Stolen Moments

 

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Simmons and Hart bookstore, Kingston, NY

Jarod had moved a small table up closer to the register in the front of the store. He’d gone through both the contents of this bookstore and the neighboring ones to develop a specialized collection of books on child development. Previously, Jarod had presumed that intelligence guided by experience would be enough for him to know exactly what to do. Yet his experiences in Australia had shown him that he wasn’t aware enough of normal family dynamics to be assured that he could nurture it in every situation. Ordinarily that wasn’t a problem. The people Jarod helped were usually more than capable of helping themselves once Jarod had shown them a solution or gotten them out of danger. When the Seraphim were freed from the Centre, they might still be children when it happened. The more research he could do before he made any decisions about what to do next, the better off they all would be.

There was another stack of books on the table. These books dealt with yoga. In the quiet of the back room of the bookstore Jarod had been practicing the interesting exercises. So far, only one person had walked in while he was curled up like a pretzel, and that had been a tourist from New York whose outburst of laughter had so embarrassed her she walked out after having purchased $100 worth of books. Not that Jarod had minded being laughed at. He had been in a particularly funny position, if looked at strictly objectively. The book was correct, however. That position was very relaxing when done properly.

Jarod reopened his computer. He was almost ready to leave. The treatments the Lynford family was undergoing were almost complete. Jarod had been horrified when he discovered that the blood disorder their children had was a result of their parents’ going for infertility treatment at NuGenesis. It was yet another reason that the Centre had to be shut down carefully, so that all the families whose lives the Centre had harmed could be found and protected.

* * * * * * * * *

Miss Parker's house, Delaware

Miss Parker answered her door, knowing what she’d find. Sydney, with briefcase in hand, entered the house right on time. Dependability was a good thing in a subordinate and an even better thing in a friend.

“Come in, Syd. Have a seat.” Miss Parker moved towards the couch, gesturing for Sydney to take a chair.

“What are you planning, Miss Parker?” Sydney asked.

“A little trip. I need you to cover for me for a couple of days. You go one way, I’ll go another. We’ll meet in between and land at the Centre.”

“Why?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

“It concerns me if it has something to do with Jarod.”

“It has to do with me. I need some time alone and I need you to buy me that time. Jarod is not now, and has never been, the beginning and end of my existence. There are other things that are important to me. I need to have this break, but I don’t want Eve following me or reporting on what I do to Daddy. Can you understand that?” Miss Parker asked.

“Yes, Miss Parker. And I’m your friend. I’ll be happy to help,” Sydney replied. He could see that whatever had happened to Miss Parker, she wasn’t about to share those revelations with him.

Parker nodded and left in one smooth motion. As much as she needed to help Jarod, she still intended to keep certain other priorities. She was going to learn how to help Gabriel deal with being a special child by using her own resources. She was going to be a friend to Merritt. And she was going to learn more about her mother’s past. Those were not goals she intended to achieve by relying on Jarod, Broots or Sydney.

* * * * * * * * *

A hotel in Maryland

Sydney had checked into the hotel, and made sure that both rooms looked as though the beds had been slept in. He’d purposely arrived late at night and made sure the night clerk remembered him. She’d also get a call later which would convince her there were two of them in the rooms. But for now it was late enough for Sydney to go to bed.

Sleep, it seemed, wasn’t on the agenda yet. His phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Sydney, I need more information.” Jarod’s voice sounded stressed. Sydney was concerned. Stress couldn’t be good for Jarod at this point in his recovery.

“What about?”

“The Centre. I need to know what Lyle is up to.”

“Lyle? Not Eve?”

Something in Sydney’s voice told Jarod the answer to his question. “I take it that Lyle is no longer among the big players at the Centre, and Eve is?”

“Lyle’s in the hospital. Apparently the drug therapy isn’t working as well as anticipated. Eve, on the other hand, is determined to get you back in the Centre.”

“I thought Miss Parker was in charge of the hunt for me. Just like old times,” Jarod replied.

“She is. And she has every intention of being the one to bring you in again. But both Miss Parker and I suspect that Eve has some plans of her own for you. Your escape didn’t set well with her and I doubt she’ll give up easily. You need to be careful,” Sydney answered.

“I’m always careful, Sydney. But this time I may just be mistaken.” Jarod hung up the phone and contemplated the stacks of books in front of him. It was time he sent a message to someone at the Centre, preferably in such a way that it got back to Eve. Sydney wasn’t likely to engage in gossip, so he couldn’t be used like that. So it would have to be a message of a more subtle variety.


* * * * * * * * *

The Centre

Mr. Cox entered his office and walked to his desk, the same way he did every morning. This morning, there was something in his chair -- a teddy bear wearing a sweater with the name 'Eve' stitched into the weave. When he picked it up, it began to play a haunting Japanese melody. Cox put it down. There was no reason for anyone to have left him anything quite so bizarre. Frowning for a moment, he picked up his phone and called Eve.

“I’ve just received a most peculiar present. It made me think of you.”

“What is it?

“A teddy bear with your name on it. It plays Japanese music when you pick it up.”

“How… quaint. How did it get there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I. It isn’t my property, nor can I imagine anyone here giving me such an item. And certainly nobody could mistake you for me.” Eve paused. “Perhaps you should alert Miss Parker. As the head of SIS, she should be informed.”

“Indeed, I’ll do that. But I also intend to look into this myself.”

“Very well. Keep me informed.”

Cox put down the phone. He probably shouldn’t have told Eve about the bear, but he’d been unable to resist. Whatever plot Jarod had in mind, involving Eve might spread the blame if something later blew up in someone’s face. Figuratively, of course.

The bear stopped playing music. There was a three second pause, then Jarod’s voice. “Catch me if you can.”

Cox growled softly. Jarod was still capable of irritating him. All they had done was slow him down, not stop him. Perhaps alerting Eve had been playing into Jarod’s hands. On the other hand, seeing Eve come back down in the hierarchy would be pleasant. Still, this had gone on long enough. Next time, Jarod would get a taste of retribution.

* * * * * * * * *

The Liberty Bell
Philadelphia

Merritt paced impatiently around the area where the bell was displayed. She wore a black leather jacket and a button with the initials MJ on it. It had been hard to convince Aunt Harriet that this trip was sanctioned by Jarod and was perfectly safe. The encounter with Miss Parker had put Harriet even more on edge than before. In the end, she’d been forced to contact Jarod and have him explain. That wasn’t something she liked doing. Merritt had a teenager’s confidence that her perceptions were correct and she hated having to call in someone else to justify what she’d done.

She turned suddenly, and saw him. He was wearing a black leather jacket like he’d promised, as well as a Star Wars ball cap. He looked at her with the same mixture of innocence and confidence which Jarod always wore.

She walked toward him. “Hi. I’m Merritt.” She shrugged her shoulders and moved closer.

“I’m Jordan. It’s nice to meet you.” Jordan belatedly remembered his lessons in manners and extended his hand for a handshake.

Merritt took his hand with a firm grip. “Can we go get an ice cream or something? I’ve got about an hour before my ride comes and I have to leave.”

“That’d be nice. Could I meet your ride?” Jordan asked. “Jarod didn’t say much about you, except that you knew about the Centre and you could be a good friend if you wanted to be.”

“He didn’t say that much about you either. Just your name and that you don’t have any parents either. The person who brought me here is kind of shy, so maybe not this time. I didn’t grow up in the Centre, but they know about me and would like to find me.” Merritt paused. “Jarod says I look a lot like someone called Miss Parker. Do you know her?” They talked while they walked out into the sunshine and along the sidewalk. Jordan was leading the way. He’d already researched the direction of possible destinations, so he knew where they could go for ice cream.

“I only met Miss Parker once, but I liked her. Jarod says she has her own reasons for wanting him back in the Centre and I shouldn’t blame her for that.”

“I met her a couple days ago. I like her, too. But it’s weird to look so much like someone you hardly know.”

“Not really,” Jordan answered. “If you study human genetics, you’ll note that there are a lot of twins born naturally. And often in families there is a strong resemblance between a child and parent. I’m not exactly like Jarod. You aren’t exactly like Miss Parker. We just look a lot alike. The other problem is, we need to hide from the Centre. That’s the weird part.”

“I guess. Do you go to school?” she asked.

“No. I’m taking correspondence courses. It’s too dangerous for me to go to regular school.” That was a good enough answer for the moment. Jordan didn’t like holding things back, but he knew better than to go into too many details with someone who wasn’t part of his family.

“Oh.” Merritt tried to remember that what felt like a game to her was a lot more serious for Jarod and thus for Jordan. “What kind of courses are you taking?”

They stopped at Ben & Jerry’s and got ice cream in dishes. The ice cream was then divided between the two of them. The conversation stayed with schoolwork and what each of them knew about the Philadelphia area. They drifted back to discussion of books and to the two people they were most concerned with, Jarod and Miss Parker. By the time Jordan was ready to leave, he’d promised to dig up as much background as he could on Miss Parker.

Jordan’s ride had come first. He’d almost bounced getting into the car, eager to tell Emily everything that happened. He’d begun talking almost from the minute his feet slid inside the door, and didn’t stop until they were at the hotel. Emily’d made encouraging noises and reveled in the thought that her littlest brother was coming out of his shell.

Merritt was quiet on the ride home. It had been cool to meet Miss Parker, but this was even better. Jordan was her age, and he was just as fun to talk to in real life as he was in his disguise of Threepio on the computer. This was awesome! She finally had someone her own age to talk to who didn’t need to have everything spelled out for him, and from whom she didn’t need to keep secrets.

On to Act IV

 
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