Michael T. Weiss as Jarod
Andrea Parker as Miss Parker
Patrick Bauchau as Sydney
Jon Gries as Broots
Harve Presnell as Mr. Parker
Richard Marcus as Mr. Raines
Lenny von Dohlan as Mr. Cox
Ashley Peldon as Kendra/Merritt Evans
Judith McConnell as Sister Evelyn
John Stamos as Peter Sutton
Adrian Paul as Brett Maron
Christina Augilera as Beckett Maron
Kelsey Mulrooney as Debbie Broots
Paul Walker as Dante Canetti
Joey Fatone Jr. as Security Guard
Alyssa Timmons as Aurora Canetti
The black SUV drove up the curving blacktop and pulled into the parking space that was reserved for Dr. Brazelton. The figure was dressed monochromatic; he had on his trademark black leather duster. Underneath he had on a black suit, black shirt, charcoal tie, and black-tasseled shoes, his eyes hidden by black shades. Making his way up the sidewalk to the house, Jarod wasn't sure which was louder, the music or the arguing that was coming from within. A quick knock and the door opened to reveal an older woman.
"Oh thank goodness! She's impossible, Jarod."
"Sister Evelyn," Jarod grinned, "Kendra's a child. In what way is she being impossible?"
"Always up to mischief, and she's no child. Definitely a teenager with an attitude and temper to match. Oh, and don't call her Kendra. Claims that isn't her real name."
"Her real name? What do you call her, then?" Jarod looked at the woman, perplexed.
"Merritt, that's all she will answer to. Please, go talk to her. Something's been troubling her all day. She won't talk to me or Father Patrick about it." Sister Evelyn gestured toward the room to their left. "She said you were coming."
"She said that? I didn't even know until this morning," Jarod replied as he reached for the knob on the door. "I'll take it from here, Sister."
Jarod pushed the heavy oak door open and stood in the doorframe, his eyes seeking and finding the person he had come to see. She was sitting on the sofa, her hand reaching for the silver disc in the CD player in front of her. A newspaper lay folded on her lap, her expression troubled. Entering the room, he sidestepped when the disc came whirling toward the door like a frisbee.
"I heard that you've been giving everyone a hard time, Ken... Merritt, is it?" he stated.
"It's about time, Jarod. And Merritt, that's my name. Dad called me Kendra, it was the closest thing to Kendall. Something about all the Evans having names that start with a K, rather silly if you ask me," she said turning her head toward the door. Her blue eyes were blazing, yet a faint smile curled the corners of her lips.
"So now you're just going to change it?" Jarod looked at the girl, raising an eyebrow, watching her nod, her smiling growing.
"Mom wanted Merritt, so they compromised. It's my middle name but... everything that I received had it engraved on it. " She reached out the pinkie of her left hand, holding a small silver band up for Jarod's inspection. "See, it's engraved and on the inside, here, read it. It was from--"
"Mom," Jarod read from the inscription and then looked at her with a sad smile, "Merritt wins one's soul."
"I won their hearts and souls," she said softly, a sob choking her words, "even though I wasn't their biological child."
"You... how did it make you feel when you found out that they weren't your...." he stammered. "According to your father, they never got around to telling you."
"Yes, I knew that I was adopted. A girl I went to school with, Alison Sanborn, she told me after my mother... so, I tried searching after, but... I had nothing... no starting point. It wasn't like I could go to my father, I know that he loved me but when mom died, he was so lost. I didn't want him worrying about me."
"He was worried about you, frantic really. He told me you were withdrawing, pulling away, since your mother's death."
"I was trying not to worry him." She smiled wistfully, tears glistening in her eyes. Jarod watched as she turned her head away, and quickly swiped away the droplets that had escaped. The mannerism was so familiar, that of a young girl from long ago. "Friday was our day together after mom died. He'd come to my music lesson and then we'd go to dinner. No matter what he had on his schedule, he rarely missed a day, until the last eight months; I knew, sensed, that something was wrong, and then security was increased at school." A grim smile appeared as she settled back into the sofa, crossing her long legs under her. She pushed at a stray strand of hair that escaped from the low ponytail.
"He knew that something was wrong with this project." Jarod took out a folder from the case that he had brought with him from the SUV, placing it on the table, then stooped down, his fingers picking up the CD from the floor.
"I don't think it's damaged, but you might want to play it, to make sure." He held out the disc. "You really like them -- Charybdis?"
"Yes, very much. I'm sorry I threw it, but..." she reached down for the newspaper that sat on her lap, "something just isn't right." Jarod took hold of the paper, and found the article that was causing the troubled expression on Merritt's face.
"Mysterious circumstances surround songwriter's death. Why are you concerned?"
"Something is very wrong here, Jarod." Merritt pointed to the article, her voice edging up an octave." I'm telling you that it's wrong. Dante Canetti was getting married next month to the lead singer, Beckett Maron. They have a daughter."
"Perhaps," Jarod said, skepticism in his voice, "they were a new band, it's not an easy life. Maybe it got to him and the only way he could cope was...."
"No, call it what you want, my instincts, intuition is telling me that it's not what happened." The self assurance emanating from her caused him to stop coming up with arguments as to why this happened. Taking a seat on the sofa beside her, he leaned back, his fingers tented under his chin, listening to her explain all the reasons why this was wrong. Her passion was unbelievable, and for someone that she didn't even know. It was that passion that reminded him more and more of a young Miss Parker.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker lay in her bed and stared upward into the darkness. She felt sick. Wired by raw nerves dipped in stress hormones, she trembled more from her body's natural chemicals than from fear, feeling much too unsettled to sleep. She remembered seeing the boy at Donoterase, the shock of it. She'd gone back with Broots, the gruesome specimens in jars and tubes, the creepiness of the whole place, the feelings of revulsion that crept through her. Had that been her first reaction to seeing Kendra? She relived the sense of familiarity that ran through her when they had touched. She had brushed it off as a high brought on by an adrenaline rush, until they were face to face in the car on their way back to D.C. Thinking about the younger version of herself rattled her to the core. There were so many questions that needed to be answered, the first being why and who had allowed it to happen. Yet, part of her was elated that Kendra had been given a chance to live outside the Centre. Outside the sphere of duplicity.
* * * * * * * * *
Knowing that Lyle, Mr. Cox and Mr. Parker would be away until late morning, Broots had arrived early, so that he could dig around in the Centre's mainframe. At this particular moment he was frowning as he stared at the file: background reports on the Evans, as well as medical records of Kendra Merritt Evans, up until she was ten. A mixture of hope and fear twisted in him as he darted a look down the hallway at the still empty corridors and reached for the phone.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker entered her office, approached her desk and spotted the box labeled in familiar handwriting. She lifted the top to reveal layers of red tissue paper, then cautiously pushed them aside to discover a blue leather hardcover. Its title was embossed in ornate gold letters: The Nutcracker. Gently lifting the book out of the box, her left hand caressed the cover before cracking it open. Tucked inside was a picture, a picture that she hadn't seen in years. Lowering herself into the leather chair behind the desk, she let out a slow breath. As she picked up the photo for a closer inspection, Broots suddenly burst into her office.
"Don't you knock?" she snapped.
"Sorry, Miss Parker but..." He paused, his eyes catching the inscription on the back of the photo. "The Sugar Plum Fairy. The Nutcracker? "
"It's nothing. What?"
"The Nutcracker... Debbie auditioned for a part. She's playing Arabian Coffee. She couldn't wait to tell you. She was hoping that you would come watch her, along with Gabriel. I told her that perhaps you would come but that bringing the baby was probably out of the question."
"That's why you rushed in here, right?"
"Oh, no. That search you asked me to do...." he stammered, glancing nervously around the room.
The snap of fingers brought him back. "I found files and references to the Evans, but when I went back... gone. Deleted," he whispered.
"Hard copies, something, anything. Find it. Oh, and Broots? Does Debbie have time to come here later?"
"After practice, but are you sure, Miss Parker?"
"Yes, Daddy's tied up in meetings all day." She watched him scurry out of her office, happy. At least someone was, she thought. She sat at her desk, her fingers idly drumming on the book, when the shrill of the phone interrupted the silence.
"Crack any files lately, Miss Parker?" Jarod asked.
"Funny, Jarod. Why the book and the picture?"
"Music, dancing, it allows one the express how one's feeling. Isn't that why you did it?"
"Auditioned for the Corpo di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala during your senior year."
"How...?" she asked, her voice low.
"A little mouse," he chuckled. "Giulia Albrecht danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, once, then never danced again. A loss the Corpo never understood. Afraid of what Daddy would have done if he had known, Miss Parker?"
"Damn you, Jarod," she replied, her voice cracking with raw emotion as she terminated the call. Tucking the picture between the pages of the book, she took it with her, heading toward the nursery to share the tale about children with her baby brother.
* * * * * * * * *
"The only weak link is Parker," Lyle said. "She really loves that baby."
"I know," Mr. Parker responded.
"So, what are you going to do? She could undo everything we're trying to accomplish." Lyle watched his father's eyes narrow and realized that he had overstepped. "I mean you. How will you handle her?"
"The same way I always do. Lie to her."
"And if that doesn't work?" His features were skeptical.
"Why wouldn't it work? It's always worked before."
Offering a nod of acceptance, Lyle turned to leave, meeting Cox at the door.
"Good morning Mr. Parker, Lyle," Cox sneered as he entered. "Mr. Lyle, any news on the boy or the major?"
"No, but I am working on it," Lyle snapped, stepping around him and out the door.
Turning to acknowledge Mr. Parker, Cox shook his head, his eyes cold. "Since you put him in charge of those files, they always seem to go missing or end up dead. Kendra seemed to show so much promise, too, at least from the reports that I've read. Why wasn't I told that there was a second clone?" he demanded, while trying to force the jealousy from his tone. Just because Lyle was proving himself incompetent didn't mean he should demonstrate those tendencies himself.
"We needed a second test subject and at the time, she seemed the perfect choice, accessible. As I said, it was my decision." Mr. Parker looked up, as if daring Cox to defy him
"Why adoption? Why not here?" Cox queried.
"Raines wanted control of both, he was desperate to have her and Gemini. That, I was against, so I went to the Triumvirate. It was actually Madame Director who decided to place her with the Evans. Senator Evans was on the fast track in Washington. If he hadn't gotten suspicious of the Bellona Project, he was being considered for the GOP ticket in 2008. What a coup that would have been!"
* * * * * * * * *
The sound of footsteps toward the door sent Lyle away from his eavesdropping post. "Dammit," he muttered as he headed back to his office.
Miss Parker entered the nursery, finding her baby brother playing with his blocks. He looked up when the doors opened and grinned. Pushing himself up off the floor, he toddled over to her, raising his arms and signaling to be picked up. As she shifted the book from her hands to under her arm, his attention suddenly changed as well.
"Book," Gabriel demanded, flexing his fingers.
"Book, please," Miss Parker corrected, as she smiled and handed him the blue leather book. Gabriel clutched it tightly to his little body, its weight making him struggle as he walked toward the rocking chair.
"Wead, pease." He placed the book on the chair, waiting for her sit down. Casting an icy glare at the nurse, who left in a hurry, not waiting to be ordered out, she made herself comfortable and pulled Gabriel into her lap, her lips brushing the back of his head.
She watched as Gabriel lifted the cover, his eyes finding the first picture. "Mine happy."
"Of course I'm happy," she replied. "I'm always happy when I'm with you." She watched as his chubby fingers turned the thin pages of the book. "Nasty rats," she murmured, "lurking in the shadows." Gabriel nodded his head in agreement, then urged her to continue with the story.
Finishing the book, she looked down at her brother. "How about I give you a surprise, a good one, later?" she whispered, smiling against his soft baby cheek, laughing softly when he nodded enthusiastically. "I have to go, but I'll come and get you after dinner." Parker got to her feet but not before she gave her baby brother a quick kiss and a hug. "Later."
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker stopped, hesitating before opening the door to Sydney's office. He held his coffee in both hands, his elbows resting on the desktop, then lifted the cup slowly to drink. His eyes were deep set and he looked silently at her over the rim of the cup.
"Can we talk?" she asked as she came around his desk and leaned back against it.
"Ever since Washington, when I saw that picture...." He shook his head.
"Lies, Syd. They are so ingrained into the Centre's existence, I don't know what to think anymore. When I learned about the boy all I wanted to do was get him away from here. Then I learn about her; that Daddy had a hand in it all. What I don't understand is why the Centre let her live outside of their control."
"Did they, Parker?" He set the cup down and leaned back in his chair, his elbows resting on the arms, his fingers steepled together.
"What are you implying, Sydney?"
"They didn't let her out of their control, Parker. Not really. They knew where to find her when her father started to raise questions, questions that were better left unasked. So my question to you is, how important is the truth to you? Not small truths or small lies; I mean large, consequential truths. Sometimes lies hurt. Sometimes the truth hurts more."
"Miss Parker!" Broots rushed into the office, breathless and nervously bending a file in his hands.
"I found hard copy files on Senator Evans and his wife. You're not going to believe it," he whispered and watched as she reached across the desk and ripped the files out of his hands, her eyes already scanning them.
"Parker?" Sydney asked.
"Later." She pushed off the desk and strolled out of the office, leaving the two men to stare at each other.
* * * * * * * * *
Lyle stood in the hallway, cursing inwardly. An upstart had cut him down, in front of his father. His world was changing, again. Danger lurked in every shadow, every corner. He was growing angry, seething really, but remained quiet. Turning when he heard the door shut, he saw Cox leave his father's office. He squared his shoulders as Cox approached, making his way through the Centre personnel.
"Need help finding your misplaced objects, Mr. Lyle?" Cox asked, a thin smile gracing his features.
"I find your concern for me touching." Lyle spoke in a cold and dangerous tone. "But also quite insulting. You're convinced that I'm going to fail. I remind you that we both failed the challenge when we let the Major rescue our supposed trump card in capturing Jarod. My father has seen fit to give me a chance to redeem myself and I will not fail at this." His lips curled into a sneer.
"Ah, yes, the task of overseeing the blue files," Cox whispered. "Two are AWOL and two are pushing up daisies. You're doing a fine, fine job." He looked back and forth from one end of the corridor to the other.
"I have more important things to do than stand here and waste time on recrimination." Lyle stepped onto the elevator and watched the door slide shut.
* * * * * * * * *
Parker sat at her desk, doodling on a notepad, contemplating. She couldn't stop thinking about everything she'd told Sydney, earlier. She stared at the files, stunned. She shook her head. Question was, how much did Jarod know?
A quiet knock on her door interrupted her thoughts. Looking up, she found a happy, familiar face smiling at her.
"Hi, Miss Parker. Daddy said that you wanted me to come here and dance for you," Debbie said happily, her eyes bright.
"Yes, I did. I also promised Gabriel that I had a surprise for him. I'll go get him." She smiled as she got up from her chair.
"I'll limber up and get my music ready for you."
* * * * * * * * *
After his visit with Merritt, Jarod lost himself in his work, hoping the pain he still felt over recent losses would eventually pass. So, with laptop computer over his shoulder and a duffel bag in his hand, he found himself in a first class cabin of a US Airways Boeing 757 destined for New York. The flight was arduously long.
* * * * * * * * *
A run had removed some of Jarod's restlessness, but he was still agitated. So, it should have felt good to sit in the steam room and sweat. He shifted his towel, and allowed his brain to reprocess the events of the last few weeks. He'd gone through the internet sites and pulled all references to the Senator and his wife. Ever since his talk with Merritt, something that she had said bothered him. So, he spent the morning pouring over the police accounts, autopsy findings, toxicology reports, photos. Something lingered in his memory cells, nagging at him. Some forgotten detail hovered just beyond recall, some stored memory that he couldn't access. He wanted to find the connection, needed to find it, but couldn't. The door to the steam room opened and a man entered the steam room. He nodded, then took a seat on the bench.
"Jarod Dark, Mr. Sutton." He sighed quietly, putting all thoughts of earlier out of his head.
"Looking forward to directing the newest video for Charybdis?" Peter asked. "I know that they are rather hard to work with, but they are the hottest thing to hit the air waves."
The silence stretched for so long that Peter thought Jarod hadn't heard. He turned, about to repeat the question, when the door to the steam room opened.
"What's so important that you dragged my butt down here?" another man asked tersely, entering the room. The tall lanky, man with hollow cheeks and hair the color of the midnight sky walked over toward them, but stayed standing.
"Brett Maron, manager of Charybdis and…" Peter was saying as the younger man extended his hand toward Jarod.
"You've got a wonderful song, Mr. Maron," Jarod said, shaking the man's hand and looking into clear blue eyes.
"Thanks, but I'm only responsible for the score, Dante Canetti wrote the lyrics. Now, if you can put on video what he, my sister and I envisioned for it, then we'll work well together."
"I'm sorry about Mr. Canetti. Tell to me what you envision for this video," Jarod said, eagerly. "And I would really like to meet with Beckett."
* * * * * * * * *
An hour later, Jarod was parked in front of his apartment building. The evening was cold and snowy, and the drive home had taken longer than expected. He killed the engine of his red convertible and got out. The building was absolutely still, but the spooky quiet failed to relax him. He went directly to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Jolt. He looked out at the window at the dark water below, his thoughts black as the river. His agitation had returned, and he found himself drumming his fingers along his left thigh, a nervous gesture that had profoundly irritated Sydney. Years of his complaints had never broken Jarod of the habit. Finishing his soda, he put on his favorite CD on full volume, and as he stood in the shower, the group sang to him of the road to hell. The neighbors would have to survive. He spent hours writing and listening to various types of music, but he just couldn't get the right words for his own song down on paper. Not yet, anyway. These words had to be special, their meaning clear for the recipient. He looked at what he had written so far:
Do you want to play hide and seek with me?
It's just a child's game, it's rather insane,
but no one wants to lose the game.
He crawled into bed, his anxiety still with him. Sleep didn't come easily, and he lay in bed for some time, watching the shadows on the ceiling and fighting the impulse to call Sydney. He hated himself for needing him at such times, for craving his strength whenever he felt upset. It was a ritual he'd vowed to break. Eventually sleep took him down like a whirlpool, swirling all thoughts of Sydney, Miss Parker, and Mr. Cox from his consciousness.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod awoke a jumble of uncharacteristic nerves. He took a seat in front of his laptop and checked to see what his search of the Centre's mainframe turned up regarding Merritt. His mailbox opened and he quickly clicked on the icon. There was a message from his source. Clicking on the attachment, he waited impatiently as the file downloaded. Reaching for the phone, he pressed the necessary number.
"This is Sydney," the familiar voice said.
"Sydney, has Miss Parker talked to you about what happened in Washington?"
"A little, Jarod. Yesterday, Broots found something in the Centre's files. Parker took the file and…"
"Thanks." With the call terminated, Jarod returned his gaze to the computer screen. Scanning the file he'd just downloaded, he found something that made his heart run cold: Judith White Evans. He knew that name. It rang so familiar in his head, but he couldn't place it at first. Then, bang. It was as if someone had flicked the tines of a fork against a fine crystal vase. Judith White Evans, and Mr. White.
"I can't thank you enough for coming, Mr. Dark," Brett Maron was saying, when the door to his office opened and a petite, wispy, but strikingly beautiful young woman entered. Her deep blue eyes filled with sorrow and pain.
"Call me Jarod, please." He vacated his chair and offered it to her, watching a small smile flash, faintly.
"Jarod, my sister, Beckett. Beck, Jarod's going to direct the new video for us."
"I'm not sure that I want to." She placed her hand in front of her mouth, but it still didn't stifle the cry.
"Beck, you promised me… this is for him. He was really hyped about this song. After all, he wrote the lyrics, I just wrote the score."
"After this video is filmed, then I get to take a break and disappear for a while. I really need some time, Brett. Aurora and me. She needs her mother, and I need to spend time with my daughter. Just this morning she said dada…." The young woman got out the chair and walked to the window, her shoulders rounded as though pushed down by a heavy weight. "I'm sorry." Beckett turned and looked first at her brother, then at Jarod, then wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"No need to apologize, Miss Maron. If this isn't a good time, I certainly understand you not wanting to perform. Losing someone, it hurts." Jarod locked eyes with her. "But you have your brother and your daughter. Her name's very unusual, Aurora, for the dawn."
"No, Dante fell in love with the name after I dragged him to see the ballet Sleeping Beauty. Dante believed that all music was connected, and needed to be appreciated both separately and together. I'm rambling, forgive me. Brett, when do we start?"
"Day after tomorrow. I was hoping that you would go over your vision of this video with Jarod here, so that he knows what we want."
"Sure." The woman gave them both a weak smile, then turned to Jarod. "Do you have time now?"
"It's your money that's paying for my time, whenever you want." Jarod returned the smile and rose from his seat.
"Good, then let's get this over with." Beckett headed for the door. "Brett, tell Peter that after this album is done and the final video is cut, I'm taking a hiatus."
"What about the negotiations with Spin Disc, Beck? You know that Dante really wanted this. Anyway, when the press finds out, they'll accuse you of running away and hiding. And what about the band?"
"The press," she sneered, "are nothing but parasitic vultures. Hide, how can I? Everywhere I go there are reporters asking about Dante, and do I believe that he killed himself." She stormed out of the office, leaving Jarod standing there, stunned.
"Jarod, I'm sorry that you witnessed that, but….." Brett came from around the desk, running his hands through his hair.
"Don't apologize." Jarod smiled, putting the man at ease, when the phone on his desk buzzed. Brett walked back and picked up the receiver. "She's waiting for you in your office," he said as he hung up.
When Jarod walked into the office, he found Beckett staring out the window, looking at the view. She turned to look at him, a sheepish grin on her features tinged with sadness.
"Sorry about that, I promised you that we'd talk about music. Got any favorites?"
"All of them," he said, laughing when her smile widened. "Depends really -- rock when I'm driving, jazz when I'm thinking, and lately Tchaikovsky on Sunday mornings."
"Sucking up, Mr. Dark?"
"No, a friend of mine introduced me, and please, it's Jarod. You really don't want to do this video, do you?"
"Not really, but Brett's right, Dante put his heart and soul into this song. And…."
"What happened, Beckett?"
"I'm not sure myself. Dante had a meeting with Spin Disc, a new recording label. He called me from the car phone. God, he was so upbeat. They were offering us the moon. He really wanted to sign, and with our contract up at Sutton Sound at the end of the year, I was willing to give Spin Disc a chance. He was coming here to talk to Peter, to tell him that we weren't going to sign with Sutton again, that this would be their last album from the group."
"Did he make it to his meeting with Peter?" Jarod inquired.
"Yes, in fact it was during the meeting with Peter that Dante started to feel ill… he was a diabetic," Beckett explained. "He was going to meet Aurora and I after the meeting. The sitter was bringing her to Dante, I had a fitting for my dress." She closed her eyes tightly, but not before a tear escaped.
"Did he administer his insulin?" Jarod asked, coming to stand behind the woman.
"Peter said that he gave Dante his shot. Peter said that Dante was almost unconscious." She sighed deeply, and began to sob.
"How about we both take a break?" Jarod suggested. "I'll take the notes that you gave me and look them over at my place, and get back to you later." He escorted Beckett to the elevator, and then accompanied her to the garage, watching her get into her car. On the way back, Jarod flashed his ID pass through the infrared scanner.
"You going to be working late, tonight, Mr. Jarod?" the security guard asked. "Shift changes at five, and I like to alert whomever is on duty who we have in the building."
"You do that every night?" Jarod asked, a smile on his face.
"Yes sir, everyone needs to use their ID, which is logged into the computer. I also keep a written record of who comes and goes."
"The night that Dante Canetti died, were you on duty?"
"Yes, I was. I remember that night, because it had started to snow pretty heavily. In fact, I called Mr. Sutton to tell him that Mr. Canetti had just called; he was running late because of the weather but said to wait for him, it was important."
"When Mr. Canetti got here, how did he seem to you?"
"He came in whistling "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and I joked around with him about how I wanted to spend the winter in California. He laughed and headed up in the elevator. I rang Mr. Sutton to let him know that Mr. Canetti was on his way up."
"What happened next?"
"About an hour later, Mr. Sutton called down asking for me to call for an ambulance, said that Mr. Canetti had taken ill. He also asked me to get ahold of Beckett, so that she could meet them at the hospital. I told Mr. Sutton that Miss Lauren and the baby were on the way upstairs."
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker found Gabriel was standing in his crib, his eyes glued to the nursery doors. The nurse sat at her desk, working with a single-station computer. She stopped typing when Miss Parker entered the room, and looked up. "His bathtime is at 6:30 sharp, Miss Parker, and bedtime is at 7:30."
Parker picked the little boy up in her arms, delighting in the feel of his warm hands on her cheeks, his tiny features twisting to mimic the nurse. Parker had to stifle her laughter by brushing her lips across his forehead.
"Ready?" she asked, already knowing the answer. Right now she was going to forget about the files on her desk, and pamper herself with two of her favorite people, as she and Gabriel headed toward her office. The sound of The Nutcracker could be faintly heard from behind the closed doors, and Gabriel started to sway in her arms when he heard it.
Parker pushed open the door to find Debbie dressed in a pink leotard, with pale pink tights and ballet slippers that were scuffed and worn. The music flooded the room from an unseen source. It was haunting, lushly romantic, quiet at first and then building to a loud crescendo that practically shook the walls. She waltzed around the room, whirling until her skirt billowed; from the turns she leapt, conscious of nothing but the music. Parker watched as Debbie lifted her eyes upward, her face so full love and dedication, like a beam of light.
The music stopped and Debbie turned to Miss Parker and Gabriel, both of them smiling.
"Beautiful," Miss Parker said softly. "Absolutely beautiful."
Gabriel clapped his hands in delight, grinning at Debbie. As she curtsied toward them, Gabriel's movements stopped. Mr. Parker stormed into the office and glared at his daughter. Her smile immediately faded. The tension in the room was undeniable. Debbie stared at the wall, taking a step toward it as if trying to hide, and Gabriel wrapped his small hands around Miss Parker's shirt sleeve tightly. Mr. Parker's mouth was twisted in anger as he surveyed the room. "What exactly is going on here?" he growled at his daughter.
Miss Parker's chin raised defiantly. "I thought Gabriel would enjoy seeing some dancing."
"Do you know what time it is?" her father asked. "Your brother must be kept on a strict schedule."
"I didn't think one evening would hurt anything."
Swooping down, Mr. Parker pulled Gabriel from his daughters arms. "Obviously, you didn't think at all. I may have to re-evaluate your time with him." Striding from the room, he pointedly ignored the crushed look that crept onto Miss Parker's face, and his son's reaching out for her, whimpering "Mine" softly.
* * * * * * * * *
It was a cold and miserable night. Inside the office, time moved slowly as Jarod hacked his way into the computer files of Sutton Sound. He started with the contract that Charybdis had signed. It was a standard contract, no hidden clauses. The group would release two albums and once those albums were completed, the group was no longer under obligation to Sutton. Jarod continued to search the files, where he discovered the financial records for the company. The more he continued to dig, the more he learned that the company was turning a significant profit, most of which came from Charybdis. He sat back and closed his eyes, his fingers rubbing against his temples to ease the tension that was building. A knock at the door prompted him to close the laptop, before he called out to whomever was out in the hall.
"Jarod, burning the midnight oil are we?" Peter Sutton asked as he entered, taking a seat in the chair opposite Jarod.
"Yeah. Getting ready to shoot this video. Brett wants to start Sunday, seems it's the only time one of the sites is available."
"That's wonderful. How is Beckett handling this? I heard that she was in earlier; since Dante's death, she's been avoiding a lot of people." Peter looked away briefly, then took a deep breath. His eyes fell on a small black case that was sitting on Jarod's desk and he reached out to touch it, then picked it up.
"Isn't this Dante's?" he inquired.
"No, it's mine," Jarod replied as he watch Sutton open the lid slowly, his eyes widening in shock. "I'm diabetic, why? Was Mr. Canetti?" Peter dropped the case as though burned.
"Ummm, yeah. I rode to the hospital with him." Jarod noticed a fine line of perspiration breaking out on Sutton's forehead. "If you'll excuse me, Jarod, I have a meeting with a new group and their manager." Sutton rose from the seat and left the office.
Jarod sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. His eyes were gritty, as if he had gone too long without sleep. He leaned back in his chair. Patience, he thought. Reaching for the phone, he placed a rather important call, then left the office.
* * * * * * * * *
As Jarod walked down the corridors of the police station, now and then a voice barked or a door opened and closed hollowly. The sound of phones ringing came from everywhere at once, they never seemed to be answered. Snow drifted down outside the windows to add a touch of gloom. The corridor smelled strongly of Lysol and damp. It wasn't the first time he'd been in a police station, and it wouldn't be the last. He made his way to the door marked Records, which he silently entered. He located the cabinet that contained the file needed, took it and left, unobserved.
* * * * * * * * *
Jarod sat on the corner of the desk in Brett Maron's desk, toying with a Lucite paperweight. Brett watched this with interest as Jarod tossed the paperweight from hand to hand before he set it down.
"So what you're telling me is that Dante came here and met with Peter." The man shook his head. "And didn't leave this building alive because Sutton killed him. Jarod, give him an ounce of credit. Peter tried to help him, by giving him is insulin shot. Hell, he rode in the ambulance with him. He comforted Beckett until I arrived. I don't understand."
"Brett, I pulled the files. There was no insulin introduced into his system. His levels were low, and if he'd had a dose of his medication, he should have responded. And where's his insulin kit? It wasn't found in the office. Doesn't that strike you as odd? It does me." Jarod pushed the file in front of him across the desk for Brett to read. "I did a little digging. I found this in Peter's safe. I had the needle tested. This isn't insulin, it's a fetanyl analong, otherwise known as 'China White.'"
"China White?" Brett queried.
"It's a designer drug, Brett. It's lethal, and unless the doctors in the emergency room know what to test for, the patient is going to die."
"But why Dante? Jarod, I still don't understand, why him?"
"It had to do with the fact that Dante didn't want to stay here. He discovered that Sutton wasn't giving the band all of the monies it earned. He was growing rich off of you, but once the band left… In this business, making it isn't an easy road. A record company doesn't like to lose their winners, and Sutton was going to lose big time."
"I can't let Peter get away with this. I'm going to call." Brett leaned forward to pick up his phone, but Jarod reached out and put a hand on top of his.
"I have a better idea. Interested?"
A knock came on the half-closed door of Miss Parker's office. A very nervous Broots poked his head in, causing the occupants to turn in that direction.
"What?" she snapped as Sydney lay a hand on her arm.
"There's a package that you might be interested in. Special delivery." He held up a brown padded envelope. "It's addressed to Mr. Cox."
"Give it here," she said, holding out her hand.
"B-but…." Broots stammered, yet the narrowing of her eyes gave him second thoughts about arguing. Opening the envelope, with caution, she let the CD slide out onto her desk. A brief read of the letter, and Parker handed the disc to Broots. "Run it, now!"
Miss Parker saw the chill of deep space in Jarod's eyes on the video. Turning to look at Sydney, she found his eyes filled with worry. She knew he feared that hate was the only emotion that could survive in such coldness.
* * * * * * * * *
The sound studio was dark, except for the small office off to the left, so Peter made his way to it. Looking in the glass windows, he found Jarod viewing outtakes from the morning shoot. Hearing the door open, Jarod turned around, his face pale in the light.
"Jarod, you okay?" Sutton asked.
"I'll be fine." Jarod walked over to the small refrigerator located by the desk, and pulled two cans of soda from inside it. Jarod twisted the lids off of both of them, then handed one to Sutton.
"You sure you're okay? You don't look so good." Sutton took a sip of his drink, and moved closer to watch the scenes from the video on the computer screen.
"I'm fine. I didn't eat and --" Jarod motioned with the soda bottle, "not something I should do. Not good for my health." He glanced at the computer screen, then back at Sutton, whose face was starting to pale considerably.
"How did you. . .?"
"Do what? Oh, you mean Dante on the screen. Computer magic, Peter, computer magic."
It was at that moment that Sutton staggered slightly, his hand reaching out to grip the desk to steady himself.
"Hey, you all right?" Jarod set his bottle of soda on the desk and helped Sutton to the chair.
"My chest… I can't breathe. Jarod, call 911, please."
"Sit there for a few minutes, Peter." Jarod placed his forefinger and index finger on Sutton's wrist. "Pulse is rather on the weak side. I wonder if this is how Dante felt when you tried to help him."
"What do you mean?" Sutton gasped, panic flaring in his eyes.
"When you gave him his insulin, Peter -- only it wasn't insulin was it?" Jarod held up a small vial of clear liquid. His face came closer and closer, Sutton tried to back away but could only go further into the chair.
"You could have saved him at the emergency room, but you didn't, did you? You let him die. He wasn't going to stay with Sutton Sound, was he, Peter? Not after he found out just how much money you had stolen from the group." Jarod turned to leave the room.
"Don't leave me, please." Pure panic crossed his features.
"Was he?" Jarod shouted.
"No, he was going to sign with Spin Disc. He was going to go to Brett with everything. I'd be ruined. Please, Jarod. Call 911."
"I don't know."
"Jarod," Sutton shrieked.
"Relax, Peter," Jarod said as he walked back over toward the gasping man," you'll be fine in, say, about twenty minutes."
* * * * * * * * *
A soft knock interrupted Jarod's packing. He placed his laptop on the desk and walked over to the door, opening it to reveal Beckett and her eighteen month old daughter, Aurora.
"Brett told me that you were leaving, so I came to say thank you." She reached up and placed a well-manicured hand on his cheek. "Are you sure you won't stay?"
"I wish that I could, but I have some personal business to attend to," he said as he ran a finger across the baby's cheek.
"It has something to do with that song, doesn't it?" she inquired. He nodded.
"Brett says that you signed with Spin Disc."
"Yeah, but the first album isn't due for a year. They are willing to wait. I'm going to spend time with this little one and, hopefully, we'll both start to heal. Well, we're off, I'm taking her to a children's version of The Nutcracker. You're welcome to join us." Beckett smiled and waited.
"Thanks. Have a plane to catch." He watched the two of them walk and the door slid silently shut behind them. Walking back to his desk, he picked up his cell phone and dialed.
"What?" Miss Parker answered, her voice lacking the familiar sting.
"Something the matter, Miss Parker?"
"What's it to you, Jarod?"
"I'm concerned, that's all," he replied. "Is that the 'Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy' I hear? Reliving happier memories, Miss Parker? Why did you lie about dancing?"
"I needed one last time, Jarod. It's a ballet in which the children are the heroes, and something in me said that was the time to do it. Are you satisfied?" She hung up, and reached for the photo of her mother and her on the desk, glancing at the one of her and her baby brother next to it. It was her favorite, Miss Parker thought, yet her father's threat echoed in her head.
* * * * * * * * *
Cox entered his workspace, his eyes spotting the envelope propped up against his latest taxidermy project. Pulling a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and settling them on his nose, he looked at the postmark. New York. No return address. Cox slowly peeled open the flap, working one finger under the heavily glued flap. He dumped the contents onto his desk and blinked, perplexed. He released the breath he was holding.
The single scrap of paper wasn't exactly a letter -- no stationary, no signature -- just carefully inked words in fine black lettering: A MUSICAL MOMENT.
A silver-blue computer disc slid out beside the note. Cox frowned, then picked up the CD.
"Let's see what Jarod's sent me this time."
* * * * * * * * *
Leaving his room in the bowels of hell, he made his way to the television and disc player located to the left of the Chairman's desk. Powering up the television, he slid the disk into the slot.
The video started. Shadows. Erratic. Loud music. Words of anger, warning. Shadows flicking from place to place. Discontinuous planes of black and gray. Tendrils of smoke through shattered glass.
One shadow zigzagged. Cox tracked that one, squinting, trying to focus on a specific detail. Hazy red and blue folders were visible on the black and white screen. The shadow darted into, and through, the light. In the light, it became clear. Jarod. Meanwhile, the significance was not lost on Cox, who had moved closer to the screen, placing a hand on it as it went blank.
I know you can't imagine
Demons taking wing
I know you can't imagine
What darkest hours bring
Think it's strange
You can't hide
Are you starting to believe
There's fear in your eyes
Your composure starting to slide
I know you can't imagine
Opening the eyes that were blind
You changed my life
Don't see it now
Lost my smile
Know that its true
You're worth the while
I know you can't imagine
Have I crossed the line
I see things the way they are
Not the time to be kind
Is it inconceivable
May be to you
This song's for you
Know that I do
I know you can imagine
* * * * * * * * *
The light was turning gray, a washed out, milky gray that promised overcast skies and winter snow. There was little beauty found in the day. It was Sunday morning, and people were sleeping in. The first church services would begin soon with raw-eyed congregations. Jarod found Merritt perched at the piano, the keys coming to life under her fingers.
"You play?" he inquired.
"Five, almost six years."
"It suits you," he said, and she nodded. "What's that you are playing?"
"The Nutcracker Suite," she smiled, "to get into the holiday spirit."
"Tell me how you knew that Dante Canetti didn't die from a self-inflicted drug overdose, Merritt."
"The voice in my head."
"Voice?" Jarod asked.
"It's not a voice of sound, but one of images that appear in my mind. The words are my translation of the thoughts projected. The images are brief, so I interpret as best I can." Merritt paused and looked Jarod in the eye. "You don't seem shocked. You know something about this, I know you do. Like, who she is?" Bright eager eyes looked into dark, painfully tired eyes, and asked a different question this time when he didn't answer her. "The woman, is she my mother?" The hopefulness that had been there slowly faded as he shook his head side to side. "Then who?"
"You," his response was lowly, barely audible.
"Me? How is that… it's not possible."
"Merritt," Jarod reached out and took hold of her hand, "you are one and the same. A duplicate."
"Jarod, what are you saying? That I'm an experiment? A happenstance of science? Who? Why?" Her anger was reminiscent of Miss Parker's, which brought a small smile to his face.
"As for who, it's complicated. Truthfully, I don't know why. You're not alone, though."
"There are others?"
Merritt's eyes clouded with a cross of anger and sympathy. "What can you tell me?"
Shaking his head again, Jarod sighed painfully. "I'm sorry Merritt, there isn't anything… not now, at any rate."
"So I'm supposed to… what? Just stay here and lie low, pretend we didn't have this conversation?" She turned back to the piano, her fingers dancing lightly across the keys in a soft, nameless tune. "And don't tell me it's best for me. I know it's best. It's just not -- right."
Touching her shoulder briefly, Jarod nodded. "I know. I'm sorry, about all of this. Try not to give Sister Evelyn too much trouble, and I'll fill in all the blanks when I can. You've got to stay here for now. It's safe."
"You promise?" Accepting his nod, Merritt turned back to the piano, her fingers effortlessly playing "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy."
Standing in the doorway, Jarod watched her for a moment before slipping silently out of the room.