance people," Mike explained, positioning the stepladder under a flickering rectangular fixture set into the white tile ceiling. "We have guards. You got a leaky faucet in your bathroom? Guard fixes it. You hungry and don't want to cook for yourself? Guard cooks. You got dirty laundry? Guard washes it." He waved up and down the wide hall. "'Bout six months ago, we painted the place. Guards, residents, everybody."

"Residents?" she repeated doubtfully. She didn't move from the shelter of her doorway, but did relax her guard.

"Sure, residents. Not much to do around here, you know? I mean, you can read books or watch TV, but that gets old after a while. So when the time came to paint, we had lots of volunteers."

"I see."

"No, you don't," he disagreed cheerfully. "But you will." He stepped up on the ladder and began to fiddle with the opaque plastic shield of the light fixture.

"Excuse me," Catherine said.

Mike paused and looked at her expectantly.

"Where could I find Kelly?"

"Gone home," Mike said succinctly. "She's three to eleven."

"Three to eleven?"

"Her shift. Three to eleven. Then there's the night shift. That's eleven to seven." He glanced at his watch. "Which reminds me, I have to finish this. Going home time in fifteen minutes. That's when the day shift comes on. I'm usually day shift, but we got somebody on vacation this week."

"Oh." Catherine shifted uncertainly.

"You go on down the hall, I think Mindy's in the library," Mike advised, his attention on the faulty light. "Doug's at the desk."

"Only three of you?"

"Everybody's sleeping," he said reasonably, pausing in his work to peer at her. "Nobody coming in and out, nobody to watch."

"That doesn't sound very secure."

"You can't get on this floor unless you use the elevator," he reminded her patiently. "You can't use the elevator unless somebody up here authorizes it."

"No fire stairs," she remembered.

"Don't tell the fire department," he grinned. "If there's a fire, we all have to troop up to the roof and wait for a helicopter."

"Wait to be picked off, you mean."

He shook his head and grinned. "Bulletproof shielding all around the sides. They'd need armor-piercing shells and those are hard to come by."

She allowed herself a smile at his irrepressible good humor. "Okay, you convinced me," she said. "Now can you tell me where I go to get breakfast?"

He gave her directions to the kitchen. No one else was there, so she rummaged around in refrigerator and cabinets until she found what she wanted. A pair of labeled coffee urns sat on the counter. She filled a cup from the one marked decaffeinated, added it to the tray she'd found, and carried coffee and toast back to her room. Mike was gone when she reached the hallway, but as she was fumbling for her key, the door opposite hers opened.

She spun defensively, prepared to hurl the tray and its contents into an assailant's face.

A man, dark-skinned with a Middle Eastern cast to his features, paused in the opening. "Good morning," he said, his English faintly accented. He stood very still, as if aware of how edgy she was.

She swallowed. "Good morning," she answered, her voice unsteady.

"But, please," he said, and stepped forward, his hands extended. "Let me hold the tray while you find your key."

After only a slight hesitation she surrendered the tray into his hands. "Thank you," she said, and opened her door. "I'm Cathy," she added, as she took the tray back.

He flicked his fingers across his forehead as if doffing an imaginary cap. "A pleasure to meet you. I am Malek."

"Malek. That's an unusual name."

"It's Arabic. My family is from Syria," he said. "But I came to the United States when I was twelve. My father was attached to my country's embassy here. Later, I attended Yale University." He gestured toward the tray in her hands. "And I am keeping you from your meal. I apologize. Since we are neighbors, perhaps there will be time later to talk."

"Yes," she answered. "I'd like that."

She'd thought about it during the sleepless periods in the night. The people here now should be safe, especially the residents. Gabriel couldn't have known she would give herself up or that she would be brought here, so wouldn't have an agent planted yet. Only newcomers would need to be scrutinized carefully.

The guards, of course, were different. They had contact with the outside world, and thus could be subverted. She'd have to be careful of the guards.

After breakfast, she visited the library. As Kelly had promised, there was a small but varied selection of posters and prints, as well as some small rugs and even a few knickknacks. Catherine came away with things that suited her taste, and borrowed a hammer and some nails from one of the day guards to hang the pictures. Afterwards, she made a second trip to the library to stock up on reading material and music.

Lunch was another solitary meal prepared quickly in the kitchen and eaten in the privacy of her room. After lunch, she was summoned to a visiting room. Two federal attorneys waited on the other side of the glass.

"Good afternoon, Miss Chandler," the older of the two said, his voice rendered tinny by the intercom. "I'm Malcolm Harris; this is Diandra Shaw. We've been assigned to look into your allegations against the man you call Gabriel, and District Attorney Moreno."

She nodded cautiously.

"What we'd like," Diandra Shaw added, "is for you to tell us everything you remember. That will give us a starting point for our investigation."

This was the true point of no return. Up to now, she could have changed her mind at any moment and returned to the tunnels. But once she'd told all she knew, once the wheels had been set in motion, there was no turning back. She'd have to follow through, all the way to the bitter end.

She swallowed hard and pulled back the folding metal chair on her side of the waist-high counter that bisected the room. "It began with a black book given to my boss..." she began. The two attorneys sat quietly, taking notes and asking occasional questions while she recounted the events of three years ago.

"In the end, I escaped," she finished. "I'm still not certain how that happened; it certainly depended more on luck than any planning I was able to do."

"You say Gabriel planned to kill you. What evidence do you have?"

She shook her head slowly. "There isn't any. I just knew."

"Did he say anything to you? Threaten you?"

"He never spoke to me."

"Never?" That was Diandra Shaw. Her expression and voice turned skeptical.

Catherine's own voice hardened. "Never," she repeated. "He used to watch me sometimes, but he never spoke."

"And yet you know he planned to kill you."

"He had no use for me, once my baby was born," she explained, a thin edge of annoyance creeping into her tone. "Releasing me would have meant losing John Moreno, whom I assume he considers a valuable asset. I knew he wouldn't do that."

"But, Miss Chandler, there's no proof," Diandra said kindly.

"I'm aware of that, Miss Shaw," Catherine answered sharply. "They did teach rules of evidence at Columbia Law School. I'm just telling you what happened."

"Of course," the other woman murmured, suddenly conciliatory. "I'd forgotten you're an attorney."

"About your son, Miss Chandler," Malcolm Harris said, changing the subject. "Can he be produced if necessary?"

She stiffened in her chair. "No."

His eyebrows rose. "No?" he repeated gently.

"You're claiming he kept you prisoner because he wanted your child," Diandra Shaw reminded her. "We may need to prove the child exists. That you haven't made him up."

"Any competent obstetrician should be able to determine that I've borne a child," Catherine snapped. "I'm willing to submit to the necessary examinations. My son will remain in hiding."

"But what if it's not enough?" Diandra argued. "Some juries..."

Malcolm put a restraining hand on her arm. "It's far too early in the investigation to worry about that, Diandra," he said. "Let's concentrate on the facts."

Catherine had a headache by the time they left. She microwaved a frozen dinner in the kitchen and retired to her room. Television didn't hold much appeal, so she put a Mozart cassette in the stereo and curled up on the bed with a book from the facility library. But the story failed to hold her interest and presently she closed the book and lay back, staring at the ceiling.

Memories had been enough to sustain her in the past. Closing her eyes, she reached for one, well-loved and familiar. They'd been in her apartment, near the end of the time she thought of as "before." Vincent stood in her bedroom looking out the glass-paned french doors, his hair washed apricot from the glow of the setting sun. Surprised to see him up, she'd gone to him and slipped her arms around his waist. They'd talked briefly of uncertainty and she'd tried to make him promise not to shut her out of his nightmares.

"Whatever happens, whatever comes, know that I love you," he'd told her instead.

Those were words she'd clung to later, letting them lend her strength and courage. They still did, the very memory buoying her with newfound determination.

There were fresher words, too, words spoken only yesterday, in the damp culvert where they'd parted.

"I love you, Catherine," he'd said, his gaze measured. "Never forget."

"I won't," she'd promised. And she wouldn't. If it took twenty years, he'd be there, steadfast, devoted, and loving her. And as long as she had that to cling to, she could do anything.

Lunch the next afternoon was disturbed by a knock on the door. A glance through the peephole made her hasten to turn the deadbolt and open the door.

Arlen Miller stood there, looking brisk and businesslike. "Hello," she said, and stepped into the room without waiting for an invitation. She glanced around. "I like what you've done here."

Catherine followed her glance, as if seeing the newly decorated room for the first time. The far wall held a pair of framed abstract prints in soft pastels. An oversized poster of Monet's Water Lilies, tattered at the corners where someone had once hung it with tacks, was taped to the wall over the bed.

The space over her desk was taken by a whimsical print of a pair of rabbits nested in a bed of blue flowers. The flowers looked faintly unreal and the artist was unfamiliar, but the picture reminded her strongly of The Velveteen Rabbit, which in turn reminded her of her father, and that made her feel safe.

An arrangement of dried flowers, presented last night by Mike as what he called a 'housewarming' present, graced her desk, and a Navajo-type rug in soft blues and greens brightened the floor beside her bed.

"Thank you," Catherine said. "It does feel more like I belong here now."

"But not completely," Arlen said, her smile at once compassionate and perceptive.

"No," Catherine agreed with a wry smile. "Never completely."

"It's just as well," Arlen said. "It isn't your home, after all. Here." She placed a package, slightly smaller than a shoebox, on the bed. "I've brought you something."

Catherine eyed the box with habitual suspicion. "What is it?"

"A package from home, I believe," Arlen answered. "Jack brought it in this morning; said he got it from your friend Joe. Apparently Mr. Maxwell isn't saying where it came from before that."

"They shouldn't do that," she said automatically, even though her heart was pumping with sudden elation. "It's dangerous."

"Not particularly," Arlen said. "Joe and Jack frequent the same sports bar in the Village, I'm told, and often sit together to watch football or basketball. And of course, Jack works in this building. Neither of them needs to alter routine to pass on a package."

Catherine took her eyes off the brown paper covering and eyed Arlen sharply. "How do you know all that?"

"Routine background," she answered simply. "For your protection, for Jack's, and for Joe's. If we can trace the package's origins farther back, we'll assume others can, too, but until then, Joe and Jack should be safe enough."

Catherine permitted herself to relax. "Good," she said. "I don't want anyone getting hurt because of me."

"Neither do we," Arlen said briskly. "I have to get back to my office now. Enjoy your package."

"Yes, thank you." Catherine took time to follow Arlen to the door so she could lock it behind her, and then fairly flew back to the bed to heft the bundle.

It was weightier than she'd expected. The brown paper had been folded carefully over the box, and the whole thing tied up with string. Her name was written clearly in a hand she knew well. She lifted it to her face and imagined it still carried the subtle scent of candlesmoke.

Whatever it held, the package was a treasure to be savored. She placed it carefully on the bed and went for the round-pointed scissors on her desk.

The paper wasn't held by tape, and when she cut the string, the paper parted in her hands. She folded it back and let her fingers linger a moment on the box. He'd touched it. Perhaps Nicholas had helped him, and she imagined their hands together, one pair powerful and furred, the other small and chubby, packing the box with treasures and folding down the flaps to seal them in.

She opened the box slowly. On top were sheets of paper, folded once but not creased tightly. She glanced at the top sheet, recognizing Vincent's strong hand. She fingered it lovingly, then set it aside. She'd leave his words, his precious news, for last.

Under the paper was a flat, rectangular object wrapped in tissue paper. She lifted it out and placed it in her lap before parting the paper.

Her mother's smile shone through the glass covering and reflexively Catherine let her fingers trace the smooth silver of the frame. Someone - Peter, perhaps - had gone to wherever her things were stored and brought away this most precious of treasures. The box held a second flat object, and she reached for it, pulling the paper away to reveal her father gazing at her from a photograph taken only a year before he died.

It had been more than three years since she'd seen their faces, even in photographs; there'd been a time not long ago when she'd believed she would never see them again. She lingered over the pictures, her eyes misty, before finally setting them side by side on her nightstand. With her parents' images watching over her, she reached back into the box.

Another flat package proved to be her copy of Shakespeare's sonnets and she revised her opinion as to who had visited her things and chosen what to send her. Only Vincent would know what this volume meant. She turned to the inscription.

It looked precisely as she remembered it. She brushed her fingers across the strong, flowing V that served as a signature, then flipped through the pages. A pressed rose, its perfume long faded, marked the twenty-ninth sonnet, and Catherine took a moment to read the poem before closing the volume and placing it on the table next to the photographs.

The last item, half the size of her fist, was wrapped in a scrap of cloth secured with a straight pin. A paper tag dangled from the pin's bright yellow head and she paused to read it.

So you will remember someone is thinking of you...

Her brow puckered in puzzlement; she removed the pin. The cloth fell away, revealing a clumsily stitched brown suede pouch. Her breath caught painfully in her throat and she teased open the mouth of the pouch with trembling fingers.

Her mother's rose - Vincent's rose - slid into her hand. He treasured it as much as she did, and she knew what it must have cost him to part with it.

Her fingers closed over it, the sharp edges of its petals cutting into her fingers, and she brought her cupped hand to her cheek. It was a long moment before she reached for Vincent's letter.

My Catherine. Peter assures me this letter and package will reach you safely, and with no danger to the couriers. Your answer might provide a trail for your enemies to follow, however, so you must not reply. For myself, I would willingly take the risk, but we cannot jeopardize the others who inhabit my world. I know you understand this.

Nicholas is well. He cried for you the first night. I held him until he fell asleep. Since then, he seems resigned, but I know how much he misses you.

He played with Brian today, and Natalie tells me he seemed cheerful and had a good appetite at lunch. You must not worry too much. He is safe, and everyone has offered to watch over him when I cannot be near.

I visited your chamber this morning. There was no reason; we've set up a bed for Nicholas in my chamber, and moved his things. Nevertheless, something drew me there. And it seemed I could still detect your scent in the air; that if I listened hard enough, I might hear the sound of your laughter.

I miss you. Be safe, Catherine. Come back to me.

It was signed with his initial, strong and sweeping across the bottom of the page. She returned to the salutation. "My Catherine," he'd said. The new boldness, the possessiveness, wrenched at her heart. With the letter in one hand and the rose clutched tightly in the other, she bowed her head and cried.


Continued in Chapter 12