Disclaimer: All characters and events in this story are fictitious, and any similarity to a real person, living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintended by the author. "The Pretender" is a protected trademark.
"What?" as Ms Parker turned over onto her back, her eyes still closed as her hand fumbled with the phone. She needed the rest and briefly considered killing the phone with a slug from her 9mm. With one eye open she glares at the alarm clock. 3:13 am. Her aggravation increases as the caller stays silent and then disengages. Groaning, she turns and pushes her phone hand under her pillow, feeling the reassuring grip of her pistol.
With eyes glued to the screen, eyebrows wrinkled in concentration and his back hunched over, Broots contemplates the algorithm that folds open before him. What at first appeared to be a basic search algorithm turned out to be an intricate Trojan horse that unfolded into a tangling web of complex code. Whoever had written it has to be a sheer genius. Broots tried another approach to isolate the main structure of the syntax as his fingers rhythmically ran across the keyboard. His trained eyes continue to dismantle the digital fortress as he discovers an embedded Java applet cleverly hidden between the class hierarchies. As he prepared to probe the inner keep of this encrypted vault a voice whispers in his ear, "Busy, Broots?"
His surprised shout echoes through the room as the coffee spill over his hand and keyboard. "Mm ms Parker, I didn't hear you come in" he stutters as he clenches his burning hand. Looking at the now defunct keyboard he sighs as Ms Parker turns and walks to the door.
"Come on, time for work," floats back as he follows, mumbling under his breath "somebody got out of on the wrong side of the bed this morning."
"Sydney, have you…" Ms Parker started as she entered his office, trailing off as her brother turned and looked at her.
"What are you doing here?"
"Just checking to see what, if any, progress there has been made in bringing Jarod home. You know, Sis, sometimes I wonder if you really are giving it … your all." At this he smirks and raises an eyebrow.
"Lyle, get out, now. And Lyle," at he turns she grinned at him, lowering her voice as she retaliate "if any progress is made, I will make sure that you get a memo." Her grin fades as he leaves wishing once again that Jarod never had the revelation of her psychotic brother.
Parker turns to Sydney as his voice interrupts her thoughts.
"Parker, are you all right. You look tired."
"I'm fine, Syd. Have you heard from Jarod lately?" she asked as her hand slid behind her neck in the hope of relieving some stiffness.
"No, I'm starting to get worried. It is not like Jarod to stay away for so long. No emails, no phone calls, no packages in over a month. I am beginning to wonder if he had not decided to disappear for good. You know what that could mean, Parker."
"I can only guess." Parker states as she sat down on Sydney's couch, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. She wished her headache would disappear, she grimaced thinking, maybe just like Jarod.
"Are you sure you are fine?"
"Just …. Peachy, don't worry Freud, a headache that can only disappear when lab rat's home. See what you and Broots can find out about Jarod's last pretend. Maybe wonder boy left us a clue or something." With this Parker got gracefully of the couch, leaving Sydney and Broots to contemplate the difference in the Ice Queen.
"What", Miss Parker mumbles in the phone as she eyes the alarm clock for the 3rd night in a row. As usual the dial tone vibrates in her ear as the caller disengages.
"This is getting old" she murmurs as her phone connects with the wall, creating a dent in the wall. 'Great' she thinks as she gets out of her bed, eyeing Alexander Bell's torture machine.
Grabbing a broom and some paper she quickly sweeps the broken phone onto the paper. Looking at bits and pieces in her hand she puts it down on the floor next to her as she slowly sits down on the floor. A shadow seems to fill the doorway and as she looks up she mouths "Jarod?" Nothing is there and it seems that it is only her tired mind conjuring up ghosts of hope. She didn't want to tell Sydney but she was really starting to get worried for Jarod. That plus these 3 am calls was starting to wear her down. She needed rest, maybe a vacation for eternity from the Centre. After Thomas died she knew the answer to the question in her heart. The Centre will never allow her to leave. They will always find a way of keeping her close. She knew too many secrets, too many lies for them to let her go. She felt not just physically tired but emotionally as well.
'What else is there to life than you run I chase' she thought as she slowly got to her feet moving towards the kitchen. She thought back to then scene in the church when she had remarked to Broots "With what I have seen and done this is the last place I should be," and Broots' answer "maybe it should be the first". That thought had resurfaced itself occasionally since that time and tonight seemed to be no different. She had never really contemplated God in her life. He always seemed someone else's problem to deal with, someone that weak people cling to for hope and relief from their desperate lives. The thing is that three in the morning is not a good time to be woken by a phone call and be called happy. As she opens a cupboard she sees the shadow in the corner of her eye. Turning she finds the kitchen empty, devoid of life. Hugging herself Parker closes the door and moves back to her bed thinking once again that she needs some uninterrupted sleep. As she steps into her room she feels the presence once again. Ignoring it this time she turns off the light, falling onto her bed and allowed exhaustion to overtake her as her eyes closed.
The morning sun entered the house through the window, slowly creeping over the floor till it meets the closed eyes of the woman on the bed. Frowning, the woman turns and stretches as she catches hold of the clock. The sun continues its path as it has done millennia as the woman's hand comes up empty from under the pillow.
Her mind clear, Parker surveys the room as she moves from the bed. She clearly remembers closing the curtains last night and when her hand failed to meet the usual shape under her pillow she knew that someone was in the house. Quietly she grabbed slacks and a shirt trying to determine the danger she currently could face. Entering her bathroom she stopped dead. Words were slowly dripping from her mirror. Hearing a sound behind her she duck and turned as something hard connected with her head. Only partially conscious she perceives more than see the shadow before her as a second strike closed her eyes.
Irises contracting as light entered it, the eyes tried to follow the fuzzy outline of pink and white. Closing, the word faded back into nothingness.
Darkness opened to light as the buzzing in the ears continued. Bass added to the buzzing as the eyes try and follow the shape hovering in front of the white … something? Darkness returns with silence.
Slowly, windows were pushed open. Pain is reflected in the glass as they roam the room. Focusing on the noise the eyes widen in surprise at the incessant line drawn on the screen, faithfully recording life. Up, down it seemed to hypnotise until the windows draw close again.
"I still want three hourly updates on the patient's stats."
"The ribs and head wound seemed to have healed nicely. I am a bit worried about the drainage from the leg. Make sure you keep an eye on it"
"The patient is beginning to come round. Keep the pain medication high for now."
Bass in the echo again. Parts of words float into the ears. Half remembered words seem to form partial sentences before that too fades.
"Make sure you schedule the physiotherapist for this afternoon. Lower the sedative gradually so that the patient will wake up around noon. I should be around by that time."
Sydney walked down the hallway, worry etched on his face. He entered the tech room and spotting Broots walked over to him.
"Broots, do you know whether Miss Parker has taken a few days of work?" Sydney asked trying to keep the concern from his voice.
"Oh, um, I don't think so. I can try and find out from Lennie down in human resources."
"If you could please find out for me and then let me know I would greatly appreciate it."
Sydney sank into the chair next to the tech's desk as he watched while Broots made a phone call. Seeing the confusion on his face, Sydney leaned closer as Broots put the phone back onto its cradle.
"According to Lennie Ms Parker has no leave scheduled until December. Sydney, what is going on?"
With this Sydney allowed his concern to surface as he got up from the chair and faced the tech.
"I don't know Broots. I think we should visit Parker at her home. Maybe there is a valid reason why she is not here or answering her phone."
Sydney watched as Broots closed down his tech lab and together they moved down the hallway towards the car park.
The car slowed and stopped outside the house. Two car doors slammed as the due looked at the house. Walking up to the front door, Sydney tried the knocker. Receiving no answer he looks at Broots as he tried the knob. Surprise showed in his face as the door opened. Entering Parker's private domain without an invitation seemed like sacrilege. Everything looked in order. The sitting room was neat and tidy. As far as he could determine nothing was out of place.
Broots jumps as Sydney shouts, "Parker, are you here!"
Silence greets the shout as they moved further into the house.
"Sydney," Broots' voice drifts from the kitchen, "I think Ms Parker might be in trouble."
Sydney enters the kitchen and looks over to where Broots is pointing. Seeing the half eaten apple and mud trodden tiles his heartbeat increases. Throwing caution to the wind he rushes upstairs to where he knew Parker's bedroom was. Entering, he stops as he takes in the unmade bed. His eyes are drawn to a dent in the wall. Not seeing anything else of note he slowly moves towards the bathroom.
Fear for Parker tightened his stomach muscles upon entering the room. Hearing Broots gasp he could only look in horror at the sentence scrawled on the mirror. His eyes follow the bleeding words down towards the spot on the floor. Kneeling, Broots reaches out. Touching it his hand jerks back as if stung. Looking at Sydney he asks,
"What are we going to do?"
Sydney suddenly feels old as he replies, "The only thing we can do. Phone the Centre."
The patient slowly became aware of increased pain. Eyes opened and tried to focus on the person shaking the bed. A gasp left the mouth as a red hot flaring travelled from the leg upwards claiming once again consciousness.
Entering the doctor looked towards the physiotherapist as she manoeuvred the patient's leg.
"Did he awaken?" he asked as he neared the bed.
"He is becoming more aware but I think he prefers unconsciousness to what I am currently doing to his leg." She replied cheerfully.
"I need to do a few more stretches and then he is all yours."
As she finished with the physical therapy the doctor grabs a chair and sits himself by his patient's bed. Waiting, he watches as the patient moved his head. Eyes opened languidly, blinking a few times before settling on his face. Smiling, Dr Kearney waits as the patient familiarise himself with the room.
Leaning over he asks him "You want some ice chips?"
Seeing the nod he places them on his lips and watches as they are absorbed.
The patient stops and swallowing tries again.
"Where am I?"
"You are currently in a private room of the All Saints Hospital in Maryland."
He looks on as the patient seemed to absorb the information.
"What happened?" he asked as he tried to ignore another flare-up from his leg.
"I was hoping that you would be able to tell me."
"I …" trailing of the man closed his eyes, trying to think back to anywhere but here.
"I don't remember." he finally states as he turns confused eyes toward the physician.
"That's all right. Don't worry about it. All you need do now is rest. I will be back later this afternoon and we will have a nice chat then, ok." The doctor stated as he slipped the painkiller into the patient's IV.
The patient closed his eyes gratefully as he drifted further into the twilight zone where pain was distant.
Dr Kearney entered the room and was pleased when he observes the alertness of his patient. Grabbing hold of the chart he is aware of the eyes on him. Noting the vitals he looks up with a pleased smile as he returns the chart to the end of the bed.
"I see you are feeling a bit better." he stated as he moves around the bed to the patient's side.
The patient shifts nervously in his bed as he looks over to the doctor.
"Yes, thank you. I … um, what is wrong with me?" he asks as his eyes look at the doctor and then down at his hands fumbling with the sheet.
"Well," Kearney considers how much to tell him and having made a decision continues, "we treated two broken ribs, a cracked rib, bruising to the stomach and a head wound. Those all pretty much healed. The only thing that might take a while still is your left leg. It was smashed quite badly and we had to reconstruct your tibia."
The man shifted again as he looked down towards where his leg was hiding under the sheet. "I still don't remember anything. When did this happen?" he ask as his eyes drifted back to the doctor.
Inwardly flinching Kearney answered, "You were brought to ER about four weeks ago."
The man's eyes registers shock as he calculated the time of semi awareness.
"That means …" he trails of as he mind reel with lost time. "That means …" he trails of again as he tries to comprehend what he has heard.
"I am afraid that due to the concussion and trauma you experienced you were in a coma for three weeks." Kearney answered as he looked with compassion to his young patient.
"We were a bit worried there at a stage but you pulled through."
"Thank you" the man stated again with sincerity as he watched the doctor seat himself by his side.
"That's a pleasure. It is why I studied medicine. There are just one or two things we need to get out of the way. Do you feel up to it or would you like to rest." He watched as the man nodded his head. Having the permission he asked the question that he wondered about ever since this man was pushed into ER barely alive.
"Can you remember who you are?"
Brown eyes met his as the man answered, "My name is Jarod."
Relieved, Kearney writes down the name as he asks, "Jarod, do you have a last name that I can add to my patient records."
"I…" Jarod stalled as he tried frantically to think what the last pretend was and under what pseudonym he was working. His mind seemed wiped clean of the previous two or three months. Looking imploringly on the kindly doctor he couldn't figure out what to do.
"Don't worry, Jarod. Give yourself a chance. Why don't you lie down and I'll ask the rest of the questions tomorrow. I'll get the sister to give you something for your leg. Will that be fine?" he asked, trying not to let Jarod see the worry in his eyes.
Nodding, the pretender turned his head away as he tried to piece his life together. Silently he watched as the sister emptied the syringe in the IV. Closing his eyes the pain faded as his breathing deepened.
"What the hell happened here?" Lyle asked as he looked on while the cleaners were examining the room. Turning towards where Sydney and Broots were standing, he callously estimated what the possible demise of Parker could do to his career.
"We don't know Lyle," Sydney signed in exasperation, "if we did the Centre would not be needed. I can however state that whoever this was is a disturbed individual."
"Come on Syd," Lyle sneers "even I can deduce that fact." Turning his head he watched while a cleaner was taking photos of the mirror. 'That has to be original.' he thought, 'I might even like this guy.' Distracted he turns back to where the tech was conversing with the good doctor. Only half aware of what was said, he glared at Broots till the timid man stuttered to silence and looked away. Feeling gratified he moves his focus to Sydney.
"Why was I not made aware of the fact that Parker has been missing for two days?"
"We didn't know. I assumed that she was taking the day off as she was not feeling well the last time I saw her. I had no reason to suspect anything like this" Sydney replied as his hands indicated the mess.
As Lyle was about to comment he noticed a sweeper entering the room. Motioning him closer he throws another disparaging look towards the pair. "Willie, did you find any indication of where this," he gave Sydney an amused look, "disturbed individual have taken Parker?"
"No Mr Lyle. All we could determine from the tire impressions was that he drove a medium sized car and that the car was facing north east. But we can't be sure in which direction he went."
Grimacing, he ran his hand through his hair. "At least that is a start, though I pity the man if he thought he could handle my sister. That little sphinx is either dead or unconscious. "
"Lyle", Sydney's accented voice admonished him.
"My view on my sister is my business, Syd. Remember that." Dismissing Sydney, Lyle gave his final instructions, "Willie, when the cleaners are done here, let them bag anything that might be of value. I'll have a look at it back at the Centre."
"Yes Mr Lyle." Willie replied as he started toward the clean up crew.
"Oh, and Willie, send a car out to check the roadside. Maybe he left her in a ditch somewhere." With that Lyle walked towards the doorway. Turning around he looks at the pair and almost in mockery he grins as he asks "Coming?"
To be continued
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