Naomi

By Thomas Mc


It was late evening as Catherine and Vincent were walking in the park enjoying their view of the lights on the George Washington Bridge. The night air was ripe with mystery as they talked about Kristopher Gentian's painting of the two of them together. The question of its existence had been haunting Catherine for several days. The more she investigated the circumstances surrounding the painting and its creator the more impossible it all became.

Catherine was relating the latest results of her investigation. "I pulled the original report on Kristopher Gentian's death and as near as I can tell, the description and pictures both match the person I met. Either that was really a ghost or Kristopher had an unknown identical twin brother. It's getting harder to maintain my…"

The sound of screeching tires shattered the quiet and they turned to see two cars come racing around a corner a few blocks away. Vincent melted back into the shadows as Catherine, after a quick glance in his direction, stepped over against a nearby tree. A tan station wagon followed by a large dark sedan raced towards them. Catherine saw the muzzle flashes from the passenger window of the sedan as several shots rang out in quick succession. The station wagon swerved across the road to the left, hit the curb and bounced back towards the other side clipping the front of the sedan. The dark sedan went out of control, jumped the curb and smashed head on into a tree about forty feet up the road. The station wagon hit the curb and was suddenly flipping through the air. Catherine spotted a bundle flying out of the shattered back window as Vincent came sprinting up from behind her. He made a prodigious running leap, caught the bundle in mid air and came down landing in a tuck and roll, protecting the bundle he had just caught. The station wagon landed upside down and with a screech of tearing metal, slid sideways into the tree where Catherine had been standing just moments earlier. As the wagon hit the ground she had caught a glimpse of three people inside just before diving out of the way. It took a few seconds for Catherine to recover from the shock of such a close call then she scrambled over to the mangled wagon.

The smell of hot oil and antifreeze hit her as she tried to see inside. From what she could see past the crushed and twisted roof, all three occupants appeared to be dead. Hard as she tried, it was impossible for her to reach any of them through the twisted wreckage.

Getting up she ran over to Vincent just as he carefully came back up to his feet. There in his arms was a small crying child wrapped in a blanket. The child had long blond hair, blue grey eyes and appeared to be around four or five years old. In the child's face was a look of equal parts shock, pain and fear.

Vincent looked up at Catherine. "She is in a great deal of pain."

Catherine responded. "Get back out of sight. I have to check on the other car."

Vincent held the child close and began talking to her in his most soothing tones as he moved over to the nearby entrance to the tunnels.

Catherine ran up the road and checked on the sedan. The driver had smashed his head on the steering wheel. He was unconscious, both his legs appeared to be broken and his face was badly messed up but he was still alive. The man on the passenger's side had gone halfway through the front windshield and was completely trapped with his arms pinned to his side. He was still conscious and cursing a blue streak as he was struggling to get free. Catherine checked him over as best as she could. He was bleeding but it didn't appear too serious yet, however his struggling was making it worse.

"It's no big deal to me, but you're already loosing blood." Catherine warned him. "If you continued to struggle like that you will only make matters a lot worse and bleed to death before the police and paramedics can arrive. If you stay still and calm you should be okay. Oh, I haven't identified myself." Her eyes got very cold as she continued. "I work for the New York District Attorney's Office and I will be more than happy to use anything you say against you at your murder trial." She then listed his rights just to be sure correct procedure was followed. He shouted a few threats at her, which she carefully wrote down in her note book. He finally quieted down once he realized the hopelessness of his situation.

At this point, a car approaching from the other direction stopped. Inside it was a man and a woman. The driver got out and was looking at the scene like he was trying to decide what to do. Then he called out. "Do you need help?"

Catherine called out to him. "Yes, my name is Catherine Chandler with the New York District Attorney's office." She walked up to him and showed her identification. "I need to see some ID please?" The man showed her his license. She wrote down his name and address "Thank-you, sir." And handed it back. "I need you to go to that building up the street and call the police." She gave him one of her cards. "Give them my name and report a shoot out and a fatal car crash with two seriously injured survivors."

"Yes, mam." He replied. "What then?"

"Then you go on about whatever you were doing." Catherine responded. "Someone from the police or the DA's office will contact you later to get your statement."

After they left, Catherine went back to check on the two men. They were both still alive and the gunman had quit struggling. She searched the sedan and found several guns on the floor of the car but they were out of reach for the two men so she left them alone. Next she ran down to the tunnel entrance where she found Vincent waiting for her.

The little girl had stopped crying. She looked like she couldn't decide whether or not to start crying again and there was even a hint of wonder as she stared up into Vincent's face.

Vincent looked up at Catherine then back down at the little girl he was holding. "My name is Vincent. What is your name?"

The little girl didn't respond to his question. She just continued to look back and forth between Catherine and Vincent. She looked like she would break into tears at any moment.

Catherine touched the girls shoulder. "My name is Catherine. Won't you tell us your name?" She asked plaintively.

The girl still looked frightened but she finally responded. "Naomi."

Catherine patted the little girls shoulder to reassure her. "Don't worry Naomi, Vincent will protect you. No one would dare hurt you while you're with him." Catherine looked up at Vincent. "Vincent, you'd better get out of here before the police arrive."

Suddenly Naomi looked around. "Where's Mommy and Daddy?"

Catherine looked at Naomi's solemn face then took Naomi's hand and replied. "Don't you worry about your family, honey." The extent of the tragedy brought a lump to Catherine's throat and threatened to overwhelm her but she fought to remain calm for Naomi's sake. "I'll do every thing I can for them. For now you just go with Vincent. He'll take very good care of you." Then Catherine looked up at Vincent. "Take her straight to Father and have him take care of her injuries." Catherine nodded her head towards the two wrecked cars. "I'll deal with the police and take care of this mess."

Naomi looked like she could start crying again at any minute. "My arm and my leg hurt."

Catherine asked. "How bad do they hurt, Naomi?"

Naomi winced in pain then replied. "My arm hurts some." She looked from Vincent to Catherine then winced again, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "My leg hurts real bad."

Vincent looked at Catherine his expression uncertain. "Wouldn't you rather take her to the hospital?"

Catherine shook her head. "No. This was a professional hit on an entire family. It will probably be best if you keep Naomi Below with you where she'll be safe until I can sort this out." She put her hand on Vincent's arm. "Tomorrow I'll see what I can find out about this at work. If anything urgent comes up I'll send you a message, otherwise I'll meet you at the basement access of my building tomorrow night right after I get home and tell you what I found out." She gave Naomi's little hand a squeeze and then she gave Vincent a hug. "I'll see you tomorrow night."

As Vincent headed down into the tunnels with Naomi, Catherine ran back up to keep an eye on the two survivors and wait for the police and paramedics to arrive.

- - - -

After leaving Catherine, Vincent made his way down as quickly as he could without jarring Naomi's leg too much. As he was running through the tunnels Vincent's empathic sense of Naomi had gotten stronger. He knew how much she was hurting so he kept talking to Naomi to keep her mind off her pain and to sooth her fears.

At one point out of the blue Naomi asked Vincent shyly. "Mister, are you a good monster or a bad monster?"

Vincent stopped running, startled by her question, and looked down at her wide eyed innocent face for a few seconds. The way she had phrased her question had taken him completely off guard. Then he chuckled as he shook his head. "I guess I'm a good monster. I would never hurt little children. I protect children from others who might harm them. And you can call me Vincent."

"Okay." She apparently accepted his statement then another stab of pain shot up her leg bringing tears to her eyes. "My leg hurts."

"I know it does," Vincent replied. "While we're stopped, let's take a quick look at it."

Vincent set Naomi down on the tunnel floor. Using one claw he cut open the leg of her pants and examined the injured leg. There was a large ugly looking bruise but the skin was not broken. Vincent suspected that there may be a fracture but he couldn't be sure. Turning around, Vincent banged out a quick urgent message on a nearby pipe, alerting Father of his impending arrival with a wounded child.

Vincent turned and half smiled at Naomi. "It looks like you banged up your leg but I think it will be okay. I'm taking you to my father. He's a doctor."

Naomi looked up at Vincent, her eyes very solemn. "Is your father a monster too?"

Vincent picked her up as he replied. "No. My father is normal, just like you."

"Oh." Naomi seemed slightly disappointed by his answer. "I like your fur," she stated as she stroked the fur on his neck. "It's soft and cuddly like my teddy bear." Then she put her arms around his neck and looked intently at his face as he took off running again. Several times she whimpered in pain. Vincent kept talking to her, telling her that it wouldn't be much longer.

Shortly after they passed the outer sentry, Naomi asked. "Why'd you bang on the pipe?"

Glancing down at her, Vincent replied. "I was sending a message to Father to let him know that we are coming."

"Oh." Naomi stated simply then buried her head against Vincent's chest.

- - - -

Back on the surface, the police and rescue units had arrived. Catherine walked up to the police car. "Officer, I'm Catherine Chandler of the New York District Attorney's Office and I'm the one who witnessed this." She handed the police officer her card. "First I need to tell you that there are several guns in the sedan. Both gunmen in the sedan are injured but still alive. I tried to be very careful not to disturb the scene."

Another car pulled up. A plain clothes detective got out and took over control of the crime scene. He took her card and her preliminary statement while a team of paramedics checked the occupants of the station wagon. Meanwhile the other officers and rescue workers began the process of getting the two men out of the wrecked sedan. It was quickly determined that all the occupants of the wagon were dead. By the time the first emergency team got over to the sedan, the driver had been loaded onto a stretcher and was being rolled over to the ambulance. The other man was still trapped in the windshield and had passed out but the firemen had almost finished removing the glass around him.

Catherine spoke again to the detective in charge. "I would appreciate it very much if you could get a copy of your preliminary report to my desk by this morning, Detective." Catherine knew that her looks and her reputation helped her get things from people and she didn't hesitate to use them when necessary to get what she wanted.

"I'll do my best, Miss Chandler," responded the detective.

Catherine replied. "That will be great. And thank you."

Just then the coroner's wagon arrived. Catherine hung around for the next couple of hours to oversee all the activity and make sure all of the evidence was properly preserved. She kept a personal log of every piece of evidence as it was gathered, bagged and labeled. When the cars, bodies and evidence had all been taken away, the officer, that had been the first to show up, offered Catherine a ride home. It was very late and she was very tired so she accepted his offer.

On the way he asked her. "I just have to ask, how did you end up so far from your home?"

Catherine had been expecting this question and had a ready answer. She shrugged. "Woolgathering while jogging."

The officer chuckled. "Done that once or twice myself." He pulled over and stopped. "Here we are."

She thanked him as she got out and he wished her a good night. As the police car pulled away, she looked down at herself and mumbled, "Yea Chandler you always go jogging in your nice clothes. Sweat suit must be at the cleaners." She shook her head as she entered her building.

After she got to her apartment, Catherine suddenly succumbed to a violent case of the shakes. She had come within inches of being crushed against the tree by that station wagon. Exerting all her will she slowly got herself under control. She didn't want to disturb Vincent with foolish hysterics now. To get her mind off her close call, Catherine wrote up as accurate of an account of what she had witnessed as she could. The only thing she left out was any mention of Vincent or Naomi. Then she went back over it very carefully to be sure she included everything she wanted in and excluded everything she wanted left out. After double checking her report and her evidence notes, she finally changed into her nightgown and went to bed. She thought about Vincent and fell asleep with a pleasant warm feeling.

- - - -

Vincent carried Naomi into the infirmary where Father and Mary were already waiting. "Father, Mary, this is Naomi. She was injured in a very bad car accident next to the park." As he set her down on the examining table he gave her his usual half smile that wouldn't show his teeth. "Naomi, this is Father and Mary. Father will fix up your leg."

Vincent kept talking to Naomi in his soothing voice while Father examined her. Father gave Naomi an injection to dull the pain then worked on her leg placing it in a splint and wrapping it up. As he worked on her he explained what he was doing and why. Next he treated and bandaged the various cuts, scrapes and bruises she had acquired in the crash. After he was finished, he patted Naomi on her head. "You're going to have to stay off that leg for a while but otherwise you're going to be fine." Mary took over amusing Naomi while Vincent took Father aside to talk to him.

"How is she?" Vincent asked.

"She has a broken tibia, but fortunately it's a clean break and there was no displacement of the bone. The arm has a bad bruise but the bone isn't broken. She has several minor scrapes and cuts but non of them are serious. That pain killer I gave her will help ease her anxiety a little bit and make her sleep tonight." He paused a moment looking back at Mary and Naomi. "How did this happen?"

Vincent described the events surrounding Naomi's rescue and the death of her family.

Father shook his head. "Sometimes I find it incredible that people can be so evil." The look on his face reflected deep sorrow. "To loose her entire family like that. She seems to be holding up pretty well, considering what she's been through." Then he looked at Vincent. "What do you intend to do about her?"

"Catherine thought it would be safer for Naomi to stay Below with us, at least until she can find out who Naomi is and what exactly was going on with those people in the station wagon and the gunmen that were chasing them." Vincent looked back at Naomi. "We do not know if she has any family left."

Father thought for a minute. "I hate to admit it but she's probably right about that. Although, if Catherine finds other family members, it may be a little awkward getting Naomi back to them." Jacob glanced over his shoulder towards the Naomi then back at Vincent. "I want to keep an eye on those two big bruises and she should be okay but she needs to keep off that leg as much as possible."

Vincent nodded his head. "I'll make sure she stays off it." He paused. "Tomorrow night I'm to meet Catherine at her basement entrance so she can tell me what she found out. Then we will have a better idea what to do about her."

Mary came over carrying Naomi. "Naomi's staying the night with me."

Father looked down at Naomi. "That sounds like a good idea to me." He patted her head. "Tomorrow she can meet some of the other children and go to class with Vincent. Would you like that, Naomi?"

Naomi looked up at Father and nodded. "Uh-huh."

Vincent half smiled at Naomi. "May I give you a lift to Mary's chamber?"

"Okay." Naomi replied drowsily.

With that Mary, Vincent and Naomi headed off to Mary's chamber.

* * * * *

Vincent was just dozing off when he was awakened by a feeling of sudden panic. By the time he had reached his door he could feel Catherine's emotional state being brought under control then he felt chagrin coming from her. Whatever the problem had been, Catherine was no longer feeling threatened. After Vincent returned to his bed, he detected another very faint hint of panic. It wasn't coming from Catherine but he couldn't pinpoint the source, then he heard a child cry out.

* * * * *

All around Naomi, people were running around and yelling. Her mother had tears running down her face as she took clothes out of the drawers by the handfuls and threw them into a suitcase. Her uncle Kyle was yelling to hurry up and her brother was complaining about how unfair it was. Then Naomi was bouncing around in the back of the car and crying for her teddy bear she had left behind. There were several loud noises then there was red everywhere and the whole world was whirling around her. She was falling and she cried out for her mother, then suddenly it was dark except for one candle. There was a strange woman holding her, rocking her and telling her it was all right. But Naomi couldn't help herself, she just couldn't stop crying.

Naomi heard Vincent's mellow soothing voice coming from the darkness. "Naomi, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

Just hearing that voice made her feel better and she was finally able to stop crying. "I miss Mommy." She hiccupped.

"It was just a bad dream, dear." Mary softly spoke to her.

"We're here with you." Vincent's voice floated soothingly from the doorway. "I'm here if you need me."

Mary began to sing a sweet lullaby to Naomi as she rocked her. After a while Naomi fell back to sleep, dreaming of being carried around by her favorite teddy bear, grown giant and wearing a lion's face.

* * * * *

When Catherine got to work the next morning she found that the detective had made copies of everybody's initial reports and left them on her desk (bless him). Catherine made two additional sets of copies of those documents along with her initial notes and her written statement from last night. One set of copies she locked in her briefcase. One set she put in her desk file drawer. The original set she took with her to Joe's office. Then she told Joe her censored version of the previous night's events. They started a case file with her handwritten statement, her notes and the copies of all the reports the detective had left.

Two hours later three men in suits showed up and went straight to Moreno's office. Ten minutes later Joe was summoned and twenty minutes after that he came back out looking mad enough to chew nails. He went into his office and came right back out carrying the folder they had just started on the shootout last night. Joe was in Moreno's office less than a minute then the three men in the dark suits left carrying the folder. From her vantage point Catherine was unable to get a good look at the men. Shortly after that Joe came out and stomped back to his own office.

Catherine got up and walked over to Joe's office. She opened the door just in time to see a dart thunk into the target by the door with some serious force and quickly backed out. "May I come in, Joe?"

Joe waved her in as he set the remaining darts on his desk. "Sure, Radcliffe, come on in."

She came in and closed the door behind her. "What was that about with the suits in Moreno's office?"

Joe sat up straight in his chair. "The FBI showed up to take over the case. An agent named James McClendon was the one in charge. They wanted all copies of the files on the incident. Moreno was not at all happy about the FBI stepping in. I think he would have thrown them all three out of his office if he thought he could get away with it. As it was, after they left, he told me not to give them any more help than I had to and to keep him informed on everything that happens." Then he looked at Catherine with a malicious grin. "I hope you kept copies of everything for yourself."

"Of course, Joe, you know me." She smiled back at him.

"I thought so." He grinned back. "Keep them to yourself for now. I'm going to check with a friend of mine in the Washington FBI office. See if I can find out what's really going on."

Catherine went back to her desk and buried herself in her other cases. At lunch she went to a deli down the street, then she took a taxi to the Bronx to interview a potential witness on one of her cases. Since becoming involved with Vincent, Catherine had developed the habit of always checking for tails. Other wise she would never have noticed the two dark suited men that had followed her from the office. On her way back, she stopped off at her apartment building and hid her copy of the files behind a loose brick just inside the tunnel entrance to her building. Afterwards she went up to her apartment and changed her blouse. She had gotten a stain on the sleeve while at the deli.

When she got back, she went into Joe's office to report on her interview. "It looks like Donavan will testify. He will come in tomorrow to give us his statement."

Joe smiled. "That's great Radcliffe; I knew you could do it. I don't know how you do it, but you always manage to come through with the witnesses."

"Thanks, Joe" Catherine grinned. "By the way, I think the FBI is having me tailed."

Joe looked startled and sat up straight. "What was that?"

Catherine leaned on the edge of his desk. "Two suits in a dark sedan followed me to lunch and to my interview. Then they followed me back here to the office."

Joe looked very unhappy. "I don't like this. You don't know for sure that they were FBI."

Catherine was startled as she realized that Joe was right. "Now that you mentioned it, I'm not sure who they were. I just assumed…"

"I want you to stop at my office when you get ready to leave for the night," Joe ordered.

"Surely that's not necessary, Joe." She argued. "I can take care of myself."

"I don't like this situation and until I know who is following you, I want you protected." Joe was very emphatic.

Catherine knew it was useless to argue when he was like this. "Okay, Joe," She replied and went back to her desk.

* * * * *

When she first woke up the next morning, Naomi was afraid because she didn't know where she was. As she looked around, she recognized the nice old lady that had put her to bed. Her name was Mary. Last night was all a blur. She remembered the frantic rush to load up the station wagon, leaving most of her toys behind, and the wild ride with the black car chasing them. Then there were the loud bangs and the crash. Naomi wrinkled her brow as her five year old mind was trying to wrap itself around what had happened. The next part was so strange like a fairy tale or like one of her brother's favorite movies - a big scary monster had caught her when she was thrown out of the car. The monster had been nice and had taken her to a magic underground kingdom where another nice man called Father had fixed up her leg, which was hurting right now.

Mary spoke to her. "Good morning, Naomi. What do you say we get you dressed? You've got a big day today."

Naomi replied, a little unsure, "Okay." She winced as she moved. "My leg hurts."

Mary handed Naomi a small cup that she had been holding. "I know dear. Father told me to give you this when you woke up. It will make you feel better."

The red liquid in the cup tasted funny but Mary insisted that she drink all of it.

Mary helped Naomi get the soft nightgown off and checked the splint on her leg. Naomi remembered that the man called Father had said the tibbi-something was broken but it was a 'clean' break. Naomi knew it was clean cause mommy had given her a bath yesterday. Next Mary checked the bandages on her arm and her side. Naomi hadn't realized she was hurt on her side until Father had started treating it. Naomi was beginning to get cold when Mary started dressing her in soft well patched clothes.

Mary spoke. "I'm putting you in several layers because it's cool and damp down here." She stopped and listened for a minute and Naomi noticed the sound of banging on metal pipes. "Vincent will be here soon to take you to breakfast."

"Vincent." That was the name of the monster. "He isn't going to eat me, is he?" She was just a little bit scared thinking about some of the TV shows she had seen her brother watching.

Mary looked at her, startled, for several seconds, and then she started to laugh. "No, honey, Vincent is going to take you to the dining chamber so you can have breakfast." She smiled at Naomi. "He could never hurt a sweet little thing like you."

Just as Mary finished dressing her, Vincent called from outside the door. "It's Vincent. May I come in?"

Mary responded, "Come on in, Vincent. We're just about ready."

Vincent walked in. He was just as big and scary as Naomi remembered. Then he spoke. "Good morning Naomi. Good morning Mary." His voice was so sweet and mellow that any fear of him melted away.

"Morning … Vincent." She remembered him telling her to call him Vincent. She liked that name.

"Would you like to go get some breakfast?" He asked. A smile flashed momentarily across his face and exposed four very long, very sharp, and very scary fangs. She was reminded again of some of the movies her brother liked to watch, but the warmth in his deep blue eyes made her feel safe and unafraid.

"I'm hungry." She replied as she realized she was very hungry.

Vincent reached down and picked her up. "Then let's go get some breakfast." He turned and headed out the doorway. "You coming, Mary?" He asked over his shoulder.

Mary called out from behind them. "I'm right behind you. Lead on, MacDuff."

Naomi looked up at Vincent in surprise. "I thought you were Vincent."

Vincent laughed. "I am. Mary was just quoting a line from a play by Shakespeare."

Naomi was confused. "Who's Shakier?"

Vincent replied. "William Shakespeare is a man that wrote several stories many years ago."

"Oh." Her response was tinged with doubt.

Vincent could hear Mary laughing behind him. They soon reached a large chamber with several long tables in it. Vincent set Naomi down at a table with several young children. Then he sat down next to her. Mary also came to sit with the children. Soon a very large red haired, smiling man came up.

"Good morning, Vincent, Mary. And who is this pretty young girl with you?" Inquired the large man.

Vincent replied. "William, I would like to introduce you to Naomi. She is going to be staying with us for a little while."

William smiled at Naomi. "Good morning Naomi. How do you like your eggs cooked?"

Vincent looked up in surprise. "We have eggs this morning?"

William nodded with a smile. "Special gift from a helper Above."

Naomi looked up at him timidly. "Mommy makes em scameld with cheese and … uh… mush….mush…rooms."

William smiled. "An excellent choice! I'll whip it up for you."

Vincent spoke up. "That sounds good, I'd like that too."

Mary piped in. "Same for me, William."

The other children at the table started talking to Naomi. They introduced themselves and asked her about herself. They were all very nice to her and by the time the eggs arrived Naomi was talking to them like they were all old friends. Geoffrey reminded her a lot of her older brother. Conversation lagged a bit as they dived into their breakfasts. Naomi thought the eggs were very good.

After they were all through eating, Vincent picked up Naomi and headed out of the dining room with several of the small children following behind. He led them into a room that had hundreds of books piled on every inch of free surface. He set Naomi down on a footstool and sat down in the large chair next to her. The rest of the children who had followed them gathered around and sat on whatever surfaces they could find.

For the next few hours, Vincent read stories to the children and he would use the stories to teach them some of their numbers and letters. Naomi enjoyed listening to Vincent read the stories as much as she enjoyed watching a favorite TV show, especially since with Vincent she could ask him questions if she heard something that she didn't understand and he would patiently explain it to her 'til she did understand. After each story they would all talk about what had happened in the story and why and what it meant. She also found that learning letters and numbers from Vincent was fun because he was so patient and he talked to them in a way they could understand.

When lunch time came around Vincent told the children that class was over and to go get lunch. Then Vincent asked Naomi, "Would you like to have lunch with me?"

Naomi looked up at Vincent and nodded her head. "Uh-huh."

Vincent smiled. "Then I guess we had better go." With that he picked her up and started toward the dining hall.

Naomi threw her arms around his neck. She felt so much safer than she had in a long while. When Vincent was carrying her, she felt like no one could harm her. In fact, she was becoming very attached to him. She also liked the feel of the fur around his neck and hands. His fur reminded her of the teddy bear she had left behind. Soon they arrived in the dining hall and Vincent set her down at the table with the rest of the children. While she was there, several adults came by to meet her. It was a little bit scary meeting all of these strangers, but Vincent was sitting next to her and his hand resting on her shoulder took away her fear. Some of these new people turned out to be quite nice. She was delighted by the one called Mouse and she really liked Jamie.

As the various people of the community met Naomi, they all were taken in by her sweetness and vulnerability. By the end of lunch nearly the whole community had taken Naomi into their hearts. Vincent found that he had developed a strong attachment to her as well. He felt proud of how well Naomi was handling her new environment. Although he didn't realize it, he had developed very strong paternal feelings towards her.

Near the end of the lunch time Father came over. "And how are you feeling today, Naomi?"

Naomi smiled at him. "My leg hurts a lot but I feel better."

Father patted her head. "Well, why don't you have Vincent bring you to the infirmary so we can check out your leg?" Father took her hand. "I'll see you in a little while." Then he turned and left.

Naomi looked up at Vincent. "What's a firmary?"

Vincent smiled. "An infirmary is another name for a doctor's office or an emergency room. It's the place where the doctor treats people who are sick or hurt."

Naomi smiled back. "Oh."

When she had finally finished her second dessert, which William had insisted she needed to make her leg feel better, Vincent picked her up and the headed off to the infirmary chamber. Once there Father poked and prodded her and examined her leg. Naomi complained that it was hurting again. Then he re-wrapped it.

"Well, Naomi, your leg is healing nicely but you still need to stay off of it for a while yet." He handed her four chewable pills from a new bottle he had just opened. "Here Naomi, eat these. They will make your leg hurt less." Then Jacob turned to Vincent. "I sent Peter a message about Naomi this morning and he sent these to me just before lunch. They will be much better for her than what I have been using." He handed the bottle to Vincent. "Give her two pills about every six hours. If she needs it you can give her up to four pills." Father turned to Naomi. "What do you have planned for the day?"

Vincent replied. "I thought I'd take Naomi around and show her some of the sights." Vincent laid his hand on Naomi's shoulder. "Then after dinner I was going to see if Mary could look after Naomi while I met Catherine to find out what she has discovered."

Father almost smiled at Naomi. "You two have fun." Then he leaned towards Naomi and spoke in a stage whisper. "And I expect you to keep Vincent out of trouble."

This made Naomi giggle as Vincent picked her up and left the room. The first place Vincent took Naomi was the chamber where Rebecca made all of her candles. Naomi's eyes lit up at the sight. Every free niche held a lit candle making the whole room dance with light. The room was filled with racks and shelves of all colors and shapes of the beautiful candles. The air was filled with the scent of warm wax and all the herbs used to add aromas to the candles. Rebecca looked up as she pulled a rack of new candles out of the pot.

As she hung them out to cool and harden she spoke. "Hello, Vincent, Naomi."

Naomi looked at her in surprise. "You know my name?"

Rebecca replied. "Of course I do. Everybody down here has heard about the pretty little girl that Vincent snatched out of mid air." She smiled. "By the way, what is your favorite color?"

Naomi thought for a second. "Purple."

Rebecca smiled. "And what is your favorite smell?"

Naomi's brows furrowed as she concentrated for several seconds on her answer. "My mother always smelled like jassin." Naomi turned to Vincent. "I miss mommy." She said plaintively.

"I know you do Naomi." Vincent replied gently.

Rebecca looked at Vincent, then Naomi as she wiped a tear that had sprung to her own eye. Most of the tunnel inhabitants knew by now that Naomi had lost her family to a terrible car accident. "So … so you like the smell of jasmine?"

Naomi nodded her head. "Uh-huh."

Rebecca grinned. "Would you like to help me make some candles, Naomi?"

This brought out a big grin and Naomi nodded her head again. "Uh-huh."

For the next hour Naomi and Vincent helped Rebecca make candles. Rebecca taught Naomi several tricks she used to color, shape, and scent the candles and Naomi had a wonderful time. She even made three special candles herself. One for Vincent, one for Father, and one for Vincent's Catherine. Naomi practically beamed when Rebecca and Vincent both praised her on how beautiful they were. After that batch had been set aside to cool and harden Vincent picked up Naomi and they left the candle chamber.

The next stop was Mouse's workshop with its myriad of objects and gadgets scattered around in a kind of ordered chaos. Naomi was fascinated with all the neat things she saw there. She spent several minutes looking into a kaleidoscope that Mouse had built. She was totally charmed when Mouse let her give a snack to Arthur, the raccoon.

Next Vincent took her to a place he called the Chamber of Echoes. Every sound she made seemed to echo back and forth for several minutes. Then Vincent showed her how if you were very quiet and moved around slowly you could find spots where you could hear sounds from different parts of the world above.

Their next stop was Elizabeth's painted tunnels. Naomi gazed at the wall murals in wide eyed wonder. The first painting was of Father holding Vincent as a baby. Vincent told Naomi how Father had found him abandoned behind St. Vincent's Hospital and raised him as his own son. Each painting had a story to tell and as they looked at them, Vincent would tell her the story behind the picture. They looked at the painting of the first Winterfest as he told her about that tradition. As they looked at the picture of Vincent and the carousel, he told her about his childhood adventures with his adopted brother Devin. As they looked at a picture of Vincent reading to a mummy, he told her about Catherine's rescue in the park. The picture of a buried ship brought out a story of found treasure that was given to people in need. The picture of Catherine, Mouse and Winslow pushing a machine against a wall with Vincent and Father on the other side in the dark brought out the harrowing tale of the cave-in and how Catherine and Mouse led that rescue effort.

At the far end they came to Elizabeth who had already sketched out Vincent's rescue of Naomi. In the background a station wagon was shown upside down in the air. In the foreground was the bundled Naomi high up and next to that was Vincent just above the ground and reaching for the falling bundle. Naomi gazed at this preliminary drawing in wide eyed amazement for several minutes while Elizabeth worked on it. Then Elizabeth got Naomi to help her fill in some of the green grass at the bottom of the picture. Finally Vincent picked Naomi up and told her it was time to move on. As they walked away Naomi stared back at that last drawing and Vincent felt a melancholy settle over her.

The final stop of the tour was the largest cavern she had ever seen. There was a lake that extended to the far side of the cavern where they could see a thirty foot high waterfall that poured into it. The walls were ablaze with glowing moss in every color of the rainbow. As Naomi and Vincent sat by the edge of the underground lake, they talked about all the things she had seen and the people she had met. Vincent asked her if she knew how to swim. When she said no, Vincent told her that they would teach her how to swim so that she could come down here with the other children. The idea of playing in the lake with the other kids definitely perked her up. Finally as dinner time approached, Vincent again picked her up and headed back to the dining chamber. Naomi again thought about how much she liked being carried by Vincent because she felt safe when he held her.

By the time they got back, the dining hall was already full and the food was being passed out. Naomi was very hungry and the food smelled so good. During dinner it seemed like everyone came over to say hello to Naomi again. Naomi enjoyed all the attention and the food was delicious.

During the meal Vincent sensed a moment of worry from Catherine but it went away quickly. After dinner Vincent placed Naomi in Mary's care and left for his planned rendezvous with Catherine. Halfway to her apartment building entrance he got a strong sense of alarm and broke into a run. By the time he got to her apartment building the feeling had faded but there was still a faint undercurrent of anxiety.

Mary sat with Naomi for a while and they talked about what she had seen and done. Finally as Naomi began to grow sleepy Mary took her to a new larger chamber that had several beds in it. Mary told her that this was where many of the children slept and they had fixed up a bed especially for her. Mary took her to her bed where Naomi found a purple candle that smelled of jasmine sitting on the little nightstand. As Mary put her to bed she snuggled down under the covers. She felt warm and happy and safe here. It had been a long time since she had felt this way. As she fell asleep Naomi thought about the big gentle monster that she now considered her very own protector.

* * * * *

Catherine stuck her head into Joe's office. "I'm done for the day, Joe."

Joe looked up. "Ah, Radcliffe, come in." Then he picked up the phone and dialed. "Yes, this is Joe Maxwell. I need you to send over those officers I requested… That's fine, thanks." Then he hung up. "I've requested a police escort to be sure you make it home safe."

"Are you sure that's necessary, Joe?" Catherine asked.

"Yes I am." Joe replied. "This is a lot bigger than we thought. First, the people in the wagon were supposed to be in the witness protection program. They were all members of the family of a witness to a massive scandal in the city and possibly the state government. Anyway they think the corruption goes very high up." Joe looked grim. "The victims in the car were his wife, his brother, and his twelve year old son." Joe eyed her closely. "The only other known relative is his five year old daughter, but she has disappeared and everyone is going nuts over there trying to find out what happened to her."

"What do they think happened to her? Could she be with another relative?" Catherine asked.

"That's what has them stumped. There are no other living relatives. She should have been in the wagon with the rest of the family. My friend said that this incident has stirred up a hornet's nest over there at the Bureau. It means that there is a leak inside the witness protection program." Joe again looked at her intently. "He told me that if I knew where the girl was, I should keep it to myself for now. At least until they can find and plug the leak."

"What about the father?" Catherine asked.

"They've moved him, but after what happened last night they are taking no chances. My friend says that they have told the witness that his daughter is alive and safe." Again Joe watched her closely. "I just hope they're right."

Catherine returned his look. "I'm sure that she's safe." Then she switched subjects. "What about the gunmen?"

"The two men in the sedan turned out to be professional hit men." Joe grimaced. "They weren't talking and they already have a very high priced lawyer." Then he smiled. "Fortunately, because of your statement and careful handling of the crime scene, even that high priced lawyer couldn't get them bail. The FBI is also putting their full weight behind this case. They don't take it kindly when the family of a major witness gets bumped off. It's bad for business." Two police officers came in at this point. "Unfortunately, because of your statement and careful handling of the crime scene, you could be a target. That's why I've arranged for you to have police escort. Since that apartment building of yours has pretty good security and no way to enter or leave unobserved, you should be safe once you get home."

Until now Catherine had not considered the possibility of her becoming a target. The idea made her suddenly very nervous and she had to work to keep her emotions under control.

Joe turned to the two officers. "Miss Chandler has been a witness in a very important case and there may be some people out to get her. Your job is to ensure that she gets home safely and to watch over her building till you are relieved."

The two officers drove Catherine home and insisted on escorting her up to her apartment. When she opened the door the first thing she noticed was the mess. Her entire apartment had been ransacked. The two officers rushed in ahead of her, guns drawn, and checked the entire apartment out for any intruders. Meanwhile Catherine fought to suppress her panic at such a personal invasion on top of being considered a possible target. The last thing she needed right now was to have Vincent come running to her rescue while these policemen were here.

One of the officers used her phone to report in while the other officer helped her check out the apartment for missing items.

A half hour later two detectives arrived to check over the scene. One of them was the same detective from the crash scene last night and she thanked him for getting those reports to her. After an hour the detectives announced that the job appeared to be very professional and no clues had been left behind. After the detectives left the two officers stayed to help her straighten up. Once the apartment was more or less back in order the two officers got ready to leave.

The first officer turned to Catherine at her door. "There doesn't appear to be any intruders here now but one of us will be stationed outside your door tonight."

"That's not really necessary officer." Catherine was thinking fast. "This door is pretty sturdy and I have a good dead bolt in it. I also have an alarm with a panic button if I need it. If you need to stand guard, the lobby is much more comfortable and the alarm sounds at the front desk."

The first officer thought about it for a minute. "Alright Miss Chandler but if you see or hear anything unusual, you hit that panic button and we'll get here as fast as we can." He rested his hand on her shoulder. "You lock the dead bolt as soon as we leave. Okay?"

Catherine nodded. "I'll do that, officer."

The two officers left and she closed and locked the door. She waited twenty minutes then after carefully checking outside her door, she went back out and down to the basement, by way of the stairs, where she met Vincent.

After assuring Vincent that she was safe, Catherine told him everything that had happened and what she had learned about Naomi and her family.

"Other than the father, who is currently unavailable, she has no other family." Catherine was saying. "How is she dealing with what happened to her?"

Vincent thought a moment. "That is hard to say. Most of the time she does just fine but occasionally I can sense feelings of sadness in her and last night she woke up crying and badly shaken by a nightmare." He paused as he thought about Naomi's behavior. "I don't think she really remembers the crash or she is blocking it out."

Catherine shook her head. "I just wish there was more we could do. I don't envy the one that has to tell her that her family is gone."

Vincent leaned back against the tunnel wall and looked downward. "Maybe by then she will have come to think of us as part of her family. Hopefully it will help to soften the blow."

Vincent leaned there a moment longer, looked up and proceeded to tell Catherine about his day with Naomi. After a little more small talk they separated. Catherine headed back up to her apartment and Vincent headed down to his chambers. Both were deeply wrapped up in their own thoughts as they went to bed that night.

Catherine had found it difficult to fall asleep that night. She had kept going over all the violence and tragedy that had surrounded Naomi. Eventually she began thinking about what Vincent had told her about his day with Naomi and she smiled at the vision of Naomi being cared for by her own personal, friendly monster. Finally Catherine fell asleep.

- - - -

As he prepared for bed, Vincent was disturbed by a feeling of unease. He checked his chamber then he checked the tunnel outside his chamber. He could find nothing wrong but the feeling would not let up. After pacing his room for several minutes he went out to check all the outer perimeter guard stations. He could find nothing wrong and he finally retired to his own room. He concentrated on his link with Catherine but there was no threat there. When he tried to pin down the source of his restlessness, he could find no reason for it. Finally he fell asleep. Several times during the night Vincent was awakened by that same feeling of unease but try as he could, he was unable to identify any cause.

* * * * *

Early the next morning, as Vincent lay there unable to sleep, he began mulling over the events of the last two days and the remarkable little girl, Naomi. He thought about the day he had spent with her and the sad story of her family. Suddenly he was almost blinded by a flash of insight. He shot out of his bed and ran out of his chamber like a bullet fired from a gun.

- - - -

That morning Catherine woke up feeling rested and ready for a new day. As she stepped into the elevator she was humming to herself and pressed the button for the basement. She was getting an early start and she thought she would go to work by way of the tunnels and possibly check in on Naomi and Vincent. Then she remembered the two policemen that were probably waiting for her in the lobby and reluctantly pushed the Lobby button.

At the fifteenth floor a man got into the elevator, nodded to her, and pressed the button for the twelfth floor. Catherine was on the alert but not too worried. She guessed he had rented that empty apartment on twelve. She wondered who it was on fifteen that had recommended him. At the twelfth floor two men got in and grabbed her as the doors closed and the first man shoved a gun in her face.

The man with the gun spoke. "You have one chance. Where are they?"

Catherine knew that since she had seen their faces, she would be dead once they had what they wanted. She stalled. "What are you talking about?"

"Where are they?" The gunman yelled as he smashed her across the side of her head with his gun, causing her to see stars.

Catherine let herself go completely limp when she was hit; her legs had gone wobbly anyway. She was barely aware of what she was doing as her training with Isaac Stubbs took over. At that moment all three men were startled to hear a roar like that of a lion reverberate through the elevator. Being unnerved by the roar and having to deal with the apparently unconscious woman on their hands left them momentarily off guard. There was a loud thump on the elevator ceiling and, somewhere in her haze, Catherine knew that Vincent would be dropping through the ceiling trap door at any moment. She suddenly uncoiled, straightened her legs and drove both her elbows into the stomachs of the two men that were holding her, knocking the wind out of them. She saw through a gray haze, the face of the gunman register shock and fear at the sight of Vincent dropping through the ceiling maintenance hatch, and then great pain as her knee impacted with his groin. As the gunman went to his knees dropping his gun, she kicked him in the face. Meanwhile Vincent had grabbed the other two from behind and threw them with tremendous force against opposite sides of the elevator.

Alerted by the elevator being called to the eighteenth floor, the two policemen sent to escort her to work were waiting by the elevator when the doors opened. They were both very surprised to see petite Catherine Chandler standing there with blood running down the side of her head and three big men lying unconscious at her feet. She swayed then stumbled forward as the two policemen caught her and eased her into the chair against the wall.

"Are you Okay, Miss Chandler?" One of the officers asked worriedly.

Catherine replied half heartedly. "I'll survive." She grimaced and touched her head as the world seemed to be fading in and out of a gray fog. "I think."

The second officer checked the three men. "What happened?"

Catherine looked over, causing her head to spin. "Wanted to ask me questions." She blinked several times trying to focus. "Didn't like my answer." Everything went black and white. She groaned, her head throbbing, as the world seemed to slip away.

The second officer caught her as she started to slide out of the chair. Meanwhile the first officer called for an ambulance and for additional backup.

Two ambulances and three police cars arrived at the same time. The paramedics checked Catherine, who had now been unconscious for several minutes, very carefully and pronounced her stable for transport. She was loaded into one ambulance and one officer climbed in to accompany her. That ambulance headed to the hospital followed by one of the police cars.

The three men were examined and then they were taken to the jail infirmary. One of the officers retrieved the gun from the floor of the elevator, handling it carefully to avoid disturbing any fingerprints.

* * * * *

Catherine's head felt like someone was trying to drive a nail through it, and that god awful wailing noise only made it worse.

The officer riding in the ambulance saw Catherine open her eyes and blink several times. She groaned, threw up then closed them again as she began choking. The paramedic quickly turned her on her side and worked to clear her airway. Finally she was breathing normally again. The paramedic checked her over and told the officer that she was still alive and stable. He informed the officer that this often happened with concussion cases.

* * * * *

Catherine's head hurt and she didn't want to open her eyes. "Vincent?" She groaned.

Then she heard Joe calling to her. "Cathy, are you okay? Say something." She felt someone grip her hand.

She opened her eyes to find Joe leaning over her. "My head hurts." She croaked out. She wanted to say something witty but all she got out was, "What happened?"

Another voice spoke up. "You have a concussion and a hairline fracture along the left temple, but you're going to be fine. Just rest for now. Give yourself time to heal."

Joe spoke. "All we know is the elevator doors opened and there you were with three thugs unconscious at your feet."

She tried to answer but she could feel the world slipping away again. She saw Vincent standing over her, and then he morphed into Joe. All the time she heard voices in the background demanding to know where they were. Then he morphed back into Vincent and she felt his love surround her then the voices went away.

* * * * *

The next time she woke up her head was aching but not as bad. "Vincent?" She groaned. Then she felt someone grab her hand and she opened her eyes.

Joe was leaning over her. "Cathy, it's Joe. I'm right here. Are you all right? Can you talk?" She could hear the concern in his voice. "Do you want me to get this Vincent for you?"

Catherine shook her head which turned out to be a mistake. She felt nausea rising up within her and a severe pain flash through her skull. With a great effort of will she forced down the nausea. "My head hurts." She looked at Joe, then raised the hand Joe was not holding and noticed an IV tube and a pulse monitor attached to that arm. She looked back at Joe. "What happened?" Her brows furrowed as she felt a strong sense of déjà vu wash over her. "Did I already say that?"

Joe squeezed her hand. "Actually I was going to ask you that." Joe patted her hand. "The elevator doors opened and you were standing there with three very large unconscious men at your feet and blood dripping from your head." She could hear the frank admiration mixed with the concern in Joe's voice. "Then you passed out. We have no idea what happened before the doors opened." Joe smiled down at her. "Do you remember what happened on that elevator?"

Catherine thought about what to say, which wasn't easy with her head hurting like it was. "It's all kind of hazy … I remember three men getting on the elevator … Two of them grabbed me and the third shoved a gun in my face." She frowned in concentration as Joe nodded encouragement. "The man with the gun asked 'Where are they?' When I said I didn't know he hit me with the gun … I guess the training I did with Isaac just took over." She stopped to think. "I remember going limp. Then while they were trying to hold me up I struck out at all three at once. I elbowed the two holding me in the solar-plexus." Her weak grin got slightly wider "I remember kneeing the gunman in the groin." She got a wicked gleam in her eyes. "Hard." She concentrated for a couple of seconds. "The rest of it is just a blur."

Joe spoke again. "After what you did to those three I'm thinking we need to have all the undercover officers take Stubbs' course." Joe looked grim. "Well they're in custody now and this time we're going to be doubly careful."

Joe patted her hand again and Catherine wondered if he even realized that he was doing it. She could see the genuine concern in his face. There was a lot more than a simple boss - employee relationship there. She also noticed the edge to Joe's voice. "What do you mean 'this time' and 'doubly careful', Joe?"

Joe frowned. "Both of the hit men from the car shootout were killed in the middle of the night, last night. It looked like they killed each other but the evidence is contradictory and I just don't buy it." Joe looked at Catherine; his eyes gleamed with deadly seriousness. "Add to that the news of the attack on you this morning, the gunman from this morning was an FBI agent, and there are a lot of people in the FBI that are extremely disturbed over these developments. I suspect that a lot of heads will roll before this thing is over and I think they are looking at you as a lightning rod to draw out the rats." He grinned at her. "You've already exposed a traitor in the local FBI office and I think you embarrassed them." Joe chuckled. "Petite little Cathy Chandler managed to take out a trained agent and two goons in less than two minutes inside a moving elevator. You've certainly got my respect, Radcliffe."

Catherine thought about that news and asked, "But how did they get in past the officers and the apartment security guard?"

Joe shook his head. "They didn't. They were already there." Joe squeezed her hand. "Apparently, they got in yesterday afternoon, broke into a vacant apartment on the twelfth floor, and just waited till the elevator went to your floor. They caught you alone on the way down but you turned out to be more than they could handle."

* * * * *

When Naomi woke up this time she knew where she was and she felt safe. Mary was there waiting for her and wished her a good morning. Naomi looked around and noticed that all the other children were absent. "Where is everyone?" She asked sleepily.

"They've already gotten up and headed to the dining chamber," Mary responded.

Once Naomi was fully awake Mary proceeded to help her get dressed for the day. When she was dressed, one of the men she had met at lunch yesterday came to carry her to breakfast and Mary followed behind.

Naomi asked Mary, "Where is Vincent?"

Mary shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, honey. I think he had to go meet Catherine. I'm sure he'll show up later."

Breakfast was good and Naomi enjoyed talking to the other children but she missed Vincent and worried about him. She was also beginning to miss her family. The children were all excited about a planned trip to the Waterfall Lake for the afternoon and Naomi was soon infected by the lighthearted emotions of the other children.

When they all got to the chamber Naomi thought of as the book room, Mary started reading to the children like Vincent had the day before. Just before lunch time Vincent showed up. He came over and sat on the floor next to Naomi and listened to Mary read to the children.

As lunch came to an end Vincent told the children to be back in the dining chamber and ready to go in two hours if they wanted to go on the expedition to the Waterfall Lake. The children cheered and scattered. Vincent took Naomi to see Father so he could check on her injuries. On the way he noticed a sense of sadness growing in her. "What's bothering you Naomi?"

Naomi looked up at his face. "I miss Mommy and Jerry."

Vincent held her close. "I know you do." He felt a tightness in his throat. She still did not know the extent of the tragedy. "There is nothing we can do about that, but I promise, I will take care of you and keep you safe for them." How did he tell a five year old that her family was gone?

After checking her over, Father pronounced her healthy and the injuries healing.

Vincent asked, "Father, you know I'm taking the children down to the lake this afternoon. Will it be okay for Naomi to go in the water? I already asked her and she hasn't learned to swim yet."

Father looked at her thoughtfully. Then he added a little extra support to the splint and just used just a few bandages to hold it in place. "That should make it so she can walk on it while in the water." He looked sternly at Vincent and then at Naomi. "You are only to walk on that leg when you are in the water. You are to have an adult with you at all times and you are to come straight here when you get back so I can change your bandages. Is that agreed?"

Naomi solemnly nodded her head and Father reached out and ruffled her hair. "Then go and have fun."

 

Vincent carried Naomi back to the girl's side of the children's chamber where Mary helped her change into clothes more appropriate for the upcoming trip.

Naomi asked Mary, "Does Father ever smile?"

Mary looked at her a moment then laughed. "I don't know, dear. But I have heard some say that if he ever did smile his face would crack in half … There you are. All ready for the lake."

Vincent came in to get Naomi and, from the amusement in his eyes, Mary could tell he had heard the comments about Father.

Afterwards Vincent and Naomi met Jamie and they went back to the dining chamber where they were met by the rest of the children and two other young adults who had volunteered to act as chaperones. As soon as everyone was ready they set out for the lake cave.

Once they arrived Vincent supervised the setting up of the camp fire then all the children jumped into the water.

Jamie volunteered to stay with Naomi and they got along wonderfully. Jamie took her assumed responsibility very seriously and never let Naomi get very far from her. The youngest children stayed in the shallow area with Naomi and they had fun splashing and playing water games. Jamie became the official organizer and referee for the youngest children.

While he watched Naomi play, Vincent brooded over his problem. Naomi had to be told eventually about the death of her family. It still hurt whenever he remembered telling Eric about the death of his sister. Naomi was much younger than Eric had been and he just didn't know how to tell her.

Later, all the children got out of the water and came to sit around the fire to tell ghost stories and eat hotdogs. Jamie stayed by Naomi and helped her cook her hotdog. A couple of times Naomi noticed that Vincent would appear to be looking at something very far away. One of those times she asked him about it. "Vincent, what are you looking at?"

Vincent shook himself then looked at Naomi. "I'm not really looking at anything. Catherine was hurt this morning and I'm just checking in on her to be sure she's okay."

Jamie looked up surprised. "Catherine hurt?"

Vincent looked at Jamie. "Yes, but she is getting better."

"How do you do that?" Naomi looked around the cavern, puzzled. "I don't see her."

Vincent looked at Naomi and thought a moment. "If I think very hard, I can feel what she's feeling. That's how I know."

"Oh." Was her only reply.

After they broke camp, Vincent picked up Naomi and they all headed back to the home tunnels. Jamie stayed close to them the whole way back. As soon as they got back Vincent took her to Father who took off the damp bandages and checked her over. He pronounced her no worse for her adventure and put on a new splint and bandages. Then Vincent took Naomi to her bed and sat up reading to her. Jamie came in while he was reading and sat with them.

At one point Naomi asked. "Vincent, is Catherine okay?"

Vincent stopped and looked at her solemn face. Then he concentrated on his link to Catherine. He smiled at Naomi. "Catherine is doing just fine. I can tell that she is getting better." Then he looked at Naomi. "And I can tell that your leg is feeling better also."

"How do you know?" She asked.

"When I'm very close to someone I can sometimes sense what they are feeling." Vincent answered. "With Catherine I can do it even when she is very far away."

Naomi asked, "Can you tell if mommy is okay?" Her expression was very ernest.

Vincent was caught short and he had to choose his words very carefully. "I have no sense of your mother. I've never met her." It wasn't a lie but it wasn't the whole truth and Vincent was bothered by it.

"Oh." There was obvious disappointment in her voice.

At this point the other children had begun to filter in and Vincent continued to read to her till Naomi had fallen asleep. After that Vincent went to see Father. He had a lot to talk over with him.

* * * * *

That afternoon the doctor came in and told Catherine that if there were no complications, she should be able to go home in the morning. Joe had two officers assigned to guard the door to her hospital room. At dinner time Catherine shooed Joe out of her room, telling him to go eat and get some rest. She said she would see him in the morning.

Later that night after the end of second shift, Vincent came into her third floor room through the window. He told her about Naomi's second day Below. "Naomi is adapting very well and she gets along great with all of the other children. Jamie has become very fond of Naomi, also. She has asked about her mother and brother twice and a couple of times I saw her looking very sad when she thought no one was looking. I think she suspects that something has happened to her family. We are going to have to tell her soon." Catherine took Vincent's hand. They continued to talk for about an hour. Vincent exited hastily when they heard a nurse coming into the room. One of the officers came in right behind her. The nurse gave Catherine a sedative and left. A doctor came in as the nurse was leaving and gave Catherine a very cursory checkout while asking how she was doing. Something about the doctor just didn't feel right to her. She told him she was okay and he did a quick sweep of the room with his eyes then he left. Catherine thought about it but she couldn't pinpoint what had bothered her about that doctor. Soon the sedative kicked in and she drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

The next morning Joe arrived just after Catherine had been pronounced fit to leave. Joe waited outside her room while she got dressed then said he would escort her home. He seemed to be watching her very closely as they walked down the hall. "Have you seen Vincent lately?" He asked.

Startled she looked back at Joe. "What?"

"I heard that someone thought they saw a large shadowy figure at the window to your room last night. I wondered if it might be this mysterious Vincent. Twice now as you were waking up I've heard you mention his name." Joe was watching her very closely.

Catherine forced herself to act unconcerned. This was not something she was prepared to deal with. "Vincent?" She tried to think of what she could say that would satisfy Joe. "Oh Vincent… That's the name of the man that helped me two years ago when I was attacked and left for dead in Central Park … I must have been flashing back to that incident." As they waited for the elevator, Catherine silently berated herself. That was more than she wanted Joe to know. She wished she had come up with something better but her head still ached and she was finding it a little difficult to think clearly.

Joe could tell by her barely concealed reactions that he had caught her off guard and gotten a direct hit this time. Usually she was much better at deflecting his verbal shots in their 'Guess the Mystery of Catherine' contests, but not this time. He now knew that someone named Vincent had saved her life when she was mugged and left for dead in the park and he was apparently still watching over her. He suspected there might even be a romantic angle to this relationship. He took pity on her and decided to ease up. She really was in no condition for their usual verbal sparring contests. The doctor had told him that there might be some residual effects from the concussion and last night's sedatives.

"What about the three men who attacked me?" She asked, trying to change the subject.

"They were always contacted by phone and were paid by envelopes filled with cash left at different drop locations. We traced their phone bills but that got us nowhere." The frustration in his voice was palpable. "They never met their employer and have no idea who he was or what he looked like."

The elevator doors opened and it turned out to be pretty full. With two doctors, a nurse, an orderly, Catherine, Joe and the two policemen the elevator ride from the third floor to the first floor was a bit crowded. Catherine noticed that Joe looked startled when he looked at one of the doctors. At the second floor the orderly got off. When they reached the ground floor one of the policemen told Joe and Catherine to stay put while he went to get the car. The two doctors and the nurse went over to the main desk. While Catherine and her escorts were waiting, she noticed the doctor who had come into her room last night was standing in the lobby near the front door.

At that instant five rough looking men converged on Catherine, Joe and the other police officer. As the five men pulled out guns Catherine heard the words, "FBI … Freeze!" come from three directions at once. Catherine realized that there were three 'doctors', two 'nurses' and two 'patients' holding guns pointed at the five gunmen who had approached her. The people who had ridden with her in the elevator and the doctor that had entered her room last night were among the FBI agents that were now arresting the five rough looking men.

Joe greeted the one that he had noticed in the elevator. "Henry, it's a good thing you were here." Joe turned to Catherine. "Cathy, this is Henry Sloan. Henry, I'd like to introduce you to Catherine Chandler."

Catherine and Henry shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and then Joe asked, "So, how is it going?"

Henry smiled back introducing the man that entered Catherine's room last night as he approached. "Joe, Ms. Chandler, this is James McClendon, head of the 'FBI Government Corruption Task Force'."

Joe looked at James closely. "You were with the agents that grabbed all of our files and evidence from the shootout and car crash weren't you?"

James responded to Joe's question. "Yes I was. We didn't know who was involved in the corruption, so we grabbed everything to keep it safe. Well, I have good news and bad news." Joe looked at James expectantly. "The good news is that we think we've plugged the source of the leak in our operation here. … The bad news is that our witness has disappeared. He didn't know who the big cheese is but he was familiar with a major branch in the operation. Unfortunately he disappeared before he had told us everything he knew." James shook his head. "We don't know if he went into hiding or was snatched. Without that witness our case is dead in the water. The best we can do is watch the small fish that he gave us and hope something develops." He looked directly at Catherine. "I just hope his daughter is somewhere safe."

Catherine looked at James with her best enigmatic smiled. "I'm sure that wherever she is, she's safe, healthy and happy."

"I hope you're right." James smiled back. "I just want to thank you for all your help. We might not have been able to root out these rotten apples without your courage and quick thinking, both at the original crash and in your apartment building elevator. I want you to know how much we appreciate what you've done and I hope you will forgive us for using you as bait this morning."

Catherine responded, "That's okay. It was probably more like you thought they might come at me again so you were ready for them. I understand completely and thank-you for being there when it happened."

Henry shook his head. "Joe wasn't exaggerating about you. I just hope that this latest batch we just captured will give us some kind of clue that will help us track down the source of the corruption."

At this point several more FBI agents arrived and took the five attackers away. James and Henry stayed behind with Catherine and Joe. They all escorted her home.

"You take the day off." Joe told her. "Lay down and get some rest. I'll have the police keep watch over your apartment." He got a determined look in his eyes. "I will personally choose the officers that get assigned that duty and I will make sure that one is posted at your door at all times."

James spoke up. "I think you should be safe for now with Joe keeping an eye on you. Henry and I will be heading back to Washington DC, but Henry will keep in touch with Joe and let him know of any new developments. Meanwhile until we have some idea how far this corruption goes it would be best not to talk to anyone other than Joe and us about this case."

Catherine replied, "I will keep that in mind. Who do I call if something new comes up?"

Henry responded, "Tell Joe and he can contact me."

As soon as the men left Catherine went over to her door and opened it to find a police officer seated in the chair near her door. She offered him something to drink. He accepted a glass of water from her. After closing the door she mumbled to herself. "This is pretty damn inconvenient." Then she made a phone call.

"Hello, Edward? …"

"It's Cathy. Can you get a message to Vincent right away? It's urgent…"

"Good. Tell him that the police have put a guard around my apartment and he must stay away for awhile…"

"I don't know how long. I'll contact him when it's safe…"

"Thank you, and give my love to your father…"

"Bye."

Catherine was deep in thought as she hung up the phone. This was going to be a problem. She had to find a way to get Joe to discontinue these guards.

- - - -

As the three men left Catherine's apartment Henry addressed Joe. "I thought you were exaggerating but everything you've told me about her was true. Wealth, beauty, brains and guts. You forgot to tell me how tough she was in a crunch."

James chimed in, "I have to agree, she is quite a woman."

Henry grinned at Joe. "Any romance in the air?"

Joe answered with a self depreciating grin. "I doubt it. I'm pretty sure she's got a boyfriend somewhere in the background possibly named Vincent. But despite her mysterious personal life, she is the very best I have ever seen at her job and I would hate to loose her."

Then James spoke up. "What about the daughter? Do you think she knows where the girl is?"

Joe thought about it. "I don't really know for sure. If she does, she's not telling." He rubbed his chin. "Personally, I hope she does have the little girl, because then I could be sure that she was safe. Cathy really cares about kids and she is relentless when it comes to protecting them from the bad guys." Joe chuckled. "That woman has contacts and assets that I can't begin to figure out."

James slapped Joe on the shoulder. "I hope so. I should be trying to track the daughter down but I think for right now it would be better for her if I just left it at location unknown. It certainly makes me feel better to believe that Miss Chandler does have the girl tucked away somewhere safe."

* * * * *

Around noon there was a knock at Catherine's door. It was James. "Come in Agent McClendon." She nodded to the officer outside her door as she closed it. "What brings you back here so soon?"

James gave her a half smile. "There are some things I wished to talk to you about, without the others present." He sat in the chair she indicated. "First off I wanted you to know how things stand. This morning we flushed out a major player in the FBI local office. One of the men that tried to take you this morning was directly linked to the head of the local department responsible for settling people in the witness protection system. Unfortunately the trail ends there. Like before there was no direct contact between him and those giving him orders. We still don't know who the top man is. Whoever it is, he is very smart and very careful. You must understand, this thing is much bigger than what you've seen the last few days." James looked at Catherine, his expression very serious. "I have more than one finger in this mess, but it could take a while before we can reach the head of the snake." He was now leaning forward looking at her very intently. "In the mean time, I have to deal with a missing witness, a missing daughter, and you."

Catherine thought, Now we come to it. She knew this was where it could all fall apart.

James continued. "We know the daughter was in the wagon when it left their apartment and evidence indicates that she was in the wagon at the time of the crash. I have to know what your part is in the disappearance of the daughter, and I have to know if you had any part in the disappearance of my witness. I have a lot of latitude in this matter but I need to be able to assure myself and my superior that the girl is safe and that you are not working against us."

Catherine looked surprised. "Then you don't know where the father went?"

James responded. "No. I take it you don't either."

"I'm afraid not." Catherine sat there for a few moments considering what she could or should say. "I can't tell you too much. The safety and welfare of a lot of very good people, including Naomi, is at stake here. Even revealing the fact that they exist is more than I should do. I'm putting a lot of trust in you by even telling you what little I can." She looked down at her hands, then at the book of Shakespeare's sonnets from Vincent sitting on the coffee table. Finally she looked back up at James. "Almost two years ago I was attacked and left for dead in Central Park."

James cocked his head and his eyes narrowed slightly. "Yes, I remember hearing about that. It filled the papers for several weeks. The reports said you didn't remember the ten days you were missing."

Catherine continued. "It was one of those people I mentioned that found me and took me to where they live. They saved my life. They not only took care of me there, they helped give me the strength to make something more of my life. As soon as I was strong enough they brought me back to my home. They asked nothing of me in return. They didn't even ask me to keep their secret, though I knew they hoped I would." She paused again. "Where they live is a place of refuge. They have Naomi, and there is no place anywhere else where she could be safer or better cared for."

James notice a gleam in her eyes as she paused again in her narration.

Catherine took a deep breath. "If necessary I can have Naomi back here in an hour or two, but I think that would be a mistake at this time. No matter what, I can not tell you any more about those people than I already have. Those people are already on the lookout for your witness, because he is Naomi's father, and if he is spotted they will let me know immediately. It would be helpful if I could get them a picture."

James paused, digesting what he had just been told. Finally he spoke. "How is she doing?"

Catherine leaned back getting comfortable. "Naomi is coping well with her new environment. I know she has been enjoying herself the last two days and the injuries she received in the wreck are healing well. She misses her family, but she doesn't know they are dead yet. She seems to have very little memory of the accident itself. Just a few nightmares. Breaking the news of her family will be difficult and they want to give her a few days to become acclimated before they tell her. One of the problems is not being able to tell her what happened to her father." She waved her hand in the direction of the door with a hint of frustration in her voice. "This guard Joe has put on me makes it impossible for me to check up on Naomi."

James had also leaned back into a more relaxed position. "Since we don't really know if there are any other moles buried in the department, it would be best to keep the daughter out of the system." He waved his hand in her direction. "Based on my conversations with Joe and what I've seen of you, I think you are the best person to look after the daughter for me." He smiled at her. "I will tell my superior that the daughter has been placed in a safe location outside of the department, known only to me. We will let the word be spread that you turned the kid over to me the same day we raided your bosses office and she is now in a safe place known only to my boss. That should take you out of the equation so that Joe will ease up after a day or two. I will be the only one that knows of your continued involvement. Even my boss will think you are no longer involved." James nodded. "You've done an awful lot for us already and this should take the heat off of you."

James picked up the book on the coffee table and opened it. "Shakespeare, huh." Catherine's heart skipped a beat as he glanced at the inscription. "Personally 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' is my favorite play by him." James smiled at her. "I think it is the oldest known screwball comedy." He looked back down as he flipped to the book marked page. "I never read his sonnets."

James closed the book, set it back down and stood up. Catherine also stood up. He looked very seriously at her. "I can see that you are risking a lot telling me as much as you have. I hope you realize how much I'm putting on the line here as well."

Catherine was just as serious. "I understand. I will personally keep tabs on Naomi and I will try to get word to you if anything develops."

James handed Catherine a card. "This is my personal number. If you have any information that deals with the girl, or your friends, call me directly. Otherwise anything else about this case should go through Joe."

Catherine thanked him as she let him out the door. She nodded and smiled to the officer on guard as she closed the door. That night she thought a lot about James' visit. He had been up front with her and what he had said made sense. She decided that he could be counted among the good guys.

* * * * *

Vincent was awakened by a very faint hint of panic. This time he recognized it as coming from Naomi. He sprang out of bed grabbed his cloak and raced to the children's chamber. He arrived just as Naomi cried out. She awoke from her nightmare cradled in Vincent's arms as he gently rocked her and soothed her with his voice.

Finally she looked up at him and asked, "Where are Mommy and Daddy and Jerry and Uncle Kyle? … I miss them."

Vincent looked down into her teary eyes and sighed. "Naomi, we don't know where your daddy is. The rest of your family is gone. They were lost in that same car wreck when I caught you. Mary, Father and I are your family now." He pointed to all the beds in the chamber. "And these are all your brothers and sisters." He noticed that Jamie was standing at the entrance. "And Jamie also cares about you." He smoothed her hair as he held her. "We will always be here to take care of you."

Naomi thought about what Vincent had said for a few seconds then she buried her face in his chest and softly cried for a while. She knew it was true and she missed her family. She finally cried herself out and while Vincent held her she fell back to sleep.

As Vincent gently placed Naomi back in her bed he knew she understood and was going to be alright. He pulled the covers up and tucked her in. He brushed her hair back from her face as he smiled down at her sleeping form then he turned and, nodding to Jamie, headed back to his own chamber.

* * * * *

Two days later Joe decided that Catherine was safe for the time being and informed her that he had withdrawn the guard detail.

That evening after work Catherine headed down into the tunnels. Vincent met her halfway.

Catherine asked. "How is Naomi doing?"

Vincent replied. "She's doing quite well. I told her that her family is gone and she took it well. The nightmares have stopped and she no longer mentions her family. I think she has accepted the situation and adapted." Vincent chuckled softly. "Children that age are very resilient. What about her father?"

Catherine shook her head. "Nobody knows. He's disappeared and the FBI haven't a clue." She looked up at Vincent's face. "The agent in charge knows that I have Naomi hidden away and has left me in charge of her safety. Everybody else thinks I gave her to him and he has her in an undisclosed safe house, so for now I'm out of it."

Vincent mulled over this revelation as the continued down the tunnels. They managed to arrive at the dining chamber just in time for dinner and they found Naomi surrounded by Geoffrey and Jamie. They both went over and sat with Naomi. She greeted Catherine enthusiastically and told her all about her days down Below. Vincent would occasionally add a remark or two of his own to Naomi's stories. Catherine also notice the adoring looks Naomi gave Vincent whenever he spoke. After dinner, Catherine and Vincent went to the children's dorm where Naomi showed Catherine her purple Jasmine candle. Then Naomi gave Catherine the candle that she had made for her.

As Catherine got ready to return home she smiled at Vincent while nodding towards Naomi. "I see you've made a conquest there."

Vincent smiled back. "I think she has stolen a small piece of my heart."

Thinking back to her young gypsy friend from a year ago, Catherine replied, "I know how you feel."

The End

 


'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.