Mario's Pizza Parlor
Portland Main Street, Oregon
Jarod put the last slice of pizza in his mouth and smiled while he chewed
and swallowed it.
“You see, I told you it was good.”
”You’re right. It’s very good.”
Nia put her empty glass back on the table in front of her. “So what brings
you back here?”
”To Oregon? I’ve been back a few times since.”
”And you didn’t come visit me?”
“Nia, I didn’t want to put you in any danger.”
“Jarod, I was joking.”
Avoiding the awkward situation, Nia turned around and immediately Mario
appeared beside her. “You two want dessert?”
“Do I ever come here without having one of your famous banana splits?”
He ruffled the hair on the top of her head. “Only because I won’t let
“And I wouldn’t want in any other way.”
“So what are you doing in Portland? I mean, there are plenty of vets
in Oregon that are closer to Toluca Lake.”
“But not all of them are as skilled as Dr. Ronaldson. And now she has
a very skilled assistant, who also happens to be very good looking, and…”
“Nia!” Jarod smiled. “I didn’t ask for compliments.”
”But you’re getting them anyway.”
The conversation ceased as Mario appeared with the desserts and, after
he left, the conversation changed slightly.
“You didn’t fully answer my question.”
“Soon after you left, Victor came and gave me a puppy, as a thank-you
gift for finding him. You remember Victor Simpkins, of course.”
”Well, I spent three days finding a name for him but the only name I
could think of was yours, so I named him after you.”
“You should be. Anyway, every so often I find animals in the forest and
every couple of weeks, I bring them down here. It’s actually the closest
ASPCA center to where I live, driving. Two months ago, my dog started
getting sick. He has cancer.”
Jarod reached across and touched her face with the tips of his fingers.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was a faint whisper.
“I’m still hoping that maybe he’ll be okay - but not even Dr Ronaldson
seems sure. So that I could have a reason to stay, I volunteered to stay
at the Animal Rescue shelter.”
She allowed his fingers to brush her lips. “And if I hadn’t stayed, I
wouldn’t have seen you again.”
Nia looked at him over the rim of her coffee mug. “I can’t believe you’ve
never had a banana split before.”
Jarod enthusiastically licked his spoon. “I’ll definitely be having more.”
“I hope so. Mario will be very offended if we don’t eat here every night
that we’re in Portland.”
“I won’t object.”
“I’ll bet.” Nia swirled the last of her coffee before swallowing it.
“So, do you have a place to stay this time?”
Jarod grinned and nodded. “I get to return the favor. I have a spare
room. Grab your stuff.”
Nia laughed. “You’re inviting me to slumber party?”
”Something like that.”
“That sounds great.”
Jarod’s face lit up in a smile. “I’m glad.”
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Looking up, she saw the two figures in the doorway, with Broots cowering
away from Mr Cox.
“What do you want?”
“Y…you go first.”
Cox stalked into the room and placed an envelope on Miss Parker's desk.
“It seems you have a parking ticket.”
“You opened my mail.”
”In my job, it’s always helpful to pay attention to the people you’re
working with, especially in a place like this. Take Mr Broots, here. When
he wouldn’t give me the information I needed right away, I used a little
persuasion. It always works in the end.”
“Cox, you might be working with my father now, but…”
“I know, I know. Your stepmother told me. No-one terrorizes your little
people but you.“
“Correct.” She tore open the envelope and yanked out the little sheet
of paper, staring at the signature on the bottom. “Great, so mattress-brain-boy
has decided to give me hell, financially as well as emotionally.” She
held out the paper to him, barely allowing him to take it before she withdrew
her hand. “I tell you what. You read it first. You get the joyful task
of organizing the team of sweepers to go and find out what it’s all about.
I’m sure Centre funds will be willing to foot the bill.”
“You don’t wish to accompany us?”
Miss Parker looked up at him. “You can take my twin brother. He might
be willing to traipse all over the United States but right now,” standing
up, Miss Parker stepped around her desk and walked over to where Broots
was standing, reaching out for the folder that the technician was holding
tightly against his chest. “I have other things to attend to.”
Mr Cox smirked and walked towards the door of her office, opening it
to reveal Lyle standing there, an envelope in his hand that he held out
to Miss Parker. She groaned and rolled her eyes, taking the envelope from
Mr Cox and handing it to her brother.
”You two seem so interested, you follow it up.” Miss Parker nodded, ushered
Mr Cox out of her office and closed the door in their faces. Stepping
back, she rolled her eyes again and leaned against her desk, looking over
at the technician. “Was there something you wanted?”
Broots stuttered and held out the folder. “I…I found this when I was
cleaning my office. It’s a file that Raines was hiding in his filing cabinet.
I’d…forgotten about it when…”
“All right, Broots. Why are you dragging it into my attention?”
“Well, it’s just,” Broots walked over to the doorway and picked up the
DSA player that he had put down when he first entered the room. “I thought
you ought to see this.”
Broots opened the DSA player on her desk and slipped the disk from his
pocket into it. Before he could start up the machine, however, a banging
from the wall distracted both Broots and Miss Parker and then looked over
to see the air vent cover buckling and flying off the wall into the room,
followed by Angelo. The empath leapt towards the desk and hurled the player
onto the floor, smashing the screen into a dozen shards of glass that
scattered onto the floor before disappearing back into the darkness of
the vent, leaving Miss Parker and Broots momentarily speechless.
“What caused him to do that?”
“I don’t know.” Broots stared at the ruined machine.
“What did you see on that screen?”
“Well, I was thinking after I started up the machine and I didn’t really
get a good look at the screen before I hit the stop button but…” Frustrated,
Miss Parker grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her.
“What. Did. You. See. Broots.”
* * * * * * * * *
“Jarod, I need a favor.”
Looking up from the forms he was filling out about his most recent surgery,
Jarod smiled at Dr Lasky. “I’ll do what I can.”
”I guess you heard that two of those puppies died last night.”
“Yeah.” Jarod looked sad for a moment. “Julie informed me when I arrived.”
“Late.” Graham leaned against the wall. “Julie informed me when I arrived
- on time.”
“I was - busy. I slept in.”
“And I noticed that our assistant Nia also slept in. Funny thing, coincidence.”
Graham turned and was about to leave when Jarod stopped him.
“Didn’t you want something, Graham?”
“Oh, right. See what happens when you get distracted?” Graham stepped
back into the room. “I want you to find the owners of those puppies. We
can’t press charges if we don’t know who did the neglecting.”
Jarod spread out his hands helplessly. “Where should I start?”
“The place where you found them. They might know something. Most people
who dump animals are too lazy to take them far to do it.”
“I’ll get right on it.”
The vet walked through the doorway but stuck his head back in. “Oh, and
take Nia with you. With any luck, the forces you two have together might
get us some results.”
Jarod tucked the camera into his pocket and checked to ensure that his
gun was in his holster.
“You’re taking a weapon?” Nia’s mouth fell open in surprised and her
eyes were wise as she looked up at him from her chair.
“Just in case. I suggested it to Jarod.” Nia turned around to see Julie
standing behind them. “These people can get nasty.”
“And the camera is for evidence,” Jarod commented.
“The Force is still with you, I see.”
Nia laughed and the two headed out into the cold winter chill. Jarod
got behind the wheel of his car and Nia slipped into the seat beside him,
placing the box of medical equipment onto the seat behind her.
“You’re taking precautions.”
”Just in case.”
“But how will you get the animals?”
”You forget.” Jarod grinned at her. “I work for the ASPCA. I have the
right to seize neglected animals.” He flashed open his coat and showed
her. “You see, a shiny gold badge that will give us all the power we need.”
The car pulled out of the working lot and within a few minutes stopped
in front of the rusting gate.
“Are you ready for this?”
“This is an adventure, right?”
Jarod glanced over at her. “A smelly, disease-ridden and dangerous one,
if you want to look at it like that, I guess.” Opening the car door, Jarod
soberly exited the vehicle and pulled the gun out of his holster.
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
* * * * * * * * *
Blue Cove, Delaware
Miss Parker watched as the figures moved across the screen - Raines walking
over to Damon and giving him the same sort of encouraging pat on the back
that earlier DSAs had also shown Raines doing to Kyle. In fact, Miss Parker
couldn’t help contrasting the similarities between Damon and Jarod's brother.
“Miss Parker, is Damon doing what I think he’s doing?”
She looked sharply back at the screen and watched silently as Damon looked
over a table containing a row of guns. Finally he selected one and walked
over to the bed in the room that Raines had set up for him. Standing at
the head of the bed, Damon fired four shots into the body, starting at
the feet and ending at the head. At each crack, Miss Parker felt Broots
jump and she had a hard time stopping herself from doing the same thing.
The figure on the bed lurched at the same time and the final shot sent
the sheet drifting onto the floor. She swallowed the scream that rose
in her throat as she saw that the figure was a stuffed dummy and not a
“Miss Parker, what is this?”
She turned in her chair and faced him. “I don’t know. Whatever it is,
though, it’s causing Angelo a lot of pain.”
Miss Parker pushed her chair back from the desk in front of her and stood
“We won’t know until we ask.”
The shadow in the doorway blended into the rest of the shadows as the
door opened and the two occupants of the office walked out. To the unseen
watcher’s chagrin, he saw that Broots was lugging the DSA player along
with him, and that Miss Parker had the folder tucked under her arm.
“Too damn organized for her own good.”
The shadow edged around the closed door and into the deserted office.
He looked around for a few minutes and flicked through a few pages before
dropping them back on the desk and leaving the room.
* * * * * * * * *
Somewhere in Portland, Oregon
Jarod dropped back down onto the pavement and stared at Nia. “You remember
how I mentioned smell and disease?”
“Well, I think we found it.”
“Show me.” Jarod linked his hands and hoisted Nia up until she could
see over the gate. When she had her feet back on the ground, she stared
at him. “How many animals did you see in that yard?”
”Thirteen dogs, eight cats, four ducks and nine fighting cocks.”
“In a space that has a grand total of about eight foot by eight.” Jarod
picked up his mobile phone and dialed, speaking sharply. “I need back-up
here. As many people as possible. We have thirty-four pets here that need
“Thirty-four?” The operator at the ASPCA sounded incredulous.
“Yes.” Jarod nodded to emphasize his point, forgetting that the person
on the other end couldn’t see him.
“On the way.”
Hanging up the phone, Jarod glanced back through a space in the gate.
“I can’t believe that anyone could do that to even one animal, let alone
“Jarod, how do you know they’re fighting cocks?”
He put his arm on her shoulder and she put her eye to the crack. “See
the cock with its back to us? The feathers on its underside have been
burned off. It supposedly makes them more agile and better fighters.”
“That’s beyond belief.”
”I know.” Jarod shook his head in disbelief. “It’s one of the most heartless
things I’ve ever heard of.”
“That’s the address of the property.” Jarod handed over the slip to the
police officer that was questioning him. On the table between them sat
an assortment of animals from the property. Each vet had to deal with
a large number of creatures at once and the surgery was stretched to the
“Thanks, Doc. Can we call on you for evidence?”
“Sure thing. Oh, and you might want this, too.” Jarod pulled the camera
film out of his pocket and tossed it across to the detective. “Now, if
you’ll excuse me…”
“Oh, right. Sorry.” The officer slipped the notepad into his pocket and
dropped the film into an evidence bag. “Thank you for your help.”
He nodded at Jarod and left the room, calling for one of the policemen
who were mingling around the building to get the film processed. Jarod
smiled understandingly after him and then turned back to the task of trying
to ease the suffering of the animals in front of him.