A Mouse and a Bird

                                                                                                                                                                                     Chapter 1

The park was in rare form. The trees' branches were bare and black and looked like coat hangers against the starry sky. It was cold- almost bitterly so- and no happy couples walked under the night's moon.

They were the nights that Leda loved the most.

She had the taxi drop her off at the edge of the bridge and she was walking quietly through the bushes. The cold literally bit at her ankles as her skirt swished around them. But that was the price you pay… for silence.

She smiled wryly. Well not silence, per say. After all, this was New York. In the distance were police sirens, the horns of cars and doors slamming. But sometimes, in the winter… when people preferred to stay indoors with their heaters up and the blankets pulled up to their chins… sometimes on nights like these when it was quieter… she would walk to the park. She would close her eyes and hear the rustle of leaves. And sometimes, just sometimes, it felt like she was home again.

"Hey you!"

Leda jumped a little. A man hung back in the shadows, his face obscured by the hood of his sweatshirt. "Can you give me directions to Fairmount Drive?"

A man in the middle of the park at night was asking her for directions to a street in the inner city? Leda shook her head. "Nope, sorry," she turned, not making eye contact and kept walking. The grand illusion was over. This was not the country… this was not the woods. This was the city, at night, and if her grandmother knew where she was-

'She'd have my head…' Leda thought. If she'd heard it once, she'd heard it a million times, 'A young lady has no business in the streets after dark.'

'Then again, I've never really been much of a lady…' Leda smiled. She reached into her purse to pull out change for the cab back. To her right, a stick snapped. Ignoring her instinct to run, she turned boldly.

She would always regret that moment.

"We'll seal up the tunnels on the eastern side and keep a look out for the blazer pipes. In the meantime, that should just about do it," Father tossed down his pen and sighed, leaning back in his chair. There were so many tunnels and maps, it was nearly impossible to keep track. Somehow they managed it- along with the tricky routine of switching up their passages so that no one would stumble upon their secret. Vincent glanced at his Father and immediately poured him a cup of tea.

"Ah, thank you," Father said as he took the cup, deeply inhaling the steam before he took a sip. "It's lucky we have Mouse to double check all these tunnels… who knows how many we've overlooked since he came to us."

"Yes," Vincent smiled. It was always interesting to see him smile. His lips hardly moved but the wrinkles around his eyes always gave him away. "He's already promised to help, but the last time I saw him he was up to his elbows in bolts and screws, building some new digging machine."

Father shook his head. "Well… I'd say if that's true than everything is going as usual around here," he took up his cane and limped over to the stairs. "Perhaps we may actually be able to complete a game of chess for once…"

At that moment Kipper came running into the room so fast he slid on the wet tunnel floor and went skidding across the room. Acting purely on reflex, Vincent caught him before he fell down the little flight of stairs.

"Father!" Kipped yelled, his voice muffled against Vincent's front.

"You spoke too soon," Vincent murmured.

Father shot Vincent a half exasperated half amused look before he turned his attention to the boy. "Yes Kipper, what is it?" Then he remembered. "Wait… Kipper isn't it your turn to keep watch at the park entrance?"

"Yes," Kipper gasped as he pushed himself away from Vincent. "I was there… and something's happened!" Without waiting for response he plowed on, "There's a girl there… she crawled into the tunnel. She's crying really hard… and loud. She's… she's…" he blushed, making Father and Vincent exchange shared looks of confusion.

"She's what?" Vincent prodded gently.

Kipper swallowed. "She uh… she ain't… got much clothes on." He mumbled. He took a deep breath and began, "But Father, that's why it's so strange! It's really cold out tonight and she's not wearing much and she's kinda bloody… like someone beat her up-"

"Dear God," the blood was draining from Father's face. "Vincent, Vincent will-"

But he had already gone. Father turned to Kipper. "I need my bag… my medical bag. I want you to call Mary and send a message to Pascal. Everyone needs to stay away from that entrance for the night."

"You think the guy that hurt her is still out there?" Kipper asked.

'Actually… I was hoping not to humiliate her any further' "Yes… we don't want anyone to be hurt." Father paused. "Kipper… will you please not tell anyone about this except Mary? You may say…" he paused. Luckily Kipper understood.

"I'll say that we think someone bad is in the park. That's all." He turned and ran up the steps. As an afterthought he looked back. "Can you make it there Father?"

Father nodded as he gathered up his bag. "Yes, yes… now go on!"

The boy disappeared. Father hiked up the steps. He glanced the room again to see if he needed anything. On the table the tea and the chess set sat side by side, a perfect symbol of what was supposed to be a quiet and orderly evening.

'I really did speak too soon…' Father thought wearily. Then he turned and quickly left the room.