"You come out at night...

And the dark side's light."

Sarah McLachlan: 'Building a Mystery'

From the album: 'Surfacing'

 

CHAPTER FOUR


"Hey, Cathy!"

Catherine barely heard Edie call her name over the ambient noise of the office. Resettling the pile of files in her arms, she turned and wove her way toward her waiting friend, avoiding the file drawer that McGregor had left open yet again. She'd have to remind him once more regarding accidents waiting to happen. "Good morning. Did you manage to dig up anything interesting?"

"Well, I wouldn't call the fact that men suck real interesting, but..."

Catherine laid the pile of files down and propped her hip against the printer table opposite. "I take it then that last night's date didn't go well?"

"What date? It didn't go at all, girlfriend. I was stood up," replied Edie dispiritedly. "Why can't I find a man that will put that same soft fuzzy look in my eye that yours does?"

Catherine looked away at that statement, a worried frown passing momentarily across her features.

"I know - you can't tell me anything more about this 'Vincent' fella but I sure wish I had something like that..."

"I'm sorry, Edie," Catherine answered softly. Both women knew that it wasn't just last night's failed romance that she was referring to. Edie examined her friend with a critical eye. She looked so tired, like she needed at least two days' sleep and a few decent meals. Well, she couldn't do anything about the sleep bit, but as to the meals...

"Yeah, well, me too. Oh, but I did get that info you were looking for last night. You sure come up with the weird stuff, Chandler." Reaching over to pull a computer printout from underneath several precariously balanced files and papers, she began to hand it to Catherine, only to haul it back suddenly. "Lunch, right? Today? Something other than a plastic sandwich from the machines?"

"Can't. Got a meeting today. How about tomorrow?"

"Sounds good. Now don't go standing me up too, girl. I can't take that kind of rejection twice in a week!"

Rolling her eyes at her friend, Catherine took the printout from her friend and re-gathered her burden of files. "Alright, how about we try Tomaso's?"

Edie's eyes lit up at the mention of the new Italian restaurant that had just opened up a few blocks away. "You got a date, babe!"

With a soft chuckle Catherine headed off to her own desk. The awkward pile of files soon found their new home in her overburdened in-basket, and with a grateful sigh she dropped into her chair. Tilting it back, Catherine read through the computer printout Edie had worked up. Based on the name gleaned from the candy wrapper, the manufacturer, Horizon House Fundraising Products Ltd., produced resale fundraising merchandise for the use of schools and various charities, items such as candy bars, Christmas ornaments, and caramel mints. Based on the west coast, the majority of their business was done in that area. However, there were a few customers in the New York area. Bless Edie's heart, she had even thought of listing all the local purchasers. There were only two in the Manhattan area, and the printout listed contact names and addresses for each one. Catherine resolved that tomorrow's luncheon would be her treat.

* * * * *

The Agora Restaurant enjoyed a constant stream of business due to its proximity to several large office buildings, including the one housing the District Attorney. Good food, fast service, and reasonable prices virtually guaranteed its position as the favored lunch spot for most of the locals and office workers. Decor was American Traditional Diner, consisting of Formica tables, booths, and a sit down counter. A wall of noise and a wave of food odors struck Catherine as soon as she opened the glass door at ten minutes past noon.

"Sorry I'm late, Greg," Catherine panted as she slid into the booth across from the police detective. Stowing her coat and purse in the corner of the booth, she picked up the laminated menu resting on the chipped but immaculately clean table surface.

"Why are you bothering with that?" Greg Hughes asked with a smile, "you always get the same thing." Greg leaned back as a harried looking waitress appeared to set down a cup of coffee in front of him and drop creamers beside it.

"You ready to order?"

Glancing at Catherine inquiringly and receiving her confirming nod, Greg replied. "Yeah, I'd like a double cheeseburger, no onions, side of fries." The waitress scribbled this down. "And for the lady, a spinach salad with-"

"Not today, Greg," interrupted Catherine. "Could you make it two burgers, please?"

As the waitress noted down the change and left, Greg directed a look of feigned astonishment towards Catherine.

"So I'm hungry!" she laughed. "I missed breakfast this morning. Besides, I hate to think I'm too predictable."

"What's new up in Lawyerville?" Greg inquired as he emptied far too much cream and sugar into his coffee. The latest news, dirt, and gossip were exchanged while waiting for their lunch. Their burgers arrived in record time, and they both dug in with relish.

"So, I take it from the fact you asked me here that you've got a lead on the organ-snatcher?" Greg asked. Eyes widening to focus behind her, he mumbled through a mouthful of burger, 'Uh oh. Don't look now, but here comes your fearless leader."

"Hey Radcliffe, you slumming? If I'd known you were this desperate for company I'd have volunteered." Pausing to wipe a drip from her chin, Catherine glanced up to see Joe Maxwell clutching a Styrofoam take-out container.

"Don't listen to this low-life, Cathy. He's just jealous because he can't find a woman desperate enough to go on a date with him," Greg mock-whispered.

"Hey, at least I've got a chance at getting a date. They just run from you screaming."

Catherine couldn't help but smile at the banter between these two close friends.

"We were just discussing the organ-snatcher case", Greg continued. "Care to join us?"

"Sure, I'd like to keep up on what's going on. Just remember that this really isn't a case... officially. The DA has nothing to go on."

"Yeah, yeah, save it. We know the score. So, Cathy, you were about to say?"

Between bites, Catherine filled Joe and Greg in on what she overheard in the hospital. At the last moment she reconsidered bringing up the candy wrapper angle.

"So," Greg mused, "if this is turns out to be what you think it is, there's going to be an assault this week. Most probably whatever they take will arrive at the hospital before Friday night. No telling when, so looks like we're going to need three full days of surveillance. Problem is, I don't have the manpower to assign people for that long on a piece of guesswork. So... what are you two doing for the next few evenings?"

"I can't do nights, Greg, but I can help you out in the evenings for a bit to give you a break. I'm working on another angle too, but it's just a hunch right now. As soon as I have anything more, I'll let you know."

"Well that's OK. Joe can do nights, he doesn't have a social life you know, unless you count his teddy bear."

Joe's head reared up and he directed a vicious glare towards his friend. "Hey, hey, not the bear! You promised never to mention the bear!"

Catherine just about choked on her last bite of cheeseburger while trying to suppress her laughter. Encouraging them only made it worse. Joe alone could reduce her to tears of mirth, but putting Greg and Joe together in a situation outside the general office tension could leave her stomach muscles sore for days. Citing how her cruel slave-driving boss worked her to death, she paid her bill and left.

After dealing with several leads on the Allenby witness, Catherine had the opportunity to check up on the two customers of Horizon House. One, the Best Friends Veterinary Clinic, had the candies in a large jar on the front reception desk, for sale to any and all. The other customer seemed more likely; the Girls' Soccer team of St. Agathe private school sold the mints by the box to raise money for their equipment and field trips. Although the PhysEd department of the exclusive private school was very reluctant to give out the names of participating students and their parents or guardians, identification from the District Attorney's office once again opened the appropriate doors. After several hours, Catherine came away with the information she required. There were several of the team members whose parents were doctors. First thing tomorrow she would begin to track them down for interviews.

Noting the lateness of the hour, Catherine mentally shelved her plans. The evening was wearing on, and she had other places to be.

* * * * *

In the soft golden glow from the stained glass window, Vincent lay still under the warm quilts. He was facing away from the chamber entrance, curled on his side. All that could be seen, other than the large lump of his body, was the shock of golden hair spilling onto the pillow. Catherine, from her seat on the side of the bed, slowly stroked the long strands, occasionally twirling a lock around her index finger. It was this sight that greeted Father and Mouse as they quietly entered the chamber.

"Hi," Mouse spoke softly, gazing adoringly at Catherine through shaggy unkempt bangs. "Back OK? Doesn't hurt?"

"No, Mouse. My back is getting better, thanks," Catherine replied absently, not taking her eyes from Vincent.

Mouse stood and watched Catherine for a few moments. Ever since she had slid down one of his traps to land in his chamber, and had been the first one to listen to him in his efforts to save Vincent and Father, he had practically worshipped the ground she walked on. "Don't worry. Vincent will be fine. Heals quick."

Glancing up, Catherine watched Father rummaging though a small pile of rolled up maps on the large writing table.

"Ah yes, here it is. Mouse?" Rolling open the large map, Father caught Mouse's attention and indicated several spots. "This is the main water line. See what you can do with this. Just... check with me first before you start anything, alright?"

"OK, Father. Vincent sick, Mouse can fix it all himself. Maybe better." At Father's admonishing look and indrawn breath, Mouse continued, exasperated. "Right! OK! Check with Father before starting! Won't forget." Taking the plans, Mouse quickly departed, but not before darting another shy glance towards Catherine.

With Mouse's departure, Father turned to Catherine, who remained seated quietly beside his son. "How are you feeling this evening? Any pain?"

Lifting herself away from concentration on the faint sensations she could feel from the bond, Catherine glanced up in response to Father's concerned question. "No more than you told me to expect. It only really hurts when I have to stretch."

"Well, let's just be sure and take a look. I'll just go and get my things." After leaving the chamber to fetch his bag, Father returned and asked Catherine to lower her blouse so he could check the wounds. Once she had partially unbuttoned and lowered the high-necked silk blouse, he noted that the bruising on her neck had faded to pale yellowish marks. The bandages he had placed over the puncture wounds were clean, and upon removal revealed the pink puckered wounds in a relatively advanced stage of healing. "Humph," he mused in surprise. "Well, you're certainly a healthy young lady, everything seems to be healing up quite well. Looks like we caught any infection before it started." He fingered one of the closed up punctures lightly. "Actually, this looks a lot better than I thought it would. Regardless, I'm going to ask you to keep this covered for another day. Tomorrow you can shower, but keep them dry until then alright?" At her nod, he re-bandaged the marks using only a light piece of gauze and some tape for each. "Are you planning to come below tomorrow night?" Catherine softly confirmed that fact. "Well, then, I'll check these again tomorrow. If you continue to improve like this, we may be able to take out the stitches."

Father watched with concern as Catherine's attention swung back to Vincent. Carefully, she moved fully onto the bed, drew Vincent's head onto her lap and gently stroked the hair from his eyes. Once again he marveled at the strength of the bond that must exist between the two, proven out by Catherine's continued presence and support in the face of this latest and largest obstacle. "Catherine. I know my son. He will have to work this through himself before he will discuss it with anyone, especially you. Be prepared for that. But you mustn't allow this turn of events to destroy either of you."

"But it will, unless something changes. He has to change. And we do, as well."

"This& bond you share with my son. I don't pretend to understand it, but I don't deny its existence either. Can it help? Do you have any sense through it of what is going on, why this happened? What drives him to such violence and despair?"

For the longest time Catherine didn't answer, just sat silently with her head resting on his son's brow. She could still sense, faint though it was, some of the elements of the inner struggle for sanity that Vincent had been experiencing in the last week. The feelings of fear, rejection, incomprehension, anger, and self-doubt echoed lightly off her own. Finally, just as Father was preparing to turn and leave them to their privacy, she spoke in a voice that seemed to come from a long way off. "He's struggling with himself. He is so afraid of that part that is different. He pushes it away, but that part is his strength. He's pushing away his own strength. He's got to stop. It's killing him."

Father lowered himself wearily to the large worn chair at his son's bedside. "You truly feel this... through your bond?" Catherine's tormented eyes glanced up from her concentration on Vincent, quietly confirming his statement. Propping an elbow on the arm of the great chair, he rested his forehead in his hand. "This is partly my doing then. Mine, and the rest of the community." Directing his gaze to the golden head on Catherine's lap, after a pause he continued. "You know, he wasn't always like this. Afraid of his differences. When he was a little boy..." Father's voice petered out, as he turned to gaze distractedly into the flickering coals burning in the heating brazier nearby.

"Tell me. When he was a little boy?" Catherine inquired softly, encouragingly.

"Boots," replied Father. "Perhaps it began with those damnedable boots."

"How do you mean? Vincent always wears boots."

"He didn't always. When Vincent was a very little boy, he refused to wear them at all. Wouldn't tolerate anything on his feet. Have you ever seen them? His feet?"

"Yes... recently. When he was sick in my apartment." Catherine's memories returned to that tense time, when he had crashed through her louvered doors into her bedroom, chasing after another hallucination. "When I finally managed to have Peter help me lift him onto the bed. I took his boots off."

"Then you saw the claws?"

"Yes. They're short, not sharp like on his hands."

Father rubbed the tense lines of his forehead in a familiar and characteristic gesture, settling further into the huge chair that practically dwarfed him. "When Vincent began to walk, I tried to make him wear boots. You see I was frightened that he would cut himself or hurt his feet on the rough tunnel floors. All the other children had to wear them. So I had Mark, our leather worker at the time, make him his own boots. A nice little pair lined with fleece to keep his feet warm and snug. Well, every time I managed to put them on him, he would find a way to get them off. He was exceedingly clever at it. It caused me no end of frustration," a small smile appeared, and the warm look that crept into his eyes showed the love he felt. "I would get quite vexed at him. When he was four, I finally decided that enough was enough. I confined him to his chamber, only to be allowed out if he would wear his boots. As you know, my son can be rather... stubborn." This quiet statement provoked a soft gust of amusement from both people.

"So, he broke down in the end?"

"Yes, but only after several days. He wore them, and we had no trouble after that. At first he said they hurt his feet, but I assured him that once he had broken them in a bit they would be fine. After the first few days however, I noticed he became more and more quiet. He wasn't as active as he always had been. You see, when Vincent was a young child, he had so much energy! I despaired of his ever settling down. He was never deliberately naughty; he just loved to move. Several times I found him scaling the walls of my study. The claws on his feet then were very much like the ones on his hands. He could grip just about anything, scale anything. They were like little mountaineer's spikes. Hard as iron, too.  I was terrified that he would fall, but he never did. Vincent was very different in those days. Wilder. But he changed. Instead of racing around the tunnels in the games of tag with the other children, he would sit in my study, reading or playing a game. I began to be concerned." Father's narrative petered out, as he sank into reflection.

"Was he sick?" Catherine prodded gently.

"In a manner of speaking," replied Father. "I always made a habit of tucking Vincent into bed at night. I was worried, so I dropped by early one evening to talk to him, to ask again if anything was wrong. Well, I was outside his chamber and I could hear him gasping inside, like he was in pain. Of course, I ran in immediately and there was Vincent, struggling to remove his boots. He insisted he wanted to do it himself, but I bent down to help. Catherine, if you could have seen what I saw when they came off... his poor little feet. All around his claws he was swollen where they rubbed against the boots, and all around the nail bed he was bleeding. The lesions had become quite infected. The poor little fellow had been in intense pain, but bore it because he couldn't stand to be confined to his chamber. I can't tell you how horrible I felt about the whole matter. I took those boots away that very instant, and told him never to wear them again." Father paused and shook his head at the memory, before continuing

"I never knew what actually instigated it, but Catherine, children can be cruel, even the kindest ones. Vincent came in for more than his share of teasing, some of it quite malicious. I didn't know about it at the time, and Devin wasn't always around to run interference. I never found out what they said to him about his feet, but about a year later I came across my little Vincent wearing boots again. A pair one of the other boys had grown out of. Of course, I insisted he let me check his feet that night." Lifting his head, Father met Catherine's compassionate gaze. "He had somehow gotten hold of a set of clippers and cut off his claws. What a mess! He had wrapped them in scraps from an old cotton shirt, and I had to soak them off. I can't imagine how he managed to do that to himself, the pain must have been excruciating. He refused to tell me why he did it, either. From that day on though, he refused to be without boots. I had another set made for him of course, a bigger pair. And to this day I know he files his foot claws down on a regular basis so that he can wear them. Anyway, after that, other things started changing. He didn't scale walls anymore. Other little behaviors I had unsuccessfully tried to discourage he discontinued on his own. Slowly, Vincent... withdrew. The only times flashes of his old self came were when he was very angry. Like the day he struck Devin. Of course, the incident with Lisa Campbell was the worst."

Catherine winced at the memories that name brought up, and the legacy they had left on her as well as on Vincent. "Maybe every time that wilder side was brought forth, he tried even harder to be human and each time made him work harder at suppressing it. And he dies a little more inside each time. I feel sure somehow that that is what is making him ill. Maybe keeping that side of him so heavily buried is getting more and more difficult until eventually the dam breaks, and this is what we're seeing now."

Father slowly nodded acknowledgement. The silence grew as each one mulled over the possible truth of this statement.

* * * * *

Weak sunshine streamed down through a break in the clouds, illuminating the two figures that regarded each other, still with a good measure of unease. Water dripped from the long hair on both heads. The Dark One, unclothed, shook his entire body vigorously, beginning with his head. Water sprayed in a fine mist as he rid himself of most of the heavy moisture. Raising his hand, he gazed in wonder at the sun playing on his hands, clutching as if attempting to catch a handful of light. "So long since I've felt..." he murmured to himself.

Deep slashes, washed clean by the rain, closed almost magically before each other's amazed eyes. Cautiously, the Dark One raised his left arm, flexing to ensure that the deep wounds caused by rending teeth were truly healed. Slowly he raised his eyes to the twin, still standing in a sodden cloak before him. "Can't you feel it?" he asked excitedly. "The sunshine? It's wonderfulllll!" Tilting back his head, he closed his eyes and spread his arms as if trying to soak in as much of the warmth and light as possible.

Hesitantly, Vincent raised his face as well. The warm sunshine was like a caress, bathing his unique features with a golden glow. "Yes, it's wonderful."

"How can you just stand there? Feel the sun! Feel it!" Almost dancing with excitement, the Dark One loosed a joyous roar at the brilliant orb peeking through the rapidly dissipating clouds and spun himself in a circle. Eyes glinting devilishly, he peered through his curtain of still wet hair towards Vincent, who remained immobile and stared at him with wary puzzlement. "Let's run!" the Dark One cried to his opposite image. "You can still run, can't you?" Dropping this challenge, he spun and took off at a flat out run, rough laughter spilled behind him.

For several seconds Vincent stood, uncomprehending. "Wait? Where are you going?" Not receiving a reply except for more of that rapidly receding but infectious laughter, he tossed the hair out of his eyes and leapt off in pursuit. Extending to his utmost, Vincent sped through the sun-dappled woods, leaping the occasional fallen tree in his path. Ahead of him, the joyful gurgling laughter continued to draw further away. Rounding a particularly tight turn, Vincent lost his footing as the edge of his cloak caught on a strong tree branch. With a frustrated growl, he paused only to roughly shrug off the heavy garment and left the sodden pile of fabric behind to continue his pursuit. Feeling immensely lighter, he ran even more swiftly without the awkward weight from his shoulders throwing him off balance. His thundering heart sent blood racing through his veins as the exhilaration of the chase began to assert itself. Not since childhood had he allowed himself to exert his full abilities, except in situations of dire emergency. A feral joy, wild and liberating, hesitantly reared its head.

The trees broke abruptly into a sun-drenched meadow, backing against a cliff face. The Dark One stood in the center of the open space, clearly waiting for him to catch up. At the sight of Vincent, however, he again spun and ran towards the cliff face. Vincent slowed as he observed his double leap up the vertical wall, fastening onto the stone with four sets of clinging claws. Flexing and digging in, the purchase they afforded allowed him to nimbly scale the rock face. Arriving at a ledge about two-thirds to the top, he levered himself onto it and turned to gaze down towards Vincent. With a smile of triumph, he loosed a taunting roar of challenge.

Reaching the cliff himself, Vincent cautiously began his ascent. Several times his boots slipped on the wet stone. His progress was much more measured and labored, but eventually he too hauled himself to the ledge and lay panting heavily.

"You look like a river fish gasping on the shore," Vincent heard the Dark One comment dryly. "Always you sit, read, listen, talk, act 'civilized'. Run more! It's good for us. And stop cutting our feet too. It's harder to climb without proper claws. Boots are not needed. Toughen up!"

Still breathing in labored gasps, Vincent turned to look at the figure beside him. The ledge that they occupied faced south and was drenched in sunlight. The Dark One now sprawled almost bonelessly upon the warm rock, soaking up the sunshine in completely unabashed nudity. Vincent winced in dismay as the figure so like him gave a long satisfying stretch and rolled over contentedly onto his back. The massive chest expanded suddenly when a deep yawn shook the form, jaws opened fully to clearly reveal both sets of canines. One clawed hand reached up languidly to scratch an itchy spot on his furred belly and a purring groan of contentment issued from the relaxed form. A soft breeze whispered its way along the cliff top. "Why did you do that?" Vincent asked, hesitantly. "Why did you run?"

One eye opened slowly to peer up at Vincent, who crouched a few feet away. "Because it's fun. Because it felt good. To run, to jump, to climb. We used to do this often. Remember?"

Vincent nodded slowly. A reluctant smile broke through at the memory. "I remember. It was fun."


"Now all we ever do is work, listen, read, study. Work we must do. Reading is good sometimes, we enjoy stories. Music sounds good. But why did we stop running, climbing, doing other fun things?"

Vincent's nostalgic smile faded and a hint of guilt appeared in its place. "Because Father would be so angry. And the other children would stare and laugh. They said I was an animal, and worse. That I wasn't human..."

A faint, dark snarl brought Vincent abruptly from the well of remembered pain. Squinting up through the brightness, the Dark One's eyes smoldered with anger. "So what? Why do we care so much? What is wrong with not being human? Is being human such a perfect thing? Is the human who hunts and kills for pleasure better than the wolf who does so to feed her children? Nowhere is the animal that kills without necessity. Food. Protection. Those are the only true reasons. It is humans that kill for nothing. Being human is no state of grace." Vincent looked away, down to the sun-drenched forest below, avoiding the hard eyes that bored into him, challenging his certainties.

"I have to be human. Because if I'm not, then what am I? I don't know who my parents were, why I'm -"

"Who cares?" the beast rumbled out, exasperated. "Who cares what or who gave birth to us, or how we came to be? That knowledge is useless! It is sufficient that we are here, now! We live. We feel. We are what we are. Have you ever tried to understand? No! You have feared our nature, avoided it, and buried it, buried me, in a prison of other's expectations! It would be good to understand the origins, but that doesn't really matter. How will knowing change anything? We are what we are. That can never change!"

"But I don't want to be alone!" Vincent roared his despairing response. Echoes of the roar fell down to the forest below, stilling the bird song that had recently begun. All was quiet for a time as each absorbed the meaning of the other. Finally, Vincent heard the scrape of a fur-covered body shifting position on the sun-warmed rock.

"We are never alone, now. There is-"

"Catherine," Vincent breathed, completing the Dark One's comment. Gentle feelings of warmth and contentment slid in along the bond to caress his heart with loving touches. Beside him, his counterpart rolled out a rasping purr in response. Vincent felt himself relaxing as her feelings rushed to sooth his anxiety, so strong! She must be very near. "But how can this be?" he marveled. "After what happened. I hurt her... Everything is lost, our dream..."

"You think too much! There are things you do not yet comprehend about who we are," the Dark One rumbled from close beside him. "Things that cannot be spoken, just felt. Experienced. You have only ever really trusted words. But the mate-bond, this cannot be defined in words. Yet you trust in it. There are other things as well. Things that must also only be felt. When you allow yourself to be what you truly are, then you can understand these things which cannot have words." Turning, Vincent glanced towards the other questioningly and promptly his eyes widened in amazement. For as the Dark One had lounged in the sun, his wet fur dried and its color had lightened. What Vincent now saw was a veritable mirror image of his own self. Golden-red highlights glinted off mane and fur that had been washed clean by the storm; years of accumulated dark grime stripped away by the cleansing rain. Reaching forward in wonder, Vincent's hands met the corresponding movement as his twin's fingers entwined with his.

"Please. Don't send me back to the darkness," the other softly asked. "I don't want to fight you any more, but I cannot survive there any longer. It's killing us." Slowly, the great head before him lifted, blue eyes meeting blue as his earnest voice rumbled on. "Do not fear what you don't understand. Trust me. Learn. Know."

Vincent's eyes examined the face before him, so alien and yet so familiar. The soft blue eyes pleaded with Vincent, shadows of fear and pain as great as his own flickering in the azure depths. "I'll... try."

A slight breeze caught the slowly smiling image before him, and like so much mist it dispersed into nothingness.

* * * * *

Curled on the bed beside Vincent's warmth, Catherine slowly drifted off into sleep. The fact that Vincent's hand reached the few inches forward to capture and hold hers went completely unnoticed as if nothing but the lightest of breezes had passed.

 


Continued in Chapter 5