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Broots rode his bike from the Centre annex back to his house, despite the slushy snow on the ground. Vacation, at last. It was only a couple of days until Christmas, and like a lot of people he was taking the week off between that and New Year's. Miss Parker was increasingly lenient with her leave, and it had been a whole two weeks since the last time he had to call an emergency babysitter for an all-nighter. Now he getting nine days off, just Debbie and him, for what he hoped would be a fun-filled holiday.
He walked through the door whistling when someone grabbed him from behind and gave him a swift injection. As he crumpled to the floor, his last thought was one of terror for his daughter.
When Broots groggily came back to consciouness it was night, and he was tied up in the back seat of a moving car, leaning against a bunch of boxes. He groaned and tried to pull himself upright from his slump.
"Oh, good, you're awake." Broots jumped about a mile from the recognizable rich voice. The person in the passenger seat glanced back at him, and to his relief it was Debbie, unharmed and unconcerned.
"Hi, Daddy. Don't worry, everything's going to be okay."
"What? J..J..Jarod? What is going on?"
"I think it's pretty obvious that you're being kidnapped, Broots. Don't worry, it happens to all of us."
"What? Why? Where are you taking us?"
"Why? Because you are too good at your job, and I can no longer afford to be chased and potentially caught. And, honestly, they probably would have harmed Debbie eventually. Time to get both of you out of harm's way, and out of my business too. Win-win for everybody."
"The Centre's going to kill us if they think I've run away," hissed Broots.
"Yes. Well, we have to make sure that doesn't happen, don't we? Call it the Jarod Witness Protection Program. And just to make everything completely clear, in case you're thinking of trying to run away from me and getting back to Blue Cove before anyone notices you're gone, the following action is at play. I've left evidence on the mainframe and a computer at your home indicating that you have stolen ten million dollars from the Centre."
"The programs won't execute until Saturday, which gives us a few days to get you away. But everything's in the system. I think even if you were back at your office working on it night and day, you couldn't find it by then. So there's no going back now. The evidence will indicate you've taken Debbie to Tahiti. I bought airplane tickets, and people will even be on them. By the time the Centre figures out that is false, the trail will be even more cold."
"This is blackmail."
"True. Blackmail for your family, Broots. I'm giving you a life back. Sure, you'll have to look over your shoulder for what remains of it, but again, who doesn't?"
Broots moaned again and flopped back against the seat. "Debbie, how can you just sit there? Did Jarod tell you what he was going to do? Wait, how do you know Jarod at all?"
"I asked her if she wanted to go, and she said yes. After I told her all about what your job really entails. That you are supposed to not only hunt me down, but Angelo and Annalise and -- let's not forget -- my daughter too. Who never did anything except be born to the wrong people. I also explained that they would kill you if you resisted any of the above."
Debbie spoke up then in a soft voice. "Daddy, they are making you do horrible things. Hurting people. It's okay to leave. I don't mind starting over again somewhere else if it will keep you safe."
Broots was silent for a long couple of minutes as he digested the situation. Finally he said, "Where exactly are we going, then?"
"You won't try to run back, then?"
"I don't have much of a choice, do I?"
"Of course you do, it's just not a very good choice. Do you agree to my terms, and won't run away?"
"Yes," said Broots glumly. Somehow he was resigning himself already. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome was kicking in. Or maybe this is what he secretly always wanted, for a Jarod ex machina to swoop in and take them away from the daily moral horror of his job. "Seriously, where are we going? Are we going to have to pick up every two weeks like you were doing, or is there stability at the end of this trip?"
Jarod sounded amused, like this was some sort of job negotiation. "I've set up a software position for you, and a house, and some cash and new identities. Good enough?"
"Microsoft?" He knew the Centre had narrowed down the Wallaces to the West Coast somewhere. Seattle might be cool.
"Intel, in a suburb of Portland. I can keep an eye on you better there. Senior software engineer, salary 160K plus bonus, full benefits, stock options, four weeks vacation. A regular, boring, 9-5 middle class job."
"That actually sounds kinda ... nice."
"I hope it will be, Broots. Everyone deserves to have a normal life."