Broots studied the schematics, following the route with his fingertip,
glancing up at the conduit for confirmation. It was right there;
it had to be. But where? It looked like smooth wall, covered by exposed
pipes and conduits carrying wires, steam, water and sewage down to or
away from this lowest level of the underground structure.
"Almost lowest," he reminded himself with a glance at the hatch
to SL-27. He looked back at that wall, rolled up the plans and tucked
them under his arm. He knew it had to be there. That's where the wires
led, from that pirate connection his workmen had found branching off the
He began to explore the wall more closely, and peeked into the switch
box mounted on a side panel. The switches and fuses he expected to see
inside were missing, and in their place was a sophisticated gel imprint
lock. Only the person whose fingerprints were registered into that device
could open that lock
unless they were as technically wired as Laszlo
Broots. And in case someone was keeping watch over that lock, he decided
to take a few precautions.
Fetching his favorite tool kit and Sam to watch his back, he returned
to that level and started to work on the lock. It took him half the day,
listening to the sweeper talk about his family and sharing a few stories
of his own before he cracked it, and when he overrode the programming,
the whole wall swung outward, revealing a small room equipped with a security
console with several screens mounted on the wall, a computer, DSA reader
and a selection of disks, several file cabinets and a desk. On the desk
was a memo from the Chairman regarding a search he wanted done, and gooseflesh
rose as he read the names on it. He'd have to tell Sydney, so he could
But something else drew him in. Mounted on the wall at the back of the
room were nine human heads. Broots crept closer, almost sure he recognized
some of them, admiring the great carving job the wax sculptor had done.
He read the brass name plates, a sense of alarm growing as he remembered
the names from an earlier investigation. Curiosity driving him to confirm
his horrified suspicion, he reached up to touch the cheek of one of them.
It wasn't made from wax. It was real human skin. It was somebody's
nine of them.
Broots backpedaled out of the room, shut the door and locked it, returning
the device to its original state as quickly as possible.
"What the hell was that?" Sam demanded, recognizing the tech's
"You didn't see anything," Broots snapped. "We were never
here. Got it?"
"If opening that door was so important--"
Broots pivoted on his heel on the way to the elevator, dropped his toolbox
and grabbed Sam by the lapels of his suit jacket. He roared into the bigger
man's face. "Don't talk to anyone about this! Don't think about it.
Don't dream about it. We were not here. Do you understand? This room does
Sam cringed slightly at the force with which the order had given. "Got
it, sir," he answered softly, obviously spooked by this change in
Broots' usually mousy persona.
The tech let go, grabbed up his tools and headed quickly for the elevator
with Sam on his heels, glancing around them as if the devil himself was
* * * * * * * * *
Trader Vic's Campground and Emporium
Jarod opened the door to her trailer and let Faith go in ahead of him.
They had been walking in silence for a good half hour, but he still felt
that link between them, as if a window stood open in the walls of his
soul, and she was watching him through it. She had been careful not to
look directly at him, pretending to admire the twilight scenery, even
bending to sniff a flower or pick up an interesting rock, but he knew
that her attention was fixed squarely on him, as it always was when they
were around each other.
They had history behind them. Unlike Zoe, who knew nothing about the
Centre, Faith was keenly aware of what it had done to him. She had her
own experiences, some of which she had yet to share with him, but lately
he had found it important to discover what she had been through in that
place. He could simulate her to a degree, but there was so much that she
kept closed off from him, from everyone. He wanted to see her smile more,
to hear her laugh again, which she hadn't done since her ordeal with Valentine.
He wanted her to know what happiness was, at long last, and be able to
hold onto it.
Morgan Parker had told him what Faith needed. That same need echoed in
his own heart, and here beside him was a kindred spirit, someone who understood
him better than perhaps anyone else in his life; at times, Faith knew
him better than he knew himself. And she had lived her whole life locked
away in a dungeon, gleaning what respite she could from the lives of the
three people who had mattered most to her: Morgan, Angelo and Jarod.
She had saved his life on more than one occasion. She stepped back whenever
she thought he didn't need her anymore, and melted quietly into the shadows.
Not once had she given him any indication of how she truly felt about
him. Morgan's assessment had been a surprise, a gift of her inner sense,
and she had been generous in encouraging him to look to Faith, as he had
once sent Tommy to her, for the one thing he most needed in order to find
He was lonely. So was Faith. They cared deeply for each other. Why couldn't
it work? If Morgan was right
"You don't have to go there," Faith told him quietly, as if
reading his mind. "I don't want your pity, Jarod."
"No," he agreed. He pulled off the blond wig and carefully
peeled away the matching beard that hid his face. "I know that. But
you do want my love. Don't you, Faith?"
She almost had her back to him, and turned away to reach for the sewing
she still had to do on her costume. "Don't," she shot back,
her voice suddenly strained with emotion. "You can't just offer me
that if you don't have it to give. You can't just decide to love me, and
'poof!' It just happens. Don't tease me, Jarod. I can take it from anybody
else, but not from you. Not about that."
He grabbed her, suddenly angry that she would think he would toy with
her so casually. "This isn't easy for either of us," he growled,
looking down into her eyes. He wished he could sense what she was feeling,
as easily as she could with him. She would be aware of the war going on
inside him, feel the depth of his need, how loneliness ate away at his
soul, but the landscape of her heart was an enigma to him.
"Faith," he whispered, staring into those eyes as blue as cobalt,
half drowned in unshed tears. He saw it then, her soul reaching out through
her eyes, aching with hope, shining with love. Something inside him broke,
cracking into a thousand pieces, and warmth flooded into him. There was
something almost sacred about it, a reverence that took his breath away
and made his blood sing in his veins.
He tried to speak, but there were no words. He felt as if he had never
truly seen her before, the way the lamplight glowed in her hair, the satin
sheen of her skin. She was warm in his arms, blissfully feminine, and
he felt the curves of her body press against him, reminding him that she
was all woman.
I want you. The words echoed through his mind, making the craving
a desperate need. He couldn't make his mouth work to tell her, trying
to get it through to her with just his eyes. He nodded, his body trembling
against her now, and after a moment, she smiled at him.
"We have plenty of time, Jarod," she whispered huskily. "Let's
build a solid foundation before we go there." She laughed softly.
"But I want you to know, I've dreamed about being with you for a
long time. I was just too afraid to let you know, afraid you were already
"Morgan's given us her blessing," he heard himself breathe.
She shook her head, and tears began to fall. "I never wanted to
"Neither did I." His hands smoothed up her arms and into her
hair, her fine, silken hair, tangling all around his fingers. He tasted
her lips and knew without being told that he had been the first to kiss
her, that time in Sanctuary weeks earlier. "But I don't want to be
"You've never been alone, Jarod," she assured him. "Not
really. I just didn't want to intrude."
That went straight to his heart, wounding him with tenderness. She loved
him. She always had, and she had waited patiently for him to discover
her right under his nose. He wasn't sure what he felt for her was the
'being in love' kind of love he had heard so much about during the last
few years. He wasn't sure he could feel that for anyone, as broken as
he was inside. But he was sure that, whatever it was that lived in his
heart for Faith, it would always be there. She was the candleglow in the
darkness that had kept him sane all those bleak years growing up, even
when he wasn't consciously aware of it. She was his anchor to sanity,
his life-preserver in an ocean of despair.
And now she would become his joy, and he would be hers.
He shook his head, holding her face in his hands. "You didn't, Faith.
For me, love is all about being there, no matter what. I haven't been
very good at that. But maybe I can learn from you how it's supposed to
"I don't want to be your teacher," she breathed as she nestled
against his chest. "We talked about that, remember?"
"Mmm-hmmm. But there are plenty of things left to learn, for both
of us. There's a whole world out there to explore. And through our eyes,
it's practically brand new."
"All we need is the time to discover it."
"And the freedom to go where we want, without looking over our shoulders."
He held her close, and sighed with contentment. "Soon, Faith. We'll
* * * * * * * * *
Miss Parker leaned against the tree, facing the slight breeze that lifted
her hair and teased her face with it. She smoothed the lock back in place,
concentrating on the little ache that squeezed her heart. It was best this
way, she knew. They would be good together, and take care of each other.
She had Peter, after all. He was exciting in his own way, and didn't
come with the complicated baggage that Jarod brought with him. But she
couldn't forget how it felt to be in the arms of her childhood friend
beneath the snow of Barrow. Jarod knew her better than anyone ever would,
but that knowledge pushed them too close to the pain that would always
lie between them.
Yes, this was best. Jarod and Faith would find their way together, and
soon he would forget that he had ever slept with Morgan, once upon a time.
It was a fairy tale, a dream that wasn't really real.
But as she walked away from the circus campground beneath the stars,
she knew that she would never forget Alaska, or the sound of Jarod's discovery
of his love for Faith.
"All we need is time," she repeated softly to the night, stricken
by the sound of the emotion in the voices of the man and woman, drifting
outside through the open bedroom window.
Morgan and Jarod had never had that, and never would.
She wished them happiness as she headed for home.
* * * * * * * * *
Paul Jennings' apartment
"Stay," he pleaded, snuggling up to her under the sheets. "I
just got back from a long trip, and I missed you."
"I have to go to work, Paul," Emily shot back, frustrated by
her own desire to give in, conflicting with her sense of responsibility.
"I have an interview. I can't just blow off my job, you know."
"Sure you could," he argued gently, grinning. "You can
call in sick and reschedule."
She sighed irritably. "Don't tempt me." Throwing off the covers,
she headed for the bathroom, showered and stepped out, looking around
the cabinetry for a towel, and finding none. She called to him, asking
for him to bring her one as she continued to pull open drawers and doors,
hoping to get lucky.
The dressing room closet yielded a small cardboard box, and without thinking,
she flipped it open. The black material caught her eye. Reaching in, she
lifted a piece of it and recognized the shape instantly. It was a hood,
eyeless and half finished, the stitching around the hem only half done.
Realization dawned with horrifying clarity, and she shoved the box back
into place, stood up and continued to dig through the cabinets, hands
trembling, as her boyfriend came through the door with a towel in hand.
He reached for her, but she dodged his grasp, ducking back into the bathroom
to dry off and finish dressing.
"I've got to go," she reiterated, hurrying into the living
room and grabbing her purse and keys. She was aware that she was trembling,
but hoped he didn't notice. "See you later."
It took all her strength of will to tiptoe up to him and give him a kiss
on the cheek before she bolted. He seemed a little startled by her abrupt
departure, but she'd have to deal with that later
if she ever saw
him again. As quickly as she could, she ran downstairs to her car and
drove off, shaking like a leaf in a gale.
Blocks away, she had to pull over and park. Burying her face in her hands,
she wept until she had no more tears. Her boyfriend was the Executioner.
The man she loved was Yuri.
She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. "Jarod? It's Emily."
Her confession poured out in a jumble of facts and emotional outbursts.
"I have to see you. Please, Jarod. I need you. There's so much I
need to tell you
The meeting was set, and she started to drive. Almost as an afterthought,
she called in and rescheduled her interview, taking the highway out of
town and headed for Delaware. Jarod would know what to do. Jarod would
be able to make all the right decisions, since she had made such a royal
mess of everything. Emily couldn't trust herself any longer with the secrets
she had kept so close to her heart. She was no longer sure that any decision
she had made in the last year was correct, and she would tell Jarod everything.
He would help her. He would understand.
By the time she reached the meeting place, he was already waiting. She
clung to him as she spilled her bottled-up emotions, and he held her tightly,
assuring her that all would be well. He took the news well, and when she
was finished, he just held her for a long time, comforting her as only
family could do.
"I want to see our mom," he told her later, when she had calmed
down. "I know how hard it was for you, keeping it to yourself. You
thought you were doing the right thing, but I think
I hope it will
be good for both of us to meet, in spite of her condition. Maybe
He smiled sadly then. "Maybe seeing me will help her reconnect with
"The doctors said the drugs would take a while to work," Emily
told him. "She's just started the medication, so don't get your hopes
up." She sighed, devastated by the sudden turn of events. "But
if you think it'll help, let's go. I'm ready."
"I want somebody else to come, too," he told her, and pulled
out his cell phone to call.
* * * * * * * * *
Upstate New York
Cox unlocked the door with the key the real estate agent had given him.
The deed to this place had apparently been part of a bequest from a relative
he didn't know he had, until the lawyer came to give him the papers. The
land itself was worth twice the market value, but Cox was intrigued by
the reputation of this place that the agent had been so quick to share
"A real haunted house, eh?" said the doctor as he stepped inside.
Sunlight glimmering with dust motes streamed in through the dirty windows,
revealing that the house had been abandoned for months, maybe even years.
He pulled back some of the dust covers and checked out the furniture,
surprised to discover that the item in the middle of the room was an expensive
motion detector, paired up with a thermal mapping device set up to scan
the entire room at intervals. On the table where the machines sat was
a small red notebook.
Picking it up, Cox recognized the handwriting instantly.
"So you were here, too, Jarod," he said aloud to the room,
taking note of the fine layer of dust on everything. "What did you
find here, pray tell?"
The anticipation was just delicious, and Cox moved further into the house,
exploring each room, the equipment still set up and in working order,
and started switching everything on. Whatever the Pretender expected him
to discover in that house, he intended to be prepared. The anticipation
of what lay ahead excited him, so much so that he could hardly manage
to unpack. He stored his things in the master bedroom upstairs, and wondered
if Jarod had rigged the house with some sort of unpleasant surprise.
He didn't believe in such things as an afterlife, and began to wonder
if the inheritance might have been an expensive gift from the errant Pretender,
complete with booby traps. But everything he'd seen so far assured him
that this was just another place Jarod had been and left behind when he
was done with it. The house hadn't been touched in a very long time. And
even if nothing happened and he spent a peaceful night in the dusty old
place, he had a great new facility that just might be suitable for conversion
into another laboratory. Its location far from the nearest neighbors would
allow him plenty of privacy for his own personal experiments, ones that
even the Centre would not condone.
This would be the birthplace of scientific breakthroughs that would make
the whole world hold its breath.
Cox was pleased. This, he thought, was the best gift of all -- one that
didn't have any hidden meanings. It was exactly as it seemed: a haunted
house, for someone who appreciated the dead.
* * * * * * * * *
Our Lady of Refuge Convent
By nightfall they had arrived. Emily met with the sisters and led the
way to Margaret's room, making sure she was first in her mother's line
Margaret stared out the window, eyes blinking automatically, seeing nothing.
"Mom, it's me," Emily whispered. "I've brought you a present.
I've brought Jarod to see you." She looked back at her brother, waiting
for him to approach.
Jarod felt frozen. Heart pounding, mouth suddenly dry, he stood in the
doorway of the cozy room and worshipped the sight of the red-haired woman
sitting so still in the wheelchair, his heart leaping with joy, breaking
with sadness to see her like that. He forced his legs to work, to carry
him closer, bringing him around to the front of the chair as his heartbeat
thundered in his throat. Emily rose to give him room to get closer, and
he knelt before his invalid mother.
He swallowed hard. "Mom," he whispered hopefully, "it's
me. It's Jarod. I've found you at last. I've been searching
He gazed up into those beautiful brown eyes, and saw that they were unmistakably
blank. Her lovely, gentle face was lined with care, a sprinkling of gray
in her long copper locks. She was much older than the photograph he had
carried faithfully with him all the years he'd been free. Still, hers
was the most beautiful face he had ever seen.
"I love you, Mom," he breathed, and reached out to clasp her
hands, neatly folded in her lap. "I missed you so much. I never gave
He pleaded with her gently, trying every psychological trick he knew
to break through to her, but hope faded quickly. It was useless, and he
knew that, no matter how badly he wanted -- needed -- for his mother to
hear him, to see him, she could not. Unbearable pain had driven her so
deeply inside herself that she could no longer get out, not even for him.
Jarod bent his head to her lap, embraced her waist, and let the tears
flow. His body shook with soul-deep sobs as his grief and utter defeat
poured out. He had found her at last, the only remaining missing piece
of his life, but she still remained out of reach.
Faith stole up silently beside the chair. She placed her hand lightly
on Margaret's shoulder and closed her eyes. "Mother love," she
Jarod lifted his head at the sound, looking from his girlfriend to his
mother, wondering briefly what Faith meant. He had brought her along as
emotional support for himself, and to introduce her to his mother if things
went well. But as he watched, he understood what she was doing. Faith
was looking for a way into Margaret's emotions, to help her find the way
back to her son.
"Be careful," he advised her. "Don't hurt yourself."
Faith nodded, but did not open her eyes.
He felt the warmth of Faith's love in his heart, and was glad she had
come with him. Even if she wasn't successful, she might still help Margaret
make a little progress, and he was grateful for that. He waited, hoping,
but as each moment passed, that child-like hope faded away to bleak acceptance.
There was no way Margaret would come back to them just then. It would
take time, therapy and medical treatment, and he would have to resign
himself to that.
His heart shattered all over again, and he rested his cheek in her lap
again, resigned to the loss. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, mom,"
he whispered. "I tried to get back to you. I really tried--"
Warm hands smoothed through his dark hair and across his cheek.
He looked up, startled, not daring to hope that he recognized the sound
of that beloved voice.
Chocolate brown eyes just like his own stared down at him, filled with
confusion and disbelief. "Is it really you, my baby?"
"Mom? Mom!" He had to restrain himself from shouting. He had
to remember that her condition was still fragile, that he should move
slowly and keep himself under control. He didn't want to frighten her
into her shell again, but he was beside himself with ecstasy. "It's
me, Mom. It's Jarod. Oh, Mom, I missed you so much!"
He reached up and kissed her, and found himself pulling her up out of
her chair to a standing position. He embraced her, glorying in the feel
of her arms coming up around him. He felt her trembling, her body shuddering
"My baby. Jarod, my baby, you're home
He caught a glimpse of Emily over his shoulder, beaming and gasping with
joyous wonder. "Oh, my God, Jarod! You did it!"
"No. It wasn't me." He looked at Faith, and thanked her with
his eyes. "Mom, this is Faith. She's
I love her. I wanted you
to meet her."
Margaret slipped in his grasp, her knees giving way, and he helped her
back into the chair. "Faith, I'm
" She sighed softly. "I'm
sorry, I'm just
suddenly exhausted. Please, forgive me."
"It's all right, ma'am," the blonde assured her nervously.
She smiled a little, obviously pleased to have helped. She had done something
good with her talent for a change, and the joy of that was evident in
Jarod reached out and squeezed her hand, then turned back to his mother.
"You get some rest. I know this is very tiring for you."
"Yes," Margaret nodded. She looked over at Emily and smiled.
"You found him, baby. Thank you."
"Let me help you to bed, mama," Emily offered, wheeling the
chair over to the nearby bed. When Margaret lay beneath the covers, her
face relaxed and at peace, she smoothed back the copper locks with a smile.
"We'll let you sleep for a little while, and then we'll be back for
another visit. Okay?"
"All right, dear. I'm sorry. I don't
know why I'm
tired all of a sudden."
Jarod bent over the bed and kissed his mother on the forehead. "You've
had a long journey, mom. But you're back with us now. Welcome home."
She took his face in her hands and kissed him, stroked his cheek fondly,
and sighed into the pillow. "Come back soon, baby. My sweet Jarod.
I love you, honey."
A nun came into the room just as the three visitors left, and in the
hall outside Jarod swept up his sister in a hug.
"Thank you, Emily. Thank you for taking care of our mom." He
kissed her, and let her go reluctantly. "But we can't stay. We have
He glanced at Faith, at the worry resurfacing in her eyes. "We have
something important we have to do. But once we've finished that, we'll
be back to stay, as long as mom wants, till she's ready to come home.
"Okay. I'll stay with her, then." Emily's expression darkened.
"But what do I do about P-- Yuri?"
"You don't," he ordered, sobering. "Let me handle that.
She nodded. "I trust you, Jarod. Be careful. He's dangerous."
"I know, Em." He kissed her forehead. "I'll call you later.
Look after Mom for me."
He started to leave, then turned with a smile. "And call Dad. Maybe
we can have Mom transferred to Dallas. She'll get the right kind of care
"I will, big brother."
He dashed back to her, kissed her again, and turned away to hurry Faith
back to Delaware, and the rest of their mission. He hoped the first time
he saw his mother wouldn't be the last, but it was a risk he had to take.
There were people counting on him, on all of them, and he couldn't back
out now, not even for Margaret.
She would be proud of him, however it turned out, once she knew what
he had done.