Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 9

Let Me Dream it Truth 1



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

As if his body were indeed electric and singing, he felt everything, and though he attempted to concentrate on the work before him, on priorities and instruction, on the best division of the crews and tools, instead he remembered  … everything. 

Her dawn was still hours away. A clock ticked at their bedside, its alarm set in his absence. Will I 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 beneath her ear – Never!– instead tears welled in his eyes, spilling into the hollows of her shoulder. Every morning he woke before she stirred from his arms, every morning a surprise, a glory, a thanksgiving so sweet

Eased from the bed, before he'd hurried to the bathing chamber, to the library for pen and paper, he turned for a last look. 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 wanted … needed ... imagined himself on hands and knees, his mouth 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.

He'd arranged to meet Kanin at the junction north of Central Park, and he'd waited there twenty minutes, precious minutes he might have spent– No matter. No help for it. A sentry returning from his overnight outpost said he'd passed Kanin below the subway at 135th, shuffling along, dour and glum. Vincent shook his head, as dismayed as he was concerned, and walked alone toward camp.

dark tunnel entrance
The Harlem River required a two-level descent, the tunnel under the water dark and confined. He lit a torch and ducked along, climbed back a narrow stair. At the cut-through to Yankee Stadium, a faint cross-hatching of a stone 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 seen and if he had the time, he'd take the passage now, perhaps step out onto the dark diamond. What position would you play, Devin asked him more than once and he could only shrug his answer.  Devin proclaimed him catcher, the thinking-man's position, but all along he had known. Center field, the emerald expanse his to cover, the long throw his to make ...


Someone …

His heightened senses told him friend, not foe and at the next junction, Kanin sat slumped against the wall. Despite the rumble from the Grand Concourse overhead, he could all but hear the cacophony in Kanin's mind, the litany of missteps and failures that surely played in a ruinous loop. 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."

Gargoyle, natural rock formation
"You'd have taken the passage north at the first junction to parallel the river. These eastern corridors would have taken you far out of your way … a long enough walk to visit Levon without a detour, no matter how scenic." The Gargoyle eyed their approach, a face-shaped jut of stone above their path, hardly more water-worn now than he remembered. Once he'd have run hard toward it, leapt up to touch its face for luck. Now he brushed its nose 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 expectant gaze.

After a silent mile's march and at a four-spoked hub, Vincent said, "We're nearing Fordham University, the Botanical Gardens and the zoo … 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." Kanin sighed. "I always thought I'd take Luke to the zoo one day."

"And you will."

Near the base of the stairs, Kanin felt for the hidden lever and the stone wedged open. On the other side, he explored the crevices for the matching device. The doorway secreted again. Kanin stood on the landing, his hand on the seamless wall.  "Do you ever wonder how, Vincent? Why?"

The expected answer, the familiar Yes …  Always … wouldn't come. Wonder blushed his thoughts. How and why mattered less and less, he realized. It was. He was. They … were.

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

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

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

“They were all asleep," Kanin began, regret weighting the relief of telling. "Livy must've had a hard time getting Luke down. 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 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 an angry urge to slam Kanin into the wall, to shout that he was a fool, 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 he would risk everything. For what? What could be worth more than that?

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.

___________


Joe stood in front of the courthouse, waiting for her to emerge from the cab. His briefcase at his feet, he held an extra large coffee in each hand, trapped a bag under one arm. Rocco’s, Catherine read

“Pastries?” she asked. “And is that coffee hot?”

“Yes and yes.” Joe’s smile was bright. “Let’s sit. I need a little something extra this morning. I’d give anything to wrap this one up and be done.”

They found an empty bench inside and Joe held the bag open for her. “I could swoon over the smell alone!" she cried. "What’s in there?”

Zeppole, Italian pastry
“Cannoli of course, two lobster tails and a lulu, and, ummm, well, a pasticiotti, a sfogliatelle, a chocolate and a lemon Zeppole.”

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

“Which do you want?”

“I want the pasticiotti and the lulu. And don’t mope. You asked.”

___

“You seem pleased with yourself this morning,” Catherine said after her last bite. Joe blushed and drained his coffee. “Go on. Tell me,” she prodded. “You called her, didn’t you?”

“I did. In fact, I called her twice.”

“Twice?”

“That’s all you’re getting, Radcliffe. Show time."

She watched Joe from her corner of the elevator. He'd said it 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, she knew. 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.

___


The Medusa! Don’t look! Joe scribbled the words on a legal pad and turned it to her. She barely had time to read it before he jumped up in objection. They were worn out from objecting.

“Damn!” he said, the minute the courtroom cleared for lunch. Stunned, still in their seats, they both dropped their heads to their hands. “I thought she'd be an improvement over her partner," Joe muttered. "I should have known she was snake to his scorpion. We’re quite possibly royally, completely and fundamentally screwed, Radcliffe.”

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

“I don’t know. This woman is something else.” Joe raked his fingers through his hair and rubbed his face, hard.

“Are you hungry?”

“No, but I’d better eat something.”

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

Civic restaurant, D. A. DeliThey trudged up Centre Street to Worth in a morose herd of lawyers. Sheer luck granted them a window seat. Joe hurried her to it with smooth pressure on her elbow.

“It’s gotta be a sign, Cathy. A table. At the D. A. Deli at lunchtime. You sit, I’ll order. Don’t let anybody take my chair.”

Over-the-shoulder glares from those facing the wall, 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.”

“He's evil,” Joe corrected. 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 said, pushing the door open for her.  "Let’s talk about something else.”

“Deal," she said. “So?”

“So ... what?”

“So ... you called her twice?”

Joe blushed again 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? They have an early show.” He ran his fingers inside his collar and tugged at his tie. “And Saturday... she’s ... ummm ... 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. Ears. Elbows. That sort of body part. Your mind is 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 and took a deep, announcing breath. “This morning ... when you got out of the cab? I gotta tell you, Cathy. You looked … great. 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 kind of worried ... you know ... about what I’d said to you, ummm, yesterday. How you’d take it. But I gotta tell you, I’m glad I told you, glad it’s out there. And done with. I don’t want to lose you ... you are more than a friend. 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 gentle, 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 work to do. I’m counting on you to do all the talking. Get with it.”

New York Supreme Court BuildingThe steps of the courthouse loomed before her, the brewing storm casting the pillared entry in deep shadow. "I could think of some places I'd rather be," she said. One, anyway. She felt Joe's gaze.

"No kidding," he said after a long beat. “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 in tow. Kids … Cop who killed … hurry … she heard as they 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. "Humming, Vincent. Heard you”

“I didn’t realize I had an audience.”

“Nobody sneaks up on you ... but me! 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.”

Hmmmm. 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, Vincent. 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."

“You went home last night, right?”

“I did.”

“Then you know.”

“Yes,” he repeated.

_______________


Catherine leaned into Joe’s shoulder. “Where’s our witness?”

“Who, Phan? He’s not here?” Joe scanned the courtroom, then checked his watch. “I talked to him yesterday. He said– Did you look in the hallway? I’ll check the men’s room.”

“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?”

She shook her head, her lips pressed white. “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 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 have to drag this out as long as we can and hope Phan turns up by tomorrow.”

______


The daylight had long faded when Rita delivered a cup of fresh coffee to Catherine’s desk. On the telephone, she smiled her thanks.

“Jenny, it’s Cathy ... no, I’m at work ... we’ve hit a snag. But I wanted to tell you, the mirror you wanted for Ned’s birthday is still for sale. You want to take another look Saturday? Good, yes, breakfast before, sounds great. What? ... Tonight? I wish, Jen. But I’ve got a problem here. Can’t leave ... Say hi to Ned for me, though, okay? The Den on 12th at nine-thirty. 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 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. Not tonight.”

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?”

“Promise,” she nodded and tried to smile.

“Come with us, Cathy,” Rita suggested. “It's just us girls. 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 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. "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.”

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

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

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

“I already called her. We’ll go to Angelo’s instead. 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 pulled everyone close, so close ... and always, there was a wall, an impenetrable, stony limit.

But of late, there was a strange, new hope – a light, distant yet growing in brilliance, a great, moving presence … a chance, an opportunity. That light – beckoning, promising – made the yearning more bearable and it gave her a kind of power, as if she could train its brilliance on that wall in a laser cut. 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.




click HERE for Chapter 10.

______________

1. Matthew Arnold. Longing. from Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. 1852.
2. Stephen Vincent Benet.
The Quality of Courage. 1918.

9 comments:

moving2thetunnels2day said...

Ha! I love the Catherine-Joe dynamic. They're like close siblings (or best friends) -- in each other's business and constantly teasing about things they wouldn't even speak to others about.

Anonymous said...

moving2thetunnels2day ... You're absolutely right about the way Carole has 'positioned' Joe and Catherine in this amazing piece. Aren't they wonderful? And isn't this one of the best portraits of all of these dear people that you've ever read?! I thing Carole is a genius!

AT44 said...

M2tt2d and Anon! Thank you both for the commentary. It means so much to receive feedback and I especially enjoy it when it is positive. :-). I'll have to beg off short of genius, but that does make me smile.

I love Joe and wish he had had dozens more episodes on screen.

AZLadyWolf said...

Carole,

I'm cheating at work doing this but - it's so slow. I'm planning on sending you an email later regarding my theories - I'm re-reading now to make sure I gather all the threads.

But I wanted to let you know -- the exchange between Mouse and Vincent ...the fluttering birds??.... made me want to cry and laugh at the same time. So sweet, and so true to both characters.....
You are a JEWEL!!!

Carole W said...

Laura! I won't tell anyone at work that I saw you here! LOL. Please do send me your theories - I'm anxious to read them.

I love Mouse. He has so much sensitivity and insight and the most curious expression, but I know he's a whole, maturing young man underneath the unusualness. I'm glad you liked the V/Mouse exchange. :-)

Thank you for rereading. And your comments, as always, are treasured.

Carole

Urban Literati said...

Carole, that was a brilliant revision.

Carole W said...

Oh, Rae. Thank you. You know your review matters to me and I'm glad you found it improved. I want to improve it; I need to know it's the best I can do, even if no one rereads it. So thank you for that, for re-reading (which deserves a medal or a gift or something) - and for letting me know your reaction.

PS: I'm glad you had a good reaction!

Krista said...

Oh, Carole---the new bits are just...genius. How on earth do you DO that? It's lovely, though I got a bit...sweet-weepy over Vincent and the alarm clock. It's just so... them

I also loved the added interaction between Kanin and Vincent; it seems like they have much in common though I doubt Kanin wants to hear that just now.

Great job, again and still :)

-Krista

Carole W said...

Ah, Krista. You're good to me. Thank you for starting my day off so positively. You know how grateful I am for you.

These edits have been both fun and a challenge - and educational, as I've forgotten a great deal of what I wrote so many months ago. I always meant for Kanin and V to have similarities. From the perspective of being 2/3 finished with the story, I can see opportunities to better lay that foundation in the beginning.

Eventually I'll have to say "Done" to this story. I'm going to try my hardest to leave these edits the final ones. (I can hear you laughing at me. LOL, I'm laughing at myself.)

Hugs, Krista and thank you again,
C