Revenge, Part II

by Margaret Davis and Bee Drew


 

Oily, black smoke billowed from the wreckage to sully the afternoon sky. Intense heat from the blaze scorched the nearby trees and plants as the yellow flame gathered itself and blossomed into a fireball. Shards of metal flew in every direction.

A patrol car slid to a stop and a tall man jumped from the vehicle. Deputy Sheriff Dugan lifted a hand to shield his face from the heat of the flames as he surveyed the wreck. He knew that nothing could live in that inferno. As he reached inside the car to radio for the fire department, he wondered if there would be anything left for the coroner to examine.

* * * * *

The metal pinged as it cooled, an almost musical sound. Fireman Andy Shelton drew on heavy asbestos-lined gloves and nodded to his partner. The doors and other pieces of the vehicle had been blown off by the force of the explosion and littered the area. Andy felt the bile rise in his throat when the first whiff of that never-to-be-forgotten odor reached him--the smell of burnt human flesh.

A glance into the interior of the blackened shell confirmed what Andy already knew. The driver had perished. I hope you died on impact, he thought. He wondered if the driver had been drunk or high, as was often the case in the more grisly accidents.

* * * * *

Greg Hughes sipped his second cup of coffee for the morning and grimaced at the taste. No wonder half of us have ulcers.... Further grousing was cut short by his ringing telephone.

"Hughes."

He listened in silence to the caller, then demanded, "No positive identification? What do you mean, the dental charts don't help? Oh. Okay, what's the name of the rental agent? Got it, we'll check on our end. I'll be back in touch. And, thanks!" He broke the connection then dialed Joe Maxwell's office number.

"Joe, Greg Hughes. They've found Bass. Nope, dead. His car went over an embankment and burned."

He listened for moment, then continued. "The coroner says the dental records are inconclusive because of extensive damage to the body. They'll do some tissue samples but that takes a while. The car was rented by Steven Bass last week--they were able to ID the license plate." He paused again to listen.

"I agree, but I think we'll all sleep a little easier tonight. I'll let you know when the final results come in. See you later, Joe."

* * * * *

Catherine glanced up as the sound of Joe's footsteps preceded him around the corner. He gave her a "come here" wave and disappeared back toward his office.

"Close the door, Radcliffe," he instructed when she paused in the doorway, "we have news about Bass." As he watched the color drained from her face as she tilted sideways thumping against the door frame.

"Cathy!" he leaped to his feet. Reaching her side he took her arm and guided her into his office, closing the door behind them. Her hands were like ice as he took them in his own warm grip, and nudged her into a chair. He knelt in front of her and tried to make her meet his eyes.

"It's okay, Cathy. Greg Hughes just called and he's dead. Do you hear me? He's dead, you're safe now." He wasn't sure if she heard him until the sobbing began and she sagged against him. Hesitantly he put both arms around her and held her as she cried.

Catherine daubed at her face, but the tears continued to roll down her cheeks no matter how she struggled for control. She was relieved, saddened, and just plain exhausted now that the tension of the last few weeks was suddenly relieved. Even though the trail had lead to Europe, she’d found herself glancing up every time a door opened or closed half expecting to see Steven advancing on her to extract his revenge. He’d stalked her in her dreams so often it had nearly become routine for Vincent to pace her balcony ready to comfort her when the horror jerked her from sleep. Two months had not lessened her fear.

"He died in a car accident. The body was badly burned, so they won't be absolutely sure until the tissue samples are tested, but Greg Hughes is satisfied that the driver was Steven Bass. The car was rented to him last Thursday, and the road leads to a ritzy section of New Rochelle where he owned a house. There was only one body."

Catherine struggled to feel some emotion other than overwhelming relief. "What a horrible end," she whispered. Any lingering sympathy she might have felt for Steven had been extinguished by the terror of her dreams and the fear that she would never feel at peace again.

"You’re safe now, " he told her. He tried for a light tone and was surprised when it succeeded. The danger to Cathy had played havoc with his ability to treat her as a friend. It had certainly not been the time for declarations, and yet he had found himself wanting to tell her he loved her and would protect her with his life. Over the past weeks he’d cautioned himself: Get a grip, Maxwell.

"Greg said they'll have a search warrant in an hour and they're going out to the house. Take a long lunch, Radcliffe, the details can wait. Give yourself a treat."

* * * * *

In the tunnels beneath the brownstone that belonged to a Evelyn, a Helper, Vincent and Catherine stood locked in a fierce embrace. The agony of past weeks had been lifted, the only sound heard was his whispering of her name. Catherine had no tears left, but she curved her arms around his waist and squeezed as though she would never let go.

"Catherine, tell me. Your note said only that Steven was dead and that you would meet me here. What has happened?"

Time flew by as she shared the few details she knew. It was such a relief to move on to speak of ordinary things such as a concert by the children scheduled for the weekend. They were startled when the trap door above opened and Evelyn's voice floated down.

"Vincent? Catherine? It's lunchtime. Here's some sandwiches and tea."

"Thank you, Evelyn," Vincent said as he rose to take the tray from her hands.

"My pleasure." Evelyn let the trapdoor close, restoring their privacy.

Catherine jumped suddenly. "My pager," she explained, looking at the display. It’s Joe, reminding me we have a deposition at 3:00 this afternoon."

"Must you go back to work today?" Vincent asked as he handed her a mug of the sweet, hot tea.

"’We have an important deposition for the Gallatin case," she answered. "You remember, the one about the abduction of that little girl?" At his nod, she continued, "I’ve established a rapport with Arabella, it’s vital that I be there." The regret in her tone told him where she would rather be, but duty called. I'll meet you here when we’re finished. Is there a pipe I can use to signal?"

After they had finished their meal, Vincent pulled her to her feet and led her a few feet down the tunnel. He showed her where the pipes were, but he knew she would not have need of the information. He intended to see Father, teach his literature class, and return long before she finished her errands.

"I'll be as quick as I can," she promised.

"Until then, Catherine." Vincent embraced her one last time and watched as she ascended the ladder to Evelyn's basement.

* * * * *

Greg Hughes studied the Bass house as he and three of his men, plus two more from the Sheriff's Department, drove up the sloping driveway. The mansion was closed and shuttered. Although the lawn had been trimmed recently, the place had the abandoned feel of a long-vacant home.

Greg motioned the men to spread out and check the sides and the rear as he approached the front door. The real estate agent had supplied the key, and the door swung inward silently. He peered around the doorway and then slid into the room, gun drawn.

The men combed each floor carefully, but there were no signs of recent occupancy. After they had gone through every room, they spread out to check the grounds.

Hughes squinted in the bright sunlight. His head throbbed and pounded with every beat of his heart. Men don't get migraines, he told himself and doggedly pushed on to the boat house. There was no lock, and he pushed the door open and glanced around. Tools, sacks of lawn fertilizer, and other odds and ends filled the shelves and much of the floor space. Later, he would remember the blinding pain of his headache and know it had caused him to miss the trapdoor in one corner and the shiny, new latch on the inside of the shed door.

* * * * *

A week had passed, and Catherine was once again immersed in her work. She had slept all of last night without dreaming of Steven.

"Cathy, this came for you by messenger." Rita proffered the thick manila envelope with a smile.

"Thanks," Catherine said, glancing down at the delivery. The address was a prestigious law firm uptown. One of the partners had been in her class at law school. Shows you what old money and studying hard will get you, she thought as she slit the envelope open.

Inside there was a cover letter, and a second envelope. The letter read:

  • Dear Miss Chandler:

    Steven Bass was one of our clients. He left this

    letter for you to be opened in the event of his

    death. His Will names you as his executrix and heir.

    Please contact our office at your convenience to

    discuss the terms of the Will.

    Yours very truly;

    Douglas Perry

  • Catherine dropped the papers on her desk and stared at them in horror. It was as if Steven had reached out from the grave and touched her. Almost without thought, she stood and took a step back from the desk. She shrieked when she felt a hand on her shoulder and whirled around to find Joe standing behind her.

    "Cathy! What's wrong?" Her face had the same horrified look it had worn after Dr. Richards' ill-fated visit.

    "Oh, Joe... it's a note from Steven's attorney about his Will and a letter he wrote me!" Catherine looked back at the papers, feeling her hands go damp and clammy. No one could ever love you like I love you....

    "What did he write?" Joe demanded.

    "I don't know, I couldn't bear to look," she followed him as he stepped over to her desk. "You open it, please."

    Joe glanced around and realized the entire office was trying to see what was happening. Some looked away, embarrassed to be caught staring, but others continued to watch openly. He grabbed the offending set of papers from the desk and took Cathy's elbow in his other hand.

    "Come on, let's look at this in private." Behind the closed door of his office, Catherine made a visible effort to calm herself, but her nervousness showed in the white knuckles of both hands tightly clasped in her lap.

    "You want me to read it?" Joe inquired and at her nod, pulled it from the envelope.

  •  

    My dearest Cathy,

    If you are reading this, then I am dead and we

    are parted for a time. Our love will last for

    eternity and I will wait for you until we are

    together again.

    Did I get to tell you how much I loved you before

    I died? No one will ever love you as much as

    I love you. Never forget that, Cathy.

    I'm leaving everything to you and I will be

    happy knowing I provided for you and that

    you will live in the house where we would

    have been so happy.

    Stay away from him or I'll have to come back

    and fix things again.

    Love,

    Steven

  •  

    Catherine shuddered at the thought of ever setting foot in that house again. The idea that Steven was so delusional that he had thought he could return from death was a sign of how disturbed he had been.

    "Who's this `him' Bass refers to, Cathy?" Joe looked up from a second, silent reading of the letter.

    "Any him I guess. I really have no idea," she said. She hoped her face didn't show the lie for what it was.

    * * * * *

    "They insist that an on-site inspection must be made and that I have to be there. I can't very well tell them why I don't want to be in that house! I'll be perfectly safe." Catherine tried to convince herself as much as she tried to reassure Vincent. "Joe is going with me and my attorney, as well. There's no danger. Please, don't worry," she begged and took his hands in hers.

    "I still dream of him. A weakness overtakes me and I am powerless to save you." The agony of the remembered images roughened his voice. "There must be another way."

    "Believe me, I've tried. I have to go there, but I promise you, Joe will be at my side the entire time."

    Vincent dropped his head and let his mane swing forward to hide his face. If Catherine saw his expression, she would read his determination to be there also, in the daylight and exposed to the world, if necessary.

    "When?" he asked.

    "Tomorrow morning." Catherine knew her words were inadequate to comfort him, but they were all she had to offer. "I'll be fine, Vincent."

    * * * * *

    The message on the recorder was brief. "She's going tomorrow morning with her boss and that fancy lawyer of hers." An electronic beep deleted the message, and the phone was returned to its cradle. The recipient smiled and walked away.

    * * * * *

    Once before Vincent had made this journey, compelled by the knowledge that his love was in danger. Now he left the safety of his world again, bound to protect her at all costs. It was still dark when he moved carefully toward the house. Faint lights illuminated the driveway and front door. Vincent stood at the edge of the trees and gazed at the blank windows of the house, trying to pierce the shadows with his keen vision. He needed to be closer.

    He sensed the presence and heard a popping noise at the same time. A stinging in his back was woefully familiar as he staggered a few steps and then toppled forward, unconscious.

    * * * * *

    Three cars pulled into the driveway and disgorged passengers. Already the summer heat and humidity made the air seem thick and made breathing difficult.

    Catherine wished for a quick end to the inspection. The lawyers--hers and Steven's--had insisted she be present when the house was opened and an inventory made in preparation for putting the house up for sale. She had not slept well, awakening from a heart-pounding nightmare sometime before dawn. Now she felt lightheaded and queasy, and diagnosed her symptoms as anxiety. Get it over with, guys, so I can get away from here, she commanded silently.

    "Miss Chandler, are you certain you want to sell this property? The investment potential is enormous. The market is headed for an upturn in real estate prices--even a few months could result in a substantially higher profit margin." Steven's lawyer kept pace at her elbow, still fretting over her decision to dispose of her inheritance with all possible speed.

    "Have I not made myself clear, Mr. Perry? I want no part of this house or its furnishings. I want the clothes donated to the Shelter for Battered Women, New Beginnings. The personal pictures are to be sent to my attorney, and everything else sold."

    "Perhaps if we discussed this at a later date?" Donald Perry rarely lost in the courtroom, and a simple `No' was certainly not enough to turn him from what he perceived as the right course of action for a client.

    "Mr. Perry, what part of `sell it' don't you understand?" Catherine knew she had stepped over the edge of good manners, but nothing would sway her from her goal to divest herself of this house at the earliest opportunity.

    Donald Perry inclined his head in silent acquiescence to her decision. His fee would be substantial regardless of the sale date, and she certainly did seem to be determined.

    * * * * *

    It looked like modeling clay or Play-doh that had lost its color. It felt cool against his fingers. He'd found it ridiculously easy to buy the stuff--all that was needed was a supply of cash and a word in the right place, and it was his in three hours.

    Lovingly he molded and shaped it around the wiring of the detonator before slipping the whole thing into a zip-lock bag. The wires protruded from a corner of the closure. He turned and moved toward his prone, imposingly large prisoner.

    His hands trembled as he taped his creation high in the middle of the creature's back, between the shoulder blades where it would be difficult to reach. He used strapping tape threaded with filaments designed to keep the tape from splitting under pressure. And, considering how hairy the thing was, the tape wasn't likely to peel off even if moistened.

    With the utmost care he attached a detonator device to the wires that protruded from the plastique. With a smile of satisfaction and relief, he slipped the remote control for the detonator into his pocket. There, that's finished. Time to give him another dose...

    The creature never moved as the needle was rammed into his upper arm. He was bare from the waist up, arms bound awkwardly behind his back. He lay on the floor in the large pantry adjacent to the kitchen. It had taken some doing--the creature was unbelievably heavy--but he'd hidden it beneath the boathouse until everyone had gone. Then he'd dragged it inside, which had been relatively easy since he hadn't tried to minimize the scrapes and bruises it collected.

    He crouched beside it, studying its face with puzzled interest. The bestial muzzle and nose were half hidden by a spill of blonde hair, but you could see it was ugly any way you looked at it. The thing must have put some kind of spell on Cathy. That was the only explanation for the change in her. She had always been compliant and eager to please until now. Once she was released from whatever hold it had on her, she would be grateful and their love would be free to blossom again. It wouldn't be long now, just a few more hours.

    * * * * *

    Catherine parked her car in the garage under her building and heaved a sigh of relief. The strain of returning to Steven's house had grated on her nerves until her whole body hurt. She leaned back against the headrest for a few minutes before summoning enough energy to get out of the car. The vague uneasiness that had troubled her all morning had not lessened now that she was back in the city. In fact, she the waves of anxiety had only intensified during the drive back.

    Something must be wrong Below. Tired as she was, she headed for the sub-basement and the entrance to the Tunnel world, knowing she would have no rest until she knew what the trouble was. Once in the tunnels she pounded out a message to Vincent, and waited impatiently, pacing back and forth. Her unease grew with every step when he did not appear. Then she heard the sound of running footsteps.

    "Catherine!" Mouse appeared from around a junction in the tunnels and slid to a halt.

    She looked at him in alarm. "Where is Vincent?"

    "Gone. Left last night, never came back."

    "Did he go to visit Narcissa?" As soon as she uttered the words she knew the idea was ridiculous. Vincent had been greatly concerned about her return to Steven's house. That dear, stubborn man must have gone to New Rochelle to watch over her, and was now trapped there until after dark, when it was safe to return.

    "Father said left a note... back tonight."

    Catherine gave a sigh. "Thanks for coming, Mouse. I'm going home to clean up and I'll come back later."

    Being reasonably certain of Vincent's location had not relieved Catherine's fears. She still felt that something must be terribly wrong. She ascended to her apartment quickly, weariness forgotten as ideas and courses of action tumbled in her head.

     

    I could rent a van, drive back to New Rochelle and look for him, but what if I can't find him or he's back here looking for me? He'll worry about me being at Steven's house alone. Perhaps I should just sit tight until after dark....

    When Catherine opened her door, she sighed with pleasure. Home. It was so good to have her apartment livable again, although some of the furniture was still at the upholstery shop. She tossed her jacket and purse on the one chair in the living room and went to check her messages.

     

    Beep. "Hi, Cathy, it's Jenny. Are you free for supper? I thought we could order in a pizza with everything and catch up with each other. Give me a call."

     

    Beep. A receiver slammed down.

     

    Beep. "Cathy, it's Joe. Just wondered how you were doing, kiddo. If you want to talk, I'll be home. Just remember though, it's over and you don't have to go back there again. Talk to you later, bye."

     

    Beep. "We're waiting for you."

    Catherine froze in horror as Steven Bass' voice oozed out of the speaker. It can't be, it can't be, he's dead, he's dead, her mind chanted, almost as if she could ward him off with an incantation. But the voice went on.

    "He's asleep just now, but I'm going to send him off to eternity in hell... in a million pieces. Plastique does that, you know. A million pieces. You really must come, Cathy. If you come tonight, I'll wait to do it until you're here. Don't bring anyone else. I have a remote detonator and if I see anyone but you... poof! We're waiting for--" Beep.

    For several seconds after the machine cut short Steven's taunting voice, Catherine stood utterly still, hardly breathing. Steven's vision of the world was warped and twisted by his delusions, but he told the truth as he saw it. There was no doubt in her mind that he had Vincent. What awful things had he done to overpower one so much stronger than himself? He'd mentioned plastique, a remote detonator.... Her mind whirled over the possibilities as she automatically stifled her rising panic.

    Swiftly she moved to the bedroom and snatched her duffel bag from the closet. Gone was indecision and in its place one thought: Rescue Vincent by whatever means necessary. She folded a lightweight blanket into the bottom of the bag, added some small towels, gauze bandages, tape, hydrogen peroxide, and a small pair of scissors. From the nightstand came a small pistol which she slipped into the pocket of her bomber jacket.

    Catherine closed and locked her door and ran to the elevator. Less than five minutes had passed since she had listened to Steven's message, but she had no idea how long it had been since he called. She stowed her bag in the trunk of her car and hurried toward the entrance to Below, glancing around with automatic caution to be sure she was unobserved.

    * * * * *

    "Catherine, you must take someone with you!" Father's tone was sharp and insistent.

    "Steven is not a rational man. He's threatened to kill Vincent immediately if he sees anyone but me, and I won't risk that. He has Vincent wired with... plastique explosives."

    Sheer force of will kept her upright, and she bit her lower lip savagely to still its trembling. The sickening lurch of pain in Father's face was almost more than she could bear to witness. "He bragged of a remote detonator...I'll have to get it away from him somehow."

    "What do you mean, somehow? Catherine, if you're contemplating what I think you are--"

    "Mouse help! Make a gizmo! Disruptor. Press it, no bang. Okay good, okay fine!"

    They swung toward the study door, spying Mouse hovering just inside.

    "What do you mean, Mouse? And why are you eavesdropping?" Father's heart wasn't in the reprimand; it was more force of habit that anything.

    "Make a thing, carry in her pocket. Makes invisible noise, stops detonator gizmo." Mouse waved his hands vaguely as he tried to illustrate his idea.

    "How do you know about this `disruptor,' Mouse? Do you have the parts? How long will it take you?" Catherine demanded, sudden hope flaring.

    "Read it, in a soldier magazine. Tells how to make. Found little box Up Top, no problem. Fix it now." Mouse whirled and dashed away, ignoring Father's instruction to stop.

    "Do you think he can do it?" Catherine asked.

    ""Who knows? The boy is brilliant, but sometimes lacks common sense. His mind doesn't follow the proscribed logic to resolve problems. I've seen some remarkable successes and more than a few failures."

    "It's something. It may be all I've got," Catherine replied. Inside her jacket pocket, her fingers curled silently around the snub-nosed little gun. "I'll do anything to save him!"

    Father heard the determination in Catherine's voice and knew that `anything' covered a lot of territory. He started to warn her of the risk, then thought the better of it and shut his mouth. She, better than anyone, knew the danger posed by Steven Bass.

    "Well, let's go see what Mouse needs," he offered and gestured her to proceed ahead of him.

    * * * * *

    Catherine drove down the expressway at precisely six miles over the speed limit. She concentrated fiercely on the simple mechanics of driving and tried to clamp down on her emotions. She had no idea of Vincent's condition and was determined not to make it worse by allowing her fear to penetrate their bond. Mentally she rehearsed ways to dissuade Steven from his intended course of action.

    Every verbal feint or conciliatory phrase she'd ever used as a lawyer marched with military precision through her mind, and she weighed them against what she knew of Steven and his motives. But at the back of her mind, separate and apart from all the things she might say to delay or prevent him, was the irrefutable fact that she would kill Steven to protect Vincent.

    If there were options, she'd choose another. Given none, she would not hesitate. Father had tried to stop her when she went into the Catacombs to find Vincent--was it only three months ago? His life had been worth any risk then, and now was no different.

    Mouse's gizmo lay beneath the lace of her bra. He had cobbled it together using a castoff TV remote from Above, and it had only one button that worked, the on/off switch. She had tried it in the car and it had reduced the radio reception to static, but she had no idea how close she had to be to the detonator for the gizmo to be effective. Her gun was a reassuring weight in her pocket. Steven would find it if he searched her, but she was counting on her ability to distract him.

    * * * * *

    The sound of wheels on the gravel driveway drew him to the window. She was here at last! She stepped from the car and gazed at the house with her hand over her heart.... She was as deeply affected by the reunion as he. My darling Cathy....

    * * * * *

    The sight of the house was frightening enough; but knowing Vincent was inside, at Steven's mercy, made her skin creep. She sent a bolt of love winging through the bond, and it seemed she felt a tendril of response, faint and faltering. She stepped from the car and laid her hand over the plastic case to reassure herself that the button was in the on position.

    The corners of her mouth lifted in a glassy smile as she began to walk toward the house. He's watching, let him see my eagerness. I am happy to see him again. The door swung open at her approach.

    "Cathy."

    He was dressed in casual, country chic with a sweater flung over his shoulders, its arms tied in the front. He had grown thin, and there were new, deep creases running from his nose to the corners of his mouth. To the casual observer nothing was amiss, but his eyes told a different story. They darted here and there, searching, pausing to light on her face before twitching away.

    "I've missed you so. He kept you away, I know it. Well, he won't bother you anymore. I'll protect you."

    "He's here, then?" she asked, affecting polite, conversational interest.

    "Come on." He grabbed her hand and dragged her into the living room, his facade of the genial host slipping a bit. "I'll show you."

     

    Good, she thought, I need to see Vincent and know he's okay before I do anything. Aloud she said, "This is such a lovely house. I just couldn't bear to keep it, with you gone."

    Steven slowed his pace and turned to her. "I understand," he said, his eyes caressing her face. "We'll find another one we like and decorate it just the way you want it."

    It was an effort beyond imagining to look at him and smile as though she were pleased at his announcement. "You're too good to me, Steven," she murmured.

    The peach and lavender of sunset painted the windows in the kitchen. Red sky at night, sailor's delight.... The inane childhood verse floated through her mind and she almost giggled at the absurdity of it. She promised herself ten minutes of quiet hysterics after this was all over.

    Steven stopped in front of the pantry door. "He's in here. Don't worry, I won't let him hurt you. He'll never hurt anyone again."

    The door swung outward as Steven touched the knob. Lying on the floor, his face obscured by his hair, was Vincent. He was naked to the waist, the bomb attached to his back like some huge insect. His hands were bound securely, but he didn't look as though he'd put up much of a struggle. The swollen, purple injection sites on his upper arm told their tale.

    Catherine dug her nails into her palms to keep from crying out. He was so still. Her eyes hunted feverishly for the rise and fall of his breathing. He was alive! She drew a deep breath and fought to keep her face expressionless, knowing that Steven watched her closely.

    "He doesn't look dangerous," she commented, and strolled a few steps away as though Vincent were of only passing interest. Under pretext of examining the kitchen, she cast her eyes around to check escape routes. The back door was just steps away and there were sliding glass doors that led from the breakfast nook to the patio.

    She darted a look at Steven, and felt a chill race up her spine at the fulminating look of hate he wore. He kicked Vincent, eliciting no response. Catherine doubted he realized it when he began to speak aloud, spitting his words at Vincent's limp body.

    "Wake up, you. Freak. Wake up! I want you conscious for this. I want you to know what I'm going to do, and why. How dare you, how dare you touch her!"

    He kicked the prone form again, and she felt tears of rage prick her eyelids.

    "You have to suffer like you made me suffer. Too bad I can't put you in a cage like they did me. Stuff you full of drugs that'll make you sick, surround you with loonies and do-gooders. And then we'd toss in some doctors to call you names... obsessive, paranoid, schizophrenic...."

    For several long moments, a wired silence stretched between them as Steven fought for control, his face working. Finally he turned from his prisoner and smiled a ghastly smile at Catherine. "Can I offer you something to drink, darling? Soda, wine, juice?"

    Catherine wet lips gone dry with terror, and knew she could no longer keep the fear out of her eyes. She hoped he was too far gone to notice. "Orange juice would be nice."

    As Steven moved to the cabinet for glasses, Catherine darted a glance at Vincent. His hands had begun to twitch, and she realized he was coming out of his drugged sleep. Not now, Vincent, she begged him silently. Don't draw his attention. Don't provoke him.

    She pivoted and walked to the table in the breakfast nook. She wanted Steven's attention anywhere besides the pantry. "This is a nice view from here," she said. Inwardly she whispered, Stay still. Please, please, stay still. She had no idea whether Vincent could read her thoughts, her urgency, but she dearly hoped so.

    "Yes, you can see the water over there," Steven replied. He approached the table with the juice in one hand and what she realized was a detonator in the other. With a wrench she tore her eyes from the box clutched in a hand that trembled slightly, and feigned interest in the view.

    * * * * *

    Voices. Inside his head. It was the darkness rising to consume them all. "No, no! Not again!" he groaned faintly. He couldn't move, he was alone in the dark....

    Steven jerked his head toward the whispery voice from the pantry. He hurried across the kitchen. "It's wearing off, finally. Cathy, come over here, will you?"

    Catherine felt her stomach roll at the way his eyes lit up, like a mad little boy's at Halloween. She affected a shiver as she stood up, and slipped her hands into her pockets as though to warm them. The blunt shape of the gun offered comfort.

    She continued her silent reassurances to Vincent as she moved forward. Vincent, it's Catherine. I'm safe. Don't move, please, don't move. Even if he couldn't discern her words, she knew he could feel the outpouring of love that flowed strong from her heart to his.

    * * * * *

    There were restraints on his wrists, like before. But he was not in his chamber; there was no sound of pipes or children's voices, no smell of earth and stone. The evil dream-figure was there, taunting him, baiting him with foul words and thoughts. His nightmare, or Catherine's? Vincent struggled to open his eyes, but they were so heavy....

    * * * * *

    Steven curved an arm around Catherine and pressed her close as she drew near. She could feel his trembling, feel the heat pouring off him, and knew she'd been foolish to think she could control him with what they had once been together. Her options were dwindling.

    "You were so sweet and lovely," Steven breathed against her ear. "Was he around from the beginning when you sent me away? How could you let that thing be near you? Have you no sense of shame? How could you?"

    With each question he gave her a shake, like a naughty child. Catherine found herself caught in the wildness in his eyes, like an animal backed into a trap, and longed to tear herself away from him. But she knew that the closer she was to the detonator, the better the chance that Mouse's gizmo would work.

    "Well, I'm going to fix it for you, Cathy. Who will know what was in here? The flames will clean it all up just like before.... "

     

    He must be speaking of the body found in his rental car. Catherine could not repress a shudder, but Steven didn't seem to notice. As abruptly as his tirade had started, it ended. He pulled her away from the pantry.

    "Come, darling, let's get out of here."

    Behind her, Catherine heard Vincent's rasping protest.

    "Catherine, no!"

    She did not falter, but let Steven lead her forward, as though docile to his wishes. Just inside the door was a backpack he picked up as they left the house and headed toward her car. Steven tossed the pack onto the hood and turned to look at the house, forcing Catherine to do the same.

    Catherine's restraint snapped. "Run, Vincent! Run, before he kills you! Get out of--"

    She choked as Stephen clamped his bony hand over her mouth and, with his other hand, pointed the remote at the house and mashed the button. She braced herself for the explosion, but there was no sound other than her own harsh breathing. Steven punched the button again and again. Nothing!

    With an inarticulate scream of rage, Steven threw her away from him. She hit the ground hard, knocking the air from lungs. She struggled to breathe. in gasps that sounded like sobs.

    Stephen sprinted toward the house, and Catherine scrambled to her feet to follow him. The disruptor, I have to be close or it doesn't work!

    Someone caught her from behind just as she reached the threshold.

    "Catherine, no!"

    Vincent swung Catherine up in his arms and sprinted away from the house toward the trees.

    * * * * *

    Inside, Steven staggered toward the kitchen, screaming obscenities and threats. The door to the pantry hung ajar, and he grabbed the knob. "You're supposed to die! Die, you freak...."

    He reeled back at the sight of his homemade bomb lying on the floor, trailing long bands of tape that still gripped tufts of red-gold hair.

     

    It's loose! Where? He whirled around, eyes darting fearfully into every corner. His eyes caught movement behind him.

    Everything went to soft, grey slow motion. His head turned first, then his shoulders. His arms felt miles long as he watched the back door, propelled by a stiff breeze, slam shut. His fingers, slick with sweat, lost their grip on the detonator and it slipped from his hand. It turned three times on the way to the floor and bounced once before it finally fell, button-side down.

    * * * * *

    The force of the explosion broke against his ears and he reeled with it, even though he had run too far to feel the waves of hot air rolling from the inferno. Vincent slumped down against a tree, still cradling Catherine.

    "It's all right, it's all right, you're safe now," she whispered endlessly. Her breath was warm against him, one hand curved around his neck and the other pressed just above his heart. Vincent suddenly realized they were skin to skin, that she was seeing him without a stitch of clothes above the waist. He felt a surge of humiliating redness scorch his face.

    Catherine pulled back slightly to look at him, and he darted a glance at her. Her lips twitched, just slightly, and she moved the hand that lay on his chest, tracing the firm muscles she found.... Vincent caught her hand to stay her, and felt something angular pressed between her breasts.

    "What is that?" he asked, puzzled.

    She smiled. "Vincent, what an ungentlemanly question." She wiggled her fingers, trying to free them.

    He stood abruptly needing to move. With Catherine in his arms, stillness and heat were entirely too dangerous. He began to walk deeper into the woods, following the path he'd taken only a day before.

    For a few sweet, stolen moments, Catherine let him carry her, luxuriating in the feel of his iron arms around her and the scent of him as she pressed her nose against his shoulder. "Um, Vincent?"

    "Yes, Catherine." He strode firmly on, feeling the clean night air scour the last of the drugged stupor from his mind.

    "Don't you think it would be easier if we drove back to New York in my car?" .

    He stopped, then, with a thump, he let her drop from his arms to her feet, and frowned at her. "You did that on purpose," he accused.

    "You're darn right I did," she grinned, and threw an arm around his waist before he could dodge away. "If we hurry we'll beat the fire department. We'll take the back road around the lake. The long way. We can have a word or two about stubborn men who refuse to stay home when asked nicely to do so...."

    She knew the full impact of what had taken place had yet to sink in, for either of them.. For now, the primary task was to be gone from this place before anyone arrived to ask questions.

    * * * * *

    The house smoldered and water arched over the walls to the interior. The roof had caved in and only two walls were left. Greg Hughes carried several items in a cardboard box that had been found in the room under the trap door in the boat house: opened cans of food, a roll of wire and a plastic bag with gray smudges in one corner. Someone had been hiding down there for some time. He wondered who was under all the debris in the house... the maker of the bomb or the victim?