I'll Be Home For Christmas

 

home / season five / episode eight / act III

   

Home of Charles Wilson
Baltimore, Maryland

Jarod watched as Charles Wilson turned away from him and stared at a framed picture on a bookcase showing, Jarod guessed, Charles himself and his mother. He remained silent.

"I never wanted to leave the kids."

"They miss you a lot."

"But I couldn't do it. I neglected her once. I couldn't do it again."

"Tell me about it."

Charles spun around and stared at Jarod. "How could you help?" His face was red and the words came out as a shout, almost a scream. "What could you do? She's dead! She's dead because I let her die." He picked up the photo and stared at it for a moment before flinging it angrily into the corner of the room where it hit a cushion, bounced off and landed on the floor, fortunately undamaged. "She died because I didn't love her enough."

Jarod sat back in his chair and spoke calmly. "Is that what you've managed to convince yourself, in this time hidden away at home? Believe me, no one who didn't love would act the way you have."

Charles stared at him for a moment before collapsing into the chair behind him and fixing his eyes on the pretender. "How did you know?"

"I make very good guesses," Jarod told him firmly. "And I can guess that, after your mother passed on, you couldn't bear to go out, in case something else happened and you weren't there to help."

Charles nodded, slowly and silently, and Jarod continued. "What you don't see is that you're missing out on the chance to help a lot of other people. Some kids won't come near me because they can see I'm not you. Sure, I have the suit and the beard and the 'ho ho ho,' but I lack something that you show to those kids, some spark. And that's why you have to go back. They need you." Jarod leaned forward and looked fixedly at the man sitting opposite him, carefully preventing his face from showing any emotion. "Why don't you tell me about it? It might help."

Charles Wilson took the hands away from his face, dropped them into his lap and sat staring at them. Taking a deep breath, Jarod could tell that he was trying to regain his composure and the pretender stayed silent. Finally Charles opened his mouth and began to tell his story.

"I first noticed that my mom had changed about three years ago. At first it was just little things - she couldn't find the car keys, or she lost her favorite pair of earrings. Then it became a few things that she would lose, one after the other. Or she would forget what she had to do on one particular day. Sometimes she would get the year confused. One day she walked home from the shops because she believed that the car hadn't been invented yet."

Charles made a noise, half-laugh half-sob, before continuing. "I didn't really notice what was going on, it was so slow, until one day I came home and found the gas on and Mom unconscious in the bedroom. I took her to the hospital and she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. When she was ready to come home, the hospital warned me that it would be hard taking care of her on my own, but I was determined. I quit my job and started looking after her full-time." He sighed and stared out of the window. "She just kept getting worse, until one day she didn't know who I was anymore. It was really beginning to get hard for me, you know, taking care of someone all the time, with no one to talk to about how hard it was and what I could do to make it easier. Eventually someone from the hospital came to visit and suggested that I put her into a home. I didn't want to -- it seemed like admitting that I couldn't look after her. But she had a few weeks of respite care first and, when I went to visit her, I realized that she was actually happy there, with other people she could chat to."

"So I let her move into one. I put her into one," he corrected himself. "And then I found that I had a whole lot of time with nothing to do and not a lot of money to spend, so I started applying for other jobs. When Allan told me how well she was doing..."

"Allan?" Jarod interrupted for the first time. Charles looked at him.

"That's right. Allan Cochran. He was her caregiver. He told me that she was doing well, so it seemed right to go out and get a proper job. But it meant that I had less time to visit her and, for a few days, three weeks ago, I didn't get to visit her at all. When I finally went, they seemed surprised to see me. And when I went into her room, she wasn't there. One of the other nurses told me that they thought she had gone to stay with me. When I said she hadn't, the nurse showed me a report written by Allan that said I had picked her up and would bring her back after Christmas. Of course, as soon as I assured them that I'd done nothing of the sort, they started looking for her."

Charles leaned over and picked up the photo from where it had fallen. "They found her in a shed at the very back corner of the property. She had cuts and bruises all over from falling over and trying to get out. Because of the cold, she also developed pneumonia. She lived for four days -- and died two weeks ago." Charles sat silently and finally Jarod spoke up.

"None of this is your fault."

"How can you say that? I..."

"I can say that because I don't think your mother would have locked herself into a shed, or anywhere else for that matter. Alzheimer's can damage a person's memory and thinking processes but she would have found it difficult to trap herself into a space she couldn't get out of..."

"Especially as there was a locked padlock on the outside of the door," Charles blurted out, sitting up straighter in his chair. "It took us nearly twenty minutes to get it off."

"Exactly." Jarod looked at him.

"So someone -- tried to kill my mother?"

"That is exactly what I mean to find out." Jarod stood up. "Can you give me any paperwork you have about her -- details of the home, anything they might have given you, name of a lawyer perhaps?"

"Sure." Charles stepped over to a drawer and pulled it open but then walked across to Jarod and took one hand in both of his. "I don't know how to thank you for all this. I...it's made such a difference."

Jarod smiled. "That's what I always try to do."

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Miss Parker walked through the doorway of her office and stopped as she saw the package lying on her desk. The writing on the label was familiar to her, as it should be after four years of seeing it, and Miss Parker sat down behind her desk and picked up the parcel in her hands. It was light, she noticed with some surprise, and, despite the size of the packet, contained only a small item of some sort. Ratboy must be getting exorbitant, she thought grimly before tearing open the wrapping. A small box, similar to the one received by Sydney, fell out onto the desk and bounced a few times before disappearing over the edge.

"Damn." Miss Parker failed to realize that she had spoken aloud as she pushed her chair back and dived under the desk in search of the fallen jeweler's box. As her fingers closed around it, she got up and, in her eagerness to see its contents, forgot that she was kneeling under the desk.

Her head met the underside of the marble table-top with a resounding crack and Miss Parker came out from under the desk muttering obscenities that made Sydney, who had just entered the room, try not to grin.

"Can I help you with something, Miss Parker? An aspirin and a glass of water, perhaps?" He sat down in the seat opposite the desk.

“Don't piss me off, Sydney. I'm running out of places to hide the bodies.” She sat and stared at the box for a few seconds before opening it. Light reflecting off the item inside and back onto Miss Parker's face showed Sydney that it was a pendant like his. He watched as she slowly extracted the pendant from its velvet box, looked at both sides of it and let it spin between her fingers. Suddenly she looked up at him. "Jarod," she said slowly, "is very good at getting right to the heart of the matter."

"I know, Parker." Sydney nodded. "That's the way he was trained."

"By you."

"Yes, by me."

"Damn you, Sydney." She stood up and threw the medallion across to him before walking over to the corner of her office.

* * * * * * * * *

Morrison House
Baltimore, Maryland

Jarod watched as the movie he and Myra were watching began to draw to a close and he tried to think of a reason to get out of the house as quickly as possible. The image of a young Tony Curtis in naval uniform appeared briefly before the scene faded and the next took its place. There had been scenes in the film that he had found amusing -- and that he could relate to -- in The Great Imposter. Finally, however, the last scenes appeared and the magic words that Jarod had been praying for -- The End -- appeared on the screen. Myra turned and grinned at him.

“Can you imagine something like that happening? I mean, someone pretending to be somebody else and getting away with it like that.” She hit the button on the remote control and the machine started to rewind the tape. “I don’t think they could get away with it for that long. They’d have to get found out pretty quickly.”

Jarod tried not to show the embarrassment that he was feeling and he smiled at her.

“Well, you never know. People can do some incredible things.”

She came over and sat on the arm of his chair. “Tell me honestly, Jarod, can you believe that someone could do it?”

He looked at her, all the laughter gone from his face. “Yes,” he nodded. “I honestly believe they could.”

She giggled and slipped off the seat onto the floor. “You’re silly. No one could do it. They’d end up with their picture in the newspaper and everybody would know who they were, so they’d have to give up.”

Jarod suddenly thought, for the first time in months, about Neil Roberts and the book of newspaper clippings about Jarod himself that the talkback radio host had shown him more than eighteen months before. Yes, he had gotten into the paper but, by some fortunate coincidence, only rarely a picture appeared and only a few people had ever suspected that he wasn’t what he claimed to be. Suddenly feeling pressured, Jarod looked around for a method of escape. He found it in the time.

“Glory! If I don’t hurry, I’ll be late.”

Myra’s face fell. “I was hoping you’d be able to stay for lunch.”

Jarod hugged her. “I’m sorry but not today. Besides, you’ll see me this afternoon.”

“It’s not the same.”

“I know.” He hugged her again. “But we’ll be able to do what we planned on Christmas Eve after work, right?”

“Okay.” She smiled again. “I love carol singing.”

“Great.” He opened the front door. “See you at work.”

* * * * * * * * *

The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

Sydney awkwardly caught the gleaming disc, his fingers fumbling for and finding the chain before the trinket hit the floor. He glanced over at Miss Parker before looking closely at the image on the front of the medallion. It showed him a scene that was common at this time of year. The center of the medallion was taken up with a large Christmas tree, decorated with gifts, candy and stars. Visible at the sides of the tree were a small girl in the act of tearing wrapping paper off a large box and, on the other side, two adults watching with fond smiles on their faces. It was an easy matter for Sydney to recognize the figures and he looked up at Miss Parker with a look of sadness on his face.

"Maybe he just wanted to make a point."

Miss Parker snorted. “Pencil sharpeners make points, Sydney. The only thing Frankenboy wants is to make me irritated!”

Sydney was about to make a further comment when he turned the pendant over and saw the image that was engraved on the other side. His gasp attracted Miss Parker's attention.

"Well, what is it?"

Instead of replying, Sydney stood up, walked over and handed the delicate item to her. She cupped it in her hand and stared down at the image of the loving family that it portrayed. With a sudden lunge, she pulled a DSA player out of her drawer and, placing it on the desk, pulled out a single disk and loaded it into the machine. As it hummed into life, Parker pointed to the words at the bottom left corner of the screen. "Right about the time they got too lazy to keep putting dates on the screen."

Sydney shook his head. "That wasn't the reason. We always left a player and set of disks in Jarod's room with him so that he could refer back to them if he needed to. In an effort to disguise the time that was passing, we deleted the dates from the DSAs."

Miss Parker shook her head. "Since when did it become that easy to fool Jarod, Doctor?"

"It wasn't my idea." Sydney threw up his hands in disgust. "It was one that Raines came up with. The Tower loved it and adopted it."

"It doesn't matter anyway." Miss Parker turned to the calendar that sat on her desk. "I remember the date well enough. December 21, 1969."

"You gave Jarod his first kiss."

Miss Parker looked up sharply from the DSA that had just started to play and glared at Sydney. "How did you know?"

Sydney smiled and shook his head sadly. "Miss Parker, this is the Centre, as you know. There isn't a single thing that goes on that a person can't find out about if he wants to. Didn't you ever wonder how you got so much time together, the two of you? And didn't you ever wonder why?"

Miss Parker thought for several seconds, blindly watching the figures interacting on the screen in front of her, finally meeting in the identical position to the one engraved on the medallion that was still in her hand, at which point she hit a button and the screen went still. Suddenly she pulled out her gun and lunged at him, pinning him against the wall with the Smith and Wesson pointed at his head.

“Are you telling me that I was a subject in one of your sick little experiments?!”

With difficulty, Sydney shook his head. “The Tower was determined to perform an experiment on sexuality and chose Jarod over the other boys at the Centre during the relevant time. You were the only girl there but your mother protested against you taking part and I agreed with her. However, the Tower was determined that the project should go ahead, as they felt its benefits would outweigh its negative aspects. Due to my disagreement, the project was taken out of my hands and control over it, and temporarily over Jarod, was handed to Raines. Your father was quite willing for it to go ahead. He and Raines sat in the Tech Room and watched it happen. Once the simulation was completed, he gave a presentation, both to show the results and to try and convince the Triumvirate to hand Jarod over to him. They refused, fortunately.”

Miss Parker pushed him away and turned back to where the two figures were frozen in time. Her expression changed as she watched. Slowly she lowered the gun until it was lying on the desk and she looked down at the medallion that she still held in her hand. Her anger had made her tighten her grasp and a slightly rough edge had punctured the skin of her palm. A single tear forced its way down her cheek and dropped onto the cut, mingling with the drops of blood. Sydney watched, silently, from the other side of the room as Miss Parker put the gleaming circle of gold down onto the desk and wiped it clean with a tissue before sitting and staring at the slight wound on her hand that still oozed slightly.

“Parker?!”

The two figures in the office jumped, startled by the voice that had broken through their self-imposed silence. The door opened and Lyle stuck his head into the room.

“Parker, there’s been a sighting of Jarod in Philadelphia.”

Miss Parker looked at him passively but silently.

“Well, aren’t you coming?” her twin demanded.

“You go. I have things to do.”

Sydney looked at her, his eyebrows raised, before turning back to the newcomer. He saw the expression that crossed his face and understood exactly what the male Parker twin was thinking.

“You don’t want the chance to bring back the Centre’s missing property and be a hero? That’s your loss then.” The door hydraulically closed itself with a soft hiss as he disappeared and Sydney turned back to Miss Parker.

“What was that all about?”

“I’m busy.” She looked down at the desk. Sydney approached her, openly skeptical.

“Busy? Come on, Parker, this is me you’re talking to, not Lyle.”

Parker sighed and pushed the small, empty jewelers box across to Sydney, who took it up with interest.

“Open it.”

Sydney did so and found a small note tucked into the lid that was only just visible. ‘Don’t go to PA. J.’ He looked up. “I wonder why.”

Miss Parker smiled. “I don’t know. But I’ll bet my next pay slip that he calls this evening, and Lyle won’t be here to know about it.”

* * * * * * * * *

Jarod's lair
Baltimore, Maryland

Jarod dropped onto the bed and stared at the photo of Judy and Charles Wilson that he had found among the other papers given to him earlier that day. He had had a quick glance through them but now picked them up and began to study them in greater detail. The first few were bank statements but the third provided him with a fact of interest but one he doubted Charles Wilson would have noticed. It was an IOU notice for a very large sum of money. Memories of the recent conversation about Judy Wilson began to remerge from Jarod’s memory.

‘I started my Christmas vacation at about that time. I did remember hearing something about it though.’

And yet Charles had been certain that Allan was Judy’s nurse, Jarod thought to himself.

‘I don't think she's dead, if that's what you mean. Besides, we take care of the people at our home.’

It had seemed an innocent enough comment at the time but now, as he remembered the conversation, one of Jarod’s favorite quotes came to mind.

“The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.” Jarod deliberately misquoted and grinned. “And why would a gentlemen lie about his actions unless he were no gentleman at all, but a rogue.” Jarod muttered aloud to himself as he extracted the IOU notice and glanced from that to the photo.

Inserting a CD of Christmas carols into the player of his computer, Jarod logged into the account details of the local bank. He checked through the details in Judy Wilson’s account and thought briefly that her son was going to be very well off when the settlement of the property occurred. The thought suddenly made Jarod think more carefully and he scooped up the papers and looked through them again. He finally found what he wanted and dropped the rest onto the bed behind him.

The envelope was old, as Jarod had expected, but creased as though it had been opened recently. The pretender eased his thumb under the edge of the envelope and lifted out the folded papers. The first caused him to give a long, low whistle and drop the bundle of papers onto the bed with the others before turning back to the computer again. Jarod brought up data pages for one of the local banks but was distracted from his task by a small, black wallet that lay on the table next to him. Slowly he reached out and drew it closer to him. He didn’t need to open it -- the photos inside were as familiar to him as his own face in the mirror -- but he couldn’t stop himself from peering in to make sure that they were still there.

Jarod sat back in his chair and stared at the wall above the table. He was trying to think of an appropriate way to revenge himself on the person that he was becoming increasingly certain was the culprit, but he kept being distracted. This day, the last before Christmas Eve, was one of the busiest yet. All day he had seen families around him, smiling and laughing, as they finished their Christmas shopping and he had caught himself several times looking around in the hope of seeing a familiar face in the mall. He thought back to the last time that he had been with his family -- before the train explosion in Washington. And he hadn’t seen his mother in more than three years. And then there was Kyle….

Jarod sighed, pushed the chair back and got up to lie on the bed. He had no photos of his brother -- either one -- but it was Kyle that he often thought about. Jarod was over the guilt he had once felt about his death but Kyle’s words still haunted his dreams.

“Threats and pain -- that’s all you’ve ever offered us. You stole our lives and you killed our spirit, now you think you can threaten us with death? It doesn’t matter Lyle, because we never made a difference anyway.”

Jarod looked around him, seeming to see the foundry again, with the helicopter overhead. The air was thick with a fog that had appeared earlier in the evening. For a moment, he remembered the sight of his brother leaning over, helping him to dig up the woman buried under the ground. Suddenly, Jarod could smell the gunpowder as first one and then the other weapon cracked in the night. Jarod felt himself catch the body of his brother and…

Jarod sat upright, his shirt damp and the lights from the neon signs casting shadows into the corners of his room. He glanced at his watch -- 4am. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, every movement feeling as though his entire body was made of lead. He looked out of the window to where the moon was sailing in the sky, currently shining through a break in the clouds, and he hoped fervently that the rest of his family was somewhere safe.

On to Act IV

 
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