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Story Notes:
Please note: this is not one of my best. So unless you're really bored may I suggest you try Fire! or End of the Pursuit, if you want something dark try Retribution and if you want a laugh read Writer's Block....


Disclaimer, "the Pretender" and its characters are protected trademark of MTM and NBC. This story is independent fan fiction and no infringement of copyright intended.

Disclaimer: The Pretender and its characters are protected copyright of NBC. This story is independent fan fiction and no infringements of copyright intended. The same pertains to James Bond, 007.

BTW, this also contains spoilers for those poor souls who haven't seen Season Three.




Masquerade
by Ra-Chell







Pulling herself up to her full height, Miss Parker took a deep breath then opened the glass doors to her father's office.

"Hi Daddy. You wanted to see me?" She walked to the other side of his desk and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

" Yes Angel, I do. I hope you don't have any plans for this weekend." It was more a statement than a question. It didn't matter if she had plans or not, Daddy's were going to take priority over her's.

"Nothing that can't be cancelled." She smiled.

"Good , Henry is having another one of those damn masquerade parties and I want you there. We have reason to believe that Jarod may show up." Mr. Parker had shifted his attention from his daughter to a report.

"Henry?" Miss Parker could feel herself suddenly collapsing within.

"Yes, Henry. Henry Funk. One of the Centre's clients. I'm sure you remember him." She stared at her father who hadn't taken his eyes off of the report he was reading.

'I remember Henry Funk alright. How could I forget him!' she thought. The memory did more than leave a bad taste in her mouth, it made her skin crawl. The first time she had seen Henry Funk was when she was thirteen, she was home from school and had stopped by daddy's office. The man with bright blues eyes and loud voice was sitting in Daddy's office. When Daddy had stepped out briefly, Henry had called her over to him to show her something. She remember how he had reached out touched her and how frightened she had been. Later when she had told her father, he told her she had imagined it, Henry wouldn't do a thing like that, and to forget it.

" Yes, I remember Henry Funk. But Daddy, Lyle can handle this, why should I go? I have alot of paper work and some promising leads on Jarod. I think that I would...."

"I want everyone there, Angel. Lyle, you .... your team, including Sydney and what is his name, never can remember it. Oh well, besides, I need you there just in case Jarod does decide to show up. We wouldn't want Henry to lose his property before we get paid now would we?" Mr. Parker smiled.

***

Wrapping her arms around her, she walked back to her office. A flood of unpleasant memories washed over her. Henry liked women, no matter how young or old they were. Any woman who came within reach was a target to be groped and fondled. She was grown the next time she had seen Henry and even though she stayed out of reach most of the time, he had still managed to pinch her backside and rub against her. The only thing stopping her from putting a bullet in the man's brain was her father. 'He's a client and we treat clients with respect. You will bend over backwards and do hand stands if he asks.' She had managed to limit her contact with him but had decided that should he ever 'request a certain favor', he would end up with a bullet between the eyes, no matter how important a client he was.

He was an odd man, had more money than good taste. He claimed his family had made their money in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma . She could never quite find out what his business was. Whatever it was, it wasn't legit. No client of the Centre was in a legitimate business. He loved James Bond and always insisted that the information he bought from the Centre be received in some 007 genre scenario . A situation that the Centre was not happy about.

'Jarod this is one time I'd like to see you succeed.' The thought had entered her mind just as she walked into the elevator. Her eyes settled on the bullet hole in the elevator and she slumped against the wall. 'Mom, I miss you so much right now.'

***

"Oh yes Mr. Broots, by all means have the entire month off, take six months, better yet, take a year with pay!" Broots was standing in front of Sydney imitating Miss Parker and playing with a marionette that had Miss Parker's face. She stood in the doorway and watched Broots walk the marionette around and imitate her while Sydney laughed as though thoroughly amused.

"Well, well, what's this?" She asked upon entering the room. Sydney laughed even harder for a moment and Broots stiffened and carefully placed the marionette on her desk without meeting her gaze. "Don't tell me, Wonderboy has sent another package."

"Uh, uh, yes Miss Parker. The marionette was attached to it." Broots still kept his eyes low peering up at her but still not meeting her eyes.

She walked over and stood in front of Broots. "Any idea what's in the box?"

"Uh, uh, no Miss Parker."

"Uh, uh, no Miss Parker," she repeated imitating him which only caused Sydney to chuckle again. She moved to her desk and began to open the large white box that lay there. "I hope neither one of you planned on having a life this weekend, we've got work to do."

"But I promised Debbie I'd take her..." Broots began.

"Well you'll just have to do it some other time now, won't you, Mr. Broots." She pulled back the thick white tissue to reveal a dress which she pulled out. The dress matched the one that was on the marionette, snow white with a red apron and red accents on the edges and the sleeves. It reminded her of the late eighteenth century gowns that she would see in those made for TV movies. The bodice was designed to be tight fitting giving it a corseted look. The skirt was full but only came down to calf level. The underskirt was red and designed to show every time one walked or turned in the dress.

"Wow, that's nice," said Broots.

"An interesting costume. Any idea what it pertains to Miss Parker?" asked Sydney.

Miss Parker sighed. "This thing this weekend is a masquerade party. Jarod must be crazy if he thinks I'm going to wear this. What the hell does he mean sending me this?" She put the dress down and picked up the marionette walking it around the edge of the desk.

"Isn't it obvious Miss Parker?" Sydney asked. "Jarod's simply pointing out how easy it is to pull your strings."

Her face shot up to look at him. She shoved the dress along with the marionette haphazardly back into the box and slammed down the lid. "Here Broots," she said and shoved the box toward him. "Give this to Debbie. I'm sure it'll be fun to play dress up with."

"Do we all have to go in costume?" Broots asked and picked up the box.

"It's a masquerade idiot, of course you do!"

"Cool. I want to go as a clown. You know the kind with the big red nose and the floopy shoes." Broots smiled broadly. Sydney only laughed and shook his head.

"Pick something else. Nobody on my team is a CLOWN!" Miss Parker snapped.

"Are you so sure about that Miss Parker?" They all turned toward the door to find Lyle standing there looking quite amused. "Why don't you let him go as whatever he wants. If he feels comfortable looking like a complete fool, then why don't you let him."

"Shall I pick out a costume for you, Bobby?" She smiled at Lyle before continuing, " You would look perfect as the devil, horns, pitch fork, .... it'd suit you just fine." The acid in her voice could have melted a hole in the floor.

"That's fine , Miss Parker. But I already have someone who has taken care of it." Lyle looked at her as if he wanted to choke her.

"Oh, let's see, ... now who could that be? Maybe Bridgette? The two of you could go as a pair, with horns. A nice detail."

***

Once in the safety of her home, she began to sort through the emotions she had kept in check at work. Thoughts of Henry Funk touching her filled her with anger, hate and disgust. The memory of her father choosing to believe such a leach over her only served to fuel the fire. The inability to fight back made her feel weak. She held the dance hall costume up to herself and surveyed it in the mirror. It was black, low cut with the sleeves barely catching her shoulders. The bodice came down snug fitting and then met a short draped skirt. There was a good sized bow on the back sewn close enough to the body and still leave room to conceal her gun. With black fishnets and a red feather boa to complete it, it reminded her of the one her mother had worn to a masquerade ball when she was small. She remembered how beautiful Mom had looked and how late that night she heard her parents fighting when they came home.

Kicking off her heels, she decided to forgo dinner, settling instead for a drink. She needed to look over the plans of Henry's house . From the plans she could tell that this place was an architectural mess. Someone had told her that he had designed it himself, which judging from the awkwardness of the plans it wasn't hard for her to believe. Many rooms were long and narrow and large parts of the house were left void of windows and natural lighting.

She turned her focus to the plan of the ballroom where the party and the exchange were taking place. It was a long oblong shaped room with a high ceiling that was separated from the rest of the house. The long elaborate staircase fanned down from the upstairs where there were six large bathrooms and a mezzanine. The mezzanine section of the ballroom was blocked off from the rest of the upper level. It was impossible to access the rest of the house without first going down several long corridors back to the main entrance. The ballroom was covered on the back and side with long windows and several sets of french doors that, according to the plans, looked over a large multi level garden and pool area with a deck that went over the edge of the man made lake.

His elaborate alarm system was completely inadequate and his group of security guards were pathetic. That left the Centre to come up with a defense plan against Jarod. That would be quite a coup! Trying to keep Jarod out once he made his mind up to get inside would be like trying to keep the waves on the shore from returning to the ocean. The thought of him brought a smile to her face.

"God. Jarod , this is one time I hope you show up and get away with the goods! I'd love to see the look on that bastard's face. Just this once, I might even consider helping you."

***

Her eyes were closed but she could feel the warmth of the sun, the gentle breeze and the solid earth beneath her. She was sitting between his legs, leaning back on his chest, his arms draped securely around her, his legs along side hers. She could feel the gentle rise and fall of his chest, his breath on the side of her face. Sitting there with him like this, she felt so at peace and secure. For once everything seemed so simple. There was nothing to fight about and this time he was in control.

'Do you trust me?' The question wasn't spoken, but was more like a thought as if they were communicating on a different level.

'Yes.' Came her unspoken reply as she lean her head back against him, titling her face towards the sun, her eyes still closed.

'Do you trust me completely? ' He asked her again, his head leaning in now against hers, she could feel his warm breath on her neck.

'Of course I trust you completely. Didn't I agree to commit suicide with you?' It seemed so strange, but she hadn't hesitated to do it when he had asked. She just accepted him at his word , did as he had asked her to.

A noise caught her attention, distracting her. She made an attempt to move and his arms tightened around her.

'Don't! Let it go, .... just let it go.' The thought was like a whisper.

'I can't . I have to answer it.' She could feel his grip tighten around her waist and she stretched out her right hand towards the noise. Her eyes were like lead, they refused to open.

'You said you trusted me. ' There was pain in his voice, but she continued to reach for the sound..

'I do trust you Jarod but I have to answer .' Her hand hit the source of the noise, the cold touch of metal sent a shiver through her body. Slowly her eyes opened and focused on the alarm clock. Hell, it was seven a.m. and she had to be at the Centre to discuss tonight's strategy in an hour.

The dream that haunted her as she dressed wasn't hard to figure out. She had made up her mind before going to bed that this time, for once she would let Jarod be in control. She would even help him. After all, wasn't that the message he had tried to send her in the dance lesson?

The dance lesson, it seemed so long ago. The bruises had long since healed. The only thing she had left to remind her of that evening were the two notes he had sent and the black dress. So much had happened since that night. She had tried to kill him, the bomb in SL 27, the return of Lyle. But the message of the dream was simple, helping Jarod and letting him be in control would be the same as committing suicide.

***

Driving to Henry Funk's estate was like driving to one's execution . She had opted to drive instead of Sam, her car bringing up the rear of the caravan of cleaners and sweepers. When she came into view of the mansion she couldn't believe her eyes. It was a miniature Taj Mahal but instead of the pool out front. there was a row of flag poles with multi colored flags The outside was decorated for the party with large neon palm trees that would light up in different colors. Henry's group of security guards, dressed as villains from different James Bond movies, had assembled out front and eyed the people from the Centre with animosity.

Once there, Bridgette took charge of the security guards, while Lyle's small army of sweepers followed him through the huge double doors and made their way throughout the large house to secure it as planned. Miss Parker along with Broots and Sydney were the last to enter. One look around revealed an expensive but gaudy and tasteless interior with thick blood red shag carpet. Staring at the large aquarium that covered part of one wall, she commented with an insincere smile, "Not even a master in feng shui could help this place."

"Fun, fun what?"

"Feng shui, pronounced fung shway Broots. It's a Chinese system of balance and energy. You should have it done to your house. Who knows, you just might be able to get a warm body for a date instead of a computer." She turned to look at a gold life size statue.

"Yeah, sure. It didn't seem to help you much." Broots began to grumble, " You have been chasing the same guy for three years now and still haven't..."

"haven't caught him?" Lyle cut in, " Well that's why I'm here. I hate to break up this interesting conversation but we're here for a purpose. We'll secure the house and then dress as we planned." Turning and addressing her he continued, " Do you mind Miss Parker or are you more interested in art?"

***

Broots dressed as a pirate and Sydney who looked quite dapper in a grey suit and hat waited at the foot of the stairs. Miss Parker came down the stairs wearing the short black dance hall dress, red feather boa, a rhinestone choker, black fishnets and her usual high heels.

"You look lovely, Miss Parker." Sydney smiled as he watched her put on her fingerless gloves.

"Wow, I'd love to bring Debbie here!" Lifting his eye patch to get a better look, Broots' eyes were huge as he looked around the large ballroom with a view of the lake.

"No! That's not something you would want to do, Broots." Her voice was sharp and angry. The thought of Debbie being exposed to Henry made her sick.

"Who .... who is this guy anyways and why would Jarod be interested in him? " Broots tried to change the subject. He began to move his pirate hat around trying to find a more comfortable place for it to rest.

She slapped his hand. "Leave it alone! You look fine."

"He's a client of the Centre, Mr. Broots. I believe he has been the recipient in the past of a few of Jarod's sims." Sydney answered in a detached manner, as Miss Parker straightened his false mustache and brushed the lint off of his grey hat and suit.

"He's someone with a lot of money and no taste who thinks he's James Bond, 007. He always takes receipt of his 'merchandise' as he likes to call it, in a way he thinks would be perfect for a Bond movie. When Daddy warned him about Jarod, he got excited. Telling him only made things worse. For once, I agree with Lyle, we shouldn't have told him anything. Dammit Syd, I told you this a masquerade not a vintage show!" She threw her hands down in disgust.

"But I am in costume," Sydney replied as he adjusted the silver label pin that held a carnation.

"Really? And just who the hell are you supposed to be?"

"Oh I know, I know! You're... you're John Steed from the 'Avengers'!" Broots blurted out excitedly, dropping his sword.

"No, I'm Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective. Don't either of you read Agatha Christie? Besides, I can use a cane as part of my costume. My eyesight isn't completely back to normal." He smiled while tapping Miss Parker on the shoulder with the cane.

"Keep it up Syd, and you won't need a cane, you'll need a wheel chair like Raines.

Bridgette was berating a sweeper dressed as a cowboy at the other end of the room. Her voice was loud and every word could be heard . Her leather outfit seemed to bring out the worst in her.

"Mr. Aguliar, what do you mean you don't understand procedure? Aren't you married?" Bridgette stood in front of the man as he slowly shook his head and answered that yes, he was married.

"Then there isn't a problem is there? You do understand procedure." Bridgette turned on her heel and walked towards Miss Parker.

"Well, well, looks like you are dressed for the occasion Bridgette. Where's your pimp?" Miss Parker stood with her hands on her hips, staring at the blonde dressed as a dominatrix. The skin tight all black body covering was a mix of both latex and leather making her look sleek, and waterproof.

"I'd say your costume fits you well too, Parker. You look just like a two bit slut from a cheap western ." The blonde answered as she pushed past Miss Parker. Before she could respond, someone from behind reach over her shoulder and tucked a folded dollar bill between her breasts. Jumping away from the offending party she turned to find Henry Funk leering at her. He was older but still the same.

"I would say you're worth more than two bits. You look just like your mother Miss Parker. I remember she even wore a costume like yours to my first party. You have the same cute ass." He winked as he walked past her. Removing the offending dollar, she covered her breasts with both of her hands. Her mother had been at Henry Funk's party that night! It hit her like a slap across the face. And because of Henry her parents had the fight. She could remember her mother screaming at her father something about 'letting that man do that'. Knowing the man, it wasn't too hard to guess what 'that' had been.

"Miss Parker ?" Broots' concern showed on his face even with his eye patch.

"Let's split up. You two stick together and I'll meet you back here later. The other guests are arriving and we don't want to stand out, do we?" Looking up at the top of the stairs, she could see Lyle dressed as a knight complete with chain mail and a tunic . He was smiling , enjoying every minute of the events that had just transpired.

***

Broots was standing in front of the buffet table, sampling the many trays of h'orderves and trying to impress a very drunk Marie Antoinette. After a few short strides Miss Parker had Broots by the arm and glared at him.

"Thought you were with me! " Broots dropped his tea sandwich on the floor.

"Ah, ah, ..... Miss Parker this here is Marie. We were just talking about what a nice party this was." Lowering his voice to a whisper, " And besides I'm hungry." His companion didn't seem to notice Miss Parker at all.

"Oh Brootsie baby, you're so funny. You have my number don't you?" Marie laughed as she stumbled first into a clown, a drag queen, and a flapper and then into the table knocking food off.

"Come on Brootsie baby or I'll punch your number." Miss Parker dragged him off to the other side of the room where Sydney was engaged in an animated conversation with Lady Godiva, a mermaid, a scantily clad wood nymph and a Vegas showgirl.

"Looks like your eyesight has returned just fine, Syd. Forget you had some place to go?" Pulling her two companions along with her to the foot of the stair case. Several young women dressed in colorful East Indian saries began to circulate among the guests, passing out elaborate golden eggs encrusted with fake jewels from the large baskets they carried..

"Cool, Debbie will love this. But I don't understand why we're getting these for party favors?" Broots was puzzled.

"They're not party favors." She looked at the heavily decorated egg in her hand and shook her head. "How thoroughly unoriginal. Haven't you ever seen that James Bond movie, 'Octopussy'? These are supposed to be like the Fabrage egg in that movie. Only tonight, this is going to be what is used to transfer the merchandise. Here, have mine Broots." She adjusted the tall red feathers in her hair. Turning she saw her father dressed as a circus ring master coming down the stair case.

"Daddy, you look great. " Smiling she kissed him on the check and straightened his collar for him. He stood back and looked at her.

"You're just a beautiful as your mother, Angel. Any sign of Jarod?"

"No, not yet. I see Henry is going ahead with his plans of transferring the 'merchandise' in the egg. Don't you think I should know who is passing the information, Daddy?" From the look on her face it was easy to tell that she felt as if she had been excluded from the plan this time.

"Of course, thought I had already told you. But your job is to find Jarod, not worry about the exchange. Lyle has everything under control, he'll pass the information when it's time." Mr. Parker waved at their host, leaving his daughter behind he strode across the room to join Henry.

***

Eleven o'clock, no Jarod, maybe it was a false alarm. The disappoint she felt surprised her. ' Well, Jarod, maybe I overestimated you.' she thought as she pushed past some of the guests dressed as Batman , Robin and the Catwoman. She felt someone touch her left arm.

" May I have this dance?" Her right hand closed over the hand that touched her arm. Turning she smiled at the man dressed as a knight.

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't ask me. What took you so long?" She let him lead her to the dance floor. "Jarod, what is this? Chain mail? Surely this is over reacting from our last dance isn't it?" He was dressed in a long chain mail shirt and metal covered pants with a colorful over tunic and a helmet with the visor drawn.

"Not with you, Miss Parker. You left quite a few reminders from our last dance. But I see you have learned to let someone else lead when you dance." He was holding her as far from him as possible which made her laugh.

"What's wrong.....chastity belt on too tight?" The comment went over his head and she smiled even bigger. "Come here, I won't hurt you. I promise." She pulled him close to her. From way he tensed, apparently it was closer than he liked. "So just what are you suppose to be? My knight in shining armor?"

"I see you didn't wear the costume I sent you." The tone of his voice was business like.

"I got the meaning of the costume. I'm not stupid. I also know why you're here. This place is crawling with sweepers, Jarod. Is it really that important to risk your freedom ?" Her tone changed, the smile gone.

"Do you know what the Centre is selling? Do you have any idea of what is on that chip?"

"Does it have anything to do with my mother's murder or with me?"

"No, it doesn't but.."

"Then I don't want to know. All I know is that I don't want Mr. Funk to get his 'merchandise' this time. I think I can help you. Together we could do it." It felt strange offering to help Jarod. He answered almost immediately.

"Why would you want Mr. Funk to lose his merchandise? I don't need your help, Miss Parker. I didn't plan on having company. " His face was determined and maintained it's hard appearance.

"Fine, do it yourself ! I'm sure you'll do just fine without me." She pushed him away and left the dance floor bumping shoulders with Julius Caesar.

Once outside she walked through the terraced garden down to an isolated part of the deck overlooking the lake. Pulling out her cigarettes, she lit one, inhaling deeply. Damn him, he was arrogant. So damn sure of himself. One day that would work to her advantage, but not tonight.

"I can help you quit. It isn't good for you especially with your ulcer." He was standing only a few feet away watching her.

"Sure and just what can you do to make me stop smoking?" She spit the words at him.

"I've had some success with hypnotherapy. " She looked at him like he was some disgusting creature.

"Sure Jarod. And I'd be up at three o'clock every morning crowing with the chickens. No way in hell I'd let you try that crap with me. Don't you have something to do? If I remember correctly, you're the one who doesn't need anyone's help." Turning away from him, she stared across the lake, watching the reflection of the full moon play on the water.

"I could use some help. " He was standing closer to her now, only one or two feet away.

"Offer withdrawn. A temporary lapse of judgement on my part. I forgot, I 'm the Centre in your eyes, not your co-conspirator." His rebuff of her offer hurt, she'd never considered that he would refuse her help.

" I was surprised by your offer Miss Parker. I could use your help ... if you still want to." His voice had softened but she couldn't bring herself to help him now. It would expose her, leave her in a weak spot with him and that was one thing she didn't want. Flicking her cigarette into the water, she turned to face him.

"I'll meet you half way. You stay out of my way and I won't stop you. I don't care if you steal it once the Centre has its money. " Taking a step towards him and lowering her voice, she continued, " I don't care if you take it out of Lyle's thumbless hand. And as far as everyone is concerned, I haven't seen you tonight. But get in my way Jarod and I will kill you."

" It's a deal then Parker. I'll stay out of your way. But, I think I know why you want Henry Funk to lose his merchandise." He turned towards the house where Henry, dressed in white Nehru jacket and wearing a turban, was seated on the upper terrace with a group of party goers. They could see him reach out and pinch a passing Pink Power Ranger on the backside. "Must be hard having to put up with someone like that. I doubt Daddy would like it if his little girl did something to a client. You must feel...."

"Shut up. If you want to keep breathing you'd better get the hell out of here now." Her hand was already reaching for her gun. He turned and was gone. Pulling another cigarette out, she debated on whether to light it or not. Try as hard as she could, the cigarettes were still her security blanket at times like this.

"It's a dangerous game you're playing, Miss Parker. Almost suicidal if you ask me."

"I didn't ask you Syd. How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to know what you're doing could have serious repercussions. To work together with Jarod against the Centre, why would you take such a chance?" Taking his arm she turned back towards the house.

"I have my reasons. Besides, how do you know it's not part of my plan to bring him back? I don't tell you everything. Come on, let's mingle."

***

It was almost midnight. From her place on the mezzanine Miss Parker looked down at the party goers. It was amazing to her how the guests seemed so oblivious to the fact that there were so many cowboys at this party. She wondered for a moment who had picked out that generic one size fits all costume for them and smiled at the thought of Bridgette truly having no taste or imagination. It was easy to pick out her father, Bridgette, Syd and Broots, but she hadn't seen either Jarod or Lyle for quite awhile. 'It figures that they would both come dressed as the same thing.' The only difference in their costumes was Lyle's over tunic had a more sinister crest on it than Jarod's. It suddenly dawned on her that she hadn't seen Henry in awhile either and began to scrutinize the crowd a little harder for his turban covered head.

As the gigantic clock that hung on the wall in the ballroom began to chime midnight Henry appeared at the center of a small stage.

"Oh gracious guests, I humbly thank you one and all for gracing me and my humble abode with the pleasure of your company this evening. I hope that you have all been enjoying yourselves. Please continue to take advantage of my house, the food, the wine,... myself! I would like now to present a dance that I hope entertains you all and if you have enjoyed nothing else this evening, may you enjoy this." With the end of his speech there was tremendous applause throughout the ballroom and he bowed as low as he could doing a TV version rip off of an arabic salute.

Miss Parker rolled her eyes and briefly wondered if he had hired all those people who just clapped or if a man like that actually had friends. Instead of directing her eyes toward the area surrounding the stage like everyone else was she instead followed Henry. The diversion was too obvious for her and now she waited, more curious to see how Jarod was going to pull this off than anything else. She saw Lyle and Henry start to walk toward each other in the middle of the crowd. They met toward the back edge and she could see them brush against each other briefly and then walk in opposite directions. She mentally thanked her father for not having had her do the exchange, she wouldn't have wanted to touch that man for anything. She noticed that Jarod had suddenly appeared in the middle of the crowd and was slowing making his way toward Henry. She noticed Henry kept adjusting his turban, as if he couldn't get it to sit right on his head. She smiled to herself .

From her vantage point Jarod was having a hard time reaching Henry who was at the back of the crowd. She had noticed that the drunk Marie Antoinette was toward the back of the crowd too. She hurried down the stairs and moved slowly through the crowd till she reached her.

"Hey," she whispered, "I have a message for you.

The drunk woman turned and looked hard at Miss Parker. "Huh? What message?"

"That man you were talking to earlier, Brootsie, well he's over by the french doors. He wanted me to tell you to meet him there. It'll be a secret rendezvous for you." Miss Parker could feel the expression on her face and tried hard to control the impulse to burst out laughing at the woman smiling broadly.

"Thanks. Well, gotta go....," the woman slurred and adjusted herself before starting toward the door. The woman began to push her way unsteadily through the crowd. She pushed a bit too hard at a group of people standing next to Henry and lost her balance. As she fell towards the group, the enormity of her eighteenth century hips caused them to shift suddenly toward Henry. The astronaut of the group fell down dragging his Xena companion with him. The Cleopatra stumbled over them and used a passing Henry to break her fall. As he stumbled under her weight his turban came off. And from inside the folds of the turban a decorated egg rolled out across the slick floor into the crowd watching the Indian dancers.

From her spot in the crowd Miss Parker could see Jarod's helmet suddenly disappear. Lyle who had turned just in time to see Henry fall was now pushing his way through the crowd, as were Bridgette and most of the sweepers. The all seemed to be looking down and Miss Parker bit her lip at the urge to laugh at their bobbing heads. By now all focus on the dancers was lost and everyone was staring at the floor. And then as she looked down she noticed that there were several of the party favor eggs rolling about under the crowd's feet. The guests seemed to think that this was another one of Henry's little tricks so they began to kick and chase them around the floor.

Miss Parker tried to locate Jarod but could only see Lyle headed full speed for the door leading to the veranda. Knowing who he was after she pushed her way through the crowd and followed him.

Jarod clutched the egg in his hand and sprinted down thru the multi -level garden and began to run toward the swimming pool. He heard footsteps other than his own close behind him. He turned slightly to see Lyle yelling into a headset. He tried to turn the corner that led to a gate he knew he could escape through but was running to fast and almost slipped. Instead he veered slightly to the left toward the lake pushing through a crowd of party goers

Jarod was cornered , no place left to go. He ran past the guests at the pool, heading towards the deck overlooking the lake, with Lyle, Miss Parker and a dozen sweepers hot on his heels.

"Stop Jarod or I'll shoot you and Kyle can't help you this time." Lyle yelled as he fired one round so close to Jarod it almost hit him.

"No Lyle, he's worth more alive." Miss Parker turned her gun on Lyle who turned towards her laughing.

"Excuse me, but don't we have our loyalties misplaced, Parker? Whose side are you on?" Several guests stopped to stare thinking it was one of Henry's staged scenarios. Jarod had stopped on the deck a few feet from the low railing and turned to face them with his hands raised. Lyle had his gun aimed at Jarod , her gun was aimed at Lyle. The sweepers with Bridgette in the lead had suddenly come to a halt like a confused herd of cattle several feet behind them .

"You're right. But old habits die hard." Turning her gun towards Jarod, she took two steps towards him. Suddenly a wave of fear and panic swept over his face as he opened his mouth to speak, dropping his helmet. She felt her finger pull back on the trigger. The noise was like distant thunder, her body felt the recoil of her gun without really registering it. As if in slow motion, Jarod's body jerked as each of the bullets found their mark. He stumbled back from the impact, dropping the egg. As the egg rolled slowly towards Lyle's feet, Jarod fell backwards crashing through the railing. The splash of the water brought her back to reality.

"That's great, just great Parker!" Lyle struggled to grasp the egg with his thumbless hand and looked at her.

"Don't fuck with me Lyle! This gun has at least one more round in it and I could just as easily put your name on it." She now turned her gun back to Lyle, anger clearly written on her face.

"Don't you think I know what you did ? But as long as we get the 'merchandise' back, I won't press the issue." Lyle started to cross the gap that separated them when she lowered her gun and fired a round next to his foot. He stopped dead in his tracks. "Damn you're beautiful when you're mad. " Smiling, he turned and pushed past the sweepers as Bridgette ran to the edge of the deck and bent over to look in the water.

"Get someone down there now. Find him!" Walking the short distance to where Bridgette was, she placed her foot on the blonde's back side and gave her a push. As she fell into the water, Miss Parker leaned over the broken rail and called out,

" You're right for once Bridgette. Someone does need to get down there and find him." The crowd parted making room for her to pass , allowing Broots and Sydney to catch up with her.

"What have you done, Miss Parker? How could you shoot him? Why? Why?" Sydney was beginning to lose control and rant at her.

"Sam, take Sydney and Mr. Broots home." Sam came towards them but Sydney pushed him away and continued to follow her. Broots just stood there in dis-belief.

"Why, Parker, why? I want an answer." His face reflected anger and hate for her, grief for Jarod.

"I had no choice, Sydney. He left me no choice. Sam take them home now, even if you have cuff them. But get them out of here. Now!" It took two sweepers to manage Sydney. Unable to face him, she wandered over to a lounge chair by the pool, collapsed into it and pulled out her security blanket ... her cigarettes. No one dared to come near her.

***

Exhausted, she pressed her hands against the white tile wall of the shower to steady herself. Closing her eyes she relived shooting Jarod. It was vivid, troubled and everything replayed in slow motion. The noise of the gun seemed distant and she could barely remember feeling it fire. Jarod's body jerked with each of the four shots as they tore into his chest. But most vivid of all was the look on his face. She knew he had yelled 'No!' just before she shot but could not remember hearing his last word. All the times she had used his picture at the target range, she never believed she would actually shoot him. She still couldn't. Raising her face up towards the shower, the warm water mixed with her tears.

How long she had stayed in the shower she didn't know but when she finally turned off the water it was ice cold and she was shivering. Wrapping a towel around her hair and slipping into her terry cloth bathrobe she laid down on the sofa and applied an ice pack to her eyes. It wouldn't do to let anyone know she had cried and she needed to be at the Centre in an hour to meet with Lyle and write her report on the previous night. She had only been given a three hour break. The ring of the phone disturbed her thoughts.

"What?"

"You shot me, Miss Parker."

"You're right I did and it felt damn good Jarod." The smile in her voice changed to concern. "Are you alright? "

"I'm fine but my chest is bruised, it looks like you danced on it. I always seem to end up with bruises when I'm around you. Why is that, Miss Parker?" He didn't sound angry.

"Face it Jarod, you wanted me to shoot you. Of course had Lyle shot you, I'm sure he would have aimed higher." Her smile back in her voice.

"How did you know I had a vest on?" The tone in his voice testing her.

"I've danced with you before. I know what your body feels like and I knew you had a vest on. I also know you. You wouldn't have gone there without a plan. Have you called Sydney?"

"He'll be back on speaking terms with you by Monday. But for someone who was so sure of herself, I noticed that you were quite relieved when they dragged my costume and vest out of the lake. "

"Just where the hell were you all that time?" Her voice changed as she sat up and removed the ice pack .

"I was around Miss Parker, that's all you need to know. I hope you don't take your father's advice to aim higher next time." His usual arrogant tone returned.

" I see you got the chip. We work well together don't we? " It slipped out before she could stop herself.

"Well, well, Miss Parker learned something after all from that dance lesson." He sounded so smug.

"Just because I helped you this time doesn't mean I will in the future. Besides Jarod, I already knew how to tango. I learned that my first year of college. And it wasn't this tame American style," Her voice became husky and sexy, taunting him just a little. " but the real thing ... the Argentine style."

"If you knew how, then why...." Suddenly she realized he really hadn't known about her tango lessons. All knowing Jarod had missed a detail and now it was her turn to taunt him.

"You're the genius, ... you figure it out." Her voice still low and sexy, she hung up on him.











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