Love and Desire
Catherine, Vincent, Father, Mary, and Peter met in Father’s chamber to make a very important decision.
"Jacob, it may have to be in the hospital!” Peter argued, waving the ultrasound images in front of them. "The babies are in the transverse position!”
"But, Peter, as you well know,” Father countered, "these babies can be born naturally; they can turn spontaneously, or they can be turned during labor. Catherine is not a first-time mother, so a greater possibility of success exists! You and I both have performed a podalic version . . .”
"Yes,” responded Peter with strong emotion, "and it consists of blindly seeking inside the maternal abdomen for the feet of the first baby. The bag of waters cannot be broken or the uterine walls will contract and trap the babies even more!”
Vincent tightened his hold on his wife, who sat without speaking, struggling to assimilate all the information.
"The delivery is likely to be painful,” Peter went on, "and may require epidural anesthesia – so that Catherine can cooperate and follow instructions during the delivery! The delivery, at any time, could be turned into a Cesarean procedure – to save all three of them!”
Catherine asserted her concern: "Vincent must be present!” she said, tears in her eyes and in her voice.
"Of course,” agreed Peter. "We’ll have everyone gowned and masked. I have a very conscientious staff who knows how to keep procedures confidential.”
Mary spoke up. "This is much to consider. Let’s retire for tonight and reconvene tomorrow evening. Give Vincent and Catherine time to decide.”
Catherine turned an expression of gratitude toward Mary and the party began to disperse, the mood heavy with responsibility and fear.
As Vincent and Catherine walked toward their chamber, she said, "Vincent, you know it is the beginning of the seventh month.”
"Yes,” he replied, drawing her close, "when Jacob was born.”
The couple entered their chamber, drew the tapestry across the entry, and prepared for bed. Vincent lit the single candle that would burn during the night and poured water from the pitcher into the basin on the washstand. He and Catherine refreshed themselves and changed into their nightclothes.
Little Jacob was spending the night with Lena, Rolley, and their children, Chance and Cate, and Vincent and Catherine were alone in their chamber. They climbed into their big bed and Vincent drew Catherine into a spooning embrace. She usually felt untouchable by the outside world when held like this; but tonight, worry plagued her.
"Whatever happens, whatever comes . . .” he whispered against her hair.
"We will face it together . . .” she finished, as sleep crept over them.
* * *
Catherine awoke restless and agitated. Vincent recognized it at once as the first stage of labor. Father and Mary were summoned and a message was sent for Peter.
The hospital chamber was readied for the birth and no one mentioned the possibility of going Above.
* * *
Twenty-four hours later, Jenny and Joe were bathed and swaddled and tucked into their bassinets alongside Catherine’s bed. Vincent was stretched out beside her, admiring the newborns. Catherine was so wan and fatigued that Vincent wrestled to keep his concern hidden. She had taken only sips of water and had lain listless as Lena and Mary freshened her and changed her clothes.
Over the next days, Catherine’s milk came in abundantly and the twins thrived. But Catherine’s recovery was obviously going to be prolonged. She smiled and rallied when Vincent was with her, but it seemed to take even more out of her.
* * *
"Vincent,” she said, when the twins were five weeks old, "I don’t know how long I will need before I feel – myself – again.”
"Catherine,” he answered, pressing his lips to her hand, "I wait upon you. Your ordeal – what you have endured for our family – I could never ask you to . . .” Tears welled in his eyes.
"Shhhhhhhhh . . .” she soothed him, mothering him, drawing his head onto her lap. "Give me some time, Vincent. Time to be a wife to you again.”
He pressed his face against her thighs, breathing in her fragrance and her warmth.
"I’m in good care,” she assured him.
* * *
Vincent resumed his work duties Below and, between his personal visits with his wife and children, he began to trust Catherine’s care to the community. And, he began to walk – to the other levels Below, and, Above.
His walking Above took him along his old routes – pathways he frequented before he found Catherine – Central Park and the back alleyways.
* * *
Elenora Demeter was a powerful woman; a wealthy woman; an angry woman. Newspaper headlines of the day announced her as the recent widow of the rich stock broker 40 years her senior, leaving her the sole heir of a vast fortune.
Photographs depicted Elenora as a slender 30-something; wanton, thick, raven hair full around her face, kohl-rimmed, shocking green eyes, full reddened lips, straight white teeth, manicured nails, voluptuous body, dressed in haute couture, diamonds sparkling at her ears, throat, and wrists. She was known to support young artists and politicians, and bed most of them, women or men.
Journalists reported Elenora’s purchase of an isolated house in the New York countryside. The glazed, two-story living room, the wine wall in the chef’s kitchen, the rich patterned wood walls and rooftop greenhouse garden – all bespoke the lavish surroundings of an opulent lifestyle. The state-of-the-art security system imparted her need for privacy; as did extensive basement apartments and armed guards on 24-hour patrol. She granted initial interviews; then, withdrew from public scrutiny.
Paparazzi who ventured to intrude on her privacy met with fatal accidents. So much so, that, within a few months, none sought her.
* * *
Elenora languished in her new home over the next year, alone except for her servants. Becoming bored, she began to have her driver take her over the bridges and leave her to walk the city at night. She relished being unknown, moving about among the common people with no one asking for a photo or autograph. She dressed simply in a long dark coat and dark boots; she carried only enough money for cab fare from wherever she decided to leave for home. Though she had permits to carry concealed weapons, she did not arm herself. She fantasized that she would meet . . . him . . .
* * *
The night was cold and crisp. Elenora had traveled this route in Central Park many times, Bank Rock Bridge between 77th and 78th streets to Bow Bridge at 74th, then to Bethesda Fountain at 72nd street. As usual, she felt alone, yet ensconced in the nightscape.
A snapping sound drew her attention to the foliage beyond her. She hesitated, and then took a few more steps. Suddenly, a shadowy figure was before her and she was uncharacteristically afraid.
"Don’t scream,” said the figure, the voice low and unsteady. "Gimme your jewelry and money – right now! I gotta gun . . .”
Elenora pulled the diamonds from her ears and throat and extended the jewels toward the assailant. She fully expected the person to take her offering and leave her. Instead, she found herself thrown to the ground with a man’s weight upon her and the smell of beer against her face. Greasy fingers gripped her neck as the other hand tore at her clothing.
Elenora’s scream died in her throat as the attacker tightened his grip and fumbled with her clothing. "You gonna give me what I want!” he rasped, ripping her garments.
* * *
When it was over, Elenora could not have described it. A presence, a savior, had intervened. Her attacker had been tossed against a tree and she had been able to scramble to safety. She had ventured a look over her shoulder as she fled for her life – and she could never forget who she had seen there.
* * *
The money began to arrive a week later, then came randomly each month. Always in a velvet clutch, like a jewelry case, and always left at the Central Park entrance. How the sentries never detected the benefactor was a mystery. A council meeting was convened to discuss the unexplained donations and decide how to use the funds.
Vincent suspected from the first that the money was connected to his rescue of the dark-haired woman in the park that night. Reluctantly, he waited to see how the council meeting would go.
Members of the community decided to have Peter deposit the money in an account Above to establish scholarships for children who wished to attend college in the city, and for Helpers who needed financial assistance. Many speculations were put forth as to the origins of the gifts, but all seemed content to believe it was due to the gratitude of some anonymous supporter.
* * *
After the third month, the target of the donations changed. Kipper brought the first envelope specifically addressed to Vincent. "It was left at Mickey’s hot dog stand,” he said, a little breathless from his run. "Mickey said there was a hundred-dollar bill attached to it!”
Vincent walked down into one of the remote work areas to read the note by torch light.
Vincent, I know who you are – and I know where you are. I thought the money would be enough reward for what you have done for me, but now I know I must see you in person. I will contact you with a time and a location. Until then – E.
Vincent was chilled to the bone by the implication of the note. He rarely felt fear – only when Catherine or any of his loved ones was in danger, and even then, the emotion was more rage than fear. Now he experienced a fear that might not be managed by force.
When the next communiqué arrived (innocently delivered by Jamie who found a letter addressed to Vincent atop a carton of books and bolts of fabric), Vincent traveled to a location directly across from the place designated in the letter and watched for the sender to arrive. His gut instinct was validated when the dark-haired woman appeared at the site. He watched as she stood for a moment, then began to pace, clearly agitated. She wore a fur coat and leather boots, and she apparently became so heated that she ripped the coat from her body and dashed it to the ground with a curse. She stalked off into the cold night and Vincent felt the fear rise in him again.
* * *
Vincent sat with Catherine for the evening. The twins were almost six months old, yet she remained sick and fragile. As he poured their tea, she clutched his arm, her grasp still weak.
"There’s something – something you need to do . . .” she said, reaching to caress his face and looking full into his eyes.
"I – I do not know what that is . . .” he admitted hesitantly.
"You must find out,” she said, her voice full of love.
He could only gather her up and hold her and wonder how he came to be so blessed in his life.
"Tread carefully, love,” she cautioned nestling against his heart. "Find what you seek.”
* * *
Elenora paced angrily along her balconies. The vast green grounds spread out below in all directions, heavily guarded and secretly mined for extra security. She fingered the key on the silver chain around her neck. It unlocked the wall panel in her bedroom that enclosed all the control switches. The entire estate could be turned benign or deadly at the flip of a switch.
Elenora frowned and wrung her hands. The packets of money had not resulted in him seeking her. Now was the time for stronger action. The first time she had seen him, she rushed home to be alone with her thoughts. Could it be true? Could it be that he had come back to her? She hurried to summon her minions to put strategies in place. She must seize this man! She would not stop until she had discovered him and brought him to dwell at her estate.
Carefully, Elenora researched and ordered the chloroform to use in her abduction plan. The van had been procured to bring him to her home.
* * *
The next note was delivered by Mouse who babbled excitedly about a smiling, friendly man who bore a huge box of trinkets, wires, springs, tools, gizmos, and switches – clearly knowing what would impress the eccentric young Tunnel resident.
Vincent felt a tremor in his hands and in his heart as he ripped open the cream-colored stationary.
Vincent, I‘m not accustomed to being disappointed. I know about Tunnels – and I won’t hesitate to come there if you won’t agree to meet me. I’ll wait for you at the Carousel tomorrow night, midnight. Do not fail . . . E.
He felt a foreboding, an ominous warning nagging at him. He needed to talk to someone about it. As he crushed the note in his fist, he automatically headed toward Narcissa’s chambers.
"Hello, Vincent!” Narcissa called out as he entered her quarters. "You seek to predict and prepare for your journey.”
"Yes,” answered Vincent, taking a seat on the stones. "Help me, Narcissa.”
"The way you walk is filled with peril. There is desire that knows not love. A collector who suffers from loss and rejection. You will be victorious because you will follow the path of honor. But, Vincent . . . there is sorrow . . . and death before you.” The old woman held her hands to her face as if her failing eyes could see the future.
"Must I leave my family to follow this path?”
"To protect them, yes, you must leave them Below,” answered Narcissa decidedly as she began to stir her cooking pot, waving her hand to waft the aromas.
"I will speak to Mary and Lena to look after Catherine and the children,” Vincent said with resignation.
Narcissa busied herself with her cooking.
* * *
Vincent waited at the Carousel entrance, standing in the protection of the shadows. His hearing and sense of smell were acute as always and his vision was well-accustomed to the dark. Then, out of nowhere, a low cloud of smoke filled the space where he stood, distorting his senses in the icy air. Suddenly, a rough fabric covered his head and before he could strike out, he succumbed to a loss of consciousness.
* * *
He awoke in a dark, stone-enclosed place; colder and more isolated that any chamber Below. Heavy wrought iron screens stood between stone walls; a padded pallet lay on the floor, a stainless steel lavatory was tucked into an alcove. Both his wrists were bound with iron cuffs and chains.
He felt along the walls to where the iron screen was joined with the rock. Vincent was as knowledgeable as any mason or carpenter or ironworker, yet he could not discern how the cage was fashioned. Or how he could escape from it.
A chandelier brightened slowly from the ceiling, eerily illuminating the room beyond the cage. Elenora Demeter stood before him, menacingly beautiful in a silk caftan and glittering diamonds.
"You saved me,” she began, advancing toward the cage, her gaze fixed on Vincent’s face. "I owe you everything. Let me reward you.”
She pressed her hands, and her body, to the heavy screen, her lips parting in a seductive gesture. Vincent stepped away from her advance.
Instantly, with the venom of rejection, she hissed, "Then if you will not, I will take my gratitude – my revenge – whether you agree or not!”
She pressed a call-button on the wall and spoke into the intercom system, "Send Tatianna to me now!”
Vincent was shaken to his core to see the young Russian girl who had lived temporarily in Tunnels this year appear in the room. The young girl appeared shocked to see Vincent as well, though not because of his appearance, but due to her own guilt. Vincent realized right away Tatianna had informed Elenora about the community Below.
Elenora spoke to her in Russian, which Vincent understood: "Tell our friend how much I know about his home.”
Tatianna dropped her gaze and drew away from Elenora, suffering in shame for betraying her Helpers.
Gently, Vincent said, in Russian, "Tatianna, I do not hold you accountable . . . We are still your family!”
But the young girl was overcome with guilt and fear, and with tears streaming down her face, she attempted to bolt from the room.
Deftly, Elenora gripped her by the hair, extending her neck backward, and drew a small knife across her throat. Red-black blood gushed from Tatianna’s severed flesh and the girl slumped to the floor without a sound. Vincent leapt against the screen, his anguished roar fading as quickly as it rose to his lips.
Elenora dropped the knife and reached for a towel from a shelf by the window. She wiped her hands and pressed the intercom, saying nonchalantly to the ever-present, invisible staff, "I need a clean-up in here.”
She dimmed the chandelier and went out of the room, leaving a devastated Vincent caged and a misguided child lifeless in a pool of blood on the floor.
* * *
The next morning, Elenora swept into the room outside Vincent’s enclosure, snatching the heavy drapes away, letting blazing sunlight in through the leaded waterglass windows. The motion, normally a cheerful endeavor, heralded evil intent in her hands.
She absentmindedly fingered the key around her neck. The key activated all the controls to set security through the house and grounds; it also opened the cage that confined Vincent and his shackles.
Elenora began to pace slowly to and fro before the cage. Vincent stared at her without speaking.
"I’ll keep on until I have you,” she began. "I’ll invade very tunnel, I’ll leave nothing untouched – I’ll violate everything you hold dear!” she stepped up to the screen and pressed herself against the cold metal. Her mouth twisted in a cruel grimacing smile and her green eyes glittered hard and bitter as she stared at him. "I’m just that evil . . .” she bragged, raking her fingernails through her thick dark hair.
"I know about them all!” she went on. "Father, Mary, your precious Catherine – your children – Jacob, and the newborn twins!”
She regarded him hungrily. "You have only to love me, Vincent . . .” she purred.
Vincent fought his rising panic. "Don’t hurt my family,” he said. "What is it you want?”
Elenora turned the key in the lock on the cage gate. She entered the enclosure and stepped boldly into Vincent’s personal space. She leaned in close to kiss him full on the mouth. The shackles chafed on his wrists as he strained away from her. Her tongue searched between his clenched teeth to find the interior of his hot, sweet mouth. His head wrenched back from her attack, but she entwined her fingers in his thick mane and pulled him toward her. The taste of blood tainted their kiss as lips, teeth, and fangs bruised each other.
"Free me!” he panted, drawing away. And Elenora, misunderstanding his purpose, grabbed wildly for the key around her neck. She hastened to thrust the key into the lock of the handcuffs, releasing her intended lover.
But Vincent dashed out of the cage toward the room door, tugging with his great strength against the latch and bolt on the heavy oak panels. Elenora was upon him, throwing herself against his body, whimpering, "No, no, Vincent, don’t leave me!”
He turned to her, grasping her forearms with his large hands, taking care not to harm her. He held her at arm’s length, looking hard into her eyes. "You must stop!” he implored her, anxiety evident across his face. "I cannot love you!”
"You can and you will!” she countered, fighting to make contact with him.
Reluctant to hurt her, Vincent maneuvered Elenora toward the cage, shoved her down onto the pallet and turned to leave the room. Elenora reached for an electronic device pinned inside her gown and pressing the button, summoned her guards to block Vincent’s escape.
As he wrenched open the huge door, four armed guards appeared before him, pointing their guns at his chest. He struggled with the decision for one second, and considering his entire family Below, he acquiesced to the challengers.
Elenora scrambled up from the pallet, enraged, her dignity damaged. "Get out!” she screamed at her minions, clutching the biggest one by the arm to retain his gun on Vincent. "Get back in the cage!” she shrieked at Vincent as the guard motioned with his gun.
The screen gate was slammed, confining Vincent once again. "Don’t you ever try that again!” Elenora yelled at him. "I won’t be refused!” She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, the gunman in tow.
* * *
Ten days dragged by. Vincent began to feel that, despite her hatred and violent manner, he could somehow tap into Elenora’s mind. Not like his Bond with Catherine, but a form of empathy for Elenora’s tortured soul.
She visited him every day, preening in front of him, the seductress seeking to entice him with her beauty and promises of material wealth. "You don’t know what I can do for you Vincent,” she crooned. "What I could do for your entire underground community. You have only to please me . . .”
Elenora stroked herself in front of him, lifted her skirts and dropped her blouse from her shoulders, gyrating, tossing her hair, shamelessly and shamefully attempting to seduce him.
Vincent watched her in amazement. She was obviously unpredictable and dangerous. Her wealth and isolation had created a break with reality. While Vincent felt some empathy for her, he was also wary of her. She could not know how disconnected and insane she really was.
"Don’t you want to please me, Vincent?” she entreated, posing to persuade him.
Vincent’s mind raced to figure how best to escape while maintaining his safety, being in the precarious position of being captive.
"I am here in this cage,” he replied.
"Then we must negotiate the terms of your captivity,” she said, loosening her camisole to reveal her pale, firm flesh.
"Let’s dine together this evening!” she proposed cheerfully, as if theirs was a casual social relationship.
"And we’ll have some after-dinner entertainment,” she tendered, growing more animated, smiling with adolescent anticipation. Vincent began to understand her; she had no love in her life.
"Do you play chess?” he asked her. Elenora turned such a hopeful, happy face upon him, that Vincent could almost forget the coldhearted murder he had seen her perform and the danger she held him hostage with.
"Why, yes!” she exclaimed. "We’ll have a splendid evening!”
Excitedly, Elenora called into the intercom for Yosef to move Vincent into the "other rooms.”
"And, Yosef . . . ” she continued, glancing sidelong at Vincent, "take our guest on a tour of the mansion before getting him settled in.”
"See you tonight!” Elenora called over her shoulder as she swept out of the room. "Dinner’s at eight!” She was actually giggling as she departed. Vincent stood speechless, looking after her.
Within moments, two armed guards arrived to walk Vincent to his new accommodations. They traveled in silence down two long corridors, and then boarded an elevator.
"My name is Vincent,” he began. "Tell me your names.”
"I am Yosef and this is Ty,” said the older one, gesturing toward the younger guard.
"You serve Elenora -- ”
"We are all prisoners here,” Yosef cut in. Without emotion, he disclosed, "I killed my father. After years of molesting me, I found him with my son.”
"I set a warehouse on fire where my two brothers were storing cocaine; but they were both inside – I didn’t know,” said Ty.
The elevator opened at the basement level, and the guards motioned for Vincent to step to the left. As they walked through a maze of dark passageways, the guards continued their stories.
"She sends lawyers to interview us in jail then makes plans to bring us here. Supposedly we will be freed one day, and until then, we are her indentured servants,” said Yosef.
"All the staff are undocumented, fugitive, or accused criminals,” added Ty. Vincent marveled at the absence of emotion the two men displayed. Were they not resentful of Elenora’s control over them? Did they not regret their decisions to contract with her? Were they simply resigned to do her bidding?
They came to a portion of the underground area that resembled a zoo or botanical garden. There were wall-sized tanks of piranha, and large aquaria of poisonous spiders, serpents, and scorpions. Silent workers moved about among large hanging plants feeding the creatures live food – hapless insects, lizards, and small mammals.
Suppressing his reaction, Vincent noticed the pipes along the walls and ceilings of the basement. "Is there somewhere I can . . . refresh myself?” he asked his handlers.
"The next door,” answered Yosef, indicating a restroom up ahead.
Vincent stepped into the closet-sized space and closed the door behind him. Running the water forcefully in the sink to muffle the sound, he lifted the lid of the toilet tank and removed the brass float rod. Using the rod to strike the metal pipe emerging from the floor he tapped out a message to Pascal: Do not seek me. Extreme danger for all. We are betrayed. Tell Catherine. Vincent.
* * *
"Father! Get the maps!” Pascal dashed into the library, panting with excitement. "A message on the pipes – from Vincent! Far away – beyond the next county! I could barely hear it!”
"Are you sure it was Vincent?” Father asked anxiously, fumbling furiously for the maps.
"It was him!” Pascal answered, then, suddenly becoming sober, as if remembering, Pascal whispered, "He said – ‘Do not seek me.’”
The two men paused, maps in hand, torn between trust in Vincent and fear of everything unknown.
* * *
Another elevator ride brought the three men to an upper floor where artifacts were displayed on the walls and in glass cases. The lighting was subdued and the room was cool and mildly fragrant. Thick carpeting hushed their footsteps. An engraved plate over the door bore the word Periculum (danger).
Ancient implements were identified by brass plates with their Latin names: the praeficulum (ewer), the patera (libation-plate), the aspergillum (holy-water sprinkler), the securis (axe) and secespita (knife), and simpulum (spoon). Roman coins were strewn over black velvet with relics positioned between them.
Vincent recognized items of the Xipe cult from the Postclassic period and disquieting images of postsacrificial rituals, flaying, defleshing, and ritual consumption, immolation, decapitation, and heart excision. Sacrificial knives, blood bowls, and ceremonial robes were also on display.
Another elevator lift to a balconied floor brought Vincent and the guards to a rooftop greenhouse. Some plants Vincent recognized and some were identified by their names posted on wooden stakes – all were deadly.
Yohimbine, a West African evergreen, and Rauwolfia serpentina (Indian snakeroot), and Oleander with its showy flowers; Aconitum, which Vincent knew was used in China and Japan to poison arrows, and the yellow-flower variety, Alpine wolfsbane, all were cultivated in the toxic garden.
When the guards brought Vincent to his destination, Elenora was waiting. She was dressed in green satin pajamas, full sleeves and flowing pants creating a cloud around her. Silver dishes stood upon a linen-covered table and food fragrances filled the air. A tea service stood ready behind her with cut glass decanters of sherry and cognac. A fireplace blazed on one side of the room and Vincent could see that the area was divided into apartments, one separated from the other by an iron screen.
"Did you enjoy your tour?” Elenora asked, waving the guards away and advancing upon Vincent as if he would be happy to see her. Ty and Yosef left the room, closing the door behind them.
Vincent faced her. "Why have you brought me here?” he demanded.
"Didn’t you see?” she answered, stepping to the service table to pour the tea. "I collect dangerous things.”
Vincent was wounded by her comment, as he never liked to think of himself in those terms.
Whether she discerned his feelings or not, she went on to describe the environment. "This is a larger area for you --- adjoining my own rooms.” She looked meaningfully at him, but he turned away.
She opened the doors to a spacious closet that held clothing similar to Vincent’s usual attire: soft denim and suede pants, long knit tunics, leather vests, high boots, and moccasins. Nightclothes, grooming articles, and a generous selection of reading material were also available.
The area was liberally furnished with a large poster bed, matching dresser, and upholstered chairs. Candles in silver holders stood on the bedside table. Oriental carpets covered the floors and original artwork adorned the walls. The accommodations were lavish, but still confining, as Vincent’s area was behind the iron screen and he was obviously not free to leave.
Elenora served two plates with sliced pheasant and truffles and set the teacups on the table. She took a seat. Vincent remained standing. "Won’t you join me?” she entreated, looking up at him.
When he did not respond, she reproached him with a smile, "But you promised to play chess with me! And I’ve been studying strategies all day!”
She pushed the dinner plates aside and brought out an ornate chessboard, inlaid rosewood with marble chess pieces. "Sit,” she bid him, motioning to the chair opposite her.
He sat facing her and reluctantly accepted the cup of tea she presented to him.
"Do you agree, Vincent, that the purpose of the opening move is to create dynamic imbalances between the two sides?”
She was delighted to see him smile slightly, thinking she had charmed him in some way. "The opening move is about equalization – and rapid mobilization,” he answered her, reaching for the white knight. Elenora mirrored his move with her black knight.
As they continued to play the game, some moves were studied carefully, others enacted swiftly as if without thinking. Elenora proved a worthy opponent, though Vincent took the game by mounting a quick attack on her king.
"Gobet and colleagues have shown that stronger players start playing chess earlier in life, that they are more likely to be left-handed, and that they are more likely to be born in late winter and early spring,” said Elenora evenly as she put away the game board. Vincent did not respond, though he considered her comment.
Actually, he was feeling ill. Perhaps the combined effects of the day, or his overall distress at being held here, whatever it was, he felt he must withdraw from her company immediately.
Vincent rose from his chair. "Forgive me, Elenora, I must retire, I-I don’t feel . . . well,” he said. She was so captivated by his good manners that she got up right away and pulled open the gate to the iron screen, letting him into his enclosure.
She hesitated a moment, reluctant to close the gate, hoping Vincent would want to come into her rooms during the night. But he turned away from her and bent to the sink to wash his face then tamped out the candles and lay down on the bed. With a huff, Elenora banged the gate closed and retreated to her bedroom.
Vincent fell into a fitful sleep torn by dreams and nightmares – all overshadowed by his intense longing for Catherine and his children.
* * *
More than two weeks had passed since Vincent disappeared. And there had been no more messages from him. Meanwhile Catherine was growing stronger and beginning to open the Bond.
The empathic channel was slowly becoming two-way. She had first noticed it with baby Jacob, but it seemed to be just a heightened awareness of the child’s needs between her and Vincent. During the last pregnancy, she had again felt an ability to sense Vincent’s emotions and proximity. Now she could intuit his distress and also the distance he was purposefully imposing between himself and his family.
She spoke to Father about it. "He’s protecting us, isn’t he?”she asked.
"I imagine so . . .” Father answered her.
"He’s alive,” Catherine said with certainty. "He’s waiting . . . for the right time . . .”
"Yes,” agreed Father. "And we must wait . . . with him.”
Catherine nodded, folding her arms across her chest, feeling her milk surge in her breasts.
I’ll wait – I’ll be patient, she thought to herself. I’ll trust this process, I’ll delay action until I’m sure . . .”
Time had passed and Catherine’s body was sexually ready for her husband. She felt a chaotic emotional mix of fear, anxiety, anger, doubt, and longing. Even so, she held . . .
* * *
Each morning, Elenora brewed teas made with yohimbe bark (from the African evergreen) and muira puama extract (from a Brazilian tree called potency wood) in varying strengths. She titrated the doses carefully each day and chose the strength to serve to Vincent. She intended to arouse his desire for her through these herbal aphrodisiacs and through her own seductive behaviors.
From behind the screen, Vincent was forced to observe Elenora in her everyday activities. She boldly walked from her bath to her dressing room, displaying her body. She applied lotion and fragrance, dressed her hair, painted her nails, and tried on different clothing in full view of Vincent in his captivity. He averted his gaze, yet he was completely aware of her presence, her nudity, her availability.
Every evening, the cage was opened and Vincent and Elenora dined together. Armed guards always stood outside the door. After the meal, they would play chess and she would attempt to engage him in conversation, but he resisted her social efforts.
"You eat so little!” she remarked one evening as she removed his plate.
"It was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there,” he answered flatly.
"Well, it’s not pomegranate seeds!” she countered, referencing the myth of Hades tricking Persephone to return to the underworld annually. And she was rewarded with his wan smile at her knowledge.
Vincent began to have sex dreams from the tea Elenora served him. He dreamed memories of he and Catherine in the cavern, the night Jacob was conceived. Catherine’s small hands drawing away his clothing and her insistent mouth on his, forcing him to live through his madness. He vividly dreamed the details of penetrating her sweet, soft belly, releasing his pent-up passion, creating his beloved son in her precious body.
He dreamed memories of Lisa and memories of his rage, lust, and self-loathing. He suffered the shame and loss all over again along with the heat of desire.
Old memories flooded his mind. Early recollections of the realization of his differences – his anatomy, his face, his hands. His superior strength and endurance becoming both a blessing and a curse. His sexuality and the frightening insight of what that meant for him – and what it may never mean.
His head tossed on the pillow and he wrestled with the bed linens until the sheets were soaked with sweat.
* * *
Vincent woke after another heated dream of Catherine. He could almost hear her voice calling him. He still did not realize that it was the tea that was producing his delirium. He sat on the side of the bed, struggling to get his breathing under control.
As he calmed himself, he heard the sound of soft crying. He walked to the gate and, through the partially open door of Elenora’s bedroom, he saw her curled under the quilts in her bed. The bedside lamp cast a gentle glow over her hair and shoulders. Her face was turned away from him, but he could tell she was holding something, a book or a framed picture. He sighed heavily. So, she was capable of tears . . .
His own misery drove him back to bed.
* * *
The next morning, the breakfast service held soft-boiled eggs in ornate china eggcups, a large bowl of fresh berries with a pitcher of cream, a silver pot of coffee and a ceramic pot of tea, toast points kept warm under a covered dish alongside a small pot of jam.
Elenora opened the gate, smiling at Vincent. "Good morning!” she said cheerfully. She was attired like a bride, in a sheer white peignoir set adorned with tiny pink satin roses. The motif was carried over in her hairstyle, tousled, upswept, dressed with pink rose buds.
Vincent sipped the tea, not touching the food. Elenora called to have the meal taken away. When the servants were gone with the plates, Vincent said, "Show me what you were looking at last night.”
Elenora paused with her coffee spoon in mid-air. Then she got up, went into the bedroom and returned with a photograph in a heavy silver frame. She handed it to Vincent without a word.
The glass over the photo was thick, the black velvet backing added even more weight, as if preserving something precious between the layers. The image was sepia-toned, but the man’s blonde hair was evident, the eyes very bright (probably blue in color). He was tall, over six feet in height; muscular and strong under the pressed Oxford shirt, patterned vest, and pleated trousers. He lounged irresponsibly against a vintage automobile, a sultry smile across his full lips, head tilted back ever so slightly as if to say, "Come on . . .”
"His name was Ian. It was my parents who kept us apart,” Elenora offered, beginning to pace. "They were the first ones I ever killed.”
Vincent set the picture down on the table, exhaling sharply at her words.
"They’ll never hurt me again!” she went on, becoming more agitated, her fists clenched, her lovely face an angry scowl. "They sent me to a finishing school – ha! It was I who finished them! Just a snip of the brake lines in the Benz and they were done! Mother lived long enough for me to tell her it was me!”
Vincent sat as silent witness to her pain as she continued to rant. "They collaborated with his parents – the respectable Dr. and Mrs. Niedermayer - to send him away as a soldier – where he was killed – honorably, of course!” Her mouth twisted in pain as tears spilled over her cheeks.
Elenora walked into her bedroom and closed the door behind her. Vincent was left alone in the outer room without being confined in the cage.
He took the opportunity to go out onto the balcony. The vast green lawn lay before him, a guarded gate at the far end. Three gardeners worked over the lush turf, walking back and forth, spreading fertilizer. Suddenly, Elenora joined him. Without looking at him, she pressed an intercom switch by the railing. "Winston!” she called, "Go tell the guard at the gate I need him right away!”
As the man walked over the manicured lawn toward the entry gate, he stepped upon a land mine and an explosion tossed him into the air. He landed with a sickening thud, torn and dead. "Yosef!” Elenora yelled into the intercom, "Go clean up that mess in the yard!”
She turned to Vincent, laughing. "Don’t get ideas, Vincent! Or you will face a similar fate!”
Vincent was horrified.
"Oh, please!” she countered, "You kill! Don’t tell me you haven’t! Look at you! You were made for it!”
Vincent pressed himself against the wall, scarcely believing this beautiful woman was capable of such cruelty. He could not look at her. He cast his gaze downward, his thick golden mane hiding his face and his shame.
* * *
After the next dinner, Elenora served two dessert dishes of chocolate mousse. Vincent’s was garnished with slivered almonds across the top; hers was topped with a raspberry. At the first bite, Vincent detected a chemical undertaste. When Elenora turned to fetch the coffee pot, he plopped two large spoonfuls into the cloth napkin in his lap. Under her watchful eye, he finished the rest.
Elenora played a recording of Madame Butterfly and she and Vincent sat without speaking, listening to the beautiful tragedy.
As usual, Elenora slipped her robe from her shoulders, revealing her availability in a sheer negligee.
"I bid you good night,” Vincent said, getting up from the table to withdraw into his cage.
Elenora turned out the lights in the common room and retreated to her bedroom . . . to wait.
Vincent lay on his bed, but he could not rest. He was fevered and restless. He got up from the bed and went into the shower where he soaped himself vigorously and stood under the water for a long time.
He toweled himself briskly then took a set of nightclothes from the closet. He drew the shirt on over his head, then sat on the edge of the bed to don the pants. He felt so sick and hot that he simply lay down on the bed with his arm across his face and the pajama bottoms clutched in his hand. He fell into a fitful sleep.
He awoke from sexual dreams an hour later to find Elenora in bed with him. The sheets were soaked with his sweat and he was flushed with fever.
Her nude body was lithe and fragrant. She positioned herself boldly atop him. Her white breasts rose up to fill his hands and her long lean legs fell open to straddle his hips. Vincent’s mind was swimming in mists thicker than any he had encountered Below.
"Catherine?” he called, hoping in his delirium that he was home with his wife.
"I’ve had to put the potions in the soaps and the candles because you simply don’t eat and drink enough!” Elenora admonished him.
Vincent’s anxiety soared at the thought of the shower he had just taken. Shaking his golden head, he inhaled deeply and reached out for Catherine through the Bond.
Electric currents vibrated through his limbs and he felt his sex surge and expand in readiness. The potent herbal mixtures were coursing through him, his genitals engorged and burning, humiliating him. His heart and his mind could not embrace this woman. His body – as at other times before in his life – was betraying him.
"I want you to love me,” Elenora murmured, "but I’ll settle for impregnation.”
Vincent’s vision was blurred and the heat in his loins was becoming unbearable. "You know, I didn’t tell you the whole truth about Ian,” Elenora panted, working her hips over his groin. "He wasn’t killed in the military. He married another woman! She was kind and gentle! Not like me! Not hard like me! That’s what he said to me!” Elenora’s rage was being vented on Vincent, her body straining to join with his and erase her tormented memories.
"You’re the most like him I’ve ever seen,” she gasped, continuing to grind against him, working her hands in his hair, and seeking his mouth with hers. "Since he . . . left me . . . married a British girl, she was sweet and del-i-cate!!” Elenora spat out the words as if they were invectives.
The drug effects became intense. Vincent’s jaw dropped open, he began to pant, slavering like a mad animal. His muscles quivered, impending seizure. His sex bulged forward, licentious, obscene. His canines were bared, his eyes crushed into slits, his clawed fingers flexed, ready to tear this apparition away from him.
Even so, Elenora’s hot, wet body bore down on him.
His heart throbbed against his ribs, his belly contracted with the effort as a mighty roar was torn from his throat. "NOOOO!” he cried, lurching away from Elenora.
He turned back to clutch her in an enfolding embrace, wrapping the quilt around her and pressing her down onto the bed. He pushed away from her, grabbing for the rest of his clothes and retreating across the room.
"Vincent!” she cried out, throwing off the wrap. "You want me! You want me! I know you do – I can see you do!”
Vincent pulled the clothing over his lower body, where his full erection distorted his intent.
"This forced service cannot bring you happiness!” he cried as he retreated across the room, away from her.
She came after him, clutching for a stranglehold.
With a mighty effort, Vincent lifted her from his body and carried her into the caged enclosure; then he staggered away from her.
"Why do you hate me so?” she cried, reeling from his rejection.
"I do not hate you, Elenora,” he rasped, fastening his clothing around his body and continuing to move away. "It is the love I hold for my wife and my children that prevents me . . .!”
He regarded her from across the enclosure. "Your beauty and your intelligence . . .!” he lamented. "Why do you abuse your gifts?!”
Elenora suddenly felt naked in front of Vincent. She ceased her efforts to make contact with him. She pulled the quilt back around her, hastening to the intercom in the outer room and rang for service. Within moments, a bowl of crushed ice and a pitcher of cold water were delivered to the room. Elenora pushed the service table toward Vincent. "The effects will wear off within the hour,” she said, and left the room.
* * *
The next evening, Vincent was served the dinner meal alone. Baked fish, wild rice, and glazed carrots were presented on the service table with a carafe of white wine and a dish of fresh strawberries.
Vincent inquired after Elenora, and the serving girl stated, "She’s in the lower apartments for now, sir. If you desire her company, I’m to alert her at once.”
"No,” Vincent said, fully realizing how rejection felt and how false desire, or honesty, could wound the soul.
Toward midnight, Vincent readied for bed. No one had come to lock the gate to his enclosure and it seemed he was free to move about the apartments.
Cautiously, he tried the main door. The latch turned easily in his hand and he found himself in the hallway. No guards were there. Vincent began to walk, traversing the corridors, until he came to the elevator to the basement. He rode down and stepped out of the lift into the lower level hallways.
He entered the museum-like Periculum and wandered among the glass tanks and terraria. The air was oxygen-rich due to the many green plants – a paradox, as the overall ambience of the environment was deathly.
He saw her against the scorpion tank, red satin robes spread out around her like flames. She lay motionless, her beautiful face pale, eyes closed.
He rushed to her side, tentatively scooping her up in his arms, clutching her face with one hand to shake awareness back into her.
"What have you done?” he called to her.
Elenora’s green eyes fluttered open, the pupils pinpoint; then she shuddered violently and went completely rigid, her skin wet and cold.
"It’s no use . . . no care . . . you don’t love me,” she gasped.
"But I care that you live, Elenora! Tell me what you have taken!” he demanded.
"Oh, just a little cocktail . . .” she stammered, laboring to breathe. "Some olenander, a bit of wolfsbane and nightshade . . . Much more than what I gave you . . . that night . . .” Tears spilled from her eyes. "It wasn’t enough, was it, Vincent? It wasn’t enough to make you love me!”
"Elenora!” he implored. "You must try! Let me call for help!”
But the lady fell from his embrace, her face frozen in a bizarre expression, her jaw paralyzed open, tears streaking her cheeks, her limbs gone cold and white. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. She was lifeless. She was gone.
At that moment, Yosef, Ty, and a group of armed guards stormed into the room.
"You killed her!” Ty exclaimed, lurching forward with his gun.
"No! No, she . . .” Vincent began, then paused, surprised by the groups’ reaction.
"Vincent, we salute you!” cried Yosef, holding his rifle aloft. "We are free! We are free!”
The other men knelt before Vincent as he held Elenora’s lifeless body.
"We salute you! We salute you!” they chanted.
* * *
Yosef gripped Vincent by the shoulder. "At the end of the north corridor, there is a garage. There’s a van to take us into the city. We can let you out wherever you say. Just give me a moment, brother . . . I’ll meet you . . .”
Vincent laid Elenora’s cold body carefully on the floor, lingering very briefly to regret her intentions and bid her spirit farewell. Then he sprinted to the little restroom where he had sent the message to Pascal weeks ago. Coming home, he tapped on the pipe, tell Catherine.
Yosef, meanwhile, ran to the industrial, commercial kitchen where he opened all the gas jets to the stoves and fireplace. Stepping into the outer pantry, he lit a torch and tossed it into the kitchen area.
A massive explosion ensued, resulting in a blazing inferno that soon engulfed the entire mansion.
* * *
Vincent suppressed his excitement as the van travelled across the bridge into the city. Near the Central Park entrance to Tunnels, the van slowed, the side doors slid open, and with a farewell clout of masculine hands, Vincent leaped out onto the grassy park lawn. He accessed the Tunnel entrance and dashed along the dim passageways. He was home.
Catherine tucked Jenny into her crib and checked on Joe and Jacob. She drew the separating tapestry across the children’s chamber and carefully stepped away. The Bond was charged with electric energy; she knew her husband was near. She stepped into the passageway outside the chamber, then, reconsidered, and came back to lie down on the bed.
He came to her upon a wave of desire, anguish, and liberation. In the forgiveness of the candlelight, he came to her. Hot tears mingled on their cheeks as their kisses forged a new understanding.
Catherine was dressed in a soft gown that opened in the front to accommodate her nursing infants. Now, her husband accessed her motherly body, nuzzling her full breasts. Her milk let down in response to her emotional state, and he tasted it upon his tongue, tightening his strong arms around her body.
She shrugged her garment off her shoulders, helping him undress her. His hands were in her hair, she reached to release his clothing below the waist.
Catherine opened her body to him, drawing him to the mouth of her womb, the apex of their connection. She clutched his broad shoulders, her nails digging into his flesh. He responded, lifting her small body to his great frame with all reverence, all care.
They rocked, one with the other, loving, joining, giving and receiving.
They kissed each other, open-mouthed and passionate. There was nothing that was doubted, unknown or unspoken between them. There was only their true love and their sexual heat and their many tomorrows.
* * *
Cradling her in his arms in the afterglow, the sound of their children’s soft breaths reassuring them, Vincent told Catherine honestly of his time with Elenora.
"There are many sides to sexuality . . . and to violence . . .” he said, allowing himself to feel the pain for the first time.
Reaching for his face, Catherine kissed him softly. "Here and now, in our lives," she answered him. "There is only our side.”
They turned again into their love, indebted and secure.