Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 6

Seeing into the Heart of Things 1

In the elevator, Joe pulled a fold of bright blue cloth from his jacket pocket – Mets caps, a little crumpled, one for her and one for him. He snugged his on.

“You're going like that?” Catherine eyed his suit and tie.

“Afternoon game," he said. "Businessman’s special." He preened before the security mirror, adjusting the brim of the cap. Over his shoulder, he eyed her head to toe. "What about y–"

He made a strangled noise. The businessman all but disappeared, in his place a teenage boy stuttered and blushed. She looked down, bit back a laugh. "I brought a change," she said, patting her briefcase. "And I didn't wear heels."

His cheeks still pink, he pretended to choke himself, pulling the ends of his tie straight out. She snorted and he grinned. “Got a sweater in the car,” he said. Delivered from the elevator, they race-walked the lobby for the door.

Once outside, he rushed her across Centre Street and through the courtyard, up LaFayette to the corner. She could see his car, nosed to the curb of a coveted lot behind the Mission, the attendant slouched against the fender.

“You found a place on White Street? Who'd you bribe?”

“Stick with me, kiddo. I know all the right people.” He shrugged out of his suit coat even as he unlocked the door.

The narrow street was one-way; traffic stubborn and slow. As they edged past Cortlandt Alley, fog curled from the brick and ironwork canyon – steam from pipes that jutted from a garment factory's windows. No one loitered on the street corner, though Gideon often played to a lunchtime audience there. The first time she'd tossed a message into the case open at his feet, overhead had burst a white hiss … and the mist billowed around him, veiling him, obscuring all but the sound of his saxophone, the stark and gritty corridor made an enchanted place. She watched now for him to emerge. She wouldn't be surprised if he – if someone – did.

They'd quieted after half an hour of shop talk and some juicy judicial gossip. After the bridge over the Harlem, as they ramped north from The Corkscrew, they passed a sign for Yankee Stadium. Joe growled and looked over at her. "Hey. You asleep?"

Not asleep. Thinking. But she couldn't explain. Instead she rolled her shoulders, stretched her arms as best she could from her seat and smiled.

"Long way up here," Joe said.

 It was. 

The last minutes on the expressway took them through the woods of Van Cortlandt Park. Though the maps she'd studied had made little sense – the landmarks of below unmatched to what she knew – she was close to him, as close as she might be for days, for weeks. The snarl of traffic loosened and they sped past … over … too quickly. I'm here, Vincent. Do you know?

“Howland House," Joe said. "What about this school, Cathy? How bad do these kids have it?”

His words startled her into action. She wriggled from her jacket and buttoned on the cardigan from her briefcase, pulled her earrings free. Her hair scooped to a ponytail, she threaded it through the back of the cap. “I checked into it a little this morning. They're almost ready for adoption or fostering. But before this, sexual abuse, severe emotional abuse." Her voice faltered. "Terrible things. Worse things.”

His knuckles paled on the steering wheel. “Every time we get one of these perverts on the stand, I want to rip his throat out with my bare hands. When we lose one … ”

“I know,” she said. A vein pulsed in his neck, his mettled heart, his vulnerabilities evident and dear. Sometimes he seemed so alone. "Me too."

Trees arched over E233rd, promising shade once spring had passed to summer. On one side of the roadway, behind a stone wall and iron railing, Woodlawn Cemetery stretched for acres, shrubs and flowers in bloom at the fence. The streets were unshadowed with no tall buildings looming, the houses brick and frame with tended yards. She stole a glance at him. Leave it for now, she wanted to say.

"What does Eimear do there?" he asked, the taut chord eased from his voice as if he'd heard. "Do you know?”

“She's in development. Fund raising, gifts, that sort of thing.”

"Have you met her sister?”

“No, but I’ve been in her shop near the Village. It's an amazing place. Eimear says she’s ... unusual.”

“What do you think that means?”

“No idea, but we’ll find out soon. You turn at the next light, turn left.”

“Nice up here,” he said, once they'd cleared the intersection, laughing as he pointed out in the space of one block an Irish butcher, the Irish Baker, a diner and four Irish pubs.

She started to reply, but managed only a garbled sound.

“What?” he demanded, staring at her, she knew. She didn't answer … couldn't … could only hope he'd be distracted soon enough. Her face was pressed to the window. Dominic’s van was parked at a building off Katonah Avenue.


They pulled into the shaded, curved drive at Howland House and into visitor’s parking. Eimear waited at the door of the building, a shake-sided structure once a schoolhouse, augmented now with wings of dormitories and classrooms. She waved them up the steps.

“You made it!” she said, ushering them in. She led the way down a cool hallway and out the rear door. "The kids are wild, I’m telling you now. You can still change your mind and I wouldn’t blame you.” She laughed but her eyes were serious. “We're waiting for a couple of guys from Flynn's truck."

The bus – its doors open, the motor running – was parked near the playground where a woman led twenty children in enthusiastic charade. “Safe?” she cried and each child fell to one knee, both hands sweeping the air.  Each leapt up, thumbs outstretched, when she called "Out?" and at "Ejected?," when she kicked make-believe dirt over an imaginary home plate, twenty forefingers pointed the way to the dugout. As the children boarded the bus, the woman stopped them one by one on the first step. She leaned in close and whispered to each small ear. They took their seats and squirmed against the windows.

“That’s my sister,” Eimear said, shaking her head. “Getting them all energized. Here she comes. I’ll introduce you. Rosie, I asked you to please contain yourself, and you went straight ahead and stirred them all up.” Eimear's mouth turned down in a stern look.

“So these are your lawyers?” The woman walked – no, drifted – over to Joe. A dozen scarves of as many colors fluttered from her shoulders and belt. “You don’t really look like one,” she said to him, turning then to Catherine. “But you do.”

“Ro! Stop. I warned you to be nice. This," Eimear said with a dramatic sigh, "is my only sister, Rosaleen McDermott."

“What do I look like?” Joe asked instead of greeting her. In the next instant, his brows pulled together in  his stricken look.

Rosaleen grinned. “I dunno, maybe a ... butcher?”

Catherine snorted. “That’s what we call him. With a capital ‘B'. Behind his back, of course.”

“Right. Sure you do.” Joe blushed and studied the hat in his hand.

"What was the whispering?" Catherine asked.

"I gave them each a magic word and if a grown-up says it anytime this afternoon, they get a prize. From you."

"But … what're the words?" Joe asked, a fleet moment of longing in his eyes. She would tease him about that look later, but the bus driver revved the motor and a cry went up from the passengers for them to hurry up.

"Oh, you'll find out," Rosie said. "I hope you brought your wallets."

“Ah, here're the boys,” Eimear said as two ESU officers joined them on the pavement. “Catherine, Joe … this is Albie, JT. And you two know Rosie well enough. We'd best go before the wee ones get overheated. Did you bring your earplugs?”


Vincent held the beam high over his head, straining to lever it into the notch Kanin had carved, while Mouse, perched on a stone outcropping, struggled to hold the other end steady. This last timber would span the new and secret passageway to the lower levels, the lynchpin of the entire plan. They'd changed the nearest entrance to the north, erected several false walls, installed a clever hidden doorway to the corridor. Soon they would move to the next point of concern, further into Van Cortlandt Park.

"Need a new pulley," Mouse grumbled. "Stupid rope. Had to break. Asking Dominic."

When at last he could lower his arms, Vincent sagged to a crouch and then to his knees. His heart jumped under his palm.

Mouse scrambled down the wall. “Vincent. What?”

“Catherine is near,” he said. “Very near.”

“You can see her?”

“Not exactly.” He spread his fingers across his breastbone. “Here. I feel her, here. Her heart is … light. She's … happy.”

Kanin stood apart from them, half-turned away. He shoved his hammer into its belt loop.  “Enjoying herself above, doing things you never will," he muttered.

Kanin!” Mouse squealed. “Not nice! Mean!”

Vincent reached out, a quick touch to Mouse's arm, and shook his head. “Leave it, Mouse.”

But ...”

Vincent shook his head again and Kanin walked away, soon lost in the shadows of the tunnel.

“Mean!” Mouse repeated.

“Yet true enough,” Vincent said, his eyes downcast, his hands on his knees.

Mouse slid to the floor. Their backs against the wall, they rested there together until Kanin returned, a tense and burdened silence clouding the rest of the afternoon.


Eimear introduced Mr. Maxwell and Ms. Chandler, Officers Castillo and Kneath to their charges, assigning four to each and to Rosaleen – Miss Rose. A list of rules was read out, limits set to sodas and snacks. Pleas to stop at the zoo were met with the promise of another day. Though only one argument broke out, and that over possession of the window seat as they crossed the Whitestone Bridge, the bus vibrated with energy long after it rumbled into a perimeter lot and the motor stilled.

“Now, boys and girls.” The driver stood in the aisle. Silver-haired and gravel-voiced, she snapped her fingers for attention. “What will we not do, no matter how bad it gets?”

“We won’t BOOOOOOOO!” the children sang out.

“And why will we not?”

“Because it’s RUUUUUUUUDE!

Miss Stella dusted her hands, the subject permanently closed. “All set then,” she said, ushering each child past her down the steps into a sunny, spring afternoon.

A stop at the restroom, an inspection of hands, in line for concessions. Questions asked and answered, asked again … finally in their seats. A head count and then another …

Catherine closed her eyes, willing herself to remember everything – each earnest face, each damaged but tenacious spirit. So much had been stolen from them, and yet they were happy. Geoffrey, Samantha, Eric, Ellie … Her heart seized, but it was true. They'd been saved as well, made hopeful again. Suddenly, undeniably, it was important – that these children should have the same chance, that Vincent might see and hear and know them …

“I told you,” Rosie proclaimed with an accompanying shriek. “Balk-a-Day Bob ... he can’t get through a game without calling one. Tell me,” she demanded. “Tell me you understand the balk. Stand up and show me one, if you do.” Joe’s eyes sparked with the challenge. Catherine knew from experience that he was irked almost as much by the balk as he was by the designated hitter or the Dodgers’ leaving Brooklyn in 1958.

Eimear bent to Catherine's ear. “Is Joe easily overwhelmed?”

“Not usually," she whispered. "But I have to ask. Does Rosie always dress like that?”

“Well, she is an artist, and she’ll tell you herself, her whole life is a canvas. She is a bit ... over-colorful today, but, bless her, she knows the kids love it. She shows them, I think, that it’s okay to stand out. They often huddle inside themselves, afraid to be noticed, for notice has delivered them misery before. We want them to know, to believe, that there’s good waiting to happen for them. Rosie’s all fun, but I have to say, purple and green together, okay, maybe even with the red, but purple, green, red, yellow and orange? And all those ribbons and the scarves! Ach, she gives me a headache, looking at her.”

“I do think Joe's overwhelmed, but he's loving it.”

Eimear leaned out. “She’s inspecting his fingers. I told you she’s a bit much.”

“What? She reads palms?”

“No, no. Photographs. Close-ups. She has a whole wall of folded hands. And another of eyes with their laugh lines. A hallway full of feet, bare and shod. She’s relentless once she decides on a model. She’ll hound him ‘til he gives completely in.”

Catherine knew exactly what she would say to Joe about that, should it come to pass. Something about watching out for the arty types and what they try to talk you into or out of ...

"Ah!" Eimear clapped her forehead. "She’s asking him the question. I can read her lips. She must have a fair feeling about him, to ask so soon."

Catherine laughed. “It looks like he’s answering, whatever the question is.”

“Oh, she’ll ask you too, don’t worry,” Eimear said, nudging her arm. “From you, she might get an answer she likes.”

“Aren't you going to prepare me?”

“It’s more fun if you’re taken unawares. Besides, if I negate the surprise, she’ll hurt me. Do you have sisters or brothers, Catherine?”

“No ... an only child.”

“We go back and forth, even now, each wanting to strangle the other. I don’t know whose turn it is. Surely it’s mine!" Eimear pulled napkins from her purse, enlisting her nearest charge pass them down the row. "Dad always called her his glimmerin' girl and she is that. 2 I love her, and who would I be without her, after all?"

A knowledge blossomed, a further truth. This outing was more than a lark, more than an impulsive holiday from work. As if a swirling mist cleared, she could see ... the first meeting with Eimear and then the second, the depth and familiarity of their connection, the serendipitous telephone call just yesterday morning. Something was moving, changing within her, carving yet another facet on her heart. There was promise to the day. It warmed her, and she felt as if a great energy might be swirling nearby, that there was room and years enough for a huge and timeless life. 3, 4

Catherine leaned forward again. Rosaleen was intent on Joe, her head inclined slightly toward him as he spoke, her expression encouraging and her eyes wide. And Joe was talking with his hands, animated and excited she could tell, the physical tension she'd noticed in the last weeks, melted away. Something might change for him as well. Surely the great and swirling energy would encompass them all.


“So, did you know Jerry Koosman and Cleon Jones were gonna be there?” Joe pretended indignation, shaking oregano on his pizza with exaggerated concentration, folding it with enthusiasm. “And how come every kid had the same magic word?”

"’Twas truly amazing, was it not," Rosie said, "the announcement over the loudspeaker that two Miracle Mets were in the stands? And isn’t it easier to give them all the same word and then all the same prize. Cuts down on the arguments.”

“I was a little surprised when they all jumped up at once. I wouldn’t have thought they’d know who Koosman and Jones were.”

“I’m sure they don’t. Your clue came when they pointed at you and shouted ‘pizza’, right?”

“I thought they meant ballpark pizza. I figured I’d have to raid my retirement fund to pay for that.”

“Brothers is their favorite place when we can manage a dinner out . We came here when we were little girls ourselves,” Eimear said. “A slice still isn’t too dear, but we’ll all chip in, you know. She was teasing you, that it was yours to pay.”

Oh, no,” Joe said, reaching for his wallet. “My treat.”

“I want to help,” Catherine chimed in. “Let me split that, Joe. I mean it.”

“There's a Carvel just down the block,” Albie said. “We'll get an ice cream cake. Ernie won't mind us having it here. We can bribe him with any that's left over."

The children shepherded to the restrooms, Rosaleen and Eimear stood in the hallway, counting heads going in, waiting to count them coming out. Catherine and Joe were left alone at the table. “Are you having fun?” She waited for his answer, then asked again, rapping the table for his attention. “Joe? Hello?

Hmmm, huh?”

“I said, do you want me to get a taxi home so you can … you know ...

“What? No!  What're you talking about?”

“Maybe you could take Rosaleen home.”

“I, um, she ... well, I don’t even know where she lives.” Joe pulled at his collar.

“You could ask her.”

“No way, Radcliffe. Too soon, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t think.”

“Mr. Maxwell? Ms. Chandler?” A soft voice stilled their banter. A little boy stepped between them, sliding a baseball card onto the tablecloth. “We never saw him to get it signed but … we want you to have it."

Joe picked up the card. "Dave Magadan. Hey, he's great. Look, Cathy."

"You'll have to share it," Edward reminded him. "Oh, and thank you for the pizza. And for coming with us."

Joe shook the small hand offered him. “You’re welcome, Edward. Very welcome.”

Catherine ruffled his hair. “We can go again one day. Would you like that?” Edward nodded, silent and serious, his expression a winging arrow to her heart. When at last she could tear her eyes from Edward’s face, when she could meet Joe’s gaze, she knew he felt the same. This was a beginning, a chance to make a difference where it was sure to count.


In the school parking lot, at Joe's car, Catherine asked about the mirror in Rosaleen's shop.

“Oh, it is,” she said. “It's still there. Do you want another look?”

“My friend Jenny does. A gift for someone special.”

“Ah! And are you enjoying the Klein sculpture, Catherine?” Rosie raised her eyebrows. "Such a romantic, intimate piece."

Umm, uh huh, I am.” She blushed and Joe raised his eyebrows.

“I think I need to see this shop.”

“Oh, I very much want you to come,” Rosaleen said. “That’s where my studio is, you know, and where you’d do your modeling.”

“Modeling?” Catherine turned to Joe, her arms folded.

Don’t start, Radcliffe.”

“Both of you then, sure. And Catherine, bring your friend. Come Saturday. I’m there all day. I can arrange to have that mirror moved, if she wants it.” As she spoke, Rosaleen scratched words on a scrap of paper, the car's hood her desk.

“And Saturday night, come to our house for dinner,” Eimear said. “Flynn’s cooking and we’re having a little ceilidh. Catherine, bring Jenny. I’m thinking I’d like her very much, since you do.”

“That sounds great to me,” Joe said. Rosaleen pressed the note into his hand.

Catherine smiled. The weekend had stretched lonely before her. She'd expected to spend it in the office, insulating herself from worry with work, doing what she could when she could do so little … missing him. “I don’t know about Jenny, but I'd love to come. What can I bring?”

“Since Flynn’s cooking, it’ll be boiled knuckle and liver and maybe some mashed neeps.” Rosaleen said, straight-faced. “So bring whatever you think might go well with that.”

“She’s joking! Rosie, stop that. Flynn’s making his specialty. Lasagna. Not a speck of knuckle in it, I promise.”

Catherine started to speak, but Joe cut her off, mid-breath. “That’s enough from you, Radcliffe. I know what you’re about to say, and it’s not true.”


Joe drove slowly down Katonah Avenue, idling at every traffic light with none of his usual impatience. As they passed the street where she’d seen Dominic’s van, Catherine’s heart fluttered. Was there a tunnel entrance near? Was he close? Would she know, would she ever be able to know? But the van was no longer there and she couldn't be sure at which business it had been parked. She couldn't bolt from the car and wave Joe away. She took a deep breath and let go.

At her building, Joe pulled in to the curb, and while Catherine gathered the jacket and briefcase she'd stowed on the back seat, he came around the car to open her door.

“What’s a neep, do you guess?” he asked, his hand out to help her.

“No idea. What’s a ceilidh?”

“Must be an Irish thing,” he said. “Well, Cathy. First thing tomorrow, back to it.”

She dropped her satchel at her feet and reached out to him, searching his face for a moment. “It was a good day, Joe. We made ... a connection. Between the two of us, with Rosaleen and Eimear, between us and the kids. Did you feel it?”

“Like something's about to happen?”

“Yeah. Like that.”

He stared at her hand at rest on his arm. “But not between you and me, not ever, huh, Radcliffe.” His words were softly spoken, but every word was clear.

“No, Joe. Not like that.” The truth, at last aloud.

“Can you, uhh, forget I said that?” Grimacing, he ran a finger inside his collar.

No. But ... yes.”

"Friends? Me and you ... a team?”

“Better than friends, Joe. Better than a team. Family.” Just for an instant, her grip tightened.

"There's ... someone, isn't there? You can tell me, you know."

Can I?  But she had a question of her own and wasn't it a rule? To never ask without knowing the answer first. How much, Joe? How much can you accept?

Several charged moments passed. Joe stepped back and raked his fingers through his hair. If he'd had one,  she imagined he'd pull out his big rubber band and stretch it between his hands. “So, you think I should call Rosaleen? She’s ... different.”

“I do. I think you should. Maybe even tonight. Different can be good, Joe. Very good.”

Early yet, the sun just setting, the clouds underscored with pink and gold, the sky would soon go dark and Manhattan's show of lights begin. The day in her hands for him and on her lips, she darted to her balcony with unabridged hope. But the last rays gilded the streets, and when she turned to their island's corners, there was no shadow of another.

Below Father set aside his book, taking her hand as she descended the steps. He shared his tea with her and the news of the crew’s progress, made report of an upcoming program the children planned for Mary's birthday. "Top Secret, I'm supposed to say." Olivia, when she heard Catherine was below, insisted on a visit, on cake and more tea, and then Jamie arrived and Rebecca, and they wanted to hear about her day, about the children, about Eimear and Joe and Rosaleen and about the magic word, about the pizza.


At the end of a long day, the tools again cleaned and ordered, Vincent walked into camp. He hoped to find Kanin, to take him into the narrow passage, through the hidden doorways to the stairs below the garden where music might be heard again, where Kanin might find comfort. But at the periphery of the crew, Kanin scowled, his arms crossed high on his chest. Cordoned off, Vincent thought, venturing close.

“I’m sorry, Vincent. Sorry for what I said.” Kanin muttered his apology into his chest.

“I know that.”

“I don’t want to talk. Okay? Just–” With his fist, he beat a dirge's rhythm against his thigh.

“Come with me, Kanin. There’s a hidden place of music. Beautiful music. We could sit together and listen. Just ... listen.” And if there's no music, perhaps we might walk together. Walk in silence if you want. 

But no. He would accept no balm for his raw wounds. He slipped away, further into darkness.

Vincent made one step after him and stopped, the pull of the dark, of isolation too familiar. Instead, he hurried alone through the last tunnel to the stone steps, climbing closer this time, nearer the barred door ... to hear another concert just as beautiful, just as melancholy. Night birds sang from the flute, calling out to far-flung loves, flying through bent and ancient trees, across the barren hills to the sea. He closed his eyes and knew...

She was home.

Click HERE for Chapter 7.


(1) Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke and Benvenuta: An Intimate Correspondence. Magda Von Hattenberg, editor. Fromm International. 1957.
(2) W. B. Yeats. The Song of Wandering Aengus. 1899.
(3) Rainer Maria Rilke. You, Darkness. 1903.
(4) Rainer Maria Rilke. Book of Hours, #4. 1903.