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On New Year's Day Miss Parker's phone rang, with no caller ID. Somehow she knew who it was, although she hadn't received a call from him in six months.

"Hello, Jarod."

"Miss Parker. How are things going in Centre-land?"

"Just peachy-keen, all by myself now. How is Broots now? In Tahiti?"

"Why, have you managed to lose Broots? I haven't heard anything about him," Jarod said sarcastically. Parker actually snorted.

"What do you want, Jarod? Just rubbing my face in your victory? Broots gone, Sydney gone, even Mush-Head gone. I assume I'm next."

"You haven't heard from Sydney either?" He sounded genuinely worried on that one.

"Nope, but his body hasn't washed up in the river either, so he's around. Nobody actually dies here at the Centre, have you noticed? How's Angelo, has his family descrambled his brain yet?"

"We don't call him Angelo anymore, but he's ... a little bit better. He'll never be what you might call normal, but now at least he can function without the universe screaming at him day and night."

"Mmmm. And your girlfriend?" This was shaping up to officially be the most bizarro conversation ever.

"She's doing just fine, thank you. After you chased us out of the spa, we still managed to have a lovely weekend."

Good thing Parker wasn't holding a glass or it would have been smashed against the wall by now. There was a heavy pause on both ends, then Jarod spoke again. "You're not next, Miss Parker. I'm not out to get any of you. You're still free to make your own choices, just like the others. I just hope it is a good one."

Choices. How she was sick of the term. "Is this the point where you throw my mother at me, Jarod? I get a little tired of moralizing sermons."

Jarod paused again, then said very softly, "She made good choices, despite what happened to her. She at least tried her best to help the children, to help you and me and Angelo. And she did save some. Can you say the same? My daughter might appreciate some serious thought on the subject, while you and Lyle keep trying to hunt her down."

Of course he hung up at that point, before she could retort that she didn't give a shit about his kid, and had no intention of ever handing a young girl over to Lyle.

Parker shuffled through the pile of papers that had been sitting on her desk for a week. The last ream of research Broots had spit out before disappearing. Buried among it all was yet another batch of property searches for the first names Vern and/or Marion in the mid-eighties, as they slowly hacked their way through every damned rural county in the West. There had been several hits, but the one that had popped out at Parker was a hundred-acre property in southern Oregon, sold to one Vernon Fell in 1985 for cash. A simple comparison of signatures on that deed to the abandoned Wallace farm in Pennsylvania, which had taken Parker all of three minutes to do two days ago, revealed that it was probably the same person. Miss Parker stared hard at the Oregon address, imagining the dimpled girl that likely lived there, and her father at that exact age so many years ago. Then she shoved the paper to the bottom of the pile and turned her mind on other things.

Chapter End Notes:

Next story in the series: "The Prisoner," about Sydney and Gemini at Donoterase.

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