Lost and Found

 

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Wells, Maine
Later in the day

Things had not gone well for the Carruthers family. Without prior reservations they had been unable to get another cabin, so Jarod offered to let them stay in his. They'd been reluctant, but Jarod was persuasive. He'd sensed something was wrong, and wanted to keep them close while he figured it out. Besides, he reassured the family, as long as he had a room to work in he'd be fine. A travel writer can write anywhere.

While the family went grocery shopping, Jarod did a computer search. He found an intriguing amount of information about the Carruthers family. John Carruthers was a wealthy businessman, well represented in the financial news. His wife was equally well known for her charity works. Their only son, Jonathan, had shown signs of genius-level intelligence at an early age; as a result, he had been selected to go to a special school. From all accounts, that had proven a point of conflict, and the parents were in the process of a divorce. The wire service stories didn't seem to provide a full picture, though. Jarod's gut feeling said there had to be more to it than just a broken family.

His next project was to hack into the school records, and what he found startled him. The first week of school, Jonathan had started to have nightmares. He hadn't told anyone what the dreams were about, but each night he woke up screaming. The screams were reported, and went on his record. Jarod noted that no one had actually tried to help Jonathan until his mother finally intervened.

The doctor called in to treat the boy was a name familiar to Jarod from his exploration of the Centre's computer files. Sydney would have recognized the name as well, for he and Dr. Davenport had been colleagues at the Centre, long ago before Jarod was kidnapped. No doubt about it -- something in this scenario was very wrong.

* * * * * * * * *

The next day, in the afternoon

Jarod walked along the beach, dressed in navy shorts and polo shirt. As long as he was pretending to be a travel writer, he might as well do a thorough job and get enough information for some articles. Since he was supposed to be observing and taking notes on the attractions in the area, he had the perfect opportunity to spend time observing the Carruthers family as well.

"Come along, Jonathan," Natalie called. She seemed nervous, and out of place dressed in a matching short set with her hair perfectly coifed. She stood very erect, then moved daintily toward the chair. The boy held a book in his hand, much too heavy to be described as light reading.

"Just because we're spending time here doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep up with your studies," Jarod heard the woman say. Advanced algebra? That seemed too complex a math subject for an eight year old. Jarod wanted to interfere, but wasn't quite sure how. Natalie was obviously fiercely protective of her son. All three members of the family would need to be comfortable with Jarod in order for him to help them. It would probably work even better if he could create a situation where the Carruthers actually solved their own problems.

Jarod walked further along the beach, stopping for ice cream. This time he tried chocolate ecstasy. One of his hobbies was to try out every flavor of ice cream he could find. Cone in hand, he sat down on a bench and opened his red notebook. The Carruthers’ divorce had appeared in the business news, especially since John's business had taken a turn for the worse. It seemed that the disagreements between two parents could end up costing a Fortune 500 company its success.

They were a wealthy couple, yet they were driving an older car. Why?

The boy's mental achievements had given him his own measure of fame. Unfortunately, as Jarod knew all too well, being an eight year old genius wasn’t an assurance that you knew how to please your caregivers. Or, that you would ever be given the chance to just be happy. He was a child, a straight "A" student with an exceptional talent for mathematics and chess who was being pressed into higher and higher success.

Most of all, though, Jonathan reminded Jarod of the person he might have been -- if only the Centre hadn't kidnapped him.

* * * * * * * * *

At Michelle's home

Sydney cleared a spot on the dining room table, and spread out the files. Michelle was more than familiar with the Centre's ways, and very willing to allow him time to spend in quiet study. He needed answers, and he needed them quickly. While he was reasonably sure that he was not currently under surveillance, it was only a matter of time before someone would see him working on something that couldn't be explained away. What had Raines been up to with Ethan, other than simply stealing Mr. Parker's work out from under him?

He sorted the papers into several piles. One path seemed to lead toward gathering data on just what created loyalty. A possible inference was that Raines had intended this experiment to be part of a larger project, which would have loyalty to the Centre as a key component. A subset of that appeared to be that Raines had become a sort of foster father to Ethan. Ethan had adoptive parents, since Raines' notes indicated that he felt the lack of family had contributed to the failures of Jarod, Angelo and Kyle. Clearly, he had not been totally satisfied with any of the children that the Centre had raised. According to him, each of them had a different Achilles heel. The notes seemed to indicate that was both a positive and a negative finding.

In Ethan, it appeared that the need for family was as strong as in the others, perhaps more so. And since Raines had been Ethan's key father figure, the Centre would have a hold on him should they catch up to him. Perhaps there was a way to use that fact to help Ethan learn to control himself.

Sydney moved to Michelle's computer, and composed an e-mail. Try to reach Ethan through his need for family. Be there for him. Let me help. I have information.

The e-mail address would have to be the signature, since even now it was essential to maintain security. Sydney was fairly sure that Jarod kept a close eye on his e-mail. Now the question was how much of a chance he would give his former mentor to help.

* * * * * * * * *

Back in Maine

While he was online, Jarod decided to check his e-mail. Nothing from his family; but there was a message from Sydney, and the account was not immediately traceable to the Centre. If Sydney did have information, it would be worth the risk in finding out. Although Dr. Goetz's last message had assured him that Ethan was stable at the moment, Jarod was still concerned.

He dialed Sydney's cell phone, and waited for him to pick up. "Sydney, what have you found?"

"I've been doing a little research. I have access to some of Raines' notes on Ethan." Sydney took a deep breath. "There was so much I didn't know. I had no idea that Raines was using all of you to test out his pet theories. There are some very peculiar notations. And I've found references to yet another drug."

"Are you sure?" Jarod hadn't thought of Ethan's behavior in those terms. But it was possible that some of the stress his brother was under could be related to drugs of some kind.

"Not entirely. It's hard to tell when you 're piecing together bits of information written in shorthand on paper that was subsequently burned. But it is something to check into."

"Hmm." Jarod nodded to himself, and changed the subject. "Could you check into something else for me?"

"What?"

"Whatever project Julius Davenport is working on. Is the Centre trying to revive the Pretender project again?"

"Based on what I know, Davenport was fired from the Centre due to his drinking problem," Sydney answered. "I doubt they'd trust any information from him, or accept children he had worked with. If he's working on anything that resembles the Pretender Project, he's probably doing it on his own."

"Could you verify that?" Jarod asked.

"It could be difficult. One reason I'm not working from the Centre is that the situation there has gotten very tricky. There are more than the usual number of secrets and undercurrents. But I'll try."

"I'll call you again in 24 hours." Jarod hung up the phone, and composed an e-mail to Dr. Goetz.

He also answered Sydney's e-mail, requesting that Sydney send him copies of the files to a post office box in Boston. That was far enough away to be hard to trace and close enough to get to in a hurry. Since Ethan was safe for now, Jarod didn't need to be in a hurry to get to the files. He'd wait awhile and be sure the Centre hadn't intercepted the e-mail before he tried to get the hard copy.

* * * * * * * * *

The private beach that came with the cottage was a good place for taking strolls. He found Jonathan there on the sand, collecting shells.

Jarod knelt down beside him. "That's interesting."

The boy shrugged and continued to line up his treasures. "It's just a clam shell. They're mollusks."


"And good to eat. Good food is one of the best things in life," Jarod answered with a smile. "What's your favorite food? Mine's ice cream."

Jonathan looked directly at Jarod. "Me, too. But I don't get it much. We have to eat healthy at school. And study a lot."

Jarod looked back, then picked up another shell. " I like to study. I've studied shells, too.

Do you like to go to school?"

"Sometimes. Mom thinks I should be in school more. That I should use my gifts."

"You can use your gifts once you're grown up. That can actually be quite fun. But it's fun to play, too." Jarod leaned forward, and his voice took on an earnest tone. "If you could do anything, what would you do?"

Jonathan thought for a moment. "Make a sand castle. Play knights defending the castle. It's safe there."

He began to work with the sand, patting and shaping the castle. Jarod watched, and helped. Jonathan taught him how to add water to make the castle sturdier. Before long, they were both relaxed, playing in the sunshine. They talked more, and Jarod found out that Dr. Davenport was actually one of the school's trustees. He was the one who had convinced Natalie Carruthers that Jonathan could only be happy if he used his gift for math to its fullest potential.

"Do you like doing math?" Jarod asked.

"Sometimes," Jonathan looked trustingly at Jarod. "But not when it makes Mom and Dad argue. They didn't used to do that, before Dr. Davenport came."

Jarod nodded. He diverted the boy's attention to sea gulls flying overhead, and to the dynamics of wind and wave. He mentioned the mathematics needed to compute the tides. Jonathan opened up more and more as the day went on. He seemed to enjoy finding someone like himself, who understood and enjoyed math.

Jarod brought Jonathan back at the end of the day. Both parents looked surprised; neither of them had actually expected their son to come back looking so relaxed and happy. It had been a long time since Jonathan had behaved -- been allowed to behave -- like a little boy.

"Jonathan was showing me about sand castles," Jarod said. "It's amazing how much skill it takes to make something which is so transitory."

"It's good to see Jonathan looking happy again," John answered. He then turned the conversation to dinner.

After dinner, Jarod brought the discussion around to the school.

"I went to a special school as a kid myself," he said by way of explanation. "It's not always the best thing."

Natalie looked at the two men defiantly. "He needs to develop his gifts. He's special."

Jarod thought quickly. "Special is fine. But if he forgets how to play, he won't have the compassion to help people when he uses his gifts."

Jonathan came in to get his book, and Natalie ruffled her son's hair. "I'm glad you're going to be studying. You aren't working too hard, are you?"

"No. It's a stupid book anyway. The answers are wrong," Jonathan said as he opened the book to where he'd left off.

"Let me see." Jarod looked at the equations. Sure enough, on one a minus sign had been misprinted where the proper result would have been positive. "It just goes to show that it is important to trust your instincts."

"Even when those instincts are contradicting the feelings of those you love?" John asked.

"Sometimes instincts are all we have to go on." Jarod got up to leave. "I'll be back in a little while. I want to enjoy the beach while I can."

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod walked back along the beach. There was something suspicious about the school, and about Davenport. John Carruthers had been right to pull his boy out of the school. But it would be up to Jarod to expose the school and to disconnect Davenport from any possible Centre connections. Evidence would be needed that would discredit Davenport publicly. For that, he would need Sydney's help. He was now far enough out of sight to use his cell phone without risk of being overheard.

"Sydney, were you able to find out anything more about Davenport?" Jarod asked.

"Yes. Broots was able to trace a money trail from the Centre. They are funding the school. I'll e-mail you the results and then I'll fax you the files, which are proof." Sydney paused. "I told Broots the research was related to Ethan. Neither he nor Miss Parker are aware I'm contacting you. It seemed safer that way."

"Thank you." Of course, the fax number was in Boston. Jarod wasn't going to risk leaving the Centre a trail to follow, however much he trusted Sydney. He would pay someone to pick up the fax and meet him in Portsmouth. It was convoluted, but such convolutions had kept him free.

He checked his e-mail again and noted that the funding was contingent on two things. The school had to be kept private, and very select. It could only accept very gifted students. And, there was a concerted effort to convince the parents that they were better off letting the children stay at the school. This was borne out by Jarod's conversations with the Carruthers. It was only because John Carruthers and his son had been so close that their plans had failed. Jonathan had begun having nightmares when he didn't see his father. Natalie had missed her son enough to visit him at school. When Jonathan told her how he felt, she had called her estranged husband. John had suggested the vacation as a way to help Jonathan get over his trauma. Natalie didn't want to believe that the special school was a bad idea, but she had been forced to admit Jonathan needed a change. Jarod had heard several low voiced arguments between the adults. What he'd been able to overhear convinced him that Natalie would need more persuasion than her husband or son could give her in order to take Jonathan out of school.

The Carruthers had been followed and traded their car in for one a little less conspicuous. John wasn't sure why he'd been followed. He was wealthy enough that it could simply have been curious newsmen. But that had seemed like too simple of an answer. John wasn't willing to take chances with his family. So he'd hired a family that was going to Disney World to register under their names. Natalie would have preferred the artificial world of Mickey Mouse, but she'd been persuaded when they had noticed a car following them the first day.

Jarod would have little trouble in getting them to confide in him now. All he'd have to do was to shade the truth about his childhood just a tiny bit, making the Centre sound like another version of the school that Jonathan attended. Jarod thought this pretend wasn't that far from what could have been reality.

On to Act III

 
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