Miss Parker followed Jarod into the hotel room.
"Well now, this is very nice," Jarod sang. He bounced on one of the queen-sized beds in the room.
Miss Parker looked around the room. It was better than the stale room of Doctor Brown. But it was not home. She began to pace the room, restlessly. "I can't STAND this!" The fire raging in the pit of her soul consumed every precious bit of humanity she had. "I've got to do something."
"Relax," Jarod said. "Read a book."
She turned and glared at him. "I don't remember how to read. REMEMBER?"
Jarod's face immediately paled in mortification. "I'm very sorry..."
Miss Parker held up her hand. "I'm kidding," she said, without joviality. "You need to lighten up." She picked up her pacing again, muttering to herself as she paced. "What in the hell am I supposed to read?"
Jarod scanned the room for reading material. "How about those?" he asked, pointing to a pile of pamphlets on the table.
She grabbed the glossy informants, and flipped through them. They stated highlights of the national park; listing where to buy souvenirs, where to eat, where to hike, and how to do it safely. She threw the pile back on the table, disappointed.
Jarod pulled open the night stand drawer, and retrieved a large leather bound book. "How about this?"
Miss Parker stopped pacing. "The Bible?"
"It has a fascinating history," he related. "Did you know, the Bible was penned by 40 different men." He stood and approached her. "And the writing of the Scriptures spanned over 1600 years."
"Exactly!" he agreed enthusiastically. "What's more remarkable is that the Bible is internally harmonious from Genesis to Revelation."
"How is it you know so much about the world's oldest book, Jarod?"
"Oh, I spent some time as a Monk a while back." He held out the Bible.
She just stared at him, as she absorbed another of his bizarre confessions. "You're way out there, aren't you, Pal?" she scoffed, as she took the Bible off of his hands.
Jarod looked around, curiously. "Way out...where?"
She shook her head, and flipped through the Bible. "This is a big book, Brother. Where do you expect me to start?"
"More correctly, the Bible is a library of 66 books," Jarod advised. "Psalms being the largest volume."
The hooded glare she gave him implied that if he did not cancel the infomercial immediately, he'd be pulling pages of scriptures from his bowels.
"May I?" he asked, as he cautiously took the book from Miss Parker. He flipped to the book of Proverbs. "Try chapter 16 and verse 32," he suggested, handing her the open book.
She read the verse aloud. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." She looked at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Meditation is the key." Jarod grinned. "Try chapter 17, verse 2."
Her interest peaked; she quickly flipped to the suggested verse. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." It made perfect sense, she thought. But her heart was not merry. And her bones were drying up. She threw the Bible on her bed. "I'm going to soak."
Miss Parker lay under the mounds of bubbles. She resolved not to emerge until she remembered at least one detail of her existence. All of her conscious while, she had a deep longing for her Mother. And so, she concentrated on remembering aspects of her Mother; her face, the color of her eyes, the shape of her lips, her brow when she frowned, her chin when she smiled. She closed her eyes and searched for a picture of her mother. And she listened for her mother's voice, the tone she used when calling Miss Parker, the inflections in her words as she gave her motherly advice.
If only Miss Parker could hear her mother say, 'Don't worry Sweetheart, everything will be all right,' she knew her memory would be resurrected.
But she was damned; condemned to colorless voids. Neither a hint, nor a clue came to her rescue. Miss Parker resigned to the numbness of not knowing. She climbed out of the tub, and wrapped herself in a robe.
When combing her hair, she scrutinized the foggy reflection. There was something slightly familiar in the large ice-blue eyes, the aquiline nose and full lips. The way her dark hair framed her oval face reminded her of...She reached out and touched the reflection, with a shaky hand.
"Mama," she whispered, sadly. Tears blurred her vision. She sat down on the toilet seat to collect herself. She knew her memory would return. She just had to be patient, a virtue she had yet to discover. And now that she was feeling well enough to travel, she would have Jarod return her home, wherever that may be, and she would aggressively pursue her recollection.
She emerged from the washroom and was assailed by loud country music. She looked heavenward and sighed wearily, "Save me."
"Well, you're looking refreshed," Jarod praised. "Are you feeling better?"
She lay on her bed. "I need a cigarette." She looked at him. "I'm a smoker, aren't I?"
"You quit," Jarod lied, quickly.
"When did I quit? And what vice have I taken up its stead?"
Jarod stalled for a moment. He reached into his shirt pocket, and retrieved a plastic candy dispenser. "Heads up!" he warned, as he threw the yellow colored toy at Miss Parker.
She caught the tossed item, and examined it. "Pez? What the hell is Pez?"
Jarod smiled, and shrugged. "It's a bad habit, Miss Parker, but not as defiling as smoking."
She pushed on the head, and a small candy popped out. "And I eat these?" she asked, incredulously.
"You love them," he said, with a grin. "In fact, you get rather ornery if you don't have them."
Miss Parker put the candy in her mouth and chewed. She didn't like the texture, or the flavor. And she couldn't imagine herself ever craving anything as cute as Pez. She hoped she was much too rational to desire bonbons. Once digested, the candy did nothing to appease her body's want for nicotine. "I need a cigarette," she again moaned.
"Well, maybe we should have some dinner," Jarod suggested, hoping food would take Miss Parker's mind off of her habit. "Would you prefer room service or would you like to go out for dinner?"
She raised her head. "I get a choice?"
"By all means."
"Hallelujah!" She sat up, slightly elated. "Let's go out." She looked forward to downing as much vodka as she could.
They sat down at the dinner table across from each other. It was awkward, as there were no distractions, no western music, no animals, and no animosity.
The waitress approached their table. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll have vodka on ice," Miss Parker ordered straight away. "And keep them coming."
"She'll have a large milk," Jarod corrected. "Doctor's orders."
The waitress stood in between the deadlocked stares. "Uh, what will it be?" she asked.
Miss Parker sat back. "Whatever the hell he said," she conceded.
Jarod smirked. "It's for your own good."
They ate their dinner in silence.
When the dishes were cleared away, Miss Parker leaned forward. "Let's get more intimate," she said.
Jarod's brown eyes lit up in wonder.
"Not that intimate," Miss Parker growled. "I'd like to ask you some questions."
Jarod gave her his concerted attention.
Miss Parker sighed. "Do you know my mother?" she asked.
His smile immediately disappeared, as he was overcome with uneasiness.
"Too difficult a
question?" she demanded.
Jarod shook his head. "I...knew your mother," he finally answered.
She heard his words, but not the meaning. "Can you please take me to her?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I'm very sorry, but I can't."
She finally read the pain in his expression. He knew her mother, past tense, no longer around to know. "Oh." Her heart shattered at the realization and flooded her being with dread and anguish. How could she mourn someone she couldn't remember? But that logic didn't win. Grief sent a lump to her throat, and made her eyes fill with tears.
Jarod looked down. Why did he have to relive her sorrow? "I'm very sorry, Miss Parker."
"Is my father...?" she whispered.
"Alive and well," Jarod answered.
Miss Parker pushed away from the table. "Excuse me." She rushed to the washroom, and barely made it into a stall, before all of her delightful dinner and milk spilled into the toilet. She sat on the cold floor, and tried not to think. But the longing for her mother ensnared her.
When she finally returned to the table, she was pale in face, and red in the eyes.
"Are you all right?" Jarod asked, concerned. Though he knew her pain, and he knew of her inner strength, he also knew the dominion of death's sorrow.
"I think you had better buy me that drink, old friend," she whispered.
"But, it's not good for your ulcer," he protested.
"Jarod...Buddy...Brother," Miss Parker pleaded. "At this very moment do you think I care what's good for my ulcer?"
He shook his head. "I guess not."
She nodded. "I guess not." She raised her hand to summon the waitress. "I'll have that drink now."
The waitress looked at Jarod for his approval.
He just shrugged.
As soon as the young lady returned with the vodka, Miss Parker downed the drink in one shot. "I'll have another," she gasped.
Jarod was astonished. "That's definitely not good for your ulcer."
"It's not intended for my ulcer," she explained. But the alcohol did little to encourage her aching heart. Her eyes glassed over with tears. "I really want my Mom, Jarod," she confessed.
Jarod reached across the table, and took her hands. "I know."
It took all of her courage, not to succumb to the grief. She blinked away tears. "What about your parents?" she sniffed. "Have you been reunited with them yet?"
"No," he answered sadly. "Not yet."
"Do you think you'll ever find them?"
"I won't stop searching until I do," Jarod vowed. "I will never be complete until I see them again."
They left the restaurant and walked along the main street. "It's so peaceful here," Jarod said.
Miss Parker stopped and looked up into the night. The darkness was splattered with twinkling stars. "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth," she sighed.
"That's Genesis 1:1," Jarod exclaimed.
Miss Parker nodded. "Funny, isn't it?"
"I can quote a scripture I probably heard years ago, yet the slightest details of my life, or the greatest tragedies elude me."
"What do you find amusing about that, Miss Parker?" he asked, confused.
She shook her head. "Nothing," she answered, sadly. She gaped at the heavens. "Compared to them, our lives are just a dull twinkle...a very dim flicker at best. Even when they're their dead, the stars outshine us."
He gazed upward. "The number of stars is proportional to grains of sand in the sea. Within our own galaxy, there are more than 100 billion stars. And there are over a billion billion stars in the universe." He glanced down at Miss Parker. "A billion billion stars," he reemphasized, astounded. "And yet, each star in the universe has its very own position. Every star is unique in its chemical composition, its mass, its motion and temperature."
Miss Parker looked at Jarod, amazed by his encyclopedia brain.
"Humans are like stars," he theorized.
"What? We're all balls of hot gas?" she asked, smartly.
"No," he answered,
as he nudged Miss Parker lightly. "Each of us has our own place in
this world," he explained. "We all have our own chemical makeup.
We have our own moves, our own physiques." He put one hand on Miss
Parker's shoulder, and pointed upward. "That star there is Proxima
Centauri. Just like that star, Miss Parker, you will find your own
place in the cradle of humanity."
Miss Parker's wonder moved from the celestial bodies to Jarod. While the stars were awe-inspiring, it was Jarod who continued to impress her. She didn't know if it was the Vodka rekindling old feelings, or if the sentiments were new. Whatever the cause, she had a fondness for this guy, her old friend. "I hope you're right," she sighed.
He gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Just remember Miss Parker, all things are a matter of perspective." He closed one eye, held up his thumb and blocked out a cluster of stars. "As majestic as the stars are, they pale in comparison to the breathtaking beauty that emanates from within a sincere heart."
She shook her head. "Where the hell did that come from?"
Jarod removed his hand from Miss Parker's shoulder, and shrugged. "I just made it up," he said, with a cocky grin.
"Touching," she praised. "Very touching. And the 'all things are a matter of perspective' recital?"
"Oh that, I heard it on a radio talk show once."
Miss Parker held up her thumb, closed one eye, and blocked out the moon. "All things are a matter of perspective. What's total mental disorientation and internal chaos compared to a walk along..." She looked at Jarod. "Where are we, again?"
"Banff, Alberta," he answered.
"Compared to a starry-night walk in Banff, Alberta," she finished her thought. "Wherever the hell Banff, Alberta is."
Jarod smiled. "And you still have your charm and your wit."
"Exactly." Maybe the alcohol was taking effect. "Let's window shop."
"Okay," Jarod agreed, happily. "But, why are we shopping for windows?"
Miss Parker chuckled sincerely. "You are a curious cat."
In their sojourn, they passed a 3-minute Photo Booth, which enthralled Jarod. "How resourceful," he remarked. "Four photos in three minutes...all for..." He dug into his pocket and pulled out the appropriate change. "Three dollars." His face lit up in anticipation.
Miss Parker started to back away. "Oh no," she argued.
"Oh yes." Jarod entered the booth, and pulled Miss Parker in with him. Four poses, and four flashes later he released her. "This is so cool," he sang, after retrieving the photos.
* * * * * *
The sound of gunshots echoed loudly in the building. "Mama!" a young girl screamed, as she was forcibly removed from the hallway. "Mama!"
"Mama!" Miss Parker mumbled, trying to save herself from the nightmare.
Jarod went to her bedside, and shook her gently. "Miss Parker?"
She bolted upright, and stared at him.
"You were having a bad dream," he said, in a calming voice.
She gently pushed him away, and then wiped the sweat from her brow with a trembling hand.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Sorry for waking you."
"I was up." He pointed to his unruffled bed. The radio crooned softly in the background.
She leant back against the headboard, and pulled the covers under her chin. "Don't you ever sleep?"
"Sleep is an elusive luxury." Jarod sat on the edge of his bed. "And whenever I close my eyes, I have nightmares."
"You and me both." She turned on her night lamp. "What are you doing?" she asked, as she reached for a Pez.
"Looking for answers," he stated.
"And have you found any?"
He shook his head. "Not yet."
"Tell me Jarod, why do you care?"
Jarod looked over at Miss Parker. The answer was more complex than he felt she could grasp. "Because, I do."
Miss Parker read verses of the Bible. She flipped to the Song of Solomon, the recorded king's passion for a maiden, and read verse after verse of the love story. She looked over at Jarod. "Jarod?"
He stopped what he was doing and looked at her. "Yes?"
"Did we ever...?" She smiled sheepishly. "Were we...?" She couldn't bring herself to ask the question.
Jarod stared at her, puzzled. "Did we ever...what?"
She continued to gaze at him, hoping her memory would reveal a glimpse into their possible past, hoping she would find the answer before having to repeat the question.
"Were we...what?" he asked.
She held up a finger to silence him. "Let me just..." She drew in a deep breath, before reading verse 2 of chapter 1 of the Song of Solomon. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." She glanced over at Jarod.
Jarod smiled fondly, and nodded. "You, Miss Parker, gave me my first kiss," he disclosed.
She cocked an eyebrow at the revelation. "And now?"
Jarod swallowed hard. In all of his simulations, he never had to tell a past love it was over. And so, he tried to slight the question. But the piercing stare of Miss Parker demanded an answer. "And now...we don't," he said.
Miss Parker sighed. She didn't know if she was disappointed or relieved. After all, they were friends. For what more could she ask? "Are you married?" she inquired.
"Are you in love?"
He reflected on his past experiences. "I was, once," he answered.
"Only once?" She enjoyed this game. "Why not twice?"
Jarod's jaw squared as he clenched his teeth. "I have no time to fall in love," he answered.
"Jarod, that's pitiable," she teased. "And what worthy cause consumes all of your time that you've none left to fall in love?"
Jarod looked at Parker. "You." He closed his laptop. "I'm going for a walk."
Miss Parker was now thoroughly confused about their relationship. She watched dumbfounded as the man of mystery left the room. It irked her to no end that he left like that, without explaining himself. She quickly dressed, and pursued Jarod.
"Hey!" she yelled after him. "How dare you accuse me of something when I cannot defend myself," she snapped, as she approached him.
"You've never been one to claim a need for defense, Miss Parker," Jarod stated, acridly.
"What the hell is going on, Jarod?" she demanded, as she grabbed him by the arm. "Why are you angry?"
He turned around and stared at her. Because you and the Centre prohibit me as much as you can from leading a normal life. Because you follow the orders that tell you to hunt me to my death. Because I can't tell you the truth, and I can't lie to you. Because you gave me my first kiss and you don't remember...
"I don't know," he sighed. The night was cold; too cold to remain motionless. He started walking again.
"Oh, and so now you're running away?" she spat.
"Whenever I stop to catch my breath, the past sneaks up and consumes me." He sighed. "I don't have enough resources to keep fighting that fire."
"I don't understand."
"I know you don't, Miss Parker," he said. "At this moment, you're trying to reclaim your past. I'm trying to forget mine." He looked at her. "And so I keep running. And along the way, if I can help someone, I will. And maybe, just maybe the faster I run, the sooner I will find my family."
"You may run by them, Jarod, if you don't stop running, and face the past."
Jarod clenched his teeth. Who in the hell did she think she was giving him advice on the past? "When you've recovered your memory, and you confront your past, then maybe we can have this conversation," he said, angrily. "Until then, please don't tell me my past is something I must confront." He leant forward, and narrowed his eyes. "You have no idea what my past is like."
She returned the glare. "What do you mean 'my past'?"
He couldn't explain what he meant, and so shook his head, and walked away.
"Jarod!" she called
after him. "Please!"
He stopped. Words and anger...Too powerful a coupling to be entrusted to the human being. Jarod turned around and approached the perplexed woman. He was chilled. He was feeling miserable. And he was forgetting that Miss Parker, without her memory, was not the same person as Miss Parker the all-knowing. "I meant nothing," he sighed. "I was just angry."
She stared him down. "Please don't insult my intelligence, Jarod," she requested, calmly. "I may have a bad memory, but I do know there is an ounce of poisonous truth in defensive retorts." Although she stood shivering in the cold, she felt no physical discomfort. Confrontation kept her insides heated.
Jarod stood still, accused and convicted. "We all have histories, Miss Parker," he stated. "Some closets just have more bones rattling in them than others."
"I don't care about the fleshless carcasses collecting dust in someone else's wardrobe, Jarod," she said, earnestly. Her stare was a crafted weapon used habitually. "We've obviously had an eventful connection," she concluded. "And you don't want me to discover it."
Jarod was unaffected by the intense blue gaze. "You're right, Miss Parker."
"You do have a bad memory," he answered, slyly. He blew on his hands to ease the stinging. "You're going to get hypothermia. Go back to the hotel." He turned and quickly walked away.
"You bastard," she whispered, as she watched him walk away.
* * * * * *
Jarod dug his cellular phone from his coat pocket, and punched in a familiar number.
"Sydney here," the woken man moaned.
"Tell me about my sister, Sydney," Jarod requested, sadly.
Sydney got out of the bed. "Jarod," he sighed, as his brain fought off sleep's fog. "Is this about Miss Parker?"
"This is about my sister, Sydney," Jarod snapped. "This is about someone I have every right to know, to have a relationship with, and yet she's a complete stranger to me."
"I wish I could help you, but I was kept as much in the dark about your family as you were." Sydney sat down in the chair. "I'm sorry, Jarod, I know nothing about your sister."
Jarod was silent. He continued to mourn the loss of his brother. It wasn't fair that he had to mourn a sibling he had yet to meet.
"I assume Miss Parker is still with you," Sydney spoke.
"It's my gift to you, Sydney," Jarod answered.
"What gift, Jarod?"
"Your vacation," Jarod offered.
"My vacation Jarod?" he repeated, confused.
"From Miss Parker."
"I don't follow."
"It must get very trying being treated like a second class citizen. Patronized, disregarded, browbeaten," Jarod surmised.
"Miss Parker and I have an amicable working relationship," Sydney defended. He detected sadness and agitation in Jarod's voice. "What's wrong, Jarod? How is she? Is she safe?"
"You tell me."
"I don't know. There are speculations..."
"What outstanding member in that ethical enterprise you've enslaved yourself to would like Miss Parker dead? Or out of the way?"
"She's made enemies asking her questions," Sydney explained, woefully. "I've warned her not to pursue this obsession..."
"Some people will do anything to unearth the truth, Sydney," Jarod interjected, angrily.
"Yes," Sydney agreed. "But there are those who will do anything to keep that very truth buried." He sighed wearily. "You are in grave danger. You and Miss Parker."
"Well, that's what makes life spine tingling, isn't Sydney? That element of suspicion; wondering who you can trust, if you can't trust your so-called friends...or your father."
"Are you saying the chairman is responsible for Miss Parker's being shot?" Sydney asked.
Jarod recalled Miss Parker standing lost, as he walked away "I'm saying loyalty is a commodity, Sydney, sold to the highest bidder. A little girl's affections can't always compete with prosperity and power."
"Not all loyalty can be bought," Sydney stated. "Come back, Jarod."
"And what? You'll comfort us? Protect us?" Jarod sneered. "I can't trust you."
The statement stung Sydney to his core. He knew why Jarod felt he couldn't trust the one who practically reared him from a boy. "I'm sorry, Jarod. I'm concerned about you and Miss Parker. Is she all right?"
"Are you concerned because you love her, Sydney?" he sneered. "Just like you do me?"
"We're friends, Jarod," Sydney reasoned, without voicing his affections for both Jarod and Miss Parker.
"How much is friendship worth these days, at the Centre?" Jarod asked, sincerely.
"Jarod, my friendship cannot be bought or sold. You know that," he pledged. "I promise you."
"Promises are easily made, Sydney," Jarod said sadly. "And more easily broken." He ended the call.
* * * * * *
When Jarod returned to the hotel room, Miss Parker was still awake, sitting in the dark. He removed his coat, and was about to turn on the light.
"Please don't," Miss Parker requested. Any illumination no matter how dim would aggravate her headache.
Jarod sighed deeply, as he made her out in the dark. "Are you all right?"
"Would you care to explain what the hell happened out there?" she asked.
He sat beside her. He would prefer to look her in the eyes, when he spoke, but the darkness prohibited it. And so he took her hand, as he searched for words that would convey his regrets, and clarify his anger. "I'm very sorry," he began. "There are issues..."
"May I suggest a therapist?" she asked, withdrawing her hand.
"Yet another issue," Jarod sighed. "They tend to do more harm than good, some times."
Miss Parker silently agreed. She didn't know the reason, but she had a strong aversion for anything related to psychiatrics. "Why don't you want me to remember?"
"I do," he refuted, not very convincingly. Why would he wish remembrances of pain and of a life unhappy upon an old friend? "Things will be different...when you do."
She closed her eyes,
and prayed for clarification. Just a drop of light to shed a sliver
of insight would make her gratified. "You can't have it both ways,
Jarod. I won't always be your unenlightened old friend."
"I'll remember every scrap. I will, you know," she quietly reassured herself.
Wordless voids became part of the dialogue, as both Jarod and Miss Parker looked inside for answers.
"Do you believe there are some relationships that survive any tribulation?" Jarod asked.
Miss Parker had to find her own way back to the conversation. She was busy dissecting her foreign behavior. Nothing she did felt natural, or right except for the habits common to all human beings, eating, sleeping, etc. And to those she surrendered reluctantly.
"I'm sorry Jarod, what did you say?" She rubbed her temples. Lights or no lights, her headache worsened.
He shook his head. "Nothing." Why was the moment awkward? "I'm sorry for..." he started to apologize.
"You know what, Jarod?" she sighed "Don't."
"Don't what?" he asked, confused.
"Let's just forget it." She had spent hours, days trying to live in a life she didn't remember. So, she had a past to face. Whenever it decided to appear, she would face it, if she so desired.
The atmosphere was taut, too heavy to take in air comfortably. Jarod reached into his pocket, and retrieved his Pez dispenser. "Pez?" he offered.
He popped one candy into his mouth, and put the dispenser away. "I love ice-cream," he informed.
She glanced sideways at him. "What?"
"Ice-cream," he repeated. "I love ice-cream."
"And you're telling me this because...?" she asked, baffled at his choice of topic.
"I don't like the way we ended our last conversation."
"Oh." Miss Parker rolled her eyes, to her own discomfort. He never ceased to cause her to wonder. "You're not some deranged miscreant, who gets a buzz preying on amnesia victims, are you?"
Jarod shook his head.
"Although I have been accused...of being schizophrenic."
"By an old girlfriend?"
"How'd you know?"
Miss Parker smiled. "A woman knows." She grabbed the back of her neck, and tried to suppress the headache.
"Let me," Jarod offered. He stood behind her, and gently brushed her hair away.
"You're not going to strangle me, are you?"
"Umm... not yet," he teased. He gently worked the knots out of her neck. "You're very tense," he stated.
"Must go with the ulcer." His hands were strong, warm, and gentle. "I could fall asleep right here," she moaned.
Jarod smiled. "Lie down on the bed, and I'll work on your back."
Miss Parker cranked her head around and eyed him suspiciously.
"Don't worry," he assured. "I know what I'm doing. I spent some time at the Y as a masseuse."
She nodded. "Is there anything you haven't done?"
He stopped to reflect on his past occupations. "Come to think of it...there are many crafts I haven't tried yet." He followed her to the bed. "I haven't been a bus driver, or a butcher, or a baker..."
"Or a candlestick maker," she continued. "Fascinating." And soon she was asleep.
* * * * * *
Broots hopped off of his bike, and unlocked his front door. He retrieved the mail, and entered his lonely home. It was a long day, and he was tired. He set the bike aside, and threw the mail on the couch.
He popped a frozen dinner into the microwave, and waited impatiently for its preparation. While he waited, he fetched the mail. A small parcel sent by courier from Canada caught his attention. Immediately he ripped it open, hoping it was a word from Miss Parker.
The envelope contained no greeting, no postcard, and no threats. There was but a single, bloody slug, and a bullet shell. He picked the pieces up, and set them on his kitchen table. And he stared at the slug until his vision blurred. He shuddered as he relived Miss Parker being shot, falling in slow motion, and disappearing as the shot echoed in his ears.
The beeping of the microwave scared Broots right off of his seat. In the commotion, the slug and the shell fell from the tabletop, and onto the floor.
"Oh man!" Broots yelled, as he dropped to his hands and knees to recover the evidence. He crawled under the table, and quickly secured the two pieces. "Thank heavens!" he sighed, as he buried them in his pants pocket. Forgetting momentarily that he was under the table, he attempted to stand up, and cracked his head on the edge. "Ouch!" he yelled. Once the stars stop circling his head, Broots carefully crawled clear of the table and rushed out of the kitchen. In a moment, he returned, removed his dinner from the microwave, grabbed the piece of hot chicken and vacated the kitchen.
"Sydney, it's me," he whispered over the telephone. "It's Broots. You've got to meet me at the Centre, Sub Level 5." He rushed out of his home.
* * * * * *
As conspicuously inconspicuous as he could, Broots returned to the place that he hated the most, the Centre. He crept to his working station, and waited nervously for Sydney.
Shortly afterward, Sydney appeared. "I'm here, Broots," he announced quietly.
Broots jumped out of his chair. "Sydney!" he exclaimed, quietly. "Sydney, you're never going to guess what I received in the mail today."
Sydney raised his eyebrows. "You're absolutely right, Broots. I'll never guess, so why don't you take a deep breath, and just tell me? Hmm?"
Broots bobbed his head up and down. "Okay." He scanned the area. "Keep your eyes open, Sydney," he ordered. He reached deep into his front pocket, and grasped the slug and shell in a tight fist.
"What is it, Broots?"
Beads of perspiration formed on his balding brow and upper lip. "Someone sent me...these." He quickly opened his fingers, exposed the bloody slug and shell, and then closed his fist. "They came by courier while I was at work," he whispered. "From...Canada."
Sydney rubbed his chin, flustered. "That's very interesting, Broots," he said, patiently. "But what are they?"
Broots looked at his older friend, disappointed.
"I'm sorry, but your hand is quicker than my eye," Sydney explained. He held out his hand. "May I?"
Broots stepped right up to Sydney eliminating the space between them. He placed his hand on Sydney's, and transferred the bullet pieces into the open palm.
Sydney examined the pieces of metal in his palm. The bloodstains on the slug turned his stomach. "Was there a note?" he asked, as he looked more closely at the slug.
"Uh uh. Just what you see there," Broots explained. "What do you think Jarod is trying to tell us?"
Sydney turned the slug over and over in his fingers, and scrutinized it as much as he could with his naked eye. "Damn it!"
"What is it?"
"This bullet slug appears to have distinctive Centre markings," he answered. "But I can't be certain until we run some tests."
"And how are we going to do that?" Broots questioned. "Brigitte knows every move we make, before we even make it." He shook his head, dejected. "I sure wish Miss Parker were here."
"I miss her too, Broots," Sydney said. "That's why we have to put trepidation aside, and do everything we can. Miss Parker may be depending on us."
Broots looked at Sydney, skeptical, As if Miss Parker ever admitted needing help. Heck, even when Broots did render Miss Parker assistance in a very grand way, say like saving her life, she still refused to acknowledge the heroic deed.
Sydney nodded. "I know," he sighed. "This is very serious, my friend." He placed the pieces back into Broots sweaty palm. "I'll occupy our femme fatale. You take these to the lab."
"I want to help Sydney, but..."
Sydney placed his hands on Broots shoulders, and gave them a reassuring squeeze. "For a friend, eh, Broots."
Broots reluctantly conceded. "She'll kill me if I don't help."
"That's the spirit." Sydney slapped the man on the back. "Caution is critical."
Broots nodded. "Brigitte will kill me if she finds out."
* * * * * *
Sadly, for both guest and bellboy, neither was aware of Jarod's arrangements. When the young man entered the room unannounced, Miss Parker's survival instincts and self-defense training took control.
She high-kicked the brawny boy in the chest, sending him and his tray flying across the room. She then ripped a lamp from the wall, and held it over her head. "Who are you!" she demanded. "What do you want!"
Jarod ran to the confused man's rescue. "Oh no! Miss Parker, No!" he yelled, as he intervened. He bent over the stunned bellboy, and helped him to his feet. "I'm very sorry about this." He patted the young man on the back. "Are you all right?"
The young man was
dazed. "Whoa! She's got a mean kick, eh," he wheezed.
"I'm very sorry about the mess." He gathered the tray and its contents
quickly, with Jarod's help. "I'll send the maid to clean this up."
"Please, don't bother." Jarod reached into his pocket, and pulled out a wad of money. He gave the boy a fifty-dollar bill. "I'm very sorry."
The bellboy backed out of the room, all the time keeping a watchful eye on his assailant. "Good night."
Miss Parker was frozen in her stance. She still had her weapon, the lamp clutched tightly in her grasp.
Jarod approached her cautiously. "Put the lamp down, Miss Parker."
She didn't move.
He slowly reached for the lamp, and tried to pry it from her hands. Her grip was solid. "It's all right," Jarod assured. He loosened her grip, rescued the lamp, and set it on the table. He reached for her arm, but she backed away.
"I can't do this anymore!" She started to shake. "I want you to take me to my home!"
He shook his head. "Not yet. It's too dangerous."
She ran a trembling hand through her hair. "I'll take my chances."
"What if I told you, your father may be involved in the attempt on your life?"
Miss Parker nearly crumpled. Why are you doing this to me! How much of this heaviness do you expect me to embrace! What the hell kind of nightmare is this? She closed her eyes, found her fortitude, and steadied herself. "Is he?"
"He may be."
It made no sense to her, no sense at all. "Why would he?" she demanded.
Jarod shook his head. "I've told you, Miss Parker. The corporation you work for is hostile, unethical. It has connections to very bad people in very high places. And your father...is a man of power. He commands with blinders on. Maybe he's lost sight of the fact, you're his little girl."
She glared at him with a loathing that frightened even her. Her only infinitesimal consolation; looks were just looks, and not tangible weapons of physical destruction. And feelings not acted upon, were just wretched sentiments; they alone could not execute the tortuous dissection of a being alive.
Why she desired to attack the one offering her aid, she did not understand. It was irrational, she knew. But then, nothing was making any sense. Her frustration and fear and exasperation needed to be appeased. The emotions had feasted on her insides and chewed their way out. They were starving for more flesh; and Jarod was on the menu.
"I know it's not pleasant to hear, but it's the truth, Miss Parker," he stated. "We both know what your father is capable of doing." He stared at her. "You know what your father is capable of doing."
"The father bear..." she whispered to herself. The father bear would eat his own young. The ulcer seared Miss Parker's insides. She moaned in pain, and pressed her palm against her stomach to ease the aching. "I'm leaving." If she didn't leave, she would erupt and cause irreparable damage.
"Miss Parker," Jarod pleaded. "Please be reasonable." He situated himself between her and the door. "I can't let you go."
She stared him down. "From 'old friends' to captor and hostage, now, is it, Jarod?" she asked, as she swallowed stewing acid. "You're placing yourself in a very hazardous situation," she warned.
Jarod shook his head. He stared deeply into her eyes. There was a time when he could reach her soul. When he could share glances with her, and exchange a thousand words. He searched the ice blue pools for his old friend.
Miss Parker stared back, unabashed. "She's gone, Jarod."
"Whoever you're looking for." She fetched her coat. "Get the hell out of my way." She pushed him aside. "If I don't return in a couple of days...send for the Mounties."
He started after her.
She turned around and pointed at him. "Stay!" She exited the building.
Jarod waited a few minutes, and then pursued the hotheaded woman. "We don't always get what we want, Miss Parker."
* * * * * *
"Working late?" Brigitte asked Sydney.
"Just finishing up some reports," he replied. "And you? No secular interests outside of work?"
"Working is my hobby,"
Brigitte answered smugly. She stared at Sydney. His personnel
records described him as a conscientious, consistent employee. And
that's what bothered her. "You pose a bit of a quandary for
He folded his arms, and sat back. "I do?" he asked, with a smile.
"You do." She leant against his desk.
He waited for Brigitte to indulge him with her sagacity.
"Any simpleton knows Miss Parker works for the Centre because of nepotism," she scoffed. "Wherever would she be without Daddy?"
Sydney scowled. "Miss Parker has earned her rank at the Centre," he defended. "You've perused her files. You know what's true."
"Truth...is rarely kept on file, Doctor," she said, with a grin. "And our jittery Mr. Broots is an asset to the operation. Wouldn't you agree?"
Sydney nodded. "Broots is an invaluable employee," he agreed. "And a priceless friend."
Brigitte cocked her head, and stared at Sydney. "But you. Why is it, a man of your morale constitution would remain at the Centre?"
"Precisely for that reason," he answered, with a smile.
She grinned. "Sharp! You really are on the ball, Sydney old man," she praised. "Doesn't satisfy my professional intelligence, though."
"Are you implying the Centre is not the place for your colleagues to be working?" Sydney asked.
"Just trying to understand my peers," she explained.
Sydney shook his head. He would never consider the young disdainful blonde to be one of his peers. "One might believe you to be in over your head, with your constant questioning of procedures and personnel," he stated. "You know how it is."
She displayed her first signs of distress. "Things are different here in America," she said, with a scowl. "Enlighten me."
Sydney graciously obliged. "There are employees who busy themselves appearing busy, because they lack the knowledge to perform the duties for which they were hired."
"Now isn't it the silly entrepreneur who hires an incompetent?" Brigitte sassed.
Sydney continued. "There is the troubled worker who is always posing questions, raising doubts, and never offering answers or solutions."
"Scandalous," she interjected.
Sydney nodded. "There are some, who because of their lack of self-confidence, try to impress with endless verbiage."
"You mean, like how you're carrying on now?" Brigitte asked. "Such clearly defined typecasts of maladjusted personnel. You've certainly honed your analytical skills, Doctor," she praised. "But now I pose the question, what need does the Centre have of a psychiatric personnel officer? What business do you have with the Centre?"
Sydney smiled, feeling no threat. "More questions, Brigitte?" He pushed away from his desk, and stood. "We can spar endlessly, question for question. But our mutual concern is to fulfill our respective duties as Centre agents, isn't it?"
She remained silent.
"You may have some weight in your corner. At the moment, you have the fleeting invincibility of youth. But I..." he paused for effect. "I have more than two lifetimes of experience. I've yet to be knocked out." He threw on his suit jacket, and gave her a stern stare. "You do not want to get in the ring with me."
She grimaced. "Is that a threat, old man?" she asked, contemptuously.
"No," he answered, sincerely. "Just a word of counsel from the Centre's hired help. Good-night." He shut off the light, and left her behind.
* * * * * *
Miss Parker walked determinedly, heading nowhere. She tried to distance herself from the frustration that hampered her every step, but to no avail. It became her confused Seeing Eye dog, leading her in circles. It was her shadow, enveloping all hope. It plodded side by side with her, distracting her from the straight path. She broke into a run, from a run into a sprint. And when pain pierced her side, she slowed to a jog.
She stopped running when she reached the banks of the Bow River. She stood as dangerously close to the water as she dared, and gazed into the arctic flow. The frigid air was beyond soothing. It introduced discomfort that numbed her insides for a welcomed while.
The lonely brunette wrapped her arms around herself for some sort of reassurance. The only trouble was, she needed larger arms to hold her together. She wanted a father that would order the clouds away. She wanted a mother that would promise sunshine. She wanted someone to hold her, and ensure all would be okay. You will survive this tragedy in your life. And you will be happy in the end.
The roar of the river was mesmerizing. Almost inviting. She crouched down, and lowered her hand into the water. The shocking cold sent a wave of goose bumps all over her body.
Jarod happened upon Miss Parker sitting perilously close to the river's edge. His heart pounded. One careless second and she could slip into her grave.
"Miss Parker!" he yelled, desperately, yet metres away from her.
She turned her head casually and looked at him. She did not doubt he would follow, but still she was surprised to see him.
Jarod inched towards her. "Miss Parker, it's very hazardous to be that close to the water." He observed a sign that warned to stay away from the river's slippery banks.
Miss Parker remained motionless. As desolate as she felt, it did not matter how close she was to the water's grasp.
"Miss Parker, please," Jarod pleaded. "You're frightening me."
"Oh the power the fear of death wields," she whispered.
"I'm very sorry about the confusion at the hotel," he apologized, sincerely. "I didn't mean to upset you." Jarod made sure his footing was fixed, and stooped down beside her. He was silent with her, until the winter air started to nip at his ears. "It's very cold down here," he mentioned. "I'll bet, it's even colder...in there." He pointed to the water.
"It's very cold," she informed, teeth chattering, as she shivered.
Jarod carefully reached and took her hand. "You're freezing, Miss Parker," he exclaimed. "Don't you want to return to the hotel now?"
She shrugged. "I just want..." Warm tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked at Jarod and smiled sadly. "I don't know what I want," she confessed, with an embarrassed chuckle. It was either to laugh or to cry.
Jarod's empathy nearly unnerved him. He glanced away, and then peered into her long lashed blue eyes. "Do you want a hug?" he asked, hoping he could hold her.
Miss Parker buried her face in her hands, and tried to push back the tears. But they flowed as forcefully as the river. She tried to muzzle the sobs, but her sadness was greater than she was. "Okay," she whispered, nodding her head slightly.
Jarod sat back, and pulled Miss Parker into his strong arms just in time to hold her as she came undone. "It'll be okay," he promised, as he held her tightly.
His embrace secured her. She knew nothing could separate them unless she allowed it. She buried her head in his chest, and released her anguish.
"It's all right," Jarod comforted, as he stroked her hair. He whispered all of the soothing words he wished someone had shared with him when he was a frightened little boy at the Centre. It was his friend Miss Parker, who eventually offered him, solace.
* * * * * *
"Hello Sydney," Jarod greeted quietly. "Did Broots receive my package?"
"He did, Jarod. We have the lab results."
Jarod clenched his teeth. "Is it someone from the Centre?"
"At first inspection the slug appeared to have definite Centre markings," Sydney sighed wearily. "However, further examination under the power of the telescope, eliminates any Centre issued weapon."
Jarod rubbed his forehead. "Are you sure, Sydney?"
"I'm certain, Jarod," he confirmed. "The weapon used was not of Centre origin."
Jarod's mind fast-forwarded to another level of investigation. Just because a Centre issued weapon was cleared of the crime; it didn't necessarily absolve a Centre employee of guilt. "That makes the hunt more difficult," he voiced aloud. "More dangerous."
"You're right, Jarod," Sydney agreed. "We did some SIMS," he related. "The angle of the shot, coupled with the position of both yourself and Miss Parker indicate the bullet hit its intended target."
"Good old SIMS, "Jarod sneered. "I never dreamed that one day they'd be used for my benefit."
"You see, Jarod? SIMS are not without their merit," Sydney defended.
Jarod scowled. "That Sydney, is another compelling controversy to be resolved, at another time, under different circumstances," he offered. "My concern is for Miss Parker. Who pulled the trigger, and why? Was it to scare her, or to...?"
Sydney gave his silent assent. "I'm amazed you and Parker are working together on this."
"I never said we were 'working together', Sydney," Jarod iterated. "I'm doing her a favor," he said.
"Where's Miss Parker, now?"
"She's...warming up," Jarod answered.
"I would very much like to speak with her, Jarod."
"Sydney, shame on you," Jarod chastised. "At the moment, our lady friend has nothing on but H2O. Do you know what happens when you walk in on a lady friend unannounced?"
Sydney smirked, as he pictured an innocent naïve victim catching the high-strung martial arts disciple off guard. "I imagine it wouldn't be too pleasant an occurrence."
"Let's just say...Miss Parker has a kick, and she knows how to use it."
"When do you intend to bring her back? Or release her?" Sydney questioned. "I'm assuming you're the one calling the shots, or I would have heard from her by now."
"Solomon said 'for every affair under the sun there is an appointed time," Jarod replied. "Miss Parker will let me know when it's time for her return."
"Jarod, there is one thing you should know," Sydney informed, solemnly.
"What is it?"
"There were prints removed from the shell."
Jarod sat erect on the bed. "Whose?"
* * * * * *
Miss Parker lay still in the milky water. As hard as she fought to keep her mind away from Jarod, her heart won in seducing her inclination back to him. His manners were gentlemanly. Never once did he attempt to take advantage of her precarious condition. His concern was always for her welfare. He displayed a genuine innocence that endeared him to her. And when he smiled, she felt her universe of doubt dissipate.
Indeed, her heart was a powerful persuader. It dared her to abandon all restraints, and immerse herself in the positive sentiments she battled so resolutely to shun, deny, destroy. She spent more resources fighting those emotions, believing she would be stronger for the battle. Never did she once consider that surrendering might empower her.
The internal tug-of-war was draining. Her mind loudly cautioned for all she knew, she and Jarod were embittered enemies. His sincerity may be deceptive. The safest course to pursue; guard her trust, until she was freed from the trauma of not knowing, until she was absolutely assured of no ill will, no broken heart. Her sound reasoning was disappointingly victorious.
* * * * * *
Miss Parker propped
herself on the bed, and stared blankly at the television. She hated
it as entertainment, but irritated boredom just made her flip rapidly,
non-stop through the channels.
"Are you eventually going to decide on a station?" Jarod asked, patiently.
"How in the hell can anyone be entertained by this crap dubbed 'quality programming'?"
Jarod shook his head. "Maybe you're..."
"I'm what!" she interjected, as she kept her fingers busy pushing buttons on the remote control. "What am I?"
"Maybe you're over analyzing," Jarod suggested.
She tore her gaze off of the television for but a moment to flash him caution. Do not tread there.
"Or...maybe not," Jarod yielded.
Flick-flick-flick. She paused on an arts and entertainment program that tweaked her interest. Ballerinas in a row fluttered across the screen.
"Oh, the ballet," Jarod remarked. "When you were a little girl, you took lessons."
"I did?" she whispered. The prima ballerina spinning pirouettes in the middle of the grand set caused her memory to itch. 'Your mother was a graceful dancer', someone once told her. The memory slapped the remote control right out of her hand. Miss Parker winced in emotional pain.
Another assault: Daddy's harsh voice cut into her brain. 'It's time for my treasure to shine!'
Miss Parker cupped her hands over her ears, and tried to assimilate the onslaught of memories. They came fiercely, rapidly, one after the other and not one registering significance; A bald man, Sydney, angels, twins, car chases, skin grafts, elevators, guns, cigarettes.
There was no reason, no sequence, just chaotic words and snarled faces as allies on the offense. And as quickly as they invaded, they withdrew.
When she opened her eyes, Jarod was standing over her, cradling her face in his hands.
"What's wrong?" he asked, solicitously.
She couldn't explain the brain-freeze pain. "I'm tired," she whispered. Too exhausted to change into sleepwear, she merely rolled over, and curled into ball.
Jarod pulled the comforter over her. "Pleasant dreams, Miss Parker." He shut off the television.
"Thank-you, Jarod," she sighed. Almost instantly, she was heavy breathing, and deep sleeping.
* * * * * *
Escape seemed ominous. The pounding of her heart vibrated throughout her whole body, disrupting her sense of balance. She stumbled and fell onto her hands and knees. The echo of the menacing footsteps behind grew louder. Miss Parker backed up to a wall, and turned around to face her pursuer. "What do you want?" she demanded.
The hunter remained silent.
"Who are you?" Miss Parker asked.
"If you don't know me by now," the hunter stated, stepping into the light. "You're more incompetent than the rumors accuse." A gun was aimed at Miss Parker.
Fearful blue eyes scrutinized the would-be assassin. "Why are you doing this?" she demanded.
"Let's just say, for the sake of our reputation."
Miss Parker screamed as bullets penetrated her.
The dream's gunshots
woke Miss Parker. She lay motionless until her heartbeat returned to a
regular pace. Out of habit, she groped for the slim silver
cigarette case that was never out of arm's reach. When it couldn't
be detected, the nagging of the addiction grew unbearable.
She crawled out from under the covers, and began the hunt.
Jarod returned to the hotel. He turned the knob slowly, so as not to disturb Miss Parker from her rest. When he pushed the door open, he smelled smoke. Straining, he detected the red glow of a cigarette. "Oh no," he whispered as he entered cautiously.
"Hello Jarod." Her condescending voice pierced the darkness.
"You're sitting in the dark again."
"Mmm...not really." She clenched a long cigarette between her front teeth, and lit it with the one she was just finishing. The tip of the cigarette glowed in the dark as she inhaled. "Fiat lux," she pronounced, as she blew a stream of smoke towards Jarod.
"Let there be light," Jarod translated the Latin. He couldn't discern whether she had recovered her memory until he saw it in her eyes. "You're smoking."
Miss Parker flicked on the lamp. "Very profound of you, Pezhead."
"Why?" he asked, sincerely.
"Why not?" she challenged.
"You quit." Or at least, he had her convinced of that victory. "Smoking is very bad for your health. Not to mention the second hand smoke issue."
"I like smoking, Jarod." She inhaled, and blew several smoke rings.
The habit offended Jarod. "Do you know how many lives are lost because of smoking?"
"I don't care!" Miss Parker revealed a gun. "Have a seat, Peter Pan."
"Oh no," Jarod moaned, as his stomach fell hollow. He thought he hid that damn gun well. "You don't think I'd keep that loaded, now do you, Miss Parker?" he jeered.
"Of course not Jarod. You're the eighth wonder of the world." She rose to her feet, and approached him. "But I'm S-I-S," she boasted. "I found the bullets." She pointed the loaded weapon at him. "Hands behind your back, you bastard."
Jarod cocked his head. "Oh come now, Miss Parker. You're not distressed about the Pez joke, are you?"
"No Jarod. But for the record, Pez is your puerile addiction." She tightly tied his hands together with a piece of cord. "Not mine." She pushed him back onto the bed. "And I didn't 'quit' smoking. You lied to me, again."
Jarod shrugged. "For your own good."
"It is none of your business what is for my own good!" she hissed.
"Why are you angry?"
"You're the freak of nature. You figure it out," she dared. She paced the floor. "How long has it been Jarod?"
"How long has what been?"
"How long, how many days have we've been together?"
"Seven," he answered.
Miss Parker staggered at the realization of seven lost days. "A whole bloody week, you son of a..." She paused and regained composure. "Seven days...and we're both still alive," she said, amazed.
"And still smiling," Jarod added, with a grin. "You know, Miss Parker, you're a very pleasant person," he complimented, "when you're not yourself."
"That may be," she replied. "But guess what?" Her eyes widened in evil amusement. "I'm back." She inhaled more nicotine.
"Cave canem," Jarod whispered for his own benefit.
"I heard that," she snapped. She recognized the Latin term for dog, 'canem'. "What's 'cave'?"
Jarod smirked. "Beware," he answered.
Miss Parker put the words together. Beware of dog. "Heed your warning," she counseled, pointing her cigarette at him.
"This is a non-smoking room, Miss Parker."
"That explains why I couldn't find the damn ashtray." She flicked ashes on the carpet.
Jarod watched her carefully. Her grip remained tight on the gun. "What now?"
"Now we wait for the sweeper team," she informed, smugly.
"You called the Centre?" he snapped. "Someone is trying to kill you, Miss Parker."
She showed no emotion. "Hazards of the job."
Jarod shook his head in disbelief. "The death of your mother should move you..."
"Nothing," she interjected, "moves me, Jarod. You should know that by now."
"I know you want everyone to believe you're as heartless as your father," he commented. "But I also know...you are more your Mother's little girl."
"Shut up!" She couldn't wait for the team to arrive, and rescue her from her life.
"Why are you so nervous?" he asked.
She ignored his accusation. To try and refute it would be to admit it. "You took my Centre ID and Security clearance cards. Where are they?"
"You're S-I-S. You find them," he challenged.
She accepted the invited competition without hesitation. "I owe you one strip search," she threatened.
Jarod stared at her. He was at a disadvantage with his hands bound behind his back. "They're in my jacket pocket," he confessed.
"So the wonder boy is coy," she teased. She slipped her hand into his inside jacket pocket, and snatched her identification from his body.
"Aw," he moaned, mocking disappointment. "Now, how will I sneak inside?"
"You won't have to sneak in, Jarod," she explained. "I'm going to parade you in through the front doors, for every wigged-out marvel in that bughouse to see."
"And then you're gone."
"Exactly." She snapped her fingers. "Keys," she demanded.
Jarod nodded down to indicate his front pants' pocket.
Miss Parker sighed. "Don't get excited, Junior," she whispered, as she slipped her hand into his pocket. "This is business, not pleasure." She quickly retrieved the keys much to the relief of both of them.
"You'll get bored," he anticipated. "No more Broots to emasculate. No more talking down to Sydney. No more...terrorizing Raines," he tempted.
"All good things...blah blah blah," she said, dryly.
"You're going to miss me," Jarod assured.
He stared at her.
What would it take to break inside? "Aren't you curious as to why
I even bothered to help you, Miss Parker?" he asked. "You...of all
"Because you're ...Wonder Boy," she answered, sarcastically. "Why else?"
"You needed help," he replied.
"I was unconscious, Jarod," she reminded, disgruntled. "I didn't ask for your help."
Jarod scowled. He had an urge to shake the woman until all of her spite and foolishness dissipated. "The least you could do is thank me."
"You get enough accolades when you perform your little Samaritan duties, for the needy, Jarod," she stated. "Charity must amount to something in your contrived freedom. Maybe it compensates for the atrocities committed with the aid of your simulations."
Jarod looked down, pained and ashamed. "Nothing I'll ever do will be able to right those wrongs." He raised his brown eyes to her. "But there is contentment in seeing justice prevail...in helping someone. You should try it sometime."
"There are alternative
vices explored that make one *contented*, Dr. Freud," she offered, with
a sly smile.
"Use your imagination."
He stared at her blankly.
"Jarod, please?" she laughed. "Sydney should have had you engage in more sensual exercises, rather than the cerebral."
He finally understood her innuendo, and shook his head, disgusted.
His discomfort amused her. "What's the matter, lover boy? No such SIMS?" she teased.
He glared at her. "In the night, when you're lying in bed, and your conscience demands one benevolent deed of you before it allows you to drift off, what good can you say you've ever accomplished?"
Miss Parker smiled. "I gave a lonely little boy his first kiss," she retorted. She went to the window, and peeked through the blinds.
Jarod's mind worked desperately to reason a way out of his capture. "How much do you miss your mother, Miss Parker?" he asked.
Miss Parker's heart stopped at the mention of her mother. "I've told you before, Jarod, my mother is not subject for conversation!"
He disregarded the reminder. "As much as you miss your mom, that's how much I miss mine," he explained. "If you return me to the Centre, I'll never see my parents again."
"So you'll escape," she said, lightly. "You've done it before...if my memory serves me well."
"If you knew your mother was still alive, you would do everything within your power to find her," he argued, raising his voice.
She would. "I have my orders!" she defended, looking away.
"And following orders justifies this?" he asked, angry. "Absolves you of any responsibility for your actions?"
"Spare me the melodramatics." Of course it didn't. She knew it didn't. But she had few options.
"The Gestapo made the same plea, when arrested for their war crimes," Jarod related. "They were just 'following' orders. The Roman soldiers who put the Messiah to death rationalized the same way, 'just following orders'!"
"You," Miss Parker snapped, indignant, "are not Jesus Christ, Jarod! You're merely a mortal, blessed with a few more marbles than the average blockhead."
"You've sold yourself," Jarod charged, acridly. "Your father, the devil and Hitler, are all one and the same. And you've sold yourself to them."
"Nobody owns me, Jarod," she spat through her teeth. She ran her hand through her hair, and mentally counted to ten. "Mr. Lyle, and not my father, is the chicken brain of influence at the Centre these days. Even though he has the semblance of a boy scout, the man is a freaking gargoyle. If I don't bring you in, he will."
Jarod smiled. "Oh, so you do care."
Miss Parker stuck another cigarette in her mouth. "I have my reputation," she shot back. She lit the cigarette and sucked on the calming drug, hoping it would silence the screaming inside.
"I understand why you're nervous," he said.
"Don't you ever shut up?"
"Uh uh," he said, with a taunting grin. "You're nervous because you don't know if whoever comes through that door...will fire at me...or you."
Miss Parker rolled her eyes.
"I can help you," he offered. "Please let me."
"I don't need your help, Jarod." She leant against the wall, and kept the gun focused on her prisoner. "Did you think I'd forget forever?"
Jarod shifted uncomfortably. "No."
"Then why the stalling?" she asked. "Surely an egghead of your caliber would have foreseen my moment of enlightenment."
He knew he was not as earnest in his quest for answers as he would have been, had he been helping anyone other than Miss Parker. The cry for justice is difficult to satisfy when the victim is as guilty as the evildoer is. On the other hand, he enjoyed the freedom he gained having Miss Parker as an ally. "I liked your company," he answered, honestly.
Miss Parker sucked on the cigarette. Deep down, in her moments of uncertainty, she found comfort in Jarod's presence. Were she brave enough, she'd at least admit to herself, if no one else, she did not dislike Jarod's company.
She could never betray herself with feelings she considered weakness. She trusted and relied solely on her own strength. And that trust demanded she never allow herself to connect to another being, emotionally. It would force the need for change in every aspect of her life. She had neither the resources nor the propensity to devote herself to such an obligation. And so she responded in her usual way.
"Poor Jarod, looking for sentiment in our time spent together," she said, flippantly. "Get this, nothing means anything." She resumed her pacing. "The only thing that matters is returning you to the Centre."
Jarod disregarded her insolence. "Do you remember when we were young?"
"Not another stroll down memory lane, Jarod," she groaned, throwing her head back in agony.
"There was that time...in the Centre...you gave me a gift. A teddy bear," he reminded. "I called him Junior. But you had another name for him."
The boy looked so sad. He had no friends, no family, to her knowledge. His room was gray, dark, and scary. He didn't even have one toy to call his own.
Although her father sternly warned her to stay clear of Jarod's cell, or else, Miss Parker's curiosity and pity impelled her. She stole down to the sub level one night, where the boy was kept captive.
"What are you doing here?" Jarod asked.
She handed him the teddy bear. "His name is Henri," she whispered. Before he could say anything, she quickly ran away.
"Henri," she whispered. "My mom gave him to me."
Jarod smiled, sadly. "Yes, that's it. Henri."
They were silent, homesick, regretful.
"Do you ever wonder...?" Jarod asked, cracking the stillness.
She raised her eyes to him "What?"
"Do you ever wonder...who we would have been, if our mothers had raised us..." he queried, "instead of the Centre?"
Tears welled in Miss Parker's eyes. The sadness came so suddenly she had no time to deflect it. She swallowed the grief swelling in her throat. "Jarod please..." she pleaded. She could not permit herself to even touch lightly the surface of the suffering for her mother. A mere glance at the tragedy would draw her into the abyss, and she'd be lost forever.
"Do you think we could have been real friends?" Jarod supposed.
Miss Parker turned around, and blinked away the tears. She resented the genius for reminding her she was more human than she cared to be. How convenient and welcomed it would be if she had not the ability to feel alive and dead, aflame and frigid, at the same time.
She pivoted on her heels, and approached Jarod. "Get up," she ordered.
He rose, slowly.
She stared at him for an eternity, hoping her head would clear, before she committed an irreversible act. As the moment progressed, Miss Parker floated out of her body, and watched herself far below. She seethed in rage as she witnessed the brunette asked Jarod to turn around. "DON'T YOU DARE DO IT!" she screamed inaudibly from above. But she couldn't stop herself from untying Jarod's hands. She was powerless in preventing herself from retrieving the truck keys from her own pocket, and offering them to Jarod.
"From one old friend to another." The whispered words bounced off of the walls and sent shock waves throughout her body, stunning every nerve. Her self-treachery both distressed and relieved her.
Jarod cautiously took the keys. "Thank-you," he said, sincerely. He quickly grabbed his cases, and ran out of the room.
The slamming of the door revived Miss Parker's sensibility. She landed hard inside of herself. The reality of her actions caused instant and severe nausea. There would be serious, if not fatal repercussions.
She immediately pursued the pretender. "Jarod!" she screamed, as she chased after him.
He was just about to hop in the truck. "Watch your back, Miss Parker!" He waved, and got in.
"Watch your own!" She fired one shot at the vehicle.
The truck sped off unscathed.
"Damn it!" she yelled. She shot again at the horizon, and then emptied the cartridge at the moon. "Damn it." She crouched on the ground, and held her head in her hands.
It took all of her strength to rise and venture back into the lonely hotel room. She sat on the floor, leant against the bed, and retrieved her silver cigarette case. There was but one cigarette left. Her hands shook tremendously, as she brought it up to her mouth, and lit it.
Miss Parker concentrated on inhaling deeply, and exhaling slowly. She tried not to reflect on the immediate past. She fought not to predict her near depressing future. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly.
She made the cigarette last as long as she could, hoping its drug would be her panacea. But it did not calm the trembling, it did not soothe the throbbing, and it did not remove the feeling of dread.
Once the cigarette was burned up, all of Miss Parker's ailments assailed her in unison. She drew her knees to her chest, and cradled herself.
It would be another two hours before the sweeper team finally appeared. Miss Parker opened the door to Sydney and Broots.
"Well, if it isn't Skipper and his little buddy," she deadpanned.
"Miss Parker!" Broots exclaimed, as he wrapped his arms around the pale woman. "Miss Parker, I've missed you!"
She remained rigid in his embrace. "Heel Broots," she ordered, as she patted him on the shoulder.
Sydney handed Miss Parker a carton of her favorite brand. "Are you all right?"
"I am now," she sighed, taking the carton from Sydney. "What the hell took you so long?"
"Distance, Miss Parker," Sydney answered. He scanned the room for Jarod. "Where is he?"
Miss Parker tore open the carton. Her hands were shaking so much, that she couldn't free one pack. "Damn it!" she yelled.
Sydney offered his assistance, which she reluctantly accepted. "Where's Jarod?" he asked, as he handed her an opened package of cigarettes.
She stuck a cigarette in her mouth, lit it, and inhaled deeply, as she looked longingly at the door. "He never came back," she said, releasing a long stream of smoke.
Sydney studied Miss Parker's facial cast. She was as hard to read as her father was. But every once in awhile, her emphatic eyes betrayed her. "He must have suspected something," he offered.
She nodded. "Yeah, that I was about to blow his achy breaky heart right out of his damn doggoned chest."
Broots roamed the room, searching for possible clues. He picked up a yellow candy dispenser. "What's this?" he asked, holding out his hand.
Miss Parker marched
over to him. "Give me that!" She ripped the toy out of Broots' hand.
She recalled the untruth Jarod tried to feed her...that she was addicted
to the candy...of all things. She smiled inside.
"Do you have any idea where Jarod may be heading?" Sydney asked.
Miss Parker grabbed her coat. "South."
"How do you figure?"
"Because I know if I have to hear another Canadian say 'eh' again, I'm going to commit genocide." She led the men out of the room.
* * * * * *
Miss Parker strolled through the Centre, making sure everyone and his dog was appreciative of her return, and that she was back with a vengeance.
Brigitte paid no mind to the haunting, footsteps behind, until they echoed her own, no matter where she roamed in the large building.
She spun around, and pointed her gun at whoever dared to shadow her. She wasn't too surprised to see a tall brunette. "It is true, then."
Miss Parker raised her eyebrows.
"The bitch is back," Brigitte explained. "To what do I owe this displeasure?" she asked.
"Benevolence," Miss Parker replied. "You must like playing with that thing," she said of the weapon.
"I don't fancy being trailed," Brigitte informed, bitterly.
"Neither do I," the
tall brunette growled. Before Brigitte could react, Miss Parker slapped
the gun out of her hand.
"The next time you point that toy at me, Barbie, you had better use it."
"Oh, I will," Brigitte promised.
Miss Parker pinned the shorter blonde to the wall.
"Get your bloody paws off of me!" Brigitte yelled.
"Not yet," Miss Parker said. "You tell that patchwork pet of yours if I so much as get a whiff that his singed flesh was even remotely involved in my shooting, I'll skin him alive," she hissed. "And you..."
Brigitte smiled, disdainfully.
"I'll cram Raines' hide down your throat until you choke on your own poison," she threatened. "You'll be dirtying your nappies with pieces of his pelt for a very long time."
Brigitte sneered at the brunette. "You've obviously watched one too many ghastly horror flicks, Luv. You're more barmy than the whole lot of psychopaths raised by the Centre."
Miss Parker narrowed her eyes. "Don't you forget it."
"Forgetting...is not what I do." She struggled to free herself from Miss Parker's grasp, but to no avail. "Pity about Jarod getting away, yet again."
Miss Parker ignored the dig. "I will bring Jarod in," she assured, coldly. "Dead or alive, he's mine."
"Tsk tsk, Miss Parker. Such horrid possessiveness," Brigitte chastised. "We're all one big family, now," she emphasized. "What's yours is...mine, Sis."
Miss Parker tightened her grip on Brigitte's neck. "You obviously don't understand the only child syndrome. So, I'll explain it in terms your banal brain can grasp," she stated through a clenched jaw. "The only thing I'm going to share with you are the bullets from my gun. You bounce your blonde British behind in my way..." She leant in close to Brigitte's round face. "I'll blow you away, without a moment's hesitation."
Brigitte sneered at the threat. "That's going to leave a nasty scar on your forehead," she said of the laceration.
"My war wounds are the very least you have to worry about." She released her hold on Brigitte. "I won't count before pulling the trigger."
Brigitte challenged Miss Parker's glare. "Doubt if you know how to, anyway, Luv." She retrieved her gun, and made a hasty exit.
Miss Parker entered father's office.
"Ah, there she is," Mr. Parker announced.
"Hello Daddy." She sneered at Mr. Raines who was also in the office. "Knew I smelled something rancid."
"Mr. Raines is recovering nicely, Honey," Mr. Parker informed.
"I can remedy that," she threatened. "Gladly."
Mr. Raines glared at his bold young enemy. There was a time when she cowered in his presence. "I'll be leaving now," he wheezed.
"Hooray," she sang.
He wheeled his oxygen tank out of the room.
Mr. Parker stood, and gave his daughter an awkward hug. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, thanks, Daddy," she replied with a smile.
"And Jarod?" he asked. "How is he?"
She glanced down.
"I don't know."
Mr. Parker scowled. He had imagined horrible scenarios. The worst being his daughter never returned to the Centre where she belonged, but rather that she adopted her Mother's cause, became an ally with Jarod, and betrayed her father. "Did he hurt you?" he demanded.
"No Daddy," she defended quickly.
"Good," he sighed. He stared at his unyielding daughter. He had invested much pride into her upbringing. "You will get him," Mr. Parker stated. "Our reputation is on the line."
"I won't disappoint you, Daddy," she promised.
Mr. Parker nodded. He noticed the bandage on her forehead. "And your gun shot incident?" he asked, brushing her hair away to examine the head wound more closely.
She swallowed the juices of uneasiness and inconspicuously pulled away from the overbearing man. "Sydney said the bullet was not from a Centre weapon. That the inept and doomed marksman may be someone from outside of the organization." That was all she would share. There was more, the unidentified fingerprint, the suspected avenger.
Mr. Parker kept a vacuous expression. "And you?" He sat down. "What do you think?"
"I don't know. Yet." She glared into her father's mean eyes. "When I do find out who's responsible...he or she will smell worse than Raines when I'm done."
"Jarod takes precedent," he reminded, harshly, from behind his desk.
Miss Parker raised her eyebrows, offended at the suggestion. Of course the capture of Jarod took precedent. After all, he was abducted from his family, held captive for over thirty years, and then escaped. Much more important was it to apprehend this seeker of human rights, than to find the would-be assassin of Mr. Parker's only child.
"Of course, Daddy." She turned to leave.
She stopped, and turned towards the term of endearment.
Mr. Parker gazed up at his daughter and smiled. So much like her mother. "Don't ever let me find out you let Jarod go," he warned sternly.
Inside she collapsed in horror, and spiraled to the earth's core. On the outside, she remained unruffled. "Daddy, please," she said, painting on a smile. "You raised me better than that." She turned and left the room.
Miss Parker rushed back to her office to seek solace in Pepto Bismal, and a cigarette. She drank the pink medicine directly from the bottle.
"Package for you Miss Parker," Broots announced, as he and Sydney invaded her office.
"Your ulcer bothering you again?" Sydney asked.
"And getting worse by the minute," she answered, as she glared at both gentlemen. She placed down the bottle of medicine, stuck the cigarette in her mouth, and snatched the brown-papered package from Broots.
"Is if from Jarod?" Broots asked.
"No, it's from Archie, you Jughead!" She tore off the paper, and threw it at Broots. When she removed the lid off the box, a leather bound book was exposed.
"It's the Bible," Sydney said.
Miss Parker flashed her eyes at the obvious stating man. "I know what it is, Sydney." She recognized the book from the hotel in Banff. She lifted the Bible out of the box.
"Why would Jarod send you a bible?" Broots asked, bewildered. "That's like giving a skeleton a..." he stopped himself, as Miss Parker eyed him.
"Go ahead, Broots, finish your analogy." She leant in close. "I dare you," she whispered.
He backed away. "Uh, nothing..." he stuttered. "A bible is a nice gift."
"Spineless Sap," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. She roughly examined the Bible, turning it over in her hands. As she flipped through the pages, a makeshift bookmark fell to the floor.
"A bookmark?" Sydney asked.
Broots bent to pick it up. He nearly had his hand impaled by a black high-heeled boot, as Miss Parker stepped on the piece of paper. He followed the long leg up to a cool blue gaze.
"Out," she ordered.
"Not again," he mumbled.
"Now," she added, blowing smoke down.
"Sheesh," Broots sighed, rising to face her.
She remained obstinate. "And take the Friendly Giant with you."
When she was left alone, she recovered the bookmark from under her foot, and examined it. It was half of the four photos taken in the 3-minute photo booth in Banff. She smiled sadly, as she studied the beaming countenances of Jarod and herself. She couldn't remember feeling as happy as she appeared to be for those three minutes in Banff.
She flipped the photo over. Cited in Jarod's hand was the verse 'Proverbs 18:24'.
She took up the Bible, sat down, and quickly flipped to the scripture. She read the verse aloud. "'A man that hath friends, must show himself friendly; and there exists a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.'."
Miss Parker looked again at the photo of she and Jarod. '...a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.'
She placed the bookmark carefully in Proverbs, folded the book shut, and held it up to her chest. No matter what wall she erected to protect herself, Jarod always found the crack to seep in and torment her.
The more she tried to feel nothing, the more her senses became attuned to pain and loss, anger and humiliation. She took offense at having a human heart beating within her chest. Regardless of who she was on the outside, an agitated sea of emotion tirelessly churned inside.
The ringing of the telephone disturbed Miss Parker's contemplation. She set the Bible down, and grabbed the receiver. "What?" she hailed, irritated.
"Read any good books lately?"
Miss Parker smiled at the sound of Jarod's voice. "Who has time to read these days, Jarod?" she asked. "I'm too busy trying to explain where you are."
"Well, you should make the time, Miss Parker," he encouraged. "Wasn't it Solomon who said 'a scripture a day keeps the demons away'?"
"You made that up," she challenged.
"Ah ah ah, Miss Parker," he teased. "If we learnt one thing this past week, we learnt not to doubt old friends."
Miss Parker closed her eyes. "I still have my orders, Jarod," she warned, sadly.
He felt no threat. "And I still have my family to find," he countered. "Au revoir."
"Jarod?" she called.
"Yes Miss Parker."
"You're welcome." He ended the call.
"Bye," she whispered.
* * * * * *
Miss Parker drove slowly home, contemplating the events of the day. Considering she had spent an eternity away from the Centre, she was surprised, disappointed nothing radical had occurred in her absence. Sydney was still the same ever-smiling ever-analyzing quack as before. Broots continued in his unwitting course to annoy Miss Parker. Daddy remained the grizzly bear. Even his hugs were painful.
How could so much
happen and yet so little result from the momentous occurrences? If
she were to ask Sydney, she knew he would try to make her reflect on issues
he felt she needed to resolve, or worse yet, he'd share with her his own
boring hypothesis. If she asked Jarod...she knew he would sympathize.
There he was again, occupying her mind. Miss Parker powered on the CD player and absorbed herself in opera. She steered the car up the driveway, and remained in her seat until the aria ended.
* * * * * *
A car drove slowly towards Miss Parker's home. It stopped a half a block away. Small hands brushed aside red bangs. Binoculars were lifted to the eyes, and the brunette's every move was watched. Miss Parker would be made to suffer the consequences of the Centre's actions someday.
* * * * * *
Miss Parker entered the dark home, and flicked on a lamp. She fetched vodka on ice, and left a trail of clothes on the floor, as she headed into her bedroom. When she flicked on the light, she spotted an old friend lying on her bed.
Miss Parker's heart giggled in delight. She set down her drink, and bound for the bed. "Henri," she gasped, elated. She grabbed the stuffed doll, and did a careful scan of her room. All entrances appeared secure. "Jarod," she whispered, amazed.
She examined her old toy, over and over, counting the buttons, checking the seams, and looking for clues. The old toy was neither a hint leading to Jarod, nor a lure to obscure. It remained a little girl's favorite plaything, given to her by her Mother, returned to her by an old friend.
Miss Parker buried her face in Henri's stuffing body, and took comfort in a familiar scent.