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note:This story takes place during The Pretender's third season (fall, 1998)


The Centre
Blue Cove, Delaware

"Daddy? You wanted to see me?"

Mr. Parker interrupted his conversation with his visitor to look at his daughter. "Ha, Angel, come in. Sit down," he invited, indicating a chair on the other side of his desk.

Parker left his visitor to go to his desk. Picking up a file, he opened it, more for show than to really refresh his memory, then looked at his daughter. "For some months now, someone has been stealing government secrets and selling them to foreign government. These actions were investigated by the Organization for Scientific Information, a quasi-independent branch of the government that we dealt with for some years in the early seventies. Their investigation led them to The Centre. They called in a favor we owed them from way back when, and asked for our help in putting a stop to these illegal activities," explained Parker. "Naturally," he added, with just the right intonation so that her daughter and his visitor both could read whatever they wanted in his tone of voice, "we agreed. I'm putting you in charge of overseeing the investigation for The Centre."

This new assignment caught Miss Parker by surprise. "What about Jarod?" she asked.

"Angel, it's been, what? Eight weeks since you've had any trace of Jarod?"

"Six," she corrected.

"I'm sure you'll have time to conclude this assignment before he shows up again. If not, your brother is quite capable of dealing with Jarod."

It was in situations such as these that Miss Parker really regretted her decision to quit smoking. For years, she had worked on hiding her emotions from everyone and on perfecting her stone cold look. She always thought it had worked better when she could literally throw smoke in people's eyes, rather than just figuratively. But, for all those years, she was never sure how well it worked with her father; she was even less sure now that she could no longer hide behind a cigarette. It was as if he knew how she felt about Lyle, and delighted about rubbing her nose into it.

"Fine," Miss Parker conceded, knowing in the back of her mind that there was little chance Lyle would catch Jarod even if Jarod were to walk into The Centre's lobby and ask to see him. "I want full liberty to choose my team."

"Oh, I've already taken the liberty of assigning Mr. Broots to your team. Don't be surprised, Angel. You might fool everyone else, but I know better. You're a Parker: you wouldn't put up with his bumbling ways and his cowardly air if he didn't get results for you.

"There is one other person who's been assigned to your team." Parker turned towards his visitor, as a means of finally introducing him to his daughter. "This is Col.. Steve Austin. He's been sent by the OSI to work undercover at The Centre and bring this investigation to a close. Officially, he's a sweeper assigned to your team to be your bodyguard."

"Bodyguard?" Miss Parker commented, to indicated what she thought of that idea. "Have all the relevant information sent to my office," she practically ordered her father. Getting up, she threw a glance at Austin, to indicate to him that the briefing was to be continued in her office. As they both made for the door, Parker stopped them.

"One more thing, Mr. Austin. You let Oscar Goldman know that The Centre is even more protective of its independence now than it was in the seventies. Once we find out who's behind this, you will get proof that his activities have come to a stop, but The Centre will be the one to deal with this individual."

Austin wanted to reply, but took a look at Parker, then at Miss Parker. She looked like the more reasonable of the two, so he decided to wait, and file this as a battle to be fought later. But, as soon as they were out of Mr. Parker's office, Steve asked Miss Parker, "Any chance you or I could get him to change his mind?"

"Forget it," she replied. "There's only one thing you could offer my father in exchange for your man. And I doubt you'd know where to find him."

* *

"Dr. Olivet!"

Jarod looked up from the little girl to whom he'd been talking. The head of the rehabilitation clinic where he was doing his current pretend had called him from down the hall. Two other people were with her, presumably the parents of other patients. Jarod put up his index finger, to let them know he'd be with them in a moment, then turned back to his patient.

"OK, Suzy, I'll see you again tomorrow," he promised. Suzy gave him a shy smile.

Getting up, Jarod gave some instructions to the nurse who accompanied him, then, leaving Suzy in her care, turned towards the people waiting for him. "Yes, Jaime, what is it?"

Jaime Sommers introduced to Jarod the two people who were with her. As he had guessed, they were the parents of another patient Jarod was to start seeing the next day. He exchanged a few pleasantries with them When they left, Jaime motioned to him to follow her into her office. "How's is it going with Suzy?" she asked, as they went into her office.

"I'm sorry to say I'm not making any progress."

"'Not making any progress'?" Jaime replied, with a note of disbelief in her voice. "Jarod, before you arrived last week, Suzy did not even smile, let alone talk. You're the only one who succeeded in getting her to even interact with other people. That's some progress."

"Yes," Jarod conceded, "but I haven't made any progress since my first initial success. Every day, it seems as if I have to start over from the same point. It's as if . . ." Jarod's voice trailed off.

"It's as if what?" Jaime asked.

Jarod took a good look at Jaime. He wasn't sure if he should answer or not. Since he arrived at the rehabilitation clinic, there was something about Jaime Sommers he could not understand. She was hiding some sort of secret, some sort of personal secret. That, in itself, did not necessarily meant she was evil or anything - after all, Jarod conceded to himself, he too was hiding a secret from everyone else- but it did mean he should hesitate before trusting her completely. After all, if he told her his suspicions, and she was the one who was undermining his efforts with Suzy, she could very well attack him or Suzy before he could find out the truth and put his net in place. Or, she could panic, and reveal the truth about her actions. And, because of this secret of hers, because of this unknown quantity, Jarod did not know which way it would go.

But, he started his sentence, and now Jaime was looking at him with a quizzical look. Jarod hated to gamble, but he felt he had no choice. "It's as if someone is trying to undo everything I've accomplished with Suzy." And I intend to find out who it is, he added mentally.

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