"7 Days" and all characters therein are the property of Crowe Entertainment and UPN
"The Pretender" and all its characters belong to NBC and Pretender Productions (or did when I started this)

~~~~There are Pretenders among us. Geniuses with the ability to become anyone they want to be. In the 1960s, a corporation known as the Centre isolated a young Pretender named Jarod and exploited his genius for their research. Then one day their Pretender ran away...~~~~

~~~~Ever wish you could live your last week all over again? Well, my name's Frank B. Parker and I do it all the time. I work for a secret government project experimenting in time travel. When things really get screwed up, I'm the guinea pig they send back to take care of it. Catch is, I can only go back seven days.~~~~


Seattle, Washington

The limousine joined the line of those waiting to relinquish their passengers. An unnatural calm seemed to settle on those waiting inside. A man and woman faced forward, holding hands in mutual support. Opposite them sat a younger man with close cut dark hair. He, too, was nervous. He looked out the window, eyes darting everywhere.

"Why so uptight, my friend? You have discharged your duty. Here we are at the conference and I am still breathing." His accent placed him from somewhere in South America.

"I won't feel confident until you're in that room under the watchful eye of the federal government."

The limo stopped and the young man jumped out and carefully surveyed the area before allowing the dignitary and his wife out of the car. He walked alongside the couple up the stairs and into the building. There was a reception area where the delegates could meet and speak freely. The bodyguard milled about, keeping an eye on both the assignment and the crowd. He glanced quickly at his watch before making his way to the diplomat's side. He made his farewells and left.

Not even a second after he had walked out the door than an impeccably dressed woman in a business suit entered from the opposite side accompanied by three men; two burly in dark suits and one a little shorter in a designer suit. Their eyes scoured the room as if looking for someone. Realizing the quarry might have slipped out the other door, they crossed the room. One of the larger men reached under his jacket, exposing a shoulder holster. Witnesses couldn't agree on what happened next. The security and bodyguards of those attending pulled their weapons as well. A single shot was heard and soon the room was under a hail of bullets.


Round and 'round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows." The makeshift roulette wheel stopped and the marble dropped on "23 red!" called the smiling man acting as the house. He quickly surveyed the table. "House wins again." A groan went up from the players. "C'mon, fellas. It's not as if I fixed it. You'd never play me again." He grinned. "Another spin?" The gathered players placed their bets and the wheel spun once more.

They were so intent on watching the wheel; they didn't hear the approaching footsteps. "Parker!" All heads turned to face the newcomers. One was an older man of stocky build in a nondescript grey suit with thinning hair. His expression was livid. He turned to his companion, a young black man in khaki fatigues. "I told you he'd be gambling. The man needs a leash."

"C'mon, Ramsey, he's just letting off a little steam. Since he doesn't leave the base, he has to relax however he can."

"Thank you, Donovan," said Parker. "The table's closed, boys. Better luck next time."

"If it were up to me, there wouldn't be a next time," said Ramsey. He looked at Parker. "We're wanted in the briefing room." He walked off.

Parker looked at Donovan as he put his winnings in his pockets. "Another Backstep?"

"Possibly." They walked along the corridor. "Roulette?"

"Have to find ways to relax however I can," Parker grinned.

"Just don't push him too far, Frank. You know how happy it would make him to know you're back at Hansen."

"We can't have that, can we?"

"I wouldn't know what to do with a happy Ramsey."

The two entered the briefing room and took their seats at the table. "Now that we're all here," said an older man with an air of authority. Bradley Talmadge, a senior operative with the NSA, was the government liaison for the project. He turned on the TV. "I'm sure you've all heard of the shooting at the Pan American Drug Conference. Due to the far-reaching consequences of its failure, an immediate Backstep has been ordered. Frank, watch this carefully. It's been taken from the security cameras."

"Probably just someone working for the cartels," said Ramsey.

"I don't think so," said the only woman in the room. Her accent betrayed her Russian origins, but Olga Vukavitch was devoted to Backstep. "It seems as if they were searching for someone. They had nothing to do with the conference."

"Whether they intended it or not, it happened," put in Talmadge. "However, there is one man who conveniently left right before the shooting. This mission hinges around him."

"Could he have been the one the others were looking for?" asked an older man.

"Could be, Isaac. Too much of a coincidence. We've learned his name is Jarod Farmer. Frank, he's the one you have to find and stop anyway you can."


Jarod sat back from his laptop. What he had learned made him wonder once again on the duality of the world. How could a race that invented ice cream and PEZ torture, maim, and kill their own kind for something as fleeting as money? His life in the Centre had made him aware of evil and greed, but in his naiveté, he had thought it an isolated case. Now he knew better.
He flipped open his blue notebook and read the article once again. "Esteban Morales, a merchant from a small town outside of Cartegna, Columbia, overlooked the comings and goings of the cartels as a matter of self- preservation. At least, until three years ago when his young son was caught in the crossfire between two rival factions. Since then, he has taken it upon himself to bring a halt to their power. Despite--or perhaps because of-- numerous death threats, he has continued his crusade and will be arriving later in the week to attend the Pan American Drug Conference."

Jarod admired the man for standing up for his beliefs and fighting against those more powerful than himself. Love and grief were definitely powerful motivators. That's what kept him from giving up on searching for his family.

He looked back at the computer screen. It was time to prepare a new background for himself and credentials for his new profession: bodyguard. He smiled. As this was different from his usual "pretends", those at the Centre wouldn't even think of looking for him here.


In a secluded area of Bainbridge Island, a huge wind picked up and there was a brilliant flash of light. A large blue sphere appeared from nowhere. Around it, the air crackled with energy. A panel fell open and a figure in an orange flight suit with a helmet staggered out and fell to its knees. It fumbled with the latches before removing the helmet and taking a deep breath of air.

Frank Parker then took in his surroundings and was pleased that he didn't have to make any excuses for the sphere's presence. Saying it was for a Spielberg film was running a bit thin. He stepped out of the flight suit and stuffed it inside the sphere, grabbing his jacket as he did so. He then left in search of a phone.

He found one at the ferry stop and called the base. "This is Conundrum."

He was immediately connected to Talmadge who put him on the speakerphone. "What is it, Frank?" Frank told him all he knew about the mission. "We'll contact conference security to make them aware of the threat."

"Probably the cartels," muttered Ramsey.

"There's one guy who's at the center of this; Jarod Farmer. I'm going to try and find him today."

"We'll look him up and see what history he has. Do you need any assistance?"

"No, sir. I think I can handle it."

"Good. Keep us posted."


Jarod sat in the chair across from the desk and watched as the woman pulled up his file on the computer. "Quite a record, Mr. Farmer. The New York office suffered a great loss when you decided to leave."

"I felt it was time to move on. I thought with the conference coming up, you'd need the help."

"Definitely. Some of the delegates bring their own, but there are those who simply refuse to have any."

"Is there any chance of choosing who I'm paired with?"

"You have a preference." She was surprised.

"Yes. I have a great admiration for Esteban Morales."

She smiled. "We are more or less subcontractors so we may not even be needed. However, if we are, I'll keep that in mind. Your record would prove you the ideal candidate." She stood and shook his hand. "Welcome aboard, Jarod."


Frank hitched a ride into the city center. He picked up a paper to help him get a bearing on this timeline. The city was undergoing a beautification process to prepare for the conference. Buntings were draped from the streetlights and flags from the countries involved were dispersed throughout the streets. Despite the cheerful atmosphere, Frank could not get what he saw on that video out of his mind.

Talmadge was going to check on this Farmer fella to see what type of history he had. What concerned Frank now was the present. He had to find this guy and keep him from following through on his plan.

Frank found a phone booth that actually had a phonebook. There was no listing for a Jarod Farmer. The next thing was to try to find him through work. He was a bodyguard, so what to look under? Security? He found a few agencies listed in the yellow pages. If those didn't pan out, he'd check with Talmadge. He ripped the page out of the book and began the search.
The first response he always received was that they weren't allowed to give out that information. He would then show his NSA identification. "We have no one by that name here" was the inevitable reply.

This was the same at every agency. He was getting tired, hungry, and angry. This guy had to be somewhere. One more agency he told himself then I get food. Frank trudged along to the next address and then leaned against the wall in the elevator. He looked at every man who got on, just in case.

He got off and made his way to Reception. The woman behind the desk was a little younger than those he had previously encountered so he decided to try some charm. "Hello."

"If you're here for the position, I'll need to see your resume and references," she said in the midst of typing.

"What? No, I'm--"

"No papers, no interview."

"I'm not here for a job," Frank finally got in. "However, a friend of mine might be. Jarod Farmer." Frank described him. "It's a surprise. I was told he might be here."

"I'm not allowed to give out personnel information."

Trying to contain his anger, Frank showed his ID. "Mr. Farmer is needed to help in an investigation."

"Oh. Let me check."

As she looked in her files, Frank looked about the room and saw the man walk by him towards the elevator. "Never mind!" he called to her as he made his way to the elevator as well.


Jarod smiled and thanked her before leaving the office. That was easier than I thought. He approached the main reception area where a man was trying to get information from the woman behind the desk. The man had either learned what he needed or just gave up because they stopped as he passed. He continued on to the elevator. While he waited for it to arrive, the man from the reception desk joined him. Jarod observed him out of the corner of his eye. He was perhaps a few years younger than he was and of a similar build, though maybe an inch or two shorter. He was dressed casually in dark slacks, a cotton shirt, and a brown leather jacket.
They both entered the elevator and Jarod pushed the button for the lobby. He could feel the other man staring at him--not a pleasant sensation. He couldn't be from the Centre; he didn't follow the dress code. Besides, anyone from the Centre would have grabbed him the minute the doors closed.


Looking at the man, Frank couldn't believe he had been involved in the shooting. From his work in Special Ops, he knew looks could be deceiving, almost fatally so. He'd have to approach this carefully. The doors opened and both men stepped in. Farmer pushed the button to the lobby. It's now or never.


"Excuse me, but are you Jarod Farmer?" His voice had a slight accent, like a kid raised in the streets of New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia.

Jarod faced him. "Yes."

"You're a tough man to track down, Mr. Farmer. I've been trying to find you for the better
part of the day." He held out his hand. "Name's Parker."

Jarod flinched mentally. ***God, not another one.***


The woman sat behind her immaculate desk. The only personal items were two framed photographs. One was of the woman looking stern and forbidding standing next to her equally forbidding father. The other was the woman as a child being held by a smiling woman. Everyone said she looked exactly like her mother, and, when she was a child, she wanted to be just like her. That all changed when her mother was murdered. She hardened herself against emotion and tried to be more like her father in order to get his attention.

Now her life was changing once again and she wasn't sure if it was for the better. It could all be traced back to Jarod's escape. Since he had become free of the Centre's influence, he had taken it upon himself to enlighten her on her family's past and its involvement with the Centre.

She sat back and sighed. ***How am I supposed to handle this? Can I accept what Jarod tells me about my family? About things I've known all my life? He's out to ruin and expose the Centre at any cost. What he's saying might not even be true. Granted, recently I have been having some doubts so it's not as if he's so far off... If only I hadn't hesitated when Thomas asked me to go to Oregon . . . No, don't think of Thomas. Not now. Wait until you're home and can have a good cry in private.*** She took a deep breath. ***Damn him for making me feel this way!***


"Frank Parker." Jarod relaxed and shook the proffered hand. "You must not have lived here long."

"What makes you say that?"

"You're not listed in the book and you just got a new job."

"Having an unlisted phone number doesn't necessarily mean I'm new. Neither does my new job. How do you know it was new?"

"The receptionist asked if I was here for the position. She didn't recognize your name. Plus, you walked out of that office like the job was yours."

"You're very observant, Mr. Parker."

"Call me Frank."

"Thank you. I know a Mr. Parker and, let's just say we don't get along."

"A real jackass, hunh? Know one of them, too."

"This can't be a social call, Frank, if you were looking for me all day. What is it you want?"

The doors opened and more people got on the elevator. The two men exchanged glances, knowing they would continue once they were out on the street. The two exited the building and Jarod looked at Frank, waiting for his explanation.

"It's like this. I'm with the NSA and it's come to our attention that there will be a shooting at the conference."

"Why are you telling me? What about conference security?"

"Already notified. Thing is, we think it can be prevented if you don't go." Frank looked at him, wondering at his reaction.

"You think I have something to do with this? Excuse my incredulity, Frank, but what makes you think I'm associated with this? It hasn't even happened yet. I've made it a point to help people with the knowledge I've gained. There's no way I would ever dream of opening fire on innocent people."

"I don't believe it. If I did, I wouldn't have approached you. But you're tied into this somehow and the only way I can think of preventing it is to keep you away."

"Mr. Parker, until you come up with a more concrete reason, I'm sorry, but I can't take this seriously. I will go to that conference if I am told to do so." ***And maybe even if I'm not*** he added to himself.

"All right, then, how will I get in touch with you?"

"I'll contact you. What hotel?"

"I haven't had time. I was looking for you all day."

"I hear the Olympic is nice." With that, Jarod left him in the middle of the sidewalk.

Frank now truly believed that Jarod was totally unaware of any plot regarding the shooting. His reaction was too genuine. As for a hotel, the Olympic sounded like just what he needed. If the question was raised as to why a luxury hotel, what better way to keep track of the comings and goings of the delegates?

Once at the Olympic, Frank made his way to registration and asked for a room. "Hm, let me check availability. Here for the conference, sir?"

"You could say that."

"You are in luck, sir. We have a room. A cancellation. Last name?"

"Parker." Frank was thinking on how to handle the whole thing.

"First name?" Frank didn't hear him but the clerk did hear Frank and entered it into the computer. "Very good, Mr. Parker. That's Room 913."

"Great. Thanks." Frank took the electronic key and headed up to his room. Once there he called Talmadge. "Any luck?"

"We did find his files. He worked for a security agency in New York. Not one fatality when he was on assignment. His superiors seemed to think well of him--at least in the reports."

"But?" Frank prompted.

"Childhood is very sketchy. We have high school and college transcripts but not much else."

"Sounds manufactured," commented Frank.

"He was set up by the cartels," reiterated Ramsey.

"Your needle's skipping, Ramsey," Frank said.

The cartels wouldn't go through this much trouble," stated Donovan. "They would have simply arranged a hit."

"I still don't think he has anything to do with it," declared Frank.

"Are we going on instinct here, Parker, or woman's intuition?" asked Ramsey.

"Whatever you want to call it, that's my opinion."

"Do you mind if we ask for a second?" put in Talmadge. "Olga, would you are to give us your opinion regarding this man?"

Olga, a little surprised at the request, knew that the man from the video Frank had seen needed to be heard. The only drawback would be spending time with Parker and his childish attempts to impress. "Certainly, sir. I can pack and be ready in less than an hour."

On the other end of the line, Frank smiled. "Great. Room 913, the Olympic." He hung up the phone. ***That'll give 'em something to think on!***


There was a timid knock on the office door and a nervous, bookish man entered. "Excuse me, Miss Parker, but I have some news." He stopped when he noticed she wasn't alone. Her brother was there. His boyish face and the charm he exuded gave a favorable first impression. It wasn't until you got to know him that you learned the truth. By then it was usually too late.
"News this important must be about Jarod. What is it?"

The man looked back at Miss Parker. "Go ahead, Broots," she said resignedly. She would have loved to have kept Lyle out of it, but that was impossible now.

"I programmed the computer to do a random search to see if Jarod's name popped up anywhere near something he would become involved in." He noticed their bored faces. "So, um, this name came up, and, well, it could be coincidence . . . "

"The name, Broots," demanded Miss Parker.

"The Four Seasons Olympic Hotel in Seattle has a room registered in the name of Jarod Parker."

"I'd hate to have his nerve in my tooth," Miss Parker remarked.

"What's going on in Seattle that would attract Jarod?" asked Lyle.

"The only newsworthy item is that drug conference," said Broots.

"So he's taking his crusade international. Would be a shame if we don't join him."


Jarod sat in front of his computer. ***What was it that this NSA agent had on him? Was he even really with the NSA?*** He hacked into the security agency's database and learned that Parker, Frank B., had been born 30 years ago, never knew his family, and had been raised in a Catholic orphanage in New Jersey. He then joined the Navy SEALS, and, from there, went to CIA Special Operations.

It was during a mission to Central America, he suffered a breakdown where he experienced "violent paranoid tendencies". He was remanded to a psychiatric institution on Hansen Island. But where did the NSA come in? He dug a little deeper to discover that the NSA recruited him straight from Hansen for an operation codenamed "Backstep". Further attempts to probe deeper met up with blocks that would require a great deal of time and precision to bypass, something he simply couldn't afford at the moment. But he had enough information to use next time he talked with Frank. Jarod smiled. Odds were that he knew more about Frank than Frank knew about him.


Olga arrived in Seattle and headed directly for the Four Seasons Olympic. She smiled, remembering Ramsey's reaction to Mr. Parker's accommodations. When she walked into the lobby, it was obvious that many of the delegates to the conference were staying here. That must be how he rationalized staying in a luxury hotel. She strolled across the lobby to the elevators. As she passed reception, she heard voices that were trying hard not to be raised. She looked over and saw a well-dressed young couple having words with the clerk. They struck her as seeming very out-of-place with the demeanor of the hotel.

She took the elevator to the ninth floor and found Frank's room. She knocked on the door and Frank answered almost immediately. "Olga! Great! C'mon in." He ushered her into the room. "You made good time." He took her bag. "Good trip?"

Olga looked at him, wondering what it was he wanted. "Mr. Parker, there is no need to be so solicitous. It's not as if I'm an invited guest. I've been assigned to this just as you have. Why don't you tell me about Mr. Farmer?"

"I don't want to say too much and influence your opinion. One word I can think of is genuine. When I spoke with him--"

"You spoke with him? Mr. Parker, you could have compromised the whole mission."

"I told him I was NSA and needed his help in an investigation. How else was I supposed to find out his motives?"

"He could have killed you."

"Miss Vukavitch, you do care."

"Of course, Mr. Parker. You are a human being after all, despite the image you project." She stood and walked to the window. "So how do we find him?"

"He said he'd contact me. Maybe that's why he recommended this hotel."

"You are being very unlike yourself, Mr. Parker, at least while on a mission. You are usually not this accepting."

"I know. But I don't feel I have to be so guarded around him. Except for how I know about the shooting, of course."

"Have you done anything else?"

"Until I get more information from Jarod, there's not much else I can do. There was a couple in the video that seemed to be after Jarod for some reason. I want to find out why."

The phone rang and Frank grabbed it. "Jarod, I thought it might be you. Ready to talk? Exchange ideas? Great." He was quiet as he listened. "Fine. I have someone here I'd like you to meet. Just to give you another viewpoint. All right. See you then." He hung up the phone. "He wants to see us in half an hour. I'd like to get there a little early to check the place out so I think we'd better leave now." Frank picked up his jacket and the two left the room.

As they walked through the lobby pretending they were a couple heading out sightseeing, Frank's expression changed momentarily before he regained his composure. He took Olga by the arm and ushered her towards the door.

"Mr. Parker, what's the matter?"

He didn't answer until they were outside. "The same couple from the video was in the lobby. We have to hurry and warn Jarod."


Miss Parker and Lyle arrived at the Olympic. "Jarod's certainly landed on his feet this time."
"From all that money he's embezzled from the Centre, of course he would."

"You have to be in a position of trust in order to embezzle, and I don't think that was ever the case with Jarod."

"Misappropriated, then. Stole. Whatever. He's using Centre funds."

"Be that as it may, he's here." She strode over to reception, pulled out a photo of Jarod, and showed it to the female clerk. "Have you seen this man?" ***How unbelievable trite that sounds!***

The woman looked carefully at the photo. "No. Can't say as I have."

"Are you sure?" questioned Lyle.

"Believe me, I'd remember a face like that." She smiled. "He's cute."

A little disgusted at this reaction, Miss Parker put the photo away. "But you do have a Jarod Parker staying here?"

The woman checked the computer. "Yes. He registered this afternoon."

"What room?" demanded Lyle.

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't give that information."

Lyle made to try to demand further information but Miss Parker held him back. "We'll wait in the lobby."

"Why didn't you try to get the room number?"

"With all the delegates here, there's no need to draw attention to ourselves. Besides, he has to pass through here sometime."

They each took seats in the lobby. Miss Parker faced the front entrance while Mr. Lyle had the elevators and stairs. She aimlessly flipped through the periodicals and brochures extolling Seattle hot spots. Anything to avoid a discussion with her brother. She hadn't trusted him before she knew they were related. Now she positively loathed him. At one point, she almost feared that Jarod would be revealed as her brother. That she could have handled. At least she understood him to a degree--and his motivations.

She looked over at Lyle who was tapping his fingers in agitation. "He's not going to show."
"He'll show." She wasn't sure what, but something made her positive that he would be there.
Taking a break from reading, she stood and stretched. As she did so, she heard a woman's voice say "Mr. Parker". She turned, expecting to see Jarod, but instead saw a young couple walking across the lobby.

Lyle came up beside her. "Another wild goose chase."

The man had seen them, she was sure of that. He took the woman by the arm and walked faster towards the door. Why would he react that way unless he had something to hide? Something like Jarod. "Maybe not."


Jarod arrived early at the rendezvous but Frank was already there. Had to be CIA training. There was a woman with him. She was of a similar age with reddish-blonde hair that curled at her shoulders. She was wearing a comfortable business suit; nothing severe like those preferred by Miss Parker. She must be the someone Frank wanted him to meet which meant that she must be with NSA as well.

He approached them and Frank turned as if he sensed him. "Jarod, thanks for seeing us. This is Olga Vukavitch."

"A colleague?" questioned Jarod as he shook her hand.

"I guess you could describe it that way," she answered.

Jarod looked at Frank. "I've thought over what you said earlier and realized that I probably could be of some help. Is there anything you can tell me?"

Frank looked at Olga who shrugged. "Um, let's just say we fed certain information into the computers and this is the scenario it came up with. It's not very pretty."

"A simulation, hm? Okay, I'll accept that, but how did you know about me?"

"We're not at liberty to explain that," said Olga. "Official Secrets Act and such."

"Does it have anything to do with Operation Backstep?" The look on their faces told him he was right. "But what are you stepping back from? You're acting as if this shooting has already happened, as if you know what occurred. That would mean that for you it has happened. Backstep is a time-travel project." He waited for confirmation or denial.

Frank looked at Jarod, a cross between shock and astonishment on his face. "Who are you? Some kind of genius?"

"Some kind," Jarod smiled. "It really wasn't so hard to get the information once I knew where to dig."

"Well, we didn't tell him, right?" Frank said with a glance at Olga.

"You must realize, Mr. Farmer, that this is of the utmost importance that you keep this secret. This is still highly experimental. Mr. Parker undergoes rigorous testing after each mission to see how his body holds up to the strain."

"And his mind?"

"Of course there is psychological testing as well," answered Olga. "If we learn what is causing the stress, we can remedy the situation for further missions."

Jarod looked at Frank. "So you're the only one who remembers what went before? That must be tough, knowing you're the only one who can 'save the world', so to speak."

"It's not always just me," Frank told him. "I have a great support team. Once I arrive, I call and fill them in. Since we only Backstep for major crises, they know it's serious."

"And now that you've seen those two other people from the video, you know we're on the right track," put in Olga.

"Video?" questioned Jarod. "What video?"

"From the security cameras at the conference. That's how we knew about you. Also, on the way here, I saw a couple in the hotel lobby that was also in the video."

That got Jarod's attention. "A man and a woman? Could you describe them?"

"I'd call the woman striking, probably beautiful if she smiled. Wore a dark business suit and skirt. The man looked like he was trying to be a GQ model; boyish face."

"Wonderful. How did they follow me?"

"So they are after you," said Olga. "What have you done?"

"It's more like what they've done to me."

"I'm sure there's more to your story," said Frank, "but I'll leave it alone for now. What we have to concentrate on at the moment is keeping them from finding you, perhaps even getting them to leave altogether."

"But wouldn't their showing up earlier change the outcome of the shooting?" asked Jarod.

"Possibly. For better or worse, I couldn't say," answered Olga. "If they don't find you, they might leave before the conference, freeing you to do your job. Alternatively, they could find you and chase you away leaving Morales unprotected and a possible target."

"I'm sure I can think of something." He thought for a moment. "Did they see you?"

"Even if they did, they have no idea who we are," said Frank.

"If they did track me to Seattle, why did they go to the Olympic? The only thing connecting me to it is you."

Frank thought for a moment, wondering what could have happened. In his head he went over everything he did--or didn't do. "I think I know." He looked at Olga. "Do you have your phone?"

"Of course." She rummaged in her bag and held it out o Frank.

"No, I need you to make the call." He handed her a slip of paper. "Here's the number."

"This is the hotel. Why am I calling them?"

"Just a hunch. Tell them you're trying to contact a Mr. Parker. The first initial is a little
hard to read. You can't tell if it's an 'F' or a 'J'."

Unsure of exactly why she was doing it, Olga called the hotel. She elaborated on what Frank had said. She pleaded a little and the clerk broke down and gave her the information. "Thank you. You've saved me from much embarrassment." She turned off the phone.

"Well?" asked Frank.

"The only Parker that have registered is a Jarod Parker."

Jarod looked at Frank. "What did you do?"

"Believe me, it wasn't intentional. I must have been talking out loud when he asked for my name. Why should that have drawn them anyway?"

"Remember when we first met and I said I knew a Mr. Parker and we didn't exactly get along?" Frank nodded. "Their father."

"Ah," said Frank knowingly.

It took Jarod a moment to catch his meaning. "No, it was nothing like that. He used to run this place where I used to help run sims. I left and they've been trying to get me back for about four years now."

"By sending armed guards after you?" questioned Olga. "I thought that only happened to Mr. Parker."

"Now that we know why they got here early, how are we going to keep them away until you're done?" put in Frank.


Miss Parker needed to check out that man's room. He had to be connected to Jarod somehow. She looked at Lyle who was being of no use. If he couldn't go in guns blazing, he was all thumbs-minus one. She smiled in spite of herself.

"What are you grinning at?"

"I've just come up with an idea," she replied. She went to one of the end tables sporting some of the hotel's stationery. She folded a sheet of paper and placed it in an envelope. On the front she wrote "Mr. J. Parker".

Lyle then caught on to her scheme. "With thinking like this, I'm surprised you haven't caught Jarod yet."

Parker ignored the barb knowing that Lyle hadn't had much success either. She approached the clerk. "It seems our friend is running late. Could you leave this for him?"


Miss Parker watched carefully as the clerk placed the envelope in the slot for room 913.
"Thank you so much."

They made to walk for the door but doubled-back to the elevator. Once outside the room, Lyle picked the lock. The room looked barely lived in. The man must have just arrived. Miss Parker noticed the woman's bag sitting on the bed. That was it. She made to search through it. Lyle headed to examine the bathroom.

"There's nothing in here but complimentary hotel toiletries," he called back.

"There's nothing here either. Not one change of clothes for him. Who travels without that? At least Jarod always has something."

"Are you sure this is the right room?"

"Yes, I'm sure!" she snapped back.

"Fine, just double checking." He walked over to the window. "So now what?"

Miss Parker sat back in one of the room's chairs. "We wait."


Jarod's phone chose that moment to ring. He quickly answered it. "Yes?" There was a pause as he listened. "OK, where?" He checked his watch. "I think I can make it in about 15 minutes." Hw switched it off. Frank and Olga were looking at him expectantly. "I'm to meet Morales at the convention center."

"Now's the time to start the ball rolling," said Frank. "I say we exchange phone numbers so in case something happens, we can contact each other."

Jarod didn't know why, but for some reason, he felt he could trust these two. He searched his pockets for a piece of paper and found an old grocery receipt. He scribbled his number on the back then handed it to Frank. Olga, in turn, gave Jarod a printed card with her name and number.

Before leaving, Jarod gave them a final warning. "Just watch out for Miss Parker and Lyle. They could still be at the hotel."

Olga watched him leave. Like Frank, she felt he was trustworthy. After all, he knew about Backstep but kept quiet. At least, Ramsey hadn't called yelling about security being breached.

"So, what do you think?" asked Frank as they headed back to the hotel. Olga told him. "There is that," Frank agreed with a smile. "But what about that story of his? I mean, people coming after him with guns just because he left his job."

"That happens to you, Mr. Parker."

"Well, yeah, but that's because it's a top secret government project. What kind of private business would do that?"

"We may never know. I don't think he'll ever tell us the full truth. If they are willing to go after him with guns, would it not follow that they would go after anyone else who knew the truth?"

"So you're saying that it's more or less for our protection that he won't reveal details."

"It would seem so."

When they arrived at the hotel, the clerk informed Frank that he had a message. Frank took the envelope and stared at it. No one aside from those at Backstep-and Jarod-knew he was here. They wouldn't have addressed it to "J" Parker, either. He then knew what he was. He tossed the envelope into a wastebasket by the elevator.

Even though she was surprised at his action, Olga waited until they were the only ones in the elevator. "M. Parker, why did you throw that out without even reading it? It could have been important."

"It was a trick. I think we had visitors while we were away."

"Do you think they're still there?"

"Possibly." He pulled out his gun and motioned for her to stand back as he approached the door to their room. With his free hand, he used the key card to unlock the door. He pushed it open with his foot and entered, gun at the ready. Sitting in one of the chairs like it was a throne was the woman from the video, the one he now knew as Miss Parker. Standing by the window was her brother, Lyle. Frank put the gun away. "Somehow I knew it would be you."

"You knew?" questioned Lyle.

"You saw the note," stated Miss Parker.

"I saw the note," confirmed Frank. He moved aside to allow Olga to enter the room. "What did we do to deserve such attention?"

"I'm wondering if we have a mutual acquaintance."

"I don't get out much. My last place of residence was a psychiatric hospital, so, unless you, um . . ."

"Are you trying to be funny?" demanded Lyle.

"No," said Olga. "No, he just gets like this sometimes. What mutual acquaintance do you mean?"

Miss Parker rose elegantly from the chair. "A man named Jarod." She showed them the photograph. "We learned that a Jarod Parker was registered here."

"That's me," said Frank, admitting to the error to keep Jarod in the clear.

Olga looked at the photo. It was rather grainy, like it was enlarged from a surveillance photo. "No last name?"

"He always changes it." She took the photo back. "So, have you seen him?"

"No, we haven't," answered Olga. "Do you have a way we can reach you should we see him?"

"Why do you want to find him anyway?" questioned Frank. "Did he do something wrong?"

Lyle looked at Miss Parker who shrugged. "Not wrong, exactly. Nothing criminal, anyway. Just something within the company."

Miss Parker handed Olga her card. Olga took it and pretended to be surprised at the name. "What a coincidence. You are a Parker as well."

"Yes, coincidence." She didn't believe it at all. "If you do hear or see anything, please call." She and Lyle made for the door.

"Thank you. Next time, knock," said Frank as they passed. Miss Parker ignored him and Lyle glared.

When the door closed, Frank listened for their departing footsteps. As soon as he was sure they were gone, he let out a sigh. "Phew, I feel sorry for Jarod having those two on his tail. What are you doing?"

Olga was using her cell-phone. "Calling Jarod to let him know that we've met them."


Jarod walked into the convention center and saw a number of security guards gathered by one of the doors and knew that was where he was meant to go. He quickly checked his appearance before knocking.

"Come in."

Jarod entered and immediately spotted Morales. The woman from the office was there as well. She smiled when she saw him. "Señor Morales, this is Jarod Farmer, one of our best. He will be your personal bodyguard leading up to the conference."

Morales held out his hand. "An honor, Señor Farmer. You have been spoken of most highly."

Jarod shook his hand. "Some of it might have even been the truth," he said with a smile.
Jarod took an immediate liking to this warm and open individual. There was no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives. What you saw was what you got. It was hard to imagine him as the possible target of assassins. He wasn't a political or religious leader, or even a radical dissident. He was just a father looking for justice so other fathers wouldn't have to go through what he went through.

"On the contrary, señor. I have been hearing of your stellar record. I'm sure my wife and I will be safe under your watchful eye until my personal bodyguard arrives from Columbia."

"Or until the convention starts up."

"Exactly," smiled Morales.

The woman from the agency opened a folder and pulled out a sheet of paper. "This is Señor Morales' itinerary leading up to the convention. You are to be with him at all these functions. You do have the proper attire? Most of these are black tie."

"I'm sure I can lay my hands on something."

"Very good." She handed the folder to Jarod. "I'll leave you two to get to know each other better."

Morales looked at Jarod. "Señora Warner told me you asked to be my bodyguard."

Jarod sensed his unease and smiled. "Yes, but not for the reason you think. I'm a great proponent of family and I can understand what you're going through."

"Oh?" Morales was intrigued.

"My brother was killed and I've been trying to bring about justice for him."

"Then you do understand. I think this will work better since I will not be just another assignment to you."

"I hope so," agreed Jarod. His phone rang. "If you will excuse me?" Morales nodded and Jarod walked to the opposite side of the room. "Yes?"

"Jarod, it's Olga. Mr. Parker and I had guests waiting for us in our room when we returned. They were looking for you."

"They must have been watching to room. Did they do anything to you? Make any threats?"

"No. They were interested in a 'mutual acquaintance' and wanted us to contact them whenever were heard from you."

"Thanks for letting me know. You did check the room before calling, of course."

"Of course. With Mr. Parker's paranoia, it was the first thing he did."

Jarod heard a slight scuffle then Frank was there. "I may come off a little paranoid, but most of the time I'm right. These two mean business. Though I wish I had her chasing me for other reasons."

"Frank, her last boyfriend ended up dead."


"Just keep an eye out for them and let me know if they contact you again. I may have a bit of an idea and I think I'm going to need your help." He closed the phone and rejoined Morales. "I apologize for that. I've been helping a friend."

"I'm sure they appreciate it."

Jarod smiled. "I'm sure they do."


Miss Parker stabbed the buttons on the phone mercilessly, imagining them to be Jarod's eyes. The other end picked up after the third ring. "Broots."

"Miss Parker, did you-"

"No, but we have a lead. I want you to check up on recent releases from psychiatric institutions." She described Frank. "All I know for sure is that his last name is Parker."

"How recent is recent."

"Try three years." A sudden inspiration struck. "Try the military first. I want to learn as much as possible about the guy's background."

"Yes, Miss Parker. I'll call you as soon as I get it."

"You had better." She snapped shut the phone and found herself staring into her brother's snake eyes. "What?" she snapped.

"You think this Parker is military?"

"He seemed to act the part."

"I don't know why you're bothering to check up on this guy anyway. We should be checking out the delegates."

"Then why don't you? We're not joined at the hip. You muscled your way onto this journey so don't expect me to just give in."

"Then you'd really make me suspicious." He smiled with false charm. She glared at him. "Face it, Parker, you're not as determined as you used to be in catching Jarod. Every time he contacts you in some way, he chips away at your reserve. So, until you regain your edge, I'm gonna keep an eye on you."

"You or one of your pet goons."

"Of course. You can't think that I want to spend all my time with you."

"The feeling is mutual." She walked away.


Frank hadn't had any contact with Jarod for a couple of days and he was beginning to wonder if he had made the right decision about giving him his own lead. Olga had backed him on his decision, but Jarod had this little lost dog look about him that had turned Olga into something of a mother hen. Somehow he knew he had nothing to worry about, as Jarod was a man with a mission. He couldn't afford to have much of a personal life.

Frank took a deep breath. He had no time to dwell on that now. He was in the midst of a mission as well, one that was rather out of his hands right now. He needed to try and regain control. He picked up the keys to the rental and headed for the door.

Olga looked up from her laptop. "Where are you going?"

"The site of the conference. I need to get more involved in this whole situation. Right now I feel like I was just the messenger and Jarod's taken over."

"Let me go with you." She turned off the computer and took off her glasses. "You know how you can get."

"Are you saying I don't know how to handle myself in a delicate situation?" Frank grinned knowingly.

"Your words, Mr. Parker." He smiled and held the door open for her.

They arrived at the hotel and Frank parked in front. "Remember, Mr. Parker, we have clearance thanks to Mr. Talmadge. You have to present yourself in a dignified manner-or as dignified as you can be."

They stepped inside the hotel and Frank immediately headed for the conference rooms. Once inside the main conference room, a non-descript man in an average suit approached Frank and Olga. "I'm sorry, but this room is closed to the public."

"Glad to hear it," answered Frank as he took out his ID. "It's nice to see such a degree of professionalism."

The man took in Frank's worn jeans, navy sweater, and leather jacket, but didn't bother to point out that his clothes were a little less than professional. "NSA. So you're the ones who called about the possible threat to the conference. Care to share your information?"

"Right now we're only working on snippets of information handed to us from international sources, plus a few simulations. Nothing all that concrete, just enough to pull out extra security for this."

"Extra security?"

"Oh, we are here in a supervisory capacity only," put in Olga. "We only wished to stop and see how things were progressing."

The man turned to Olga and spoke to her as Frank had wandered off to see what the rest of the room provided. "Every delegate, every bodyguard, and every security member has been issued a special pass with photo I.D. and barcode, impossible to duplicate quickly and perfectly enough in time to infiltrate the conference."

Frank had returned in time to catch this last piece of information. "Let's hope that's true. How would Dr. Vukavitch and myself acquire such passes?" The man looked at him. "We came here to help out and I think passes would be necessary."

"Sure. Room 203 is where we have set up the surveillance cameras and other such things. An agent there will prepare a pass for each of you."

"Thank you," said Olga. She ushered Frank out of the room and towards the elevator. "It seemed all in order to me," she said.

"It does. That shows how much weight Talmadge's name carries." The elevator arrived and Frank allowed Olga in first. "Now let's get our passes so we'll be able to witness history-literally for me."

The elevator door opened and Jarod was there with a South American man waiting to go down. They nodded to each other as they traded places in the elevator, and, as the doors closed, Jarod flashed him an okay sign. Feeling better about their position, Frank whistled as they walked to room 203.

Sometime later, as they were leaving the hotel, Frank witnessed Lyle's arrival. "I hope Jarod's gone."

"I would think so. Why?"

Frank looked at her over the roof of the car. "I just saw Lyle go inside. That was pretty quick if they've connected him to the conference already."

"Was he alone?"

"No, there was a black guy with him. I wonder where Miss Parker is?" he mused.

"Mr. Parker, you're not entertaining the thought. . ."

"Of course not! She's too cold and impersonal. Plus, I don't think she's the kind that would hang out with the boys."

Olga sighed and sat back as Parker weaved through the traffic back to the hotel.


Two days later, Lyle left for the site of the conference. He hadn't had any luck in tracking Jarod through the individual delegates, so perhaps he was tied in with the hotel. Parker hadn't been any luckier in trying to confront the other Parker, which made him feel a little better. With Willie behind him, Lyle approached the registration desk and pulled out Jarod's photo. "Excuse me, but have you seen this man? I think he may have something to do with the conference."

The man behind the desk stared at him as if he were crazy. He looked at the photo anyway. "No, can't say as I remember seeing him."

"So, you haven't seen him."

"No, that's not what I said. I don't remember seeing him. There are so many people coming and going right now for this conference. I have hotel security, police, bodyguards, hell, I even had the NSA in here. I'm sorry if I don't remember this one face."

"Mind if I just look around?" Lyle flashed an ID that made the man think he had the authority. "I won't get in the way." He knew his charm would make the man think him harmless enough.

"Sure." The clerk went back to his duties behind the desk and left Lyle to find his own way.

Lyle turned to Willie and they walked down the hall to the conference rooms. "It's amazing how lax security is for such an international conference." He shook his head. "Perhaps we should give some lessons."


Miss Parker went over the information she had just gotten from Broots. Francis Bartholomew Parker was born in Philadelphia in 1969, raised in an orphanage and went to Catholic school. From there he joined the Navy SEALS before moving on to CIA Special Ops. While on assignment in Somalia, he was captured and tortured by being placed in a hot box for a week and deprived of food and water. Upon his release, he had a breakdown, which led to his incarceration at the CIA psychiatric facility at Hansen Island. He also held a B.S. in Biology from the University of Virginia. Quite a well-rounded character. However, she couldn't see anything in his file that would make him a subject of Jarod's attention.

She stood, put her gun in its holster, checker her appearance in the mirror, and then left the room, carefully locking it behind her. She stalked to the elevator and waited for the elevator to take her to the lobby. Once inside, she wondered briefly what Lyle was doing but was happy that he was just out of her way. A brief smile crossed her lips just as the doors opened. Her day brightened immensely as she saw who was standing there.

He spotted her as well. "And things had been going so well," he groaned.

"Just the man I want to see."

"Should I be flattered?" he questioned as she grabbed his arm and dragged him back into the elevator.

"You've piqued my interest, Frank B. Parker of the NSA."

"You've done your research. I'm impressed."

"As was I when I read your file. It's a good thing that the NSA was willing to overlook your...shortcomings. But just what is your tie to Jarod? Why is he helping you?" He didn't answer her and she really hadn't expected him to.


Olga saw Frank pulled into the elevator by Miss Parker. Things were advancing a bit quicker than planned. She put in a call to Talmadge and the others back in Nevada. "Have you gotten any of the information I requested?"

"Ballard took care of that. John?"

Olga next heard John Ballard's voice. "It took a little time and finesse, but I finally did get some background on the two of them. They are twins, however for some reason a foster family in Nebraska raised the brother. They work for a privately financed research facility known as The Centre and located in Blue Cove Delaware. Their father is one of the bigwigs so they each have some pull. Lyle was persona non grata for a time, but was reinstated last year and placed on the same retrieval project as the sister. Strange thing, there is no first name listed on her."

"That's not much, is it?"

"No. There security caught up with me at that point."

"Thanks, anyway, John."

"Do you think anything can come of this information, Olga?" asked Talmadge.

"I was hoping, sir, but I think all it's given me is some idea of where they're coming from. I'll call should anything else arise."

"Olga, where's Frank?"

"He's...doing reconnaissance, sir."

"Parker doing reconnaissance? That's a laugh," Ramsey snorted. "The man's a bull in a china shop on his best day." Olga knew that Frank was an expert on such matters and was not about to get into a long-distance argument, especially over the merits of Frank Parker.

"OK, Olga. Keep in touch."

"Yes, sir." She then placed a call to Jarod. "Frank is with Miss Parker now. I saw her take him into the elevator."

"She'll probably take him up to her room to get the information out of him. That should buy us some time. The plan should stay on schedule."

"I'll let you know when they leave."

"Thank you, Olga."


Jarod turned off his phone after speaking with Olga. Things were going as planned, albeit, a little ahead of schedule. Frank should be able to delay things with Miss Parker. He smiled at the thought of that encounter.

"Is everything all right, Jarod?" asked Morales.

"Nothing surprising, no. However, I may need to leave you briefly this evening, but I've arranged for someone to stay with you. I hope you don't mind."

"Who is this other person?"

"There's nothing to worry about. He's with the NSA and has had a hand in the security for the conference." Which is no lie, Jarod added to himself.

"Is this the friend you've been helping?"

"Yes, he is."

"Then I see no problem in him taking over."

"Wonderful. His name is Frank Parker. He's a little unorthodox, but gets the job done."

"You are an honest man, Jarod so I trust your judgment regarding your friend."


"So, what interest do you have in Jarod?" questioned Frank.

"Merely as a means to an end, Parker." ***That felt strange, calling someone else that name.***

"Why don't you just call me Frank. After all, you do know the intimate details of my life."

"God," she moaned. "Why do the government agents Jarod finds always think they can charm their way out of any given situation?"

"You mean I'm not your first? I'm hurt, I really am."

"He collects you like strays. The last one was with the FBI."

That last comment intrigued Frank. Maybe he could look up this agent. "What is it about Jarod that attracts people? There has to be more to it if you chase after him with guns."

She looked at him as if debating how to answer-or if to answer. The door to the elevator opened and he demeanor changed for their new audience. Her face softened and she linked her arm in his. "Darling, this trip has been so wonderful," she declared as they exited.

"Too bad you only get one first honeymoon," commented Frank as they strolled down the hall.

She glared up at him but for those watching from behind, it looked like a loving glance. As they paused in front of the door while Miss Parker got the key, Frank made to kiss her. She turned her head so he only grazed her cheek. He opened the door and allowed her to enter first. Once he was inside and the door closed, she slapped him soundly on the face and shoved him away. "Don't you ever try that again!"

Frank looked up from the foot of the bed where he had landed. "I was only following your lead," he said, gently massaging his cheek. "I thought that a couple on their honeymoon would do a bit of that, you know."

"Well, I've got news for you: the honeymoon's over." She began to pace the room. ***God, why did I ever give up smoking?*** "Try it again and you'll be getting your jaw wired shut."

Frank rubbed his jaw at the thought. He wouldn't put it past her to keep that threat. He made himself comfortable on the bed as she paced. He watched her and could see all that pent-up energy waiting for a release. She reminded him of a caged animal and wondered if he got that way at Backstep, though he did have a few more outlets. "Your gonna wear out the carpet if you keep that up."

She turned and glared at him. How dare he look so smug and confident! This was supposed to be an interrogation and he was treating it like a liaison.

Frank knew it had to try and get the upper hand here. ***What kind of hold does Jarod have over her?*** "So, what's it like having a twin? I'm an only child myself."

Parker stopped and looked at him. "And how do you know that Lyle is my twin? You must have spoken with Jarod."

"Ooops, shouldn't have let that out." Frank attempted to look remorseful. "You caught me."

"You had better tell me all you can. My brother has his own method of interrogation that is none too pleasant."

"So, you do care."

"I know you have a high threshold for pain, Mr. Parker, but Lyle plays a nasty game of psychological as well as physical pain." Frank said nothing. "When did you last see him?"

Frank knew the truth couldn't hurt at this point. "Two days ago. We had just seen him when you made yourself comfortable in our room."

"So you haven't spoken or seen him since then?"


Miss Parker felt he was giving his answers to readily. "OK, let's try this again."

Frank groaned. It was going to be a long afternoon.


Even though there had been nothing definite to link Jarod to the conference, it was the only game in town, and Lyle had always been one for games. After forcing himself onto security, Lyle arranged passes for himself and Willie. His sister would have to make arrangements for herself.

On the off chance that Jarod was involved with security, Lyle showed his photo to the pass photographer. "Have you seen him?"

"I think so, but I can't be certain. After awhile, the faces blend together."

"Are the passes made here? I would like to see if his is here."

"We need to keep the number of those who have access to a minimum. If you'd care to leave the photo with me, I can check it against those already developed."

Lyle reluctantly gave up the picture. "How long?"

"Not long at all. About five minutes, maybe ten."


As he waited, Lyle thought on his dear sister's reaction when he brought in Jarod. She had lost her edge due to Jarod's little mind games. Everyone at the Centre knew it as well. That was also probably her saving grace, as she knew his mindset as well as anyone else.

The photographer returned. "Yes, we do have someone who matches the man in the photo."

"Can I have his name?"

"Due to security-"

"Okay, okay, you can't give me a name. But if he is involved with the conference, he'll be here tonight, yes?"

"It would make sense, sir, yes."

Lyle stood and left the room. On the way down in the elevator, Willie asked, "If he's going to show here tonight, do you want me to stay and watch for him?"

"Yes. I'm going back to the hotel to share the news." ***Which might turn to gloating.***

After getting off the elevator on his floor, Lyle immediately spotted that Russian woman in the little waiting area. From her seat, she could see down the hall that contained his room and Parker's. Since he knew her room was two floors down, there was only one other reason for her presence. It was time to turn the tables.


Olga was keeping an eye on the room where Mr. Parker had been taken without seeming obvious. She had just perused the same paragraph in her magazine for the tenth time when she heard a make voice ask, "You were with Mr. Parker, weren't you?"

She looked up to see the man who was after Jarod. She'd have to bluff her way out of this. "Yes. Olga Vukavitch." She held out her hand.

"Lyle." He shook her hand. "What are you doing up here?"

"Mr. Parker saw an old friend. I decided to wait here."

"There's no need to wait alone. "My sister's room is right down the hall. You can wait there."

"Mr. Parker won't know-"

"We'll leave the door open. Come on now." Lyle took her by the arm and guided her down the hall towards the door she had been watching. He gave a knock on the door before opening. He ushered Olga in ahead of him. "It seems I'm not the only one with a guest."

Frank was lying back on the bed as if it were his own room while Miss Parker was sitting on the edge of her seat, leaning forwards. She stood quickly. "What are you doing?" she demanded of her brother.

"She was watching the room. I bet you didn't think of that when you took Mr. Mental Patient, did you?"

"Former mental patient, thank you," commented Frank as he moved to the edge of the bed. "You okay, Olga?"

"More embarrassed at being caught than hurt," she replied as she joined him. As the siblings began to argue on the other side of the room, she whispered, "Did you learn anything?"

"Only that they're trying to out-do each other to be the first to get Jarod. Seems whoever does gets a major promotion."

"That's..." She struggled for words. They were treating Jarod as if he were an escaped convict, just someone to bring in so they could get on with their lives. How could they live with themselves? "Inhuman," she finished.

"There has to be more to this," said Frank. "Unfortunately, we're not gonna get anything from these two."

"Do you think they're part of a government agency?" questioned Olga.

"No. They would have shown ID's once they learned we were NSA. I think they might be with a private organization."

Olga looked over at the bickering siblings. "They don't inspire confidence, do they?"

"Well, if all the women who worked there looked like her..." Olga glared at him. "What? I can't help it."

Olga looked at Lyle. "I wonder where that other man is? The one who follows him."

"He's not outside?"

"I didn't see him. Do you think he stayed at the conference hall to watch for Jarod?"

"I wouldn't be surprised. OK, here they come."


Miss Parker pulled Lyle off to the side of the room. "What are you doing, bringing her here?"

"She was watching the room, Parker. I'm surprised you didn't expect that. Why did you bring him to the room anyway?"

"To question him, of course." She told him about Frank's background.

"And you thought you could get straight answers from a former nutcase and spook?" Lyle glanced over at the two on the bed. "I'm surprised at you, Parker."

"I did learn that Jarod is helping with security at the conference. That's why he's in contact with Parker."

"He has a security pass and should be there in about an hour," Lyle supplied, looking at his watch.

"We can use them to get us in," she said.

"Speak for yourself. I have a security pass."

"And when were you going to tell me this?" Probably at the door when he gets in and I'm left standing in the cold.

"It wouldn't have done much good as I just made it before the deadline to get one made. I'm sure that's something your captive left out."

She resisted the temptation to smack his smug face. "So, we just sit tight here for an hour or so before heading there, taking them with us."

"And give them the chance to get in the way? I don't think so."

"They can also act as a bargaining chip. You know how Jarod gets."

Lyle grinned. "Now, there's the old Parker we've been missing. How does it feel?"

"Good," she snarled. "Do you want to tell them or shall I?"

They walked over to Frank and Olga.


Jarod approached the front door of the hotel but spotted Willie watching it from the lobby. He turned and headed for the café entrance to the side. With Willie here, that meant that he could expect to see Lyle and Miss Parker soon. He hoped that Frank and Olga were doing all right. He knew from experience that Lyle could get carried away in his enthusiasm.

He made his way into the conference hall where the security teams were doing their final checks. At a table along the back wall was a man guarding over the security passes. Jarod walked over, told them his name, and waited while they searched for it, then signed the form so they could match signatures. With that done, he had to wait as he was lectured on the security process for the evening. As the voice droned on, he looked away and saw as they walked in.

He looked about the room, fearing all the exits would be covered. However, it was just the three of them. He also noted that Frank and Olga were with them and all right. With a quick smile in their direction, he bolted across the room to one of the many doors that led to the kitchen, and from there, outside. He found his car in the lot and drove off. In the rearview mirror he could see Miss Parker and Lyle as they reached the lot. The look on their faces made this little game of cat-and-mouse worthwhile.


Miss Parker let out a frustrated sigh as she watched Jarod's car pull out of the lot. "Damn!" She turned around in anger.

"If we hadn't waited around the hotel, we would have been here when he came in," chided Lyle.

"Yeah, well, Willie was here for that and look how well he did!" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a sheet of paper on the ground and picked it up in the off chance it had to do with Jarod. She read it and smiled. "C'mon, boys. We have a flight to catch." She strode back to their car.

"What's the deal here? What about the NSA?"

"They were only necessary to get us to Jarod. We don't need them anymore. What we do need is to get to SEA-TAC airport before Jarod's flight for Tampa leaves in," she looked at her watch, "one hour." She showed Lyle the paper.

"It's not like him to drop a receipt for his ticket."

"Yeah, but I don't think he expected us to show up so soon. We can talk about it on the way."

The three headed for the car.


Frank smiled as Jarod led the others on a merry chase. He fished a set of car keys from his pocket and tossed them to Olga. "Here. You'll find a dark green Taurus parked in the employee lot."

"And where are we going?"

"You're going to the airport. Jarod's gonna need help with his escape. I have to go be a bodyguard."

"But what about..?"

"They're done with us and are probably on the way to the airport now. You'd better hurry. This escape is planned down to the second."

"What?" She stared at Frank but could see he wasn't about to explain. "Fine, but I expect to be told the whole story when this is over." She exited by the front door.

When Frank saw both cars pull into traffic, he hailed a cab. When he arrived at the hotel where Señor Morales was staying, he approached reception. The uniformed woman behind the desk took in Frank's appearance with a disdainful glance. "May I help you?"

"Yes. Could you call Señor Morales and tell him that Frank Parker is here, please."

"I don't think Señor Morales is seeing anyone at the moment."

"I think he's expecting me." He leaned against the counter, showing that he wasn't planning on moving until she did as he asked.

She made the call. "I'm sorry to disturb Señor Morales, but there is a man here at reception who says he is expected." She paused while the person on the other end spoke. She then looked at Frank and asked his name again. "Frank Parker." Another pause. "Yes, I'll send him up."

Frank smiled. "Thank you very much." He took the elevator up and had his ID ready for the security waiting on the floor. He then strode down the hall and knocked on the door to Morales' room. "It's Frank Parker."

The door was opened and a Latino man stood and walked over. "Welcome, Señor Parker. As you are here, that must mean that things are going as Jarod expected."

"Very much so."


Jarod left his car in the rental lot and took a shuttle to the terminal. If he timed this right, he would just be passing through security when they spotted him. Knowing he didn't have much time, he headed toward the gate for hi "flight". He hoped Frank had made it over to Señor Morales. He had asked Morales to stay in the room and not let anyone in except Frank or himself.

"There he is!" he heard a female voice cry and turned to see the three start off in his direction.

Jarod quickly walked through the throng. Soon he heard the alarms at the checkpoints go off and he grinned. He knew he could depend on them to rush through the security gates. He quickly turned to one of the many doors that led to the tarmac. Using an airport employee pass, he opened the door and headed down the steps. He flashed his pass at the stunned baggage handlers and headed to the passenger pick-up area. Now, if Frank had just told Olga the plan...


Olga followed the signs on the highway for the airport. She only hoped she didn't pass Jarod's pursuers or even get caught by them. She was mad at Frank for not telling her the full story but her anger could wait until this was done. As she arrived at the airport, she debated between arrivals or departures before deciding on arrivals. After all, she was picking up a passenger. She lined up with the other cars and watched for Jarod. She soon glimpsed a spot at the curb and pulled over. Almost immediately the passenger door opened. She turned to yell at the person to get out when she realized it was Jarod. Olga pulled out into the traffic "When Mr. Parker said you had this timed down to the second, he wasn't kidding."

Jarod smiled as he looked in his side view mirror. "It helps when you know how the other side thinks."

Olga finally realized what was happening. "So now they think you're gone and will leave you alone to finish."

"Frank helped out with some of the details. He's with Morales now." She could feel his eyes on her as she concentrated on the road. "You mean he didn't tell you what was going on?"

"No, he just said to go to the airport because you would need help."

"Does he always do that?"

"He was with the CIA. He sometimes reverts to a need-to-know mode of thinking."

"I know the type. Let's go and see how he's doing."

Olga drove to the hotel and followed Jarod up to Morales' suite. He knocked on the door and Frank answered. "Great. You made it." He grinned at Olga. "No problems with the timetable, then?"

"None. I had barely pulled over when Jarod got in. Why couldn't you have told me what was going on? I don't like being left out like that."

"There just wasn't time. Believe me, I felt bad about it."

Olga seriously doubted that, but let it slide. She looked over at Jarod who had joined Morales and his wife. "Do you think it worked?"

"I think so. By the time Parker and Lyle find out their mistake, this will be all over and Jarod will be on his way again. We can always go to the conference and find out," he grinned.


The limousine joined the line of those waiting to relinquish their passengers. An unnatural calm seemed to settle on those waiting inside. Senor and Senora Morales faced forward, holding hands in mutual support. Jarod sat opposite them and he, too, was nervous. He looked out the window, eyes darting everywhere.

"Why so uptight, my friend? You have discharged your duty. Here we are at the conference and I am still breathing."

"I won't feel confident until you're in that room under the watchful eye of the federal government."

"Miguel is on his way from the airport and you can soon be on your way. All that you have done was above the call."

"I felt it an honor, Senor."

The limo stopped and Jarod jumped out and carefully surveyed the area before allowing the Morales out of the car. He walked alongside the couple up the stairs and into the building. There was a reception area where the delegates could meet and speak freely. Jarod milled about, keeping an eye on both the assignment and the crowd. He glanced quickly at his watch before making his way to the diplomat's side. Miguel had arrived by this time and soon after the introductions, Jarod made his farewells and left.

Once out the door, Jarod loosened his tie and headed outside. Frank and Olga were there waiting. "Well?" Frank asked.

"Everything went fine. Miguel just arrived and so I wasn't needed anymore."

"So where to now?" asked Olga.

"I never really know until I read the papers," he answered with a bit of a smile.

"There's more to this than you're saying," Frank said. "I think we could hear a bit more."

Jarod thought on that request. It couldn't really hurt. After all, he knew their secret. "The condensed version?" Frank nodded. Jarod took a deep breath. "I was kidnapped as a child and used to create simulations, some of which were used with horrifying consequences. I escaped and try to right those wrongs."

"And hat's why they want you back? To continue these simulations?" questioned Olga. "What about your family? Surely they can help."

"When I was still a boy, they told me my parents were dead. I have since met my father, seen my mother, and hold my dying brother in my arms. I also learned I have a sister. They're out there somewhere and we'll meet up again soon. Right now it's safer to remain apart."

"That's harsh," commented Frank, "but at least you know you have family. As far as I know, I have no one."

A thought crossed Jarod's mind, one almost too terrible to consider. He looked intently at Frank. ***Why spoil his life by giving him a possible family as skewed as the Parkers? He seems stable where he is and has accepted the fact that he has no blood relatives.***

Frank noticed Jarod staring. "What's the matter? Do I have food stuck on the corner of my mouth?" He wiped a hand across his lips.

Jarod smiled. "No, I was just thinking."

"Anything I should know?"

Jarod shook his head. "No, nothing important at all." He held out his hand. "A pleasure meeting you both." Frank shook it. "I trust you'll keep my secret?"

"As long as you keep ours," grinned Frank.

"Mum's the word. Dr. Vukavitch, " he shook her hand as well.

"Good luck to you, Jarod. I hope you are reunited with your family."

"I know I will be. Thank you both for your help and I hope it doesn't cause any problems when you return to...wherever."

"Nothing I haven't handled before."

With a parting smile, Jarod walked down the sidewalk and disappeared into the crowd.

Olga looked at his retreating back. "Do you think we'll see him again?"

"With my travel agent, the odds are pretty good."


The Centre jet arrived at Tampa/St Pete thirty minutes before Jarod's flight. Parker and Lyle stood by the arrival gate and Sam went onto the tarmac should he decide to escape that way. As the passengers disembarked, Lyle and Parker scanned the faces. Jarod was not there. "Damn!"

"Seems he left us another red herring," commented Lyle dryly.

"And sent us across the country giving himself enough time to go somewhere else. I can't
believe I fell for it!"

A woman dressed in the uniform of the airline walked up to her. "Miss Parker?"

Parker turned. "What do you want?" she growled.

"There's a phone call for you. You can take it at the courtesy phone." She motioned with her hand to the phone at the gate.

Parker walked to the phone and picked it up. "Yes?"

"I hear the weather's lovely there this time of year."

"It could be snowing for all I care. Why Tampa?"

"It was all I could get at the time that was far enough away." She could hear laughter in his voice. "Stay there a couple of days, get a tan. You're looking rather pale. Prison life can do that to a person."

She pulled the dial tone away from her ear and stared at the phone before setting it back on the base. ***Not like his usual calls after a pretend. This was more to taunt and gloat, not confess and mope. This experience must have left him in a good mood.*** She frowned. ***At least one of us is.***

Lyle came over. "So, what did Jarod have to say?"

"He sent us here to take a vacation. He said I was looking too pale."

Well, you are a bit."

She glared at him. "When I want your opinion, I'll bite my tongue."

Lyle backed away. "Fine. We'll talk later."

The look on his face made her feel a little better. ***Maybe her mood was changing. No need for Lyle to know that***, she thought as she followed him back to the jet and the Centre.