A Journey Through Night, Part 6: Epiphany by Victoria Rivers, admin
1. Part 1 by Victoria Rivers
2. Part 2 by Victoria Rivers
3. Part 3 by Victoria Rivers
4. Part 4 by Victoria Rivers
Part 1 by Victoria Rivers
by Victoria Rivers ©1997
I am standing up at the water's edge in my dream
I cannot make a single sound as you scream
It can't be the cold, the ground is still warm to touch
Hey, we touch
This place is so quiet
Sensing that storm
Red rain is coming down
Red rain is pouring down
Pouring down all over me...*
Jarod dreamed he was flying a small plane above the clouds, the controls at his fingertips. He was heading into a storm, knowing he shouldn't attempt such a dangerous course, but unable to turn away. Something drew him in, and suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the nose of the Cessna, frying it and any hope he might have had of making it through. The plane started a nosedive, and Jarod unstrapped himself, looking around in the back of the craft for a parachute, only the interior of the cabin was completely empty. He stood at the door, wind whipping his face and body, reminding him that Death was waiting at the end of the fall, and he started to turn back to the controls to see if he could force the plane to level out enough to glide down. He didn't want to die.
"Jump!" called a voice from inside his head. "I'll catch you."
He couldn't see anyone, and the plane would not straighten up. The voice urged him out again, and he began to be afraid.
"Who are you? Where are you?" he demanded, fighting the flap controls as he glanced out all the rain-spattered windows in the cockpit for the source of the sound.
"Nathan sent me to look after you," the voice returned. "You must get out now, or you'll be lost."
This is a dream, Jarod told himself. It isn't real. I can do this. I can fly if I want, in my dreams. He lurched against the downward pull toward the door and flung himself out into the sky, arms spread, waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
An enormous raven swooped down and caught him in its claws, extending its massive wingspan to brake their hasty descent, and a few powerful flaps brought them upward again. The great bird began to glide downward in lazy circles, and far below them Jarod could see the plane crash into the low hills and incinerate in a ball of orange flame. The flight down was soothing, relaxing, and when the bird set him on his feet, he felt almost giddy with delight.
Fascinated, he watched the creature come toward him and shrink in size, until it was just a little smaller than Jarod himself.
"Who are you?" he repeated, studying the bird, trying to see what lay beneath the darkly iridescent feathers.
"A friend," the raven answered. "Nathan has been worried about you and asked me to find you, bring you home."
"I'm fine," Jarod said quickly. "I have some business to take care of here before I go home. Someone needs my help."
The raven cocked its head, its old-man's voice congested with humor. "Always so sure of yourself, aren't you?" Raven observed. "You have much to learn, Many Faces."
"I learn new things all the time," Jarod announced proudly. "I missed a lot, growing up where I did."
Raven shook its head. "The things you need most to learn are the lessons you had with you every day," it said cryptically. "Look around you. What do you see?"
"Nothing," Jarod answered after a quick scan of the barren horizon.
"This is the landscape of your soul, Jarod," Raven told him. "This is where you must begin."
Jarod sat bolt upright in the bed, sweat running in rivulets down his forehead and into his eyes. He blinked to get his bearings, and in the blue glow from the sign on the flophouse across the street he managed to remember who he was supposed to be. He had not planned to halt his homeward journey, but Fate stepped in and detoured him in Denver. Now he was immersed in something he couldn't let go, and his personal life would just have to wait.
He checked his watch for the time and got up, wolfed a quick breakfast and sat down at his computer to check his e-mail. He worked a little on his latest project until he knew Faith would have risen for the day, and then called her. The tone of her latest response to his daily posts was distracted and uneasy, and he needed to talk to her to reassure her that he would be returning as soon as he could.
"Hi," he said softly into the phone, stretching out on the sofa in his seedy apartment. He visualized Athena's lovely face as he heard her reply, then corrected and summoned up an image of Faith instead. She didn't know yet, and he had promised himself to wait and break the news to her gently, and in person, that he knew who she was, that he was the father of her infant sons. "How are the twins?"
"They're fine," Faith replied casually. "And Dr. Michael Ndele says to tell you hello. He just arrived at the Foundation yesterday. Said you were old friends, and that you had directed him to the job here."
Jarod smiled, remembering how Dr. Ndele had helped him rescue Athena from the Centre a year earlier. But he and Faith were strangers to each other due to her memory loss after the auto accident that had nearly killed her and taken her identity from her. Only Jarod held the key to her past, and he could hardly wait to tell her.
"Tell him I'm glad he decided to contact me," Jarod replied warmly. "The Foundation needs a good doctor, and he'll be safe there."
"I understand his specialty is gynecology and obstetrics," Faith told him. "He said he was going to have to brush up on general medicine. Which reminds me. Grace told me you had been sick."
He thought he detected a disgruntled note in her voice. "Are you unhappy with me because I didn't tell you myself?" he asked. "I didn't want you to worry."
"If you didn't want me to worry, then why did you just disappear like you did?" she snapped back. "Grace told me you had gotten some upsetting news, and you just bolted. What am I supposed to think? I believed something was happening between us, and you just up and ran away."
Jarod frowned. This wasn't what he expected at all. "I left you a note," he countered lamely.
"You could have talked to me, told me about your problem. Maybe I could have helped you with it." The anger in her voice was undisguised now, but the hurt was less easy to hear.
"Yes," he agreed. "I could have. But I didn't. I reacted in the only way I know how. I'm... I'm new to this, Faith. I don't really know how to handle relationships. I'm used to depending on myself, keeping it all inside, figuring things out alone. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Silence echoed on the other end of the telephone in his hand.
"Please help me, Faith," he said softly. "I don't want to screw this up between us."
She sighed. "Then come home and work on it with me."
"I can't just yet. I'm trying to help someone here. As soon as I get done, I'll be on my way home."
"And how long will that take?" she demanded with a touch of bitterness.
"Another week, maybe two. I'm not sure exactly." He gripped the phone hard, wanting desperately to enlighten her, to explain what he was doing, and why. But he couldn't. He knew she wouldn't understand.
After a long pause, she said flatly, "Then I'll see you when you get here." And hung up the phone.
Part of him wanted to get up, grab his Halliburton and leave right then, but the memory of the simulation he had done as a little boy, trying to save a man trapped in a mine, floated back to the surface. He couldn't save everybody, Sydney had tried to tell him. But he still tried. He would stay, just a little longer.
"She practically gave us an engraved invitation, Daddy," Miss Parker reiterated to the big man behind the desk. "Said we were welcome anytime.
And if I know Jarod, that's where he'll go to lick his wounds, DSAs and all."
Mr. Parker frowned, his eyes shifting from his late wife's photograph on his desktop to his daughter. "I absolutely forbid it. We'll get one of the other operatives to go there, send in a team if we have to," he shot back. "But I don't want you around Grace St. James."
The daughter leveled an accusing gaze at her father. "I thought you wanted me to catch Jarod? Raines wanted to know if the Parker killer instinct was true, didn't he? Why the sudden yellow streak? Don't you think I can handle it? I want to bring him back here more than you can possibly know."
Her last sentence was a smoky growl laden with animosity, and Mr. Parker did not miss the glittering hatred in her glare. He smiled secretly, proudly to himself, and gave her a little nod. "All right then. Sydney's tied up in another project at the moment, but as soon as he can turn loose of it, I'll send him along as well. He might be of use in gaining some extra... cooperation on Grace's part."
Miss Parker stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray on the corner of the big desk. Without meeting his eyes, she observed smoothly, "You speak as if you know her, Daddy."
Mr. Parker said nothing, glancing guiltily at Catherine's photograph again. "Just limit how much time you spend with her," he ordered curtly. "Concentrate on finding those DSAs first, and then we'll find a way to get Jarod away from her. I can't risk pitting her supporters against ours. She has her claws far too deeply into them, and they'll fight harder for her than the Centre's will for us. We can't force things to a showdown. We have to be careful how we tread when it comes to the Foundation."
The young woman smiled warmly, but frost glittered in her eyes as she leaned down to kiss his cheek. "I'll be careful, Daddy," she promised, and turned on her heel to leave his office, wondering if that had really been fear in his eyes or just a trick of the light. The father who had raised her was afraid of nothing, of no one, and for him to show even the slightest concern regarding her trip to the Foundation meant that there was another secret he wasn't telling her. And while she was there, she intended to do some digging to find out just what it was.
Online Host: * * * * * > You are in Mekkanix < * * * *
NUMAQUAD: Did I come to the right place? Deadmime gave me the info.
Angel734: Righteeo, mate. What's the problem you want fixed? Be discreet!
NUMAQUAD: Got a leak in the pipes. It could prove costly, but I'm willing to pay to have it plugged.
Angel734: I'm guessing you've hired plumbers before ;-) You're good at this. Doing it all just right.
NUMAQUAD: No comment.
Angel734: 'Nuf said. I'll need a name and address. Price varies with the difficulty of repair. Estimates cost a flat fee of $50. You know the math, right?
NUMAQUAD: Right. There's a problem, though. It's in a mobile home and the house is on the road. I'm not sure exactly where it is. But as soon as it gets to a rest stop, I'd like you to fix it.
Angel734: This one could get pricey. I'll e you with an account # for direct deposit. We're starting at $100 since I'm going to be hunting the project.
NUMAQUAD: Not a problem. Whatever it takes, Angel.
Angel734: I'll expect a post with the name and address after exiting. Here's a virtual handshake on the contract [hs]
NUMAQUAD: Agreed. Info on the way. Signing off.
Angel734 watched the NUMAQUAD screen name disappear, and waited for the new mail notice to appear before reading the post.
STEVEN CHAMBERLAIN, 6224 Tuesday St, Houston TX
There was also a link to a website and a password that allowed Angel to sneak into the personnel files of a major international company, where the employment record of Steven Chamberlain, complete with color photograph, stared back from the computer screen. That information led to credit records, which revealed buying habits and personal tastes, and by the time Angel was finished studying the subject, a clear picture of Chamberlain had begun to form. Soon enough he would track down the whereabouts of the man he had just been hired to find, and once found, Steven Chamberlain would be defenseless when Angel chose the proper time and place to kill him.
The Justice Department was a tough nut to crack, but Angel finally hacked a way in. Records were difficult to decipher, but there weren't that many places to look, and after a week's searching, the answer was a surprise. Steven Chamberlain had performed his function for the government, and in return he was getting a new life. That would entail being trained in a new career, learning how not to give himself away by falling into old buying habits, developing new tastes and a new lifestyle. Doing all of that would take time, someone familiar with the process as a teacher, and the Justice Department had few resources for that.
Angel laughed when the resource location was finally revealed. It was amazing how the universe worked, the assassin marveled privately. The one place Angel wanted least to visit was the current location of the target. It would be a homecoming of sorts for Angel, and there would be those who not welcome this particular traveler home, but at the St. James Stewardship Foundation it would be possible to blend in and become completely invisible overnight. That was always a boon for a hired killer, and in this case it was a stroke of incredible luck. There were a few old scores to settle as well, and when Angel returned home, those could be taken care of at the same time... with the added bonus of a paycheck when the slate was finally wiped clean.
Angel was going home, and the first thing to do was sit down and make out the list of names for the assassin's personal vendetta.
There is no blood announcing your silent pain
Hey, no pain
Seeing no red at all, see no rain
Red rain is coming down
Weariness clawed at Jarod's senses, making the car drift all over the road, and he knew he would have to rest before completing the trip to Arizona. He stopped at the next motel just as the sun was setting, climbed into bed and slept. He dreamed of demons again, and this time he was tempted to let go and let them take him, rather than continuing the everlasting struggle to stay out of their grasp. Only the horrible creatures scattered before the onslaught of a great furry dragon that towered above him, its tiny rounded ears pitched forward in an expression of astonished surprise. It was cute for all its size and ferocity, looking for all the world like a gigantic weasel with murderously sharp teeth that could tear man or demon to bits in mere seconds.
The creature chuckled and butted against Jarod's dream-body with its huge head. Instantly Jarod knew his savior was the same old man who had been the raven once before in his dreams, and when he spoke the voice was deep and velvet, the consonants soft-edged, as though a great many teeth were missing. There was a quiet richness and strength to it that did not demand attention, but got it anyway.
"You are most vulnerable here in your dreams," the Being said. "I walk with you now, waiting for the demons to strike when you aren't able to fight them. You should rest, Many Faces. You should come home. There are other things more important for you to do just now."
"This is just a dream," Jarod argued gently. "Nothing in it can hurt me."
The being shook his head sadly. "You have been dreaming all your life, Many Faces. Time to wake up."
He opened his eyes and wondered what the dream meant, then pushed his tired body out of bed and decided to continue the trip home. Checking his watch, he saw that he had slept a good four hours, more than he was accustomed to getting at one time, and decided it would be enough to get him the rest of the way there.
April Fool's Day dawned gray with the promise of rain as Jarod pulled into the gates of Galleons Lap. After parking the car in the distant garage, he walked briskly across the landscaped campus toward the main house, morning sunlight gleaming dully on the silver case in his hand. He went straight up to his room and laid the Halliburton on his neatly made bed, draped his coat across it, and went to the Nursery to see his sons.
They weren't there. One of the nursery workers told him that Faith had started taking them with her to early morning dance practice, since so few people populated the dance room at that hour. Jarod jogged to the Arts Building and hurried toward the practice hall, an eager smile plastered on his face.
Faith stood in front of a wall of mirrors by the ballet barre, holding one of the twins in her arms and smiling down into the baby's eyes. She was rocking him gently, swaying softly while she cooed at him. And when she looked up from her baby's face, she smiled into the eyes of a slight blond man holding the other baby close to his chest, chuckling and talking softly to Faith for a moment before leaning across the precious bundles in their arms to steal a kiss from her lips.
She did not resist. She did not back away. She accepted the kiss with a trace of hesitant fondness, and the man smiled down into her eyes with obvious desire.
Jarod turned and walked away without either of them noticing that he had even been there.
He saw the redhead in the gymnasium, and smiled darkly to himself as he watched her dispatch the Foundation's fencing instructor with practiced ease. Miss Parker's presence there was a surprise, but just then he was in need of some fierce combat, so Jarod put on a mask, gloves and chest protector, picked up an epee and strode over to offer her a challenge.
She recognized his voice and shape immediately, even though she couldn't see his face through the heavy wire mesh of the fencing mask. Whipping her blade through the air to make it scream, she nodded, her eyes gleaming. "Shall we make it interesting?" she taunted, giving her hair a coquettish toss over her shoulder. "Live blades, no masks. What do you say?"
The tall man paused a moment, then lifted the mask off his face and tossed it aside.
Miss Parker gasped when he turned to face her again, and she involuntarily stepped back in surprise.
There was a mole on his right cheek, just below his eye.
"Oh, my God," she breathed, trying desperately to regain her composure and not give away what she now knew for dead certain.
There were two of them. Jarod did indeed have a twin brother, and it had been Justin that the Centre had captured over a month earlier. It had been Justin that she had slept with, not Jarod. Everything the captive Pretender had told them had been true, only no one had believed him. She had to tell Sydney, and let him determine whether or not to tell Raines and her father.
"Excuse me," she said curtly, and tried to turn away.
"Not just yet," said Jarod, stepping into her path. "I want to pick a fight with someone, and you're the best candidate." He moved back into a challenging stance. "En garde!"
"Up yours!" Miss Parker snarled back, now fully recovered of her wits, and threw down her blade.
"Thirty seconds ago you were ready to slice my head off," he taunted her. "What's changed? Pick up your blade." He slashed at her, the guarded tip of his blade making a diagonal furrow across her padded chest protector.
She stumbled backward out of range, then darted to one side and snatched up the epee again. She wasn't ready to face him just yet. She didn't want him to see in her eyes that she was hiding something from him, and if she faced him directly she knew he would. "A woman has a right to change her mind, Jarod," she offered brusquely, and bent to pick up the mask he had discarded, eyeing him warily. She put it on before stepping into her ready stance and saluting him with her blade.
Jarod returned the salute and engaged the fight with a long thrust that emphasized his much longer reach. He drove her mercilessly backward, pursuing her all over the room, heedless of her attacks against him. She slashed at his arms and legs, wrapping her flexible blade around his body like a whip, but still he came on. When she got the upper hand he swept her feet out from under her, charging her when she was down, anxious to see the fear in her eyes, envisioning the panic in her face on the far side of the dense mesh mask. A gleam of mad pleasure burned brightly in his eyes as chased her with a flurry of strokes so strong he broke through her blocks, pushed past her parries, overpowering every defense she threw against him, until he forced her to her knees and readied himself to take the final stroke and finish her. His arm drew back, blade shining wickedly in the light from the overheads.
"Jarod!" she shrieked, holding up a hand to ward off the inevitable. Her sword arm was so weary she couldn't even lift it to defend herself anymore.
Her scream punctured the bubble of emotion that had blinded him, and he stepped away, panting hard, and saw her cowering against the wall, truly afraid of him for the first time. He glanced at the guarded tip of his blade and was thankful he had left it blunted, or she would have been cut to ribbons. He couldn't believe how close he had come to hurting her, and that scared him. He gave her a curt bow of approval for her expert performance, put away the equipment and returned to his room to hide the Halliburton from her, frightened by the depth of his rage, fury that he had almost taken out on someone who had nothing to do with the reason behind his anger. An apology was in order, and he hoped she would accept his proffered truce.
After a shower and shave, he went down to the kitchen and prepared a tea tray, asked one of the Navajo housekeeping staff for the proper room location, and carried the tray up to Miss Parker's room on the fourth floor penthouse. She came to the door in a Foundation robe, embroidered with the St. James crest on the right lapel, and hesitated before letting him in.
"What's this?" she demanded, glancing down at the tray in his hands, not sure if he wanted to poison her after beating her into the ground in the gym.
"A peace offering," Jarod answered contritely. "I understand you'll be staying a while, and thought we should try to make the best of the situation."
To her surprise, she swung the door open and gestured him inside. A wisecrack about handcuffs leaped to mind, but she had to bite it back, reminding herself that none of that had happened to this man. She closed the door quietly behind him and turned to watch him set the tray on a writing desk near the patio doors.
"You won't find the DSAs, you know," he mentioned as he poured two cups of steaming peppermint tea.
"Maybe that isn't what I came here for," Miss Parker returned. "Maybe I'm tired of the hunt. Maybe I just want some answers, and to be done with you."
He smiled to himself as he added just a hint of honey to both cups, and a squeeze of fresh lemon to hers. "You'll pardon me if I don't believe you," he confessed lightly. "You get off on the thrill of the chase, and the thought of bringing me back to Daddy is better than sex for you. I know you, Morgan. We're made from similar molds. The Centre did its job well."
A frown perched between her artificially darkened eyebrows for a moment. "What the hell's that supposed to mean? And nobody calls me that name. Not even in bed." She blushed, remembering that his twin had done exactly that.
His eyes were hot with righteous indignation as he handed her a cup, and his smile was fixed, mirthless. "We are what they made us. But we can choose to be who we were, underneath all the training. We just have to find out who those strangers used to be."
She stared at the cup in his hand as if it was the head of a cobra, hood spread and ready to strike. But something inside her made her reach out and take it, inhale the pleasant aroma and take a small sip. And it was good.
Someone who didn't know better had rudely interrupted her dreams.
Miss Parker flung back the sheets and slipped her nightgown on over her head, smoothing the peach-colored silk down over her hips as she stood. Instinct made her reach toward the nightstand for a cigarette, but she remembered she was hoarding the smokes since there was no way to replenish her supply while she was incarcerated at the Foundation. Further irritated, she finger-combed her hair back from her face, cursed silently because she had no makeup on to greet the moron who had roused her, and stomped toward the glass patio doors leading outside to the roof garden. She was alone in the penthouse, far from the other denizens of Galleons Lap at her own request, and that was how she wanted to keep it. Grace St. James promised her that she rarely quartered anyone there, and it would be her private sanctuary during her stay.
She slung the door open and stepped out into the gray dawn, barefoot to the morning, and scanned the garden for her new enemy.
On the eastern side of the spacious balcony, a broad-shouldered silhouette sat on a sleeping bag, guitar in his lap, quietly picking out Shawn Colvin's tune, Sunny Came Home. The lyrics fleeted through her mind briefly, and somehow the sentiment of an abused woman getting even for past wrongs and setting fire to the world pleased her, calmed her ire a fraction. But she still resented the early interruption of her sleep, and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Do you always serenade the dawn, or is this a special act of torture, just for me?" she demanded crossly.
The man turned around quickly, obviously surprised by her silent appearance.
He was gorgeous.
His close-cropped dark hair was brushed backward, a lock of premature silver streaking back from his forehead. Intense emerald eyes fixed on her, and once the shock of her presence was past, they began to smolder with unbridled passion. Deep dimples cleaved his cheeks, and perfect teeth shone out of a delirious smile, contrasting whitely against his deeply tanned skin.
"I must be dead or dreaming," he growled sensuously. "I got in late last night, and rather than roust somebody out of bed to get me a room, I thought I'd just camp out here on the roof and enjoy a lovely spring night. They don't usually bunk anybody up here, so I thought I was alone. Sorry for waking you. On second thought, no I'm not." He laid the guitar aside and stood up in a graceful, fluid movement. He wore nothing but a pair of black cotton boxers, his muscular chest covered with a thick mat of dark hair. Long, powerful legs carried him cautiously closer, and his smile faded away. "I'm yours to command, my goddess," he promised with a dramatic flourish.
She smirked, amused by his obvious desire and willing to admit that she was equally stimulated by his attractive maleness. He was an Adonis, and she was interested. Suddenly she was self-conscious about her lack of grooming, and wished she had been prepared. But he didn't seem to mind at all, from the way he was staring, and she could bluster her way through anything.
"Lose the guitar," she ordered. "At least until after morning coffee."
"If that's an invitation, I accept," he shot back warmly, and extended his right hand in greeting. "Call me Jay. Call me anything. Just call me."
Her smirk melted into a pleased grin, teeth and all. "Don't fall overboard," she cautioned him. "You might drown in all that bullshit."
When she released his hand he clutched at his chest and stumbled backward. "That's it. I'm dead. I've gone to heaven. Or maybe..." He grinned wickedly. "Or maybe you're the Devil."
She laughed huskily, and took a step closer, close enough to feel the heat radiating from all that beckoning bronze skin. "Welcome to Hell, handsome," she purred, her voice a silken whip, and stood on tiptoe for a kiss.
"Jesus, I'm so weak," said Justin Pierce as he sat down on a chair on the balcony outside his hostess's bedroom.
Gemini Rising smiled indulgently at him and smoothed a lock of raven hair back from her face as she eased past him, trailing her fingertips over his broad shoulders on the way to her own chair. A breakfast tray awaited them, filled with fresh fruit and sweet breads and muffins, a pot of aromatic coffee drawing his attention away from her for a moment.
"You're going to be weak for a while, love," she told him warmly. "You nearly died from a gunshot wound, remember? Healing takes time."
He took a long swallow of the strong black coffee, feeling it warm his throat all the way down. "I know," he returned with an unhappy grin. "I'm just being impatient. It's just that I'm in such a hurry to hook up with Jarod. I want to see him for myself." He turned his gaze out on the impossibly blue Bay of Biscay clearly visible on the early spring morning from Gemini's villa in the city of Getaria. They were in the heart of Basque country, an area overlapping the borders of Spain and France. The yacht ride over had been a long, gentle one, and she had not told him where they were headed. His lack of identification of any kind didn't seem to trouble her in the least, and when she brought him into Getaria to stay with her, no one seemed to take the slightest notice of either of them, except for the attentive, friendly staff.
Gemini picked up a blueberry muffin and tore a bite-sized bit from the moist crown, hesitating before she popped it into her mouth. "You see him when you look in the mirror now, don't you, Justin?" she asked tentatively.
Her perceptions of his emotions still astounded him. "Yes," he breathed tightly. "I want to tell him. I want to hear his voice on the phone. But it would just be so wrong to do that to him. He doesn't know. He should be able to touch me when he finds out. That will make it real for him." He paused and swallowed another small sip of coffee. "And for me, too."
"Do you want me to send the message yet?"
Justin shook his head. "I need to get my strength back. After we see Jarod, we'll need to take him home to our mom. Getting there is no easy task. I'll have to be in good shape first. How long do you think that'll be, doc?"
His eyes met hers at last, held for longer than he intended. He picked up an orange and rolled it across the table top between his hands idly.
She stood up and turned away from him, leaning on the marble wall embracing the balcony, trying to remain casual, detached, clinical. And hoping he didn't see how miserably she was failing. "It's been two weeks already and you're healing nicely. The infection's gone, but you've still got a lot of repair to accomplish. Another month, perhaps. You should be able to start doing some light exercise now, short walks and such, but your energy levels will still be low for another few weeks. Six weeks is the normal recovery time, so be patient, dear. You've waited 30 years. One more month should be a breeze."
"Not if The Centre catches up with him before then," Justin corrected bitterly. "Jesus. What they did to him."
"And to you." Gemini said it so softly he barely heard her. "I saw Jarod's simulation records, Justin. Most of them, anyway. You can ask me questions about him, if you like."
Silence stretched between them for a moment, and his first query took her off guard.
"How well did you get to know him, Gemini?" There was a distinct darkness in his tone that was unmistakable.
She took a deep breath and considered how best to phrase her answer. "I introduced myself by stealing his memories from him, Justin," she said slowly. "I was intrigued by his... circumstances, so I decided to investigate. I spent some time with him while preparing my introduction to the Centre. But I was never in love with him." She sighed deeply. "I've avoided the possibility of emotional entanglements all my life, even distancing myself from my parents as early as possible. I left home when I was 16."
His response was a deep growl. "Did you sleep with him?"
She turned around and looked at him, and felt the unpleasant sensation of tears welling up in her eyes. His displeasure spoke volumes, and she knew her honest answer would push him away from her. But she wouldn't lie to him. She loved him enough to give him the truth.
Her affirmative answer fell from her lips as she walked behind his chair, heading back into the bedroom so she wouldn't have to see his face once he knew. And he wouldn't be able to see hers.
He was standing before she could get past and caught her by the elbow, pulling her around to face him, but she wouldn't look up from his chest. He drew her close, held her against him by her upper arms.
"Do you think of him when you're with me?" he demanded softly.
She swallowed a lump forming in her throat and quelled her tears harshly. She would be strong and accept the fact that such feelings were impossible for her to keep. "I haven't been with you, Justin," she reminded him. "We've shared a few kisses here and there, but you haven't been well enough for anything more than that. Don't make this into something it can't be."
His hands slid up her arms, over her shoulders, cradling her face gently but firmly as he tilted her chin upward to draw her gaze to his. "You laid your life on the line for me, Gemini," he stated in a husky whisper. "I had to mean more to you than just another conquest. Isn't that right?"
"This is pointless," she snapped irritably. "I don't want to play this game."
"I just want to know that you aren't getting me confused with my twin," he breathed.
She felt herself falling, sagging weakly against him, and the strength faded from her voice. "Different as night and day," she sighed as his lips drifted nearer. "Jarod's a little boy, love. But you're all maaaan..."
Her last word was a groan of pleasure as her eyelids fluttered closed. He was coming down to kiss her, his thumb pads stroking across her lower lip sensuously.
"Oh, God," she squeaked as his right hand drifted down, pulling the lapel of her dressing gown off her shoulder and following it with his lips. There was no hesitation as he caught his first glimpse of her dragon tattoo, the reptilian head curling over her left shoulder, glaring up at him in defiance.
He chuckled softly as he descended on her bare breast, his hands pushing her red silk robe the rest of the way off, letting it pool around her bare ankles.
"Your dragon doesn't scare me, princess," he whispered against her throat as he moved upward again. "But as much as I'd love to, I can't pick you up and carry you to the bed. You're going to have to get there under your own power."
"Give me a minute," she breathed. "My knees don't work at the moment."
"Meet you there." He stepped away from her, pulling at the sash of his own robe as he headed for the unmade bed she had slept in the previous night. He dropped it unconcernedly on the floor halfway there, pushed the covers back and reclined slowly on his back, wincing at the tenderness of his freshly healing wound.
She wandered into the room, her eyes bright with passion, struggling to maintain her composure. "It's too early for this, darling," she advised him, but didn't halt her forward movement toward the bed. She had to stop; she knew the relationship could not be allowed to progress.
"You've wanted to do this since that morning in the infirmary when you saw me in the next bed," he teased.
"Yes," she admitted. Her eyes took note of his careful movement as he rolled onto his side to face her, and she slammed on the brakes. Smiling, she sat down beside him on the mattress and stroked her hand across his cheek. "And as much as I'd love to finish what you started this morning, you're not up to it yet. I don't want you popping a stitch and bleeding to death internally after the most fabulous climax of your life."
He laughed softly. "Not a bit modest, are you?"
Gemini shrugged. "No reason to be," she answered confidently. She was pleased that he wanted her. But rather than be happy, it saddened her that his desire was so obviously physical. He wanted her body. But she wanted more than that from him, and everything about him suggested that it was nothing more than a well-practiced, meaningless seduction for him. And she could not allow herself the pain that would follow when he went away.
She rose, stone-faced, and strolled back to the balcony to fetch her robe.
"That's some tattoo," he commented admiringly. "What does he protect you from?"
She touched the warm skin where she knew the dragon's head lay, though she couldn't see it without the aid of a mirror. Her face was expressionless, the picture of calm as she tried to convince herself that the magic was still working. She knew what Justin was, that he would not be satisfied with her for long before he went on to someone else. Monogamy was not in his vocabulary, and she didn't want to share him with other women.
"From love," she replied firmly. "Get some rest. I'll see you in a few hours."
She turned and headed for the downstairs gym for a good workout before hitting the showers and preparing to face the day.
Faith's hair had grown out to her shoulders, but she kept it dyed brown, her blue eyes still hidden by brown contact lenses. The sensation of danger still haunted her, and she mentioned it to Jarod when they sat down to dinner in the kitchen of her new quarters. Grace had given her one of the small cabins built as housing for the Navajo staff to help her develop a sense of independence, and while she enjoyed the privacy, Faith was uneasy about being so far from help if she should need it.
"You're safe here, Faith," Jarod assured her, reaching for her hand across the tiny kitchen table. He hadn't mentioned the man in the dance room. That wasn't as important as the news he had, and once she knew it, she might turn her back on the other man without a second thought. "You've done the right things to protect yourself and the twins," he said warmly. "Your disguise is infallible. Even I wouldn't have known who you were without some help."
She frowned, her forkful of homemade enchiladas hovering in mid-air between her plate and her mouth. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded crossly.
"It means..." He took her hand in his and blinked back the tears gathering in his eyes, tears of joy he was trying desperately to hold inside. She would need room for her own emotions once she knew, without drowning in his. He smiled. "It means that I know who you are. Or rather, who you were before the accident, Faith. You were my wife, and the twins are my sons."
He grinned a little, remembering that wasn't quite true. "Actually, I asked you to marry me, but you wanted to put off making the decision for a year or so, just so I could be sure. You said I needed to experience more of the world before I committed to you. But nothing's changed for me. Even when I thought you were dead, I still loved you. I will never feel for anyone else what I feel for you."
Faith drew her hand from his, set her fork down quickly and glared at him. But the glare softened, and she rose from the table and left the room without a word. Moments later she returned with the little wrapped package she had tried to give him on Valentine's Day, and put the box in his hand.
"Open it," she ordered gently.
He glanced up at her in startled surprise when he pulled out the locket he had given her for her birthday, the locket with his picture in it.
She shrugged. "I wasn't sure. The picture is so small. That's why I was afraid of you when you first came here. I thought, maybe you were what I needed to hide from. But after I got to know you, I realized it must have been something else that I was afraid of. And I wanted you to know who I was, too." She swallowed hard. "This was very hard for me, Jarod. I tried to tell you before, with a letter at Christmas. Only when you didn't say anything about it, I was confused." She grinned shyly, the dimple in her chin peeking out at him. "I found out later about Grace's 'burning the past' ceremony and guessed you must have torched the note without reading it."
He smiled broadly. "I did. I thought you couldn't manage to toss it in with your arms full of babies." He leaned forward and started to fasten the locket around her neck, but she held up her hand.
"I'm not ready to go there yet, Jarod," she told him. "Whoever I was before the accident, I'm not her anymore. If I was your wife then, I'm not now. We have to start over. I'm ready to trust you. But you can't just take for granted that I'm going to fall into bed with you and expect to set up housekeeping and all. I can't do that."
"I know," he assured her. Something indefinable hurt inside him, but he didn't want to think about that just then. "But I want you to know who you were, Faith. I want you to know how much I loved you then. How much I still love you now. My feelings for you haven't gone away, and the fact that you've become a different person doesn't change things for me. It's something we both do -- or did -- all the time."
He told Faith her name, how they met and all the different roles she played in her daily existence. He described their life together, and how they were separated. And sparing few details, he explained why he didn't recognize her immediately when so many things about her reminded him of Athena Morgan. When he finished she was pale and trembling, and he escorted her into the tiny living room, sat her down on the worn sofa and held her while she shivered in his arms, taking it all in. She asked him questions about The Centre and he answered them truthfully, leaving no doubt to the source of her unconscious fears for the twins' safety.
And he warned her about Miss Parker, cautioning Faith to keep her distance while the redhead was on Foundation grounds.
Faith rose shakily and went into the bedroom she shared with her sons, just to check on them. They were waking, ready to be fed again, and Jarod changed and held one while Faith tended to the other. All during the feeding, neither of them spoke except to soothe the babies, and once Justin and Michael were asleep in their crib again, Faith stretched out on her double bed, staring up at the ceiling.
Jarod leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, preparing to leave for the night.
"Don't go," she pleaded, grasping him by the wrist as he started to move away. "I'm scared, Jarod."
He sat down on the bed beside her. "I'll protect you, Faith," he promised. "I swear it."
"You won't run away again?"
He leaned closer, bracing himself over her body with his arms. "Not unless I take you and my sons with me," he vowed solemnly.
Jarod meant only to kiss her for a moment, but her arms came up around his neck and her lips opened hungrily beneath his. He could feel her crying and suddenly his arms were holding her, his hands struggling with her clothes, his body stretched out on top of hers. She was just as desperate as he was, her fingers running feverishly through his hair, her nails digging into his back through his shirt. She cried out when his mouth settled on her breast, arching beneath him and clutching him fiercely to her, but she pushed away from him as his hands moved lower, panting hard and trying to regain control of her mind and body.
"I can't, Jarod," she sniffed. "I'm sorry. Not yet. I'm not ready for this with you. And I don't want to take a chance on getting pregnant again."
He nodded, understanding, but confused. He was certain he read her bodily responses correctly, that she wanted to make love with him as much as he did with her. He sat up, clutching the bedcovers as he tried to calm down, not looking at her, at how beautiful she was with her hair all mussed from his hands in it, her lips swollen from kissing, her eyes bright with confused passion.
"I didn't mean to lead you on," she said softly, her voice still trembling as she sat up behind him and began to straighten out her clothes. "I don't know why this happened. I'm -- I'm--"
"I do," he breathed. "Your mind may not remember who Athena was. But your heart still does. She's still alive in you, and she still loves me." He turned to face her then, his eyes looking deep into hers, searching for the kindred soul that he loved. "Part of you still knows me. Knows how I ache to be touched, how I love to feel you kiss that little spot on my neck just beneath my ear, how I gasp when you... Well, never mind that. But part of you is still Athena. And even if you never remember, Faith, part of you will always be her."
He stood up with his back to her, trying to calm his arousal before he faced her again. "I never said it properly to Athena," he said huskily. "I have regretted that daily since..." He swallowed hard, wanting so much to take her in his arms again, yet not daring to risk her rejection a second time. "I'd like to say it now."
Faith stared at him, not sure what to say. She watched him kneel down beside the bed, his arms crossed as he leaned on his elbows, as if to keep from reaching out for her.
"I love you, Athena," he said warmly. "You taught me what that means. You're a candle in my darkness, a well of cool water in the desert of my life. I can't be whole without you, and I will never willingly leave you again."
He rose and went to the bedroom door. "Good night, Faith. I'll be watching over you and our sons for as long as you want me."
She heard him sit down on the squeaky sofa, and after a few moments Faith Wise rose and began to undress for bed, trying to comprehend the complexities of the strange, wonderful man in the next room.
They were walking to the Learning Center the following morning when Jarod spotted an official car driving up and parking on the bricked path that served as interior roads in Galleons Lap. After seeing the twins to the nursery and Faith to her first class of the day, Jarod decided to take a stroll by Grace St. James's office and see what the tribal police wanted with the Foundation. He stood outside her door, not intending to eavesdrop, but waiting for an appropriate time to intrude. The uniformed officer was an older man, his thick black hair shot with silver, and he seemed to be on familiar terms with Grace.
"The radio report didn't give the priest's name," she was saying, "but I was hoping it was Father Nichols. I'm glad he's dead, Lt. Tso."
The policeman sighed heavily. "That's why I'm here, Grace. Can you tell me where you were night before last, between midnight and two a.m.?"
Jarod could almost feel her physical shudder as the shock of Tso's implication shot into her.
"I was right here, asleep in my bed," she returned coolly. "And while I might shake the hand of whoever killed Nichols, I can assure you it wasn't me. I campaigned for years to have him removed from the priesthood and prosecuted for pedophilia, but the Church decided it was better to just transfer him from his post here and bury him in obscurity elsewhere. I'm horrified they put him in a teaching position in St. Patrick's Catholic School. How could they?"
Righteous indignation glowed in her face as old anger crested anew.
"You have no witnesses to your whereabouts, Grace?" Tso pressed unhappily.
Jarod swung into the room with a brief knock on the door. He feigned surprise as he made eye contact with the detective, and quickly took his measure. The stranger met his gaze evenly and held it, sizing him up as well.
"Sorry, Pooh," Jarod apologized casually. "I didn't know you had company."
"Yes, you did," she corrected with a glance at his eyes. "Don't lie in front of the police, son. It's not a good first impression." She introduced the two men briefly. "It seems that an old enemy of mine has been murdered, and Lt. Tso seems to think I may have had a hand in it."
"Enemy, Pooh? I can't picture you hating anyone." Jarod's expression of surprise was more genuine now, and slightly confused.
She met his sloe-eyed gaze with leashed rage. "Any mother would hate the man who tried to seduce her 12-year-old son, Jarod," she responded brusquely. "I spent 25 years pressuring the Catholic church to get rid of him. And now that he's gone, I feel rather like celebrating."
"How did Father Nichols die, Lt. Tso?" Jarod asked innocently.
"Someone strangled him in the confessional," Tso responded bluntly.
"In the wee hours of the morning on a Saturday?" asked Grace. "Rather an unusual time to be offering absolution, don't you think, lieutenant? Aren't the chapels usually locked up at that time?"
"So Father Nichols opened the chapel for someone," Jarod surmised. "Probably someone he knew."
Tso turned his intent gaze on the Pretender, still standing near the doorway. "You might say that," he returned.
"Why don't you check with Foundation Security?" Jarod suggested, crossing his arms over his chest. "While Grace may not have had any witnesses to the fact that she was sleeping in her room, Security would have noticed if anyone entered or left the grounds during those hours. They can prove she didn't leave, and since she's still here, that should be a pretty good alibi. Don't you think?"
Tso nodded, and turned his dark eyes back to the redhead behind the desk. "Mrs. St. James, do you know the whereabouts of your son at the moment?" he asked tightly.
"You'd have to check with the department of the Navy, Lt. Tso," she shot back irritably. "He's been in the service for years. Last I heard, he was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Mediterranean. But I could be wrong about that. The ship moves around a great deal, you know. He's assigned to the USS John C. Stennis."
The policeman nodded politely, thanked her for her time, and turned to go. But he stopped next to Jarod and asked quietly, "Could you direct me to Security, Dr. Black?"
"I'll take you there myself," Jarod offered, and turned to lead the man upstairs to the operations center.
"There was something I hadn't told Mrs. St. James," Tso began as they walked up the empty stairs to the next floor. "She's really not a suspect in this murder, at least, not a likely one. But we have to cover all our bases. You know?"
"The killer was a man," Jarod predicted. "What led you to that conclusion?"
Tso's expression of surprise quickly melted into suspicion. "Because of the position of the body at the time of death, and the fact that Father Nichols had had sex just before he died." There were other details that Tso couldn't reveal, but if he played it smart, he might be able to trap the killer with them. "Whoever did him wanted to make a statement. And yes, the killer was someone the good father knew. In the biblical sense. Someone strong. I'm guessing one of the boys he seduced a long time ago, now grown up and out for revenge." He eyed the Pretender at the top of the stairs. "Where are you from, doctor?"
Jarod shrugged. "Lots of different places," he answered truthfully. "I just came to Arizona for the first time last year. Grace and I met in Flagstaff back in December."
The policeman said nothing more as they turned into Security Ops, but he was aware of Jarod's quiet presence during his questioning of the staff. He did not reveal any surprise at discovering that Jarod had arrived at 6:30 on the morning of the murder, but filed that fact away and determined to check into Dr. Black's past to see if his path might have crossed the late priest's at some point in his youth. The fellow was much too quick to be innocent, and much too protective of Grace St. James to be completely without motive. He had a lot of other leads to check, but this one seemed the most promising.
Alan Cross was just coming out of the dance room when Jarod passed by. The blond man shrugged out of his way and continued toward the lobby, gym bag in hand. Jarod suddenly decided to change course and follow him. The other man had still not come up in conversation with Faith, and he wasn't sure exactly how to broach the subject without making her defensive about him. That was the last thing he wanted her to feel for a man Jarod perceived as his rival for her affections.
Cross was still rooming in the big house, in a second floor room not far from the staircase. Jarod had to pass it to get to his own quarters, and used the trip as an excuse to fetch his laptop computer for some personal business. He waited until he heard Cross leaving, now freshly showered and dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, and managed to step into his path. The smaller man bumped into Jarod's powerful chest and bounced off, immediately apologizing for the accident.
"It was my fault," said Jarod honestly. "I wasn't looking where I was going. My mind was elsewhere." He smiled and extended his hand to the other man.
"Yeah, me, too," said the blond, returning the handshake with a firm grip. "I'm Alan Cross. Haven't seen you around before. Are you new here?"
"Returning alumnus," said the Pretender. "I'm Jarod. Pleased to meet you."
Cross squinted up at the taller man, frowning. "So sometimes you have to come back and start over again, eh?"
Jarod shrugged, glancing around the big room at the foot of the stairs. "This is my home now," he explained. "Here at the Foundation I've found a place where I can stop running."
"Isn't it safe out there, with the new lives they give us?" asked Cross uncertainly.
Jarod grinned, a hint of something dark gleaming in his eyes. "I kind of enjoy the chase, actually. But my family is here. If my wife decides she's ready to leave, then we'll be on our own again." He slid his hands into his pockets in an attempt to look casual. "Maybe you've seen her around. Her name is Faith. Faith Wise. We had twins six months ago."
Cross's face revealed his surprise. "She's married? She told me she lost her husband in an accident."
"Faith has amnesia," Jarod reminded him. "I didn't find out until recently who she is, or was, so we're starting over. Just broke the news to her last night." He gave a self-satisfied grin that he was certain would communicate unmistakable sexual overtones, thereby staking his claim to the woman and warning off this man from his property. "We were married for three years, and dated a long time before that. We were teenagers together. First loves, and all that."
But Alan Cross wasn't so easy to dissuade. "If she doesn't remember you, then you might be taking advantage of her a little, don't you think?" He leveled a calculating gaze at the taller man, wondering if this meeting was as casual and unplanned as he first thought. "Faith has a lot of adjustments to make, and you should leave her room enough to make her own choices. If you really care about her, that is."
Jarod frowned, knowing Cross was right, but not wanting to hear the truth from this man in particular. "She's my wife," said Jarod tightly. "And Justin and Michael are my sons. Just remember that."
He stayed for a moment longer, fixing his rival with an obstinate, warning gaze, and waited for Cross to be the first to turn away.
The priest's murder played in his head like a badly edited movie as he walked briskly toward Grace's office. He didn't have much information on it, but that wasn't foremost on his mind at the moment. He wanted to know who Alan Cross was, and the only way to access that information was from the Foundation's classified records. Pooh would be teaching a yoga class at that hour, so Jarod knew he would be uninterrupted for the few minutes it would take to get what he wanted from her computer. He went upstairs to Security Ops and programmed in a little privacy for himself, then hurried back downstairs to snoop in Grace's files. There was something furtive about the little man that Jarod disliked instantly, and he wanted to know what had set off his instinctive, finely honed internal alarms.
Ten minutes later he readjusted the computers in Security to do their usual job, and returned to the main house with his laptop and electronic copies of the pertinent files on a diskette for him to peruse at his leisure.
Part 2 by Victoria Rivers
His handling of Alan Cross was not the best, Jarod knew, but he had made his move and would think on it further to determine his next course of action. In the interim, he wanted to find Nathan and see how the boy had fared in his absence. He found the child in a day room, sitting on the lap of a silver-maned Navajo elder, his long hair done up in the traditional bun at the nape of his neck. The two were surrounded by other school children, all of them watching cartoons until the morning bell rang for school to begin.
Jarod greeted the boy warmly, but only warranted a brief, automatic acknowledgement. Nathan's attention was tightly focused on a strange blue and purple bird with a body no larger than a teaspoon, and a tall, lean coyote intent on making a meal out of the speedy fowl. Jarod took a seat on a sofa with a view of the courtyard, opened his laptop and went to work deciperhing the enigmatic past of Alan Cross.
Momentarily, the peal of a large iron bell outside brought the children to their feet, but the old man kept his seat and continued to watch the cartoons, chuckling softly to himself at the coyote's antics.
Jarod couldn't keep quiet any longer. "What I don't understand is, how can the coyote keep missing his mark? After the second or third mistake, you'd think he would know to plan better, take more account of probabilities."
The old man turned in his chair to face his questioner. "Simple," he replied quietly. "He doesn't look far enough ahead. He overthinks everything and misses the obvious. And he doesn't allow for the roadrunner's incredible natural luck."
The Pretender sat very still for a moment, instantly recognizing the elder's voice from his dreams. He argued with himself about that, and ignored the flicker of intuition as an error. "Nobody can be that lucky consistently," Jarod returned gently. "And with a company like Acme at his command, Wile E. Coyote should be fat and happy with hundreds of kills on his record. I still don't get it."
"Then you and Coyote have a lot in common," the old man said with a wink and a grin. "Until Coyote learns to become Roadrunner, he will never catch him. But then, that's asking a little too much depth of a children's cartoon." He rose from his chair and came to stand in front of the younger man. "The roadrunner is the lesson. Don't you see?"
Jarod frowned, his mind turning the point over and over, but unable to guess the elder's meaning. He shrugged. "Tell me what you think it is."
The old man did not offer his hand in friendship. "Ya-ta-hey," he said, greeting in Navajo fashion. He smiled when Jarod did not extend his hand as most whites would do. Navajos preferred not to touch strangers, who could be witches or other evil influences, and he was pleased that this one accepted that about his people. "I'm Hosteen Gorman. 'Hosteen' is like 'grandfather.' That's what they call you when you're old, even if you don't have any grandchildren."
"Ya-tay," replied Jarod casually. "I'm Jarod. Pleased to meet you, Grandfather. So what is the lesson of the roadrunner?"
Gorman sat down on the sofa beside Jarod, but far enough away not to intrude in his space. "The roadrunner is Wu-wei. He knows that, at any moment, Coyote could eat him for lunch, but he doesn't let the threat of imminent death get in the way of his enjoying life. Roadrunner lives, sometimes full tilt, sometimes dead stop. But he lives. He sees. He goes. He does. He is. Coyote spends so much time and energy trying to outsmart Roadrunner, that he merely exists, and he has even lost sight of the fact that he's just trying to feed himself. So he goes hungry, and loses more energy planning the next trap. Not very smart, for all his brilliance. Don't you think?"
"Wu-wei is a Chinese concept, isn't it?" Jarod asked warily, eyeing this obviously well-educated man with a note of suspicion. "Sort of 'achieving without doing,' right?" This old man reminded him of Ernie Two Feathers, a fact which made Jarod feel both guilty and warm. Ernie died because of his friendship with the Pretender, and Jarod didn't want history to repeat itself.
Gorman nodded, smiling with pleasure. "Good! A man who knows his philosophy."
"So the roadrunner's attitude is typically Zen. He's an uncarved block, of sorts." Jarod was beginning to see tremendous symbolism in the cartoons now, nodding as his eyes brightened and he began to warm to the subject. He felt a connection with this old man, as if there was a significance to the dawning relationship. "And with his goodness comes luck, a Karmic reward for the purity of his soul, whereas the coyote's pitfalls are the result of his murderous intent, and his hatred. I see. I see. This is fascinating."
Hosteen Gorman laughed out loud, slapping his thigh as his dark eyes twinkled merrily. "And sometimes, Coyote, a cigar is just a cigar. It's just a cartoon, Jarod. The people who wrote those things weren't out to deliver a world-changing subliminal message. They wanted to make people laugh."
"But a moment ago you were talking about philosophy and symbolism and--"
The old man chuckled softly and rose from his seat, slipping his hands in his jeans pockets. "There are few people who can truly see the world in a grain of sand, and experience eternity in an hour. But for those who can, life will never be boring or without meaning. There's an old Chinese proverb that says, 'I chased the butterfly and could not catch it, but when I sat down to rest, it came to light on my hand.' That's the lesson Coyote needs to learn from Roadrunner. Don't try so hard. If he spent a little less time trying to show how smart he is and just waited by the water hole, he'd get a meal soon enough."
Jarod turned his gaze down to his laptop to consider Gorman's words, and when he looked up the old man was gone. He thought about the conversation a moment more before turning back to his work, and let the message slip silently away without holding onto it.
It was late afternoon by the time Jarod finished his investigation into the background of Alan Cross, and confirmed his suspicions that Cross was a dangerous man. He stopped by the infirmary for a long visit with Dr. Ndele, who asked his assistance on a research project whenever Jarod had time to spare. The Pretender left with a promise to return early the next morning, and hurried to Faith's cabin to see if she had arrived home with the twins.
He found Alan Cross peeling potatoes at the kitchen table while Faith stood at the stove, browning several lambchops for dinner. She glared at Jarod with an angry look, and turned her attention back to the pan.
"I invited Alan for dinner," she announced tersely, without looking up at him again.
"Should I leave?" Jarod asked her coolly, standing in the kitchen doorway with his hands dangling at his sides in uncharacteristic stillness.
"I think the three of us should have a talk," she returned, pushing the frying pan's handle back toward the center of the stove. She wiped her palms on a small towel tucked into the front pocket of her jeans, and turned to face him, crossing her arms defiantly over her chest.
Alan sat silently at the table, keeping his eyes on the knife in his hands, the merest shadow of a smile dusting the corners of his mouth.
"Alan told me you said we've been married for three years," she said quickly. "But this morning you told me we never actually said vows. And that we met a little over a year ago in Nashville. So which of us were you lying to, and why?"
Jarod felt her eyes on him, hot with anger, and the heat of her gaze made his face warm to such a degree that his hand rose unconsciously to touch it. Something told him that his color had deepened as well, and that blushing was an automatic response to deep embarrassment or shame. The realization surprised him. He had never felt that before, and the sensation was strange, uncomfortable. He had been caught in an untruth by the one person who deserved his complete honesty, and he felt he was diminished now in her estimation.
"To him," Jarod replied slowly, maintaining eye contact with Faith and avoiding acknowledging the other man's presence for a moment. "I wanted him to leave you alone. I thought he might if he knew we were involved."
Her nostrils flared and her lips pressed together whitely. When she spoke again it was a verbal explosion aimed directly at Jarod. "But we aren't involved, Jarod! Damn it, how many times do I have to tell you? Whatever went on before is over, gone. We're starting at the beginning here, and Alan's got just as much of a chance to be a part of my life as you do. The decision is mine who I spend time with, not yours, and I won't have you playing territorial alpha male and chasing off my friends because you don't want anybody in your way. Do I make myself clear?"
"Perfectly," he snapped, turned on his heel and left the cabin at a brisk walk that became a pelting run as he headed toward the canyon. By the time he reached the bottom he was seething with rage, feeling the anger, hurt and frustration building up to uncontrollable heights that he knew would make him a dangerous man to be around. Jarod found a large boulder sunk into the sandy floor of the chasm and started pushing against it, using it as a focus for his strength to bleed off some of the excess energy, to wear him out physically while he cooled off and regained his emotional control. His mind conjured up vivid images of violent acts against his rival, escalating into deadly force that would end the rivalry forever. Jarod could see Cross's mangled body bleeding on the dance floor in the very spot where he had kissed Faith, could smell the tinny odor of gore, so strong in his nostrils it made him gag. And he could feel the blood drying on his hands, making them sticky as they moved.
Sanity returned, stealing back quietly as he stared at his hands. The blood faded away with reality, and he wiped them nervously on his jeans, stunned and fearful that he had actually indulged in such a fantasy. When he was past it he climbed up the well worn path to the plateau on which the Foundation sat, jogged slowly back to his room, showered and put on fresh clothes. He could think clearly again, and decided to return to Faith's cabin to try to work things out between them and get back into her good graces again.
It was dusk, and shadows moved in the blue edge of twilight as Jarod left the main building. The sparkle of golden feminine laughter drew his attention upward, and he could see a couple standing at the edge of the roof garden, dancing and holding each other closely. It startled him for a moment when he realized that the woman was none other than Miss Parker herself, and he was immediately curious about the identity of the tall, broad-shouldered man whose face was buried into her neck.
He decided it would wait, and turned back to the path leading across the school yard by the Learning Center. Rounding the corner, he meant to run through the playground equipment once before continuing on his way, but stopped short when he reached the dome-shaped jungle gym.
There was someone lying on the ground beneath the hollow canopy.
Jarod ran to help, ducking through the interwoven steel bars, and knelt down beside the man. In the waning light Jarod could see that he was Navajo, and he was quite dead. With fingers pressed against the carotid in the man's neck, Jarod felt for a pulse, already certain there would be none. He stood up, checked around quickly for clues, but there were so many footprints in the sandy yard from playful children that he couldn't discern any clear ones that might help him judge which way the killer went.
He studied the shadows of the surrounding landscape and saw nothing suspicious. Turning away, he walked toward the Learning Center to notify Grace and the tribal police, but the crime stimulated his instinctive thinking patterns and he began to simulate the murder.
Two men stood in the shadows of nightfall on the playground. They were not strangers, but there was undeniable tension between them. They kept their voices low as they talked, neither wanting to draw attention to their private meeting. It was twilight, that period of indistinct light and heavy shadows before the campus lighting turned on. They wandered over the playground together, discussing some matter of import between them. One of them picked up a bat and ball from the equipment rack, and when the other least expected it, he tossed the ball straight up into the air as a distraction, and slammed the bat into the other man's head. The victim fell backward in the sand, still conscious, and tried to drag himself to safety. His jaw was broken, preventing him from screaming for help. It took only a few more blows to fracture the poor man's skull and crush his windpipe, and the killer had stayed long enough to make sure his victim had expired. There were so many tracks in the sand that it would be difficult to match up any in particular with the murderer, and the killing produced such a small amount of blood that, in the falling darkness, no one would have taken notice of such evidence as the murderer departed the scene.
Jarod knew the killer had not gone far, but was someone who lived on Galleons Lap, and would be watching with pleasure as Jarod and the tribal police walked through their investigation. The presence of a murderer on Foundation lands put all of its residents in danger, and Jarod would not allow the sanctity of his home to be violated. He would protect his new family at all costs, and was determined to find the killer, even if it meant setting himself up as a target. And if he pushed hard enough, he was sure he could get the killer's attention and flush him out.
For nearly forty years, Sydney had been a servant of science, selling his soul and giving up his morals for the sake of knowledge, but in the wake of Samantha's death he was no longer willing to shelve his emotions. He was past disillusionment, past outrage, and there was only one course of action left for him to follow. He tidied up all his notes, gave the miniature marvel of architecture that had been Jarod's initial accomplishment one final fond caress, and picked up his briefcase. He did not look back even once on his way down the long corridor to the outside, and when he started his car and drove home to pack he gave no thought to the consequences. He was on Centre business, after all, and by the time they discovered he wasn't coming back it would be too late to do anything at all.
Jacob was safely stowed away at a new nursing home, and as soon as he could, Sydney would send for him. He had enough money hidden away in secret accounts to support both of them for a long while, so that when The Centre cut off his funds to force him into returning, they would find themselves without leverage. He boarded the company plane with a pair of suitcases and a small shaving kit, and within hours sat in the back of a limousine as it passed through the gates of the St. James Stewardship Foundation. And as he exited the car and watched it drive away without him, he let his buried emotions begin to surface, and was nearly sundered by the vanguard of monumental regrets.
A Navajo woman in white greeted him and showed him to a room upstairs, and in the silence of late evening he sat down on the bed and wept.
It was almost midnight when he got up the courage to pay his hostess a visit. Dressed in gray collegiate sweats, he padded barefoot down the hall to Grace's rooms and knocked softly on the door. After only a moment or two he was looking into her eyes, so weary himself that he hardly noticed the fatigue in her face.
"It's late," she said shortly. "Would you mind looking me up in the morning? It's been a rather trying day."
Sydney remained planted firmly on her threshold. He sighed, bowed his head briefly, and made eye contact again. His elegantly European voice was shadowed with grief when he spoke, and for once he did not play games with his words.
"I've come to ask for asylum, Ms. St. James," he said quietly. "If there is asylum for a Judas of my caliber."
Grace stared at him unblinking for a full minute, studying him for some sign of hidden agendas. She took in his red-rimmed, swollen eyes, which could be accounted for through lack of sleep, but there was something about his lax posture, his air of loss that was unmistakably genuine, and she opened the door wide to invite him in.
Sydney collapsed on a Queen Anne settee in her sitting room and began to talk without waiting for her invitation, and Grace went to her small private bar and hoisted out her hoarded bottle of ouzo and two glasses. If ever a night called for the strong stuff, she told herself, it was this one. She set the bottle between them and saluted him with her glass as she downed the first draught.
Faith wasn't in her cabin. Jarod could understand her concern about sleeping in the remote building in the wake of a murder, and tried her old room in the main house. She roused instantly when he opened the door, and he stole silently inside, shutting them up again in quiet darkness. He checked on the twins first, then sat down on the edge of Faith's twin bed.
"What are you doing here?" she whispered angrily.
"You're afraid," he answered softly. "I want to protect you."
She frowned, contemplating his reasoning, and responded with gentler curiosity. "Where do you plan to sleep?"
He shrugged. "I don't. I can go for days without it."
The campus lighting shining through the sheer curtains in her room revealed a shift in her emotional state, a concerned curiosity leaching the last of her anger away. "I don't want you to do that," she returned. "You'll get sick again."
He reached up to touch her face, but remembered her earlier rejection and drew his hand away uncertainly. "Go to sleep," he told her huskily. "As long as you're safe, that's all that matters." He waited for her to obey, and smiled to reassure her, moving his hands to his lap.
Faith lay down on her pillow, settling onto her back where she could see his face better. Half of his features were blackened by shadows, but in the pale silver light she could read the concern and love in his face clearly.
"Jarod." She swallowed hard, clutching the covers to keep from touching him. "I don't belong to you."
It took eons for him to blink, and his closed expression did not change. "I know that. I just thought what we had together was important enough for you to give me a chance to help you learn to love me again. I didn't want anyone to get in the way of that."
"Then you shouldn't have run away," she reminded him gently. "I'm confused enough by what's happened to me. While you were gone I thought, maybe I should look for someone more stable, someone who'll be there when I need him. I like Alan. He's a nice man, and he doesn't mind that I have kids."
"I never make the same mistake twice," Jarod promised. "I'll be here for you. I'm here now. And Alan Cross is not someone you should be around. He has a past you don't want to be associated with."
She shook her head against the pillow. "No, Jarod. You weren't here. When I heard about the murder, I went to get the twins, and then to find you. And you were right in the middle of everything, talking to Foundation security, to Grace, to the cops. You were up to your eyebrows in it, directing people, giving them orders, answering questions. You loved it. And it wasn't until everything was done that you thought about us and came to find me. I want a man who will put his children first, and then see about everything else. That's what it means to be a father, Jarod. And you have no right to snoop into Alan's past, which is what I assume you must have done. Grace won't be pleased if you did."
He knew she was right, and made no attempt to defend his actions. He simply nodded and rose, moving to stand by the window, looking out at the night and thinking. He didn't look at her, couldn't. His chances of winning her back were bleeding away quickly, and if he fell far enough behind, he believed she would turn to someone else for the comfort and security she needed. He didn't want his sons to be raised by another man, but unless his sense of values shifted, that might be a better solution than having him gone whenever he was needed most. He had to learn how to be a father, not just as a pretend, as a simulation, but to follow his heart and listen to that quiet voice when danger threatened.
When he thought she was asleep he went over the murder simulation again, looking for things he had missed the first time, and then repeated it in pantomime, working through details. Dawn was coloring the sky when he risked another glance at her again. Faith's eyes were still open, and Jarod wasn't sure if she had seen him performing his bizarre dance, but she said nothing. She rose to check on the twins, and just as she bent over their shared crib, one of them gurgled and greeted her with a coo of pleasure. She lifted baby Justin out of the bed after changing his diaper, and settled into her rocking chair to feed him breakfast.
Jarod watched the scene, understanding how she had known the baby was waking even before he made his first noise, how she knew he needed to be fed and changed. Mother's instinct was strong, and he wanted to believe he was capable of the same. He wandered over to the crib, telling himself that Michael was awake, but found the tiny child still and silent, his dark eyes innocently closed to the world.
"I love them so much, Faith," he whispered huskily.
But she wasn't listening. She was holding onto one tiny hand, gazing happily into Justin's coffee-colored eyes and talking to him with a vocabulary of meaningless pleasure-sounds while she smiled down into his face.
Jarod turned back to the window and squared his shoulders, determined he would not let his pain win. He would hold it inside until it died, and then he would be free to fill up his soul with a father's love.
Faith frowned as they left her rooms, and turned to him as he carried baby Justin against his chest. "What were you doing last night?" she asked cautiously.
"Trying to solve the murder," he answered succinctly, wanting to spare her the details of what he was thinking.
She accepted his explanation without further description, but when word of another killing arrived in the dining room, he left her with the babies and a brief word of apology, and went to see for himself.
The victim's ten year old daughter had found her, and when Jarod arrived the child was sitting on the grass with Hosteen Gorman and little Nathan, both of whom were offering their compassion and support, but the child was on the verge of hysteria. Jarod decided not to question her, and spoke with the security guard standing watch until the tribal police could arrive. It took some doing to convince the man to allow him into the scene to look for clues, but eventually he blustered his way in and took brief note of the placement of items in the living room, heading straight for the bedroom doorway. He did not go in, but surveyed the scene from the threshold, and let his mind wander.
Not a stranger, he mused. Someone she has known well. They had a drink on the sofa first, but the killer already removed the glass he touched. They talked for a long time before he coaxed her into the bedroom, but she went because she knew him. She had slept with him before, and expected nothing different than the last time she had been with him. When was that?
Jarod saw that the woman was still partially clothed, leaned back against the bed with one leg still dangling off the mattress, as if her lover had just laid her down, his body still covering hers. And then, while he kissed her, he took his knife and pierced her heart with it, swallowing her scream of pain and horror. Her death was quick, and after she was gone he sliced open her chest and cleaved her heart in two with several jagged strokes.
When he was done, he simply left, not disturbing the child whose presence in the house was obvious from the toys left on the floor and the school book sitting beside her mother's glass on the coffee table.
Jarod stared hard at the woman's bloody chest, thinking, his eyes narrowing. The killer had taken his shirt off and left it on the sofa. His trousers were dark, possibly left in the other room as well. With the first stab, he would have been covered in blood, and with the successive cuts it would have gotten worse. But no one had been seen wearing bloody clothes the night before, so he must have cleaned himself somewhat on a handy item. Jarod checked in the bathroom and assumed there was a towel missing until he checked the kitchen. The stainless steel sink was filled with a strange soupy mass, and a sniff confirmed his suspicions. In order to dispose of the biological evidence he might have left at the scene, the killer had wiped himself off on a pillowcase, the naked pillow still hidden beneath the bedclothes, and then dissolved the case in acid, which was eating through the rubber seals on the drain and about to pass down into the pipes.
The killer was someone Marissa May knew well. She hadn't seen him for a while, but was willing to renew their previous romance. That was why she had let him in late at night, after her daughter had gone to bed. But he had returned to her life specifically to murder her, in the midst of seduction, swallowing her death scream in his kiss. It was his final revenge for her breaking his heart years before, and he had everything planned out to the merest detail. He had walked away clean, without leaving the slightest trace of what he had just done.
Jarod informed the guard on duty about the acid so he would tell Officer Tso when he arrived, and left in search of Faith.
"I hear they found another body this morning," said Miss Parker over her morning coffee.
"Yeah," Jay agreed, stretching out on his back on her well mussed bed. "One of the women who worked in the kitchen. Marissa something." He opened sleepy green eyes and flashed his dimples at her. "Not exactly the kind of subject I wanted to wake up to, Ruby Tuesday."
She smiled, but her eyebrows twitched together in confusion. "Where did that name come from?"
He rolled over toward her and propped himself up on one arm. "Well, you hate your given name, so I thought I'd try out some nicknames. How about 'Ruby' for short?"
She took another sip and hummed the old Rolling Stones tune to herself as she set the cup back onto its china saucer. "It does fit a little, doesn't it?" she mused. "Only I hope you won't be saying goodbye anytime soon."
"Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. Who could hang a name on you?" he sang as he slithered out from beneath the sheets, crawling toward her on hands and knees, a lustful gleam in his eye. Her legs were discreetly crossed, one foot dangling in the air, and he nibbled across the instep of her right foot, up her shin, toward her knee. She laughed and pushed him away.
"I swear, you're insatiable!" she teased. "Just the way I like it!" She set her cup on the breakfast tray beside her and pounced on him.
Hours later, she lay on her belly with her lover stretched out on top of her back, purring as he massaged her neck with his fingertips. "You know, I don't know anything about you, Jay. But now I find myself wanting to know who you are, where you come from." She opened her eyes, but dared not look at him. "That scares me a little."
"Good," he grinned. "I want you to be scared. Just a little. Keeps the excitement up."
She chuckled softly. "As if you needed any help at all in that area..."
Rolling out from underneath him, she sighed wearily. "I'm falling down on the job because of you, Jay. I'm supposed to be working while I'm here."
"Yeah? On what?"
"Can't tell you all the details, but I'm supposed to be watching someone." She turned her back to him and rose from the bed, smoothing her long auburn hair back from her face with one hand as she searched for her slippers. "So don't get all jealous on me when you see me with him."
Jay lay on his back with hands crossed beneath his head, and closed his eyes. "I don't know how to be jealous, babe," he assured her. "I'm not a territorial kind of guy."
"Good," she responded brusquely. But somehow that saddened her a little. She shrugged the feeling off and set about dressing for the day.
"Don't you think you should announce yourself downstairs?" she asked when she was finished. "You haven't left my room for two days. I thought this was your home."
"It is," Jay responded, rolling onto his belly beneath the covers. "But I'm enjoying myself for the first time in... well, a very long time. I'm not ready to face my people just yet. They'll see me when the time comes." He grinned into the pillow. "And I'm having a wonderful time with you. Like the whole world is just us. It's nice... Almost like being in love... as if such things really existed."
"You sound bitter," Miss Parker mused thoughtfully.
He shrugged. "Just call 'em like I see 'em, ma'am," he groaned lazily, and heaved a contented sigh.
She exited her penthouse rooms and stepped into the elevator, wondering what woman in his past had burned him so badly that he continued to shut them all out. But idle curiosity vanished when the doors opened in the downstairs lobby and she saw Jarod deep in conversation in the Day Room with an officer of the tribal police. Taking a seat not far away from the two men, she picked up a book someone had left on a nearby table and opened it, feigning interest in the handwritten journal as she listened.
"So you knew the victim, Dr. Black?" asked Officer Tso flatly.
"Yes," answered Jarod succinctly. "I treated a burn for her last January when I was serving as the Foundation's resident physician. Marissa May was a nice young woman. I can't think why anyone would want to kill her."
Jarod's emotional distress was obvious only in the thickness of his voice, which vibrated with righteous anger. His face showed only mild interest in the officer's questions, carefully schooled to give nothing away. But when Brendan Tso finished his interview and casually commented on the sad fact that Marissa's daughter had found her body, Jarod gave only a curt nod of his head and walked away.
Miss Parker followed him to the gymnasium, and stood by silently while Jarod beat the stuffings out of a heavy punching bag suspended from the ceiling. She saw the murderous gleam in his eyes as he visualized something other than leather and cotton wadding before him, and decided to wait until he had cooled down before continuing her surveillance. She didn't want to get too close just then. Jarod was becoming a much more dangerous man than she had ever imagined he would be. Years of buried emotion lay under an easily irritated surface, and if he was pushed too hard, all that rage and hatred would erupt... and with disastrous consequences.
If they hadn't already. Two murders had occurred on Foundation grounds in the space of less than 24 hours, and that tiny voice of intuition that she so rarely heeded told her that more were on the way. She went back up to her room to fetch her pistol, and throw on a jacket with a pocket she could slip it into, easily in reach.
Jay was sleeping soundly, and she left without disturbing him.
Lt. Tso stood outside the cabin and felt the sunshine on his face, taking a deep breath to clear away the horror of the carnage he had just seen. Unlike most Navajos, Brendan Tso had distanced himself from the beliefs about the malevolent spirits that all dead souls became, partly because his Protestant mother had instilled a different set of beliefs in him from childhood, but also because he had known from an early age that he wanted to be a policeman, and that policemen dealt regularly with the dead.
This case, however, brought up a sense of horror that made him ill, and it was difficult to push his revulsion away far enough to examine the evidence and put the clues together into a coherent picture. The sight of the pretty young woman's body cut up like a side of beef sickened him, and it was several more moments before he could get to the next stage of the investigation.
He walked steadily away from the once comfortable little house, purposefully avoiding a glance at the little girl sitting nearby, weeping softly. He had already interviewed her, and now that he had seen the crime scene he knew what horror she had seen, how she would be forever changed, her precious innocence shattered. He had questions, and there was only one person he trusted to answer them with the truth.
Tso found Grace St. James in her office, and he sat down wearily across from her.
"You've got problems," he said softly.
"I know you'll find whoever's doing this, Officer Tso," Grace responded tensely. "We haven't had the best relationship over the years, but I respect you and what you stand for."
He shrugged. "I may have a personal problem with what the Foundation does for people I should probably be arresting, but I know you, Grace. You're made of stern stuff, and not easily fooled."
She gave him a slight, brief smile of acknowledgement, and waited for the rest.
"I've been looking into your Dr. Black," he said solemnly. "Quite a stellar career the man's got. I don't know how he ended up here, but I'm sure it's a blessing for you and your people."
Warm pride glowed in her brown eyes, and she realized the cop had been investigating Jarod's fabricated background. It amazed her how well constructed it was, down to letters of recommendation from a handful of Harvard instructors in an actual paper file at university headquarters. She had a copy of everything in her own files, in case anyone asked about him, and was thankful she had the foresight to have ordered a history put together for him.
"Yes, lieutenant. Jarod is a godsend. He's been invaluable in keeping everyone calm during these... difficulties. In fact, he might have a theory on who's committing these horrors. Perhaps you should talk to him."
Tso nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I intend to do just that. Any idea where he might be, just now? I'd appreciate any help he could give me. He's already tipped me off to something I'd never have thought to check at the May's house."
Grace smiled fully then, and told Lt. Tso where she thought the Pretender might be at that hour of the day.
Jarod squatted in the shade of a mesquite tree, watching the cabin intently. After his meeting with Lt. Tso, he had seen Alan Cross walking Faith to the Nursery and then to her first class, and decided not to interrupt and incur her wrath again. He returned to the cabin to watch the adolescent girl who now sat on the front steps, perfectly still, her swollen eyes staring blindly at the reddish dirt beneath her feet. She had been weeping steadily for an hour, and finally run out of tears for her dead mother. Her slender frame was bowed with grief, and Jarod's posture matched it as he observed her. Nathan sat nearby, drawing in the sand, but he did not look at her, nor she at him. At the moment she had nothing to say, and the boy just kept her company until she felt like talking.
Jarod didn't hear the soft step approaching, or start when the man spoke to him, but turned his head quickly to see who had addressed him so unexpectedly.
"You have the hungry look of a hunter, Coyote," said the old man. "What are you hunting?"
Jarod picked up a stick and began to break it into small pieces, throwing them away as he severed them. "I want to know who killed Agapita's mother," he growled.
"The police will find him," Hosteen Gorman assured the Pretender. "It's their job, and Brendan Tso is good at it."
"Maybe I'm better," Jarod offered, glancing down at the stick. His eyes hurt from looking at the child.
Gorman nodded. "You probably are," he agreed, sticking his hands into the front pockets of his worn jeans. "But that doesn't make it right for you to be the hunter. I think maybe you're hunting something else, something that you think will be changed when you find this man. Only part of you knows it won't."
Jarod turned a suspicious eye on the man above him. "Been talking to Pooh?" he asked sarcastically. "Sounds like she's told you quite a bit about me."
The old man grinned warmly. "Been talking to Nathan, actually. He's the son of my youngest sister." He motioned to the boy, who joined them and sat down on the dirt and began to draw again.
Gorman squatted on his haunches beside Jarod and fixed him with a frank, intense gaze, ruffling the boy's hair absently. "What is it that you want, Coyote? What one thing, more than anything else?"
The Pretender argued with himself for a moment. He wasn't sure how he felt about people knowing who he was, what kind of life he had led. But he also knew that was the price he would have to pay by choosing to stay at one place in order to be with his family. People ferreted out your secrets if you let them get to know you, and his life had already begun to unfold for public view. He looked at the dirt as he cast another piece of twig away.
"I want to know who I am."
Hosteen chuckled. "Most folks go through their whole lives without discovering that," he returned sagely. "What you want is to put the facts together, tie up the loose ends. If you wanted to know who you are, you'd have taken a different journey than the one you're on." He pursed his lips and met the young man's wary gaze with a piercing one of his own. "You're afraid of finding out the truth, Coyote. You're afraid you might not like yourself very much. Maybe something else, too. You want to tell me the rest?"
Jarod watched Nathan drawing spirals and jagged lightning bolts in the sand, and returned the boy's brief smile. The Pretender closed his eyes and let his mind go blank, and let the answer come out without hindrance or conscious thought.
"I'm afraid of finding a monster in the shadows," he heard himself saying. "I don't want to hurt people. I've had to do too much of that. But I see the demon in my dreams, and I think he might be me."
Gorman nodded. "The only way to know for sure is to go there and face the darkness."
Nathan drew a mask, a hideous demon's face, with features Jarod recognized all too well.
Struggling to inhale, Jarod felt his fear intensify and knew he couldn't answer.
"I'll go with you if you can't do it alone," Gorman offered quietly. "You might need someone to help you find your way back, after you've embraced the shadows."
Jarod turned haunted eyes up to the old man's face as the remains of the mesquite twig fell limply from his fingers. "I can't," he said quietly. "Not yet." He had already gotten one old man killed, and didn't intend to help another into his grave.
The old man stood up and dusted the sand off his knees. He frowned solemnly at the younger man, and slipped his hands back into his pockets. "Just remember, Coyote. Sometimes tomorrow never comes."
"The bad man knows you're watching him," Nathan said gently. "He knows this place."
Jarod stared at the child, wondering if the boy had experienced a vision about the killer.
"What do you see, Nathan?" he asked. Jarod did not look up as Hosteen Gorman walked away to sit beside Agapita May on her porch.
The boy shrugged, his expression uneasy as he replied. "I see me. I see you. Yesterday and tomorrow." He shook his head. "I don't know how to explain it, Many Faces. Just... yesterday and tomorrow. That's all."
Jarod pondered the meaning of the cryptic message, and then smiled and held out his arms to the boy, who came to sit in his lap and tell stories about other things, and to laugh with his friend.
Secrets were an integral part of daily life within the walls of Galleons Lap. People came there for renewal, and sometimes that took the form of gaining new identities. Those secrets in particular were closely guarded, with only Grace and a handful of the instructors ever learning the truth about the people they were helping.
But some slipped into new personas more easily than others, and Alan Cross was not having an easy time of adapting. He often ignored people when called by his new name, and caught himself several times telling Faith stories about himself as a boy in East Texas. She knew enough about who he really was to be able to discover his real name, if she was that kind of person, but he trusted her enough to believe his secrets were safe with her.
As a measure of gratitude for her silence, and as a way of getting closer to her, he told her the truth, unaware that someone was eavesdropping electronically as they strolled across the Foundation's courtyard, thinking they were quite alone. And Alan Cross unwittingly added another name to a list that would soon be crossed off in blood.
Angel frowned as he switched off the surveillance device after the couple reached the main building. Finding Steven Chamberlain had been ridiculously easy, but taking care of personal business came first. The assassin kept tabs on the whereabouts of his target, who he spoke with, and what he said, though little of it mattered to him personally. He would not turn the tapes over to his employer with proof that the contract had been carried out, for that could endanger his own life. But the knowledge that he gleaned from his victims before he killed them sometimes came in handy, and he would be certain to find out as much as possible before striking Chamberlain's name off the page. And there was one other score to settle from the past before hunting Chamberlain down. The last kill would be the most important one of all. Murdering the woman who had borne him and put him at the mercy of Father Nichols would be a special pleasure, one that he would relish carrying out in the flesh even more than the thousand ways he had dreamed of doing it over the last three decades.
He put away his gear and went to pay a visit to his mother.
"How about 'Rio' for a nickname?" Jay suggested as he strolled across the campus with his arm draped over Miss Parker's shoulders. " 'Her name was Rio, and she dances in the sand...'" he sang, humming through the parts of Duran Duran's song where the lyrics escaped him.
"Maybe," the redhead replied with a bemused smile. "But you don't know if I can dance or not, Jay."
He laughed softly. "You certainly can between the sheets, doll." His hand drifted down to her waist and he pulled her into a quick embrace, stealing a hungry kiss and giving her derriere a sly grope as he let her go. His eyes shifted to the door of the Learning Center as a movement caught his attention, and he stood away from Miss Parker as another redhead approached, arms flung wide. A tall dark-haired man followed in her wake, but hung back at the door once he made eye contact with the younger woman. Jarod stayed far enough away to give mother and son a little privacy, but not too far to hear what passed between them.
"Jonathan!" Grace cried joyously as she hugged him to her. "Baby, why didn't you tell me you were coming home? I've missed you!"
She kissed his cheek and let him go, sensing his stiffly unhappy demeanor instantly. "What is it, son? What's the matter?" Drooping a little, she added, "I had thought you'd be over the past by now."
He glanced from his mother to his lover and saw the surprise on Miss Parker's face, the accusation in her eyes. "They retired me from flying, Pooh," he ground out bitterly. "I'm too old now, they said. 'Let the younger jet jocks have a shot.' So I resigned my commission. I'm not in the Navy anymore."
Grace noticed the look pass between the younger woman and Jonathan, and observed quietly, "I see you two have met. What do you think of my son, Miss Parker?"
"I think he needs to learn how to make a proper introduction, Ms. St. James," she snapped angrily, turned on her heel and stalked back the way she had come, with a warning glare thrown over her shoulder toward the man lingering in the doorway.
Grace watched her go pensively. "That's a very troubled young woman, Jonathan," she mused. "I wish I could help her, but she's one of those prickly sorts that won't let anyone near."
Jonathan St. James crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe you just aren't trying the right technique, Pooh," he returned coolly.
For a moment Grace was silent, meeting her son's stony gaze warily. "You still haven't forgiven me, have you?"
"Do you always have to be so fucking right?" he demanded icily.
"I can't change the past, love," Grace began apologetically. "But we don't have to keep up this war between us. We're family. We should get on with life, and let the wounds heal."
"Easy for you to say," Jay shot back hotly. "You weren't the one with your heart ripped out and left beating on the floor. You had to warn off every girl I ever wanted, didn't you? That's why I left, you know. I didn't want you chasing away every woman I glanced at twice, and here you are doing it again."
"Do you think I didn't suffer, too?" she demanded gently. "You're all I have of your father. How could I take pleasure in your pain?"
He said nothing, just stared at her through narrowed, accusing eyes.
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and a weary frown perched on her lips. She sighed. "Well, it's a good thing you didn't show up two days ago, or you might be a suspect in a murder. Welcome home." She started to move away from him, but he caught her arm and held her there.
"Father Nichols," Grace replied with a subtle note of triumph. "Somebody finally explained to him what he did was wrong."
"Miss Parker tells me there have been two others, here on the grounds," he ventured slowly. "Joseph Nails and Marissa May."
Grace nodded, sadness etching deeper in her face. "Kids you knew growing up," she acknowledged flatly. "I can't imagine who would do this to them. Joseph was quite the bully as a boy, but he grew out of it. And Marissa... I just can't imagine..."
Jay shrugged and loosened his grip on his mother's arm. "Someone with a score to settle, would be my guess," he responded with a touch less animosity. "Folks better be watching their backs, if they want to stay alive till this guy's caught. If he's caught at all." He gave Grace a closed look that spoke volumes. "People have a way of disappearing around here without a trace."
"Not murderers, Jonathan. You know that."
He cocked his head and studied her for a moment, then gave her a chilling smile. "At least, none that you know about, right, Pooh?" Hushed laughter followed in his wake as he turned back toward the main house, in search of the redhead whose ego he had bruised, and he did not look back.
Grace stood staring after her son as he disappeared into the house, and wondered why security had not notified her of his arrival. One of the new recruits passed by just then, and she hurried to catch up with him, the man at the door temporarily forgotten. Jarod turned and stole back inside the building again, a frown creasing his forehead.
Foundation Security officers wore brown uniforms complete with shoulder patches that identified them easily to residents and staff, and each candidate went through thorough background checks to make certain none of the protected visitors would be compromised. Grace interviewed each of them personally, and this young man's stellar record on the Taos Police Force had been an excellent recommendation. He was more solitary than she would have liked, but his work to date had been perfect, even in dealing with the murders.
James Rivers stopped as he heard the footsteps behind him, and turned to face his boss with a casual smile.
"What's up, Pooh?" he asked warmly.
"I just found out my son is here," she panted. "I'd like to know when he arrived and who decided not to tell me about it. Would you mind checking on that for me, please?"
The Navajo man shifted uneasily on his feet and his smile faded. "He came in Saturday, wee hours," Rivers answered. "Came in straight to Security and spoke to Jane Deer. Said he'd tell you himself, when he was ready, and Jane okayed it."
Grace frowned and glanced away at the hard-packed dirt path beneath their feet, winding through the landscaped entry outside the Learning Center. "Thank you, James. I'll go see Jane immediately."
"It's her day off, ma'am," the officer reminded her. "She's gone into town to do some shopping, I think."
Grace smiled at him thankfully. "You certainly keep on top of things, James," she commented admiringly. "I like that in my security people."
He nodded his acceptance of her compliment, and turned away to continue his patrol.
Grace headed back to her rooms in the main house, but passed her door at the last moment, moving to the next one down the hallway instead. A weary voice answered her knock, and she pushed open the door and walked in, closing it in her wake.
"Did you rest well, Sydney?" she asked softly, taking note of the man on the settee by the balcony doors. She came close and touched his shoulder, but he did not look at her, continuing to gaze out the glass doors at the bright day.
He made a noncommittal noise and patted her hand affectionately. "Thank you for last night," he said softly. "You're a fine hostess, Grace."
She stared out the glass at the rocky terrain beyond the walls and wondered what the woman Sydney grieved over had been like. Grace had a propensity for helping broken people, and she had great hopes for this particular one. She knew so little about him, but what she did know was that Sydney had a great deal of potential to heal others, once he patched together the broken pieces of his own soul. She could feel it in him, that he was a kindred spirit with a gift for seeing into the hearts of others. All he needed was a little guidance, and a great deal of forgiveness.
But that gift, she knew, might come with a terrible price.
She left him quietly to his grief, and exited the house after an hour of writing on her latest journal. As she crossed the campus she noticed Jarod offering a small wrapped package to little Agapita May. The child's heavy burden lightened for a moment as she opened the box and lifted out an ornately decorated carousel horse. She turned the key in the wooden base and listened to the delicate tune from the hidden music box, and blessed her new friend with a smile. After a quick word of thanks, she walked away from him, cradling her new treasure carefully in her arms.
Grace smiled at the thoughtful gesture until Jarod turned to face her and she saw for a moment the unmasked rage glittering in his eyes. Instinctively she felt that his anger was directed toward the unknown person who had killed the child's mother, but the sheer force of his emotion halted Grace in her tracks. A friendly, smiling mask slid over his soul, and his richly warm brown eyes softened to reflect his pleasure at seeing her. But for the first time she was aware of the simmering volcano seething silently beneath the surface of his personality, and she was afraid. For him.
"Hallo, there, Christopher Robin," she greeted him warmly. Her arms opened for a quick embrace, and he slid his arm around her waist, bringing her along the bricked sidewalk with him as he walked back toward the Learning Center.
"Many happy returns of the day, Pooh," he responded cheerfully. "Did you get any sleep last night? You look tired." He decided not to mention the private conversation he overheard between her and her son earlier in the day.
She sighed forlornly. "It's hard to rest with a murderer running loose on the grounds, love," she answered hollowly. "How is Faith? I know she must be going mad with worry. Any mother would in these tragic circumstances."
"I wanted to talk to you about that," he returned quickly. "I want to start teaching some self defense classes, and I'd like to make sure everybody comes. Can we work out a schedule where people come in shifts? Set up classes by age groups, maybe? It might help calm people's nerves during the interim, until the killer is caught."
Grace nodded. "That's an excellent idea, Jarod. Leave the details to me. You're about to be a very busy man."
"Are there any others here with experience in martial arts?"
"Most of my security officers. We could have several classes going at once."
Jarod nodded his approval. "That'll help. I won't have to be tied to classes all day. I'd like to teach the children, if that's all right with you."
They strolled down the hall and into Grace's office while they discussed details, and Grace shut the door behind them before taking a seat on the futon sofa.
"Security, privacy please," she said aloud to the room, and classical music began to play softly over the stereo system to signal that the request had been fulfilled. Jarod glanced sharply at her as he leaned his hips against her desk.
"It's time we had a talk, son," she stated firmly. He crossed his arms over his chest and she read the body language accurately. "Don't shut me out, Jarod. We need to discuss your feelings before you pop your cork."
"I can handle them," he returned evasively. His face was stony and cold.
"For now, yes. But you won't be able to tell me exactly when the load will become too great to bear. You need to express your outrage at what was done to you before you regret it." Grace's brown eyes were intent, passionate, and she did not allow him to break eye contact. "You've buried your anger so deep in your soul you think you can't feel it, but it's always there, choosing your path for you. You think you're controlling it, but it's controlling you. You just can't see it yet."
"I know exactly what I'm doing, Grace," he said stiffly. "I decide who I help, where I go, what I do. I'm free for the first time in my life."
She shook her head. "No, you're not. You're still in prison. There just aren't any walls to keep you inside anymore."
Jarod stepped away from the desk and began to wander around the room, hands on hips defiantly. He spied a framed certificate on the wall that he hadn't noticed before and let his eyes pass over the words. He was not surprised that Grace had a degree in psychiatry, or that she had chosen to use it on him. He just didn't like revealing his secrets to anyone, no matter how much he liked them.
"I don't want to get into this with you, Pooh," he said softly, and turned to face her again.
"You're upset about Marissa and Joseph, I understand," Grace acknowledged patiently. "You're hurt about Agapita finding her mother dead. You feel her pain as if it was your own. But you're avoiding the root of the problem, love. You have to address your hidden fury before it becomes uncontrollable and you end up hurting someone. I don't believe you're capable of murder--"
"Well, you're wrong," Jarod snapped, feeling himself heating up, sharp edges of broken bits of his soul jabbing at him inside. "I did kill a man, right after he murdered the woman I thought was Athena."
Grace was silent for a moment, startled by the confession. "You have to find the source of your hatred, Jarod," she went on. "The Centre made you this way. The Centre stole your life from you, changed you. But there was no one person for you to concentrate your fury on, except for Sydney. And that wasn't allowed. So you shut it out, or thought you did. But it's still there, Jarod. And it's growing." She saw his pace quicken as he roamed the room, his eyes losing focus, gaining intensity. She was arousing him to anger, and only the most rigid control would keep it in check. She pushed him farther. "Every time you set up one of your stings, you come a little closer to hurting someone seriously, or even killing them. You know it. You feel it, yet you can't stop yourself. You have to do it, because that person, that villain, is someone you can focus on, direct your emotions toward. You can exact your own personal revenge on someone at last... only the need for vengeance keeps growing stronger. The only way you can conquer these feelings is to get them out into the open. Let me help you, Jarod. Let me--"
"Meddle with my mind like everyone else did?" Jarod snarled, whirling around and facing her like a tiger about to dine.
She pushed to her feet and stepped closer to him, into the arms of danger. "Feel it, Jarod!" she urged softly. "It's burning inside you, consuming you. What will you become when it's out of control?"
He flung his arms wide, a twisted, too wide grin contorting his face. "Anything I want to be!" he shouted back. "It's what I do, Grace. I'm everyone! I'm the cop who writes your traffic ticket, the doctor who stitches up your cut. I'm the guy in the roach coach who can't cook worth a damn and does it for a living. No challenge too big for me, no sir. Give me a problem and I'll solve it. Can't walk away from one. Did you know that? That's what they trained me to do, pushed me until I can't think any other way."
Grace noted the gleam of rising panic in his eyes, his confusion mounting as the volume of his diatribe decreased.
"They sure got their money's worth out of me," he continued bitterly. "Why, my success rate was 100 percent. I was the best. Stuck with every simulation until I got it right. Every one." His voice was little more than a whisper now, and he couldn't meet her eyes. "Every..." He swallowed hard, fighting back tears. "Every God damned one."
She reached out to him, arms open, inviting wordless comfort to take the place of his grief. After a moment's hesitation he fell into them, his head on her shoulder, tears soaking into her white tunic. This was not a technique she had learned in a university classroom; it was a mother's instinctive reaction to a wounded child. She held him until he had control of himself again, then brought him to sit down with her on the sofa for a long, honest conversation, the likes of which he had never had with another human being before.
She let him ramble at first, let him describe his life in words rather than illustrate it silently with the DSAs. But as she watched his eyes she could see them shifting, watched him stand and pace the room as if he was dodging something monstrous. She prodded him then, asked him gently about his hatred, his need to settle the score. She pressed him about Faith and his feelings for her, how he intended to fit into her life, and be a father to his sons. And she asked about Sydney, and whether Jarod believed he could ever forgive him for his sins.
The subjects were not resolved, for both of them knew that would take more than a few hours of tender counseling. But Jarod had someone now that he could talk with about his past, someone who could offer him more than loving sympathy. Someone who could show him the way home.
The young woman stood in the shade of a mesquite tree outside the Learning Center, smoking her last cigarette and watching the man and woman inside the large office at the front of the building. She had been following Jarod for hours, but there was not the slightest hint what he might have done with the DSAs. Her legs were tired of standing watch, and she desperately wanted to get out of the tranquility of Galleons Lap before she lapsed into a coma.
"Wanna put something exciting between your legs?" asked a merrily masculine voice behind her.
She jerked around to face Jay, frowning. "Get lost, Mama's Boy," she snapped. "I'm busy."
"Busy growing old," he shot back. "Come on. I've gotta shake this place for a little while. Come ride with me on my Harley."
Miss Parker tried valiantly to ignore him, but his smoothly practiced seduction chipped away her crumbling resolve, aided by boredom. She dropped her cigarette and crushed it into the dirt beneath her shoe. Fixing him with a superior gaze down the length of her perfect nose, she agreed to go with him if he would take her to buy more cigarettes.
"Sure, darlin'," he promised with a wink. "But you don't need those to keep smokin'." He took her hand and led her to the garage near the front gate, urging her faster until she had to run to keep up with him. The building was dark and empty, and he pulled her into a small stall separate from the room that housed the cars. He pushed her up against a wall and kissed her hungrily, devouring her mouth while his hands roamed over her form-fitting chocolate-colored silk dress.
When he pulled away, she was panting, her right leg draped over his hip, her hands working at unfastening his belt.
"Forgive me?" he asked breathlessly.
"For what?" she growled, freeing his erection from his jeans and climbing up his shoulders.
He lifted her up and impaled her against the wall.
"For not telling you I'm Grace's son."
"Who the hell cares?" she groaned blissfully. "Just shut up and fuck me, Jay."
He complied eagerly, and when it was over he offered her his comb to straighten her hair and hauled his motorcycle out of its narrow cubicle. Disregarding the helmets hanging on the wall, he straddled the powerful machine and watched appreciatively as she hiked her already short skirt to mount the seat behind him.
"Wait a minute," he said as he started to turn the ignition key. "We're doing this backwards. You need to be the one driving this hog. Trade places with me." Jay grinned and winked meaningfully at her over his shoulder. "That is, if you think you can handle it."
"Just don't eat my hair, stud," she shot back. Moments later she cranked the motor to life and wheeled the big bike down the bricked road toward the front gates, wind whipping her hair back into her companion's face. She handled the heavy machine expertly, and Jay laughed into the slipstream behind her head.
"My kinda woman," he shouted above the noise of motor and wind. His hands slid around her waist, and he rested his chin on her shoulder.
It was dark when they made it back to the Foundation, and she led him upstairs to the penthouse by the hand. He stopped at the door, and she turned to query him with her eyes.
"I wasn't sure I'd be welcome again, after my little deception," he ventured hesitantly. "That first time I saw you, bam! You knocked me for a loop. I mean, it isn't every day a guy wakes up and has a barefoot goddess in a thin silk nightie come to wish him a good morning. I couldn't remember who I was, much less my name."
"Cut the crap, Jay," she returned, a note of gentleness in her command. "You didn't want me to know you were Grace's son. Just leave it at that. Your reasons are none of my business, and I really don't care why you did it. Just don't ever lie to me again. Got it?"
He grinned, deep dimples cleaving both his well tanned cheeks. "Yes ma'am."
"Good. Now get in there and take your clothes off. I want to see your tattoos again. You did say you were a sailor?"
"Navy, yes. But not exactly a sailor..."
"I've got to go check on my quarry for a minute," she told him, interrupting his explanation. "You just be ready for me when I get back, okay?"
She flashed her dimples at him.
"Jesus! You could kill with that smile," he whispered.
"And I have, too," she growled sensuously.
His eyes rolled heavenward and he shivered. "God, what a way to go! Thank you! Thank you..."
She laughed softly, slapped him on the buttocks, and started back toward the stairs.
Jarod stepped outside into the brisk darkness, holding the door open for Grace. He had promised to escort her back to the main building after she finished her last classes, and to meet Faith in the main house. Grace chastised him gently about breaking into her private files, and he was attempting to explain his actions as they approached a bench where Faith and Alan were seated together, enjoying the night air while she waited for him to join her.
Faith stood up as they arrived, and smiled nervously at Jarod.
Alan asked Grace for permission to pick one of the park flowers, and she agreed hesitantly.
A shot rang out just as he bent down, and Jarod instinctively pushed Faith to the ground and shielded her with his body. His head came up, seeking the source of the noise, and he saw a figure, a black shape on the roof of the main house, lit up indistinctly by the campus lights. The sniper lowered his rifle and disappeared into the shadows, but not before Jarod had a chance to memorize the man's shape and the general look of the dark clothes he wore.
Jarod pushed quickly to his knees, jerked Faith up after him and pulled her toward the main house, which was nearest to them, knowing the killer had run down the outside staircase from the roof, and would be somewhere on the grounds, covering his tracks. Jarod shouted for Security and two officers on watch inside the building came running. One of them escorted Faith back inside, and the other ran toward the back of the building on Jarod's orders, his pistol drawn. Jarod dashed back to the bench and found Alan Cross huddled beneath it, and Grace lying in a pool of her own blood on the bricked path.
Her white tunic was sodden scarlet, her left shoulder all but blown away.
"Jesus, somebody help us!" Alan cried, his face white with fear.
"Oh, God," Jarod breathed, his attention fixed on the woman lying on the ground. He lifted Grace in his arms and carried her at a run toward the main house, the Infirmary, and Dr. Ndele.
Alan followed him inside, his eyes wide with terror, and ran to Faith, but she was concerned about Grace and broke away from him as quickly as possible so she could get closer to the Infirmary door, hoping to see what was happening, to assure herself that her friend would live. Faith calmed him down and sat with him in the Day Room, waiting with the growing group of others who had seen or heard about Grace's injury and come to offer their support. By the time the doctor arrived, Jarod was already scrubbed and directing the medic, Dan Two Bears, to set up the surgery.
Dr. Black had returned to duty, and between the three men, they made a miracle and put Grace back together again.
Word spread quickly, and when the operation was completed and Jarod had scrubbed out, he went to face the milling crowd at the door.
A tall, dark haired man in T-shirt and jeans accosted on him as soon as he appeared. Jarod recognized him immediately.
"Is she all right?" he demanded tensely. "I'm Grace's son, Jonathan. Is my mother all right?"
He gave the man a dark smile. "She's going to be," Jarod answered slowly. "Did Security catch the sniper?" He glanced around for someone in the familiar brown uniform and directed his questioning gaze at the nearest representative. He read the name tag. "Officer Rivers, was he apprehended?"
The man shook his head, concern flickering with anger in his fathomless black eyes. "He got away, Dr. Black. Just vanished. Jane's reviewing the surveillance tapes from the new cameras we put up, but I'm afraid it's too dark to get a good image. Maybe we'll have more in the morning, when we can get a good look at the tracks."
"He was on the penthouse roof," Jarod told him. "That's Miss Parker's room. Was she in when the shots were fired?"
"If I was, the son of a bitch would be dead right now, Jarod," the redhead snarled from the nearby staircase. "Nobody gets that close to me with a gun and walks away."
Jarod saw her glance at Jonathan St. James impatiently.
"I was in the room," Jay announced on cue. "I hit the floor when I heard the shot and rolled up to the patio doors to see what was going on. He was running by then, headed for the exterior stairs, but I didn't want to be a hero. He had a gun and I didn't, and decided not to give chase." Rage gleamed in his green eyes. "I didn't know he had just shot my mother. If I had, we wouldn't be looking for him now. He'd be on a slab at the morgue."
Jarod's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he regarded St. James. This man fit all the criteria: he had grown up at Galleons Lap, and had a long-standing feud going on with his mother. Jarod had asked some of the other permanent residents about him, and learned that Jonathan had an unpleasant history with both of the other victims. Adding his military training into the mix, Jarod found himself looking at the perfect suspect, but he was reluctant to believe such things of Grace's son.
He would have to make absolutely sure before he moved. But he had a better focus on the problem now, a direction in which to look, and he could protect those most at risk from him. Jarod would need allies in the hunt, and searched the sea of faces in the room, noting the expressions of relief after hearing that Grace would survive. But there was one visage that did not share the same sense of reprieve, and Jarod stared, trying to decipher the confusion he saw there. Hosteen Gorman was studying someone else in the room, but the crowd was so thick Jarod couldn't tell who had attracted the elder's attention.
The Pretender turned back to Jonathan and gave him permission to go into the Infirmary and see Grace, knowing that Dr. Ndele would be there to watch over her for a few more hours. Jarod waited for the throng of well-wishers to disperse, assuring them all that the danger had passed. Half an hour later he found Faith locked in her room upstairs with the twins, and Alan Cross sat hunched over in a chair by the window. A glazed look of mortal fear still sat heavily on his pale face.
Jarod sat down on the bed in response to Faith's nod, and waited.
Faith put her hand gently on Alan's shoulder and spoke quietly in the softly lit room. "Tell him, Alan. It's all right. You can trust him, I promise."
Jarod's eyes flicked back up to her face, and his heart clenched at her steadfast belief in him. It was a beginning, one he could build on, if he was careful. He turned his attention toward the other man then.
"We had been sitting in the park, talking about..." Alan hesitated, glanced up at Faith nervously, and the last vestige of hope vanished in his eyes. "...things. I... I saw this flower lit up by the landscape lighting, and I thought, maybe if I was more romantic than you..." He swallowed hard, waited a minute until he could control his voice a little better. "When I bent down to get it, that's when the shot..." A tear poured onto his cheek as he remembered, re-lived the scene all over again. "Jesus. Jesus! I think the guy was aiming for me, Jarod." He sobbed aloud, caught himself, and forced the rest of it out. "I pissed off a lot of powerful people when I turned State's witness. I know there's a contract out on me. I knew it before I agreed to testify. And now they know where I am, and they're going to kill me, and anybody else who gets in the way."
The man started to cry in earnest, but Jarod reached out and put a hand lightly on Alan's knee. "Did you know the other victims?" the Pretender asked softly.
Alan shook his head.
"Then I don't think the sniper was aiming for you," Jarod pronounced confidently. "The other murders were the result of hatred that's been carried around for a long time, possibly since childhood. Joseph Nails and Marissa May grew up around here. You didn't. I think he was aiming for Grace. But you should probably be extra careful, just in case. I'm going to ask the tribal police for some extra officers interested in moonlighting to work security here for a few days, and in the meantime, I'm doubling patrols. I want those uniforms extra visible." Jarod thought a moment. "If it'll make you feel better, Alan, I know one place in Galleons Lap where you'll be perfectly safe."
Cross lifted his head and wiped his cheeks dry, hope glimmering in his gray eyes.
"I'll have a cot moved into Security Ops for you, if you'd like," Jarod offered. "You'll be in the company of half a dozen trained officers coming and going, and that room is the one place on campus that never sleeps. You'll have to deal with lights and conversation going on around you all night, but I'll give you a sleeping pill if you think you might need it. What do you say?"
"As a temporary solution, sure," Cross replied wearily. "But you should probably put a guard on Pooh, too. We don't want to lose her. She's a very special lady."
Jarod smiled tenderly as he thought of Grace, and the warmth blossoming in his heart with her memory. He supposed that must be what it was like to love his own mother, so long ago. "Yes," he agreed. "We have to keep her safe at all costs. Let me walk you over to Ops, and I'll have a bed sent over for you."
Alan rose from the chair and held out his hand in friendship. "Thanks," he murmured softly. "I owe you."
Jarod could feel Faith's eyes on him, but he did not acknowledge her presence. He didn't want her to see how triumphant he felt, didn't want to rouse her ire again and push her farther away. He put his arm around the other man's shoulder and guided him from the room, a strange feeling of guilty sadness weighing his heart down. He had won back his territory, but the victory was much less than satisfying, and Jarod couldn't understand that at all.
Part 3 by Victoria Rivers
"You haven't slept since you got back, Jarod," Faith observed as dawn colored the sky. He was still standing by the window, where she had seen him last before exhaustion closed her eyes for the night. "You need to rest."
He shrugged off her concern, his mind awhirl with thoughts from the simulations he had done while she slept. He needed to get out and act on the information, but he also needed to stay with Faith, to make sure she and the twins were protected, that she felt safe.
"I'm fine," he assured her. "I can go for another day or two before it starts to affect my judgement."
"Studies have shown the time limit is a lot shorter than that, Jarod," she reminded him.
"Those are generalized. I've explored my limits personally. I know exactly how long I have." He turned and gave her a boyish smile. "Don't worry about me, honey. I know exactly what I'm doing."
Faith sat up in bed and threw off the covers. "I want to know more about you, Jarod. I want to understand what you've been through, what makes you the way you are."
His smile vaporized. "Why? Don't you like the way I am?"
There was an uneasy look creasing her brow, but she tried to smile past it. "I do. You're strong, and self assured without being egotistical, and you really care about people. But sometimes it's as though your search for justice is so all-encompassing that there's no room for anything else. Even me." She glanced toward the crib. "I'm not sure I can deal with that."
He came to the bed and got down on one knee before her, placing his hands on either side of her on the mattress without touching her body. "You understood it before, Faith," he promised gently. "You believed in what I was doing and accepted it. I know things are different now. I have a family, and that's a miracle that never ceases to amaze me on an hourly basis. But it doesn't change what I am. I need these quests. They give my mind something to focus on. I could never work a 9-to-5 job and go home at night and vegetate in front of the television. I have to be helping people who need it, people no one else will listen to, or I'll go crazy. Can you accept that?"
She nodded, helplessly trying to sympathize and failing miserably.
Reluctantly he fetched the Halliburton from its hiding place and set it up in her lap.
"I had wanted to wait a while longer before I showed you this, but I think the time has come for you to know." He pulled out a disk and set it in the reader, turned on the machine and adjusted the volume down low to try to avoid waking the babies.
The picture came up quickly, a black and white image of a teenage girl with long blonde hair, walking through a doorway into a theatrical set resembling an apartment. At first the young woman was detached, examining the scene with a critical eye, asking questions and receiving answers or prompts from an unseen man with a European accent. They were exploring a murder scene, and the longer the young woman hovered over the mutilated mannequin that served to illustrate the victim, the more agitated and emotional she became. The unseen man pushed her, prodded her to advance, to come to a conclusion, but the strain was too much for her. The final footage revealed the hostility and lack of concern for her welfare that typified the Centre, and when it was over, Jarod removed the disk and set it back in its slot.
He put his hand over hers and looked into her horrified eyes.
"That was you, Faith, when you were 16. You've been on your own ever since." He sighed. "They took me from my family when I was four. I escaped a little over a year ago."
"But they didn't do that kind of thing to you when you were little," she stated hopefully, but the question was there in her trembling lips.
"Yes, they did," he said sadly. "I don't know what it's like to be normal, Faith." He gave her a wistfully sad smile. "But I can imagine. I'm very good at that."
She blinked away her gathering tears and tore her eyes away from his face. With trembling fingers she plucked a disk from the set and watched a five-year-old Jarod struggling with his own fears as he dealt with a simulation and conquered it. She saw a teenage Jarod battling hormonal angst, trying to concentrate on his work and control his raging emotions. She saw Jarod the man weeping at the loss of life during a particularly gruesome exercise, and being denied the humanity to express his feelings. And she looked into that innocently wise face filled with super-human strength and delicately fragile hope kneeling before her, and was lost.
She closed the case and set it on the floor, wiping her hands on the skirt of her gown as though she had touched something dirty.
"I'm sorry for us, Jarod," she whispered brokenly, and glanced at the crib that held their still-sleeping babies. "Will it be like that for them?"
"No," Jarod promised. "Never. No one will ever take our sons from us. I promise you that, on my life."
Tears spilled down her cheeks, and she reached for him, pulling him close, leaning down to kiss him with all the uncertainty gone, giving free rein to her passion at last. She clawed at his clothes, weeping as he pushed her hands away.
"Wait, Faith," he breathed against her mouth. "Be sure this is what you want."
"Shut up, Jarod," she whispered back. She unbuttoned his black shirt and pushed it back over his shoulders. He started to rise and she wrapped one leg around his waist as he knelt before her, and drew him up and over, onto the bed with her. For a moment he poised above her on hands and knees, searching her face for the merest sign of reservation, and found none.
He lifted her gown upward and peeled it off over her head, waiting again to see if her nakedness would change her mind. And then he settled himself over her and let her finish undressing him while she eased his wounded heart with her kisses, and his tender passion chased away her tears. He touched her as if it was the first time all over again, exploring her body anew, taking note of all the scars left over from the accident, and the stretch marks from childbearing fading on her slightly rounded belly. He kissed every part of her, caressed every inch of her smooth, creamy skin, darkened now on her arms and legs from exposure to the sun.
With great care he taught her what it had been like between them, and experienced afresh the wonder of her first orgasm, lost in delight as he drank in the ecstasy in her face. Her pleased laughter when the last ripple had passed encouraged him, and he happily gave her several more. He left the bed for a moment in search of his trousers when she asked for a breather, and returned with a small flat packet in his hands. Faith watched him put on the condom and thanked him for his thoughtfulness, not at all upset that he had come prepared. When he had it firmly in place, she pushed him back against the pillows and straddled him with a slightly embarrassed, eager grin, fresh color filling her cheeks in the rising sunlight.
"I have always loved you, Faith," he said solemnly.
She smiled back at him. "I think I knew from the first moment I saw you, Jarod. I shouldn't have been so afraid of the things I couldn't remember." She giggled a little as her attention turned to other things. "My goodness, but you're big."
He grinned shamelessly. "You like it that way," he reminded her. And in a moment or two, she agreed heartily.
They were careful to restrain their noise level, and by the time full sunrise had arrived, man and woman lay naked and spent, arms and legs tangled together and peaceful, happy smiles plastered across their faces. Soft love words echoed between kisses, and Faith lingered with him a little longer, ignoring for a moment the cries of waking children in order to satisfy her own need to hold Jarod, to comfort him a little more, to let him know that he was loved. He kissed her briefly, tenderly, and left her to fetch one of the babies to breakfast.
She watched him with his sons, and the last reservations she had fell away.
"Don't you have somewhere you need to be?" she asked, her voice thick with restrained emotion.
"This is where I'm most needed," he assured her contentedly as he expertly changed Justin's diaper.
Faith smiled proudly to herself. "Grace needs you," she argued gently. "And we have a killer in need of catching." She smiled at his startled look of disbelief. "Just be careful, okay?"
His brow furrowed in confusion. "Yesterday you said my place was here. Now you want me to finish my quest. I don't understand."
She chuckled softly. "Men haven't understood women since the beginning of time, Jarod. But if anyone can, I'll bet you'll be the one. Just give it some thought. I'm sure it'll come to you."
He traded babies with her when she was finished feeding Michael, the perplexed look remaining on his face.
"We'll be fine," she promised. "Walk me down to breakfast, and we'll stay in the Day Room. There are always plenty of people in there, so I'm sure we'll be safe while you're working."
"Stay with Grace," he advised. "We'll move her to her rooms today, and there will be two security guards on duty at all times. Dr. Ndele will be there frequently, and Dan Two Bears might be assigned to watch her. You could even help with nursing duties, if you want. You used to be a very good one."
He smiled proudly, and it warmed him to his toes to see her return it.
"I love you, Faith," he announced solemnly, and turned away before she could respond. He put the Halliburton back in its hiding place, and escorted her downstairs to the dining hall for breakfast.
He stood on the roof, gazing down at the landscaped path between the main house and the Learning Center, where Grace had been struck down. He knew the look of the courtyard at night by the glow of landscape lighting, and could visualize the group standing near and seated on the bench. His eyes narrowed as he thought of Grace's pain, and rage began to simmer inside him.
Each of the crimes had been committed by someone who knew Galleons Lap intimately, someone who carried a grudge, someone that each of the victims knew since childhood. Few of the permanent employees fit that description, and Jarod had already checked out their alibis and backgrounds enough to know that it wasn't any of them. That left him with only one suspect, the one he least wanted it to be. But he would see to it that justice was done, even if it was a painful justice that he delivered up to the authorities.
Jarod still had to find the rifle the killer used to shoot Grace down, since no weapon had been discovered in the initial search. He slipped back into the assassin's mind, and began to relive the moments immediately after the shooting once more.
He turned and walked across the roof garden to the exterior staircase that traversed the back of the adobe building, checking for any print or sign that might have been left behind. The sniper's shoes left no trace on the brick path at the rear of the building, but Jarod jogged around to the front, just as he imagined the shooter had done. But where had he hidden the rifle? The sniper had only seconds to dispose of it, so it would have to be nearby.
Jarod went back upstairs, thinking he would start moving some of the planter boxes to look for a suitable hiding place, but someone beat him to it, and the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Jonathan St. James was crouching at the far end of the roof near the stairs, tugging on a box that looked like it was built into the wall. Once moved, the planter revealed a notch beneath the adobe parapet, just big enough to accomodate a rifle with a folding stock. He started to reach for the weapon, but hesitated before his fingers touched it, sensing the presence of someone watching him.
"You don't want your fingerprints on it, St. James," Jarod warned him as he came the rest of the way up the steps. "Even though I'm guessing our shooter didn't leave any, either. Isn't that right?"
Jay stood up and faced the Pretender, his eyes curious. "What makes you think I would know?" he queried casually. "Nobody saw the guy."
"An amateur would want the best light to shoot in," Jarod explained, trying to keep his voice neutral while fury boiled inside him. "Only an expert would choose full dark to make a hit, using only the campus lighting for illumination. And he knew exactly what he was doing. Had it all planned out in advance, including his getaway. Including where to stash his gun where no one would know to look." Jarod cocked his head. "Except for you. I guess he forgot about you, didn't he?"
Jay cocked his head and studied the other man for a moment. "You sound like an expert yourself, maybe a cop used to hunting the bad guys," he replied thoughtfully. "But according to Dr. Ndele you're a damn fine doctor. You did a good job patching Pooh up last night. Thank you for that. But I'd like to know where you were, exactly, when my mom was shot."
"I have an alibi," said Jarod evasively. "Yours won't hold water, though." He fixed St. James with a dark look that spoke volumes, and readied himself for the other man to bolt.
Green eyes narrowed with insult as they regarded Jarod. Jay's voice was tight as he softly replied, "I didn't shoot my mother. And if the cops don't find who did it, then I will. Just see that you don't get in my way."
Jarod barred his path as he tried to step away. "Why were you looking for the gun? Why here?"
St. James' reply was stiff and formal. "The security guys said no weapon was found. I ran through it in my head and decided the guy must have stashed it before he left the roof." He glanced away at the pigeonhole for a moment. "I knew about this since I was a kid. Not many others would have, even the gardeners."
"So you agree that the shooter was someone who lived here for a long time?"
"Someone who knows this place as well as I do," Jay agreed. "That's a short list. Even among the Navajo, turnover is fairly regular. They learn new job skills here and go out to the cities to use them, where they can earn better money." He tried to hide a wry smile, and failed. "Pooh is known for making dollars stretch. She hires people at lower wages and lets them take classes for free, sort of a work-in-trade policy. But there are a handful that just enjoy working for her so much, they stay regardless of bad wages."
"But she gives them free food and housing to make up the difference, doesn't she?" Jarod asked knowingly.
"That's Pooh, all right," he replied flatly. He turned his attention back to the rifle, took off his shirt and used the cloth as a barrier to allow him to remove the weapon from its niche. He was careful to handle only the areas where the sniper would have been least likely to touch it, in order to avoid smearing or inadvertently wiping off any fingerprints.
"Jane Deer told me you asked her not to call the cops," he observed without inflection. "Why is that? Sounds like suspicious behavior to me."
"I have my reasons," Jarod answered evasively. "And if the cops show up, I think he'll disappear. I want him caught."
"What makes you think he'll run?"
Jarod eyed the man's tatooed arms and recognized the insignia immediately. Jonathan had said he was in the Navy, and would have a uniform among his gear nearby, possibly stashed in Miss Parker's rooms.
"Call it intuition," the Pretender replied. He walked to the middle of the long wall, to the exact spot where the sniper had stood, and pointed down to the Learning Center. "I was there, with my girlfriend, standing right next to Grace when she was hit, and I saw him."
Jay sneered at him. "You couldn't possibly make a positive ID at that distance."
"I didn't see his face, no. But I know his shape, and I will find him."
The two men exchanged a long, meaningful glance, both filled with veiled threats and suspicion.
"So will I," Jay promised darkly.
"Just let me look for him in my own way. I'm very good at this."
"You look your way, I'll look mine," Jay shot back. "Just don't interfere with me. Okay, pal?"
"I'm not your pal," Jarod snapped, his eyes gleaming with hostility. "But I can't help but wonder why you're so upset with me. I did save your mom's life last night, and I'm trying to find the guy who shot her. Seems to me you'd be trying to show me a little appreciation." He held out his hand to take possession of the weapon, but Jay held onto it.
"I'll give it to Jane. She knows how to do fingerprinting. Used to do it for the Flagstaff Police." Jonathan's angry expression faded, and contriteness sat heavily on his brow, but worry remained etched into his features. "And you're right about my behavior. I'm acting like an ass, and I'm sorry. I just want the bastard caught and torn up into little pieces for what he did to Pooh." He sighed, and combed his hair back with his fingers. "She's a great lady, even if she does meddle too much. She didn't deserve this."
"Why don't we take the rifle to Jane together?" Jarod suggested, and walked back to Security Ops with the other man, a heavy silence stretching between them. Once he had seen the gun delivered into Jane Deer's custody, Jarod headed back to the main house at a brisk walk.
He wanted to see Grace. But as he headed for the Infirmary, he spied Hosteen Gorman sitting on the stairs, his face drawn and weary looking. Curiosity got the better of him, and he swung left and leaned on the banister.
"Ya-ta-hey," he greeted warmly. "Can I help?"
"How is it that a man can live in a village with one of his own family, and not know them, Coyote?" Hosteen asked without looking up.
"If they've been separated for a long time, it can be easy not to recognize a relative," Jarod surmised, knowing that, if he had not been given the photograph of his mother as a young woman, he would not recognize her if they passed on the street.
Gorman shook his head. "You know your family by heart, Coyote," he corrected. "You would love them even if you didn't know their faces, because their blood is your blood. You find each other, especially if you're looking for them. Among the Dinee, family is everything."
"My sister's son has been gone a long time," Gorman explained sadly. "His mother was an alcoholic. His father had the 'checks are in' syndrome, always spending his government welfare on things with big payments he couldn't afford, and eventually he went to prison. Walter lived in poverty and abuse, until I took him away and sent him down the Jesus road. I was in the military and moved around a lot, couldn't keep him with me. When I returned and found out what had happened to him, I couldn't forgive myself. I haven't seen him since he was 17, when he ran away. I thought I had saved him, but instead, I just made things worse."
"But you tried. I'm sure he knows that," Jarod offered.
The old man nodded. Tears clouded his voice when he spoke again. "But he must blame me, too. Walter was here, among us, and I didn't know him until last night, when he spoke to you outside the Infirmary. His face is different, but his voice is the same." He turned anguished eyes up to the Pretender and added, "He didn't want me to know he was home."
"Maybe," Jarod began slowly, "he wasn't ready yet. I'm sure he'll come to you when he is."
Gorman shrugged. "I'm surprised he came back at all. This place holds no fond memories for him." A closed look slid over the man's face, but he went on. "Walter should know that things became different after he left. The ones who hurt him changed. The Foundation helps families learn such things. But now he will never know. The one who changed the most, the one who wanted to show him her sorrow, cannot speak of this to him when he most needs to hear it."
"His mother died," Jarod assumed, knowing the reluctance with which the Navajo speak of those who have passed away. Even the mention of the names of the dead was avoided, in order to prevent attracting the attention of the chindi, the malevolent spirit that is all that remains of the dead in the belief system of the Dinee.
Gorman nodded. "Just a few days ago. Alcohol poisoning. Strange for someone who had been on the wagon for nearly two decades."
"You should go and see Walter, Grandfather," Jarod suggested. "Is he staying here?"
The old man shrugged. "I don't know. But I'll go ask Jane Deer. She should be able to tell me. He's one of hers, now."
Jarod was only half listening as he stepped up on the stairs beside Gorman. He mumbled a word of parting and took the steps two at a time, eager to see how Grace was faring, and hopeful that Faith would be enjoying her time with Pooh and the twins.
Alan Cross sat up wearily on the side of his cot and rubbed his face.
"You all right?" asked a nearby officer. "You look like hell."
"Just what I needed to hear," growled Alan grumpily. "Is there any coffee around here?"
"Sure," said the officer congenially. "I'll go get you a cup. I need to stretch my legs, and visit the men's room down the hall. Wanna come along?"
"Give me a minute," Alan said slowly, trying to decide if he should go or not. The killer could be anyone, even one of these security people, and he was trying to be careful. But Nature won out, and he reluctantly agreed when the officer returned with a steaming cup of coffee. The two men headed out of the Operations Center together, and while they were gone, no one noticed another uniformed officer drop a handful of white powder into the cup on the card table next to the cot.
Alan Cross returned from the bathroom with a hesitant smile on his face, joking with the guard who had escorted him, and sat down again on the cot to finish waking up.
"And how are you feeling today, Pooh?" asked Jarod as he took a seat beside her bed. He checked her IV drip and the chart on the clipboard lying on the nightstand.
"Aren't drugs wonderful?" she asked dreamily from her medicated stupor. "Why, I don't mind having been shot at all."
Jarod chuckled, hoping she wouldn't remember much of the conversation they were about to have. "Pooh, your son was in the Seals for a time, wasn't he? I saw the tattoo on his arm."
"Early on, yes," Grace sighed happily. "But then he decided he wanted to fly those great screaming jets." She frowned then, opening her eyes and staring at the television playing quietly in the cabinet near the foot of her bed. "I think it must have broken his heart when they told him he was too old."
I'll bet, Jarod told himself. Probably the final impetus for his killing spree. But to Grace he said, "He'll get over it. Would you mind telling me about Jay and Father Nichols? Being under the influence might help you remember something."
Grace's head flopped toward him drunkenly on the pillow, a quizzical look perched between her auburn brows. "There's not much to tell, actually," she began. "Jonathan told me what that old bastard tried to do, and I listened. I started right away trying to get the Church to oust him, but it wasn't until he was caught with another boy in the confessional that the diocese decided to pull him out of here. And then the idiots put him in charge of a school, for God's sake! I love the Church, Jarod, don't get me wrong. But human beings are definitely fallible and their decision to protect him was a bloody stupid one."
Jarod's indulgent smile vanished, and cold fear clutched in his belly.
"Do you remember the boy's name, Pooh? The one he was caught seducing?"
Grace lifted her right hand to her forehead, concentrating hard through the haze of pain medication. "I think it was Walter something. Um... Walter Atcitty, perhaps."
Jarod swallowed the lump forming in his throat. "Hosteen Gorman's nephew?"
Grace chuckled softly. "That's not how the Dinee view relationships, Jarod," she returned. "It's a very complicated thing. They can be cousins with someone they aren't really related to by blood, and near relatives like that aren't even part of the family. But according to the white way of thinking, yes, Walter was Gorman's nephew. He disappeared nearly 25 years ago, and no one's heard from him since." She sighed. "He had a hard time here. As much as I tried to help, it seemed that he was always being taunted by other boys. Marissa May knew him. I think they were going to be married at one point, but then he ran away."
"Did she break up with him?" Jarod asked tentatively, emotions swirling inside him in a maelstrom of self-recrimination. He already knew the answer to that one.
"I believe so. She started dating Jonathan, but that didn't last long."
Jarod's hands were trembling as he rose, white-faced, from his chair. He placed a kiss on Grace's forehead, wished her a pleasant nap, and quietly left the room. With a fond smile and a kiss on Faith's hair as she rocked one of the twins, Jarod checked on the other in the portable bassinet and headed out of the sitting room adjoining Grace's bedroom, his mind in a whirl of thoughts and emotions striving for dominance.
Hosteen Gorman hadn't known his own nephew, not because the boy had grown up into a man, not from the simple passage of time, but because Walter Atcitty had gotten himself a new face. The memory of his conversation with the elder suddenly careened into his consciousness with frightening clarity, and he stood in the hallway outside Grace's rooms, seeing not what was before him, but the scene from the rooftop, inked in with heavy shadow, the group of four people standing and sitting in the park. He saw Alan Cross on the bench, watched him lean down suddenly just as he felt his finger squeeze the trigger, and knew that his opportunity to carry out his contract was gone.
People didn't change their faces so drastically on a whim, or because of serious injury. Cases like Faith's were rare, where the victim of such devastation remained unidentified and the doctors at hand gave them new faces. Walter Atcitty had wanted a new face, had purposefully erased his past because he was a hit man, and Alan Cross was his target. Grace's injury had simply been an accident.
Jarod forced his body to motion, pushed his legs to move, to carry him down the hall and toward the stairs. By the time he reached the bottom he was running through the big house, racing outside and across the campus to the Learning Center, hoping he wasn't too late. But just as he stepped inside the Ops Center he knew that it was over. He had sent Alan Cross to his death, put him directly in harm's way, rather than saving him as he intended.
Jane Deer stood with her fingertips pressed to Alan's neck. She backed quickly away from his body resting so quietly on the cot, and ordered the computer equipment moved from the room immediately. Navajos reacted strongly to the dead, and none wanted to be in its presence longer than necessary.
Where would the killer be? Jarod demanded of himself.
Leaving, came the answer instantly. The contract is fulfilled. The record is clean. Time to go.
Jarod turned without a word and raced toward the garage, his soul aflame with righteous fury. He saw a man in uniform getting into a car, and the officer made eye contact just long enough for the Pretender to see his soulless smile and jaunty salute. Hosteen Gorman stood nearby, his hands in the pockets of his jeans, grief and despair written on his features.
Jarod climbed into the car he used most often, broke open the steering column and went after the wiring. Gorman climbed into the passenger seat and clipped on his seat belt without a word. Jarod spared him little more than a glance, concentrating on his work, and as soon as the Pretender had the car hot-wired, he threw the Mustang into gear and peeled out, throwing up a spray of dirt and debris over the other cars parked nearby. Jarod gave chase, keeping the assassin from getting out the front gate, but Atcitty headed for the far western pastures, driving over rough ground until he reached the canyon. He had already disappeared over the side when Jarod reached the wall, and was making good progress on the descent.
Hosteen Gorman put his hand on the Pretender's shoulder, taking his attention away for an instant.
"You can't go down now, or he'll kill you as you climb," the elder advised. "You know he's armed. You have to wait until he reaches the bottom and gets out of range before you go after him. If you want, I'll help you track him."
"I know how to read tracks," Jarod snapped. "And I can't let him get away. Why don't you go back and call the police? I'm sure they'll be able to help catch him."
Gorman put his fingers in the front pockets of his jeans and regarded the younger man with a knowing squint in the bright morning sun. "That's not what you want. You want to catch him yourself."
Jarod said nothing, stealing another glance at his adversary's progress. The winding path down the steep slope to the canyon floor might give him enough shielding to pursue, if he was careful. He had to go now, or he would lose his prey.
"Be the Roadrunner, Coyote," the elder said softly, "and you will catch him. But to become him, you will have to face the darkness. Are you ready for that?"
"I have to be," he answered brusquely.
"Then go. I will be with you when you need me, my friend."
"Thank you, hataalii," he said solemnly. "I'll try to keep your nephew alive. And I won't hurt him unless it's necessary."
The old man made eye contact and held it. "Then you will have to begin the journey now, Coyote, and it is a dangerous road you will travel. Be careful with your soul."
Jarod nodded and stepped off the edge of the cliff to the ledge below, preparing himself for the hunt as the images began to blossom in his mind.
The Pretender remembered what Gorman had said about Walter's mother, that she had demonstrated her love for alcohol was much stronger than her love for her child. She had betrayed his trust, and he never forgave her for it.
I know how it feels when the monsters come for you, Jarod told himself as he descended the steep trail in the bright spring sunshine.
He pictured Walter Atcitty/James Rivers as a boy, huddled in the hogan trying to keep warm while his drunken mother slept soundly, oblivious to the cold. He felt the boy's hungry belly growling and knew that he hadn't eaten in days, not since his mother drank up what was left of the money his father hadn't already wasted.
He ran outside, and there waiting for him was another boy, bigger and stronger, who called him names and beat him when he tried to run away. Joseph Nails laughed at his weakness, taunted him, and showed him what it was to hate without reason.
The scene changed, and Jarod found himself in the confessional at a church, a small closet filled with silence, his heart beating fast because he knew what was coming next. He tried to make himself small, closed his eyes so he couldn't see the man in the black robe reaching for him, tried to deafen his ears so he couldn't hear the sweetly seductive words coaxing him to something he didn't want and couldn't stop. He felt the pain, the shame, the fear and humiliation, felt part of his soul crumble beneath the assault, and begin to wither away.
Now he was a teenager, and Marissa May was the shining light of his salvation. Her laughter was music, her body the substance of heaven, the vehicle to completion... until she shared it with someone else, someone who had something she wanted more than Walter and his passion for her. Suddenly Marissa couldn't see him any more, as if he had somehow ceased to exist, and he became a shadow, a ghost that walked the land and laid its malevolent hand on the lives of those who had been close in life.
Only the pain was too great for him to stay, so he left the reservation, traveled far away to make his fortune, to find solace in wealth that he could not find in human companionship. Money was all that mattered, and he would do anything to get it.
Jarod dodged a bullet that ricocheted off the ledge above his head, and he hugged the wall closer as he continued the downward climb. He hung motionless as he waited for his opponent to start moving again, and when he heard the scrabble of hands and feet against loose rocks, he risked a glance over the undulating side of the cliff to check Walter's position, and how close they were to the bottom.
The history continued to unravel in his mind's eye as he scaled the slightly sloping canyon wall. Jarod sorted through the occurrences that might turn Walter further down his present path, and imagined failed jobs, exposure to ethnic prejudice and lack of marketable skills pouring salt into his already wounded soul. Everywhere Walter turned there was only rejection, humiliation and more pain. He might have followed his beloved uncle's example and joined the military, and there at last found something he could do well. He learned to fight. He learned to kill, and when his term of service was over, he went into business for himself. He was good at it, and the thrill he felt after collecting on a contract was intoxicating. Sometimes he would even kill just because he felt like it. It was his power, the one thing that he needed to prove to himself that he was still alive.
Jarod planted his feet on the sandy bottom of the canyon and examined the tracks. They headed away toward Antelope Canyon, but he knew the assassin would be expecting pursuit. He would hide somewhere up ahead and wait for Jarod to come after him, and Walter would pick him off as soon as they came into range. Jarod would have to think of another way to capture him, without getting his head blown off. He glanced at the far wall and saw that it was a much less strenuous climb, and started the ascent.
Walter Atcitty would have changed his name frequently, and when he had enough money saved up, he bought himself a new face, one less conspicuously Native American, one that blended into the white world better. He got a Wall Street haircut and a wardrobe of designer suits, and began to circulate in the affluent crowd, letting his reputation speak for itself. He became known as an efficient problem-solver, and was recognized as one of the best. He was not the type to ally himself with an employer full time; rather, he would work for a number of people by word-of-mouth advertising, and with the advent of the Internet, he could accept contracts with almost total anonymity. And Fate had at last offered him the chance to settle the old scores, to demand payment with interest on the debts charged to the past. This was the last bit of unfinished business in his life; after this, there would be no driving force, no needs to fulfill but the accumulation of income, and once wisely invested, his money could keep him in grand style until the Grim Reaper came to fetch his soul when he was old.
But that wasn't the way things turned out. He was home again, and once more things were beginning to fall apart. His vengeance was carried out; the list was complete, including the hit that had brought him back to the Foundation in the first place. But someone had seen him on the roof, figured out that he was the one responsible for Grace's injury, and now the hunter had him on the run. Walter Atcitty was not about to risk capture. The two men pursuing him had not taken the time to call the police before they came after him, so he had a little time. He would make the best of it, and started to jog down the canyon, looking for the hiding place that he knew would be just a little farther down. He would wait there for the hunters to arrive.
The sun was sinking into afternoon when Jarod finally edged past where the footprints in the sand ended. His quarry would have gone past his chosen hiding place and doubled back, so there would be no clear indication of exactly where he had disappeared. He went a little farther for safety's sake and started the climb down, then carefully began to work his way back along the trail, keeping to the footprints and watching the wall for hiding places as he approached. The question of what to do with the assassin when he caught him gnawed at his consciousness; Walter had a gun and Jarod did not.
He could see it in the half-light of the canyon ten feet ahead, a slight pronation of the step in the sand, a little unavoidable slinging outward of the foot as the man pushed himself into a tiny cave washed out from the base of the wall, cutting back deeply into the canyon wall. Jarod picked up a handful of rocks from along the red striped stone wall where it met blond sand, and began to practice his throw mentally to keep from alerting the assassin that he was close by. His eyes traveled all over the surrounding canyon, up to the edge of the overhanging precipice, and an idea was born. He began the climb, moving as silently as possible, watching for any sign of movement from below.
The Pretender was almost at the top when he heard the hataalii's song echoing distantly. Jarod listened to the song, not with his ears so much as his heart, and heard the wisdom in the seductive, sincere words.
I walk in Beauty...
In Beauty I walk...
He pulled himself up on the edge of the precipice and paused, a vision of a cartoon coyote flashing through his thoughts. He checked the ledge on which he stood, making sure it was thick and sturdy enough to support his weight, and then he began to look for suitable stones, small boulders that would serve his purpose. He kept watch on the chasm below, and in a few minutes he was ready.
In the fading light of late afternoon, Jarod levered the rockslide over the edge of the cliff with the aid of a large dead mesquite branch. He dropped to his belly and leaned over the edge, looking down at the rockfall below. Most of it landed in exactly the right spot, effectively closing off the mouth of the small cave. He would have time now to climb back down, clear enough space for his prisoner to breathe, and set a fire to ward off the cold that night brought with it.
But an unexpected weight settled on his back, and he felt the distinct impression of a shoe sole pressing between his shoulder blades.
"Who are you?" asked Walter Atcitty softly.
"That's a good question," Jarod answered without thinking. "It's something I've been asking myself for a long time."
The coyote cartoon in his head taunted him, made the heat rise in his face. He should have seen that the footprint was not aimed into the cliff wall, should have looked for small rocky debris from climbing, but he was so certain he was right. He would have --
He pictured himself lying on his belly in the shallow, low cave, waiting for the hunters to pass by and lose him, and knew he would not have chosen that path. He wouldn't be able to shoot from that angle. He would have had to slither out on his belly to be able to acquire a fatal target. He would have climbed.
And he understood at last what it must be like for others, making choices that didn't always turn out properly, bad decisions that haunted forever. The rest of humanity didn't have labs to simulate situations and practice solutions before using them, and they didn't have the luxury of trying again until they got it right. He had been so accurate for such a long time that failure -- especially failure where there was no chance to try again -- was a completely new sensation.
And this time it just might cost him his life.
"I have a problem with cocky people," said the assassin coolly. "Since you're in the mood to be flippant, maybe you can tell me how you plan to get out of this alive. Or have you thought that far ahead? It was pretty stupid coming after me without a gun."
Privately, Jarod had to agree. The wheels were already turning, but this time his confidence wasn't in overdrive. He turned his head to the right, ostensibly to glance over his shoulder to see Atcitty's face, but in reality to check the position of the pistol he knew was pointed at him, and the placement of the other man's base leg. He knew what to expect, and braced himself for the pain.
"Actually, I think you might choose to let me live once you find out what I have to offer," Jarod teased. He tensed just slightly beneath the man's foot, gathering himself for movement.
"I don't think so," countered Walter, and he aimed the gun at the back of the prone man's head.
"Money," said Jarod obliquely. In the moment of hesitation that followed he attacked, curling up quickly on his side to get his head out of the gun sight and move out from underfoot. He brought his knees up hard to jolt Walter's base leg and topple him. The gun went off before the assassin's balance was so far removed that he couldn't affect his aim, but when he hit the ground Jarod was on him, wrenching the pistol out of his hand and pinning him to the ground easily. Walter Atcitty was a much smaller man than he, after all.
But Walter fought like a wild man. Jarod needed the martial expertise he had learned from Athena since his opponent was a skilled fighter as well, one who didn't have the disadvantage of a bullet wound in his left shoulder to slow him down. The injury was an equalizer, making up for Jarod's greater size, but in the end it wasn't enough.
"Not... getting... away..." Jarod ground out as he pinned his opponent back to the ground.
With a strength driven by rage, he struck out at the assassin fiercely, raining down blow after blow, pummeling him into submission. Jarod drew back, ready to deliver yet another punch, when he suddenly realized Atcitty was no longer defending himself. The assassin lay still on the ground, his face a mass of cuts and bruises, whimpering for mercy. "Don't... please..."
Consciousness slipped away and Walter's body went limp.
Awareness flooded through Jarod, and he let his hand drop, forced his white-hot anger back into the recesses of his soul, then dragged himself off Atcitty's inert form, horrified at what he had done. His hands were shaking as he scrubbed at his face, ran his fingers through his hair. He had promised Hosteen Gorman that he wouldn't harm Walter unless it was a last resort, but instead he had beaten the man to a bloody pulp.
What's happening to me? he asked himself, not at all sure he wanted to know. He could sense the presence of dangerous inspiration in the shadows of his soul, whispering how easy it would be to kill Atcitty, to make sure there would be no more victims of Walter's greed and need for revenge. Jarod knew he was brilliant enough to carry out the perfect crime and not get caught, and the knowledge of that disturbed him profoundly. He forced his mind away from contemplation of his capacity for harm and directed his attention back to the task at hand, which would not be finished until he turned Atcitty over to the tribal police. Jarod was too weary to play games with his prisoner this time; he would have to depend on the system to carry out justice for him, just this once.
The first order of business was to make sure he held onto his prisoner. Using his own belt on the assassin's wrists and Walter's belt to hobble his ankles, Jarod quickly accomplished his objective. Jarod retrieved the pistol from where it lay in the dirt a few yards away, thumbed on the safety, and slipped it into the back waistband of his trousers for safekeeping. His shoulder was beginning to throb, and he panted with effort and pain as he gathered firewood and set up a makeshift camp. Afternoon was rapidly fading into twilight and it would be a while before any sort of help would arrive.
When the fire was blazing, Jarod finally sat and tended to his wound as best he could. He remembered the song the old man sang during his descent, that hypnotic voice rich with sadness and tragedy. Against his will Jarod felt himself growing drowsy as the music echoed through his mind. He fought the need for sleep stealing over him, but the nights spent running sims and standing guard over Faith and the twins, combined with the effort of the chase and the loss of blood had sapped his strength. As he succumbed to the siren song his eyes closed, his head drooped forward, and he slid unhampered into the nightmare world of his dreams.
Once more he found himself piloting the doomed aircraft, heading into dark clouds as lightning struck the engine, filling the cabin with smoke and flames. He struggled toward the open hatchway, listening for the voice that would tell him it was safe to jump, but there was only the scream of the wind as the plane plummeted toward the earth below. Precious moments ticked away as the speed of descent increased, until Jarod decided he couldn't wait any longer. He threw himself out the hatchway, praying the Raven would be there to catch him.
But the ground rushed up at him with no sign of his savior. In the distance he saw the plane crash into the low hills not far away, and knew he was only a heartbeat away from destruction himself. With a silent goodbye to Faith, he closed his eyes and gave himself up to the inevitable, to the refuge from pain he hoped it would bring.
Instead, he felt sharp claws grip him by the left shoulder, digging deeply into his flesh, and heard himself cry out. The giant bird caught him just in time, braking his fall and dropping him onto his feet with the force of a parachuted landing. He rolled a few times and lay still, his head reeling from the narrow escape.
The Raven landed a few feet away and cocked its black head, silently measuring him. As it walked toward him it began to change shape, metamorphosizing into the old man he had left behind. Hosteen Gorman did not smile at seeing Jarod, but helped him up and laid his hand gently on Jarod's uninjured shoulder in familial warmth.
"This is the landscape of your soul, Many Faces," said the shaman once more. "This is where your journey begins."
Jarod felt a shiver of fear go through him. He didn't want to make that journey, didn't want to know what lay ahead... but it appeared he no longer had a choice. He glanced upward and noticed that the stars which were shining overhead a moment before had gone out; the only lights in the desolate landscape were the fire burning in the distance marking the crash site, and the glow emanating from the shaman's face like a lantern in the darkness.
"You are not alone here," Gorman reminded him. "But you must challenge the darkness now, Many Faces. Look into the heart of that which you fear most, and see what lies behind the mask."
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and a flash of lightning brightened the landscape for an instant. Out of the blue brightness ripping the fabric of his dream stepped another figure, one as familiar to him as his own face. The tear in the fabric of the dream mended seamlessly behind Damon Winterbourne as he came to stand behind the shaman, his face lit with red, flickering light as if he stood before the fires of Hell itself.
"You don't want to go exploring, Jarod," Damon cautioned cheerfully. "You know what you'll find, don't you? You aren't ready for the truth just yet." He stroked a hand lovingly through his own fair hair, finger-combing it back from his innocently handsome face, and smiled coyly. "I don't think you can handle it."
Hosteen Gorman put out his arm as if to hold Damon back behind him. "You have made your journey, Dark One," he growled. "Leave this one to his." The shaman moved closer to Jarod, maintaining his grip on the younger man's shoulder to reassure him of his continued presence.
Jarod swallowed hard. There was no going back. The only way to end the nightmare was to follow it to its conclusion, solve the puzzle, and go on from there. "I'm ready," he said aloud, wishing he were half as confident as he tried to sound.
"Well, then, by all means!" crowed Damon, sounding like some kind of demented game show host. "Let's get this show on the road! Step right this way, folks." He waved his hand and called forth another bolt of lightning, freezing it in the sky above them to light their way. "This is your legacy, Pretender," he said smoothly, gesturing behind him.
Barren ground gave way to a cemetery, each grave marked with granite headstones or white crosses, marble angels or low ceilinged mausoleums. Gravesites stretched from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see in the darkened world. Jarod left Gorman's side and began walking among them, his throat tightening as he read the inscriptions on the markers.
Simulation 91. There were 77 tombstones with the same notation. Simulation 263. He couldn't count all of them, there were so many. Simulation 500. Most were tiny crosses, and somehow Jarod knew that they represented children, innocent victims of some forgotten evil he had loosed on them.
He paused by several plots with names he recognized. Gwen, the nurse from Queen of Angels Hospital. Daniel Crockett, the mechanic from Avionics. Kim Fujimora's girlfriend, Jeanette. All were victims of Damon's search for him, his attempt to flush him out of hiding and force him to return to his past.
"Remember, Jarod?" Damon taunted. "These people would still be alive if you hadn't come into their lives."
"No," Jarod whispered. "You killed them. I had nothing to do with it." Somewhere inside, a tiny voice told him that wasn't entirely true, but he silenced it, as he always did.
"Let's see what's behind door number three," Damon said with an excited smile. He gestured to one side, drawing Jarod's attention to a grave with a beautifully carved monument. An angelic woman stood with wings spread, holding two infants in her arms and stepping on a snake winding around her feet, its deadly fangs sunk into her bare leg.
Jarod read the headstone aloud, his voice wavering. "Athena Morgan, Beloved Wife and Mother." He raised his eyes to Damon's. "Athena's not dead," he announced with a small note of triumph in his voice. "You tried to kill her, too, but you failed."
Damon crossed his arms over his chest and swayed sideways with a light dance step, then reached out to lean against the statue, standing on the grave. "Did I, now?" he chuckled. "Oh, you have Faith and your precious twins. But Athena's gone. She'll never be back, not like she was before I found her." He smiled gleefully, pleased with his work. "But I did take her away from you. Just not completely. You can still screw her body whenever you like. I suppose that's some consolation."
Without warning, the memory of his and Faith's recent lovemaking came to Jarod's mind, complete with the echo of her sighs, the taste of her skin, the feel of her wet heat as he sank into her passionate embrace, and Jarod cringed as he saw the vision of love plastered all over the sky. Damon moaned and rubbed himself suggestively.
"She's a good fuck, but I would have been better," he teased viciously.
"Damn you!" Jarod cried, lashing out instinctively, but his fist passed harmlessly through Damon's grinning mouth. Disbelief, then anger and frustration hit Jarod like a slap in the face. The vision of himself and Faith in bed shut off with a snap of Damon's fingers.
"Temper, temper!" Damon warned, wagging his finger back and forth paternally. "You can't hurt a ghost, silly boy. But you certainly have a knack for it with the living, dontcha?" He winked and indicated the cemetery all around them, driving his point home.
Jarod looked away, unable to face his accuser, and his gaze landed on another nearby headstone.
Ernie Two Feathers.
He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain welling up inside him as he recalled the enigmatic Cherokee, who wanted nothing more than to help Jarod, to set him on the right path. Ernie had cared for a pregnant Athena in Jarod's absence, and ended up dead for his efforts. Just like the others.
Feeling the weight of those lost lives pressing upon him, Jarod bowed his head. The rainfall would start soon. He could feel it coming. "Refuge," he whispered.
"You're not in a simulation now, Jarod," Damon replied harshly. "You want to play God with people's lives? Then you have to accept the consequences."
"No!" Jarod shook his head, covering his ears with his palms in an effort to shut out the sound of Damon's voice. His face twisted into a desperate grimace of denial. "It isn't like that! I haven't killed anyone!"
"Except me!" Damon hissed. "You enjoyed the hell out of that, didn't you?" His voice began to rise. "Didn't you? Didn't you?" Damon's face was inches away from Jarod's, seething with passion and rage, echoing the triumphant righteousness Jarod inflicted on the victims of his stings in exactly the same vocal rhythm.
Jarod flinched each time Damon spoke. He felt his soul beginning to crack, and the ground beneath them trembled in response. His knees buckled, and the shaman gripped Jarod around the ribs, helping him keep his feet. Jarod refused to give in, would not allow Damon to win. He couldn't survive if he did.
But neither could he remain standing. He stumbled as he tried to step away and went down on one knee before a freshly covered grave. "Whose is this?" Jarod rasped. "Yours?"
Damon stood beside the tombstone, cut from a small slab of granite and yet to be engraved. "I've saved the best for last," said Damon maliciously. "This is your innocence, darling. Your 'love of life.' " He snapped his fingers and Jarod's name appeared on the stone, along with a photograph of Jarod as a boy, his bright eyes dulled by sadness, isolation weighing heavily on him even then. "Now he sleeps with me!" Damon whispered, trembling with mad ecstasy. "Would you like to make it a threesome? You're already halfway there."
Jarod was shaking as unleashed emotions bubbled up inside him, spilling out through the cracks in his broken soul. "No! Go away! Just go away and leave me alone!" He rose in one fluid movement and reached for Damon, placing his hands around the smaller man's neck and squeezing so hard his hands hurt.
Damon merely laughed, and the sound echoed endlessly in the open air. "Want to kill me twice, Jarod? Will that make you feel better?"
Jarod recoiled in horror as he realized what he was doing, dismayed at how easily the act of murder had come to him. He turned on his heel and ran, weaving blindly through the cemetery, desperately seeking escape from Damon's words. His shoulder hurt, and his breath came in heaving gasps, but he forced himself onward. In the distance he saw a light and ran toward it, hoping for a way out. Instead he found only the burning wreckage of the plane that had carried him there.
"I didn't say you could go," Damon thundered. "I thought Sydney taught you better manners than that. You can't leave work unfinished, Jarod."
Breathing hard, the Pretender stumbled to a dead stop and saw the ghost floating above the ground a few feet away, just at eye level. He was dressed in a flowing black robe topped with a voluminous hood, and in one hand he carried a long-handled scythe to complete the persona of grinning Death. Jarod shuddered and took a step backward, bumping into the shaman who remained directly behind him. Clutching at the support he offered, Jarod turned back to face Damon, who now sported a bloody hole in the middle of his chest, a chilling reminder of the way he had died.
"Everything you touch turns to blood, doesn't it, Jarod?" Damon taunted. "Just like it did in my life. And you thought we had nothing in common! Tsk, tsk."
"We don't have anything in common," cried Jarod, still clinging to precious denial. "You murdered innocent people. You enjoyed it. I never meant to hurt anyone. I'm not like you, Damon."
"Au contraire, ma cher," cooed Damon. He did a little pirouette and a grandiose bow, smiling at Jarod chillingly. "I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Jarod sourly.
"You know. Dickens? A Christmas Carol? Scrooge and Marley? You were Jarod Marley once, as I recall." Damon laughed out loud. "We both had fun at the Coroner's Office, didn't we?"
Jarod recalled the guilty pleasure he had taken in snaring the coroner in her own cover-up, and glanced downward in shame. "I didn't hurt anyone there. You murdered Jeanette."
"Oh, you didn't hurt anyone?" Damon accused, punctuating the repetition with a short bark of harsh laughter. "Do you really think that woman won't have scars on her psyche for the rest of her fucking life? You didn't hurt anyone. Yeah, right. How long did you wear her shoes, Jarod?" Damon snorted derisively. "I'm not the monster here. My motives are plain. You disguise yours in the cloak of 'justice' when there isn't any to be had."
"You are a monster, Damon!" Jarod shot back hotly. "Nothing will ever change that."
Damon shook his head, raising one hand and patting his own cheek, which jiggled slightly beneath his touch. "You need to take a look at what's beneath the mask, Jarod," he said bitterly. "You want to know what I am? You want to know who the monster really is? Come take a look. I'm just the tour guide here, lover. See who lives in the glass house before you go throwing stones."
Jarod took a step backward, unwilling to accept the invitation. The shaman nudged him forward, and reluctantly Jarod reached out toward the apparition and gingerly lifted his hand to touch Damon's face. It was cold and rigid, the expression fixed in a cruel, heartless smile, feeling more like plastic than human flesh. With trembling fingers he reached beneath the chin and grasped the hard edge of the mask, but could not bring himself to lift it up. A sense of foreboding heightened his fear and he grasped at the last shred of sanity he could reach. This was the turning point, the place where his future would be set in stone. And he was afraid. He couldn't do it, and let his hand settle down by his side.
"This is who you've come to see," said the shaman quietly. "Remember Nathan's vision? Yesterday and Tomorrow, he said. Damon is Yesterday, you are Today, here and now. And this is the Tomorrow you're headed for. Time to face the darkness."
"The Ghost of Christmas Future," Jarod said breathlessly to himself as the red rain began to fall. He felt the blood covering his body, smelled its metallic odor so strongly it made him ill, and had a vision of himself covered head to toe in gore as he stood in the nimbus of the burning airplane. The memory of the cemetery streaked through his mind; all those graves, all those deaths, all on his hands. He raised them, and saw the viscous crimson dripping from his palms and fingers. Tears filled his eyes, and he was powerless to wipe them away.
He raised the level of his gaze and stared into the depths of that dark mask, watching in horrified fascination as the Grim Reaper raised a long-handled scythe in its right hand. The spectre's feet reached the ground solidly now, and Damon's slight build gave way to added height and shoulder width that matched Jarod's own as thunder rumbled close overhead, as if the very elements were ready to crush him in their grasp. A bolt of lightning rent the sky as he reached for the mask with bloody hands and peeled it away. The flash of bright, dancing light revealed the face hiding in the depths of those black folds, leering at him, and it was...
Jarod screamed and dropped the mask of Damon's face on the bloody ground. The Pretender fell backward, scrambling to get away, but the shaman held him, making him look at...
...his own face, staring back with gleeful hatred, a universe of rage and perverse pleasure smoldering in his eyes, chin tilted down, eyelids partially lowered, the shadow of a smile playing over his lips. Jarod knew that look instinctively. It was the expression of ultimate superiority, of godlike wrath, of triumphant justice, the look he gave offenders he trapped in their own webs of deceit. His gotcha look. Facing it himself, he felt the fear clutch him in its bony grasp, squeezing him until he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't move.
"Not me!" he wheezed, forcing the denial out through trembling lips. "It can't be..."
The other Jarod grinned, showing off his perfect white teeth, and raised his free hand to push back the cowl that partially hid his face. Firelight from the wreckage flickered across his familiar features, and Jarod felt as if he was looking into a darkly twisted mirror. He was horrified by what he saw there.
"Of course I'm you," the Other said emphatically. "We are what The Centre made us." He moved slowly closer. "I'm the one who remembers what it felt like when they stole your life, murdered the child you once were, turned your dreams into nightmares. Nothing was sacred to them. They would have taken your soul, too, if they'd known how." He lowered his voice until it was a soft, deep, compelling purr, anticipation gleaming in his dark eyes like stars. "You remember too, don't you? You hate them for what they did to you. You want them to suffer for it."
"No, no, I just--"
"Don't you?" the Other shouted in his face, rage exploding into madness. "Don't you, Jarod? You can lie to everyone else, but not to yourself, not to me. You wish they would all die, long, painfully slow deaths, like your soul did, year after year. You wish you could rip away everything they love, like they did to you." Thunder rumbled close by, punctuating the dark Jarod's diatribe. "You want them to feel the pain you did, the loneliness you felt as you sat in that tiny little jail cell they kept you in, crying night after night, with no one to hold you, no one to touch you, to tell you that you were loved, that you mattered. That's what you want for them, isn't it? Pain, loneliness, loss of identity, loss of innocence, rage! That's what you are, Jarod. It's all they left you with." His voice was the growl of a demon, deep and filled with black hatred.
Thunder rumbled thickly, and the rain began pelt harder. The false Jarod smiled coldly, and flames flickered in his eyes, beckoning. His voice was softer now, his face no longer trembling with fury. "Admit it, Jarod," he coaxed gently. He lifted his chin gratefully to the sky, enjoying the downpour, revelling in it. He opened his mouth and drank in the salty drops, relishing the taste of death.
"Yes!" the Pretender shouted ashamedly. "I want them to know what it's like to be me." Tears coursed freely down his cheeks, washing away the red rain that clung to his skin. Great sobs tore out his throat, his chest heaving, and he hugged himself, searching for some tiny shred of comfort. But there was none.
"Then you know what you have to do," the Other said huskily. He stepped aside and revealed a scene outside the downpour; a warmly lit, familiar adobe-walled room sheltering a handmade baby crib with the sounds of gurgling, happy infant voices emanating from it. A pale shadow emerged from an unseen doorway accompanied by a rhythmic squeak, and William Raines congealed into solid form as he neared the little bed. A smile of greedy delight bared his uneven, tobacco-stained teeth, and he let the portable oxygen tank down onto its stand as he placed his hands on the railing and looked into the crib possessively at the twins.
Jarod's twins. His sons. He was paralyzed, watching in horrified disbelief, unable to utter a sound. His whole body clenched in anguish, pain of monstrous proportions shredding his soul from the inside out. He was dying, his body on fire to move, to stop, to prevent, but something held him still.
"He doesn't want only you," the Other goaded Jarod. "He wants every part of you. He won't stop until he has it all... unless you stop him first."
"Noooooooo!" Jarod screamed, his paralysis finally broken. He charged at Raines, grabbing him by the cloth shoulder of his suit and slamming him back against the wall. He flailed at the smaller man, raining blow after punishing blow, as Raines slid helplessly down to the floor.
"Not my children!" Jarod sobbed. "You can't have them! You won't hurt them like you did me!"
"That's it," crowed the false Pretender triumphantly. "Kill him! Kill Raines for murdering your childhood! Kill them all and let the Devil sort them out!"
Jarod's heart and soul were at war within him, and his body shook with violent spasms as he struggled to choose between vengeance and release. He could feel the power of the bloodlust surging in his veins, pounding with the pulse of life.
"Kill him! It's the only way you'll ever be free!"
Jarod felt something wriggle inside his raised fist, his grip expanding as something filled up the space between his fingers. He glanced upward and saw the bloody knife that he had used to kill Damon. Jarod's heart was pounding in his chest, threatening to explode with emotion. He heard wailing, the cry of the damned in eternal torment, and after a moment he realized it was his own voice scraping his throat raw.
"Do it, Jarod!" the doppleganger urged seductively. "Live up to your full potential!"
Thunder echoed all around them, beat at his body as if he knelt inside an empty chamber of a still-beating heart. Every sense he had was screaming at Jarod to finish the job. No one would miss Raines. Jarod would be doing the world a service by removing him from the rest of humanity.
Jarod felt his muscles tensing, stretching, preparing to plunge that blade downward and take his vengeance. He stared into the face of the man who represented all things evil in his life, expecting to see defiance and greed, the face of darkness itself... but instead those watery blue eyes were wide with fear, and the little man lay trembling, his hands held palm outward in supplication as he begged for his life. Raines was the image of weakness, Fear personified, and as Jarod watched his victim changed shape and Walter Atcitty stared up at him, trembling and terrified. A moment later, he shifted again and Miss Parker lay beneath him, dressed in fencing gear and screaming his name. Other faces shifted into view: Dr. Lisabeth Drake. Dr. Garber. Captain Harrigan. Dr. Fein. On and on, each of the victims of his sadistic stings lay beneath him as he knelt on the nursery floor, each of them begging for his mercy.
Jarod blinked and struggled to inhale, his whole body trembling. He raised his eyes to the weapon in his bloody hand and stared at it, then glanced at the other hand clutching Raines' clothing. It, too, was covered in blood.
He had made love to Faith with those hands, held his sons in them. Could the same instruments he used to create life, express love, also be used to maim and kill? In a sudden flash of illumination, he realized the two were incompatible. A choice had to be made, here, now. The Victim's identity shifted once more, and his own face stared back at him, a young Jarod still filled with hope and dreams.
"No," whispered Jarod brokenly. Desire to hurt flowed out of him in a great rush, leaving him lightheaded and dizzy, as if his blood had gone out with it.
"Kill him!" the Other screamed.
"I can't!" Jarod screamed back. He let go of the Victim's throat and threw the knife as far as he could. Still breathing hard, he heaved himself back to his feet and faced his doppleganger.
"I know this isn't over between us," he admitted, his voice thick with residual emotion. "I can't get rid of you, because you're a part of who I am. But you won't be in control anymore. No more."
The red rain gradually became ordinary water, washing Jarod clean in a gentle, warm shower. He turned to the doppleganger, composed now and filled with certainty, guilt and buried rage falling lightly away from him, releasing him at last. The Other glanced upward fearfully, desperate now to reel Jarod back in, to regain his slipping control.
"You can't just walk away," the Other said. "You belong to me. We're the same. I'm what you will be."
"No, I won't," Jarod said surely to his dark self. "This is my choice, my chance to become what I was supposed to be, before The Centre corrupted me. I don't want to hurt people anymore."
"It's the only way to get what you want," the Other snapped hatefully.
"What I want?" queried Jarod disbelievingly. He smiled wearily, the expression twisted with bitterness and traces of pain. "What I want is a life of my own, on my terms. I want my parents back, my family, my children. I want..." The pain faded away as his heart swelled with the alien sensation of peace. "I want the woman I love beside me forever. That's what I want."
The clouds parted above him, the rain ceasing all together, and a ray of bright sunshine cut through the darkness. The Other held up his hands as if to ward off the light, cringed and covered himself with his cowl.
"I'll be waiting," said the doppleganger. "And I'll take you back when you least expect it."
"I'll always be ready for you," Jarod assured the shadow. "Even in my dreams."
Jarod felt the pressure of a hand on his good shoulder, and turned slightly to face Hosteen Gorman. The old man smiled and shifted shape one last time, and the voice that issued from that too-familiar face was elegantly European, velvet soft and compelling.
"Forgiveness," Sydney said humbly, "is the fragrance the violet sheds upon the heel that crushes it." He bowed his head and looked at the ground in embarrassed guilt. "Mark Twain said that."
"We'll see," said Jarod. "Give me some time." The day was beautiful, and Jarod presented an olive branch that he suddenly found in his grasp to the only father he had ever known.
Together they strolled toward the brightness and saw a figure materializing in the golden beam. She had blonde hair, and a purifying nimbus surrounding her cleansed his world wherever she touched it. She came toward him dressed in a white gown that both covered her body and revealed it in feminine splendor, and in her footsteps the landscape grew green and mossy, covering the puddles of gore completely, as if they had never been. The green grew outward as Jarod's burden lifted, and trees sprang up all around them. Flowers of every species and hue blossomed in her wake, and as she neared him she reached down to pluck one of them and offer it to him.
He glanced away to where the doppleganger had been and saw that the spectre had all but vanished, only the black cowl lying shapeless and uninhabited on the ground. Jarod smiled and reveled in the lightness in his soul. Laughter bubbled up in him as he accepted the delicate blue rose from Athena's hand.
"Do you know who you are?" he asked softly as he took her in his arms.
"The woman who loves you," she answered with a blindingly brilliant smile.
"No," he corrected emphatically. He took her face in his hands and caressed her lips lightly with his. "You're the Ghost of Christmas Future, Athena. You're where I'm going to go with my life."
She ruffled his hair with both her hands, laughing playfully. "So are you my Christmas Present?" she teased.
"Every day," he promised. "For the rest of our lives." He kissed her soundly, and drew back to drink in the light shining from her beloved face. She transformed from beauty to radiant loveliness as Athena became Faith, and he smiled so widely his cheeks hurt. The agony in his heart was gone, and that was the greatest blessing she could give him. "I love you, Faith. I will always love you."
He was still murmuring those words when he roused. Glancing across the small campfire, he saw that Walter Atcitty was waking, but did not gain full consciousness before he slipped off into a troubled, exhausted sleep. Jarod knew then that he had indeed been dreaming, and grinned as he felt an unaccustomed calm settle around his heart. Just a dream, he comforted himself. But what a dream!
Jarod forced himself to his feet and began pacing to keep himself awake until the sky began to lighten from jet black to charcoal gray and Atcitty finally roused, chagrined to realize he was still a prisoner.
"I suppose there's probably no chance I could talk you into letting me go," he mumbled half-heartedly.
"You're right," Jarod agreed. "I know what it's like to face the terrible things you've done, things that make perfect sense until you look at why you do them. My epiphany was a very liberating experience. Maybe you should try it."
Walter shook his head. "I never look back, pal," he said flatly. "But since you've got the gun and I could use a visit to the hospital after what you did to me last night, I won't give you any trouble. Just don't look for me to stay in jail for very long."
"That's not my problem," said Jarod with a shrug that reminded him of his wound. He winced. "All I have to do is get you back to the Foundation. Officer Tso gets to take it from there."
Light in the east proclaimed the start of a new day, and the pair began the trek back to Galleons Lap. As the crow flies, they hadn't gone far from where they left their cars, and when they returned Hosteen Gorman was waiting for them and preparing the ritual Sunrise Blessing. Jarod watched as the old man reached into his pocket for a small leather bag. From it he withdrew a clear plastic film canister filled with a pale yellow powder. He sat down on the earth and crossed his legs, facing the rising sun.
Jarod watched the elder greet the new day with prayers and song, and when the ceremony was done, Hosteen Gorman eased behind the wheel of his nephew's car and drove both men back to the campus and the end of the trail.
Sydney hadn't bothered to shave in days, hadn't even left his room for longer than it took to exchange the book he had just finished for another one in the library downstairs. He had his meals sent to his room and barely took notice of the housekeeping staff who came to bring fresh clothes and linens. It was as if he had shut himself off from the world.
Until he found the journal lying open on a sofa in the library, the design on the bookmark tucked into the valley between the pages catching his attention and drawing him to pick up the handwritten volume. He meant only to examine the bookmark, a parchment printing of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous Drawing of a Vitruvian Man, beneath which had been lettered "I am the Centre of All Things."
And then he began to read the carelessly elegant handwriting, and knew after the first page whose journal it was.
He is young and doesn't understand. Experience has opened my eyes and shown me what lies ahead in his future. If he continues along this path his life will be ruined, and he will wonder one day why I remained silent. I am his mother, and I cannot sit idly by and wait for the inevitable.
Today I spoke with the girl of his dreams, and told her in plain English that I know what she is after. I have promised her that she will have nothing of Jonathan's wealth, that if he should go through with his plans to marry her, he will be penniless. Jonathan doesn't mind such circumstances. Money has no meaning to him. He is equally at home living in a hogan or a castle, having to hunt for a morsel of food or being served on silver platters. I raised him that way on purpose, to teach him the truth of what is valuable, but this girl's faith lies in golden dreams and she will be happy with nothing less. When our conversation was over, I watched her pack her belongings and drive away from here, and I am certain she will not return.
I fear it will take Jonathan a very long time to forgive me. If I ever gain that favour at all.
Her loving intervention echoed in Sydney's heart, and he wondered if things might have been any different between himself and Jarod had he done more. The young Pretender was the closest thing he would ever have to a son, and he decided the time had come to earn Jarod's forgiveness, regardless of the cost to himself. It was the only way he could prove himself in Jarod's eyes.
He started to ruminate on a plan that would do for others what he had been too frightened to do for his protege. It was time he acted, now that he knew Jacob would be well cared for when he was gone. He went upstairs and opened up his computer to begin planning out all the necessary things he would have to see accomplish before he returned to The Centre.
Gemini twirled the tiny silver disk in her hand slowly, watching the play of light fractioning into prismatic auroras across the encoded face. She still didn't know what information was on it; she had not had access to a DSA reader while she was working at The Centre, and managed only to steal time enough in Raines' office to copy the three disks and replace the originals in the SIS chief's secret hideaway. And since she left no fingerprints behind and none of the security cameras could have recorded her several stealthy entrances to his private domain, he did not know that she had them.
Carefully replacing the disk in its transparent jewel case, she hid it again and slid down deeper into the hot water, letting the softly exploding bubbles relax her tired body and spirit her away. Her houseguest was improving, and it was harder to evade his advances. She was going to have to leave soon or succumb to his charms, and doing so would be traumatic, at the very least. Even now, she felt an unaccustomed tear sliding over the crest of her cheek, and inhaled deeply of the scented water. Her favorite music was playing in her bedroom, but this time Enigma's sexy, dark instrumentals only served to heighten her melancholy.
She slid down in the antique claw-footed tub, submerging herself completely beneath the surface of the water, floating for a moment, feeling the pressure of stalled exhalation building up in her lungs. Her hands wiped away the suds from her face as she rose from the water.
"Damn you, Justin," she breathed bitterly. "Why couldn't you be like every other man?"
"Because it would be a lie," he answered from the doorway.
Her eyes flew open and she barely stifled a squeal of surprise. Guilt slid away behind a stony stare of coldness. "You're in my bathroom," she stated, politely reminding him that he was trespassing.
"Just practicing my professional thief techniques," he announced with a slight grin. "I climbed up the balcony, and I don't believe you heard me come in."
"Of course I didn't," she snapped. "I was under water."
He took a step inside the room and she flinched as if he had touched her bare skin with a hot iron, sloshing water up onto the wall behind the tub.
"Don't!" she warned, glaring hotly at him.
He stopped short. "Why do you always run away from me?" he demanded softly.
She swore a glimmer of pain flickered in the chocolate depths of his fathomless eyes. A lump began to form in her throat, and she quickly swallowed it down. "Because you keep chasing me, you idiot," Gemini replied abruptly. "And you're in no condition to--"
"It's been a month already, Gemini," he reminded her. "I could use a little exercise."
She turned away from him, stung by his description of the lovemaking she dreamed about doing with him. She would have it be more than physical exertion, or she would not have it at all. Not with him, anyway.
"Sorry, love. You're not my type." She picked up a sponge from the tub tray and started vigorously scrubbing her arms, trying to ignore him in the hope that he would go away.
"Not stunned into stupidity by your beauty?" he prodded, an edge of anger in his voice. "Not so shallow I'd be satisfied with a one night stand? Well, you're right about both of those attributes. I can appreciate how gorgeous you are--"
"I'm not beautiful, Justin," she snapped.
"Let me finish, dammit!" he flung back at her, frowning with his eyes and crossing his arms belligerently over his chest. "I think you're probably one of the sexiest women I've ever seen, but I don't get stupid looking at you. And after we've hooked up with my brother, I don't intend to just say 'thanks' and walk away. You're not like any other woman in the world, either, doll. I want to get to know you, but I can't if you don't let me in. Stop shutting me out with this Ice Queen act. It doesn't suit you at all."
Gemini tried to look down her nose at him, but she was sitting and he was standing and he was so tall... All she could manage was a glare, but she had the sneaking suspicion he could see right through her show of bravado. A smile fluttered at the corners of his mouth and hid, but she saw it in his eyes.
"I'm positively frosty," she retorted with a hint of playfulness. "Everyone knows I have no heart, no soul of my own. I can't feel a thing for anyone. Ask my mum and dad."
"Let me guess," he interjected more quietly. "They taught you to keep your head, not let your emotions get in your way, in case you had to think fast to get away from Centre types. And you learned it so well you didn't let your emotions function at all."
She lifted one leg out of the water and scrubbed at it lightly, not looking at him while she spoke. "The training served me well. They never did catch me. And neither did any of the several other countries who would love to have me staying over at one of their scenic prisons. Though I must admit, I would prefer a research facility like The Centre to, say, Alcatraz."
"The Rock's been closed for ages," he reminded her. Justin could see where the conversation was headed, and decided to cut her some slack.
A moment of silence passed between them and he started to leave.
"I won't fall for one of your con jobs, Justin," she promised firmly.
"Good," he returned brightly, and left her rooms.
She sat in the tub for several minutes, going back over the conversation, trying to determine what message he was sending her. But as she stepped out of the water and reached for a towel, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror hung on the back of the bathroom door, and her attention fixed on the dragon tattoo winding over her shoulder and across her back.
"Don't fail me now, friend," she said to it, and stroked over the multicolored head fondly. "Chase him out of my dreams, before it's too late."
She did not notice the shadow move behind the door immediately afterward, and fade silently toward the door of her bedroom. She wrapped the towel around herself and left the bathroom, picked up the brush on her dressing table and began to work the tangles out of her damp hair.
When she finished she picked up the phone and called down to the Getaria docks and asked her boatman to prepare the yacht for the return trip to America. By the time they made land Justin would be ready to make the journey home to his mother, and she wanted to be ready to let him go once her part was done. It would be over soon, and she would have to be careful not to let Justin get too close. She knew he was playing her like a grand piano, and it took all her intellect to stay out of his grasp.
After dressing and applying the little makeup she wore, she hauled out her laptop, bounced the modem signal all over the world, and sent a message to the e-mail account that Jarod had given her.
Greetings, Peter Pan.
Neverland wasn't the same without you, so I left. I think they'll be more upset about losing me than they were you, especially since I brought a souvenir with me. I'll be seeing you soon, I hope, but decline the usual welcome. You'll understand why when I get there. The mission, by the way, was a success. I ate the trail of breadcrumbs, and now I know the way home.
Love to Grace. I owe her, though I doubt she remembers me.
She checked her own e-mail account, read through several business posts, and smiled as she opened one from a writer named "Rainztrnl" and began to read.
I will find you, Jane. I know more about you than you think. You'll be sorry you played me for a fool. Enjoy the daylight while you can.
A shiver of disgust made gooseflesh all down her back and arms, and she decided she would not delay departure a moment longer than necessary. She left in search of her houseguest to inform him he had worn out his welcome, and she was taking him home to his mother.
Alan Cross, previously known as Stephen Chamberlain, was buried in a cemetery several miles distant from the Foundation grounds. In deference to the Navajos who worked there, a window was opened in the west wall of the Security Operations room to allow his ghost to escape, and the day of his death all of the security equipment, computers and other paraphenalia were quickly moved to another building. Several of the staff quit outright, and a search was begun for replacements.
Jarod did not supervise the move as he would have liked, nor did he spend much time with the tribal police once they came to collect their prisoner. He did not hear what became of Walter Atcitty, though Hosteen Gorman assured him that justice for Joseph Nails and Marissa May and his other victims had been carried out in Navajo fashion. Jarod chose to let the subject drop rather than press for details.
He allowed Dr. Ndele to tend to his wound, but demanded a local anesthetic rather than a general when he submitted himself for removal of the assassin's bullet. Ordinarily Dr. Ndele would have argued with his patient, but in the Pretender's case he knew he could expect a calm, docile body on which to work, and it was interesting conversing during the procedure. Once bandaged and medicated, Jarod excused himself to spend time with Faith, who was waiting just outside the Infirmary for him to be released.
Man and woman stole away to Faith's room for the rest of the day, and she put him to bed where he drifted off quickly under the influence of the pain killers he had been given, however unwillingly.
He didn't awaken for more than 24 hours, and when he did rise he stayed up just long enough to eat a good meal, visit briefly with Grace and Faith, and return to bed for another day's sleep. Nightmares were fewer now and less vivid, and Faith refused to let him out of her sight, canceling all her classes and daily workouts to be with him, to hold him when the nightmares grew unbearable. At night, she put on her best gown and got into her bed beside him. It felt strange yet somehow comforting, to know that the man sleeping so soundly beside her had been her lover at one time, and in the darkness she touched him, so stealthily that she wouldn't wake him, yet firmly enough that he snuggled closer to her and sighed with pleasure.
The second morning she awakened to find him watching her on the pillow beside him, and she drew the sheets up to her neck self consciously.
"How are you feeling?" she asked sleepily.
"Almost whole," he murmured with a smile. "I love you, Faith."
She started to snuggle her head against his shoulder, but movement to get her head off the pillow brought something else into view and she stopped. She couldn't help staring at the erection tenting the covers at his groin, and felt her face grow hot with embarrassment.
Guilty eyes turned up quickly to meet his steady, too-warm gaze.
"It's okay, beloved," he whispered. "I don't think I'm capable yet. That's just a reaction to morning testosterone levels peaking." He gave her a blazingly brilliant, wide smile. "I want you more than food, but now's not a good time. It'll go down in a minute."
Faith sat up, her fair face flushing crimson as she flashed a lopsided grin at him, remembering how wonderful their lovemaking had been a few days earlier. Embarrassment gave way to curiosity, and she boldly asked him if she could see it again.
He was pleased to show it to her.
Jonathan St. James stood on the roof watching the sun come up, enjoying the cool morning breeze against his skin. He was naked except for a thin pair of red silk boxers, and had only put those on before exiting the penthouse to wait for dawn. The woman in his bed lay sprawled over both sides of the mattress, and he could see the outline of her taut, lithe body through the curtained windows to his right.
He stared intently for a moment, then forced his gaze to the horizon for the event he had come outside to witness. But his mind was elsewhere, caught up in husky laughter, the taste of flawless skin, and the sting of witty repartee. Rio, as he had chosen to call Miss Parker, did not bore him. That in itself was a wonder, for few women besides his mother had claimed that distinction. He enjoyed her company and never knew what to expect from her. One moment she would be seductive and fiery, the next stone cold. She would freeze him with a glare and then melt the ice with the infernal warmth of her smile. Meredith Baxter's song Bitch rang in his head, for it described her perfectly.
"I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm an angel undercover.
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint. I do not feel ashamed..."
He hummed the tune softly to himself and wished for his guitar. "What am I gonna do with you, gal?" he breathed aloud. He didn't want to let her go, but he knew if he told her so, she would bolt. He would have to play her game a little longer, and trap her when she wasn't looking. But to succeed, he would have to dig into her motivations and find out why she kept everybody at arm's length, why she was so afraid of admitting her feelings.
And the best place to start was the guy she was watching. She had told him enough about Jarod to know that they had a history together. And if he asked the questions properly, he believed the enigmatic man would tell him what he wanted to know.
He put on his sweats and went downstairs to seek out answers and breakfast, but not in that order. He wanted to be back before Rio awakened, since he had a very special seduction in mind.
Part 4 by Victoria Rivers
Sydney sat beside the bed, his rich voice chanting the text of A Tale of Two Cities in Flemish, translating aloud as he read. He kept his hand on that of the other man lying still on the mattress, the one who looked so much like him. He continued to read as the nurses came in to turn Jacob's inert body, and after they left he closed the volume and leaned over on the bed, resting his forehead on his twin brother's arm.
"It's amazing, really," said Grace as she strolled slowly into the open doorway. "No matter how far separated, or for how long, identical twins share some of the same thoughts. They name their pets alike, drive similar automobiles, work the same type of jobs, even marry people with identical names." She sat down on the edge of the mattress, shifting the sling supporting her injured arm, and laid her hand on Sydney's as it rested on Jacob's. "I'm glad you decided to bring your brother here, Sydney. It'll be good for you both."
After a lengthy, weary sigh, Sydney raised his head and thanked her for her kindness, but he did not meet her eyes. Instead, he regarded the relaxed, comatose face of his twin, and gave his hand a squeeze.
"This is the best medicine," he said softly. "Leaving The Centre has released me from an enormous burden. If only I might receive absolution for my sins... but there is no forgiveness for me."
"You can't forgive yourself?" she queried gently.
Sydney shook his head. "Not until Jarod does."
"He has his own crosses to bear, love. Don't carry his, too."
He managed a tiny smile, and met her eyes briefly. "I'm responsible for the burden he carries, Grace. Don't forget that. Because of me, Jarod will never be whole."
Grace gave him a sly wink. "I'm not so sure about that. He has Faith."
Sydney smiled back at her more fully. "Faith can bring about miracles, if you believe in such things," he replied slowly. "I lost mine years ago."
"That's not the kind of faith I meant, dear Owl," Grace teased. "Jarod has love. We had a long talk a little while ago, and I think he'll be just fine. He's discovering things about himself that he hasn't been willing to face until now, and I think his relationship with Faith is helping him to heal."
Sydney's smile faded. "He can't truly love her back until he learns to love himself, dear Pooh," he returned sagely.
She brightened for a moment on hearing him use her nickname for the first time, and sobered again. "The same goes for you, my good friend," she prodded, stroking his arm and shoulder. "You have a family again, and the opportunity to live without shadows and fear. You can help others, and in so doing, help yourself. It's time to start healing, Sydney. Time for both of you to put the past behind you and begin a new future. Be who you always wanted to be. Ask Jacob. I'm sure he remembers."
She bent down and kissed his cheek, smoothed back his hair, and drifted out of the room on a ray of late spring sunshine. Sydney went to the window and gazed out at the harsh landscape, tamed into wild beauty by the hand of that most unusual woman, and knew she was right.
Time to live, said Jacob in Sydney's mind.
"Have I waited too long?" Sydney asked aloud. He could hear Jacob's bemused chuckle echoing silently in the room. Sydney had always been the serious one. Jacob was more lighthearted, more prone to gaiety than his brother, and Sydney missed that dreadfully.
No, brother. You've just come home.
Sydney placed a kiss on his twin's forehead and wandered outside in search of graying copper hair gleaming in the sun, and the welcome laugh that trailed along behind it.
Jarod paced the library, listening for the sound of an opening door, his body strung as tightly as a piano wire. Gemini was coming, and she had news. He could hardly contain himself, and felt as if he would surely explode if it took much longer. She had called from Miami with her travel plans, and Grace had made arrangements to have the Foundation limousine pick her up at Flagstaff's airport. The car left hours earlier, and Jarod had been expressly forbidden to go in it to meet her.
Everything had to be on her terms, and he grew more anxious by the minute.
Faith came up behind him and put her arms around him to hold him still, being careful to avoid touching his left shoulder, which was still tender from his recent wound.
"Relax," she urged him gently.
"I can't," he shot back. He patted her arms distractedly. "I just can't wait till I know what she's found out."
"And when you do know, then what?"
He turned around in her arms to regard her and held her face in his hands. "Then I go to find my mother. I have to know, Faith. I have to see her, touch her, talk to her in person. I need answers that only she can give me."
Faith nodded. "May I come along? She might want to see her grandchildren."
Jarod put his arms around her and held her tightly. "Of course. I was going to ask you if you wanted to go with me." He sighed. "You don't have a problem with Gemini, do you? I... I want this to go well."
"She might have a problem with me, but no, I'm fine with it. As long as you don't take up where you left off with her." Faith's expression of possessiveness spoke volumes.
He kissed her, deeply, tenderly, holding back on the passion he felt for her. "This time, I want to do it right, Faith," he breathed against her lips. "I want to marry you, just as soon as you're ready. I'll wait as long as you need."
She started to reply to his proposal, but the door opened and Grace stepped halfway in the room. Her face was beaming, and a silly, awestruck smile quivered across her mouth as she tried unsuccessfully to squelch it. Wild surprise gleamed in her eyes. "Jarod, I'd like you to have a seat, please. Take the chair facing the fireplace, on the far side of that bookcase, if you please. And Faith, you make sure he stays in it, facing the mantle."
Jarod's heavy brows twitched together in confusion for a moment, but it didn't take him long to realize what was up. His heart began to rise into his mouth, his body trembled with overflowing emotion, and he could barely make his watery legs carry him out of sight of the door and around the tall shelf dividing the room. He fell weakly into the chair and clutched the padded arms, closing his eyes and waiting for the surprise guest he knew would be arriving.
"Hello, Jarod," said Gemini softly after a few moments.
A tear rolled down the Pretender's cheek as he opened his eyes to regard her. He opened his mouth to ask his questions, but nothing came out. He struggled with his closed throat for a moment, but the effort was fruitless.
"I know," she responded quickly, holding out a hand to quell his attempt to speak.
Her face was beaming, and his first thought was that she had fallen in love.
"You can't imagine how surprised I was to make this discovery, Jarod," Gemini was saying. "I know you want to know all the answers at once, and you'll have them shortly. We're going to take you to see your mother soon, but you'll need a few more days to recover first. It's a grueling trek to get to her, and you need to be in better shape. Grace told me you were wounded."
Jarod exhaled deeply, forcing out a few words. "Her name?"
"Helen Pierce," Gemini told him happily. "But, Jarod, there's more. So much more."
He heard Faith gasp behind him, but couldn't tear his eyes away from Gemini's face.
She said gently, "Close your eyes, Jarod. Just for a moment. There's someone I'd like you to meet."
He obeyed, great fat tears spilling out as he did. His hands were shaking as he reached out toward the mystery person, thinking, Father! as he strained to maintain some semblance of control. He felt another hand touch his, fingers interlacing, and a warm palm settled against his cheek.
"Open your eyes, Jarod," said Grace from behind him.
He looked into the face of an older man with a full head of thick white hair, brushed back from his forehead. Warm green eyes with an upward slant stared back at him, filled with tears. Long dimples cleaved his cheeks as he smiled. "Hello, son," said Joaquin St. James.
"Fahhh," Jarod wheezed. He couldn't get the word out.
"Yes, I'm your father," breathed Joaquin. He sniffed back his tears and held out his hand to Grace. "This is your Aunt Grace. Her husband was my twin brother, John. How you found your way back to us is a miracle."
Jarod stumbled out of the chair, tripping over his own feet as he surged toward his father. The older man caught him in his arms and raised him up, embracing him fiercely. For a moment both men were lost in a maelstrom of emotion, but Joaquin pulled himself together more quickly, knowing there was another still waiting. When he could bear it, he began to speak softly, slowly, cradling the back of his tall son's head in one hand.
"I didn't know I was a father until just a few months ago. Your mother never told me about you, or I would have stayed with you, protected you. Do you believe that?"
Jarod nodded against his father's cheek, too moved to speak, desperately trying to staunch his tears so he could look into that beloved face.
"Yes," he sobbed. "I knew you loved me. I always believed that, no matter what."
"We'll be taking you to meet your mother soon," Joaquin told him warmly, "and I'm looking forward to that myself. I haven't seen her since before you were born. But I never stopped loving her." His smile faded, and a light of uncertainty glowed in his face. "I hope she remembers me... Your eyes are brown, like hers."
"She remembers," said Grace sagely. "If she fell for a man who can carry a torch that long, I'll bet hers is burning just as brightly, Joaquin." She smiled at Jarod. "Jarod, I'd like to introduce your father, since he seems to have forgotten his name. It's Joaquin St. James, dear. I guess you really are one of us now."
Jarod pulled away a little, blinking to clear his vision. He held Joaquin's face in his hands, unable to look away, filling his eyes with that vision.
"There's more, Jarod," Gemini put in from one side. "There's one more person you haven't remembered, possibly the most important one in this whole equation. Someone who's missed you in a way only you will be able to understand. Please turn around."
He took a deep breath to steady himself, and stood back, maintaining a grip on Joaquin's shoulder, as if he might vanish when Jarod wasn't looking.
The face he looked into was his own, minus a small mole on the right cheek.
He stumbled backward, falling against Joaquin, who embraced him. Color drained from his face, and his insides quivered with contained fear. This wasn't a dream; Jarod was sure of it. But the only other explanation... Tears clouded his vision, and he blinked them quickly away.
"I know about the nightmares," said the Other. "I've had them, too. I think I might have seen some of the things you've been through, in my dreams." He sighed, trembling to contain his emotions. "I don't know what all they did to you, Jarod, but even though they took away your memory, I never forgot about you. You were always with me, brother. In my heart."
Joaquin whispered in Jarod's ear, comforting him, quietly reassuring him, and after a moment he took a deep breath and straightened up, moving away from his father's support. With trembling fingers he reached out to touch that familiar face, and when he found the skin of the Other's cheek to be pliable and warm, firmly placed flesh that did not peel away at the slightest touch, relief washed over him in a wave so powerful it made his knees buckle. He struggled to remain upright, and Faith slid underneath his embracing arm to help support him. A tide of emotions was about to break free, and Jarod let it come.
"My name is Justin, Jarod," the Other said slowly. "I have missed you... so much." His last words were only a broken whisper. "My twin."
His tearful smile broke into a grimace of grief, pain and joy as a great sob wrenched free. Jarod's frightened silence became a wail of agony as the connection reasserted itself in his soul, and he let go of Faith to reach for Justin, pulling his twin into a savage embrace, clawing and pounding on his back and shoulders, unaware of his own pain as Justin clung to him just as fiercely. Both men wept, and the tears spread to everyone surrounding them, all except for one.
Gemini walked away from the reunion to stand by the window and gaze dispassionately outside at the beautifully landscaped grounds.
After a few moments she heard the cries and whispers of emotional reunion begin to ebb as the family members began to catch their breath. Gemini turned when she felt a presence stealing up behind her, and met Grace's damp brown eyes warily.
"I often wondered what happened to you, Jenny," the redhead began. "Your parents kept you well hidden. Are they well?"
Gemini shrugged. "I haven't seen them for half a year. I suppose they're all right." She paused, and looked out the window again. "I didn't think you'd remember me, or recognize me after all this time."
"You're quite unforgettable, dear," Grace assured her. Then with a look of profound sadness, she added, "What happened between you and your mum and dad?"
"I grew up." She sighed, not wanting to deal with past history at that moment.
Grace rubbed her shoulder affectionately. "Perhaps not as much as you think," she said enigmatically, smiled, and returned to the homecoming.
Jarod and Justin sat across from each other in a pair of wingback chairs. They held onto each other's forearms, as if afraid to break the physical contact between them.
"I never knew," said Jarod when he could make his voice work again. "They took my memories from me. How--"
"I remembered," said Justin. "Momya said we had our own secret language between us."
"That's what we called her when she started teaching us Russian," Justin confessed. "We were three, and it kind of stuck. I've called her that ever since."
"Momya." Jarod's repetition of the nickname was as reverent as a prayer. "Momya." He gazed at his brother for a long time, stole a glance at his father, and missing pieces began to fall into place. "There were two of us. That was why she didn't look harder for me. She had to protect you."
Justin nodded, guilt heavy in his features. "She didn't trust anyone with me. She knew they'd take both of us if they could."
"So she knew about The Centre? She knew where I was?"
"No," Justin promised. "She knew about the programs they were developing for gifted children, and that hers would be prime candidates. As soon as she found out she was pregnant, she bolted, went underground. She was one of the scientists they were working with on a related project."
"She had an idea where to look, then?" It was a slim hope, but one Jarod didn't cling to tightly.
"No. Momya hardly ever let us play outside," Justin explained. "She moved to out of the way places where she could keep us isolated, but someone recognized her and saw one of us with her. On the day you were taken, I was sick in bed and you were playing in the back yard. She watched you through my bedroom window, and got up to get me some medicine. She was gone for maybe three minutes, if that, but when she came back into the room and looked out the window, you were gone."
A great, trembling sigh escaped Jarod, and he bowed his head, covering his face with his hands. For a moment he shook with restrained sobs, but put them aside quickly. "She didn't give me up, then," he summarized.
Justin rubbed Jarod's shoulders affectionately. "No, brother. She would have died to save you. Or me. We were her whole life."
Justin sat back in his chair and swallowed down his own tears. "I didn't believe her. I thought it was some delusion she had. Other kids didn't live in the shadows like we did, and I couldn't conceive of the kind of danger she wanted me to believe I was in. I thought, once I got older, that you had been kidnapped by a pedophile, and were probably dead. That is, until I met your Miss Parker."
Jarod's eyes flashed dangerously, but he said nothing, waiting for his twin to to finish the tale he had begun.
Justin smiled. "I let her take me, let her think I was you, just to see if I could find out what had happened to you." But then the superior smile faded, and a look of horror drained the color from his face. He turned his gaze to his hands, swallowed down his revulsion. "And I did."
Pain reasserted itself into a grimace as he made eye contact again. "My God, Jarod! I still can't believe what they did to you. I can't believe Momya was right. There are monsters out there, not just in her mind." He sighed heavily. "My God, Jarod. Jesus! They aren't even human."
"Not true," Grace interrupted, putting a hand on Jarod's shoulder. "They are all too human, capable of all the faults and frailties that the rest of us have."
"You don't know these people," snapped Justin. "You didn't see what they did."
"Yes, she did," Jarod corrected. "And Miss Parker and Sydney are both in residence here at the moment."
Alarm flashed across Justin's face and he rose quickly from the chair. "You're not turning us in, are you?" he demanded, glancing from face to face as his panic rose, and settling on Gemini.
"No, love," she assured him. "This is your safest haven in all the world. They can't touch you here."
"God damn," Justin swore, wiping a hand over his face in relief. "Don't scare me like that."
"What have you been doing with your life, Justin?" asked Jarod quietly, eager to change the subject from The Centre and its erstwhile personnel.
"Pretty much the same as you, brother," his twin admitted. "Pretending to be something I'm not." He shrugged apologetically. "Only without the idealistic principles you seem to have embraced since your escape from Hotel California."
Justin patted his unschooled brother's cheek. "Don't worry, bro. We'll get you up to speed soon enough." He stretched, feeling the stiffness in his muscles from the traveling he had done to get there. "How about if we continue this outside? I could use a long walk, maybe toss around a football or something."
"As long as you don't overdo," cautioned Gemini.
"Sure thing, doc," he grinned, and kissed her lightly. "Whaddya say, Jarod?"
"I'll have to pass on the football," he commented as he stood up, making sure his legs worked properly and hoping it wasn't a dream. "I got shot a few days ago."
"Yeah?" Justin grinned. "Me, too. A couple of months back, during our grand escape from The Centre. Right there." He reached behind himself and touched the freshly healed wound with his fingertips, then reached for Gemini, drawing her into a warm embrace and stealing a glance at Jarod, possessiveness marking his smile. "Gemini saved my life, Jarod. Thank you for sending her to me."
Jarod swallowed the denial, and felt his eyes fill. He looked into Gemini's eyes and saw the love there before she closed them, shutting out everything except Justin's touch, and was pleased that they had found each other. It seemed fitting somehow, and he would discuss the romance with his brother another time. At the moment the relationship was so fresh and new that he didn't want to interfere. He would watch and see how it developed on its own.
The two men kissed their respective women, then headed outside into the sunshine for a long walk with their father to continue the family reunion.
But just as they stepped outside the library, they heard more gasps and turned simultaneously to face their discoverers. Sydney lost his footing on the stairs and sat down hard on one of them, and Miss Parker's unlit cigarette dropped from her open mouth as she left the dining hall with Jonathan St. James in tow, heading back for her suite.
The four regarded each other in silence until the twins turned in perfect synchronization and continued toward the front door.
"My God," breathed Sydney, running a trembling hand through his hair. "Seeing both of them together like that has... rather a powerful effect on one."
"It would probably give Raines a heart attack," Parker fired back after collecting her wits. She grinned. "I'd pay to see that." She frowned as she caught the eye of a slender brunette exiting the library after the two men. "Wonder who she is, and if there's any particular reason she hates me on sight. Did you catch that look, Sydney?"
The older man pushed to his feet. "I did." He smoothed the wrinkles out of his trousers and grinned privately to himself. "She worked at The Centre during your business trip to Serendipity. I daresay she knows perfectly well who you are, considering her position there as Raines' right arm." He chuckled softly to himself. "She probably knows more Centre secrets than all the rest of us put together."
Sydney met Gemini's eyes only briefly, and continued toward the dining hall in search of a cup of coffee, his smile fading as he recalled the events surrounding the Security Advisor's departure from The Centre. Samantha's face swam up in his memory, her expression of regretful finality as she broke away from him to follow the escapees to her doom.
The pain was less sharp now, but no less deep. He remembered her smile, her laugh, the joy of touching her after being denied contact for so long, and heard her whispering in the depths of his soul. She was still with him, and would always be, just as Jacob shared a portion of his soul.
He took a moment to savor the scent of the special hazelnut blend that Grace kept for herself in the kitchen, and walked out into the morning to greet the sun. From a distance he watched the twins meander across the grounds, and saw how alike their movements were. He saw himself and Jacob in them, and felt his brother looking out of his eyes, and agreeing.
"You've always been with me, Jacob," he said aloud. "Perhaps that was your voice I heard in the darkness that kept me awake at night after the difficult simulations. I should have listened to you. I should have helped Catherine free Jarod. That's why she came to me after your accident. Because you had promised her, and she thought I would keep your word." He took a sip of the hot brew, felt it burn his tongue and esophagus all the way down. "I certainly should have."
He strolled slowly toward the park between the main house and the Learning Center, and took a seat on the bench beside the brunette, who still watched the new family intently, as if she was a bodyguard looking out for any sign of danger. She gave only the merest glance at her visitor, and did not bother speaking to him.
"You didn't know Samantha, did you?" he asked after a moment's silence.
"No, I didn't," Gemini replied brusquely.
Sydney took another sip of coffee. "She was a gifted psychic," he explained. "I have to believe she knew exactly what was going to happen to her if she left with you." He paused to let his meaning sink in. "Would you have been as brave if you knew you were going to die?"
The woman shrugged and crossed her arms over her chest. "We all take risks for what we believe in," she answered flatly.
"Some do," he returned agreeably. "Others hide behind noble ideals and say, 'I did it for science, for the sake of knowledge.' But nothing is more indicative of our true nature, of the nobility of spirit than to give one's life for another." He paused, and stared down into his cup. "It should have been me. I should have tried to help you escape... Perhaps she would still be alive, if I had."
There seemed to be a slackening of tension in the woman's stiff posture, and for a moment she glanced down at a flower in bloom near her feet. "You loved her," Gemini guessed.
She shook her head slowly. "How something so precious could have happened in a place like that is a miracle, doctor. I envy you."
Gemini met his eyes for the first time. "Because you have loved. You've experienced the most precious aspect of humanity. 'Better to have loved and lost,' as the bard said."
Sydney pondered the wistfulness in her green eyes, the tragic smile flickering for the briefest instant across her mouth, and understood. He took another sip.
"Perhaps you should tell Justin how you feel about him."
A door slammed shut behind her eyes, and all emotion vanished from her face. "Tell him what?" she demanded coolly. "Never give a con man a handout. He'll leave you naked and twisting in the breeze, and thinking you're about to cash in on the lottery."
"Unless he's ready to retire."
"Leopards don't change their spots, doctor," she shot back unhappily. "I know what to expect from him. Right now I'm just an interesting novelty, an obsession du jour. But it won't last, and I can't handle the rejection. So it won't happen. End of story."
Sydney took a long draught of the delicious brew, his eyes flicking to the two men he could tell apart at that distance only by their clothing. Justin was quicker to smile, more animated than Jarod, but he also carried an air of sensuality that The Centre's escapee did not yet have. "I think he'll have more on his mind for a while than cheating others, Jane."
"It's Gemini," she corrected immediatley. She saw him nod and note the different name without raising an eyebrow, and decided the time had come to return to her own roots along with everyone else. "Actually, it's Jennifer. Jennifer Tansey. Though I suspect Mr. Raines already knows that by now."
"I wouldn't know," Sydney assured her. "I've left The Centre for good."
"Tell another one, Pops," Gemini retorted. "Justin's right about The Centre being Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."
"Good analogy," he responded warmly. "I shall hear that song differently now, thanks to you. But I am sincere in this. I've asked Grace for asylum, and she has given it. I'll be staying here for some time. Until they come for me, anyway. Poor Mr. Cross has shown that there's always a way to even the score, if one is wanted badly enough." He sighed. "And I'm quite sure I fall into that category now."
He rose and started to walk away. She turned back to her surveillance of the three men, watching them as Joaquin and Justin picked up a football abandoned on the playground and started tossing it between them. He saw her smile at their boyish play, and the wistfulness crept back into her eyes.
"He is Jarod's brother, after all," Sydney reminded her. "You should tell him the truth, and not let him go on believing you don't care."
"It's better for us both that he does," Gemini said, and listened for the sound of his footsteps leaving her behind. She promised herself not to cry, and blinked faster to ease the stinging in her eyes. She pushed away the memory of the brothers' meeting, recalling how their emotional scene had touched her and wanting no more of that. She had a job to do, and she would see it done. When it was over, she would not look back, and she would never think of Justin Pierce again.
Faith opened the door to the light knock, and was surprised to see Gemini standing there. She patted baby Michael on the back and swayed gently back and forth as she continued trying to get him to sleep.
"What can I do for you?" she asked politely.
"I've just conducted a search of Jarod's room," Gemini admitted, "and the item I'm looking for isn't there, so I supposed it must be here."
Faith frowned mightily. "Whatever it is, you'll have to ask Jarod about it," she returned stiffly.
"I don't want to take anything," Gemini assured her. "I just want to borrow the DSA reader to check the disks I brought with me. I need to see what's on them."
Faith started closing the door. "You'll have to talk to Jarod about it. I'm sorry. Good night."
Gemini put out a hand to halt the door. "I can't say what information might be on these disks. It might be something Jarod shouldn't see."
"That's what I want to find out."
Faith considered a moment longer, and swung the door wide to admit her. "Have a seat until I can get Michael to sleep," she offered, closing the door after her guest. "But I don't feel right about this."
Gemini declined the offer and went to stand by the window, watching the mother and child interact, and the baby slowly slip off into dreams. She saw the gentleness with which Faith laid the infant down, and how her face glowed with love and joy as she tucked him in beside his brother. And she saw how her expression changed when she straightened up and faced her guest before retrieving the Halliburton from the flue in her chimney.
"I was never in love with Jarod," Gemini stated firmly as she watched the other woman lay the case on the bed and sit down beside it. "He was always in love with you. I only thought he was... interesting."
"Play the disks," Faith commanded.
Gemini nodded and pulled the jewel case from the back pocket of her black jeans. She inserted the first disk and adjusted the volume down low. Kneeling down at the foot of the bed, she crossed her arms on the mattress and rested her chin on them to watch.
A group of men and women sat around a long table with stacks of paper and file folders before them.
"Next order of business," said one man, "is the security leak that I noted to each of you in person yesterday. It has come to my attention that the candidates we have lost are all missing due to the same source. SIS seems to have no leads in the disappearances because SIS is responsible. This discrepancy needs to be addressed, and soon, before we suffer more losses."
"That's William Raines," said Gemini to Faith. "A much younger Raines, but no less evil, I'm sure."
The other woman remained silent, just watching the black and white DSA record play out.
Raines turned to Mr. Morgan Parker. "Catherine has to be stopped, Parker," he growled ominously. "If you can't keep your wife in line, someone else will have to do it."
Parker stared at the table top, frowning. "I've already relieved her of duty," he groused. "But she still has friends here. I can't stop what she's started without cleaning house, and some of our staff are nearly irreplaceable."
He glared at Raines. "After Thanksgiving, I think she's learned her lesson," he added. "But I'll talk to her, make sure she understands that she can't continue removing Centre property without... repercussions."
"Do that, Parker," said the man at the head of the table. "If no one has anything else, then, meeting adjourned."
Parker rose and departed abruptly, but several of the other board members lingered, conversing in small groups around the table. As the room began to clear, a handful of officers remained at their places, shuffling through papers and making notes, until only three were left. Raines rose and closed the door, returning to his seat and fixing the other two men with a cold stare.
"You know what has to be done," he rasped. "We have to set an example. We must make perfectly clear the price to be paid for stealing from The Centre. Some of these candidates are of questionable value, but just imagine the fallout if Catherine Parker should liberate someone like... like Jarod. And none of us know which children she's targeted for rescue. We can't afford to let her shift her personal mission to someone else's shoulders. If these subjects leave here, we could be destroyed. And our projects are much too valuable for us to allow that to happen. Don't you agree, Mr. Winterbourne?"
The man addressed nodded enthusiastically. "Who's going to arrange it, then?"
Raines spoke up immediately. "I've been working on that. I thought at first about molding one of the Pretenders to do the job, but it would take too long. This needs to be handled quickly."
"Then it should be one of us," said the third man.
"Of course, McCarthy," Winterbourne agreed. "Shall we draw straws or do we volunteer?"
The other two men remained silent. Winterbourne stood up and smoothed back his fair hair, preening under their gaze. "Well, I'll do it, then. It isn't as if none of us has killed before." He offered his hand to both men, and smiled. "I've always fancied Catherine Parker. Maybe I'll try to get her up to my bachelor pad first."
McCarthy frowned. "I doubt she'd go for that." He gave an irritated glance to Raines, silently accusing him of the beating he had given her as a warning months earlier. "She's a good Catholic girl, Harmon. She won't do it."
Winterbourne shrugged. "Then I'll help her break some other rule. Maybe it'll be a suicide, eh?" He winked and gathered up his papers, and the three men left the room together.
Gemini reached for the disk when the scene finished, but another video started, and she had no problem recognizing the woman she had seen in the foyer earlier in the day. But the date imprinted in the lower left corner made that impossible, so she began to wonder if this might be the other woman's mother. She watched intently.
Harmon Winterbourne rode down in the elevator with her, making casual conversation laced with innuendo, which the woman politely ignored. But then the conversation turned to her rescue missions, and Winterbourne told her that such activities would not be allowed to continue. He expressed his disappointment that she had chosen such a path when she showed such promise early on, and apologized when he pulled the pistol from his pocket, aimed it at her as she cowered in the far corner of the elevator car, and pulled the trigger four times. Her body slumped to the floor as her murderer wiped his prints casually off the gun and dropped it beside her. He was whistling as he stepped off the car and thrust his hands in his jacket pockets as he strolled away down the hall.
Eyes of Centre employees followed him fearfully as he left, and the screams of a little girl calling for her mommy could be heard plaintively in the background.
The screen went black, and the disk ceased to spin. Gemini placed it carefully back in its case and slipped the second one in.
Jarod rose from the bed in darkness, aware that dawn would be coming soon, but unwilling to waken Faith to share it with him. She got precious little sleep in caring for the twins, and even though Jarod helped her with them full time now, she was still the only one feeding them and they never seemed to be hungry at the same time.
He combed through his sleep-mussed hair with his fingers and scrubbed at his face with his palms to wipe away the last traces of drowsiness, and glanced between the curtains in the bungalow's single bedroom to see if the sky was beginning to lighten. The faintest trace of gray lit the horizon above the hills to the east, and he knew sunrise would be coming soon. From the pocket of the shirt he had worn the previous day, he pulled a small film canister that Hosteen Gorman had given him and went outside without bothering to dress. He wore a pair of black boxer shorts, the only other dressing covering him being the bandages on his shoulder. He stepped down off the porch, finding his way by the glow of landscape lighting to a large, flat sandstone boulder just off the paved path to the cottage. He took a seat on the rock and crossed his long legs beneath him, faced east and waited, clearing his mind as he began to hum a wordless tune to himself.
The sun painted a brilliant display as it rose, coloring the sky a radiant golden and washing the ruddy landscape in hues of rose, umber, sienna and rust. The man sat silently now, his body glistening in shades of bronze and shadowy brown. He opened the plastic cylinder in his hand and shook out a little of the fine yellow powder into his palm.
"...Now the child will go with beauty before it,
Now the child will go with beauty all around it,
Now the child will be with beauty finished," he chanted softly, holding up his hand and letting the sacred corn pollen fall in a golden stream. It was a Navajo ceremony, but he loved the simplicity of it. He gave thanks for the blessing of family, unsure to whom the prayer was directed, but moved to offer the words, nonetheless. In another week he would be meeting his mother, and the mystery of his origins would be gone forever. He was embarking on a new era in his life, and what he would do with himself when it was over was uncertain, but he would no longer be nameless, the victim of a shadowy past. He would know who he was and where he came from, and where he went after that would be up to Faith and himself.
He was finding it hard to accept the peace settling over him, and coming to terms with forgiveness was difficult as well, but both were necessary. It would be a long time before he worked out all his problems, but with Grace helping him sort through his feelings and motivations and his family supporting him with their love, he knew he would find his true purpose and learn to live up to his potential in a more positive fashion.
He smiled at the sunrise of a bright new day, and knew that his journey through night was almost at an end.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.