Iron Behind the Velvet ~ Chapter 58

~ With Pulses That Beat Double 1

I’ll want to hear, he’d said. There’d be much to tell.

The day loomed before her vague and troublesome, but it would end far differently than she’d expected. She’d be here, in his embrace, not miles away, not alone, not required to cache her thoughts or reduce them to a few written lines necessarily cryptic and delivered by an intermediary. Not required to wait, if only for a provisional hour. She pressed her cheek to his chest, to the folded square of history in his pocket, his heart strong-thrumming through it. Their separations had been plenty enough, were ... would be. But this one ... this one was overcome by his asking.

Once Flynn knew ... The report-filing would require several hours at the precinct; the answering machine tapes from her office and her home played and played again. Eimear’s every suspicion would be noted and analyzed – cars with dark headlights slowing on her block, her tire purposely punctured – and Catherine’s memories plumbed the idling station wagon, its skulking passengers. There was evidence to recover from the porch. The premises would be searched. The business of investigation would crowd their home, buffer them from each other, but afterward, the two of them, Flynn and Eimear, alone in the aftermath ... Her presence would be unnecessary.

Where? she’d asked. She could hardly disappear inside the wall right before Flynn’s eyes. Not yet. And her car parked in their driveway – she’d have to move it. When? I don’t know the ways here. Who will meet me? Will it be you? Last night, at Eimear’s window, at her table ... I wasn’t sure–

His warm breath had ruffled the hair at her temple. Coming to me. I knew, Catherine, even as your need, as your reasons changed. As you trusted. As you can always trust.

Yes. Yes, but ...

Her concerns paled beside Eimear’s ...

She’d voiced assurances – Flynn was family, and his brothers on the force would concentrate their protective efforts to locate and detain the suspects, to quickly end this stalking harassment. But efforts didn’t guarantee success, and there was the chance the threat came not from associates of the thugs Flynn had ... stopped ... but from a sympathetic yet unknown, unpredictable party.

... and beside Wren’s.

The image of Edward wavered before her – his small-boned hand in hers, his reminder to share the gift of a baseball card with Joe. Catherine shivered with a twinge of guilt. If Wren and she were anything alike, the night before a trial had a routine, part preparation, part superstition. Practice and practice again in front of a mirror, a tangerine peeled and eaten for luck, the fragrant rind coiled on the bedside table, the Flower Duet from Lakmé – loud – on the stereo the next morning, over and over until she left for court. Wren’s life below, still so new, was already on an uneven keel. Stuart was gone with the crews and his absence – the without of his company and the reason for it – muddled everything. Add to that the surprise of Eimear’s arrival, the inevitable loss of sleep ...

She thought of Mr. Haas, of his daughter who, instead of sitting prayerfully at her father’s bedside, now made his funeral plans, of Phan, of the cruel reward for his courage. For Eimear and Flynn, for Wren, for Edward, too, things could go terribly wrong. 

But dismal thoughts would help nothing and no one. A cheerful guise was required of her, of both of them, a denial of the dark.

Their communication, she told him, her fingers brushing his up-turning lips, would be so improved if only they might telephone.

His arms tightened around her. Until tonight. 

cavern room with cubbyholes chiseled into the rock
Hand in hand, they left the shadowed harbor of the outcrop, rounding a craggy corner into the rift passage that spilled them to a broader avenue. She’d traveled the corridor the night before, once Wren had departed with Eimear and Vincent to read Liz’s two young sons to sleep. On their way to the guest chambers, Liz had pointed out the storerooms pocketing the route. Blankets and quilts and pillows in one armoire-lined chamber; clothing ready to wear or recycle in another. A first-aid closet in a shallow hollow. A wall riddled with natural cubbyholes stuffed with bundles of fragrant kindling – dried rosemary and sage and lavender – and baskets of pinecones and cedar twigs for their braziers. A reading room with books on rusted, rolling carts – a satellite of their main library, the offerings changed out once a month. They’re scattered all over,  Liz had added. Some ... private collections. You should ask Vincent about Father’s prize copy of the Decameron.

Ahead, a wooden supply cart laden with metal thermos jugs was parked outside one of the fresh-water alcoves. A down-rush, Catherine remembered the springs were called here. The community a township; the bathing chambers, change-rooms; the library the Athenaeum; the assembly hall a ballroom. Everything a little different, not quite so ... orthodox. Wilder, less restrained, Vincent had described the northern tunnels, his affection for the variance, evident in his fleetingly wistful expression she realized now, as much for the lifestyle as the geography, for his boyish freedoms before ...

She looked up at him, her heart commanded by his imagined young self. That funny little voice he had, Sam had recalled when he recounted the history of the angle-scope. Scrapey-like. And the face of the boy she’d seen in Rosie’s drawing, delighted with the moon. His grip on her hand changed and he tipped his head, but she smiled away his questioning look. Tonight – she’d have tonight. And tomorrow. And their lifetime together ... to hear his stories, happy and sad. To explore the caverns of his first feelings and discoveries. To one by one, if she could, move every stone of the boulder choke that ever dared circumscribe his dreams.  

“One of those waters goes to the sentry station at Indian Field,” they heard Liz say, and two young boys – boys Catherine didn’t know – emerged from the fountainhead, between them carrying a tall galvanized bucket by its handles, a bucket filled with sprays of white lilacs. Liz followed closely on their heels, and behind her, Wren ... then Eimear, who paused in the entryway to snug her empty tin mug in a crate destined for the scullery, to knuckle a crystal droplet from her lips. Her eyes were wide in the candlelight world.

a cavern springThe water from this spring was particularly crisp, Catherine knew, having stopped in with Liz to fill a cup for herself. As cold as snow at midnight and as magical, coursing over terraces of flowstone to welling pools, overspilling the rims to be channeled mysteriously away. The walls of the enclosure sparkled with striations of blue-green chrysocolla; the roof was crusted with a druze of satin selenite like frost-flecked roses. A breathtaking place, an amazement among amazements. She reached for Eimear’s hand. The awed wonder would never, ever be lost; it would change everything, for always.

“We’re here,” Catherine said, gathering her to a hug.

Eimear’s answer was muffled against her shoulder. “We are.”

Liz watched the young crew argue the vessel of flowers in among the water jugs already loaded on the wagon, saying nothing, only tapping her foot twice when, set aside while the heavy thermoses were redistributed, the bucket nearly tipped. Vincent offered neither guidance nor assistance, and soon enough, the boys stood back, their efforts presented for review. Liz nodded her satisfaction. “Another goes to the sentry under the Taylor monument,” she further instructed. “And the big ones to the last chamber off the holiday alley. The flowers, too. Go there first. The footbridge over the lake is too narrow and too steep for the cart, remember. You’ll have to tote everything across, so be careful.” Liz bore a set of bed linens in her hands. Aged the color of rich cream, showing a scalloped trim of eyelet embroidery, the sheets were folded flat and square, as neatly as if they’d come from Bergdorf’s shelves, though tied with a ribbon of jute instead of satin. “Leave these on the bureau,” she finished, handing over the bedding. “The whole trip should take you about an hour. No fooling around or you’ll miss breakfast.”

With a wave, the boys trundled off, their conversation, once they were well distanced from the adults, conspiratorial. Vincent shook his head. “That route takes them very near the Viking Course. An hour ...”

“I’ve heard stories,” Liz said, still staring after her charges. “You and Noah and Stu, coming back half-busted up trying to best each other. They want obstacles? The army should train down there.” She sighed, with affection, Catherine believed. With experience. “They’re friends, Gio and Vernon, and yesterday they had a knock-down, drag-out fight, over what I still don’t know. This oughtta give ‘em a way to patch it up or finish it. I figure we’ll see those two back about noon. We might need to send out for some ice.” Her hands parked on her hips, Liz swiveled their direction and glowered. “You two lovebirds missed coffee, you know.”

Wren’s raised brows disappeared under her long, pale bangs. No doubt people offered their morning greetings differently where she came from. But Liz managed to scowl most good-naturedly, and after a moment, Wren chuckled, over her head sharing a small smile with Eimear. It was good they could smile.

“Don’t say that!” Catherine cried, her response only half-teasing. As if alert to the potential consequences of a morning with no caffeine, Vincent side-stepped away, but from his just-separate position, she noted, he studied the company of women, face to face to face. 

“The next round’s brewing,” Liz said. “But Wren’s walking you out, and she’s gotta get a move on. We reopened the short-cut to Woodlawn last night. That’ll shave off a good fifteen minutes, you don’t mind climbing a couple ladders.”

“My clothes for court are in the apartment,” Wren explained. In her bibbed dress – originally overalls, the leg seams ripped open, the resulting triangular spaces filled in with corduroy and calico – she was dressed for her own, but not for a judge’s chambers. “I need to check messages,” she  added, “in case there’s been a postponement. I can’t believe it, and I’ve done it a hundred times, but I pass pretty much right by Eimear’s entrance on my way to Dix’s.”

The apartment. Not our apartment, not home. It wasn’t lost on Catherine – Wren had more than adapted to tunnel life. The fashion, the enterprise, the vocabulary, the allegiance, seemed in her ... not learned but found.

Eimear’s attentions had been drawn by the corridor’s daybreak bustle, drawing herself a few curious stares from the passing unintroduced, but her head came ‘round at the designation. Her entrance. No doubt Liz and Wren had unrolled the sector maps and the city overlay, charted the route to Eimear’s address. An older drawing, one of Noah’s grandfather’s making, might have labeled old Father Seamus‘s portal differently, but the church-wall threshold was surely marked now, as Catherine’s was, with the small diamond-inside-a-circle-shape signifying friend.

Come. Join the circle. You’re one of us now. The words had lost none of their gladness. Catherine turned to Vincent, but after a moment’s shared commemoration, his gaze unfixed from hers, roved the group again.

Is there something I should see? Tendrils of soft spun fire escaped Eimear’s loose braid, their feathery weightlessness a first effect of the pure mineral waters in which they bathed below. Yesterday’s anxious contrast of freckles to ivory skin was tempered by the rose-blush of her cheeks, the sooty exhaustion nearly faded from beneath her eyes. Though Catherine remembered her own first journeys belowher stunned speechlessness, the solemnity of the contract she affirmedEimear was, perhaps, too quiet, and when she brought her hands from their clasp behind her back, she twisted her wedding ring about her finger.

Wren’s fists bunched in her embroidered patch pockets. A tell. Nervousness, perhaps. Perhaps only eagerness to wade in, do her job. Joe’s was the same – the obscured clenching and unclenching of his hands the signal of an internal commotion he believed he kept off the record. Hers, he’d countered, was a death-grip on her pencil.

And Liz. Cawfee for coffee, howa for hour, war duh for water, Liz’s was as strong a Hell’s Kitchen accent as Catherine had ever heard. Always brisk, now she seemed directorial – her voice just overloud in this intimate theater, the conversation steered to the everyday. Perhaps she endeavored only to divert both Eimear and Wren from anxious thoughts, Wren’s court hearing and Eimear’s looming revelation not dismissed, but subtly branded handleable. No hill to a climber, her father used to tell her before any challenge, be it the lead in Joan of Arc, or sitting the bar exam. Or was it more than that?

Wren’s breathing drew suddenly sharp and audible over her teeth. His arms coming up as if to catch something lobbed his way, Vincent took a step forward, retreating when Wren produced a packet of saltines and scratched it open. The baby. Morning sickness on top of everything else. “Should you sit down?” Catherine asked, a qualm of conscience winging through her. “Do you need some water?”

Erg,” Wren responded, but she sank to the rush-seated stool Catherine dragged from the chairs half-circled outside the reading room, accepted the brimming cup Eimear dashed for. Liz rubbed circles between her shoulder blades as Wren took three small sips of chilled water, nibbled a single cracker corner to corner. The second from the package almost at her lips, she whistled mutely out, looked up and past Catherine ... and grinned.

Vincent closed the distance he’d kept, reached out for the blue-speckled mug Wren held. “Are you good to go?” he asked, the soft tenor of his voice threaded with familiarity.

“If I go right now,” Wren said, easing the remaining wafer into its cellophane sleeve.

Catherine was surprised by a sudden joy, its warm, amber glow like a topaz held to the light of the sun. There’s something private between them, she realized. Something sweet. That he would allow her to see it ...

“You have a child to save.” Vincent helped Wren to her feet. “And you will prevail,” he said. “I have no doubt.”

Wren dusted her skirt of crumbs. “I’m not losing Edward.” She exchanged a look with Eimear, with Liz. With Vincent. “I’ll do what it takes."

Liz clapped her hands, dispelling a silence that had not quite fallen between them. “Time to get all our shows on the road,” Liz decreed. At a polite distance across the corridor, a congregation of tunnel denizens had formed, books in hand, water jugs and empty baskets on the floor; now they shifted their feet, bent to their belongings. Liz caught Catherine’s eye and winked. “Vincent ... Before you go, I need you to hop down to the laundry. I got a string of lights with all the bulbs out. With everybody gone on the crews, the work around here’s piling up. You can probably reach ‘em standing on the tables. Otherwise, I gotta drag the ladder down the spiral.” Before he could do more than blink, Liz went airily on. “And you had a message from Mouse. The water trap’s fouled up.”

Catherine hadn’t thought Vincent held his breath, but he sighed out as if he had long anticipated the announcement. “What did Mouse have to say ... exactly.”

Liz tipped her head. “Let me think ... Stupid flap gate. Need Vincent. Need Noah and Stuart. He might have added a second stupid.”

“Noah and Stuart were to begin the closure between Vireo Avenue and Webster. There’s no pipe within a level of that location.”

“I’ve already sent a runner,” Liz said, unbuttoning her cuffs and rolling up first one sleeve, then the other. “And packed up a lunch hamper – sandwiches, a tin of cookies and half a pound cake, the kind with pecans and butterscotch chips in it Noah’s mom told me you liked. It’s on the folding table in the laundry chamber with your name on it, but you might want to hurry.”

Business as usual. It couldn’t be serious; it couldn’t be dangerous ... not if Liz could talk about cookies and cake, or send him on a trivial mission to replace burned-out light bulbs, a task she'd teasingly but specifically disavowed only hours ago. Vincent had told her of a herringboned ceiling he’d installed, a diagonal dragon beam its anchor, of the steel spikes he driven to lock the joists and bear the assertive vibration from the subway terminal above. I’ll take you there, he’d promised when she’d wished once again for a camera’s evidence of one of his many skills. He’d told her nothing about a water trap.

Vincent smiled – at the nothingness of it, she might have inferred had he not afterward crossed his arms and studied the toe of one boot. Had the problem, whatever it was, been announced too casually? Liz’s words ... coded? Something spidery inched up her spine. He kneaded the back of his neck. With concern? With sufferance? A wave of all that could happen swelled at her horizon.

Farewell. A word that must be, and hath been.2 It had been a long parting.

“You’re welcome here,” Liz said, reaching out with both hands for Eimear’s. “Any time. Any time. You don’t need an invitation; I’ll look forward to you. But it’s easy to get lost. You can end up places ... Well, we try to make it hard to find a way in, harder to find a way out. Close to home, Wren will show you the message pipe you’re to use, give you a special summons code. Use it. Someone will come for you. Don’t – please don’t – wander down alone until you’re sure of the way.”

“I won’t,” Eimear whispered. “And don’t worry. I’ll never–”

“You don’t have to say it,” Liz interrupted. “I’m not as good as some with the flowery language, but seeing as how far this all braids back ... the only question I have for you is what took you so long?” She tapped her heart, an allegiance bestowed and recognized. “You’ve got some muck to wade through today, and I’ll be thinking of you, but it’s gonna be all right. And until it is, you don’t want to stay home by yourself? We’re here. Have been, will be.”

“Thank you.”

“You bet,” Liz said, Wren’s signature phrase almost comical in her accent, garnering a wobbly smile from Eimear, a glistening eye. Had she a mirror, Catherine was sure she’d find the same thanksgiving on her own face. Liz slipped one arm around Wren’s waist and lay a quiet hand on her rounding belly. “You remember Gideon, right? Big guy, plays the saxophone? He’ll be outside Family Court today, across the street in Collect Pond Park. I don’t expect anything but good news about Edward, but I can’t wait until you get home tonight to find it out. Wrap a note inside a five-dollar bill and pitch it in his case. Now we can use the pipes again, I’ll hear inside half an hour.” Liz moved on to Catherine, reached up and pinched her cheek. “Father said you were an agent of change.”

“Did he? And was that all he said?”

Liz chuckled. “Hardly.” She rocked up on her toes, gave Vincent’s lapel a sharp tug. “Light bulbs, don’t forget. I got lilacs to arrange.” Without a look back, Liz ... bustled off, her determined stride an example to the rest of them. 

Catherine telling Vincent goodbye
“Vincent ...” Catherine began. Be careful. I love you. Be careful. Be careful. Be careful.

He brought her hands to his lips. “Always,” he whispered against her knuckles.

He touched Wren’s shoulder gently, briefly, and her chin came up. “Think only the best,” he said. “Anticipate only the best. Success begins with your will, Wren, which is strong. You will not fail this boy.”

Close-up of Vincent, the tunnel wind blowing his hair, a last, backward look
His cloak swinging with his three long strides, he swept to a chiseled cove and with a blaze of appeal, bid Eimear to follow. The silver charms flashed in the torchlight and chinked as he dropped both into her outstretched palm. He bent his head toward hers. Whatever he said to her, he said too quietly for Catherine, for anyone else, to hear, and Eimear listened, intent on his words, unwavering in her focus. At the end of his discourse, she ran one finger down the slim amulet, turned it over, pointed to some significance, her response a murmur. He closed her fingers over the medallions in her possession once more, cupped her hand between both of his, leaned yet closer. Eimear nodded ... nodded again.

When he turned to her, Catherine offered him her steady gaze though her pulse beat wildly in her throat. And then ... then ... he was gone.

Click HERE for Chapter 59 ...


1. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sonnets form the Portuguese. VI.
2. George Gordon, Lord Byron. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: CLXXXVI. 


Krista said...

Hmmm...there are some deep currents here, Carole, much that isn't really said. Maybe I'm overthinking the wheel, but didn't Liz tell Catherine she'd not have Vincent changing lightbulbs simply because he was there...and now he (allegedly) is? You sure you don't have a second career as a mystery writer? ;)

I love the currents, though---Wren and Vincent, the echoes of something sweet (I remember that scene---"the 'fly" still tickles me!) And why do I hear Cyndi's voice when Liz speaks? :)

Great job, again and still. I know I always say it, but it's always true. You'll just have to deal :)


Carole W said...

Thanks, Krista!

Liz did indeed tell Catherine she'd not have Vincent changing lightbulbs just because he's there. Hence the wink. And yes, something's abrew, to be elaborated upon in the next chapter (and the next, most likely). Not really a mystery, but Liz is sensitive to Wren, her impending hearing/responsibilites and her newness to the tunnel experience. She'd not want to worry her before there's something to really worry about.

LOL, you hear Cyndi? I'll have to listen to some Boston Youtubers to see how the accents overlap. I was trying for E's husband's accent. I'll have to ask her how she might phonetically spell tournament (toonamit??!) so I can somehow work that word in.

Thanks again,

Carole W said...

PS - and thanks particularly for remembering Vincent's scenes with Wren, his 'fly' and her afternoon sickness. It's been a really long time since that chapter, I know.

Krista said...

Ahhh, okay, got it. :D And of course I remember the "fly" scene--it's one of many I've got stored in my mental file cabinet ;) Still cracks me up, no matter how many times I've read it. And that scene between Wren and Vincent was incredibly sweet. :)

I'll confess right now I'm horrible with placing New England accents, so it's possible I'm "mishearing" things...but still, how lovely to get an authentic New York accent Below. No one else seems to have one, even the ones who rightfully should. ;)

I'll be very interested to see what happens next, what Liz was so artfully not saying. ;)

-Krista :)

Anonymous said...

Ooooo! So many things are happening in this chapter. I told you I was waiting patiently for this chapter, but now I'm very anxious to know what happens next. I think I may have told you to take your time, but I take that back. I want more asap. :)

I loved Vincent's whisper to Catherine's hands. Sigh. I hope you're going to tell us what Vincent said to Eimear? I always feel like I am right there in the scenes. I have to stop and remind myself all the time that these characters were not actually in the series.
Your friend,

Carole W said...

Hi, Annabella! You're so kind. There's really no better feeling than hearing you're enjoying the story. I"m humbled and very pleased you feel the original characters are fitting to the on-screen story. Thank you. You made my day.

LOL, yes, I'll be filling in the details of Vincent's conversation with Eimear in the next chapter, I promise. And I'll explore the mystery of the poetry and the problem with the water trap. Yikes, I'd better get busy!

Have a great time on your vacation. (I'm totally jealous.)


Brenda K said...


Each chapter seems to layer more intricacies, as we advance step by slow step toward solving the ones already woven thus far. I love the complexity of this story (these stories!) but I am not nearly as patient a reader as all that (books in one sitting, even if it takes all night....)

My curious mind is questing for the path by which Flynn comes Below, meets Vincent -- I thought I could see it once, but not now. And I'm still holding the threads of Rosie's statue, Martin's growing friendship with Vincent, Joe's involvement with Rosie, and even Jennie's next overture to Catherine (no one abandons a friendship as longstanding as theirs without one last attempt to bridge the opened gulf).

Liz seems an edgier, more forceful version of Mary, suited to the wilderness of the North. I think I like her even better - hard-nosed, take-charge, managing.

There's a strange parallel between Catherine and Wren -- the leader's wife pulled into the tribe from a foreign place, bringing new ideas into a close-knit community, wrestling with issues of integration and adaptation. Some deep, abiding urge of such leaders, to seek beyond their tribe for mates -- spirits needing the new, the challenging, not the familiar. I can almost envision an ancient Irish clan, assimilating a foreign Isolde -- but with happier result here.

And what a way to start a workday!

Carole W said...

Hi, Brenda. Oh dear, I'm sorry to try your patience. Believe me, I get impatient with myself, so I understand your feelings. In my defense, I do have that disclaimer on the main page and on the table of contents page, that the story's unfinished and I'm a slow writer. I promise never again to post as I write and hopefully no future story will go on so long. Thanks though for hanging with for this long.

Your curiosities are a check-list for the remainder of the story - all your questions will be answered in one way or another. I'm actually glad you can't quite figure out how Vincent might meet Flynn. I wouldn't want the end of the story to be without some drama and mystery left. Flynn might come below; Vincent might go above. (I promise I do know what is going to happen. I'm not winging it here at the end, but had the end of the story in my mind before I wrote the first word!! I always envision the ends first.)

There aren't really any new intricacies introduced in this chapter, just expansions of earlier intimations. The northern tunnels are becoming more real to Catherine and remembered by Vincent. There's quite a bit that could happen there.

I like your last paragraph very much!!! A very intriguing way to put things. Eloquent and evocative!

Thanks always for your interest and kind words.


Anonymous said...

"Come. Join the circle. You’re one of us now."

Such simple words, and yet how extraordinarily profound they are. Welcome. Acceptance. Inclusion. Friendship. Family. Union.

Don't you wish you could BE Eimear and experience the wonder of this unhoped-for vision and frienship come true?

I would love to know what Vincent told Eimear. I'm sure he shared with her his perspective on Flynn's feelings and reaction to her troubles. "I MUST protect her." Vincent knows this in his bones all too well. How good it will be when these two warrior/protectors finally meet and have a chance to experience the brotherhood they both so badly need.

More, more, MORE, said the always greedy child!

Regards, Lindariel

P.S. Apologies for the delay in commenting, but I have been traveling on business and have not had a chance to indulge in pleasure-surfing on the web!

Brenda K said...


Do not apologize for the time you take to write -- the result is well worth the wait. I am, whether fortunately or unfortunately, a VERY fast reader. Serializations are only a problem when they are never finished. I am overwhelmingly pleased to be reading your story as it develops, instead of waiting months or years for the entirety. My impatience is in direct proportion to the story's excellence.

Carole W said...

Brenda - you're a sweetheart. Hugs for that. :-) You've really boosted my spirits!


Carole W said...

Hey, Lindariel! Yes, I wish I could be Eimear! LOL. I'm trying so hard not to mary-sue myself into the story and let Eimear be Eimear! I'd be happy (very happy) to be Rosie too! And I wish I were Catherine, oh boy, do I, though for slightly different purposes! :-D

I promise to fill in the Vincent/Eimear conversation. You're absolutely right - Vincent's comment to Father - "This is Catherine. I must protect her," was one of the most powerful ever. He does know. I think he might have said some things to Eimear he might not have said to Catherine at the time. He's done some changing though - beginning to speak up and out. Oh, now I wish I weren't sleepy - I'd start on that tonight.

(However, I want cake so badly I'm going to have to go hunt something sweet up in the kitchen.)

The Flynn/Vincent meeting ... I'm anxious for it myself.

Thank you so much for your kind words and your support and friendship. I'm so lucky.