Beauty and the Beast Forever - Dancing in the Shadows

Dancing in the Shadows

Ayiana

Chapter 3

The trip passed in a blur of rock and brick and what seemed like endlessly lengthening tunnels. Vincent couldn't run fast enough. His legs, strong as they were, refused to carry him with the speed he required, and he pushed harder, faster, leaning forward, his head down as he charged through little used passageways.

Her fear fed his desperation, lending still more speed to his bounding stride, and out of the corner of his eye he saw more than one sentry blink in surprise as he passed.

And then he was there. He sensed her just beyond the wall, heard her cry out for help in his mind. With a bellow of fury, he threw himself at the concrete. It gave way in a shower of dust and flying debris and he was through, and he needed only a glance to understand what needed to be done.

The stranger's gun was raised, his narrowed gaze intent on Catherine's fallen form. Vincent leapt across the room and smashed the man back against the wall, sending the gun flying out of his hands. The man screamed in pain and surprise, and Vincent roared again before lashing out, silencing another scream with a single furious swipe of his claws.

Thick blood spilled from the man's mouth and throat, filling the air with its warm, coppery smell. There was a last, slow gurgle of escaping air, and the would-be killer slumped to the floor.

Vincent spun back to Catherine. Desperate to reassure himself that she was real, that he wasn't dreaming, he fell to his knees beside her, swept her hair aside, and searched for a pulse. Relief washed over him when he found it. Faint and thready, it beat a rapid tattoo against the sensitive tips of his fingers.

Sudden, fierce joy exploded in him, but before he could react to it, a distant sound caught his attention, and he jerked his head up to listen. He heard footsteps, and the sound of a door being opened, followed by a vicious curse. Whoever it was, they were moving fast. And they were angry.

And Catherine was badly injured, with a wound in her arm that continued to bleed despite his best efforts to staunch the flow. He tore a strip from the thin blanket and fashioned it into a makeshift bandage, tying it tightly enough to apply pressure without cutting off her circulation. Then he gathered her into his arms. She felt so light, so fragile. A wounded bird, all hollow bones and flightless wings.

He slipped back through the hole and into the tunnels. Several feet down the passage, he rounded a bend and paused to send out an emergency message on the pipes. He could feel her blood soaking into his tunic. Holding her close, he set off at a run. He wouldn’t risk losing her again.

When he arrived at the hospital chamber, Father was already there, waiting. And Mary, dear Mary, had left her bed to assist.

"Vincent. What’s happened?" Father’s voice was urgent as Vincent lay Catherine down on the bed. Unable to let her go completely, he stayed beside her, taking her hand in his.

"She’s alive, Father."

"Yes, I see that. But how?"

"Later, Father. She needs your help."

"Yes, of course." Father lifted the blanket away from Catherine’s injury, eying her pale skin and blue-tinged lips. "She’s lost a great deal of blood."

Vincent looked up. "Help her, Father. Please."

But Father was already giving urgent instructions to Mary while he chose the instruments he needed from his bag. It was slow, painstaking work. Through it all, Vincent refused to leave her side, shifting occasionally to help Father or Mary with some necessary task, but otherwise keeping his eyes on Catherine's face. Finally, Father gave her a shot of antibiotics and stepped back from the bed with a weary sigh.

"She's very lucky, Vincent. The bullet missed most of the major blood vessels, and it went all the way through. The wound itself should heal quickly enough. But she's lost a lot of blood—"

"She's strong, Father."

"She should be Above. In a proper hospital."

"No. It's not safe up there for her."

"How did it happen?"

Vincent shook his head. "There was a man chasing her. I . . . stopped him. When I returned to Catherine's side, she was already unconscious."

Father sighed and untied his apron. "You’ll need to keep a close watch, and let me know at once if her temperature rises."

"I won't leave her side."

"No," said Father, his eyes going to Vincent’s determined grip on Catherine’s hand. "No, I don’t suppose you will."

"Can she be moved?"

"Moved? Where?"

"To my chambers. I believe she will rest more comfortably there."

"Ah. Well, I suppose it'll be all right as long as you’re careful."

"Of course." Vincent lifted her into his arms once more, nestled her body close against the warmth of his own, and left the medical chamber. His entire soul, every ounce of will he possessed, was focused on Catherine, on keeping her alive. He’d thought her dead, had mourned her passing, but somehow she'd been returned to him, and he would do whatever it took to keep her safe, to help her heal.

In his chambers, he left her side only long enough to change into clean clothes, setting the blood-stained ones aside. He ran his fingers over the stiffened fabric. The man responsible for this would pay with his life.

For the first time, the thought of shedding the blood of another gave him nothing but grim satisfaction.

Mary appeared in the doorway, a bundle of clothing in her arms.

"I’ve brought her some things," Mary said. "She’ll be warmer—"

"Mary, how thoughtful of you." Vincent glanced over at Catherine. He’d helped to change her gown the first time she’d come to the tunnels. Then, it had been a simple matter of seeing to the comfort of an injured and helpless human being. But that had been before. Would it make Catherine uneasy to discover he'd performed such an intimate task now? Something told him it wouldn't.

Still, perhaps it would be better . . . He turned back to Mary. "Would you mind? I’d like to see William about some tea."

Mary nodded. "Of course."

"Can I bring you anything from the kitchen?"

"No, thank you." Mary set the bundle down on the table. "I’m meeting Father for tea as soon as I’m done here. And the children will be up soon. They’ll want company while they eat their breakfast."

"Yes." He started for the door.

"Vincent."

"Yes?" He turned back, his eyes going automatically to the still figure on the bed.

"She’s going to get well, Vincent. Father's a good doctor."

Vincent nodded and left her to her work.

********************

When he returned to his chambers, Vincent set the tea tray down on the table and crossed to the bed. Mary had changed Catherine into a soft gown and brushed the tangles out of her hair before settling her under the covers. She looked like an angel, and for several long seconds he could only stare at her, amazed by the miracle that had brought her back to him.

He bent over her, brushed a strand of hair away from her forehead, and pressed his lips against the exposed skin. He wanted to hold her in his arms, to keep her near—safe and protected from the evil that had nearly taken her from him forever. But he resisted the urge. She would heal more quickly if she rested undisturbed. He poured a cup of tea, selected a book, and pulled his chair close to the bed. He would read to her, the way he had the first time she had come to the tunnels. In time, she would awaken to the reassuring sound of his voice.

He took her hand in his, and began at the beginning.

********************

"What the hell happened?" Joe glared at the officers who stood before him like a pair of guilty kids. "You were supposed to watch her!"

"We were watching! I told you, she came out here, said something about wanting to stretch her legs, and then she just took off. How the hell was I supposed to know she could move that fast?" Defensive, Lou folded his arms across his chest.

Joe caught a fistful of Lou's shirt and twisted, pushing him up against the wall. "What about the guy who shot her? Huh? Why didn't you see him? Why didn't you stop him?"

"I did see him. I thought he was some guy coming to visit his wife. Hell, he was carrying flowers! One minute Miss Chandler was walking down the hall, kind of holding onto the railing. I figured she was still pretty weak from the drugs, you know? Then the guy comes out of the stairwell and the doc comes out of the elevator and all hell breaks loose."

"Joe." John Moreno tapped Joe on the shoulder. "Ease off."

Joe hadn't heard Moreno's approach. Startled into releasing his grip on Lou, he spun around. "These jackasses were supposed to keep Cathy safe! They screwed up. And I want to know why."

"I know you do. We all do. But you've got to get yourself under control."

Joe eyed his boss, wondering at the man's ability to keep his cool. "They find anything yet?"

Moreno nodded. "Yeah. In the basement. Doesn't look good."

The basement? Why the hell would Cathy have gone there? "What else?"

"There's a man dead. And a lot of blood. Some of it might be Cathy's."

"But not her?"

Moreno shook his head. "There's no sign of her."

"She could be alive, then."

"I don't know." He didn't look very optimistic. "There was gunfire. If she was shot—"

"You think she's dead." Joe couldn't believe that Moreno would give up so easily on one of his own, but he'd been acting strange for months. Maybe he knew something Joe didn't.

"The cops have people checking other hospitals, urgent care centers, doctors’ offices." Moreno shrugged. "But I saw the mess downstairs. Frankly, I don't think her chances are too good."

Joe turned back to the police officer. "I want your report on my desk first thing in the morning," he said. "And it'd better be the best damn report you've ever written or so help me, I'll rip you apart myself." He yanked his tie off as he turned away, heading for the elevator.

"Joe!" Moreno called after him. "Where are you going?"

"Downstairs," Joe snapped. "I've got a crime scene to investigate."

********************

Gabriel's den was small, relative to the rest of the house, and tucked away at the end of a little-used corridor. Furnished in rich fabrics and antique mahogany, and carpeted with deep, silver-gray carpet, it was where Gabriel invariably finished his day. He was alone, with only a glass of dry white wine for company, when the evening news broadcast began. There were the usual teasers, followed by a spate of commercials, and then the anchorman's face filled the screen.

"The NYPD has a mystery on its hands tonight after a bizarre incident at Metropolitan Hospital ended with one man dead and a female patient missing."

A front view of the hospital appeared on the television screen, and Gabriel leaned forward. So, the man he'd sent to finish the job on Catherine Chandler was dead, huh? How had it happened, and why was the Chandler woman missing?

"An unidentified individual made his way to the fourth floor this morning and shot a fleeing female patient. The patient, whose name has not been released, is still missing at this hour, but the shooter's body was found in the basement, dead of apparent knife wounds. Although the patient's body has not yet been found, police believe it unlikely that she could have survived her injuries without immediate medical attention."

The anchorman glanced down at the paper in front of him and then back up at the cameras. "Police also discovered that a section of wall opening into a sewer line access tunnel has been damaged. The broken wall is in a remote location, and hospital administrators say they have no idea how long it's been damaged. Repair work is scheduled to begin next week."

Gabriel ignored the rest of the report. He knew exactly what had happened in the bowels of that hospital. Somehow Vincent had found out that Catherine was still alive, and he'd tried to rescue her. It explained the hole in the wall and the assassin's undoubtedly gruesome death. Only it looked like he'd gotten off at least one shot before he died.

Gabriel took a sip of his wine and licked the tangy moisture from his upper lip with a slow smile of satisfaction.

********************

Bright lights. Harsh. Painful. Unforgiving. Her feet in the stirrups, her body exposed to people with cold, dead eyes. They move around her. Talking. Watching. Their faces expressionless as they observe her pain. No! She cries out to her child. Wait! Just a little longer! He will come!

But her child won’t wait. Can’t wait. Her body and her baby and Mother Nature are aligned against her.

The dead-eyed people move around her like vultures. Only one looks different. The doctor. Is that compassion she sees in his eyes? Or fear?

But there isn’t time to analyze it, to think about it. Pain crashes through her. Consumes her.

She struggles against her restraints. Against the pain. Against the loss she knows is coming.

Her child is ripping her apart from within. Silently, she apologizes to Vincent for her failure. She had tried to wait for him, tried to hide the evidence of their child's imminent arrival from these animals who stare at her now with ice in their eyes. Tears course down her cheeks to soak, unheeded, into the thin pillow beneath her head.

There’s one more contraction, one more cascade of pain—and then a thin cry.

They take him from her. She catches a glimpse of a tiny red face.

"Please . . . ! Just let me hold him!" She tries to lift her hands, to reach out to him, but she can't. Her wrists are bound, locked into the hateful restraints.

Frustrated, desperate, she lifts her head. Sees the macabre smile of the devil himself as he takes her child in his arms. He nods at the doctor. Says something about finishing it. Then he’s gone, and the door is closing, and she’s crying out again, tears flooding unchecked down her cheeks.

"Please . . . !" She's begging now, her voice weak as the vultures settle in for their death watch. Beside her, the doctor prepares a syringe. "Please . . . ?"

The dream fades slowly, exorcised by a soothing, familiar touch and a low rumble of comforting sound.

********************

The diner was busy. Businessmen and cab drivers crowded around the worn tables, eating a quick lunch before going back to their work. Waitresses scurried one way with arms full of loaded plates, and the other with credit cards and crumpled dollar bills. The air was thick with the smells of hamburgers, hot grease, and hot coffee. A waitress topped off Joe’s mug and moved on without waiting for his thanks.

Nick Starnes sat beside Joe at the lunch counter. He was a few years older than Joe, with the tired eyes and receding hairline of an experienced detective. The two of them had worked a lot of cases together, and Joe had come to respect Nick's skills. But something about Nick's posture this afternoon was making Joe uneasy, and when the detective finally took out his notebook and snapped it down on the counter, Joe almost spilled his coffee.

"Bruises on her wrists and at least one needle mark," Nick said, handing Joe a napkin without comment. "Left forearm."

"The morphine."

"Yeah."

"What else?"

Nick checked his notes. "One set of prints, and evidence of forced entry from the balcony, but no prints on any of the other doors."

"What does that mean?" Forced entry from the balcony? What the hell was that about?

"Means they haven't found anything on the other doors yet." Nick reached for a sugar packet.

"That's it?"

Nick nodded and sipped his coffee. "Until we hear from forensics."

"What about the prints on the balcony?"

"They're still checking."

"As soon as you hear something, I want to know about it." Joe emphasized his words with short jabs of his finger against the stained countertop.

Nick raised his eyebrow. "So you can do what?" His pager went off and he reached to turn it off. "Joe—" He hesitated. "You gotta realize. This is not your normal case. You got a woman who disappears for months and turns up at death's door. She sticks around just long enough to come out of it and then disappears again, leaving a trail of blood a blind man could follow. And that dead ends, too."

Nick was frustrated. It was there in his voice and in the tense set of his shoulders, and Joe knew he wasn't helping anything by pushing so hard.

He nodded. "Yeah. Just . . . do your best." Damn. He’d been hoping the forensics would at least give him a scent to chase. This complete lack of evidence just didn't make any sense.

"I always do my best." Nick took a sip of his coffee. Set the mug back down. "I also know my limitations." He tucked his notebook in his jacket pocket. "All I'm saying is I think you might want to check out some other alternatives." He reached for a toothpick.

"Like what?"

"Ever heard of a unit called the two-ten?"

"Yeah. Special crimes, right?"

Nick nodded. "There's a woman on it. Diana Bennett?"

Joe shook his head. He'd never heard the name before.

"Remember the Sayer case last month?"

"Yeah, sure. I remember."

"Bennett was the one that dug out Tony Hernandez."

Tony Hernandez had been the lynchpin that brought an entire drug trafficking ring down. Breaking him had made Moreno a very happy man. "I thought that was the Bureau."

Nick shook his head. "Bennett." He looked at Joe. "See . . . I gotta catch whatever they throw on my plate. But she gets to pick and choose. She's got this 'special arrangement'."

"Why, because she's two-ten?"

Nick shook his head. " 'cause she's good."

"How come I never heard of her?"

"She doesn't like her name in the papers."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. Why don't you ask her?" He pushed his mug away. "I gotta go. You take care of yourself, Joe. Okay?"

"Yeah."

"And do what I told you."

He left then, and Joe twisted his coffee mug on its saucer while, around him, the everyday sounds of the city continued unabated.

                                                                                                                                        Chapter 4                             

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