Jarod tipped back the head of the PEZ dispenser and took one of the candies
out with his teeth, happily crunching the strawberry flavored candy with
a grin. As the head flipped back to its original position, he grinned
and nodded at it in a comradely fashion, making sure that the next candy
poked out slightly between the teeth. He slipped the dispenser into the
model car and made sure that he had one of his own in his pocket. Rocking
back on his heels, Jarod flicked through the red notebook and made a satisfied
noise as he looked at the final article. 'Parking Officer Arrested For
Jarod nodded in satisfaction and smiled before slapping the book shut
and propping it up against the newest model he was leaving for Miss Parker
to find. His grin widened considerably as he took in the scale model scene
in front of him. The model silver Porsche Boxster sat on the road made
of black licorice with the white strip of icing he had so painstakingly
piped onto it and the road leading from a sheet of blue cellophane to
a building that was a finely detailed model of the Centre. Complete, he
thought to himself, with sub-levels, consisting of a box stretching below
the table on which the model rested. And, all along the road, Jarod had
stuck state flags on toothpicks, one for each of the forty-eight states
that she would have had to visit to find him, each providing the location
of the next illegally parked silver Porsche Boxster. The fact that the
second last one was in Delaware, and only five miles from the Centre,
would certainly be fuel to the fire and Jarod fingered the envelope in
his pocket that would tell her of the first clue. Of course, the total
of the parking fines that he was sending was enough to make her unhappy
anyway. Jarod picked up his bags, opened the door, and left the small
As he walked down the street toward his car, Jarod reflected that it
would take her nearly a week to go around to all 48 states and manage
to have the fines processed. It was an entertaining little game, he thought
with a grin as he pushed the letter into the box, and one that he would
have enjoyed watching her play. Jarod put his cases into the trunk of
the car he had rented and was about to get into the driver's seat when
a noise made him stop and turn to stare at the gate on the other side
of the road. The area looked very ordinary. The high metal gate was rusting
slightly but that was not abnormal. Nor was the pile of cartons packed
up against the gate but, as Jarod walked towards them, the pile began
to sway slightly and eventually collapsed on the ground at his feet. The
Pretender looked around hurriedly and slightly guiltily, worried that
someone might think he had knocked over the boxes but a sound, like the
first, made Jarod turn back to the one box still sitting on the ground
in front of him. Bending down, Jarod gently and cautiously turned back
the flap of the box and, his mouth hanging open, proceeded to pick up
the entire contents in his hands and cuddle it close to his chest.
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
“Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.”
"G...Good morning, Miss Parker." Broots turned quickly, stammering
out the phrase and then choking on the meatball sub sandwich. He looked
up at Miss Parker through the tears that filled his eyes and hurriedly
swallowed the rest of the bite he had taken, ignoring the tomato sauce
that had dribbled onto his shirt. "C...Can I help you with something?"
Miss Parker edged her way into the room and looked around disdainfully
while Broots tried to surreptitiously swallow the last of his sub sandwich.
"When I gave you this office, so that you had somewhere to park
all of your junk, I did expect to be able to enter it if I wanted to talk
to you about something." She turned to face him. "Clean it up."
She looked him up and down for a few seconds. "And, while you're
at it. Change your shirt. In fact," she pulled a hundred-dollar bill
out of her pocket and threw it on the desk as she passed. "Buy yourself
a whole new wardrobe. But ask Debbie's opinion before you make a single
A small sheet of paper that she stepped on and which sent her sliding
into the door marred Miss Parker’s dignified exit. Casting a baleful look
at the technician, she opened the door, glared at the marks that her shoe
had made on the paintwork, and limped out of the room.
Broots looked after her and then down to where the remaining few inches
of his sandwich sat in the square he had cleared between his two computers
and the pages he had been using to take notes. Admittedly, he thought
as he looked around the office, it could be a little tidier but it wasn't
that bad. As he stood up, he looked into the full-length mirror he had
brought in so that he could check he looked all right before going to
report to people like Miss Parker, Mr Lyle or, in a worst case scenario,
the Triumvirate. His eyes traveled over to the scratches on the door and
he hoped they were too low down for anyone to notice. With a deep sigh,
he turned and looked and the piles of paper that were stacked up around
the room. He never meant to leave them lying around. It was just that
they so often gave him a clue for something else and, as she always gave
him the feeling that she wanted things done yesterday, he tried to please.
But it did mean that things were usually left where he dropped them. Broots
gave a deep sigh, sitting back in the chair behind the desk, and tried
to decide where to start.
* * * * * * * * *
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Jarod pushed open the door with his foot and staggered into the office
under the weight of the large carton, which he carefully set down on the
table near the reception desk.
"Can I help you, sir?"
Jarod looked up with a smile at the young woman whose 'greens' and nametag
identify her as a member of staff.
“Yes, Dr…Ronaldson. My name is Jarod. Jarod Bergh. I found this in the
street and thought that this would be the place to bring it.”
“Will you come this way?”
The doctor, with a smiling nod at the receptionist who was looking concerned
at this departure from procedure, led the way down a corridor and into
a treatment room.
“Jarod, if you’ll put them on the table, here.” Jarod slid the carton
onto the gleaming tabletop and opened the flap, picking up the first of
the six small, furry, canine occupants. He grinned as the puppy’s four
legs flailed in all different directions and slipped and slid over the
shiny, silver surface.
Dr Julie Ronaldson picked up the warm bundle and looked into its mouth.
“That they’re about six weeks old.”
The doctor nodded absently, too intent on her work to have noticed the
interruption. Jarod waited a few moments and then spoke again.
“They all seem also to have slight ataxia and at least two have quite
severe cases of alopecia. While I couldn’t test for it, I’d also estimate
that they are crawling with dermatophyte as well.”
Finally Dr Ronaldson looked up. “So you know something about veterinary
medicine? Most people would have said that they have a slight lack of
muscle co-ordination and that several have severe hair loss. And how on
earth can you tell just by looking that they may have a fungus with the
potential to cause ringworm?”
“I did a little investigation into animal health a few years ago.”
“So what would you advise for treatment?”
“At this stage - a good meal and a nice long drink. Oh, and an anthelmintic
to get rid of any possible worms. Beyond that, nothing until you make
a complete diagnosis.”
The doctor nodded and smiled. “Want to do the tests yourself?”
Jarod grinned back at her. “Oh, you do them. I’ll just watch and learn
from the expert.”
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Broots stood up and pressed the two hands to the middle of his back and
stretched. An unwary knock with his foot had scattered a pile of paper
over the entire floor and more than twenty minutes had been needed to
retrieve every sheet. He groaned slightly as he bent over to pick up the
last folder and dropped it onto the now cleared surface of the desk. A
new desk, originally intended for Mr Cox’s new office, now stood in the
corner of Broots’ room, courtesy of Pete in Deliveries. It groaned under
the weight of the computer and the numerous books that Broots had placed
on it. Broots couldn’t help hoping devoutly that Pete was as deaf as he
had seemed to be and wouldn’t tell Mr Cox where it was.
Broots sat down on the chair behind the desk with a deep sigh and looked
around him with a sigh of satisfaction. He was certain that even Miss
Parker could find nothing to complain about now and at least the woman
who cleaned that floor of the Centre could stop asking nastily when she
would be able to get in and do her job. He glanced down at the last folder
that was lying on the smooth surface in front of him and gave it a second,
and closer, look. The codes, written on the top, right hand corner of
the folder told him that it was a folder containing top-level information
and Broots looked around the office fearfully as though somebody could
see him through the closed door.
“Mr Raines,” he breathed as he opened the folder and began to scan the
information it contained. The pages were filled with words, all of which
were gibberish to him, and he turned to the computer and tried to find
some sort of code breaker before he took it to Miss Parker.
Finally he picked up the last sheet in the folder and his eyes popped.
In the back of the folder, held in by a sheet of clear plastic, sat a
DSA. With almost reverent hands, he pulled the disc out and slipped it
into the machine that sat beside his computer. As the screen came to life,
Broots recalled the last time that he had snuck into Raines’ office at
Miss Parker's request.
Broots wished his hands would stop trembling as he quickly looked to
the left and right and then pushed open the door to Raines’ office, leaving
the sweat from his palm on the door handle. The office was not dark, as
he had been hoping, but brilliantly lit. However it was as immaculately
neat as ever and, as Broots headed towards the filing cabinet, he wondered
if the office that Miss Parker had been promising him for so long would
be as neat.
He reached out a hand and wiped his forehead to stop the beads of sweat
from rolling down into his eyes and temporarily blinding him. His hands
were shaking as he reached out to the cabinet and pulled out the drawer.
Running his eyes over the small tabs, he found the codename for which
he was searching and pulled out the file. Turning, he dropped it on the
desk behind him and attempted to push the drawer shut. He gasped with
dismay as it caught on something and refused to budge.
Pulling it out further to give himself greater leverage, Broots gasped
again when a folder fell out from under the drawer and onto his foot.
He was about to look through it when a voice from outside the door caught
his attention. Broots rammed the drawer home and scooped up the two files
before looking frantically around him. The opening of the air vent beside
the filing cabinet caught his eye and, without thinking, Broots ran toward
it and pulled himself up into the dark interior. As the cover swung back
into place, the door to the office opened and Raines walked in. Broots
gave a deep but silent sigh and leaned against the wall of the vent, trembling
slightly. When he looked around for the person, presumably Angelo, who
had helped him, he found himself alone in the vent.
Broots looked down at the disk that now lay on the desk in front of him.
It had taken him more than four hours to find his way through the maze
of air vents and back to his office. Miss Parker had been furious and
he had decided not to mention the other folder he had found but instead
to leave it on his desk as a reminder to look at it later. And there it
had remained until he had scooped it up with a range of other folders
and put it into the new office Miss Parker had presented him with after
Christmas, stating that Jarod shouldn’t be the only one to give presents
at that time of year. And now that disc had resurfaced and, as Broots
turned back to the DSA player, he wondered at the importance of something
that Raines felt he had to hide so well.
Broots turned his eyes back to the screen and finally managed to focus
on the picture that was moving on it. He gasped as the figure on screen
slammed forcibly into his memory and with one hand, Broots reached out
and froze the image on the screen. With a backward motion, he propelled
his chair out from behind the desk and slammed the lid on the machine
before tucking it under his arm and, grabbing the file from his desk,
running down the hall towards Miss Parker's office.
* * * * * * * * *
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Jarod looked down at the lips of the wound that he had just sewn together
with a satisfied smile and then glanced across at Dr Ronaldson.
“And that’s the way I close.”
She looked carefully at the row of tiny sutures. “I haven’t seen anything
that fine in I don’t know how long. Where did you train?”
Jarod grinned. “I did a little training in Beverly Hills - the best plastic
surgeons in the world. You won’t even see the scar.”
She looked down at the sedated dog. “I can believe that. His mistress
will be pleased. She was devastated that she would have to stop showing
Poogle now that he’d been operated on.”
Jarod looked up from the last few stitches. “Hey, I aim to please.”
Dr Ronaldson smiled. “When you’re done here, we need some more sutures
and another pile of gauze. I know there’s some in the storeroom. Could
you leave that and get them for me? I have another patient that I have
to scrub for.”
Jarod stepped back and peeled off his gloves and mask, dropping them
in the basket beside the door. “Sure thing. Just give me a few minutes.”
The door swung open and Jarod stepped into the room, surprised by its
size but unable to look around for a few moments as a large dog that had
been lying on a rug in the corner stood up and began to walk toward him.
Jarod, noticing the hackles raised on its neck and the teeth bared, lowered
his eyes until he was looking at the floor and began to back away slowly.
The voice from behind him made Jarod jump but he kept his eyes on the
floor while a figure stepped past him and patted the dog’s head.
“Sorry to do that to you. My name is Graham Lasky. I’m Julie’s partner.”
Raising his eyes, Jarod looked at the guy who was standing in front of
him and grinned, shaking the man’s hand.
“My name’s Jarod Bergh.”
“A close relation of our great founder?”
“Not too close.” Jarod grinned. “My sister married his great grandson.”
Graham laughed. “That almost makes you my boss. I guess that sort of
thing runs in the family.”
“Does a love of animals have to be inherited?”
Graham laughed. “No. I guess it doesn’t.” He waved towards the dog that
was still standing beside him. “Oh, this is Jarod too. His owner brought
him in a few days ago and she’s hanging around to help until he’s well
”Yeah. The owner said she called him after a good friend of hers. One
she hadn’t seen for a few years.” He laughed. “Maybe she was talking about
“Where’s she from?”
“Toluca Lake National Park,” the voice interrupted the conversation.
“I heard my dog making a racket and came to see what was wrong.”
Graham stepped forward. “Jarod Bergh, I’d like you to meet Nia…”
“Jarod?!” Nia’s exclamation of surprise drowned out the rest of Graham’s
sentence and, as Jarod looked up, still recovering from the shock of knowing
that she was there, she took a slight step back.
“You two know each other?”
“Well, I have things to do,” Graham backed away and headed for the door.
“I’ll leave you two to get reacquainted.”
Jarod nodded in the departing vet’s direction, still watching Nia. When
the door closed, the two remaining in the room turned away briefly. Jarod
went over to a table and began to pick up the things that Dr Ronaldson
had asked for.
“I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Neither did I.”
He looked back at her and was surprised to see that her eyes glistened
with tears. He took a step towards her and she held out her hand, drawing
him close to her for a few seconds before pushing him gently away.
“We can’t - not here.”
”I missed you.”
”Me too, so much.”
Jarod stepped back. “Did you have any trouble?”
“After you left? Not really. Like I told you, I know how to take care
Jarod smiled. “I know. But you weren’t followed, questioned, nothing?”
“Not really. A few people came by just after you left…”
“You do?” Nia looked over at him sharply.
“Uh, yeah.” Jarod looked back at the items he held in his hand. “Just
don’t ask, okay?”
“Another one of those, huh?”
Jarod walked over and put his hand on hers. “Hey, I answered most of
She smiled. “Yeah, I guess you did.”
“Jarod, have you got those things for me yet?”
The voice from the doorway broke through the stilted silence and Jarod
turned back to see Julie Ronaldson glancing down at her watch. He looked
down at his hands and laughed shamefacedly before handing them to her.
“Sorry. I was busy - talking.”
”Jarod, when I’m waiting to do surgery, I don’t care if you find a long
lost love. If I want something, I want it yesterday, understand?”
Jarod saluted her in true military style. “Yes ma’am. Sorry.”
“You want to assist with this one?”
”Sure.” Jarod glanced over at Nia, who smiled. “I’ll see you later.”
“Looking forward to it.”
Jarod peeled off his first glove and sat limply on the stool behind him,
sighing. He looked through the door to where the injured cat lay, breathing
deeply after the operation that had saved its life.
Looking up, Jarod saw Nia leaning against the doorway, her arms folded.
“You could say that.”
”We could do dinner…”
Jarod stood up and peeled off his second glove, throwing them both in
the bin behind him and pulling off his mask.
“That’s the best offer I’ve had in weeks. Give me ten minutes to get
changed and I’ll meet you out front.”
Nia smiled and left the room, looking back in briefly. “If you don’t
come quickly, I’ll come find you.”
Jarod tried to look scared. “I’ll do my best.”
* * * * * * * * *
Mario's Pizza Parlor
Portland Main Street, Oregon
“You might have had pizza before, Jarod, but you’ve never had pizza like
Jarod laughed at the look on Nia’s face. “I’ll take your word for it.”
Nia led him to a corner of the cozy restaurant and, as Jarod sat opposite
her, he was amused to see the round, dark patron hurrying towards them,
his face one wide smile. “Ah, Bambina, I thought you had forgotten about
your old friend Mario.”
“Ah Mario, I could never forget you. I just haven’t been in town for
a while, no pets that needed the expert care of Dr Ronaldson.” She waved
her hand in Jarod's general direction. “This is friend of mine, Jarod
“Bergh. Jarod Bergh.”
“Hey, any friend of Nia is a friend of Mario Romei. Anything you want,
you tell Mario. Mario will get it for you.”
Jarod shook his hand. “I will do that, Mario. Thank you.”
“Cara mia, you want my special pizza?”
“Yes, Mario.” Nia nodded. “Two please.”
“Coming right up.”
Nia leant across the table and placed her hands on Jarod's. “I really
“You have no idea how much I missed you.”
Jarod picked up the glass that Mario had placed in front of him and smiled
at her before speaking. “I’d like to propose a toast. To a renewed friendship.”
“To a stronger and better friendship.”
They clinked glasses and Nia glanced up at him. “You’ve changed your
“Yet again.” Jarod sighed. “It’s all part of the things I told you last
“No-one’s ever caught you out?”
”Once or twice.” Jarod smiled. “But I can usually talk them around.”