A Criminal Mind

Margaret Noel


 

Some people struggle daily

They struggle with their conscience

Till the end

I have no guilt to haunt me

I feel no wrong intent

My criminal mind is all I've ever known

They tried to reform me

But I'm made of cold stone

A criminal mind is all I've ever had

Ask one whose known me

If I'm really so bad?

 

I am

Studying his reflection in the mirror the man began to laugh. "Oh I am!"

Catherine Chandler sat at her desk. To all outward appearances she was calmly concentrating on the file that lay open before her. Inside she was seething. Her mind kept returning to the scene that had played out in the tunnels the night before. At that moment she could not decide whom she was angrier with, Father for being a pushy, opinionated, old man or Vincent for defending him!

After work the previous evening she had rushed home showered and changed. A little after seven she had made her way to the tunnel entrance below her building. Vincent was waiting for her. Seeing him helped settle the butterflies that had taken up residence in her mid-section. Taking her hand in his larger one Vincent smiled.

"I'm really nervous about this Vincent. What do you think Father will say?"

"I fear there is only one way to answer that question" Together they headed into the tunnels.

They had decided the time had finally arrived to share with Father the news he was to become a grandfather. As they approached the study Catherine's steps began to drag. Telling Vincent had been difficult enough, the thought of admitting to the patriarch of this underground world that she had broken his most rigid taboo by having sex with his unique son, was truly daunting. The thought "Father will not be pleased" reverberated in her mind.

Catherine snorted. Not pleased was putting it mildly. Once the initial shock of their news had warn off Father had turned on her.

" So what do you have to say for yourself" he demanded. His usually dower expression growing darker with each passing moment. His tone left no doubt as to whom he felt was responsible for the entire situation.

"How could you have been so careless as to allow this to happen?" Father glared at her over his glasses. "What on earth were you thinking?"

The tenuous hold she had been keeping on her temper snapped. "I was thinking about SAVING your son's life!"

Walking to the desk Father was seated behind Catherine leaned over and looked him squarely in the face, her nose just inches from his "Do you think I planned this? Do you honestly believe I set out to seduce Vincent? Admit it! You're mad because you were wrong in your assumptions and pronouncements. You're trump card is gone."

Vincent, who had remained silent during the heated exchange, intervened "Catherine please"

She whirled on him "No Vincent! Not this time! He has always viewed me as a threat to you and this world." Fixing her gaze on Father once more she continued adding salt to the wound "Not only were we together it was beautiful!"

Suddenly all the fight was gone and she found herself on the verge of tears. The last thing she wanted was to give that mean spirited old man the satisfaction of seeing her cry. Turning on her heal she darted out of the chamber. Vincent caught up with her part way down the tunnel

"Where are you going?"

"I don't know. Home, away from here, away from him!" The tears she had been fighting slid unheeded down her cheeks.

"Catherine, Father didn't mean the things he said. It's shock."

The embers of her temper flared to life, "Don't you dare stand there and defend him! He meant it, Every word!" With that she turned and headed back down the tunnel. Vincent fell into step behind her. Without sparing him a glance she said, "I can find my own way out"

Her emotions were literally screaming at him through their bond. "Leave me alone" they said. Vincent watched her retreating figure until she disappeared around a bend.

The sleepless night that had followed had done little to improve her mood. She was tired, irritable and feeling less then charitable toward the male species in general. Knowing Vincent was aware of how she was feeling she wrapped all her resentment, anger, and hurt around her like a cloak.

"I'm miserable" she muttered "and I WANT you to know it!"

Unconsciously her hand rested on the slight rounding of her abdomen. A single tear rolled down her cheek. "Oh little one, God protect us from all men!"

****

In another part of New York, far below the city streets a solitary figure stared unseeing into space. Vincent sat slumped in a chair. His thoughts were on Catherine. Her distress was eating at him. After the disastrous turn of events in Father's chamber the night before he was completely adrift as to what to do. After her abrupt departure, Vincent had returned to Father's study, hoping to find the older man in a more reasonable frame of mind. Such was not the case if anything his mood had deteriorated.

"I take it she's gone?"

Vincent nodded. He opened his mouth to speak but Father silenced him. "I know what you are about to say, that I was too hard on her. Well what did she expect that I would welcome the news of her foolhardy act with open arms?"

"Father, Catherine did not become pregnant alone. I am as much to blame"

"Humph! You had no idea what you were doing. You were ill. No, the blame for this falls at her door. I suppose she intends to have it?"

For a moment Vincent's brain refused to process Father's words. "Surely you are not suggesting that she …" the unfinished thought hung in the air.

"We have no idea of the risks or what we could be dealing with. The danger involved. It is the only reasonable course of action."

Vincent was ashen; he could not believe what he was hearing. " I should be infinitely grateful MY mother never felt this way."

His control slipping Vincent knew he had to get away. He sought solace in the dark streets. He walked for hours, eventually finding himself on Catherine's balcony. Her misery washed over him in waves. He had been about to tap on the door when the sounds of her muffled sobs reached him. The small figure curled in a protective ball on the bed was clearly visible in the moonlight. She did not want his comfort, not that night. He sadly turned away.

The rising sun had forced him to return to the tunnels. He tried to write. Words had abandoned him. He tried to sleep. It would not come. He had flung himself into his chair with only his thoughts and Catherine's anguish for company.

Vincent was afraid. In all the years growing up in the tunnels he had never doubted the love of his father. He still could not believe Father's ill-considered comments. More frightening still was how close he had come to losing his control, unleashing the beast on the man who had raised him.

He sighed. The situation was intolerable. Being forced to choose between the two people he loved most in the world. In his heart he knew who would lose that choice. Catherine was carrying his child. She would never consider giving it up. He had never considered asking her; would never consider asking her. If he was being brutally honest with himself, Vincent had to admit he wanted this child. It was a symbol of the life he thought he could never have with Catherine. Was this what she had meant when she said Father's trump card was gone? Was this why Father was so opposed to the situation? He had no answers but made up his mind he would see Catherine that night. He had to apologize. He had to tell her he would be there for her no matter what. He had to tell her he wanted this child to be a new beginning for them. Father would just have to accept it.

Catherine breathed a sigh of relief when she finally returned home. The day had been unbearable. Her head ached and her shoulders were in knots. Her inability to concentrate had put her behind on several cases she was working on keeping her at the office long after everyone else had gone home.

"Bubble bath" she announced patting her mid section. "Mommy feels we have earned a bubble bath."

She set about filling the tub and lighting the scented candles that lined the vanity. "Oh yes little one, there is nothing better than a bubble bath to soak your cares away, even temporarily." She placed the wineglass on the edge of the tub and shut off the water. "All we need now is music and everything will be perfect." Scanning her choices she decided against her usual choice of classical music. Gowan would do nicely. He fit her mood.

She had just wrapped her robe about her when she heard the tapping. Vincent stood on the balcony. She wanted to throw herself into his arms but her pride and a fresh resurgence of anger kept her rooted to the spot.

Her anger hit him like a physical blow. For a moment he just stood there, bereft of speech. Finally he held out his hand, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry"

That was all she needed. She flung herself into his waiting arms. He crushed her against his chest. He murmured soft loving words into her hair. Stepping back he lifted her chin. An instant before it happened Catherine knew he was going to kiss her. His lips brushed hers, tentatively at first as if asking permission. In response her arms wrapped around his neck bringing his lips more firmly in contact with hers. Vincent needed no further encouragement. His tongue pushed insistently against her lips seeking entrance. Catherine eagerly complied. The feel of his tongue, dancing with hers, his arms pressing her tightly against him his hands roaming her form left her gasping.

The kiss ended. Vincent kept his arm firmly around her. He led her inside the apartment and closed the door.

"We have too talk." He stated simply seating her on the edge of the bed.

For a moment Catherine was to stunned to do anything but nod. Finally regaining the power of speech she asked, "What are we going to do?" Tears threatened to choke her. Vincent sat beside her gathering her against his chest.

"We are going to be together, that is, if you will have me." Even though the words had been confidently said, the fear of rejection was clearly etched on his features.

"Have you! Have you! Oh my God Vincent I've never wanted anything else!" to add emphasis to her words Catherine kissed him soundly, shoving him flat against the bed. Sprawled across him two things became evident at once. First, the evidence of his desires straining against his jeans. The second that her robe had come open.

A faint pink tinge suffused her face. "I was about to have a bubble bath when you arrived." She said by way of explanation of her unclothed state.

"It would be a shame to waste it" he replied. The implication of his words both a question and an invitation.

"Yes it would" she stated getting to her feet letting the robe drop to the floor as she did so. Taking his hand she led him into the candle lit room.

Noting the wineglass he raised a questioning brow. "Wine?"

Catherine laughed. "Look again."

Vincent smiled. The glass was filled with milk. Other activities took the place of speech.

As she helped him out of the multiple layers of tunnel clothing Vincent became vaguely aware of the music on the stereo. It was as if the lyrics had been written for this moment.

 

MOONLIGHT DESIRES

By

Gowan

You've got ways

To take hold of my thoughts

Overriding my senses

Lock your sights dead in line with my heart

Share your powers

You stir my soul

And wet my hunger

And weave the spell that pulls me under

These moonlight desires haunt me

They want me, they want me

These moonlight desires haunt me

They haunt me

You're sending, you're sending

Her hands and mouth were doing such things Vincent was consumed by desires he had not known possible. Desires he knew only Catherine could fulfil. Giving himself over to the sensations he listened as Gowan sang on.

 

Secret fires

Burn inside me unknown

Raging on never mentioned

Only you can uncover the flames

And make them dance for us to see them

And break their chains and give them freedom

These moonlight desires haunt me

They want me, they want me

These moonlight desires haunt me

They haunt me

You're sending a wave over my mind

And I fall to it blind

You say

Trust me

These moonlight desires haunt me…

Catherine could not believe it was real. She was here, with Vincent, in her candle lit bathroom and in her bathtub no less. She marvelled at how beautiful he really was. Aside from a light dusting of golden hair that covered his entire body he was definitely and wonderfully male. More man than beast. His tongue was rough, sending shivers down her spine. She couldn't wait any longer. Arching her back in unspoken invitation he thrust inside her in one powerful motion. The world shattered and spun away. They were truly finally one.

When the water grew chilly Vincent carried her to the bedroom. Consumed by the newness of being lover's passion flared. They made slow passionate love once more. On the verge of drifting off to sleep Vincent heard Catherine's soft chuckle.

"Would you care to share what you find so amusing?"

"I was just thinking. This is the third time we've made love but it's the first time we've made it to a bed."

"I would say it was definitely worth the wait wouldn't you?"

"Definitely." Suddenly serious she asked, "Vincent what are we going to do? About Father I mean"

Catherine lay in the circle of Vincent's arms his hand resting on the telltale roundness of her belly. Her heart ached. Even though he had taken her side in the battle with Father she knew he had to be upset about the rift it had caused.

He sadly shook his head. " I don't know but I promise you we'll face it together."

As if it was a direct link to the baby Vincent slide down in the bed and spoke directly into her navel, "You tell your Mommy not to worry. We're a family now and nothing will ever keep us apart."

Catherine didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Vincent's softly whispered promise had touched her deeply. "You're really happy about the baby aren't you."

Gathering her once more in his arms he kissed her. All the love, joy and tenderness he felt was expressed in its depths. "Do you even have to ask?" He made love to her again with such deliberate tenderness, handling her with such fragile care, Catherine thought her heart would burst from the sheer beauty of it.

Before she drifted off to sleep she whispered, "I'd move below tomorrow --; if you asked me to."

Vincent, already sleeping, did not reply.

Saying good-bye to Vincent as the dawn rapidly approached had been sad and wonderful. Sad because she had not wanted the magical night to end but wonderful in the knowledge they were finally, truly together.

She had arrived that morning to find a large manila envelope on her desk. Tearing it open she was stunned by the contents. Pictures! Pictures of her, pictures of Vincent, pictures of the drainage tunnel in the park spilled on to her desk. "Oh Vincent, how will we face this?" her knees were shaking so badly they would no longer support her.

Dropping into her chair, Catherine took stock of the situation. The first thing she had to do was relax. The last thing she needed was Vincent reacting to her distress.

"Okay Chandler breath" she muttered kicking into efficient lawyer mode. It was obvious that someone knew about the tunnels and Vincent. Equally obvious was the fact this knowledge had not yet been shared with the general public.

"Whoever took these pictures wants me to know he knows my secret," she concluded. "That means he wants something. Sooner or later he will have to contact me to make his demands."

Looking heaven ward she added a silent prayer, "Please God let it be sooner. I don't know how long I can keep this from Vincent." In her heart Catherine knew she wouldn't be able to keep the existence of the pictures secret for long. She knew the council would have to be informed. They would have to make whatever plans they felt necessary to protect the tunnels.

"FATHER!" The thought of telling him caused her already queasy innards to drop into her feet. She raced for the bathroom.

Joe Maxwell caught her on the way out. "Are you alright Radcliff? You look like hell."

Catherine brushed away his concern, "I'm alright I just didn't get much sleep last night." At least that wasn't entirely a lie.

Joe watched as she walked away. He shook his head. Catherine Chandler was a mystery he would never understand. There was much more going on in her life than she would admit. Maybe one day she'd confide in him until that day arrived he'd be there whether she wanted him or not.

****

Vincent sat at his writing desk contemplating the events of the night before. He still could not believe Catherine's complete and total acceptance of him. His pleasure was cut short as the cold rush of fear, her fear, gripped him. The sensation did not last long. He felt Catherine's attempt to block their connection. He had no time to contemplate further as Father entered the chamber.

"Well you've finally returned. I assume I've no need to ask where you were all night."

Distracted by Catherine's obvious distress Vincent's tolerance was limited. "I'm in no mood to be lectured old man," he warned with a barely suppressed growl.

Father was momentarily taken aback. Then he lost his temper. "What has gotten into you?"

Rising to his feet Vincent glared down at the smaller man. "I could ask you the same question. How could you even suggest the things you did yesterday."

"I was only thinking of you. I am trying to protect you."

"From what; the woman who loves me, who has completely accepted me? The mother of my child." He was shaking with barely controlled rage.

Father turned to leave. "It is pointless trying to talk to you like this. When you get hold of yourself I'll be in my study"

"Answer one question. Why wasn't I considered a threat?"

"Don't be ridiculous, you were an infant, how could you be a threat?"

Vincent pounced. "Exactly! So how can you consider this child a threat?"

Sinking into the chair Vincent had vacated, shoulders slumped he looked the pitiable figure. "Your going above was never an issue. You had no one but us, no one to pull you into that world."

Understanding dawned. It wasn't the child Father saw as the threat but Catherine and her ties to the world above. Understanding did not mean acceptance

Father's temper flared again. "Catherine is a prominent figure. The newspapers love her. How long do you think it will be before news of her pregnancy gets out? How will she handle questions she cannot possibly answer?"

"Do not force me to choose. You will not win."

"I don't expect you to choose Vincent. I am not asking you to. I just want you make Catherine see reason. Since she plans to have this child she must move below."

"Catherine understands the baby will have to be born here. The possibility the child could be like me is to great to risk having it above. We have already talked about that. As for Catherine giving up her life above, that is something I cannot ask her to do. We will just have to find a way to have the best of both worlds. This situation is still so new we have yet to discuss it let alone work out all the details."

"Humph! A life in both worlds --; impossible!"

Vincent was tired; he did not want to fight with his father any longer. "Can't you even try to be a little happy for us?"

Father rose to leave. Stopping at the chamber entrance he turned and looked sadly at his son. "Mark my words Vincent. The day is going to come when someone will become curious or you will become careless and then we will all pay."

""What if the payment you expect is too high?" Vincent asked "What then?"

Vincent reclaimed the chair he had vacated earlier. He couldn't really blame Father for being shocked at the news he was going to be a grandfather. His own reaction had been one of stunned disbelief. Thinking back he remembered the night, just a week ago, when Catherine had shared the incredible news with him.

Catherine was a nervous wreck. He arrived on her balcony to find her furiously pacing its length. Through their bond he knew something was troubling her. Hoping to ease her mind he said, "Whatever it is, it might help to talk about it."

She looked at him with a helpless expression; "I don't know where to start." She shook her head in frustration. "I have something I have to tell you and I don't know how."

Taking her hand he looked deeply into her eyes, "Surely it cannot be as bad as all that now can it?"

Pulling her hand free she began to pace again. "No it's not bad, not to me. I think it's wonderful and miraculous but…" She stopped pacing and took a deep breath. "I'm pregnant. You're going to be a father."

His legs refusing to hold him from the shock, Vincent sat down hard, almost missing the chair. "That's not possible." The words were barely audible.

Catherine knelt before him. "I know you don't remember, that's why telling you was so hard."

Still reeling Vincent could manage nothing more than single words. "How?" --- "When?"

"It happened during your illness. In the cave below the catacombs." Lost in the memory everything she had felt that night the terror, the desperation and the love flowed over him.

"My god Catherine, someone should have stopped you! I could have killed you!"

"There was actually a moment when I thought you might strike me," she admitted. Seeing his anguished expression she quickly continued. "I screamed your name and you stopped. You recognized me and then you collapsed."

Tears welled up in her eyes. "I thought you had died. I was so angry, angry with God for taking you and angry with you for leaving me. There were so many things we hadn't shared. I hadn't even kissed you, not a real kiss, not like I had always wanted to. So I kissed you and that's when it happened."

Vincent's expression was hidden behind a vale of golden hair. Taking his face in her hands Catherine forced him to look at her. "You responded to that kiss. I knew in that moment what I had to do, what we had to do, to bring you back. It worked Vincent you came back to me."

He wanted to ask what had happened but couldn't find the words. Reading his thought she continued. "Willing as you were you were in to condition be of much help. It was just the most basic act but it was beautiful. The inevitable union of two souls."

Her words helped put him at ease that at least he had not hurt her but he could not fight his fear for her safety. Her expression told him the answer but he was compelled to ask, "Are you sure, about having the baby? We have no idea of the risks."

Placing a finger against his lips she silenced him. "Vincent even though we were told it was impossible and too dangerous we've been together and nothing has happened. The earth did not crumble and the sky did not fall. I cannot believe a God who would give us this miracle would be so cruel as to let it be anything but perfect."

Her total conviction that everything would be all right convinced him. His heart swelled with joy. "You do realize the baby could be like me."

Her smile told him she welcomed such a prospect. "I know and I also know I will have to be below for the birth. Promise me something." At that moment he would have promised her the moon had she asked for it. "Promise me that our child will be born in your bed and that you will be with me the entire time."

"I promise."

****

 

My criminal mind is all I've ever known

They tried to reform me

But I'm made of cold stone

A criminal mind is all I've ever had

Ask one whose known me

If I'm really so bad

 

I AM

The music faded away. "Oh I am." The man grinned. "I wonder if Cathy still likes Gowan. She always did like obscure artists. Perhaps I'll ask her."

Buttoning his shirt the grin faded. He ran shaking fingers over the jagged scars that criss-crossed his chest. The return of the fury brought the return of the voices.

"Yes I know! Shut up!" Placing his hands over his ears he responded to the voices only he could hear, the ones that whispered what had to be done.

Taking a last glance in the mirror the grin returned.

"ShowTime!"

The morning had passed in a blur and Catherine's nerves were stretched to the breaking point. Joe Maxwell's well meaning repeated inquiries if she was all right had not helped. She had finally lost her patience threatening him with bodily harm if he did not go into his office and stay there. When a male figure stopped in front of her desk, assuming it was Joe, she did not look up immediately.

When she finally did raise her head the acerbic remark she had been about to make died on her lips.

"YOU! --- HOW?"

"Surprised to see me aren't you?" he continued before she could reply, "Of course you are. I'm sure you never thought you'd see me again. That is if you ever actually spared me a second thought."

Catherine thanked god she was seated. She was not certain she could stand if she had to. She could not believe, Stephen Bass, a face that haunted her nightmares was standing before her.

Regaining some semblance of composure she asked, "How did you get out? I thought…"

"Oh come now Cathy, admit it, you never gave me a second thought." Walking behind her he placed his hands on her shoulders massaging them. She could not control the shudder that ran through her. He continued "I had plenty of time to think. I thought of you everyday. And HIM!"

His hands slide around her neck. Leaning down he whispered "Especially him!"

Catherine pulled away. "My God you really are insane! How did they ever let you out?"

Facing her he sat on the edge of the desk. "It's quite simple really. To get out, tell them what they want to hear. The truth will set you free, rubbish. As soon as I stopped trying to tell them what really happened I made a rapid recovery. They pronounced me cured and set me free!"

Catherine was reeling. This was the last thing she needed to deal with. "So what do you want?"

"Temper, Temper Cathy. Did you get my little gift?"

"Little gift, I don't know what --- The pictures. You sent them."

Nodding he leaned forward. Looking around to be sure no one was listening he smirked, "People with secrets should really be more careful."

For a moment she didn't know how to respond. Finally she asked, "What do you want?"

He fained ignorance, "Want?"

Catherine trotted out her best courtroom voice. "You didn't do all this, the pictures, coming here, without expecting payment. So I ask again, what do you want?"

Seated once more in the chair facing her he propped his feet on her desk. Leaning back he studied her for a moment before responding. "What I've always wanted --; what we should have shared --; what we would have shared if HE had not interfered! Quite simply I want you."

Whatever she had been expecting her expression told him quite clearly his price for silence was the last thing she expected to hear.

"You can't mean…" Her voice was barely audible.

The sound of chair legs thudding back to the floor as he rose to his feet echoed in her head. Everything seemed suddenly louder. Leaning across her desk his expression was hard his tone venomous. "Oh yes my pretty Cathy. The price of my silence is you. Any time I want. Anywhere I want. Any way I want." Reaching out he stroked her cheek; "I shall enjoy that very much. Whether you do or not is of no matter."

"You're mad!" she spat slapping his hand away.

"Perhaps" he agreed with a chuckle, "But I am not totally unreasonable. You can have 24 hours to contemplate your fate."

Walking way from her desk he stopped and turned, looking back at her. "Give in Cathy, you have no choice."

Watching his retreating back Catherine finally lost the battle she had been having with her innards. Clapping a hand over her mouth she bolted to the bathroom where she lost the remnants of her breakfast and her control. Seated on the floor of the ladies room, her head resting against the toilet bowl, Catherine went completely to pieces. She cried out her woes with only the porcelain god for company.

The sun had barely set that evening when Vincent arrived on Catherine's balcony. He tapped briefly at the door before opening it and stepping into the living room. She was seated on the sofa staring off into space. Not wishing to startle her he knelt before her taking her hand. He could get no sense of her through their bond. Emotionally she had shut down.

He softly spoke her name. "Catherine." She did not respond. Finally he gently shook her. "Catherine!"

Suddenly aware she was not alone Catherine jumped. She did not speak but instead dashed into the bathroom. Vincent followed. Not knowing what to do he hovered in the doorway. He was filled with guilt. He knew Catherine had not been feeling well, he had not realized the extent of her misery. For her to be suffering so and for him to be the cause made his heart twist.

Finally she looked up at him. "Is it always this bad?" he asked hanging his head. "I didn't realize. I'm so sorry."

A victim of raging hormonal mood swings Catherine began to laugh. She couldn't control it Vincent found her near hysterical laughter unnerving. She laughed till tears ran down her face. Leading her back to the living room he sat her on the couch.

Concern was clearly written on his features. "Tell me."

Gasping for breath she continued to laugh. "You're sorry! Oh God you're sorry!" The laughter dissolved into tears.

Vincent was adrift in the centre of an emotional storm as Catherine's rapidly shifting mood battered him. Finally he could stand it no longer. "Please Catherine! Just tell me. What ever is wrong we can face it together."

Completely unhinged by that comment she broke into hysterical laughter once more. Going to her desk to retrieve the envelope she continued to laugh uncontrollably. "Face this!" She practically screamed the words. "How are we going to face this?" She dropped the envelope in his lap. The contents spilled to the floor.

For a moment Vincent said nothing, just looked at the pictures one by one. After what seemed like an eternity to Catherine he spoke. "Who?"

"Stephen Bass."

"BASS!" He growled the name. The muscles in his arm went rigid under her hand. "How? I thought he was locked up."

"He was but now he's not. That doesn't matter. What matter's is he knows about everything; you, the tunnels, us."

The beast emerged. "I should have killed him." It snarled gripping her arm. "I still could."

She jerked away. "NO! Vincent no!"

The beast receded. Ashamed of his loss of control Vincent could not bring himself to meet her eyes.

"What does he want?"

At that moment she was thankful for her erratic moods. There was no way she could tell him. For the first time since they had met Catherine lied to him. "He said he would give me twenty four hours before he demanded payment."

Regaining his composure he finally looked at her, "We have to tell the council."

Knowing he was right didn't make the prospect any easier. "If Father blamed me before…" Overcome by the need to be sick yet again she never finished the sentence.

Vincent met her at the threshold below her building. Stopping at a nearby pipe he tapped out a brief message. Taking Catherine's hand they headed for Father's study.

****

In the pipe chamber Pascal and Max had been enjoying a few quiet moments together. Traffic on the pipes had been light. All that changed with the receipt of Vincent's brief message calling for an immediate emergency meeting of the council. The pipes screamed to life.

Given Pascal's place on the council Kipper raced in to relieve him. "I'll take over here. You go on," he stated while efficiently tapping out a reply to an incoming message.

Pascal glanced at Max, his expression serious, "This sounds like trouble."

Taking his hand Max headed for the exit. "I'm coming too."

Vincent and Catherine arrived in the study. The council was assembled. Without preamble Father directed his question to Catherine, "What have you done now?"

Feeling like a sheep about to be slaughtered by an old grey wolf, Catherine was overcome by the urge to say "Baa."

Slumped in her seat she was the picture of abject misery. She was pale, her hair hung limply around her face, her features pinched. Her fighting spirit had deserted her.

Before anyone else could respond Max was on her feet. "Why don't you back off! Are you blind as well as heartless? Can't you see she's not feeling well?"

Until she spoke Father had not noticed her presence. He had about as much tolerance for her as he did for Catherine. It was evident in his tone. "You are not a member of this council. You are here strictly as a courtesy to Pascal. I suggest, therefore, you sit down and keep your comments to yourself. If that should prove to difficult the door is over there!"

Returning to her seat Max shot him a look that would curdle milk. Under her breath she muttered, "pickled old goat!"

Father glared at her. "Is there something you'd care to add Ms. Seaton?"

Never one to back down from a challenge Max smiled sweetly. "Oh no Father, I was just commenting I was chilly and should have brought my coat."

Catherine gave her a faint smile of gratitude. At least she had one ally in the room.

Vincent rose and addressed the assembled group. "We have a problem." Taking the pictures out of the envelope he handed them to the council.

He got no further with his explanation. Father was on his feet. "I knew this day would come! From the moment you brought her here!"

Vincent lost his control. The beast emerged. It snarled at Father. Fangs bared. Pascal, who had been seated next to Vincent, placed his hand over the beasts clenched fist. Looking it squarely in the face he said in his most soothing voice, "Please, calm down, we need cool heads. Anger is not the answer." Vincent re-emerged.

The entire exchange was too much for Catherine. She dashed out of the chamber. She made it to the tunnel outside the study before dry heaves racked her body. Mary and Max followed her concern mirrored on both faces. From her seat on the stone floor she attempted a weak grin, "They say no one dies from morning sickness. These mood swings are another matter. I feel like I'm the only passenger on a demented rollercoaster and I can't get off."

"You poor dear. It'll get better." Mary couldn't keep the delighted smile from her face. "I take it Vincent already knows?"

Catherine smiled and nodded, "Yes."

"And Father?" Catherine's smile faded.

Max snorted. "I can just imagine his reaction to that piece of news."

All eyes fell on Catherine when she re entered the chamber. Vincent placed a protective arm about her waist. "I have shared our news with the council."

"A baby." Mary beamed at the tunnels favourite couple "That's such delightful news!"

It was obvious that all but one of the council shared her opinion. "How delightful will it be when this world is discovered; if Vincent is captured and caged? When this precious child is viewed as nothing more then a laboratory experiment?" Father looked at the gathered group. "Tell me -- how delightful will it be then?"

For a moment no one spoke. It was Kanin who finally broke the silence. "I for one am not willing to just sit here and let that happen! We have to protect ourselves. I suggest we start by sealing off the upper entrances. That means no one leaves or enters the tunnels unless it is absolutely necessary. At least until we know what he wants as payment."

In her absence Vincent had unwittingly added to her lie. He had explained to the council that Stephen Bass would demand payment in 24 hours. "Catherine will send word when she has received his demands."

With a course of action decided upon the council meeting adjourned. Catherine had been about to leave when Father stopped her. "May I speak to you alone for a moment please?"

Vincent looked as if he had been about to refuse on her behalf. "I won't keep her long. I'm sure Kanin could use your suggestions on the work to be done."

Seeing her brief nod of agreement Vincent reluctantly left the chamber.

" I'll get right to the point the demands have already been made haven't they?"

For a moment she pretended she didn't know what he was talking about.

"Do you think I am a complete fool? I have had enough dealings with men like Bass to know how they act how they think. They are the reason I left the world above. Now tell me what he wants!"

Seeing no way out she told him. "He wants to sleep with me. There are you happy now?"

Father had the grace to look mildly appalled. Her control broke. "Now do you see? Now do you understand why I can't tell Vincent? Since you seem to have all the answers just what do you suggest I do?"

"Pay the price. You have no alternative."

If he had physically slapped her Catherine could not have been more shocked. "You sanctimonious old bastard! How can you sit there and claim to love Vincent and even suggest such a thing?"

He didn't flinch. "How can you claim the same thing and refuse? Remember without this world Vincent has no place he can be safe."

She choked on her retort as Vincent re entered the study. "I'll walk you out." Glancing at his father he added, "That is if you are done here."

They walked in silence each lost in their own thoughts. Outside the entrance to her building he gathered her into his arms. The kiss left them both breathless and wanting more. Stepping back Vincent looked at her sadly. "We'll have to close off this entrance."

"I know."

"I won't be able to come above, at least for a while."

"I Know"

"I love you."

"I know."

Stephen Bass could find no peace. The voices taunted him. "She's with him," they whispered. "She's with him."

"Alright! Enough!" He dashed from his apartment.

****

Stepping off the elevator Catherine froze. Stephen was waiting in the hall outside her apartment.

Grabbing her wrist he pulled her against him. "You were with him weren't you?"

Struggling to get free she demanded, "What business is that of yours? What are you doing here anyway? You said I had twenty- four hours."

"Guess what, I lied," he snared tightening his grip on her wrists. "I want my first payment now."

Catherine was reeling. Taking several deep breaths she tried to calm herself. Vincent reacting to her fear would only make things worse. Like a litany she kept repeating "You can do this. For Vincent --- you can do this."

Opening her apartment door she led Stephan inside. Once the door was closed he grabbed her again kissing her. Shoving her away he ripped open his shirt. "Do you see these? He did this. They are my constant reminder of him." When she tried to look away he grabbed her hair forcing her to look at the angry scars.

Pulling her to him once more his lips crushed hers in a punishing kiss. "I want you to be his constant reminder of me! Every time he looks at you to know what you did for him. It will eat at him."

Catherine reacted the only way she could; she threw up on his shoes.

Furious he slapped her, "You bitch!"

As frightened as she was Catherine couldn't suppress a chuckle. "I guess my baby doesn't like the way you kiss any more then I do!"

"Baby! You're carrying that things baby!" The rage took over as he hit her again knocking her to the floor.

The voices started again. "Meet him, meet him, meet him."

He was unable to keep the revulsion out of his voice. "The price just went up. I couldn't be with you, not now, knowing. No I want to meet him! I want to visit his world."

Catherine shook her head as she struggled to her feet. "They'll never agree. The price is to high."

Opening her apartment door he looked back "Yes they will. They have no choice! Arrange it! I'll be back here in the morning!"

When the door closed behind him Cathy leaned against it. Knowing she had no choice she headed back to the tunnels.

In the tunnels Vincent was furiously pacing back and forth in his chamber. "She is blocking our bond. Something is wrong and she does not want me to know!"

"Vincent you said yourself that earlier in her apartment she had shut you out. She was emotionally drained. She's probably trying not to batter you with her feelings." Pascal offered reasonably, doing his best to calm his friend.

"Pascal is right," Father agreed as he entered the chamber "besides Catherine is a smart woman she will do what needs to be done."

Max had been silent during this exchange. A thought struck her and she stared at Father. "You know! Oh my God! You know"

Father bristled, "Know what? I've no idea what you're talking about!"

Three sets of eyes were fixed on her. "Catherine already knew what Bass wanted as payment didn't she?" Walking to Father she pointed an accusing finger, "You told her to pay it!"

Vincent could not believe his ears. "Is this true?" Father looked about to deny everything. " I'm warning you old mad DON'T lie to me!"

"Alright it's true! That's what we were discussing in my study! I pointed out she had no choice. Not if she wanted to keep you safe!"

Vincent was shaking with the effort of trying to keep his control. "What did you tell her to do? What did Bass want?"

While Father related what Stephen Bass had demanded the silence in the chamber was deafening.

"And you told her to pay it?" Vincent was stunned; "If he hurts her…" His threat was cut off by a message on the pipes that Catherine was headed to his chamber.

Catherine had practically run through the tunnels. She arrived at Vincent's chamber winded and doubled over by a stitch in her side. She collapsed into his waiting arms.

Taking in her torn blouse and bruised face Vincent assumed the worst. "No Catherine you didn't, not for me. Please tell me you didn't?"

Realizing he knew about Stephen's original demand she quickly set his mind to rest. "Oh no Vincent nothing happened."

Gently touching the bruise on her cheek he stated, "This is not nothing."

"He got angry when I threw up on his shoes."

Pascal was concerned. "If nothing happened then what does he want now?"

Catherine looked deeply into Vincent's blue eyes. "He wants to come here. He wants to meet you."

"That is simply out of the question!" Father had been about to say more but Vincent silenced him with a look.

"I'll meet him. Oh yes, I'll meet him."

Catherine was horrified. "Vincent you can't! He's crazy! He's dangerous!"

"What would you have me do? Let him take you?" Reaching out he lightly touched her bruised cheek, "Let him continue to beat you until the day comes when he completely loses control and kills you? You're right he is dangerous and I want you to stay here tonight."

"I can't, he expects me to be there to meet him in the morning."

Vincent would not be swayed. "We can send someone to meet him and guide him below."

Knowing he was right and wanting nothing more then the safety of his arms around her during the night Catherine agreed.

"Can I make a suggestion?" All eyes turned to Max. "I agree you have to meet this man but don't do it here not in the living quarters. Meet him in the chamber with the abyss and I would like to be there for the meeting if that's alright."

Pascal gave Max a look that said he thought she had completely taken leave of her senses. "Why on earth would you want to be there?"

"Because I may be able to help."

"Help! How?"

Max refused to elaborate. "You just have to trust me. Remember there are more things in heaven than can be explained on earth."

Given that Max had already saved the tunnel world once her request was readily agreed to. Even Pascal had grudgingly given in with the understanding he would be there as well.

****

Lying in his bed Pascal couldn't sleep. Max was snuggled up beside him but her breathing told him she was not asleep either.

"Max do you really think you can help?"

Propping herself up on her elbow she looked into his troubled face. "This is really important to you isn't it."

Turning to his side to face her Pascal nodded. "Vincent and Catherine have been through so much they deserve to be happy but it's more than that."

"Tell me about it." They had not been together long but Max understood how important it was to Pascal to have someone listen to his fears. Talking helped him relax.

"You have only seen glimpses of the beast, Vincent's darker side. I'm afraid of what will happen tomorrow. Every time the beast emerges Vincent seems to loose a little part of himself especially if he is forced to kill. We almost lost him recently because of it. Now with the baby coming I just don't want to see it happen again."

Max was touched by his concern for his friends. "Pascal do you remember when we met? Maybe I should have said how we met" He had quite literally fallen into her world. What he considered a hole in a wall Max knew to be a weakness in the fabric of time. "It's these tunnels they are a special place in the universe."

Max got no further with her explanation. Pascal's soft snores told her he was asleep. Kissing his upturned face she whispered, " These tunnels have a power all their own and tomorrow I'm going to use that power to set things right. I promise you my beloved I will not let anything happen to your friends."

****

Stephen Bass was feeling confident in the extreme when he stepped of the elevator the following morning. He was humming the tune to Gowan's "A Criminal Mind". It had become his signature song. His pleasant mood quickly faded when he was met by a strange man outside Cathy's apartment.

"Are you Stephen Bass?"

"I am and what's it to you?"

"You're to come with me." Kanin replied. "I'm to take you to Catherine."

Stephen was not pleased with this unexpected development. "Where is Cathy and why isn't she here?"

"She is waiting for you below. Now are you coming or not?"

"Lead on." He completely ignored the voices that whispered "be careful."

Kanin lead him through the maze of tunnels. Down past the living quarters to the cliffs around the abyss. "They're waiting for you here." Without a backward glance he walked away.

Glancing about Stephen spotted Cathy and two people he did not recognize from their size he knew neither one was Vincent. Walking toward them he demanded "Where is he?"

"Right here," Vincent responded stepping out from behind an outcropping of rock.

For a moment Stephen said nothing. He circled Vincent, poking at him. "God you really are a freak! What gave birth to you?"

Vincent's only reply was a growl deep in his throat.

"Paracelsus wasn't kidding about you. Of course I did have some first hand experience."

"You knew Paracelsus?" Catherine could not keep the surprise out of her voice. "How?"

Stephen grinned. "Being crazy makes for strange bed fellows. He was in the asylum where I had been locked up. Horribly disfigured by facial burns. He ranted about you Vincent. How it was all your fault. The Doctors thought he was just another loon who had flown the coop but I knew better. I knew he was telling the truth. Once he saw my scars he knew I understood. An alliance was born."

Stopping directly in front of Vincent he continued. "I believe he hated you even more then I do. He hired Bernie Spirko to take investigate and take pictures. They were really quite good don't you agree? Shame about Bernie's untimely demise. Paracelsus has quite a temper I'm afraid. Funny thing is Paracelsus disappeared. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you Vince?"

While it was obvious he had his own theory about what had become of his partner in crime, the assembled group was not about to share the details of his death. It was one of the blackest moments in Vincent's life. Paracelsus had been below, disguised as Father. He had provoked Vincent to the point of no return. The beast had emerged killing him. Vincent still suffered horrible nightmares about the incident.

Looking about his surroundings Stephen turned his attention to Catherine. "How could you possibly want to be a part of this freak show, let alone give birth to one of them?"

Grabbing her arm he yanked her to him. "No this is not acceptable, not acceptable at all. You are going to come with me. The price has just gone up." Gesturing at Vincent, "If you want to keep this thing safe you will marry me --; just as you always should have."

****

Pascal spoke up, "And if she refuses? Did you honestly think we would let you leave here with her?"

Dropping Catherine's arm he grabbed Pascal by the collar. " And just how do you propose to stop me little man?"

Vincent answered "He can't but I can!"

Dropping him Stephan started to laugh. "Do you really take me to be such a fool as to walk in here without a guarantee I could walk back out? Those pictures you are all so interested in keeping secret. I left copies of them with my lawyer with instructions that if I don't contact him by twelve noon today he was to open the envelope and send the contents to every news paper and television station in New York!

The voices rejoiced "They can't win!"

Stephen echoed their words; "You can't win!"

He was so busy congratulating himself he failed to notice Max coming up behind him. "Mr. Bass I'm afraid you are very wrong. We can win."

He scoffed at the tiny red head. "And just what do you propose to do?"

"This!" With that she shoved him with all her might. He looked momentarily surprised as he fell into the abyss. Within seconds he had disappeared from sight.

Pascal looked stricken. "My god Max, What have you done?"

Catherine wore an expression that mirrored Pascal's. "He's dead." Suddenly horrified she added "The pictures!"

"The pictures no longer exist." Max replied "And Stephen Bass is not dead."

"But Max he fell into the abyss" Pascal was certain she had taken leave of her senses. Only Vincent seemed unaffected by Max's odd pronouncement.

She took advantage of this. "Vincent what can you tell me about the abyss? Do you know how far down it goes? Or where it goes?"

"Not really. As children we assumed it was bottomless. Narcissa always claimed it was a portal to another reality"

"Your Narcissa is a wise woman. The abyss is a portal. A portal in time. Stephan Bass is now residing in another time. That's why the pictures no longer exist. When a person ceases to exist in one time all traces of that existence ceases to exist as well. No Stephen Bass -- no pictures. No pictures -- no problem."

Pascal was confused. "But Max if Stephen Bass has ceased to exist in our time how come we still remember him?"

Max smiled. "Haven't you figured it out? It's these tunnels. They are a powerful conduit of time and space." Taking his hand she continued. "That's how you found me. Through an opening in time. These tunnels are truly unique. They insulate those here from the effects felt in the outside world. Oh yes these tunnels allow for the existence of many strange and wonderful things."

They all started to laugh at once. Max found herself the recipient of a huge group hug.

Later that year Catherine gave birth to a son. They briefly toyed with the idea of naming him Jacob but some wounds still had not healed.

They named him Max.

 

THE END