Season of Fire
Part Two

 

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Pleasant Wood Psychiatric Institute
Towson, Maryland

"Are you sure we can trust this woman?" Parker asked for the third time as they pulled into the parking lot.

"It's a little late to be second-guessing our choices," Jarod reminded her. "Dr. Goetz is a caring person, and a good psychiatrist. I'm sure that once I explain things, she'll be willing to help."

"You'd just better hope she believes you," Parker added. "The last time we were here, you were a patient, and I told her the Centre was an institution."

"It is, Miss Parker," he replied as he started to get out of the car. "Just one you won't find in the phone book." He shut the door, then poked his head back in through the open window. "She doesn't know we're coming, so you'd better wait here until I've spoken to her."

"Fine. Whatever."

Jarod couldn't deny that returning to Pleasant Wood was a little risky; Jimbo and some of the other staff might recognize him. Still, he couldn't very well go snaking through the air vents this time, not with a cast and taped-up ribs. So, he did the only thing he could: he walked in the front door and headed straight for Dr. Goetz's office.

Luck was with him--although his cast attracted a bit of attention, he saw no familiar faces in the hallway. Finding the right door was child's play, since he still had the building floor plan fixed in his head. It was closed, but he knocked quickly and entered before anyone else came along.

Dr. Goetz was alone, thankfully, taking some books off the shelves. She turned to face him, and her eyes widened. She looked much the same as he remembered, except perhaps a few more lines on her face, a bit darker under the eyes.

"Jarod!" She took in the cast running the length of his arm. "What in the world happened to you?"

You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Then again, maybe you would, considering what I'm about to ask. "I had an accident," he explained. "Nothing that nature won't mend."

She nodded, and looked him over carefully, her eyes settling on his face. One thing a shrink needed to be able to do was look people in the eye when speaking to them. She'd had two years to digest all the things he'd told her. He hoped it was enough.

“I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again,” she told him honestly. “Except maybe in a front page photo or CNN clip.”

“I tend to keep a low profile, doctor,” Jarod answered with a slight grin, just enough to flex the dimples in his cheeks. “It’s better not to attract attention to myself, if I want to maintain my undercover status.”

“Undercover, huh?” She moved toward her desk and set the books down in a stack. “I figured you’d be in therapy for the rest of your life, when those people caught up to you.”

Jarod’s gaze tilted downward. His dark eyes burned. “They won’t catch up unless I want them to.”

Dr. Goetz kept her expression carefully neutral, betraying neither disbelief nor acceptance. Then a shadow of sadness crossed her face. “I also didn't think I’d get a chance to thank you for helping Mary recover her memory of what happened to Erica Michaels. It was the breakthrough she needed. She’s doing great now, back with her family and working on a new life. All because of you.”

Jarod’s jaw tensed. His eyes were gentle now, understanding. “I know it was hard for you to believe that Dr. Blythe could do what he did to a patient. Trust is pivotal in your profession.”

The woman nodded and sat down in her chair wearily. “Yes, it is. But after your revelation, it became pretty clear that he had abused not only Erica, but also a few others here. Hell of a thing to discover under your very nose. I really thought I knew him.”

Jarod lifted his chin and met her gaze evenly. “And there’s even more happening out there in the rest of the world. Maybe you’re ready to believe some of that, as well.”

She leaned her head back against her chair, weariness evident in her features. “I questioned a lot of things after you left, Jarod. Yours was a pretty fantastic story. Would it surprise you to know that I did a little checking?"

He kept his expression even. "Not really. What did you find?"

"That officially, there is no organization called The Centre." She crossed her arms, elbows on the desk, and leaned toward him. "It isn't listed in any book at the library, you can't search for it on the Internet, and you can't find it on a map."

Jarod inclined his head. “Did you really expect to, given what I’d told you?”

“Frankly, yes, especially after Dr. Parker and Dr. Lyle came looking for you. Lyle called me a couple of times afterward, to ask if I’d heard from you. And there were a few instances when I thought I was being followed shortly after you left. But once I dropped my inquiries, everything seemed to settle back into place.”

“I have it on good authority that they haven’t been watching you for some time, if that makes you feel any better,” he assured her. He wandered further into the room, glancing around at the distinct lack of ornamentation that had been present when he was there the last time. “Which is another reason why I’ve come to you.” He turned to face her again. “I need your help, doctor. And this time, I need you to believe me.”

She did not smile, sigh or otherwise show levity or impatience at his request. “I thought a lot about that story you told. The people who came looking for you confirmed that the Centre existed; but when I couldn’t find a trace of it, I wondered if it was possible you might have been telling the truth. After all, what better cover story could you have than a truth which sounds like a fantasy?"

She brushed her bangs back off her forehead. "I’m a different person than I was, Jarod. I like to think my eyes are a little more open now. So why don’t you sit down and tell me why you’ve come, and we’ll see what we can work out.”

Relief flooded his features, and he took the chair across from her desk eagerly.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker sat impatiently, waiting for Jarod's "all clear" signal, when her phone began to ring. After a few moments, she pulled it out of her pocket, determined to blast whomever was on the other end of the line. "What?!"

"Um, M-Miss Parker?" Broots sounded even more timid than usual. "I'm really sorry about calling when you said not to--"

"If you were sorry, you wouldn't have done it in the first place," she snapped.

"B-But there are some things going on that I thought you should know about."

"Don't whine, Broots, it makes you sound like a two-year-old." She sighed, and softened her voice a fraction. "What do you want?"

His voice dropped to a whisper. "Well, first of all, Mr. Lyle's looking for you."

What else is new, she thought to herself. "And what exactly did you tell him?"

"Nothing, just that you were following a lead on Jarod." He sounded nervous. "That isn't really a lie, is it?"

Parker knew an answer like that would only satisfy her brother for a short time. The fact that she had failed to take Sydney, Broots himself, or any of her usual sweepers along was bound to look suspicious, even to someone as dim-witted as Lyle. "No, it's not. I’m so close I can smell his aftershave. But if Lyle asks again, that's all you know. I'll take care of it when I get back." Broots was silent for a moment, so she added, "Was there something else?"

"Well, there's this rumor going around. See, my friend Grimby helped set up one of the conference rooms--he's the guy with part of one ear missing, but he hears really well with the other, and--"

"I'm not interested in which of your friends does the best Van Gogh impression." Her voice was rising again. "What does it have to do with me?"

"Rumor has it that Triumvirate Station is moving… leaving Africa."

"That's not surprising, since Mutumbo's been dead for months. So, where are they setting up shop this time?"

"That's just it, Miss Parker. They're coming here, to Blue Cove. At least, that's what the rumors say."

For a moment, Parker was speechless, dumbfounded. "That would only happen if…"

Broots finished her sentence. "…if whoever's in charge works here."

It was too bizarre to contemplate. Whomever the Triumvirate picked would already have a fair amount of power. Raines was dead, so that left him out. Lyle? Unlikely. Ditto for Mr. Cox. Both men were killers, but they weren't high enough on the food chain to claim such a prize. That left only…

"My father," she breathed.

"Pardon?"

Broots' question yanked her out of her reverie. "Never mind. Just keep it business as usual, and don't talk to anyone else about this. Have you got that?"

"Yes ma'am. And thanks for--"

She hung up before he could finish. Probably grateful she didn't completely bite his head off, and well he should be. Still, he'd given her some valuable, if puzzling, information.

Parker glanced back at Ethan. He looked half-asleep, off in a world of his own. For his sake -- for all their sakes -- she hoped Broots was wrong. If the Triumvirate was intent on making Blue Cove their next home, then the ante in the game they all played had just gone up considerably.

* * * * * * * *

“A lit candle -- that's what I remember most about our sessions,” Jarod observed. “It must be boxed up with the rest of your things. Are you going somewhere?”

She smiled indulgently at him. “The candles are only for my patients,” she reminded him. “And I don’t see one just now.” Her smile dimmed. “I was planning to take some time off, go on sabbatical for a few months. I really need a break from this place.” She chuckled and shook her head. “I’m not even sure where I’m going yet, but I leave tomorrow. All packed and everything.”

Jarod brightened. “Perfect! That’ll work out just fine.”

“How so?” She was beginning to look a little suspicious.

“I’ve brought you a new patient, one who needs full time attention. And I’m more than willing to provide you with all the funds you’ll need for his care. And for yours.”

She heaved a heavy, unhappy sigh. “More work is not what I need just now, Jarod.”

There was understanding in his hesitant smile, and hope in his eyes. “I know. But this won’t be all work. Ethan’s is a special case… another product of the Centre.”

“Jarod, I--"

“Before you turn me down, let me explain. Please?”

Goetz stood up and ran her hand through her short brown hair. “I really don’t think I’m up to this right now. But I’ll give you five minutes.”

The Pretender told the tale in as much detail as he knew, and filled in the parts he didn’t with extrapolation. By the time he finished, the woman was sitting down again, her mouth hanging open, eyes wide with surprise. She laughed nervously.

“That's the most fantastic story I’ve heard yet.”

“And, wonder of wonders, it’s actually true,” said Miss Parker from the doorway.

* * * * * * * * *

Lyle was impressed. The entire trip had taken less than a day, including Cox’s swift location of the girl. He wished he could have been there for the event itself, but knew that, in order for it to have the desired effect, Cox had to act alone. Zoe’s death would be a thorn in Jarod’s Achilles heel that would fester and swell, and eventually bring him down. All it needed was the necessary time for the wound to close up and begin to manufacture its poison.

He rang his sister’s office after he had settled in, but there was no answer. By all reports, she still had not returned from her enigmatic lead on Jarod that Broots had tried to palm off on him.

She was definitely up to something.

The other techs looked overtly suspicious when he stormed into the Tech Room looking for Broots -- who was mysteriously absent just then -- so he decided to rattle Sydney’s chain instead.

There were a variety of projects on the shrink’s schedule, and Lyle found him on SL-7 in the Nursery Wing, lecturing a class of caretakers on early childhood development. He caught Sydney’s eye as he eased into the back of the room and crossed his arms, waiting for the seminar to end. This one wasn’t going to get away from him so easily.

Sydney wrapped up in short order and dismissed the class, smiling and apparently eager to answer the questions put to him by a few of the students who wandered up afterward.

Lyle chose to get rid of them.

“Interesting speech, doctor,” he announced. Heads turned everywhere, and as soon as he was recognized, people began to hurry out the door and away.

He loved that effect. Let them think they could run from him. That only happened when he allowed it, and today, he felt generous. Sated, in a way.

“Very moving topic,” Lyle observed. “But then, I guess this class is watching a crop of unusually precocious drooling toddlers, so they’ll need a little extra coaching. Isn’t that right, old man?”

Sydney’s earlier good humor vanished. He packed up his materials and headed for the door, with Lyle in tow.

“Listen, I was wondering if you’ve heard from my sister lately,” Lyle went on casually. Into the elevator they went, the doors sliding silently closed and locking them into the tiny room. “She’s been incommunicado the last 24 hours and I’m getting a little worried about her.”

“Of course you are,” Sydney returned flatly, not a trace of belief in his voice or expression.

Lyle cocked his head and gave the Belgian a sidelong glance. “No, it’s true.” His voice hardened, though his face remained soft and pleasant. “I’m afraid she’s becoming too sympathetic to Jarod, that she may not be trying hard enough to bring him back.”

Sydney shot him a long-suffering look, and said nothing. The elevator car stopped moving and the doors slid open. Both men emerged in step, and Sydney went straight to his office with Lyle right behind him.

“She seems to be getting sidetracked on far too many of Jarod's wild goose chases,” Lyle continued. “Not exactly displaying the toughness that the Parkers are known for. Can’t have that.”

“You sound just like your father,” observed Sydney dryly. He laid his papers down on his desk and took a seat in the big chair. “And in my opinion, she is as focused as always.”

Lyle sat down on the opposite side of the desk, leaning close to the older man, lowering the pitch of his voice as if they might be overheard in the otherwise empty office. “Word has it that you haven’t been out of this place since she left. Might it be that you’re a little worried, too?”

Sydney’s brown eyes rolled impatiently up to regard him. “Miss Parker’s a big girl. I’m sure she can take care of herself.”

With a smile, Lyle added softly, “But she’s not made of steel. And when things are blowing up, people can get hurt. You sure you haven’t heard anything?”

Wearily, Sydney faced the younger man fully. “If she was hurt, do you think I’d be sitting here at my desk, business as usual, Mr. Lyle?”

Lyle leaned closer. “So where is she, Sydney?”

The psychiatrist shrugged and settled back into his chair. “I don’t know. Have you tried calling her?”

“She’s not answering,” Lyle growled back irritably.

“Then I suggest you wait until she is. I don’t have the answers you’re looking for and neither does Broots, so you might as well leave us both alone and let us do our jobs. Don’t you have a project somewhere that needs your attention?”

Lyle’s blue eyes narrowed. His expression darkened. He slid off the desk, straightened his Versaci suit and took a step back. “I’m working on it,” he snapped.

Sydney cast him a jaundiced eye. “So I see.”

Lyle turned on his heel and stormed out.

He was partway down the corridor when he realized that Sydney hadn't questioned his reference to an explosion. Apparently, Jarod's mentor was already familiar with the events in DC. Very few people in the Centre knew about Mirage, so that information had either come from Jarod, or from Parker herself. Judging from Sydney's attitude, Lyle's money was on his wayward sister. She was involved in this mess, just as he suspected.

Well, she wouldn't be able to hide that bleeding heart attitude from their father or the Triumvirate much longer. And if they ever found proof she was working against Centre interests…

The thought put a bit more spring in his step as he headed back to his office.

On to Act II

 
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