Rusty Hough Bader
Diana locked up her apartment and followed Vincent to the Tunnels. As their feet moved in perfect time together, Diana had another one of those thoughts about couples. The phone call she received that Kanin snapped out of the induced haze with the right amount of medical attention was a source of satisfaction. He was stiff and sore, but once the prison cameras confirmed the misdeed, he was carried by ambulance to St. Vincent Medical Center and registered under ‘Keith Chandler.’
What a comfort to know that whatever peril overwhelmed them, that Kanin and Olivia were loved and supported by their community. That’s what the Tunnels were all about.
As moisture dripped from pipes and mice scurried in the shadows, Vincent reached out to Diana’s shoulder and stopped. “You are thinking loudly tonight. Perhaps when we get this next task out of the way, you’ll catch your remaining vacation and truly come down for more than forty-eight hours?”
The way Vincent ‘planted’ ideas in her hard head was priceless. Did he do this to everyone? “That’s a whale of an idea. I could bring down the fabric ends, and the ladies could help be perforate my fingertips while we quilt.” She waited for his reply, he knew she was a horrible seamstress and a worse quilter.
He tilted his head closer to her and shook it, his indigo eyes shining with good humor. “Or, you bring another crate of fresh fruit and vegetables, a case of lemons for lemonade and you can make the lemonade while Mary and her quilting circle complete the job.” His booted foot stepped out to resume their walk when Mouse skirted the wall and came up in front of Vincent, his finger to his lips.
Mouse produced a rolled note. “Mitch has gathered a crew from the men’s shelter. The trucks are leaving from 30th street and First Avenue, near the men’s shelter one in the morning. Jamie has gone above to leave a message on Joe’s answering machine.”
Diana’s stricken look registered with Vincent. With this current ‘all hands on deck,’ Jamie was going to get Joe on the phone. Diana shook her head, withdrew her pen, and wrote. ‘Get me to Jamie.’
With an athletic sprint, Diana got above to find Jamie slinking back sadly toward the Tunnel opening. Diana ran to her and caught Jamie’s face in both hands. “Did Joe grill you?”
Jamie shrugged and shook her head. “When he answered his phone, I froze.”
“And?” Diana shuffled from foot to foot, waving to speed up Jamie’s response.
“When I breathed a little too much, Mr. Maxwell asked me if I was one of Catherine’s friends. I didn’t say yes or no, but then he asked, ‘Do you know anything about the murder case I’m working on with Diana Bennett?’ I mumbled, didn’t really give him an answer.” Diana wiped anxiously at her face. “But I said, Mitch… trucks loading at 30th street and First Avenue, by one in the morning.” Jamie’s face blushed bright red. “I don’t think he traced the call, I used the phone near the Metropolitan Museum.” Jamie looked around the park and caught Diana’s hand to run them toward the access at Belvedere Castle.
Before Jamie could drag Diana below, she raised a halting hand. “Jamie, let Vincent know, I’ve had to stay up top. Please have him talk to Olivia. I’ll be below as soon as possible.”
Diana took the subway stairs two at a time, wary of every pair of eyes on her. By the time she came up the steps and around the corner, Greg stood at a cruiser strapping on gear. “Bennett, when I think of you, I think of a Dali painting. You’re here, you’re there, you just pop up. We got the word…The men’s shelter.”
“The men’s shelter….” The two of them spoke at the same time.
Joe Maxwell assembled the plainclothes officers dressed like produce deliverymen. “We’re advancing on Denton dressed as the food pantry delivery at midnight. Intel has them bringing goods up and out through the shelter loading dock. DeRosa and Sons Produce has loaned us a truck. We’ll back up, block them in, and let the party commence.”
Hiding her wealth of red hair under a chunky rib knit hat, Diana layered a flannel shirt over her vest. She made every attempt to bulk up and look as masculine as possible. Mitch was ruthless, just ruthless enough to hold a gun to her head and force her brothers in blue to bargain with him. Mitch could pound sand.
Diana checked her weapon, added additional clips to her belt, and climbed into the truck. If only cell phones were smaller. If only Vincent had one. If only, if only, if only.
As the produce truck hunkered in traffic, an uncommon sound overshadowed their tense breathing. Joe looked up and out the driver’s side window. “Helicopter, imagine that at this hour.”
Greg rolled down his window and gawked at the Bell Helicopter, gliding over them. “Awe, just what we need – they’ll get antsy thinking we’re after them.” Greg shook his head at their fourth member as Diana sat in the truck's jump seat moving her pocket rosary as she said her prayers. She prayer for Kanin and Olivia, Vincent and his subterranean family, and mostly, that Mitch would be handled with force necessary to keep him incarcerated.
Before Joe turned the corner, a second helicopter approached from the other direction. They appeared to hover and then one broke out ahead, in the direction of the men’s shelter.
With the loading dock in sight, Joe pulled over and turned out the headlights as both helicopters hovered. Six black Chevy Tahoes screamed around the corners and converged on Mitch’s crew. It could have been a broadway production with all the coordinated lights and sounds. “This is the FBI Joint Task Force on interstate crime. Drop your weapons. Hands up. Lay on the ground.”
One of the smaller thieves shoved a handgun deeper into his jeans and bolted back into the shelter. Within seconds two combat suited FBI Agents escorted the man down to the street.
Mitch glowered as he wrapped an arm around one of his crew. The kid was barely eighteen from the scruffy hair on the boy’s chin. “These guys can do time, but I’m not rolling over.” He dragged the boy back into the shelter offices, and a throng of agents followed.
“How did this happen?” Joe threw up a hand. “I thought I had four people… and it’s suddenly training day.” The four climbed out of the produce truck and crept toward agents. As the swarm of criminals got rounded up by the mass of agents, Joe flashed his credentials at the agent in charge. Diana smiled at the athletic, dark-haired woman nodding and talking with Joe as she issued hand gestures as directions to her team.
Mitch tossed the kid to the sidewalk as he kicked open the hatch and dropped into the Tunnels. Leave it to the damn Helpers Catherine gathered. Vincent’s ‘Catherine’ may be gone, but all those do-gooders still kept their eyes open for him. Like he was their special project. He knew he was close to the East River Esplanade. All he had to do was run along the scaffolding over the water pipes. With this weather this season, the current beneath him was fierce. Stay on the grates. And when he got to his destination, there would be some rowboats there, he could cut and run and hide in Brooklyn.
As Mitch wrestled the latch on the metal door, he felt he was not alone. The echo was familiar. The rustling of a leather cloak, the near silence of soft leather-soled boots and the gentle vibration of his greatest adversary’s breathing.
Vincent's velvet fog of a voice implored. “Mitch.”
The criminal walked to the intersection of two scaffolds, the better to escape. “Don’t you have a kid to take care of? Why do you always have to butt into everyone else’s business?” Mitch’s brows drew to an affronted frown.
Vincent’s cape brushing the scaffolding as he took slow strides toward Mitch. “Don’t you believe that as a parent, I owe my son the example of being a law-abiding citizen?”
Mitch hunkered, goading Vincent to charge him in the hopes he could get his weight under Vincent to toss him over the scaffolding railings into the rushing waters emptying into the East River.
“Oh, Jeeze. Give it up. What’s it to you if I leave town?”
“Fortunately, Kanin will have a full recovery and be home within the week. However, there have been deaths surrounding your escapades. You need to be handed over to the authorities.”
Mitch audaciously stepped right outside of Vincent’s reach and postured. “So now, you’re too good to be the enforcer. Are you going to be the one to escort me back to Jose Maxwell?” Mitch broke into posturing and pumping his fists at Vincent, looking for his leonine friend’s switch.
“Mitch, As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence. I’m going to step aside, I will follow you back to where Joe and Diana are waiting.” Vincent held out his clawed hand and moved to give Mitch space to pass.
Mitch built a head of steam and head down charged Vincent. With his customary grace, Vincent leapt to the railing and pulled himself up to the next level of scaffolding. Jumping and swinging at Vincent’s cape, Mitch’s foot rolled, and gravity did its job.
Holding on to the tail of Vincent’s cape, Mitch bellowed. “Are you gonna let me die, pull me up!”
Vincent peered down as Mitch grabbed for the scaffolding. The combined weight of the two men caused the scaffolding to sway. Vincent bent at the knees and steadied himself. The new from his vantage point was damning. The water rushed over coarse boulders as it undulated on its circuitous route to the East River. “Stay still, but hold on, we have to stop the platform’s swaying.”
“That’s easy for you, cat man.” The stress and strain in Mitch’s bravado showed.
“I’m going to step down to the platform, can you grab anything solid?” Vincent asked as he prepared to lower himself. “When I drop down, you will be too far to grab something. Find something, Mitch. Help me help you.”
There was cussing, and curses and Vincent watched as Mitch’s cramping fingers slipped from his cape. In the quiet silent seconds before Mitch’s screams echoed, Vincent closed his eyes, and every interaction with Mitch played in double time. Vincent stood paralyzed between the railing and the platform. If he could turn off the switch on that projector, he would. All Vincent could do was close his eyes as he dropped to the platform. Mitch was gone.
The diner around the corner from the shelter was shoulder to shoulder, tight with agents and NYPD. Diana sat in a booth with two other agents, going through the motions of the blue line comradery. Tonight was different. She knew Mitch’s ruthlessness. She knew the Tunnel’s vulnerability.
The agent in charge of the raid swirled sugar into her china mug. “My Cousin Chris was livid about this Mitch character. Once we pulled the crimes, we saw this was a job for us. I feel like such a failure, getting everyone but him.” Diana nodded mutely as she saw Mouse standing outside the diner, raising his brows and jerking his head around the corner.
“Would you excuse me for just a second?” Diana peeled two dollars out of her pocket and left the packed diner before anyone could miss her.
Mouse scooted around the corner and cautiously looked around before he spoke. “Vincent is home. He sent me. William is making him tea and even a brownie. Vincent is upset about Mitch and the water.”
“Mitch and the water? What happened?” Diana held out a buttered biscuit in a paper napkin.
“For Arthur or Mouse?” The young man’s eyes lit up at the warm flaky treat.
“You tell me what happened, and I’ll bring a sack of them back to you.” Diana leaned against the building wall.
“Mitch came after Vincent. Vincent jumped. Mitch fell. Lots of sharp rocks and angry current. Mitch is gone.”
Diana sought Mouse’s gaze. “Dead gone?”
Mouse nodded silently as he pinched off the first bite of biscuit. “If you bring more of these.” He held up the biscuit. “Bring more butter, please?”
Diana covered her face with both hands for a second. She promised she’d be down by tomorrow evening and returned to her brothers and sisters in blue.
Before Vincent could make his way to Diana’s roof, she unplugged her telephone, set the lights on timers, and hefted her backpack over her shoulder. She was taking three days to absolutely nothing but let Vincent read to her under the falls. Temptation nearly had the best of her as she walked to Lin’s Asian restaurant for three orders of steamed dumplings, pork spareribs and shrimp toast. If she bribed the right people, they would keep it a secret for the first day and she’d get to play chess with Father without distractions.
Carefully climbing down the ladder to the Tunnel world Diana’s breath hitched when two strong hands caught her around the waist and dropped her several ladder rungs to the packed earth.
“Do I smell a victory dinner?” Vincent gestured to carry the shopping bag of delicacies.
“Yes, you do. In exchange for three days of peace and quiet.” His smile was sublime as his lips curled, and his blue eyes joined in the celebration.
Walking beside him. Talking about things as simple as the fattest steamed dumplings. This was exactly what she needed.