Title: What Hour Come
Author: Elliott - ElliottSilver@hotmail.com
All feedback compiled in a journal, and always replied to.
Please visit Elliott's Pretender Fiction at Let the Centre Arrest You.
Summary: Jarod tracks a death fetishist when the case takes a disastrous - and personal - turn.
"Things fall apart – the centre cannot hold."
~ The Second Coming, Yeats
He didn’t remember climbing out of his car or entering the squat disheveled building. All he remembered was the maze.
It was like falling through a time warp and knowing you can’t go back so you might as well go forward, even though that’s the last thing you really want to do.
He followed the graying receptionist monotonously, one foot after the other foot. His black dress shoes pounded against the linoleum that appeared to have been installed around the Nixon era. Unlike his leader, who wore squeakless Keds, his footfalls reverberated off the eggplant walls like machine gun fire.
Neither of them had said a word during the length of the expedition.
His guide braked abruptly and Jarod had to swerve to avoid plowing over him. The man grimaced and unfurled a window-sized blind.
It couldn’t be her, he told himself. He wouldn’t let it be her.
Miss Parker was too strong.
He inhaled shortly, anything more would have certainly dislodged the meager contents of his stomach, and stared through the smudged glass.
He inhaled again and stared at his shoes.
The guide coughed indiscreetly, resisting the urge to grab the nearest trash can and shove it under his guest’s nose so he wouldn’t drop his lunch all over the spotless floor. It was always the strong-looking ones who lost it.
Jarod straightened up and blinked his eyes against the tears pooling in the corners.
It wasn’t fair.
He watched her rev her glaring green ’99 Neon into the lot, taking up the front-most two parking spaces.
A frown flitted across Chely Paterson’s freshly glossed lips. Instinctively she checked the rearview mirror to ascertain that she hadn’t smeared the Posies and Poppies out of the lines.
She flicked her hands impatiently and checked the radio-clock again. Damn it all to hell, she was 20 minutes late for her hair appointment. And if she was late for this, she was going to be late for her date with Mark Mathews. And if she was late for her date with Mark, well, she could kiss her dreams of moving up the high school social ladder good-bye. So what if he wasn’t exactly her type? He was a senior and that meant something. Especially to those snobby sophomore girls who thought they were all that.
She flung open the double doors of the best salon in this four-horse town and flounced over the styling chairs.
"Where’s Kelly-Marie?" she asked the first stylist to come her way.
"I’m sorry. She’s left for the day. How may I help you?" He appeared to be nice. Middle aged, but nice. Unfortunately he had once of those ordinary faces that all but decreed normalcy. Chely, who wanted to be the next Cindy Crawford, found that less than tragic. Some people had it, some people didn’t.
She immediately sat down in the nearest chair and motioned him over. "I need my ends trimmed," she informed him. The man stared at her as if she wearing that awful royal blue lipstick they’d been advertising on TV. Chely, who hadn’t been stared at with anything less than ‘are-you-the-next-Baywatch-body’ since she was 14, found it irritating as all hell.
"I’m sorry," he said before she could say anything about his rudeness. "But we can’t take any more customers."
"Excuse me?" she asked, ruffling her perfectly highlighted auburn hair. Her watch read 3:47. She was going to be late for her date.
"You’ll have to reschedule."
"Come on! It’ll take you – what? – five minutes?"
The man’s face reshaped itself. And she found herself thinking he really wasn’t that bad looking at all, if you went for that May-December thing. It really was too bad he had such ordinary, Dudly-Do-Right typical features.
"A trim, you said?" He ran his fingers over her softly, strategically curling waves.
She had her first major interview for future prom queen in less than two hours. And her next interview for a perspective modeling job the next morning.
"Exactly," she replied.
"If I may say so," he continued, lifting the scissors off the styling shelf in front of the mirror and tucking a robe around her, "You have lovely hair."
His voice was soothing, slow, an almost southern drawl. It was one of those voice, Chely decided, that could hypnotize.
"You are a stylist, right?" she found herself asking, as if her subconscious had suddenly escaped.
"I majored in cosmetology, actually. And that’s a wonderful shade of lip-gloss. Posies and Poppies is it?"
"Actually, yeah," Chely answered. She was starting to get this really eerie, X-files feeling. And it was weird, because he really seemed so nice. And normal, not like most of the high school guys she knew.
He raked though her chest-length hair with a fine comb and she sat back and relaxed. It was almost as good as a good massage.
"Listen, I’m on a schedule here. Are you – "
There were three soft snips of the scissors in quick succession and she opened her eyes.
For a second, she was speechless. Then she started screaming.
If she had come in with dreams of Cindy, suddenly she had become GI Jane. The lovely autumn lengths that she took such great pains to primp and pamper were bundled tightly in the stylist’s hands, completely severed from her head. And he was looking at the hair, not her, as if it was the Shroud of Turin.
The other two customers and respective stylists stared in mute horror as the owner came running from his crummy little office in the back.
"What’s going on here?" he asked, a thirty-seven year old that didn’t look a day over acne and braces.
Chely, who had still been screaming like a B-rated movie queen, stopped yelling and started hyperventilating. "He – cut – my – hair!"
"Why, yes. That’s what he’s supposed to do." His pimply face relaxed marginally but he kept wringing his nerdy little hands. Lots of people had overwhelming cases of cut shock.
"No! No! I told – I told him – I only wanted – wanted a trim!"
Suddenly the owner felt a little nauseous. This was going to create a tidal wave of bad publicity for his little shop.
"I wanted a TRIM!" Chely screamed, not even caring she was acting highly pre-pubescent.
"What happened here?" the owner managed, his high-pitched voice nearly squeaking.
"She – " the stylist began.
"He BUTCHERED my hair!"
"Oh dear." The owner continued to ring his hands.
"It’s beautiful. So beautiful."
Chely looked closely in the mirror and started paling. Out the wide plate glass window, two college boys in dreads and clothes that hadn’t been washed since their application process began, scuffled by suspiciously, their well-stoned faces peaked with curiosity over the screaming they surely must have heard. For a second, the owner began wondering why he hadn’t bought a gun with all the crazies like them out there on the street, but then, more importantly, how the heck he was going to manage damage control. Chely Paterson, after all, was one of his most frequent clients, and everyone said it was only a matter of days before some famous modeling agency called and signed her up. That, he knew, was very good publicity.
He turned to the stylist and presented his best chess-club player-of-the-year façade. "Please clean out your locker. We won’t be needing you here any longer."
For a moment he thought the man was actually going to resist. He had an odd, nearly hypnotic look on his face, one that was unrepentant, though the owner wouldn’t use that word to describe him until much later. Right now, his heart started fluttering in his chest, as if was going to jump right out of his sweater vest.
But then he moved, dropping his scissors into the pocket of his black barber apron and walking slowly, almost measurably, past both of them, still gripping the chunks of Chely’s hair in his hand.
"You have such beautiful hair," he repeated softly, as if memorizing the words by rote. Then he disappeared.
Miss Parker glanced out the rain-shot windows and then back at the newspaper. She settled on the window.
More of Jarod’s games. How many more was she going to have to play?
A gust of turbulence shook her seat. At least this time she’d been able to go alone. Normally she didn’t consciously mind Sydney and Broots. But when you scoped out every old lair with them, sometimes the silence was very, very nice.
She leaned back into the plush seat of the corporate jet and sipped her bourbon. Besides, she was the only one of the three that didn’t get airsick. Or seasick. Or carsick.
But she was on edge, something she normally left to the other two. And the worst thing was that she didn’t know why.
Sure, the Centre was in tenuous disarray. But the faster she caught Jarod, the faster she got out of there and wiped her hands of its atrocities, known and unknown.
Still, something was going to happen.
She could feel it.
Jarod stared down into the unearthed grave. He was distinctly glad he had avoided lunch, consciously or unconsciously. He also wished he had made it out of his latest pretend in the FBI before he’d gotten this call.
Some ten feet below him, what had once been a beautiful mahogany coffin was now sinking deeper and deeper into the nearly black mud. And what had been in the coffin, well, Stephen King had nothing on this.
"Why’d you call me in on this, Agent Wilcox?" he asked, partly to help break the oppressive mood and partly out of curiosity.
"Because I think you might be the only one who can help."
"And why is that?"
"Well, you caught the Blue Moon Killer. Maybe you can help us catch this freak."
He glanced over at the instantly pretty woman squatting beside him and doing her best not to toss her cookies either. Special Agent Sheila Wilcox. She was a woman who would be forever battling that beauty versus brains stereotype. When she stood her full length, she was nearly as tall as he was. An attribute many men, himself sincerely not included, found downright disturbing. Squatting in close quarters like these, all you really noticed were her features: intensely kissable but only glossed lips, startling grey eyes with almost violet streaks, and the cutest dimples he’d seen in a while.
It was safe to say he’d liked her right away.
This was her first big case. And she was determined come hell or high water to make it turn out right.
She had pluck, lots of it, and he liked that too.
"You don’t think this is a simple case of grave-robbing, do you?" he asked quietly. Light drizzle was starting to fall from the overcast sky. Within minutes the upturned grave would become a sea of quick-mud.
"No, I don’t." It sounded like pulling teeth. And rightly so. If her superiors found out, there would be some pretty big consequences. Not to mention the ridicule.
"What do you think it is then?"
"I don’t know," she answered honestly. "But this," she gestured toward the sinking grave, "was too much trouble to be something as simple as grave-robbing. Whoever did this, they knew what they were doing."
Jarod stood carefully. His back was kinking something awful from all the driving he’d been doing. And of all places to end up, just a stroll away from the Centre did not make the top of his list. And right now, the last thing he wanted on his mind, on top of all that, was something as horrific as this. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have a choice in the matter. This was what he did. He solved things. Even horrible things like this.
"Agent –" a masculine voice assailed him.
He turned to a rough-cut forty-ish man in a navy raincoat.
"Special Agent Carter," he finished, extending his hand. "Jarod Carter."
The man made no move to shake hands or introduce himself. Jarod recognized him as Jack Bridges, head of the field office here. "So what have we got here? Another grave-robbing to add to the books?"
"Sir, Agent Carter and I don’t think –"
He cut her off. "Listen, guys. I really don’t have time for this. You want to make up some conspiracy theories to wow your buddies down at the Hoover building, that’s fine. But as far as I’m concerned, this is no more than a prank played by some drunk fraternity kids."
"This is no prank," Jarod called after his retreating figure. "You may have a fetishist on your hands."
Wilcox stared at him as if he’d suddenly become J. Edgar himself. And the man who didn’t want to hear them out stopped in his tracks. By the slow, nearly unwilling way he turned around, Jarod knew he had considered that possibility, had thought about it some, didn’t like it, and didn’t want it to be true.
"Is that really who you think did this?"
"Yes. A fetishist." Jarod repeated, disliking the word more every time he said it. "Some people collect match books or beer cans. Fetishists collect dead things." He pointed into the grave. "Like hair and nails."
"And how exactly can you tell this is the work of a fetishist?"
"Actually, I’m hoping it’s not." Jarod pointed into the grave. "But look at the hair. Hair continues to grown far after a person dies. Yet there is no evidence of this on the corpse. Instead it looks like she just left a beauty salon." Jarod paused, not really wanting to continue. "And the nails. They’ve been pulled out. Probably by pliers."
If she hurried, she might be able to escape.
Idly, she wondered when her life had become Mission: Impossible.
"Miss Parker! Miss Parker!"
The door was only twenty feet away. If she sprinted…
She stopped dead in her tracks and threw her head back, tears nearly rising under her weighted eyelids. "What!"
She shifted the carryall over her shoulder, the nylon strap abrading her skin mercilessly through the thin linen of her expensive suit. Correction: her brand-new, sweat-stained, needed to be dry-cleaned suit. Thank you, Jarod.
The balding computer tech puffed to her side and held out a single page of curling fax paper.
Christ. What is it. Now.
"This just arrived for you."
"Can’t it wait?"
Broots glanced up in slight surprise. "I don’t think so."
She took the proffered paper unwillingly. What was it that couldn’t wait until tomorrow? She skimmed the bare notes and then read them again. Her eyes stung. She handed the paper back to Broots and pressed a hand to the migraine threatening to burst right behind her left temple.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Tell my father I’ll ‘look over’ the Corporate cases for him. No, just tell him I’ll handle it."
"You’ll handle it?"
"Yes, Broots," she hissed. "That’s what I do. I handle things."
"Some things better than others, I suppose. Right, love?" Brigitte interjected, ambling out of the shadows. Lyle, as usual, was right behind her. Damn her and that nasty insinuating tone.
"And how was Tunisia?" Lyle asked, the gleam in his eyes giving away the fact that he already knew every little detail. Damn him too. And that suave insinuating tone.
"Yes," Brigitte interrupted again. "Of all places, I hear Jarod wasn’t there."
"It was Texas."
"Actually, that’s why we’re here," Lyle informed her, a smug grin painted on his face.
Parker shifted the luggage on her shoulder again. "You discovered you were a cowboy in a past life? How nice."
"Knowing how busy you are with all these new deadlines – "
This did not smell good. And she just wanted to get out of here. For good, if possible.
"If you’re done – " Broots began hesitantly, covertly hedging away from all the snide commotion.
"Stay! Broots!" she commanded and leveled her best glare at the blonde.
"What new deadlines?"
"Why, the Corporate cases I assigned you."
"You mean, the Corporate cases my father asked me to handle."
Brigitte dismissed her correction with an airy wave. "Which is why I’ll be handling Jarod."
"Excuse me?" This was not happening. This simply was not happening. "You can’t do that."
"Climb off your high horse, Miss Parker," Lyle interposed cheerfully. "We are, after all, only trying to help."
"Over my dead body."
"If you’d like, love."
She and Lyle glanced at the petite blonde.
"Jarod is mine," Miss Parker commanded. "You can’t change that without a Tower directive."
Brigitte mockingly thrust out another paper just as Parker’s cell phone erupted. She ignored the summons and dug into her pocket, removing the shrill object and extending the antenna with her teeth.
"Temper, temper, Miss Parker."
Brigitte sidestepped Broots dismissively and cocked her head at the receiver.
"Someone we should know about, love?"
Parker withdrew the phone from her ear and settled her best if-looks-could-kill expression on the slut red lipstick and snub nose. "My gun shop. They tell me my AK-47 is ready to be picked up."
She waited until Brigitte rejoined Lyle and put the phone back to her ear. "Call me back in five," she demanded.
She crushed the antenna and swung her line of sight on the two conspirators. "Unless there’s anything else, I’d like to get back to my job."
"Of course, love," Brigitte cooed, tucking her arm through Lyle’s and snapping a pat on Parker’s luggage-entrenched and numbing shoulder. "As long as you don’t interfere with me."
She watched the two stride away. Broots cleared his throat and looked away.
"Find my father," she ordered. "And tell him if he doesn’t want to become a widower, he’d better sort things out."
"Miss Parker?" he questioned as she rushed towards the doors. Her phone rang again.
"Just do it."
She pried at the phone and clicked it on once she was safely out and away from the building. "Jarod."
"Enjoying your new priorities, Miss Parker?"
"Jarod, you are my priority," she reminded him. She was too tired to put up with his crap tonight.
"And yet you don’t make the rules anymore."
"Rules or not, I’m the only worthy opponent you’ve got. And I’m still going to win this game." She clicked off before he could reply. That in itself was a small bit of satisfaction.
Corporate was actually beginning to sound nice.
"The forensic report is back on the supposed grave-robbings." Agent Wilcox handed him the template of papers.
"You were right," she continued, slipping into the chair opposite him. "The nails were removed with needlenose pliers. And the hair was cut with very sharp, very precise scissors – maybe medical or barber shop issues."
He sifted through the papers.
"How do you do it?" she asked softly.
He looked over the edge of the report, knowing all too well what she was asking. "Do what?" he asked, feigning ignorance.
"Today. The grave. How do you do it? How can you not let it bother you?"
"I prepared myself on the way up here."
"You knew these were more than grave robbings from the start?" The surprise was so evident in her voice it almost hurt. It was that someone actually believed her, but more than that, that someone else was solving her case.
"I wasn’t certain, but yes." He handed her three other folders. "Two other corpses, I think. Both within four days. Same exact thing. But these two were fresh, buried less than two days."
She stared at him mutely.
"And it does bother me, the desecration of the dead. Nothing can ever prepare you for that."
"We have to stop him then," she said, her voice assuringly resolute. "Make sure that this ends."
Miss Parker had never really liked her father’s office to begin with.
But seated in his horribly expensive chair, working from his terribly expensive desk, and handling his obscenely expensive clients was rather nice, she had to admit. It was all connect-the-dots, straightforward business. There was no missing variable like Jarod.
She had solved two of the cases with a simple phone call.
And by the time she reached the third, her mind was wandering down paths she knew she shouldn’t be following. The one Jarod was on, specifically. The one Brigitte and Lyle were now handling. She wondered how that was going. She wondered what Sydney and Broots were up to. She wondered –
She was wondering where all the misguided adventure was when laughter ricocheted down the Tower hallway.
Before she could even react, a giggling Brigitte somehow wrapped into a chuckling Lyle literally fell through the lavish frosted glass doorway.
"Tower Executive", the blond snickered. "Is that an official title for who goes on top?"
Miss Parker wanted to vomit. Everyone but her father knew the bitch was screwing Lyle – and anyone else who had a spare minute.
She leaned her chin on her laced hands and waited until they pried themselves off each other. Maybe Brigitte was the human equivalent of Pringles – you just couldn’t stop at having her just once.
Lyle noticed her first and tried valiantly to disentangle himself from Brigitte who was having none of it and dragging him by his garish tie to the desk.
"Miss Parker," he choked out, his face a variegated combination of red embarrassment and blue suffocation. He tried unsuccessfully to yank his tie from Brigitte’s hand.
The blond swirled in slow motion to face her, still holding onto Lyle like a dog walker with a short leash and a disobedient puppy. She looked over at Parker, who simply smiled back, with an air of distaste and inconvenience for ruining her plans.
"Any leads on Jarod?" Miss Parker inquired sweetly, switching her sight from Brigitte to Lyle, whose neck was tattooed as if an octopus’ tentacles had chewed on it.
"Not yet." Lyle glared at Brigitte and jerked his tie away from her grasp. She let the silk glide through her fingers easily, a not so subtle reminder that she was the one in charge.
"What are you doing here?" Brigitte asked, leaning down on the corner of the desk with a gesture she no doubt had learned that a low-cut shirt and any man between the ages of 8 and 80 would appreciate. Then again, that was from the woman whose sport was collecting hickeys like beer cans and displaying them in much the same fashion. "This is my office, Miss Parker."
"Last I checked, it was my father’s office. And since I am handling," she glared at Lyle, "his Corporate cases, this is now my office."
"I thought I told you not to interfere." The blonde rose and crossed her arms over the frail mesh of her shirt.
"How could I interfere," Miss Parker asked, rising and holding the doors open for both of them, "When you have absolutely nothing to interfere with?"
The podium was small and decrepit, a remnant from the Reagan era or a local garage sale. Jarod stepped up behind it, feeling like Gulliver trapped among the Lilliputians, and tapped the mike. Immediately the entire field office came to attention.
Immediately Jarod wished he wasn’t the most qualified agent on the case.
"There is no easy way to begin this," he started off. "All of you seated here today know what the word ‘fetish’ means. It originally referred to a charm thought to have magical or spiritual powers. Later, it came to mean an object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence." He paused to gather his breath and swept his gaze across those in the audience. "What we have on our hands is an escalating fetishist." There were disturbed murmurs and movements across the room. Even Bridges himself looked uncomfortable. "A fetishist is someone, like all of us, who collects things. Trophies, if you will. But unlike us, a fetishist collects only that which is dead. Hair, skin, and nails are the most common. And no one knows why they do this."
"The first thing we need to do is draft an eyes-only memo to all law enforcement agencies in the area, and even those that aren’t. We’re going to need all the help we can get."
"Secondly, security around all cemeteries, mortuaries, hospitals, etc. needs to be tightened immediately. These are easy targets for him and he knows that. He’s had a lot of practice already."
"Lastly, we need a press release to alert the local area about a possible stalker or peeping tom. Tell everyone to – "
The raucous unbelieving voices of the crowd drown him out.
"This is a small town," a burly man towards the back called forward. The crowd settled, instantly respectful. "We still keep our doors unlocked at night. We simply don’t have the manpower to get up to any speed on this quickly. And even if we did, what’s the point of scaring living, breathing folks if this guy only preys on dead people?"
"Because as Agent Carter explained, this is an escalating fetishist," Wilcox broke in, coming to stand beside him. "That means he’s reached his catalyst: his compulsion is escalating, growing faster than we can imagine. He will resort to homicide to feed his needs. And once he discovers what a warm body is like, he - will - not - stop."
There was a second of complete silence as Wilcox’s last words sank in.
Bridges stood up and stalked to the podium, his face screaming that he too wanted to be anywhere but here, saying anything but this. "Maybe we’ve been a small town too long. The reason it took them so long to catch that serial killer in Ruritan, and even Agent Carter’s Blue Moon Killer, was because no one believed it could happen." He took a breath and leaned heavily on the faux wood. "Well, it’s happened. And it’s happened here."
He backed away from the podium, leaving Jarod, and the whole body gathered there, in absolute surprise. A silence filled with a new respect, and a new fear, ensued.
"Is there a psyche profile on this type of killer?" a young man near the front finally asked, breaking the sharp, painful silence.
"No, there is not," Jarod resumed, as Wilcox took her seat. She was dressed in a sharp, almost severe navy pantsuit. There was no doubt in his mind that she’d made quite the impression. "There is no psyche profile on the death fetishist. What we do know, is that he is nearly always a white male, of middle age, and average to above average intelligence. It is not unusual for IQs to be over 150."
There was another murmur from the gathering. It seemed as if every bad thing he could possibly tell them about this suspect, he was.
"His compulsion stems from a complex and often incomprehensible misplacement of values, instilled unerringly throughout his childhood. This leads to a severe deviation of social norms, most common of which is his ‘inadequacy’ around women. This he blames on the woman or women closest to him, who are usually paragons of perfection."
"The fetishist will progress from his ‘fantasy stage’ into an eventual acting out of these fantasies and impulses. He usually commits ‘opportunistic homicide’."
"The nature and event of these killings often serves to draw attention away from his deeper motives, motives that we dare not imagine. Because we can not bring ourselves to believe in or even imagine this kind of inhuman, cold-blooded monster who preys on the living only to scavenge from the dead."
The one great undeniable fact she had learned from her many years at the Centre was that literally everyone cleared out before 6 PM.
Miss Parker didn’t know why that was exactly. Most of the employees had no family so to speak. And Blue Cove, and even its larger neighbor Bluestone, wasn’t exactly known for its rocking entertainment.
She rode the elevator from the Tower to her office and then from her office to the tech room. No one was there, but it was still a comfort. A decidedly macabre one but one none the less. And she’d take what she could get.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like her office; she did. But she found she was spending less and less time there.
And so she usually found herself here after hours.
Maybe it was a defense mechanism; a way of hiding in a place that always found you.
She sat down in her usual seat and willed her body to relax. It was having none of it. And again, she wondered whether there would come a time when her muscles stopped aching with repressed tension and her head stopped pounding with noxious stress. As long as she stayed here, she really didn’t think so. Not even Corporate held that charm anymore.
Suddenly dizzy, she crossed her arms and lay her head down, grateful for the all-encompassing darkness.
"You’re here late," Lyle observed from one of the many metal grate Centre balconies so conducive to spying. He didn’t even blink when she didn’t answer his rhetorical summary, but rather negotiated the stairs and sat down across from her, in what was usually Sydney’s seat.
"What do you want, Lyle?" she finally asked.
"You’ve accomplished that much already."
"Couldn’t you just drop the warranted hostility for a minute?" he asked, something she would have normally called aggravation rising from his words.
She gestured him on grandly.
He seemed to pick his words carefully. "Things are happening, Parker. Be on the right side when they do."
Damn him and his unctuous, unsettling vagueness. He disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared and she reset her head on her arms. God, she just wanted to get out of here.
She didn’t know how long it had been when there was a hesitant touch on her arm. Her head flew up, and she found herself staring into the startled blue eyes of Angelo, who was crouched next to her.
He brushed her hand and his face twisted and contorted. "Miss Parker – hurt."
"I’m not hurt, Angelo," she told him, resting her head sideways on her arms so that she could look at him.
He mimicked her gesture. "Hurt," he continued. "Here." He tapped his chest.
"Angelo – " she began.
"You’re in danger," he informed her in a surprisingly smooth sentence.
"How, Angelo? How am I in danger?" The same nagging uncertainty bit again.
The empath looked troubled and then unsure and finally just hesitant. He lifted his head and held it in his hands, as if he could crush out the damning information. She reached out and touched him and he flinched.
He stilled and then in a scaringly accurate imitation, began to shoot at ghost targets. "Miss Parker – Schedule 7."
She smiled. No one could order a Schedule 7 on her, short of a unanimous vote of the Triumvirate.
He grasped her hand with an intensity that shocked her. He looked her straight in the eyes, eyes like her own so blue and clear, as if willing her to hear the single word he uttered.
She opened her mouth to reassure him but he tightened his grasp until it hurt.
"Believe," he repeated, his azure eyes both coldly distanced and lovingly devoted. "Believe here," he whispered, bringing her hand to his heart.
"We’ve got another one," Jarod informed the milling field office, settling the phone in its receiver very carefully. "And this one was alive."
He and Wilcox squatted over the body twenty minutes later, while Bridges recorded the crime scene information.
It was more horrible than the imagination could substantiate. Beside him, Wilcox put a hand across her mouth and glanced away as he pulled the cover sheet off the body.
What had once been nearly platinum blonde hair was now cropped and jagged to a chemotherapy length. Gloved in latex, Jarod reached out and touched the razed edges.
Wilcox focused randomly on the woman’s face, trying to bring her fading composure to heel. The dark green eyes bulged from their sockets, bursting with terror. A hint of bruising flushed the rouged cheekbones, and a tendril of brown-black blood snaked out of her mangled left nostril.
"May God have mercy on her soul," Bridges intoned from behind them.
Jarod glanced up behind him, one of her stiffening hands in his.
"Oh dear God!" Bridges coughed out, tripping back a step.
"He’s escalating," Wilcox stated, her voice oddly calm and detached. "This time he took fingers."
Jarod stared. The index and pinkie on the left hand had been cleaved off, bone and sinew ivory white against the maroon flesh and plasma.
"Who is she?" Jarod asked, clearing his throat.
"A working girl. We’re waiting to ID the body."
"A working girl?" he questioned.
"A prostitute," Wilcox responded. "An easy target."
"We’ll send her to the morgue for an autopsy," Bridges said, his voice unhopeful. "Maybe we’ll get lucky."
Jarod tapped the laptop impatiently. Wilcox coughed discreetly and he stopped, lacing his fingers together to he couldn’t find some other devious way to fidget.
She continued their conversation without hardly a break in stride. After coming back from the crime scene, they had gotten together to brainstorm. It was more that they needed genuine human contact, warm human company, and reassurance against the heinous crimes of the world.
"So what’s driving him? Fueling his need?" she asked, strategizing out loud. "Why does he really take the hair and nails?"
"Because it’s not enough that they’re dead," Jarod replied, his mind ticking off possibilities and probabilities. "He has to defile them." He pushed himself forward and leaned on the desk, keeping his hands securely knotted. "He’s after trophies. Attractive young women he couldn’t get any other way."
"So this still all goes back to his infinite hatred of women."
"Yes." Jarod kinked out a crick in his neck. "Probably his mother, most of all. A stepmother. Aunt. Even a sister, if she was close enough."
"But if he’s a regular Mr. Smith without a previous record, he’ll be after impossible to find."
"It’s always the smart ones that do something stupid." Jarod cocked his head again, becoming uncharacteristically quiet. Truth was, he was trying to get inside the killer’s head and he was having no luck. Which both bothered him and elated him.
"So where do we go from here? Should we check records of possible assaults and stalkers?"
"No. We have nothing to go on."
"But this kind of monster isn’t just made overnight," she argued, dismayed with his lackadaisical pursuit all of a sudden.
"No, no he isn’t." Jarod turned back to her just as his phone rang. "Carter."
He hung up in a hurry, his eyes lit with fire again. He grabbed his coat and headed towards the door. "Run a background check in all institutions and psychiatric residences in the area. See if there are any matches for a fetishist with out profile. If he wasn’t made overnight, maybe he’ll be there."
Miss Parker strode out of the Inn at Bluestone ready to kill.
She’d pleasantly met the third Corporate case client for drinks, to talk business.
Business had taken the first flight home when he’d seen her. The best part of the evening had been when he called her ‘that mercenary Centre whore’ and asked when she had dyed her hair un-blonde like artificial intelligence. The worst, after being compared to Brigitte, didn’t even bear mentioning, as it pertained to some obscure Centre contract that has expired eight years ago. Of course, the company now wanted that renewed. There was no precedent or rational reason the Centre would commit to his company, which was falling down around him like a straw house. Her part of the deal had simply been to show up and refuse.
And it was still on plan there. Until he had finally agreed to drop the case, and not take it to court, which even she knew the happily faux chic, Heineken delusional across from her had no basis for, as long as she slept with him. Which he had indeed came right out and shouted across the entire restaurant.
That had ended the night on a particularly fine note. Sometimes Corporate wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. And people wondered why she wanted to leave the Centre.
And besides all the good-natured fun, there had been this odd sense of being watched. No, more than that. As if she was being scrutinized. And not just by the idiot who thought she was Brigitte and her cleavage was the focal point of eye contact. To use a highly adolescent word, it was eerie. As if she was under surveillance. And it wasn’t by the Centre. If it was the Centre, they were either too good to let you know they were doing it, or they purposely did it so you would know.
She stepped into her convertible easily, despite the tight black dress slacks and suicidal heels. Her sleeveless shirt glistened metallic silver under the lame` of the parking lights. Thunder rumbled menacingly and she wished for a fleeting second she’d driven the big black Centre Towncar.
She flicked the ignition and backed out the undersized parking spot, hoping macabrely that the client was behind her and about to become ground chuck under her rear wheels.
But there was only empty space and again the spooky feeling she was being examined like some microscopic specimen under someone’s harsh gaze. Pinned like a butterfly in a dust-gathering display.
She let the car idle for a moment, her heart telling her things her mind did not want to accredit. Over the years, an agent or spy or employee of the Centre developed eyes in the back of his or her head. Alertness increased and minuscule things were picked up with accuracy. You learned, in other words, how to distinguish what was there and what wasn’t, that thin, thin line between fact and fiction.
Usually, Miss Parker was one of the best. A few years in the Centre, she’d helped bring down a tough case. It drew some waves and a smart job down in Washington had been offered her way. She’d had the skills and the talent. She had almost taken it. And even though by some small misgiving she hadn’t, she’d kept her contacts.
One of the first things she had discovered was what they called the ‘wilderness of mirrors’. In spook talk, it was the ultimate revenge, the bitterest paranoia. It was that gnawing feeling that kept you forever looking over your shoulder for nothing but thin air and ghosts.
In simple English, it was hell on earth.
The Centre alone was bad enough. She didn’t need anything else to tip the scales of her sanity.
But as she chided herself and pulled out from the lot, the feeling followed her.
Jarod paced down the dull corridors of the morgue. He’d cashed in a favor, several actually, and brought up the best coroner in the east, Dr. Denton Leesford. It was in the slim hope that something would turn up, and as Denton had assured him on the phone, this trip would be very worthwhile.
He pushed open the double doors of the autopsy room and strode in.
Dr. Leesford peeked up from over the body. "Jarod! Nice to see you again."
He nodded his head curtly, noting the precise Y-incision down the chest.
"Short of child homicide, I can’t say that I’ve seen anything worse."
"How did she die?" Jarod asked bluntly, knowing bluntness was the only way he could make it through this without breaking down.
"Not very nicely." He glanced up and continued. "She died solely for the removal of her hair and nails." He stood his full height of 5’5" and stared at Jarod. "You’re a prince, Jarod. I put all my other work aside for this, and what do I find? This is one of the most heinous, tragic, dehumanizing cases I’ve done in a long time."
"I’d say this is a big slap in the face for ‘growing compulsion’."
Jarod remained silent, his sight on the girl’s whitening face.
"You’re thinking fetishist, then."
"Well, I can’t give you an exact time of death because it appears she was submerged in cold liquids for quite a while. In fact, that’s my cause of death: drowning. There was about five quarts of fresh water in her lungs." Denton moved to the side of the body and extracted the mutilated hand. He flicked on a blue light and motioned Jarod over. "But you may have something here. See this?" he rotated the middle finger slowly, the smooth coppery nail polish glistening.
"Is that a print?
"Maybe a partial on her nail polish. She put up a fuss before he could get the gloves on." He dropped the arm back into place. "Listen, if you don’t mind, I thought I’d send this down to the boys in Washington. Have them take a look. I hear they can pull prints out of thin air."
Jarod nodded. "Can you – "
"As soon as I hear anything, I’ll fax you."
The road was a great companion.
Alone on nights like these, with no one around for miles, there was a queer comfort in the rain on the macadam. Besides, the road did not talk back or ask questions or offer lewd propositions.
The blacktop dipped along a particularly narrow curve and she held the wheel firmly.
It was late and she probably shouldn’t have had that last Cosmopolitan. Of course, then she would have been rational enough to kill that annoying little shit. But she wasn’t feeling any of that. Rather she was still so wound up about Jarod and Corporate that everything else seemed to fade away into nothingness. Even the wilderness of mirrors that was chasing her. And gaining.
When had her life not been about him? Sometimes it seemed to her that he was like a bad penny, always turning up. And sometimes it seemed that he had always been there and would always be there. She didn’t quite know which was more reassuring, or whether either of them really was.
In a twisted way, she knew she had taken him for granted.
Jarod was just about the only stability she had known in her life. Growing up together, they had been – they had simply, and not so simply, been friends. Then during college, they had distanced and forgotten each other’s companionship. She sometimes wondered whether he had felt that cold, empty feeling she had sometimes felt without knowing really why it was there or what exactly was causing it. And then when she had graduated and come home, she had gone directly to Corporate and climbed to her perch as the Security Head on the Centre’s social ladder. They hadn’t associated at all. She wondered if perhaps they had passed each other in the endless halls. Or if one had passed a room the other was in.
And then he had escaped. And she had been transferred, transformed. She really couldn’t decide whether that was the best thing that had ever happened to her or the worst thing that could ever happen to her. On one hand, by escaping, his capture and return to the Centre would lead to her own escape. On the other hand, she had opened wounds she didn’t even know she’d had. Jarod, in escaping, had brought up her past and the hidden truths she wasn’t sure she had ever wanted to know. He’d made her aware. He’d brought her the truth. He’d positively ruined the bliss of ignorance she’d had so naively in Corporate.
What had once been good, was no longer good enough. She wanted more. She wanted –
The headlights ambushed her in the rearview mirror. The high beams flashed behind her eyes, exploding stars like migraines.
She held her side of the road. The car had not been there before. And if he had, why turn on the bright lights now?
"Probably some reckless kids," she murmured under her breath, holding her speed evenly. "Just pass me already."
She slowed marginally and the car swerved from behind her and began to move up fast.
It was dark and big, probably some type of sport-utility.
And without warning it hit her full impact sideways.
She fought the wheel in her hands. "Damnit!" she cursed, the leather-covered surface blistering against her palms like festering rope burn. What the hell was going on?
The road up ahead was narrowing. Reflective signs warning about the dangerous curves were posted just about every five feet along the road.
Instinctively, she hit the brakes. But the SUV held pace with her and knocked the convertible again. There was nothing she could do, she realized belatedly. There was nothing around here for miles and miles except more backroads. Turning around would do nothing but get her in more trouble, assuming she could even manage that. She couldn’t outrun her assailant. And she couldn’t just stop.
Was this what it was like when you didn’t make the rules?
Again the dark truck crashed into her. Her driver’s side door was caving under the pressure. Another few hits and she might not be able to keep the car on the road.
The SUV swung into her again and her tires squealed on the edge of the ditch.
It rammed into her hard again, before she could get her tires off the side of the road and the wheel plunged from her grasp, and then she was falling. Just falling.
They hit the place in the early morning.
For all the bluster about not being able to get up to speed quickly, there were sure enough warm bodies to go around. As usual, everyone wanted in on the glory.
Denton had sent the fax around 4 AM. Apparently his boys really could concoct miracles. The print belonged to one Lane Madison of Bluestone Heights, a trailer park in the ancient part of town.
Their suspect was not present.
Jarod followed Wilcox inside. Even for a trailer home, the interior was nearly claustrophobic. And worse than that, the sight of yet another cold body had served to make the still warm ones disappear. Bridges was the only one left waiting, staring disjointedly at the tangled figure.
Jarod nudged Wilcox aside and bent down beside the bed. He didn’t know how a human being could commit violence like this. He couldn’t comprehend or understand it. And he knew he didn’t want to.
The woman must have been extremely pretty before he’d – he’d started with her. Bridges flipped on a dull light and ragged clumps of russet hair gleamed brightly, scattered over the rumpled excuse for a bed on which she’d been tossed like a Glad trash bag. Completely disposable. Three of her ten fingers were missing, lopped off haphazardly. Most of the remaining fingers were bent at odd angles, the once immaculate nails now jagged and broken into rough spikes. The worst part though was the eyes. Big blue eyes forever encoded with undiluted terror. Jarod slid his gloved fingers over her eyelids, ending her panic.
He stood; numb with all the horribleness the world could produce. Christ, this kind of thing made the Centre look – almost beneficial.
He raked his eyes over the dim interior. Lab boys would ransack the place, prying for evidence of any sort. He leaned carefully and extracted a puffy pillow from the scene on the bed. Ripping the uneven hand-sewn seams, he wasn’t surprised to see the stuffing was human hair, fat tuffs of every imaginable color.
Wilcox nearly stumbled back from the open refrigerator, her voice breaking as she tried not to gag.
Jarod took the proffered box from her hand and brushed off the remaining freezer frost. Inside what had once been the package for a normal, ordinary TV dinner were seven severed fingers, each perfectly manicured. On each appendage was a corresponding ring. One ring was an immense ruby. Another was a simple band of engraved silver. Yet another was nothing more than braided leather.
He had chosen them simply because they wore rings. On their fingers.
Jarod set the box back in the freezer and closed the dingy door. The lab would retrieve it later.
"Agent Carter! Agent Wilcox! You’d better come here!"
Wilcox plowed out in front of him, breathing in deep lungfuls of air as the officer led them around to the back of the trailer.
"It’s not his," their guide related. "Dunno whose it is, though. Looks like it’s been through hell and back."
"What?" Jarod asked, annoyed and confused at the constant stream of babble and trying to retain some aspect of his demeanor.
"The car. I was talking about the car."
Jarod followed the arm pointing towards a dark sportscar.
"We asked the neighbor – a Mrs. Whitley – whether it was hers, but she denied it. Said that this scumbag has been parking in her driveway for years now. But she doesn’t recognize the car and says she doesn’t know where he got the money to get something this fancy. Said he used to work at a hair salon but got fired in some scandal about a week ago."
"When did she first notice the car?" Wilcox asked, hugging her trenchcoat around her.
"First time she’s ever seen it was yesterday."
"Okay. Have this Mrs. Whitley positively ID this guy, this Lane Madison. Then put an APB on him right away." She turned. "Agent Carter, do you – Agent Carter?"
Jarod had moved away and knelt down beside the license plate, furiously wiping the grime off the plate.
"No, no. This can’t happen." His voice sounded strangled, unbelieving.
He stood and pushed past her, yanking at the driver’s side door.
She followed him and immediately put a hand to her mouth. The entire driver’s side was mangled inward. Someone had definitely tried to force this car off the road, playing a nice little game of cat and mouse and bumper cars. So much so that the original paint had been all but sanded and ground off. She peered through the driver’s window and its complicated spider web cracks.
"Airbag’s been popped and cut away."
She surveyed the interior a little closer. Whoever had owned the car sure had money to burn. All the little and not so little extras you could possibly incorporate into a car were present and in full sparkling and virtually unused condition. The seats were upholstered in stunning full grain leather.
She pressed her faces close to the window. The cracks were permeated with a thick membrane of what appeared to be blood. It was also splattered and smudged over the driver’s seat and the steering wheel in darkly glistening droplets.
A cell phone rang ominously and she immediately reached into her coat pocket. But it wasn’t hers she realized. It was the top of the line model tucked securely into the center console of the car.
She spied Jarod over the roof of the car, a cell phone pressed to his ear. He clicked it off and the car’s phone shushed mid-ring.
"Who is she?"
Jarod flinched at Wilcox’s voice. He glanced at the Indiglo gracing his wrist and discovered it was a couple hours past dinnertime.
"What are you still doing here?" he said, hoping to distract her if nothing else.
"Trying to catch a killer. You?"
"About her." She walked through the doorway and sat in the seat facing him, files and trenchcoat folded neatly in her lap.
"You’re not going to let this go, are you?"
"No," he answered abruptly, leaning forward out of his reclining office chair and crossing his arms on the paper-strewn desk. He had aged in only a matter of hours and unforeseen circumstances. Dark circles cut viciously under his eyes and tension marked sharp lines on his forehead.
"I think you should talk about it," she said quietly.
"There’s not much I can talk about."
"Then there’s not much I can do for you." She rose and tucked the pile of insomnia under her arm. "Or her."
"Wait." His voice sounded ragged, like something was tearing itself to pieces inside him. It hurt to hear it. He pulled a silver Haliburton case onto the desk and removed a single picture from its carefully guarded confines. He held it out to her without looking at it.
After a second she took it, knowing full well the investigation was about to change dramatically for her.
He made no reply and she continued. "Your wife?"
He laughed a short, curt bark that sounded more painful than sarcastic. She took that for a definite, but not conclusive, no. The pieces started to fall into place.
"So what can you tell me?"
"Nothing you want to hear."
"Try me." She placed the picture on the most prominent stack of files on his desk.
He hesitated and wrenched in a thin breath. "All I can tell you is that I need her back."
He reached out for the picture and she grasped his wrist, holding it tight. "Then we’ll find her."
"The report is back on the car," Bridges said without preamble, handing Wilcox yet another sheaf of papers as she shuffled to the coffee/tepid turpentine machine.
"We’ve got prints, blood, and hair. There are two sets of everything. One set matches our suspect, Lane Madison. The other set matches a woman whom we took great pains to locate."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, nothing came up on the normal channels."
"Then what’s all this?" she asked, even though she was sure she knew.
"I pulled a lot of strings," he answered not so ambiguously. "And I used all the unofficial channels I could think of."
This is her then, she thought to herself. This is really her.
"This is what we came up. Pretty as hell, ain’t she?"
Wilcox nodded her head, staring at another picture.
"Funny thing is, after we found this, I went back to the normal channels and be damned if she wasn’t there."
"What do you mean?"
"Well," he paused, and his face contorted. "It’s almost like she’s there but untouchable. Like a search won’t bring her up, but skip right over her. However that’s possible. Or not so possible. She’s like a living non-entity."
"Where does she live?"
"Down in Blue Cove. Works for that rich private outfit down there."
"You think they did this?"
"Sometimes I think everyone’s responsible for everything." It was a pretty cynical philosophy, and one that could be pretty damn accurate.
"Can this be traced?" she asked suddenly, holding up the information.
"No way," he answered confidently. "Our boys are the best."
She sighed. "But there’s always someone better."
Wilcox tossed the package and Jarod caught it with a satisfying, gratifying squish.
He looked at it as if it was a new form of alien life.
"It’s food," she informed him. "You’ve seen other people eating it?"
He stared at her blankly and she continued. "And I will personally administer it myself if I have to."
"You make that sound like a threat," he remarked.
It took a second to realize he was half-heartedly flirting with her and another few seconds after that to compose herself.
"It is her, isn’t it?" Wilcox asked resignedly. Only she knew she was asking two questions at the same time.
"We got prints and blood back from the lab. They’re a spot-on match. And the car is registered to her." She continued to watch his expression. "But I hear that information was pretty hard to dig up."
"It would be."
She decided to wait until he spoke. And after a long time, he did.
"I can’t tell you much."
"You don’t have to tell me anything. You love her."
She might as well have shot him. The poor fool thought he was so clever. He finished the sandwich in two bites, chewed, threw the trash away, missed the can by a mile, and thought about what she had said.
"When do you think we’ll get him?" she asked. It wasn’t ‘if’ they’d get him. It was ‘when’.
"When he finds someone he can’t just catch."
They shared a look together, both thinking thoughts they knew they shouldn’t have been thinking.
"Agent Carter? Agent Wilcox?" a young agent ran through the doorway, nearly colliding with them. They broke the glance hurriedly. "We’ve got another body."
Jarod didn’t remember driving to the morgue, or getting out of his car, or whoever’s car it really was, or entering the schoolhouse-like building.
He followed his guide obediently, his mind jumbled with all the thoughts he didn’t want to think about. Everything he felt but couldn’t put into words.
His head thrummed behind his eyes, his forehead blazing with heat and beads of sweat. Yet he was cold, so so cold. He wrapped his arms around his chest to keep from losing his meager dinner.
"Here we are."
The words seemed to brand themselves on his soul.
The man reeled up the colorless blind and stepped away so Jarod could see into the tiny cubicle.
He took exhaled deeply, retching the breath from his lungs as his stomach lurched ominously. Then he stepped forward, a man up to bat with runners on all the bases in the last inning and two strikes already. The glass was a dull, brittle urine color so smudged with grief-stricken fingerprints that it was nearly opaque.
But he could see enough. More than enough.
She was laid out on a chrome autopsy table, a fraying sheet the color of heat-dead summer grass tucked neatly up to her shoulders. What had once been stunning mahogany hair was now ragged tuffs of stubble greasy with dried and drying blood. Her scalp was lacerated with crosshatches of cuts visible through the tattered brown bristles. And even though the sheet was thick enough to hide any other atrocity, Jarod knew several of her fingers were missing, reaped off at the knuckles.
And her face. Oh god, her face.
So many bruises. So much blood.
She had been quite a fighter.
The man coughed not so discreetly behind him.
Jarod inhaled shakily, his gut still trying to twist inside out. He wiped a trembling hand across his sweaty forehead and tried to steady himself on the slippery linoleum.
"It’s not her."
He pivoted and stepped toward the door, suddenly renewed with purpose, yet still wounded by what he had seen.
"Are you sure?" the man called, running after him. "She’s been dead for a day or so and she’s not in good shape, but I was told – "
Jarod stopped so suddenly the man nearly ran into him. Looking up into his line-rimmed and haggard face, he decided not argue regardless of what he’d been told. This man was telling the truth.
"It’s – not – her."
He marched solidly out to the car. He rested a still-shaking hand on its roof and threw up.
"Here." Wilcox’s voice was low and easy. He took the damp handkerchief from her and wiped at his mouth. She handed him a bottle of Canadian Dry and he drank three large gulps, trying to wash the acid from his mouth.
He let her drive him to the motel he was staying at, vaguely aware she opened the door and let him in.
He sat on the corner of the bed and wiped his face with his hands. She sat down beside him.
"I guess I’m not the person you want to talk to about not losing it."
"No, I still think you’re the right guy." Her hand settled over his lightly. "I just think you’re much too right."
He looked over at her and saw something he had seen in his eyes so many times.
"How do you do it?" he asked.
She smiled. "Funny you should ask."
"Doing our jobs, what we do, we’re supposed to develop a clinical detachment to death." He rubbed his eyes viciously, whether to hide tears or exhaustion she wasn’t sure. "You think you can look into the face of pure evil and come away unscathed."
"You can’t," she answered simply. "All we can do is fight back." She squeezed his hand. "And hope."
"I went in there today, so sure of what I was going to find."
"But you didn’t. And she’s not dead. She needs you. If she’s ever needed you, it’s now. She needs you to find her. And you need her."
"How did you get so smart?"
"The world is full of predators, Jarod. More than ever before. Our job is to protect people from them."
"I’ve relied on that philosophy to give me strength. To give me faith. To do what I do. But I haven’t done a very good job."
"You lost that faith," she said, simplifying everything that was bothering him. "And now you want it back."
"You’ll find it," she intoned gracefully, "when you find her." She smiled at him again. "Get some rest," she told him, rising from the bed and moving towards the door.
"Wilcox. Sheila!" He rose and followed her, pinning her to the door. He wanted to thank her. Ultra-spontaneously he reached for her mouth and she met him more than halfway. He needed to feel. He needed to be alive. He needed to know all was not lost. He needed to be found.
"Stay," he whispered, his voice so fragile. "Please stay."
She pulled away, although he could feel the tremendous reluctance in her body. She met his eyes firmly. "I like you, Jarod. I like you way too much. And if you were anyone else, maybe I’d bend the rules." She grinned mischievously at the thought of agents consorting. "Maybe."
He let his arms drop to his sides.
"I like you. But you love her. Whether or not you want to." She paused and he knew what she was going to say. "And I won’t be her. I can’t be her. And you know that." She took a deep breath. "I think you’re lost and you need to be found. But it has to be her."
"I’m sorry," he whispered, running his hands through his hair. "I shouldn’t – "
"Don’t give me that much credit. It wasn’t easy, Jarod. Really."
The Last Day
Jarod shifted on the uncomfortable leather seat and rubbed his eyes against the blue glare of the computer screen. Wilcox didn’t look any better. Two half-filled coffee cups stood untouched, their respective owners seriously thinking about investing in Vivarin and Pepto-Bismol stock at the same time. After their little tête-à-tête, both had shown up at the office to throw themselves into the one thing they knew how to do best. They had pulled a true all-nighter trying to track down Lane Madison and so far had had no luck.
"Okay," Wilcox said. "We’ve looked down everything. Where the hell is he?"
Jarod shook his head. Frustration, exhaustion, and a hundred other emotions deluged him.
There was a moment of drowsy silence between them.
"Have you ever read ‘The Second Coming’, by Yeats?" she asked suddenly, so suddenly he wondered if it was just a conversation to stay awake.
He decided it was definitely necessary in his case to play along. "Of course. ‘Things fall apart - the centre cannot hold’," he quoted, thinking as usual of the double meaning those words carried for him.
"Yes," she said, sitting upright from the slouch she’d been resting in. "And there’s more. ‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’" She breathed in, her eyes distant. "What beast is this whose hour has come? What kind of human monster have we born?"
He sensed her need to talk and remained quiet.
"What forces these killers to become who they are? Is it a one-shot deal like a simple mistake of asking them to take out the trash when their favorite TV show is on? Or is it a series of little things that simply add up to human Chernobyl?"
"Human Chernobyl," he repeated, his mind immediately imaging the words. He shook his head, trying to clear it like an Etch-A-Sketch. He sat back, his mind spinning. "As terrible as it sounds, we’ve got to get inside his head. Where would he take her?"
"Where wouldn’t he take her?" she revised. "It’s easier," she admitted apologetically.
Jarod said nothing and she continued. "Well, we can rule out his mother’s right off the bat."
"Why is that?" he asked.
Wilcox simply stared at him for seemingly going against his profile. "This guy blames his ‘inadequacy’ on women in general, and we’re thinking on his mother specifically. So why would he go back to where it all started?" she inquired.
There was a brevity of slow motion between them as Jarod spoke, a true epiphany. "You said it yourself. ‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?’. Toward Bethlehem."
"Mary and Joseph? Mother and – "
"Because if you want to right a wrong, where do you go?"
They leaned forward in their seats simultaneously. "To the person who wronged you."
Jarod typed on the keyboard furiously.
"Malia McKee-Madison. AKA Mommy dearest," Wilcox said as the information lit on the screen. "Lives in Sausalito – very nice. Well, make that past tense. Mommy’s dead. Last year." Disbelief and frustration washed over her face at the same time.
Jarod hit his hand on the pile of paper closest to him.
She read on. "Willed everything to her two daughters, Nadia and Riva. Proceeds from the sale of her quite expensive house, all her belongings. It seems she wasn’t all that thrilled with Lane either."
He sighed. "Both daughters reside in California." He clicked further, scanning for mention of her son or the great state of Delaware.
"Wait – go back!"
He did. "What?"
"There," she pointed on the screen, listing various parcels of her estate. "One sailboat, docked in Bluestone Bay."
They stared at each other and at the single line of information as if it might just vanish away.
"We’ve got him" they whispered in unison. Suddenly they were all at attention again, the prospect of catching this killer and finding Parker like natural caffeine.
"I’ll alert the office," she said, ducking out and sprinting away. He grabbed his coat and Kevlar and met up with her in the command center, already filled with officers. "We’ll be ready to move with a full team in twenty minutes." She touched his shoulder lightly and smiled. "We’re going to get her."
Miss Parker struggled to wake herself.
Her body felt like it was so much rubber cement. Rubber cement that had been stuck to the bottom of the World Cup Women’s Soccer Team cleats.
The floor shifted beneath her like a Tilt-a-Whirl and she ricocheted into a wall, smashing her head viciously against the nettle-like plywood.
It was like a caffeine overdose.
Her mind slammed out of sluggish neutral and rammed straight into near panic.
She sat very still and waited for her mind’s search engine to remember what the hell was going on. A trickle of thick warm blood oozed over her right eyebrow, down over her half-masted eyelid and onto her cheek, where it dripped somewhere on her shoulder. It tangled in her lashes and seeped into her eye where it burned and itched like combination of harsh shampoo and gasoline. Both eyes welled with tears to dilute the damn irritant and coursed down her cheeks as well.
She tried to open her eyes, to rub them into numbness only to realize that her hands were bound behind her back with what felt like metal wire boy scout knots, the kind that were booby trapped to cut off all circulation when you moved. There were elaborate swaths of duct tape smoothed lightly over her eyes and tightly over her mouth.
She shifted ever so slightly to stretch out her aching joints. Pins and needles instantly swarmed up her legs from toes to hips, and shivering slivers of pain darted up her lower back. She flinched and wrenched only to find stars exploding ferociously behind her eyes and a dark, dark cape descending partially over her mind.
She did what she knew how to do best: fight back.
She wedged her upside down hands in the prickly plywood corner behind her and crawled upward like an inchworm. Before she’d gotten more than a foot higher, her head rebounded off the ceiling of her dungeon and she fell back to the floor, scraping splinters into her flesh as she went. She lashed out her also-bound feet in frustration only to find she could move no more in sideways than she could upwards. She was trapped.
She remembered clearly now how she’d gotten here. The car, the road, the endless falling. Oh yes, she remembered, and the anger fueled her.
Life was all about surviving, and she was a survivor. If she was nothing else, she was a survivor.
She sprawled out her ranting and raging body as well as she could in the claustrophobic confines. And she thought. The only thing she could focus on did not surprise her.
All other matters simply faded away. Her father, or fathers, Lyle and Angelo, Brigitte, Sydney and Broots, the Centre, Corporate, her excuse for a life. Even her mother.
All that was left was Jarod.
And she decided that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Her left leg twitched and spasmed and she moved it as best she could.
She knew if she was ever going to escape this nightmare, then she was going to have to remain calm, stay focused, be logical. If Jarod helped her do that, then Jarod it was.
She thought back to the beginning. About Jarod escaping and her first valiant attempts to bring him back. About the DSA on her mother he’d given her and the painting he’d rendered from it, his quest to give her the truth. She thought about the strip search in Vegas. The jail-time for a concealed weapon. The cold he’d given her from a goddamn Petrie dish. The loss of her favorite shoes to his roach motel stunt. His Christmas gift of the white rabbit, whom she’d passed on to Debbie Broots, who named him, appropriately, Jack Frost. About all the Centre testings and T-boards she’d endured on his behalf. The lovely bleeding ulcer and near death he’d so kindly given her. His affair with that nasty Argentine chick. His devious plan to discover Bobby-better-known-as-Lyle at the damn reunion where she’d played Broot’s wife and Broots had in turn been enchanted with her cleavage.
She thought about how all that had changed. How Jarod had left off with the malicious mischief. All the information he’d helped her discover on her mother, her fathers, and her past. The time he’d saved her life down in Bahia Grande with that damn flare gun. Of course, he’d tied her up so she couldn’t just dislocate her thumb again, but she was at least alive, though it hadn’t seemed such a hot deal then with the Centre and a hurricane breathing down her neck and caged with a horny homicidal maniac. How he’d written a book, a solely pornographic Harlequin wanna-be on her life, and that conversation on Valentine’s Day. She thought of the surprise and pain in his voice, and later the relief, when he’d asked whether she was giving up on him and the chase, and she had replied only in his dreams. Though she’d had a pretty good idea by then that wasn’t what his dreams were about. She thought about the time they’d been involved in the standoff in the Dovertown Bank and all the emotional repercussions that had entailed. That one time alone was enough fodder for her mind to play with for hours. She thought about the almost-pretender and the heart-wrenching Angelo who had given up his serum to save the little boy. About the hours she and Jarod had sat up and waited together, watching one soul drown to its living death, and the other soul come back to life.
All they had been through together.
And that was the bitch of it all, wasn’t it? That damn word ‘together’.
If she wanted so badly to escape, then why was she trying to capture him? He didn’t deserve the Centre any more that she did.
And all he was really doing was living the life she wanted so very badly to live.
So if that was the case, why wasn’t she with him?
What was she –
There was a hearty jerk and moan as what she imagined to be the door from her dungeon ripped open. Even through the duct tape, she could literally feel the bright light from the outside stabbing daggers into her brain. She crumbled backwards into her cell, trying to ward off the pain, trying to fend it off.
Her heart lurched deep in her chest, stammering irregularly as a massive hand seized her biceps and dragged her out of her burrow. She staggered heavily, her feet no longer mobile, and tottered even in what was a firm, strong grasp. Her bare toes snagged on the uneven surface and she tripped, her assailant finally letting go.
She pitched forward, careening toward what she assumed to be a hard landing. Instead she landed sideways on a soft bed mattress.
The hand cuffed her again and righted her on the bed. The tape over her eyes was torn off, taking what felt like all her eyelashes, eyebrows, and skin with it. The light overwhelmed her, even through the membranes of her eyelids. Spasms convulsed in her head and her stomach flared with nausea. After what she guessed to be several minutes of darkness and semi-fading excruciating agony, she pried open her eyes in tiny slits, and after a minute of that, opened them half-way.
Everything was still blurry and indistinct around the edges. The air stung her retinas and she gasped in low, flat breaths. La Maze was definitely not only for pregnant ladies.
The ties were cut from her ankles and a large, clammy hand descended over her own and slid up her back to her hair.
"You have such beautiful hair." Her rescuer and assailant leaned in close and pressed his nose into her dark lengths.
She immediately flung herself to her feet and faced him warily. "What the fuck do you think you’re doing?" she mouthed through the duct tape. He probably didn’t understand the words, but he definitely got the context.
He rose too and moved toward her. "I need you," he whispered, his voice flat lining. "I need what you have."
"Go to hell!"
She turned to run, even hobbled the way she was with her lack of circulation, but before she could even get one step he had grabbed her hair and yanked her backwards into his broad chest. "I need you," he whispered again.
She smashed the side of her head against his. He dropped away a step, holding his ringing ear gingerly.
"You’ll pay for that, bitch. The ones that fight always pay."
He slapped her widely across her cheekbone before she could even dodge his attack. Her left eye bulged and felt like it nearly popped out her head. Her jaw split sideways, grinding inwards on itself like long nails on blackboard. She tumbled backwards, the small of her back impaled on the rusty refrigerator handle. Sparks of scintillating anguish detonated throughout her entire body.
Rough hands seized her off the floor and hurled her against the wall.
"You’re mine. All mine."
It usually never worked, but she brought a stiff knee straight into his groin. Although he fended her off, she still managed a glancing shot. He howled and backhanded her again.
Black darkness and bright stars overwhelmed her at the same time.
His weight lifted suddenly. She writhed forward and realized he had grabbed a solid kitchen knife off the small counter opposite of the crawl space she’d been stuffed. Such small quarters.
"You’re mine, bitch."
He lunged at her with the knife and with the last bit of strength she could muster, she lashed outward with her legs. She had never really been lucky, but she impacted solidly against the swinging blade, propelling it away from herself and into the soft skin of his upper arm. Blood immediately welled up under the pale blue button-down shirt he was wearing.
The knife clattered to the floor.
It was like one of those times when you had friend’s hand in your own and if you swung it back at themselves, they didn’t react. It was as if they truly believed they could never harm themselves.
Blood kept blooming outward and she guessed she had nicked him pretty good. Sudden fear and adrenaline coursed through her veins.
"You’re going to pay, bitch!"
They descended on the docks like the plagues in the Bible.
Jarod truly didn’t know where they had all come from, but he was damn glad they were here.
They were going to need every single one of them to find the damn boat. It seemed everyone on the eastern seaboard rented boat space here.
Bridges darted right and Jarod and Wilcox raced left.
He came at her again and she ducked, dropping just below the edge of his fist. He aimed again and stumbled as she swerved out of his reach. He had veered just enough out of the doorway to allow her by.
She ran like she had never run before in her life. The dark hole opened up into a breathtaking marina and she realized the swaying she had felt was the waves beneath her. She plowed through the scattered mess on the deck and darted for the rickety dock. At the last second, her bare foot caught in a pile of rope coiled on the stern and she went down hard on the wooden dock.
"You can’t run, bitch. ‘Cause you’re mine. All mine."
A burbled shouting drew their attention.
"Hey! Hey!" A gnarled fisherman called. "You leave her alone!"
"Agent Carter! There!" Wilcox shouted.
Jarod saw the commotion and took off running. He was still several hundred yards away.
"No!" she shouted through the duct tape, her sounds muffled.
"What do you think of this, bitch?" he asked, leveling a gun at her temple. "How do you like this?" He backhanded her again and her neck snapped backwards, rocketing off the solid planks.
"FBI!" Jarod shouted, plunging down the length of the dock. "Don’t move! Don’t you move!"
"She’s mine, man! You leave her alone!" He yanked them both off the dock, wringing his arm around her throat, cutting off all her air. She writhed against him, not even caring there was a gun to her head, but his arm didn’t budge.
"Let her go and we’ll talk, Lane!" Wilcox shouted back, leveling her gun at him as well.
"You can’t have her! She’s mine!" He repeated petulantly, shoving the gun against her temple roughly.
"Let-her-go," Jarod spat out.
"Never, man. Never." A dark grin spun outward on his face and he stifled his arms tighter around her throat and she sagged back against him, her strength leaving her. She had to do something. The gun wavered in his hand for a millisecond, veering away from her temple and she moved. She smashed her foot backward against his kneecap, hearing it actually snap under her pressure. He staggered, still holding her as a shield, toward the edge of the dock.
Shoot, she thought, not even caring how close they were. Please shoot.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man and woman from the FBI charge forward. But it was too late. The plank edges snapped under their weight and they went crashing downward, glancing off the side of the boat and then into the cold darkness of the bay.
Jarod wrenched off his coat and heedless of the voices behind him, dove into the water.
Down and down, deeper and deeper.
She clawed at her assailant desperately, fighting as hard as she had ever fought. Her lungs screamed, burning and boiling without oxygen.
She had never told anyone, but she hated the water.
She was scared to death of drowning.
When she was eight, her mother had taken her to the shore. A naturally impetuous child, she had immediately swum out into depths far above her head. There was freedom in the water, a release she hadn’t fully understood.
A beautiful blue wave had approached her and undaunted, she dived through it. Instantly she had been trapped in an undertow. Blind, deaf, and directionless, she was pitched. Over and over she catapulted, her skin nearly flayed off in the tornado of shells, rocks, and sand. The taking was so sudden, the onslaught so swift, there had been no way to fight back. For the first time in her life she was forced to surrender, given no choice but to do so. By letting go, letting go of everything, the ocean carried her out, carried her under, and eventually let her go.
That had been her first lesson in fragility. And her own strength.
Now, as the man the FBI had identified as Lane pinned her against a telephone post used to support the dock above, nearly ripping her hair from her head as he held her back and withdrew the knife from his pocket, she understood.
Sometimes you couldn’t fight, she thought blackly. Sometimes you had to simply let go. Like all those years ago, you had to let go of the fear and allow the destiny the waters dealt for you spin out. You had to accept, to be swept out to sea and drowned, or to be cast back to land and air. Only by accepting the consequences of your actions did you have any hope of survival.
She sagged back against the post, her memory short-circuiting into blackness. There was a sudden whoosh of water and she began sinking ever downwards.
Down and down, deeper and deeper.
Suddenly a pair of strong hands grasped at her shoulders and tugged her up, freeing her arms from their binds. The tape was ripped from her mouth and before she swallowed all the water, a mouth closed over her own and a steady stream of oxygen filled into her lungs. The blackness lifted as it had before and she found herself face to face with Jarod.
Before she could react, the brittle edge of the knife sliced between them, narrowly missing both of their jugulars. It was only by some miracle of the currents that they were swept backwards. Jarod pushed her away, fending off the return blow. But Lane didn’t stop, and a flick of his wrist revealed a torrent of red. Jarod fell backwards, however that was possible in the water.
And sometimes you had to fight.
She came up behind him with all the stealth of a stingray or a B52 bomber. She grabbed the knife and wrenched it backwards. As before, there was only token resistance. The knife sunk deep into his flesh, disappearing up to its hilt.
A crimson cloud like an octopus’ jet stained the currents. The entire area went opaque and then funhouse dark. A hand reached for her and she knocked it away. She kicked upwards, her lungs collapsing inwards like exploding stars.
She burst through the surface of the water and drawn out by sheer muscle. She was pulled to her feet on the rough dock, supported by several hands. Immediately, wool blankets began descending over her shoulders and voices swarmed behind her consciousness.
And yet she was so alone.
She needed someone. She needed him. And he came.
He came out of the crowd and came straight to her.
Immediately the crowd thinned out and gave him room. His eyes were bloodshot, the circles under them as dark and dangerous as the water below. He tugged off the last of the tape hanging from the corner of her mouth and she sucked in large mouthfuls of air.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I’m fine," she answered, carefully avoiding his gaze.
" I’m…" her voice trailed off as he tipped her chin up to his gaze. As he did so, he could see her composure shatter. Tears danced in her eyes as they flickered on his. "Jarod," she whispered, her voice ragged and rough as tears of relief and a million other emotions flooded down her cheeks.
He wrapped his arms around her without thinking. He just pulled her as close as he could and held her as she cried.
"You’re going to be all right," he whispered into her dripping hair as she leaned into him and knotted her arms around his back. "You’re going to be just fine."
With his arms were around her, nothing else mattered.
They stood like that for a long time. Just molded together, her head tucked against his shoulder, his hands slowly rubbing her back. His voice whispering on incoherently.
And then there was a soft, but meaningful tap on her arm.
She wanted to ignore it but Jarod reluctantly broke away.
And she was face to face with a woman who immediately reminded her of herself.
"Um," the woman looked at Jarod and then back to her, as if really seeing her for the first time. "I don’t know if you’ll even want to know – with all the – "
"What is it, Wilcox?" Jarod asked, pulling Parker to his side and keeping a blanket around her shoulders.
"One of our boys picked up a radio signal on an obscure frequency we were monitoring for – him." She motioned to the man three divers were hauling out of the water. "What we got was something about a Schedule 7. On you."
It took Parker a minute to realize she was talking about herself. "Me?" she asked in a disbelief that even she knew wasn’t real. Angelo had warned her, and so had Lyle in his own way. And she knew deep down inside she had believed.
This was how it was going to go down. This was her chance.
Sometimes you had to let it go. To fight and surrender at the same time.
"Yes. A Schedule 7 for Parker and ‘active pursuit’ on you, Jarod." She looked around. "There are two people, a Bridget and a Lyle. They’re trying to flank us."
They stared at each other, both knowing.
"I’ve – we’ve – " she stuttered.
"We’ve – I’ve – " he stammered.
"You’ve got to go." She held out pair of keys, helicopter keys, a small sad smile lighting on her face. "I know."
They looked at her in complete disbelief.
He wanted to touch her.
He needed to touch her.
Nearly as much as she needed to be touched.
They were silently screaming at each other, willing each other to make the first move, to end this endless charade between them.
He stared at her from across the smallish motel room they were hiding in. She was beautiful, he thought simply. Simply beautiful. Nothing could ever hide that.
But she seemed so far away. So unreachable. As if nothing could possibly penetrate her resolve, her resolve that this was all one big kidnapping conspiracy. Maybe she had a thing for Mel Gibson and an overactive imagination. Cross Ransom with Conspiracy Theory and a little Lethal Weaponry thrown in for good measure.
He saw too much in her, he thought, not for the first or last time. That was the problem. He saw far too much he couldn’t live without. Too much that he admired. The greatness of man far outweighed his flaws, so said Camus. And it was so true.
He loved her.
He had loved her for a very, very long time.
He went to her without even realizing he was doing it. She was calling out to him in complete silence, calling for his touch without even realizing she was doing it. She needed him, as much as it hurt her to admit she needed anything.
They were –so– not normal.
She was frozen, her eyes blank as sheer glass as she looked deep into the recesses of the mirror.
He stood behind her, so close he could breathe her in, swallow her up in one deft motion. His arms stretched forward and hovered at her waist before settling there.
Her head instantly whipped backwards, soundly cracking against his temple. She ricocheted forward and he rebounded backwards, his knees buckling beneath him and collapsing his weight to the edge of the bed. She pivoted immediately. Shock glazed her face.
"Oh my God – "
Jarod glanced at her through his right eye, the only one opened for business. He crushed both of his hands into his left eyebrow, trying to alleviate the bright burning numbness seething there.
"Ice," she said suddenly, bracing into action. "You need ice."
She dashed out the door, before Jarod could even ponder whether she would return. But she did, her hands draped with ice chunks from the courtesy vending machine.
Now would be a good time for a pithy comeback, he told himself. But try as he might, watching her drop to her knees in front of him and fling her payload of ice on the thin comforter convoluted any logical brain activity on his part.
She delved through the dime-sized droplets until she found a section the machine hadn’t broken apart. Prying off his hands, she squeezed the coldness to the lump he could already feel swarming under his skin.
"You should register that head as a lethal weapon," he admonished her, surveying her reaction through his one good eye.
"In which way?" She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. Jarod reached out, colliding with her hand. They froze. He drew a breath and traced the edges of her bruises with the warm pads of his thumbs, trying not to cringe at those dark stains on her cheeks. They’d had time to get checked out by the paramedics who assured him, after their second time checking her out, that aside from soreness, stiffness, and exhaustion she was fine. A little bruised and battered, but fine.
"All of them," he answered her honestly. "You’re a pretender too. ‘A genius who can be anything she wants to be’."
"If I’m so smart, why couldn’t I ever catch you?"
"Oh, I was caught from the very beginning."
The room suddenly seemed like a vacuum, a black hole between them. There was no sound, no movement. And it seemed like there might never be.
A trickle of water melted from the swelling and dropped through his lashes onto his cheekbone.
It must look like a teardrop too, he thought.
Because her face contorted, so much like Angelo’s in pain, and her eyes too welled with wetness.
She was still alive. And she was here, with him. No where else. With no one other.
His hand found its way to her cheekbone, his fingers caressing the smooth, firm line of her jaw.
They leaned forward simultaneously.
Her eyes closed instinctively, bracing against collision. A softer, sweeter collision.
But he stopped. And waited.
When she opened her eyes, he moved in again.
It wasn’t a joining of their lips, like all the good old Harlequin novels liked to brag about and hideously portray. This was a joining of their eyes, surveying the other with startling clarity. They both had to be honest. They both had to want this. They both had to need this more than they had ever needed anything before.
She pulled back, the hand that had held the ice to his head drifting away. He caught her hand in his and held the melting lump to his eyebrow. Surprise and need, so very different, floated on her eyes.
This time she kissed him with closed eyes, simply letting herself immerse in the kiss. Her mouth opened under his and his tongue softly filled her mouth.
So she’d have to teach him how to really kiss a woman, she reminded herself. She’d never properly finished that job anyway, and she always finished what she started.
Not that he was at all bad at what he was doing. But there was always room for improvement.
She rose from her knees and nudged him backward onto the bed with a cat-like grace. A sleek, dark panther. So, soigné.
She scaled his body easily, naturally, resting her weight on him so that they were still face to face. They fit together like a pair of nesting dolls, he thought. Like perfect puzzle pieces.
She bent down to kiss him, her eyes so brilliant, so freshly unfaded. He closed his eyes to that perfect, perfect iridescence. When he finally opened them again, she was waiting for him. Edges of a smile played along the corners of her evilly lush mouth.
Eyes wide shut, that was what this was all about. She kissed lightly, feathery and firm at the same time.
His hands hugged the nape of her neck and reeled her in closer. She didn’t object.
That was when he truly knew things had changed. That they were finally the way they were supposed to be.
Her lashes tumbled downwards as her tongue danced against his. He pulled away, inhaling deep lungfuls of air, tangling his fingers through the curling ends of her hair.
And then he stopped, gently pushing her to the bed and staring at the confusion in her eyes.
"Not yet," he managed. "You’re hurt."
For a second, she looked absolutely devastated and he made himself swear to remember there was someone who was just as sensitive and vulnerable as himself. And then, before he could say anything, she rolled on her back next to him, her face lit with a sparkling smile.
"He said I was hurt."
"Who?" Jarod asked, not following her and taken aback.
"Angelo." She turned to him, her eyes still darkened with desire. "He said I was hurt here," she said, drawing one of his hands against her heart.
He left it there, the feeling of her life pulsing only inches away from his touch.
"He told me to believe."
"And do you?"
She looked over at him, and he knew. "I believe."
"It’s just – " It wasn’t a warning, he conveyed with his eyes, but a promise. "When I touch you," he said, "I won’t stop."
‘When’, not ‘if’. .
"But don’t stop," she whispered, spooning against him, pulling him around her like a comforter. "Don’t ever stop."
The Next Day
Jarod opened a sleep-coated eye. The neon red of the motel clock blinked back at him lazily. Still several hours before sunrise and he was wide awake. His cell phone rang immediately, as if some part of him had been expecting the call. The other parts of him had been completely and irreversibly happy just having her finally sleep, deep within his arms, at rest and peaceful. Content. Where she wanted to be. Where he wanted her to be.
They were off to a flying start.
Parker rustled beside him and immediately he leaned his head on top of hers ever so gently, sharing the itty bitty cell phone so they could both hear the conversation. It was about both of them, about their lives, their past, present, and more importantly, their future.
"There’s been no change, Jarod." Sydney’s voice seemed to age with the telling. "Schedule 7 is still in effect on Miss Parker. The Triumvirate voted on it unanimously." He paused. "And the Tower is not giving up on you either."
He rolled away from her abruptly.
"They forced this, Sydney," he ranted. "They – " He stopped. She had known. She had known something was about to happen. Getting caught by a serial killer, a death fetishist, hadn’t been part of the deal. But it had gotten her here.
"Jarod, are you okay?" Sydney asked, what might have been concern echoing in his voice.
"Why?" he asked, unable to assimilate more words. "Why?"
"I don’t know."
There was a dark silence between them, spanning three decades of secrets and lies.
"I’ll call," he said finally.
"I won’t be here," Sydney answered and then continued before Jarod could speak. "After what’s happened, I’m leaving the Centre. And so is Broots."
"Is that safe?"
"Does it matter?"
"Good for you." There were so many things he wanted to say. Instead, he left it simply at, "Good luck."
"You too. Both of you."
The line clicked off yet again before he could respond and Jarod folded the phone carefully and set it on the night table. Only then did he turn to face her.
She was sitting on the bed behind him, waiting for him. Somehow, she had known this was going to happen. Yet, she was radiant. And in her eyes as she spoke, he understood. He saw everything he needed to see.
"So where do we go from here?"
Please let me know what you thought:ElliottSilver@hotmail.com
Return toElliott’s Pretender Fiction.
This is Yeat's poem "The Second Coming", which I refer to in "What Hour Come". Please read it - it is beautiful.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
Author's Note: This story was inspired a great deal from the X-files episode "Irresistible". Consider any disclaimer needed for that information included here.
Disclaimer: The characters of "The Pretender" are not mine; they rightfully belong to NBC, MTM, and Pretender Productions, as well as the actors and actresses who give paper and ink a life and a voice. I am making no profit from these writings; imitation is the highest form of flattery.