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The audience rose as one and, as the pianist rose to take her bows, her eyes glistened with tears. Although the concert had been going for more than three hours the audience appeared to be in no hurry to leave. Cries for an encore rose from various parts of the room, to be swiftly taken up by more and more people until, nodding her head in acquiescence, the musician again took her place and notes rippled through the room.
Kerri sat upright in bed, her chest heaving with sobs. The blackness that stared back at her was a continual and tortuous reminder of the horrific accident in which she had lost her precious sight. A hand came out of nowhere and began to release her hand from its tight grip on the bed-sheets.
"It's okay, Kerri. You're all right now."
The girl clung to the arm as one might the mast of a sinking ship and, her face wet with tears, gasped as she fought to regain her breath. The nurse, murmuring softly, helped the girl to lie down and smoothed the blankets.
"Would you like the radio on?"
"What time is it?"
The seemingly irrelevant question brought a smile to the nurse’s face, although it went unseen by the patient.
"A quarter before seven. That concert should be starting in about five minutes. Shall I turn it on for you?"
A nod of the now listless head was the only answer, but the understanding nurse switched on the radio and, almost immediately, the room was filled with the sweeping sounds of the classical music the girl loved.
Miss Parker, her frustration about the turns her personal life and that of her family were taking, was in no mood for Jarod's toys and her response to his latest present was to fling it across the room. As Broots entered the black satin hit him in the face and then slipped through his fingers and fell to the floor.
"An eye mask? Who sent this?"
"Who do think? Jarod, of course!"
"What do you think it means?"
"How the hell should I know? Do I look like a mind-reader?"
As Broots continued to turn the mask and study it, Miss Parker's frustration turned finally to anger and she exploded.
"Did you want anything in particular Broots? If not then get out!"
"Well, actually, there was a sighting..."
"Put a sweeper team on it!"
Broots shuffled back through the doorway, muttering apologies and explanations under his breath, all of which were too soft for Miss Parker to hear and merely added to her frustration.
Kerri felt to way to the front door and, after several frustrating attempts to locate the correct key, let herself in. After bumping painfully into the corner of the hall table she was finally able to remove her jacket and found a vacant peg on which to hang it. She shuffled down the hallway, trying to recall the exact position of her furniture, in order to avoid any more painful collisions. Reaching the living area, she sat down on the couch, having first checked to see that her cat, Peter, wasn't in the way. With a sigh she leant momentarily back against the cushions before reaching forward to find the tape her friend, Elli, had supposedly left on the table.
A careless sweep of her hand sent the cassette crashing to the floor and, cursing under her breath, Kerri bent to pick it up. In frustration she felt her fingertips send it progressively further away and, with her head under the table, she let herself yell out loud, just once. As the sound echoed in her ears, a knock at the front door made her sharply raise her head and the crack of bone against wood made the visitor wince and then smile slightly and sadly as he heard the voice's owner curse again. The smile, however, disappeared from his face as he watched, through the half-open door, the faltering figure move down the hall. He pushed the small red notebook through which he had been looking deeper into his pocket and cleared his throat.
"Excuse me, Miss Stevenson. My name is Jarod Rorschach. I'm your occupational therapist. The hospital gave me your address. I was meaning to come and visit you before you were discharged, but time got away from me."
Kerri frowned slightly as she moved slowly forward. "I'm not sure that I remember anyone at the hospital saying anything about an occupational therapist."
"It's standard procedure. They might well have mentioned it and you forgot. I dare say you’ve had a lot on your mind. We like to make sure that you can manage on your own, give you things to help you along, that sort of thing."
There was a pause that Jarod did not want to break before Kerri spoke again. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Would you like to come in?"
"Thank-you." Jarod stepped over the threshold and watched as Kerri, unsure about his exact location, tried to shuffle out of the way and almost tripped over the small table. He reached out and grabbed her elbow, preventing her from completely falling.
Miss Parker's absorption in her mother's picture was disturbed by a squeaking of wheels entering her office and she was not surprised, when she looked up, to see Mr Raines in the doorway.
"Any sign?" The deep voice echoed through the room.
"Of course not. You would know. Is there anything going on in this place - except for the reason that we're all here, of course - that you actually miss?"
"Watch it. We're all expendable, you know. After all, what's one person to a corporation as big and powerful as the Centre?"
"Is that a threat Raines - or a prediction?"
"A threat - no. Just think of it as...an incentive."
Jarod guided Kerri into the living room and, steering her around the furniture, led her back to the chair she had been using. Having sat her down, Jarod bent and picked up the cassette, placing it in her hand.
"Frustrating isn't it, to drop something and not be able to pick it up?"
"There's got to be an easier way!"
"Oh yes, there is. Let me show you."
Jarod took the cassette out of her hand again and then laid it on the floor. He then encouraged her to kneel down and showed her the best way to find it.
"The thing you should do is avoid using the flat of your hand, sweeping along the floor, because that will only knock it further out of your reach. Instead act as if you're mopping up a spilt drink, only move your hand around as you dab. Eventually you'll touch it and then bring your hand slowly down until you can feel it's outline with your fingers and palm. Then you can grasp it firmly. Yes, just like that. Good. Well done."
Kerri looked up, her face slightly flushed and with a smile on her lips and the cassette in her hand.
"How about getting around? I mean not just within the house, but outside as well, in restaurants and places like that."
"For walking around you have several options. Some people like the use of a stick to prevent them from walking into someone. Others use a guide dog. It's really up to you."
"And with other people?"
"For them to help you, do you mean? Unfortunately people are going to think that the best way is for them to forcibly propel you forward and you're going to end up pretty bruised when they do. The best way is to take them by the elbow - yes, I know it sounds funny - but like this. They can either bend their elbow to about ninety degrees or keep it straight. A grip like this makes it easy for you to know where they're going and they're not likely to walk you into things. If you teach your friends and the people that you're going to rely on most to do this, then you'll find life a lot easier."
Kerri's face had clouded at the idea of having to rely on others and she continued to look despondent as Peter entered the room. The cat rubbed itself against her legs and then went over to where Jarod was offering his hand for the small tabby to sniff. In no time the cat was curled up on his lap and purring while he continued to talk.
"I know that there are quite a few adjustments for you to make to your life, the least of which will, of course, be your music."
At the word Kerri looked away and suppressed the urge to cry. He voice was hard and full of resentment. "I suppose I'll have plenty to adjust to without that."
"But it would be such a shame to give up a wonderful gift like yours."
"You've heard me play?" The interest in her voice was unmistakable.
"Several times. I like good music too and yours is some of the best I've ever heard. You shouldn't throw something like that away."
Kerri's sightless eyes turned automatically to her hands and, the interest gone from her voice and face, she sadly shook her head. "What's the use? I can't do it anyway. So why bother?"
Jarod stood, came over and sat next to her. She turned around slightly until he could see her face and it seemed that one of the worst things he had seen was the tears brimming in eyes which saw nothing but dark.
"You shouldn't let a tragedy like that happen. There are ways, you know."
"How?" Despite herself, interest crept back into Kerri's face and she looked at him with eagerness.
"Have you heard of the Suzuki method?"
"Of course. It's how child geniuses succeed when they can't read a note." Her voice was scornful and full of bitterness.
"But for you it's a way to actually keep learning new music, wouldn't you say? You could borrow CDs from your local library and learn from them. There are plenty of people who could teach you the technique and you wouldn't need to give up. When I saw you there wasn't a sheet of music in sight, but you played as though there was. Why should there be a difference?"
Kerri's eyes were more eager, but there was still a slight reservation. "Can I be as good as I was?"
"Why not? Beethoven was deaf and he was one of the most brilliant composers of all time. Why shouldn't you succeed, just because you can't see the keys? You can hear the notes and play the keyboard. So why not?"
Sydney fingered the letter for the thousandth time and, finally, laid it on the desk in front of him. Nicholas wrote weekly reports to tell him how the teaching was going and, for Sydney, they gave him something to think about. On the desk next to the letter lay the blindfold Miss Parker had thrown at Broots earlier. For some reason Sydney felt that this had more significance than other occasions when Jarod's clues had only led them to his most recently abandoned lair and Sydney wondered again what it meant. Sydney's eyes wandered to the two photos on his desk. Jarod in one frame and himself, Michelle and Nicholas in the other.
Nicholas closed the book and chased the small boy with whom he had been working out into the sunshine that had replaced the earlier rain. As he turned back, a noise in the doorway made him turn and he was confronted by a man who he could remember as having been involved in that strange affair with Mr Lyle and his own kidnapping.
"Nicholas? My name is Jarod. We met once before."
Nicholas made no move towards the figure but responded. "I remember. You were going to kill Mr Lyle. Why didn't you?"
Jarod ignored the question. "I see you remember. Can I come in?"
Nicholas nodded and indicated a chair pulled up at the table, taking the other himself.
"Nicholas, I need your help."
Kerri leant over and played the sequence of music again. Faultlessly she imitated the sounds she had heard, slowly at first but then faster until she was playing at the same speed as the recording. A tap at the window made her jump and she leapt up and, using the new tricks she had been taught, reached the aperture safely.
"Jarod, are you early?" As she spoke, Kerri felt the Braille watch Jarod had given her and had painstakingly taught her to use. The man laughed.
"No. You were so wrapped up in your music that I think you forgot about the time. Can I come in?"
"Of course. Just a sec."
Kerri hurried to the door and opened it. She was astonished to hear an extra pair of feet crossing the threshold of her apartment and she stepped back slightly in surprise.
"You brought someone else to visit me?" Her voice was full of nervousness and slightly hard, as though she resented Jarod putting her in the difficult situation of having to meet and get to know somebody else.
"Someone who's been wanting to meet you for a while now."
As the party moved into the living room Kerri heard Jarod and the unknown person sit down and, checking that Peter was not in the way, she sat as well. Her action caused Jarod to laugh.
"It's okay. Peter's on my shoulder. He met us at the gate. Nicholas, this is Kerri Stevenson. Kerri, this is Nicholas Stamatis. Nicholas attended some of your concerts and wanted to meet you."
Kerri felt a firm hand take hers and she was delighted to find that he treated her quite normally. The life came back into her voice as she replied to his polite questions. Jarod sat quietly as they exchanged pleasantries but, as the conversation began to languish, stepped in.
"Kerri, I've got someone to teach you Braille."
"His name's Sydney. He's a friend of mine. He also happens to be Nicholas' father. I hope you don't mind but I asked him to come here this afternoon."
Nicholas interrupted before Kerri could speak. "But he'll be working today."
"Believe me, he'll come!"
In the car Sydney sat and looked at the card in his hand. He ran his fingers over the various Braille letters and wondered how Jarod had become involved in this way. Although the card was not signed, Sydney was well aware who had sent it and he smiled as he pocketed it and, picking up a pile of papers from the seat beside him, exited the car.
Kerri and Nicholas were discussing some of the music that they enjoyed when the doorbell rang. Jarod jumped out of his seat.
"Nicholas, will you get that? I'll be right back."
The young man moved to the door but, as he left, was amazed to see that Jarod had, apparently, disappeared.
Sydney's eyebrows rose as he saw the person who had opened the door. "Nicholas? Surely you didn't send me that card?"
"No, I didn't. But I think I know who did."
Sydney moved into the living room and Nicholas introduced him to Kerri. Jarod's voice could be heard also, although he could still not be seen.
"Yes, Jarod. It's a safe enough refuge now."
Jarod strolled back into the room and took his seat again, Peter still apparent on his shoulder.
"You've taken a liking to cats now?" the psychiatrist smiled.
"Actually, I think they've taken a liking to me."
Kerri laughed and Jarod explained to Sydney why he had sent for him. While the two began their first lesson, Nicholas and Jarod continued the discussion they had started when Jarod had appeared in Nicholas' room.
"So you want me to take her out every so often?"
"I just want her to try to get used to society again. I'm afraid it's going to take some work. She's still resentful of her current situation and it'll take a lot of persuasion to let her go out. She's finding it difficult to get used to society again and I thought it might be good if she could get some practice with someone who isn't her therapist, otherwise she might become too dependent. I don't want to force you into it but..."
Miss Parker shoved against the door to Sydney's office, expecting it to give. When it failed to do so, she kicked it and recoiled in pain as her toe met the solid door. A chortle from behind made her spin around and, as her eyes beheld Brigitte, still sucking one of her infernal lollipops, Miss Parker's eyes narrowed.
"What do you want?" she spat the words, hoping that Brigitte might actually be intimidated, but her hopes were short-lived.
"Daddy wants to see his Angel - now! I was sent to fetch you." The words, spoken in Brigitte's most sickeningly sweet tones, made Miss Parker's blood boil.
"Oh, really. Well then I guess he can just come and get me himself. That was always good enough before and it'll have to be good enough now, won't it?" Miss Parker spun on her heel and walked off, trying not to hear Brigitte's voice calling her back. As she entered her office, Miss Parker was disgusted to find Broots there, waiting for her.
"And what do you want? I suppose you've got a message from my father for me too, huh?"
Broots cast an anxious look at her before deciding that the sooner he delivered the message, the sooner he could escape. He thrust a piece of paper onto the desk. "Sweepers came up empty again. Just so you know." He shuffled backwards and fled, almost knocking over Mr Parker as he left.
The next day, when Jarod approached Kerri's house for their session, he received no answer to his knock. Knowing by the open windows, and the fresh flowers evident through them, that she was home, Jarod loudly called her name and was stunned to see Nicholas' head peep around a nearby corner.
"Jarod, she's around here. We were enjoying the weather."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I hate to point this out, Nicholas, but it's been raining all morning! In case you hadn't noticed." He added sarcastically as he wiped the drops off his face.
"Liquid sunshine!" In response Jarod snorted loudly and buried his hands in the pockets of his jacket as he followed Nicholas around the side of the building.
"You have a cold."
The words made Jarod pause and, as he looked around for the voice, he couldn't help contrasting the current tone with the despondency he had noted when he and Kerri had first met. The next minute he burst into laughter as he saw Kerri sitting on a love seat, which had been covered with a clear plastic sheet.
"You're right but I don't know how you heard me sniffing through all the noise." Jarod followed Nicholas into the homemade tent and cursed as, having knocked the cover with the top of his head, he received a cold shower-bath down the back of his neck.
Nicholas burst into laughter and Kerri, after having had the scene described in detail by Nicholas, suggested that they go inside so that Jarod could dry off. As she and Nicholas led the way, Kerri responded to Jarod's comments.
"It wasn't just the sniffing. You're voice tone changed because you're nose is blocked and I could also hear a rasp in your throat."
Jarod tried to respond but a burst of coughing prevented it and Kerri moved over to a cupboard and, extracting a towel, threw it at him.
"Go on up to the bathroom and dry off before it develops into pneumonia. Only your top should be wet and you can leave that off. It's not like I'm going to be able to see you." Jarod glanced sharply at her but could find no trace of bitterness or envy in her voice or face, a state very different from when they had first met, more than three weeks earlier.
"Sweetheart, you have to get used to doing what Bridgie asks you to. After all, she is your mommy now!"
Miss Parker was torn between the desire to wrap her fingers around the neck of the woman smirking at her and getting sick from her father's tone.
"Daddy, if you wanted to speak to me, all you had to was come and tell me - yourself!"
"Angel, I was busy. I had no idea that you would by so defiant about this! You know," he moved around the desk and sat down in the chair. Brigitte moved her chair closer to him and, with another sickly smile, took his hand. "Raines was saying that you haven't been able to find a trace of Jarod lately. I was thinking that, after almost three years of failure, maybe you're a little burned out. It was suggested to me that perhaps Lyle should take over for a while. Of course, when you feel ready to come back..."
"You...you're going to give me some time away from the Centre?" Miss Parker could hardly comprehend the information she was receiving and her thoughts flashed immediately to Thomas.
"No, sweetie. We - your father and I - thought you might like some relief from the pressure of being in charge - just for a while."
From between her clenched teeth, Miss Parker finally spoke. "And what does Lyle think about this?" Before any of the occupants could answer, the windows of the spacious office were shattered and glass flew across the room.
Jarod walked in among the mess of clothes all over the hall of Kerri's house.
"Jarod, hi! No, just packing some last-minute things before we head off to the Guide Dog Centre. I can't believe that soon I'm going to be really independent! It's great!"
"The flowers are beautiful! Who are they from?"
"Oh, Nicholas and Sydney send them. A good luck present."
"Well, are you nearly ready to go?"
"Almost. You're a little early, though, aren't you? I thought we agreed that we didn't need to leave until at least eleven and it's barely ten o'clock now!"
"I thought you might like a little hand with the last few things."
"Great. Could you just grab - there should be a pile of CDs lying aaround somewhere and I can't find them. I wanted to take them because you said there was a piano there."
"Two, actually. There's a concert hall associated with the centre and they agreed that you could practice for a few hours each day if you felt like it."
"Great! I was a little worried that I could fall behind in my practising!"
"Sydney, what's going on?"
"After the spate of shootings at the Centre they're installing a new type of security system. It's intended that, should anyone within the Centre ever fire a shot, the power and any connections with the outside world will immediately go off in that area of the building, thus preventing them from killing anyone or being able to successfully escape."
Miss Parker snorted. "Which idiot thought that one up?"
"Actually, your father."
"Oh, I see."
Sydney waited to see if she was going to speak further before changing the subject. "Have you seen Lyle lately? It seems the minute he's put at the head of this...chase... he up and disappears."
"The longer, the better, as far as I'm concerned."
"Do I detect a note of bitterness there, Parker?"
"Syd, I've been chasing Jarod for almost three years and now, because his former love interest is married to my father, I get shoved out of the way like a used shoe. Everything I've done for the Centre is just forgotten and the man who's almost destroyed the place more often than Jarod's stolen from it is given the opportunity to actually succeed!"
Jarod turned the car around and drove down the gravel driveway with Peter curled up and purring on his lap. With one hand he reached down and scratched the feline's head before turning up the radio. He considered the information he had recently learnt - that Lyle was actually in charge of his pursuit now. The anger he felt at what had occurred between the two of them had been somewhat dissipated by the scene during Nicholas' kidnapping, but he was unable to help feeling sorry for Miss Parker, Sydney and the others of whom Lyle, viewing them as a threat to himself, would quickly dispose. Still, it could be interesting to see if there would be a difference in the methods used to capture him. Jarod grinned as he turned the car onto a highway and turned up the radio.
He stopped outside a white terrace house and gently beeped the horn. Michelle came out and walked over to the car, bending down so that the two people were on the same eye-level.
"He won't be too long, Jarod. He was putting together the last few things just as you pulled up. You know," she continued conversationally, "I haven't seen him this excited for weeks. I think he's missed the company."
"Well, I think he'll see a change in her now. When I went to visit her last week, she was a very different person."
The conversation ceased as Nicholas ran down the path and jumped into the car, almost knocking his mother over. As the vehicle pulled away from the curb, Nicholas yelled apologies to his mother through the open window, to which she replied with a wave and laugh.
"How was she on Sunday?"
"Disappointed that you didn't come, I think. She's been waiting to introduce her dog to you for a while."
"Ah well, gotta make a living."
Miss Parker stared vacantly out of the window but was startled out her thoughts by footsteps behind her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father hesitatingly approaching and she studiously focused on the scene in front of her.
"Angel, we only did what we thought was best for you." The long silence seemed to make Mr Parker uncomfortable but his daughter had no intention of breaking it.
"Sweetheart, Raines asked me to suggest that you might like to consider reinstatement - as a sweeper."
Mr Parker waited to be sure that his daughter was not going to speak further before her left the room. Miss Parker reached around and unfastened her gun holster, which she dropped on her desk as she left her office.
Jarod sat, silent, as the two younger people chatted during the drive home. When they pulled into the driveway Peter appeared on the path. As Kerri and her guide dog, Paul, got out, the cat's back arched and his hair stood on end. With a violent hiss, he leapt onto Jarod's shoulder and, from that perch, glared down at the cat. Jarod winced as the claws cut into his skin through the jacket and shirt he wore but Paul, true to his training, refused to be distracted and stood at attention, his head pointed straight ahead.
Miss Parker walked into Sydney's office.
"Syd, I have to talk..." her voice trailed off as she saw both Sydney and Broots sitting behind the desk, the eyes fixed on a point behind her. Turning, she saw Lyle sitting on a table, his gun pointed at her face.
"Why, Miss Parker, how nice of you to join us!"
Wide-eyed, she recognised the object swinging from his other hand. It was her loaded gun-holster. Putting it down on the desk, he reached across and flicked a switch beside the door, electronically locking the door from the inside.
Jarod carried the tray into the living room, Peter purring on his shoulder. It had taken some coaxing to get the two animals to meet but, almost at once, the resentment of the small cat had disappeared and a strong friendship appeared to grow at once between the two. Nicholas made up a coffee for both himself and Kerri.
Kerri laughed at the pretend hurt in Jarod's voice and Nicholas held out an empty cup. "Go right ahead. No-one's going to stop you!"
Jarod was still laughing when he and Nicholas left the house, although the topic had changed many times during the course of the conversations. After he left Nicholas at home and reached his own lair, he picked up the phone.
"This is Sydney." The older man felt a bead of sweat slide down his face as he felt Lyle's gun pressed to the back of his neck but, with his eyes, he signalled at Miss Parker to keep her distance and, nodding imperceptibly, she obeyed.
"You're doing great work!"
"Jarod!...Jarod, this is not a great time..." Lyle snatched the phone from Sydney's hand and put the phone onto speaker.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't Wonderboy himself!"
"Gee, Lyle. It's been a while. How are you holding up? I hope you haven't developed any nervous habits as a result of our last little...meeting."
Miss Parker couldn't help sniggering slightly, remembering the lies which Lyle had told her just after her picked himself up off the floor and, at the sound, Lyle spun around.
"Shut up! There's going to be a few changes around here!" He laid the phone down on the desk and beckoned Miss Parker closer to him as he pointed the gun at her head. "Listen here, Jarod. The order's changed now and I run things a bit differently!" He aimed the gun and pulled the trigger. Instantly everything went black...