Penumbra

 

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MayBelle's Diner
Outside Triangle, VA

“Cain’t outrun it.”

Jarod glanced up at the sound of the gravelly woman’s voice. She poured him another cup of coffee, her bloodshot eyes sweeping over what she could see of him behind the counter, his right arm in a sling, his face unnaturally ruddy. “Can’t outrun what?” he asked slowly. He was aware how haggard he looked, bleary eyed and worn. He hadn’t slept in days, choosing to keep moving instead, first west, then south. For once, he had no place to go.

Zoe was gone, buried beside her twin sister. He had a photograph that her family had given him, the one on the mantel that was the last they had taken together. Jarod had never had any trouble telling them apart, even though their faces were identical.

He touched the breast pocket of his flannel shirt, where her picture rested close to his heart. He had not been able to attend her funeral. The Centre had denied him even the chance to tell her goodbye.

Too late. He arrived at the hospital too late. The smells of antiseptic and sickness were strong in his nostrils as he found the origami figure sitting on the morphine pump, a calling card left by his enemies. The Centre had killed Zoe, but he was responsible for leading them to her. He let down his guard, and they took advantage of it. The knowledge of that mistake would stay with him forever.

“Cain’t out run whatever’s chasin’ ya, son,” the waitress reminded him. “If it’s something inside, ya brang it with ya. No matter how far ‘r how fast ya go, ya never get rid of it.”

He appreciated the homespun wisdom, but wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Surrounded by people as he was, he had never felt so alone before. “Thanks, MayBelle. I’ll remember that.”

She clucked her tongue. “Sure ya will, sonny. Sure ya will.”

The cook’s bell rang behind her and she turned to grab a wide blue platter filled with steaming food fresh off the grill. Without fanfare, she set the plate down in front of the Pretender. Mounds of greasy hash browns fought for space beside two fried eggs swimming in butter. Piled onto the far end of the plate, several strips of bacon shimmered with melted fat, wrapped around a scoop of something grainy white and glutinous-looking.

Jarod stared down at that plate. “Thanks. I can feel my arteries hardening already,” he mumbled. Tentatively, he picked up his fork left-handed and poked at the white stuff. “How does one eat grits, MayBelle?”

She staggered back as if she had been shot, grasping at her ample bosom for theatrical emphasis. “Oh, honey! You ain’t never eat grits before? Well, y’all’s in for a treat!” She went on to describe all the various ways grits could be enjoyed, and was astounded when Jarod ordered a dish of each one. “Heavens, ya ain’t even tasted ‘em yet!”

He managed a weary grin. “I’ve got to have the whole grits experience, don’t I?”

MayBelle’s wide, friendly face broke into a smile. “Why, sure ya do. How ya gonna know how ya wanna order ‘em next time ‘less you know how ya like ‘em?”

She bustled away to give his order to the cook with great pride, while he tackled his eggs and hash browns.

A trio of rowdy teenagers came into the truck stop and jostled each other onto the only seats left open, immediately to Jarod’s right. After his second bite, the boys managed to turn his coffee cup over on the bar and he lifted his plate, spun around on the stool in mid-bite and moved to a table just vacated by an elderly couple. MayBelle heard the commotion and chided the boys for their behavior while she cleaned up the mess. Moments later, she delivered a fresh cup of coffee and several small bowls of grits to Jarod, clearing away the previous occupants’ dishes as she left. Her arms were too full to carry away the newspaper from the nearby township of Triangle that they had left behind, and she assured him she’d come back for it.

He asked her to leave it, and started reading while he ate.

Ten minutes later, he decided he didn’t like grits no matter how they were cooked or flavored, much to MayBelle’s dismay. But he left her a big tip and she forgave him, waving and welcoming him to return anytime, as he left with the newspaper tucked into the sling with his plaster-encased right arm. For several minutes he sat in his rented car, staring at the photograph accompanying the front page article that had caught his eye.

He guessed from the black and white photo that the pretty young woman had brown hair. The picture also featured an attractive man standing behind her, with his arms draped lovingly around her shoulders. They looked like they were in love and happy, but the headline beside it told another story.

PSYCHOLOGIST STARTS SUPPORT GROUP AFTER FIANCÉ'S DEATH, it read. He scanned the article and discovered that Journalism professor Talbot Davies had been engaged to psychologist Tamara Prescott, both of whom were employed by Braden University, a small but prestigious college on the outskirts of Triangle, near Quantico. Details about Davies' death were sketchy, but Jarod decided to look into it. Dr. Prescott's situation mirrored his own, and he found himself wanting to talk with her about the man she loved and lost.

He made a few phone calls to get things set up while he drove toward Triangle. A job would be waiting, once he had his credentials in order. He was confident that there would be no holes in the resume he would present to them. He was good at that sort of thing.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker was pacing the floor of his office like a caged tigress when Sydney came into the room. He glanced at her, flashed a warm smile in greeting, and moved straight to his desk. He set his briefcase on the floor beside his chair, but did not sit down.

"You were waiting to see me, Miss Parker?"

She stopped pacing and turned to face him, her voice low. "I need to talk to you, but this has to remain confidential. Got it?"

"Of course."

She took a deep breath and forced herself into a chair. "I've been doing a lot of thinking lately."

Sydney eased into his own chair, nudged his briefcase aside and pulled up to the desk. "Go on."

Her gaze fixed on a benign spot she had found on the floor. "Sydney, how much did my mother know about what was going on in the Centre?"

He weighed his answer carefully before responding. "She knew everything. She oversaw the security on every floor, for virtually every project."

"Except the one my father forced on her," she murmured bitterly.

Sydney chose not to acknowledge her accusation. "What's this all about?"

"Like I said, I've been doing a lot of thinking," she began. "For instance, why would my father reject me as a candidate for training in this Inner Sense thing, and yet forcibly impregnate my mother with another child just to get that trait?"

"Among others," he reminded her, hinting at the genetic contributions of Major Charles. "Perhaps he wanted something different from you."

Cool green eyes lifted off the floor. One auburn eyebrow arched in question. "Like?"

He sat back in the chair with a sigh. "You have a certain intuition that may well be related to your mother's Inner Sense, but functions differently," he observed. "Perhaps he saw early on that your gift was not the same. Or perhaps he thought this sense would distract you if he allowed it to develop any further than it already had."

"Intuition? Yeah, right. I'm just full of that."

"No, you're not. But you do have flashes of insight that reveal themselves in your work." He leaned forward on his elbows on the desktop. "For instance, in this hunt for Jarod, you have come to conclusions about his destination in mere seconds that would have taken me considerably longer, and I worked with him daily for over 30 years. Your relationship with him was always casual at best, since he worked so much of the time and you two were still fairly young when you parted ways."

She swallowed hard, remembering. Shaking off the memories, she stood up and started pacing again. "I want to understand this Inner Sense business. If I have it, I want to know how it works. I want to develop it in me, as part of my mother's legacy." She stopped walking, raised her head and made eye contact. "And I want you to help me, Sydney. Tell me what to do."

His surprise was plain. "Well, I'm… I'm not sure. I don't know that much about your mother's gift--"

"That's a load of crap," she snapped and crossed her arms over her chest. "You were her therapist, for God's sake. You knew how she processed things better than anyone, even my father. You know."

"Has it occurred to you that your father might have had other reasons for not wanting you to develop that particular legacy of your mother's?"

"Such as?"

He glanced around the room and lowered his voice, leaning toward her. "If you had that gift, you might have known when he wasn't being forthright with you. Or if he was manipulating you to get you to do something for him."

Trust me, Daddy would say. And he always said it when she was questioning something... something she knew was true, but didn't want to face. In the end, she always listened to Daddy, instead of herself.

"That can't be the reason, Sydney," she growled. "I want to know everything you know about my mother."

His eyes hardened. "I knew things about her that you will never hear, because it is neither moral nor ethical to discuss such things with your patient's daughter. There are things about your mother's life that you don't want to know, Parker, regardless of how you say you do. And yes, I was her therapist, but I was not her trainer. I do not know how she dealt with her gift, and it will take me some time as well as trial and error to find techniques that will work for you."

"We don't have time for trial and error. I need to move on this, Sydney, as quickly as possible."

"Let me have some time to think about it," he replied. "But in the meantime, try to notice when you come to such instantaneous conclusions without supporting facts. Focus on what you feel, how the information comes to you whenever it happens and file that away for later. If you can sense a pattern in how this gift works, that will help you develop it. There are exercises you can use to enhance it. All right?"

She nodded. "All right, Sydney. I'll work on that."

On her way to the door, she turned to face him. "One more thing. I want all the records you have with any mention of Catherine Parker, including her psych records. Anything and everything. And I want it as soon as you can gather it up."

He sighed wearily. "I can't give you everything, Parker. You know that."

"You can, and you will. I'm looking for something, and this is the only way I know to find it."

"Is this one of those moments of intuition?" he asked gently.

"No. This is good investigative technique, Syd. Get me the records." She strode out of the room and pulled the door closed forcefully behind her.

Sydney shook his head. He would give her most of what she wanted, but it would take more than barked orders to get it all. There were things about everyone's personal life that were not meant to be invaded by their children, things about Catherine that her daughter would regret uncovering if she dug too deeply. He would keep those confidences intact, to protect both women -- because, in the end, that had always been his job.

* * * * * * * * *

Braden University
Triangle, VA

Jarod arrived in the dean’s office freshly shaved, and sporting a new pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Tucked into his sling were several letters of recommendation, along with a stellar resume in the name of Jarod Young. He had thought about using "Jung," but decided that would be too obvious, and used an alternate spelling of Carl Jung’s surname instead. Half an hour later he had suitably impressed Dean Adams, and was consequently shown to his temporary office, which he shared with two other professors in the Psychology Department. One of them was in residence when he walked in.

Jarod set his briefcase down on the empty desk after the dean made the introductions. He studied Professor Will Chatham peripherally, taking note that the other man was watching him without trying to hide it. When Jarod had made himself at home, he turned on the desktop computer connected to the university mainframe. He scrolled through the class listings, read a few departmental memos and finally turned his full attention to the curious Chatham.

“Can I help you?” he asked congenially, making unwavering yet unchallenging eye contact with the man.

“You can tell me what the hell you’re doing here,” Chatham demanded. His voice was velvet smooth, cultured and rich, with a soft European accent.

He reminded Jarod of a younger version of Sydney, minus the humility.

“Just filling in, helping out temporarily,” he answered, keeping the note of warmth in his voice and expression. “A colleague told me one of your professors was going through a difficult period, and since I’m between jobs for a few weeks, I thought I’d try to take some of the load off.” His gaze wandered to the other empty desk, a color photograph of her late fiancé in plain view. “I guess Dr. Prescott’s either in class or at home. Has she been in much lately?”

Chatham frowned, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. “You heard about that, did you? Yes, she’s here today. In body, anyway. I'm not sure she's going to make her morning lecture.” The other man sighed, his expression defrosting slightly. “Talbot’s death hit her pretty hard. We knew he was sick, but none of us expected him to go so quickly.”

Pain sliced into Jarod at the turn of phrase. He took a deep, slow breath, hoping his own grief wasn’t showing. “I didn’t hear how he died. What happened?”

The professor shook his head. “Funny thing. He had a heart condition, but that seemed to be under control. He was on medication, living a fairly active life from what I understand. Then one evening he went to hospital, they found out he was bleeding internally, and the poor man just bled out before they could stop it."

Jarod frowned, and pushed the echoes of his own emotional distress aside to focus on the facts he’d just been given. “I assume an autopsy was performed to determine the reason behind his death.”

Chatham nodded. “Of course. Best they could determine, his medication interacted with something else he'd eaten or swallowed, and caused the bleeding.”

“And Dr. Prescott wasn’t with him when he died,” Jarod added. “So she blames herself for not being there.”

“As if there was anything she could have done, had she been with him,” Chatham added. “Yes, it’s a sad story, and Tammy isn’t handling it well. But I suppose she’s doing the best she can. It’s only been a couple of weeks.”

“I'm sure she is,” Jarod echoed sympathetically. “So, can you fill me in on the classes, what needs to be done? I’ll touch base with Dr. Prescott in person later, but if you can give me a general idea where the department is at the moment…”

Chatham puffed up with pride at the request. Inside an hour Jarod had a handle on the class schedule, the research projects in progress for undergraduates, and was on his way to give a lecture on abnormal psychology.

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre

The day was balmy, with a light breeze blowing in off the water.

Miss Parker couldn’t stop thinking about what Raines had said before he died… before her father murdered him in cold blood, to keep him from telling her what she wanted to know.

She remembered the important things. There was a DSA somewhere that her mother had recorded before she died.

Her belly clenched, and she thought she would vomit. The image of her mother on that delivery table leapt vividly into her consciousness. She could hear her mother’s voice, pleading for her life, and saw Raines pull the trigger. She watched Catherine Parker’s body fall back on the table, her brains splattered all over the wall behind her, a great gaping hole in her forehead. There was no way that had been faked. Her mother was definitely dead.

The nausea passed as she pushed that vision away. She thought of Gabriel instead, her brother’s smiling baby face, always so happy to see her, and she began to feel better. She could think clearly as long as she kept her mother’s death at bay.

Word has it your mother left a DSA explaining exactly what her plan was. But it was the one piece of incriminating evidence I never found or destroyed. You find it, you find her plan.

That was what he had said. But no one could hunt like she could, and if it existed, she would find it. Nothing and no one would get in her way.

“Miss Parker?”

She recognized Broots’ voice and didn’t bother turning around. She could do without the view of his wardrobe mistake of the day. When she felt him sidle hesitantly up beside her, she pushed her hair away from her face and angled more into the breeze so her auburn locks would blow away from her face rather than into it. That gave her a view of the long front of the honey-colored stone building.

They didn’t make ‘em like that anymore.

“I’ve got a project for you, Broots,” she told him stiffly. “I want you to locate everything with my mother’s name in it. Every document, every DSA, every file in every office. Starting with Raines’ cave. And this time you won’t have to wet yourself thinking he’s going to walk through the door at any moment.”

“Everything?” he moaned. “That could take a long time.”

She shot him The Look.

He cringed. “Yes, Miss Parker. I’ll get right on it.”

She turned back to her view, and her contemplation. Autumn would be coming before long. There was the slightest hint of chill in the air, but for the moment, the day was beautiful.

“Miss Parker?” Broots ambled closer. “How come you wanted me to meet you outside?”

“I needed to work on my tan,” she quipped coldly, shot him another look and sent him scurrying away. She was dressed in a business suit, complete with pinstriped pants, so very little of her skin actually saw the sunlight. It was getting harder and harder to be inside that place without it feeling like a tomb. She had come outside because she couldn’t breathe in there anymore.

She had let Ethan distract her for a while, but now she was back and she would not be swayed from her quest. She wanted to lay hands on every piece of information concerning her mother. And she knew very well where most of that would be kept.

She couldn’t send Broots into her father’s office; it was just too dangerous to send anyone in there but herself. Her father was in South Africa at the moment, so she had a little time. No one would raise an eyebrow at her being in there, except possibly Lyle. Thankfully, he was out looking for Ethan, and would presumably be gone for a while.

Gathering her strength, she trudged across the green lawn, thankful for having chosen thick heels rather than stilettos. After presenting her ID card and waiting to be checked back into the facility, she headed straight for her father's elegant office. No time like the present to begin the search for the information she needed.

On to Act II

 
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