we should obviously go see who he was supposed to meet. Maybe she’ll be
able to tell us something.” The message was from a young woman, asking Jarod
to meet her that evening outside a small café near the warehouse. She’d
sounded out of breath as she spoke, assuring him that it was urgent, that
it was safe.
Broots shrugged a shoulder, his back to her as he looked out the window. “They don’t always cooperate.” His shoulders squared as Miss Parker turned to glare at him. "What'll you do if she won't tell us anything?"
“You did order coffee, right?”
He nodded in confirmation. “Strong, and black.”
“Good.” Her attention went back to Sydney. “What do you think, Syd?”
The older man took a breath, glancing down at the phone. “Honestly, Miss Parker, I’m inclined to agree with Broots. Jarod’s friends only roll out the welcome mat if he’s suggested to them that they do. However,” he continued, a hand in the air to stop her from interjecting, “we would do good to at least see where they were supposed to meet, and meet this woman. Maybe you could charm your way into a conversation.”
“You’ve got the 'nice old man' angle to work, though. I think you should try.” A knock at the door drew her attention from the conversation. “Ah, coffee.”
Standing, she moved to the door, opening it for the young man with the breakfast tray. Signing for it, she stood out of his way as the cart was wheeled into the room, and he left. Heading straight for the coffee, she poured herself a cup, taking a sip of the strong, hot liquid.
Broots moved from the window to take his plate of bacon and eggs from the tray. “Hey, what’s this?” He lifted a manila envelope from under his plate.
Snatching it from his hand, Miss Parker opened it, extracting an 8x10 photo of herself, standing outside the warehouse the previous day. Another sheet of paper came with it, in the familiar deep red-brown of her now-appropriately named shade of lipstick, Rage.
Stop being you. You're getting nowhere.
"Your boy is playing with us, Sydney. With me, anyway." Holding up the photo and the note, she shot him an annoyed look. Once he'd taken them from her, she reached for her bag, pulling out the first envelope, and handing over the first note. "This was in my office yesterday," she added as it dropped to the bedspread beside her.
Sydney moved to look at it as Broots looked over the older man's shoulder. As they looked between the notes, Miss Parker weighed the envelope in her hand. Tipping it, a Polaroid slipped to the ground. Jarod’s face looked up at her from the floor as she knelt to retrieve it. In the photo, he sat in a chair, his back to a window, hands tied at his sides. Save for the missing blood on his face, he looked exactly as he had in her dream, and her fingers trembled slightly as she remembered. She inhaled slowly, studying the background of the image.
“Broots.” She lifted the photo and turned it around. “Take this back to the Centre and run it through the computer. See if you can get anything more details from it. Clean it up or something.” Her jaw was set, her face blank as she handed it to him. When Broots didn’t move, her eyes narrowed on him. “Now.”
He moved quickly, taking the photo. “Yes, Miss Parker.”
As he left the room, she turned back to the bed, picking up the 8x10. “What’s going on here, Sydney?” she wondered as she focused on the still image of herself. “Should I be waiting for Kyle to step out of the shadows again?”
“I don’t think so.” He took the photo from her. “You told me about the voices Ethan heard.” Tapping the corner of the first note, he met her eyes. “Maybe someone’s trying to help you find your own.”
She took another sip of her coffee. “I don’t know. It hadn’t occurred to me.” Her eyes clouded as she stared out the window. “Why? None of this makes any sense.”
“Maybe it’s not supposed to.” Sydney stood, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “And perhaps Jarod is just turning the tables on you. I trust you’ll figure out what you need, when you need it.” He left her alone with her thoughts and her coffee.
* * * * * * * * *
Sitting back, Lyle smiled at his computer screen. Having discovered that there wasn’t a justifiable reason for his denial of seeing Gabriel, he’d decided to take the time to do some additional work on his plan. He knew the old man couldn't run a carnival, let alone the Triumvirate. He would prove that fact and be poised to step into the vacancy left when he fell from grace. Lyle had painstakingly collected as much information relating to Gabriel as he could get his hands on. Gabriel was the key to Daddy Parker's success -- and his own, if he played his cards right.
His study of the DSAs of Jarod and Kyle had proved to him why they’d gone wrong. Too much kindness and generosity had bred weakness in the chain of command, and the Pretenders had manipulated that to their advantage. Sydney hadn't been able to control Jarod because he cared too much for his protégé. Those in power should be able to think clearly, to make decisions based on logic and need, rather than emotion.
And then there was his sister. She continued to operate on her own misguided agenda with hardly a word of criticism from her father, because he had a soft spot for her. The Chairman had no problem criticizing Lyle for his unfortunate loss of some of the Blue Files projects, through no fault of his own. His position had become shaky of late, and this project was sure to bolster his power in the Centre hierarchy. It wasn't his fault that the people he sent to find those lost assets failed miserably. He was working on getting them back, just as his sister was working on catching Jarod.
No, he admitted to himself. He was working harder. His people brought back concrete results. He was making progress in finding Ethan, just a step or two behind. Miss Parker was playing tag with Jarod, handling him with kid gloves and letting him get away when she should have been giving him high-velocity lead poisoning.
The Chairman was weak to allow such behavior. Whomever was in the power seat shouldn’t be swayed by emotions. The less ties to family, the better.
“I don’t have that problem,” he said to himself, as he watched the file download to a removable disk. There was no way he’d be able to re-create this data. Far too much of it he had stolen and consequently destroyed the originals to keep his involvement in the theft from being discovered. People had talked to him and had since vanished. He knew he was playing with fire, but had no intention of getting burned.
That was for the rest of them. His sister was first on his list. One way or another, he’d see her gone. She was a hindrance to everything in his life.
Slowly he’d come to realize that his rage toward her was drawn from jealousy. She hadn’t been raised in the hell he had. She’d had their parents. He’d had nothing.
That was going to change. He laughed silently at the thought. There was no reason he could see for this to not go according to plan -- and when it did, he’d have all the power, and she’d have nothing.
Just the way he liked it.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker sat at the windowsill, staring outside blankly through the streaks of rain on the glass.
Until Ethan had turned up, she’d almost completely forgotten about the times she’d thought her mother was talking to her, after she’d died. The last occurrence she could recall had happened one morning when she’d been alone in one of the labs, watching the bunnies in their hutch. Without knowing, she’d realized what was going to happen to the rabbits, and had sought to free them. Sydney had walked in, to find her with a bunny in each arm, looking for a way out.
“Mama told me to let them go,” she’d explained in a tear-strained voice as she’d looked up at him with wide, hurt eyes. “They’re going to be hurt. She whispered to me, told me to help them.”
Sydney had taken one of the animals from her, and led her to the chairs near the hutch. It hadn’t taken long for her to clear her emotions from the surface, allowing the stoic person she was becoming to take over, as he’d tried to coax more about her mother from her.
It didn’t take much to look at Ethan and think he was crazy. Hearing voices of people he’d never even known, trusting them -- this wasn’t exactly textbook normal. The fact that she found herself remembering being in that place, and understood, was bothersome.
When she’d first met him, and had instantly found herself identifying with him, it had scared her. The outward persona she’d perfected through her years had been chipped away in places the moment she’d found him, as she’d realized he still did what she had found herself forced to stop doing as a child. It was as if, the more she stopped identifying herself as Morgan, the further it slipped away. Her father had reinforced the lack of her name… and she had gone along with it out of need to please him. Rarely hearing him use her name, and having it be uttered as a curse was the worst thing, it seemed, he could think of to say to her. He had shot down the small joy she’d taken in what her name had meant to her as a child.
She couldn’t decide which bothered her more now; that it might be coming back, or that it might not. As she began to turn that over in her mind, her phone rang.
“I just sent you back a cleaned up copy of the picture.” Broots’ voice was hushed over the line, and she grabbed for her laptop, waiting for it to download her email. “I can probably do more, if you need it.”
As the image loaded on her screen, her eyes scanned the pixels, looking for a breadcrumb somewhere. Jarod’s eyes looked back at her, and she studied his face. “Where are you?” she asked the picture softly as it finished loading. Focusing on the window at Jarod’s side, her eyes narrowed. “Broots, the window -- can you scan that more clearly? There’s some sort of reflection there that I can’t make out.”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Let me go get the picture…” Broots leaned over to the end of the table, reaching for the picture. Angelo, who had been prowling around the room, moved as well, and grabbed the picture just before Broots got to it.
Looking intently at the image, Angelo smiled, handing it back to Broots. “Friend.” He grinned bigger. “Miss Parker. Journey.” Bobbing his head up and down in a nod, he turned away from the man on the phone, leaving him bewildered.
“Um, Miss Parker… something just happened here. Uh… Angelo had the picture… he looked at it, and said ‘friend.’”
“Yeah, and?” She sighed into the phone. “Broots, Angelo likes Jarod. He considers him a friend. This isn’t surprising.”
The sound of the scanner starting carried over the line. “No, that’s not all. He smiled at me, and then he said ‘Miss Parker. Journey.’ I think he might know something.”
Her eyes shut, and she rested her forehead against her hand. “Of course he does. Look, just get me that picture, okay?”
“It should be there in a minute.” His voice dropped even further. “Oh, another thing -- Lyle is up to something. I don’t know what, but he’s been prowling around, digging up information on everyone around here. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was trying to stage a coup.”
“Lovely. Just what we need, Lyle attempting a coup d'état. Such his style.” She clicked to download the new image coming through. “Keep an ear open. I’ll be in touch later.” Hanging up, she studied the new image, trying to make out the reflection in the window.
When nothing came to her, she finally got up to head out to where Jarod was supposed to meet the woman on the phone.
* * * * * * * * *
The café was closed.
This didn’t surprise Miss Parker, as she stopped her car across the street. Climbing out, she headed over to the building, noting the lack of anything resembling life. No cars, no people… The lights were all off inside, and the ‘closed’ sign looked like it had been that way for a while. Not drawing her gun, but keeping her hand firmly around it, she wandered to the back of the building, and around the side.
Coming up empty-handed in a search for anyone or anything, she crossed the street back to her car. She’d wait for a little while; maybe the woman was just late.
As she opened her car door, a manila envelope on the front seat caught her attention. Grabbing it, she pulled out another Polaroid of Jarod, tied up and looking back at her. Another 8x10 followed, this of her, sleeping in the hotel room the previous night. Her eyes narrowed dangerously on this image. “Jarod, where the hell are you?” she muttered.
Tipping the envelope, another Polaroid slipped into her hand. Again it was her. Getting out of her car, not five minutes before. Her head whipped around to focus on the angle the image had been taken from. A small line of trees next to the café stood, having to be where the picture was taken from. Stalking over, she moved through the trees, finding nothing, not even ground depressions where someone would have stood.
Heaving an exasperated sigh, she turned on a heel. Back at the car, she found a note lying on the steering wheel. ‘Watch your back. This isn’t a game.’
Turning over the photo of Jarod, her eyes shut. The reflection in the first flashed across her mind, followed by the window in the one in her hand. Blue neon.
“Damn it, Jarod.” Opening her eyes, she threw the car into gear and headed back to the hotel.
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