sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 5 ~ Lovely Notes, from Shore to Shore
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour—
“I’m coming. Wait a minute.” Catherine flipped through her rolodex. “I’ve got one phone call to make … just one!” She punched in the numbers, ignoring Joe’s twitch of impatience as he yanked on his jacket, the huff he folded his arms on.
“Eimear, this is Catherine Chandler,” she said to a machine. “I’d like to talk to you. Not in any official way.” She laughed, a little nervously, she thought … a little something anyway. A shiver touched her when she heard Eimear’s recorded voice, at once tingling and warm. Like summer, it came to her, those first free days. “It’s personal. Call me, okay?” She cradled the receiver more deliberately than Joe preferred. She had to run after him, scooting into the elevator as the doors began to close.
“Another day in hell,” Joe growled. “I’m in a bad mood already.” He watched the numbers as the car descended. “Just stab me now, okay, Radcliffe. My life stinks. And I need coffee … bad.”
“You didn’t sleep well, did you.”
“Damn kids upstairs. Music, if you can call it that, all night long. Up there, stomping around. Don’t say it,” he warned her. “I need a new apartment … a vacation, a new … oh, never mind.” His lips turned down and stayed there.
The courtroom was crowded; the onlookers restless. They pushed through to their table, arranged their files, shuffled through notes … and waited. The opposing counsel’s lead attorney was late … then later still; the judge’s chair sat empty. When Joe nudged her, her chin propped in a palm, her eyelids flickered open. He’d turned his legal pad toward her, but where she expected to read some pithy note, he’d drawn rows and rows of dots. Two were connected already. She grabbed her pencil, connected two more, then two more after he took his turn, smirking when she formed the first box. CC, she printed inside and drew another line. They’d played two full games when the bailiff disappeared … returned … and called the room to order. The arriving judge didn’t even take his seat, instead announced a postponement, that the defense second chair would necessarily take over the trial, rapped his gavel, and was gone. They were out of court until Thursday.
Below the table, between their chairs, Joe pumped his fist. “I got my wish!”
“You wished appendicitis on the attorney?” she whispered.
“I wished a world of hurt on him, but I wanted to inflict it myself.”
“We’re free, Joe. Free. Let’s get out of here.” She zipped open her bag, shoveled in legal pads and folders, notecards and pens.
“Hey! Save that last game. We’re not finished.” He sobered, thumbing the lock of his briefcase. “You do know it’s back to the mines.”
“Any place but here.”
In the office, buried in work … so many cases, so many victims of greed and violence. Catherine spun her chair – to watch the sky, to send her thoughts below. Greed and violence could enter their world just as easily, and it had. The effect had been devastating, its recurrence unacceptable. What can I do … ?
The months and months she’d slept alone seemed the dream now; this solitariness felt new and raw, their separation a shock. She missed him. How was he faring? When would she see him next? “I love you, Vincent. Know that.” Her whisper barely louder than a thought, she rested a moment in its sweet truth, in her freedom – to say the words, to live them.
She swiveled and banged into the desk hard enough to rattle the phone’s handset, the pencils in their cup. “Eimear!” Rubbing her knee with one hand, she closed the file on her desk, its contents too grisly for any visitors’ eyes. “I can’t believe it. I left a message for you just this morning! Please,” she said, waving her closer. “Sit down.”
“I got that, Catherine, and ’twas a great surprise.” She perched on the edge of the desk-side chair. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you as well. But this call today … Now, I’ve come over time to believe in serendipity. Your call was a door opening to a sun-filled day! I need your help, and I’m here to ask you for it.” Her head tilted to one side; a smile brightened her eyes. “Do you think you might get away from here tomorrow afternoon? It’s for a good cause and all. You might even call it public service hours, since you’d be doing, umm, several.”
“This is all quite mysterious. What’s up?”
“Well, Howland House – where I work, the residential treatment school up in the Bronx? – we’ve been given a block of tickets for a baseball game tomorrow. I guess there’re empty seats as it’s in the afternoon. The thing is, we need more chaperones for the kids. I know it’s short notice, but I had the idea. I was on my way to conscript some of Flynn’s boys and I thought maybe … you and Mr. Maxwell?”
“Let’s ask him right now.” Launched from her seat, she steered Eimear toward Joe’s office. Through the open door, she could see him reared back in his chair, feet on his desk, the phone trapped against his shoulder. His dour expression brightened at the sight of the woman in tow.
“Ask him,” Catherine instructed. “I’m betting he won’t say no.”
Joe hung up the telephone. “Say no to what?” As Eimear explained, Joe beamed his answer. “You bet. I love kids. Where and what time?”
“Now, you have to know,” Eimear said, her hands out in forewarning, “you’ll mostly be counting heads and taking them to the restrooms. Also making sure they don’t eat too much junk. Sometimes they get queasy and then, well … you know. It can be a wee bit of an ordeal.”
“I’m in.” Joe said. “What about you, Cathy?”
She nodded. Suddenly, the week seemed far more bearable.
“Hey, wait a minute.” Joe raked his hair and a pale gleam of panic flickered in his eyes. “I should have asked. We’re talking Mets here, right? Not the Yankees?”
Eimear laughed. “Mets it is. I take it you’ve a problem with the American League?”
“Don’t get him started,” Catherine said. “You’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Then you’ll get on with my sister. She’s coming too, couldn’t say no. She owes me. You two should sit together.” Eimear bent across the desk and scribbled the address on the desk pad. “So, can you meet us at the school at noon? We don’t have the funds to send a car for you, but Flynn might get someone from the shop to pick you up out front. We’ll take the school’s bus to Shea.”
“I’ve got a car,” Joe said. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be there.”
“This is great, just great. Catherine, your call was a godsend. Tomorrow then?”
“Count on it.”
“I’d best warn you about Rosie,” Eimear said as they waited for the elevator. “I should have warned Mr. Maxwell … Joe. She’s a little unusual, sometimes a bit much.”
The doors slid open; passengers milled out. Eimear grinned and slipped inside the empty cabin. “I can’t explain it exactly. You’ll see. You’ll hear. Then you’ll know.”
* * *
“Vincent. Found something. Come see.”
He jumped when the words whiffed past his ear.
“Ha!” Mouse crowed, clapping his hands. “Did it! Snuck up!”
“How did you manage that, Mouse?” He knew the answer. He’d been lost in near meditation.
“Been practicing. Years, now,” Mouse replied. “Hard.”
“But apparently not impossible. What have you found? Is there a problem?” He reached for the drill bit he’d dropped, for the oily rag flung from his hand.
“No. Good. Not bad. Neat.”
“Neat? Then I must see. Where is this …
“Shhh.” Though no one was near, Mouse put his finger to his lips. “Just us.”
“All right. Show me. Give me a minute though.”
“Okay good. Okay … counting!”
He’d cleaned and treated the wooden handles of the hammers and chisels and picks, a necessary task, one that granted him time private and separate from the chatter of camp. While Mouse, impatient, circled his makeshift shop, he put away his work, rowing the tools for the crew to find the next morning, The moment he reached for his cloak, Mouse darted away, leaving him to light a lantern, to follow already paces behind.
Half a mile from the work site, up a level on a circular stair, past the next junction and further north, a narrow side corridor opened. Easily missed, its mouth was a jagged sliver and entry a tight squeeze through. A hundred feet down, an iron gate blocked the passage, though Mouse had discovered its key, a hidden but simple lever. Another fifty feet and the tunnel widened but to a dead end where Mouse waited, even more impatient, hopping now from foot to foot.
“What took so long? Been here forever.”
Mouse and time. Legendary.
His lantern aloft, he scanned the chamber, perplexed. The walls, roughly quarried, were a reddish-gray with hardly a shimmer of mineral, and within his reach the ceiling arched low. “Is this it? Your discovery?”
“Ha!” Mouse crowed again. “Can you find it?”
“Find … what?”
“Secret door. Really good one. Never seen anything like it. Have to listen for it.” Flattened against the wall, Mouse spread his arms, an embrace of the stone.
“Listen? I’ll find the door by listening?”
“Shhhh.” Mouse instructed and closed his eyes.
And he heard it … music … a faint singing through the stone. A single instrument … a flute? He trained his senses on the sound. “There.” He walked to the chiseled wall and pressed his ear to it. His fingers roamed the crevices, searching for the opening. Under a lip of rock, he found an iron handle, which he first pressed, then pulled. The stone face moved. In the floor, in a shallow depression newly exposed, he found a a two-part shackle, a rusted clevis pin threading the arms. Mouse squirmed in front of him to remove it and the wall shifted forward. The music beckoned them into darkness.
“How did you find this, Mouse? How could you know?”
“Gave me a map, said check it out, look around. Old one, remember? All faded?”
He nodded, though Mouse hadn’t waited for a response.
“First it was ‘here, Damian’ … then, ‘no wait, switch with Mouse’. Guess you knew.” He tried to cram his hands into his already full pockets, kicked his foot in a stand-still swagger. “But then, Mouse always finds stuff. Neat stuff.”
“Was this passage marked on that map?”
“No. Found the little tunnel. Squeezed in. Heard music. Mystery! Went looking for you.” Mouse shrugged. “Back now.”
Vincent struggled to keep a straight face. “Have you been down this passage?”
“Would you like to explore it?”
“Ummm. If you do. Somebody at the end of it.”
He closed his eyes again. The melody was passionate and melancholy, beckoning. “I think we must.”
They walked on in the light of their lantern and torch, through a narrow, meandering, climbing tunnel. As they neared the source, the music swelled mystical and mournful.
“Sad,” Mouse declared. “Pretty.”
“Very. And close now.”
He kept his voice low and soon they found the end of the tunnel, its terminus a cellar-like chamber … a gritty floor of chiseled rock, laid-up stone walls laddered with jutting but empty ledges. His raised torch illuminated a barrel-vaulted ceiling, a small but crafted room. Across the way … a dark niche … another iron barrier … and by their lights and through the rusted bars, they could see a stairway, steep and carved in stone.
“Can you find the latch?”
Mouse busied himself with the search and in seconds, grinned in triumph. The door released with a soft click, permitting the stairs. “Go up?”
He shook his head and sank to a step near the floor. Mouse claimed the next above. The notes, so low-pitched, reedy and dark, drifted like clouds overhead.
“It’s like a picture in a book,” Mouse whispered. “There’s a forest. It’s cool. There’s a stream and there might be magic … but you’re all alone.”
“Yes,” he answered. He felt the aloneness … the loss … and then the music stopped. Tensed, they prepared to flee, but the musician began to speak – a man’s soft voice confiding to someone lost to him. He spoke of a time of sweet possibilities and of his deep regret. It was almost a prayer.
“Ah, Lily. Lily, my beauty. My only love. How I miss ye, darlin’. All my heaven was once thy breast, Would it were mine again!1 If only, Lily … if only.”
The musician began again to play – a haunting melody, speeding through its notes, breaking off to shout a plaintive lament, drawing out the words long and loud …
“Hear me out, Missy. I don’t think I’ll be gone anymore to the pubs, for behold, the goodness of God is like new wine … and I believe something is soon to happen in my life … so noooo, Missy, noooo … I’ll not be gone to the pub.”
Again, the rhythm a quickened heartbeat, in a crescendo of sound and emotion, the flute’s song wheeled wild and free, then fell to an abrupt and final silence. A soft click, the scrape of a chair … The man’s steps, first a shuffle along a stone floor, then cushioned – in grasses, Vincent supposed – were lost to distance. A far-ish door creaked open and shut. The silence allowed for night birds calling from a high place, rustling toward sleep.
“Neat.” Mouse said. “Told you.”
He had no words.
Mouse leaned into his shoulder. “Go up? Check it out.” Mouse scrambled up the rough-cut steps and minutes later, bustled down again. “Trap door, open already. Another door. Barred though. Big padlock and a chain too. There’s cracks, but too dark, can’t see out. Smells good. Like the park.”
“Could it be an entry to a garden of some kind?”
“Okay, yeah! Flowers, bushes. Sweet!”
“What else? ”
“Another tunnel. Sort of. Between laid-up stones, like a wall, like two walls and a roof.” His face scrunched in thought, Mouse chose a word. “Castle-y.”
“You mean … like a castle wall, a double-sided wall you can walk through?” He drew up one knee. “Mural passages. Secret ways built inside stone walls to allow movement without being seen.” He peered up into the dark stairwell. “Where do you think we are, Mouse?”
Mouse shrugged at the obviousness. “Someplace Up-North. Should we seal this up?”
“Seal the passage? Probably. We have no idea who uses this or why. But … not just yet. We can chain the gates from our side for now. We might hear one more concert before we close it off.”
“Double neat,” Mouse declared. “That last part … what’s it mean? About wine and a pub and something happening. Who’s Missy? Who’s Lily?”
“I don’t know, Mouse. It’s all very curious.”
“Wish we knew. Wish we could ask.”
“Yes,” Vincent said. “I wish that too.”
The iron barriers and secret door closed behind them. At the circular stair a level above their camp, Mouse stopped, barring the way. “Miss my chamber, Vincent. Miss my stuff. Wish I were home. Why isn’t Kanin happy to be home?”
“He carries shame in his heart. In time, surely, he’ll find his place with us again.”
“So mad, all the time. Hard to get along with.”
“I know it’s difficult. Try not to take his … bark … personally, Mouse. He’s really angry only with himself.”
“Feel better, now. After the music.”
“So do I.”
“Should we bring Kanin?” Mouse asked. “Might help.”
“Perhaps. For now, let’s keep this a secret between the two of us.”
“Secret. Sure. Love secrets.” Mouse grinned and clapped his hands. “Next time, bring a cushion.”
The hideaway under the pavilion, the mounds of pillows there … She would love this haunting music, the mystery of it, the surprise. Perhaps …
“Thank you, Mouse,” he said. “For finding and sharing.”
“Found it because of you.”
He puzzled Mouse’s words, but found no thread to grasp. “Because of me?”
“Gave Damien a map too. Said study. Said explore. Might have given me his, him mine. Then what?”
Again, he had no words. Then what, indeed.
“Besides, nobody hears what Mouse hears.”
A fact that is also true, as Devin used to say.
“Fun, huh?” Mouse went on. “Hanging out?”
“Very fun,” Vincent said, clapping Mouse on the shoulder. And when those in camp demanded to know where they had been, he smiled – as did Mouse – and said nothing.
* * *
“What time is it, Joe?” Catherine drooped onto her hands, her arms crossed on an open reference book. “Can’t we go?”
“I thought you were made of tougher stuff, Radcliffe. It’s only… 9:55.”
“Are we making up in advance for the time we’re taking off?”
“Right in one. But half a day tomorrow and we’re outta here.”
“Half a day!” Catherine groaned. “Promise me we won’t come back after the ball game.”
“Deal.” Joe sawed his pencil back and forth in the air, aiming it like a dart toward an empty cup in the middle of the table. He let it fly … and it missed. “Let’s call it. I’ll walk you out.”
Two interns with files clutched to their chests and wide and dark-circled eyes stepped into the elevator with them. Joe frowned and looked at his watch. A furtive glance exchanged and one reached for the buttons, stopping the car at the fourth floor. Before the doors closed, she heard the ding at the next bay, saw the up-arrow blink red.
“They’re going back to the office. You scared them into another hour of work!”
“I didn’t say a word.” He cleared his throat. “Do you, umm, want to get a drink, maybe something to eat?”
She hesitated only a second. “Thanks, Joe, but it’s so late. Another time.”
He patted his midsection. “Ah, that’s okay. Shouldn’t have so many late night meals anyway. Thanks for saving me from myself.” A floor passed in the stretch of silence … another. “I’ll wait until you get a cab, Cathy.”
He closed the door after her, giving the window a single knock as the taxi pulled away. At the end of the block, at the traffic light, she looked back. Joe stood on the sidewalk watching after her, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. Though the night was warm enough and pleasant, his shoulders were rounded as if against a brisk wind.
“Hey, Lady.” The driver’s eyes flickered to the rearview mirror. “Want some music?”
“Thanks for asking,” Catherine replied, thinking most never did. “It kind of depends …”
“You like jazz?”
“Listen to this,” he said as he started the player. After a bit of scratchiness, she heard a mellow voice. Hoagy Carmichael.The Nearness of You. “Beautiful, don’t ya think?” he asked her.
There was a note on the floor inside her door and for a moment her breath came fast. She carried it with her to her balcony and lit a candle. A gift of words – four lines transcribed from distant taps by a discreet Pascal, delivered by a mysterious hand. She read them once and then again, and later fell asleep with them held fast.
There be none of Beauty’s daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me.2
Chapter Title and opening quotation: Matthew Arnold. To Margaret – Continued. 1849.
1. Charlotte Bronté. Regret. 1848.
2. George Gordon, Lord Byron. There Be None of Beauty’s Daughters. 1816.
To be continued …
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