Jarod opened the door to his room, satisfied with his last
mission. It had gone remarkably well and now it was time to move
on. And quickly before the Centre caught up with him.
He dropped the bag containing his supper onto the table.
Chinese takeout tonight. He had grown quite fond of Oriental
food. Opening the bag, he took out a box and chopsticks,
settling in front of the computer to check out his email and web
sites before packing it up for travel.
Another pleading letter from Sydney but no new information. A
light-hearted note from Nina and a chatty one from Ernie. A few
junk emails. And a short note from someone using the email
address of "firstname.lastname@example.org". He opened it.
I know something you may wish to know,
Jarod blinked, wondering at the mysterious contents of this
email. Then he noticed that there was an attachment. Curious, he
clicked on it, watching as it unzipped into a .gif file.
Absently, he poked into the box, finding a nice hunk of chicken.
He had it halfway to his mouth when he saw the file clearly for
the first time. The food dropped unnoticed back into the box,
the sticks following as he leaned forward.
It was a picture apparently scanned in from a photo and the
quality wasn't the best but it was clear enough. It showed a
woman standing, her arm around a teen-age girl. He knew them
both, having seen them not three months ago. He reached out to
gently press his fingers against his mother's face, feeling a
hollow kind of joy sweep through him.
She looked younger then he remembered from his too-brief
glance but if Emily was any indication, then this picture had to
have been taken some ten years ago. They were smiling but his
mother's seemed to be oddly strained, her eyes haunted. There
was no indication where the photo had been taken. But it had
been taken and whoever had it was sharing it with him for some
He looked over the email message again. It seemed that
whoever this "E" was, he or she had more information
to share. Could it be someone from the Centre? Frowning, he
looked at the email address. Absently, he set about to trace the
domain, not hard if you know what you're doing. . .which he did.
Just as a message popped up saying that the requested domain did
not exist, another email appeared. He clicked it open.
Ah! Ah! Ah! No fair peeking. . .
Jarod blinked then leaned forward, typing a reply frantically
but before he could send it another message appeared.
If you'd like to talk, be at the Deuces Wild 10:30
Jarod hit send and watched his reply vanished from the
screen. A minute later, an email appeared announcing that the
message could not be delivered. The domain sforce.net did not
"Damn." Jarod muttered and went to work Soon he had
established that there wasn't nor ever had been a domain called
sforce.net and no email address of email@example.com. He paused,
chewing his lip then started a search for Deuces Wild.
Deuces Wild turned out to be a notorious gay bar on the east
side of the city, on the docks. This surprised him. How did E
know what city he was in? Could this be a trap?
Jarod stared at the picture then printed it out, studying it
intently. The picture was real. Had to be real. Ever since that
too brief glimpse three months ago, he hadn't been able to find
a scrap of information about his family. So he would go to meet
E. With suitable precautions, of course.
Despite not being hungry any longer, Jarod forced himself to
finish his meal then packed up. He would move to a new location
and put the DSAs in a safe place before he went to meet the
writer of these mysterious messages.
The next night, Jarod sat in a booth in Deuces Wild, watching
as several couples danced and wondering what he was doing here.
He'd dressed simply; black tee-shirt and black jeans and was
portraying himself as interested but not aggressively so.
Looking but not too hard. Waiting for someone. He'd already
turned down two invitations to the floor below, which was
apparently available for sexual encounters. Whether it was a
single orgy room or a series of cubicles, Jarod had no idea and
didn't particularly wish to find out at this time. He had other
things on his mind.
He scanned the crowd again. He had no idea who he was looking
for. Or maybe he did.
His eyes narrowed as he stared at the doorway. Someone had
just entered, someone that looked vaguely familiar. Where had he
seen him before. . ?
The newcomer was a tall man dressed entirely in black;
calf-high boots, jeans, open-necked shirt with the sleeves
rolled up, gloves, cowboy hat. As he stepped further into the
room, eyes scanning the crowd, Jarod saw the long, raven-black
hair, falling to the small of his back and a memory flashed
through his mind.
In Boston, he'd had eyes only for his mother, his sister but
as the cab had sped away, he had caught a half-formed impression
of the driver. Of long black hair and startling silver eyes.
His eyes met the newcomer's and the other man smiled
slightly. He walked to the booth where Jarod was and slid into
the seat across from him, taking of his hat and setting it on
the table. Without a word, the man slipped a photo from a pocket
and tossed it to Jarod.
Jarod picked it up, not surprised to see that it was the
original of what had come to him through the email. He studied
it longingly before looking up at the man who delivered.
"E?" He asked quietly.
There was a flash of white teeth as the man smiled.
"Call me Epitaph. Most people do."
"Yes, isn't it?"
Perry Jackson watched the two men with a frown. It looked
like a pre-arranged meeting, though anyone else seeing it would
assume it was two lovers meeting. Perry didn't think this was
the case. Not if the information he'd been given concerning
Jarod was correct.
He stepped into the shadows of an alcove and pulled the phone
from his pocket, dialing a number known to very few people.
"Yes?" The voice of his employer rasped in his ear.
"I've found him."
Perry obeyed, finishing with a sketchy description of the man
Jarod was meeting with. He couldn't help but notice his
employer's breathing change, growing harsher.
"The man..." He rasped. "Long black hair.
Silver eyes. Looks to be a Plains Indian."
"Something like, yes."
"And they're talking? How long?"
"Just a few minutes. He just arrived."
"I see. Any sign of Miss Parker and her helpers?"
"No." He eyed the two men in the booth. "Shall
I grab Jarod?"
"I have a more important assignment for you right now.
When it is finished, then capture Jarod if you can. Kill him if
you can't. Right now, your job is to kill the other man. I want
him dead and quickly. Before he can say anything of importance
to Jarod. Understood?"
"Understood." Perry's voice was distracted as he
reviewed his options. He had, of course, several weapons
available but the majority of the truly deadly weapons were
locked in his car. It won't do to be groped and have a weapon
discovered. "What if I end up eliminating some
"Whatever is necessary. Eliminate Jarod if you must but
kill that man. Keep in mind though that you get your bonus only
if Jarod is alive."
"Catch 22." Perry muttered. "Consider it
done." Perry hung up and shoved it back into his pocket.
He'd have to go out and get a gun. A powerful little beauty
capable of cutting a man in half. And if it killed more then
just his target, well, then so be it.
It was while choosing that weapon that he spotted a familiar
threesome heading for the bar and heard an equally familiar
"A gay bar, Sidney? What? Frankenboy exploring
Sydney's answer was lost as they entered the bar but Perry
wouldn't have heard it anyway. He was hurriedly dialing the
"How do you know my mother?" was the first question
Jarod asked and the other man smiled.
"I meet her in France some nine years ago." He
waved away the waiter who came by and continued. "She and
her daughter. Tourists on holiday by all appearances but
she...your mother...was scared of something. Jumpy, always
looking over her shoulder....isn't that Miss Parker?"
Jarod started then hastily looked at the door. "Damn! It
is!" He scrambled to his feet, Epitaph following suit.
"Come on. This way. We'll go out the back."
"Hmmmmmm." Amusement glinted in silver eyes.
"Keep close. Hello, Adrian. Open up, passing through."
"Not gonna stay and play?" The huge bartender asked
politely as he opened the door to the private basement.
"They won't let us." He jerked his head toward the
approaching trio and slipped through the door. Jarod hesitated
then plunged in after him.
Down a flight of stairs and into a large room filled with
men. Jarod's steps faltered and he blinked. He'd never realized
that there were so many ways to have sex! If it weren't for his
pursers, he'd have found a stool and just observed but he could
hear the sound of angry voices behind him and hastily followed
the other man into the press of bodies.
Hands groped at him in passing though he couldn't help but
notice that not one hand touched Epitaph. Jarod chalked it down
to vibes and wondered, briefly, why he was following this man in
the first place. Well, he did seem to know a way out of here. .
A hand took advantage of his distraction to grope downward
and a voice said, almost in his ear "Ohhhhhh, is that for
Before Jarod could even think of a reply, something appeared
over his shoulder. Long and black and razor-sharp. A knife that
could possibly qualify as a short sword. Where had that come
"This is." Epitaph growled and the hand pulled away
"I'm not into that!"
"You're in luck. Neither am I. Damn. Here they come.
Come on, Jarod."
The crowd took one look at the knife Epitaph held and parted.
Jarod glanced over his shoulder to see Miss Parker running down
the stairs and bolted after him, up another flight of stairs and
out a door into the night air.
"Run." Epitaph commanded, slamming the door shut.
Unnoticed by Jarod, he pulled an envelope from a pocket and
flipped it at the base of the door before running after him.
"Where to?" Jarod asked.
"There's a. . .oh, damn." Epitaph had caught a
glimpse of someone moving to cut them off. He didn't know the
man but he did know the gun the man was holding. He also
suspected who the shooter was really after. "Split up! Go
that way." He shoved Jarod in the direction opposite the
gunman and sprinted toward the docks.
Miss Parker promised herself a scalding hot bath when they
got back to the hotel. More then a few of the men had thought
her outfit to be just grand, much to Sydney’s ill-concealed
amusement and it had taken her brandishing her gun to clear a
path. Once outside, she paused, looking around.
"There!" Sydney pointed then, "Jarod,
Miss Parker caught a glimpse of Jarod sprinting across the
dock, weaving through the crates there and ran after him. Sydney
sighed and followed. Behind them both, Broots, in worst shape of
them all, wheezed against the door and it was him who spotted
the envelope on the ground. Written neatly on the front was the
name "Miss Parker". He picked it up and studied
intently. He was thinking half-heartedly of opening it when the
shots rang out.
Jarod was sprinting along the dock, outlining the escape path
he'd planned before ever entering the building. Two minutes and
he would be gone. He smiled slightly and began to work out how
to get a hold of Epitaph once again. . .
Shots rang out, a long series of automatic gunfire. Jarod
instinctively threw himself to one side but then realized that
whoever it was was not firing at him. He whirled to look in the
direction of gunfire.
He could see Epitaph near the end of one of the docks,
sprinting for the water. Another burst of gunfire and the man
jerked. Even from this distance, Jarod could see the bullets
tear through the man's torso and neck and he knew why Epitaph
had ordered him to go in this direction.
"No!" Jarod screamed, watching as Epitaph fell off
the pier and into the water. "Damn. . !" He bit back
the rest of the shout, turning and bolting for the bike he had
hidden at the far side of the wharf. It was obvious the Centre
had sent someone out to kill anyone who could possibly give him
information about his family, had apparently decided that
keeping that information from him was more important then
getting him back.
He ran on, anger filling him.
Miss Parker watched as the shooter walked to the edge of the
pier to peer down into the water. He looked familiar.
"Isn't that Perry Jackson?" Sydney said in a low
"Yes. Yes, damnit. Who sent him out here?"
"Three guesses." Sydney looked around, realizing
that the distraction had given Jarod a chance to vanish.
"Come on, we better get out of here."
"Jarod. . ? Damn!" She threw another look toward
the dock, seeing with some trepanation that Jackson was also
gone. "Come on."
Broots rejoined them as they ran for the car. "I think
you should see this, Miss Parker."
"See what?" She snatched the envelope his hand,
glancing at her name written neatly on it. "Damn Jarod and
his little games. Sydney, you drive." She tore the envelope
open and slipped out the contents.
"Miss Parker, that isn't Jarod's handwriting."
Sydney observed as he started the car and backed out from the
parking space. "Miss Parker?" He glanced over to the
passenger seat when there was no answer. Miss Parker's face had
gone totally white as she stared at the photo that had been in
the envelope. "What is it?" He asked sharply.
Miss Parker didn't answer, just offered him the photo. Sydney
glanced at it then pulled over under a streetlight and looked
It was a photo of a woman he knew very well. Catherine
Parker. Why would someone send that to Miss Parker? But then he
looked closer, seeing things that weren't familiar. Catherine's
hair was cut stylishly short in this photo and there was a child
with her, a young boy by the look of it. And, impossibly,
Catherine seemed older then when she had died.
"The date, Sydney. Look at the date."
Sydney's eyes were drawn down to the corner where the date
was automatically stamped and his mouth went dry.
"May 16, 1985, Sydney. Thirteen years after she died.
Several miles down the river, a man clawed his way quite
literally from the water and up a pillar onto a dock, clinging
to the pillar to stay upright then pulled away to glare back in
the direction of the club. Blood flowed from a dozen bullet
wounds to merge undistinguishable with river water.
"Damn!" He said. "I've ruined a new shirt. And
lost my hat to boot!"
A giggle flowed through his mind and he scowled darkly.
"Oh, shaddup." He muttered to the giggler and he
walked into the night.
Under the Centre in SL-27
During the explosion. . .
The fireball rolled toward them.
Jarod's mouth was dry, with fear, with anger, with hopeless
resignation. To die without finding out the truth, who he was or
who his parents were. Or what Finnager meant when he said his
father shot Miss Parker's mother. . .
"Damn, damn, damn!" The voice came from behind him
and someone grabbed the collar of his jacket, yanking him back.
"You wanna die, boyo? Get back!"
Jarod blinked, looking at the figure that was suddenly in
front of him. A woman, no, a girl in her mid-teens stood there,
braced as if for an attack. The fireball surged closer then hit
an invisible wall, swirling and twisting then fading and
receding as the effects of the bomb dissipated, revealing a
small sturdy figure walking through the flames toward them. Like
the figure before him, this newcomer was dressed in unfamiliar
body armor, flames dancing on an invisible shield inches from
her skin. A knapsack dangled from her hand as she approached,
pausing briefly at Sydney.
"You couldn't wait another couple days to actually find
"Hellion." said a reproving voice came from behind
Jarod and he turned to see another half-dozen youngsters
standing there. A couple had rifles slung over their shoulders
but most were unarmed save for the handguns they held. Not their
handguns but weapons taken from Centre personnel, including a
very angry Miss Parker. "Find what you were looking
Hellion raised the knapsack. "Most of it, yes. And even
more downloaded directly into our computers. Not all of what we
wanted but hopefully enough. The room started blowing up before
I could finish." She finished dryly. "You could have
warned me, y'know, Sphinx."
"It wasn't like you'd actually be hurt." The
speaker stepped forward. A girl with Asian features, her long
hair in a bun and eyes hidden behind dark-tinted, wraparound
glasses. Jarod estimated that she couldn't be more then twelve
years old but she held the handgun with a sure knowledge.
"And we needed as much of that information as
"Well, we're not going to get any more so how about we
blow this joint. So to speak."
"Who the hell are you?" Parker finally found his
voice and the first girl, the one who had held back the
firestorm, turned toward him, almost absently pulling down her
wrap-around glasses to peer at him with tawny eyes.
"Oh, come now, Parker. You didn't honestly think the
Centre was the only organization of its kind? Of course, there
are major differences. We work for our organization quite
willingly, get paid a tremendous amount of money and can leave
any time we please." Her eyes shifted to Miss Parker.
"Unlike the Centre."
"Telzey." Sphinx said and the other girl subsided.
"We're from Strikeforce One. I'm sure you've heard of us. .
?" From the expressions on both Parker's and Raines' faces,
they had. The girl didn't bother turning to confirm the answer,
just continued speaking over her shoulder. "We're just here
to retrieve some things stolen from us. And since we have, we'll
just be on our way. I suggest, Jarod, that you let us give you
an escort out. Unless you fancy spending the rest of your life
in a cell."
Jarod looked down the fire-scorched hallway. "I. .
." He shook his head. "I need to find out the truth. .
"In this lie-ridden place? Please. You have a better
chance of getting the truth from the Prince of Lies. Besides,
the truth you seek isn't anywhere near here."
"And how would you know?" Miss Parker snapped.
Sphinx turned her head slightly, not quite looking at the
woman. "How would I know what? That Jarod's father shot
your mother? The question is, which father? His biological
father or the one who raised him? And why?" The girl turned
fully now, stepping close to Miss Parker, her voice dropping to
a whisper. "What is the truth, Miss Parker? It doesn't
exist here, in the Centre. All of your answers are out there, in
the real world. The question is, do you have the guts to go out
there and search for it or will you remain here, being
spoon-feed lies and deceptions for the rest of your life?"
Miss Parker stared down at the girl for a long, frozen moment
then her hand darted up to tear away the concealing glasses the
girl wore. Sphinx didn't even flinch but Miss Parker did. Her
face went white and she stumbled back in shock, the glasses
dropping to the floor.
Sphinx crouched to unerringly pick up the glasses but she
didn't put them right away, turning instead to walk back toward
Jarod. His eyes widened in shock. Where Sphinx's eyes should
have been was a smooth layer of skin. The girl moving so
confidently towards him was blind.
"Do you know the truth?" Miss Parker asked
"Oh, yes." Sphinx slipped her glasses back on.
"I do." She reached Jarod, slipping her hand into his,
looking up at him as if she could actually see him. "And
trust me, Jarod, you won't find it here. Come with us."
"Will you tell me the truth?" Jarod asked softly
and Sphinx smiled.
"Some of it. Parts of it. Maybe all of it."
Jarod hesitated then tightened his hold on the girl's hand.
"We better go."
Sphinx's smile widened. "Door. . ." She called over
"Wait a minute!" Miss Parker said sharply, stepping
forward, stopping when guns moved to point at her unerringly.
She almost said something sarcastic but those guns looked just
too comfortable in those small hands. "I want to know who
killed my mother!"
"For that, you'd have to ask your darling father, Mss
"But you said. . !"
"I said I knew who shot your mother. Not who killed her.
Big difference. Home, Door." She said to the boy who now
stood next to her. "Now, if you please."
The boy nodded and walked forward. As he walked, the hallway
seemed to shimmer and melt then rebuild itself into a totally
different hallway. One with wood walls rather then concrete.
Windows rather then barred cell doors. And a man in black
standing in the shadows, leaning casually against the wall, his
face hidden until he lit a cigarette. The flame flared,
flickering in cool silver eyes and briefly revealing long,
raven-black hair, light coppery skin and high cheekbones. Then
the flame flickered out.
Jarod heard a wheezing gasp from Raines but was too stunned
to even look at the man, even when the gasp turned into fight
"Impossible." Miss Parker stepped closer.
"Wouldn't be the first time." Sphinx said
pleasantly. "Haunt. Chance. Cover us. Everyone else. .
." She gestured toward the rebuilt hallway. All but two of
the children followed her gesture.
"No!" Miss Parker started forward then stopped
abruptly as a gun moved to point at her midsection. "I
want. . !"
"What do you want, Miss Parker?" Sphinx said
pleasantly, half-turning as if to look her. "Really want?
The truth? Which truth? Mine? His?" She pointed unerringly
at the woman's father. "Yours? Or maybe your
mother's?" She let the silence drag for a moment then
crooked her finger at Miss Parker in a "come closer"
Miss Parker hesitated, eyeing the guns but their bearers had
shifted them slightly to cover the men and were now ignoring
her. She stepped forward slowly then with more confidence as the
two young people covering their companions' retreat continued to
ignore her. She stopped a couple feet away from Sphinx and Jarod
but Sphinx smiled and beckoned her even closer. Miss Parker
looked at Jarod and he shrugged, as uncertain about what was
going on as she.
After a moment, the woman stepped next to Sphinx, ignoring
her father's cries of warning and, at another gesture from the
girl, leaned over so Sphinx to speak directly into her ear. She
spoke softly so the others from the Centre couldn't hear but
"Richard Joseph Jenko." Sphinx said softly then
stepped back, smiling slightly as she tugged Jarod down the
corridor. Miss Parker stared after them, a thousand questions in
her eyes but none that she wished to ask in her father's
hearing. The other children walked past her, the last two with
guns still held steadily on the Centre personnel. When the last
one was safe, the corridor once again seemed to melt and
shimmer, once again becoming the blast-damaged corridors of
I know there is at least one more scene after this. Where
it goes from there, I have no idea. Yet.
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