Stolen Moments

 

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Simmons and Hart Bookshop
Tuesday

Jarod accessed the shop’s ebay account and made notations on the progress of the auction. Five minutes passed, during which time Jarod had secured a new bolt hole for the Lynfords. That, too, was part of his new mission. He had to do things to keep people safe from the Centre. Before it had just been whatever caught his attention, without thinking about it. Now, it was more like a crusade.

The final bid came through, and Jarod noted the address to send the book just as his laptop announced that he had mail. Jarod opened it on autopilot, and swore under his breath. There on the screen was another stylized Asian doll. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that both dolls wore elaborately painted faces resembling a Kabuki mask, one which symbolized death. The annoyance that flashed through him at any reminder he might be helpless in the face of the Centre’s plans brought him an inspiration.

Lyle.

He remembered the Asian women Lyle liked to keep around. Perhaps it was time he sent Lyle a little surprise in retaliation.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's car
somewhere near Washington, DC

Morgan Parker had a busy day in front of her and the ride wasn’t made more comfortable by the fact that Broots was with her. He kept glancing at her as though he wanted to ask her something, but didn't really want the answer. Once again, he tugged at his shirt collar, as if struggling to escape those unfamiliar clothes. It was driving her nuts. She wanted him along to provide a distraction and let her explore some things she needed to find out. But she didn’t want to confide in him. She didn’t want to confide in anyone until she had things a lot clearer in her own mind.

“If you’re hot, I’ll turn on the air conditioner,” Parker commented. Both she and Broots were dressed in business suits. Perhaps the new suit was making him uncomfortable. Better that his clothes were bothering him than her actions.

Broots let her remark pass with a simple “no.” He didn’t expect that Miss Parker would believe he knew how to wear a suit, nor did he think it wise at the moment to taunt her. This particular trip had Miss Parker wound a bit tighter than usual, and that meant choosing his remarks carefully.

They drove on for several miles. Broots looked at Miss Parker and sighed. “Are you going to be angry for the whole trip?”

“Probably.”

“At least you could tell me why you’re angry. Then I’d know why I’m ducking.”

“Don’t worry about it. After all this time, you should know that anything to do with finding Jarod brings out the worst in me.”

“Yeah.” Broots turned his attention to the scenery passing in front of his window. Right now Parker wasn’t going to talk, so he might as well continue to make out his grocery list in his head.

Parker found a convenient parking place, and proceeded toward the building. Broots followed her, hearing the beep of the remote car lock without turning around. He didn’t really have to do anything here except provide a distraction if Parker needed one, so he could be as relaxed as possible.

She stopped to show her identification at the registration desk and proceeded in. “I’m expected,” she said as she signed the electronic register. The credentials Parker flashed indicated that she was part of the FBI, ranking slightly higher than the agent she’d come to question. Broots had done a very professional job forging them, and an even better job of not looking guilty. For a man who rarely wore a suit and tie, Broots managed to look at home in them. He handed in his credentials as well with an ease that told Parker he’d been practicing. In one sense, this was a dry run of Broots’ training. Parker almost looked pleased with her colleague. But they weren’t done here yet.

Parker and Broots were escorted into a corner office, and greeted by the senior FBI agent, Robert Douglas, who had helped to track down Kyle.

“I’m not sure why you want to see me, but come on in and have a seat. Your clearance is high enough for you to have read all the records,” Douglas stated matter of factly. “I’m not sure what else I can tell you.”

Parker and Broots sat side by side in comfortable leather chairs. Broots had pulled out a palm pilot and was taking notes. This had been prearranged, since it was important that the FBI agent focus on the conversation, instead of other things.

“Oh, I’ve seen the records, “ Parker replied. “They led me to some anomalies I wanted to ask you about. I realize that the John Doe case wasn’t exactly the highlight of anyone’s life. Nevertheless, developments on a case I’m currently working on seem to indicate that there might be a connection between it and John Doe.”

The older man looked puzzled. “Except that Doe is dead. He died in an explosion. It’s presumed that Agent Jarod Ness, who was following the case closely, also died in the explosion."

“And John Doe had no friends who could be involved in my case?” Miss Parker asked.

“Well, he was arrested for the kidnapping of Harriet Tashman. He never said what he wanted from her, but he was pretty desperate for something. He didn’t get a chance to hurt her, either the first time he kidnapped her or after the second time he escaped."

“Is that a fact?” Parker murmured. “And nobody ever asked Harriet Tashman what she knew that was so important?”

“The guy was a nut case. You can’t predict what they’ll do.”

“I disagree. Even the craziest have some sort of pattern. Some motivation that drives them to do what they do.”

“That seemed to be what Ness thought. And he did catch up to Doe. Guy was sharp, and he went through everything Doe had several times, not to mention the videotapes on the case.”

“Maybe he just wanted a souvenir,” Broots muttered. Parker glared at him.

“Do you know what happened to the Tashman woman?” she said.

“Sure. I kinda followed up on it because I was curious. I mean, you gotta wonder what makes someone as nutty as Doe was. And then that agent, it was like he had a personal stake in finding the guy,” Douglas replied.

“The possibility of promotion will do that to you,” Broots answered. This time Parker didn’t glare at her supposed partner, but she did shoot him a look of surprised approval.

“Anyway, the Tashman woman moved back to her farm and settled down. Guess she figured the worst had already happened to her and nothing worse could.”

“She might be right at that. “ Parker stood. “Thank you for your assistance.”

“I’ve had copies made of the records and tapes in the case, as your associate requested.” Broots had been the first contact here, since it was easier for him to make the necessary calls without arousing suspicion. That was another reason Parker had wanted Broots along.

“That’d be good. Thank you.” Broots picked up the box he was handed, and he and Parker returned to the car. It was weird being with Parker when she was acting so much like Jarod. Pretending to be with the FBI was a new experience for Broots.

“So now we’re going to go bother Harriet Tashman.” Broots made it a statement.

“Yes. It should be almost as creepy as hanging around a government agency.”

“Why would you say that?” Broots asked, more because he kept hoping she’d confide in him what her purpose was.

Morgan Parker just smiled. Jarod’s past would be there, as would Kyle’s. If the Tashman woman really knew anything about Jarod’s family, there would be other secrets as well.


* * * * * * * * *

Later that day

Miss Parker and Broots arrived at the Tashman farm shortly before dinnertime. Miss Parker was pleased to see that Broots was ignoring the rumbling of his stomach. There would be time to eat later, after she had more answers to her questions.

They exited the car and made their way to the white farmhouse. A large collie came to the door and started barking.

Broots looked wistfully at Miss Parker, flinching at the volley of barks on the other side of the door. “I don’t suppose you’d like to be the one to ring the doorbell.”

“I hardly think it’s necessary for either of us to do so. If she’s in there, she’ll show herself, if only to get the dog to stop making all that racket.” Miss Parker stood confidently on the porch. Soon a middle aged blond woman approached the door. She looked through the curtains, then pulled the dog back, keeping one hand on his collar.

“You get the feeling strangers aren’t welcome here?” Broots muttered.

“Whatever you’re selling,” the woman said, “we’re not interested in buying.”

“Are you Harriet Tashman?” Miss Parker asked. There was a vague family resemblance, but she didn’t quite match the photos Broots had found.

“If I were, what’s it to you?” she replied.

“I need to speak to Harriet Tashman regarding John Doe, the man who kidnapped her several years ago.”

“John Doe is dead. The police have assured us of that.”

“His brother isn’t. I need to know where his brother might be. It’s important.”

The curtains rustled. Behind them was another blond middle-aged woman. She moved to the doorway. Her eyes widened in shock. She knew, of course, who Miss Parker was. Jarod had told her what he knew of Catherine’s daughter, but had stopped himself before painting her as either good or bad. It appeared to Harriet that Jarod had wanted her to make up her own mind.

Harriet pushed the other woman gently inside. “Go on in, Elspeth. I’ll deal with this, you deal with dinner.” The other woman turned and left, muttering under her breath.

“You’ll have to excuse Elspeth. She’s a distant cousin who has come to live here and keep me company. She’s not that fond of strangers.” Harriet had been delighted when Jarod had found a distant relative who wanted to get closer to her. Living with Elspeth could be difficult, but it was more welcome than being alone. “I’m Harriet. And I don’t know where his brother is. I do know you, though. You want to take Jarod back to the Centre. That isn’t something I’m going to help you do.” Harriet carefully controlled her face, not letting the others see how hard it was not to embrace Catherine’s daughter. Once upon a time, she would have done just that. But years of laying low had added a layer of caution.

Parker frowned. The only way the Tashman woman was going to trust her was if she told her the truth. That much was obvious.

“I need to speak to you in private. Could we talk?” Miss Parker summoned up a mental image of Gabriel to calm her and put her in the right frame of mind. It must have worked to soften her features, because after a few moments Harriet did leave the house. She led Miss Parker to a nearby bench and they both sat down. Broots nodded in the direction of the car and Miss Parker waved him away. He’d be better off out of the way for now.

“I need to talk to you about Jarod and Kyle. You knew both of them. And you knew my mother.”

“Yes. Catherine was one of my best friends. She was a very special woman.”

“Yes, she was. Lately I’ve found myself wanting to be more like her.” Parker paused. “I don’t know if you knew this, but I was very young when she died. I was raised by my father. He didn’t like me to use my first name, but I’d like you to. Would you call me Morgan?”

Harriet smiled. “Yes. I remember how fond Catherine was her Aunt Morgan. It's very like her to name you for someone she cared so much about.”

“I’d like to hear more about her sometime. Would you tell me?” Parker kept her voice soft and gentle. Harriet didn’t look like someone who would get more helpful if she was frightened or angry.

Harriet looked into Miss Parker’s eyes, and then made her decision. “Yes. But I have my reasons for wanting to avoid the Centre. You’re still working for them, aren’t you?”

“There are reasons why it isn’t safe for me to walk out of the Centre just now. I can be sure I’m not followed, though.” Parker glanced towards the car. “I can assure you that Mr. Broots is totally trustworthy. And a good friend. He’ll keep an eye out for any trouble, just in case.”

“There’s something else I’d like to trust you with, but I…” Harriet broke off in mid-sentence. Merritt was crossing the lawn, walking directly towards them. Miss Parker hadn’t noticed yet. She glanced at the man in the car. Broots was absorbed in a computer game and hadn’t seen the young girl.

Parker couldn’t miss Harriet’s gaze, however, and her eyes turned toward Merritt. Her lips parted as though she wanted to say something, but she was speechless. What do you say when you meet someone who looks so much like you used to? Someone who almost could be you. Parker thought back to her memories of herself at the same age. Merritt’s eyes weren’t as haunted as hers had been, so there was a slight difference between them that was deeper than the up-to-date clothes the teenager wore.

“Hi,” said Merritt. “I knew you’d come.”

“Do you know who I am?” Miss Parker asked. It seemed best to take this slowly. She hadn’t liked being rushed as a child. Probably Merritt didn’t, either.

“Yes. Jarod told me. But I’d know you anyway. You feel like a friend,” Merritt answered, with a shy smile.

Miss Parker remained motionless, frozen with emotion. She’d gone to considerable trouble to arrange this meeting, to prepare herself for it. But she didn’t feel prepared for it now.

Parker forced herself to listen to Merritt’s words. She still hadn’t gotten the hang of her inner sense, at least not all the time. But it appeared that her younger self did. So, she thought, not really her younger self. Someone who looked like her but wasn’t necessarily anything like her. Yet here was someone with whom she could build a family of sorts.

“You should go back in the house,” Harriet said. “We don’t know if we can trust them.”

Merritt tossed her hair in teenage annoyance. But before she could speak, Parker did.

“Yes, for now you should go. I’d like to spend time with you, and with Harriet. In order for me to decide where I’m going from here, I need to get in touch with the part of me you represent. You remind me of who I could have been if I hadn’t always been striving to meet my father’s goals.”

“I know what it’s like to have an ambitious father,” Merritt answered.

“Not like mine. Mine is hard and cold. That’s why Harriet doesn’t trust me,” Miss Parker answered, looking to the older woman for confirmation, and finding it in her eyes.

“I still intend to get to know you better,” Merritt stated firmly.

“I’m not going to be able to convince you to be careful, am I?” Harriet asked.

“I’ll be careful. But I’d like to meet you again and talk longer,” Merritt answered, as she spun and turned towards the house. An observant person would have noted that she was watching the car with Broots in it very carefully. No matter how intrigued Merritt appeared to be by Catherine Parker’s daughter, the lessons in self-preservation Jarod had taught her were ingrained in her habits.

Harriet shrugged. “That was Merritt. She’s an incredibly strong person who reminds me greatly of your mother. Catherine had that kind of self confidence, the certainty that she would always do right.”

“Jarod has told me about Merritt. He thinks we could be friends.” Parker didn’t actually know if Jarod thought that way, but she knew Harriet would believe it.

“Jarod’s always trying to help people. He’s been a very good influence on Merritt, “Harriet answered. “I don’t really have a lot of influence with her, but this seems to be something she really wants to do.”

“It’s important to me, too. Like Jarod, there are parts of my past I don’t know a lot about.
And even though Merritt’s very much a part of the future, I need to spend time with her. I want to watch her grow up and be her friend.” The phraseology wasn’t typical for Miss Parker, but she knew that anything other than gestures of friendship would drive Harriet away.

Harriet looked somewhat uncomfortable. It was as though she hated to refuse Catherine’s daughter anything, but still couldn’t get the spectre of the Centre out of her mind. “Are you going to be staying here long? You could stay for dinner.”

Miss Parker looked at her watch. It was getting late, and she’d need to make an appearance at the Centre early in the morning. It wouldn’t do to vary her routine too much all at once.

“Not tonight. I have to be going. And I think perhaps you’d feel better if we took things slowly. I’ll need a way to get in touch with both of you, though. If it would make you feel better, we could meet in a more public place,” Miss Parker answered as she stood and turned toward the car.

“OK.” Addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, even though both of them knew without saying that it would have to be an emergency for Harriet to risk calling anyone so closely connected with the Centre. Harriet walked Miss Parker to the car, so that it was her that Broots saw when he looked up. Broots put away his game and smiled nervously, as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Harriet returned his hesitant greeting and backed up toward the house so that Parker could swing the car around in the dirt driveway.

Broots watched Harriet wave good-bye, and asked, “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Oh, yes. She knew my mother and is willing to talk to me about her. Broots, this is important. I don’t want the Centre to have any idea of who I’m meeting or why. My father would go ballistic. But I refuse to live with the lies and secrets anymore. I need to know who my mother was to people other than my father and me. That means talking with Harriet and tracking down any other leads she can give me, without letting anyone in the Centre know.” Parker very carefully didn’t mention Merritt. Had it been necessary, she’d have had Broots use his skills as a father to give her pointers on how to get the girl to trust her. That, after all, was why Broots was along. His open, honest manner made people trust him. When he was with Parker, people trusted her, too.

“Even Sydney?” Broots asked.

“It’s not that I don’t trust Syd,” Miss Parker answered, “but the fewer people who know of my current interest the better. It’ll be safer for him and safer for me.”

Broots groaned. “If I’m going to be in danger, I’d at least like some dinner first.”

“We’ll stop at the first place I see,” Miss Parker promised.

On to Act III

 
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