by Victoria Rivers and Blue Cove
Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Lenny Von Dohlen as Mr. Cox
Laura Leighton as Dr. Tamara Prescott
Anthony Stewart Head as Professor Will Chatham
Harry Groener as Cletus Malcolm
Robert Ito as Lung Li
Jarod watched the videotape for the seventeenth time. His belly was simmering. He had recognized that face instantly the first time he played the security films from the hospital where Zoe had died.
Sauntering in as if he belonged, Dr. Cox came in the same door all the employees used, paused briefly at the time clock as if searching for his card, then wandered inside. Jarod had no doubt now who had hastened Zoe’s end. And he knew who Cox worked for under the aegis of the Centre.
Only through someone involved in the efforts to catch him could Cox have found out about Onysius, the bent-winged god of retribution, that he left in his room the night he escaped. Cox had left a smaller origami figurine on the morphine pump beside Zoe’s bed for Jarod to find.
Cox had no personal score to settle with him, which pointed to Lyle as the one who had given the order, with Cox to carry it out. It would have been easy, especially with the Centre’s resources behind him. He looked like a doctor in his white lab coat, stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a doctor, after all, but the Hippocratic oath meant nothing to him.
First, do no harm.
The pathology report lay on the table under his elbow. Her death had been quick and painless, but that gave him no comfort. It was unnecessary, and undeserved. She might still have beaten the cancer, with him at her side. But now he would never know.
Cox and Lyle owed him, and the debt could never be repaid. Still, he would have his many pounds of flesh from them… an ounce or so at a time. He knew plenty about Lyle, but not nearly enough about Cox.
He watched the tape one more time, playing the simulation in his mind as he studied the clean lines of Cox’s face, the creepy, cold eyes, and the smugness of his smile. This would take a long time to bring to completion, but Cox would never be as sure of himself again. Not after Jarod got through with him.
The doctor would be forever looking over his shoulder, uncertain of the footsteps behind him in the dark, uncertain of the sanctity of the place he called home. Not even the Centre could protect him now. Jarod hit the rewind button.
He wanted to smile, but there was no satisfaction in his thoughts.
Jarod reached for the small box on the far side of the table. He hand lettered the address label to Cox via the Centre and pushed it to one side. From around his neck he retrieved the little figurine that had so intrigued him some weeks earlier, and laid it on the table on top of a page of newsprint. His eyes scanned the old, yellowed paper, re-reading the article on the murders in Slade. He had been at the mill where, several decades before, the bodies were found -- and he had saved the life of a mother and daughter there. He had learned about home movies and homecomings, and he had put a family back together again where another had been lost.
The little doll was made of dried corn husks, tied together in strategic places with lengths of yarn. Cox wouldn’t understand its significance unless he traveled to the village personally, which was unlikely. That wasn’t the point of the exercise.
This act had meaning only for Jarod.
The hair stood up on the back of his neck as he wrapped the little doll up in the sheet of newsprint, packed it into the box, sealed it and affixed the label that would take it to Zoe’s murderer.
“Corn man a’ comin,’ “ he murmured aloud.
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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?"
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?"
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.
* * * * * * * * *
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 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.
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.
Jarod liked teaching. Sparking new thoughts in fresh minds was exhilarating. He winged the class, giving them a dissertation on a carousel of slides featuring artwork by highly disturbed adults and children, while barely glancing at Dr. Prescott’s notes.
When the lights came on, he fielded questions from the undergrads and discussed a wide variety of pathologies that both interested and amazed his students. Many of them stayed after he dismissed them, clustering around him with still more questions, but when he caught sight of the woman standing in the doorway at the back of the room, he promised them more next class and shooed them away with a warm smile.
“Dr. Prescott,” he called. “I was hoping to meet you today. I’m Jarod Young.” He ascended the steps in the amphitheater toward her, and she came down to meet him halfway. Her pretty face was drawn, and there were dark circles beneath her eyes. He also noticed with a twinge of remembered pain that her short hair was copper red. Just like Zoe’s. This pretend was starting to hit just a little too close to home.
“Dean Adams called to let me know I had a sub today,” she told him. “I was planning to do this lecture anyway, but when I got here you were already in full swing, so I thought I’d just listen. You’re good. Some of your insights were… fascinating.”
Jarod beamed. “Thank you. I’ve done a lot of this over the years.”
“The dean mentioned you had taught at Quantico. For a man your age, that’s pretty impressive by itself.” She eased past him and went to the slide carousel at the center of the room. “This one, for instance, this drawing by little Jessica Hamilton…” She searched through the slides for a moment, turned on the projector and flashed what appeared on the surface to be a benign child's drawing of a little girl, a house and some trees. "The first few shrinks to get a look at this drawing didn't pick up on her predilection, but you did. And I know you didn't get that out of my notes, since there was only her name and age in the file. Jessica was one of my patients, and came to me through the courts, so I knew every detail about her case."
"Did you get her after she had killed for the first time?" he asked solemnly. The signals in that drawing had been abundantly clear to him.
Tamara Prescott glanced up at him sharply. "How did you know she killed someone?"
"Look at the trees and flowers," he offered as he strolled toward her. He pulled his laser pointer from his blazer pocket and aimed it at the projection screen, drawing attention to the trees. "Those aren't plants. They have faces and hands. They're the people who live in her world. And the ones she's got gathered up into a bouquet in her hand…"
"Were her victims. All very young. Younger than she was." Tamara sighed. "That picture hung on her therapist's wall for a month before the first body was found. They knew she was troubled, but nobody saw the signals, not even me at first. You nailed it with a glance."
Something sick settled in the pit of his stomach as he looked at that drawing, understanding its elements too well. He turned his back to it and shut the projector off. "Practice. But I'd rather not talk about cases, if you don't mind. I'd like to know what you want me to do to help you with your work, until you're ready to handle it all on your own again."
Tamara's blue eyes narrowed slightly. "I was wondering who sent you here."
Jarod smiled. "Professor Denisof sends his regards."
Her suspicions instantly melted away into the ghost of a buried laugh. "How is the old guy?"
"Enjoying retirement. Still proud of his best student. And in case you're wondering, this is a favor to him in exchange for something he did for me. I'm not cutting into your paycheck. This is just a professional courtesy."
Dr. Prescott looked distinctly uncomfortable at the mention of money. “Are you sure you can afford…”
“Money’s not a problem,” he assured her. “I got a nice severance package with my last job, and the next one starts when I get there. How are you doing?”
She shrugged. “Things are a little tight. I’m trying to pay off Tal’s medical bills. We had agreed to that.”
“Even though you weren’t married.”
Tamara’s bittersweet smile brightened her face as she reached to liberate the tray of slides. “Not yet. Just another couple of weeks, and we would have been.”
Jarod drifted closer, and settled one hand onto her shoulder. “I know how you feel, Tamara.” He let just the right amount of heartbreak show in his eyes. “I lost someone special, too.”
She smiled sadly. "It's really hard sometimes, you know? We were so close to having everything… the wedding, and Tal about to submit a new book to his publisher…."
"What sort of things did he write?" Jarod asked gently.
"Nonfiction, mostly. He called this one Penumbra. Said it was appropriate, since it was the story of a profiler, a man who lived his life with the shadow of others constantly hanging over him."
"It sounds… interesting." Jarod had been a profiler himself, but knew he couldn't discuss that with the woman in front of him.
“You know, I started a support group for those who have lost a loved one," Tamara was saying. "We've already had our first session; why don’t you come to the next one? Just sit in on it with me. You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.”
Jarod usually preferred a one-on-one setting to that of a group. His smile hardened, felt as if it might shatter at any moment. “I’ll try, but I’ve got a couple other projects to work on while I’m here. If you’ll leave the information on my desk, I’ll see what I can do about attending.”
This time her smile was genuine, and warm. “That would be nice. I’ll look forward to seeing you there, Jarod.” She sighed. “Meantime, why don’t we go back to the office and go over my schedule? I’m trying to get back into teaching, but I’m still tying up some loose ends of Tal’s, going through his things. You know.” Tears gathered in her eyes. “After I do a little of that, it’s just really hard to come in here and start talking about aberrant behavior.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Want some help with those slides?”
She glanced at his arm. “Looks like you’re the one who needs help,” she teased. “How’d it happen?”
“Science experiment gone wrong,” he answered evasively.
He escorted her back to the office, keeping up the banter between them, and delving into the professional aspects of the department of psychology, while keeping her interest steered away from him and his recent past.
* * * * * * * * *
She was just settling in behind her desk with some of her ill-gotten gains when Miss Parker's office door swung open. Broots darted inside and closed the door, staring at it for a second as if he thought it might open right up again on its own… or if someone was following him. Then he dashed across the room to her desk and bent over it conspiratorially. He was sweating, and his eyes were bulging with fear.
“Miss Parker!” he whispered. “Something weird is going on!”
She rolled her eyes at him and dropped her glance back to the folders spread out on her desktop. “Since when does anything normal ever happen here, Broots?”
He leaned closer. “This is weirder than usual. I went to Mr. Raines’ office, just like you told me. I was expecting to find most of his stuff being farmed out to other people, since he’s dead and all, and if anybody asked me, I was going to say that I was taking some of his projects to Sydney. But when I got there, you’ll never guess what I found!”
“No!” He was so worked up that he didn’t even notice her barb. “Willie was standing guard, and Raines’s office was locked up tighter than a drum!” He blinked. “What does that mean, anyway? Are drums always tight?”
She sighed impatiently. “So? Wait till Willie has to go to the bathroom and prance right in there!”
He backed off slightly. “You don’t get it,” he hissed, inching closer. “Why would they have his stuff nailed down in the first place, if he’s dead? Wouldn’t they be handing his projects out to people who can finish them?”
For a moment, she was silent. “You’re right, Broots,” she whispered back. “They’d do exactly that.”
She stood, scooped up the folders and the DSAs and handed them over to him. “Copy these for me and have the originals back on my desk ASAP. I’m going hunting.”
“You don’t think--“
“I’m going to make certain,” she snapped, and stepped out from behind the desk to lead the way out of her office, listening for his obedient footsteps to follow her out the door. She could almost feel his furtive looks all around him as he skulked in her wake, but her awareness of Broots was fading. She could smell something unpleasant on the wind, and was determined to follow it to its source.
* * * * * * * * *
The victims were all Asian women in their 20's. They were smart. They were pretty. But that seemed to be what drew their killer to them.
Jarod read over the reports, poured through the case files, studied the photographs of the bodies, the grave sites, the murder locations. All of it was eerily familiar, as if he had seen it before, but he knew he had never heard of Lung Li until Tamara Prescott asked him to handle the research project on this particular serial killer for her.
She had given him a stack of four files from Peltier Maximum Security Prison from which to choose one subject. The study was being done at the request of the FBI, as a comparison for their Behavioral Sciences training classes. Braden University provided several guest lecturers for the academy's BSU, and often participated in field studies with the Bureau, Tamara had explained to him. She specifically requested that he consider doing the study on this particular offender. She had interviewed him before and found him charming, though obstinate, but was unable to get straight answers from him; perhaps being interviewed by a man would shift the balance.
He read over each of the files, except for one. That one he opened, glanced at the first photograph, and closed the folder, sliding it quickly to the bottom of the stack. Lung Li's was the next folder he opened, and he decided to follow Dr. Prescott's suggestion.
And so he began to simulate Lung Li, imagining him at the murder scenes, the things he did to all those women. Some elements were puzzling, but eventually he understood the motivation, the intricacies of the crimes. That Lung Li was an extremely sick, dangerous man was obvious. But there was always a method behind the madness.
Jarod understood that all too well. Simulating the behavior of a serial killer had been hard for him as recently as two years ago; each subsequent time it became a little easier, though it also made him uneasy for reasons he didn't totally understand.
He laid the photographs out all over the desk in his tiny, cramped apartment. Some of them he laid on the floor, on the tops of opened drawers and tacked to the walls, until the photographs of murder and mutilation virtually surrounded him. With sweat beading on his brow, he fired up his laptop computer and began to write, to fill in the blanks on all the survey questions he was supposed to ask Lung Li. And he let Lung Li answer every one of them with unvarnished, twisted truth that was his alone.
* * * * * * * * *
When a detective wanted to know why something was happening, standard advice was to follow the money. In this case, Miss Parker decided, it was a case of follow the sweeper. Willie knew Mr. Raines better than anyone else, except perhaps her father. If anyone could lead her to old wheezy's current whereabouts, be they under or above ground, it would be his personal errand boy.
Apparently, though, she'd misjudged the size of the man's bladder. Willie never took a bathroom break. Instead, he stood stiffly in front of Raines' office door for hours, studying the passersby and turning away those few brave souls who dared to request admittance. Only when another black-clad statue arrived to replace him did he finally leave his post, and head directly for the elevator.
Sliding neatly into the flow of traffic, she stepped into the car along with half a dozen others, pressing the button for Sub-Level 5 and the Tech Room. No one would question her desire to talk to Broots about Jarod's latest whereabouts. That was her job.
The doors opened at her floor, and she stepped out under Willie's watchful eye. After they closed, instead of heading for Broots' desk she hung back and watched the indicator. SL-7… SL-12… SL-16. All reasonable floors. It was only when the elevator car descended into the very bowels of the Centre that she guessed its final destination.
Renewal Wing. If there were a better place to slip underneath everyone's radar, she couldn't think of it. Somehow, she was certain, Raines had managed to escape the grim reaper yet again, and was hiding in a part of the Centre no one visited unless they had a good reason.
She broke into a feral smile. Putting paid to Dr. Billy's latest trick was certainly a good enough reason for her. "Haul out the good china," she whispered to no one in particular. "You're about to have company."
* * * * * * * * *
Peltier Maximum Security Prison
Peltier Island, on the Potomac River
“You know the procedure?” the guard asked casually.
Jarod nodded. “Keep back from the enclosure gates at least five feet. Do not pass anything to or accept anything from the inmates. No personal information on my part.” He handed over his briefcase for the guard to rifle through. After a very thorough search, he took it back.
“Okay,” Officer Walters agreed at last. “Walk through the metal detector and meet me on the other side."
The Pretender passed through without incident. A muscle twitched in his jaw. “I don’t look forward to this.”
“No one does. Even their regular shrinks don’t like seeing them.” Walters shot a nervous glance toward the steel and thick Plexiglas door that separated him from the cell corridor. “They’re some bad dudes, man. Be careful.”
Jarod offered a pained smile. “I will, believe me. I know more about these guys than I want to.”
After another pat-down, the guard finally allowed him to pass through the electronic gate. He flinched when he heard the massive door clang shut behind him, but straightened his suit jacket and marched down the wide aisle between the thick stone wall and the bank of small but well lit cells. He did not meet the eyes of the first man in the cell, though he saw the movement of his head as he walked past.
That would be Ron Chambers, put away for his crimes against a sorority house full of college girls. In the next cell was Pauley Fishman, a man of questionable intelligence who killed a farm family and lived in their house with their rotting bodies for four months. At the third cell, he put his head down and tried not to look, but it was impossible.
The man was as tall as he, but broader, more muscular. His light blue eyes were piercing, and his dark hair was pulled back, secured at the nape of his neck. He smiled and rose from the table at the center of his cell, where he had been drawing.
“And what are you doing here?” Kodiak Brown asked. “Come to pay me a visit?” He strolled up to the Plexiglas front of his cage and leaned casually against it as Jarod walked past.
He couldn’t maintain eye contact with that man, knowing what he had done. Jarod could still see the mangled bodies of his final victims in the photographs taken in the basement of his country home. Brown had a particular enjoyment of torture, and had murdered almost a dozen women after weeks of captivity, during which he put his victims through unspeakable torment.
Jarod blinked away tears that sprang to his eyes, and concentrated on his job. These interviews, though difficult, were part of the process. He had a mission to accomplish, and getting through them was necessary. He had a list of questions he was supposed to ask, and he was supposed to try to get the inmates to converse with him as a psychological professional. The university had gone to a lot of trouble to arrange it, and he had to get it done.
But when he passed Brown’s cell and took his seat on the molded plastic bench across from Lung Li’s cell, he wasn’t sure he was going to make it all the way through. He could feel Brown’s gaze on him, and it made his insides clench painfully. Jarod opened his briefcase, took out a tablet of paper, a pen and the printed list of questions.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Lung,” he began coolly. “Thank you for participating in this survey.”
Lung was average sized, average build, average in every sort of way, except in the crimes he had committed against the women of his race. He seemed congenial and interested, which Jarod knew was a ruse to draw the other person in, get them to relax. Charm was a big part of what had enabled this Chinese-American man to coax women into close quarters, where he would rape and torture them for days before disposing of their bodies in wooded areas. But Jarod already had his answers. Here he was simply going through the motions.
He ran down the list in typical clinical fashion, with Lung teasing and hinting with his responses rather than answering them outright. Jarod’s pen did not move even a single time to take note of those answers, and when he thanked Lung for his time and started packing up, the inmate called him on it.
“Aren’t you going to take notes? You might get something wrong if you don’t write it down now, while it’s fresh.”
Jarod cocked his head slightly and studied the man. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a set of neatly typed papers, stapled together in the upper left corner. “I really don’t need to, Mr. Lung, since I’d already written my report before I got here. This was just for the record.”
Lung chuckled. “So you already know everything about me, huh? That’s a new one. Docs here have been trying to figure me out for years.” He stepped closer to the reinforced acrylic door, arms crossed. “What’s your opinion, then? Why do I do what they say I did to get me in here?”
“Because you like it,” Jarod answered succinctly. “It’s validation of how smart you are and how stupid the women are when they go with you. And the power you wield over them, man! That’s intoxicating, isn’t it?” His voice emphasized the understanding of how powerful that attraction was to the other man. “It’s not about the sex, though that’s a nice bonus. It’s about the power, the invasion, the shattering of their trust in that moment when they know you’re the Big Bad Wolf. It’s all about the looks on their faces, their pleas for mercy.” He leaned closer to the transparent shield, half smiling as his dark eyes gleamed with empathy. “And the screams. It’s like a symphony, isn’t it?”
Echoes of them teased his ears, twisted his heart up into a knot. He could see by Lung’s expression that he was right on, yet not satisfied with the depth of his assessment. “But no one knew about the blood, did they?”
Lung’s eyes narrowed.
Jarod glanced at a photograph in a folder in his briefcase. “You bled them, just a little, here and there, while you tortured them. You gathered the blood into vessels to mix with the earth where you buried them, didn’t you? But nobody ever knew that little detail except you.” He paused. “And me.”
Lung’s hands curled up into fists. His teeth ground together, his eyes flashing with leashed rage. Abruptly he smiled, only the merest flicker of anger still showing in his eyes. “And why would I do such a thing, doc?”
Jarod replaced his report into the case, closed and locked it, and stood. He made eye contact after straightening his jacket, and took the briefcase in hand. “Because you’re a sick, twisted bastard with no regard for human life except your own,” he snapped. He took a step closer to the door, intending to impress the other man with his greater height and physical presence, but Lung stayed where he was, smirking back at him. “And because you had gods to appease, so they would give you a son. Instead, you got five daughters. I’d say your gods didn’t like you very much, wouldn’t you?”
Lung lunged at the barrier, slamming into it with his shoulder, then backed off. “Come see me again, Doc. Maybe next time you’ll actually listen so you can find out just how wrong you are.”
But Jarod wasn’t listening. He had taken one step toward Kodiak Brown’s cell, and made eye contact. His feet stopped moving. He was riveted to the spot, his palms sweating.
Brown chuckled huskily, the sound a soft growl with a dark edge to it. “What exactly do you know about me, doctor?”
Jarod swallowed hard, fighting back tears, trying desperately to avoid the agony welling up in his soul. “Everything,” he whispered. “I know everything about you.”
Brown winked at him as his smile grew brighter.
Jarod bolted past, stumbling to a walk just in front of the first cell. He was flushed and sweating when he signaled the guard to let him out. The guard searched him and his case again, and then permitted him to leave. He had to maintain a calm demeanor as he left the prison, returned to the ferry and drove back into town.
But he didn't go back to the university right away. He had to go to his temporary digs first and stand under a hot shower, where he could weep in private and attempt to wash away the blood his mind told him was still covering his skin. That sim had been a lifetime ago, but it never left him completely. And seeing Brown brought too much of it back, more than he could handle.
He thought instead about Zoe, of the light and joy she had brought into his life. He remembered making love to her, and how wonderful it had been. The memories helped, but then came the awful shadow of her death and the tide of grief that came with it. Even that was more tolerable than seeing that man in his cell. Jarod struggled to tamp down those terrible memories, so he could get on with his work. He had people to help, and he couldn’t do it if he was a mass of tangled emotions.
But he would never be able to leave Kodiak Brown behind, and he knew it.
In between classes, Jarod made his way to the communal office in the psych department. He hauled his briefcase onto his desk with his left hand, still favoring his right. From there, he removed a folder holding Talbot Davies' autopsy records, which he had copied during a brief stint at Quantico’s hospital.
He wasn't alone in the room. Professor Chatham was at his own desk, seemingly relaxed and reading a current copy of Psychology Today. Jarod was beginning to wonder if the man ever taught a class himself.
With a small wave to acknowledge his presence, Jarod settled down and began to look the report over carefully. Davies had been on several medications, including the blood thinner Coumadin. Careful monitoring would have been required, including periodic blood tests. It seemed unlikely he would have eaten any dangerous foods, taken any dangerous substances, without becoming aware of their effect. The interaction that killed him must have been sudden and massive, but there was no trace of anything unusual in the toxicology report.
He sighed heavily. Maybe it had been just an accident after all.
Across the room, Chatham took a small bottle out of his desk drawer and removed two pills, downing them with a glass of water. At Jarod's inquisitive look, he held the bottle up for inspection. "Ginko biloba," he pronounced.
"That's an herbal supplement, isn't it?" Jarod asked.
Chatham stood, apparently taking the question as an invitation, and walked over to Jarod's desk. "Would you like to try it?" he asked, offering the bottle. "Broadens the mind, sharpens the wit."
"And dilates the blood vessels," Jarod added, reading the label. "You need to be careful with this."
The professor waved away the possibility of consequences. "As long as you're healthy, a little dilation never hurt anyone." He sniffed slightly at the Pretender's polite refusal, and went back to his magazine.
Jarod stared at the bottle intently. An idea was beginning to come into focus. Toxicology reports only covered a certain number of compounds, unless you knew what you were looking for. Perhaps there were a few things he still needed to check out.
* * * * * * * * *
After letting himself quietly in the back door of Davies' house, Jarod explored the premises thoroughly. It appeared that he had been a neat man who liked order in his surroundings. Every room was neat as a pin, and Jarod doubted Tamara had the presence of mind, or the desire, to scrub and polish right now.
The medicine chest in the bathroom and the kitchen cabinets came under particular scrutiny. Jarod didn't find anything which would lead him to believe Talbot was at all careless about his heart condition. No medications other than those prescribed, not even a bottle of Tylenol. The refrigerator had already been cleaned out, but nothing on the pantry shelves seemed to contain harmful ingredients. If he really had indulged in something he shouldn't that night, it had probably come from someone on the outside.
While he was there, Jarod decided to have a look at the book Tamara had mentioned. But checking the hard drive on Davies’ computer presented an anomaly that caught his attention instantly. In a folder called "Penumbra" were copious notes regarding a series of murders in the late 80’s. The manuscript was there too, but the file names looked odd. Every chapter title had the designation ‘B’ after it, as though it was a second series of text, though there was no ‘A’ section in the folder or anywhere in the computer. Jarod searched Davies' home a second time, but could not find an ‘A’ series of files anywhere.
It was possible, but unlikely, that Tamara Prescott had them. Jarod had the impression that Davies hadn't said much to her about his works in progress, so he probably wouldn't have given his files to her.
Those disks had to be somewhere, though. In this electronic age, a writer would keep a copy of his files for the purpose of making changes once an editor got hold of it at a publishing house. Talbot wouldn’t have committed it just to paper and wiped out the working copy.
Someone had beaten Jarod to the punch, and taken those files. His job now was to find out who.
* * * * * * * * *
Renewal always gave Miss Parker the creeps. One never knew what might come rolling, hopping or thumping down the corridors in that nightmare palace. Billowy curtains blew out in the breeze from the air conditioning system, marking off therapy rooms and other private areas. She could hear the soft beeps of monitors, the click-hum of respirators and other machinery as bodies were kept alive against the will of Nature. The scent of antiseptic was covered over with something sickeningly floral, making her stomach churn.
She checked every room, every station, every curtained area she passed. Up and down the quiet corridors she strode, the clomp of her thick soled shoes intensified by her determined steps. Everywhere she looked she saw misery and pain, but she did not meet the eyes of the patients in those rooms for long, and upon confirming that they were not who she was looking for, she dismissed them from her consciousness. None of the rest of them mattered at that moment -- only the one familiar ghoulish face of the man she had thought dead now for weeks.
She had never been this deep into Renewal before. Her hands rubbed her upper arms, cold now even through her wool jacket. There was only one more corridor left, all the way in the back, each room sealed with a metal door and no windows. Carefully, quietly, she pushed on the first door. It swung open easily, silently, and she stepped inside.
Not Raines. Not in the next room, either, or the next. She was beginning to think her initial conclusion was off.
The fourth door opened, and she stood spellbound in the doorway, utterly vindicated.
There he was, sitting in a wheelchair, oxygen tank parked beside him, IV pole attached to the back of the chair. Behind him was a bed, the covers still rumpled from where he had lain recently. He sat perfectly still, unblinking, without acknowledging her presence at all.
Bile choked her. She swallowed it down, her body vibrating with rage and disbelief. The door swooshed closed behind her, and she stomped closer, arms crossed, ready for battle.
“You’re tougher than you look,” she snarled. “Or else Daddy’s not a very good shot.”
Raines sat silently, his expression blank.
“Don’t you want to gloat?” she challenged him. “Come on, show some spunk, Raines.”
She gave the chair a little push with her foot. It rolled backward, bumped into the bed and sat still. Raines bobbled a little, but he didn’t move to try to catch himself. He just sat there, staring straight ahead.
Parker lunged at him, gripping the chair arms to get in his face. “Don’t expect me to buy this act, Reverend Billy. Everybody else might, but I know better.” She gave the chair a little shake. “Poor Mr. Raines. No more threatening than a spud, huh?” She smiled coldly and gave him a wink. “I can still make hash browns out of you anytime I want. And if this is real…” She laughed softly. “I can only hope. But it still wouldn’t be justice for what you did to my mother. She trusted you! But I never will, you snake.”
“He can’t hear you.”
She whirled, straightened up and glared at the man who had entered the room so quietly behind her. “What are you doing here, Cox?” she demanded.
Cox’s pale eyes settled briefly on the wheelchair behind her before returning to her face. He smiled. “Just checking in on our Mr. Raines.”
“Don’t tell me you have an alternate specialty in hydromulching?”
The doctor came fully into the room, walking soundlessly toward them. His expression was almost fatherly as he laid his hand gently on Raines’ shoulder. “Why, no, Miss Parker. But Mr. Raines came to our emergency clinic very nearly too late. They had to do a great deal to save him, but unfortunately, other damage was done. We had to… wipe the slate clean, as it were.” He gave the older man a squeeze and raised his eyes to hers. “His body is healing nicely, but he’ll never be the way he was, I’m afraid.” He smiled at her. “You don’t have to worry about Mr. Raines plotting against your father, ever again. Isn’t that comforting?”
She shot a scathing glance at Raines, then fired off another at Cox. “I don’t believe everything I see in this place,” she growled softly. “I know better.”
Slowly, she leaned down into Raines’ face and hissed, “I’ll be watching you, old man. And I’ll be waiting for you to make your move.”
Miss Parker pushed the chair backward into the bed as she turned on her heel and strode out of the room.
Cox smoothed his palm over the other man’s shoulder. “She has no idea,” he crooned softly. “You won’t be coming back at all. But then, she has other things to worry about now.” He chuckled to himself. “Oh, yes, she certainly does.”
He pulled the chair back into place, set the brake and patted Raines on the shoulder again before he left the room.
Raines sat silently in the chair without moving. He didn’t even blink.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod waited an appropriate length of time before turning in his report at the FBI Academy at Quantico. He presented it to the appropriate secretary in person, as Tamara had requested, though he wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. He had done too many pretends with FBI personnel, and there was always a chance he might be recognized by someone passing through. That could get really awkward, and he didn’t want to have to deal with that sort of thing at the moment.
The secretary accepted his report, smiled and flirted a little, which he politely rebuffed, and he started out the door, on his way back to the college.
A gray-haired man with a ready smile stopped him in the doorway.
“Are you the visiting shrink at Braden? Doc Prescott’s had some good things to say about you.” He extended his hand and shook Jarod’s firmly, leading him back into the office. “I’m Cletus Malcolm, Behavioral Sciences. Why don’t you come into my office here and we’ll talk about a couple of things before you go. Got a minute?”
Looking for the quickest exit he could find, Jarod glanced at his watch and replied, “Well, I really need to--“
“Just take a couple seconds, I promise,” Malcolm insisted, and pulled Jarod by the elbow past the secretary’s desk and into his office. He closed the door behind them and hustled behind his desk. “Tammy tells me you’re interested in Talbot’s book.”
“Prescott,” Malcolm clarified as he fell into his chair. “Tal was a gifted writer with a good head on his shoulders and a nose for the truth. He came up here last year, checking into some background on a closed case he wanted to use as the base for a book he was working on.”
“Yes, Dr. Prescott told me about it. She said the book was about a profiler, and the cases he solved.”
Malcolm bounced in his chair as he pulled up to the desk. He seemed to be always in motion, an energetic man with an active mind. As he booted up his desktop computer, he nodded. “Yeah, it started out that way. He was going to ghost write it for one of the players on the original investigative team, but the guy was trying to make himself out to be something he wasn’t and Tal wasn’t comfortable with the original slant. So, he started working on a draft of his own. I saw some of it -- Tal wanted me to do some fact checking -- and it was good.”
Jarod ignored the remark about misrepresentation and fixed his attention on the manuscript instead. “Do you still have a copy of it, Mr. Malcolm?”
“Soon as I can find it -- here! I thought I kept a copy on my hard drive.” Malcolm lowered his voice and leaned toward Jarod conspiratorially. The Pretender came closer to hear him. "Tal said this was going to be a bit of a bombshell. Apparently the screw-up is some mucky-muck in the Psych Department over at the university, and this is guaranteed to make a big dent in his reputation. All I know is, it's a good story." He fished out a blank diskette, still sealed in the box, and copied the electronic file onto it. “You give this to Tamara and as soon as I know she’s got it, I’ll delete it off my hard drive. Okay, son?”
Jarod smiled, enjoying the man’s congenial attitude. “I’ll do that, sir,” he promised, taking the diskette and stowing it in his briefcase. “If she can get it published, maybe the royalties can help her recover from Talbot’s death. I think he’d have wanted her to have the money.”
Malcolm nodded. “That’s what I was thinking. But I thought he’d sent it off already?”
“Did he tell you that?”
The older man shrugged. “Nah. I just assumed. He had it finished a few days before he died. Wanted to get it out of the way before the wedding, you know," he added with a wink.
"I understand." Jarod turned to leave. "Thank you, Mr. Malcolm. You've been very helpful."
“My pleasure. And I look forward to reading your report on Lung Li.”
The Pretender offered a smile filled with secrets just before he strode out the door.
Jarod hadn't gotten very far into Penumbra before he realized that Cletus was right. The man in question was a younger Will Chatham. Not a particularly flattering portrayal, either.
Chatham had been a profiler on the FBI team assigned to apprehend the Bridesmaid Killer, who had plagued Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas a decade earlier. The only problem was, his profile had been seriously flawed, and pointed to the wrong man entirely. Only through another profiler's intervention and some brilliant police work had the right suspect eventually been found. A large part of the book was about this second profiler, and how hard he worked to overcome his colleague's shortcomings.
Talbot Davies had done what any good journalist would do... he was loyal to his material. He had paid for that loyalty with his life.
Jarod could picture it happening. Chatham had been distressed over the book's final content, and went to confront Davies about it. Davies had refused to put his name to a lie, and insisted that the truth be told. Desperate to get his hands on the manuscript before it was sent to the publisher, Chatham had managed to slip Davies enough ginko to cause a drug interaction. Then, while Davies was on his way to the hospital, Chatham proceeded to destroy the offending disks, and wipe any trace of the "A" version off the computer's hard drive.
Perhaps he hadn't even meant to kill poor Talbot, just incapacitate him. It didn't matter. Jarod had seen no trace whatsoever of remorse in the man's eyes. As long as his reputation was intact, that was all that mattered.
Jarod blanked the computer screen, and turned away. He knew exactly how to lay out a sting for Chatham. He knew what to say, how to draw him into the trap, how he would suffer with guilt and eventually break under the fear that Jarod would inflict upon him.
He just couldn't bring himself to do it.
Normally, his stings gave him a sense that justice had been done in an otherwise unjust situation. Truth be told, he enjoyed setting them up. But this time was different. This time, Jarod found he had no desire to follow through.
Someone else would have to bring the man to justice, then.
Jarod packed up the reports, the photographs, all the electronic files, everything he had on Talbot Davies' case and shipped them to Cletus Malcolm, with a letter of resolution. He knew Cletus would leave no stone unturned to get a conviction on Chatham, and though prison itself would hardly be punishment for Chatham's crimes, it would have to do in this case.
And by the time the package arrived at FBI headquarters, Jarod would be long gone from Braden University. The evidence would have to stand up on its own in court. Jarod knew that investigators would do what they could to see there was enough of it.
Still, the images of the aborted sting haunted him. He could feel himself pushing his own limits, taking one step too far to wring the confessions he wanted out of the professor. For the first time since he took on his first hopeless case, he felt the shadow of fear that he was not fully in control of himself. He thought about those men at Peltier, about the uncomfortable sense of deja-vu that Lung Li gave him, and the others as well. Something about those men haunted him, teased him with memories he couldn't quite touch. Jarod knew instinctively that those were thoughts he didn't want to explore. He wanted to leave them as far behind as he could get.
This time, he would have to let the authorities handle it in their own way.
This time, he didn't trust himself to do the right thing at all.
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker yanked the glass doors wide and stormed into her father’s office, stopping three steps inside.
There were people in there, half a dozen if she counted right, and all of them had that unmistakable air of power that indicated how important they were.
“Oh, Daddy, excuse me,” she said contritely now, her anger of a moment before lost to embarrassment. “I didn’t know you were busy. I’ll come back.”
She started to turn, but heard her father’s gruff voice say, “Nonsense! I’ve always got time for my Angel.” With a flick of his wrist, he motioned his visitors out the door. “We’ll finish this business later, ladies and gentlemen. For the moment, I need to have a word with my daughter. So if you’ll excuse me…”
The men and women offered her patronizing smiles or nods of acknowledgement as they passed her on their way out the door.
She felt like a fool. And she felt like a queen, with the way those people looked at her. And then she remembered why she had come, and anger flared up inside her again.
When she was sure they were alone, she swept up to his desk and glared down at him. “Daddy, what the hell is going on here?"
He sat back in his chair, gazing smugly back at her. “What do you mean, Angel?”
“I found Raines in the Renewal Wing.”
His blue eyes glittered, and one side of his mouth quirked up into a smile. “You didn’t think I’d just leave him there to die, did you? What sort of a monster do you take me for?”
She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. The accusation stung, and left her without the sharp retort she had planned. “You shot him, Daddy.”
Parker lifted his chin. “I did. But I’m not a murderer. Raines has been a thorn in our family’s side for decades. I only meant to throw a stumbling block in front of him, slow him down, get him out of our way for a while. I never meant to kill him. Surely you believe that.”
“I -- We --“ She kept stumbling over his reasoning. She stopped, and sighed. Arguing against her father never worked. He made things sound so right. “Of course, Daddy. I know that.”
“And besides,” he growled with a feral smile, “we got exactly what we needed. With him out of the way, I was able to make a move up the ladder.” He rose, stepped from behind his desk and grasped her by the shoulders. “No more T-boards. No more explaining to the Triumvirate why we haven’t caught Jarod. You won’t have to worry about a thing, Angel. The only person you’ll have to answer to now is me.” He laughed, and pulled her into a tight hug. "The Parkers are back! We've got all the marbles now. And this time, it's our show!"
She pulled back as soon as he let go of her, so she could make eye contact. Fierce pride burned in his face with that gleaming smile. “I always answered to you, Daddy,” she reminded him.
“No. No, you didn’t,” he corrected. “You answered to me, and I answered to the Triumvirate.” He chuckled softly. Darkly. “Now you just answer to me.”
Her brows twitched together. “What are you saying?”
He turned to make his way back behind his desk, and glanced at her slyly out of the corners of his eyes. “Haven’t you heard the rumor about Triumvirate Station?”
“That it’s moving here, yes. And that would only happen if…”
“The head of the Triumvirate was here.” He beamed at her.
She felt her mouth drop open. “Then it’s true? You’re the new Chairman of the Triumvirate?”
He held up a finger to his lips conspiratorially. “Shhh! Nobody needs to know that but you and me. You know how the Triumvirate works. They manage from behind the scenes. Way behind the scenes. So as far as everybody else knows, it’s business as usual.”
Excitement leaped up inside her. “Congratulations, Daddy,” she said quietly, working hard to maintain her professional demeanor. “I guess this will mean big changes in the works.”
“You betcha! Nothing’s beyond our grasp now, Angel.”
Then she remembered the other reason she had come. “Good. Because I wanted to talk with you about Gabriel.”
His smile vanished, and a dark cloud passed over his face. “What about Gabriel?”
“The nurse said you ordered his birthday presents taken away.” She recalled her initial surprise when she didn’t see them in the baby’s room, her disbelief when the woman explained where they had gone. “Gabriel needs those things, Daddy. He needs more time with his family, and those gifts remind him of us, that we love him.”
“I spend as much time with him as I can,” he growled back. “And Gabriel is different from other babies. He’s special, and he needs a special environment that will encourage his growth into his full potential. You want him to have the best education, right?”
“Of course, Daddy, but --“
“And you want him to have plenty of stimulation, lots of interaction with the right kind of people, don't you?”
“Of course, Daddy, but --“
“Then you leave his upbringing to me,” he told her, moving toward her and leading her toward the door. “I did all right raising you without a mother, and I’ll do fine with Gabriel, especially since I’ve got more staff I can devote to his care when I can’t be with him.”
“But Daddy --“
“I know you worry about him, but he’ll be just fine. He's a Parker, after all.” He started to reach for the door to usher her out.
She stopped in her tracks and shook his arm off her shoulder. “Daddy,” she seethed, “I will not stand by and watch Gabriel be treated like one of The Centre’s lab rats. I gave him things he needed and I want them given back. Period.” She crossed her arms defiantly over her chest and glared at him, daring her to countermand her ultimatum.
Something unpleasant gleamed in his eyes for a moment, and then he smiled at her, all warmth and comfort. “Of course. You’re right, Angel. He’s a staff child and should be treated as such. I’ll see that he gets his toys back today.”
Her posture relaxed, and she nodded but did not smile in return. “Thank you, Daddy. I know I’m just his big sister, but he means a lot to me.”
“I know he does. And you both mean the world to me.”
She tiptoed up to give him a kiss on the cheek, and took a step toward the door.
She turned. “Yes, Daddy?”
“Don’t question my orders again. In my new post, I’ll have to make some hard decisions. You won’t always like the choices I make, but until you can see the Big Picture, you won’t understand the reasoning behind everything I do.”
“You could always explain it to me, so I’ll understand.”
He shook his head. “I can’t do that. You’ve got your projects to work on, just like I’ve got mine. Gabriel’s a part of that, an important part of my life. I’m the one responsible for making all the decisions regarding his care, not you. And there will be some things that you won’t necessarily like that come up along the way. Do you understand me?”
She frowned. “As long as you act out of love for him, then I know you’ll make the right decisions, Daddy.”
“It isn’t always a question of love. Sometimes it’s a question of what’s best for him.”
“We’re what’s best for him, Daddy. You know that.”
“He needs his family, yes. But he also needs a stellar education, training --“
“He’s not Centre property. He’s a Parker!”
“He’s mine, and I’ll decide what he needs!”
Parker pivoted on her heel and stormed out the doors, pounding her palms on the wooden frames and hoping the glass would at least crack from the shock. She was furious now, white-hot anger boiling up inside her at her father. For the first time in ages she wished for a cigarette, and headed up the elevator to the outdoors.
It was cooling off now, a bite in the wind that blew through her elegant gray suit. But she didn’t feel the chill at all. She would not allow Gabriel to be raised like a guinea pig. And if they took away his toys every day, she’d be sure to bring him new ones that he could enjoy as long as she was with him. She would be his symbol of happiness, and stay with him as long as she could every day, in spite of what her father ordered.
She strolled along the green grass until her temper cooled, and then went back inside to the nursery to visit her little brother for a few hours.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Package for you, sir,” said the morgue attendant. He handed it over to the man in the white lab coat, and went on his way with a gurney draped in a white sheet.
Cox turned the package over appreciatively, admiring the neat, even folds, the precise lettering on the label and the otherwise seamless brown paper wrapping on the box. Someone had taken a great deal of care in putting that package together. He felt a touch of curiosity regarding the sender, since it had gone directly to the numbered post office box that was The Centre’s delivery point. No regular mail trucks ever came onto Centre property -- daily deliveries were trucked in by Centre personnel from the Blue Cove postal branch. So whoever sent it knew the routine.
He wasn’t expecting any packages. Rather than ripping open the tape, he took it to his desk in the depths of the morgue offices, withdrew a small, specially sharpened letter opener and carefully sliced through the tape closures. Taking his time, he unfolded the corners, unwrapped the brown paper and discovered a small hand-made white cardboard box inside. He lifted off the lid and peeled back the yellowed, neatly folded newsprint to reveal the treasure inside.
His brow furrowed. There lay a small doll made of cornhusks, worked into a vaguely human shape, tied at the neck with a length of pale pink yarn, knotted at the back and tied to a large loop of yarn that would allow the charm to be worn as a necklace.
He wondered what it meant. Had the length of yarn been tied off into a hangman’s noose, the message would have been clear. However, he suspected that, even with that omission, the gift had originated with Jarod.
Cox smiled. He took the necklace out of its box and glanced at the packaging once more. The headline on the newspaper article beneath where the figure had lain caught his eye.
FAMILY MURDERED AT MILL
He gently flattened out the newspaper and examined it. The date was almost 30 years past, and the article concerned a mass murder at a corn mill in a small Arizona town. While the subject matter intrigued him, he had to wonder exactly what Jarod was trying to tell him. The subject, of course, was death… but whose? The sweeper they had set to watch Sisters of Mercy Hospital confirmed that Jarod had been there, and that he left in quite a hurry.
Cox read the article again, hoping to understand the Pretender’s hidden meaning, but there wasn’t enough information. He would love to visit that little town to do some investigating, but such a foray on his own time would only lead to questions from Mr. Lyle… and this was something Cox wanted to keep strictly between himself and the Centre’s property.
He would not be reporting the package to Lyle or anyone else. This was private now. He had touched Jarod’s life with a shadow, and now there was a new game afoot.
He smiled to himself, slipped the yarn loop over his head and tucked the cornhusk man into the collar of his shirt, where it would rest unseen against his beating heart, a constant reminder of Zoe’s death.
* * * * * * * * *
"Thanks for coming, Jarod," Dr. Prescott said with a relieved smile. "I know these are good for us, but sometimes it's hard to get the energy together to participate."
He nodded. "I know. You feel like you can't talk about him without crying, and you don't want to do that because he gave you so much happiness."
"Exactly." She showed him into the meeting room; a small, quiet conference room in the university library. "I'll bet you've done a lot of group therapy sessions as a intern at Bellevue."
"Only one," he admitted truthfully, remembering his participation in a therapy session for families of missing persons several years earlier. He had been a police officer at the time, hopeful of finding some information about his mother.
"Well, then this should be a treat for you tonight."
There were already a handful of people there, and a few more straggled in before starting time. Jarod watched as Dr. Prescott introduced him and the subject for the evening's discussion: dealing with work in the wake of a loved one's death. He studied the faces of each of the members of the group, taking note of the weariness and grief so evident in their eyes. He hardly listened to any of the comments, so lost was he in his own simulations of these sad people.
He felt embarrassed that he had suspected Tamara Prescott, even for one second, of having anything to do with her fiancé's death. Her grief was so genuine, so deep and all encompassing that, as he listened to her describe her difficulties with getting back into a normal routine, he did not hear her call his name and shift the commentary to him.
"What about you, Jarod? Will you tell us about your loss?"
His mind stopped working for a moment, drawing his thoughts to a screeching halt. When it started up again, the image of a beautiful face framed with coppery curls was all he could see. "Her name was Zoe. She died several weeks ago… from cancer," he lied. He could not tell those people that someone had murdered her because of him.
Murmurs of sympathy went up from everyone, and Tamara reached over to stroke his shoulders comfortingly.
He was suddenly uncomfortable with his public confession. "That's why I'm… moving. Starting over, with someplace that doesn't have any memories of her in it." He glanced at Tamara, hoping for understanding.
"Yeah. Some people find that easier," she agreed. "For me, I need to hold onto every memory of Tal that I can get. I'll be moving into his house as soon as I can arrange it." She smiled, tears gathering in her eyes. "I find a closer connection to him when I read through his books. Even though they're non-fiction, I can hear his voice speaking the words. It's like he's snuggling me up in his lap… almost."
Her breath caught, and she shifted the conversation to someone else.
At the break, Jarod stepped out of the room, all but bolting for the doors to get some fresh air. He didn't want to go back in, and needed to find a graceful way of leaving. Dredging up his memories of Zoe was too fresh, too painful. And the guilt he carried, knowing that she died because he had touched her life, was almost too much to bear. He couldn't talk about her. Not yet. Not now.
"Are you okay, Jarod?" Dr. Prescott asked from behind him.
He whirled around as if he had been caught stealing. "Fine. I'm… fine," he assured her. But he knew the hesitation in his voice gave him away completely.
She gave him a sympathetic smile. "It helps to talk about those feelings, get them out. If you deny they're there, they'll eat at you until something gives."
"I know. I'm just not ready yet."
"Then how are you coping with your loss?" Her face was gentle, concerned.
"One day at a time, doctor. That's the best I can do."
She nodded, reached up to give him a warm hug, and guided him back inside to start the second half of the session.
When it was over, Jarod strolled out of the library, his head down as he contemplated the highlights of the session. Those people were all in pain, injured by the deaths of those whom they loved. Even now, Jarod wasn't sure exactly how he felt about Zoe. He was reluctant to put a name to his feelings, yet her loss was a bleeding wound in his heart.
The sound of laughter made him look up. Across the street was a small park, and every picnic table in sight was crowded with people. A banner tied between two trees proclaimed the spot was reserved for the Taggart Family Reunion.
Family. That was something he could never have. The man and woman who had given him life were on the run simply because he existed. His brother and sister were fugitives as well. Another brother was dead because of him, as was the one woman he had truly allowed inside his heart.
He tried to imagine himself in the midst of that family gathering. One moment, they were all smiling and happy, pleased that he was among them. But the next moment, men in dark suits and sunglasses were swarming among the celebrants, destroying whatever got in their way as they chased him through the park. He eluded them neatly enough, but once he returned to the scene, the sight that greeted him revealed the truth of his very existence. The reunion was over. Bodies lay strewn about like dry leaves in autumn, fallen against the grass beneath the trees.
Jarod shook his head to clear his thoughts. That scenario would never become reality, because he wouldn't allow it. He had seen the results of allowing himself to get too close. And he had resolved never to put anyone else in that position again.
Avoiding the park and what it represented, he chose instead to walk down the opposite side of the street, back toward his rented room. There he would pack up his things, and be on his way.
It was definitely time to leave.
Sydney sat at his desk, his lower back aching from hours in the chair without moving. He needed a break, but he was almost finished with the report he had been working on. He said just enough of the right things for the job to pass muster, but there had been a great deal of omission as well. He didn't want them to know everything. As long as he held some of the cards, he was still valuable.
With a sigh, he saved the document to his hard drive, and then a copy on a diskette, for safekeeping elsewhere. Then he leaned back in the chair, stretching to get some of the stiffness out before he stood up. The phone in his jacket pocket vibrated, and he fetched it as he took a step away. "This is Sydney."
He already knew who it would be, at that late hour.
"How is it that some people can be so devoid of guilt that they feel no sense of wrongdoing when they kill?"
"Jarod," Sydney greeted his protégé. "I was beginning to wonder if you had decided to disappear completely."
"I visited some men in prison recently," Jarod returned casually. But the emotional pitch of his voice deepened as he went on. "I can't tell you why they disturbed me so profoundly, other than the fact that they had no guilt. I know sociopaths have that in common, but I was curious what the consensus on the cause might be. Are they genetically incomplete? Is it environmental conditioning? What do you think, Sydney?"
The Belgian sighed. "Psychology isn't an exact science, Jarod. What holds true for one individual is radically different in another. You know that. What's really troubling you about this case?"
"I did a paper on Lung Li, a serial killer put away back in the '70s. Do you know anything about him?"
Sydney sat down in his chair. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and leaned his forehead into the massaging grip of his free hand. "What do you want me to do?"
In his mind's eye, he could see Jarod struggling over this one, the muscle in his jaw tensing and relaxing as he considered what he intended to say, and exactly how to phrase it.
"I want to know if the Centre had any involvement in that case."
Sydney's shoulders drooped. "It isn't likely that the Centre has been involved in creating serial killers, Jarod."
"Maybe not. But there's something about him that's… just so disturbing. I… I can't help feeling that I know him somehow, yet I know we never met until I saw him in prison that day. It's just that, as I was reading over his case record, I had a strong sense of déjà vu…"
A minute passed.
The psychiatrist straightened in his chair, letting his free hand drop into his lap, where his fingers clenched into a fist. "I'm here, Jarod," he answered calmly.
"Have I ever done anything with that case? I don't remember anything like it before. It just seems too familiar to be coincidental."
"No, Jarod. You've never worked on a project regarding a serial killer by that name. It's probably just something similar you've read about somewhere. You might have come across a newspaper article in research on another one of your personal projects, and it's that memory that is annoying you. Perhaps you feel you should have switched your focus to that project instead of pursuing the original one that brought you across it."
"I don't think so, Sydney. But I'd appreciate it if you'd check the record there for any mention of his name. Will you do that for me?"
He sighed. "If it will make you feel better, certainly."
"You're welcome, Jarod. But I think this may be one of those loose ends that you should simply tie off and leave alone. It can't lead to anywhere good, and if the man is in prison, I'm sure the case has already been solved to the satisfaction of the authorities."
"You're probably right. But I still want to know."
"I'll look into it," Sydney promised, knowing he would ignore the request.
"Jarod… be careful."
The line clicked off, and he put the phone back into his pocket, knowing he could never forget that particular name.
He went to his files to put away a couple of folders that had been on his desk, and hesitated before pushing the drawer back in. The label on the file folder stood out from the other "L" listings, and with a sigh he lifted it out and let it fall open on top of the other files in the open drawer. For a moment he leafed through the old newspaper clippings, showing the faces of the women and their accused killer. And then he turned over the last page of notes to frown at a more recent newspaper clipping, one he had taken from Miss Parker after she and Mr. Lyle had arrived at the Centre in a shipping container.
The clipping showed photos of two pretty Asian women, with a large black and white college picture of a clean-cut young man named Bobby, who was suspected and then exonerated in the deaths.
Serial killers, he knew, rarely went outside their ethnic boundaries. They were products of their childhoods, victims of abuse who turned on their abusers, or whoever symbolized that person in their minds.
He would not look through the Centre's files for Lung Li's name. He had known where they were, all along. And he was fairly certain that, once Jarod had some time to think about it, he would choose not to pursue the matter further.
Especially since he already knew the answers to his questions.
Sydney closed the file, slid it back into place, and gripped the drawer to keep from slamming it shut.
"Damn you, Raines!" he ground out hoarsely.
The drawer slid smoothly closed, and locked into place with a soft click.
End of Episode