Disclaimer: The Pretender belongs to Craig Van Sickle and Steven Long Mitchell.
Broots could easily visualize the ramifications of what could happen to someone who knew too much. "Death" was one of the alternatives that came to mind and as stated before, he liked the idea of breathing. He loved his daughter too much. He wouldn't leave her alone on this earth all because he stuck his nose where he shouldn't. Hell, Miss Parker was the Chairman's daughter and even now he was dubious to believe that she would be protected if they took this too far.
She had a small backyard with a horrible excuse of a brick patio to complement. Just like in the front, the flowers and brush could've used some weeding, but despite their unkempt appearance all the flowers represented life. They were alive. He was standing there, remembering what it was like to use his lungs and he was thinking. He was thinking very hard about what Miss Parker was proposing. She had laughed off the notion of actually digging up Darra Landers body at first, but as time began slipping away, that idea became much more appealing. He also had a good idea a few swigs of vodka were helping to fuel her ambition.
Only, Broots was disliking this crazy scheme more and more while she was trying to sell it to him like they were merely talking about Girl Scout cookies.
One of the memos was clear. Darra was buried in the exact same cemetery as Catherine Parker. Unfortunately, they were smart enough to keep which grave she was buried in a secret. So even if he agreed to this insane plan, how would they know where to start? They couldn't just dig up every grave without someone taking notice! There had to be another way!
Broots' ears picked up the sound of metal hitting dirt. Miss Parker was out in her shed dragging out two shovels. He had to stop this. "Wh- -, wait a minute. I think we need to go over our options one more time. . ."
Parker merely cackled then said ruefully, "What options? We have no options, Broots."
"I think we do," Broots argued, trying to sound as confident as possible. He could see she was becoming impatient. "We can't just go in there and start digging. We need a more concrete plan." He paused there not sure how to continue his next train of thought.
"I get the feeling you have more to say?" Parker said, picking up on his reluctance to finish.
Broots took a deep breath, "I don't like this anymore than you do. I want to help, but I also value my life. I care whether or not you live to see another day. . .er, even if you don't." He twiddled his thumbs to let his last statement linger in the air, then finished abruptly, "I think we need help."
To his surprise, Parker was speechless. But only momentarily. She slammed a shovel into his chest and warned, "If you have a better solution, I'm all ears. If I don't like what I hear, I'm going to save Darra from anymore scrutiny."
Broots could feel his fear rising from the pit of his stomach and resting in his throat. He couldn't really think of another plan that she would like. He shook his head in exasperation and asked pointedly, "Why do you want to do this?"
"Because I'm not a coward like you."
"No! That's not what I mean, Miss Parker!" Broots nearly whined as he began to pace. His nerves were on high gear as he ranted, "You're talking about digging up a body! A body preserved for the extracting of DNA! I want to know why you're risking everything for a person you've never met!"
"For the same reason I tried to track down the Rescued children in the first place," Parker nearly growled back. She raised a scolding finger to Broots, before saying softly, "I'm doing this because. . .because I think my mother would have wanted me to."
Broots could hear the sincerity in her words, but could sense there was something else too. He gripped his shovel tightly and pushed, "What aren't you telling me, Miss Parker?"
Parker took a deep breath before continuing, "Those memos say Darra is buried in the same cemetery as my mother."
"The very last one. It also states The Triumverate was upset that the mummification wasn't completed."
Broots's eyes widened. He had missed that part. "It wasn't?"
"Remember how I spoke with Darra's mother? They had already cremated her body and spread her ashes over some mountain tops. She seemed pretty confident that this procedure went off without a hitch. So I'm thinking, whoever is buried in Darra Landers plot is not Darra Landers."
"Oh," Broots mumbled, casting his gaze down. Darra wasn't mummified? She was cremated? Miss Parker was in the house by the time he looked up again. He rushed back in and found her lighting up a cigarette in the kitchen. Her shovel leaned against the table. He started to relax some knowing her drive to dig up a body had been quelled some. He walked up to her and asked, "What do you want to do?"
"I want to know who's buried out there," Parker stated sadly. "I want to dig up whoever it is and save them."
"You can't save them, Miss Parker. They're already dead," Broots said quietly, allowing his shovel to rest next to hers. He cautiously made his way up to her, then added, "But if that's what you want, then I'll help in any way I can."
She stared at him then. Her eyes full of surprise, but her face remaining expressionless. Smoke drifted out of her nostrils slowly, soft amber light glowing from her nicotine stick. He found himself mesmerized by it all. Transfixed by her. He even managed to hold back his cough when she blew smoke in his direction. She finally spoke, "You are full of surprises, Mr. Broots."
He laughed lightly, "Yeah, sometimes I amaze myself."
He nearly died right there when she flashed a smile in his direction. She was beautiful when she smiled. He was so caught up in his reverie that he almost didn't notice her move from his gaze. She walked back to the table, picked up her shovel and ordered, "Let's go find out what's buried out there." She grabbed the memos and gave them to him. "I want you to scan those again. Maybe we're missing something."
"Right," he agreed wholeheartedly. Moments ago, he had been the voice of reason, declaring how crazy this all was. Now having been on the receiving end of a brilliant Miss Parker smile, he was a puddle of mush. Before he could grab his coat, he paused, "Wait a minute."
"What Broots?" she turned around to face him again.
"You said, 'let's find out what's buried out there'," Broots repeated. He could feel excitement racing through his veins. "You said Darra was cremated. What if we're not looking for a body? What if we're looking for a thing?"
They went back to The Centre, after Broots made the call to a babysitter of course.
Now that he had deduced they might be looking for a thing and not a person, searching the plots would be a bit simpler. They made their way toward an equipment room. It was one of those places all the techies at The Centre loved to visit. There were gadgets galore, but Broots was only in there for one gizmo this night. He unhooked the slender machine off the wall and held it up proudly for Miss Parker to see.
She frowned, then asked skeptically, "A metal detector?"
"Not quite. See this screen up here?" he pointed to the top of the long, handled machine. "It works like an x-ray. We turn this on, aim it toward the ground and we'll be able to get a rough picture of what's underneath on this screen. Granted the layer of dirt on top of the grave isn't thicker than eight feet."
She stared at the machine for a second longer, before turning on her heel and heading for the exit. Broots figured that was his cue to follow. They were soon back in the car, speeding toward the cemetery. He once again found himself trying desperately to concentrate on something other than the smell of her perfume. He suggested the radio, but she shot him a killer look that told him he better not touch anything in her car. Not that it really mattered if he turned it on or not. The music wouldn't drown out her scent.
The car came to a silent halt at the gates. The headlights shone across the grass, lighting up the grave markers. Broots was ready to move, but he wouldn't dare get out of the car before she said so. She was staring hard at the cemetery, her eyes glassy and clear. Her hands clenched the steering wheel in front of her tightly, her knuckles beginning to whiten. Her entire body was still.
She didn't move. She continued to stare, her mouth opening as if she wanted to say something. Broots didn't know what to do. Should he reach out and console her? No, no, no. She might slap him. Should he call her name again? Again, she might slap him.
She finally moved, leaving the car running and hopping out of the car. He followed suit almost immediately. He stayed close behind her as they traveled over the dead. He couldn't fight the gulp of terror as he watched the names of the deceased whiz by. He couldn't believe he was about to disturb this sacred place digging for only God knew what. They stopped.
The name said Catherine Parker.
Broots stared at her expectantly, waiting on an order. She merely fixed her gaze on the gravestone, her face suddenly made of ice. His heart ached for her, wishing there was some way he could melt away that frosty exterior. Wishing there was some way for her to feel loved again. To feel like she isn't alone in all of this.
"We won't look at hers," she stated calmly. "The Centre is a number of things, but I don't believe they are so evil that they would tamper with my mother's grave."
"Are you sure?" The question was out of his mouth before he could stop it. He fearfully looked up at her as she glared at him.
"They wouldn't because then that would mean Daddy. . .," Parker began to explain, but stopped. It was almost as if she were beginning to realize an evil she had never encountered before. Broots and Sydney (and even Jarod) had suspected Mr. Parker's intentions had been everything but honorable. What they didn't know was, just how far would he go to have all the riches in the world?
Parker snapped out of it and finished, "That would mean Daddy would have to give the order to do so. He would never do that to her." She flashed tempestuous eyes at Broots and finished, "He would never do that to me."
"Of course not, Miss Parker," Broots agreed quickly, not wanting to overstep his limits and make her angrier. She was angry enough as it was.
"Here," she pointed to the grave next to Catherine's. "We'll start here."
And so they began, waving the detector over the graves. Each time they saw the remains of some poor soul who had bitten the dust far before their time. Each time they saw the outline of a form, once resembling a human full of life, laid to rest for the all of eternity. Hours passed with nothing to find. They had figured The Centre wouldn't use Darra's real name, so there was no way to narrow the search.
Eventually, they made it back to the last row of graves. Broots had been so used to seeing skeletal remains, that he nearly jumped out of his skin when he found a grave with no bones! He waved the detector over the grave one more time before stammering, "Miss–Miss Parker. . . "
She was by his side immediately, looking at the screen, "What did you find?"
"It's what I didn't find," he half smiled. "There's no body. Actually, it looks like there's nothing here at all."
He swept the area another time, then exclaimed, "Wait, there is something here! I can't make out what it is though."
He was shoved aside almost immediately, hearing metal hit dirt. She was digging furiously, not paying any mind to him. That is until she noticed he wasn't digging too. "Let's get cracking, Broots!"
"Right," he acquiesced, picking up the second shovel and joining her. Two shovels clanged and banged into each other in a mutually inquisitive fashion. They were lowering themselves deeper and deeper. All the while, Broots couldn't help but wonder if they were missing something. It wasn't like anything The Centre did was normal, but there was a peculiarity about this entire digging session that didn't sit right with him. He still had no idea who left him that note back at the office. The one with the insufferable scrawl ordering him to fix one of the servers. The one that ultimately led them here, digging up a grave.
Furthermore, if Darra's body wasn't here, then why keep the plot? Why use a whole grave for just one little object? Well, who would look for anything suspicious related to The Centre in . . .Mrs. Jane Yauchling's plot? Certainly not Broots. A man who wouldn't even be here had it not been for that mysterious note and the persuasiveness of Miss Parker.
Parker's shovel hit the coffin first. She glanced up at him, not a smile or a frown adorning her face. No indication that she was actually happy they hit something other than dirt. They both got down on their knees, using their hands and arms to sweep away the last bit of the crumbling barrier. Exposing the upper half of the coffin, she wasted no time in trying to open it. Broots switched positions and pulled with her. The top creaked open with a deafening sound. This was it.
They both looked at each other, soiled by dirt and sweat, taking this opportunity to catch their breaths. The headlights from the car were far reaching, giving them enough light in the dark, eerie night sky. He tentatively stared at the opening and asked, "Would you like to look first?"
She nodded and he moved up and out of the grave. She took up the space he previously occupied and leaned into the opening. Her arm reached in and searched diligently. After a few moments, she came back up for air holding what appeared to be an urn and a note. Broots was sitting on the ground now and waved her over to sit next to him. To his surprise, she did just that, plopping down next to him. She was exhausted just like him, but nothing would keep them from examining their new find.
First, she gently lifted the top off the urn. She frowned, "It's empty."
"What about the note?" Broots inquired. Had their digging all been for nought?
She picked up the aging envelope. It had obviously been underground for quite some time, but being protected by the coffin, it had not deteriorated completely. She opened the note slowly, scanned the words, then laughed, "That son of a bitch."
Broots nearly jumped back, watching her eyes close in utter amusement. Her chuckling was vile and bitter. It made him uneasy. What was so funny? She managed to compose herself and read, "To whom it may concern: This urn, which you have stolen, is now empty. Darra Landers is now resting peacefully, the way her family intended. Signed, Jarod. P.S. You wasted your time digging up the wrong grave."
"Jarod?" Broots repeated, his mouth hanging open. "Jarod got here first?"
Parker shook her head and added bitingly, "Of course, Jarod got here first. He always does. And just like always, I get left holding nothing. I get left looking like a total buffoon, while Genius Boy watches from afar and laughs at me."
Then why? Why the emotional torture? Broots could still feel his horror at finding the note. He could still feel his heart thump in nervousness when obtaining that folder of memos, detailing the destruction of the Rescued children. Why would someone lead them here if Jarod had already gotten here first?
"Well, at least we can look like buffoons together," Broots muttered, now a rancor all his own rising within him. He heard Parker laugh again which prompted him to laugh uncomfortably with her. Considering how much time went into digging up this "nothing", it was kinda funny in an ironic way.
He sniffed the air and caught that familiar nicotine scent. She was smoking, her eyes closed and her free hand running through her grimy hair. They could sit here and mope, which was highly appealing or they could move on. He rose to his feet and offered her his hand, "Let's go home, Miss Parker."
"It's says we wasted time digging up the wrong grave," Parker said aloud, her tone one of curiosity. Her eyes beginning to water. She shook her head and nearly growled, "What the hell does that mean?"
Broots didn't move. His hand still waited for hers as he repeated, "Miss Parker? Let's go home, okay? We can figure this out later."
Her hand finally slipped into his, the warmth a welcome surprise. He nearly gasped fully expecting any physical contact with her to be as cold as snow in winter. He could get used to holding her hand all to easily knowing how good it felt.
He gently lifted her to her feet, her weariness causing her to stumble into him. He caught her, realizing for the first time that he was actually taller than her. She had kicked off her heels long ago in the midst of their digging. He was surprised for a second time in the last few minutes when she wrapped her arms around him, her head falling into his shoulder. He instinctively hugged her back, waiting for the muffled sound of tears to come.
They never did.
Broots awoke with his arms around the most beautiful woman he had ever known. She never cried last night and after a while, he realized how foolish he was to think she ever would. They spoke all of two words to each other the entire time. She didn't ask to be held through the night. She didn't ask for him to stay and he didn't offer either. He had every intention of being the perfect gentleman.
He drove them back to her home, led her to her bedroom and tucked her in. It was only then that he saw the look in her eyes. He remembered how his heart shattered when she asked for his help. Kicking off his shoes, he stayed on top of the covers and curled up next to her. She didn't tell him to leave. In fact, she seemed to relax a little. Somehow, in his sleep, his arm ended up cloaking her. Holding her. Protecting her.
"You can go home now, Broots," she said, her tone returning to its normal frosty nature. He wasn't aware she had awoken.
"Are you sure?" he asked quietly.
She repeated bitterly, "Go home."
He didn't have the nerve to ask again. He quickly let her go, crawled off the bed and found his shoes. Slipping his feet in, he braved a peek at her. She was staring at him, the sunlight from the window accenting the dirt stains on her cheeks and forehead. He looked down at himself, noticing they had both fallen asleep in their messy, disheveled clothes. His eyes went back to her again and he knew he should leave, but he just stood there. To prolong his presence, he said, "I'll start looking over the urn and note. Maybe it'll help find Jarod. Maybe we can figure out what grave he was talking about."
"You do that," she replied now sounding slightly irritated.
Broots blew air between his lips in an attempt to whistle, but no sound came out. He rocked slightly on his feet and said, "I'll show myself out."
He locked eyes with her once more, before she turned away from him to lay on her other side. He could've sworn he caught a glimpse of gratitude in those arctic blues. He smiled, as he walked up to her bed, leaned over and did the bravest thing he could ever do. He brushed her hair back, then pressed a light kiss to her temple. He didn't say anything, hoping that his small gesture would convey all that he wanted to say.
That she wasn't alone. That she was loved by someone. That she had unearthed more than just an urn and a piece of paper.
She had found his heart.