sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 35 ~ The Mad Coupling of Hope and Force
But it touches (her) quick heart
When Fate by omens takes (her) part,
and chance-dropt hints from Nature’s sphere
Deeply sooth (her) anxious ear
It was loss …
Her reach closed on nothing.
Was it– ? Had something hap–?
No. NO. I would know. I would.
A settling – like feathers, like snow – banked against the feeling already a distant pain, a dream pain.
Loss … and then it wasn’t – a moment’s vision of a bleak landscape, next a starburst of light.
A shower had emptied the patch of lawn; the street-side benches petaled with water. Open umbrellas sequestered passing colleagues from co-workers, yet they left the coffee shop a pair under the monarch’s nylon wings.
She could have told Joe she knew the woman leading the Tai Chi.
And Minette’s companions in the moving meditation – Long – and the boy, his son – Bao – at his side? She knew them too, Long’s store – street-side – a weekly destination these days, its secret basement entrance often enough.
I felt a cleaving in my mind …
There was her world … and there was Joe’s. The web she determined to weave – gossamer strands of hope, of possibility – was a fragile ladder there to here. She clung to the framework, searching out the touchpoint for the next silken thread.
Catherine didn’t realize she’d left Joe behind on the sidewalk, halfway up the steps before she missed him. He stood strapped with his bags, glaring up at the high floors of the building, oblivious, it seemed, to the drizzle beading on his unprotected shoulders, diamonding his hair. She hurried back to him, the ribs of the sheltering umbrella threatened by a pushy wind.
“Weren’t we just here?” He scowled and sighed. “I don’t remember a day I wanted to go in less.”
No sense agreeing.
“You can’t? But last month you said–”
“Oh, that’s great, Radcliffe. Now you’re my personal playback button.”
“I hang on your every word, Joe.”
“Of course you do. I’m your boss.”
He peered right, then left; he scrubbed at his jaw. Centre Street darkened. A flash of lightning reflected in the Court building’s uppermost windows. They shared a look. Somewhere … the rain fell on new grass and the breeze sang through glass chimes.
“Well,” he said, over the smack of traffic, “I guess … let’s do it. It’s just another Monday after all.”
In the lobby, under a mural of Lady Justice, Catherine waited at the concession stand as the pair in front of her stuffed breath mints and bags of pretzels into their suit pockets. One pointed to a bubblegum-pink bottle of antacid and slid another five-dollar bill creased down the middle across the counter. Before he’d moved from of the spill of fluorescent light, he’d twisted loose the cap.
Breakfast of champions.
“Mighty late, Miss,” the concessioner said. The crystal of his watch released, he read the time on the dial with his fingers. The man’s soft voice belied his height and girth and age. “What say we blow this hot-dog stand, you and me.”
“Thanks, Ramiro.” She laughed and touched his hand, accepting a long plastic bag for her new umbrella. “This really is a more civilized hour–” she began … and turned. Already across the lobby, facing the elevators, Joe shifted from foot to foot. The cables clanged and she sprinted forward, unwilling to be left behind this time.
Deep within the gates, the catch groaned in release, and Joe moved closer to the polished brass panels. At his elbow, she fast-stepped with him through the widening space. A straggler crossed the floor in a burdened trot, but Joe held up one hand and with the other, jabbed the buttons. “Private business, buddy. Next car.”
He looked down at her and grinned. “You do know if you hold the ‘door close’ button and the floor button at the same time – like this – you get an express ride?”
“That’s not true,” she scoffed, but she watched the numbers flash. Two, then three floors passed. Four …
“Let me try,” she squealed, replacing his fingers with hers.
Too soon their destination loomed. The doors would open to hum and chatter, to the jangle of telephones, the drone of the copier. Joe shuffled back, silent, and leaned into the corner, his hands braced wide on the tarnished railings. The car’s brakes squealed and clamped with a jolt.
“I wanna do better this time. Be better,” he said, his voice a rustle of dry leaves. Color stained his cheeks, more copper than rose, a blood-rush from a deeper struggle of spirit.
“What is it, Joe. Tell me,” she begged over her shoulder, her fingers still flat against the call board. Her nails showed white. If I just press hard enough, maybe …
“You know me, Cathy. As well as anybody does. I’ve … never been able to … give it. Always been that something I didn’t …” He shook his head and looked away. “I’m getting kinda old here. There’re some things I want. Really want.”
And? And? With her thumbs on the panel and with her will, she held the doors closed, though the locking mechanisms clinked in countdown.
“There was this … well, once she … Rosie … I was watching her, just watching her work. And she caught me staring at her. My mouth was probably hanging open. She was so …” He chuffed in disbelief. “I’m figuring she’s thinking, I’m gonna have to ditch this loser ASAP, but she smiled at me like … like …”
When he faltered, she shifted toward him, losing the even pressure on the buttons. The internal cogs and wheels grunted in victory.
“Is it possible …” He pushed off the back wall as the doors yawned. “How long do you think it takes, you know, to … know?” In the exposing light, Joe’s expression was the surprise of sweet pain.
Ten days, she wanted to say. Maybe less.
* * *
“Vincent. Gone. Where?” Mouse queried the few teams of workers still in camp. Their answers repeated – curious shrugs as they loaded their packs, filled their canteens. “Can’t just disappear,” he mumbled, making his way across the cavern floor. “Not like Mouse.”
Kanin stood hunched over the worktable, shifting through the collection of papers. “Where’s the map? The Woodlawn map? I helped Damien set up the rope harnesses, was gone … maybe an hour.” He pushed his glasses tighter to his face, then rubbed the back of his neck. “I left the plans for Corlear Avenue with him. I guess I must have mixed it up with those.” He bent to the blueprints and drawings, thumbing the pages through again.
“Missing map? Missing Vincent? Hmmmm,” puzzled Mouse.
“What d’you mean, missing Vincent? He was here a minute ago. You think he took it?” Kanin straightened. “Look, Mouse. I’ve got to head up top.” The muscles in his jaw twitched as he squared his shoulders. “For my probation appointment. I’ll be back in a couple hours. When you see Vincent, ask him about that map. I need it. And tell him I’ll meet him at Jerome and 213th, the #4 site, third level, as soon as I can.” From his vest pocket, Kanin pulled a small spiral pad and the stub of a pencil. “Do you have a list for Dominic? We need twelve-inch spikes, a spool of cable and lashing chains. What else?”
* * *
“A full wiretap? You want to skip the pen register? The trap and trace?” Papers and photographs blanketed the long table; folders lay open and empty in the extra chairs. She blew out a breath, dropped her forehead to her hands. Her nubbed pencil rolled to the floor. “Andy, Saul … you guys know the rules. I can’t go to the judge with my smile. I’ll have one chance at this.” She ticked off one finger. “We have to show probable cause.” Then a second. “Proportionality …”
“Jackass is buying buildings up and down that street. Haas must have gotten in his way. The guy’s connected. I know he is. It’s all right here.” The detective threw his arms out wide jostling his partner’s elbow.
“Good God. Look out, will ya?” A moment ago Saul was thoughtfully inspecting the dregs of his third cup of coffee. Now a caramel-colored stain bloomed on the breast of his white shirt, channeled by wrinkles into his pocket. Glowering, he rocketed his chair backward and plucked a crumpled sheet of yellow paper from the garbage can, daubing without success at the spot. Across the table, Andy grinned at her, showing his teeth.
“Well, show me what you’ve got for exhaustion,” she said, biting back a smile.
There was a knock at the door, a double rap, and the knob turned. Rita leaned through.
“Your captain’s on the phone. Sounds urgent.” Rita slipped into the room, hugging the wall as Saul, then Andy charged past. “You need any help?”
“I will.” With the toe of her shoe, Catherine fished for her pencil. “Wiretap.”
Rita grimaced. “Owww.”
The detectives hustled back, their mouths thinned to grim lines. Saul gathered his notes and crammed them into smudged files, then into his tattered canvas case.
“Sorry, Cathy,” Andy said. One hand on the jamb, he surveyed the littered table left behind. “We gotta go.”
“It’s okay. I’ll get started, give you a call.”
Catherine sorted the paperwork into piles. The crime-scene photographs she scooted together, tapped the edges even and slid them into an accordion file. She dragged a folder from the middle of the table and after a pensive moment, flipped it open. From a snapshot clipped inside, a robust Rupert Haas beamed with pride, his arms around his two grown children. Though his shop was in the same block as her favorite bakery, she’d never met him, but she’d seen his daughter at the station one afternoon. Saul stood with her then in the corridor, his head bowed, nodding as she spoke. Her pointed finger punctuated her rapid-fire words; her brows were knit in fury. Saul spread his hands, palms up … cradled her pain, but still, she stormed the hallway, wiping away incredulous tears. Her father had gone in to work early that morning … very early … a special delivery before Valentine’s Day. Roses, she’d sneered. Roses at four in the morning.
Joe’s door was open though he stood with his back to it, the telephone clamped between his ear and his shoulder. Around his revolving hands a rubber band stretched to a colorless loop. At her tap, he lifted his chin and the receiver recoiled on its cord, clattering along his desk top. The elastic shot from his fingers, splatted against the wall above his file cabinet, sliding down, disappearing behind it. Who knew how many piled there.
“You’re finished already?” He grabbed up the loose handset, growled Later into it and dumped it on its base. “Good news, they’ve arrested–” He broke off when he saw her face and shoved his hands in his pockets. “What?”
“Saul and Andy got a call. Something bad, from the looks of them.”
“Any word on Haas?”
Catherine shrugged and sank to the arm of the couch.
“Damn.” Joe’s shoulders rounded. “I keep hoping he’ll wake up and just tell us it was Lemire or one of his goons.” He sighed. “Haas must’ve seen something he shouldn’t. Where are they on it?”
The telephone buzzed. “Never mind that now, Radcliffe,” Joe said, his finger on the blinking button. “You gotta get to Queens, pronto.”
* * *
“She cries all the time. Luke doesn’t sleep. Nothing I do–”
“Well, she’s quiet now.”
“It won’t last.”
“There, there, sweetheart,” Mary said, her words offered to Olivia as much as to her baby, and to Luke, who stood nearby, a stuffed toy under each arm. Bent over the cradle, she loosened the tucked bedding. In her freedom, Althea squirmed, balling her tiny fists, kicking her feet, and though she was, for the moment, silent, her face pruned with sour disapproval, reddened in threat.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning, Mary predicted.
Althea gulped and began, her howl furious and long-winded, growing in pitch like an on-coming train. His chin quivering, Luke clamped a white rabbit to one ear, a green and yellow turtle to the other. Olivia choked on a sob. She fell into a worn chair and looked away, fidgeting the lace doily draped over the armrest. Mary scooped the baby from her blankets, snugged her to a shoulder, patted her back. Althea was not assuaged.
“I know what Father said!” Olivia snapped. Her hands flew to her cheeks. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Mary. It’s just …”
Luke scuttled to Olivia’s side, leaned against her leg. Keeping the turtle tight to his ear, he held out the rabbit for her use. Althea’s shrieks ricocheted off the lovingly chiseled walls. Mary was sure she saw sparks, the cries sharp as steel to flint.
“Have you tried this?” Mary draped the baby belly-down over her forearm and rubbed along her spine. “The pressure helps with–” A heartrending wail sliced at her words.
Luke, having climbed into his mother’s lap, pressed his uncovered ear to her chest. Olivia tucked him closer, her chin on his head. He shuddered in her arms. “You think it’s colic, but I’m telling you – it’s not.”
“She’s eating some rice, you said. Applesauce. Anything else? It could be an allergy.” Olivia answered with a stony silence. “Perhaps it’s something you’re eating,” Mary persisted. “Broccoli? Cucumbers? Those can cause a nursing baby some difficulties.”
Olivia’s response was an emptying sigh. Her skin was pale; her hair was dry. A darkness around her eyes accounted for every wakeful hour. But it was the defeat in Olivia’s posture that worried Mary most, the darkness in her eyes. New mothers were frazzled, often exhausted, but this was something more. During the year of Kanin’s absence, she’d never seemed so despondent.
“I think …”
“What?” Olivia mumbled, her cheek turned to Luke’s hair, her eyes nearly closed. “What is it you think?”
“I think we should go Above to see Peter. He’ll recommend someone to run some tests. I’m sure the results will ease your mind and then–”
“Tests? On my baby? Or on me.”
“Olivia, dear. Dear, dear Olivia.”
Althea’s high misery flattened to a snuffling hiccup, but at Mary’s attempt to lay her in the cradle, her eyes widened and her lips pursed. She’s about to blow, Mary thought, managing to stifle a tactless laugh. With one hand, Mary dragged the rocking chair close to Olivia’s side and eased into the seat, transferring the baby from arm to lap. Althea’s tummy to her thigh, the gentle, repetitive motion quieting her … lulling her at last.
Olivia watched, expressionless.
“What’s wrong with me … with us … can’t be found in a test or fixed with a pill,” Olivia whispered. Crystal tears pooled in her eyes, spilling in a slow cascade over her cheek and into Luke’s curls. “I know what it is. It’s loss.”
Mary counted silently – the push of her foot against the rug, the risings of her knee, the delicate whuffs against her steadying hand, a baby’s sweet breath … and the waiting, all of it, the months, the years. Olivia’s.
My own …
“Then we’ll go to him. To Kanin.”
“What are you talking about, Mary? He’s miles away. Hours. He doesn’t– He’s not–” Olivia touched her lips to Luke’s neck. “My little boy, my baby. It’s too far, too far. I … can’t.”
“You can. You could have any of a dozen baby sitters. I’ll speak to Father about the best entrance to use. And you won’t have to walk. I’ll … I’ll have Sebastian drive us.”
“Sebastian? He drives?”
“I don’t know, Olivia. There’s much I don’t know about him.” Much I didn’t want to see. “But he’ll get us there. He’ll get you there, because I’ll ask him to.”
* * *
She checked her watch. 11:40. The taxi barreled down Delancey Street, lurching from the change of every stoplight like sprinters at the gun. Even with the traffic, the driver promised she’d be at the precinct by noon. She didn’t think it possible, but if it happened, she’d have an hour to spare before her witness was scheduled for transfer to New Jersey.
If anybody can get this guy to talk, it’s you, Radcliffe.
There was little hope this jailed man could shed light on their case. Picked up for open container on a drug corner, he had a warrant for domestic violence in Newark. It was luck. Two days before, Andy and Saul had circulated his photograph to the precincts. A person of interest, he was related to a known-associate of Lemire, a much younger half-brother to the man they believed responsible for the attack on Mr. Haas, a man barely identifiable on the security tapes from that terrible night. Rita had noticed the shadowy character at the edge of the screen whose image ghosted in a pane of glass, who chose that moment to check his appearance, his reflection caught for an inexplicable second by the camera’s eye before …
Before what? All they knew for sure was that Mr. Haas lay in a coma with internal injuries and thirty-three broken bones. The beating had occurred in the storeroom of his shop; the delivered roses withered, dumped on the floor. Apart from suspicion and intuition, their hard evidence led to false doors and dead-ends and they had no idea where Lemire’s muscle was now. This half-brother might know … something.
All morning, beneath her cogent thoughts, beat the snare drum of worry – Kanin, Mitch, Kanin. A dozen times, she considered calling the probation office, asking to speak to Kanin’s case worker or to Kanin himself and a dozen times, she rejected the idea. No matter her approach, her reasoned preamble, probation would not allow personal calls, necessitating that she identify her official self. If he were there, how might she explain their connection? And if Kanin failed to meet his appointment, in the crush of Monday’s business it might be overlooked and later excused, but if she called attention to his absence …
She couldn’t take that chance.
Queens. Joe’s directive had been music to her ears, though she’d pretended exasperation until he’d shooed her out the door with the bribe of a long lunch hour and the address in Astoria of his favorite Italian restaurant.
Just get his statement. Get it before we lose him.
Her cab rattled off the Williamsburg Bridge and already she had her questions parsed and bulleted. Joe didn’t expect her back until later in the afternoon and the 105th Precinct was but a five minute ride from the nursing home where Sam lived now. If Mitch were anywhere near, Sam would know. Sam would tell her.
* * *
She’d been ineffective, unproductive at work, every possibility she’d examined was tapped-out. She found a glimmer of hope in the memory of a garden party two years before designed to thank the many donors of precious smaller amounts, those who faithfully asked for each year’s birthday roster, who filled wishes from the Angel Tree at Christmas. But she couldn’t ask them for more, couldn’t trade on their feelings. She stood at the filing cabinet, the scrapbook open across her arms. Through the rain-washed glass, her gaze focused on nothing and she was drawn, anchorless, along a passageway of cobwebbed worry.
“Finally! Here’s the cafeteria’s wish list. A day early from their point of view, since they promised it tomorrow. Not a week late, like it is from ours.”
Eimear jumped at Zivah’s voice, unable to contain a squeak of surprise. The album she studied fell from her hands, the binding clips popping open on impact.
“That’s twice today, honey. Twice you’ve left your shoes behind.” Concern etched Zivah’s every feature.
With a pointed look at Zivah’s sock feet, Eimear stooped to retrieve the scattered contents. “If you’d wear shoes at all or with the taps as I’ve asked you to …”
“OW!” The papers she’d gathered fluttered from her hand, skimming the ocean of floor. She rubbed the back of her head and, growling, slammed shut the topmost file drawer, staggered back against her desk. Her in-box balanced for a moment at the edge of it, then tipped like a sinking freighter and slid from sight. She winced at the crash, a sudden red and black anger darkening her vision. It was all she could do to refrain from the dramatic sweep of her arm, sending every book, every form and file, each and every trinket and photograph given to her by children she loved sailing across the room. She collapsed in her chair, her chin sunk to her chest, her eyes squinted against the pain.
“Oh, sweetie!” Zivah hurried close, her cool hands parting Eimear’s hair, searching out bruise or blood. “Are you all right? Let me get you the ice pack!”
Zivah dimmed the lights as she left, casting her office in a gray storm-light. Through one open eye, Eimear considered the couch and its soft, crocheted throw. Sleep. To wander darkling in the eternal space … She craved it. She stood, took a first step toward respite, a moment – but a moment – of oblivion and the telephone rang, dissonant and piercing though it was set to a low trill. Her answering hello met with silence … then a rustling, a brittle laugh, the whap of what sounded like a screen door, then … silence.
Something wicked this way comes …
She settled the handset to its cradle … closed her thumbs within the curl of her fingers.
They’d never withheld any truth from each other. Always, they’d promised.
I lathair an dorchadias, ta mo croi leat go deo.
Through the dark, my heart is always with you.
But how? How can I add to his burden.
Níos mó ná mo shaol féin. More than my own life.
Her in-box lay in pieces. She swept them up, fit the notched tabs to the frame again, the task shutting out all but the memory of Martin’s words …
The weight of this on you. You must find someone who understands.
Athair. Always good with the advice.
She spun the rolodex wheel to Catherine’s card, smoothed it with her thumb. Reached to call.
* * *
The detective eyed the small brown paper bag on his desk. “Lunchtime,” he said, touching a tentative finger to a dark, purplish stain. “You do any good with him?”
Catherine shrugged. “What he told me, I’m not sure I believe, and what he didn’t say is probably what I want to know. I didn’t expect this much, really. So … I’m happy. It’s something to work with. Thanks for finding him, Artie.”
“No problem.” He held out a triangle of sandwich, raised his eyebrows in offering. “PB and J. I think I have my son’s lunch by mistake. I don’t think he likes capicola.”
“Maybe he can swap.” She walked to the window. “It’s still raining. I guess I’ll need a taxi.”
“You planning on walking somewhere?” Artie mumbled, the half-sandwich already downed.
“Just over to 112th and 221st.”
“Maryfields? That’s a ten block walk, not the best idea on a dry day. I’ll call down front. Somebody’ll drive you.”
“Hello, hello, yes!” A high-pitched voice greeted her, but the reception desk was vacant. “May I help you?”
Braced on her forearms, rising to her toes, Catherine levered over the counter. “Sister Felice, is that you down there?”
A round figure clad in white crawled into view from beneath the desk. She sat back on her heels and clapped her hands. “Catherine! What a lovely surprise. It’s been too long, too long.”
“Have you lost something?”
“No. Not exactly.” Without further explanation, the woman scrambled to her feet and climbed onto her high stool. Even so, the crown of her veiled head came only to Catherine’s shoulder. “You’re here to see Sam, of course. He’ll be pleased, he’ll be pleased.”
Catherine grinned at the repetition. Sam complained about it, said the habit of it drove him batty, but she’d noticed that his ever-trembling hands quieted in the Sister’s, that he breathed more deeply, that he was easier in her presence.
“Wait, wait,” Sr. Felice sang out when Catherine was but two steps around the corner. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
She laughed and returned to the desk, her hand deep in her purse. “There’s no getting past you, is there?”
Sr. Felice slapped a gridded sheet of poster board onto the counter, tossed her a pen. “A dollar a square. Ten dollar minimum. I mean, twenty,” she said, eyeing the contents of Catherine’s wallet.
Sam was happy here – soft music, good food, gentle touch. Companionship. She followed the yellow line on the floor to the sunroom, down a long hallway, past an arc of stained glass that reminded her of … home.
His wispy white hair was trimmed, neat at the collar, and he was wearing a sweater she’d delivered to him just after the New Year. It had been too long. His back to the doorway, Sam sat opposite a wizened man, a man whose face was a maze of deep wrinkles, whose twisted legs were covered with a quilt Catherine recognized.
“Hi, Sam,” she called.
More rosy-cheeked than she remembered and only a bit more gaunt, only a little shakier, Sam stood and held out his hand to her. “Catherine! How nice.”
She ducked under his arm, pressing a brief kiss to his smooth-shaven cheek before stepping back. The once-over, he’d have called it.
“See, Seamus!” he crowed. “I still have a way with the ladies.”
Sam’s companion cackled with surprising volume and a full measure of glee. His eyes were clouded, but still shone merry. In his lap rested a carved and decorated box; in one knurled hand he held two tiny silver cups, in the other a small rosewood scope. Vincent had the very match for it on a shelf in his old chamber.
“Catherine Chandler …” Sam made an unsteady bow. “Seamus Barry. Resident grouch and poker champion. No matter what he promises, don’t let him get you into a game.”
“Ach, aye! I’m never cranky amidst the lassies,” Seamus said, his voice a whisper in odd opposition to his robust laugh. “And I never play for money with a lady.”
Did he just wink at me? She couldn’t look at Sam for fear of breaking into giggles and was about to take Seamus’s hands in her own when the door to the kitchen swung open. A man pushed through, his gaze downcast on the laden tray he carried.
“Here’s tea for us now,” he said without looking up. “Ah, but I heard voices, so I’ve laid up for another guest, you see.”
Catherine smiled and shook her head. Nothing … nothing seemed impossible.
Chapter title: Pablo Neruda. A Song of Despair.
Opening quotation: Ralph Waldo Emerson. Initial Love. Altered to suit – Every “his” changed to “her” in the excerpt.
1. Emily Dickinson. Lost Thought.
2. E. B. White. Natural History (the Spider’s Web). 1929.
3. George Gordon, Lord Byron. Darkness.
4. William Shakespeare. Macbeth. Act IV, scene 1. Lines 44-45. 1623.
5. Gaelic: Athair … meaning Father
Do you remember the contents of Martin’s Tramp-Art Cigar Box?
From Chapter 31:
A single key, the uncomely dog
An eye-wash glass
Two tiny Russian Kiddush cups
A side-angle scope, a miniature chess set
Rose-colored glasses, a kaleidoscope
And salt and pepper shakers in the shape of praying hands
GOOD TO READ
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