sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 48 ~ They Shall Be Tuned to Love
Some silent laws our hearts will make
Which they shall long obey
The second cassette whirred to its end. Catherine drew in a sharp breath as if she’d stepped into a shock of cold water, its icy surprise stinging. She pulled the earphones away, disconnected the wires from the machine, balled the thin cords in one hand.
“Have you told Flynn about these? Reported the calls?” Catherine asked, though she could predict the answer.
She didn’t ask why.
For weeks now, Eimear had said, he’s prowled the house at night, gone out into the garden to stand alone in the shadows. I’m afraid ... Veered into a dismal maze, Flynn stumbled over a humped and hollowed terrain.
A familiar terrain. Miles beneath this city, a nameless river runs through the darkness. Sometimes I go there.
She didn’t need to ask why.
“This happened to me once,” she ventured. “A stalker. A watcher.”
Eimear showed no surprise for their sad commonality, though her guarding expression softened. “And what did you do?” she asked. “Did you tell Vincent? The police?”
“Vincent knew, but the circumstances were different. And Joe … knew.” Joe knew some of it, not everything, she wanted to say, the everything of it making all the difference.
“Knowing … There’s nuance to the word, yes? Plus Joe’s not the police, more your friend.”
“No, but he did call–” Greg, I owe you a favor. Don’t file a report, okay?
Eimear closed her eyes and shook her head, began again to circle the ring on her finger, her voice, when she spoke, just above a whisper. “If Flynn thought, even for a moment, what he did, who he is, might threaten me, might frighten me …”
I can handle fear.
She’d have borne anything to protect him.
He’d begged her, Come Below tonight, but she’d pushed him away with her refusal, frustrated him, isolated him levels beneath her feet, risked him even more, risked him to the sun, her handled fear clouding the crystal knowledge that they were stronger as one.
“It would be worse for him if something … If he couldn’t …” Catherine didn’t finish.
Resistance, denial, anger, panic. Eimear’s emotions warred with her rational thought, the repeating wave of them evident on her face. Every coppery freckle stood in relief against her ivory skin. Her shoulders rounded.
“I know,” she said at last, love just as evident, winning out.
“Other than these calls …” Catherine waited for Eimear to look at her. The holding-back, the covering-over – a struggle to maintain – were just as difficult to release. No secrets, Catherine willed and Eimear drew a breath, one that did not stutter in or out. “Has anything else happened?”
“Last night, coming home late from Behan’s, a tire went flat. Martin thought a nail or broken glass did it in, but when Harold called today, he said the sidewall had been punctured.” Eimear glanced over her shoulder. Not for the first time, Catherine registered. “And when I couldn’t sleep for Flynn’s not being home, up at the window watching for him, just as you said you saw – a car rounded the block, cutting its lights as it passed, stopping in the street in front of our house.” Eimear unthreaded her fingers, threaded them again. “More than once it came by, the same car, the same slowing.”
The car, the second sighting as she waited for Eimear’s return, curious to her the night before, now loomed ominous – a shadowy hulk vibrating with barely bridled menace. Minutes ago she’d tossed off a remark – whenever a car slowed in front of your house – and had misinterpreted Eimear’s response, worrying her wary look, her inching withdrawal was personal. Later, I’ll explain, she silently vowed. Apologize for thinking only of myself.
“When did this start?” she asked.
“The first phone calls, just hang-ups when I’d answer, on Friday. Friday afternoon. Then Saturday … at home.”
“But how–” The newspaper, she remembered. The grainy photograph – Flynn in full gear, the circle of children in white shirts and kippahs. Text that misconstrued the facts, a feature story with some spiteful purpose. Sergeant O’Carroll typically works the evening shift, but he was off-duty and far from home the day of the incident. He lives in Woodlawn, a leafy enclave of numbered streets and single family homes, a neighborhood still proudly Irish. His wife is the Director of Community Giving at Howland House, a residential treatment home for abused and neglected boys and girls. The couple has no children of their own.
“They might as well have published your address,” Catherine grumbled, only half to herself. Might as well have come right out and said Eimear would be often home alone. She turned to inspect the chair in the corner, the chair no one could use, the chair layered with folded-over legal pads and bookmarked journals, a Bergdorf’s bag stuffed with magazines and mail she’d meant to throw away. She’d bet on it – she still had that newspaper. Perhaps she’d pay a visit to the reporter.
“We’re in the phone book, Howland is … and us too,” Eimear said and sighed.
Catherine leaned back in her chair, rolling the inches necessary to return to the well of her desk. She eyed the folders stacked beside her blotter. Until Andy and Saul could bring them more evidence, the two cases were stalled. No further page-turning, no hours of lip-biting scrutiny would illuminate new avenues. With Joe, she’d been over and through, followed the money, followed the grudge – to nowhere. There was nothing she could do save wait and hope. Nothing she could do about Mr. Haas or for his family. Nothing she could do for Phan, to affect the tragedy of the fire in his building. With her fingertips, she brushed the message turned facedown on her desk. Nothing I can do about Jenny. But there was something she could for Eimear. For Flynn. You’re not alone in this.
“We’re going to Headquarters with these. Right now.” She swung her briefcase to her desktop, opened a drawer, whipped out a small plastic bag. The two cassettes sealed inside, she stuffed the package into an outer pocket. The player, the cords wrapped around it, followed.
“Flynn’s on shift,” Eimear protested. “I can’t. If he’s even in, I can’t tell him there.”
“The truck probably is out on the streets.” Catherine stood and shouldered her bag, reached for her purse. “Then we’ll start the report. I have a friend there now, Greg Hughes. He’s … a good guy.”
“Ah, but you know what he’ll say, good or no. It’s the jurisdiction of the Bronx. He’d give me a name at the 47th, maybe make a call, and in minutes, the entire house knows something Flynn doesn’t, that someone else is doing the job rightly his. And how would that make him feel?”
They’d spoken of it – how he’d felt, standing sentry at her threshold, daylight trapping him below, mocking him, her fear for him stronger, more compelling than her own risk of life. He wants you, Catherine. This watcher. Paracelcus. Elliot. She’d have given herself for him. But too close. They’d come too close to the edge of the abyss. Months later, in their hidden chamber, on his knees before her, he’d clasped her hands in his, wept over them, his tears fat and hot, stinging with salt and self-reproach. This is Catherine, he’d told Father. I must protect her.
She knew how Flynn would feel, exactly how. As if he hadn’t – as if he couldn’t – fulfill his promise. I will … until my last breath.
“When does he get off?”
“He’s on until eleven-thirty if he’s not … involved. But he’s taking on a friend’s side job tonight, as he did last night and will likely tomorrow and the next. Albie’s baby was just born and’s still in the hospital. Flynn’ll not be home until well into morning.”
A wee one born with difficulties, cherished for her differences. “I know. Martin told me.”
“Martin! When?” Eimear’s gaze locked with hers.
“I was in Queens this morning to question a person of interest at the 105th. A friend of mine lives in close by, at Maryfields. I hadn’t seen him in a while and Joe didn’t expect me back for hours, so after the interview …”
“Ahh, you found Martin there. Twice a month he sees the old Father, though today’s not his scheduled visit.” A fleet smile brightened Eimear’s face but she dropped her forehead to her hands. “Catherine,” she said from within the flame-red veil of her hair, “I’d marvel at the coincidences that brought us together; I’d want us to start now and talk on until midnight if the circumstances were even half-normal. But you’ve had a drive to Queens and back. There’s the sadness of the cases you counseled Joe to forget. And the … break … with Jenny. ‘Tis too much. I’m selfish for not suggesting an easy dinner instead and stuffing those tapes in the bin as we passed by. I’ve dragged you into a bog for what’s likely nothing. Kids, I’m thinking, sure. Their anger’s soon spent, and it’s on to something much more …” She broke off and looked up, her dark eyes begging Catherine’s agreement. “Surely I’m too boring to watch.”
Kids. She could agree. She could pretend, dismiss. She had, had tried to. Benign things, she’d told Joe. But the voice on the answering machine was neither young nor angry. Instead … Cold. Steely with determination. Tell him. An eye for an eye.
“The men who attacked the Yeshiva had records,” Catherine said. “Long ones. Greg’s been around a while. He has friends all over. He could get the word out, have the guys start rounding up family members, their known associates. He’ll put a car at your curb, at home and at work. We both know who’s doing this.” But Eimear turned her head.
Catherine sat down, her briefcase in her lap, both arms around it. “You said Flynn won’t be home until morning. What, around eight? Nine?” Eimear nodded. “You shouldn’t be alone tonight. Rosie’s out of town, so I want you to come to my apartment. Spend the night. I’ll take that day off tomorrow, the one Joe said I could have. I’ll drive you back first thing. Be there with you when you tell–”
“But I have to go home tonight.”
“Please … Flynn would–”
“Not Flynn. ‘Tis Mab. It’s entirely possible Flynn forgot to turn her out of the spare room, where he penned her up to work on the washer. Even if not, she’s a kitten. She’ll be hungry.”
“She tends to tip her water bowl. I have to go home. Just in case.”
“Call Martin. Have him check on her.”
“Mab’s my cat. Mine. You understand. I know you do.”
I won’t let him do this to me. Catherine understood all too well.
The building seemed to sigh. The forced air through the vents fell away with a tired puff. The elevator cables groaned to a stop; their tension shuddered loose. Somewhere deep in the shaft, the empty car rested. Waited.
“Suddenly, ‘tis so quiet,” Eimear said.
It wouldn’t last, Catherine knew. The first-years at least would return after an early supper, switch on their lamps, bend to their challenges and ambitions. Often enough over the past years, she’d be at her own desk until well past rush hour, sometimes well towards dark. One or two or three would materialize at her side, asking for guidance or affirmation, or, leaning at the wall near the coffee station, arms folded, whispering with curiosity, they’d watch her from afar.
“Not for long. We should get out of here now. Come with me to my apartment–” She held up her hand to silence Eimear’s protest. “Just long enough for me to change and get some clothes together. There’s one thing I need to do there and then I’m going home with you.”
Voices sounded in the connecting hallway – s kid and yaw marks, impact findings – a few overheard words unraveling the strange braid of joy and apprehension and anticipation her decision kindled. Mark and Penny and Tejai from Trial Division, she realized. The blood search warrant she’d drafted for Vehicular Crimes was ready. On her desk … somewhere. She could hand it over on their way out, but they’d want to talk it through. She riffled a stack of folders and snatched one free. With a fat, black marker she scribbled three names on a rip of lined yellow paper, squared the file on her blotter, weighting the label with the container of chocolate Ice Cubes, its lid removed to temptation. To distraction.
Eimear stood still and heedful but with a coil-springed energy about her. As the deer prepares to move. All there was between them. All that was to come. But not here. Not here. Not here. The words beat like a pulse in Catherine’s ear. She hustled Eimear to the elevator and pushed the call button. The doors closed on Tejai’s chiming call of her name.
Catherine glanced at her watch. Father was expecting her for late tea. She’d not had time to compose a written message of regret should Gideon have been on the street to deliver it, should Billy have again sailed by. Her threshold, then … the flashlight she kept secreted there for rapping.
The rubbled doorways, the glowing light beyond. The pipes. She couldn’t – wouldn’t – leave Eimear standing in the storage room watching as she descended the ladder. There’re some things I need to tell you first – about the place I’m taking you. Yet never fully believing the time would come, when she would be so sure, she had no words readied. Their story was … fantastic, yet there’d be no doubt in Eimear’s mind once a reply came tapping back.
She couldn’t send a message to Vincent, though, even one veiled in the guise of poetry – if any she could recall – not without a dozen ears to the pipelines along the way. No possibility to send a note by messenger that would arrive beneath the Bronx before they would pull into Eimear’s driveway in Woodlawn. Not an hour before, she’d despaired because she couldn’t reach Dix to arrange for a key, for entry through his print shop. But there was another doorway. And he would be there.
“Eimear …” she began.
Their aloneness was short-lived. The car stopped on the next floor down and on each and every floor, accepting and discharging chattering passengers as if nothing – nothing – were changed, or changing, or at stake. And when they burst from the building, Catherine’s hand on Eimear’s elbow all the way to the sidewalk, the street was jammed with already occupied taxis – a grounded flock of golden birds, quivering for take-off, their horns blaring in a round that gained them no advance, the sidewalk crowded with thwarted commuters rising to their toes to peer into the distance. Catherine looked left and right, left again. No! she almost yelped. Peeling from the clutch at the curb with a shout of her name, the swell of his intent parting the masses … Harbrace? Hickman?
Harcourt. Huffing a not-so-discreet pump of breath spray.
“Subway!” Catherine squeaked. She lowered her shoulder, led with it into the throng.
Eimear trotted at her side, shoving her arms into her jacket sleeves, apologizing to the top-coated man she jabbed in the process. “Which one?”
“I’m not sure. North. Central Park West.”
“The Q then. Canal and Lafayette.” Eimear looped her purse strap over her head, settled it under a no-nonsense grip of elbow. “We’ll be changing somewhere, though. Herald Square, most likely.”
“We’ll figure it out. But right now, we need to get below.”
* * *
Olivia straightened from the crib and took a single step away. Beneath the cradle’s canopy carved with winging birds, bundled in her new patchwork covers, Althea cooed and chirped. Olivia slid one foot back, shifted her weight … took another quietly retreating step. Althea burbled and hummed. Sighed and settled. Surrendered to sleep.
Leaning at the nursery’s chiseled entrance, Mary released a long breath, a nearly silent hum of relief. Olivia looked over her shoulder at the sound, her lips in a shaky, unsure curve, her hands clasped and raised to the heavens in entreaty. Please, please, please. A flash of the old Olivia, Mary believed. She’s still there. Without a word between them, they tiptoed from the children’s chamber to the living area and through to the kitchen alcove where Olivia nudged the box of kitchen matches from a high shelf, catching it fast to her chest when it fell, smothering the rattle in the fabric of her jumper. Down for a nap himself, Luke snuffled, in his sleep distinctly requesting Story, Mama, but no other sound drifted from his hollowed-out niche or from the recess of Althea’s cradle.
Long past tea and the time for afternoon naps, the household was out of rhythm. The supper call would soon come. Still, sleep was sleep, and little enough of it had been enjoyed, and there was nothing wrong with a late meal of fruit and cheese, perhaps a boiled egg and slice of buttered bread eaten at one’s home table. Olivia checked the kettle for water, but Mary pointed at the whistling spout and shook her head. When Olivia’s brows rose in question, Mary waggled her fingers at its base on the cold brazier, flinging them wide in a pantomime of surprise, turning down the corners of her mouth in a mimic of Althea’s sure to follow misery. A moment passed and Olivia offered a steadier, more familiar grin. She returned the kettle to the cast iron griddle, filled the two mugs with cool water from a flowered china pitcher instead, wedged the half lemon on the sideboard and squeezed it in. With exaggerated care, they each pulled out a chair from the table and sank to a rush-webbed seat.
“Thank you for the quilt, Mary. It’s a beautiful design.”
Storm at Sea, Mary almost said. After herding the middle-schoolers off Thoreau-ing, she’d spent the late afternoon over her quilting frame in a final inspection of the baby’s shades-of-ocean-blue quilt. A french knot more here, a scroll stitch there. Her initials and the date in small stitches in one corner. Done. A year ago, Olivia would have laughed at the imagery, at the appropriateness of the pattern’s name. Now … it seemed a bit too close to home.
“I thought you had a date tonight,” Olivia whispered over the rim of her cup. “Are you going like that?”
Mary tucked a stray lock of hair into the bun at her crown, afterward smoothing and smoothing the array. A silver spoon lay bowl-side-up on the table, a dull mirror, but clear enough to reflect her unease. “It’s tomorrow.”
“Well,” Olivia persisted. “What are you going to wear then?”
Weeks had passed with Olivia trudging the days detached and preoccupied. Her remembering this … occasion … was surely a good sign, Mary told herself. Engaging in what she would have once called girl-talk. But there was no teasing banter in Olivia’s voice. The question was a serious one.
She looked down at her dress. She’d changed once already, after lunch, from her standard Monday garb into her Tuesday-wear. Luckily she’d been carrying the tureen of cold leftovers and not the hot-from-the-stovetop chowder when Eric and Kipper burst through the kitchen’s swinging doors. Restaurants have windows in the doors, she’d admonished the mealtime crew. And even so, the servers call out when they approach. William handed her a towel and asked her when last she’d eaten in one of the city’s fine dining establishments.
I don’t have to go Above to know that, she’d pretty much snapped and William’s eyes widened.
Sebastian wanted to take her out, and though they were in the main hallway when he first proposed the evening, not far from the corridor to her chambers down which she was not turning with him at her side, he’d cast his gaze skyward, then pointed when she didn’t respond. “Out, Mary,” he’d repeated. “A restaurant. A walk under the stars. Please say yes.” At the time, she’d swayed on her feet at the huskiness in Sebastian’s voice. Somewhere, deep inside, a forlorn ember fanned with warmth when he took her hand. Now she plucked a thread from her skirt. Even if she hadn’t worn it already, the brown velveteen shift and olive-green sweater, comfortable and serviceable though the combination was, wouldn’t do. Nor would the gray, cabled, fingerless gloves she wore. Her Winterfest dress was entirely wrong. In the farthest reach of her wardrobe, there hung a wine-red frock, with a wide, scalloped collar and a breezy skirt that swirled at her calves. Her favorite once, years ago. But colors seen by candlelight, will not look the same by day.1
Oh, why did I agree to … to this?
But now, at least, she reminded herself, they’d have something to talk about, she and Sebastian. Something to plan. How to get Olivia to the Bronx and Kanin to the apartment above Dix’s shop without spilling the surprise of it. There was baby-sitting to arrange and transportation. A hamper of foods to pack. They’d not want to go out, not once they were alone together. Surely to goodness they wouldn’t. Mary shook her head and mumbled to herself. She couldn’t saddle Olivia with a picnic basket. She’d be doing well to cajole her into packing a hairbrush and she desperately needed a hairbrush. No. Sebastian knew the city. He knew all the boroughs. They’d find a nearby restaurant. Chinese or Greek. Italian. Olivia and Kanin loved Italian food. Hadn’t William prepared a magnificent antipasti for their anniversary feast? Yes. And easy to reheat. There’d be a working oven in the apartment, a stock of dishes and silverware. Sebastien and she would order carry-out, stash the bag of boxes by the apartment door, ring the bell and …
Olivia had been half-watching her fidget, so Mary believed, half-sleeping upright in her chair, but now, her eyes closed, her lashes dark against her pale cheek, Olivia drew in a breath, a breath of strangely, suddenly, sensually perfumed air. Lilacs! Mary fancied.
Kanin … in the chamber doorway, his voice hoarse with love and apology, as tortured and hopeful any man’s she’d ever heard. His arms were laden with sprays of magenta and violet and white, their starry blooms undulled in the lack of light, their scent undimmed.
What on earth am I doing here? Mary squeezed Olivia’s hand, slipping from her chair as quickly, as silently as possible, easing past Kanin where he still stood, willing herself invisible and fleet, so very fleet. Don’t mind me.
But secreted beyond a nearby jut of stone, a blossomed branch, mysteriously gifted, clutched in her hand, she waited … waited to hear … willed reunion …
“Oh,” Olivia said, the single word carried on a wounded but gladdened sigh. “Oh, Kanin. Kanin.”
Chapter Title and Opening Quotation:
William Wordsworth. To My Sister. Lyrical Ballads, 1798.
Catherine’s remembered dialogues from When the Blue Bird Sings and The Watcher.
1. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Lady’s “Yes”. 1844.
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