You've Got A Friend
This story takes place after the events in Though They Sink Through The Sea, this time from Joe's POV. You don't need to have read that story to understand this one. I hope anyway.
Joe lay sprawled on his couch, hands laced behind his head. His brooding eyes were fixed on the telephone sitting on the table next to him. Should I call her? He had no doubt that she was with him. The question was whether they were in Cathy's apartment, or whether they were at his place . . . wherever that might be.
Vincent: the mystery man in Cathy Chandler's life. How Joe had wondered about him during those six months while Cathy was kidnapped. He shook his head now, thinking about some of the theories he had considered.
I thought probably the guy was an important public figure who was already married - or maybe a spy with the CIA. There had to be some reason for all the secrecy that surrounded him. Hell, it wasn't until after Cathy went missing that I even knew his name! One thing's for sure - my wildest flights of fantasy never even came close to the reality!
As he had done frequently during the past month, Joe thought about his first sight of Vincent's face: He had been watching the display from the hidden camera monitoring Cathy's hospital room at the moment when, believing himself unobserved, Vincent threw back the hood which until then had hidden his features. The shock Joe felt when it finally dawned on him that the bizarre face in front of him was not a mask had been immense, but over the ensuing weeks, as he came to realize the depth of the love Cathy had for Vincent, it had subsided somewhat.
Knowing that Vincent came only at night to see Cathy in the nursing home, Joe had several times deliberately delayed his own visits there until after dark, in order to watch the two of them together. Always the obvious, deep emotion between the couple, combined with his secret knowledge, drove him, shaken, out of the room after only a few minutes. There was no doubt in his mind now that Vincent completely returned Cathy's love. He didn't have to see Vincent's face to understand that.
Okay; so now what do I do? Do I let Cathy know that I know about Vincent, that I've seen his face? There has to be more to the mystery around him than just his appearance. I know Cathy's concealing something else about him.
Diana Bennett once said something to me about Vincent being Cathy's protector, that he somehow knew when she was in danger, and would go to her. Of course, that was before Diana suddenly clammed up about the whole subject. She did tell me in the hospital, though, that it was Vincent who had killed those creeps who strangled Carol Stabler - that he got to them just as they were about to get rid of Cathy too. What're the odds that the remaining secret has to do with those mysterious deaths that seemed to follow Cathy around? And if that's the case, do I really want to know anything about it?
Joe drew a deep breath and sat up. He eyed the telephone measuringly. Cathy's friendship is too important to me; I don't want any more pretense between us. I have to let her know that she can trust me in this. Lifting the receiver, Joe touched the button that had Cathy's name under it, counting three rings before it was picked up at the other end.
"Cathy? It's me - Joe. How're ya doing?"
"Joe!" There was a surprised lilt in her voice, and pleasure. "I'm just fine. Thank you for the flowers; they're lovely."
"Glad you like them, Radcliffe. I . . . uh . . ." For the life of him, Joe couldn't think what to say next.
"Joe - if this call is to try to talk me into coming back to the D.A.'s office, I told you last week that I don't know if I want my old job back. I just haven't decided -"
Joe interrupted the laughing, determined flow of words. "Cathy, that's not why I called. I . . . well, I just wondered if it would be all right if I dropped by to see you for a while."
Brief silence met his words. "Joe, I - kind of have plans for this afternoon. You know this is my first full day out of the nursing home; there are things I want to do."
Joe heard her soft, muffled giggle and a sound like the creaking of springs. Bedsprings? He grimaced as a pang went through him. So, Vincent was there with her. Well, all the better. "Radcliffe, tell me - Vincent's there, isn't he? With you. I'd really like to meet him properly, get to know him."
Her reply was immediate. "Joe, I'm sorry. I don't think that will be possible today."
"Because . . . well, because we were just getting ready to go out and I don't know when we'll - "
"Cathy." He spoke over her hurried excuses, with deliberate emphasis. "You mean you and Vincent are planning to go outside, on the streets of the city - in broad daylight?"
"Why shouldn't we? What do you mean, Joe?" He heard the wary note in her voice, and beneath that the tension.
"I mean that I know, Cathy. I've seen his face."
A beat. "When?" Another beat, then: "At the nursing home? Was my room under surveillance? Who else knows?" Her voice was hard and tight. Joe could almost see her struggling for control and hastened to reassure her.
"Nobody else knows, Radcliffe. Diana Bennett and I were the only ones who were watching that night, and afterwards we took turns being on duty in the monitoring room every night while Vincent was with you. When he was there, the camera wasn't recording." Joe grimaced. "The Commissioner sure chewed my butt when he found that out!"
He heard Cathy take a long, deep breath. "What do you want, Joe?"
"Just what I told you. I'd like to come over and see you and Vincent. Radcliffe, I always thought we were friends. Friends trust one another, kiddo. You can trust me." Joe was unable to entirely keep out of his voice the hurt that for so long she had thought - continued to think - that she couldn't trust him.
She didn't reply at once. "All right. We'll expect you at 2:00."
Before he could reply, she hung up. Joe replaced the receiver slowly. He had well and truly burned his bridges now. Joe had the feeling that he had taken the first step on a journey that would plunge him deep into unknown waters.
Catherine set down the telephone receiver with extreme care. Her hands were shaking and a tight knot had formed in the pit of her stomach.
"What is it, Catherine?"
Turning, she looked at Vincent's intent face, knowing he was feeling her turmoil. "That was Joe. He's coming over at 2:00. Vincent - he knows about you; he's seen you."
Catherine swallowed hard. "There was a camera monitoring my room at the nursing home - he must have watched you that night you brought me out of the coma." She looked at him with haunted eyes.
To Catherine's surprise, Vincent didn't seem overly upset, merely thoughtful. "Does anybody else know about me?"
Catherine shook her head. "Joe said that he or Diana Bennett were the only ones in the camera room whenever you were with me - and that they didn't videotape your visits. Vincent, what are we going to do?" Vincent's calmness was soothing; Catherine felt her taut nerves relax and was able to think more clearly.
Vincent shrugged. In spite of her worry, Catherine noticed the smooth ripple of broad chest muscles, the tawny gleam of his fur in the bright daylight. "Have we any choice? I suggest we welcome Joe Maxwell when he arrives at 2:00, and wait for him to tell us what he wants."
Catherine nodded, and bit her lip. "That's all we can do at the moment. I can't believe I didn't suspect there was a camera in the room!" She shook her head angrily, berating herself, then looked up.
"Vincent, Joe is my friend; I can't believe he would do anything to hurt us. But I'm sorry this happened. Do you think - should we let Father know about this? Before Joe gets here, I mean? He might want to be here too."
Vincent considered for a moment. "I see no reason to tell Father right now, Catherine. There is nothing he or anyone can do to change what has already occurred, and he would only worry, perhaps needlessly."
He looked at Catherine sitting cross-legged on the bed, letting his eyes roam over her naked loveliness. Never could he tire of looking at her; never cease to desire her touch or the wonder of her softness in his arms. He met her eyes, seeing in them the gleam he had good reason to recognize, and marveled anew at the speed with which their passion could arise. A look, a touch, sometimes no more than a shared thought, could instantly translate into immediate, burning desire.
Sweet warmth rose through his tissues, rippling outward from his groin. Vincent felt his flesh stirring, growing hard, and with a groan that was half a laugh he reached for Catherine, drawing her down beside him. Her body molded pliantly against him as his lips traveled from the welcoming softness of her mouth down across her silken throat.
" 'Then, from the caverns of my dreamy youth, I sprang, as one sandalled with plumes of fire. . . ' "
Languid with desire, Catherine felt Vincent move to cover her with his body. His silky fur rubbed erotically across the sensitive skin of her inner thighs as she parted her legs to receive his love.
" 'And toward the lodestar of my one desire, I flitted, like a dizzy moth. . . ' " Vincent whispered, low and husky, in her ear. He entered her easily, with none of the urgency of their earlier lovemaking. Their movements were unhurried, lazy, each slow lift and undulating thrust bringing an almost painfully exquisite pleasure.
"'Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound, and our veins beat together. . . .' " Catherine's voice failed and her breath caught in her throat as a slow wave of liquid heat crept through her veins. Her vision blurred.
"'. . . We shall . . . become the same - we shall be . . . one spirit . . . within two frames. . . !' " The last word was torn from Vincent's lips in an agonized gasp as a powerful orgasm seized them both. For a time unknown, they swirled in a whirlpool of mindless, arching ecstasy, only gradually becoming aware once more of the world around them. Vincent collapsed in a limp, gasping heap, barely managing to roll onto his side to keep his weight off Catherine.
"God, Vincent!" Catherine tried to catch her breath, calm the racing of her heart. Lingering tendrils of pleasure still spiraled slowly within her, one by one uncurling then gradually fading away. She became aware that her body was damp with perspiration and looked over at Vincent. His golden skin was flushed and striped where sweat had trickled down, leaving dark trails through the tawny fur. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open from the deep, rapid breaths he was drawing.
Her voice was soft and husky. "'...one life, one death, one Heaven, one Hell, one immortality. . .;' "
Vincent's eyes opened; he touched her cheek, tilted her chin up. " '. . . And one annihilation.' " Their lips met.
With reluctance, Catherine forced herself to ignore the drowsy languor which beckoned so seductively. She pulled away and looked at Vincent wryly. "I think we need another shower," she sighed, then chuckled. "That is, if I can still walk!"
Joe stepped out of the elevator and walked toward Cathy's apartment. He stopped outside the door, staring at it, then taking a long, deep breath, he knocked.
The door opened. Cathy stood on the other side looking up at him with the kind of polite smile that doesn't reach the eyes - the kind people reserve for unwelcome company. "Joe. How nice to see you. Come in." She pulled the door wider and Joe walked into her apartment, wincing at the acid sweetness of her tone.
He looked around. There was no sign of Vincent. Joe turned as Cathy shot the deadbolts on the door and walked toward him.
"Sit down." She indicated the sofa. Joe smiled involuntarily. He remembered those dinky couches; he had tried to spend the night on one of them that time when Cathy had been stalked by the peeping tom.
"Thanks. Good thing Peter Alcott hadn't gotten around to getting rid of all your things, huh?" Joe started to sit, then suddenly remembered the sack in his hand. Holding it out to her, he said, "My mother always told me, 'Never visit anyone empty-handed - especially when you're not sure of your welcome.' So . . . this is for you."
Catherine opened the bag and pulled out the bottle of wine she found inside. One eyebrow raised. "Thank you, Joe."
"It's imported . . . from France. The guy in the store said it was a good year; I hope he knew what he was talking about." Joe winced inwardly, uncomfortably aware that he was chattering like a nervous teenager on a first date.
Catherine glanced at the label, hiding a smile. "I'm sure it will be fine, Joe; that was a good year for that region. Please, sit down." Joe sat. She watched in amusement as he glanced around the room, trying to be inconspicuous about it. Joe trying to do anything surreptitiously had always been something of a contradiction in terms. Sinking onto the other couch, she took pity on him.
"Vincent will be out in a moment. He's taking a shower." Catherine noted with slight malice that this information did nothing to ease Joe's state of mind; if anything, his nervousness increased. She put the wine back in the bag and set it down on the coffee table.
"Good," Joe nodded, then cleared his throat and plunged in. "Cathy, I'm sorry if I've made you angry by coming here."
Catherine shook her head. "It's not your visit that upsets me, Joe. It's what you did. You betrayed my trust in you. How could you have kept my room under surveillance?"
Joe looked at her in pure astonishment. "For Christ's sake, Radcliffe! We didn't know whether any of Gabriel's men were still around. Hell, we didn't even know who they might be! If he was powerful enough to own Moreno, the District Attorney, anyone could have been working for him - even the doctors at the nursing home. Of course we had you under surveillance! Do you think we wanted to lose you again? Once was more than enough, let me tell you!" His voice cracked and he looked away, blinking angrily.
Catherine's eyes softened. "All right, Joe. I know that you were only trying to protect me." She leaned forward, intent. "But that doesn't alter what happened. You watched Vincent. Why? Why was it necessary to spy on him, when you were the one who brought him to me? Just to satisfy your curiosity about the man in my life?"
That stung. Joe sat up straighter. "Cathy, when I brought Vincent to the nursing home that night and left him alone with you, I went straight to the surveillance room. Greg Hughs was on duty. I told him to go get some dinner, that I would take over until he got back." Joe looked directly at Catherine.
"I sat down in the chair and watched the monitor. At first, Vincent just stood there staring down at you. All I could see was that damned hood. Then he pulled it off - and I saw his face. I thought he was wearing a mask, and I was, well, really confused. And angry. And then - well, I realized it wasn't. A mask, I mean." He hesitated, choosing his next words carefully.
"I admit that part of the reason I wanted to see Vincent was just plain, ordinary curiosity. Even before your kidnapping, it seemed like mysterious things kept happening to you - or to people around you. I knew there was someone in your life and that somehow this man was tied in to all the strange happenings. And you were always so secretive about it all. Yeah, I was curious."
He looked her straight in the eye then. "But there was another reason why I watched that monitor. I had to be sure that he wouldn't hurt you. That night was the first time we met. All I knew of Vincent was that you and he had some kind of relationship. You know the statistics as well as I do, Radcliffe. It's usually the nearest and dearest who turn out to be the guilty party, even though Bennett kept assuring me that Vincent had nothing to do with either your disappearance or your death."
Joe stopped, with a fleeting grin. "I mean, your supposed death. Anyway, in spite of Bennett ramming Vincent's innocence down my throat at every turn and protecting him just like you always did, I had to be sure. I didn't really believe that he had been involved with Gabriel, but you tell me - How could I take the chance? I had to watch him, Cathy." He leaned back against the cushions, tensely awaiting her verdict.
Catherine had listened in silence while Joe spoke, filing away for future examination his very interesting remarks about Diana Bennett. Her anger had completely disappeared; all that remained now was the worry. She sighed. "Okay, Joe, I suppose that under the circumstances there wasn't much else you could have done - "
"There was nothing else he could have done."
Joe spun around in his seat. Once heard, that voice was unmistakable. Vincent stood behind him in the entrance to Cathy's bedroom. Joe stood up, meeting the keen glance from those amazing eyes. He unconsciously drew a deep breath as the full impact of Vincent's strange features hit him once more. My God, every time I see him, it's the same thing all over again: I look at him, but I don't believe what I'm seeing. He's like something out of Greek mythology.
He watched Vincent walk over to the couch where Cathy sat. The grace and potent virility he had noticed upon first meeting Vincent were even more evident since the long cloak no longer concealed his powerful body.
Vincent sat down next to Catherine. At once she leaned against him. His arm went around her and Joe's eyes were instantly drawn to the sight of the large, fur-covered hand resting on Catherine's arm, and to the sharp claws at the ends of long, elegant fingers. Claws which Joe knew were not merely ornamental.
"You know it is the truth, Catherine. Joe has always been your friend. He needed to be certain you were protected, and so he did what had to be done."
Joe saw Catherine look sharply at Vincent, who returned her gaze calmly. Slowly she nodded. "Yes, he did. As we all do, Vincent - as we all do." Vincent smiled, a little. And sadly, Joe thought.
"Yes," Vincent said softly.
Joe cleared his throat. "Cathy." He glanced at Vincent. "Vincent." The word stuck in his throat. Vincent looked up and Joe was struck again by the undeniable magnetism of this man - or whatever he was. He hastily returned his gaze to Catherine's face and leaned forward.
"I did everything I could to safeguard your privacy without compromising the security. Diana and I were the only ones who saw Vincent, and the camera was not recording at any time while he was with you. Also, I forgot to mention that the audio was turned off; we couldn't hear what either of you was saying. Cathy, I'm sorry if you feel that I betrayed your trust. I don't want you to be angry with me - but under the same circumstances I would do exactly the same thing again."
Catherine regarded him for a long moment. The tense silence hung awkwardly between them. Then her eyes flickered and grew vague; she seemed to be listening to something. She nodded slightly and looked at him again. "All right, Joe, I'm not angry anymore. I shouldn't have been angry at all; I'm sorry. Thank you for doing what you could to protect Vincent. You didn't get into any trouble because of that, did you? You said something on the phone about the Commissioner being upset." Her voice trailed up inquiringly.
Joe shrugged and sat back, surprised at the extent of his relief. She wasn't angry with him! "Solano wasn't what you'd call happy when he found out what I'd done, but I assured him that someone had still been keeping an eye on you even though the recorder was turned off. I didn't mention that the sound was also off. I gave him my professional opinion that Vincent was not a threat to you, and he accepted it - after a while."
He grinned suddenly. "Probably because he didn't find out until three days ago."
Catherine blinked. Suddenly Joe was astonished to hear her chuckle. The sound of it, low, rich, achingly familiar, caused an unexpected tug at his heart. "Imagine that!" She chuckled again. Behind her, Vincent's mouth opened in what Joe decided must be his version of a smile. He caught the white gleam of long, sharp teeth and then it was Joe's turn to blink. It was with difficulty that he prevented his jaw from dropping.
Fangs. He really does have fangs. My God.
"How did you manage that, Joe?" Catherine was still laughing.
With an effort, Joe tore his attention away from Vincent. "Hey, what can I say? When you're a genius, nothing's impossible."
Joe's dark eyes gleamed with mischief and Catherine saw with a rush of affection the familiar boyish grin cross his face. :You were right, Vincent. There was nothing else Joe could have done. But we still need to find out what he plans to do next.: She sensed his unspoken affirmation.
"Joe." Catherine spoke softly, her amusement gone. "What happens now?"
Joe didn't pretend not to understand. He glanced at Vincent, sitting like a sentinel beside Cathy, and noticed that Vincent's arm had slipped around her waist. He's hardly spoken a dozen words since he sat down. What is he thinking? Joe's eyes roamed across the room, seeking inspiration, before coming back to rest on Catherine's intent face. He made a helpless gesture with his hands.
"I don't know, Cathy. Nothing, I guess. When I came here I had the idea that we'd talk and I'd get to know Vincent better."
He hesitated, then spoke slowly, picking his way through feelings he had only then become aware of. "But now...I don't think that's what I want to do. In fact, I think it's better all around if I just leave things where they are, if I don't learn any more." His eyes flickered over Vincent's hands. He stood up.
"Let me know what you plan on doing, will you, Radcliffe? I hope you decide to come back to us, but if not - well, whatever you do, I wish you all the best, kiddo. Just don't forget your friends, okay?" Joe felt his eyes stinging and decided it was past time to leave. He began walking toward the door.
Catherine and Vincent got up and followed him to the door. Joe started to open it, but stopped when Catherine put her hand over his. She waited until Vincent was behind the door before letting go, and Joe realized that she was making sure Vincent couldn't be seen by anyone who might be in the corridor outside. He was stunned.
God, what must it be like to have lived all your life taking such precautions, knowing that the slightest glimpse of your face might at best cause panic, at worst possibly your own death?
He turned to face them. This time he spoke directly to Vincent. "You don't have to worry; I'll keep your secret."
The astonishing blue eyes met his gravely. "I know you will. Thank you."
Unexpectedly, Catherine threw her arms around him and hugged him hard. "You're a good friend, Joe. Thank you."
Joe returned the embrace then stepped back. He managed a smile in spite of the uneven thumping of his heart. "Goodbye. See ya around, Radcliffe." He looked at Vincent, hesitant. "I hope we can meet again someday, maybe have that talk."
The shaggy head inclined in benign agreement. Abruptly, Joe stuck out his hand. There was a split second of hesitation, then Vincent extended his own. Joe was struck by how normal that huge hand felt in his. The callused palm was warm, the grip firm but making no attempt to dominate. If it wasn't for the claws...and the fur....
He opened the door and slipped quickly through, pulling it shut behind him. As he waited for the elevator, Joe was conscious of feeling a strange mixture of relief and regret, a sense that he was turning his back on something wondrous and magical.
No, it's better this way. But, maybe, someday...."
* * * * *
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you've got to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will.
You've got a friend....