sequel to The Only Gift

IRON BEHIND THE VELVET

 

 

chapter 9 ~ Let Me Dream It Truth

Come to me in my dreams, and then
by day, I shall be well again …

 

The vibration of the pipes, the very weight of air …

As if his body were indeed electric and singing still, he felt everything.

 

Though he did his best to concentrate on the work before him, on priorities and instruction, on the best division of the crews and tools, on the needs and fears of the many, he allowed himself to remember … everything

Her dawn was still hours away when he’d eased from their bed. Beside the celestial castle crystal, a clock ticked on the side table, its alarm newly set in his absence. Will I really need this? she’d asked, the first morning she’d had to return to work. And though he knew she teased him, that he should growl a lusty – Never! – along the pulse of her throat, instead tears welled in his eyes, spilling into the hollows of her shoulder. Ah my love, ah my own …1 He could scarcely believe that truth. Every morning he woke before she stirred from his arms, every morning a surprise, a glory, a thanksgiving so sweet …

He stood next to the heap of his clothes. In the glow of the jack-coil candle, against the ivory sheets, her skin was pale rose, peach, amber; a shadow pooled beneath the blade of her shoulder, in the shallow valley of her spine. He imagined himself again stretched long beside her, his mouth traveling to the delicate indentations below the small of her back. This, Catherine … and this. The quilts tangled at her knees. She’d be cold without him; she’d told him so. He untucked the bedding, drew it slowly over the swell of her hip. She shifted as he covered her arm, her pearly nipple grazing the heel of his hand. In her sleep, she sighed.

As did he, at the door of their chamber, turned for one last look …

He’d arranged to meet Kanin at a junction north of Central Park, arrived neither early nor late to the rendezvous point. A quiet place in the main, unfrequented, today it was … empty. Pacing, he counted off the waiting: five minutes, ten, twenty … 

Precious minutes I might have spent– 

No matter, he interrupted himself. No help for it now. 

A lone sentry returning from his overnight outpost reported he’d passed Kanin below the Grand Concourse, shuffling along, dour and glum. 

Vincent shook his head, as dismayed as he was concerned. Already beyond the Harlem River, nearly an hour out, Kanin hadn’t planned for – or couldn’t bear – any company. 

He walked on alone toward camp. 

The river-crossing required a two-level descent, the corridor far below the flowing water dark and craggy and confined. He lit a torch from the stash at its portal and ducked along, climbed back circular stone stair. At the cut-through to Yankee Stadium, a faint cross-hatching on the rock wall caught his eye – Devin’s marker, still visible after more than twenty years. Only days ago he’d told Catherine of the fireworks he’d watched from a vantage point nearby, and if he had the time, he’d take that passage now, perhaps step out onto the deserted diamond. What position would you play, Devin had asked him once, so long ago, and he had only shrugged his answer.  Devin proclaimed him, then, The catcher, the thinking-man’s position, but all along he’d known. Center field, the emerald expanse his to cover, the long throw his to make …

!!! … !!!

His heightened senses told him soon enough – friend – not foe, and at the next junction, there sat Kanin slumped against the wall. Despite the rumble from the trains overhead – the 4 and the B and the D lines – he could all but hear the cacophony in Kanin’s mind, the litany of missteps and failures that surely played in a ruinous loop. Without question or remonstrance, he offered Kanin his hand, clasped his forearm to heave him to his feet. They fell into step together, but at the next crossroads and the next, Kanin lagged behind, letting Vincent lead at every turn.

“I’m a little rusty,” Kanin admitted. “Been a while since I walked these tunnels. Levon’s been gone a long time.”

“It’s no wonder these these eastern corridors seem unfamiliar. You’d have taken the passage north at the river junction to parallel the Harlem. This route would have taken you far out of your way. A long enough walk to visit Levon …” Vincent chuckled. “… no matter how scenic.” 

The Gargoyle monitored their approach, a jut of stone above their path – faced-shaped and eared – no more water-worn now than as he remembered and just as tended. Its coal-colored eyes had been recently blacked. Once he’d have run hard toward it, leapt up to touch its nose for luck. Now he brushed by with his fingertips as he walked beneath.

“Yeah.” Kanin shuffled along beside him, head down. “I thought I’d studied the maps well enough, but I’m not really sure where I am.”

“Maps rarely do our maze justice. Our foot to the path, observation, repetition … these things bring familiarity.”

Kanin drew in a breath, then blew it out, scratched at a spot on his neck. “What exactly are we talking about?” he asked, turning away from Vincent’s gaze … and the moment.

After a silent mile’s march and at a four-spoked hub, Vincent said, “This one’s a little tricky. We’re nearing Fordham University, the zoo, and the Botanical Gardens where we have several exits and the perimeter of the greater northern community. We’ll take the third branch, the first left to a gate, then a spiral down. The wall opens four steps from the bottom of the stair.”

“Right. I remember that … I think.” Kanin sighed. “I always thought I’d take Luke to the zoo one day.”

“And you will. Your daughter too.”

Once they’d stepped from the staircase, Kanin felt for the hidden lever and a stone slab wedged open. On the other side, he explored the crevices for the closing device. The doorway secreted again. Kanin stood for a moment, his hand flat on the seemingly seamless wall.  “Do you ever wonder how, Vincent? And why? All … this?”

The expected answer, the familiar Yes, always, wouldn’t come. Wonder blushed his thoughts. How and why mattered less and less, he realized. It is. I am. We … are.

Between them another silence lengthened, broken only by the muted tread of their boots.

“You won’t ask me, will you? You won’t just ask me what happened.”

“It’s yours to share, Kanin, as you choose, if and when.”

They trudged on, the passageways lit now, though with fitful, bare bulbs. Circles of thin light, between – a patch of gloom …

“They were all asleep,” Kanin began, regret weighting the relief of telling. “Livy must’ve had a hard time getting Luke down because he was in bed with her and his toys and books were all over the covers. He snuffled in his sleep, like he’d been crying, you know? Livy’d put her hand through the cradle’s slats and the baby was holding on to her finger. I just couldn’t wake her. I took your advice. Didn’t say anything. I know, I know … that’s not what you meant. Anyway, I slept in the outer chamber. In a chair. She was still asleep when I left.”

Did you leave a message? Some private affection for her? But who was he to criticize? How often had he hesitated, second-guessed himself, denied his feelings … and hers? His would be a hollow admonition.

“I guess she’ll know I was there.  A sentry will tell her … or tell Father.”

Vincent kept his steady, forward pace, though he quelled the urge to muscle Kanin to the wall, to shout him down a fool, snarl out that his barriers were of his own making, surmountable with the smallest effort, that his dreams were manifest – forgiveness, love, his own flesh and blood, beautiful and perfect – and yet, pig-headed, self-punishing, he would risk everything. For what? What could such penance earn? Rejection? A validation of unworthiness?

A scrap of poetry came to mind. I stumbled, slipped … and all was gone that I had gained.2

He stifled his exasperation and said nothing.

* * *

On the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, Joe waited for her to emerge from the cab. He held a coffee-to-go in each hand.

“I’d have opened your door …” He raised one of the white foam cups in apology. 

A bag was trapped against his ribs. Rocco’s, Catherine read, rescuing it from the clamp of his elbow. “Pastries? And is that coffee hot?”

“Yes and yes.” Joe’s smile was bright. “Let’s sit. I need a little something extra this morning.”

They found an empty bench inside, one just inside the foyer. The best in the whole lobby, she’d learned. Those streaming through the doors never looked back and if they veered, it was only toward the newsstand, the concessions. 

Joe positioned their coffees just so between them on the bench and motioned for the waxed paper bag, unrolled the top …

“I could swoon over the smell alone!” she cried. “What’s in there?”

“Two lobster tails, a pasticiotto, a sfogliatelle, a chocolate and a lemon Zeppole.”

“Dear God, Joe. You’ll have a coronary!”

“Which do you want?”

“I want the pasticiotto and the lemon Zeppole. And don’t mope. You asked.”

“You seem pleased with yourself this morning,” Catherine said after her last buttery bite. Joe arched his eyebrows and drained his coffee. “Go on. Tell me,” she prodded. He was stalling, but only for effect. “You called her, didn’t you?”

“I did. In fact, I called her twice.”

“Twice?”

“That’s all you’re getting, Radcliffe.” He dropped the cup in the gray metal trash can. “Show time. Let’s wrap this one up.”

She watched Joe from her corner of the elevator. He’d said it out loud last night – finally – and he’d accepted her answer without sadness, without surprise. In a strange way, she felt closer to him this morning than ever before, freer with him. Things would be different now, even better. A satisfied sigh escaped before she could contain it. Joe looked over at her and smiled, holding up the Rocco’s bag with their mid-morning boost saved in it. 

A second sweet start to the morning.

___

The mood didn’t hold. 

By lunch time, they were worn out.

“Damn!” Joe muttered, the minute the courtroom cleared. “She’s a Medusa. She turned every one of our witnesses to stone. We are quite possibly royally, completely, and fundamentally screwed, Radcliffe.”

“We can’t lose, can we?” Catherine whisper-wailed.

“I don’t know.” Joe raked his fingers through his hair and rubbed his face, hard. “The devil-we-know brought her in from Chicago, but she’s not taking second chair to him, that’s for sure. We better hope this is pro hac vice, one-and-done and back home … wherever it is Gorgons live these days.”

“Are you hungry?” Their saved treats were long discarded, the mid-morning recess too dismaying, their twenty minute reprieve spent turning pages and scribbling new notes.

“No, but I’d better eat something.” 

“Want to try to get in at Civic Deli?” she ventured. “I could manage a salad, I guess.”

They trudged up Centre Street to Worth in a herd of mostly morose lawyers. She wanted to elbow the more cheerful ones off the sidewalk, and from the look on Joe’s face, he’d be glad to help her. 

Luck granted them a window seat. Joe rushed her to it with smooth pressure on her elbow. Rank had its privileges apparently – no one else made a move for it, not much of one, at least.

“It’s gotta be a sign, Cathy. An actual table at the D. A. Deli at noon. Maybe things’ll turn around. You sit, I’ll order. Don’t let anybody make off with my chair.”

Over-the-shoulder glares from those standing to eat at the narrow bar made leisurely discussion uncomfortable. In their own shorthand language, between bites of her avocado salad and Joe’s tuna melt, they prepared for the afternoon’s questioning.

“If this guy walks …” she said. “He’s dangerous.”

“No, he’s evil.” He checked his watch and pushed back from the table. “Better get going.”

“This day sure started out a lot better than it’s ending up,” she complained.

Thunder rumbled. “It’s gonna rain, too.” Joe held the deli’s door open for her.  “Let’s talk about something else,” he said as she passed.

“Deal. So?”

“So … what?”

“So … you called her twice?”

Joe blushed but squared his shoulders. “I did. We’re … ummm … having dinner tonight.”

“Good for you, Joe! Where?”

“I was thinking maybe a lobster roll at that place on Cornelia? And then, you know, if it’s going okay, walk over to Christopher Street, catch some music at 55 Bar? They have an early show.” He ran his fingers inside his collar and tugged at his tie. “And Saturday … she’s …  well, we’re … …  Damn it, Radcliffe, I’m going over to her studio. She’s taking some pictures, and I don’t want to hear one word from you!”

Catherine bit back a laugh. “What could I possibly say, Joe? You’re very photogenic.”

“Cut it out. She takes pictures of body parts.”

She snickered. “So I hear.”

“Like feet or hands. That sort of body part. Your mind’s in the gutter.”

“I know, I know. Eimear told me. And it is not in the gutter. I’m happy for you.”

“Talking to her last night on the phone … I usually try to hang up as fast as possible. I’m, ah, a lot better in person. But something just sort of clicked. You know what I mean?”

“I do.”

With a surreptitious side-glance, he cleared his throat. “This morning … when you, ahhh, got out of the cab? I gotta tell you, Cathy, you looked … like you’d had some really great news. It made me feel good just to look at you. Hopeful. Like I might be that happy some day. I was, uhh, kind of worried … you know … about what I’d said to you, ummm, yesterday. How you’d take it. But I gotta say, I’m glad I told you, glad it’s out there. And done with. I don’t want to lose you … you’re more than a friend. a lot more. Whatever you call what we are to each other, I know I’ve never had better.”

She reached out for him, stopped him. The crowd was a white noise of urban privacy, parting, passing around them. He took her in a one-armed embrace, turned his cheek against her hair. Through his jacket, vest, shirt, and tie, she heard his heart, strong and steady. And then he stepped back, grinning.

“Well, this is a first! Catherine Chandler, at a loss for words. I’m going to put this one on my calendar.” He tugged at a lock of her hair. “Come on, Radcliffe. We’ve got a hill to climb. Let’s hope we don’t die on it.”

The towers of the courthouse loomed before her, the brewing storm casting the entry in deep shadow. “I could think of a hundred places I’d rather be.” Or one, she thought. She felt the sun of Joe’s gaze.

“No kidding,” he said. “When can I meet him, Cathy? I know there’s some kind of issue. What is it? Married? Old? Young? Mobbed up? You can trust me with whatever it is.”

How I want that. Denying him felt traitorous, unfaithful. But before she could offer even her practiced mysterious smile, a tide of reporters washed from the courthouse, racing the steps, camera crews close on their rapping heels. Those kids … Cop who was involved … Hurry … she heard as the throng careened the corner onto Pearl Street. Then Rita appeared, a worried look on her face, waving them up. The door whooshed shut behind them and rain began to fall.

* * *

Vincent! There you are. Saved you an orange from lunch. Your favorite.” Mouse opened his coat to reveal inner pockets bulging with fruit.

“Are you packed for a hike?”

“No.”

“Are you worried you’ll be hungry later?”

“Yes! No!”

Vincent shook his head. “Which is it, Mouse?”

“Just worried.”

He climbed down from the scaffolding and sat down to peel the orange. “What’s the problem,” he asked, handing a separated section to Mouse.

Mouse inspected it. “Just like I like it. No stringy stuff. No seeds.” He popped it in his mouth. “Heard you, Vincent. Humming.”

“I didn’t realize I had an audience.”

“Nobody sneaks up on you … but Mouse! Must be in a good mood. Glad you are.”

“Is Kanin … ” he asked.

“Not humming.”

Hmmmm.” He offered Mouse another section of orange.

“So … What?” Mouse asked.

“Do you mean what song?” He searched his memory. “It must have been a tune I heard at the stairs.”

“Pretty. I remember.” Mouse closed his eyes for a moment, nodding to an internal rhythm.

“Tell me why you’re worried.”

Mouse fingered a loose thread in his sweater. “When the others come. Jamie. She’ll be here. Then what?”

“Then what … what?

“What do I do? Be in her group? Be in the other group?”

“You two have always worked well together. I should think you’d be glad to do so again,” Vincent said.

“Different now,” Mouse whispered, ducking his head.

“Yes. I suppose it is.”

“Jamie … when she’s close … can’t think so good. Feels like … like I’m trying to hold birds in my arms. All trembly and wanting to fly, and their hearts are beating really hard.”

He closed his eyes at the image. “Yes.”

“Went home last night, right?”

“I did.”

“Then you know.”

“Yes,” he repeated.

* * *

Catherine took her seat, leaned into Joe’s shoulder. “I couldn’t find Phan.”

“What? He’s not here?” Joe checked his watch. “I talked to him yesterday. He said he’d– I’ll check the men’s room. You check the hallway again.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling,” Catherine said to Joe’s back. “I’ve got a very bad feeling,” she said to Rita, as they hurried down the aisle. When they returned, Joe huddled at the table with the detectives.

“Not here.” Joe said. “Not in the bathroom either. We called over to the 5th. They’re sending some guys over to Phan’s apartment. Did you call the restaurant?”

“No answer.”

“I’ll try the coffee shop, ask at the newsstand,” Rita said. The gate flapped behind her as she scurried out.

“They got to him. I knew it.” Joe sank into his chair. “I told you we were screwed. If we don’t have his testimony …”

“I’m more afraid something’s happened to him.”

“Don’t say it.” He worked his jaw. “Just don’t say it. Because if you’re right, we’re all gonna need bodyguards. Damn.” He pulled papers from his briefcase and scanned a list. “The taxi driver’s here … we’ll go with her first. Then the responding officer and the ballistics guy. We’ve gotta drag this out as long as we can and hope Phan turns up by tomorrow.”

“And that he’s okay.”

“That, most of all,” Joe said.

______

The daylight had long faded when Rita delivered a cup of fresh coffee to Catherine’s desk. The telephone to her ear, she smiled her thanks, took a quick sip waiting for Jenny to answer.

“Hi, it’s Cathy … no, I’m at work … we’ve hit a snag.” 

It was more than that, but it wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have with Jenny now … if ever.

“I wanted to tell you, the mirror you wanted for Ned’s birthday? It’s still for sale. Want to take another look Saturday? Good, yes, breakfast before sounds great. What? … … Tonight? I wish, Jen. But I really can’t leave … Say hi to Ned for me, though, okay? The Den on 12th, nine-thirty Saturday morning. I’ll be there … See you then.” She hung up and dragged another file from the stack on her desk, turning the pages of testimony and reports with a growing despondency.

“What do you think?” Rita asked. “Is there a pattern?”

“Seems clear to me. Four witnesses in prior trials, quote-unquote, left town. Without the witnesses, though, it’s hard to prove intimidation. It’s a win-win for the defense. I’m worried about Phan. He’s built a good business. If he’s had to leave it …” Or worse.

“You’re not thinking of going down there to look for him, are you?” Rita frowned. “Not by yourself.”

A memory flashed – on the street corner, stepping off without her mother’s hand, the blare of horn, the panicked grip on her shoulder pulling her back, the half-angry voice repeating her name. “No,” she answered. “I won’t do that.”

“Promise?”

She nodded and tried to smile.

“Oh, come on, come with us, Cathy. It’s just us girls from the floor. You could use a decent dinner and a break.”

“Thanks, Rita, but I told Joe I’d go through all these files tonight.”

“Well … okay, I guess.” Rita perched on the edge of Catherine’s desk. “You know, I have to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For not taking up Joe’s offer to meet Ben.”

“You like him?”

“Oh, yes. Very much. But … who knows. It’s early yet,” Rita said, shrugging. “I know you’ve got someone, Cathy. You told me, remember? When you went to California last year? When do we get to meet him?”

Joe rounded the corner, a lucky diversion. “Go on,” she said. “Have fun.” She shooed Rita away and Joe took her place.

He straightened his tie. “You could take an hour, Cathy. Join us for dinner.”

“You and Rosie? Your first date? No way, Joe. You’d kill me if I said yes to that.”

“I can’t leave you here all night by yourself. I’ll come back after dinner. We’ll do the music thing another time,”

“Not on my account, Joe. I can handle this.”

“I’ll call her. We’ll go to Angelo’s instead; it’s closer. I’ll meet her there and …” He patted his coat pocket and fished out a rubber band.

“Give me that,” she said, snatching it from his circling hands.

“OW!!”

Alone at last, she pushed the files aside and pulled good stationery from her desk drawer. Knowing Joe would cut his date short, that he would bring her supper, still hot, and settle in to work with her, she had little time to herself. Vincent, she wrote … and dropped her pen.

Overwhelming, a craving so strong … She could feel it burning, traveling the insides of her arms. She turned her wrists up to look, sure she would see her veins in full throb. And in her chest, in a vague place between her breastbone and the hollow of her throat, a heated pressure built.

It was not a new pain, though one she fought to suppress, unwilling to allow him access to that frustration, averse to burdening him. She longed for her friends to know him. Their helpers above accepted him … loved him. Protected him. Could Joe? Could Jenny? In her heart, she’d pulled everyone close – So close – and always, there was a wall, an impenetrable, stony limit.

But of late, instead … a strange, new hope welled – a light, distant yet growing in brilliance, a great, moving presence … That light – beckoning, promising – made the yearning more bearable, and, indeed, it gave her a kind of power, as if she could train its brilliance on that wall in a laser cut. We don’t know what the limits are! Her own words rushed back, this time not with challenge, but with anticipation. That feeling – in itself almost a sensuality, even an eventuality, borne over the distance between them by her fiercest love – that feeling, she would share with him.

 

___________________

Chapter Title: Matthew Arnold. Come To Me In My Dreams. 1852..

Opening quotation: Matthew Arnold. Longing. 1852.

1. Pablo Neruda. If You Forget me. The Captain’s Verses. 1952.

2. Stephen Vincent Benet. The Quality of Courage. 1918.

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