sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 4 ~ Agitations of the Mind
That day so lately passed when from the crag
I looked in such anxiety of hope
Kanin rubbed at the grimy glass pane. The angle was wrong; he could see only the sooty green siding of the neighboring store, a bit of cobbled driveway. But Dix would signal when the van approached. He’d reach for the switch under the print shop’s counter and the light inside the tunnel would flash three times. The building’s metal service door would rise; someone would trigger the secret entrance and the crew would stream through into the basement. In minutes, they’d have Dominic’s van unloaded onto carts … and every one but him would disappear below.
While he waited, he paced the cellar, studying the faults in the brickwork should he be questioned about the job. Dom would pound a business sign in the street-side planter bed and all the deliveries – the materials for their work below – would appear legitimate to the neighbors. Dom had the permits; Dix a signed contract. The basement walls would be repaired. It’s the truth, he reminded himself, if only the surface of one.
A loud metal clank – tires thumping over the warped sewer grate – announced the van’s turn into the driveway. The pulleys groaned. Fresh air and light rushed under the rising door. Behind him, the camouflaged panel slid open. He brushed a dusting of grit from his jacket and straightened his tie.
“Gotta make a couple calls.” Dom passed him the checklist and started up the stairs to the main floor. “Hey,” he called down. Kanin glanced from the clipboard just as a ring of keys sailed from an underhand pitch. He reacted late, trapping them against his chest instead of catching them mid-air. “Take the van out front, will ya?” Dom instructed. “Back in a sec.”
He hadn’t driven in eighteen years. It’s only a driveway, he told himself.
He gripped the steering wheel. A three-point turn, he remembered. Sort of. But there was little room to maneuver – to reverse and cut and drive out. The van was big and boxy, the tires wouldn’t cooperate with his commands, and he didn’t feel like practicing in front of an audience, was petrified he’d scrape off a mirror, hit … something. He backed the van out of the service bay and on up the alley instead, stopping a safe distance from the street. Hand-brake, he reminded himself, setting it, releasing it, pulling it hard a second time, making sure. He hoisted himself over the console and the gearshift and into the passenger seat. Slumped and sweaty, he stared into the side mirror. Seven cars passed and four white panel vans like Dom’s. Three bicycles. A young mother pushed a double stroller, careful at the curbs. When Mouse bounced up at the open window, he was busy counting the loose change in the ashtray. Eighty-three cents. Eighty-four.
“Kanin. Leaving … how long?”
He answered with a sigh. “I told you – I told everybody. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I have to check in with my probation officer … remember? I have to be watched. I have to report my whereabouts. It’ll take … as long as it takes.”
“Back by lunch?”
“I don’t know, Mouse. Maybe.”
In spite of himself, Kanin felt the tug of a smile. “What? What do you want?”
Mouse rocked back on his heels. “Hot dog. Onions, lots. Mustard. Big squirt.”
“A hot dog. With onions.” Kanin rolled his eyes. “It’s a joke, right?”
“No! No joke. Jamie says, don’t eat. Too stinky.”
“And you want me to bring you one because …”
“Jamie’s not here,” Mouse said, swaying side-to-side. He pivoted on his toes and pinwheeled away.
“Right.” Kanin turned his head to laugh into his shoulder. It felt good, like discovering a lost favorite shirt and pulling it on. Maybe I’ll make it through the day after all. “It won’t be hot by the time I get it to you,” he called, but Mouse was halfway down the driveway and Dom was climbing into the driver’s seat. Soon they were on the streets, squinting in the bright sun.
“So who is going to repoint those bricks?” Kanin asked.
“Who do you think?” Dominic grumbled. “Aniela. She’s the best, but I know she’s taking a look at that Damien.”
“He’s a good kid.” He was, but saying so wasn’t easy. Dominic’s stony expression wasn’t letting much in on that subject, but more, he just didn’t feel like–
“Nobody’s good enough for Aniela,” Dominic gruffed, breaking into his thoughts. “You’ll be figuring that out soon enough, what with your own baby girl.”
Kanin saw his sideways look, chose to lift his chin. I’m not taking that bait.
“You got to tell your PO you’re the lead on this repoint. I got the paperwork right here, saying so. You good with that?”
He didn’t have a choice, really, did he? A lot was riding on this … this lie … but he was practiced at that, lying. His neck and shoulders were so tense nodding hurt.
Dominic replied with a mirroring nod. “Besides,” he said, “I want you to keep an eye out. I don’t trust that boy. I see the way he looks at her.”
“He goes red as a beet whenever she’s around. Chokes on his words.”
“That’s how I know it’s trouble.” Dominic shook his head. “I can’t believe it … all grown up. Now I love my boys, and I’d give my right arm for any one of ‘em, but Aniela … You think this Damien is an okay guy? Can he hammer a nail straight? Can he measure?”
“We’ll see. I’ll let you know.” Kanin clamped down on the sneaky smile Dom’s tests of worthiness elicited. He was tense and dour and he meant to stay that way, but it was more difficult than he’d expected.
* * *
Dominic steered the van into the Probation Services parking lot. “Good thing we don’t have to drive all the way downtown,” he said. “You know Catherine pulled a bunch of strings to make it so’s you don’t have-ta spend half a day gettin’ there. She got it okay’ed for you to live with us, work for me, and we got the money to do this thing because of her. All the helpers would’a given as much as they could, but it’d be a stretch for most of ‘em. You could try being a little grateful. It’s your family she’s helpin’ too.” He took a breath. “What’cha callin’ that baby girl, Kanin?”
“Lay off, Dom. And don’t start in on me about Catherine. I know what she’s done, how she’s … helped me. I know! But right this minute, I’m not thrilled with her. Or Vincent or Father or anybody for that matter.”
“Livvy and the baby and Luke, too, I take it.”
“I said, lay off. Nobody knows the hell I’ve been through.”
“Looks like you want to stay there, ya ask me. In hell.”
“Well, I didn’t.” At that, Kanin shoved open the door and slammed it hard behind him. “How am I going to find you when I’m done?” he asked, leaning in through the window.
“I’m goin’ back to the shop. Call me. You know the number.” Dom closed his big hand on the gear shift, checked his mirrors. Done with him … for now.
Kanin stepped back and back again, gaining the sidewalk, stopping there to breathe, a stone in the stream of trudging arrivals, of shuffling departures. Others like him, free but not freed … some met his half-lifted gaze, most did not.
His reflection in the glass door of the building was dark and distorted, his step toward it lumbering, awkward. Here I am, he muttered to himself.
* * *
Catherine and Joe spent a hellish morning in court. This case could not be lost; it must not be lost. The defense attorneys snarled and grunted and badgered, grasping at the most minute of technicalities. The room was close, heated, the annoyance palpable. The judge, ruddy-faced and hard-breathing, was fidgety on the bench.
“Some days,” Joe mumbled, his head bent low over his legal pad, “they just don’t pay me enough.”
“I know! Pray for a recess soon or I’m going to scream.” She wanted to fan her face with her notes. No. She wanted to run down the aisle, out the door and all the way to …
“We’re outta here the minute she gets up.”
The lunch recess was called. Joe pushed through the crowded lobby and held the door for her. “Malicious meanderers,” he whispered, close to her ear. “Malevolent malcontents.” His lips nearly grazed her cheek, nearly the edge of her wide smile.
“Why didn’t I study landscape architecture?” Catherine groaned. She tensed and released her shoulders. “Get a job with park services, plant roses.”
“I should’a been a window washer, fear of heights be damned,” Joe agreed. “Anything but this. Red tape, convoluted semantics, legalese … ” He started down the steps, waving for a cab. “I’ve got a great idea. Hurry up.”
“What?” she asked, climbing in after him. “It better involve food. I’m starving.”
“I know this great take-out place.”
“Where? I don’t want to have to eat in the taxi again!”
“Hey, no food in my cab,” the driver barked.
“The noodles in prawn broth …” Joe said, kissing the tips of his fingers. “You’ll thank me, I promise. There’s plenty of time. We’ll lunch under a tree in Columbus Park.” He leaned over the seat. “Chinatown. 194 Grand … and wait for us. They’re fast.”
“Get me a roti, and I will.” the cabbie growled.
“Roti?” Catherine beamed at Joe. “Step on it,” she urged the driver.
At a picnic table, under a tree in the park, they ate steadily in near silence, the only sounds those of epicurean delight, ooohs and mmmm’s at each new dish.
“Joe,” she said, after her last bite of fried pearl noodles, “I have to tell you … I never expected this to be your kind of food.”
“What, we’re not back on that ‘my mother’s lasagna’’’ thing, are we?” He grinned at her around his last shrimp puff. “I’m a connoisseur of tasty and affordable foods.”
“Malaysian, though? I just wouldn’t have guessed.”
“It’s one of my favorite places. I came here all the time with … well, before Nia left town.”
“You still miss her?”
“Ehh, we never would have made it. Too different, I guess.”
“She was ambitious. But fun to be around.”
“I’d never be able to give her what she wanted.” Joe sighed and shrugged. “There was something missing for me too, or I’d have tried a lot harder.” His dimple appeared. “I keep hoping someday, someone …”
She crumpled her napkin. She knew Joe’s feelings for her, and she did love him … and so far, she’d avoided the conversation. What to say … if he asked. She didn’t have a ready answer, even though she’d rehearsed dozens in the elevator at work, at home on the couch. She pulled up at exactly the same spot – he was so good, so dear … only the truth would do ….
But he rambled on. “You know you missed a real opportunity with my buddy Ben, Radcliffe. He and Rita hit it off though.” He looked at his watch. “Whoa, we better get a move on. It’s gonna be a helluva long afternoon.”
* * *
Mouse enjoyed his lunch, the hot dog still warm after all. It wasn’t vendor fare, but from a diner not three blocks from the entrance. He’d decided to say he’d forgotten or that he just didn’t feel like hunting for one. That last was closer to the truth and hadn’t he sworn to himself to tell nothing but from now on? When he tested the words, though, they were sour. Too sour. What had Mouse ever done to him? Nothing. Except be himself right from the start. Dom was willing enough to turn around in Dix’s driveway and rumble back onto Katonah, willing enough to wedge in at a meter and point him across the street. He passed a bar on the way – Behan’s, the sign read, open for lunch. The door swung wide and customers and laughter spilled out, the scent of something savory. Maybe he’d get Mouse two hot dogs. The grill cook had wrapped them in parchment and then foil, rolling the top of the waxed white paper bag down tight. When he handed them over you’d have thought it was Christmas, Mouse was so … Mouse.
The rest of the afternoon passed in willing and purposeful work. Kanin’s muscles were sore, but it was a righteous pain, the result of honest labor. He was feeling better, but the way seemed so steep, so dark, and the seesaw of emotion wracked his spirit.
In a moment of quiet, late in the day, when it was just the two of them cutting stones in tandem, Vincent asked, a yearning in his voice not fully disguised, “Did you see Catherine, Kanin?”
“She was at the office early this morning, Dom said, so no, I didn’t see her.” Kanin’s answer was gruff, and even as he spoke, he recognized a stab of jealousy. How do these two get to be happy? And then he was ashamed and tried to soften his response. “We’ve got the materials we need, everything we need. It was … it was good of her.” When Vincent said nothing in return, Kanin knew a surge of a foul and spiteful resentment. “You miss her? After three days? Try a year, then talk to me about it.”
Vincent worked on in silence, leaving him burdened with retorts to words unspoken. A single step forward, maybe two back. He might not make it after all.
* * *
The afternoon dragged on in much the same vein as had the morning – tiny details rehashed, objection after objection, sidebar after sidebar. Set free from the courtroom at last, Joe and Catherine were drained and still an evening of preparation lay before them.
“We need to stop at the PD on the way back about the Haas case,” Joe said. “I got a message from Saul.” He tapped a rolled file against his leg. “Got some more paperwork for us, he said.”
“The Haas case … I forgot to think about that one today. I was too busy visualizing medieval tortures for that … that … lawyer and the jerk he’s defending too.”
“No kidding. I hate both those guys. You come up with something worse than thumb screws? That’s where I went.”
“Oh, yeah, much worse. Trust me. Much, much worse, and I know an expert in the field with access to the apparatus,” she said. Joe raised his eyebrows and grunted.
Fighting the street crowds, carrying too many files and too much weariness, the two made their way to the precinct house. The steps seemed unscalable and the doors too heavy to push open. They waited on the sidewalk, sharing a look of dismay.
“You gonna make it, Cathy?”
“If you can, I can.”
“One more meeting, and then it’s just me and you and all these reports and the rest of the night. I could use a drink.”
“That’s all we need,” Catherine chided. “But maybe … later.” She started up the steps. “Let’s do it. Get it over with.”
The detective shoved a pile of folders to the corner of his desk. “Just for you,” Andy said, throwing himself back in his chair. “Special delivery.”
Saul dropped a handled bag next to it. “A working surveillance camera near the site of the attack,” he told them, raking his fingers through hair too short-cropped to comb. “Copies of the tapes.”
They vowed to watch them that night.
“How’s Mr. Haas doing?” she asked.
“Unconscious,” Andy said. “Crushed vertebrae. Bad insurance.”
“Damn,” Joe muttered. He leaned past her to look out into the hallway. “Hey, isn’t that Flynn O’Carroll?”
She swiveled in her chair. A contingent of uniformed and suited men milled outside a conference room. “It is. And no one looks happy.”
“What’s up?” Joe asked. “Something happen on the truck today?”
“You know O’Carroll?”
“We took his statement on the Yeshiva incident. Finished that for him,” Joe said. “He’s a good guy.”
“Yep. He’s that.” Andy was quiet for a moment. “Might could use a vacation.”
“Couldn’t we all,” Saul said, closing the subject.
Still unsure it was wise – for more than one reason – she had yet to arrange for a shooting instructor for Jamie. She’d dragged her feet, hoping Jamie’s resolve might fade, but now, with this threat to their perimeter, the request would come again, she knew. Lessons with Isaac had been easy to arrange, and she could defend her assistance to anyone. Even Father, who she’d expected to disapprove, agreed that training was proper preparedness. But guns … in the tunnels. She could still hear Vincent’s silence when she broached the subject during their reading hour before bed. And the look on his face … as if he deserved the bullet, the pain … still haunted her.
After her conversation with Eimear in her sister’s shop in the Village, she’d decided to wait to seek Flynn’s advice.1 She’d hoped he would regain his confidence, that he would realize his actions were in defense of the innocent – so many innocents, in this case – that he wasn’t a killer, as some had accused, but … how had Eimear put it? A champion. A too-familiar shame shadowed Flynn’s face at the statement-taking, and the haunted look, so like Vincent’s, revealed his struggle to disavow a dark side. It seemed despair cloaked him still.
Tomorrow she would call Eimear. She had promised to call her, had planned to call her. Thinking of her and feeling again a curious longing, Catherine wanted to call her. She shook herself mentally. Now was not the time to drift into dreams. Work demanded her attention, and Joe was rising to leave.
Hours later, hunched over files and photographs and phone records, Catherine grumbled her exhaustion. “I won’t make it much longer, Joe. The coffee’s bitter and I can’t live on chips,” she said, eyeing the remains of their meager, vending machine dinner. “Go with me. Let’s get something to eat, something warm, or maybe even … green. Then let’s call it a night. I’ll be useless tomorrow if we don’t.”
“Good idea. I can’t remember anything I’ve read anyway. When in doubt, eat. That’s what my mom taught me.” He scooped his files together in a heap. “Let’s leave this and lock the door on it. We’ll be back soon enough.”
She scraped up the last of her soup. Her spoon tinged against the ironstone and she debated a second serving.
“So what’s this about the torture expert,” Joe asked. He dragged the red woven-plastic cracker basket closer and rummaged through the offerings. “Who do you know? You do have some … unusual acquaintances, Cathy. All over town. I saw you talking to somebody on the sidewalk while I waited for our lunch order. Who was that old man?”
“Oh, him? Just a shopkeeper I know down there. He puts together special teas for me sometimes.”
“Teas. Right. So … the torture guy?”
Catherine laughed and pushed her bowl away. “Don’t get all excited. It’s Jenny’s new friend. He works at the Met in the Medieval collection. I just met him last night.”
“Jenny’s new friend, huh? She likes this guy?”
“He seems perfect. Time will tell, I guess.”
“Lucky man.” Joe tipped his head and drew a breath.
“I’m afraid to look at the clock,” she burst out, dropping her head to her folded arms. Drama, save me. “Tell me it isn’t midnight yet.”
“Not even close.”
She sighed into the crook of her elbow. “Before or after?” When she looked up, Joe’s expression was one of resignation.
“Let’s get you home, Cathy.”
She hurried from the elevator and stabbed her key at the lock, but she knew her balcony would bear her no lover, that dreams and memories would be her only embrace tonight. She wished herself below, in their bed, held close. Just as she fell into sleep, she knew a sudden stirring, an essential heat spreading within her. Familiar, his nuzzle, his cheek to her hair; constant, his great heart beating with hers. Did she imagine his voice, hear it? Sleep now. I’m here. A whisper, nothing more than a skiff of breeze … evidence … never apart. Never, ever apart.
* * *
He’d been restless all evening and into the night. Accustomed to more privacy, and of late, accustomed to her warmth, he could not sleep in camp. He rolled his bed and stole away from the group. Kanin, morose, alone by the smoldering pit, poked at the embers. The fire hissed and spit but did not drown out Kanin’s heavy sighs – sighs Vincent could hear even as he strode the tunnel to a niche where a spring bubbled over time-smoothed stones.
A deep drink and then another from his palms … he let the water trickle through his fingers. The reflected light from the torch-fire prismed the droplets, arcing diamonds and stars from his hand. He would give her those diamonds, those stars. A welling at his heart … At the thought of her, his heart thudded against his ribs. A deep breath, a blossoming, and she was near. Did he hear her voice or was it merely water music?
Rest now. Lie with me.
Tomorrow was already too close, and so, at last, he unfurled his bed again and slept.
Chapter Title and opening quotation : William Wordsworth. Two-Part Prelude. 1799.
1. I Carry Your Heart. Chapter 7: Love-Throb in the Heart.
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