THE LONG ROAD HOME
Blue Cove, Delaware
The first day.
For a long while, Bobby sat at the desk, not moving or speaking. His eyes scanned the multitude of pictures scattered over the desktop, but he made no attempt to pick any of them up. To pick one up would have would have meant giving in, and he wasn’t ready to do that. Not yet.
And so he continued to just sit there, while the minutes stretched into hours. And all the while he was acutely aware of the cameras that were constantly watching him, recording every move he made and every word he spoke.
“What is the matter, Bobby?” Sydney asked, a hint of impatience in his voice. It was nearing the three hour mark now, and still Bobby was refusing to do as he’d been asked.
“I can’t,” Bobby said softly.
“Yes, you can,” Sydney insisted. “It’s a simple exercise. You pick a picture, and become the person. You enjoyed doing this when you were a boy.”
“I’m not a boy anymore, Sydney.”
“Just try to focus, Bobby.”
Bobby hesitated, scanning the photos once more before finally reaching towards one. He stayed his hand just before touching it, though.
“What will this cost me, Sydney?”
Sydney walked slowly around into Bobby’s line of sight.
“What do you mean?”
“Doing this exercise. What will it cost me?”
Sydney was visibly confused.
“I’m sorry, Bobby. I don’t understand what you mean.”
Bobby gestured to all the pictures in frustration.
“I do this, like you want me to. I become someone whose picture is on this table… but I lose something of myself in the process. But, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Bit by bit, you chip away at me… at my identity… until there’s nothing left, except what the Centre wants me to be. A pretender… someone with no identity of my own… just whatever identity the Centre wants me to have, according to who’s paid the most for it.”
Sydney smiled grimly.
“You are as perceptive as ever.”
Bobby raised an eyebrow at him.
“You’re not even going to try and argue?”
“As you already pointed out, you’re no longer a child. Lying to you would be pointless and foolish. I need you to trust me, and you won’t give that to me if I’m not honest with you. The truth is that retaining your own identity will be up to you. You have to find some way to keep safe the core of your own identity. No one else here will be able to help you to do that, not even me. It will be up to you, and you alone.”
Bobby looked back at the picture that his hand hovered over, but still he held back from picking it up.
“If you don’t cooperate,” Sydney reminded him with just a hint of impatience, “then I won’t be able to negotiate those phone calls for you.”
Slowly, Bobby withdrew his hand, and focused a piercing stare at Sydney.
“I’m not a child that can be lied to, Sydney. Not anymore. I know damn well that they’re not going to let me call my mother. Letting me do that would only help me to preserve my sense of identity, and they don’t want that.”
“Tell me, Sydney, and be honest, if you can. How many exercises… How many simulations would you have put me through before you finally told me the truth?”
Sydney didn’t move or speak and, fleetingly, the thought flew through his mind, ‘this is a mistake’. Finally, he tried a new tact.
“Bobby, please, listen to me. You’re being watched right now. They expect you to cooperate. If you don’t…”
“What?” Bobby snarled, suddenly furious. “They’ll punish me? Threaten me? Well, you know what, Sydney? To hell with that! I’m not doing this. Not any of it!”
In an explosive fit of rage, Bobby overturned the table, scattering pictures all over the floor. The response to his outburst was swift, and violent. Centre guards appeared literally out of nowhere, eight in all, and they swarmed over Bobby like a pack of wolves.
“No, don’t hurt him!” Sydney shouted but, when he tried to intervene, one of the men stepped in and held him back, while the others dealt out their own brand of punishment to the recalcitrant Pretender-in-training.
While four of the guards quickly secured Bobby by the arms, another laid into him with his fists, delivering blow after blow to his midsection and abdomen.
One guard kicked his legs from behind, forcing his knees to buckle painfully beneath him. Then, blows were rained down on his face, leaving him bruised, bloody and swollen.
When the guards finally released him from their grip, all Bobby could do was slump to the floor in a bloodied heap, semi-conscious and unresponsive.
“I told you he was not to be harmed!” Sydney exploded furiously as he finally broke away from the guard who had been holding him back. He hurried over to Bobby’s side, crouching down to look him over anxiously.
“Sorry, Doctor,” one of the men answered in a tone that suggested he wasn’t sorry at all. “We were told to subdue him by any means necessary if he looked like getting violent. It was for your own protection.”
Sydney let his breath out in an angry rush. He had no doubt who was behind that order.
“Get a stretcher,” he demanded angrily. “Take him to the hospital wing.”
But none of the men attempted to move. Sydney looked up at them darkly.
“Mr Raines instructed us to lock him in solitary if he became uncooperative.”
Sydney felt a fresh flash of anger.
“Mr Raines is not in charge of Bobby. I am. You will do as I say, and I’m ordering you to take him to the hospital wing. Is that understood? Or do I have to go to the Director?”
The guard looked resentful, but compliant.
“We’ll take him to the hospital wing.”
Sydney nodded, only slightly pacified.
“See that you do.”
“Having problems with the new kid?” Miss Parker asked coolly when Sydney returned to his office.
“He refuses to cooperate,” Sydney admitted, “even in undertaking very basic exercises. If he continues to refuse to cooperate, then it’s entirely possible that the Director will just hand him over to Raines. If that happens, I’ll no longer be able to guarantee his safety.”
“And where is he now?”
“I instructed him to be delivered to the hospital wing. Raines’ men beat him to a pulp when he overturned a table.”
Parker shook her head incredulously.
“Nice. That will really encourage him to cooperate, won’t it?”
“This was a mistake,” Sydney murmured. “We should never have brought him back here. Jarod is one prospect, but Bobby was not raised here, not like Jarod was. He was here for five years, and that was all. He has a life… and a powerfully independent nature that is not going to be easily suppressed.”
Parker paused, and then spoke softly.
“You know we didn’t have a choice, Sydney. Once the decision was made, it was either bring him in, or kill him. At least he has a chance to survive in here.”
Sydney laughed bitterly.
“This is no life to him, Parker. He’d rather die than give the powers that be what they want. I’d be half inclined to say that he knew exactly what he was doing when he overturned that table. He knew the guards would attack him like that.”
Parker regarded Sydney thoughtfully.
“Let me talk to him. Perhaps I can convince him to cooperate with you.”
Her offer was met with a raised eyebrow.
“No offence, Parker, but what makes you think he’ll listen to you?”
She smiled, then; not her usual predator’s smile, but a softer version that reminded Sydney starkly of her mother.
“Call it women’s intuition. I think he’ll listen.”
Parker wasn’t sure whether to be surprised or not to walk into the hospital wing to find Bobby was not there. She stood there for a long moment, observing the row of empty beds, before turning to the nurse on duty.
“Where is Bobby?”
The nurse looked up at her blankly.
“The new Pretender. Sydney gave orders for him to be brought to the hospital wing after Mr Raines’ men had… dealt with him. Where is he?”
“Oh… He’s not here.”
Parker’s expression turned dangerous, and she walked over to the desk and leaned over it to stare piercingly down at the nurse.
“I can see that,” she said in a low, impatient tone. “Where is he?”
“He was brought here to begin with, and then Mr Raines came. He waited while I looked him over to make sure he wasn’t seriously injured…”
“And then he had him taken out of here, to be locked up in solitary confinement.”
Parker straightened up, struggling to control her anger. Bobby had barely been back in the Centre for twenty-four hours, and already Raines was making his life hell. With a last, scathing look at the nurse, she strode from the hospital wing.
Bitter experience had taught Parker that there were very few people she could rely on in life. Ultimately, the people she trusted most were Sydney, her assigned technical and computer genius, Broots and, perversely, Jarod. There had been a time when, if she had been asked to list the people that she trusted, her father would have been at the top of that list, but that had not been the case now for a long time. As dearly as she loved her father, she had long come to accept that, like so many people in the Centre, he had his own agenda and that he could not always be trusted to do the right thing.
And so, after learning that Sydney had been circumvented by Raines, Parker headed straight to the solitary ward, ready for a fight. She was not surprised to be confronted by no less than four cleaners, all loyal to Raines, standing guard on one of the doors.
“This is kind of overkill, isn’t it, boys?” she asked smoothly. “Four of you to guard a locked door?”
“Mr Raines warned us not to take any chances,” one of the men answered tonelessly.
“Please,” Parker retorted. “He’s not going anywhere. Now open the door and let me in.”
“You do understand the concept of solitary confinement, don’t you?”
She glared at the man who had dared ask such an idiot question.
“You do understand that the Director will happily sign an order transferring every single one of you to the Centre’s base in the Arctic when she finds out that you’ve deliberately gone against Sydney’s instructions, when she personally placed Bobby in Sydney’s care at the request of the Triumvirate?”
To say that Parker didn’t enjoy the curious shade of pale that each of the four men turned would have been a blatant lie. She waited for a moment, allowing her words to sink in before pointing to the door.
“Now, unlock it. I’m taking him out of there, and back to his own room.”
Reluctantly, one of the men unlocked the door, and they stepped aside to let Parker in.
Bobby sat slumped in the corner of the small room, nursing his injuries in miserable silence. Most of it was just bruises, but he was fairly sure that his right shoulder had been dislocated when Raines’ men jumped him. The constant burning pain was enough to tell him that it had been. But, instead of being left in the hospital wing where his shoulder could be treated, he had instead been brought to this god-awful little room at gunpoint, and locked in.
He hadn’t bothered shouting, or banging on the door, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to beg to be let out. Fuck them, he thought miserably as he tried unsuccessfully to shift into a more comfortable position. If they left him there for a week, he wouldn’t beg.
He shut his eyes, trying to shut out the pain, trying to shut out the closeness of his new prison, and tried desperately to focus on something beyond the nightmare that he was now trapped in. It didn’t take long for an image to form in his mind. A face, and a voice to go with that face. Sharp, critical, sarcastic to the max… but also kind, understanding and, dare he go so far as to think it, loving…
A small smile touched his lips as he focused all his energies on keeping Alex’s face clear in his mind’s eye. He honestly felt that as long as he could keep her close in his heart and mind, then he had a chance of surviving this nightmare. He was sure that she was planning a rescue, along with Deakins, Mike, Carolyn and Jarod. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that.
They would not leave him to suffer in this place. Fair enough, it might take a while, but he could hold out until then, couldn’t he?
He sighed faintly, and the pain of his injuries faded as he let thoughts of Alex fill his mind. He recalled with pleasure the caustic attitude she dealt to so many suspects, and the loyal way she frequently defended him to both colleagues and enemies. She was his rock, his anchor, and he hoped and prayed that she knew it. Without her, he would have crashed and burned a long time ago.
A key turning in the lock of the door caught his attention, and he looked up dazedly as the door opened, and the woman that he recognised as Miss Parker walked in.
“Those sons of bitches,” she muttered as she observed his battered features. She paused, and then walked over and crouched down in front of him. “Bobby?”
He regarded her sullenly.
“Come to gloat?” he asked, cringing at the taste of blood in his mouth as he spoke. Despite the harshness of his tone, though, there was no anger either in her expression or her voice when she replied.
“No, I didn’t come to gloat,” she answered gently. “I came to take you back to your room. I’m sorry about this. Raines had no right.”
He didn’t respond, instead looking away miserably. Parker hesitated, and then reached out to gently touch his chin and draw his gaze back to meet hers.
“Can you stand?”
For a long moment, it seemed he wasn’t going to even try. But then, finally, he got awkwardly to his feet, all the while holding his right arm as immobile against his body as he could.
“Your arm is hurt?” she asked as she led him out of the room. Bobby spared the cleaners a dark look as he followed her out.
“My right shoulder. I think it was dislocated when they grabbed me.”
Parker turned and reached for his shoulder, gently pressing her fingers against the joint. Bobby’s strangled cry of pain told her he was right in his assessment.
“Let’s get you back to your room,” she murmured, throwing a vicious glare of her own in the direction of the four men. “Then we’ll get one of the doctors in to look at it.”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Parker asked softly as she escorted Bobby back to his room. He glanced at her, and the resentment in his eyes was all too clear.
“I remember you. I remember you holding a gun to my captain’s head, and threatening to kill him if I didn’t give myself up.”
“I had no intention of killing him,” she told him, and he was vaguely surprised to find himself instinctively believing her. “But if I hadn’t put on that little performance, Lyle would have, and he would have killed him… whether you gave yourself up or not. But that’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean, then?”
“I meant, you don’t remember me from when we were children, do you?”
Bobby fell silent, a slight frown on his face. Parker waited patiently, and was finally rewarded with the look of realisation that dawned in his eyes.
“Miss Parker… I remember Jarod brought you to meet me. But then… Raines…”
He trailed off, his breath catching in his throat. Parker gently squeezed his arm, drawing him back from those potentially damaging memories.
“I know. Raines came to get you for one of his experiments.”
“You’ve changed,” Bobby said softly. Parker bit back a sigh.
“Yes,” she agreed with more than just a hint of sadness in her voice. “In more ways than one.”
She took him back to his room, and summoned a doctor to come and see to his shoulder. Instead of leaving him there, though, she sat down beside him on the bed.
“Bobby, you need to think seriously about cooperating.”
“Or what?” he asked. “I get beaten up again? Maybe next time I’ll fight hard enough that they’ll do permanent damage… or maybe even kill me.”
“Stop,” she growled. “You need to listen to me, Bobby. They aren’t going to kill you. Whatever they do, it won’t ever go that far. But you look at me now and tell me you value your life as little as that.”
He looked away, sullen and angry. Parker went on quietly.
“For your own sake, work with Sydney. Do whatever he asks you to do. As long as you cooperate with him, he’ll be able to minimise Raines’ contact with you. But if you keep this up, if you keep fighting, the powers that be might just get impatient, and decide to let Raines have you after all. And then, you might really wish you were dead.”
“You have no right to do this,” Bobby whispered, his head bowed in grief and misery. “I’m a human being… Not an animal. I have the right to live my own life. You… You don’t have the right to take that away from me.”
“If they couldn’t take you back, Bobby,” Parker told him gently, “they would have killed you.”
Slowly, he raised his head to look at her, and it was all she could do not to cringe at the despair in his eyes.
“What good is being alive when I’ve been reduced to being a… a commodity? I’m not a person in their eyes… whoever they really are. I’m just a thing… to be bartered with. I might as well be dead.”
“Would your partner want you to give up?” Parker asked quietly. “Alex, wasn’t it?”
Bobby tensed noticeably beside her.
“Don’t talk about her.”
The sudden edge to his tone was unmistakable, and Parker knew she’d crossed an invisible line by bringing Bobby’s partner into the discussion. Conceding, she rose up and walked over to the door. She paused before leaving, though, and looked back at Bobby.
“I’ll say this, and then I’ll leave you alone. Your colleagues… your friends… They’ll be holding on to the hope that you’re okay. If you were to die… by whatever means… think about just how badly that would devastate them all. Especially your partner.”
And then she was gone.
Bobby sat staring at the locked door for minutes after she’d left, before finally lying down on the bed and crying out his heartache and despair into the thin pillow.
Two days later
“Very good,” Sydney praised Bobby as he finished the last of the day’s many exercises that had been set for him to do by the doctor. “That was excellent. You really do have a talent.”
Bobby gave a soft, bitter laugh.
“Someone asked me, once. They asked how come I was so successful at getting into the heads of the criminals. I told them I’d been trained for it… I didn’t realise how right I was. I was trained for it… but not just to get inside their heads. I was trained to become them. That’s why I was so successful. I always went that one step further… and I never even realised I was doing it.”
Sydney walked around and sat down carefully on the edge of the table.
“Tell me about one of your cases, where you did that.”
Bobby was silent for a long moment, going back over past cases before a grim smile touched his lips.
“Nicole Wallace.” He paused, and then laughed again. “She’d love this. She really would. She’s free, and I’m the one who’s been locked up.”
“Who is Nicole Wallace?” Sydney asked, and Bobby sighed softly.
“A killer. I got inside her head… but I made the mistake of letting her get inside mine at the same time. She learnt everything she could about me, and then turned the tables on me. She played me at my own game, and she was successful… at least, to start with.”
“Tell me,” Sydney asked curiously, “each time you did this… worked your way into the mind of a criminal… how did you pull yourself out again?”
“I didn’t,” Bobby said, his voice trembling just slightly. “Alex did.”
“Alex… Your partner?”
“Yes.” Bobby shifted, adjusting his right arm awkwardly in the sling he had to wear while his injured shoulder healed. “She was always there to pull me back. She… She grounded me. I could never have done all that I did without her.”
“She was important to you,” Sydney mused. Bobby looked up at him.
“She is important to me.”
“Memories are important,” Sydney conceded. “Be sure to hold on to those memories, Bobby. Don’t allow yourself to forget her.”
Bobby looked back at the mass of photos on the tabletop, and felt the bile rising in his gut at Sydney’s words.
“I… I’m never going to see her again… am I?”
Sydney was silent. He knew what he wanted to tell his charge, but instinct warned him that it wouldn’t be a wise idea. To give Bobby any sort of hope or encouragement would only lead to trouble with Raines, the Director and, ultimately, the Triumvirate.
“Don’t forget her,” he said finally, softly. Standing up, he drew all the photos together into one pile and picked them off the table. “Wait here. Your dinner will be brought up for you shortly. I’ll be back in a little while.”
Bobby watched Sydney go, and then let his head drop, pressing his face into the palm of his left hand. He dared not move from where he sat. Though he couldn’t see them, he knew there were guards watching him. They would probably be just waiting for him to make a wrong move, and then…
He shifted his right arm again, wincing at the pain that flared in his shoulder from the movement. As much as he hated to admit it, Miss Parker had been right. He still valued his life too much to deliberately place himself at risk. As much as he hated what was happening to him, he was not yet desperate enough to intentionally risk injury. Not yet.
Footsteps alerted him to the fact that someone was coming towards him. Thinking it was whoever had been assigned to bring him his meal, he didn’t bother to look up. It wasn’t until he felt a hand on his left arm that he looked up.
In all honesty, Bobby really didn’t recognise the man who stood there, watching him, but he still was able to guess his identity.
“Angelo?” he asked softly.
Angelo reached out tentatively, touching his fingertips to Bobby’s damp curls in a feather-light touch.
Bobby sucked in a sharp breath as he was abruptly assaulted by a long-suppressed memory.
“Where are we going?” young Bobby asked in a frightened tremor as Raines urged him along a dark, dank corridor.
“Somewhere private,” Raines answered. “I have someone for you to meet, Bobby. Hurry, now.”
Frightened and curious at the same time, Bobby allowed himself to be hurried down the corridor, around a corner and finally into a little room. In that room there was a table with two chairs, and in one of the chairs sat another child, approximately the same age as Bobby.
“Bobby, this is Timmy,” Raines said.
Bobby glanced uneasily at Raines. He wanted to speak to the other child, but he’d been cruelly punished not two weeks ago after being caught with Jarod.
“You can speak to him,” Raines told him, sounding almost pleasant. Almost. Trying to dampen his feeling of unease, Bobby turned his attention to the other boy.
Timmy didn’t smile, and just ventured a soft ‘hi’ in return.
“I have a simulation that requires both of you to participate,” Raines told them. “Bobby, you are to take on the role of an interrogator. Timmy is a murder suspect. Your aim is to get a confession from him. His aim is to resist.”
Bobby looked up at Raines, feeling increasingly unsettled.
“What… what are the parameters?”
“There are no parameters this time,” Raines answered him. “You’re an investigator searching for a sadistic serial killer. You believe you have him in front of you. You aim to get a confession any way you can, even if it means pushing the boundaries of the law.”
Bobby looked back to Timmy, who hadn’t spoken a word other than that initial hello. He didn’t like this. Timmy looked too timid and too frightened to be taking part in an aggressive simulation like this. He would have felt more at ease if it had been Jarod across the table from him, but this trembling, frightened boy…? It didn’t feel right, and Bobby told Raines so after just a moment’s hesitation.
A strange look flickered across Raines’ face, and he crouched down in front of Bobby, reaching up to grab him by the face, hard enough to hurt.
“I’ve set you a simulation to perform, and you will perform it. If you won’t, I’ll send Timmy back to his room, and bring Kyle instead, only then you’ll be the one in the position of the suspect, and Kyle will be the one interrogating you. Would you prefer that, Bobby?”
Bobby couldn’t hide the sudden fear in his eyes at the mention of Kyle. He’d only met Kyle a couple of times, but the other boy really did frighten him. It was as though he had no soul, as impossible or improbable as that seemed. And as much as he was reluctant to go on the offensive against Timmy, his fear of what might happen should Raines carry out his threat was far greater.
Miserable and ashamed, Bobby responded with a quick shake of his head.
“All right, then. Begin.”
Even with no parameters, and virtually no information to work with, Bobby excelled in the simulation. He didn’t merely perform the role of the investigator, he became it. Raines stood back, watching with cruel pleasure as Bobby systematically took Timmy apart, until the other child was reduced to a sobbing mess, incapable of coherent speech. Leaving Timmy behind in the room, still crying pitifully, Raines ushered Bobby from the room, praising him liberally.
Initially, Bobby basked in the pleasure of being praised by Raines for once, rather than being in trouble with him. It wouldn’t be until much later, in the solitary quiet of his own room, that what he had really done would finally sink in, sending him into a spiral of self-loathing and misery that would take Sydney weeks to break him out of…
“Not your fault,” Angelo said softly, bringing Bobby back to the present with a gentle hand pressed to his cheek.
Bobby rubbed at his eyes, and then reached out to draw Angelo to him in a fierce hug.
“I’m sorry, Angelo.”
“Not your fault,” Angelo said again. And then, whispering into Bobby’s ear, “Not been forgotten. You… not forgotten. Jarod… planning to get you out. Be patient. Don’t give up.”
Abruptly, Angelo drew back and, with one last sad look at Bobby, he turned and slunk away into the shadows. Bobby let his breath out in a rush, sitting back with a soft thud. Not forgotten. That was what Angelo had told him. That he wasn’t forgotten, that Jarod was planning to rescue him… and to be patient.
As a Centre worker walked into the room and set a tray in front of him, Bobby recalled again what both Sydney and Miss Parker had told him about cooperating. Was it possible to cooperate, and do what the Centre wanted of him, but still maintain his sense of self? Maybe it was, if he could cling to the hope of a rescue in the not too distant future.
He eyed the food in front of him with reluctance. None of it looked remotely appetising, and he suspected that he was going to be losing more than a little weight while he was stuck there.
“Bobby? Is something wrong?”
He looked around to see Sydney had returned, and was watching him quizzically.
“No,” Bobby murmured, deciding not to mention the brief visit from Angelo. “It’s okay.”
“Then eat your dinner, and then you can go back to your room.”
Fighting an urge to pull a face or make a smart ass comment about not being a child that needed to be told what to do, Bobby took up his fork and reluctantly began to eat.
The end of the first week
“This has been a good week, Bobby,” Sydney praised him as they sat together in Sydney’s private office. “You’ve worked hard, and that’s been appreciated on all fronts. I think that perhaps you might be ready to begin some simple simulations next week.”
Bobby didn’t answer, but continued staring at the desk in miserable silence. Sydney watched him for nearly a minute before speaking quietly.
“When you arrived here a week ago, I made you a promise. Do you remember what the promise was?”
“Forget it, Sydney,” Bobby said in a dull voice. “I know they’re not going to let me make a phone call. You don’t have to…”
He trailed off abruptly as Sydney pressed into his hand the handpiece of the phone on the desk.
“One phone call, ten minutes,” Sydney told him quietly. “I spoke to the Director this morning, and told her how hard you’ve been working. She agreed to let you make the call, but be aware. You are being monitored, even in here. Call your mother, but don’t try anything foolish.”
“Is this a once-off allowance?” Bobby asked, doing his best to keep his tone even and non-confrontational. Sydney smiled.
“I hope it won’t have to be. One step at a time, Bobby. Let’s just take it one step at a time.”
Nodding his gratitude and compliance, Bobby dialled a long-memorised number, and waited for it to be answered.
One Police Plaza
“Captain?” Mike asked as Deakins walked out into the bullpen, a frown on his face. “What’s up?”
“I just spoke to Dr Shimo at Carmel Ridge,” he answered. “Bobby called his mother about twenty minutes ago.”
Alex’s head shot up from where she’d been buried in a pile of paperwork.
Abandoning his paperwork, Mike walked over, with Carolyn close behind.
“They let him make a phone call?” Mike asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice.
“Apparently. Dr Shimo said the call lasted around ten minutes. He listened in on it partly due to policy and partly because I’d told him not to expect any visits or phone calls from Bobby for the immediate future.”
“It’s possible that the Centre tried bargaining with Bobby to gain his cooperation,” Carolyn mused. “He does what they ask… They give him minor privileges, like being able to call and speak to his mother.”
“What did Dr Shimo say about it?” Alex asked softly. “Did he say how Bobby sounded?”
Deakins hesitated, taking a moment to think his words through before answering.
“He said Bobby sounded stressed; that he tried to keep the conversation as normal as possible, but that he was stressed enough that even his mother was able to pick up on it. He said she asked him where he was calling from, and Bobby couldn’t answer.”
“Stressed,” Alex muttered. “There’s a big shock.”
“He’d probably been warned against dropping any hints about what was going on,” Mike guessed. “The phone call was probably being listened in on at his end, too. If he’d said anything about what was happening, God knows what might have happened.”
“He would have needed to be hyper-vigilant with everything he said… Especially if he any chance of being allowed to call her again.”
“I asked Dr Shimo if a watch can be kept,” Deakins told them, “and if Bobby calls again, to contact us immediately.”
“Just out of curiosity,” Mike said, “how many people would be calling Bobby’s mom each week?”
Deakins spared him an odd look.
“Only Bobby. Why?”
“And would he call the switchboard, or a direct line to a phone in her room?”
“He has a direct number for her,” Alex answered when Deakins hesitated. “Mike, what are you getting at?”
“Well, I was wondering, what if we put a divert on her phone? So that if he calls her again, instead of his mom, the call comes through to us instead?”
Deakins stared at Mike thoughtfully.
“It’s risky. Any calls they allow Bobby to make will probably be strictly monitored at his end.”
“The big question,” Carolyn murmured, “is whether we think it’s a risk worth taking. Keeping in mind that Bobby is the one who’s being put at risk. Is it worth it?”
Deakins looked over at Alex.
“Alex, what do you think? Is it worth trying?”
For a long minute, Alex didn’t answer. She weighed up the pros and cons in her mind, considering the risks as opposed to the benefits. Finally, she answered in a soft, but determined voice.
“I think we should do it. It might be the only chance we have to let him know directly that we’re not just quitting on him.”
“All right, then,” Deakins agreed, doing his best to hide the reservation he felt. He understood the desire of the other three to make contact with Bobby. He wanted the same thing himself, but at the same time he couldn’t help feel a spark of fear that their motives were selfish, and ultimately they were only placing Bobby in danger. “I’ll talk to the powers about putting a tap and a divert on Frances Goren’s phone, so that if Bobby does call again, then the call can be diverted here, so that we can speak to him… hopefully without raising the suspicions of those bastards at the Centre.”
“You don’t think it’s a good idea,” Alex said quietly, picking up on his unease. Deakins sighed.
“Like I said, I think it’s risky… but I’ll do anything to get an indication that he’s surviving… and to let him know we aren’t giving up on him.”
Alex sighed faintly, more thankful than she could properly voice at the prospect of maybe being able to actually talk to Bobby again.
A week later
Bobby sat in Sydney’s office, waiting impatiently for the psychiatrist to arrive, and doing his damned best to suppress his natural curiosity at the many items of interest he saw around him. He dared not move from his seat, knowing that even then, his every move was being watched. It really was a hideous sensation, knowing that nothing he did went unnoticed.
He clasped his hands together in his lap, willing himself to stay still and quiet, and not do anything that would give the powers that be an excuse to revoke this privilege. Once a week, Sydney had promised him. As long as he did as he was asked, with no arguments, he would be allowed to phone his mother once a week and talk to her for ten minutes. It was hardly a satisfactory arrangement to his way of thinking, but he had to concede that ten minutes once a week was better than nothing.
The hardest part was deflecting her inevitable queries as to his whereabouts, and why he hadn’t been to visit her, all the while hoping his evasiveness wouldn’t lead to a fresh breakdown. He hoped fervently that Deakins had made good on his promise, was visiting her in his stead, to at least keep up some semblance of her routine.
The door opened and Sydney walked in, favouring Bobby with a warm smile.
“Are you ready to make that call, Bobby?”
Not for the first time, and probably not for the last, Bobby had to swallow the urge to make a biting reply. Instead, he let the voice in his mind, the voice that sounded so much like Alex, say what he wanted to say.
No, I’m just sitting here acting all meek and mild for the fun of it.
His ‘Alex’ voice wasn’t quite up to scratch yet in the snark department, but it was getting there. Out loud, though, he merely answered softly; “Yes.”
Sydney sat down on the other side of the desk, and pushed the phone across the desk to Bobby.
Letting his breath out in a rush, Bobby picked up the phone, and dialled.
One Police Plaza
At first, the significance of the extra line on his phone flashing didn’t register with Deakins. After a long, exhausting week, he would be the first to admit that he wasn’t thinking a hundred percent clearly, and his first instinct was to ignore the phone altogether. In his exhaustion, he let the phone ring three times before he suddenly realised exactly what it was. Shouting for Alex, Mike and Carolyn, Deakins waited just two more rings before picking up the line and pressing the button to place the call on speakerphone so they could all hear.
On the other end of the line, Bobby froze at the sound of his captain’s voice, his brain virtually going into shut-down as he struggled to comprehend what was going on. He had dialled his mother’s direct line at Carmel Ridge… hadn’t he? His second thought was mixed with an intense joy that he had a hard time concealing. Hearing Deakins’ voice again sparked a sensation on relief deep within him that he could barely begin to scratch the depths of.
His third reaction was one of pure panic. If it became known that he was talking not to his mother, but to one of his colleagues, the punishment would be severe.
The captain’s voice spoke again, quickly.
“Bobby, listen to me. We diverted your mother’s phone so that your calls would come here instead. We understand that you’re being monitored, so act as though you’re speaking to your mom.”
Bobby let his breath out slowly, and finally managed to speak.
“Hi… Mom. How… How are you?”
He didn’t think he’d ever felt so uncomfortable, but hearing Deakins’ voice gave his heart a lift the likes of which he hadn’t experienced for a long time.
“I’m not alone, Bobby. Alex, Mike and Carolyn are here, too.”
“Bobby, are you okay?”
It was all Bobby could do not to gasp aloud at the heart-achingly familiar voice of his partner and he stuttered a reply, careful to avoid direct eye contact with Sydney lest it become apparent that he was not speaking to his mother at all.
“I… I’m okay, Mom.”
“Have they hurt you at all?” Alex asked anxiously. Bobby hesitated in replying, and Alex read volumes into that brief hesitation. “They have.”
“Bobby, listen up, pal,” Mike spoke up. “We’re not giving up on you. We’re going to get you out of there somehow. Until we can, you do whatever you have to in order to survive. You understand? Anyway you can, and don’t feel ashamed about it.”
“We’re going to come for you, Bobby,” Carolyn added. “Trust us, okay?”
Bobby swallowed hard, and suddenly found himself having to fight back the threat of tears. Just hearing their voices was enough to lift his spirits, and he wasn’t so sure of his ability to speak and keep his voice even.
“I… I miss you, too,” he mumbled.
Sparing his detectives a brief, grim look, Deakins spoke again quietly, quickly.
“Bobby, just answer yes or no. Have they hurt you?”
There was just a brief moment before Bobby responded in a docile tone that sounded horribly unnatural to all of them.
“Have they drugged you at all?”
Deakins breathed a silent sigh of relief. That, at least, was something.
“Have you had to deal with Raines yet?”
“So you’re just dealing with Sydney so far?”
Deakins hesitated, and then asked another question.
“Have you performed any simulations for them yet?”
Bobby answered that with a long silence before answering in a barely audible voice.
“No shame, Bobby,” Mike cut in fiercely. “Like I said, you do what you’ve gotta do to survive that place. No shame, pal.”
“Mike’s right, Bobby,” Alex spoke up, not quite able to keep her voice from trembling. “Don’t you dare feel any shame over anything you do. You just concentrate on surviving until we come for you. And we are going to come for you. Don’t ever stop believing that, okay? Not ever!”
Bobby shut his eyes, trying in vain to keep the tears in check. Hearing all their voices was wonderful, but to hear Alex’s voice was just about more than he could stand. He was about to reply when he heard the office door open behind him, and opened his eyes in time to see confusion and alarm on Sydney’s face. A split second later, something hard and blunt struck him from behind, and he collapsed forward, out of the chair and slumping to the floor.
He heard Sydney shout something that he couldn’t quite understand and then, all of a sudden, someone was crouching over the top of him, bending his right arm back painfully and stretching the recently healed shoulder joint. He uttered a strangled cry before clamping his jaw shut to avoid crying out.
There was a long moment of silence, and then a familiar rasping voice spoke.
“Make him scream.”
“What the hell…?” Deakins growled at the sound of the heavy thuds, followed by incoherent shouting.
“Oh, shit, I think he’s been busted,” Mike muttered. A moment later, Mike’s suspicions were confirmed when they heard a hideous, grating voice give a terrifying order.
“Make him scream.”
The cleaner didn’t hesitate. Grasping Bobby’s right arm, he bent the arm back hard, over-extending the shoulder joint. Bobby couldn’t stop himself. His scream of pain shattered the otherwise silent room, sending his head into a sickening spin as wave after wave of sheer agony washed over him.
Raines stood by, watching with a perverse pleasure as Bobby was tortured. Finally, it became too much and he lost consciousness, slumping motionless on the floor. Looking to the desk, Raines reached over, picked up the phone and hung it up. Then, sparing Sydney a dangerous look, Raines turned and walked out of the office without saying a word.
“Oh my god,” Carolyn whispered in dismay as the line cut out. Mike and Deakins exchanged sickened looks while Alex sat there in numb silence, tears spilling down her cheeks as Bobby’s scream of pain echoed horribly in their ears.
“We’ve got to get him out of there,” Mike whispered, his own eyes starting to look a little red from unshed tears. “Captain, we have got to get him out of there.”
“I know,” Deakins murmured, rubbing self-consciously at his own eyes. “God, I know we do.”
“We did that,” Alex whispered in distress. “We did it to him. We knew they probably would have been listening to any calls he was allowed to make, but we still took that risk. And now, we’ve blown that chance for him. They won’t let him make anymore calls after this. Even though it wasn’t his doing, he’s still going to be the one to suffer for it.”
“That scream,” Carolyn said softly. “They really hurt him…”
“Punishment,” Alex said bitterly. “Punishment for disobedience. Those fucking bastards…”
“It achieved something, though,” Deakins said, trying hard to keep his voice even for the sake of his detectives. “Bobby knows now that we aren’t just going to forget about him. He was able to hear our voices, and know that he’s at the forefront of all our thoughts. We aren’t giving up on him.”
“I hope that it’ll be enough to help him keep his head above water,” Alex said as she got unsteadily to her feet. “Because God knows it’ll be the last time they’ll let him have any sort of contact with anyone outside the Centre.”
Deakins watched glumly as Alex walked out of the office, shoulders slumped and head down. After a moment, Mike and Carolyn followed in silence.
Shaking his head, Deakins pressed his hands over his face and prayed once more that Jarod would come back to them soon, with a plan to rescue their colleague and friend from this ongoing nightmare that he was trapped in.
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