was dark, save for the low neon glow the laptop monitor provided. A solitary
figure sat at the desk, a sad half-smile on his face as his fingers moved
over the keyboard. His fingers paused and the smile faltered, briefly re-lighting
his face before disappearing altogether. Slowly, his hand raised, fingers
tracing the words in front of him.
As quickly as the spell of regret had been cast, it was shattered as silence gave way to the shrill ringing of the telephone next to him. “I was thinking about you,” he said into the mouthpiece, forgoing the niceties of etiquette as he raised the phone to his ear.
A soft, distant chuckle met his ears. “You’ve been honing your psychic abilities quite nicely,” the younger man answered. His voice lacked the light feel of his words, and it was picked up on immediately.
“What’s the matter?” Silence held a beat too long, before the older man spoke again. “And don’t tell me nothing. The last time you said that…” Letting the weight of his words hang in the air, he fell silent again.
The intake of breath was audible over the phone line. “I’m sorry for that.”
“Don’t apologize. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
Sydney’s gentle, prodding tone permeated Jarod’s shell of bitterness and with another sharp breath, the man on the other end of the line nodded into his phone. “I’m in way over my head here,” he whispered, the words almost snatched into the black stillness that wrapped itself around him. “I did something I can’t fix.”
“What?” The question seemed so simple as it was asked; it didn’t take long to become apparent how complex the answer must be.
“Someone’s life is in danger… with ramifications far beyond my control, but because of me.” It was the simplest of hard answers. “I couldn’t have avoided what I did --“ There was a pause and the sound of a deep, soul-reaching breath met the older man’s ears. “But I’ve destroyed a life because of it.”
Pouring sympathy into his voice, the man in the office spoke pensively. “If you couldn’t have changed your actions…”
“You don’t understand.” There was a sound in the background, tires spinning on gravel. “I… have to go. Trouble’s brew--” Mid-word, Jarod’s voice fell silent. The sound of tires reverberated in the distance again, closer this time; then silence.
The sound of Sydney’s voice, edged in desperation, echoed from the small cellular phone as it lay encased in darkness on the ground, the only sign anyone had been there at all.
* * * * * * * * *
Striding into Sydney's office, Miss Parker looked down at the laptop, open to a DSA. "You really should stop reliving all that."
Sydney glanced up at her before returning his gaze to a 16 year old Jarod, going through the simulation of a kidnapped child. "I know," he agreed, his tone resigned. "Bad habit."
"Sounds like you should talk to someone about this masochistic tendency. Not me, of course," she interjected quickly as her hand moved, index finger flicking off the DSA. "So, any idea where Boy Wonder might be today?"
Eyes clouding, he looked at his phone. "No, Miss Parker, I can honestly say I have no idea."
"That sounds ominous. Care to elaborate?" She frowned at the look she received; one that clearly said 'no.' "Will you anyway?"
"Don't I always?" Without waiting for a response, he tapped the phone once. "He did call me. Said he was in some trouble." Pausing, Sydney took a steadying breath. "He was cut off..."
His head shook automatically. "No. The line was open. Jarod... he was cut off. Mid-word."
Narrowing her eyes at the phone, Miss Parker's head tilted, regarding it. "I don't know what to say to that one, Syd. Maybe a new facet of the cat and mouse game he's playing."
"No." That notion instantly dismissed, Sydney stood. "He sounded troubled. I don't think he just went dancing off into the dark." Fingers wrapping around the cell phone, he lifted it, turning it over in his hands. "Jarod isn't cruel, Miss Parker. You know that, no matter what you may think of him personally."
"I don't know what I know anymore Sydney, let alone what I think." Her lips twisted for a moment before her teeth grasped the inside of the lower, worrying the flesh as she thought. "When did he call?" she asked, releasing her lip.
Turning at the sound of Broots' voice, her gaze pinned him in his tracks. "Don't you knock?"
"Sorry, Miss Parker." Shaking his head, his whole body seeming to follow suit, Broots stepped into the room. "You weren’t in your office, so I assumed… I just thought you'd want to know..." He looked at Sydney and back to her. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were in the middle of..."
"Broots!" Sighing, Miss Parker gestured for him to continue. "Just spit it out before it chokes you."
Nodding, he extended a file to her. "Lyle...he was asking for files on the baby. I thought you might want to know."
Her fingers snatched the file from him. "Very good, Broots. I don't want Lyle within smelling distance of Gabriel." Tucking the file under her arm, choosing to wait until she was alone in her office to read the contents, she turned back to Sydney. "Now, when did he call you?"
Sydney almost smiled at her. "You have the most one-track mind, sometimes. A couple of hours ago."
"And what do you suggest we do, since you don't think he's toying with us again?"
The older man shrugged a shoulder. "If we knew where he was..."
"Was the call on your cellular?" Broots stuck his head between Miss Parker and Sydney and nodded to the phone. "I can try and trace anything on that line."
Tapping her foot twice, Miss Parker turned on her heel and took a step toward the door. "Jarod has most likely taken his game to some new level here, but if you two want to run around playing with Broots' gadgets to figure this out, don't let me stop you. I'll be in my office when you're finished." She headed out of the room, making a bee-line straight for her own office.
Entering the room, shutting the door, she stopped in the middle, opening the file Broots had provided. Scanning the pages for what, exactly, her twin had been up to, her eyes narrowed at the list of videos of Gabriel's progression with language, and his remarkable comprehension. The paper copies of his medical reports and logs of interaction caught her attention as well. "What the hell are you up to, Lyle?" she asked the empty room, as the file closed in her hand. Dropping it on her desk, a manila envelope skittered slightly from its resting place, disturbed by the file’s momentum.
She picked up the envelope and opened it, extracting a single piece of paper. Staring at the note, she groaned. Her free hand reached for her purse, opening it. Doing a quick survey of the inside, she dropped it again, as the missing small, black tube confirmed. The note had indeed been written with her favorite $15-a-tube lipstick, which was now missing. Looking back at the note, she snatched up the purse again, walking to the door. Shaking her head, she dropped the envelope and the note on top of it, onto the small table next to the door as she left the room with an air of annoyance. She'd deal with that later. Right now she needed to see her baby brother and clear her head.
* * * * * * * * *
Pressing his face against the grate on the wall above the table in Miss Parker's office, Angelo tilted his head to better see the piece of paper she'd left behind.
Written clearly in a familiar shade of lipstick, he read what had annoyed her so.
If you want to find Jarod, try thinking like him.
* * * * * * * * *
The DSA played on in the background, no longer the focal point of Lyle's attention. His fingers tapped over keys on the keyboard in front of him, making notes. He didn’t like computers, didn’t trust them, but they had their uses. After taking a crash course in computerese on a business trip a few months earlier, he had begun to work on a project that needed to be kept private. He couldn’t afford to have fat files of paper lying around in his office for someone to snoop through, and since his aversion to electronic information was so well known, a computer made the perfect tool for him to keep covert notes on his latest project.
Too much compassion shown to Jarod as a child removed the edge a Pretender should retain. Same mistake should not be made with the baby. Removal of conflicting elements (i.e. Miss Parker) should be immediate.
Pausing for a moment, he smiled idly. Lifting the file on Gabriel he'd procured that morning, he flipped toward the center, skimming the first of the reports by his father. The old man realized things too late, which was just what Lyle wanted. Taking over wouldn't be easy, but with strategic pushes in the right direction, he had managed to worm his way into all sorts of places. Confident this time would prove no different, he reached over to change the DSA. Images of Kyle filled the screen next to him as his attention returned to the file. He gave peripheral attention to the sim the young man was performing as he delved deeper into the paperwork in front of him.
Like everything at the Centre, it started out innocently enough, and rather dull. Only when it had been cut deeply enough, bled enough, did it start to become interesting.
The problem with Kyle, he thought as the young man let out a yell that caught Lyle's attention, was that Kyle was allowed contact with Jarod.
Everything always came down to Jarod.
That contact had given Kyle something to look forward to -- a bright spot. The secret to control, he knew, was to keep things as bleak as possible. The less in a subject’s world that made them smile, the better they would fall in line.
Typing these thoughts out, Lyle thrummed the edge of the keyboard again. The computer was proving to be an ideal place to keep his thoughts together, and keep them private. There was too much going on, and too many people looking over his shoulder these days. He couldn’t trust anyone. His thoughts were still jumping around too fast for him to keep up. There was something missing in his trek to the top, he knew that much. What, he couldn't quite figure. He had ideas, but the answer hung just out of reach. A plan was developing, but not fast enough to suit his taste.
Getting his sister out of the way once and for all would, however, be a perfect place to start.
* * * * * * * * *
Entering the computer lab, note in hand, Miss Parker looked around, hoping for signs of life. The visit with Gabriel had calmed her considerably, even as it had put more concern for the baby into her mind. Their shared secret still bothered her. She knew he wanted to talk about “Dawid” but he sensed her fear for him, and had not mentioned that name again.
Stepping further, past the doorframe, the silence in the room wrapped around her as she surveyed her surroundings. The computers were off, the chairs tucked under their tables -- everything looked like it had been intentionally left in perfect condition, as if someone had been expecting a spot-check. Shaking her head, she turned to leave.
“Miss Parker upset.”
Spinning around, her eyes tracked the room, finding Angelo sitting on the floor by the vent in the back, looking up at her. She nodded at him, moving toward the center of the room. “Yeah, I guess I am,” she said softly, watching Angelo as he moved closer.
His fingers moved, hand stretching out to brush the edge of the paper in her hand. Looking down, she offered the note to him. “Who is this from, Angelo?”
Pulling the sheet of paper close to his face, Angelo turned it over. He inspected every corner as Miss Parker watched, waiting for an answer. His eyes trailed over the words as if studying the handwriting, and his fingers worried the edges of the page. When he finally looked up at her, his face was sober and serious. “Friend,” he said slowly, looking down at the words. “Friend… trouble.”
His face then turned back up to her, and he offered the biggest, brightest smile she’d ever seen from him. Miss Parker pursed her lips, raising an eyebrow. The confusing answer was not what she had been expecting. “What the f…”
The door behind her opened, interrupting her. “Miss Parker. There you are.” Broots walked into the room. “We were looking for you. We traced Jarod’s call. He was in Philadelphia.”
“Car’s waiting, Miss Parker,” Sydney added from behind Broots, extending his hand toward the door.
Angelo offered her back the note, the smile still firmly on his face. Reaching over, she snatched the piece of paper back from him, watching as he blinked a couple times, the smile disappearing, before heading back toward the vent. “What are we waiting for?” she asked, turning away from Angelo and striding past them, out the door, leaving the men to follow in her wake.
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