OF PUCCINI AND PIPES

by Margaret Davis

(This story first appeared in the fanzine Within the Crystal Rose, Volume 1.)


Benjamin Pascal scuffed along the path in Central Park kicking at the leaves. The crisp fall evening breeze tugged at the thinning brown hair and fluttered the ends of the woolen scarf wrapped around the throat to protect the precious vocal chords from a chill. His clothes proclaimed him a student--blue jeans, fisherman knit sweater worn over a turtleneck and a battered blue backpack slung over one shoulder. A knowledgeable music lover would have recognized the tune he hummed as "Una Furtiva Lagrima" from Donnezetti's Elixir of Love and would have guessed vocal music major.

As he walked along he pondered how to tell all the people he loved that he was leaving and would likely be gone for five years at a minimum. The letter offering him an apprentice position in the house chorus at the Vienna Statsoper was in his backpack. They wanted him there in three weeks. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, the goal he had pursued from age eight when the chorus-master at St. Patrick's sought out the source of the sweet bell-like voice. Rehearsals, lessons, teasing by his peers who called it alka-seltzer music and hours upon endless hours of vocalizing had led to this moment. Why did it hurt so much when the goal you always wanted appeared in front of you?

The melody of "Ave Maria" began to float through his mind as he cast his thoughts back over the events that brought him to this crossroads.

His earliest memory was of his mother singing to him as she held him on her lap in the big wooden rocker. He couldn't remember a time when they didn't sing together. Later when singing made her cough, he sang to her. She always had a special smile for him when he sang "Ave Maria." Her rosary was always close at hand and the sight of the beads slipping though her thin fingers had been a constant reminder of her faith.

From the cradle she had taught him the prayers and to know that God was everywhere, even Below in their special world.

****

"Benji, always remember that God hears you, no matter where you are. He always listens when you pray. And when you have a special burden in your heart, you ask the Blessed Virgin to intercede on your behalf," her half whisper had echoed in the chamber.

Papa was always so busy in the pipe chamber. He was an important part of their world, Benji's mother said. He had helped invent the language of the pipes. Benji hated the pipe chamber. It made his ears hurt, all that noise. He knew his father was disappointed that he didn't love the pipes although he did understand some of the messages. In Benji's mind nothing would be worse than spending all day in that noisy place.

Mama began to spend more and more time in her chamber. She took long naps and was often still asleep when he came to see her after lessons. One day after class when he went to her chamber, she told him she was going away, but he didn't believe it. She said she was going to live in Heaven and she would always watch over him from there. Devin's mother was in Heaven, too. Benji wondered why she would want to leave him behind. Who would listen to him sing if she was gone?

Father came with his big, black bag every day to check on Mama. One day when Benji sat quietly at the bedside waiting for her to waken, Father sent him running for the pipe chamber.

"Summon your Papa, quickly!" The tone of Father's voice, sent him sprinting from the chamber.

Benji ran goaded by fear and skidded through the entrance to the main pipe chamber. Even in his fright, he knew to wait until Papa acknowledged him before speaking. He moved restlessly from one foot to another anxious to deliver his message. He saw Papa straighten and turn toward him as the tapping on the pipes ended.

"Father says come to Mama's chamber, now!" Benji blurted out, unable to wait any longer to complete his errand. Papa's face was all white, like he was sick and he exited the chamber at a dead run, with Benji on his heels.

When they reached the tunnel leading to their quarters, they found Father waiting for them, his face solemn and still.

"Father?" The traditional tunnel greeting quivered with questions.

"Pascal, you must prepare yourself," Father's tone was harsh with suppressed emotion. "Marie is gone."

Benji wondered what Father meant, Mama had not been out of bed for days. Where would she go? His eyes widened in surprise when he heard the first tearing sounds of his Papa's pain. He was greatly frightened to see his Papa cry, it had never happened before.

Benji felt a small furry hand slip into his and looked down to see Vincent at his side, a full head shorter than he. Vincent's intensely blue eyes were sad and glistened with unshed tears. Suddenly his Mama's words about going to live in Heaven were in his mind and he jerked his hand away and ran for her chamber. As he ran his mind screamed, 'No, please no, don't let my Mama go away!'

He ran through the portal and up to the side of her bed. She was just asleep, he knew it, and reached out to touch her cheek. It was cool and all the color had gone from her face. From behind he felt his Papa's arms gather him up and lift him.

"Son, your Mama's gone to be with the angels," Pascal choked out.

"Why did she leave us, Papa," Benji asked his lower lip beginning to quiver.

"She's been sick for a long time, son, and now there is no more pain for her." Father and son clung to each other as they cried for the loss of the center of their world.

After a time, their grief assuaged for the moment, they sat at Marie's side in silence. Pascal reached out and gently loosened the rosary from her fingers. He blessed himself and kissed the cross before placing it in Benji's hands.

"Your Mama wanted you to have this to remember her by. It is to remind you to say your prayers and remember that she is watching over you from Heaven," he said as the tears began to slide down his cheeks again.

* * * * *

Benji pulled open the big door to the church and slipped inside. This was not their regular church, but he decided if God would be anywhere, he would be in this big church. Slowly he walked down the center aisle coming closer to the red vigil light on the altar. At the rail he genuflected and blessed himself before turning aside and walking to the candle rack in front of the Blessed Virgin.

'She will listen when you are troubled and have a problem without an answer,' he heard his Mama's words clearly in his mind. From his pocket he pulled all the money he had saved and the money Vincent had given him. He had told Vincent about his mission and was not surprised when his friend reappeared in his chamber with a little suede bag of coins.

"It's from me and Devin and Winslow. We want to help," Vincent told him. "I wish I could go with you; I will wait at the entrance for you."

They had walked together to the tunnel entrance near the cathedral. Vincent was there now, awaiting his return. Carefully he counted the coins again, then dropped the sixty-three cents into the box before taking the long match and lighting six candles--one for Papa, Mama, Vincent, Devin, Winslow and himself. From his jacket pocket he carefully pulled Mama's rosary and kneeling at the rail, began to say the prayers. Decade after decade the beads dropped through his fingers. Only when he had completed the entire rosary did he dare to voice his request.

"Blessed Mother, send my Mama back. I promise I will always be good, just, please, send her back. I don't want her to be an angel." He continued to kneel at the rail, oblivious to the sounds in the sanctuary and the scuffling from the choir loft.

When the first notes of "Ave Maria" floated through the air, Benji wondered if it was a sign that Mama was back Below and waiting for him. He began to hum under his breath and then sing along with the choir.

Monsignor Andrews waved his hand for silence and was surprised to hear a voice continue for three words before dying away. Where did that come from? It certainly was not any of the boys wiggling in front of him. He snapped his fingers and said, "From the beginning, if you please," and gave the downbeat. He strained to hear the voice and then heard it faintly from below in the sanctuary. He signaled to the organist to continue and quickly moved down the staircase.

Monsignor waited a moment at the back to hear the direction then quietly paced up the side aisle. Half way up he saw the top of a child's head at the left altar rail and as he drew nearer the clear, sweet soprano rose in unity with the choir. "Sancta Maria, Maria, ora pro nobis, nobis pecatoribus..."

He stood silently beside the first pew observing the youngster. The boy was dressed in ragged castoff clothes, but his brown hair was clean and glistened in the light of the candles as did the rosary in his hands. Stepping to the side a bit, Monsignor could see the lad's eyes were closed as he finished with the choir. It was more than a song, it was a fervent plea. He saw the tear slide down the boy's cheek as he stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Are you in trouble, my son?" he asked. He put his arm around the quivering shoulders and drew the boy up against him and moved to the first pew.

"My Mama went to be with the angels and I came to ask the Holy Mother to send her back. Mama always said She would listen when you were sad or had a big problem." His simple faith shone from his tear-stained face.

"Sometimes, my son, the things we wish most in this life cannot be. Even our most fervent prayers must be answered with 'No'."

"But Mama said prayers are always answered," Benji responded, surely the priest should know that.

"Did your Mama tell you that prayers are always answered 'Yes'?" the priest asked. "Didn't she tell you that sometimes prayers are answered with 'Wait' or 'No'? That's when it is hard to accept the will of God, because we always want Him to answer 'Yes'," Monsignor explained.

"Does that mean my Mama isn't coming back?" the little voice whispered.

"Yes, I'm sorry," the priest replied. He watched the child, whose last hope had been shattered at his words, carefully put the rosary in his pocket. He stood up to leave and Monsignor reached out a hand to detain him.

"What's your name?"

"Benji."

"Benji, did I hear you singing before?" he asked. At the child's nod he continued, "Would you like to sing with our boys choir today? We'll practice for another half hour."

Benji knew that Vincent would wait until he came and it would only be half an hour. He nodded and followed the priest to the choir loft.

"Boys, this is Benji, he's going to practice with us today," the choir master said by way of introduction, then signaled the organist to begin again.

Benji sang quietly along with the others trying not to make a spectacle of himself. He had seen the faces of several of the boys as they looked at him. He'd had enough experience Up Top to know those looks, the ones that said 'this person is different and different is weird.' Once again, however, the music lifted him from his sorrow and his voice soared upward to the high arches of the old cathedral.

Whether it was the need to show this new kid they could sing as well as he or that they were especially inspired that day, the boys' voices blended in a shining clarity of tone. Those in the sanctuary below listened in awe for it seemed the song that poured down on them came from Heaven itself.

After practice was over, Monsignor asked Benji to wait. He invited Benji to join the choir and told him they practiced every Tuesday afternoon. They sang Mass on Sunday and sometimes during the week. When Benji said he would ask his father, Monsignor told him to come back whenever he could.

Benji slipped along the alley and cast a quick look around before he ducked into the doorway that concealed the tunnel entrance. He tapped the signal on the door and heard the latch slide. He and Vincent pulled the heavy door open until the opening was wide enough for Benji to slip through.

"You were gone a long time, what happened?" Vincent asked as they pushed the door closed.

"A priest talked to me. He said Mama isn't coming back, ever." Benji sat on the tunnel floor and buried his face in his hands giving way to his grief.

Vincent sat beside Benji and patted his shoulder. He felt an enormous sadness inside. He had hoped the prayers worked and that he could do the same to find his own parents. It was a terrible burden to be abandoned and always wonder why, especially when you were only five.

* * * * *

The tunnel residents stood silently at the edge of the Mirror Pool to bid farewell to a beloved member of their extended family. Marie Pascal had touched each of them in a special way. Her unfailing cheerfulness in the face of any circumstance had been a comfort and inspiration to all. They remembered her sweet voice singing as she worked and as she taught the youngest children nursery rhymes.

As Father spoke the traditional tunnel eulogy, Marie's ashes were sprinkled onto the surface of the water by Constance, who had been her special friend. In the silence that followed Father's words, there rose a high voice that held true to the melody although it quavered with emotion, "Dona Nobis pacem..." Benji sang for his mother one last time.

* * * * *

Benji had received permission to join the choir only after he and Papa had a conversation with Father. Father had stressed how important it was that their secret not be revealed. Benji had promised that if anyone appeared suspicious, he would tell Father at once.

Constance had produced a minor miracle of some new Above clothes, which had gone a long way in helping Benji blend in with the other boys in the group. When they sang for Mass, they had cassocks which masked their differences, but rehearsal was another matter. Benji had thanked Constance profusely and wondered how she had known the importance of looking the same as the other boys.

After several months, Monsignor Andrews suggested Benji come on Friday afternoons for private voice lessons. The Monsignor had a fine baritone and had taken several years of music theory and voice lessons before joining the seminary. He found the boy had an excellent memory and perfect pitch. The lessons were a pleasant ending to his always busy weeks.

Benji found that singing made him feel better most of the time. Papa was busy in the pipe chamber much of the day and Benji was sometimes lonely. Afternoons, the time he had always spent with Mama, were the worst. Singing in their chamber during the free time after lessons was painful because it brought such clear memories of Mama. Some days he found it hard the practice at all.

One day Vincent followed Benji to his chamber after class to tell him of a special place he found. Vincent liked to go exploring much to Father's dismay and this latest treasure had been discovered just yesterday. The boys set off after gathering up candles and matches from the storage chamber.

The place was reached by a tunnel leading away from the Falls. Vincent led the way after pausing to light their candles. It was far enough that the sound of the water became a mere whisper. They passed several branches before Vincent turned aside walked into a chamber. It was small with a soaring ceiling and around the wall was a bench-size ledge. Vincent hopped up on the ledge and settled down on the blanket folded there.

"Benji, this is a good practice chamber for you, and this is where we can sit and listen," Vincent said, his voice echoing ever so slightly in the chamber. "Try it," he invited as he settled back against the wall to listen.

Benji looked around and nodded, perhaps it would not be so painful to sing here alone or with his friend for company. He remembered his assignment for the week was to sing scales and arpeggios. He listened for the sound of a middle C in his mind and began.

Vincent clasped his hands around his knees and listened to the sound with a sigh. Benji had been feeling so sad in his heart that it made Vincent sad, too. This new chamber would be their special music place. Devin and the older boys were unlikely to disturb them, they were not always fans of Benji's singing. Vincent would love to sing, but experiments in private had proved futile. Of course, having half of your front teeth missing didn't help, nor did a facial structure that prevented making one's mouth into a perfect O like Benji's was now.

Over the weeks and months that followed, the practice chamber began to take on a lived-in look with the addition of several candle stands, a small table and the old couch cushions Devin found to put on the ledge.

Devin had suffered from twinges of jealousy when he discovered the boys in the practice chamber one day. He didn't like things that took his little brother's admiration of himself away. He had found Vincent to be adamant in his refusal to join in their games when it was Benji's practice time. Vincent had grown accustomed to bringing a book to read while Benji practiced and refused to give up the time.

"Benji needs an audience and besides, I like to learn new songs," Vincent told Devin.

"What's the point? You don't sing," Devin pointed out in less than tactful terms.

"I listen and I like it," Vincent replied and for a moment was tempted to tell Devin his secret, but Devin would only laugh, so he kept silent.

When he found Vincent to be unmovable, Devin decided to stop in and listen one day. The bench was so hard and the thin blankets on the stone did little to alleviate the misery of sitting there for any length of time. A few days later he, Mitch and Jeremy found the old cushions outside an office building. They had returned before the garbage collector and carried the cushions down to the practice chamber. 'If we are going to sit there sometimes, we might as well be comfortable,' Devin thought.

Vincent had been practicing secretly on his humming. Benji always shared what he learned in his lessons with Monsignor Andrews and the lesson two weeks ago was how to hum properly. Benji told him that Monsignor said you must keep your lips closed but open your mouth wide. Then you made an Mmmmm sound. Benji said it made his lips and the tip of his nose tingle. Vincent had tried it in private and felt the same sensation. It was lots of fun and he found himself humming some of the melodies of Benji's songs when he was alone.

* * * * *

The winter Benji was ten, he sang his first solo in the big cathedral for the Christmas Eve Mass. For weeks ahead of time he practiced the Latin words. He had great trouble with "Excelsis Deo" until Vincent told him to just say egg shell cease day oh.

Vincent had a very delicate ear and languages intrigued him. He listened when tunnel residents or Helpers spoke in their native tongues and found it was easy to remember how to say the words. He had turned into a language coach for Benji. A conversation with Zeke, one of their Helpers, had resulted in the correct pronunciation of "Stille Nacht." Gabrielle had provided the correct accent for "Por Jesu Suis."

* * * * *

Monsignor Andrews sat in his study waiting for Benji on a bright spring day. For several weeks now twelve year old Benji's voice had been most uncooperative. In the middle of a word the clear soprano would squeak and crack and a new lower tone emerge. He was certain Benji would sing in the tenor range, although now and again when the change was abrupt, he wondered if a baritone was emerging from the thin body.

Today Monsignor had news that would change their routine forever. He had been assigned to the Curia in Rome and was to leave in a month. He was pleased with his rise in the ranks but loathe to leave his star pupil until a suitable voice teacher could be found. He had given the boy every kind of challenge in his lessons and found that the more difficult the assignment, the better Benji liked it.

The boy's ear for languages was phenomenal. They would start a new piece with Benji stumbling over the new words, but by the next lesson, the lyrics would be memorized and his intonation perfect. The only thing the boy had ever said was that a friend listened to him practice and helped him with the words. 'Must have a multi-lingual tutor and practice hours on end,' Monsignor thought as he heard the familiar footsteps on the stairs.

Monsignor had no idea how close he was to the truth. At nine Vincent had a working vocabulary in seven languages. He had never wavered in his love for music and his loyalty to Benji. He was present everyday in the practice chamber unless Father gave him a task after lessons. Then he would hurry to finish and join Benji before the two hour practice session ended.

The boys had talked about what Benji would do when he was grown. It was to Vincent he first confided his dream of singing opera. Monsignor had wonderful records of "Aida," "Carmen," "La Boheme," "Die Walkure" and others that they listened to after his voice lesson, he told Vincent.

"Some day I want to sing just like Caruso," Benji said.

Vincent assured him it was a noble ambition and promised not to tell Devin or Father and especially not Benji's Papa. Vincent knew Pascal wished his son to be the heir to the pipe chamber, just as Father wished Vincent to be the leader of the tunnel world someday.

Benji had spent some time in the pipe chamber on a regular basis, but confided to Vincent that the noise in the place would surely deafen him if he stayed there long. Both boys learned the language of the pipes and typically used their knowledge to disappear when some unpleasantness. like Brussels sprouts for dinner, threatened.

* * * * *

Monsignor Andrews had found a young woman to continue Benji's voice lessons. Janice Simmons taught piano and voice to a number of paying students, but was willing to teach Benji without charging a fee. Monsignor had never forgotten his first sight of Benji in ragged hand-me-downs and knew there were no funds for private lessons. He had taught Benji over the years without charging a fee. He had met Benji's father only once, when the man accompanied his son to the rectory the day of his first private lesson. Monsignor had made it clear that he was pleased to have a pupil and counted it a privilege to teach someone with such a promising voice.

Now the nurturing of Benji's talents had passed to Janice. Monsignor had told her as much as he knew about his pupil when he approached her about accepting Benji as a pupil.

"He seldom mentions anything of his life away from choir practice and voice lessons. His mother died four years ago and I met his father once. He has several friends that he speaks of occasionally, but generally our time together is spent working on technique and lyrics. He loves opera and we've nearly worn out some of my records of our favorites," Monsignor said with a smile as he remembered the first time Benji had heard opera.

"On day our housekeeper had baked chocolate chip cookies and I invited Benji to stay after lessons. I put a Caruso record on the phonograph and the boy seemed mesmerized. It developed into a pattern and even Mrs. Williams, our housekeeper, helped. She always seemed to bake cookies on Friday morning and the smell would remind me to select a record to share with Benji. The boy has an insatiable appetite for music and, incidentally, chocolate chip cookies. Not that he ever gains a pound, even when she sends a dozen cookies home with him every week."

Janice had laughed, "If serving cookies is a requirement for this student, I'm in trouble. I am a terrible cook! If the corner bakery and delicatessen ever close, I'll probably starve to death." Janice was interested in this boy who had the potential to be the best tenor since Caruso according to Monsignor Andrews. Although she had several students with excellent voices, none had so far demonstrated the drive and determination required to turn a good voice into an unforgettable talent.

Benji had felt a great sadness when Monsignor Andrews left for Italy, but had to smile at their last conversation.

"I predict you will be in Europe singing within fifteen years, my boy," Monsignor said. "I plan to be there for your first performance. You will set the opera world on its ear."

Benji remembered feeling embarrassed by such high praise, but deep within him the tiny seed of hope that had been there for as long as he could remember, began to sprout. From the first day when Monsignor had drawn him up from sorrow into the haven of music, Benji had nourished the little seed.

'I want to sing. Please, God, let it come true,' he implored.

* * * * *

Vincent was sad and lonely. Benji could see it in his eyes when he came to the practice chamber these days. Devin had disappeared. They had searched for him in all the places they knew including the remote passages far beyond the mapped areas. Benji knew Father had been very angry after the incident at the Carousel and that he blamed Devin because he was the oldest.

Benji's theory was that Devin was staying someone Up Top until Father got over being so angry. He had threatened to leave once before, Benji had heard him talking to Mitch about it.

Vincent had said very little about the entire situation, but he had told Benji that he had no sense of Devin. He thought Devin was either dead or far away. Benji didn't understand how Vincent knew those kinds of things, but he had seen it demonstrated enough over the years to know it was true. Sometimes Vincent had dreams about things that happened later. He had dreamed of Benji's new voice teacher for months before Monsignor told him he was leaving.

Some of the songs he had learned recently had been written during times of war. They spoke of the pain of losing a comrade and the sorrow of leaving loved ones behind and never seeing home again. When Benji sang them he thought of Devin and knew Vincent did as well, for he often saw the glitter of tears in Vincent's eyes.

The boys drew even closer during the months following Devin's disappearance. Although they did not often talk about it, Benji was the only boy in the tunnels who had experienced a similar loss. It helped him to understand Vincent's retreat into silence and need to be alone to grieve.

* * * * *

Janice believed exposure to all types of music produced a well educated music student. She taught Benji the old-time gospel songs from her childhood. "In the Garden", "Amazing Grace", "The Old Rugged Cross" and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder" were on the other end of the scale from "Panis Angelicus". Benji could feel the waves of emotion when Janice sang the old hymns with him and was surprised to find they affected him as profoundly as the formal Latin anthems.

His voice had finally settled into its adult register, a clear, ringing lyric tenor, true to Monsignor's prediction. Janice had worked diligently with him to strengthen his voice, expand his lung capacity and teach him the proper breath support that would be invaluable in bel canto singing. She also urged him to sample the music of New York, opera, street musicians, ethnic performances and surfer music transplanted from California.

One day when Benji arrived for his lesson, he was introduced to Analise Gianetti, another of Janice's pupils. Janice had suggested they try singing together, she thought their voices might blend well.

Analise was the most beautiful girl Benji had ever seen. Her hair was the glossy black of midnight and framed her face in waves and ended in the middle of her back. The large dark eyes seemed to see into his soul. Her fair complexion was made more so by contrast with the billowing raven hair. She was small, so tiny that she made Benji feel tall for the first time in his life.

Janice watched the sparks fly between her two students after the introduction. 'Oh, dear,' she thought, 'neither one will ever be able to sing a note when they're together. What have I done?'

"Very well, let us begin," Janice announced in her matter of fact tone designed to bring their attention back to lessons. "Let's try the duet for the spring recital."

Janice took her seat at the piano and began the introduction. By force of habit, Analise and Benji took their accustomed places near the piano, each drawn by the love of music and the joy of singing.

After the lesson ended and both students had departed, Janice mused on what had transpired during the hour. The recital duet had been chosen to highlight both voices and she was astounded at how well the two sang together. When Benji took the lead, Analise's voice seemed to sparkle and dance in counterpoint. When she had the melody, her voice soared upward supported by his. They had seemed inspired and to be of one mind as they sang. It was as if each was the matching half of the other.

Benji offered to walk Analise home after the lesson and was surprised to learn a car was waiting to pick her up. He was always walked everywhere and assumed most in his age group did the same.

"Will I see you on Friday?" Benji asked as she prepared to enter the car.

"Yes, I will be here," Analise responded as the chauffer shut the door. She waved at Benji as the car pulled away from the curb.

Benji's feet hardly touched the sidewalk as he headed for the tunnel entrance. With every step her name echoed in his head Analise, Analise. He took no notice of his surroundings as he walked along. He had sung about passion and all-consuming love but this was his first experience with the reality of it.

Benji went directly to the Practice Chamber, he needed time to reflect on the day's happenings. He felt light almost like he was floating, as if one jump upward would propel him to the highest point of the chamber ceiling where he would bob along like a balloon.

She was so beautiful... and her voice... it shimmered in the air like drops of liquid crystal. His wish to sing in the great Opera houses of Europe instantly expanded to include Analise. They would sing together!

Vincent hesitated at the Practice Chamber entrance as the aching beauty of the song washed over him. Benji sang softly but with such feeling that Vincent could feel the emotion pouring out of the chamber.

"You ask how much I need you, must I explain?

I need you, oh my darling, like roses need rain

You ask how long I'll love you, I'll tell you true

Until the twelfth of never..."

Vincent stepped quietly into the chamber to see Benji, eyes sparkling, singing to the songbook held in his hands as if it were alive. Benji caught sight of him and stopped mid-sentence and grinned at Vincent sheepishly.

"Father sent me to find you," Vincent said. "Your papa has been in his chamber for over an hour. They want to see you."

Benji gave a guilty start, what had he done or not done that would bring Papa from the pipe chamber at the time of day when the messages on the pipes were the busiest? He had completed his chores before leaving for music lessons.

"Do you know why they want me?" he asked Vincent.

"No, but Father didn't sound angry, perhaps they want to ask about your music?" Vincent replied. He knew as well as Benji that the Pipe Master seldom left the pipes before evening meal. In fact he frequently missed evening meal all together. Whatever it was, it was important.

Vincent left Benji at the entrance to Father's main room. He laid a hand on Benji's shoulder and said, "I'll wait in my chamber for you."

Benji nodded and straightened his shoulders as he stepped through the portal. Papa and Father sat at the big desk near the center of the room. This was not a good sign, he and the other children had learned at an early age that pronouncements affecting their lives came from this desk.

Father looked up and saw Benji in the doorway, "Ah, Benjamin, there you are. Come in, please."

"Papa, Father," Benji offered the tunnel greeting and came to stand by Father's desk.

"My boy, we have had two letters sent down from one of the Helpers," Father began. "One addressed to you and one to your father."

Benji was surprised, he rarely received mail. He always gave a Helper's address to anyone who asked him. The Helper forwarded any letters to them. He took the letter from Father's hand and sat in one of the nearby chairs to read it.

Dear Benjamin,

We are pleased to offer you a scholarship for

full tuition for the next year at the School of

the Arts. You have been recommended by your vocal

coach, Janice Simmons.

We have set an appointment for Monday March 3

at 3:00 p.m. We hope this will be convenient

for you, your coach and your parents to meet

with the staff. If this time is not convenient,

please let us know and we will arrange another

time.

We look forward to you joining the students

here.

Yours Sincerely,

****

Andrew Collins

Vocal Music Department

Benji looked up in surprise. "I... don't know what to say. Miss Simmons talked about the school and said she thought I would do well there, but I never applied!"

"Son, the letter to me explains it all," Pascal said and held it out to him to read. "It says your teacher, Miss Simmons, applied for you. She sent them a tape of one of your lessons."

"Papa, will you let me go?" Benji held his breath waiting for the answer. This was the chance he had hoped and prayed would come. It would carry him one step closer to his dream to sing opera. Was it possible?

"Father and I have discussed it, but we need to know if this is truly what you want. Is this really what you want to do with your life, son?" Pascal asked.

"It is the dearest wish of my heart, Papa. I want to sing more than anything in the world!"

"Benjamin, you will have to guard your words to protect our world," Father reminded him. "It will be much more difficult when you are Above every day. Our safety will be in your hands."

"I'll remember, Father. I promise, I'll be very careful," Benji said solemnly.

* * * * *

The attic garret in Paris was home to the three young men. They reveled in the beauty of the city, the sights and the beautiful women they met. Two of them went off and left the third to his painting. As he worked at the easel, there was a knock at the door and when he opened it, there was a pretty young woman. She was a neighbor, she said; her name was Mimi and her candle had gone out. The young man, Rudolfo, was smitten with her loveliness.

Within just days they became inseparable, they were happy and carefree, but it was not to last. One afternoon Mimi collapsed on the stairs and they carried her into the garret and laid her on the chaise lounge. Someone ran for the doctor and Rudolfo sat beside her comforting her. She spoke to him of her love for him and fell back from the effort of speaking.

Rudolfo touched her hand and realized she was lost to him forever, gone where he could not follow. "Mimi... " he cried as his heart broke.

The heart rending cry hung in the air and those who heard it felt a choking sense of loss. For a moment the sound echoed then faded to silence followed by thunderous applause. Tears were wiped away, surreptiously in some instances, as the bravos rang down toward the stage.

The curtain rose on the garret and suddenly Rudolfo and Mimi stood hand in hand at center stage bombarded by the roar of the crowd. Flowers rained down on them from every direction. Rudolfo picked up a sheaf of flowers and going to one knee offered them to Mimi. The crowd went wild and shouts of "bravo" and "brava" joined the continued applause.

Janice stood in the audience with tears flowing down her cheeks. This evening was the culmination of years of work by Benji and Analise. To have been chosen for the lead roles in the senior musical production was an honor. But who would have imagined the power, the emotion, the love that they could project. When you could bring the highly critical audience from the School of the Arts to its knees and then to its feet, you truly had talent.

One member of the audience who had watched with a more than critical eye, was on the staff at the Conservatory. He was here to evaluate several candidates for scholarships. He had been surprised at the power of the two leads as well as the young woman who sang Musetta.

The tenor had even convinced him of his grief over Mimi's illness and death. He had seen "La Boheme" countless dozens of times, but the crying out of her name had gone straight to his gut. The kid had talent all right, but would it last? Tenor voices sometimes promised great things at eighteen and then faded at thirty before the voice could mature.

All three showed enough promise to warrant some further evaluation and an audition. Over the years they had developed a detailed criteria to narrow the choice of candidates for the Conservatory. Most of the time it worked, with an occasional spectacular failure, such as the bass who had failed their evaluation and had gone on to another school and now was a regular at Covent Garden and La Scala.

* * * * *

Both Benji and Analise had been granted scholarships to the Conservatory where they had studied for the last four years. During this last year there had been a number of visitors for the senior recitals and concerts. Visitors who assessed the talent they saw with highly critical eyes and ears.

Sometimes Benji felt like a prize horse and was surprised someone didn't ask to see his teeth. But this was only a minor inconvenience on the road to a life of singing... singing with Analise.

She loved him, of that he was certain, but sometimes... there would be a look on her face when he spoke of the future, that defied understanding. It was a look of hope and... fear? They spent their days together in class and practice rooms, apart for individual coaching. They had sung together in musicals and recitals and sometimes simply for the joy of doing what they loved most, together.

Benji turned the problem over and over in his mind as he crossed the park. She must go with him, but how? And if she did not, how could he survive? How would he support her? The endless litany of questions roiled and burned, but no solution was forthcoming.

He would have to wait until tomorrow to share the letter with her. She had left early today, it was her father's birthday and she was expected to be present before the first guests arrived. Neither of them had met the other's family, it was tacitly understood that there would be problems and they had chosen to avoid conflict until absolutely necessary. For them music was the center of the world and little else intruded.

Vincent was the only one Benji told about the letter. He felt the need for he and Analise to make their decisions before family was involved, but Vincent was different. Vincent was his friend, his sounding board, his unequivocal supporter, closer than a brother. Vincent who had nearly died after Lisa left. Her going had triggered a terrifying episode of fevers and hallucinations and finally the need for restraints.

Benji had sat at Vincent's side for hours to give Father a rest. Vincent was restless whenever Father was out of the chamber, but would quiet when Benji sang. He had nearly exhausted his voice, singing Vincent's favorites over and over. One day as he sat with Father, Vincent's labored breathing stopped.

Father had leaped from his chair with a strangled cry and pressed his ear to Vincent's chest. He searched in vain for a heartbeat and the tears had made furrows down his face, when suddenly he gasped.

"What is it, Father?" Benji had asked.

"A heartbeat!"

Then Vincent had started to breathe in his normal, deep manner. Benji and Father had embraced each other in their joy.

Benji had given Vincent carefully edited versions of his days, until the time Vincent asked a pointed question about Analise.

"Did you think never to mention her name again, Benjamin?" Vincent had asked. "Do you think to make my pain less by stifling your happiness? Share it with me, please."

With their relationship back on its previous course, Benji told him of his daily activities and shared his feelings for Analise.

"Do you love her, Benjamin?"

"Vincent, she is the other half of me. Sometimes she finishes my sentences or I finish hers. She is the center of my universe, my reason for being. Nothing else matters as long as we are together."

"How fortunate you are, to have found her. Will you bring her Below?"

"Someday, for she must know my world. I cannot keep it secret from her forever. Papa will probably have to be sedated!"

Vincent had smiled and said, "No doubt, but what about Father?"

"A double dose?"

The light words covered the concern both felt for the day when Benji brought Analise Below, for that would be the sign that he was forging a new life, a life Above. Over the years Vincent had been Benji's confidante, the keeper of secret hopes and dreams. Both shared the bittersweet knowledge that the new life would also bring a parting to them. Benji was going where Vincent could not.

* * * * *

"Benji, sweetheart, look!" Analise waved the paper wildly as she saw him round the corner. She ran to him, her face alight with love and happiness.

Benji stopped and opened his arms, clasping her to him. "What is it, Lise mine?"

"An offer of an apprenticeship... in Vienna!"

Benji's heart soared upward. Together, they would go together! He thought he would burst from the joy of it all.

"It was in my mailbox when I got here this morning! Quick, let's see if you have one, too. I'm not going without you!"

"I got mine yesterday, love, we going, together!" Benji said as he hugged her tightly to him. "We have to talk."

"Yes, we do. After lunch?"

"I'll meet you in our practice room," Benji replied. He watched her as she left, the schedule this morning had both of them working with their vocal coaches for the end-of-the-term recital, the final event before graduation. It was going to be difficult to concentrate. Benji reached into his pocket and touched the packet he had put there just before leaving the tunnels this morning.

* * * * *

The cacophony of forty students practicing, in the warren of rooms set aside for that purpose, would have distracted others. But Benji and Analise had worked here every school day during the last four years. To them it was background music and not heard unless one listened carefully.

"Benji, there are some things I must tell you, things that I've not shared with you before."

"Lise, I have things to tell you as well, but first," Benji reached into his pocket and pulled out a small leather pouch. "This was my mother's." He slipped from the chair to kneel in front of her, "Analise, will you marry me?"

"Yes, yes!" she cried as she threw her arms around his neck and joined him on the floor. "I will love you until I die, Benji."

Benji slipped the gold band set with a tiny emerald onto her ring finger. He caressed her hand and dropped a kiss into the palm before raising his face to hers and pressing a gentle kiss to her lips. Their embrace tightened and they clung to each other.

When they broke their embrace, Analise gave a shaky laugh. "Now all we have to do is tell our families."

Benji knew from the tone of her voice that there was more to this line of thought, and was silent, waiting for her to continue.

"Benji, there are some things about my family that I've not shared with you before. You know that my family has money." At his nod she continued, "Well, among our friends and family, marriages are often... planned. My father has always expected that I would marry someone he chose. I've been a coward and never told him how deeply I love you. Oh, he knows we're friends and he's seen us sing together; but, Benji, he has no idea... he may try to stop us!"

"Do you love me? Do you want to marry me?" Benji asked.

"With all my heart, I want to be with you always," she responded.

"I'll go with you," Benji stated. He was prepared to confront any opposition, nothing else mattered as long as he and Lise were together.

They talked all afternoon, planning and dreaming. Analise insisted she wanted to tell her family by herself. Benji reluctantly agreed although he was uneasy about leaving her alone to face her father's wrath. Just before they parted, he reminded her that she could reach him at Dr. Alcott's and made sure she had the phone number.

Benji had always used Peter Alcott's address and phone as his own. Peter had given him a key and he had his own room which he used whenever recitals or other evening events made the journey back to the tunnels inconvenient. He received his mail from school there and phone calls were intercepted by Peter.

Peter had explained Benji's presence to his wife and daughter as the son of an old friend from medical school. He told them that the occasional late nights made his journey home too lengthy, which was the truth.

Benji decided to spend the night at Peter's and sent a message with a Helper to Papa so he wouldn't worry. When he arrived at Peter's the family was out for the evening. He let himself in and went to the kitchen for a sandwich. He took the plate to his room and lay across the bed to eat, to think and to plan.

He had spoken with Maestro Anton briefly this morning. The Maestro had assured him that living quarters could be found very cheaply in Vienna and food purchased for mere groschen. He also said it was common for two or three people to order one plate and share, no one ever looked askance. Benji had been greatly encouraged when the Maestro assured him a job would be found to supplement his apprentice stipend. As he thought of arias, gulyas and waltzes, he slept.

* * * * *

Analise stood in front of her father and dared to meet his eyes. He had shouted at her for the first time she could ever remember. He told her she must cease this fantasy.

"Do you think I will stand idly by while you throw yourself away on this peasant? Where is your sense of pride? I have indulged you in your music, but now it is time for you to take your rightful place in society."

"No! I will not, you can't make me. I love Benji, we are going to be married!"

"Silence! What do you know of love? You sing romantic songs, viola, you are in love. You will come to your senses soon enough. I forbid you to mention this again, you have upset your mother."

Analise glared at him. "I will mention this again, I will sing and I will marry Benji! You can't stop me!"

"Don't speak to me in that tone! You will do as I say or... "

"Or what? Do you think you can force me?" A long forgotten conversation, overheard in childhood, surfaced in her mind.

"You can't do this, Gianetti, I'll go to the police."

"You will do as I order you or suffer the consequences, do you understand."

"Do you intend to force me like you've forced others?" Analise asked, each word dripping with scorn. His face had an ashen look, there, now she had his attention.

"You will not speak of this again, ever." His hand slashed across her cheek.

Analise fell against a chair, her hand clasped to the side of her face, suddenly afraid. What had she done?

"Do you understand?" he asked.

Numbly she nodded and as the tears came, she fled to her room. The pain, the pain in her heart, was agonizing. How could he do this? She was afraid, not for herself, but for Benji. What might her father do to prevent their marriage?

With firm resolve she grabbed her backpack and began to load it with the things she absolutely could not leave behind. She stowed the loaded pack under the bed and then went through her normal bedtime routine.

At midnight when all was silent in the house, she quietly dressed, retrieved her backpack and slipped down the hall and out the door. She walked quickly glancing behind her to be sure she wasn't followed. She arrived at the subway station just as the train pulled in and had to run to jump aboard.

* * * * *

The phone rang shrilly in the bedroom. Peter Alcott groped for the phone and wondered why he hadn't settled for a career in law.

"Dr. Alcott," he said into the phone. The female voice on the other end was difficult to understand through the tears. "Okay, calm down, what's wrong?" he asked in his best bedside manner.

"Benji, I need Benji, please," the voice pleaded.

"Who is this?"

"Analise... Analise Gianetti, please, is he there?"

"Just a minute, don't hang up," Peter said. He pulled on his robe and went down the hall to Benji's room. He had seen a light under the door earlier and knew he was there. He knocked and the door was opened immediately. Benji was dressed and obviously had been wakened by the phone.

"Dr. Peter, what is it?" Benji asked.

"Analise is on the phone and she sounds very upset. Why don't you take it in the family room?"

Benji nodded and dashed down the stairs. He picked up the phone.

"Lise, what is it? Where are you?" he asked

"I'm at the subway station near your house. Can you come get me?"

"I'll be right there, two minutes, okay?" Benji asked and hearing her affirmative, he hung up the phone and ran back to his room for his jacket. As an afterthought he slung his backpack over his shoulder. When he left his room, Peter met him in the hall.

"Can I help?" he asked Benji, his concern evident in his tone of voice.

"I don't know what's wrong, but I suspect she told her family we are to be married and they threw her out."

"What will you do?"

"I'll take her Below, she'll be safe there. And it's time she met my family anyway."

"Be careful," Peter cautioned.

Benji nodded and left. He ran all the way to the station and found Analise shivering beside the telephone booth. He was appalled to see a bruise staining one cheek and the puffiness around her eye.

"Who did this to you?"

"My father said I was not to see you again. I defied him and he hit me. Benji, what are we going to do? He is very powerful, I'm afraid."

"My love, I know a place where we can be safe. You must trust that I can keep you safe."

"I do trust you, Benji, you know that. Where is this place?"

"It's where I was born," he began.

* * * * *

Vincent opened his eyes and realized the message on the pipes was what had wakened him. It was Benji and he was bringing a friend Below. He asked Pascal to meet him in Father's chamber. Vincent rose from his bed and pulled his mantle around him. He strode down the passage way that connected his chamber to Father's.

Father struggled into his robe and muttered under his breath.

"Whatever has possessed the boy to bring a visitor this time of night?"

"No doubt Benji will explain," Vincent said. "I'll be nearby." He left the chamber and stopped halfway down the passage to his own chamber. He would be able to hear everything clearly from here.

He heard Pascal enter the chamber and greet Father, and within minutes he heard Benji and another enter the chamber. While he listened, Benji introduced Analise to the two men.

"Papa, Father, I'd like you to meet Analise Gianetti. She has done me the honor of agreeing to be my bride!" Benji's voice rang with pride.

Father stepped forward to look at Analise's eye.

"Who did this to you, child?" he inquired gently. "Benjamin, bring me some water and soft cloths."

Pascal took Analise's hand, "Welcome, my son has spoken of you often. I wish you every happiness."

"Thank you, sir," Analise said quietly.

* * * * *

Benji paused in the entrance of Vincent's chamber. His friend sat in a chair reading.

"Vincent."

"Benjamin."

"Analise is waiting to meet you. Will you come to the guest chamber?"

"Do you think it's wise?

"Vincent, I've spoken of you often. She is a very accepting person. She wants to meet you now," Benji said.

"Very well," Vincent stood and followed him from the chamber.

* * * * *

High Above the first birds began to chirp as the sky began to lighten. Below Vincent, Benji and Analise sat in the guest chamber and talked, they had spent what was left of the night talking about the problems to be faced. Vincent had been appalled at Analise's bruises, and even more so when she told them about her fear of what her father might do.

Benji thought if they could get to Europe safely, perhaps they would not need to worry. He missed the look that passed between Vincent and Analise which clearly indicated they knew better.

"The only thing I regret is not speaking with my mother," Analise said. "I would like her to know I am safe."

"Perhaps you should send her a letter," Benji suggested.

"How will I know she receives it? She goes to Mass every morning at six, maybe I could go to the church and see her."

Benji looked at his watch. "We can just make it if we hurry."

Vincent accompanied them to the exit closest to the church.

"Be careful," he cautioned. I'll wait here for you."

Benji opened to hidden door and checked that no one was around. Analise took his hand and they stepped into the alley near the church. Hand in hand they walked toward the street. As they rounded the corner, Analise stopped suddenly.

"My father is here," she whispered and indicated the dark car parked near the church.

They stood hesitant for just seconds when all the car doors opened and three men walked toward them.

Analise's resolve disappeared and she tugged at Benji's hand. "Run," she hissed and whirled away.

Benji stood for another half second and then raced after her. Suddenly something hit him in the shoulder and helpless to stop himself, he tumbled head over heels. He heard a popping noise and then all went black.

Analise had nearly made it to the secret door when the bullets struck her. She was flung to the ground, sprawled in a tangle like a doll tossed down by a careless child.

Behind the secret door Vincent heard the popping and recognized the sound of a silencer. He pulled the door aside enough to see out and saw Analise on the ground. She was lying face down and had a huge crimson splotch on her back. Vincent shoved the door aside and looked for Benji, he saw him crumpled against the dumpster near the head of the alley.

Vincent pulled his hood up and ran to Benji. He searched for a pulse in his neck and was rewarded with the feel of a racing heart under his fingers. Gently Vincent picked him up and carried him through the secret door. He laid him down and returned for Analise. When he turned her over, an enormous puddle of blood was revealed that came from a gaping hole in her chest.

As he picked her up, her head lolled to one side. Vincent sensed that all life had flowed from her body on the crimson tide. He laid her beside Benji and secured the door, then picked up a stone and began to tap out the emergency code on the pipes.

'Stretchers needed, two hurt.'

* * * * *

The pain drew him upward to the light and he heard a familiar voice.

"Benji, you're hurt but you'll be fine. You're in the hospital chamber, rest now," Vincent took his hand. He watched Benji's face and the lines etched by the pain seemed to smooth out as his breathing deepened and he slept.

Benji opened his eyes and recognized the hospital chamber. He wondered what time it was and what day. He had been awake several times. Someone was always there--Vincent, Mary, Winslow, Jamie. Papa, Rebecca, Father. He remembered each one telling him he was going to be all right. Through the morphine fog he tried to remember what happened, but he couldn't stay awake long enough.

* * * * *

"Would you like a sip of water?" Mary asked.

"Please," Benji croaked. His throat was sore and it hurt to talk. A straw was held to his lips and the cool water was as nectar. The effort of sucking on the straw gave him a headache. Why was he so weak?

"Where is... ?" he began.

"Shhh, don't tire yourself. Sleep now." Mary crooned to him. She watched with satisfaction as his eyes closed again. She turned when she heard the familiar, uneven gait and rose from her chair to meet Father near the chamber entrance.

"How is he?" Father asked quietly.

"He rouses long enough to take a little water, but is not truly awake. How are we going to tell him?" She glanced over her shoulder and shook her head sadly at the thought.

"Somewhere deep inside, he knows. When he is ready, he will ask and we must tell him the truth," Father said.

"All of it?"

"No, of course not, but when he asks, he must be told," Father said. "I'll stay with him now. William is keeping your dinner warm."

"Thank you, Father."

* * * * *

Vincent sat in the hospital chamber with an open book in his lap. He had thought to spend the hours reading, but the sadness and grief facing his friend occupied his thoughts. Benji had confided in Vincent from the very first day he met Analise, Vincent remembered the words as if it were yesterday.

"Vincent, I've met the girl I'm going to marry!"

Vincent had listened with endless patience when Benji expounded on her sweetness, her lovely voice, her kindness and her beauty. He surmised Analise was attracted to Benji for many of the same reasons. Benji had a gentleness that drew people, perhaps the loss of his beloved mother at an early age had impressed upon him the value of relationships.

And now the relationship that had been so carefully guarded and nurtured was irrevocably shattered. Analise, her wounds sutured shut, had been bathed and dressed by Mary and Constance. She lay in the chamber next door. Several of the tunnel residents took turns sitting watch, after the Rosary earlier in the evening.

"Lise?" Benji's voice was weak.

"It's me," Vincent said and moved closer to the bed and into Benji's range of vision.

"Where is Lise? Did they hurt her?" Benji tried to raise his head from the pillow to look for her, but he was too weak.

"Vincent, I heard several shots. Is she... okay?" Benji saw the truth in Vincent's eyes and began to shake his head.

"No, please... oh, no... Lise," Benji's voice broke, tears overflowed and slid down his cheeks.

Vincent took Benji's hand and tears of commiseration filled his eyes. He felt the waves of Benji's pain wash over him.

After a time, Benji asked, "Where is she?"

"Next door," Vincent replied.

Until that moment Benji had hoped it was a nightmare, that he would wake up and laugh at his fear. Vincent's answer brought the truth crashing home again. When anyone died, they were laid out in the chamber next to the hospital chamber.

"I want to see her," Benji said flatly. He tried to sit up and fell back with a moan.

"Stay still, I'll get Father and we'll find a way." Vincent stepped into the passageway just as Constance appeared. He told her Benji's request and she left quickly to summon Father.

In just minutes Father appeared in the entry way followed by Winslow. They crossed the chamber to Benji's bedside.

"Benjamin, you must be careful not to reopen your wounds," Father said. "I'll clamp off your IV line then Vincent and Winslow will lift you into this chair. They will carry the chair, but you can only be up for a few minutes."

Benji nodded and closed his eyes conserving his strength. 'Dead, how can she be dead? How can I live without... I can't live without her. Why couldn't it be me? Why? Why?' The questions marched across his mind in cadence with his heartbeat.

Father injected some morphine into the IV line and let it run before clamping off the tubing. He removed the tube, replaced it with a buffalo cap so the line could be restarted without delay.

"Ready?" Vincent asked. At Benji's nod he and Winslow helped him into a sitting position careful not to jostle the injured shoulder and arm. They lifted him into the chair and let him rest a minute before picking up the chair and carrying it and Benji from the hospital chamber.

Analise lay on the bed. She was dressed in a dark woolen jumper and an ivory-colored blouse. Her hands held a rosary and were clasped at her waist. She looked so lovely and Benji thought at any moment she might open her eyes and speak to him. They placed his chair next to the bed and retreated to the far side of the chamber to allow him to say his goodbyes in private.

He reached for her hand with his uninjured right and touched her cool flesh.

'My love, how sorry I am that I could not protect you. I wish your last moments had been peaceful ones. I don't understand why I've been left behind. Analise, I will join you someday and we will be together for eternity. Until then, dearest love, there will be no other in your place.'

Benji sank back with a moan. Vincent and Winslow moved quickly either side of the chair and he nodded when Vincent asked if he was ready to return to the hospital chamber.

* * * * *

Analise was interred in the catacombs at Benji's request. She had always feared fire in life, and he was not about to consign her to the flames in death. Gradually he regained his strength and was able to be out of his bed for longer periods of time.

One day when Papa came to his chamber for his daily visit, Benji asked him about working in the Pipe Chamber.

"I know the basic codes and I've been reading the early notes and manuals. I want to learn more, will you teach me?" Benji asked.

Pascal was delighted in Benji's renewed interest in life, but knew something was vitally wrong. When he asked about his music career, a spasm of pain crossed Benji's features and he said nothing. Benji was silent and after a time, Pascal turned and left the chamber.

Vincent came upon Benji slumped in the catacombs on the floor near Analise's crypt. Benji rocked back and forth without a sound or word. Vincent started to retreat from such a private moment but was reluctant to leave Benji alone. Finally he compromised and waited just out of sight, although he was close enough to hear Benji's ragged breathing.

After a time he moved toward Benji again and this time laid his hand on the uninjured shoulder. He was surprised to feel the bones so easily. Benji was far too thin.

"I keep thinking of all the times we sang of lovers parted by death. But when it was over, she got up and we left together. I know she is dead, but in some small part of my head, I keep waiting for her to wake up."

Vincent sat on the floor next to Benji. "Memories are good things to have, Benji. Have you no sense of her inside you?"

"Sometimes I feel like she's right behind me, but when I turn there is nothing. I wonder how long I can hold on, some days I just want to lay down and sleep... forever.

"How could a father send killers after his child, his own flesh and blood? Such a man has no honor nor traditions that hold a family together."

"Benji... " Vincent began.

"Vincent, I've made some decisions about the future that I would like you to know. I ask for your support. I want to be called Pascal, like my father. I want to learn all that he can teach me. When the time comes, I will be ready to take his place."

"Very well... Pascal," Vincent agreed.

"I don't... can't sing anymore. Every note reminds me of her and I cannot endure the pain. All songs end, Vincent."

"Yes, they do; but, Pascal, we can always sing them again."

"Perhaps someday, Vincent, but not now."

* * * * *

Vincent stood beneath the grating and listened to the music from high above. The aria floated down to him and the beautiful melody brought a pang of regret. Pascal the younger, as Benji came to be known, used to sing it. He spent more and more time in the Pipe Chamber these days. Sometimes it was hard to get him to leave even for sleep or meals. He had tried to explain it to Vincent.

"Analise was taken from me by a man without honor. By continuing the work Papa started, I am woven into the fabric of our world, a world where tradition and honor are important. I will become a keeper of these values and in time I will pass them on to another,"

"I understand, Pascal, but we love you and miss your company," Vincent answered.

"Vincent... the work is detailed. We must listen so intently. I have found what Papa has known all along. The intricate coding and the need to listen so carefully are a great solace. It gives me peace from my grief. I hope you will understand and explain to the others"

Vincent nodded and thought of his own pain when Lisa left. At least I know she is alive, I wonder if I could survive such a loss?