Puppy Love

by KB

Starring

Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots

Guest Starring

Paul Dillon as Angelo
Richard Marcus as Mr Raines
Willie Gault as Willie the Sweeper
Harve Presnell as Mr Parker
Neil Maffin as Damon
Elpidia Carrillo as Nia
Avery Brooks as Graham Lasky
Kathy Bates as Julie Ronaldson
Eric Close as Peter Dockerty
Mark Lee as Steven Dockerty
Dan Aykroyd as Mario


Prologue

Miss Parker stared down at the photo that sat on the table in front of her. The face of her brother stared back at her, his face wearing the adorable grin that it had sported for so many occasions when she had visited him. But not the last time, Parker reflected gloomily. The last time she had seen him, he had been in tears because he was being taken away from her. She could hear his little voice as he looked back at her over her father's shoulder and the pathetic claims of 'Mine, mine' that had continued until the door had closed behind him. But it was the other face in the photo that was more likely, at this moment, to bring her emotions to the surface.

The furry face of Benjamin stared out at her from the lap of her baby brother and Miss Parker picked up the bottle of wine and filled the glass to the brim before downing it, looking at the splashes of red that were eating their way into her new marble table top. A drop fell onto a book that was lying near the empty glass. She looked over and stared at the image of herself that Jarod had drawn for the cover. Then she looked up at the dancing flames that lit the room from the fireplace opposite her.

As she looked, she was forced to recall the conversation from earlier that day.

"Uh, M...Miss Parker?"

"What is it, Broots?" As she had spoken, she had also glanced at the clock. “It’s six in the morning. What are you doing up? Don’t tell me there’s a Jarod sighting. Even he should be asleep by now.”

“Well, I was watching Flash Gordon…”

Miss Parker rolled her eyes but decided that she didn’t want to get involved in a conversation with the technician at that hour.

“So what is it?”

“Well, Debbie went out to talk to Benjamin. She came back in really quickly and said that she couldn’t see him, I went out and found him under a pile of hay.”

“And?”

“Miss Parker - Benjamin’s dead.”


Act I

Jarod's lair
Portland, Oregon

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 Fraudulent Tickets'.

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 hotel room.

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.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
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 purchase."

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
Portland, Oregon

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. “I’d estimate…”

“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.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
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
Portland, Oregon

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.

“Sit!”

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 again.”

“Jarod?”

”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 you.”

“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?”

“We’ve…met.”

“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 of myself.”

Jarod smiled. “I know. But you weren’t followed, questioned, nothing?”

“Not really. A few people came by just after you left…”

”I know.”

“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 those, remember?”

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.

“Long day?”

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 Mario’s.”

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 For-.”

“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 missed you.”

“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 name.”

“Yet again.” Jarod sighed. “It’s all part of the things I told you last time.”

“No-one’s ever caught you out?”

”Once or twice.” Jarod smiled. “But I can usually talk them around.”

”I bet.”


Act II

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.”

“Oh.”

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 you.”

“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.”

”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.”

”I’m flattered.”

“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.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Miss Parker?”

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.”

“My pleasure.”

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.”

”Damon.”

* * * * * * * * *

ASPCA offices
Portland, Oregon

“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?”

“You betcha.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
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 real person.

“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.”

“Sydney?”

Miss Parker pushed her chair back from the desk in front of her and stood up.

“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?”

”Yeah.”

“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 urgent attention.”

“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 thirty-four.”

“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.”

“Burned?”

“Acid, usually.”

“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 limit.

“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.


Act III

Jarod’s rental property
Portland, Oregon

Walking into the room, Jarod dropped the folder down onto the table and Nia looked up from her breakfast.

“Good morning.”

“What time did you leave?”

Jarod smiled. “Early. I was going to wake you but I couldn’t bring myself to do it - you looked so peaceful.”

”I suppose I should be grateful.”

Jarod shrugged. “It’s up to you.”

Nia looked at him closely and stopped her bantering. “What is it?”

“They’re dropping the case.”

“What?!” She sat up and stared at him. “How can they do that?”

”They said there wasn’t sufficient grounds for laying charges and that there was insufficient proof to show that the animals had been mistreated.”

Nia sat, speechless, for a few seconds as Jarod dropped down beside her onto the sofa with a deep sigh. She put a hand on his knee. “What are you going to do?”

He smiled faintly. “How do you know I’m going to do anything?”

“I’ve seen that look on your face before, when we got up to hike for more than nine hours across impossible bush land…”

“Okay, okay. You’re right.” He ran his fingers through hair that was now a great deal longer than is had been after the explosion. “I am going to do something.”

He stood up and began to pace the room, angrily glaring out of the window but his voice, when he spoke, was a quiet whisper. “If I knew who was responsible for this, I’d make sure that they knew how much pain those animals went through! I’d…”

“Jarod!”

He looked up, coming out of his reverie to see Nia staring at him with a worried look on her face. Shaking his head, he forced a smile.

“I’m sorry. I was thinking out loud.”

“So it would seem.” She stood up and walked over to him, slipping one arm around his waist and feeling his come around her shoulder. “You want justice done and so do I. There has to be a reason that the case was dropped. What do you have there?”

She nodded over at the file he had dropped in front of her and he walked over and opened it.

“Photos. The ones I took while we were waiting for the back up to arrive and help us clear the yard. I managed to get them from one of the officers, along with the report that had been started and then abandoned when word came from above that it wasn’t going anywhere.” Jarod slammed his fist down on the table, making the empty dishes jump and causing the glass from which Nia had been drinking juice to roll off the edge of the table. It would have smashed onto the floor had she not leapt forward and grabbed it, replacing it on the wooden surface before putting a hand on top of Jarod's.

“We will do this, but we won’t do it as well if we allow our emotions to control our actions.”

Jarod smiled faintly. “You sound like someone I used to know.”

“Who?”

“A friend.”

Nia pushed the table to one side and sat with her head leaning against his knee, gently easing off his shoes and massaging his feet as she spoke.

“Do you want to tell me about it?”

Jarod sat for a few moments; fighting the urge to reveal everything from those terrible few days before he was once more back on the road he had chosen after his escape from the Centre.

“I can’t tell you everything.”

“Even something will be better than nothing.”

He gently placed one hand on her head and stroked her hair, remembering when she had done the same thing to him.

“I can’t tell you now.”

“Later, then?”

”Perhaps.”

* * * * * * * * *

Renewal Wing, The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

The door slowly creaked open and Willie’s face peered inside, checking the corners of the room to make sure that his boss was alone. Then he walked in and drew up a chair, facing the wheelchair where Raines sat, ever motionless.

“Mr. Raines, sir, I have something to report. Miss Parker and Mr. Broots have found something about the Eclipse and are investigating it. It appears that Mr Broots located the DSA and the files and showed it to Miss Parker and the two of them are attempting to learn more.”

Willie broke off and looked more closely as his boss. “Yes, sir, I understand that I have to stop them but, for the moment, it’s very difficult. You see, I don’t have a lot of power.” He paused before continuing. “Very well, if need be I will advise Mr. Parker of the fact and leave it with him.”

Willie stood up and returned the seat to its original position, before walking to the door. Before leaving, he looked back. “We’re looking forward to having you back, sir. Whenever that may be.”

* * * * * * * * *

ASPCA offices
Portland, Oregon

“Did we lose many last night?”

Dr. Ronaldson looked up to see Jarod standing in the doorway. “Three dogs, one cat and all four ducks.”

”All four?”

The doctor nodded. “They were infected with a virus they probably caught from the stagnant water in which we found them. It’s a new strain of malaria that affects only birds.”

“Lucky we didn’t lose the lot then.”

”Very.” The doctor signed her name on the bottom of a sheet and pushed it aside before looking up at Jarod. “I suppose you heard that they won’t be pressing charges.”

“Yup.”

She shook her head. “I can not imagine what could have caused that decision. I mean, it was all there.”

Jarod looked at her. “I don’t know either, but I intend to find out.” He turned on his heel and walked out of her office and to the rooms where the animals were being housed during their recovery. After a few moments of staring blankly at the dog in the cage before him, Jarod returned to his office.

“You have mail.”

The mechanical voice distracted Jarod from his thoughts and he looked up at the screen to see an automated message from the Traffic Records office in New York. Jarod pushed back his chair with a start and glanced out over the busy traffic in the street outside. He was suddenly confronted with an issue that he had been avoiding for some weeks - the pursuit. And it seemed so sudden. The memory of the game he had set fled his mind as soon as he found the box, but now it was forcing itself to his attention and was rapidly becoming a very major issue. He had timed the stages it would take for the Centre jet to get to each of the addresses that the tickets provided as well as the hours that the offices were open and he knew that, from now, he had only a few days and two options. He could leave - run away from Portland and all of this. And Nia. She forced herself back into his thoughts and he found himself on his feet and staring blindly at the map of Oregon that covered his wall. His other option was to stay in Portland. He could find the person or people who were responsible for the horrifying treatment of the animals and run the risk of being caught by - who? He didn’t know if it was Miss Parker who was actually doing the pursuing. Well, only one way to find out.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“This is Sydney.”

“Still at the Centre?”

“Jarod!” Sydney sat up straighter in his seat and smiled. “I haven’t heard from you in a long time. And of course I’m still at the Centre. Where else would I be?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

Sydney’s brow furrowed momentarily. “Are you alright, Jarod? I mean, you sound almost relieved to know that I’m here.”

Jarod laughed, a sound that Sydney could tell was forced. “Just thought you might have been off chasing new clues.”

“I know that Lyle hasn’t been at the Centre today, if that’s any help. Why do you ask?”

“Have to keep track of you, too, you know. If I let you get too close, well…”

There was a pause, while Sydney thought about Jarod's comment but before he could speak, Jarod filled the gap.

“What’s worse, Sydney? Mistreatment of people or of animals?”

For a few moments, Sydney considered the question, knowing from his tone of voice that the answer would be of importance to his protégé.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse, Jarod. The treatment of animals is terrible because the animal usually has no idea of why he is being mishandled. But the neglect or violence against a person is a terrible thing because often the person doing the mistreating can go too far and become excessive.”

Jarod give a dry, harsh laugh that grated on Sydney's nerves. “Ironic, isn’t it?”

Sydney heard the dial tone in his ear and hung up the phone before he registered consciously that Jarod had ended the call in his usual abrupt way. Looking down at his desk, he shook his head and tried once more to concentrate on his work.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod’s rental property
Portland, Oregon

“This is it.”

Nia rubbed her hair with the towel and looked over at Jarod, astonished to see the change in expression that had occurred in the twenty minutes she had been in the shower. “Are you going to tell me what it is, or do I have to guess?”

“I found our culprits.”

“More than one?”

“Two. Brothers. Quite revealing, this information is, too.”

Nia shook the last of the water from her hair and wrapped a towel around it like a turban while Jarod watched.

“I wore one of those once.” He forgot about the information in front of him in the interest of the new topic. “I rode a camel, too.”

“And you were a Sherpa on Mount Everest, a test pilot, a thoracic surgeon, a lieutenant on a naval destroyer. You told me.”

Jarod looked sideways at her, a small amount of frustration creeping into his voice. “You still don’t believe me.”

Laughing, she shook her head. “Are you going to show me what you found?”

“Oh, yeah.” Leaning over, Jarod plucked a sheet of paper from the folder. “Voila, we have our culprits.”

Nia took the sheet and read the names that Jarod had highlighted. “Steven and Peter Dockerty. Are you sure they’re the real culprits? Sure, they own the house, but…”

Jarod leaned forward and laughingly placed a finger on her lips. “I’m sure. I’ll show you.” He picked up a video tape from the pile in front of him and slipped it into the machine, allowing it to start up automatically while he pulled Nia down to sit on his lap.

“Where on earth did you get this from?”

”The apartment block behind the yard. They have a surveillance camera trained on the alley behind the building and it catches everything that happens in the other property - including the cock fights.”

She twisted around and stared at him. “So what are you going to do?”

Slipping her off his knee, he got up and began to pace the room energetically, his hands behind his back. “I don’t know yet. But something.” And quickly, he added to himself. The call to Sydney had shown Jarod that his time was running out and, during the night, he had stayed awake watching Nia sleep and trying to imagine running out on the animals for whom he had sworn vengeance. And then there was Nia. Hard as it had been to leave last time, this time it would be even tougher. But, the longer he stayed, the further away that separation would be.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney pushed open the door to his laboratory, in which several sets of twins were struggling with tasks he had set them, to find Miss Parker sitting in a chair in front of his DSA player.

“Can I help you, Parker?”

“I hope so.”

Sydney gave her a second glance. Although he would never had admitted it to her, that tone of voice was the same as her mother used whenever she had wanted something from anybody.

Miss Parker turned back to the desk and started up the DSA player. A noise from the corner made her turn to see the figure she had thought and hoped was not present. Angelo leapt up and ran frantically towards the door, veering past the arm that a sweeper put out to stop him and disappearing into the corridor, chased by the two sweepers that were in the room. His voice came faintly back into the room.

”No Eclipse. No more Eclipse. Never, ever.”

Turning back to Sydney, Miss Parker was about to speak when she noticed that he was staring at the machine. ”What do you -?” She began when, stepping forward, Sydney slammed both fists down on the machine, causing sparks to fly out of it and the twins to whimper and retreat further back into the corner of the room. He turned to her, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her up and out of the chair.

“What do you know about this project? How did you find out about it?”

“What is Eclipse?”

Sydney released her so suddenly that she almost fell backwards and had to grasp the back of the chair for support. Her arms throbbed where he had held onto her and she was reeling at his sudden and violent reaction. Becoming more determined, she asked the question again. “Sydney, what is this Project Eclipse and why did Angelo behave like that?”

Pacing the space between his desk and wall in a movement that reminded Miss Parker of a caged animal, Sydney continued to look at the floor and his voice, a low growl, seemed synonymous with his actions.

“This is not something you want to know about. Trust me, Parker.”

“Sydney, this project is obviously something big. Why won’t you tell me?”

”It…was a failure. It was a Tower-supported project that Raines was primarily in charge of and it didn’t succeed. That’s all you need to know.”

“But, Sydney, why was Damon…? And Angelo?”

Sydney turned and glared at her. “I told you, Parker, that’s all you need to know.”

Before she could reply, he disappeared out the door and she could hear his footsteps almost running down the hallway. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed that the twins were still staring at her from the corner and Miss Parker turned back to the ruined machine. As she did so, Broots peered around the doorway.

“Miss Parker, I just saw Sydney running…”

“I know. The important thing, though, is the contents of that folder. Did it tell you anything?”

Broots shook his head. “It’s in code. Many different types. Without knowing what they were, it would be impossible to work it out.”

“Have you got anything?”

”Only a few names. Damon, Angelo, Jarod and someone or something called Looking Glass. At least, that’s what I think it said.”

Miss Parker put one hand on his shoulder. “Broots, I really want to know what this is about. I can feel that it’s important. Please, keep trying. I’m going to see what else I can find?”

“But - how?”

“There’s only one person in this whole place who knows everything about everything.”

Broots looked blank for a few seconds before the truth hit. “You’re going to ask…?”

“My father.”

* * * * * * * * *

ASPCA offices
Portland, Oregon

“Jarod, what are you doing?!”

Looking up from the gun barrel that he was cleaning, Jarod encountered Nia’s startled eyes and put the clean pipe back on the desk in front of him. “Just… getting things ready.”

“What for?”

“I think it’s time the Dockertys knew what it was like to have to face some of the things that they forced their animals to suffer.”

Nia ran her eyes over the cruel implements on the desk. “Are you insane? Those are fighting spurs! They can cause terrible injuries.”

“I know.” Jarod smirked slightly. “A nice, easy way to get a fast confession.” His eyes traveled to the clock that he had set up on his computer, showing the minutes ticking away until Lyle and his group could reasonably be expected to arrive in Portland. The time was too short for comfort and Jarod knew that this time he would be running it very fine. Impatiently he looked up at Nia. “You saw what I did last time. It’s fear that all this is based on, not injury. Those men aren’t going to risk hurting themselves or each other. They’ll just tell me what I need to know.” He picked up a spur and ran a finger lightly over the edge, feeling the blade cut into the callous that his recent work had caused on his thumb.

“Jarod, I can’t believe that you could do that - it’s inhuman!” Nia’s voice rose to a higher pitch and she turned away. “I hope you weren’t relying on me because I couldn’t possibly help with this. It makes you no better than they are.”

Jarod watched her walk away, his mouth dropping open. He had been counting on her assistance to make this sting work. As he slipped the photos and papers into a large envelope, he began to think seriously about what he was doing. It hadn’t occurred to him that this could lower himself to the level of the people he was trying to trap. There was a fine line, he knew. This time, had he crossed it?


Act IV

Mario’s Pizza Parlor
Portland Main Street, Oregon

“Mario, I need some advice.”

Jarod took a seat in the corner of the room, watching briefly over his shoulder as the sun began to set.

“If you’re wanting Mario to help you get Nia to fall in love with you, it’s too late. She has done that already. I’ve known her for twenty-three years and never once have I seen her behave like she did with you.”

Jarod laughed awkwardly. “No, Mario. That wasn’t it at all.”

Mario picked up and chair and set it at the other side of the table from where Jarod was sitting. “Well, what is it then? I can see you have a problem. You tell Mario and we work it out together.”

“Well, you know people in this town, right?”

Mario puffed out his chest in pride, making him look so like a pigeon that Jarod, despite his concern over the pretend, could hardly hide his smile. “Mario knows everything about everybody.”

”I need to know about some people that I saw here when Nia and I had dinner last night.”

“Mario will tell you anything you want to know. You want advice about somebody?”

“Yes, I do want your advice - on the best way to get a confession out of Peter and Steven Dockerty.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“A word, Miss Parker…”

Willie stepped out of the shadows as Miss Parker unlocked the door to her office and she turned to him.

“Well, what is it?”

“A warning, Miss Parker, against going down the road that you’ve chosen.”

”How very poetic, Willie. Been reading Robert Frost?” Miss Parker leaned against the door to her office. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I; I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

He leaned in closer. “If you keep looking up information that doesn’t concern you, it might cause a lot of problems and you could find yourself in trouble.”

“Is that a threat, Willie? Who’s going to cause me trouble? A slug like you? Or maybe Egghead down in the Renewal Wing? I guess you’re still holding out for the resurrection, aren’t you, and hoping he’ll take you along for the ride. Well, you’re in for a nasty surprise on the first Sunday after you die.”

Miss Parker pushed past him and into her office, still clutching the DSA player that Sydney had destroyed. Looking at her desk, she saw that Broots had picked up the player that Angelo had destroyed and put it there. She put the one damaged by Sydney on the smooth surface next to it as Broots walked in.

“Wow! I wonder how much you get for broken DSA players at the recycling plant these days.”

Miss Parker looked up at him and the hint of a smile vanished from his face.

“Was there something you had for me, Broots?”

“I…I was going through the information from the folder again and I’d just fed it into the scanner when…you won’t believe this, Miss Parker. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it myself.”

Miss Parker grabbed his head in her hands and stared into his eyes. “What happened?” The words came out between gritted teeth and Broots jerked his head back and wiped the saliva from his cheek.

“The scanner that I was using to put the information into the computer so that I could get the details…”

“Well?!”

”I put the piece of paper, face down so that it would scan, and then turned around to get my cup of coffee, and…”

”Well? Then what?”

“It exploded.”

“What?!” Miss Parker took a step forward and Broots took one of identical distance backwards.

“Somebody shot at the machine from the doorway and it blew up, almost in my face.”

“And - the pages?”

“They got destroyed in the fire.”

She leaned forward and grabbed the shoulder of his shirt, pulling him towards her. “The files?” Her voice was almost a shout.

“I’m getting to that. After I got my breath back, I ran to the door to see who had done the shooting but no one was there. I went back to my desk and looked for the files and somebody had deleted them, along with every reference I could find to Damon or Looking Glass or even Angelo from that time. I just finished searching again and there’s nothing.”

“So who shot at it?”

“I don’t know. I told you, I went to doorway but they were gone.”
”And didn’t anybody else see it?”

“Miss Parker, it’s nearly 1 am. Just about everybody else has left already.”

“True.”

Broots stared at her, stunned at the reaction. “Miss Parker, what next?”

“Next, I definitely have to talk to my father.”

* * * * * * * * *

Dockerty Property
Portland, Oregon

“One hundred and sixty-five, one hundred and seventy dollars.”

“Good fight night.”

Steven leaned over and slapped his brother on the back.

“Well done, brother. We’re on the way to making our fortune.”

”I don’t think so.”

The two men spun around to find a figure in a black jacket and black hood aiming a gun from each hand at the men.

“What the - who are you?”

“Someone who thinks that making a living from getting animals to fight each other is about as despicable as you can get. And someone who knows a lot about you. Like why the police dropped their investigation into the neglect of your animals, Mr. Dockerty. Or should I say, Sergeant Dockerty. That is right, isn’t it? You knew what was coming, so you made sure that the charges would never be laid against you.” The two men stepped backwards, away from the table as the newcomer spoke menacingly.

“What do you want - money? Here, take it. Take it all.” A hysterical Peter began to push the neat piles of cash towards Jarod. His brother reached across and clamped a hand down on his shoulder, dragging him away from the money.

“Leave it alone. He doesn’t want the money.”

“Not exactly.” Jarod slipped one gun into his belt and pulled a bag out of his pocket and threw it over to them. “The money will be useful. It’ll help pay for the treatment that so many animals we rescued need.”

Steven’s top lip curled. “So you’re the do-gooders that took our valuable animals away. You think you just have right to waltz in here and do what you damned well want, don’t you?”

Jarod flashed the badge that he had been hiding on the inside of his jacket. “Yes, I do. And if they’re so valuable, why not take decent care of them?” Reaching over, he grabbed the bag that Peter was holding out with a trembling hand. “It’s certainly going to be a great improvement in the lives of your poor, neglected animals.” Jarod stepped back into the shadows of the room and seemingly was swallowed up by them.

As he slipped through the open window, the group on the street below caught him. Withdrawing a few feet and hiding behind the cars, the group silently waited. The voices in the house gradually increased in volume until finally the front door opened. As it did so, the headlights from the seven waiting cars illuminated the doorway and guns were trained on the figure that froze like a startled rabbit, giving officers time to cuff him before he even began to yell.

“Steve! Steve, help!”

Jarod almost had to laugh as the second brother joined the first on the step and was taken into custody by his own men.

“You…you can’t do this to me! I’m your boss! You have to do what I tell you…”

The slamming of the car door silenced the rest of his protests and Jarod turned around to where Graham and Julie were silently watching him.

“I’m sorry, but I have to leave now. “

Julie held out her hand. “I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given us. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Jarod clasped it and shook it gratefully. “And thank you for the chance to work with the best.”

Graham shook Jarod's hand. “Good luck in your new job.”

“Thanks.”

Jarod turned away, readying himself for the walk to the station and the first train he could catch. Time was still counting down…

* * * * * * * * *

Mr. Parker’s Office, The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

“Daddy?”

“Well, finally my Angel is coming to visit me. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

”Daddy, I want to know about Eclipse.”

Mr. Parker stood up and walked around the desk to where Miss Parker stood, a DSA player tucked under her arm.

“Now, Angel, I don’t like to keep secrets from you, as you know, but in this case I’m going to have to make an exception. Eclipse was a project that we don’t talk about. When I heard from Willie that you were looking into it, I asked him to stop you. This isn’t something that you need to know about. “

“But Daddy, I want to know!”

”No!” The words came out in a shout and Miss Parker jumped at the ferocity of his tones. “I will decide what you do and don’t need to know, understand? Do you still have the DSA?”

Miss Parker hid her surprise at the mention of the disc, wondering how he knew, and dropped the machine on his desk.

“I was asking Sydney about it and he destroyed the machine.” Miss Parker paused. “The disk was inside the machine when it was damaged beyond repair.”

Mr. Parker returned to his chair and sat in his, his legs crossed. “Good,” he purred. “I’d hate my girl to have to face demons like Eclipse. Maybe one day, Angel, but not now. Am I clear?”

”Yes, Daddy.” Miss Parker's voice sounded small in the sudden silence of the office. She turned to leave but stopped. “Daddy, may I please see Gabriel again?”

“No!” Mr. Parker brought both fists down on the table and made the machine jump. “We’ve been through this and I won’t have his schedule interrupted. If you aren’t careful, I’ll get you taken off the hunt for Jarod and reinstated as a cleaner. Do I make myself understood?”

Miss Parker didn’t respond, simply turned and walked out of the office.

* * * * * * * * *

Back alley
Portland, Oregon

Jarod slipped into the alley and began to trudge down the street. He had waited until Nia had left the apartment before going in, collecting his things and leaving again. He didn’t feel that he could face her, despite having toned down the ferocity of his sting. The look on her face, and the fear he had detected in her eyes, still haunted him and he hoped he could avoid her completely. At the same time, he wondered where he had seen a similar expression on other occasions. Not in the eyes of the victims of his stings, he reminded himself, but somewhere else. More personal.

The sounds of his footsteps almost covered the steady beat of those behind him and Jarod nearly missed the telltale shadows that occasionally darkened the ground in front of him. Finally, though, his senses began to alert him to the sounds that were behind him and Jarod realized finally that he was being followed. His pursuer seemed to be wise to the attempts he made to escape and, finally realizing the true nature of his situation and relying on his better knowledge of the city to escape, Jarod broke into a frantic run.

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod's apartment
Portland, Oregon

Nia knew the moment she opened the door that he was gone. Something about the apartment was different but she had to look around carefully to notice that his few possessions were not where she had last seen them. For a few seconds she stood, looking around, trying to reconcile herself to the fact that he was gone. It was a shock - last time, at least, she had had a chance to say goodbye and this time she wanted, for some reason, to do that more than ever. Bending down, Nia picked up the bag that she had dropped on the floor and, turning, abruptly left the room.

* * * * * * * * *

Back alley
Portland, Oregon

Jarod could feel the breath coming in painful gasps in his chest. His pursuers were silent, only their running feet making noise and Jarod couldn’t tell whether they were in radio contact or using hand signals. He still maintained a fairly short lead and his knowledge of Portland was the only thing keeping him ahead. Slowly, he could feel fatigue begin to creep into his arms and legs and he knew from experience that painful cramps would follow. If he allowed that to happen, he could give up hope of getting away from them and they would make sure that he didn’t escape. The fact that he had the DSAs and his bag with him were slowing him down somewhat, but Jarod was determined not to lose them.

“Give it up, Jarod.”

The voice that came from behind him broke through the silence that had become the worst part of the chase and, at the sound, Jarod felt new energy come from within.

“Not a chance, Lyle,” he yelled back over his shoulder and, grinning maniacally, sprinted ahead. He could hear the exclamations of surprise from those behind who had felt that he must have been approaching exhaustion. Suddenly, as he rounded the corner, he saw a car that looked very familiar to him and his heart leapt within him. It was Nia. Somehow she had found him and was giving him the best chance of escape. With delighted and somewhat amazed eyes, Jarod saw the car pull up in front of him and, as he threw himself inside and felt the engine start up and the car pull away from the curb, he saw Lyle and the first of the sweepers appear out of the alley.

For a few seconds Jarod was silent, catching his breath and feeling his sweat soak through his t-shirt. Finally, though, he was able to speak.

“How did you know?”

Nia smiled and pulled out a bottle of water. “I didn’t. I just couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye.”

“But, I…”

“Jarod, I know what you did. I talked to Julie after the situation was finished and she told me.” Nia leaned over and gently touched his knee. “I want you to know how proud I am of you. I know how angry you were.”

Jarod sat with his head bowed for a few moments before looking up. “Where are we going?”

“Toluca Lake. My Jarod is as well as he can be and I’m taking him home. I thought maybe you could stay the night.”

“Nia, it’s too dangerous.”

“Jarod, it could take them all day and much of the night to search a city as big as Portland. Also, they have no reason to suspect that I was involved.”

Jarod looked at her as she drove. “And you really want me to?”

Nia smiled. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.”

They continued on in a companionable silence, broken only once by the sound of Jarod’s computer beeping to tell him that it was time the Centre tracked him down in Portland, Oregon.

* * * * * * * * *

Nia’s Home
Toluca Lake National Forest

Jarod sat on the veranda and watched as the sun gently appeared over the treetops. With a gentle hand, he stroked Nia’s head as it lay on his lap and wondered if she was awake.

“Do you think it’s possible to ever get over the beauty of a sunrise?”

Jarod looked down as she spoke. “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful things in the world. When I was in the Centre, I always used to dream about what it would look like, how the colors would blend into each other. But seeing it was beyond my wildest dreams.”

Nia sat up and leaned against his shoulder. “I have something for you.”

“Really? What?”

Nia reached into her pocket and pulled out a silver ring. “I had it made to fit. I wanted you to have something to remember me by, even if you don’t see me again. I’ve been holding onto it on the off chance that I might get the chance to give it to you.”

”Nia, I…”

She looked up at him and understood the consternation on his face. ”Jarod, this is a symbol of our friendship, nothing more.”

Jarod nodded and immediately slipped it onto his finger, admiring it in the pale dawn light.

“I should leave.”

”I know.”

Nia looked up as he came out onto the porch.

“I hoped this time it would be easier.”

“So did I. But maybe next time you’re in Oregon, you can look me up.”

Jarod nodded, knowing, as she did, that it was never going to happen. The only way that they would meet again was as they had met this time - by chance.

Nia’s dog came strolling around the corner of the house and came to stand between Jarod and Nia. Jarod laughed a little sadly.

“You see, even he knows I have to leave.”

“So do I.” Nia leaned forward and Jarod took her face in both his hands. The kiss was gentle, soft. A sweet goodbye that meant more to either of them than a passionate embrace would have done. Jarod turned and, without looking back, without pause, walked once more away from that cabin in the woods as Nia stood with her dog at her side.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker picked up the small mountain of files that she took home with her every day from the office. Stepping through the door into the deserted corridor, her keys in her hand, she was about to pull it shut, where it would automatically lock behind her, when the nearby lift doors opened and her twin brother, Cox and a team of sweepers stepped slowly out.

“Well, that looks cheerful.”

Hearing her voice, Lyle tried to straighten his weary back and look completely untroubled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, really?” Putting down the folders on a nearby table, Miss Parker walked over and flicked up into his face the tie that was hanging loosely around his neck. “So the fact that Daddy is waiting for you to report to him in his…no, wait, in your office and has been waiting all afternoon won’t concern you at all, then?”

Miss Parker tied his tie neatly and swiftly, tucked it into his jacket, buttoned it and then slapped his chest before walking back, closing the door of her office, and picking up the folders again.

“Well, I’m off home. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” Without waiting for an answer, she stepped into the elevator and watched her brother and the rest of the men stare blankly after her as the doors closed and the lift began to ascend.


Epilogue

Miss Parker's House
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker walked wearily into her house and dropped her keys and several folders on the side table. Turning, she switched on the light of her living room and was temporarily blinded as the light reflected off the silver wrapped boxes and back into her eyes. She gasped at the unexpected sight and slowly moved towards them as though they were bombs that might explode in her face. Suddenly, impatiently, she sat down on the sofa and pulled the first box towards her, tearing the paper off with a child-like eagerness to know what was inside. The first sight that met her eyes was several layers of tissue paper and these were flung out, only to hover for a few seconds in the air before drifting down to the floor.

When her fingers first touched the plush white fur, she drew back as though it had burned her. Suddenly she lunged forward and drew from the box a white plush stuffed rabbit. Her fingers caught in the collar that it wore and on a disc she read the word ‘Benjamin’. Her eyes filled and she cuddled the soft toy to her as she looked down at the photo of her baby brother and the rabbit that she had left when she went to work. As she did so, however, her eyes traveled to the other box and her impatience was almost as great with this second gift. This time the fur was brown and the shape was that of a dog. Miss Parker put both toys of the table and stared at them, moving again only when the phone rang.

“What?”

“Did you get them?”

“Yes, Jarod, I got them. Thank you.” She paused for a moment. “Why?”

“Think of it as - a Valentine’s Day present. I found out about Benjamin and I heard that you always mourned the puppy you had as a little girl.”

Miss Parker sat upright in her chair. “Who told you?”

”Gabriel.”

“What?!” Miss Parker leaped to her feet. “How do you…?”

“I was kidding,” Jarod interrupted laughingly before becoming serious again. “I would have sent you the genuine article but after you gave Benjamin to Debbie, doing it again would defeat the purpose. I thought that this way you could at least keep them for yourself.”

Tears glistened in Miss Parker's eyes as she looked down at the playthings in front of her. Then her eyes traveled up to the window and she thought briefly about the events that had occurred that day. “Jarod, what do you know about a project called Eclipse?”

To Miss Parker's surprise, Jarod's voice became harsh and she could hear loud footsteps as though he had begun to pace on timber boards.

“I know more than I want to and, believe me, if you start investigating that, you’ll wish you hadn’t learned anything either.”

“But why does it upset Sydney so much to talk about it?”

“He couldn’t do anything about it, even if he’d wanted to.” Jarod's words came from between clenched teeth and Miss Parker was tempted to give up, but had one last question she wanted answered.

“And you? How were you…” Miss Parker trailed off as she realized that the only thing hearing her question was the dial tone.

”Daddy, I want to know about Eclipse.”

Miss Parker heard once more her own voice protesting to her father and the vehemence with which her questions had been greeted.

“I will decide what you do and don’t need to know, understand? Do you still have the DSA?”

“The disk was inside the machine when it was damaged beyond repair.”

Miss Parker smiled grimly to herself, stood up and rescued one of the folders from the file she had brought him. Turning off the light, she let the moonlight filter in through the window as she sat back down and pushed her new possessions to the far side of the table. Laying the folder on the table, she exhaled deeply and opened the folder. The moonlight shone off the disk, reflecting off the silver surface and back into her eyes.

End of Episode
Puppy Love