You spend all your time waiting

For that second chance.

For a break that will make it OK.

There's always some reason

To feel not good enough,

And it's hard at the end of the day.

I need some distraction.

Oh, beautiful release.

Memory seeps from my veins.

Let me be empty,

Well, weightless and maybe

I'll find some peace tonight.

In the arms of an angel&

May you find some comfort here.

Sarah McLachlan: 'Angel'

From the album: 'Surfacing'

 

CHAPTER FIVE


Catherine pushed the right turn indicator on as she approached the line of cars at curbside meters beside St. Ignatius' hospital. As usual, a parking space was not available. Catching Greg's eye in the side mirror of the nondescript gray van about midway up the row of vehicles, she made a 'shoo' gesture. Obligingly, Greg started his van's engine and pulled away. Catherine quickly tucked her brown sedan into the vacated spot. Shutting off the engine, she reached over for the large take out coffee in the cup holder, settled her coat a bit more tightly against her neck, and sat back to watch.

Stake out duty was about as boring as it got. It was Thursday night. As per the schedule, Catherine had arrived at 6:30 to give Greg his dinner break. Joe would show up as her relief in a few hours, and stay until about 2 a.m., when Greg would take over again. Poor Greg. He must really be taking this case personally. By the time this was over the man would be a walking zombie - par for the course as a New York detective, but still exhausting. Following standard procedure, Catherine turned off the car's interior light. If for some reason she had to open her door, no light would come on to announce the fact to an observer. The delicious scents emanating from the deli bag on the passenger side floor were then dealt with, as Catherine reached in it to retrieve her dinner. Brother's deli made the best smoked-meat sandwich in Manhattan, and if she had to sit in a cold car for three hours, she was going to at least enjoy her supper.

As usual during the last week, when she was not concentrating on her job, her thoughts strayed Below, to Vincent. He had been under sedation since Friday, six days ago. Throughout, Father had been keeping a sharp eye on his condition. It seemed as if in these last couple of days he had been resting a bit easier, and Father had been able to significantly reduce the level of sedation. When she was near, Catherine was sure she could sense a tentative calm from him. Physically, he did seem to be recovering. The dark circles under his eyes had faded. Every night she had gone Below to be with him, and the longer she spent in his presence the more sure she became that this was the right thing to do.

'The moment of truth will be tomorrow,' Catherine thought with a touch of dread. Last night, Father had informed her he would administer the last sedative injection Friday morning. He predicted Vincent would awake sometime Friday evening, when Catherine could be there. Both agreed that one of the first things Vincent would want was to ensure that Catherine was unharmed. After that...

Slowly the hours dragged past. The eventual end of visiting hours combined with departing day shift workers freed up several of the parking spots to either side of her car. With nothing but her thoughts for company, Catherine breathed a sigh of relief when, promptly at 9:30, a dark blue station wagon pulled into the spot behind her sedan. Confirming identity in her rear-view mirror, Catherine was surprised to see Greg sitting beside Joe, who was driving the vehicle. Catching Greg's eye in the mirror, she raised her eyebrows inquiringly. Grinning, Greg shrugged his shoulders innocently, pointed at Joe, and mimed a baby crying. Beside him, Joe punched him in the shoulder

Laughing to herself, Catherine reached for the keys in the vehicle ignition. Halfway there, her hands stopped. The blue minivan that had been moving down the street towards her had turned into the hospital loading dock and delivery area. Lowering her hands back to her lap, Catherine held her breath. Behind her, the two men in the wagon also gave the van their complete attention.

As the van slowed, it turned and backed up to a delivery dock. The bay doors were lifted as the van stopped. A figure in the driver's seat, dimly seen via the low interior light, turned and went into the rear of the van. Nothing but vague shadows could be discerned for several minutes. As Catherine continued to try to make out what was happening, her eye caught a faint movement along the side of the descending ramp entry. Glancing in the mirror again to see if Joe and Greg had picked up on this, she saw that the wagon was empty and the passenger door stood ajar. Turning to refocus on the area of the movement, a stray light from an overhead streetlight revealed it to be Greg, inching in a stealthy crouch towards the delivery area. On the opposite side, Catherine saw Joe creeping behind one of the large dumpsters for hospital trash.

Catherine reached into her purse and removed the small handgun that she had brought with her. Experience had shown that such precautions, although unfortunate, were sometimes necessary. This could be one of those times. She moved to the passenger side of the car, carefully unlatched the door, and slid out to the pavement. Crouching down, Catherine crept along the side of the car to its rear. Using the parked cars as cover, she made her way down the street away from the hospital. Pausing to listen intently and scan the street, she took the gamble that she could cross unnoticed. The overhead street lamps gave plenty of light, and her night-adapted eyes enabled her to move through the shadows carefully but confidently. Approaching Joe from behind, she made enough of a scuff with one foot to catch his attention, so she did not startle him into sudden movement or noise when she approached.

"Joe!" She hissed quietly. "What are you doing? Are you crazy?"

"No, but he is," Joe whispered back, indicating with a slight tilt of his head Greg's general direction. Catherine noted the police issue semi-automatic pistol held tightly in Joe's hands. "I told him to stay put, but he couldn't see a damn thing from the car. He wants a definitive ID." Both sets of eyes tensely monitored Greg's halting progress along the shadowed wall as he slowly crept closer to the dark van.

"He's going to get himself killed!"

Taking a deep breath Joe softly replied, "I've got to cover him." Silently, he slipped around the edge and began making his own way along the opposite wall.

"Joe - no!" Catherine softly commanded, to no avail.

Catherine's position did not allow her to track Joe's progress, and within a few steps Greg was also out of view. Nerves taut as wire, and with a brief prayer that Vincent would be unaware of this situation, she also moved forward. Finding a deep shadow where she could again provide backup for her friends, she checked their progress. Joe was crouched just a few feet away from her, focused on the faintly discernable activity behind the van. Greg hugged the wall, carefully moving step-by-step closer to his goal.

Catherine drew in a breath of alarm only moments before Greg's right foot struck a stray soda can. A woman's shout from behind the van tipped off the fact that someone had heard the noise and spotted Greg. Breaking his crouch, Greg ran for the cover of a nearby dumpster. Catherine heard a muffled thump and noted a small flash of light from the van area as Greg was thrown to his hands and knees on the hard cement. They were using a silencer.

"Greg!" Joe shouted. The relative quiet of the night was shattered as the pistol in Joe's hands barked, sending a wild shot in the direction of the van. With a roar, the van's engine came to life. Tires screamed as the accelerator was floored, and the vehicle lurched forward. The headlights momentarily spotlighted Greg's scrambling form as he desperately hauled himself out of the center of the ramp toward Joe and Catherine.

Adrenaline screamed through her system as Catherine ducked, sensing more than hearing the gusts of air as several bullets whined overhead, striking the wall behind her. Concrete cracked, sending slivers and small pebbles to strike her in the back and head, the sound drowned in the roar of the van's engine as it rocketed past.

Hands! Someone grabbed her from behind, pulling her down! Pain, as the hands dug into her still tender back! A red rage of panic and anger flashed through Catherine, fueled by her recent abduction and near death. Shaking off the bruising grip, reflexively Catherine whirled and struck back. Rising to gain the advantage of height, using her weight to intensify the blow, she struck viciously downwards, fingernails scoring against flesh. A wild intense moment of satisfaction rippled across the curtain of rage as she raised her hands again to repeat the blow.

"Whoa! Cathy! Back off! Easy! It's OK!"

Blinking, Catherine focused on the man on the ground before her.

Using her second's hesitation, Joe scrambled backwards from where Catherine had flung him to the ground. "They're gone, Radcliffe. Relax. We're OK. Everything's OK." His calm soothing tones radiated reassurance as cautiously, not taking his eyes off her, Joe rose to his feet. When Catherine did not move, he turned and hurried over to where Greg lay still on the concrete.

Catherine felt a wave of weakness as the panic rush subsided. Turning, she sagged against the concrete, breathing in deep gusting pants as slowly, one by one, her tense muscles began to relax. Dimly she heard Joe screaming for a doctor. Catherine gave herself a mental shake and pushed herself away from the wall. Joe might need her help. A heavy iron smell flooded her senses as she lifted her hands to push the hair from her eyes. Pausing for a moment, Catherine turned slightly towards the light. The fingers of her right hand were tipped with blood.

The noise of an onrushing medical team caught her attention and, raising her eyes, she saw several people clustered around Greg's prone form. Carefully they maneuvered him onto a stretcher and began to carry him towards the hospital. Joe stood several feet away, not interfering with the medical personnel. Almost without volition, her eyes were drawn to Joe's neck, where four neat parallel scratch marks seeped red into the spreading stain on his shirtfront.

* * * * *

"Thought you might want some fresh stuff." Joe's warm voice settled over Catherine as she lifted her head from her contemplation of the Styrofoam cup of coffee held between her hands. Once Greg and Joe had been taken off for medical attention, she had headed to the hospital cafeteria, stopping only to cleanse her hands in the ladies room. She had been waiting here for news for almost an hour. Reaching to pluck the cup from her hands, Joe eased a new hot cup into its spot. Setting his own down, he nabbed an extra chair from the next table and settled in across from her.

Catherine's gaze dropped to Joe's neck as a renewed wave of shame swept over her. The cuts had stopped bleeding, and a bit of discoloration around them indicated that the obliging medical staff had probably disinfected them. Not raising her eyes, Catherine quietly spoke. "I'm sorry, Joe." Dipping her head and refocusing on the steaming cup, she shook her head slightly. "I didn't mean to..." Taking a deep breath, she attempted to refocus. "Have you heard anything yet? About Greg?"

"They're not saying much." Worry lined Joe's face as he contemplated his friend's condition. "He's been shot in the abdomen. They're operating on him now. Since he was able to receive medical attention so quickly, they are pretty optimistic."

Catherine winced at that phrase. "Cautiously optimistic," had been used to describe her father's condition. "Well, I suppose we should be grateful. I mean, if he had to be shot, at least he managed to be at a hospital."

Joe chuckled at Catherine's comment. "Yeah, I'll have to figure out a way to rib him about that. Listen, in the scramble we haven't taken the time to think about this as a case. Good instincts, by the way, in picking this up. Did you see anything? Get the license number of the van? I couldn't see a thing, it was pretty dark back there."

Casting her mind back, Catherine remembered noting the plate number and recited it to Joe. "Hey, good eyes," he commented as he scribbled the number down on one of the paper napkins from the container on the table. "Did you see any of the people enough for a description."

Catherine shook her head. "No. I did see when they shot Greg. They must have had a silencer on the gun; I thought I heard a light thump. I think I saw the muzzle-flash too."

Joe mumbled a low comment about the probable ancestry of the shooter. Excusing himself briefly, he made a quick call to begin the license number trace. Returning, he slowly eased into his seat. "I'll say one thing for you, you're a lot tougher than you look. Those self-defense lessons are worth every penny you paid for them."

"You're sure you're OK?" Catherine slowly asked, as her eyes once again were drawn to the eerily familiar marks on Joe's neck.

"It's alright, I'll live," Joe said reassuringly, with a smile. "I've got a bruise on the butt and a few scratches. I've gotten worse trying to fix my car." Joe examined Catherine carefully as her eyes dropped guiltily. "Can you tell me something? Why do I have the feeling this is bothering you a lot more than me? Do you want to talk about what happened back there?"

"I.... don't know. I was scared, and you grabbed me... It brought everything back. All the times that I've been attacked came to the surface. I guess I just lost it. I panicked, and just& reacted."

Joe reached forward and took Catherine's hand comfortingly. "Hey, buddy, cut yourself some slack. You've been through a lot lately. You can't tell me the problem with that nutcase who tried to drown you in his car doesn't have some bearing on this either." At the quicksilver flash of remembered terror cut across his friend's face, he tried to lighten the moment with some humor. "Hey, are you sure that after you got out of the trunk of that car you didn't take after him like you did me?" he teased lightly, indicating the marks on his throat.

Catherine tensed. Once Joe had reassured himself that she was OK, a few days later she had had to face a room full of questioners regarding that incident. The body of her stalker had been found in the lake the next day, with his throat slashed open. Truthfully, she hadn't had to lie to them very much. She really hadn't seen the man being killed. When asked about her rescuer, she simply said that she was unconscious until shortly before the police came. Joe had remembered the blanket she had been wrapped in, but she told them she had thrown it away that night because it brought up such horrible memories. In regards to the stalker's death, drowning had been ruled out. A large blood smear had been discovered on shore near the car. Further checking had shown that the majority of blood had soaked into the earth, and the volume indicating the victim had probably bled to death before being dumped. The investigators had reached a dead end fairly quickly. Truth be told, Catherine enjoyed a large volume of respect from the law enforcement community. Discovering the identity of the killer, who had most probably been her rescuer, was not given a very high priority. Oh, surely this wouldn't dredge up that incident again?

"Hey!"

Catherine snapped out of her reverie at Joe's loud exclamation. Suddenly, she realized that the table was dripping wet. The Styrofoam cup was clenched, crumpled, in her fist. Hot coffee dripped off Joe's hands as he grabbed some napkins from the dispenser and began trying to mop up the spreading liquid. Hurriedly Catherine released the cup, grabbed some napkins herself to help, and shortly nothing but a pile of sodden brownish paper remained of the mess.

Joe watched Catherine closely as she swept the soaked napkins onto a tray and carried them to the trash receptacle across the room. Tension was in her every step, her usual natural grace sublimated. 'Maybe it was too soon to put her back into investigations after all,' he mused silently. The stress must be pretty severe if it was enough to make her unconsciously crush a cup, let alone attack a friend in blind panic. If he didn't know better, Joe would give credence to thinking he heard a faint growl from his friend on both occasions.

Catherine disposed of the trash and, leaving the tray on top of the receptacle, began to make her way to the table. As she approached however, she noted a young nurse standing in the doorway of the coffee shop. Several seated persons all seemed to collectively hold their breath as the nurse examined faces, obviously looking for someone. Spying Joe, the nurse made her way purposefully towards him. Around the room, others who awaited word of friends or family realized they were not the ones being sought, and resignedly resumed their various activities. Catherine increased her pace, to arrive at the table with the nurse.

"Mr. Maxwell?"

Joe nodded quickly in confirmation, and rose to his feet.

"Dr. Morneau would like to speak to you regarding Mr. Hughs' condition. Would you come with me, please?" The nurse turned and led Joe and Catherine to a nearby small meeting area, where a dark skinned man in a white lab coat waited.

"Dr. Morneau?" Joe inquired. At the doctor's confirmation, he blurted out "How's Greg? Will he be all right?"

"Yes, from all indications he's going to be fine. The bullet missed most of the major organs, and we've been able to repair what was damaged fairly well. He won't be up and around for a while though. This kind of internal damage is the kind that takes longest to heal. But, barring complications, he should be as good as new in a couple of months." Joe sat back with a sigh of relief. After a few more questions, they thanked the doctor for his efforts. Catherine checked her watch as they left the hospital. Twelve forty-five a.m.

"Radcliffe, I don't want to even see your face in the office tomorrow until 10 o'clock. And that's just going to be to sign some papers regarding this incident. Then you'll take the rest of the day off."

Catherine drew in a breath and turned to Joe.

"Don't you dare!" He spoke softly, looking her right in the eye. "Don't you dare tell me that it's not necessary. It is! For me, if not for you. Now, I want you to go home. Go to bed. Sleep. Don't argue with me on this. I don't want the aggravation. Understood?"

Catherine released the objection she had been about to voice. In all honesty, regardless of feeling she should object, this would be a welcome break after the tension of the last few hours. Besides, having the afternoon off would make it easier to be there for Vincent when he woke up.

"OK."

"OK? That's it? No objections?" The astonishment in Joe's voice was obvious.

"No objections."

Joe stood looking flummoxed for a few moments. "OK then. Well... I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Standing beside her car he waited for her to get in and lock the doors. As Catherine pulled away, he returned to his station wagon, shaking his head. 'Just when you think you have a woman figured out...'

* * * * *

For a moment Catherine thought Father's chamber was empty. In reality, this shouldn't surprise her. By the time she had returned to her apartment and headed below, it was after half past one in the morning. Still, it had always seemed that, whatever the time, Father was always present in this room. Just as she was about to turn and go she heard a grinding noise. Directing her attention to the desk in the corner, she saw Father dozing over a large book. A definite snore issued from his bent head. Catherine couldn't help but smile to herself. Undoubtedly Father was appalled at the very idea that he snored; it was not at all dignified.

Well, she couldn't just leave him there. He might be sleeping soundly, but morning would find him most likely unable to straighten up after spending the night in that posture. Quietly she crossed the room. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she gently shook him. "Father. Father, wake up." With a snort Father straightened. Momentarily he was unsure of his surroundings, but reality arrived in a couple of seconds. Catherine stood beside him, smiling softly. "Oh! There you are. I was waiting. You're awfully late, aren't you?" Pushing his spectacles further up his nose, Father turned to glance at the large clock beside the desk "My good heavens! It's almost two o'clock in the morning! What the devil were you...? Never mind. I don't think I want to know." Father reached out to pick up his cane and came to his feet. "Have you checked on Vincent yet?"

"No, I wanted to talk to you first. How was he today?"

"As well as can be expected. Strangely, he seemed to become very agitated around nine thirty this evening, but only for a minute or two." Pausing, he lifted his eyebrow questioningly at the lovely young woman before him. Father thought he caught a look of guilt before she bent her head, hiding her face behind her fall of soft brown hair. 'Humph. Wonder where she picked up that particular trick,' Father thought ironically. "Other than that, no change. I'll give him his last injection in a few hours. Now, you look dead on your feet. Run along to bed."

Catherine lifted her head, a spark of mischief in her eyes. Turning to leave, she cast over a parting comment. "Only if you do the same. You're much too dignified to snore in your office chair."

Watching Catherine walk up the three stairs to the chamber exit, Father almost sagged in relief. Better she was relaxed enough to tease him than brittle with apprehension. "I certainly do not snore, young lady." he replied with mock terseness. Turning to extinguish several of the candles, Father muttered to himself as made his way to his own sleeping chamber. "How on earth anyone could suggest such a thing! Preposterous!"

Catherine chuckled quietly as she overheard Father's rebuttal. It wasn't very nice, but she just couldn't resist a little teasing poke now and then. It was good for him, kept him from getting too pompous. Entering Vincent's chamber, dark except for the faint glow of the constantly burning candle behind the stained glass window, she shed her clothes quickly. No matter how many braziers burned in the high ceilinged chamber, it always seemed cold. Tugging on her warm tunnel gown, she crawled into bed.

Although she knew she was exhausted, Catherine was reluctant to sleep. Shifting onto her left side, she curled against Vincent's sleeping form. He lay on his back, covers displaced from her movement. Tenderly, she reached up and re-tucked the quilts around his neck. Temptation beckoned, and with only a token thought to resistance she gave in. Her fingers itched to explore his relaxed features. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a black thought surfaced that this might be the last time she ever had the chance to do so.

How she loved the fur on his nose! Gently Catherine ruffled it back and forth with the tips of her fingers. It was soft and silky to her touch, just like that on his ears. Vincent snorted softly, wrinkling his nose in unconscious response, bringing a gentle smile of amusement to her lips. Rising up on her elbows, she bent over to place a light kiss on the tip of that nose. Her fingers wandered to his lips. On either side of the cleft, the protruding muzzle-like pads hid the thin smooth upper lip beneath. His lower lip was much fuller and soft as well. Using her hands to turn his face slightly, she pressed a warm, open-mouthed kiss to them. "Good night, my love," she said softly. Settling against his warmth, slowly she drifted off.

*****

Catherine awakened abruptly. All was still. The pipes were silent, it was still night. Puzzled, she peered about the chamber to see what had disturbed her, but all seemed completely normal. Settling back down, her eyes popped open again. That was it! Through the bond she could feel the strangest sensation. An almost physical warmth, like sunlight. Concentrating fiercely, she narrowed her focus, blocking out all senses but those directed inward. Through the warmth she felt a slow, rhythmic thumping.

Catherine's eyes opened slowly as realization dawned, bringing a bright smile of delight to her face. Vincent had told her once that he had a sense of her own heartbeat. In truth, Catherine had felt their bond growing stronger in her the closer she and Vincent became, but to feel this! Inexplicably, a sense of hope dawned in her heart. If the bond was continuing to strengthen, maybe there was a purpose to it. Perhaps all was not lost after all.

Snuggling back into the curve of Vincent's arm, which had somehow during sleep moved to hold her against him, she eventually drifted off. And in that sweet sleep, unnoticed, the regular, rhythmic beat Catherine's heart had maintained for over thirty years gradually began to slow, as if seeking to match exactly the rhythm of its counterpart.


Continued in Chapter 6