Ephram followed Ashley into their chamber. “Ashley…”

“Don’t start with me, Ephram,” Ashley cut him off.

“I don’t understand, why would you keep this from me?” Ephram felt a bit hurt and confused. The bond did not allow lies between life mates, it had never dawned on him that she would be capable of keeping a secret this big from him.

“Of course we kept it from you,” Ashley snapped back, not realizing how much she gave away with that comment.

“We?” Ephram echoed the word with a low growl. “Who else knows of this?”

“Who? Ephram. You want to know who knows?” Ashley put her hands on her hips as she turned and faced her mate.

Ephram ignored the signs before him as he pressed on. “I do believe that is what I just asked you, Ashley, stop stalling. You have no idea of what this means for the council.”

 “The answer to your question is who doesn’t know.” Ashley replied as she slowly approached Ephram. “What your precious council has failed to realize is how tightly the wives stick together. Ephram, what you don’t get is that it is because of the council’s actions… Or should I say lack of actions, that Serena and her mate disappeared.”

“Ashley, you of all people should understand the risk for a Taj alone, with no support.” Ephram tried to get Ashley to understand.

“Ephram, they have support. In fact they have more support now than they got when they were supposed to be under the protection of the Council.”

Ephram sat down on the bed, hard. The emotions and determination coming from Ashley was like nothing he had seen from her before. Sure they had disagreed on things in the past, but she had never been this passionate against something that he had always considered essential to his life. His whole life he had dreamed of the day that he would be asked to join the council. He never realized how strongly Ashley felt against the council. “How is it I never knew you felt this way?”

“Ephram, I do know what the council means to you.” Ashley stepped forward to him. “But the council has refused to move forward. The existing members are more interested in keeping status quo than they are in the welfare of the people they are supposed to be supporting.”

Ashley pushed Ephram back just a bit as she crawled on his lap. Straddling over him, she placed her arms on his shoulders and allowed her chest to rub against his as she settled down.

“Ephram, I have never regretted what I gave up to become your life mate, but this life is not easy. I am one of the lucky ones, I got to keep my family. But people like your mom, my mom, Serena, and even Catherine. As far of the world is concerned, they live alone. Do you know that my mom’s parents think I am an only child and that I am a sperm bank kid?” Ashley shifted on Ephram’s lap as he brought his arms around him. “Did you know that my grandfather is convinced that I am a lesbian because I have had no interested in every guy they have tossed my way when I have visited?”

Ephram shook his head, his heart starting to break as he began to realize how stressful their relationship had truly been for her. “Ephram, don’t go down that road,” Ashley chided as she lifted his face to hers.

“You are my life, I chose this willingly. I have no regrets.” Pressing her lips to his for a quick kiss.

 “The council focuses on what was good for the Taj, those needs are changing in our world. They have never looked to what is best for the Taja, we have had to look after ourselves. What you men refer to jokingly as the ‘Wives club’ is our support system. None of us would have made it without the support of those that came before us.”

Ephram ran his hands up and down her back as he absorbed what she had been telling him. He had never thought about what toll their lives had on the women. All of them seemed to transition so easily into the lifestyle of a Taja, that he never realized how difficult it was on them. But he wasn’t completely ready to give up, the council was a very important part of their society. “Ashley, the council is what protects us…” Her finger on his lips stopped him mid sentence.

“I have never disputed that, Ephram, only in how they do it.”

“Yet now, Kevin lives outside the protection of the council.” Ephram pressed.

“No, now Kevin and Serina live together without harassment. They no longer need to worryabout a traitor in their own community. Kevin and Serina now live under the protection and support of the Taja.”

Ephram’s hands slid under Ashley’s shirt as he began to stroke the smooth skin of her back. With a quick twist, Ashley tugged the shirt over her head and dropped it on the floor behind her. Ephram groaned as Ashley’s tongue slipped between his cleft. His mouth opened as she slipped her tongue in further. Ephram swallowed Ashley’s moan as he pulled her tighter to him, his hand slipping down to the hem of her skirt. Lifting it slowly as he caressed her leg. Lifting her thigh higher he slipped between her legs to stroke her softness.

~~

Father met Vincent in the passageway, Pascal, Jamie and Mouse not far behind him. “Father?”

“Mouse told me there was a disturbance in the Library.” Father stated, obviously a bit concerned.

“I am not sure what happened, but Ashley and Ephram appear to have had a bit of a disagreement.” Vincent nodded to the crowd forming behind Father. “I thought I would go check to see if everything was ok, I see I am not the only one with that thought.”

“No,” Father stated. “I had several visitors coming to express their concern. I thought I would come get to the bottom of the issue.”

Vincent paused in thought. “Perhaps it would be better if it only be you and I, Father, we wouldn’t want to put our guests on the defensive.”

Father saw the wisdom of that thought and motioned for everyone else to go about their duties. Mary stood her ground, “Ashley left their son with me for a bit, he is starting to get hungry. I think I should take him to her.” Father and Vincent nodded as they followed her down the tunnel.

Turning the corner, Mary suddenly froze. Her stance set warning bells off in Vincent. Opening his senses he heard nothing but heavy breathing in the chamber beyond. Father was the next person to freeze, something was obviously wrong. Steadying himself for the worst case scenario, he reached to block Mary and Father from whatever danger they faced. Turning around, shock froze him in place. The scene before him was unmistakable. A nearly naked Ashley’s head was thrown back in obvious ecstasy as Ephram stroked his tongue across her chest, then nipped at her neck.

Vincent felt his body respond as he watched Ephram do to Ashley the very things that he desired to do to Catherine, only this time without any negative impact. Stumbling back against the wall, Vincent felt something rise in him that was powerful, intense and very seductive. Fearing the safety of those around him, Vincent stumbled away and ran for all he was worth. Father turned to reach for Vincent just as the baby in Mary’s arms decided to make his presence known. The inhabitants of the chamber before them jumped. Ephram reacted first, before he fully assessed the situation. Snatching Ashley up, he turned and placed her behind him, sheltering her from all eyes as he turned to confront whomever dared to threaten his mate.

Only Ashley’s hand on his arm kept him from springing forward. Taking deep breaths, he calmed down enough to recognize the shocked faces of the two elder representatives of the tunnels, both standing frozen before him in obvious shock and embarrassment. Mary rushed in and put the screaming baby in the cradle. “He was hungry.” She stated before she left almost as quickly as Vincent did, without making eye contact even with Father as she scooted out.

“I need to speak with both of you as soon as you are decent,” Father used his best authoritarian voice before turning and making his way back down the tunnel with as much dignity as he could muster.

Ashley was still behind him with her nails digging into his arms. Ephram could feel Ashley shaking behind him, the emotional firestorm still fogging his brain as he tried to assess what had just happened.

Grabbing Ashley’s clothes from the floor, Ephram turned and pulled the shirt over her head. While she fidgeted and fussed with her appearance, Ephram realized that he, too was missing some clothing.

Ashley’s well being came first, taking her into his arms he tried to comfort her and sooth her shaking. Yet no matter what he did, it only seemed to get worse. Worried, he pulled back to look at Ashley in the face. The tears he expected were falling down her face, but she wasn’t crying. Well at least not in the manner he had thought. Ashley was beside herself with almost hysterical laughter.

“Oh my gosh!” Ashley gasped as she wiped the tears from her face. “I feel like the time we were caught in the farm pickup truck bed by the priest.”

Ephram laughed at that memory as he stepped back a bit and turned to pick up their rather loud son. Reaching up, Ashley opened her shirt to expose her bare breasts to him. Still shaking with laughter, she leaned forward, allowing their son to latch onto her while he still fussed in his father’s arms. A sigh escaped as he began nursing. She had associated the heaviness in her breasts to the arousal she always felt in Ephram’s arms. Now it seemed that it was a combination of her milk and her reaction to her mate.

“We should go see Father.” Ephram let Ashley take their son before he picked up a small afghan from the cradle and carefully draped it over her. These people had seen more of his mate than he ever intended them to see again.

~~

Catherine held open the door to the small Chinese restaurant to let Emily walk in. “Ms. Chandler! It is good to see you again.” Catherine smiled at the hostess and with a brief signal to Henry, they were escorted to a booth, away from the rest of the diners. Lin smiled as she saw their new guest, and hurried to make arrangements. Catherine had done so much for them to help rebuild their business after their run in with the Tong that they were always happy, as were most of the other helpers, to assist her any time she needed. It was not unusual for Catherine to bring a colleague or key witness to the restaurant for a private place to speak with them. Henry and Lin directed the wait staff away from the back table and proceeded to serve the women themselves.

Emily looked around her at the small family restaurant. It was tastefully decorated, and the staff apparently knew Catherine well. “Do you have jasmine tea?” she asked the young lady who seemed so eager to serve them.

Lin nodded and looked to Catherine. “Would you care for your usual? Or would you like us to surprise you today?”

Catherine looked at Emily and raised her eyebrow in silent question to the older woman. “Do you trust me?”

Emily looked around her and nodded. “I love Chinese food, so anything would be great.”

Catherine smiled and nodded to Lin. “Why don’t you surprise us?”

The food was delicious, and Emily made a point of keeping the conversation to light banter and polite conversation. Too many years of being cautious were engrained in her to even consider bringing up such a delicate subject in a public place.

“Lin, we will need to use your Grandfather’s access when we are done here.” Both Emily and Lin froze and looked each other over. Lin was the first to recover; if Catherine was bringing this up in front of this woman, then she was ok.

“Certainly. I will let him know to expect you.” Lin replied as she replaced the tea pots on the table.

Emily looked at Lin then back at Catherine, a bit shocked at how freely she spoke in this public place.

“I know you must have several questions about Ashley and Ephram,” Catherine began.

“While I am, perhaps we should go someplace more private to have this discussion.” Emily chided the younger woman.

“Emily, I can assure you that our topic is safe here. But before we go any further I must tell you about the place where your daughter-in-law has found refuge.” Catherine lifted the tea pot and poured herself another cup.

“The community that Ashley is with is a safe and protected place.” Emily settled back, as Catherine began to explain. “The people who live there are good people who live by a different code. They have their own rules, laws, and authority. There are two highly important rules they live by: to accept help where it is offered and give it when they can.” Catherine paused to take a sip. “And the second is to never reveal the existence of this community to outsiders.”

Emily’s eyebrows popped up at that comment. “Yet you are discussing this with me?”

“This conversation has been approved, they know you are coming.”

Lin stepped in and began to clear some of the plates from the table as she leaned forward.
“Grandfather asks if you will take something with you when you go.”

Catherine nodded. “Of course, I would be glad to.”

Emily looked over the young woman with a closer eye. “She knows?”

“Of course I know. We owe everything to those below, we are proud to be helpers.” Lin stood up with pride, as she looked across the room at Henry with a soft smile.

“Helpers? Below?” Emily queried.

Catherine merely nodded. “Those of us that live and work in the city are called helpers. We give what we can, when we can.”

Emily nodded, this was a concept that she understood. “It is the same with all the Taj communities.”

“You said Vincent was like Ephram.” The air around the table suddenly got cold. Emily had obviously underestimated how protective this woman was of this strange unknown community.
There was more to this than she knew.

“Perhaps it is best that I show you, instead.”

Raising from the table, Emily noticed that almost all the wait staff had either disappeared or was suddenly busy. She could not make eye contact with anyone to signal for the check.

Catherine laughed as she realized what Emily was looking for. “Don’t bother, they won’t bring it.”

Taking money out of her purse, Catherine looked around then went to an empty table and placed the bills under one of the place settings.

Emily merely raised an eyebrow as she followed out of the restaurant. Once clear from the door, she turned. “How can they stay in business if they keep giving away their meals?”

Catherine grinned. “Normally they don’t, but I have helped them with some things after they had a bad turn with some shady characters a while ago. They figure they owe me, and refuse to charge me for a meal. Here we need to get moving.” Catherine directed Emily down the street.
“This has become a bit of a game; if I don’t get away before they find the cash, they will chase me down and try to give it back.”

Emily shook her head. Catherine Chandler was not turning out to be anything like she expected; this woman had all the makings of a potential Taja. Going over the list in her head of what eligible bachelors were still available, Emily started contemplated how she would have them cross Catherine’s path.

~~

Father paced through his chamber, a combination of embarrassment and concern flowing through him. Vincent’s reaction to the scene in the guest chamber was understandable, based upon everything he himself had drilled into his son. Never in his wildest imaginations did he imagine that such a relationship was possible, yet he had held the proof of just that in his hands, not once but twice in his lifetime.

A sound at the chamber entrance alerted Father to his visitors. Taking a deep breath he tried to focus on the task ahead of him. No matter how embarrassing this might be for all of them, he was a doctor, he would be able to handle this rather awkward conversation.

“We are here at your request.” Father tried to hold his flinch, he had heard that same tone in Vincent’s voice during the times that he had been less than accepting of Catherine’s presence in his son’s life.

Although Ephram’s stance was nothing like Vincent’s. Standing slightly behind a chair, Father watched as Ephram assisted Ashley in sitting. Everything in his posture warned Father from saying or doing anything that might upset the small woman sitting so calmly between them.

“Thank you.” Father motioned to one of the other chairs at the table as he himself sat down.
“Ashley, I did not have this conversation with you after your delivery. At the time you were in no condition for a post-partum discussion.” Father paused a moment as he composed his thoughts.
“But given what we inadvertently interrupted, I feel it is necessary to correct that omission.”

Ephram bristled at the proprietary tone in the older man’s voice, surely this man was not going to lecture him on the necessity to protect his mate.

Father focused solely on Ashley as he continued. “First, due to the circumstances, I feel I should let you know that there is a tapestry hanging by your chamber entrance. We do not have the ability or resources to place doors on chamber entrances, but in this community a closed tapestry has the same meaning of a closed door. Given that we have a large number of young children who live here, it would be best that you utilize the tapestry when you are in your chambers.

Ephram and Ashley blushed just a bit at that comment. “Of course.” They commented in unison.

“Ashley, you had some minor tearing during your delivery. It was not anything that required stitches, but it will require some time to heal.” Father cleared his throat before he continued.
“Due to those minor injuries, it is not advised that you have any activity in that region until further notice.”

Ashley’s eyes got wide. Was this man telling her what she thought he was saying? Looking across at Ephram, she realized that was exactly what was happening. Covering her mouth, she tried desperately to hold the laughter she felt bubbling out of her. The irony of this was more than she could bear. Making eye contact with Ephram did not help her control any. The laughter burst out before she could stop it, Ephram merely shook his head at the situation.

“I’m sorry,” Ashley apologized to the very cross looking man across the table from them as she tried to get her laughter under control. Looking at Ephram, she hoped he would take over the conversation from here, but it didn’t look like he was going to be any help. Her mate looked like he was ready to eat bear. Taking a few deep breaths, Ashley managed to get her laughter under control, looking down at her nursing son, she realized that if she was going to finish this conversation, she was not going to be able to make eye contact with either of the men at the table. “Father, Ephram could never harm me. The bond between us forbids it.” Ashley tried to explain, but the blank look on Father’s face told her she was going to have to get a little more explicit.

“I understand that he would never intentionally hurt you Ashley, but until you…”

Feeling her face heat up, she held up her hand, halting Father’s statement. “No, Father, it appears that you don’t completely understand.” Placing her hand in Ephram’s, she squeezed it slightly. Sending an apology across the bond she continued, “You see, until my body is healed and ready to accept Ephram... Well.. um… Ephram’s body will not respond in a manner that makes it possible to do what you are requesting that we refrain from.”

Father sat stunned, surely he wasn’t hearing properly. “You mean to tell me that…”

Both Ashley and Ephram sat next to each other, holding hands. “That is exactly what she is saying, Father,” Ephram emphasized. “What you don’t seem to understand is that we cannot live long without our mate. So every aspect of the bond is designed to protect and guide her.
First through the pregnancy, the bond is temporarily disabled. During the delivery, the bond is first re-established, first through the mother, then again through the baby after he/she is delivered.”

Father nodded his head as Ashley picked up the topic. “You see Father, Ephram’s body will not respond to me in that manner until I am healed.”

For several more minutes they continued to answer Father’s questions, most of them centered around the bond, how it worked. As they stood to leave, Ephram glanced towards the upper level before assisting Ashley up the stairs and out the chamber.

~~

Vincent leaned against the wall, blending into the shadows. He did not intend to eavesdrop, but he had been so focused on his thoughts that he had not realized that he was not alone until it was too late. Ashley’s words burned through his mind… “The bond forbids it.” She said it so matter-of-factly, no doubt, no question crossed her mind, or carried in her voice.

Looking down at his hands, Catherine had held these hands, kissed them and called them hers. Catherine had faced him in his worst rages and come out completely untouched. Not even Father could say that. Time and time again, Catherine had stood before him and spoken and demonstrated her complete trust and lack of fear in regards of him. Yet there was still fear there, both his and hers. Their fear of losing the other, Catherine’s that he would send her away again. His that he would harm her in a way that would destroy everything they had. Ashley’s words, her actions, demonstrated that Catherine’s fear was based on more reality than his was.

Flashes of Lisa’s back, Devin’s cheek, Father’s arm. The countless people his hands had destroyed while protecting Catherine and his family. Some deliberate, some not, all struck down by his hand. Catherine and Ashley called him a man. Father and Peter were more scientific about the differences. Stepping forward, Vincent clung to the shadows, as he watched Ephram glance in his direction before he lead Ashley out of the chamber. Perhaps it was time to get answers, from someone who might actually have them.

~~

Catherine paused at the intersection as she waited for Emily to rest for a bit. “When you said wear comfortable shoes, I didn’t think you meant hiking boots.”

“We don’t have much further to go; we should be there in another few minutes,” Catherine assured her.

Emily groaned as she pushed away from the wall. “I am going to have to go back up those stairs again. Now I can see why you are in such good shape.”

Catherine grinned. “Well, this amongst other things.”

“Well lead on, McDuff.” Emily looked at the intersection and wondered how this woman could tell which direction they were going. She had lost her bearings before they had even reached the huge spiral stairs. The indirect path did not surprise her. If her suspicions were correct, she was an unknown entering into a Taj’s domain… Emily would have taken similar cautions to protect her family as well. Although she was not sure how a Taj could be in Manhattan. As a rule, they avoided crowded areas, and well, New York City pretty much defined crowded.

The last turn caught Emily by surprise. The chamber looked like something a mad English doctor would work in. It reminded her vaguely of a research doctor she knew way back when she was just a wet behind the ears med student. She had admired that man’s dedication; he hadn’t known she existed. She had been one amongst hundreds of interns that crossed his path every day.

Catherine smiled as she watched Emily’s reaction to Father’s chamber. She had to admit, next to Vincent’s chamber, this was one of her favorite places in the tunnels. It reminded her a little bit of her grandfather’s old attic, full of little treasures here and there, all haphazardly piled together.

 “Ahhh Catherine, you made it.” Father’s voice came from the desk, behind the spiral staircase. She turned and saw him finish writing something in his journal.

“Father, I would like you to meet Dr. Emily Carlington.” Catherine began, as she paused just a moment as she watched the woman’s face go slightly pale. Emily seemed to shake herself out of whatever had shocked her quickly as she extended her hand to the older gentleman.

“Dr. Wells, I must say it has defiantly been a long time.”

Father stumbled at the use of his name and former title. A quick glance at Catherine’s face showed that she was as shocked by the turn of events as he was. “Forgive me, but have we met?” Father feared that he already knew the answer.

“Yes, although you would probably not remember. You were a research doctor when I was an intern.”

Ahhh. Father nodded. “Actually, it is now just Jacob, or as most of the people here call me, Father.”

Emily nodded, and let the subject drop. This was not the time for that conversation. “I understand…”

“Mom!” Emily jumped up at the sound of Ephram’s voice. Crossing the room, she rushed to her son’s side. Quickly hugging him, she pulled back and began a quick inspection. “You are ok?
Please tell me you did not ride all the way here on that monstrous beast you call a motorcycle!”

“Of course not,” Ephram denied as he lead her back to the table. Winking at Catherine and Father, he continued. “I would never tell you that I rode all the way here on the Hog.”

“Ok, then you found safer transportation?” Emily pressed, refusing to sit down as she turned to face her errant oldest son.

“Mother, I am not going to discuss my means of transportation. The only thing that matters is that I got here, and that Ashley and our son are safe and sound.” Ephram pointedly pulled out a chair for Emily and offered it to her. The subject, as far as he was concerned, was closed.

“Fine, I will drop the subject for now, but I can’t fathom why you insist upon riding that horrible death trap!” Emily concluded.

 “Well, because it would look suspicious if I rode in a car with a darkened Motorcycle helmet on, and biker’s gloves.” Ephram laughed as he joined everyone at the table.

“You have to admit, he does have a point.” Ashley added from the entry way. “Look who I found.”

Vincent followed Ashley into the chamber. Fighting the urge to pull his hood up, he faced a complete stranger the best way he knew.

Emily hugged Ashley and turned to look at the man who followed behind. “Amazing.” Stepping past, she walked up to Vincent and let the Doctor take over. “Dark blond hair, blue eyes…”

Emily looked Vincent over carefully, observing his features and comparing them to every Taj she had met. “Mother, you are making him uncomfortable,” Ephram commented.

Emily turned, and saw the look in her son’s eyes. “Ahhh, so he sees it too.” Turning to Vincent,  she extended her hand. “Forgive me, there are times the geneticist in me takes over. You must be Vincent. I understand that you saved our Ashley’s life.”

Vincent dropped his head, letting his hair fall forward, “Welcome to our home.” Brushing off the praise, he hoped they could find a new subject and quickly.

“Speaking of which, where is my grandson?” Emily looked around.

Ashley walked forward and placed a kiss on Emily’s cheek. “Sleeping soundly, so that he will be in the best of moods when he meets his grandmother for the first time.”

Ducking quickly, Ashley avoided Emily’s playful swat in her direction. “Mind your tongue, child, I am too young to be a grandmother.”

Vincent relaxed a bit as he watched the banter between Emily and her family. He felt Catherine’s hand slide into his and squeeze, before he even realized that his hand was resting on her shoulder.

Emily watched as Vincent sat next to Catherine and tried to contain her breaking heart. This man should have had so much more than a hole in the ground. “Tell me, how did you come to be here?” Emily asked Vincent. Father started the tale of a resident finding a small babe in an alley behind St. Vincent’s hospital, each person adding their own bits, until they finished with Ephram’s arrival.

“I must meet this Samantha.” Emily laughed as Ephram finished his tale of a brave young girl sitting in the middle of a tunnel reading a book. Turning serious, she looked at Ashley, then at Vincent.

“You say that you passed near St. Vincent’s during your escape?” Emily questioned. Ashley nodded; intrigued, Catherine leaned forward. “Do you remember which direction you came from?”

“Sorry, no. I was so desperate, I only really remember the hospital, because I was so tempted to go in.” Ashley apologized, she was not going to be much help in this investigation.

Emily patted her hand. “No worries, honey. I am sure we will find answers eventually.” Looking across the table, she saw a determined look cross Catherine’s face.

“What is it, Catherine?” Father also noticed Catherine’s expression and recognized it for what it was. He has seen that expression cross her face enough times over the past few years that he knew her inner investigator was coming out.

“I find it a bit coincidental that St. Vincent’s is connected to not one but two births.” Catherine leaned back as she continued. “First Vincent, then some 30 years later, Ashley.” Catherine squeezed Vincent’s hand, not wanting to hurt him but the question had to be asked.

“You recognized Vincent.” It was a statement, not a question. Father sat up, alert. “That is impossible, he has been here his whole life.”

Emily stared at Catherine from across the table. “Looks can be deceiving.” She had let down her guard around this woman, forgetting that she was first and foremost an attorney, from a long line of attorneys, and from everything she could see, a rising star in the District Attorney’s office.

With a quick glance to Ephram, she stood her ground. “Merely speculation, counselor. Without the proper tests, I have no way of knowing if my theory is correct.”

“What tests?” Father demanded, he was not going to let Vincent become a lab rat, not even for this woman.

“Nothing invasive, a little blood, some hair and a swab of skin from the inside of his mouth.”

Catherine nodded. “If Vincent agrees, I can get you the necessary swab kit from a friend of mine in the police department. You will need a higher tech lab that Father has here.”
 
“Not a problem, I have a colleague I am scheduled to meet here in town, I will merely request to utilize his lab and ask for discretion.”

“Exactly what do you hope to gain from these tests?” Father insisted on pressing. This was his son they were talking about, and Vincent was being abnormally quiet about the whole topic.

“Well first, it can help confirm who his parents might have been.”

Neither Catherine nor Vincent missed the past tense of Emily’s comment. “Ashley stated that she suspected that Vincent’s parents are dead.”

Emily nodded. “It is the only way he would have been allowed to be raised here, so far away from the council and family.” Pausing for a moment, she turned to Father.

“What I don’t understand, is how he survived infancy. The mortality rate amongst orphaned Taj infants is nearly 100%,; the chances of Vincent surviving without a parental bond falls in the range of impossible.”

Father rubbed his eyes as he remembered those days. “I can tell you, it wasn’t easy.”

Emily nodded. “I would like to compare notes, and see what you did differently that was successful.”

“I will see if I can find them for you.”

“Vincent, you better make a run for it…I sense an examination in your near future.” Ephram jumped up between his mother and Vincent, “Here, I’ll hold her back, you make your escape!” Ashley saw the look on Vincent’s face and burst out laughing as Emily glared at them all.

“Seriously Ephram, you make me sound almost predatory... of course I wouldn’t invade Vincent’s privacy in that manner.” Placing her hands on her hips she continued, “I would offer you up first and hope that Vincent’s natural curiosity would prompt the courtesy to be returned.”

Father, getting caught up in the game. “That would be up to Vincent, of course.”

Enjoying the banter, Catherine looked at her watch. “I have to be getting back.” Turning to Emily, “It was good meeting you, I am sure our paths will cross again.”

 “Actually, I should probably go back with you, I am scheduled to meet with a colleague of mine later this afternoon.” Gathering her jacket. She kissed Ashley then Ephram both on the cheek.

“I trust I will get to see you later.” Emily looked up at Father.

“Of course, you are welcome here,” Father replied.

“Thank you, I brought some books and journals with me that you might find of value.”

~~

Catherine and Emily left the tunnels through an access panel underneath the Waldorf Hotel.

“Emily!...Cathy!” Catherine jumped at the sound of her name.

“Peter! What are you doing here?” Cathy leaned forward to kiss her old friend and mentor on the cheek.

“I am meeting with Dr. Carlington,” Peter responded as he shook Emily’s hand. “I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

“Actually we only met today, the woman Vincent found is her daughter-in-law,” Cathy added. Emily’s eyes got wide. “Wait, You know about…” she paused

Peter smiled and nodded, “Since the beginning. Jacob and I went to medical school together.”
“It is a small world.” Emily smiled.

“Smaller than you think,” Cathy replied. “Peter, her son is like Vincent, I have a feeling you two have a lot to discuss. I get the feeling that Father would like to be part of that conversation as well.” Kissing Peter on the cheek again. “I have to get back to the office. I will let you two work out the details.”

Peter and Emily watched Catherine dash through the lobby and out the front doors. Emily looked over and saw him shaking his head. “Peter?”

“I have no idea where she gets all her energy. I am sure I only know half of what she is involved in, but between her job, social responsibilities, those below, her duties as a helper and Vincent… I can’t see where she has time to sleep.” Peter sighed. “Makes me feel old and tired just thinking about it.”

“I can understand that.” Emily headed to the elevators. “I got the impression she had set a slower pace when going through the maze of tunnels, so I could keep up.” Stepping into the elevator, she pushed the button for her floor. “I have some journals that I think you will find helpful, I promised to take them to Dr. Wells later, but we might as well do it now. I will need to make some calls and get some things sent over, along with a couple of documents faxed. Father will need them.” Emily finished

~~

“The dark biker is in New York.” The raspy voice on the phone would send chills up the spine of any normal person. There was never a face, just a voice on the phone. “It is a matter of time before he finds her.”

“We are keeping a close eye on him. We know he didn’t scout long, he went straight to the park.”

“Find him, when you do, I don’t care what you do with them, I want that baby! I have been as patient and forgiving as I can. I will not tolerate any further mistakes.”

Three scruffy men stood around the table fidgeting with different knives. This should have been an easy job. Grab a pregnant woman, and keep her locked up until she gave birth. Something they had done time and time again. They had done their research, she was unwed, and appeared to have very little family. But their research had been wrong.

“We are not gettin paid enough for this shit!” A younger man paced back and forth as he cursed and muttered to himself.

“Shut up and stop griping, JR If you hadn’t fallen asleep while you were supposed to be
guarding the broad, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

“Don’t blame this on me!” he snapped back. “How was I to know she could even reach that window, much less fit through it? Besides, that woman had to go piss more than anyone I have ever met before.”

The loud crack of a hand hitting flesh echoed through the small room. “Dumb ass…she was going to the bathroom so much to get you to let down your guard.” Flash flipped open a dirty looking cooler; pulling out beer, he flipped the cap off and chugged half the bottle.

Jumping to his feet, JR pulled his knife and waved it in front of him threateningly. “Just try hitting me again, old man, and I will show the world who the true dumb ass is, by carving it into your face!”

“ENOUGH!! JR, put up your little sticker. Flash, stop antagonizing the kid, we have enough trouble on our hands.”

“Sure thing, Boss, what do you want to do?” Flash tossed another bottle the direction of the man sitting at the table.

“We don’t get the rest of the money until we deliver the baby.” Flash and JR both sat at the table, as they watched ‘Boss’ think over their options.

“Ok, the way I see it…we have two options.” Boss counted off his fingers. “One, we know he went to central park and disappeared in one of the storm ditches. I say we stake that out to see what we can find out.” Boss took a swig of his beer before he continued. “Should that fail, then I say we grab us some other pregnant broad, and turn that baby over. Our customer will never know the difference.”

“That works for me. The sooner we get paid, the sooner we can blow this joint!” Flash slammed down his beer. “JR, you take first shift, Don’t screw it up this time!”

~Next Day, Afternoon~

Three heads bent over the table as they passed books and journals between them. “There is a complete genetic break down in here.” Father exclaimed.

“Look at this,” Peter passed another journal over. “They have breakdowns of the variations of blood types.”

“Dr. Wells, what possessed you to switch to goat milk formula instead of the more common dairy base?”

Vincent and Ephram stood on the upper level looking down over the three doctors as they lost themselves in their research. “I guess it is better that they are pouring over the books than us,” Ephram commented.

Vincent looked over his shoulder. “How long do you think that will last?”

 “Not long,” Ephram shrugged. “If Father is anything like my mom, then in about an hour they will start wanting to view live specimens instead of text books.”

“She will last an hour?”

Ephram chuckled softly. “Maybe you and I should make ourselves scarce for a bit. I get the impression that you have a lot of questions, yourself.”

Vincent pushed away from the rail and lead Ephram around the upper balcony, showing him how to sneak out without disturbing the three doctors as they compared and compiled lifetimes worth of notes.

“What about your son?” Vincent looked towards the exit that would take them to Ashley, but also right across the path and into the notice of the very people they were hoping to avoid. Ephram laughed. “Yeah, they will have to go through Ashley to get to the baby. I am thinking their chances are next to nil.” Slipping into the tunnel, Ephram waited for Vincent to take the lead.

They walked together in silence for some time as Vincent gathered his thoughts.

“Something’s bothering you?” Ephram asked. “Are you normally this quiet, or is this because of what you walked in on yesterday?”

Vincent gripped his fists as he lead Ephram towards the falls. “All my life, I have been cautioned and cautious about my differences. The times I forget, or forget myself, someone has gotten hurt.” Leaning against the wall, he looked down in shame. “To be the cause of that pain in Catherine…”

Ephram stopped and leaned against the opposite wall, watching the younger man before him.
“Tell me about these people you hurt.”

Vincent shook his head. “Sometimes I lose myself.”

Ephram began to feel alarmed. He could sense no evil or unbalance within Vincent, but could he be driving himself to the fever? “Tell me about these times, Vincent. When is the first time you ‘lost’ yourself?”

Vincent pushed away from the wall and walked away slowly, quietly. Ephram followed, letting the younger man have the chance to get his thoughts together. Yet at the last turn, he paused and gasped. Here the walls were different, smooth, not rock. And every surface available had murals. Some of the people in the pictures he recognized, a much younger looking Father holding what had to be a baby Vincent. Portraits and scenes decorated the walls for as far as he could see. Walking through, he touched each painting with reverence. There was one of Vincent and several other boys obviously involved in some mischief. Stopping, he paused at a portrait of a young woman captured mid pirouette, A teen-age Vincent standing slightly behind her.

“Her name was Lisa.” Vincent whispered.

“I know.” Ephram’s statement surprised him. “My sister is our community’s yoga and dance instructor. She has several videos of Lisa’s performances. She got the chance to dance with a company that Lisa did a solo performance for. I hope you get the chance to ask her about it sometime.”

Studying the picture closely, “You fell for her, didn’t you?” Ephram opened his senses and felt Vincent’s trepidation.

Vincent made no comment, just nodded.

“How old were you?”

“Young, 15, 17?” I don’t remember anymore, I just remember hurting her.”

“What happened?” This was important. Ashley had told him that she got the impression from Catherine, that their relationship was not moving forward as it should.

“I hurt her,” Vincent whispered, before he walked on.

Stopping in front of another portrait, this one was of a teenage boy, with deep scratches across his cheek, there was no mistaking the mark. “How old were you when this happened?” Ephram asked.

“7, maybe 8,” Vincent moved again. Portrait after portrait showed Vincent at his fiercest, attacking, protecting. Mixed in were pictures of Vincent teaching, leading, loving and being loved. These walls showed both sides of the Taj, at the end of the tunnel, Vincent stood, quietly  waiting as Ephram realized exactly what was happening. Vincent was offering his sins up for judgment, possibly to the only man capable of truly judging him.

 “We should talk.” Ephram walked to Vincent, “but not here.”

~~

Samantha skipped through the park with her basket. She had made her deliveries with enough time left over to play in the park for a while. She was getting good at getting her errands done faster than the boys. By her estimates, she had a good hour or two before someone would expect her back in the tunnels. Setting her things down on a bench, she dashed over and jumped on a swing. She knew she should be too old to do this, but it felt so good to feel the air on her face as she pumped her swing higher and higher. She almost felt like she was flying when she was on the swings. As much as she loved her home in the tunnels, there was just times when you needed to be outside. Even Vincent came up to the park, she figured that she wasn’t supposed to know that, but everyone knew that Vincent would sometimes spend most of the night walking in the park, or through the streets.

Samantha continued swinging as she watched the crowds move through the park. The joggers were starting to make way for people in business suits as they cut across the park on their way home from work. One face looked very familiar in the crowd. Dragging her feet she slowed her swing down “CATHERINE!!! WATCH!!” Samantha yelled before she took a flying leap in the air.

She would have landed on her feet if the gravel had not slid away. The moving gravel in combination with her forward movement, Samantha found herself on her knees before she landed face first into the ground.

Catherine heard her name and turned in time to see Samantha launch herself into the air from the swing. Her heart stopped as she watched this young girl who had earned such a special place in her heart come crashing down to earth. Rushing forward, she helped Samantha up from the ground and dust off the dirt. “Where are you hurt?” Catherine demanded as she did a cursory inspection.

“Did you see me, Catherine? I almost flew!” Samantha crowed. “Look, I had to have made at least 6 mightbe 7 feet!” Catherine sat back as she watched Samantha danced around. She couldn’t hold in her laughter when the younger girl continued. “I have you as a witness…so when I tell the boys that I beat their jumps you can tell them you saw it. And that will teach them!”

“Yes, well, I can defiantly testify to that, you almost gave me a stroke when I saw you fly like that.” Catherine ruffled her fingers through the dark curly hair as she helped dislodge gravel and leaves.

“Are you going below?” Sam inquired, neither of the women paid any attention to the sleeping biker on the bench behind them.

“That was my intention.” Catherine smiled as she stood up.

“Hold on, let me get my stuff.” Samantha ran over to the swing set and grabbed her basket. “I’ll go with you.”

JR watched with great interest as they walked off together towards the very drain tunnel he had been watching.

Sitting up, he watched the tunnel for over an hour as he waited for them to come out. Looking around him, he made sure no one was watching him. Casually strolling to the drainage ditch, he walked as far back as he could, There were no signs of the two people he watched come in, the tunnel ended into a cavern type room, with bars surrounding a closed up drainage tunnel. Going to the bars, he grabbed the door and rattled it, it was defiantly locked. Walking around, he found a crevice he could stuff himself into and hide. He knew the Dark Biker had come in here, but nobody had seen him leave. If people were coming into this place and not going, then there had to be another way out.