THE LONG ROAD HOME
A/N: In all honesty, I hadn't expected to get to this point so fast, but the muse wouldn't let me put the brakes on. So, into the fire we go...
Deakins sat at his desk in silence after Mike and Carolyn had left with Jarod, frowning and tapping his pen lightly against the blotter. He was starting to seriously wish he’d listened to his gut this morning, and simply called in sick.
First that man and woman turned up out of the blue asking all manner of suspicious questions about Bobby, and then that Federal agent, Malone, appeared. He wondered briefly if the three were actually working together, and an icy wave of panic raced down his spine at the thought. But no, he rationalised after managing to bring the panic under control. When he’d confirmed the alleged identities of the pair to Malone, the agent had gone almost green. No one could fake a reaction like that on the spot, Deakins mused. So no, Malone was not in on anything with Parker and Lyle.
His thoughts went back to the pair, and his frowned deepened. He was positive he knew the woman from somewhere, but for the life of him he couldn’t work out where he might have seen her before. She was certainly not someone he would have ever socialised with. The woman had the personality of a pirhana, and her male companion was not much better.
In the end, he gave up trying to remember, deciding that if it really was important, he’d remember when the time was right.
And as for Jarod Malone…
Deakins rubbed the spot between his eyes, trying to ease the eadache that was starting to threaten. There was something strange about him, too, although Deakins felt far more inclined to trust him than the other two. One thing was certain, though, and that was that Malone was unlike any FBI agent he’d ever met. Polite, where most tended to be boorish; modest, where others were arrogant… No, Jarod was definitely the antithesis of the typical FBI agent. Which left him wondering…
Feeling that sudden chill of panic clutching at his chest once more, Deakins picked up his phone, and started dialling.
“I thought Deakins was coming around later today,” Alex remarked dryly as she let her two colleagues and their tag-along into her apartment.
“Developments,” Logan said with an apologetic shrug. “Alex, this is Agent Jarod Malone. He’s FBI. Deakins asked us to bring him to see Bobby.”
Alex turned to look at Jarod, and size him up. Jarod extended his hand to her, and she took it in a firm grip. A little too firm, she reflected with little regret as he winced visibly.
“You have a very strong grip,” Jarod marvelled once she let go. Alex glanced fleetingly at Barek with an ‘is he for real?’ raised eyebrows look, to which Barek replied with a slight shrug.
“What does the FBI want with my partner?” Alex asked. Jarod stared at her for a moment, and then smiled apologetically.
“I’m sorry. It isn’t that we have any sort of problem with him. We’ve… Actually, it would be best if I could talk to him directly.”
“Where is he, anyway?” Logan asked.
“Taking a bath,” Alex said calmly. “After Deakins called and told us both to stay put, I told him to put the time to use. He’s been so high-strung the last few weeks that I thought it might ease his nerves some.”
“Stressed in what way?” Jarod wondered. Alex stared at him critically before deciding instinctively that he could be trusted.
“He’s not been getting a lot of sleep lately. I finally got him to admit last night that he’s been having some pretty bad nightmares. Of course, he only admitted that after he had a nightmare in the car last night while we were on stakeout duty.”
“You’re kidding,” Logan said incredulously. “Bobby fell asleep on stakeout?”
“Yes, and if you tell Deakins, I’ll shoot you myself,” Alex snapped. Logan smiled and held his hands up defensively.
“Chill. I won’t say a word.”
“You said he had a nightmare last night?” Jarod asked. “Did he… say anything in his sleep?”
Again, Alex hesitated, this time out of uncertainty of whether she should divulge that information. Finally, she spoke quietly, as though afraid that Bobby might somehow hear her.
“He did say something, but when I asked him about it, he said he didn’t know what it meant. He said ‘refuge, Sydney, please, refuge’.”
It was all Jarod could do to maintain a neutral expression. That revelation told him that Bobby’s memories of the Centre were there, hiding just beneath the surface, and that it might not take too much to bring them all the way to the surface.
Abruptly, the bathroom door opened and Bobby emerged, just buttoning up his shirt. He froze just briefly when he realised he and Alex had company.
“Deakins asked us to come,” Barek explained. “He asked us to bring Agent Malone here to see you.”
Bobby looked around slowly at Jarod, but if there was any hint of recognition in his eyes, Jarod couldn’t see it.
Jarod nodded, walking over to shake the taller man’s hand. “That’s right. Actually, just Jarod is fine, Detective Goren.”
Bobby paused, holding on to Jarod’s hand for a fraction longer than necessary while staring at him piercingly.
“So who have I managed to piss off in the Bureau this time?” he asked, walking past Jarod and sinking into one of Alex’s dining chairs.
“No one at the Bureau, I promise you,” Jarod assured him. Bobby looked less than convinced.
“I’m not too well liked over there, Jarod. I doubt you were sent here as a courtesy for anything.”
Jarod came around, and sat down opposite Bobby.
“Actually, Detective, that’s exactly why I’m here. Out of courtesy. Tell me, have you been aware of any surveillance over the last week or two?”
“Surveillance?” Logan retorted. “Of him?”
Jarod ignored Logan, his attention very firmly focused on Bobby. After a moment, Bobby nodded very slowly, drawing a startled exclamation from Alex.
“You were aware that you were being followed, and you never told me?” she burst out.
Bobby looked uncomfortable.
“I wasn’t sure… until now.”
The dark look on Alex’s face was enough to tell him he was in trouble, and he shrank down in the seat in response. Jarod watched in wordless curiosity as the exchanged took place, wondering that such a diminutive woman could have such obvious dominance over a man like Bobby Goren.
Anxious to focus on anything other than Alex’s anger at him, Bobby looked back at Jarod.
“Are you saying you know something about this?”
Jarod opened up his notebook, and produced two photos.
“The man is called Lyle, the woman is called Parker. We have reason to believe they’ve targeted you.”
“Targeted me…?” Bobby echoed as he stared at the photos with a frown. “For what?”
“We don’t know exactly why yet, but it’s possible they may try to abduct you.”
The silence that met that statement was profound. Then, abruptly, Mike Logan began to laugh. Clutching his stomach, he doubled over and bellowed with laughter. Struck by the apparent absurdity of it, Carolyn found herself struggling not to start laughing as well, and even Alex was sporting an amused smirk. The only ones not smiling were Jarod and Bobby.
“Him? Who’d want to try abducting him?” Mike spluttered. “Seriously, Malone, who are you trying to kid?”
“I wish I was kidding, Detective Logan,” Jarod answered coolly.
Slowly, Mike’s laughter faded, along with his grin.
“You’re really serious… aren’t you?” Mike asked, all humour gone in a moment.
“Yes,” Jarod confirmed quietly. “I am.”
“Why would these people want me?” Bobby asked. There was concern in his eyes, Jarod noted in the seconds before he answered, but no fear. At least, not yet.
“I don’t have all the answers yet,” Jarod told him apologetically. “I don’t know yet exactly what their interest is in you. But I promise you that I’m working on it, and as soon as I know more, I will tell you.”
Alex moved around to sit beside Bobby, silenting noting that Carolyn had moved discreetly around the corner into the kitchen to make answer an incoming call on her cell phone. Mike had noticed her go as well, and had followed her into the kitchen.
“Can you at least tell us who those two… Parker and Lyle, did you say their names were? Who they work for?”
At that, Jarod hesitated. He was reluctant to say too much too soon, but at the same time he didn’t know how much time he had before Parker and Lyle made their move. And it was essential that Bobby remember sooner, rather than later, for his own sake.
He decided to take a chance, and go one step at a time, and see where it led them.
“It’s an agency that you probably won’t have heard of,” Jarod answered cautiously. “It’s called The Centre. We don’t know very much about it.”
As he spoke, Jarod watched Bobby carefully, but there was no outward sign that the name was in any way familiar to him.
“What we do know,” he went on quietly, “is that it’s an organisation that will do virtually anything for money. Kidnapping, extortion, theft, murder… You name it, The Centre has probably done it. The people who run it are unconscienable. And they’re dangerous. Very, very dangerous.”
“But you don’t know what they want with me,” Bobby said thoughtfully. Jarod shook his head.
“No, I don’t.”
A long moment passed, and then Bobby leaned forward, his gaze penetrating Jarod to the core.
Jarod froze, his breath catching in his throat. Bobby didn’t drop his gaze, didn’t release Jarod from the mental hold he had on him.
“You may not know exactly what they want me for, but you know why.”
It wasn’t a question, and Jarod found himself incapable of denying it. All of a sudden, he understood how Bobby had managed to reach such a high position within the NYPD. The man was a frighteningly good interrogator.
“I have suspicions,” Jarod said, forcing himself to keep his voice low and calm. “I didn’t want to voice anything just yet that’s pure speculation.”
Bobby sat back finally, though he didn’t take his eyes off the other man. The scepticism in his eyes was all too visible to Jarod.
“What’s this really about, Agent Malone?”
Jarod shifted uncomfortably. This wasn’t going at all the way he’d planned it. Usually he had complete control of the situation when he went into a new pretend, but coming up against Bobby in this way had thrown him right off balance, and all of a sudden he wasn’t sure which way to turn.
He knew he had to do something eventually to provoke Bobby into remembering his past, but he hadn’t anticipated doing it so soon, and he hadn’t anticipated having an audience of three other New York police detectives. There was so much that could go awry, it just wasn’t funny; not the least of which was the possibility that no amount of prodding on his part would prompt Bobby to remember. And at this stage, to tell Bobby the full truth and not be believed could prove to be disastrous.
Damn it, Sydney, he thought miserably, where are you when I really need you?
“Can you even answer that?” Alex asked in a scathing tone, bringing him back to reality with a jolt.
“I doubt he can.”
Jarod looked around, caught off-guard by the sudden reappearance of Mike and Carolyn behind him. Neither was smiling as they looked down at him.
“What is it?” Alex asked.
“That was Deakins,” Carolyn said, meaning the phone call she’d just taken. “He called a friend of his in the FBI after we’d left. He thought he’d check up on you, Malone.”
Jarod felt his heart start to thump painfully in his chest. He really did not like the sound of that.
Mike did smile, then, and it wasn’t pleasant to look at.
“The only Jarod Malone they have on file was retired twenty-five years ago after taking a bullet in the back. I have to say, Malone, for a seventy year old paraplegic you’re looking pretty damned good.”
Jarod glanced uneasily at Bobby and Alex, both of whom were watching him with deceptively placid expressions. Mike moved around and sat down on the edge of the table, focusing his harshest look on the other man.
“You’ve got about half a minute to give us a damned good reason why we shouldn’t arrest you for impersonating a federal officer.”
“Well?” Alex asked. “We’re waiting.”
Jarod let his breath out in a rush. He really hadn’t wanted to do it this way. He’d wanted to get Bobby alone, and try to find as gentle a way as possible to bring his memories to the surface. Unfortunately, it seemed his colleagues were not going to allow him that opportunity.
“You’re not an FBI agent, are you?” Carolyn asked. Jarod regarded her ruefully.
“You know I’m not.”
“So, who are you?” Mike demanded to know. “Are you in with the people that Deakins warned us to watch out for?”
“No!” Jarod protested. “No, I’m not with them, I promise you that. Look… This isn’t easy to tell, and you might find it hard to believe…”
“Try us,” Alex said flatly. “You’d be surprised what we’ll believe.”
“All right. The man and woman whose pictures I showed you – Lyle and Parker – work for an agency called The Centre. Back in the 60’s, they had a program called the Pretender Project. They took children… a lot of very gifted children… and exploited them for their genius. Some of those children were sent to the Centre by their parents thinking they were giving their children over to a place that could nurture their intelligence… Some were taken by less legitimate means. All of them were horribly abused in ways you couldn’t begin to imagine.”
“We have pretty good imaginations,” Alex said crisply.
“How do you know all of this, anyway?” Carolyn asked, frowning. Jarod looked straight at Bobby, holding his gaze as he spoke the next words.
“I was one of those children. I escaped the Centre about ten years ago, and I’ve been on the run ever since.”
Beside him, still perched on the edge of the table, Mike coughed loudly into his hand, and his colleagues were just able to discern the word ‘crackpot’. Jarod shook his head.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
“All right,” Bobby conceded. “Let’s say it’s true. How does all this involve me?”
Again, Jarod drew in a long breath. Here went everything.
“Of all those children who escaped the Centre, one way or another, only two are still alive. I’m one. The other one is you, Bobby.”
Stunned silence met Jarod’s statement. Then, Mike gave a loud, derisive snort.
“You really are friggin’ crazy, Malone.”
“You’re wrong,” Bobby said quietly. “Whatever this place is that you’re talking about…”
“I bet it doesn’t even exist,” Alex threw in acidly. Bobby glanced at her, and then looked back at Jarod.
“Even if it is real, I’ve never been there. I’ve never been to Delaware. You’ve got the wrong person.”
Jarod shook his head.
“No, I don’t. Detective Eames, what was it that you told us that Bobby said when he woke up from that nightmare last night?”
Alex frowned, but answered regardless.
“He said ‘refuge, Sydney, please, refuge’.”
Jarod looked back at Bobby.
“Does that mean anything to you?”
“Should it?” Bobby asked, starting to sound a touch defensive.
“Sydney was the man who was in charge of us,” Jarod told him. “And refuge was our safety word. The only way you would know that is if you were there yourself.”
“Coincidence,” Bobby said, getting up and starting to pace restlessly. “That’s all it is, just a coincidence.”
“When is it that Bobby was supposed to have been at this place anyway?” Carolyn asked. Jarod frowned as he searched his memory.
“Ah… I think Bobby was seven when he was brought to the Centre.”
“Then you really do have the wrong person, Malone,” Bobby said quickly. “I went into t a foster home for six months when I was seven, and then I was in and out of relatives’ homes until…”
“Until you were twelve?” Jarod cut in. Bobby faltered, frowning.
“Tell me,” Jarod asked, getting up to stand at eye level with the detective. “Have you got any clear memories of being either at home, in a foster home or with relatives between the ages of seven and twelve? Can you cite even one clear memory of the foster family that you think you were placed with?”
Bobby opened his mouth to answer, only to discover that he couldn’t. He had no specific memories, either of his foster family or of any time spent with so-called relatives. Nor was there any lucid memory of being at home with his parents and brother during that time. All he had was a jumble of ideas, with no memories to back up his belief that he had ever been in a foster home, or housed with relatives.
“You can’t, can you?” Jarod asked quietly. Bobby shook his head in fast-growing agitation.
“It doesn’t mean anything. I’ve just repressed it. It… It was a difficult time…”
Jarod regarded Bobby with increasing frustration and concern. He had to find some way past that block in Bobby’s mind, and if gentle prodding wasn’t going to work then he would have to resort to other, harsher methods.
“What you’ve repressed is five years of torment,” Jarod argued. “The concept of foster care was planted in your mind after you were rescued, not just to protect you from the Centre, but also to safeguard your own mind.”
Bobby shook his head again, furiously. He’d heard enough.
“Mike’s right. You are crazy.”
Jarod clenched his jaw, searching his mind for something he could say or do to convince the man in front of him that he wasn’t crazy at all. And damn it, nothing was coming to mind. All those memories, all that intelligence, and he couldn’t think of a single damned thing.
“Bobby, please, just listen to me. I’m not crazy.”
“Why the hell should he listen to you?”
It was Mike Logan who had spoken. Jarod looked around to find not only him, but Alex Eames and Carolyn Barek standing there, staring at him hostilely, ready to defend their friend and colleague. Setting his jaw with grim determination, Jarod tried again.
“You’re in danger. You need to listen to me. Those two… Parker and Lyle… They’ve been ordered to bring you back to the Centre, and they’ll do it by any means they can.”
“This is ludicrous,” Bobby growled.
“Please,” Jarod pleaded with him, “just hear me out!”
Bobby shook his head and, with a short, rueful laugh, he circled around Jarod and grabbed his coat from the rack near Alex’s front door.
“I’m going out to get a coffee. When I get back, Malone, you’d better not still be here.”
Jarod watched Bobby start walking away and spoke quickly, quietly hating himself for having to do it but knowing there was no other alternative left to him.
“I know you want to go home, Bobby, but you can’t. You won’t ever be able to go home. Your parents don’t want you anymore, and that’s why they handed you over to us. We’re your family now. I’m your new father. If you do everything we ask of you, everything will be fine. But if you fight us, we’ll have to punish you, the way we did when you first came here. And we don’t want to have to do that anymore than you want us to do it. So promise that you’ll do everything you’re told, no matter what, and everything will be just fine.”
“What the fuck are you going on about?” Logan growled, but Barek’s hand on his arm silenced him. A moment later, he saw why.
Bobby had frozen where he stood, his face turning the colour of ash. His coat slipped from numb fingers, and dropped unnoticed to the floor.
“Bobby…?” Alex asked softly, staring up at him worriedly. “What is it?”
He didn’t respond, and even as they watched, his ashen features steadily changed through assorted shades of pale. His breath started coming in rapid gasps as panic took hold, and a moment later his knees buckled beneath him and he collapsed to the floor, landing painfully on hands and knees. He knelt there on the floor, rigid with panic, his breath coming in wheezing gasps.
“Jesus, he’s going into shock,” Logan growled. Alex fell to her knees in front of her partner, desperately trying to get him to focus on her.
“Bobby, look at me. Damn it, look at me!”
His eyes came up slowly to meet hers, and Alex’s heart rended at the agonised look in his face. She started to reach for him, but a moment later his eyes rolled up and his body collapsed completely to the floor as he lost consciousness.
“Okay, he’s not breathing,” Logan growled. “Alex help me roll him over.”
Alex did so, and watched in fear as Logan carefully tilted Bobby’s head back and, without hesitating for an instant, began CPR.
“C’mon, Bobby,” Mike muttered as he forced air into his friend’s lungs, trying desperately to counter the shock and get him breathing again. “Breathe, goddamn you!”
Nearby, Jarod watched with breathless horror. He had anticipated a bad reaction, but not this bad.
The seconds ticked by with excruciating slowness, until Bobby’s body suddenly gave a violent shudder, and he began to breathe on his own once more. He didn’t wake up, though, and Alex took the liberty of gently lifting his head into her lap and cradling him to her while Mike and Carolyn got up to confront Jarod.
“Now what the fuck was all that about?” Barek demanded, glaring at Jarod.
“That was the speech that a man called Raines gave to Bobby after he’d been at the Centre for six months. After he said he wanted to go home.”
“Again with this ‘Centre’ bullshit,” Logan growled. “Why don’t you try coming up with a story we might halfway believe?”
Jarod didn’t have the chance to respond. At that moment, a new voice spoke up, startling them all.
“What in the name of God is going on here?”
They all looked around to see Deakins striding into the apartment, his expression black as thunder.
“Well?” Deakins demanded. Then his gaze alighted on Bobby, and the anger melted to make way for concern.
“What happened to him?” he demanded to know, pushing through to kneel down beside the unconscious detective.
“Something Malone here said caused Goren to have a turn,” Barek said grimly. “He went into shock, and collapsed. Mike had to perform CPR. He stopped breathing altogether for a minute there.”
Deakins looked down into Bobby’s ashen features, then looked up at Jarod, his expression turning positively lethal.
“What the hell did you do to my detective, Malone?”
“I reminded him about a part of his past that he’d rather keep buried,” Jarod replied grimly. “I’m sorry, Captain Deakins, but there are things that I need Bobby to remember, for his own sake.”
“But you won’t explain it to us.”
“I can’ explain all of it. Not here. Not now. I’m sorry.”
“All right. Logan, handcuff him to something solid in Alex’s bathroom.”
“With pleasure,” Logan growled, and he forced Jarod into the bathroom, before the other man could so much as protest.
“Now what?” Barek asked. Deakins looked across at Alex, who still had Bobby’s head cradled gently in her lap. He glanced around as Logan returned.
“First of all, let’s get Bobby somewhere comfortable.”
“Let’s move him into the bedroom, to my bed,” Alex suggested, and Deakins nodded.
A short while later, they sat in Alex’s bedroom, talking quietly about the situation. Between them, Logan, Barek and Alex filled Deakins in on the bizarre story that Jarod had spun to Bobby; none of them noticing the way that Deakins slowly grew very quiet and very pale as they told it.
“We need to lock this nutcase up, before he can do anymore damage,” Logan growled softly as he, Barek, Eames and Deakins saw to their collapsed companion. Bobby had not regained consciousness, but he seemed to be resting easier, lying on the comfortable bed. Now they sat close by the sleeping detective, discussing the stranger who had caused their fellow detective to collapse in a state of shock.
“He’s dangerous,” Barek agreed. “It’d be best, at least until we can determine who he really is.”
“Whatever he said to Bobby,” Alex said in a strained voice, “it had an effect…”
“Sure, it had an effect,” Logan retorted. “He went into shock and collapsed.”
“I don’t mean that,” Alex growled. “Whatever Malone said, it triggered something in Bobby’s memory.”
“Alex, the guy is a loon,” Logan argued.
“No, he’s not.”
All three detectives looked up at Deakins, startled.
“What…?” Barek started to ask, but Deakins cut her off.
“He isn’t crazy. He was telling you the truth. There really is a place in Delaware called The Centre. They specialise in all manner of underhanded things, but the children they’ve taken over the years is the worst of it.”
“It’s true…?” Logan asked, stunned and confused. Deakins spoke quietly, his gaze fixed on Bobby.
“Yes, Logan, it’s true. Take my word for it, it’s true.”
“How do you know?” Barek wondered. Deakins was silent for a long moment before elaborating.
“When I first joined the Force, I was in a place called Blue Cove, in Delaware. It was a nice enough little town, but there was a place on its outskirts. Everyone called it The Centre. I don’t know if that was its actual name, but that’s what everyone called it. There were rumours about that place, disturbing stories about what went on in there. My superior officers warned me not to get involved with any rumours about it, to just act as though it didn’t exist.
“For two years, that’s what I did. Then, one day, I was approached by a woman… She introduced herself to me as Catherine Parker. I don’t know whether that was really her name. I never tried to find out. She came to me and said she needed my help. She told me I was the only cop in the town who wasn’t on the Centre’s payroll, and that that probably wouldn’t last once I finished my term as a rookie. But right then, I was the only one she believed she could trust.
“She said she had something precious that she needed to get out of the Centre, but she couldn’t do it on her own. She told me they’d kept this precious thing there for over four years, and they had no right to. I asked her what it was, but she wouldn’t tell me. She just begged me to meet her on a particular night, at a designated place. She said when I saw for myself, then I’d understand.”
“So you went?” Logan asked, and Deakins nodded.
“Yes, I went. Out of curiosity, if nothing else. There was no one there when I arrived, and I thought at first that I’d been set up for a hoax. But she came about fifteen minutes later.”
“And?” Barek pressed eager to hear what the ‘precious item’ was. Deakins finally looked away from Bobby, back to the three detectives.
“She had a child with her. A little boy, no more than twelve years old. He was terrified… clung to the woman and didn’t want to be separated from her. She told me he’d been handed over to the Centre more than four years ago, and that it was time for him to go home. She put him in my car, and then told me that she needed me to get him out of Delaware as fast as possible. She gave me the name and address of a contact in New York, told me to get the boy to them as fast as I could, and they’d make sure he was kept safe until such a time as he could be taken back to his mother. I asked why she hadn’t acted before now, and all she would tell me that if she’d acted before then, she would have had to hand him over to a new family entirely. This way, he was at least able to go home to one parent. She wouldn’t elaborate on what she meant by that, and I never did understand. I still don’t, not entirely. Although, considering what he was eventually sent home to, maybe it would have been better if he had gone to an entirely new family.”
“So who was this kid?” Barek asked.
“You mean you haven’t worked it out yet?” Deakins asked wryly. “I’ll put it down to a long night. I never learnt anything about that little boy that night, except for a first name. He was quite possibly the saddest, loneliest looking little boy I’d ever seen in my life.” He paused, and sighed softly. “His name was Bobby.”
“Oh, fuck,” Logan whispered, his gaze going to the sleeping detective. Deakins got up, leaving the three of them sitting there, watching Bobby’s sleeping form in disbelief. He crossed the narrow hall to the bathroom, and used his keys to release Jarod from the handcuffs. The other man looked at Deakins with grudging thanks.
“Decided I’m not crazy after all?”
“I know you’re not,” Deakins told him as he led him into the bedroom. “Malone… That isn’t really your name is it?”
“No,” Jarod admitted wryly. Deakins nodded, unconcerned.
“Well, that’s what we’ll call you for the moment, just for convenience. Tell me, how much do you know about Bobby’s escape from The Centre?”
Jarod shook his head slowly.
“Virtually nothing. All I knew was that there was a plan to get him out. I didn’t know any of the details. The people involved made sure I didn’t know anything.”
“So you couldn’t blab?” Logan growled. Jarod smiled faintly.
“No. So I couldn’t be punished over it. I would never have done anything to jeopardise Bobby’s rescue. He belonged in that place even less than I did.”
Again, Deakins nodded. “Well, I was the one who helped Mrs Parker get Bobby away from the Centre thirty years ago.”
Jarod stared at him, stunned.
Deakins nodded, feeling almost painfully weary all of a sudden.
“You’ve known all along, haven’t you?” Alex asked tensely, but Deakins denied it with a quick shake of his head.
“No, I didn’t know. I never connected Bobby with the little boy that I helped to rescue from that place. When those two turned up this morning asking about Bobby, that was when I started putting the pieces together. I don’t know anything about the man…”
“He’s a pure psychopath,” Jarod said in a soft, grim voice. Deakins nodded.
“I got that impression. As for the woman, I thought I recognised her from somewhere, but I couldn’t immediately place her. Now I do remember. It wasn’t her, it was her mother. She’s the spitting image of her mother. As for Jarod, here, I didn’t know anything about him until here and now.”
“What do they want with Bobby?” Alex demanded to know.
“I don’t know, exactly,” Jarod admitted, “but whatever it is, it won’t be pleasant.”
“Hang on a second,” Logan interrupted. “If Goren is so important to them, how come they’ve waited for thirty years to come looking for him? Wouldn’t they have gone after him the night that woman got him out?”
“According to my friend, they tried,” Jarod answered. “But Mrs Parker knew what she was doing. She created so many false paths that by the time they did find Bobby, he was being so closely watched by certain other individuals that there was nothing they could do.”
“And what about you?” Barek asked. “What’s your story?”
Jarod was silent for a long moment, then sat down on a nearby chair.
“I was taken from my family when I was five years old, and kept in the Centre for… well, a long time. I think I was about thirty-five when I finally escaped. I’d been there for around four years when Bobby was brought in. Time doesn’t mean much in that place. They never gave us any measure of the time that passed. I don’t even know for sure how long Bobby was there before Mrs Parker got him out.”
“She said it had been more than four years,” Deakins said. Jarod sighed.
“Long enough. Too long. It made it worse that Sydney didn’t have exclusive control of him, but had to share him with Raines…”
“What the hell did those people make you both do?” Alex growled as she pressed a cool, damp cloth to Bobby’s forehead.
Jarod was silent for nearly a minute, considering his answer carefully.
“They manipulated us,” Jarod said finally. “They used our intelligence for their own gains. It’s hard to explain the simulations they put us through, but I suppose you could call it a kind of psychological torture. I can’t really tell you… but I can show you.”
While they watched, Jarod opened up the case that he carried almost everywhere with him, and selected a disk, inserting it into the viewer.
“In the time that Bobby was at the Centre, Sydney ran around a hundred simulations using the two of us together. When I escaped, I took all the disks with me. This ought to give you an idea of what we had to live with.”
Deakins and the three detectives gathered around to watch.
There were three people visible, two children and one adult. The two children were strapped into seats facing each other, and they appeared to be surrounded by a ring of flames. Both boys looked one step short of terrified.
“What the hell…?” Barek growled. Jarod stood back, watching grimly from outside the boundary of the circle of fire.
“I’m the boy on the left. Bobby is on the right. The man is Sydney. He was responsible for us. This was a simulation to determine the safety of space shuttle heat shield designs. It was the last simulation we did together before Bobby was rescued.”
Silence fell as they watched the awful scene unfold on the viewer.
“I can’t breathe!” Bobby choked out. “The smoke, it’s everywhere!”
“The fire’s spreading,” Jarod cried out. “We’re going to burn!”
“Concentrate,” Sydney growled. “You both have to concentrate. What happens next?”
“The heat shields have failed,” Bobby moaned. “It's not the fault of the crew… or the people who designed the shuttle. The designs are good, but the engineers… They must've took shortcuts when they built the shuttle. It can’t stand up to the pressure of re-entry.”
“We don’t have a chance,” Jarod sobbed. “We never had a chance, and they knew. They had to know. The fire!”
“We’re burning!” Bobby screamed, his young face contorted with terror and imagined agony. “We’re burning up!”
“Refuge!” Jarod screamed. “Sydney, refuge!”
Jarod reached forward and hit the stop button, ejecting the disk.
“Oh my god,” Alex whispered, tears filling her eyes as she looked back at her sleeping partner with new sympathy.
Logan grunted as he stepped back.
“Well hell, no wonder Goren is screwed up.”
In the next instant, they all winced at the sound of flesh striking flesh as Alex slapped Logan hard across the face.
“Don’t you dare talk about him like that,” she snarled. “He saved your life once, not that long ago, or did you conveniently forget?”
Logan grimaced, and gingerly rubbed his face.
“No, I didn’t forget. I’m sorry, that was a lousy thing to say.”
“In a way, Logan’s right, though,” Barek said carefully. “I’m not saying he’s screwed up, Alex, but think of all the trauma he’d been through as a kid before we knew about this.”
Alex looked back at Bobby miserably.
“Does he really have to remember? Why can’t he be allowed to forget about it?”
“Because it’s possible that somewhere in his memories is the reason they’re coming after him now,” Deakins said quietly, and Jarod nodded in agreement.
Whatever it is, it’s to do with Raines. Something that Raines did… that he put Bobby through. If it was any of Sydney’s projects, my friend would have been able to tell me.”
“We’re going to have to wake him up,” Deakins decided.
“Let me,” Alex pleaded softly.
Deakins shook his head. He hated having to deny her, but there was no way of knowing what state of mind Bobby would be in when he awoke, and Deakins didn’t want her in the firing line. That, and he hoped that Bobby would trust him enough to talk to him openly, once this new connection between them became clear.
“No, Alex, I’ll do it. I know you’re his partner, and I normally wouldn’t stand in your way, but just this one time, let me. Okay?”
She conceded with great reluctance and, quietly, the four of them rose up and headed back into the living area at his urging. As she started to close the door behind them, though, she paused and spoke to Deakins softly.
“It makes sense, you know.”
Deakins looked at her, puzzled.
“What do you mean, Alex?”
“Bobby mistrusts anyone in any sort of position of authority over him… except you.”
She closed the door behind her, leaving Deakins to wonder about her words.
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