This is my first multi-chapter piece. Please be patient with me as I figure out what my muse has in mind.
Disclaimer: I'm not sure who owns the Pretender anymore, but it sure as heck isn't me. I do this for fun, so don't sue me.
Sydney sat back in his chair and took another swig of his coffee, only half listening to Mr. Broots as he explained how some complicated hacking maneuver had allowed Jarod to steal three hundred thousand dollars from Raines’s personal accounts and donate it to Amnesty International. Sydney wondered what exactly Broots thought he was accomplishing with his pointless electronic tracking exercises. In over five years on the run, Jarod had yet to make a slip in the elaborate electronic money trail he left for his pursuers.
Sydney was worried, though. In the three weeks since Jarod’s return from Carthis the pretender had not called his old mentor. There had been no bread crumbs, no packages, no notes—no contact of any kind save for a brief phone call to Parker just after his escape. Parker had never told him what was discussed in that call, and Sydney knew better than to ask. This attack on Raines’s savings came as an enormous relief to the psychiatrist, though he had thought his prodigy above petty theft. Just to know that Jarod was still out there lightened the old man’s heart considerably.
Still not quite listening as Broots babbled on about Swiss banking and Trojan horses, Sydney took another sip, glanced at his computer monitor—and froze. There, under the bright, innocuous banner of the Yahoo search engine was a two inch picture of none other than the errant pretender himself. For two full seconds, Sydney just sat there, coffee cup frozen in midair, before he snapped to his senses, set the coffee cup down, and tried to discreetly close the program under the pretense of checking an email account. Even as he did so, Sydney knew that it was probably too little too late. A cold feminine voice confirmed his suspicions an instant later when Miss Parker cut Broots off in mid-sentence. “What is it, Syd?”
Sydney looked up from the monitor with his eyebrows raised, “Nothing at all, Miss Parker,” he responded in his most innocent tone of voice, “I just thought I’d check the Refuge account and a few others for some signs of activity.”
Parker gave him her most disparaging look, rose in one fluid motion, and stalked around the desk to glare over Sydney’s shoulder at the screen. The psychiatrist had to bite back a curse when he realized that in his haste he’d let the cursed machine get the better of him again. He hadn’t closed the program; he’d minimized it. Parker opened it in a vicious click and gave Sydney another venomous look. It took her only a second to spot the picture. The headline read “Western Maryland school hostage situation drags into its fourteenth hour.” Another swift click opened the story, revealing a larger version of the same photo. Blown up, there was no mistaking it: Jarod was looking away from the camera and talking into a cell phone. His back was partially turned, revealing “FBI” splashed in bold yellow letters across his navy jacket.
Parker scanned the article, her cool blue eyes picking out the relevant information much faster than Sydney could have. “Hmmm. . . ‘FBI called to mediate hostage crisis’. . . ‘Greenbriar Elementary’. . .located in . . .huh, Greenbriar, Maryland. That’s original. . . ‘thirteen children held at gunpoint’. . . here we go, ‘FBI hostage negotiator Jarod Harper arrived on the scene eight hours ago’. . . ‘has attempted to open a dialogue with the perpetrator’. . . ‘progress slow and situation expected to drag on.’ . . .Oh, this is sweet. It’s a five hour drive but only a thirty minute jet ride. This is all we need, Syd. Get the jet fired up.”
Sydney knew it was pointless to try to stop her once Miss Parker got a scent like this. Nevertheless, he had to try. As she closed the browser window, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. Holding her eyes with his own, he said quietly “It’s a hostage situation, Miss Parker. You know how volatile those are. He’s just trying to save children’s lives.”
Parker snatched her wrist back. Not breaking Sydney’s gaze, she said in her coldest tone “I’ll give him a medal once he’s back on SL-22.”
Sydney opened his mouth to make one more futile plea, but was interrupted by a blue-eyed man who leaned around the doorway and knocked on the wall with a four-fingered hand. “Now, now kids,” Lyle said with his trademark twisted smile, “Play nice.”
Parker gave an exasperated sigh. “What do you want, Lyle?” she snapped at her brother.
“Aw, sis,” Lyle put on his most wounded expression, “Is that any way to treat family?”
Parker took a sip of coffee and made a very rude noise. Sydney was sure that had she had a cigarette, she would have blown smoke in his face.
Lyle’s expression hardened. “Let me rephrase that,” he said, “Is that any way to treat a fellow member of the Jarod pursuit?”
Parker gave a growl of irritation and leaned forward to massage her temples. “I repeat myself: what do you want?”
Lyle flashed that charming smile again, but his voice was as cold as hers. “To do my job. Now, I understand you have a promising lead.”
“Yeah. In Maryland. We’ll send you a postcard. Come on Sydney. Broots.”
“Not so fast.” Lyle said sharply. Parker froze, and Sydney could swear he saw her hand twitch in the direction of her Smith and Wesson. Lyle stepped close to his sister, still wearing that infuriating smile, “Now what kind of brother would I be if I let my poor defenseless sister walk into a hostage situation all alone in. . .Greenbriar? I really couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t come and bring, oh, three extra sweeper teams, don’t you think?”
Parker hissed in fury, but everyone present realized that she was boxed in now. “The jet leaves in twenty minutes, Lyle. We won’t wait.”
Jarod ran a hand tiredly through his hair. It was two in the morning and he hadn’t slept the night before. He fought back the beginnings of a migraine. Until the children held hostage in Greenbriar Elementary were safe, sleep wasn’t going to be an option. He took another step closer to the front entrance of the school, clutching the papers that could save them all in a sweaty hand. He took one last second to reassure himself that the straps of his bullet proof vest were secure, then slipped into the mind of Jarod Harper, fearless FBI hostage negotiator.
“Mr. Lopez?” he called out, knowing his target could hear him, “Carlo?” The only response was a little girl’s stifled scream. Jarod froze, but no gunshots rang out. Faintly, through the door he could hear the sound of two people’s ragged breathing. Drawing a steadying breath himself, Jarod continued. “Carlo, you need to let the last hostage go. This has gone on long enough, and her family misses her. You haven’t hurt anyone Carlo. Just let her go and everything will be alright.”
There was no response, but Jarod hadn’t expected one. He continued, “Carlo, I have Lucia’s birth certificate in my hands. I know that your daughter is a citizen. I know how your parole officer was blackmailing you, and how when you refused to do his dirty work he had Lucia shipped to INS. Carlo, your daughter’s deportation has been cancelled. I have the papers in front of me right now. Whitman has been arrested, and Lucia is being sent back to her foster family.” Jarod paused, “Carlo, Lucia is going home. It’s time for Amber to go home too.”
There was a long pause, then Jarod heard a distinctly male sob from the other side of the door. The door opened a crack, and a hysterical eight-year-old girl stumbled out, red hair plastered to her sweaty, tear-stained face. She flung herself at Jarod with a sob, and he scooped her up, turning quickly to place his body between the little girl and the still dangerous Carlo Lopez. With one last look at where the desperate immigrant was hiding, Jarod made a quick about-face and trotted back to where the ambulances were waiting, little Amber still sobbing into his shoulder.
Only when the little girl had been handed back to her equally hysterical parents did Jarod turn back towards the darkened school. The shaky spotlight from a hovering helicopter revealed a weeping Carlo Lopez dropping his semi-automatic and surrendering to the SWAT team that quickly surrounded him. Jarod grimaced. Between his previous parole violations, numerous gun violations, and the hostage-taking, Carlo was in for some more hard time, but at least the children were safe. Jarod could walk away knowing that he’d saved fourteen young lives.
The sudden flash of a camera and the voice of a local TV correspondent reminded Jarod that he’d stayed in this little town for far too long. As reporters surrounded Amber’s parents and the paramedic who was checking the little girl’s vitals, Jarod made his escape, trotting along the inside of the yellow tape, past what seemed like half the population of Greenbriar, to round the corner of the darkened school building and disappear.
Main Street of the town of Greenbriar was brightly lit, but as it was two in the morning and most of the inhabitants were elsewhere, it was also deserted. A man in the navy jacket of the FBI strolled casually down the street. When he reached a certain trash can he stopped and fished a black plastic bag out of it. The man pulled a duffel bag out of the trash bag and proceeded to strip off the navy windbreaker and the black bullet-proof vest underneath. Stuffing the discarded items in the trash can, he donned a black leather jacket from the bag, slung the duffel over his shoulder, and continued down the street, whistling tunelessly.
When he reached a darkened spot adjacent to an alleyway, he paused, giving the empty curb next to him a puzzled look. At that moment, two burly men in dark suits seized him by both arms and jerked him into the alley before he realized what was happening.
The sweepers shoved him face first against the brick wall and tried to force him to his knees, but Jarod was in no mood to be subdued. With a vicious twist he freed himself from the sweepers—only to come face to face with four more and a nine-fingered man with eyes like chips of ice. With a desperate yell, Jarod launched himself at the shortest sweeper and knocked him over like a ten pin. He stumbled towards the entrance to the alley, but tripped over the fallen thug, feeling many hands grab him as he fell. Forcing himself back to his feet, Jarod slipped his arms out of the jacket and ran, leaving two sweepers clutching an empty leather jacket.
Jarod had almost made it to the street when two new figures appeared at the entrance. The woman had obviously been running; her hair was wild and her coat was askew. The man in the three-piece suit never hesitated. Lunging towards Jarod, Sam tackled the other man in one swift motion.
Quick as a flash, the other six sweepers encircled their prey and began beating and kicking the fallen man. Jarod curled up defensively, but Sam had knocked the breath out of him, and he was helpless against their assault. The biggest sweeper had found a metal pipe and was raising it for the strike when a cold feminine voice ringing with authority called out, “Stop.”
The sweepers had heard this tone before, but never from her. Reluctantly, they retreated to form a small circle of ruthless muscle with Jarod in the middle. In obvious pain, the pretender forced himself to his knees and lifted his bloody head to stare blearily towards the new arrival. Ignoring the fair-haired, nine-fingered man who tried to waylay her, the woman marched up to the defeated figure in the center of the circle. The sweepers parted for her, then closed ranks behind her. For a long moment, the woman stood there, looking down at the man, but not meeting his eyes. Then, she opened a black handbag and drew out a needle and a small bottle. After filling the syringe, she crouched before the man, still not meeting his eyes, and lifted his arm.
Here, the man gave his first signs of resistance. His face set, and he tried to jerk his clenched fist out of her hold. At this instant, her eyes snapped up to meet his. For long moments, their eyes locked, the brown ones full of fight, the blue ones endowed with an inexorable will. His teeth clenched, and she lifted one perfectly arched eyebrow. Then, something in him seemed to crack. His face fell as despair set in. His hand relaxed, and he allowed Miss Parker to roll up his sleeve and slide the needle into his forearm.
As the sedative took hold, his body slumped, and he was barely aware of her hands on his shoulders, lowering him to the pavement. As he drifted towards unconsciousness, his eyes fixed on the alley entrance, staring longingly at the freedom that had been so close. He faintly registered the appearance of two men at a run. Broots’s expression was puzzled and scared. Sydney’s was horrified. Wondering vaguely what could frighten them so much, Jarod drifted off to sleep.