Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 48


~ They Shall be Tuned to Love 1


Catherine at her desk, listening to a cassette recorder
The second cassette whirred to its end. Catherine drew in a sharp breath, as if she’d stepped into a shock of cold water, as if its inevitable rise lapped already at her knees. 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.

“I can’t.”

“Eimear ...”

“I can’t.”

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. Miles beneath this city, a nameless river runs through the darkness. Sometimes I go there.2

“This happened to me once. A stalker. A watcher.”

Eimear showed no surprise for their sad commonality. Her eyes narrowed; her lips thinned. “And what did you do? Did you tell Vincent? The police?”

“Vincent knew. Joe ... knew.”

Knowing. There’s some nuance you’re not sharing. And Joe’s not the police.” Eimear winced and shook her head, began again to circle the ring on her finger, her voice, when she spoke, just above a whisper. “If he thought, even for a moment, what he did, who he is, might threaten me, might frighten me ...”

She’d have borne anything to protect him. I can handle fear.

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, that very fear clouding the crystal knowledge they were stronger as one.

“It would be worse for him if ...” Catherine couldn’t finish, didn’t need to 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 that,” 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 a puncture.” 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.”

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 misinterpreted Eimear’s response. Later, I’ll explain, she silently vowed. And there would be a later. “When did this start?”

“The first phone calls, just hang-ups when I’d answer, on Friday. Friday afternoon.”

“At your office? 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 their address, Catherine grumbled, only half to herself. Might as well have come right out and said she’d 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,” 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 is probably 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 Hughs. 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. Too close. They’d come too close. 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. 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 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 ...”

“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. I’ve dragged you into a bog for what’s likely nothing. Kids, I’m thinking. 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. Benign things, she’d told Joe. But the voice on the answering machine was neither young nor angry. Cold. Steely with decision. Tell him. An eye for an eye.

“The men at 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–”

“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.”

“Eimear ...”

“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 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 long into 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 and then, I’m going home with you.”

Voices sounded in the connecting hallway, a few overheard words unraveling the strange braid of joy and apprehension and anticipation in her mind. Skid and yaw marks, impact findings. Mark and Penny and Tejai from Trial, she realized. The blood search warrant she’d drafted for Vehicular Crimes was ready. On her desk ... somewhere. She could hand it over and dash out, but they’d want to talk it through. She riffled a stack of folders, another, 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.

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 chime of her name.

Catherine glanced at her watch. Father was expecting her for late tea  – or her regrets. She’d not had time to compose a written message to him should Gideon be on the street to deliver it, should Billy again sail by. Her threshold, then. The rubbled doorways, the glowing light beyond. The pipes. There’re some things I need to tell you – about the place I’m taking you. Never fully believing the time would come, when she would be so sure, she had no words of introduction readied. Their story was ... fantastic, yet there’d be no doubt in Eimear’s mind once a reply came tapping back.

But no signal would wend to Vincent, not from her basement. 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 she couldn’t reach Dix to arrange for a key, for entry through the print shop. But there was another doorway. And he would be there. He’d know. “Eimear ...” she began.

A New York city traffic jam of yellow cabs
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 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. Peeled from the clutch at the curb, one hand in the air waving, huffing a not-so-discreet pump of breath spray from the other ... Harbrace? Hickman? Harcourt.

“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. “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. Althea burbled and hummed. Sighed and settled. Surrendered to sleep.

Leaning at the chiseled entrance, Mary released a long breath, a nearly silent whistle of relief. Olivia looked over her shoulder at the sound, her lips in a shaky, unsure curve, her hands clasped and raised in entreaty. A flash of the old Olivia, Mary believed. Still there. Without a word between them, they tiptoed from the children’s chamber to the living area and on to its farthest corner 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 niche in the nursery 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. Mary pointed at the kettle’s 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 misery. A moment passed and Olivia offered a steadier, more familiar grin. She filled the two mugs with cool water from a flowered china pitcher, wedged the half lemon on the sideboard and squeezed it in. With exaggerated slowness, they each pulled out a chair from the table and sank to a rush-webbed seat.

A patchwork quilt in the Storm at Sea pattern“Thank you for the quilt. 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 and the final touches to the baby’s shades-of-ocean-blue quilt. A year ago, Olivia would have laughed at the imagery, at the appropriateness of the pattern’s name. Now ...

“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 prodding and smoothing the array. A silver spoon lay bowl-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?”

Weeks had passed with Olivia trudging the days detached and preoccupied. Remembering the ... occasion ... was surely a good sign. Engaging in what she would have called girl-talk, decades ago. But there was no tease in Olivia’s voice, Mary noted. 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 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 diners. She didn’t have to go Above to know that. I’ll be making a report soon enough, she grumbled 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 years ago. But colors seen by candlelight, will not look the same by day.3

Oh, why did I agree 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 Olivia 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 wedding feast? Yes. And easy to reheat. There’d be  a working oven in the apartment, a stock of dishes and silverware. They’d need only to order carry-out, stash the bag of boxes by the apartment door, ring the bell ...

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 close-up, looking serious“Livvy?”

Kanin’s voice was hoarse with love and apology, as tortured and hopeful any man’s she’d ever heard. 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 in the doorway, willing herself invisible and fleet. His arms were laden with sprays of magenta and violet and white, their starry blooms undulled in the lack of light, their scent undimmed. Secreted beyond a jut of stone, an arching blossom clutched in her hand, mysteriously gifted, she waited ... waited to hear ...

Oh. Oh, Kanin. Kanin.”


Click HERE for Chapter 49

___________________

1. William Wordsworth. To My Sister. From Lyrical Ballads. 1798.
2. When the Blue Bird Sings. Season 2.
3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Lady's "Yes". 1844.

12 comments:

Vicky said...

Oh wow! Ooooohhh... everything's coming together! Eimier, Kanin...
Ah, the parallels... Carole, I'm squirming and wriggling sitting here in the floor, now I really can't wait! (I know, don't I say that every time?) I just love it when you go into Catherine's (or Vincent's) thoughts that way, in that style... taking us with you, within...
Love you. Thanks for another wonderful chapter!

Krista said...

Oh, Carole. (I keep saying that. You'll have to forgive me for starting so many of my comments that way :-P) This is... glorious . I can feel all of these threads being knit together---Catherine getting someone truly on her side of the river; Eimear, sensing the labyrinth drawing them near but not knowing its full shape; Mary and Sebastian; Kanin and Olivia...

*happy sigh* There is such magic here.

Fantastic work,

Krista :)

Vicky said...

PS: Iiiiiick!!! Forgive me for misspelling Eimear's name... yet again!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Krista! I begin so many messages with, "Oh, Carole . . ."!

Oh, Carole! I love the way you've captured Catherine's remembered horror over The Watcher when she learns about Eimear's situation, and her deep understanding of Eimear's conflicting desires over how or whether to involve/protect Flynn, especially after the ordeal he's just suffered and is still processing. As the Warrior's Spouse, how do you honor their duty while still protecting their vulnerabilities?

And, YAY!!!! Kanin returns home!!!!

MORE, please.

Best regards,

Lindariel

Carole W said...

You guys, Vicky, Krista, Lindariel. You have to know that I post a chapter and hold my breath. Will it resonate at all, will it gather momentum, will it ring true. I question every word and it's scary to say, okay, here it is. Particularly now, after all this time of editing, to venture into new waters. But your willingness to read and let me know what you think means so much. I'm relieved and grateful and very pleased you're interested still.

Vicky - having Catherine's inner thoughts seem true to character to you is my litmus test. I can't bear to do her wrong - and I know you'll tell me if I do.

Krista - glorious, magic. How kind of you. I'm printing your message out, because I can't truly believe it, but I do hope... I'll work hard to deserve your words.

You've noted exactly what I hoped you would. Eimear, Catherine too - they don't know what's to come. Catherine's is a leap of faith, not only in Eimear, but in herself. What doors will open once a commitment is realized? Bless you for seeing this in this story. I'm so glad.

Lindariel, you've distilled my hope for this chapter. Your question about the warrior's spouse is exactly what I wanted to convey. Now, my challenge is to answer it!!! And the warrior's spouse is a warrior too. How will I depict her glory and her charge and her quest? I will do my best to do justice to these character. Thank you for pulling for them and for me. Your support means so much.

Hugs to you all,
Carole

Carole W said...

Vicky, misspell away. That you're here is all that matters. Besides, her name is an odd one! Some Gaelic words seem like long strings of consonants!

Krista said...

LOL on the Gaelic misspelling thing. I might have told you this, or not, but we took some guff from various assorted relatives over our daughter's Gaelic name. I think I finally told someone, "Look, we could have named her Caoileann, all right?" (It's pronounced Kee-lin.) By comparison, Roisin's name is...pretty easy to spell ;)

And now, of course, the various assorted relatives love her name. Imagine that :-D

RomanticOne said...

Soooo worth the wait! The anticipation is killing me. Each chapter brings them closer yet. Wish I knew how to print a squeal.

Carole W said...

Krista - that's a lovely name too. One of my favorites is Eibhilín (ay-LEEN). Another tricky spelling.

Such magical places they take us too, these words. They all sound like music, don't they?

Carole W said...

R1 - I squealed because you squealed! I'm so glad you're enjoying the story as it gathers speed toward the end. Thanks for telling me. Your encouragement makes me want to work ever harder.

Carole

NYC Utopia said...

Adding my belated, flat thanks, oohs and aahs to the choir (and a small gasp for the cliffhanger). I very much approve of the directions your arrows are pointing. I especially second what Lindariel said so well. Also very happy with your wee announcement/acknowledgement of many more chapters to come ;)
Hugs

Carole W said...

Thanks, Claire! I'm a little panicked that I'll never get to the end of the story, but I'm really glad to know you don't mind it being longer. Thank you so much for all you said. It's important, about the arrows. :-)

Hugs, miss you,
Carole