Chameleon

 

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Elan Hotel
New York City

"Pleasant night, sir?" Martin asked as he stepped into the suite the next morning.

"Excellent," Jarod assured him, though that was far from the truth. The demons were back to torment him nightly, stronger now than they had ever been. "Ready to start a busy day."

"Your assistant arrived only moments ago. We’re settling her in her quarters and will show her up shortly.”

"Excellent." Jarod was curious about this particular woman. She came highly recommended by an old friend, one who assured him that she would be discreet about Jarod’s assumed identity.

Martin gave him a smart bow and stepped out of the room. "Ms. Destry," he announced, stepped aside to allow her in, and retreated quickly, pulling the door closed behind him.

Jarod smiled with approval and offered his hand. “Dr. Fowkes said you knew Wall Street better than anyone.” He appraised the woman’s appearance -- sixtyish and graying but well preserved, dressed in a conservative power suit and sensible shoes, this woman moved with a sense of assurance and straight-forwardness that Jarod liked immediately.

Jean Destry shook his hand and studied him over the tops of her Ben Franklin glasses. “Daniel said I was to treat you like an heir to the throne,” she returned. “That I was to do whatever you wanted, no questions asked. That’s not usually how I operate, but I trust him. He said you helped him with a dire situation, and that whatever you were up to here, it was to help someone who needed it. Is that right?”

“I’m not sure. Just checking into things at the moment, but it could certainly develop into that.”

She nodded. “I’ve been checking over your portfolio. Very impressive... Very new.”

He chuckled, and rubbed his chin. “I seem to have a talent for making money whenever I want it.”

“But you don’t spend much of it, that I can tell. No real estate holdings, no corporate interests. No personal history…” She left that hanging, as if hoping he would fill her in on his own.

Instead, he gazed at her from beneath his dark brows and offered a secretive smile. “Having a past erased so well is a very expensive thing.” That would confuse her, threaten her a little, and make her less interested in digging. Hopefully, she would leave the subject alone and simply go on Dr. Daniel Fowkes’ recommendation that he was to be trusted implicitly. But if she did start snooping, he had answers for that, too. “Let’s get down to business, shall we, Ms. Destry? I want an appointment with Angus MacCaffrey. His company needs a transfusion, and I may just be inclined to give him one.”

“Of course, sir. I’ll get right on it.”

* * * * * * * * *

Chairman's Office

They were everywhere, spying on him.

Mr. Parker stood by the window, looking out at the green lawn, the cliffs and the ocean. People walked from the building to the parking lot and from their cars to the building, few of them glancing up at the tower where his office presided over the landscape, but he knew they were watching anyway.

Nervously, he glanced around the room, wishing he could see the surveillance devices he was certain had been planted sometime recently. They were watching him, waiting for him to slip up, waiting for the backlash of Fountain. He could feel it.

He turned back to the window for a moment, then stepped back toward the desk to return to work.

"Guilty conscience?"

He glanced up at the familiar voice, touched with an otherworldly echo. Catherine was standing there yet again, bruised and battered as she had been that awful Thanksgiving four months before he'd had her implanted with Major Charles's seed. She had defied him, endangered the Centre, but she was too valuable to destroy. Had she not faked her death, she would have been imprisoned soon enough.

But Catherine was dead now. Raines had shown him the footage of her murder and the body, before having her cremated. So, she couldn't possibly be standing there.

"Leave me alone!" he barked at the ghost, and struggled to keep his attention on the papers before him.

"Would you rather I made an appointment?"

He glanced up again, and this time the image was dressed in modern clothes, with shorter hair and stiletto heels.

"Angel?"

"Yes, Daddy?"

He sighed, wilting with relief. "Of course you don't have to make an appointment. I'm just busy, is all."

"Then I'll be quick. Why did you send Jarod a message to find Yuri?"

That took him completely off guard. Not only was she good, she was fast. Just as he had raised her. "Because Yuri is a loose cannon. He has a destructive personal agenda, and no one but Jarod can catch him. As long as he's out there, we might as well get what use we can out of him. This kind of do-gooder work is right up his alley." He frowned. "If Jarod was still here, we'd have had him do simulations to help us catch Yuri, but since he's not…"

She raised one elegantly sweeping eyebrow. "You don't think I could catch this guy?"

He chuckled. "You knew Jarod, angel, which worked in our favor when we put you on his trail. But you don't know Yuri. By the time you got up to speed, he'd be gone. We're not sure exactly where he is, but we know he's hurting us. He's subtle, careful. And he must be stopped. MacCaffrey isn't the only contractor he's hit, and we don't know where to start looking. We sent Jarod that information as a starting point. He'll figure it out from there."

"So do you want me to back off Jarod till he gets the job done?"

He pursed his lips, thinking. "For the moment, yes. As soon as we get word that he's captured Yuri, disabled or even located him, I'll let you know."

"I'll let you know," she corrected, and turned to leave.

Parker chuckled. "That's my girl," he crowed.

For a moment she froze in mid-stride. Without looking back, she resumed her exit and let the doors ease closed automatically in her wake. He had done a damn fine job raising that girl. She was a force of nature, indomitable, and she owed all of that to him.

Even if she wasn't his own flesh and blood, he was still her father. She was his, and would always be. But if she ever found out the truth, he knew he would never be able to trust her again. He would make it quick and clean because he owed her that, for all the years of loyalty and love she had lavished on him, without getting more than a few crumbs here and there in return.

Sometimes it pleased him to look at her, and gloat in his triumph over his traitorous wife. But other times, like just now, it was like looking at a ghost that would haunt him forever. When those feelings came, he could hardly bear the sight of her.

Parker shook himself to try to rid his mind of the thought, and get on with business. There was so much to be done in getting ready for an apocalypse. The world needed him… it just didn't know that fact yet.

* * * * * * * * *

MacCaffrey Enterprises
Conference room, 27th floor

Angus MacCaffrey was president emeritus of MacCaffrey Enterprises. He had stepped in to take the reins after his successor’s untimely demise, and was all too willing to meet with the enigmatic Mr. Jarod Pendleton. Ms. Destry accompanied the Pretender to the 27th floor conference room, and Jarod sat at one end of the convex shaped table, with Angus himself at the other, and flanked by two of his assistants.

Jarod recognized one of them instantly, though he couldn’t quite place her in his past. She was an attractive blonde, her hair upswept into a fashionable do. Dressed in a black business suit accented with a red silk blouse, she had given him a knowing half-smile that bespoke the same recognition, and sat down after shaking his hand, right after the introductions. Jarod turned his attention to the other man, MacCaffrey’s head of security.

He was an attractive young man, tall and powerful looking, with a gleam of keen intelligence in his chocolate brown eyes. Jarod saw him measuring their guest, and told himself to watch out for that one. He could cause problems, or possibly end up as a great source of aid.

“Ms. Argent, Mr. Rostov, Mr. MacCaffrey,” Jarod began. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I know some good things about your various enterprises, and would hate to see any of them go under. I have a proposal here…” He reached for a slim leather binder that Ms. Destry handed him. “…that outlines the amounts and incremental stages of investment I wish to extend to you. This plan should help MacCaffrey Enterprises shore up its flagging stocks and continue with the research that has been an industry hallmark in each of the various fields.”

“What do you want, Mr. Pendleton?” MacCaffrey demanded, his Scottish accent lightly flavoring his deep, elegant voice. “People don’t offer something for nothing. And especially not in this city.”

“Call me Jarod, please. And I know I’ll get my money’s worth in return. The inhalant system for delivery of diabetes medication has proven successful; and the expansion of testing for other drugs viable for alveolar or patch delivery will be a boon. Nobody likes needles. And the cybernetic limb replacements are far ahead of what anybody else is working on at the moment. Not to mention the experimentation for genetically based cures for disease. Who wouldn't want to be on board for all that, when it's ready to hit the market?"

One of MacCaffrey’s thick black brows arched upward on his forehead, contrasting severely with the snow-white of his hair and beard. “May I ask how you knew about those developments, Mr. Pendleton? None of those projects have been released for public commentary yet.”

Jarod smiled. “Let’s just say I have an inside source.” He waited while the three looked over the proposal, knowing it was too good to resist.

MacCaffrey frowned up at him. “You can’t blame me for being suspicious. With dollar amounts this size, there’s always a drawback. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jarod instinctively glanced under the table to make sure both of his were still on. After a beat, he got the inference and shrugged. “There’s no catch, I assure you. I want to invest because I believe in what you’re doing, in the benefits people will reap when these projects are realized. As for the money…” He leaned back in his chair. “I have more than I’ll ever need of that. I’m not a greedy man, Mr. MacCaffrey. Money’s easy to make, if you know how. I’d rather do something worthwhile with the cash than let it sit in banks accruing interest.”

MacCaffrey sat back and regarded his visitor with astonishment and a grain of disbelief. “A truly philanthropic soul? You’ll pardon me if I have a little trouble believing that, Mr. Pendleton. Especially from a man with a fortune this size. I know the rich.”

“I’d prefer it if you’d call me Jarod.”

“Of course, of course. And you must call me Angus.” MacCaffrey stood. “Ms. Argent tells me from your initial contact with us that you’re staying at Elan. I’d be pleased if you’d accept quarters upstairs, in our guest suites, instead.” He flashed a white, toothy smile. “My Scottish sensibilities find spending such exorbitant sums on a bed and bath distasteful. With us, you can stay for free, and receive all the same courtesies.”

“While you check out my financial stability and the terms of my offer,” Jarod added with a chuckle. “I’d be happy to accept, Angus, on one condition.” His eyes strayed to the security chief, who stared back impassively. “No surveillance in the suite. I have a thing about being watched.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged,” the elder man agreed. He patted Rostov on the shoulder. “My young associate here has been a godsend, discovering leaks we didn’t know we had. Pity we had to lose a good man like Al Jergens in order to get him. But as long as you check in and out with our guest relations coordinator, I’m sure we can forego keeping an eye on you when you’re in the house.”

“And your guest relations coordinator would be…?”

The young woman sitting beside MacCaffrey stood. “That falls under my list of duties, Mr. Pendleton,” she assured him.

Jarod was certain he knew her from somewhere, but the elegant clothes didn’t fit. Somehow, he pictured her in jeans instead, her hair drawn back into a haphazard ponytail. Then he recognized her. Only her hair was brown and her name hadn’t been Argent. It was Kim Peace.

“Would you come with me, please?” she asked him. “I’ll show you to your quarters.”

Jarod turned to Ms. Destry. “Would you see to having our things moved, Ms. Destry?” He handed her a platinum credit card. “This will pay for our rooms.”

“Of course, sir.” Destry gathered up her things and headed for the elevators, punching the Down button.

Ms. Argent pressed the Up button and waited for a car to arrive. When they were safely ensconced in the privacy of the lift, she turned to face him, a broad smile revealing small dimples in her cheeks. "Well, Delaware, I never expected to meet you here. Out of your element, aren't you?"

"I thought your name was Kim Peace."

"And yours was Green, wasn't it, Mr. Pendleton?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "So what are you planning here? Are you a con man, or what?"

Jarod was starting out in trouble. He would either have to keep her close and hope he could convince her to keep her mouth shut, or get rid of her fast and hope she'd be discreet and not tell everyone that he was a fake. If she told anyone what she knew about him, his mission would be over before it began.

"I could ask the same of you, since you were a bounty hunter the last time I saw you. I hear that makes pretty good money, if you can handle the risk."

"Money wasn’t the object of the exercise,” she assured him. “Mike Bodie's bounty would have paid for a lot of what I needed. Too bad you solved all his legal problems."

"What was it that you needed that $20,000 would buy?"

She sighed. "I was hunting for information. Still am.”

“Information on what?”

Her smile faded. “That’s personal.”

The door slid open, and she stepped out, leading the way to a security desk in a small lobby that looked much like that of an elegant hotel. Jarod and Kim walked through a metal detector to enter the area, and she registered him with the guard on duty. They gave him a guest pass which acted as a card key, and Kim escorted him into a large, well appointed suite at the end of the corridor. The living area boasted a glass wall looking out on the bay, with a splendid view of Ellis Island and the great statue standing watch upon it.

“Make yourself at home,” she told him. “You won’t have to worry about unwanted visitors here, and everything’s free, including your meals. Order through the computer here…” She indicated the unit set up on a large desk facing the window. “…and you also have Internet access if you want it. There’s a separate line next to it - here - for you to plug in your laptop, if you prefer. The lines are secure and untapped, if you worry about that sort of thing.”

Jarod wandered around the room, looking for the hidden cameras and microphones he knew were already installed. One by one, he located them, blocking the lenses with some nearby object or turning the camera toward a wall where possible. When he finished his sweep of the room, he heard applause and turned to see Rostov standing in the doorway.

“Looks like you got them all,” he cheered. “I’m impressed. Next thing you know, you’ll be doing my job. Unless, of course, working for a living is beneath you.”

“There’s still the camera in the building across the street, focused on the suite windows,” Jarod returned, clasping his hands behind him. “But you’ll have that one shut down, won’t you, Mr. Rostov?”

The younger man chuckled, his hooded, dark eyes gleaming with appreciation. “Very good, very good, Jarod. I’ll have to watch out for you.” He winked and left the suite, closing the door behind himself.

Jarod strolled to the windows and closed the drapes. “So how long have you worked for Angus?”

“Six months. Not that it’s any of your business.” She booted up the computer.

“I’ll bet being in one job that long is beginning to chafe. Isn’t it?” Jarod was fishing, but something about her told him his instincts were right. A killer resume would have been necessary to get that job, one almost too good to be true. But her previous position as bounty hunter would not have appeared on it anywhere. Instead, there would be entries illustrating a first-class education, degrees in business and public relations, possibly experience in the media. Who she really was would be hidden under impenetrable layers of camouflage, just like his own history. Only he was also fairly certain that she had never been at the Centre.

So what was she still hunting - or rather, who?

She sighed wearily. “Here’s the menu that automatically comes up when you boot up the system. It’s pretty self explanatory, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with it.” She raised her eyes to meet his at last, flinging a silent challenge at him. “Look, I’ll keep your secrets if you keep mine. Do we have a deal?”

“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

Kim crossed her arms again. “Oh, I’ll find that out, Delaware. Trust me. And if your intentions with Angus are anything other than honorable…”

“You can trust me, Kim,” he assured her.

She lifted her chin in defiance. “I don’t trust anybody,” she shot back. “If you need anything, you can call me. My extension's 1741.” Eyeing him warily for another moment, she turned and left him quickly behind.

* * * * * * * * *

An hour later, Kim took a call from the desk manager on the guest floor.

“I think you should come down here and okay this personally,” he told her.

“What is it?”

“Mr. Pendleton’s things have arrived, and there’s this briefcase with some sort of device inside. I’ve called Mr. Rostov, and he’s on his way, but I thought you should see it, too.”

“I’ll be right up.”

Five minutes later, Kim stepped off the elevator just ahead of Rostov coming out of another car. They met at the security desk, where Ms. Destry stood with a cartload of luggage, including the silver Halliburton. The guard took his hand off the case to allow them to examine it, and Ms. Destry hurried down the hall toward the guest suite.

“We X-rayed all the luggage like we’re supposed to,” the guard told her. “But this one had shielding, so we had Ms. Destry open it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Kim took note of the view screen and the neat rows of small optical discs. “Looks like some form of old technology DVD player,” she guessed, and reached for one of the discs. “Let me see if I can get it to work.”

“If you do, you could be arrested for industrial espionage,” Jarod called, coming quickly up the hallway in response to Ms. Destry’s hasty summons. “It is a playback device, as you guessed, and those are storage discs. The information stored on them is confidential, so unless you want me to take my offer and leave, you’ll let me have that case and its contents.”

Rostov straightened. “I’ll make you a deal. You keep the discs and I’ll take the case for a more thorough examination. I want to make sure it’s not concealing any kind of weaponry. Can you handle that?”


Jarod saw the determination in the security chief’s eyes and knew there would be no denying him. He nodded. “Fair enough. But it had better be in working order when I get it back.”

Rostov nodded to the guard, who began to put the discs into a small box he took from underneath the desk. “Not to worry. I’m good with my hands.”

The guard handed the box toward Jarod, tripped and spilled the discs all over the carpeted floor. Apologizing profusely, he helped Jarod and Ms. Destry gather them up again. Rostov closed the case and sneered at the uniformed man, glancing at his nametag. “Let me give you a tip, there, Bramson. When your IQ rises to 50, sell.” He turned on his heel and strode smoothly toward the elevators.

Kim watched the doors close, her eyes narrowed, and then bent to pick up one of the discs that had rolled behind her shoes. She slipped it into the pocket of her suit jacket and reached to pick up the next nearest one, dropping that one in Jarod’s box. She didn’t think he had seen her palm the first disc, and after she’d had a good look at it, she would find a way to put it back with the others when he wasn’t looking. Anything that would give her more information on this mysterious man would be useful in keeping ahead of him, and she needed every advantage she could get.

* * * * * * * * *

Broots' Office

Under the heading of Red Files, Broots and Miss Parker had entered:
Rebecca, Deceased
Jarod, Project Proteus
Angelo, Project Argus
Morgan Parker, Project Artemis
Damon, Deceased
Dara, Deceased
Mason, Project Achilles
Lyle, Project Arkham

Under Blue Files:
Kyle, Deceased
Faith, Project Looking Glass
Ethan, Project Mirage
Gemini, Project Gemini
Sun-Chai, Project Chimera
Yuri, Project Shiva.
Pele and Thor remained a mystery.

The Yellow Files were all grouped under the project name Seraphim:
Raphael
Dominique
Angelique
Gideon
Tempest
Uriel
Michaela
Gabriel

But there was also the enigmatic sub-folder, Apocalypse. That was going to take some serious talent to uncover, and with all the other items on his list, he wasn’t sure it would wait until later. He instituted an automated search to see what turned up there, and continued with his other research in the meantime.

Broots had nearly all of the Blue Files pegged. He had set up the electronic database as Miss Parker had ordered, buried deep in the mainframe and firewalled against any intruders. It was the best piece of programming he'd ever done, and he was quite proud of it. All he needed was a little more time to search through the archives for more on Projects Pele and Thor, but for the moment he was concentrating on Project Artemis.

Apparently, Mr. Parker had started the project when Catherine died, and all of the training was kept in sealed files located only through numbered archive disks. He retrieved them personally, and put them in a locked box that had not left his person since he returned to his office. At the moment, it was sitting on his lap, waiting for a call from Miss Parker to let him know when she had returned to her office.

Someone knocked on his door, and pushed in before he could answer.

"Valentine! What the heck are you doing here?"

Lyle's assistant grinned and seated himself in the guest chair wedged against the wall in Broots' tiny office. "Just paying a friendly visit to a fellow tech."

Broots felt himself draw up inside. This guy was all smoothness and charm outside, but he could feel the threat, hidden away as it was beneath all the suaveness and good looks. He started to sweat, instinctively clutching the archive box closer to his body with his left hand. If he was going to not look suspicious and guilty, he was going to have to play along.

"Sure thing. What can I do for you?"

Valentine chuckled. "Well, you know how my boss is about computers, I suppose."

Broots remembered, and laughed. "Yeah. He thinks they're, like, evil or something."

The other man smiled and nodded.

Broots felt himself relaxing, buying into the guy's act. He wanted to make that work for him, but he would have to be on guard. He knew Valentine was good. That was why Lyle had brought him on board. "He just doesn't understand how valuable a tool they can be."

"You can find almost anything on a computer, if it's there to find," Valentine mused. "If you just know how and where to look."

Broots nodded. "Yeah, if you've got the skills."

"Maybe you could show me a few things, sometime," the other man suggested congenially. "I've been looking for some of Lyle's old records, and can't locate more than a few bits and pieces of things. But I'll bet you could come up with everything, couldn't you, Mr. Broots?"

"Sure. What do you need?" Broots put both hands on his keyboard, getting ready, anticipating another morsel of information dropping into his lap.

Valentine grinned. "Project Shiva."

"That's not--" Broots caught himself. He knew it wasn't one of Lyle's projects. That had belonged to Mr. Raines. "--anything I've ever heard of. Where should I start the search?"

The other man shrugged. "Archives, maybe? The project was canceled in January of last year." He rose and started to move around the desk, to look over Broots' shoulder.

The tech hurriedly closed all the windows he had open of a sensitive nature before Valentine moved into position. Broots proceeded to show the other man how to query the Centre mainframe, which would help him dig up most of the routinely available files on that subject… except, of course, those Broots had already retrieved and moved to Miss Parker's secret database.

"Yeah, I found those already," Valentine told him. "I’m looking for others that won't pop up off the regular search engines."

"There's the archives," Broots suggested. "Though not all of those files are available electronically. Sometimes you have to locate the numbered reference and actually go down there to match it up to a disk or a paper file."

"And how would I do that?" Valentine leaned closer, hovering right over Broots.

"Plug in the word 'archive' in the search parameters," Broots answered, sliding further down in his chair, to try to hide the box of discs in his lap from any casual glances. "After that, you'd have to do some programming to do a more extensive search, but I'm not authorized to show you that."

Valentine nodded, apparently satisfied. "Thanks, Broots. I think I'll be busy in Archives for a while." He smiled and offered a casual salute, then sauntered out of the office.

Broots melted into his chair for a moment. That had been close, and scary. He phoned Miss Parker's office and as soon as she answered, he asked her to come straight to his office, rather than risk someone like Valentine seeing him with the disks and taking them away before he could get them to his boss. Working for Miss Parker carried a lot more weight these days, but Lyle's henchman frightened him. He had read the man's file, and knew what Valentine was capable of doing.

And Broots didn't want to be there if things got personal.

* * * * * * * * *

Guest Suite
MacCaffrey Enterprises

Jarod sat down at the desk. He explored what was available through the company mainframe, and then did a little programming to search through personnel files. First, he looked up Kim Argent, and found pretty much what he expected. Next, he checked on Rostov with similar results. Perfect resumes, without a hint of anything out of place, but with Kim, he knew her credits were as fictitious as his own.

Almost as an afterthought, he checked on the name Al Jergens. The late security chief had a typical career, and was at the top of his game when he passed away suddenly six months earlier. Jergens had driven his car full speed into a tree on a lonely stretch of road in rural Delaware, not too far from a town called Blue Cove.

That was a little too much of a coincidence for Jarod. He decided to look into that incident, adding it to the list of other recent deaths of MacCaffrey employees taking place in the last year or so. The company's financial troubles stemmed directly from the radical changes in leadership following a string of deaths, not the least of which was Henry Calfax, whose apparent suicide had resulted in Angus stepping back into the role of active president after a two-year retirement.

Discreetly covering up his intrusion into the company mainframe, Jarod plugged in his laptop and instituted an Internet search for the name Rostov.

Among the many entries was one that sent a chill up his spine. Rostov was a Russian city made famous for being the center of the hunting grounds for one Andrei Chikatilo, the former Soviet Union's most prolific, most horrifyingly efficient serial killer, dubbed Citizen X during the long hunt for his identity.

The Soviets had kept the murders to themselves, rather than asking other nations to avail their resources to help them catch the killer. Jarod was glad that he had not been put on that job, since he was still a child when the first murders were discovered in the 70's. Chikatilo murdered women and children for 12 years before the Russians finally identified him.

Jarod finished his search, and turned instead to constructing a history of Ms. Argent. He knew what she did during a certain period in her life, and that was as good a place to start as any. Bounty hunters had to register at the reservation when Mike Bodie had been a wanted man, and Kim was one of them. He would take whatever fiction she had used then, and extrapolate from there. She was still hunting, and he wanted to know what it was that lay at the end of her search.

On to Act III

 
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