by Beth Gualda
To avoid frightening her further, Vincent stepped out of the shadows. Catherine saw him and quickened her step. She sighed heavily.
"Am I glad to see you," she breathed. "Take me home, please."
Vincent nodded. He took her hand and led her down the alley. She clung to him tightly as Vincent moved her through the back streets and alleyways to her apartment building. He stopped, pressing into the darkness. Catherine's building was across the street. She glanced over at him and squeezed his arm in a gesture of appreciation. She turned but Vincent pulled her back.
"I'll meet you. We have to talk."
Catherine didn't like the solemn tone he used, but she nodded and started across the street. Vincent ducked behind the building.
Catherine took off her shoes and threw them, agitated, into her closet. Her nerves were frayed and her head throbbed. She jumped at the soft knock on her French doors. Turning, she exhaled slowly and opened them and turned and walked back into her bedroom.
Vincent sighed heavily, leaning against the doorframe. Catherine continued undressing, unphased by his presence, distracted beyond caring.
"Catherine," Vincent began. "Talk to me please. Tell me what has happened," his voice pleading and impatient.
She looked up at him. Her face expressionless. "There's nothing to tell."
Vincent's face hardened. He stepped into her bedroom and over to where she stood struggling with her dress zipper. Vincent turned her around and unzipped it for her. "Don't you think I know what you are going through? I've felt every bit of your fear. Your indecision. Your fleeting moments of abject terror. I know it's eating away at you. It's pulling you away from me."
Catherine turned and faced him. Her eyes reflecting his concern. "I know you do. I'm sorry. I can't prevent that though." She started moving away from him but he caught her wrists and held her in front of him.
"What's doing this to you? Why have you been so afraid?"
Catherine lowered her eyes. "You can't help me now, Vincent."
He shook his head vehemently. "You're shutting me out. You've never done this to me before. Why don't you let me help you?"
"Because you can't!" Catherine suddenly snapped. She jerked free of his grasp and walked away from him to her closet.
Vincent's hands remained in the air, holding nothing. He dropped them heavily with a sigh of exasperation. Slowly, he turned to leave and stepped out onto the balcony.
"No! Don't go!" Catherine called after him. She ran to him and threw herself into his arms. She buried her face in his cloak. "Don't ask me anymore questions. Please just be here for me."
Vincent folded his arms around her. She began to cry and his heart felt as though it were bleeding. He tightened his embrace and rocked her slowly.
"Hush, it's all right. I'm here." He stroked her hair. "I'll stay as long as you want."
"I'll be fine," Catherine said determined. She looked up at him and wiped her fingers over her eyes. She tried to smile. "I didn't mean to be cross."
Vincent looked back at her, worried and anxious. "I'm afraid for you."
Catherine shook her head, struggling with her composure. "Please try not to worry."
"You can't tell me not to worry," Vincent stated, pressing her head against his chest protectively. "Not when I'm living with your fears." He took a deep breath.
Catherine pulled back from him to look up at him. "I'm sorry. I can't make you understand now." She hesitated. "I don't want you to know what's going on. It would only make things worse."
Vincent growled, frustrated. "Then this has something to do with me?"
Catherine reached down and took his clenched hands in hers. "All I'm asking of you is to allow me some time." She lifted his hands to her face and rubbed his velvety knuckles across her cheek. "But I still want you close. More than ever. Will you stay tonight? I'll set the alarm early so you can get back down before daylight."
Vincent closed his eyes and growled again, softly this time. "Please tell me this has nothing to do with me."
"It doesn't, I promise. And I promise I'll explain everything when I can."
Vincent pulled her against him again and covered her mouth with his. "God, Catherine. If anything should happen to you...."
"I love you," she breathed. "Just promise me you won't leave me ever. Promise we'll always be together, no matter what."
Vincent's heart was pounding. He stared into her glistening jade eyes and swore. "No matter what happens. I'll never leave you."
Vincent walked wearily into the main chamber. Father had fallen asleep in a chair. He woke as Vincent walked by.
"Vincent," he yawned. "What time is it? Are you just getting in?" He peered at his son and frowned. "What's the matter?"
With an exasperated sigh, Vincent dropped into the chair next to Father. "I saw her tonight."
Vincent shook his head. "All this fear. She refuses to confide in me its source. But she swears it is not me that is causing it."
Father looked skeptical. "Catherine is hardly afraid of you,Vincent."
"No. Not afraid of me, afraid for me. Or something she knows will provoke a reaction in me that makes her afraid to tell me...." He rose, shaking his head. "I don't even understand it enough to explain it to you."
"It's not like Catherine, not to speak with you. I don't understand it either." Father rose stiffly, rubbing his temples. "She obviously wants to work out whatever is bothering her alone. All you can do is to leave her to work it out."
Vincent raised a fist in frustration. "Normally, I would take that route, but she doesn't want that either. She clung to me as though I would leave her and never return if she let me go. She said over and over, don't leave me." He sighed softly, remembering. "She cried tonight. I felt so useless."
Father faced him. "Do you want me to try to talk to her?"
Vincent shook his head, but grateful for the offer. He pulled his cloak off his shoulders and turned to his room. "I'm late because she simply would not let me leave. I stayed with her, holding her, reassuring her. Finally she slept." He walked wearily into his room.
Joe frowned as Catherine entered his office. She placed a stack of files on his desk.
"You know, everytime you walk through that door in the morining, I breathe a sigh of relief," he began. "I was hoping you were coming in to tell me you had reconsidered and decided to accept our offer. It might only be temporary."
Catherine started to protest. Joe cut her off.
"For Christ's sake, Cathy, at least let me put you under surveillance. Or police protection!"
"No!" she shouted back. Struggling to regain her composure, she said more softly, "Look, this will all be over in a few weeks. It's not worth it."
"Your life, is not worth it? Do you hear yourself?" Joe shook his head. "Can I at least ask why? Do I even get an explanation?"
Catherine massaged her throbbing temples. "I'm sorry, I have my reasons. I'll be fine. There's no need."
"I'm sure Falla's people know where you live. I'm sure they know your routine by now. You're just not safe."
Catherine sighed heavily and turned to go. Joe intercepted her.
"You shouldn't be trying to carry on like normal. You shouldn't even be here! You need to be in the witness protection program!"
"I can't do that. I can't," she whimpered.
"That is no excuse!"
"It's all I can give you."
Joe softened. "We are talking about professional killers. You are making their job real easy." He looked at her, his concern up front and undisguised. "You won't even let me hire you a bodyguard. Now why? What secret is worth risking your life to keep?"
Catherine didn't answer. Joe swore softly.
"How 'bout this? At least get off your routine. Is there somewhere you can go? Maybe out of the way? Like way out of the way? Can I get you to agree to something like that at least?"
Catherine began nodding slowly.
Joe clapped his hands together triumphantly. "Great! You're now on extended leave. Give us a few weeks to round up the rest of Falla's goons. Leave the address and phone number where you'll be at with me, and I'll call you when it's time. They are going to try anything to stop you from testifying. You're the only witness to the Polkman murder we have. And they know that."
"Well, I've always had a knack for being at the wrong place at the right time," Catherine said and forced a smile. "I do have a secluded place I could go. Among friends. I know it will be safe. But I'll get in touch with you. There aren't any phones there."
"Fine. Just go now."
Catherine nodded. "I'm on my way."
Vincent slid over the balcony wall and looked around. Catherine burst out of the apartment and into his arms. She hugged him tightly.
"I got your message...." Vincent began.
Catherine took his hands and pulled him inside. "I needed to see you right away."
Vincent merely sighed heavily.
"I need to ask you something."
"Would it be possible," she began slowly but with excitement in her voice. "For me to stay underground with you for a month of so?"
Vincent looked back at her curiously. "Of course. Can you tell me why? Does this have anything to do with what we talked about last night?"
Catherine took a steadying breath. She carefully considered what she was about to say. "Because of certain things I know. Something I have seen, I have reason to believe my life is in danger." Vincent pulled away from her and stared at her shocked. "I need to go somewhere safe."
"In danger?" Vincent echoed. "How? Is someone trying to kill you?" He was suddenly seething with fury. "Why did you keep this from me? Why didn't you come to me with this sooner?" He strode to the other side of the balcony and turned to face her, his blue eyes blazing. It was as though he needed the physical distance from her to regain control over his anger.
Catherine pleaded. "I needed a few days unprotected. To show my boss I didn't need to be placed in a witness protection program." She struggled to make him understand. "I would have been taken away from here, my name changed, my where abouts kept secret. Do you know what that means? We'd be separated. We'd never be able to see each other again. I'd be watched, under protective surveillance." She lowered her eyes, looking away from him. "I knew...if I told you about all this before, you would insist I go." Tears welled up in her eyes suddenly as she faced him and walked slowly over to him. "I know you would do anything, even lose me, to keep me safe. But I know I can't live without you. I just couldn't bear the thought of being separated from you."
Vincent took a deep steadying breath and expelled it through his teeth. "You placed yourself in danger because you were afraid I would send you away? You're right. I would have." He shook his head to clear it. "You should have told me before."
"But I managed to get my boss to agree to let me seclude myself. My plan worked. No new locations. No bodyguards," she went on hopefully. "And we are still together. I know a few days of fear are worth that."
Vincent's anger began to subside finally. He reached over and touched her cheek. "I don't agree. But at least it's over now." He leaned against the balcony edge. "When will you be down?"
Catherine gestured back inside her apartment. "I just need to gather a few more things." She suddenly smiled. "Think about it. We'll have a whole month together."
Vincent had been so upset by her revelation, he failed to take this aspect of Catherine's plan in consideration before. "Yes," he breathed. "A month...." He straddled the balcony wall. "Shall I meet you in the basement?"
Catherine shook her head. "I can't get through there now. They are doing construction in the lower lobby and the hallway I use to get below is closed off. I'll have to meet you outside."
"A half hour then? In the alley, behind the building?"
Catherine nodded. She suddenly seized his arm before he could go. "Can you just be there and wait for me?" Vincent felt a trace of fear once more run through her. He placed his hand reassuringly over hers.
"I'll be there. I'll wait for you."
Twenty minutes later, Catherine pushed her bag higher on her shoulder and locked up her apartment. She looked around briefly before heading for the elevator.
A man was in the elevator when it opened. He stepped out on her floor and gestured at her bag with a friendly smile.
"Taking a trip?"
Catherine nodded and hurried past him.
"Well have a good one," he said as the doors closed, separating them. Then under his breath, "Why wasn't I told?"
Once alone in the elevator, Catherine inhaled deeply. This would all be over soon, she told herself. She was beginning to understand why crime witnesses often withheld their information. She was beginning to see things from their point of view and she could relate to the consuming fear that kept them from their moral obligations.
The doors opened and Catherine stepped out. Quickly, she surveyed the lobby before crossing to the front door.
Outside, she clung to her overstuffed bag and walked quickly along the side of the building. She didn't see Vincent initially. She called out to him softly.
Vincent suddenly appeared before her materializing out of the shadows. She gasped, startled briefly, then hurried up to him. He took her hand.
"Come," he instructed. "I'm going to take you to a different entrance. It's more secluded than the one in the park and a little closer but it's somewhat harder to get to. It's seldom used."
He started back up the alley, disappearing in the darkness. Catherine held tightly to his hand. She could barely make him out in front of her, he seemed to blend into the night. He stopped suddenly and Catherine ran into him.
"Why did you stop?" she whispered.
Vincent didn't answer her at first. Finally he said, "Someone is near. They are watching us. I can feel their eyes." He looked back at her. Catherine's pulse quickened.
"How much farther till we reach the tunnels?"
Vincent gestured forward. "There's two streets left to cross after we leave this alley. Inside the third building on the north side of the street is the access tunnel."
Catherine leaned against him for security. She always felt safer just being close to him. He took a deep breath and suddenly started forward again.
Warily he led her into the street out of the alley, stretching out with his mind and senses. Catherine had to jog to keep up with his long stride. She tugged on his hand in an effort to slow him, but then he suddenly released her and pushed her back. Catherine heard a fast, muffled explosion of sorts. Vincent jerked backwards with a sharp scream of pain. He grabbed his upper left arm, doubling over and twisting to the ground.
"Run!" he hissed at her, struggling to his feet.
Stunned, Catherine bent towards him, unaware of what exactly happened. Vincent turned at her snarling, his fangs flashing. Catherine jumped back.
Another explosion popped near her ears. Catherine shrieked and lept back. She dodged around Vincent, who was still trying to get up, and raced for the alley in front of them, the darkness swallowing her. She knew now they were being shot at.
"Vincent!" she gasped, looking into the street briefly but not seeing him anymore. Now everything was disturbingly quiet. She didn't hear him come up behind her.
"I'm here," he said quietly. She whirled around and sighed. He came slowly over to her, clutching his arm, his eyes burning with pain. He threw himself against the side of the building beside her. Catherine stared at him horrified, watching the dark blood seep through his fingers, over his hand at an alarming rate. He moaned softly.
"I don't know what type of bullet they are using but the pain is almost paralyzing," he mumbled facing her. "We can't get to that entrance now. They've cut us off."
"We have to! Where else can we go? We have to get you below!" Catherine sputtered in reply.
"This way," Vincent breathed and staggered stiffly down the alley. Catherine skipped after him.
He took her to the other side of the street, around a dilapidated office building. They stopped at a boarded-up side door. Vincent took ahold of the boards with his one good arm and freed the door, holding it open for Catherine. She ducked inside just as another muffled bullet splintered the metal doorframe. Vincent dodged in after her.
He stood inside a moment, panting from the pain. Catherine looked anxiously around.
"Where to now?"
He brushed unsteadily past her and stalked over to an obvious hole in one of the walls. "Get in," he whispered.
She slipped inside. Vincent followed her and pulled a nearby crate over the hole to cover it. The space Catherine found herself in was a mere 10x10 room. Four solid looking stone walls surrounded them.
Vincent moved to the wall opposite the concealed entrance and leaned against it. He swayed back suddenly from the exhertion and pain. He put a steadying hand on the wall and faced Catherine with a heavy sigh.
"What are you trying to do?" Catherine asked, baffled.
"This wall moves," he half moaned. "It's a false wall. It leads to another access down. But I...." he paused as a wave of pain suddenly enveloped him.
"Oh God, Vincent! We have to get below! You're losing a lot of blood!"
"....I can't move it," he lamented. Slowly, he sank to the floor.
Catherine's eyes blurred with tears. "Come on," she offered. "I'll help. Maybe we can move it together." She got Vincent back on his feet carefully and together they pushed on the wall; it moved slightly and then refused to move further. Vincent turned his back against it and slid again to the ground. He looked up at her, his eyes apologetic.
Catherine dropped beside him, hugging his head to her breast. "I'm so sorry I got you involved in this! I should have known I was putting your life in danger too!" She kissed his temple, holding him close. "I'll have to go back out," she said suddenly. "I'll have to get to the other entrance."
"No!" Vincent growled, seizing her hand in a crushing grip. "You must stay here. They are still out there. Waiting. I can feel them. As soon as they see you...." He exhaled, the rest of his sentence too horrible to put into words. "This is my fault. I've trapped us here."
Catherine shook her head. "All you've done is savemy life. You wouldn't be here, hurt and bleeding, if not for me. You have to let me go."
"No," Vincent said. He refused to let go of her hand. "Don't leave me, Catherine." He leaned his head on her shoulder, his soft voice heavy with pain.
"Vincent, if I have to wait until you pass out, it will be too late," she replied matter of factly. She tried to keep her voice level and assertive. She wanted him to know no matter what, she would leave. Whether it be now or later.
Vincent tightened his grip on her hand even more. Catherine winced a little. "Then I'll fight it. I'll stay awake. But you are not leaving."
Catherine's tears fell upon his hair. She tried to pry her hand free from his. "All right, I won't," she whimpered. "Let go of me so I can at least take a look at your arm."
Vincent released her. Catherine pulled her bag off her shoulder and fumbled with the clasps to open it. Vincent watched as she pulled out a cotton shirt and tore it into strips. She crawled over to him and sat before him.
"Let's try to slow the bleeding at least," she stated, wiping impatiently at her watery eyes. She slid her hand over his shoulders and under his cloak, pushing it off of him. She frowned and pinched at his layered torso. "You're going to have to take these off."
Resigned, Vincent sighed and sat forward. Catherine's fingers were already at work unlacing his vest, then slowly, carefully, she slid it off and tossed it aside. She frowned again realizing she had hardly made a dent in his wardrobe.
"Jeez, you think you lived in Antartica down there," she grumbled.
Vincent smiled slightly. "I like to be warm," he sighed. "Just tear the rest. I can't move my arm enough to get them over my head."
Catherine looked skeptical as she placed her hands on his collar and pulled. The sweater gave way readily enough. The shirt underneath was a different story. Catherine pulled with little results and offered Vincent a thin smile.
Vincent covered her hand with his. He closed his eyes, knowing this was going to hurt. "Try again," he instructed.
Catherine did, and with their combined effort, managed to rip the garment down the front. Vincent winced slightly and opened his eyes. Catherine sighed in relief and tenatively peeled the shirt from Vincent's chest and arms. Leaning his head back against the wall, Vincent watched her silently. Catherine's eyes focused on his left shoulder. Her face contorted.
"God Vincent, your arm is a mess. I can't even see the wound in all this blood." She began wiping futilely at his arm with one of the strips of cloth, her fingers softly probing.
Vincent suddenly jerked from her with a sharp gasp. Then he breathed a heavy sigh and settled back against the wall.
"I'm sorry," Catherine said and frowned again. She folded a piece of cloth and carefully pressed it over the profusely bleeding wound. With her other hand, she began wrapping another strip around it to hold it in place. She wrapped a second strip of cloth around his arm and tied it off tightly. Vincent looked from the bandage to Catherine and tried to smile.
Catherine sat back, wiping her hands on her jeans. "Does that feel any better?"
Vincent nodded. He lay his head back and closed his eyes. Catherine settled in beside him. Her hand began absently stroking his chest, running her fingers through his dense tawny hair. She sighed.
"Try to rest," she whispered. She felt him exhale deeply, slowly, relaxing. "Sleep if you can." She also felt his hand encircle her wrist caressingly at first and then in a vice like grip.
"I know what you are trying to do," he rumbled. "It won't work."
Catherine continued undaunted. Her hands moved to his neck and slipped up to his temples, her fingertips expertly kneading circles in his skin. Her thumbs passed over his deeply set eyes, then her hands moved back down to his neck, softly massaging tightly corded muscles. Vincent had eased his grip on her wrist, she noticed triumphantly. She shifted her position, her hands moving over the expanse of his chest tenderly. She found herself getting caught up in what she was trying to do. He felt so exquisite beneath her palms. She slipped her hand under his hair and pushed it off his neck. She bent forward and kissed him there, nibbling along iron-like muscle, tasting the sweet saltiness of his skin. He moaned softly. Her mouth brushed over his jawline, kissing and nibbling. She paused to breathe into his ear and then kissed the side of his face.
Stifling his surprise at Catherine's untimely amorous notions, Vincent responded. He moved his hand around her back and pressed her against him, his mouth taking hers in a slow languid kiss.
Her tongue slipped into his mouth, slowly probing, passing over sharp teeth, twisting with his. She realized suddenly she was waking him up more than putting him to sleep and pulled away with a mutter of exasperation.
Vincent gazed back at her, love and amusement glittering in his eyes. "I told you it wouldn't work." He took her hand again and squeezed it gently, affectionately. "Catherine, remember the night I stayed with you, because you were afraid. You needed me to be near. Having me close was a great comfort to you. Do you remember?"
She nodded slowly. "I remember."
Vincent took a deep breath. "Well, now I need you close to me. I'm asking you to stay with me."
Resigned, Catherine sighed and tried to smile. "I'm here. I'll stay with you." She nestled herself under his arm, laying her head on his chest.
"What are we going to do?" she asked quietly.
Vincent rested his chin on her head. Catherine's arms circled his waist and she snuggled closer to him. "Is there anyway we can call someone...to come and move the wall?"
"No. The noise would only lead our pursuers to us. They are still out there. I can still sense them."
Catherine could feel her throat tightening. Her eyes were burning again with tears. "Oh Vincent. I'm so sorry."
Vincent kissed the top of her head and hugged her to him. "Don't lose hope, Catherine," he whispered in her ear. "There are possibilities we've yet to discover."
Catherine shook her head. "We're running out of possibilities and you are running out of time." She gestured at the crate covered entry. "We've got to get out of here."
Vincent frowned. "What we need is to get in." He glanced angrily at the wall behind him.
Catherine began to cry. "I'm sorry. I know I need to be strong now." Her voice was determined, but at the same time, small and shaky.
Vincent peered at her affectionately. He reached up and brushed her cheek lightly with his knuckle. "Don't punish yourself. You've been through so much already."
Catherine looked up at him. "You are always concerned about me. About how I feel. Even now," she told him sadly.
Vincent felt her despair wrenching his heart. He sighed. "You seem to forget, your pain is my pain. Your sadness is mine. You must try to understand that your emotions become my emotions. So you see, I'm not as compassionate as you would believe. When I try to console you, it's for my own selfish means."
Catherine sat up and stared at him stunned. Suddenly Vincent laughed and then Catherine blushed with embarrassment. She grinned at him.
"That's better," Vincent lisped.
Catherine shook her head. "What a pair we make." She gazed at him, worried. He looked pale and was sweating and shivering slightly at the same time. He was breathing in short shallow breaths and his eyes took on a glazed far away look. His arm lay limply against his left side. Catherine noticed her makeshift bandage was already dark with his blood. She reached over and touched his left hand.
"Can you feel this?" she asked. His hand was cold and clammy.
"I can a little. Just a trace of sensation," he told her. "My arm is numbing. It feels very heavy."
Catherine exhaled slowly. "You've lost so much blood. I'm surprised you are still coherent."
"I've been fighting it. But I think I'm losing," he admitted. Catherine could tell his strength was beginning to ebb.
"Don't fight it," she urged.
He looked over at her, his eyes imploring. "Promise me. You'll stay here. Whatever happens...to me. Stay here." He closed his eyes. "If you expose yourself, they will kill you."
"Vincent, maybe they are gone now. Maybe they have given up. I could go and get to the other access tunnel for help."
Vincent opened his eyes. He shook his head slowly. "No, they are waiting. Waiting for the opportunity you so desparately want to give them."
"You've been shot! You'll bleed to death. The bandage isn't working. You have to let me try!" Catherine insisted. She deliberately moved out of his reach.
Catherine shook her head. "I can't. I'm sorry."
Vincent stared vacantly forward. "I'm here to protect you. I'm with you tonight to keep you safe. I intend to continue to do just that... whatever the risks to myself. I'll do whatever I have to, but you are not going out there."
Catherine edged farther away from him. She didn't like the tone of his voice or the implications behind it. "What do you mean?"
Vincent took a deep breath. "You stay. I'll go."
Catherine stared back at him horrified. "You can't! You barely have the strength to stand."
Vincent gestured at the hole in the wall opposite them. "I have enough strength left in me to get by them or at least distract them so you can signal for help. I'll show you the code to use. There is a lever on the other side of this wall that releases it with relative ease. Anyone could open it if we can just get the word out to them. This is the only way we'll get below. We need to call someone to open the wall."
"Vincent, I can't let you," Catherine began lamely. "What if they see you?"
"As soon as the wall opens," he continued ignoring her protests, "Go inside and close it again." He struggled to his feet. "I'll get in from the other access tunnel." He bent slowly and reached for his cloak and the torn shirt. "Allow me some time before you signal."
Catherine shook her head. "You'll never make it alone all that way."
He gazed down at her. "Catherine, I love you so much. Even if my attempt fails, if it gets you to safety, it will have been entirely worth the price."
"That's not a price I'm willing to pay!" Catherine stated hotly. She went to him and took his hand, kissing it. "Please Vincent. No..."she pleaded.
Vincent leaned back against the wall to steady himself. "There is no other way."
"We'll just have to wait," Catherine told him. "They are bound to leave soon. They'll give up and go away and then we can get below. I'll stay and wait with you. I promise. Just don't leave."
Vincent looked up at her solemnly. "By then I fear it will be too late."
Catherine searched his face. "What are you saying?"
Vincent shrugged his cloak over his shoulders. "I can't hold on much longer. I can feel my mind slipping. My senses dulling. I need to act now...while I'm still able."
He turned towards the hole. Catherine deliberately stepped in front of him. "If we do this, we do this together."
Vincent sighed heavily. "Catherine...."
"I'm going with you."
Vincent shakily stood his ground. "I'm not going to argue with you about this."
"Look, we need each other right now. If you go out there alone and something happens to you or you can't pull Falla's men away from here how am I to know? I could give the signal but they could still hear me. They'll find me. I won't know if you succeeded or not. That's why we need to stay together. Together we have the advantage. We can seek them out, take them by surprise. We stand a better chance this way."
Vincent found he didn't have the energy to cross her unyeilding stance. He looked at her in conceding defeat. "Why risk both our lives? At least I know if you stay, you'll be safe."
"Come on," she urged. "We are wasting time."
Catherine had already turned and was pushing against the crate covering the hole. Vincent reluctantly joined her. Together they uncovered the hole. "Whatever happens," she said, "We face it together. I won't leave you."
Vincent nodded slowly. "Now of all times,you promise to stay with me."
Slowly, carefully, they backtracked out of the building and back up the alley. Vincent could still sense the men faintly. They decided to use it to their benefit.
One of the men was standing at the mouth of the alley, his back to Vincent and Catherine, looking towards the street.
Vincent motioned to Catherine. She nodded and split from him, heading back up the alley and purposefully kicking some trash on the way.
The man turned, his gun drawn. He stared intently into the dark alley searchingly. He didn't notice Vincent coming up behind him. Before he knew what was happening, Vincent seized the man by the neck, forcibly driving his face into the side of the building. The man crumpled limply and silently to the ground as soon as Vincent let him go.
Catherine sighed relieved. She hurried to Vincent's side. "Save your strength," she whispered. "I'll bring them to you." She started off but Vincent grabbed her hand.
Reluctantly, Catherine nodded.
"Let me go first," Vincent offered. "I know where they are." Catherine watched, not daring to breathe as Vincent made his way around the corner of the building pressing himself along the walls into the shadows. Catherine peered after him, feeling suddenly very alone. She strained to see around the corner. Tentatively, she ventured forth, listening. All she could hear was her own quick breathing and the banging of her pulse in her ears. Vincent's back materialized before her. He turned slowly and stretched out his hand to her. She took it gratefully and sighed.
"We need to cross the street," he whispered. "The other one is over there. But I don't see how without exposing ourselves."
Catherine looked up at Vincent. "We'll draw him out."
Vincent nodded. They continued on to where Vincent thought the man was hiding opposite them around to the side of the building and into another alley.
"How many are there?" Catherine asked.
"Two, I think."
Catherine stepped forward and peered out into the street. "Where is he?"
Vincent started to point but then a bullet ripped through the air and impacted on the brick just above Catherine's head. She screamed and dropped to the ground. Vincent disappeared back around the building in a swirl of cloak.
Suddenly Catherine heard slow steady footsteps coming up the alley behind her. Catherine looked up to see a man calmly approach. His gun was fitted with a bulbous silencer and he had it trained on Catherine.
"We figured you would be turning up eventually," he began nonchalantly. "It was only a matter of time." His voice was grating and cold. "But now, Miss Chandler, it's time to say good bye to the D.A.'s star witness." He took aim carefully.
Vincent grabbed the gunman's arm and spun him around. He snarled savagely and forced the man back away from Catherine. Catherine seized the opportunity and fled up the alley. The man tried to wrench himself free from Vincent's grip and managed to turn his gun just enough. He fired and stepped around Vincent, heading into the alley after Catherine. Vincent staggered after him but collapsed. The pain of his new wound pulling him down.
Catherine suddenly appeared beside him. She dropped to her knees and lifted his head into her lap. "Oh my God! Vincent!"
"Go," he gasped. "You must."
Catherine's tears poured from her eyes. "I can't leave you."
"He's coming back," Vincent panted, wincing. "Save yourself."
Catherine placed her hand over his side in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding.
"Leave me," Vincent pleaded. He closed his eyes and his body suddenly went limp. Catherine hugged him, crying.
A noise from inside the building caused her to look up. Her whole body began to shake with fear. Reluctantly, she pried herself from Vincent, placing his head carefully on the ground. She rose slowly, her grief and fear making her every movement an effort. Her head was reeling. The sound of footsteps were getting louder and clearer. She turned and started to walk away, then started to run. The man with the grating voice suddenly appeared in front of her out of the shadows of the alley. She skidded to a halt.
"Time to die," he growled.
Catherine took a deep breath.
Another man stepped out of the darkness just behind her would-be killer. He held a gun as well, aiming it not at her, but at the man just in front of her. He fired one fatal shot. The man in front of her fell to the ground.
Catherine stood, motionless, stunned. The second man lowered his gun and walked calmly over to her.
"Talk about timing," he said. "Another second later, you'd be dead instead of him."
Catherine stared hard at the man. He looked vaguely familiar. "Who are you?"
He extended his hand, holstering his weapon. "Jerry Menegan. Personal security services. Joe hired me to keep an eye on you. We go way back him and me."
Catherine took his hand and shook it. She exhaled forcibly, grateful he had turned up when he did, but now desparately wanting to be rid of him. "I can't thank you enough."
He gestured across the street. "My car is parked in front of the Sycamore towers. How 'bout a lift downtown?"
Catherine panicked momentarily. Then she nodded. "I'd like nothing better."
Menegan escorted her to his car.
"How did you find me?" She wondered if he had seen her with Vincent.
"I noticed your bag when you got on the elevator earlier tonight." He smiled as a light of recognition brightened Catherine's features. "I caught a glimpse of you on the street, but then I lost track of you. I was driving around the area looking for you when I heard the gunfire. I checked it out and sure enough, there was two of Falla's henchmen lurking around that abandoned office building. I figured you must be around there too. By the time you came out into the alley off 29th, I already had Duke in my sights. Like I said, talk about timing."
"Yes," Catherine breathed. When they arrived at his car, she positioned herself beside the car fender, flanked by Menegan. She inconspicuously pushed the ring off her finger with her thumb while reaching for the car door. The ring fell on the asphalt with a crisp jingle. Menegan looked at it curiously.
"Oh could you get that for me? I think it rolled under the car," Catherine said with a smile.
"Sure," Menegan said and bent to retrieve it. Catherine opened the door swiftly and banged it as hard as she could on Menegan's head. He slumped to the curb.
"Sorry," Catherine said, turning on her heels. She raced back to the alley.
Her only concern now was getting Vincent below to Father. She hurried into the old office building and picked up a piece of metal from the splintered doorframe and searched for a pipe. She urgently tapped out a signal, making more than a few mistakes in her state of mind. She called an SOS. She called to have someone come to her. She called to make sure Father would be waiting for them. She called to say Vincent was in trouble.
After repeating the messages three times, she abandoned the pipe and hurried out of the building and over to where Vincent lay inert and unconscious in the mouth of the alley. She dropped to her knees beside him, her tears once more spilling from her eyes at the sight of him. She placed his head in her lap and tried to wait for help to come.
The tunnel chambers glowed with a hundred plus candles, creating an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. But Catherine found no solice in her surroundings at the moment. She paced the floor of the library, sighing occasionally, just to break the overbearing silence.
Father had managed to get word to Peter who came to assist in the operation. He brough fresh supplies and medicines with him and a much needed friendly face for Catherine. Her main concern was that they were performing the operation entirely under local anesthesia and had to more or less chain Vincent to the table in case he woke up. Peter had assured her all went well, he never did wake up through the entire procedure and he was lucky. The bullets' paths were direct and clean and he would suffer no permanent damage to anything vital. But he had lost a lot of blood and he did run the risk of infection.
When Father finally entered the chamber, he could hardly bare to look at her. He struggled to keep his voice level. "He's resting now," he told her, dabbing his face with a towel.
Peter reached over and squeezed Catherine's hand. "I'm leaving. He'll be all right, Cathy, hang in there." Then to Father: "If you need me again. Don't hesitate." He picked up his coat and hurried off.
Catherine walked over to where Father was now sitting, stiff and uncomfortable.
"Can I see him?"
"He should be unconscious for sometime. You might as well go home."
Catherine knelt beside his chair. "Is he going to be all right?"
"It appears so. This time. Vincent is strong and healthy." His words were comforting, but his tone was cold. He looked at her pale and drained. Someone who had been very very scared.
Catherine looked longingly in the direction of Vincent's room. "Please can I see him? Before I go?" Her voice was small, barely a whisper.
Father took a deep breath. "I'd rather you not disturb him."
Catherine wiped at her watering eyes. "You don't understand--"
Father exploded. "No you don't understand! He could have been killed! He could be dead now! I'm not prepared for surgery such as this! If those bullets had hit anywhere else, I wouldn't have been able to save him. If he would have lost anymore blood he would have never come through the operation. It's not like he has a common blood type. If Daniel and Martin hadn't already been on their way up, it would have been another thirty minutes before we could have gotten to you. You obviously don't understand how close we came tonight to losing him."
Catherine sobbed into her hands. "I do! I do understand! And I know if it wasn't for me, Vincent wouldn't be placing himself in danger the way he does. I know this isn't the first time he has been hurt because of me and more than likely, it won't be the last. There's only one way I know to assure this won't happen again," she suddenly felt her words choking her. "That's why, I would like to see him....one last time."
Father stared back at her stunned.
"Catherine....that will tear him up more than any bullet can." He reached over and took her hands in his. "Forgive me. I was frightened. I took it out on you. There's no reason to come to such an extreme conclusion. Not in your present state of mind."
Catherine shook her head. She squeezed Father's hands tightly. "No. I know it is what I have to do." She took a deep breath and tried to explain. "Vincent was willing to die for me tonight. It meant that much for him to know I'd be safe. By leaving him, I'm doing the same. In the end, I'll at least know he will be safe. You have to back me up on this."
Father was shaking his head. "Give it a few days. This is not the right time to make these kinds of decisions. It will destroy him. It will destroy you."
Catherine climbed to her feet, wiping her eyes with her hands. "Please. Let me see him."
Father nodded. "Yes go to him. Having you near will help him."
Without further hesitation, Catherine strode to Vincent's room.
The chamber was dark, lit only by a few candles. Vincent lay on the bed, breathing easily, his expression one of comfort.
His face was damp with perspiration and it matted the hair over his forehead. His torso and arm were swathed in gauze, distorting his normal streamlined body.
Catherine seated herself, pulling the desk chair next to the bed. She reached over and brushed his damp bangs from his eyes and lay a hand gently on his chest. She could feel his heart hammering against her palm. It seemed to be getting stronger. She noticed his hand move to cover hers on his chest. He squeezed it softly.
"Vincent!" Catherine gasped. She leaned over him, her eyes searching his passive face. "Can you hear me?"
She took his hand in both of hers. "Hush. Don't try to talk. Rest. You're going to be all right."
"You've lost a lot of blood. It's to be expected."
Catherine tried to smile. "Vincent, I..."
Catherine sighed. "Yes, I remember." She was crying again and couldn't stop. She reached up, stroking his hair. "Don't worry. I won't leave you. I promise." Vincent smiled slowly, triumphantly. Catherine wondered how he had known.
Father sighed in relief. He turned from the entrance to Vincent's chamber and headed back to the library for a much deserved cup of tea.