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DISCLAIMER: All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of MTM and NBC Television. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
All original material is copyrighted: © Copyright 1998 by Elicia All Rights Reserved

Author's note: this series starts after season 3.

I wanted to thank my beta-readers as they have done a tremendous job. So thank you to Terri, Adri, Sarah and Ana. And of course a special and huge thanks to Laura Michaels who has more than helped me with it. I guess she knows now the story better than I do as she has beta-read it at least 5 times.



STORY 1



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Broots whistled as he entered his office. The weekend had been a real pleasure. He had spent it with Debbie and enjoyed running the raffle at her school's Open House Day. It had been a lot fun and this morning, as he headed back to the Centre, he felt totally depressed at the thought of being in front of his computer again, looking for a man he was certainly the last to wish back here.
He opened the door with his back trying not to spill his coffee, while holding a newspaper in his other hand. Painfully, he reached his desk and with a sigh of content, he set his mug on the table.

"Well, that was a real Odyssey," a soft voice said. "Happy you didn't burn yourself?"

Broots looked up and saw a woman seated on the other side of the room. She was blond, rather pretty with dark blue eyes. She was looking at him, full of confidence and she had a ravaging smile.

"Lost your tongue, Mr. Broots," she went on, standing up and coming over. "This is very disappointing. I was expecting at least something like 'Hello', if not 'Welcome'."

Broots felt his throat constrict. Man, she was really gorgeous and had the most devastating smile he had ever seen. This must be love at first sight, he thought. When she was just in front of him, he realized that she was shorter than he expected, about 5'6', but that was not important. Her whole figure was harmony to him.

"No, no...," he stammered. "I was just surprised to find somebody here. I'm usually the first one to show up."

"Oh I understand," she added. "So when exactly are you expecting the others to join you?"

"It depends. Usually Miss Parker is here around 8am, but on Mondays she arrives a bit later sometimes. You know week-ends..."

"Yes, I know... weekends," she raised her eyebrows to empathize this statement.

Suddenly Broots came back to reality. This woman certainly didn't come to see a guy like him. These kind of women never noticed men like him. She was here to see all three of them, and this was why she wanted to know when the others were supposed to arrive.

"But who are you and what are you doing here?" he wondered aloud.

"Curiosity killed the cat," she simply stated, still smiling. "Sometimes it is better not to know too much. Believe me. But don't be afraid, I am sure that we will get along well..."

Broots had his doubts. Nobody had told them that they would have a visitor this morning. Had Sydney or Miss Parker known about that, he was sure they would already have been here.

"You're here because of Jarod, aren't you?" he asked, feeling more and more nervous. "You're going to help us in the hunt to get him back to the Centre."

She simply looked at him, her smile widening, but she didn't answer. By the look in her eyes, Broots could tell he was right. She was here for Jarod and he knew what that meant; danger for them.
Every time they received help from another operative, it had meant trouble and looking at her, he knew that she meant big trouble.





Miss Parker was upset. She had to change her stockings twice this morning, finding a run each time. She had decided that today was a bad day, and she just hoped that nobody would have the stupid idea to play with her nerves. Well, no, to be honest she had to admit, she was looking forward it, she thought with a smile. That would help to ease her mood.

She entered Broots' office making her heels click as loudly as she could. She immediately saw him and Sydney sitting, their backs to the door as though they were talking or listening to someone. As she came in they turned and Sydney stood up, apparently happy, or even relieved, to see her. As she was about to ask what this all meant, she saw a blond woman, quietly seated, drinking tea.

"Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?" she hissed. "I doubt that you have the right to be here."

"Well, well, well, Miss Parker I guess, "she said, slowly shaking her head and putting her cup on the nearest table. "I have to admit that I am disappointed. I didn't think that you were lacking good manners. I thought that a person like yourself, who had attended the best boarding schools in the world, would know how to behave in front of strangers. If this is what they teach there, I am almost happy I didn't stay longer..."

"Who are you?" she said, insisting on each word, feeling uneasy by the attack.

"My name wouldn't mean a single thing to you. But as I know how to behave in society, let me introduce myself. My name is Marissa Beatrice Winthrope. Nice to meet you."

"And Miss Marissa Beatrice Winthrope, what are you doing in my section, if I may ask?"

"Oh yes, you may," she went on still smiling, knowing that Miss Parker's only wish was to wipe that smile off her face. "I am here to help you catch Red File number 2."

"Red File number 2?" she wondered. "You mean Jarod?"

"Yes, Jarod Russell, Red File number 2 or 12-072463-01. Call him whatever you want, I don't care."

Miss Parker was shocked and as she looked up at Sydney, she could see how much he disliked her way of speaking. Never had anybody called Jarod by identification numbers. Why was she doing that?

"You seem shocked that I call him that," Marissa finally said. "He is a fugitive and by the way, what do we know about his identity? He has always been called Jarod, but are you really so sure that this is his name? Do you know? But, maybe you are not the best person to ask...," she added, turning to Miss Parker.

"What does that mean?" Miss Parker asked, screwing up her eyes as a warning.

"Well, you are Red File number 7 or 01-081265-03 or Melody Parker."

Broots and Sydney were stunned. Melody. This was Miss Parker's first name and this woman knew it.

"Never, never say my first name again," she warned, ready to jump at Marissa's throat. Sydney grasped her right wrist as she seemed ready to slap the other woman. He looked at Parker and by the look in his eyes, she understood what he meant to tell her. 'Be careful, she could be dangerous.' She calmed herself and nodded to tell him that she had regained composure.

Marissa had watched the silent exchange between them, still smiling. She had said her name on purpose. She wanted to score immediately, to make them feel uncomfortable in front of her, make them doubt. And as far as she was able to judge, this was a success. Beyond her hopes.

"I am sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," she went on with a meek voice.

"If you think that I am stupid enough to believe this kind of crap, you're wrong," Miss Parker hissed, pointing at her. "I don't know what you are supposed to do here, but I am in charge of this chase and I don't care what you have been told. Jarod is mine and I won't let anybody come between us."

"Oh, I never doubted that he was yours," she replied. "I certainly won't spoil your pleasure and ruin the little game you two have been playing with each other for the last 3 years. That's not why I'm here..."

"And why are you here?" Sydney finally asked.

"I am here to help you, that's all. You have to see me as an ally. I am not your enemy and I am sorry if I did upset you. It wasn't my intention, I swear."

"I hope you're crossing your fingers, because with a lie like that, you will be damned for all eternity," Parker went on.

"I lost my soul a very long time ago. I have already been damned a thousand times, so don't be afraid; but I appreciate your concern." She suddenly looked at her wristwatch and shrieked out. "I am sorry to leave you but I have an important meeting at the Tower. It was a real pleasure to meet you. I will see you later. Before I forget, can you prepare all the latest information you have on RF2? I want to study it."

"Can't you call him Jarod?" Sydney asked, exasperated.

She had almost reached the door when the question hit her. Her hand already on the knob, she slowly turned to face him, her eternal smile on her lips.

"Jarod? Well, why not? I'll think about that..."

Miss Parker looked thoughtfully at the closing door and shook her head. She had no clue who this woman might be and what made her feel uncomfortable was Marissa's knowledge of her. Who was she? That was currently her main interest, even Jarod became secondary. She felt that Marissa was different from all the others who had come before. There was something dangerous about her, in her way of speaking and looking at you. She had a self-confidence that made Miss Parker uneasy and even envious. She was not faking. Every word, she had said, had been well thought out. She meant to hit you straight in the heart, to bring you down and Miss Parker hated to admit it, but Marissa had been very successful.

"Who the hell is she?" was all she was able to say as she moved toward Broots. "She is behaving as though the world belongs to her. Marissa Winthrope? I've never heard that name before. Broots, I want you to sneak into the Centre's files to get all the information you can on her."

"Me?" Broots asked, startled.

"Yes, you!" she replied with impatience. "If I were as good as you with computers, I would do it myself. We need to find out who this woman is." 'And how dangerous she is to us,' she thought.

"No problem, I'll do it immediately." Broots blushed with pleasure. That was the first time he got something close to a compliment from Miss Parker. Man, this day wasn't as bad as he had first thought.


* * * *



Jarod's lair
Buffalo, New York



Jarod was lying on his bed and thinking. He felt bad about the last information he got on his family. Well, family! Can one still call that a family? They had been his foster parents and apparently had been paid by the Centre to take care of him and Kyle. That did not answer all his questions, but that made him wonder who he really was. During the past 3 years, he had believed - wanted to believe - that he had been kidnapped from his family and brought to the Centre to be used and abused. But now it seemed that the Centre was his origin and he wondered how much of an experiment he was.

A shrill sound came from his laptop, meaning that he had just received an e-mail. He stood up and went to see who had sent it.

A note was flashing on the screen 'You have mail'. He clicked on it and could not prevent a cry of surprise as he read it.
"I know where you are, Jarod. There is a time for everything. A time to escape, a time to see the world and a time to come home. Your time has come. Your room is waiting for you. See you... soon."

There was no sender and after an inquiry, he had to admit that there was no way to find who had sent it. The only thing he was able to locate was the place the message came from: the Centre. Only Angelo and Sydney were able to contact him, but they would never have sent something like that... Was it Parker? He had his doubts but needed to check.


* * * *


The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Miss Parker's cell phone rang just as she was looking at Broots' progress in their search for information on Marissa.

"What?!" she hissed.

"What does this message mean?" an angry voice demanded.

"What message, Jarod? I really have other problems besides solving your little charades today," she impatiently responded.

"You didn't send me a message?" he wondered.

"To send you a message, I'd need to have your address and that, unfortunately, is not information I have in my files. Sorry to disappoint you, but for once you can't blame me."

He felt almost relieved that she hadn't done it. His first feeling had been right; it could not be her. But then who could have sent it?

"What did the message say?" she finally asked.

"It said 'I know where you are, Jarod. There is a time for everything. A time to escape, a time to live outside and a time to come home. Your time has come. Your room is waiting for you. See you... soon.' Rather strange isn't it? I wonder who sent it..."

"If this person hadn't used your name, I would have had an idea about that," she whispered thoughtfully.

"Who? I need to know. Is there someone new I should know about?"

Miss Parker looked at Sydney who had moved closer to her. She was wondering how much she could tell Jarod about Marissa. The operative certainly was a danger to him, but saying too much would also mean danger for herself.

"You need to tell him," Sydney told her, putting his hand on her shoulder.

"Yes I know," she slowly answered.

"What should I know?"

"This morning we had the 'pleasure' of gaining an addition to our team," she stated. "Her name is Marissa Beatrice Winthrope. We are currently trying to find out more about her. But Broots seems to be having a problem getting to her file. All we know is that she is working for the Centre. She is a very delicate and fragile little thing. But don't get me wrong, I am sure she knows how to use a gun. She told me that I should not worry about her losing her soul as she had already done so many years ago. She is currently supposed to be at a meeting at the Tower and knows wonderful details about the Red Files, like for example my first name... Oh, I forgot she has the sweet habit of calling you Red File number 2. "

Neither Sydney nor Broots could prevent a smile at her description of Marissa. The summary was perfect and gave an accurate picture of the person.

"Seems to be a very nice person," he mockingly said. "At least the kind to send this sort of mail... I will try to find out some information about her. If she is so well informed, it can really mean trouble. I can't believe she knew your first name... Do you think that she is a cleaner?"

"Well I would say that she seems to have the stuff for it. Being more cold-blooded would mean you are dead!"

"Okay, I'll make my inquiries and if I discover something about her I will let you know," he added. "Oh, Parker?"

"Yes?"

"Be careful," he whispered and hung up.

'I will. Be sure of that,' she thought.





Marissa wandered in the corridors of sublevel 25. This place had meant the world to her during her childhood and she had been impatient to see how it was now used. The meeting at the Tower had been an excuse. She had voluntarily left them together, knowing they would use this opportunity to sneak into her past.

She smiled at the thought. Her past! She had made sure that they would not find out more than she wanted them to. Walking again in those cold corridors made her wonder if so many years had really past by. SL25 was still in use and to her disappointment, she did not really recognize the place anymore. It had been their level, their little kingdom, their world for almost eight years. Then the big fire had destroyed SL27 and the decision had been made to separate them.

She watched two little girls playing chess on the floor. Further away, she could see a boy with one of the Centre's educators, as they called them. She was too far away to understand what they were talking about, but having herself experienced those conversations, she could easily guess.

Blue Cove had been a special place to her. It was the Sanctuary, the place where everything had started, the Genesis. She had felt mixed emotions before returning, but she knew that she was now at the point in her life where she needed to come back. The Tower, the massive buildings and moreover the hidden sub-levels gave this place a magnificence that could not be denied. It was like a Middle Ages fortress, not ready to be stormed.

Every scientist, every computer freak, every parent of a gifted child was dreaming to be allowed to enter it. Most of them did not know what was really happening behind its high walls. Even after joining, most would never discover the real power of the Centre. It had needed the escape of Jarod to make some of them aware of the real implications of their work here. Jarod. She smiled at the name. She wondered if he had received her little e-mail and most of all how he had reacted reading it.

Her wristwatch alarm stopped her train of thought and reminded her that she was supposed to meet Mr Parker. She hadn't seen him for ages and wondered if he would remember her. As she walked past the chessboard, she saw one of the little girls hesitate and turned back.

"Play the Queen in D5 and your friend will be checkmate in three moves. Chess is like life, dangerous for timid souls. One should never hesitate, only the weak do."

She headed to the elevator, smiling devilishly at the startled looks of the girls and the others present.





Some days were good and some were bad, and Miss Parker's first guess on what today would be, had unfortunately been right. Today was like Dante's journey into hell. At every circle you reach, you think you have seen the worst, to discover later, that it can get even worse. She had needed a break and sought refuge in her office for a couple of hours. She needed to go back to reality and face the enemy. Her only hope was that Broots had been able to find something out about Marissa.

Just a few steps before their operations room, her attention was attracted by a conversation in the upper gallery. What she saw almost cut her breath. Her father was there, joyfully talking to Marissa. Suddenly she saw him wave at somebody and had the unpleasant vision of her 'beloved brother' being introduced to Miss 'Eternal Smile'. She saw his appreciative look as he stared at her and that did not make Miss Parker feel any more comfortable. She turned her back to the scene, ready to forget it, when she heard her father call her.

"Angel! Can you please come up here?"

"But of course, Daddy." 'Will this trip in hell never stop?' she thought, but nevertheless she climbed up the stairs, ready to face them.

"Angel, I think that you have already met Marissa," he went on, smiling at them all. "To my greatest pleasure, she is coming back to the Centre after a long assignment abroad. She is one of our best operatives and she has agreed to help us catch Jarod. The long list of her past successes proves, if necessary, her value. And I am sure, that you and your brother will know how to use her great skills. Lyle, can you take care of Marissa today and show her the office that has been prepared for her; Marissa, I hope you will like it, it's very bright and big enough to make you feel at ease."

"Oh I am sure it is going to be perfect." She simpered. "I hope it is close to your daughter's and Lyle's. If we want to be a real team, we need to be close. You don't mind if I call you Lyle? I hope you are not as thin-skinned as your sister on this matter."

"Oh no!" he assured her with a broad smile, looking furtively at Miss Parker, then again turning his attention to Marissa. "On the contrary, you simply must call me Lyle. I would be very disappointed if you don't. I could not call you Marissa. It's a beautiful name you have there. Do you know its origin?"

"I think that it comes from the Latin word Mare. It means something like 'Of the Sea'. This is at least what my Latin teacher always said."

"Well, all I have to say is that it's a beautiful name for a beautiful person." He went on, charmingly.

They both laughed, soon joined by Mr. Parker, happy to see how well they were getting along. Miss Parker stared at the scene.

'One more word or smile, and I think that I will throw up,' she thought.

"Please excuse me, but I need to go back. Broots wanted to show me some information he gathered yesterday," she smiled, then turned her back to them, happy to leave.

"Of course. I will see you later then," she heard Marissa say. When she looked up, their eyes met and suddenly she felt a shudder down her spine. Miss Parker definitely didn't like this woman, the expression 'hate at first sight' came to mind. There was something about Marissa that made her wish she was a thousand miles away. And that was not like her. Not at all.


"What happened to you, Miss Parker? You seem so confused?" Sydney asked as he saw her enter the room. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Talk about it?" she almost shrieked out. "Certainly not! I want to banish this horrible sight from my mind and forget that this ever took place."

"What... what did you see?" Broots stammered, ready to hear what happened.

"A bond between devils!" she exclaimed. "My beloved brother has just met our sweet Miss Marissa, and this looks like a match made in hell. I don't want to see their offspring, they surely will have horns and hoofs."

At that statement, Sydney could not prevent himself from laughing out loud, soon joined by Miss Parker. Broots remained silent looking alternatively at them, wondering what was so funny about an alliance between Lyle and Marissa. That wasn't really something he was looking forward to.

"I am happy to see that you still have your sense of humor," Sydney finally said. "When did this happen?"

"Just a minute ago. Oh man, that is really what I need." She sighed. "Broots, give me my first good news of the day, I really need it. I am totally starved for good news. Tell me you know more about her." She almost pleaded.

"Well,... In fact..., I can't..."

"Please, don't tell me you were not able to get to the information?"

"I found something," he hesitated. "But I am not sure you will like that..."

"Tell me what it is and I will tell you later if I like it or not," she stated impatiently. "Broots, read my lips: tell me! My nerves have already had enough for today and your hesitation is giving me just one wish: to shake you until you come out with it. So shoot!"

"I found her file."

"Good!"

"But there is not much in it. And you won't like it..."

"Stop saying that and get on with it!"

"Adoption papers..."

Those words struck her.

"Adoption papers?" she said, totally under shock. She paced about the room, trying to put some order in her chaotic thoughts. She saw Sydney's worried look. As he made a move toward her, she lifted her hands to notify him she did not wish him closer as she needed to think.

"You know what this means Sydney!"

"Yes, I guess I do."

"She must be a child from the Centre. They probably arranged her adoption. The same as Lyle. No wonder they seem to get along fine. I wonder..." she started to talk, but then suddenly stopped.

"You wonder if she knows..." Sydney finished for her. "I think she does. There is one difference between her file and Lyle's. A major difference."

"Shoot! I am ready to hear anything now, it can't get worse," she said, but looking at Sydney and Broots she started to doubt it. "Don't tell me it gets worse?"

"Sort of... There was also a note in her file. It said Security Level 15 Information Classified."

"Security Level... 15?" Parker started to stammer and thought her mind wasn't working properly anymore. "Nobody has that level of security. Even Daddy is only level 12. Who could have that?"

Sydney looked at her, put his hand on her shoulder and slowly said, "She has. She signed the note herself."


* * * *



Jarod's lair
Buffalo, New York



Jarod looked at his wristwatch and stretched to ease the pain in his back. He hadn't moved since the phone call to Miss Parker. His mind was restless. This message had shaken him more than he wanted to admit, and some questions were still in his mind. 'Did this person really know where he was?' and if yes 'How was that possible?' For the hundredth time, he was mentally going through the hints he had left in his previous lair. He was sure, that nothing could lead them to him and his present location. Maybe it was only a bluff. But the feeling in the pit of his stomach warned him.

He had been pretty lucky in the past and he knew that most of his success in escaping was due to the people chasing him. At the beginning, Miss Parker and even Sydney had been very willing to bring him 'home', but with the months and years, that determination had weakened. The arrival of Lyle and Brigitte had again made his task a bit more difficult.

Lyle was hard to manipulate and Jarod had to admit that he had felt worried when Lyle had joined the research team. Not only for him, but also for Sydney and mostly for Parker. Already having him as brother was destructive, but he was playing with her nerves and attacked her on every field that was sacred, apparently even taking first place in their father's heart. Lyle had brought destruction and death around him. He had killed Kyle without remorse and that was something Jarod was not ready to forgive or forget.

Suddenly, his mind came back to the matter that had made him so thoughtful, Marissa Winthrope. A new name but no face. She was still a mystery to him. He had searched for hours any file he could find on her. And every time, he had the same bad surprise, finding it empty. Nothing. No date, no hint, no clue that could lead him somewhere. Her name was just there, waiting to be found, but that was all. Just a name, without any substance.

For Lyle at least, the name Bobby Bowman had come out and led him to a new track to follow. But Marissa just seemed to be an illusion, a mirage put there by the Centre to lure them. He had first started to wonder if Marissa Winthrope was her real name. He had looked for links between her file and somebody else's. But every new file he had found doing so, led him again to Marissa. And that file again was empty, as well as the next one, and the next one.

He looked again at his screen and sighed. He was sure that somewhere something was left and he just needed to locate it. He started to type again at his keyboard. For the first time after a very long period, he went back in the Centre's mainframe using his own user identification and password. That was maybe what she was expecting him to do. He opened her file again and couldn't prevent a cry of surprise. This time it was not empty.

The picture of a blond woman appeared on his screen. She seemed to look at him teasingly, with a mocking expression on her face. Next to her picture, he could read her name and other information. Suddenly the screen started to fade, then to flash. Jarod hit the print key, hoping he would be able to get the information on paper. He stood up and ran to the printer. The green light started to blink, informing him that it was receiving data from the laptop.

After several seconds, one page finally came out and a smiling Jarod took it, walking back to his chair while greedily reading the information. It didn't seem very interesting at first glance, but maybe it would at least give him a new starting point. When he looked up at the screen, his eyes widened; he dropped the sheet and stepped forward.

A new message was written there for him 'I knew you would come. With love, Marissa.'

He stayed there some time, unable to tear his eyes from the computer. Then slowly, he raised his hand and switched the laptop off. That game seemed tricky to play.

He remained a while motionless in front of his laptop, his hands on his chair, again lost in thoughtful observation of the now dark screen. Suddenly his pager started to beep. That sound in the heavy silence brought him back to reality. Looking at it, he saw that he was needed at the clinic. Impatiently, he reached for the phone. He shook his head, trying to dismiss Marissa from his thoughts. He now needed to concentrate on his duties. But the mocking eyes of the blond woman were still present in his mind, ready to poison his mind and his soul.


* * * *



Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



When he arrived some minutes later at the Balmore Clinic, he still hadn't been able to get Marissa's smile out of his mind. He rushed to his office, impatient to know more about the matter that had needed him to come back so urgently. Denison, the director of the clinic, and Brewster, the head of the surgery department, were there waiting for him.

"Here you are," Denison sighed with relief. "I am so happy you could make it so fast. I was already afraid that you might have left the city for the seaside, as you had 2 days off."

"No. I was so exhausted after my duty shift and those four major surgeries, that I just didn't feel like leaving."

"That's good luck for us! We have a problem with one of Edwards' patients. The surgery took place last week and some complications have occurred. And as you know, we can't afford another scandal after the story with Peters."

"What happened?" Jarod wondered, feeling uneasy at Peters' name.

"Come! Let's talk on the way to the intensive care unit." Denison turned around and hurried to the second floor, Jarod and Brewster on his heels.

"Four days ago, this patient, Anderson, was brought in and diagnosed with a stoppage of the bowels and rushed to surgery." Denison went on. "Shortly after the surgery took place, everything seemed to be normal again. He regained consciousness very quickly after such an operation. His vital signs were satisfactory and nothing could have prepared us for what happened. Just minutes ago, he fell into a coma."

"Nothing else happened before the coma? I mean, did he have convulsions, breathing problems, temperature, heart rate problems or anything else?" Jarod wondered.

"As far as I know, he had complained about abdominal pains and seemed to be pretty restless. After a surgery like his, those pains are really common. But, nothing that seemed serious. At least nothing the nurses found serious," he finally corrected.

As Denison finished, they reached Anderson's bed. A nurse was there, checking his IV and the position of the oxygen mask. When she saw Jarod, she smiled at him before leaving.

Jarod took Anderson's medical reports and the results of the different tests, performed on him. He carefully studied them, while looking at Denison and Brewster. This was already the fourth major problem since the beginning of the year. Jarod frowned and started to think again about possible connections between each case. Unfortunately, most of the results of the last examinations still weren't in.

It had started with the death of a young girl at the end of March. She had come in for minor surgery on her knee. It should have been an easy operation and her stay was not to exceed five days. But something went wrong and she never woke up. Then, it had been Peter Branningan's turn.

This story had attracted his attention. When he had read it in a newspaper in New Orleans, he had immediately thought something was wrong. He was able to remember the very words of the article he had cut out and put in his red notebook

'SCANDAL IN A HOSPITAL: A MALEVOLENT HAND HAS CAUSED THE DEATH OF A YOUNG MAN. Peter Branningan, the son of Charles Branningan, a representative of the state of New York, died two days ago during a minor surgery.
According to one source, intravenous medication given to him during the operation caused his heart to fail. Despite all attempts to revive him, he died on the operating table. A similar accident occurred only two months before, but at this time no clues have lead to the culprit.
Jonathan Peters, the anesthesiologist in charge of both surgeries, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder.'

Just two days after Jarod had arrived, a woman almost died, but this time no surgery had taken place. She seemed to have been the victim of a very acute allergic reaction to the treatment she was getting. She had felt nauseous and then started convulsing. Jarod had immediately noticed her wide, dilated pupils and her disturbed pulse. A chill went down his spine when he remembered how close he had been to losing her. He had intervened, although she was not one of his patients. Most of the doctors had seemed totally helpless, unable to find a way to save her. Jarod had suspected that she might have a metabolic acidosis and immediately gave her an IV of sodium bicarbonate to prevent her from falling into a coma.
He had also remembered, with his encyclopedic memory, a process developed in the 50s. It was supposed to help the body to eliminate histamine agents faster. This process had been successful. When he asked for additional tests to determine more precisely what had happened, he was told, much to his surprise, that they were not necessary. And now it was Anderson's turn. He was lying in front of him, struggling to stay alive.

Something was wrong here. Just reading the different articles on the Branningan case in his notebook, he had known that there was more to it than faulty behavior from Peters. This man had been the scapegoat in this story. When he had visited him, it had become more obvious to him. This man didn't need to tell him that he hadn't done all these horrible things, his eyes, more than his words, were pleading for him. Jarod had become even more eager to prove his innocence. Two people had already lost their lives. He would not allow the young doctor to pay for these murders; he certainly would not let his life be taken away or his family destroyed.

What made Jarod wonder most was why the actual culprit had gone on. He had been convinced that Peters' arrest would stop him or at least make him more cautious. Now he knew, that if all this had not stopped, it was because the main goal had not yet been achieved. He needed to find out as soon as possible who had done it. Observation time was over. This new strike had taken him by surprise. But he swore, that this would be the last time something like this was going to happen in this clinic.

Denison and Brewster had been silent while he studied the various data. Jarod sighed and looked up at them. As he had guessed, a note had been hastily scribbled by hand, indicating that the patient had violently convulsed. Looking at the monitors, he could see that his heart rate was still pretty slow and the patient still seemed to violently spasm at times. The symptoms were very similar to the previous case, but this time more acute. Jarod went to his bed and checked his eyes, finding them dilated. He looked more carefully at his face and noticed the shadows of a slight cyanosis. Poisoning. He had not been able to check it properly the last time, but today nothing could prevent him from going through all the necessary examinations.

He could see Denison's concern, but to his surprise Brewster just seemed slightly annoyed. He frowned and made a mental note. He had never been a fan of the surgeon, their first encounter had been fiery, but still he knew that he was a good doctor and wondered about his lack of interest.

"Who intervened after he fell into a coma?" Jarod asked.

"It was a young intern, Jason Hearly. He put him under oxygen and gave him serum, after he had been able to stabilize him."

"Well, it seems awkward," Jarod finally stated. "His vitals still seem satisfactory. Do you know if he had a visit today or if anything strange happened?"

"As far as I know, I would say no," Denison replied, shaking his head. "But I haven't checked it thoroughly, I have to admit. Jarod, could you please take care of this patient? Your intuition has already done miracles, if anyone can help him, it'll be you."

"Yes I see no problem with that." He looked back to Denison. "But as I was already told once, I am a surgeon here and I should not take care of an 'out of OP' incident. You should first ask Dr Brewster, if he agrees."

Brewster was surprised by his little remark. Soon his face turned to purple as he noticed that Jarod had repeated the exact remark, he had used some weeks ago.

"I don't see any problem with that," he stammered. "After all, this case is related to a prior surgery. And as Edwards is away, another doctor needs to take over. I am sure Jarod will do perfectly well. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go."

Jarod smiled and watched him leave the room.

"Perfect, as John has nothing to object to, consider Anderson as your patient now. Do anything you think necessary. I give you a free hand in this. Nobody will interfere. Thanks, I really appreciate your help." Denison looked at him one last time and turned, ready to leave the room, when suddenly Matt Stewart, the clinic's administrator, rushed into the room.

"I heard another problem has occurred. How severe is it this time? Is the patient still alive?" he hastily asked.

"He is still alive. He could be stabilized. He is still in a coma, but I don't think that his life is still at risk," Jarod stated, willing to reassure the worried executive.

"Thank God! After the problems we already had, we cannot afford another scandal. Our financial situation is in bad enough shape," Stewart explained. "We lost the support of some donators who were really important to us. Branningan's revenge has hit us rather hard. I can understand him, but he can't blame the whole staff and clinic for the doings of one individual!"

At his words, Jarod screwed his eyes. He had never believed that Peters could be guilty and he knew that many doctors and nurses shared his point of view. Andrews too was convinced that the anesthesiologist was totally unable to harm anyone.

"We don't know for sure that Peters had something to do with that. He has not been proven guilty yet," Jarod calmly stated, looking at Denison and Stewart.

"Of course, we are not sure." Denison agreed. "But you have to admit that someone has, purposefully added a drug to the anesthetic. Even if it was not Peters, it is very likely that someone from the clinic is to blame. I can't imagine anyone from the outside being able to get to our drug inventory."

"Yes, that's sure." Jarod agreed.

Stewart had followed their conversation, but made no additional comment. Nevertheless, Jarod had felt his uneasiness. He even thought he saw him flinch when Denison had insisted on the fact that the culprit was necessarily an insider.

"William, we have to discuss the clinic's situation. We need to take some steps if we want to go on. One of our major backers is threatening to stop its support and I don't know how we can survive that. I guess Branningan is again using his influence to have the clinic go bankrupt."

Denison sighed and slowly nodded. A concerned look on his face, he turned a last time to Jarod.

"Take good care of Anderson. If anything happens, call me immediately."

"I will. Be sure of that," Jarod stated as he watched Denison and Stewart leave the intensive care unit together.

Jarod looked a last time at Anderson. He was not going to let him die. That was a promise he made to Anderson and to himself. But now, he needed to act fast. The sodium bicarbonate had proven efficient with the previous patient so he changed the IV. The oxygen had certainly saved his life. He was still unsure about the poison used, but it seemed to generate a major disturbance in the muscles. The contractions and spasms that had occurred, the heart rate problems, gave major indications to such a possibility. With a new syringe, Jarod took a blood sample. He already had an idea what could have caused it, but he could not understand how and why someone would use that in a clinic.





The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Miss Parker looked again at the official note Broots had found in Marissa's file. 'Security level 15'. She had never guessed that such a level existed. Her father was level 12, as well as Lyle, and she herself was 10. Marissa topped them all, making her wonder even more what she wanted here. She was in that thoughtful and restless state of mind when she heard somebody knock at her door. She lifted her eyes and saw Sydney enter her office.

"Oh, you are knocking now?" she stated sarcastically. "I already thought the Queen Mother was paying me a visit!"

"How do you feel?" he asked simply, not willing to fight with her. "When you left, you looked pretty shaken. I wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it."

"Sydney, just correct me if I am wrong. But I don't think you are my shrink..."

"I thought I was your friend and that was reason enough for me to come to offer my help. Excuse me if I am wrong." By the tone of his voice, Miss Parker understood how much she had hurt him and immediately stood up to prevent him from leaving.

"I am sorry, Sydney! I didn't mean to hurt you. I just overreacted. Am I forgiven?" she asked him with a faint smile.

"Yes, you are. Of course, you are," he softly said, taking her hand in his. "I understand how hard all this was on you. But we need to stick together, me, you and Broots, if we want to remain strong. If they are able to divide us, that will make them stronger and put us at risk."

"Did Broots go on researching on her?"

"Yes, but you know how easily worried he is," Sydney responded. "Seeing that she had Security Level 15 was not exactly something that made him keen on going on. He already acted pretty courageous getting her file in the Central Archive."

"I can understand that," Parker agreed. "But we must find out as much as we can on her. And especially if she is that powerful. My father has told us that she had been some time abroad, but still working for the Centre. A high ranking operative in one of our foreign outlets should be easily traceable. And we know that her adoption has probably been arranged by the Centre. Maybe we could go on in that direction, trying to find out more about her family and when she started to work here..."

"Broots is currently searching in that direction," Sydney said, worried by her increasing agitation. "It will probably take some time to find more on her. This is the Centre, you can't expect to unravel important data in just one day... Maybe Jarod will be able to help us in that area. After the message he has received, you can be sure that he will be willing to find out more."

By the look in her eyes, Sydney knew that she hadn't listened to what he had just said. Her mind was restless, desperately trying to analyze the situation and unable to focus on anything else.

"Don't you think it's strange that she just left the adoption papers and the note in her file? It is as though she wanted us to discover them..."

"Yes, that's what I think," Sydney admitted.

"Could she be the missing Red File child, file number 7?"

"I don't know. She probably could, but in my opinion, she is far too young for that," Sydney reminded her.

They were both standing in the office, speaking in low voices. Suddenly, the door, opened on Marissa and Lyle, surprising them while they were holding hands.

"Oh, this is really sweet!" Marissa said mockingly, seeing Parker's effort to free her hand. "I guessed that the chase had built strong connections between you, but this is really touching. I didn't expect that you became that close!"

She let out a little laugh, quickly followed by Lyle's. It didn't take long for Miss Parker to react. She hated being seen during one of her weaker moments and, as usual, she became the Ice Queen again.

"Spare me with your stupid remarks!" she hissed, stepping toward Marissa and dominating her with her height. "For someone so proud of her good manners, you are surprising me. I don't think I heard you knock before you came in."

For the first time since they knew her, Marissa's smile disappeared from her face. She coldly looked up at Parker, not at all perturbed to be far shorter.

"Touché!" she finally said, smiling again. "That makes one for you. I think I certainly deserved that. Now that I am warned and as I don't like to interrupt, you can be sure I will knock. I don't want to discover you in a compromising position with someone on your team. Lyle, really, you should have warned me!"

Marissa laughed mockingly, her attention back on Parker. That she seemed to be willing to play the same little game as she did, was somehow satisfying for Marissa. She had long looked for a rival of her value and it had been a long time since she last met someone who could come up to her standards.

"Can I ask you one question?" Marissa finally said.

"You can always ask." Parker smiled, satisfied to have seen her turn pale, even for a second.

"I have been wondering for a very long time about something: how come after three years of constant searching you're still not able to catch RF2? You and your team are said to be the people who know Jarod best, so how come? I'm beginning to wonder if you really want to get him back here."

"Jarod is not that easy to catch. He is a pretender, he can become whoever he wants. And if we know him well, you can say the same about him. He knows us, maybe too well."

"Yes, this might be the problem. Lyle has always seemed more successful in his attempts. Jarod has maybe problems to understand his way of thinking. It could be an explanation. But still, I don't think that you have used all your options to get him back. I read some reports about your chase and I was surprised to find that you are pretty reluctant at actually stopping him. You have let him run away on several occasions where it was possible by a minor wound to prevent him from escaping."

"What are you trying to say? That I voluntarily let him escape? That I don't want him back here in his cell?"

"Cell?" Marissa smiled at the word, mockingly looking at Parker. "Well, I have to admit that... yes. That is exactly what I think," Marissa stated, her grin widening.

"This is a serious accusation. So what you are saying, is that I am a betrayer? Undermining the efforts of the Centre? Listen to me. I have dedicated the last three years of my life trying to bring Jarod back and I don't like to see someone, who doesn't know me at all, utter those kinds of accusations."

"I am sorry if I hurt you. Correct me if I am wrong, but betraying the Centre runs in your family, if I remember correctly. Didn't your mother smuggle some kids out of the Centre before she very conveniently committed suicide? I even heard a rumor which intimated that she, in fact just before she died, intended to destroy the Prodigy project. If I recall well, she wanted to free all the Red Files kids and to bring them back to their families."

Sydney and Lyle looked at both women, still facing each other, wondering how this conversation would end. Miss Parker's reaction to these accusations was going to determine their future relationship and the way both women would share authority.

"I cannot be blamed for what my mother did. I can only say that I don't approve of what she meant to do," Miss Parker lied. "She was a dreamer, who thought that she could change the world for the better by herself. It was foolish and totally irresponsible. I guess it probably came from her education. I am not looking for excuses, but she was my mother and I love her even though I still don't understand why she could do something like that. I can't and won't deny my feelings; they exist and I am proud of them. I think you will agree on that, a mother is everything to a child."

Marissa had listened attentively to her answer, apparently analyzing her very word. She had to admit, she had liked it. 'They' had not lied to her, Miss Parker was really a perfect opponent. She was strong willed and very intelligent. But she was now sure that her mother was her weak point. It would be interesting to use that. That and of course Lyle. He was the thorn in her side, always present, competing with her on every field, professionally as well as personally.

"Of course. I won't blame you for your mother's errors. I do admire the relationship you had with her. My mother died when I was too young to remember her. I went from one foster family to the other and I could never call any of the people taking care of me mom or dad. I know that parents are supposed to be everything to a child... I guess this is not something I know much about. I just wanted to be sure that in your case, it is not 'Like Mother Like Daughter'. But more 'Like Father, Like Daughter'. I really want to trust you, Parker. I really do. The question is just: How deep is your loyalty to the Centre?"

Marissa turned back, ready to leave Parker's office, Lyle still on her heels.

"Oh, by the way. My office is the one opposite Lyle's. I want all the information you have gathered on RF2 in the last two months there, in the next hour. Is that clear?"

"Crystal," Miss Parker answered, watching them leave.

Sydney looked at Miss Parker as she was still staring at the door, seemingly lost in her thoughts.

"I think we better give her what she wants. I'll go tell Broots to prepare the file for her."

"Do you think she told us the truth?" she finally said.

"You mean about her parents and foster families? I don't know! To me, she is the queen of manipulations. Nothing she says is innocent. She's probably guessed that we have started researching her past..."

"That could mean that she is a Red File herself."

"Do you want us to study the final file?"

"Yes, I think we should. Even if we are not immediately able to tell who she is, maybe that will help us to find out who she isn't."

"I'll take care of that. Don't worry! One way or another, we'll find out more about her. I promise."

At his words, Miss Parker smiled. She wished she could be that optimistic too.


* * * *



Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



Jarod was walking down the white corridor, looking for Susan, the young nurse he had seen earlier at Anderson's side. He knew she liked him very much. Every time they met, she smiled timidly and blushed before leaving. He had to admit she was very pretty with green eyes and auburn hair. But he didn't feel attracted to her. When he closed his eyes and fantasized, there had long been Nia's face, her perfume and tenderness, which had come back.
But soon, to his shame, her picture had faded away, leaving dark hair and icy blue eyes in his mind. He knew he needed to do something about that. Being obsessed by Parker wasn't exactly very healthy. He was the prey and she was the hunter, and this was something he shouldn't forget. Once he had tried to change their relationship, but his Saint Valentine's gift had not been very successful. He could only think of one person, Sydney, to discuss these kinds of personal problems. But even with him, Jarod didn't feel at ease. Admitting these thoughts to Sydney, well particularly to Sydney who knew them both since childhood, was rather awkward. He was lost in those considerations when he saw Susan heading to the elevator.

"Susan! Susan! Wait for me!"

She turned around and smiled at him, waiting for him to come closer.

"Dr Flemming! I was surprised when I saw you an hour ago. I thought you would be off duty for a couple of days, especially considering all the overtime you put in last week. Are you one of those doctors who thinks that the world can't turn without him?" she asked teasingly.

"No, I am not." He laughed, then became serious again when he remembered why he had come back. "Denison wanted me back because of Anderson."

"Oh yes, what happened is horrible! The poor man fell into a coma and there was nothing we could do to prevent it. He was always so nice with the whole staff."

"Did you see him shortly before it happened?"

"Yes! I think it was something like two hours before. He was joking and said how he liked this clinic much better than the hospital, as the nurses were younger and prettier. I was there with Sarah and we laughed and teased him, asking what he needed to have him stop flirting."

She smiled sadly as the memory of that happy moment came back. Soon her smile vanished as she remembered her panic when she saw him almost die.

"Besides you and Sarah, was anybody close to him this morning? A doctor, another nurse, anybody?"

"Well as Edwards is currently away, I don't think he got any visit from a doctor this morning. I mean before he collapsed at least. But I am not sure. I have been busy with Miss Davis, the old lady in room 216. She didn't feel well and didn't want me to leave her room. I had stayed at her side almost twenty minutes, trying to calm her. Then I was in such a hurry to get back on schedule, that I didn't notice a single thing."

"Good, that's already helpful." Jarod smiled at her and was ready to head back to his office.

"Jarod?"

"Yes?"

"Do you think that someone has done this on purpose?"

"I don't know yet," he lied to her. "But if you remember something unusual, please come to me."

"I will..."


For once, Jarod took another way to go back to his office. He wanted to talk to Brewster, he was still puzzled by his behavior this morning. The surgeon hadn't talked much, leaving Denison with the explanation, even though he was in charge of the surgery department and Edwards reported directly to him. Moreover, he had seemed slightly annoyed by the whole happening, not because Anderson was in a coma, but because Denison had called him, Jarod, to take over the case. He still had in mind the words exchanged after he had intervened on Mrs Colloway.

"You are not supposed to intervene on those kinds of cases," Brewster had pointed out that day. "You are working for the surgery department and this is none of your business. If an emergency had occurred, we would have been in trouble trying to reach you."

"A person is dying and it's none of my business? Excuse me, but this looks to me like an emergency. Have you ever heard of the Hippocratic oath?" he had angrily answered, not taking care of the other doctors and nurses around them.

"How dare you say something like that to me?" Brewster had turned pale and struggled to regain his composure. "You just came here two days ago and you want to rule this clinic. This is not the way things are done around here."

"There is nothing I want to rule here. But I saw a woman almost die in front of me. And apparently no doctor present knew how to handle that case. Maybe I shouldn't have done it, because it was against the clinic's rules. But honestly, I don't care. I did it and I am glad that she is still alive. I don't think that the rules of the clinic include letting patients die."

Again Brewster became paler and looked at the other doctors. He was ready to attack again, when suddenly Denison appeared.

"Of course not, Jarod! Brewster is just overreacting as usual," Denison calmly stated. "He doesn't like when somebody is taking the reins with more efficiency than he would! What you did today, Jarod, was astounding and very efficient. I never saw that process before. Come and tell me more about it."

As Jarod had left with Denison, he had felt Brewster's eyes on his back, while they waited for the elevator to come. Their eyes had met again and he could feel, at that moment, the hate Brewster had for him.

After that painful episode, Jarod had tried to avoid any contact with Brewster. And he was sure that on his side, the surgeon had done the same as they hadn't met for more than a month. Not before today to be precise.

Could Brewster be blamed for those events? As much as he disliked him, Jarod didn't want to believe that. But somebody was purposefully killing or harming those people. He had been looking for the criminal's motivation: revenge, jealousy, mental disorder...
But the problem was that the cases were so different from one another. The doctors in charge were different; the nurses taking care of the patients had been different. They had different rooms on three different floors. The first two cases had Peters in common and that was already the only thing that linked them. That and the surgery that had taken place.

But then, the third patient had proven his first theory wrong. She had received no surgery and came because of severe breathing problems and possible risks of emboli. So what was the connection?

For the first time, Jarod felt helpless. When he entered Brewster's office, he saw that his secretary was out. As he was ready to knock at the door, it suddenly opened, showing a rather impatient Brewster.

"Flemming? What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to talk to you about Anderson. I thought that maybe you had discussed the patient with Edwards and as I was unable to reach him..."

"I have no time. I'm expected outside and already late. I'll be back at 6 p.m. If you want, we can discuss it then. But don't expect too much. I don't know a lot about it. It would be best if you checked Anderson's file and got Edwards' notes. My secretary has the code of his locker, if you can't find them in his office."

Pushing Jarod aside, he left, leaving his door open. Jarod felt totally confused by this meeting. Brewster seemed ready to cooperate with him and he almost seemed joyous when he had left. As he turned to leave, Jarod noticed Brewster's agenda wide open. He stepped forward, but was soon disappointed as no meeting was scheduled that day.

'Strange!' he thought. 'Where has he gone?'

His priority was to find the link and to get out of this darkness. He needed to talk again with Peters. He had seen him, almost immediately after he had arrived here, meeting his wife first and desperately trying to convince her that he was on their side. But the anesthesiologist had been totally depressed and had not been able to help him. Now he needed his help. Maybe there was an element he had not seen. Peters knew everyone at the clinic and Jarod was sure that his knowledge would be of great benefit.


* * * *



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Lyle was looking at Marissa while she was inspecting her new territory. He had always loved this office and he had been disappointed when he had heard that it was meant for a new executive. He also looked around, appreciating the large room and the expensive furniture. Rarely things had been done that perfectly for a new operative and that had proven, if necessary, that she had a special position within the Centre. It would be great to bond with her. She was exactly what he needed to bug his sister. He had tried it with Brigitte, but she had been a real disappointment, not meeting his expectations. Looking at Marissa and remembering her previous meeting with his father and his sister, he knew she would be perfect.

"Do you like it? We can make some changes if not."

"No. I like it. It's very functional. For me, an office is an office. I don't care about furniture or other status symbols," she said, letting her fingers wander over the desk's antique wood. She stepped forward, noticing a note on the wonderful bunch of flowers that sat on it.

"'Flowers better than words can tell you the pleasure it is to have you among us again. Welcome back to Blue Cove.' Well your father is a real seducer. He knows how to flatter a woman."

"He surely does." Lyle smiled at her. "Have you ever been in Blue Cove before or is he just guessing?"

"I have already been here, but... it was a very long time ago. In those days, things were different. But I have to admit, I liked the place and I am happy to be back."

Lyle had looked at her while she talked. She now seemed lost in her thoughts, probably remembering her last visit. This was really piquing his curiosity. When his father had told him two days before that she was coming, he had wondered who she was. During their discussion, it had become obvious that the old man certainly was not pleased to have her here. This meant she had been imposed by someone powerful who had wanted her to join the chase. Was she only here to get Jarod back or did her mission also imply shadowing the Centre and its members?

"It's strange, most of the people don't seem to recognize you. Were you using another name or was your visit very short?"

"Lyle, you seem to be very curious. You like to know things, it seems."

"I have to admit that it is one of my greatest weaknesses..."

"Then you need to fight against it. Nobody questions me," she snapped at him. "What you know now is enough for you and for the others. I have been here, I left and I came back. There isn't anything else you need to know about me. Live each day as it comes. Or you will have to face the risk of having no further days to come. Am I making myself clear enough?"

Lyle was speechless. He hadn't expected her to react that way. She was clearly marking her territory and warning him not to enter it. Seeing her hard, questioning eyes on him, he slowly nodded.

"Good. I see that you understand the basic rules fast. As long as you stick to them, there will be no problems between us. And I am sure there won't be any. Am I right, Lyle?" she insisted again, her voice cold as ice and her eyes emotionless.

"No, you are perfectly right. There will be no problems between us. I respect your wish for privacy. I assure you, I didn't mean to upset you with those questions. I just wanted to know you better. I am sorry if anything I said hurt you."

Marissa smiled at him, watching as he tried to regain composure. The Parker twins were interesting to watch and analyze. She had first tested her, trying to find the weak point and see how far she could go. The result had been interesting, but very expectable. For Lyle, things were different. She knew what he had done in the past and had been surprised when she had met him. He wasn't exactly looking like a psychopathic killer, but she had learned over the year that there could be a whole world between being and looking. Like a magnet, her eyes were attracted to his left hand. He had failed once and the Japanese Mafia had taught him an efficient lesson. She wondered how dangerous he really was and if this event had changed him. That would be an interesting answer to find out. She smiled wider. Very interesting indeed.

"It's already forgotten. I am sure you didn't mean to be rude. It's just that I don't like it when people try to interfere in things that are none of their business. Let's make a deal. I won't ask you about your past and you won't ask about mine. Deal?"

"Deal!" he smiled back at her. "Would you like to have dinner? I know it's a bit early for that. But I know a place that would just be great. I am sure you will love it. And we can always have a drink before eating."

"Why not. It's true that I'm hungry and as your sister still hasn't given me the file I requested, I don't have much to do. As today is my first day here, I will be patient and have mercy on her. But you should tell her that I hate to wait and that it would be better for her to understand that..."

"I will tell her. I promise."

Lyle was waiting for her at the door. She took her purse and her coat and smiled remembering their deal. Poor Lyle, as though there would be things about him, she didn't already know about...





Peters' house
Buffalo, New York



Jarod parked his car in the small driveway. Closing his door, he noticed that the shutters were down as though nobody was home. He hesitated a while and cursed for not having called before leaving the hospital. He had left rather fast, only saying that he would not go far away and could be paged. Now he was regretting his fast move. The family could have left for the week-end and not yet returned.

He climbed the stairs and rang, waiting for somebody to come. Nobody came. He rang a second time, cursing again at how thoughtless his action was. As he was ready to leave, he suddenly saw one of the shutters of the second floor move. The house was not empty, that was sure. But they were probably reluctant to open up.

"Mrs Peters? It's Dr Jarod Flemming. Do you remember me? We met a month ago. When I first came, we went to see your husband. Do you remember? I need your help. Other incidents have occurred and I am sure that the culprit is the same one as in the two cases your husband has been jailed for. I need to talk to you. Please, open the door."

For a long time, the house remained silent and Jarod was afraid that she would not concede to his demand. Feeling helpless, he shook his head. He needed to convince her. It was too important. He was probably one of the only people in this city to believe that her husband was innocent. And Peters and his wife were probably the only people who could help him understand what was currently happening at the clinic.

"Please, help me. If I can't talk again to your husband, we'll never be able to prove that he is innocent. Please, give me just 15 minutes..."

Slowly the inner door opened and he saw Barbara Peters looking at him with sad eyes.

"Did someone else die?" she simply asked.

"No. The person did not die, but I think that we have just been lucky so far. In fact, two people almost died. For the first occurence, I was not sure that it could be linked to the same series of events. But now I am positive. The culprit has just changed his way of operating. He is no longer attacking during surgery. Can we talk about that inside, please?" he asked, turning his head slightly, pointing at some of her neighbors who were eagerly observing them.

He saw her hesitate. Since the last time he had seen her, she had changed terribly. She had lost weight and looked as though she was not sleeping enough. Behind her, he could see her little daughter, Cassie, looking at him with fearful eyes.

"Please, let me come in. We need to talk about this," he insisted again, as softly as he could.

She opened the door completely and invited him in. Cassie stepped back, hiding behind the cupboard of the main entrance. Jarod could not prevent a questioning look at her mother. Barbara sighed, strangling a sob.

"She's been rather scared recently. But who would not be, after all the strange phone calls we have received. Cassie always loved to pick up the phone... I guess it will take her some time before she does it again... How can people be so mean? They must have noticed that she was a little girl. You really must be sick to tell her that her father was to die the same way he killed those people. They even gave her details about the death penalty."

She started to sob after those words. Jarod led her to the couch in the sitting room.

"People can really be mean..." Jarod said, while slightly stroking her back to comfort her. "They just want to hurt, and they don't care if it's a little girl or an old woman. Some people are mad and take their pleasure in making others suffer. Things seem to have become worse since we last talked."

"Yes." She sobbed. "Jonathan's bail has been settled at $500,000. He never did anything wrong, but the District Attorney was very willing to please Branningan. Of course, we can't afford it and no bank was ready to give us a mortgage for this. And as though that was not enough, Branningan's public relations has used this tragedy to increase his popularity, which was pretty bad before. You can imagine. My husband is a monster for the public, the ruthless killer of a representative's son and of a promising tennis star."

"Tennis star?" Jarod wondered. "I didn't remember that."

"Oh, it hit front page when Angela died. She was the local star. She had won several tournaments and was about to start a national career. What a pity those kids had to die. But I am sure that Jonathan had nothing to do with it. He could never do that."

"A young tennis player, the son of a politician..." Jarod stated thoughtfully. "Maybe this is the link."

"The link? What do you mean?"

"The victims were famous enough to get the front page of the local newspapers. I didn't get it, because I saw it when I was still in New Orleans. So even the article on Peter Branningan was only on page 3. I never saw the articles on Angela Harris."

Jarod started to wonder if they had finally found what he had been seeking for days now. The possible link. Was the culprit looking for publicity, only attacking people able to make headlines with their deaths?

"Does the name Colloway mean something to you? Or Anderson?"

"Colloway? Is she related to Sam Colloway? He is one of the biggest landowners in the state. They are awfully rich. Well, Anderson is a very common name. Do you remember his first name?"

"I think it's Richard."

"Oh! Richard Anderson is one the top businessmen in the state. Well, you must be really new here if you don't know them. Anderson owns the biggest bank in the city and has five hotels in the state. His mother was from Chicago. I think he has also inherited parts of a huge steel works."

Jarod shook his head. The link had been so obvious that he could beat himself for not having seen it before. Rich and famous people. That made sense somehow. Finding the next potential victim would be easier now that he knew what the culprit was after.

"I think that I should meet Jonathan again. Do you think it's possible?"

"Yes, of course. Especially if you can bring back some hope to him. But I guess it will have to wait until tomorrow morning. They are very strict with his visiting hours. Branningan himself has made sure that he would get the worst treatment possible."

"When then?"

"I can usually see him at 11:30 a.m. Let's say we meet here at 11 a.m. I will have Cassie at my neighbor's. She is one of the last people who is still talking to me. She has known us for so long that she has never doubted Jonathan's innocence."

"Okay. I'll be here." Jarod checked his wristwatch. "I need to go back to the hospital. I have to test Anderson's blood to check if I can find what I suspect. It probably won't give me the name of the culprit, but at least it will help me to eliminate some."

When he stood up and looked at the door, he could see Cassie's big blue eyes on him. She was still hiding, but this time she did not ran away when he carefully stepped closer to her. She looked at him as he knelt down.

"Are you going to help my dad?" she asked with her tiny voice.

"Yes, I will and I promise that I will do all I can to bring him back to you and your mom."

"Promise?" she said, smiling and opening her eyes wider.

"Yes. Promise." He smiled back.

The little girl put her hand in her skirt and brought out a glittering marble.

"It's a magic marble. You can do miracles with it. That's what Mr Jones said to me. It has always worked, except for Dad..." she noted sadly,"but maybe it will work with you. If you keep it tight in your hand every time you make a wish, it will be granted. Now you have to keep it, and always keep it with you until my dad is back."

"I will," Jarod said, as the little fiery marble rolled on his palm. "I swear it will work again. I'll bring the magic back. And when your dad comes home, it will do miracles for you again."

She smiled as he said that. Jarod felt his heart tighten. This was a sacred promise and he would do all he could to keep it. He took the little girl in his arms and kissed her cheek.

"This marble is very important to her, as you can guess," he heard Barbara say. "Mr Jones was almost a grandfather to her and he died last year. Jonathan lost his family when he was still very young and my parents are living so far away from here..."

"I won't disappoint her. Believe me... This nightmare will soon be over."

"Thanks for your help. It may sound stupid, but I am already feeling better. I'll be waiting for you tomorrow."

Jarod walked down the alley, ready to open his car when he turned around. He saw the little girl with her blue eyes and her brown hair waving at him. For some seconds, he had the feeling of going back in time, when another little girl had smiled at him like that. A little girl that had also been so full trust and that he had not been able to save from the darkness. This time, he would not fail.


* * * *



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Miss Parker was staring dreamily out of her window, thinking again about Marissa. This woman was a mystery to her. She undeniably knew a lot of things. She was still thinking about their last conversation about her mother. Everyone at the Centre always said that she was most definitely her father's daughter, even if her resemblance to her mother was striking. But Marissa had seemed to doubt that, seeing in her hesitations to hurt Jarod a hint that she was more like Catherine.

Miss Parker shook her head. Was she really more her mother's daughter than she had thought? Jarod and Sydney had always pointed that out. But they had known the little girl she had been, the happy child that loved to laugh and play in the Centre.
They had seen the best part of her and had not been willing to let it go. Jarod clung to that memory and never missed an opportunity to remind her what had been. He was even trying to bring his childhood friend back. How would he react if he knew how often he had been successful? ...How many times, the girl had come back, willing to tell him that she was here again ready to play with him, ready to hug him as they had done so before. But she was a master at hiding her feelings and had been able to fool him so far. She also knew that she would not be able to go on very long doing so.

Marissa did not know her and she had been able to analyze her better than most people. It was as though she had read her mind, guessing the feelings within. Could she possibly have understood it just by reading different reports on her or had some people shared their doubts on her loyalty with Marissa?

Miss Parker heard her door open. As she turned to face the intruder, she was surprised to see her father. He looked concerned and even confused.

"Angel, I am glad to find you alone here. We need to talk."

"Talk? About what?" she wondered. In the last months, her father had not come very often to her to discuss important issues. His first choice had always been Lyle and that had made her envious. It had hurt her more than she was willing to admit.

"Marissa. I really don't like her being around. Your brother has taken her out to dinner. We need to decide what our behavior toward her will be."

"I didn't notice you complaining about her arrival. When I joined your little chat, you seemed to get along very well with her."

"Very well? Certainly not. But I was not left any choice but to accept her. She has been sent to Blue Cove by the Triumvirate and you know that their decisions can't be discussed. They merely informed me a week ago. I know almost nothing about her. I was even told when I requested to have access to her personal file, that I didn't need to know more about her than she was willing to tell me. Can you imagine someone saying that to me? After all those years of sacrifice... This is really a poor thanks for all that I have achieved here. I just hope that Lyle will get some information out of her. We had already discussed that matter a couple of days ago."

"Lyle? You expect him to be successful in that field. He is good in some things, but his ways with women definitely need improvement. He is as delicate in those matters as a bull in a China shop."

Mr Parker shook his head at her nasty remark, showing her he did not want to listen to her comments about her brother.

"Did you find her file?" Mr Parker finally said. "I found it some days ago and I thought that you might be interested in it."

"I can't believe you knew about it. Why didn't you come to me with the file? Let me add another question to that one: why did you tell Lyle she was coming and you didn't say a word to me? You've known it for a whole week and you left me on the front line, unprepared for her visit."

"Angel, you must understand. I was not supposed to talk to anyone about her. The Triumvirate made it very clear. I went to your brother, because as you know, there was a time he was very close to the Triumvirate and I thought that he might know her or at least know someone who could help us further."

"And, did he know something?" She sighed.

"Unfortunately not. There seems to be an aura of mystery around her. Nobody seems to know her or they don't want to hand over information for some reason."

"Well, I can understand that. She is Security Level 15. If that's not scaring people, I guess nothing will. How come I never heard about that level?"

"I didn't know about that either, well at least not officially. As far as I knew, the highest level possible was 14. I guessed I was not told the truth about that. Security levels are not necessarily things we discuss when we meet."

"At least we know that she is a child of the Centre. The adoption papers seemed real."

"A child from the Centre. Yes..." Mr Parker murmured, lost in his thoughts.

"Is there anything you know about that? Is there a way to check the files of the adoptions organized by the Centre in the last forty years?"

"Most of the files have been secured years ago, Angel." Mr Parker regretted his quick answer as soon as it was said.

"Secured? Why? You don't have access to them?" she wondered.

"If I had, I would not need you and Lyle to find out more about her. The data had been secured just before the fire in SL27 in 1982. There were suspicions that some people were leaking information to the outside. The Triumvirate had then decided to transfer all the files to a secure place. The copies we had have been destroyed by the fire. We were supposed to copy the information to our mainframe, but the fire broke out before we could start to do so."

"There is something I don't get here," Miss Parker said, feeling her restlessness increase. "What has been transferred to the Triumvirate? Were the actual files more complete about the adoptions? What kind of detail was kept?"

Mr Parker looked embarrassed. He felt that he had said too much and that she would not let it go. He bit his lower lip and narrowed his eyes, trying to find a believable way out of this deadlock.

"Angel, it's rather complicated. We have the copies of most of those adoption papers, but as you can tell, they are not very complete. We are missing an exhaustive list of all the children and of course information about their origins and to which families they were given."

"Why do I have the feeling that you simply don't want to tell me more about this?"

"I want to protect you. Those adoptions were nothing official, you see. Those kids were..."

"Stolen from their real parents?" she interrupted him harshly.

"But of course not," he shrieked out, clearly shocked. "How can you believe something like that? How can you believe the lies Jarod has been telling you?"

'Maybe because what he says has always been right, whereas you are telling me lies,' she thought. "I don't believe him, but what am I supposed to think as you're obviously concealing things from me. What was wrong with those adoptions?"

"Trust me. There is nothing I want to hide from you. Most of them were Centre operatives who desperately wanted to adopt children. The Centre paid a lot of money to local authorities to have our people on top of the lists. If someone from the outside found out, that could be pretty bad. You understand why this data is so important. Especially as we had previously selected the best kids. This was not something we were supposed to do..."

"Of course not," she added with a smile.

"Oh, I need to go. I am late for my appointment at the Club. I need to see you tomorrow morning along with Lyle. We must decide what we are to do about Marissa. Your intuition on people has always proven right and I will once again need your help, Angel," he added with a smile.

He bent over to give her a kiss on the forehead and left, waving at her. Miss Parker watched him leave, smiling at him. When the door shut, the smile disappeared from her face. He had done it again. He had lied to her on purpose. She shook her head, surprised that she did not even feel the usual disappointment rise in her heart. Damn, she was getting used to it.

She looked at the peaceful scenery again. A mischievous smile lit her face. She would certainly not be satisfied with that kind of answer. If her father had expected her to accept that stupid explanation and take it for the truth, he was wrong, damn wrong.


* * * *



Jarod's office, Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



Jarod rubbed his sore eyes. Damn, he was really feeling exhausted. Today had brought a lot of surprises and most of them had been bad ones. Some of Anderson's results were still not available and he didn't want to leave before he had them.

This whole day had been weird. He had hoped to be able to talk to Brewster again, but when he called his secretary, she had simply informed him that he would not be back as he'd been invited to dinner.

Miss Dawson was a real dragon. She had always been very protective toward Brewster and made it clearly understandable to Jarod that she did not like him. She had pointed out the fact more than once that Denison was not praising Brewster enough and that he should have asked him to become his partner in the clinic a long time ago.
Meanwhile, Brewster seemed totally indifferent to his secretary's attempts to get him promoted. Most of the employees and even Denison had leniently smiled at her comments, telling Jarod that he should not take them too seriously. He even remembered Edwards whispering that she was desperately in love with Brewster and that she would do anything to catch his attention, without much success it seemed.

Jarod smiled at the memory. But then suddenly he became serious again. She would do anything, it had been said. Could this also include killing someone? Jarod shook his head. He was really tired if he could imagine the fragile 45 year-old woman doing something like that. She certainly did not have the looks of someone who could kill another person.

Could Stewart be blamed for it then? That idea seemed as strange to him as the previous one. Matt Stewart was a sort of library rat, spending most of his days in the clinic's books, trying to solve its problems. Its financial situation had always been precarious, even before the recent scandal. Now it could be qualified as dramatic. The place was running out of money and the suspicion, that was aroused after the two deaths, did not really vanish with Peters' arrest.

Jarod had heard the craziest rumors about the probable fate of the Balmore Clinic. The most common word had been bankruptcy, but recently another word had been pronounced: take-over. An important company from Detroit, which already owned several clinics in the North-East, had appeared and was apparently interested in acquiring Balmore. Jarod knew that Denison was totally against this solution, but each day was making his position harder to maintain and soon he would probably have no other choice but to accept.

What a pity, Jarod thought. Denison had built the reputation of the clinic by himself. He had sacrificed his private life to have this place become one of the best in the country and now all his efforts were apparently shattered. Could this whole affair be just a question of money? The value of the clinic had drastically decreased over the last few months and Munitecs was now in a position to take Balmore over at minimum costs.

With a sigh, he checked his wristwatch again and decided to call the lab.

"Lab. Thomson speaking," a man answered.

"Jeff, Dr Flemming here. Do you have the lastest results on Anderson? I don't want to leave before I have them."

"Oh. I was just about to call you. I just finished a minute ago. Guessed you were waiting for them. Want me to send someone?"

"No I will get them on my way out. Thanks. I'm coming."


* * * *



Jarod's lair
Buffalo, New York



Jarod was holding Anderson's files under his arm while carrying a pizza. Once everything was set on his desk, he looked at the colorful box, remembering Sydney's comment about healthy food. He smiled, knowing that his friend would certainly not call this pepperoni, ham, mushroom, pineapple and extra-cheese pizza healthy.

As he turned around to throw his leather jacket on the nearby couch, his attention was caught by the sheet of paper he had left on the floor, when he hastily left the flat. Marissa. He bent down and picked it up, his curiosity awakened again.

She looked rather pretty, but there was something in her eyes he did not like. She had a killer-look. Even on paper, they seemed able to pierce you. She seemed to be in her late twenties, but no birthday seemed to be available in the comments to confirm it. There was not much information and as it had been left there on purpose, Jarod was not sure he could really trust it. He sighed. Knowing her height, her hair and eye color was not very valuable, and the rest was only claptrap. He wondered what Parker had found out about her.

He read the information again, when he noticed a sequence of numbers he had first taken for a reference. Now as he was studying it more carefully, it looked like a phone number. Jarod shook his head. Was it possible that Marissa had left her number? What did she mean by that? Did she want him to call? She really was a strange woman. He looked at his cell phone on the desk, wondering what he should do. As his eyes wandered over the busy desk, he saw Anderson's file and the decision was easily made.

It had to wait. What was currently important was solving the Balmore mystery and getting Peters out of jail as soon as possible. As he sat down in front of his computer, he felt a round object in his pocket pressing against his right thigh. He took the marble in his hand and played with it while reading Anderson's blood results. He had taken with him the blood sample he'd made earlier that day, in case he needed to check some information again in his home lab.

He frowned as he went through the report. The chemical analysis of the blood had shown the presence of an alkaloid and a resinoid in the patient's blood, but due to the small concentration left it had not been possible to clearly identify the poison. At least, the report was clearly stating that the present condition of Anderson was not natural and could not be linked to his treatment. Poison, the word was finally said.

Jarod took a piece of pizza and reached for the blood sample in his jacket. After he had eaten a bit, he washed his hands thoroughly and headed to his lab. After having seen the various symptoms from Anderson and Colloway, he was pretty sure that they were caused by a plant, not a medication. Muscle spasms, convulsions, coma and even death, those symptoms had made him think about a story a cattle farmer had once told him. There was a very common plant in North America that proved deadly for a lot of animals, men included. Because of the lakes and the rivers not very far away, Jarod knew it was easy to find it almost anywhere in the area, especially now in the summertime.

Knowing what toxic chemical he was looking for, Jarod did the tests again. After a while, he shouted out. What he was looking for was there, not in big concentration, but there was enough to be certain that it was the root cause of the problem. Cicutoxin. The deadly poison of the most violent toxic plant in North America, the Cicuta maculata, the very common spotted water-hemlock.

Even if he was happy that he had been able to identify the toxin, he did not feel reassured. Sometimes the poison automatically indicated the culprit. But in this case, it was very easy for anyone even with limited botanical knowledge to know how deadly this plant could be. And finding some was more than easy.

The only certainty he had was that it was no doctor and probably no nurse either. They would have known better drugs to get rid of a patient and moreover, they would have been able to give them a lethal dose. The culprit had nevertheless been smart. The symptoms of this poisoning were close to the actual diseases the two patients had. Mrs Colloway was suffering from severe breathing problems. So a drug inducing asphyxiation was appropriate to fool most of the doctors. Mr Anderson just came out of a bowel surgery, so abdominal pains were to be expected.

Yes the culprit was smart, he had found the perfect poison, but he had not been able to administer a lethal dose. He had probably been too cautious, willing to leave as few traces as possible if a blood test was to be done. Jarod got up and walked again to his desk. Who could it be and what was the final aim? They had already been able to identify that the victims were all famous people and that their deaths would hit the front page of the local newspapers. He needed to see Peters again and just hoped he could help him to solve this mystery. Maybe tomorrow would give him what he needed.


* * * *



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Marissa walked slowly down the empty hallway. It was only 6 a.m. and most of the employees were still at home. She loved this time. It gave her the feeling that she owned the place. It also brought her back to happier times when they used to play in the corridors, making fun of the surveillance cameras. It had been their little game, escaping their rooms and playing hide-and-seek with the sweepers. With their childish innocence, they had not realized that the game had only been accepted as it was seen as a test. They had been willing to find out the smartest and best ones among them.

Nothing was innocent and without purpose at the Centre. And when they finally had realized it, it was too late, decisions had been made and their different fates sealed. Forever. 'Never look back,' she had always been told. 'You must be strong, an example for everyone.'

She shook her head and went on with her walk. Last night, her dinner with Lyle had been a very entertaining and surprising experience. He was funny and rather good-looking. She smiled at herself, remembering some of the rather improper thoughts that had run through her mind while with him yesterday. But she was no fool, even though she realized that he liked her or at least that his thoughts were probably as indecent as hers. She also knew that he had invited her because he had been asked to. What she had still to find out was if he was following his own agenda or trying to please his father. Or maybe both.

As usual, she hadn't slept much. Her new home was a huge cottage with 12 rooms, far too big for her. It was comfortable but she didn't feel at ease there. The house had been chosen by some Centre executive and she wasn't sure the place was camera and microphone free. That puzzled her even more as she was soon to have a permanent guest with her, she didn't want the Centre to know about. At least not that soon. Mrs Mitchell, the wife of her steward, had been hired to watch over the house and the different servants needed to run the huge place. She seemed nice, but Marissa had been brought up trusting no one.

Her right hand went by itself to her back, checking the waistband of her skirt, looking for something that was not there. She laughed at herself. The human being was an animal with habits that were not easy to forget. Although she knew she was without a weapon, a part of herself just didn't want to accept it.

Suddenly she stopped and turned around. She had felt a presence, as though someone was watching her. She slowly glanced around, trying to locate the intruder. Her eyes only met emptiness, no one was there. Then she felt it. She knew where it came from. She moved without hesitation next to the closest vent and knelt down. Dark blue eyes met blue, catching each other for some time. She smiled faintly.

"You back?" a weak voice asked.

"Yes, I am back," she said, her smile widening.

"Nice, you home!"

"Nice to see some things never change." She shook her head and added sadly, "Well, I don't think that the word 'nice' is really appropriate."

Angelo touched her fingers through the vent, slowly caressing them. She could see him smile and understood how lonely he was feeling now that he was the only permanent resident of the Centre. Suddenly a sound startled them. Someone else was heading in their direction. When she looked again at the vent, she found him gone.

She stood up, wiped the dust from her hand and headed to her new office as though nothing had happened.


* * * * * * * * * * *



Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



Jarod had come early that morning. He never slept much, but with this problem in his head it had almost been impossible to rest. He had spent most of the night running scenarios, trying to find out what had actually happened.

He had come to the conclusion that only two people could have done it: Miss Dawson or Matt Stewart. He wasn't very satisfied with his conclusions, but as it seemed clear that it could not be someone on the medical staff, those people were the only ones who seemed likely to have done it.

Miss Dawson was feeling vengeful since her beloved Dr Brewster was not granted the expected partnership in the clinic last year. Jarod himself had to admit that the head of surgery had been behaving very strangely in the last few months. His behavior yesterday had shocked him. He remembered how often Brewster had left, almost without notice, leaving the department in the hands of Edwards.

Had he been too fast at striking him off the list of possible suspects? Jarod wasn't sure anymore. A woman in love would certainly be happy to help, without asking too many questions. Brewster could still be the head of the conspiracy. First, it was known that he did not like Peters. Second, the drug that had been added to the anesthetic had been carefully chosen. Third, this person had at least basic knowledge of drugs and access to the inventory.

Jarod let these thoughts run through his mind while playing with Cassie's marble. If Brewster was the person behind it, the puppeteer so to speak, Miss Dawson was then the only possible accomplice. In fact, he didn't even need someone else's help for the first two crimes. He could have easily altered the composition of the anesthetic and left without anyone being suspicious. Then he might have needed Dawson's help to go on with his crime spree. Jarod shook his head. That didn't make any sense. He certainly would never have chosen surgery patients as victims and even so, why would he do that? The benefit was nonexistent. He could not believe that revenge alone would push him to kill.

Could Dawson have done it all by herself? For the last two attempts, Jarod was eager to say yes. He knew she was keen on plants and as a native of the Lake area, she certainly knew the dangers of the hemlock. But for Angela and Peter Branningan, that was more than unlikely.

And Matt Stewart? His situation was similar to Miss Dawson's. He was no doctor and Jarod was not even sure that he knew about the deadly plant. Moreover, what would have been his motivation? He had as much to lose as Denison in the situation. He was the co-owner of the clinic and Jarod could not believe that he was ruining his company on purpose. Damn, he was missing something really important. There was someone in the clinic he was not thinking of and who had to have done it.


* * * *



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Miss Parker was about to enter her office when she saw her father waving at her, putting a finger on his lips to tell her to be quiet. With much surprise, she followed him to his office where Lyle was already waiting for them.

"Oh, I see that we have a family war council," she stated sarcastically, while she took a seat opposite to her brother. "Hello, brother dear, how was your dinner last night? Did you make an 'overture' to her?"

"Well I think she likes me. And our dinner was very interesting...and entertaining, I could even add."

"Don't tell me she invited you for a last drink? Or maybe you showed her your stamp collection?"

"Children, stop that!" Mr Parker interrupted their little word game, angrily. "We have important issues to discuss as far as Marissa is concerned. Our position must be well thought out and consistent."

"I have one question before we start to discuss how we should behave in front of her and how much we should tell her," Miss Parker pointed out.

"What is it, Angel?"

"Do you know her or do you think you might know her?"

Mr Parker looked at her, puzzled, remembering the conversation they had last night. When he turned to Lyle, he saw that his sister's question was also present in his eyes. He swallowed hard and stood up, not certain of the answer he could give.

"Honestly I don't know. It's a possibility. We had so many children here in the last 30 years, she could have been one of them. Especially if you consider that she had been adopted thanks to the Centre. This is where I need both of you," he added forcefully, putting his hands on the table, reinforcing the eye-contact he had broken previously. "We don't know how much she knows about us and who informs her, which is even worse. This brings us back to the main topic. How are we going to deal with her?"

"I don't think we can or even should lie to her," Lyle said. "If she has another source of information within the Centre, you can be sure she will know that we're trying to hide things from her. And that would not be very wise."

"I hate to say it, but I agree with Lyle," Miss Parker replied. "Lying, concealing things would be very stupid and dangerous. The problem is, we don't know why she has been sent here and what she is up to. Did she only come to catch Jarod or is her target something else? Or someone else?"

"Like me?" her father wondered.

"I don't know, but you can imagine that the Triumvirate is not very happy with our lastest results on Jarod and on other projects that have unhappily failed in the last few years," she reminded him.

"We need to cooperate with her, at least as long as we don't know what she wants and how she can be countered. We could use the 'good cop-bad coop' technique," Lyle added.

"And let me guess... You're going to be the good cop?" Miss Parker said, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Well I guess it's too late for you to take that part over. I don't think we can describe your relationship with her as a friendly one. Didn't start very well I'm afraid." Lyle pursed his lips, looking at her mockingly.

"I don't like the idea of cooperating with her." Mr Parker sighed. "But I guess you are right. As long as we don't know what she is up to, this is probably the wisest thing to do. So Lyle, you will take care of Marissa. Angel, try to smooth out the rough edges. Well I guess this ends the conversation."

Suddenly the double door opened and Marissa stood there, watching them, a smile on her face.

"I was already wondering if you had all slept late this morning. Did I interrupt a family meeting?" she asked, jokingly.

"No, not at all," Lyle replied, standing up and heading towards her. "We didn't know that you were already here. Had we known, we would have invited you to join us with pleasure."

"Oh I don't doubt it. Why should you keep secrets from me?"

"Yes, why?" Lyle added with a faint laugh, feeling more than uneasy at the lie.

"Miss Parker, I am still waiting for the information on RF2, oh sorry I forgot, on Jarod."

"I will check but I think that it should be ready by now," Miss Parker said, standing up.

"Good. I hate to wait. It's just not like me," Marissa replied. "You know where my office is, if not I can draw you a map."

Marissa left the room after a quick glance at the Parker family, leaving them unsure about what had happened.





Miss Parker sat at her desk when suddenly her phone rang.

"Yes?" she answered, rather softly.

"You must feel bad to answer that way. Where has your forceful 'What' gone?" Jarod asked, mockingly.

"I don't know. Guess you caught me at one of my weak moments."

"Ouh! I don't like that. You normally don't react that way when I am teasing you. I am not sure I dialed the right number."

"Leave it and tell me why you are calling me? Are you feeling bored with life in the outside world and want me to pick you up? Because that would be the only thing that could improve my week and help me to cheer up."

She heard Jarod laugh at her answer and she could not prevent herself from smiling.

"No, I am sorry this is not why I called you. Well and 'improve your week'? Should I remind you that this is only Tuesday? A lot of bad things could still happen."

"Thank you, I already feel better," she added, sarcastically. "So what's up?"

"I found a file on Marissa in the Centre's archives."

"Great," she sighed, not sounding very convinced by this statement. "So did we."

"Wasn't much in it. But what was interesting was that she planted the data just for me."

"Oh just for you, how interesting. Did she add 'For Jarod' in red capitals with flowers and hearts?"

"Somehow." He laughed. "I had to open it with my identification to find something and she left a little note for me. But unfortunately the information was not very interesting. There is one thing I still need to check. I will let you know as soon as I find out more. But what about you, what did you find?"

"Why should I tell you? Give me one good reason."

"I could improve your week..."

"I already told you what you have to do to improve my week and you don't seem ready to cooperate," she teased him.

"I am usually good at finding information. Remember Lyle. And Fenigor. That you know more than me today, doesn't mean that it will always be the case. If you tell me what you have found out, I promise I will tell you what I'll find next. So, do we have a deal?"

She remained silent a moment and he wondered if she was going to accept his proposal.

"Okay, deal. We have found out two things about her. First, she had been adopted through the Centre, as a baby. Her parents were called Gregory Winthrope and Megan Caldwell. Broots is currently researching in that direction. Second, she has Security Level 15. Even Daddy seems worried having her with us. He said that the Triumvirate insisted on having her join us."

"I don't like that. Security Level 15? Interesting. Well I will check some things. Is that all you know?"

"If I say yes, would you believe me?" she asked.

"Not after you asked that question," he replied.

"She seems to know the Centre as though she's already been here. Daddy started to say something about that, then stopped. I am pretty sure he knows more about her than he wants to tell us."

"Why am I not surprised he's concealing things from you?"

"Spare me, your sarcasm is the last thing I need today," she angrily said as she hung up on him.





Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



Jarod was still looking at his phone, a smile on his face, when Susan rushed into his office.

"Mr Anderson is awake! Come! Hurry!"

Jarod jumped up and followed her as she headed to the intensive care unit. With Anderson, things could be different. Maybe he had seen something and would be able to tell if strange things had happened. Within a minute, they reached his bedside.

"Mr Anderson, it is good to have you back with us. How do you feel?" Jarod asked, while checking his pupils. He noticed with pleasure that they were back to normal.

"I've felt better to be honest," Anderson answered, a vague smile on his lips. "But I guess I'm okay. What do you think about that, Dr... Flemming?" he added after reading Jarod's name tag.

"I think that you're doing well. Can I ask you a question? What is the last thing you remember before you woke up this morning?"

"Not much I'm afraid. I remember pains in my belly and how I seemed to have lost control over my muscles. I was shivering like crazy. I was also feeling dizzy and the last thing I remember was calling a nurse. After that, only darkness, until some minutes ago. Man, I am happy to be back." He sighed with relief. "I guess that kind of experience makes you think twice about your life. I promise, I won't go on with it the way I used to. Doctor, you have in front of you a new man, and this man won't spend 20 hours a day working. God has taught me my lesson well."

Jarod couldn't prevent himself from smiling at Anderson's sally. One thing he was sure of was that God had certainly not meant to teach him that kind of thing. At least not that way.

"Did you have any visitors yesterday morning before your pains started?" Jarod asked.

"Well, the nurses came, as usual. We had a little chat. Very entertaining in fact," he added, winking at Jarod. "After that, I don't know to be honest. I fell asleep, with all these drugs I am receiving all day, I can barely stay awake. I woke up feeling sick. Do you think it's important?"

"No, don't worry. I just thought that maybe you had a visit which could have caused your restlessness. That's all. Now that you are feeling better, everything is back to normal," Jarod lied to him.

"Well, I had a visit this weekend which surprised me. Dr Brewster came by to find out how I was feeling. He stayed pretty long and we had a chat, about investments, social benefits and what he should do with his money. He was really very nice, but I didn't think that he would stay that long. Not that I'm complaining, I'm not receiving many visitors."

"Brewster came by?" Jarod asked.

"Yes. Nice guy. Usually the only ones I see are Dr Edwards or the nurses. Oh, that's not true, Mr Stewart came too. That was less surprising as he is also running a company."

"When did Stewart come?"

"He came on Friday for a rather long chat. And well, he came Monday morning too, I remember now. Didn't stay long though. A couple of minutes. He was in a hurry but wanted to say hello. A really nice guy, I tell you."

"Yes, a very nice guy," Jarod replied thoughtfully. "You need to rest. I'll leave you now. If anything is wrong, don't hesitate to call a nurse. You should be moved back to your room this afternoon if you continue to get better."

"That's good. This place gives me the creeps," he whispered.

Jarod left smiling, meeting Susan's amused glance as she went back to Anderson's side. This patient was certainly one of a kind.


Jarod's mind was puzzled by what he had just learned. The two people, who were the most likely to have done it, had visited Anderson before his poisoning. He checked his wristwatch to see if he still had some time before leaving for Peters' house. After all, Stewart still hadn't had the pleasure of speaking with him, he thought.

He knocked at his door, impatient to see him. As no answer came, Jarod entered the waiting room. Turning his head to the empty desk, he sighed. 'The secretaries are not often in. Wonder if they are already looking for new jobs elsewhere,' he thought, remembering Dawson's absence yesterday. Well, in that case, it was good luck for him. As he was about to knock, he heard Stewart talk.

"Yes, I know what I said, but Denison is still ready to go on. He's hoping that things will improve."

...

"Of course we need to move forward. Another bank has refused to help us, I think that he has his back to the wall now. I did all that I could to convince him, you can't blame me for the delay."

...

"Due to all these past events, the value of the clinic has drastically decreased. Now you can afford to take it over. It's now a real bargain, if you consider all the investments done in equipment and furniture over the past years."

...

"Yes, of course. I will arrange a meeting, maybe tomorrow? ...Okay. I'll call you back as soon as I know what Denison is up to now."

Jarod shook his head. That shed a new light on his theories. He had thought that he had no motive, but now that was no longer sure. Could someone really kill only for money? Could greed be the reason why two young people had to die? He shook his head with disgust. If that was the case, Stewart would pay for it. And he would suffer.

He turned away, anxious to leave the room as soon as possible. He didn't feel like talking to the administrator anymore. His present state of rage was too great and he knew he needed to calm down before facing him. While walking back to his office, he let the now most plausible scenario with Stewart run a last time through his mind. All pieces of the jigsaw suddenly had found their place and the picture he saw now made him feel dizzy.

It had been an unexpected hit, right to his stomach. Stewart had always seemed such a nice person, always very polite, as Miss Davis would say 'such a decent young man'. Well, that reminded him once again never to trust looks. He had already made that error once. This time it had almost killed someone.


* * * * * * * * * * *



The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Broots was excited. He had started his research, looking for Marissa's foster parents and to his content, he had found information on them. Miss Parker would be satisfied. Their lives were detailed in front of him, on the screen of his computer. It was reported that they had adopted Marissa when she was a 6 month-old baby and that they had died in a car accident when she was only 3.

'Sad story,' he thought, feeling sorry for her. They apparently had been very nice people who were very appreciated by their neighbors. As they had no family, except for distant cousins, the little girl had again been put on the adoption list. She was about to be adopted, when a long lost brother of her father suddenly appeared and claimed custody. He brought her back to the orphanage, after just three months. But after that event she was no longer available for adoption and went from one temporary home to another, one experience being worse than the previous.

"Wow. Talk about dysfunctional families," he said aloud, thinking of Marissa and of Miss Parker. "I sure will never complain again."

"Dysfunctional?" Sydney wondered, as he entered the room.

"Oh Sydney. Never do that again. I almost had a heart attack. You should have mercy on me." He sighed with relief. "I just found information on Marissa and her parents. It seems to confirm what she has told Miss Parker."

Broots stood up and handed over the file he had just printed.

"She had been adopted as a baby and her parents died when she was very young. Then because of some creep in her family she could not be adopted again. Her life was certainly not a very agreeable one."

Sydney read the information quickly and shook his head at some of the details. Dysfunctional was the least one could say. A medical report in the file even stated that she had probably been raped when only 12 years old. Who could do that to a little girl?

"Is that all you could find?" he finally asked.

"Is that all?" Broots shouted out. "You are joking, I hope. This data is very complete. I never dreamt I could find that much. I thought you would be satisfied with my work," he added disappointed.

"I am satisfied, Broots. It's just that the report stops when she is 12. After that, nothing. I was just wondering if we might get more. We are looking for a link between her and the Centre."

"Well, I think her story is pretty close to Lyle's. Adopted and then abused by unworthy people. I think there is quite a pattern. She probably joined the Centre after those events and was transformed into the efficient operative we have."

"Yes. Maybe. It's strange. I wonder why they did not interfere before. Why did they leave her in the hands of such people?"

"The Centre is not really into altruistic things. Maybe she wasn't smart enough or maybe she wasn't involved in any particular project," Broots replied.

"No. Something doesn't make sense. There is one thing we mustn't forget. She had been adopted as a little baby after an intervention by the Centre. It means that they knew her. There must have been something special. So why ignore her during all those years and leave her with unworthy people? It was different for Lyle. He was still with his adopted parents, with the people the Centre had chosen for him, but Marissa..." he stopped, lost in his thoughts. "Did her foster parents have a connection to the Centre?"

"No, I don't think so. But I can do additional research on that, if you want."

"Yes, do so. There must be a link somewhere. And Broots, not a word to Miss Parker on that before we know more," Sydney added, before leaving.

"As you wish," Broots whispered, not understanding why he should keep that secret from her.





County jail
Buffalo, New York



Jarod helped Barbara Peters into the room that had been prepared for them. At first they had not been willing to allow them more than a discussion in the common visiting room. But thanks to a previous pretend as a defense attorney, Jarod knew Peters' rights by heart and insisted on meeting him in an appropriate place. At first, the guards had been reluctant, but after calling the jail's director, they had been told that there was nothing that could prevent Peters' wife from claiming that.

They waited for about ten minutes before the door opened on a distraught Peters, guided by two guards. They removed his cuffs and coldly reminded them that they only had 20 minutes. Barbara ran into her husband's arms, happy to be able to hug him tightly. Jarod smiled at this sight. After a couple of minutes, the young couple finally parted and sat down at the table in front of Jarod.

"Cassie gave me this for you. She has been carefully drawing it for the past week," Barbara told her husband.

"Wow. Our daughter is a real artist. It's beautiful." He ended his sentence strangling a sob. "I am sorry, Jarod. It's nice that you came. Barbara, told me you had interesting news on my case. Isn't it strange that my lawyer isn't willing to help me out and that a colleague I never worked with is researching this for me?"

"It's certainly strange, but maybe he's not as motivated as I am. I want this to stop. And having the wrong person in jail, certainly won't stop it," Jarod simply said.

"For sure, it won't. I really didn't do it. You believe me, don't you?"

"Of course I do. And I'm not the only one at the clinic. Until this morning, I still had my doubts on the identity of the culprit, but I think that now I know who did it," Jarod added in a sigh.

"Who?"

"Matt Stewart!"

"Matt Stewart? You're joking. Why would he do that?" Peters exclaimed.

"He wants a company called Munitecs to take over the clinic. It seems that it will be very beneficial for him. The point is that Denison was not very willing to step down. So they worked on weakening the clinic's situation. It's close to bankruptcy and each day, it's losing additional patients and support from financial institutions. It's now a real bargain for Munitecs."

"Stewart would never do that," Peters said, but Jarod could hear hesitation in his voice as though he wanted to convince himself. "I know that he has the reputation of being selfish and guided only by money, but I assure you, he has always been very nice to me. Why would he attack me?"

"That was unfortunately only fate. He wanted to hit hard. Attacking people who would really drag the clinic down if something was to happen to them. So imagine his luck when a young tennis star and the son of a politician show up and need surgery. They were just the perfect victims. Dead certain headlines in all the local newspapers. There is only one thing that puzzles me. Does he have any medical knowledge?"

Peters was totally lost in his thoughts after listening to Jarod and did not catch his last question. "What did you say? Oh, medical knowledge? Well I don't think he has, but his father was a famous surgeon. He started the clinic with Denison some thirty years ago. When he retired, he gave only a part of his shares to his son. Denison got the rest. I think, the old Stewart said that he thought that a clinic didn't need administrators to work, but only great doctors. I guess that Matt must have been able to find all the information he needed at his father's. I remember, he has an extensive library on medicine. The old man is still alive and the interns were always told that they could go to his place for their research. He must be over seventy, but he still loves to talk about medicine."

Jarod nodded. So Stewart had more than one motive to act against the clinic. Greed, of course, but also revenge. He wanted to destroy Denison and even attack his father, by destroying what they had built together.

"What are you going to do now, Jarod?" Barbara wondered.

"We need to make him confess. To frighten him to death maybe. I heard him talking today with the people at Munitecs. Well I guess it was Munitecs. I wonder if they know what he has done. In the beginning, I was really sure that Brewster had done it. His behavior has been so strange in the last few weeks."

"Brewster? No, I could have told you from the beginning that it could not have been him," Peters said. "He was very disappointed when Denison didn't ask him to become his partner, even though I am pretty sure it was Stewart's doing. Well, rumor has it that he is about to leave the clinic for a better position in a hospital in New York. I would not be surprised if that were true. That is why he's often leaving, sometimes quite unexpectedly."

"Oh, I like that better. At least my feeling that Brewster was not able to do that was right." Jarod replied, relieved. "Be patient, this will soon be over. I plan to trap Stewart tomorrow at the latest and then, it won't be long before you will leave this place as a free man."

Peters and his wife smiled back at him, holding hands. Suddenly the door opened and a guard with cuffs headed toward the young doctor.

"The visit is over. It's time for you to go back to your cell," he shouted, tearing Peters from the arms of his wife.

"Soon, I promise," Jarod said, watching Peters leave. The anesthesiologist turned his head to look at him a last time and nodded with a faint smile.





Jarod's lair
Buffalo, New York



Jarod was looking at the test tube with a satisfied smile on his face. After driving Barbara Peters home, he had made a fast stop in a marsh, close to the city. He had been looking for the hemlock and after just a few minutes, he had been able to locate the herb. In the middle of the summer, he didn't need to gather a lot, as the plant was very toxic at this season.

He had worked the last hour extracting the toxin. Now he was preparing a drug concentrated enough to make Stewart believe that he had a lethal dose, but nevertheless harmless. He wanted the administrator to confess his crime, not to kill him, even though he certainly deserved it.

He was satisfied with the result. The concentration of the toxin was perfect now. Stewart would certainly recognize the poison he had used. Jarod smiled. First he had been willing to wait until tomorrow to act. But after seeing Barbara's desperate look and Cassie's sad eyes, he had changed his mind. After calling the clinic to tell them that he was taking the afternoon to rest, he started to work on his plan to catch Stewart. He had made several calls and now the trap was in place. Jarod was sure of its success.

He was going to act this evening. A call fifteen minutes ago assured him that Stewart would work late that night. And that was perfect, just what he needed.

Stewart had probably injected the poison in the IV of the patient. Jarod was planning to have him drink it. Normally the plant was rather distasteful, but he had been able to alter the taste to make it almost unnoticeable if well mixed.

As he was picking up his jacket, he looked back at the marble on his desk and smiled. He turned, took it and put it in his pocket along with the test tube. It made miracles possible, Cassie had said. He smiled at that thought. Yes indeed. In a few hours from now, one would happen. Still smiling, he reached his car and thought how much he was going to enjoy having Stewart confess.





The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware



Sydney was watching the tape of an experiment on a couple of twins, when the door was opened by Marissa. She walked in and stopped in front of him, her hands on his desk. She looked at him, without saying a word.

"Is there something I can do for you, Miss Winthrope?" Sydney wondered.

"You are the person who knows Jarod best. You have trained him, basically he is sort of a son to you. Correct me if I am wrong."

"Our relationship has always been professional. No feelings were involved in the process. This has always been very clear between me and Jarod. I was his educator, his trainer if you prefer, and that was all," Sydney corrected her.

"And I am supposed to believe that?" she asked him, smiling mockingly.

"You can believe what you want. I am just telling you the way it was. You can watch the surveillance tapes if you think I am lying."

"You were his only contact to the world so to speak and you're telling me that your heart remained hard and dry for a little boy without parents? I should believe that, knowing your past?"

"My past? What do you know about my past?"

"Enough to be sure that you are lying to me. Even without losing precious time watching those stupid tapes."

"So why are you asking if you already know the answers? Do you want to test us? You have spent most of your time, since you arrived here, asking questions and trying to make us feel uncomfortable. So why?"

"And you are asking me that? Oh what a disappointment! I thought it would be easily understandable to a brilliant psychiatrist like yourself."

"Are you trying to flatter me, Miss Winthrope?"

"Did it work?" she asked him.

Sydney was puzzled by her last remark. For one second, it seemed that she had shown him another part of her personality. Her smile had been different from the one he had previously seen. It was cheerful almost childish. She had been willing to tease him.

"Possibly," he replied.

"Good." She turned and headed for the door.

"You didn't answer my question." He reproached her.

"Oh, but an answer would insult your intelligence. Besides, you already know why. We are alike somehow."

"In what perspective?" Sydney again wondered.

"We rarely ask questions we don't know the answer to or at least can't guess at," she replied, while leaving the room.

'Strange woman,' he thought. She was fascinating, he had to admit. A person full of contradictions. And definitely very smart. He thought again about the information he had read on her and shook his head. She did not behave like someone who had experienced that kind of abuse in her childhood. But as he had already said to Miss Parker, Marissa seemed to be the queen of manipulations.





Balmore Clinic
Buffalo, New York



Jarod headed to Stewart's office, a coffee pot in his hand. The hot, tasteful beverage would be just perfect to hide the little aftertaste the drug would necessarily leave. Moreover, at this time, he guessed the administrator would be looking for a break and something hot. Jarod knew that inevitably he would head for the break room on the managerial floor, as his secretary would have left long ago.

He checked, one last time, the microphone hidden on him and whistled as he reached the break room. He looked around and noticed that it was empty. At this time, most of the doctors used the other one on the second floor as it was closer to the patients and the surgery area. He decided to sit down and wait for Stewart to come, while reading a medical book.

About twenty minutes later, the administrator showed up and looked surprised to see Jarod. "Pretty unusual to have you here. I thought you fancied the other break room more than this one. Too cold, you said once, if I remember correctly. Are you waiting for someone?"

"Yes and no. I wanted to read quietly and this seemed the perfect place for it. I am also supposed to meet with Dr Denison in an hour from now. I just thought it was not worth going home, so I just stayed here. I am getting too much attention from some people downstairs," he added, winking at him.

"Yes, some of us have already noticed your popularity with the female staff. You have quite a fan-club with them."

"Yes. Are you looking for some coffee? I just made some myself."

"Oh, with pleasure. I am totally incapable of working the coffee machine properly. You are a life saver," he replied, with a big smile on his face. "I still have to work very late and without your help, I don't know what I would have done."

"Gone downstairs and ask a nice nurse to help you with it."

"I don't have your popularity. You just need to say that you are thirsty and you'd already have ten nurses run to the vending machine to get you something," he stated, while pouring some coffee in his mug and sitting down next to Jarod. "When I ask for something, I only get it because I am one of the managers here. Most of them don't like me. They don't understand how hard and demanding my job is. I am the bad guy who cuts budgets and refuses salary increases."

"I guess I can understand that. It must be hard for you. Especially in these hard times, with all the problems with Peters. Munitecs must also be hard to counter. I heard they wanted to take the clinic over. Do you think they have a chance?"

"Well, their proposal is very interesting, considering our current position. They have the cash we are lacking and they could help to reinstall trust among our potential patients. Family doctors are now concerned about sending us their clients and you can understand why. With Munitecs, that would disappear. They are known for being very professional."

"Should I look for another job?" Jarod teased him.

"For God's sake, no! You are among our best surgeons here. They certainly would not like to see you leave. I'm even sure that they would be willing to talk about salary increases with you and possibly about other interesting benefits."

Jarod nodded, making him believe he was interested by his proposal. In fact, he was looking for the first symptoms of poisoning in Stewart. If he had calculated the concentration of the toxin right, it would not be long now.

"If only William would understand that they are our only hope. But he is just too proud and doesn't want to hand the clinic over."

"If I understood it properly, this clinic was founded by your father and Dr Denison. Would it not sadden you to let a company which cares more about profit than patients take their clinic over? They have dedicated so many years of their lives to building it."

"Things change. This is the way the world works. Of course it's already a bit sad, but it's better than to see it close forever. I'm sure my father would approve." Stewart started to show some pain talking and breathing.

"Are you not feeling well?" Jarod asked, as he saw Stewart bend over with pains.

"I don't know. I suddenly feel so dizzy and I can't breath, it's as though I ran a marathon without preparation. Even my arms and legs hurt," he complained.

"Wonder where I saw those symptoms before?" Jarod asked aloud.

Stewart looked up at him, with questioning eyes. Suddenly he started to understand what he meant.

"What did you do? The coffee! What did you put in the coffee you gave me?" Stewart shouted trying to grab Jarod. But he was faster and could get out of his reach.

"Now I remember. The first time I saw them it was with a woman named Colloway. She really felt bad. Do you also feel that bad? It's a shame you don't have an oxygen mask to improve your breathing... Then I guess I saw it again with Anderson. Poor guy, he even fell into a coma."

"You poisoned me? But why?"

"I poisoned you? Why do you say that? I don't think that either Mrs Colloway or Mr Anderson has been poisoned. What makes you think they were?"

Stewart looked at him, shaking his head. He had said too much, but he was in such pain that he could not think properly anymore. Jarod knew, the administrator could see it in his eyes and was now wondering what he could do to save his life.

"Help me. You are not going to let me die. You are a doctor. You can't do that. It's against the Hippocratic Oath."

"Hmm. I have bad news for you I guess. I am not really a doctor, you know. So I guess I don't care about seeing you die. Especially as you deserve it."

"And what are you? Some kind of revengeful angel come to earth to punish the bad guys?"

"Something like that I guess. When I saw Anderson yesterday, I immediately thought that the dose must have been more concentrated for him. I wonder how much you got? And if it will be strong enough to kill you. You know the dangers of this substance. It's deadly."

"How did you figure out about the hemlock?"

"It was easy. The symptoms are very characteristic. And I was lucky. I worked in a farm some months ago and they had problems with cattle which died after eating that plant."

"And you figured it out it was me? How?"

"I have eyes and good ears, and true friends, who helped me to solve this little charade. It was very clever of you to attack those teenagers during their operations. Hit front pages. But that wasn't enough and so you went on sapping the clinic, the trust the people had put in it and the will of the doctors to go on. I still have problems understanding why you did that. Money for sure. Was it really worth killing innocent people? You are also going to die, so what was the benefit?"

Jarod watched as Stewart fell to the floor as his pains were becoming more severe.

"Didn't you have any regrets when those two kids went to surgery? You knew they were to die and you didn't stop it. Why? Why? Why didn't you stop it? Is money that important? Or was it revenge on your father?"

"You can't understand it!"

"You are damn right, I can't understand it. So explain. Maybe then I'll think about saving your life."

"It needed to be done. It was fast and painless. They just didn't wake up. I didn't have a single thing against them. I somehow pitied them. They were like me. Kids with no childhood. I had been pushed by my father to become a doctor, and when it was clear that I did not have the stomach for it, he just turned his back on me. I just stopped existing for him. Angela was also being pushed by her father. He wanted her to become a star. The new Chris Evert. But after her surgery, it was almost certain that she would never be number one. She would become a lame duck to him, like I had become. Unable to reach the stars for her father. You could say the same for Branningan. Not smart enough for his father. Now that he is dead, he calls him his son. But before, did he really spend time with him? No."

Jarod shook his head. There had been another scheme behind the one he had seen. A soul tearing reality that made him shudder. He suddenly heard a sob behind him and as he turned, he could see Denison who was listening to them.

"How could you do something so monstrous to these kids? How could you play God? Who do you think you are? My God, what kind of monster are you not to see what you have done was wrong? You certainly deserve to die," Denison said.

"Nobody is going to die," Jarod calmly stated. "The dose he's received is not lethal. It was just meant to give him severe pains, but his life is not in danger. I wanted him to confess, not to die. This is not in our hands. The law needs to take over this case. And Peters needs to go back home."

Jarod knelt done and gave Stewart another drug to drink.

"Take this. The pain will stop faster."

Suddenly Susan appeared at the door.

"I got everything on tape. I guess it will make a nice piece of evidence," she said.

"You won't need that. I heard everything. I am ready to testify. And I'm sure that Matt will also be ready to confess his crimes now. I never thought I would live through such painful moments. I had seen in you the son I never had. I can't believe I was so wrong about you!" Denison replied, looking at Stewart, still lying on the floor.


* * * *



Marissa's Cottage
Blue Cove, Delaware



Marissa was feeling exhausted after her almost sleepless night. She had spent the whole day reading the latest information on Jarod and observing the Centre's operatives work. And now she was happy to go home. Her day had been interesting. It was the least she could say. The little discussion the Parker clan had this morning and that she interrupted, still brought a smile to her face. It had not taken them long to meet and discuss her arrival. Lyle had done his best to conceal the fact they were discussing her presence at the Centre. Nevertheless, his father's look and his sister's smile had been evidence enough that she had been the main topic during the 'war council'.

She smiled at the thought. So dear Daddy Parker was feeling insecure? Good. Making him doubt was a bonus to the pleasure it was to be back in Blue Cove. And she really enjoyed it. She did not get the complete tour of the site and she regretted it. She would have to ask for one, she guessed. Lyle had shown her the main facilities, but didn't lead her through the sublevels.

She would have loved to see Jarod's room. That had been a place she had never been allowed to see and she was dying to visit it. Now that she was taking part to the research she thought that she was entitled to ask that. She could say that she needed to see the place in order to understand him better. It really would be funny to see it.

As she smiled to herself at that thought, she suddenly remembered Angelo. She knew that he was still held at the Centre, but she didn't expect to see him that soon. He was still using the air vents to go from one place to the other. His knowledge of the Centre would be key. She had heard about his escape a year ago. She was even told that Jarod had tried a treatment on him, to bring back Timmy from the dead. But because of Davy, the attempt had failed as he did not get his last injection. Davy... She frowned at the name. Well that was another problem that needed to find a permanent solution.

As she entered her cottage, she heard Mrs Mitchell heading toward her.

"How was your day? Do you want me to prepare your dinner?" the housekeeper asked.

"My day was okay. No, I love to cook for myself. You can leave and enjoy your evening, I won't need you anymore. Thank you."

"As you wish. At what time do you want your breakfast in the morning? This morning you left so early that you really took me by surprise."

"Well, I never have breakfast. So take your time. I usually leave very early. I don't sleep much."

"Will this still be the case when your guest arrives?"

"My guest? Who told you that I was expecting someone?" she asked menacingly.

"Your corporation told me that. I can't remember the name of the person, but I think it came from the headquarters." Mrs Mitchell stepped back at Marissa's attack.

"Was it someone called Parker or Raines?"

"No. I am sure of that."

"Who hired you?"

"The Centre."

"Which one?"

"Which one? The one in Blue Cove. There is no other Centre."

"Let's clarify the whole matter. This place is mine. And nothing that happens here must be discussed with anyone without me knowing first. Is that clear?"

"Yes, it's clear. Oh, I remember the name that I was given. It was Schwert," she replied, still shaking.

"Schwert, are you sure?" she suddenly relaxed. So it was no one from the Centre. The Triumvirate itself had organized her lodging. She smiled at the name they had used. Schwert, the German word for sword. That was funny. They definitely had a sense of humor.

"Yes," she added, happy to see Marissa smile again. "I am going to leave now, if you don't mind. Oh, I almost forgot, your last luggage came today."

"Good news. Is there also a white case among the luggage?"

"Yes. As you told me, I had them brought to your room. Goodnight," she said, impatient to leave the room as soon as possible.

"Goodnight."

Marissa climbed up the stairs, impatient to open it. She looked at the different cases, before she could locate the white one. She knelt down and opened it hastily. With a sigh of relief, she let her fingers glide on the content of the case. Frantically, while standing up, she opened a small wooden box.
Her Beretta 98FS Deluxe was again in her hands. She took it out of the box and caressed it slowly. Then with a sigh, she put it back in its case. She had been expressly commanded not to use it at the Centre. She sadly looked at it again, before opening a drawer of her cupboard. She let her forefinger glide a last time over it, caressing the mark on its grip. Damn, she was so used to it. She just loved that gun. It had been a faithful friend for so many years that it was almost painful to take another one. She looked at the little design again and sighed. She closed the case, smiling to herself and left the room.


* * * *



Peters' house
Buffalo, New York



Jarod smiled as he drove his car down the small alley. This was going to be one of his favorite moments. Jonathan Peters was sitting next to him, tightly holding a doll for Cassie and impatient to see his family again. When Jarod had come this morning to visit him again, the young doctor hardly believed what had happened and that he was again free. Free to live again, free from any suspicion.

Matt Stewart had spent the night confessing his crimes, leaving no doubt to the police or the District Attorney that they had the actual culprit in front of them. After that, they had set everything in motion to have Peters released from jail as soon as possible. Jarod, who had stayed with Denison and Stewart at the police station, had called Barbara Peters a couple of hours ago, to inform her that her husband was soon to be free again. At last. Back from the nightmare their lives had been in the last few weeks.

The car was not even fully parked when the door of the house flung open and a very excited little girl ran out. Jonathan could hardly leave the car when his daughter jumped into his arms, hugging him tightly, frightened he might leave again. Soon Barbara joined them and they seemed lost in an embrace that could last centuries. Jarod was lost in that sight, it gave him great pleasure, but at the same time it made him feel more lonely than ever. A family, happy to be reunited again. He wondered if he would ever have the chance to have a family. He had no more hopes about his parents, but wondered if one day he would find someone to love, who would love him back and be willing to start a family with him.

He was lost in his thoughts when he felt a little hand reach for his. As he looked down, he saw Cassie, holding her new doll in her arms, looking up at him. He knelt down to face her.

"I wanted to thank you. Thank you for keeping your promise and bringing my daddy back to me." She hugged him tightly and Jarod felt reassured by the warmth of the little body against him.

"You are welcome," he replied with a smile. "It's because you believed in me that this could become true. When you really want something to happen, it does. This is what miracles are made of. Hope and undying trust."

He removed the fiery marble from his pocket and handed it to her.

"And here you have your little miracle-maker. It's working again. I fixed it myself," Jarod said, looking at the little girl.

"No, keep it! I want you to have it now. I am sure you too have dreams you want to see come true. It will help I am sure of that," Cassie replied, with a very serious look in her eyes. "You can't say no."

"You are sure you won't miss it?"

"No, I won't. Now I have everything I need," she said as she looked back at her parents. Then, with a grave look in her eyes, she added, "But you will be happy to have it. I feel it."

Jarod kissed her cheek and hugged her again. His fingers closed on the marble as he put it back in the pocket of his leather jacket. Yes, he would certainly be happy to have this lucky charm with him. In his quest for truth and happiness, it could be a help. A token that better days would come.



* * * *



Epilogue

A bus station
Somewhere in the country



Jarod smiled as he looked at the front pages of various newspapers. The Balmore story was on all the headlines and he could only be satisfied by the outcome. Now it was time to leave and go on to a new quest. But first he needed to do something. He resolutely took a paper out of his pocket and unfolded it carefully. His curiosity needed to be satisfied and only one thing could be done. Call.

"Yes?" the voice was soft but firm.

"You wanted me to call you. So here I am," he stated.

"Jarod? What a surprise! I was already wondering when you would call. You've had my number for two days. I was getting impatient," she mockingly added.

"I had more urgent matters to take care of."

"Tsk tsk! That is not something you should say to a lady. No wonder your relations with Parker are so tense."

"I got your message," he coldly said, ignoring her remark.

"Good."

"Why did you send it?"

"Why? But to introduce myself and to warn you, of course. I want you to enjoy the time you have left outside." She laughed as she said the last words.

"And so you know where I am?"

"Yes, I do."

"And where am I?" he asked.

"Hmm... Let's see. I think you're in a city that was named Beautiful River when the French emigrants settled there. Beau Fleuve... Beautiful name, but impossible to pronounce. It became..."

"Buffalo!" he exclaimed. "You really knew where I was."

"Why should I lie? I don't need to. Nice city, I didn't know it. I enjoyed the visit even though I twisted my ankle there. I even needed to see a doctor. Fortunately I was close to a clinic. What was it called? Hmm... Bellwood... No Balmore." Again, she ended her sentence with a laugh.

Jarod felt numb, like a boxer who had had one punch too many. She knew where he was. More than that, she knew his precise location.

"Why didn't you take me in if you knew where I was?" he wondered.

"Why?" she laughed again. "You are the genius, you should be able to figure it out." With a last laugh, she hung up on him.

He closed his cell phone and sighed, feeling giddy. She knew where he was. But how? And why was he still free? Her last words obsessed him, coming back like a leitmotiv. As he heard the last call for his bus, he stood up and took his bag. There is a time for everything, she had written. 'Yes certainly,' he said to himself. 'If you want to play that game, fine with me. But don't think I'll make it easy for you, Miss Marissa Beatrice Winthrope!'







To be continued in A Time To Remember


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