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A familiar alarm, her phone, in the ungodly hours of the morning interrupted the silence of Miss Parker's bedroom. Reluctantly, she reached over to grab it, moving her body as little as possible.

"What?" she demanded tiredly, still half asleep.

"I think you should come to the Centre."

"What is it, Sidney?" she asked, her ears catching the sound of his voice.

"Just get here as soon as possible," he hung up.

Miss Parker sat up abruptly, now wide-awake. What could cause such uncharacteristic actions in Sidney? She jumped out of bed and got ready to leave in record time. She was at the Centre within the hour.

On her way in, because of the early hour, she had not passed many people, but those she did come across seemed to treat her like a virus. Once they saw her, they changed their course in the opposite direction. This heightened the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach and fed her anger at Sidney for not giving her any explanations.

"What the hell is going on?" she stormed into Sidney's office to find him and Broots standing by his desk talking solemnly.

"Ah, I think I'll go look for some coffee," Broots nervously stammered and bee-lined for the door. He had to pass Miss Parker on the way.

Before he could get past her, she placed an open hand on his chest and pushed him into the couch along the wall in Sidney's office, forcing him to sit.

"No one's going anywhere until I know what is going on. She glared at Sidney waiting for an answer.

"Have a seat, Miss Parker," Sidney said softly.

"Damn it, Sidney, spit it out!" She was tired of playing games.

"It's your father, Miss Parker," Sidney relented. "He's dead."

Miss Parker's head reared back at the blow of such news and her mouth slightly dropped open.

"He, what?" she hoarsely whispered as she sank to the couch, next to Broots.

Broots slightly moved away from Miss Parker to give her room and looked up at Sidney.

Sidney sat down on the other side of Miss Parker and took her hand, sportingly.

"I can't... I just.... How?" She looked to Sidney for the answers.

"He was found in his office, a shot to the head. They say it was suicide."

"Bullshit, it was suicide!" Miss Parker pulled her hand angrily away and jumped off the couch. "I want to see him."

"They took him to the morgue."

"And I bet they've cleaned his office already too?" It was not so much a question. She took their silence as confirmation. "Damn them! I will find out who's responsible," she pledged as she left the room. Broots and Sidney followed her all the way down to the morgue, keeping their distance.

"This place gives me the creeps," Broots quietly confessed to Sidney as they followed Miss Parker to the lone gurney in the middle of the cold, gray, concrete and stainless steal room. Her companions stood to the side, but she approached the gurney.

She stared at the white sheet that had sunken in gaps to outline her father's body. She had to see him for herself, to believe and make it real, but the last thing she wanted to do was look under that sheet and acknowledge the fact that he was dead. Gone forever, like so many other people in her life.

Slowly, she reached out and gently grabbed the edges of the sheet, pulling it back just enough to reveal her father's head. She gasped and fought back the urge to jump back.

"Oh, God," she whispered and a solitary tear ran down her face. She looked on for a moment more, then placed the sheet back, wiped her tear and turned away. Facing Sidney and Broots, she raised her eyebrows.

"Well? We've got work to do boys. Get moving." She ordered them out and followed them back to their offices. "Any word on Jarod, Broots?"

"I just finished going through his things from the last Pretend. There's nothing there." Broots decided it best to play along with the complete change in Miss Parker's mood.

"Then we wait. In the mean time, I want you to search for any abnormal dealings, something to do with my father, probably within the past five days." Her eyes bore into him, swearing him to secrecy. "And keep it discrete."

Broots nodded his head and walked off.

Miss Parker turned to Sidney. They studied each other for a moment in silence. Then Sidney asked, "Are you ok, Miss Parker?"

"Wonderful," she replied with acid in her voice. Without another word, she retreated to her office.


Jarod was doing his research for his next pretend when he received an email from inside the Centre. Reading it, his heart was filled with relief and dread at the same time. Mr. Parker was dead, an active member in the force behind his chase, but also his once good friend's father. Jarod wondered how she was taking it. He grabbed his phone and auto-dialed a number.


"How's Miss Parker?"

"She's handling it in her own way." Sidney was used to Jarod knowing the current happenings at the Centre.

"Holed up in her office, then?"


"Has she talked with you?"

"No, not yet. She needs to let it sink in first."

"What happened?"

"Officially it's a suicide. Parker thinks otherwise."

"And you?"


"Uh, Miss Parker?"

"What is it, Broots?" Miss Parker asked with annoyance. She had been trying to get herself focused for the past three hours.

"I've got some, uh, well, nothing turned up in my search."

"That's impossible. There has to be something."

"I did an extensive search. Apparently they were very careful with this one. As far as I can tell, there's no paperwork."

"My father did not commit suicide."

"I wasn't suggesting that," Broots defended himself.

Miss Parker's phone rang.


"You're not going to find anything."

"Who says I'm looking?"

"They know you found out about Thomas. They're not going to make that mistake again."

"You know everything, don't you, Jarod?"

"How many lives does the Centre have to claim before you open your eyes?" Jarod was fighting an old battle.

"I'm not going to stop chasing you."

Jarod sighed. "No, I don't" he answered and hung up.

Just as Miss Parker hung up her phone, it rang before it even left her hand.

"What!?" she barked. When no one answered, she became more annoyed. "Who is this?" It couldn't possibly be Jarod. The call was too immediate after he hung up. She heard a click and the line went dead.

Miss Parker slammed the phone down. She didn't want to deal with this. She looked up to find Broots staring at her.

"You still here?"

"Ah, no."

"Good. Go find Jarod."

Broots scampered out of her office.

Miss Parker's phone rang again and she answered in the same manner.


"May I speak to Ms. Parker, please?"

"Speaking," she answered impatiently. "Who is this?"


"Molly who?" Miss Parker pushed, ready to punch someone.

"I, uh, I work for Joanna Turrow."

"Joanna?" Miss Parker repeated. She hadn't heard the name in years.

"Yes, you two went to school together?"

"Right. Joey! How is she?"

"Well, she's dead."

Miss Parker sat in her seat.


"Yeah. She passed away a couple of days ago. She had planned on calling you herself, but her death... it came so suddenly...." Molly broke off, overpowered by emotion.

"I'm sorry," Miss Parker could feel her own emotions threatening to expose themselves. "How did she die?"


"Was it painful?"


Both parties sat in silence for a moment.

"Is there something you need help with?"

"Actually, that's why I'm calling. You may not remember, but you and Joanna both signed papers...."

Miss Parker remembered. Now she feared what was coming next.

"Well, I don't know if you knew this, but Joanna has a son."

Miss Parker's heart fell and she rested her forehead on her hand and she shook her head.

"Where's the boy's father?"

"He died in a car accident three years ago."

"No family?"

"I wouldn't be calling you if there were," Molly answered, a bit upset.

"How old is the boy?"


"She never told me."

"She said she tried, but you were impossible to reach."

"Where are you? Who's taking care of the boy now?"

"We're in southern California. He's with social services. They wouldn't let me take care of him."

"Why are you calling me?"

"Joanna asked me to. Ms. Parker, you promised to take care of her children should death occur. You are Andrew's sole caretaker."

"What did you say you did for Joanna?" Miss Parker was suspicious.

"I help take care of Andrew."

"You're his nanny?"

"Sort of. Social services will be calling you. I just wanted to warn you. Joanna said you hate surprises. She made me promise," Molly's voice cracked.

"How old are you, Molly?"


"Answer my question."


"Are you out of school?"

"Yes, why?"

"If I'm going to pick up Andrew, you're coming with."

"Thank you, Ms. Parker."

"Miss Parker. I'll be there in about six hours."

"Let me give you the address."


Miss Parker was tired when she finally found the social services building she was looking for. Now she stood at the front desk waiting for the caseworker. She looked up when a man entered.

"Hello, Miss Parker," he stuck out his hand towards her. "My name is John. I'm in charge of Andrew's case."

Miss Parker took his hand briefly to keep her appearance on the positive side.

"Have you brought the papers we require?"

"Yes, it's right here," she handed all her information to him.

"Let's go to my office, then," he opened the door by the counter and led her through a maze of desks to his office.

Offering her a chair, he sat in his behind his desk and started looking through her papers. After a few long minutes, he looked up and smiled.

"Well, I'd say everything's in order. I just have some papers for you to sign, then we're all set."

"Where's Andrew?" Miss Parker asked, receiving the papers she was to sign.

"He's with a foster family right now. We can pick him up tomorrow. I understand you've decided to let Molly go with you?"

Miss Parker nodded her head as she signed the papers. She wasn't crazy about leaving a paper trail of this whole transaction, but there was nothing she could do about it now.

"It's probably for the best," John was saying and it took a moment for Miss Parker to refocus her thoughts. She was wondering what her father would have thought had he known what she was doing. She realized he was referring to Molly. "The kid was hard to separate from her."

Miss Parker nodded and handed the papers back.

"Ok," John looked through them, then stood up and offered his hand again. She took it.

"We can meet here tomorrow at 9am. Andrew will be ready to pick up at the foster home."


Andrew could not help his excitement about the plane ride to Delaware. To Miss Parker's amazement, he had never been on a plane before. Miss Parker and Molly were rather quiet on the way. Miss Parker made a call to Blue Cove.

"Have you burned the house down yet?" she asked Sidney.

"Glad to hear from you, Miss Parker. Interesting enough, we are able to function properly without you."

"I have no doubts about you, Sid. It's Broots that worries me."

"I'm sure he'll be more than happy you said that!" Sidney teased.

"Oh no you don't," Miss Parker was alarmed. "Don't you DARE say anything to him."

"Did everything go well?"

"Like clockwork. I'll be back in the office later today."

"No rush, Miss Parker," and they disconnected the call.

It was not long before Miss Parker found herself grinding her teeth. The passenger in front of her was practically in her lap and her back was already aching. She didn't want the Centre to know where she was going, so she couldn't take one of their jets and since the flight was last minute, the only seats that were left were in economy class. She would have thought that to be the first to fill up, but apparently she was wrong.

"I am never flying commercial again," she vowed to herself.

"It's not so bad," Molly had heard.

"You've never flown in a corporate jet."


Miss Parker lead them into her house and quickly told them the rules and showed them where everything was. She gave her old room to Andrew and the guestroom to Molly. The rooms were relatively close to each other. Then she led them to the kitchen.

"I have to go to work," Miss Parker started to explain.

"Where do you work?" Molly cut in.

"On the edge of town."

"What do you do?"

"I do many things, now listen to me. I've ordered some pizza for your dinner. It should be here in ten minutes. I'm going to get ready for work. If they come before I'm out here, knock on my door. No matter what you do, do NOT answer the door. I don't want you to ever answer the door or phone, OK?"

"What if you need to call us?" Molly wondered.

"We'll work out a code or something."

"What if we need to call you? Can I have your work number?"

"We're not allowed to receive private calls at work. I'll give you my cell number. You know what to do now?"

Molly nodded her head.

"Good." Miss Parker retreated to her room to get ready. She was out in seven minutes, just as the pizza arrived. She paid for it and carried it to the kitchen, Molly and Andrew following.

"Ok, I'll try not to be late, but if I am, just turn out all the lights before you go to bed."

"You're not eating?" Molly asked?

Miss Parker looked at the pizza as if it were a dead rat.

"No, I'm leaving," she replied and left.

"She's bossy," Andrew said after downing a couple of slices.

"Andrew," Molly scolded.

"Well? She is! She has more rules than I can count."

"Well, she's probably just not used to sharing a house. I think we all have a lot to get used to."

"She's still bossy," Andrew declared while shoving his fifth piece in his mouth.

"You're just trying to keep me talking while you eat all the pizza!"

Andrew giggled and Molly attacked him, tickling him all over.

"Stop!" Andrew laughed and Molly backed off.

"Well, you can't eat all the pizza."

Later, after Molly gave Andrew a bath, watched him brush his teeth, and wash his hands, she read him a bedtime story and tucked him in.

"Good night, sweetie," she kissed him on the forehead. "Sweet dreams."

"Molly? When's my mom coming?"

Molly's heart broke and she pushed back the tears as she sat at his side and tried to think of the best answer.

"She's not, honey. Your mom's gone to heaven, remember?"

"When can we go visit her?"

"Not for a long time, sweetie. Not until we die."

"Can I die tonight?" Andrew asked, not understanding.

Molly could not hold her tears anymore.

"No, you can't die tonight. Who will I have left if you do?"

"You could die to," he suggested.

"It's not our time to go, Andrew."

"Why did my mom die?"

"Well, she was unhealthy. She was sick."

"I've been sick before and I didn't die."

"Right, but there are different kinds of sick. Your mom's was a very bad sick."



Andrew nodded his head.

"Good night."


"How's the boy?" Sidney asked as soon as he got a chance.

"I don't think he fully understands."

Sidney was the only one who knew she was in charge of the boy. She had to tell someone and knew Sidney could help her with things she didn't know about.

"It's going to take awhile."

"Yeah. I just don't know how long I can keep the Centre away."

"Maybe you should think about leaving, Miss Parker."

"And do what, Sid? Sleep on the beach? Hike in the mountains? Go sailing?"

Sidney shrugged his shoulders. He tried to imagine Miss Parker doing any of the things she suggested.

"That's what I thought."

"You have to look out for the boy's best interest. You need to think of the boy first now."

"I'm not the domestic type. I don't have to tell you that."

"You can learn."

"I don't want to. I didn't ask for this."

"Neither did that boy," Sidney concluded. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine."

"Are you ready to bury your father?"

"Is the plot ready?"

"They've had it ready since yesterday."

"They don't waste any time, do they?"

"I'll go get Broots. He and Debbie want to be there."

Miss Parker nodded her head.

The small group that was gathered at the grave site was the most pathetic thing Miss Parker ever saw. There was Broots, Sidney, Debbie, and a couple of sweepers that were placing the casket on the lift to lower it into the hole. Miss Parker joined them without a word. She knew they were all here, except the sweepers, for her. Just as the sweepers were about to lower the casket, Lyle showed up.

"What a crowd!" he remarked, speaking into Miss Parker's ear.

Miss Parker cringed at his closeness and forced herself not to step away.

"You going to say anything?" Lyle wondered.

Miss Parker ignored him.

"What an ungrateful daughter," he tisked at her, then stepped to the head of the grave.

"Such a wonderful father," he commented, grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it in the hole. Then he turned to Miss Parker, winked, and walked away.

Miss Parker felt a hand on her shoulder and looked at Sidney. Then everyone in the small group grabbed a handful of dirt and dropped it in the hole. Debbie gave Miss Parker a hug and they walked from the Centre graveyard to the building.

"I'm going to take Debbie home," Broots informed Miss Parker. She nodded in response.

"You need anything?" Broots asked, wishing he could give her a hug, but not wanting to set her off.

"I'm fine Broots, thanks."

Broots and Debbie went off towards the parking lot and Sidney followed Miss Parker inside.


Miss Parker walked into her house and found a single, solitary light on, casting great shadows. There was a particular shadow sitting on the couch, the shadow of a person.

'Jarod,' Miss Parker thought, but wouldn't he have said some smart aleck thing by now? She removed her gun from its holster and pointed it at the form.

"Don't move, Jarod," Miss Parker warned.

"What?" a groggy voice asked and turned towards Miss Parker. "Oh my God!" the form jumped off the couch.

"Molly!" Miss Parker lowered her gun at the sound of Molly's voice.

"Miss Parker? Why are you pointing a gun at me?"

"I thought you were... an intruder. What are you doing up?"

"I was waiting for you! You carry a gun?" She was shocked, thinking of the child in the next room.

"It's part of my job."

"What on earth do you do? Are you a secret agent or something?" Molly began to calm down.

"Or something," Miss Parker moved past Molly towards her room.

"Miss Parker?" Molly was quite confused.

"Goodnight, Molly." Miss Parker disappeared into her room.

Molly stood and wondered what it was Miss Parker felt she couldn't tell her. What was so bad about her job that she wouldn't even leave her work number in case they needed to reach her? Molly could not help but worry about Miss Parker. But it was late, so Molly took her worries to bed with her.


Miss Parker woke to the sound of the TV and clanging in the kitchen. Her mind began to race at the possibilities of who it could be, only to remember she didn't live alone anymore. She slipped into her robe and went out to the kitchen. On her way she passed Andrew who was watching cartoons. She could not help but smile at the intense look on his face. She knew a cannon could go off in her own living room and he would not hear it. She reached over and messed his hair, then continued to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Miss Parker," Molly greeted her with caution in her voice.

"I'm not going to pull my gun on you, Molly."

"I know..." Molly was only weary of the mood she might be in after last night.

"And you can stop worrying about Andrew. I always have my gun with me."

"And when you're sleeping?" She was trying to tread lightly.

"It stays under my pillow. Only one person had removed it without my knowing."

"How many have tried?"

"Molly," Miss Parker warned. It was hard enough to admit that one person. She didn't need an inquisition from an 18-year-old.

"The last thing I want is to find Andrew with a hole in his body where there shouldn't be one."

"Then you can put your worries to rest." Miss Parker took the coffee she served and sat at the table.

"Do you want something to eat?" Molly asked while she put a bowl of cereal on the table.

"What is that?"

"It's for Andrew. I can make you some eggs or something."

"No, I have to get ready for work."

"Andrew, breakfast!" Molly called. "I can have it ready for before you go." Andrew popped into the kitchen and sat down.

Miss Parker was amazed he had heard Molly at all.

"I don't eat breakfast," Miss Parker watched as Andrew inhaled his food.

"Andrew, don't be rude. Say hello to Miss Parker."

"Hello," he mumbled between mouthfuls.

Miss Parker shook her head and got up to place her cup in the sink. She could feel Molly's eyes on her, but she ignored them. The girl wanted too many answers- ones that she could not give. Miss Parker had to decide what she was going to do. She left the kitchen to get ready for work.

"Andrew, you have to be more polite," Molly chastised. "Your mother taught you better manners than that."

"Manners didn't get my mom anywhere," Andrew accused with hate in his voice.

Miss Parker heard his answer before she closed the door to her room.

Molly sighed, sat in the chair next to Andrew and held her arms open towards him.

"Sometimes I forget you're five," she sadly looked at Andrew who froze for a moment, then dropped his spoon, pushed back his chair and ran into Molly's arms.

Molly held Andrew as he clung to her and his little body shook as he cried.

"I know it's hard, honey," Molly rocked him. "Your momma left a hole in your heart that will never fill up, but with time you will learn to cover it. The pain will get less, but it will always be there. But we need to move on, sweetie. You have a whole life ahead of you. You want to give your mom something to be proud of, don't you?"

Andrew nodded his head against Molly's chest.

"All right, then, let's start here. Miss Parker and your ma were very good friends. You know your mom wouldn't leave you with just anyone, right? She loves you more than that. You and I, Andrew, we're going to take care of Miss Parker like we took care of your mom."

"Is she sick too?" Andrew's small voice asked as he pulled back to look at Molly.

"No, honey. Not like your mom, but she's hurting and she needs our help. We're going to give it to her whether she asks for it or not, right?"

"Ok," Andrew resigned.

"Maybe you could give her a hug every now and then?"

Andrew nodded.

Molly wiped his cheeks dry and gave him a quick hug.

Andrew jumped out of her lap and went back to eating.

Miss Parker walked into the kitchen to pick up her keys from the counter.

"Ok, you two. I have to go to work now. I'll try to be home earlier than yesterday," Miss Parker looked at Molly, "maybe we can go out for dinner. We have a lot of things to discuss. I'll call before I come home or if something comes up. Remember, don't let anyone in the house, ok? No matter who they say they are."

Molly went to the refrigerator and retrieved a bag, handing it to Miss Parker.

"What's this?"

"I made you a lunch," Molly dared Miss Parker to decline. "You need to eat more."

Miss Parker wasn't about to get into another argument. She learned quickly how stubborn Molly was when it came to her beliefs, so she just nodded and left.


Inside, the Centre was buzzing as usual. Miss Parker watched the activity with unknowing eyes as she walked to her office. If one didn't know better, she knew they'd think nothing of this place. On the surface it served the functions of a normal corporation. And, perhaps, on some level it was just like a normal corporation, with its dark, dirty secrets. On some level, she wondered, how could one mud be dirtier than another? But she knew that when it came to dirt, the Centre had no limitations.

Before she reached her office, she ran into Broots.

"It's still too early," Miss Parker shook her head and silently moaned.

"Morning, Miss Parker! What's that?" he asked, pointing to the bag in her hand.

"Your lunch," she said, pushing the bag to his chest.

Broots grabbed the bag and opened it, looking in.

"All right! Bologna sandwich!" he cheered. "Thanks, Miss Parker!"

"Don't mention it," she said, feeling slightly ill.


"So, kiddo, what do you want to do today?" Molly asked Andrew as she entered the living room from the hallway. Andrew was standing behind the couch looking at pictures there.

"Do you think we will meet Miss Parker's mom? She looks like a really nice person."

Molly went over to where Andrew was and saw a picture of a woman that looked exactly like Miss Parker and a little girl. Molly, like Andrew, knew the woman was not Miss Parker, however alike they looked, and guessed that the woman was her mom and the little girl Miss Parker.

"I don't know, sweetie. Maybe you could ask her sometime. Hey, you want to go explore the woods out back?"

Andrew's face lit up and he eagerly nodded his head.

"Let's go, then."

Molly led him out to the back woods and they wandered around looking for animal tracks and hiding places. About half an hour in, they found a moderate clearing basking in the sun.

"Oh! This would be perfect for a picnic, don't you think Andrew?"

"Did someone say picnic?" a deep male voice asked from behind. Molly and Andrew spun around in surprise. Andrew immediately stood closer to Molly, almost hiding behind her. The man they saw was carrying a big basket with a folded red and white checkered blanket resting over the lid. He smiled brilliantly and friendly at them.

"I didn't mean to startle you," he apologized. "I'm a friend of Parker's," he explained. "My name's Jarod. I came by the house to introduce myself and saw you two walking in the woods. I thought we could have a picnic. If you're hungry, that is."

"Jarod?" Molly repeated, something nagging at her about the name. "How do we know you're who you say you are?"

"I don't know. I guess you'll just have to trust me."

Molly battled with herself whether or not to believe this seemingly harmless man. The last thing she wanted to teach Andrew was that it's ok to trust strangers.

"Here," Jarod said, reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a wallet. "Maybe this will help," he showed her his ID.

Molly's eyes were immediately attracted to the shiny silver badge. She relaxed and smiled. She had always had a soft spot for law enforcement.

"What kind of food do you have?" she asked.

"The works," Jarod's grin expanded as he walked towards them. "Shall we set up in the middle?"

"Sound good."

Molly followed Jarod with Andrew at her heels. They watched as Jarod unfolded the blanket and set the basket on top, opening the lid.

"Have a seat," he suggested to them.

Molly sat near the opposite end of Jarod and Andrew sat in her lap.

"You like peanut butter and jelly, Andrew?" Jarod asked.

"I don't like jelly," Andrew pouted.

"All right, then, I'll just scrape it off for you. How about you, Molly?"

"Miss Parker told you about us?"

"Miss Parker can't keep anything secret from me," Jarod said jokingly.

"Peanut butter and jelly sounds good."

Jarod handed them a plate with sandwiches after removing the jelly from some of them, then extracted a bunch of other items from the basket: chips, potato salad, macaroni salad, Twinkies, drinks, and lastly Pez.

Andrew stared hard and longingly at the Pez. Jarod noticed.

"You like Pez, Andrew? It's my absolute favorite. Next to ice cream, but I couldn't bring ice cream because it would have melted before we got to it. Maybe we can have some when we go back inside." Jarod held out one of his fully loaded Pez dispensers, which Andrew took eagerly, forgetting his shyness.

"Eat your sandwich first," Molly ordered.

"Miss Parker doesn't have any ice-cream," Andrew informed Jarod between bites of his sandwich. "I already looked."

Jarod laughed and nodded his head.

"Consider her freezer fully stocked," Jarod smiled.


Sidney was walking the hallways of the Centre when he heard shouts coming from Mr. Parker's office.

"What the hell are you doing?" Miss Parker demanded of Lyle.

"Moving in," he said cheerfully.

"Like hell you are! Leave my father's stuff alone."

"Look, if you have a problem with this, take it up with the Triumverant. Their orders."

All battles Miss Parker had been fighting were lost then and there with his words. The Tower had given her father's power to a psychopathic homicidal maniac. All hope was lost, as far as she could tell.


"Close your mouth, sis, or the flies will get in. I hope you're not too jealous, but we both knew this day would come."

"Yes, but time hasn't stopped, stones are still solid, and you sure as hell aren't sane," she hissed.

"Now, now, Miss Parker, no need to be insulting. Can't we all just get along?"

"Like I said before," Miss Parker grabbed some things from her father's desk and left.
She knew that any papers he might have had that would have been of any worth to her were most certainly already removed by the shadows of the Centre.

Outside the office she ran into Sidney.

"This place is going to hell," she warned.

Sidney was glad she was finally catching on. He followed her to her office.

"Can you believe that? Do they even know who Lyle is? Or what would be the better word there. I'm beginning to wonder if Lyle had anything to do with my father's death."

Broots burst excitedly into the office.

"Miss Parker! We have a lead on Jarod!"

"Where is he?"

"Idaho. Victor, over in finance, the one with the...."

"Broots! I already know all your friends are deformed! Get to the point!"

"I am! So you know the guy?"

Miss Parker moved to strangle him.

"Ok!" Broots jumped back. "Well, he had a friend who's a potato farmer in Sanita, Idaho. They've been having problems with kids getting deathly ill for reasons unknown. Victor's friend has actually talked to Jarod!"

"Get the jet ready," she ordered Broots. Turning to Sidney, she asked, "what's your spud up to now?"


When Miss Parker stepped inside the cabin of the jet, her mood was shot to hell when she found Lyle sitting in one of the seats, smiling smugly at her.

"Welcome aboard, Miss Parker. This is sure to be a fun ride."

"Shouldn't you be marking your territory?" she shot at him as she headed towards the seat farthest from him.

"There's plenty of time for that later. What better way to start my new position than with the prize of the Centre?"

Miss Parker ignored him the rest of the trip the best she could. There were a few times she had unconsciously reached for her gun.


The four of them clamored up the stairs to the porch that wrapped around the large farmhouse. Miss Parker pushed the doorbell, irritated by the heat.

"Can I help you?" a fat farm wife answered the door in a housedress partly shielded by an apron. She was wiping a white powder off her hands with a yellow dishcloth.

"Yes," Miss Parker cooed. "We're looking for Jarod."

"Oh, Jarod!" the woman's face lit up much to the obvious annoyance of Miss Parker. "Why, you just missed him by a day or so. Such a nice lad. He was so helpful, Earl and I were sad to see him go."

"Earl?" Miss Parker raised her eyebrows. She was in the country all right.

"Yes, my husband. He's out in the fields now. Gosh, it's hot outside, would you folks like to come in? I just made some lemonade. You all friends of Jarod's? You must send him our regards!" she opened the screen door and motioned for them to step in.

"Did Jarod stay here?"

"Yes, he stayed in one of our kids' rooms upstairs. Actually, I'm glad you've come, he's left some things," she started up the stairs and led them to a room.

Inside was a mad sea of brown with spots of bright red, light blue, and pink. Miss Parker shook her head and Lyle laughed at the sight of all the Mr. Potato Heads littered throughout the room.

"He was absolutely fascinated with Mr. Potato Head. Said he had never seen one before he saw the one on Bart's shelf. Jarod was such a child about the whole idea. But over here, he left a notebook and some of his clothes."

Miss Parker grabbed the notebook from the woman and flipped through it. Disappointed, she handed it to Sidney and turned to Lyle.

"Have your 'movers' box this stuff and load it in the car."

Miss Parker left the room and went to go wait in the air-conditioned car.

Before Lyle followed suit, he slapped Broots on the back and said, "Nice work!"

Broots took the blow and gulped, looking like he just swallowed a spoiled egg.

The woman watched the exchange, but didn't know what to make of it.

Sidney addressed the woman with a warm smile.

"I think that lemonade sounds delicious," he suggested.

The woman's face lit up and she led Sidney and Broots down the stairs to the kitchen. On the stairs, they met up with Lyle's sweepers.

"Aren't they dressed awfully nice to be movers?" the woman commented and moved on.

"Thanks so much for your hospitality, ma'am," Sidney said sweetly as he and Broots drank the wonderful lemonade.

"Oh, any friends of Jarod's are welcome in my house!"

Broots almost choked on the irony of that statement.


"How long have you known Miss Parker?" Molly asked as they sat in the kitchen eating ice cream.

"Since we were kids. We kind of grew up together."

"Wow, it must be nice to know someone that well," she exclaimed.

"On so many levels," Jarod replied slyly.

"Were your parents friends?"

"No, our parents didn't know each other. Hey, Andrew!" Jarod changed the subject, noticing Andrew was finishing his ice cream. "How about some cartoons?"

Molly tried not to burst out laughing at the excitement shared between Jarod and Andrew. She cleaned the bowls and joined the two in the living room. She knew by the look on both their faces that not much would tear their eyes from that screen. Molly sat down to enjoy the show with them.

A few hours later, the phone rang. Molly froze and wondered if she should answer it. It hadn't rung all day while they were there, so Molly decided it was probably Miss Parker and answered it.

"Parker's residence."

"What did I tell you about answering the phone?" Miss Parker snarled.

"Miss Parker?" From where she was, Molly didn't notice how Jarod's attention shifted.

"No, it's your Aunt Sally," she responded sarcastically.

"Are you coming home for dinner?" Molly was learning to ignore certain tones of Miss Parker's.

"I'll be home in about an hour, be ready to go out," Miss Parker replied shortly and hung up.

Molly turned from the phone and saw that the program was ending. Jarod stood up and held his hand out to Andrew who slapped it.

"I'll see you later, Andrew. It was nice meeting you."

"Yeah," Andrew replied.

"Thanks for the ice cream, Jarod," Molly smiled. "I know exactly who will benefit from it!"

"Must be a boy thing," Jarod returned the smile. "You two take care of Parker, OK?"

"Oh, we will," Molly followed Jarod to the door. "Thanks again!" She waved as he walked off into the night.


The Centre

Miss Parker gathered the files on her desk and placed them in a drawer. She thought back to when all her job entailed was sitting at a desk looking at files. She was upset with Sidney for requesting her help with capturing Jarod, but now, after being back in the field, she realized she missed the action. She had to admit, with Jarod, the chase was never mundane. Something new every time.

But things would be different now with her brother in charge. She knew Lyle was growing weary of the chase already, and he hadn't been a part of it half as long as she had. What would become of Jarod if Lyle decided enough was enough? One thing she knew she had to do was send a memo to the Triumverant pointing out the flaws in putting Lyle in charge. Perhaps she'd get lucky and they'd see it her way.

Miss Parker picked up her briefcase and keys, and was on her way out when Sidney walked in.

"How you holding up?" He questioned bluntly.

"Amazingly fine. Perhaps some would say I'm insane for not grieving about my father. I guess he taught me well."

"Early night, then?"

"Yes, I have some mouths to feed?"

"Hmm, and what's on the menu?"

"Depends on the restaurant."

Sidney smiled knowingly. He figured it wouldn't be her preparing the meal.

"Night, Sid," she walked past him out of her office.

Sidney stood for a moment, glancing around the room. Things were changing indeed.

To Be Continued...

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