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7 Days to Pretend (1/2)

Title: 7 Days to Pretend
Fandom: The Pretender/7 Days
Genre Crossover
Word Count 6855
Summary While acting as a bodyguard, Jarod meets another Parker
FollowsTrust Someone
Author's NoteThis was originally posted on FanFiction.Net in May 2001. It was nominated in the Best Crossover category of the 2001 Pretender FanFic awards. More to follow!



~~~~There are Pretenders among us. Geniuses with the ability to become anyone they want to be. In the 1960s, a corporation known as the Centre isolated a young Pretender named Jarod and exploited his genius for their research. Then one day their Pretender ran away...~~~~

~~~~Ever wish you could live your last week all over again? Well, my name's Frank B. Parker and I do it all the time. I work for a secret government project experimenting in time travel. When things really get screwed up, I'm the guinea pig they send back to take care of it. Catch is, I can only go back seven days.~~~~


Seattle, Washington

The limousine joined the line of those waiting to relinquish their passengers. An unnatural calm seemed to settle on those waiting inside. A man and woman faced forward, holding hands in mutual support. Opposite them sat a younger man with close cut dark hair. He, too, was nervous. He looked out the window, eyes darting everywhere.

"Why so uptight, my friend? You have discharged your duty. Here we are at the conference and I am still breathing." His accent placed him from somewhere in South America.

"I won't feel confident until you're in that room under the watchful eye of the federal government."

The limo stopped and the young man jumped out and carefully surveyed the area before allowing the dignitary and his wife out of the car. He walked alongside the couple up the stairs and into the building. There was a reception area where the delegates could meet and speak freely. The bodyguard milled about, keeping an eye on both the assignment and the crowd. He glanced quickly at his watch before making his way to the diplomat's side. He made his farewells and left.

Not even a second after he had walked out the door than an impeccably dressed woman in a business suit entered from the opposite side accompanied by three men; two burly in dark suits and one a little shorter in a designer suit. Their eyes scoured the room as if looking for someone. Realizing the quarry might have slipped out the other door, they crossed the room. One of the larger men reached under his jacket, exposing a shoulder holster. Witnesses couldn't agree on what happened next. The security and bodyguards of those attending pulled their weapons as well. A single shot was heard and soon the room was under a hail of bullets.

SOMEWHERE IN NEVADA

Round and 'round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows." The makeshift roulette wheel stopped and the marble dropped on "23 red!" called the smiling man acting as the house. He quickly surveyed the table. "House wins again." A groan went up from the players. "C'mon, fellas. It's not as if I fixed it. You'd never play me again." He grinned. "Another spin?" The gathered players placed their bets and the wheel spun once more.

They were so intent on watching the wheel; they didn't hear the approaching footsteps. "Parker!" All heads turned to face the newcomers. One was an older man of stocky build in a nondescript grey suit with thinning hair. His expression was livid. He turned to his companion, a young black man in khaki fatigues. "I told you he'd be gambling. The man needs a leash."

"C'mon, Ramsey, he's just letting off a little steam. Since he doesn't leave the base, he has to relax however he can."

"Thank you, Donovan," said Parker. "The table's closed, boys. Better luck next time."

"If it were up to me, there wouldn't be a next time," said Ramsey. He looked at Parker. "We're wanted in the briefing room." He walked off.

Parker looked at Donovan as he put his winnings in his pockets. "Another Backstep?"

"Possibly." They walked along the corridor. "Roulette?"

"Have to find ways to relax however I can," Parker grinned.

"Just don't push him too far, Frank. You know how happy it would make him to know you're back at Hansen."

"We can't have that, can we?"

"I wouldn't know what to do with a happy Ramsey."

The two entered the briefing room and took their seats at the table. "Now that we're all here," said an older man with an air of authority. Bradley Talmadge, a senior operative with the NSA, was the government liaison for the project. He turned on the TV. "I'm sure you've all heard of the shooting at the Pan American Drug Conference. Due to the far-reaching consequences of its failure, an immediate Backstep has been ordered. Frank, watch this carefully. It's been taken from the security cameras."

"Probably just someone working for the cartels," said Ramsey.

"I don't think so," said the only woman in the room. Her accent betrayed her Russian origins, but Olga Vukavitch was devoted to Backstep. "It seems as if they were searching for someone. They had nothing to do with the conference."

"Whether they intended it or not, it happened," put in Talmadge. "However, there is one man who conveniently left right before the shooting. This mission hinges around him."

"Could he have been the one the others were looking for?" asked an older man.

"Could be, Isaac. Too much of a coincidence. We've learned his name is Jarod Farmer. Frank, he's the one you have to find and stop anyway you can."

*****************************************************************

Jarod sat back from his laptop. What he had learned made him wonder once again on the duality of the world. How could a race that invented ice cream and PEZ torture, maim, and kill their own kind for something as fleeting as money? His life in the Centre had made him aware of evil and greed, but in his naiveté, he had thought it an isolated case. Now he knew better.

He flipped open his blue notebook and read the article once again. "Esteban Morales, a merchant from a small town outside of Cartegna, Columbia, overlooked the comings and goings of the cartels as a matter of self- preservation. At least, until three years ago when his young son was caught in the crossfire between two rival factions. Since then, he has taken it upon himself to bring a halt to their power. Despite--or perhaps because of-- numerous death threats, he has continued his crusade and will be arriving later in the week to attend the Pan American Drug Conference."

Jarod admired the man for standing up for his beliefs and fighting against those more powerful than himself. Love and grief were definitely powerful motivators. That's what kept him from giving up on searching for his family.

He looked back at the computer screen. It was time to prepare a new background for himself and credentials for his new profession: bodyguard. He smiled. As this was different from his usual "pretends", those at the Centre wouldn't even think of looking for him here.

**************************************************************************

In a secluded area of Bainbridge Island, a huge wind picked up and there was a brilliant flash of light. A large blue sphere appeared from nowhere. Around it, the air crackled with energy. A panel fell open and a figure in an orange flight suit with a helmet staggered out and fell to its knees. It fumbled with the latches before removing the helmet and taking a deep breath of air.

Frank Parker then took in his surroundings and was pleased that he didn't have to make any excuses for the sphere's presence. Saying it was for a Spielberg film was running a bit thin. He stepped out of the flight suit and stuffed it inside the sphere, grabbing his jacket as he did so. He then left in search of a phone.

He found one at the ferry stop and called the base. "This is Conundrum."

He was immediately connected to Talmadge who put him on the speakerphone. "What is it, Frank?" Frank told him all he knew about the mission. "We'll contact conference security to make them aware of the threat."

"Probably the cartels," muttered Ramsey.

"There's one guy who's at the center of this; Jarod Farmer. I'm going to try and find him today."

"We'll look him up and see what history he has. Do you need any assistance?"

"No, sir. I think I can handle it."

"Good. Keep us posted."

*******************************************************************

Jarod sat in the chair across from the desk and watched as the woman pulled up his file on the computer. "Quite a record, Mr. Farmer. The New York office suffered a great loss when you decided to leave."

"I felt it was time to move on. I thought with the conference coming up, you'd need the help."

"Definitely. Some of the delegates bring their own, but there are those who simply refuse to have any."

"Is there any chance of choosing who I'm paired with?"

"You have a preference." She was surprised.

"Yes. I have a great admiration for Esteban Morales."

She smiled. "We are more or less subcontractors so we may not even be needed. However, if we are, I'll keep that in mind. Your record would prove you the ideal candidate." She stood and shook his hand. "Welcome aboard, Jarod."

**********************************************************************

Frank hitched a ride into the city center. He picked up a paper to help him get a bearing on this timeline. The city was undergoing a beautification process to prepare for the conference. Buntings were draped from the streetlights and flags from the countries involved were dispersed throughout the streets. Despite the cheerful atmosphere, Frank could not get what he saw on that video out of his mind.

Talmadge was going to check on this Farmer fella to see what type of history he had. What concerned Frank now was the present. He had to find this guy and keep him from following through on his plan.

Frank found a phone booth that actually had a phonebook. There was no listing for a Jarod Farmer. The next thing was to try to find him through work. He was a bodyguard, so what to look under? Security? He found a few agencies listed in the yellow pages. If those didn't pan out, he'd check with Talmadge. He ripped the page out of the book and began the search.

The first response he always received was that they weren't allowed to give out that information. He would then show his NSA identification. "We have no one by that name here" was the inevitable reply.

This was the same at every agency. He was getting tired, hungry, and angry. This guy had to be somewhere. One more agency he told himself then I get food Frank trudged along to the next address and then leaned against the wall in the elevator. He looked at every man who got on, just in case.

He got off and made his way to Reception. The woman behind the desk was a little younger than those he had previously encountered so he decided to try some charm. "Hello."

"If you're here for the position, I'll need to see your resume and references," she said in the midst of typing.

"What? No, I'm--"

"No papers, no interview."

"I'm not here for a job," Frank finally got in. "However, a friend of mine might be. Jarod Farmer." Frank described him. "It's a surprise. I was told he might be here."

"I'm not allowed to give out personnel information."

Trying to contain his anger, Frank showed his ID. "Mr. Farmer is needed to help in an investigation."

"Oh. Let me check."

As she looked in her files, Frank looked about the room and saw the man walk by him towards the elevator. "Never mind!" he called to her as he made his way to the elevator as well.

**************************************************************************

Jarod smiled and thanked her before leaving the office. That was easier than I thought. He approached the main reception area where a man was trying to get information from the woman behind the desk. The man had either learned what he needed or just gave up because they stopped as he passed. He continued on to the elevator. While he waited for it to arrive, the man from the reception desk joined him. Jarod observed him out of the corner of his eye. He was perhaps a few years younger than he was and of a similar build, though maybe an inch or two shorter. He was dressed casually in dark slacks, a cotton shirt, and a brown leather jacket.

They both entered the elevator and Jarod pushed the button for the lobby. He could feel the other man staring at him--not a pleasant sensation. He couldn't be from the Centre; he didn't follow the dress code. Besides, anyone from the Centre would have grabbed him the minute the doors closed.

***************************************************************************

Looking at the man, Frank couldn't believe he had been involved in the shooting. From his work in Special Ops, he knew looks could be deceiving, almost fatally so.

He'd have to approach this carefully. The doors opened and both men stepped in. Farmer pushed the button to the lobby. It's now or never.

************************************************************************

"Excuse me, but are you Jarod Farmer?" His voice had a slight accent, like a kid raised in the streets of New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia.

Jarod faced him. "Yes."

"You're a tough man to track down, Mr. Farmer. I've been trying to find you for the better part of the day." He held out his hand. "Name's Parker."

Jarod flinched mentally. God, not another one.

**************************************************************************

The woman sat behind her immaculate desk. The only personal items were two framed photographs. One was of the woman looking stern and forbidding standing next to her equally forbidding father. The other was the woman as a child being held by a smiling woman. Everyone said she looked exactly like her mother, and, when she was a child, she wanted to be just like her. That all changed when her mother was murdered. She hardened herself against emotion and tried to be more like her father in order to get his attention.

Now her life was changing once again and she wasn't sure if it was for the better. It could all be traced back to Jarod's escape. Since he had become free of the Centre's influence, he had taken it upon himself to enlighten her on her family's past and its involvement with the Centre.

She sat back and sighed. How am I supposed to handle this? Can I accept what Jarod tells me about my family? About things I've known all my life? He's out to ruin and expose the Centre at any cost. What he's saying might not even be true. Granted, recently I have been having some doubts so it's not as if he's so far off... If only I hadn't hesitated when Thomas asked me to go to Oregon . . . No, don't think of Thomas. Not now. Wait until you're home and can have a good cry in private. She took a deep breath. Damn him for making me feel this way!

*****************************************************************************

Frank Parker." Jarod relaxed and shook the proffered hand. "You must not have lived here long."

"What makes you say that?"

"You're not listed in the book and you just got a new job."

"Having an unlisted phone number doesn't necessarily mean I'm new. Neither does my new job. How do you know it was new?"

"The receptionist asked if I was here for the position. She didn't recognize your name. Plus, you walked out of that office like the job was yours."

"You're very observant, Mr. Parker."

"Call me Frank."

"Thank you. I know a Mr. Parker and, let's just say we don't get along."

"A real jackass, hunh? Know one of them, too."

"This can't be a social call, Frank, if you were looking for me all day. What is it you want?"

The doors opened and more people got on the elevator. The two men exchanged glances, knowing they would continue once they were out on the street. The two exited the building and Jarod looked at Frank, waiting for his explanation.

"It's like this. I'm with the NSA and it's come to our attention that there will be a shooting at the conference."

"Why are you telling me? What about conference security?"

"Already notified. Thing is, we think it can be prevented if you don't go." Frank looked at him, wondering at his reaction.

"You think I have something to do with this? Excuse my incredulity, Frank, but what makes you think I'm associated with this? It hasn't even happened yet. I've made it a point to help people with the knowledge I've gained. There's no way I would ever dream of opening fire on innocent people."

"I don't believe it. If I did, I wouldn't have approached you. But you're tied into this somehow and the only way I can think of preventing it is to keep you away."

"Mr. Parker, until you come up with a more concrete reason, I'm sorry, but I can't take this seriously. I will go to that conference if I am told to do so." And maybe even if I'm not he added to himself.

"All right, then, how will I get in touch with you?"

"I'll contact you. What hotel?"

"I haven't had time. I was looking for you all day."

"I hear the Olympic is nice." With that, Jarod left him in the middle of the sidewalk.

Frank now truly believed that Jarod was totally unaware of any plot regarding the shooting. His reaction was too genuine. As for a hotel, the Olympic sounded like just what he needed. If the question was raised as to why a luxury hotel, what better way to keep track of the comings and goings of the delegates?

Once at the Olympic, Frank made his way to registration and asked for a room. "Hm, let me check availability. Here for the conference, sir?"

"You could say that."

"You are in luck, sir. We have a room. A cancellation. Last name?"

"Parker." Frank was thinking on how to handle the whole thing.

"First name?" Frank didn't hear him but the clerk did hear Frank and entered it into the computer. "Very good, Mr. Parker. That's Room 913."

"Great. Thanks." Frank took the electronic key and headed up to his room. Once there he called Talmadge. "Any luck?"

"We did find his files. He worked for a security agency in New York. Not one fatality when he was on assignment. His superiors seemed to think well of him--at least in the reports."

"But?" Frank prompted.

"Childhood is very sketchy. We have high school and college transcripts but not much else."

"Sounds manufactured," commented Frank.

"He was set up by the cartels," reiterated Ramsey.

"Your needle's skipping, Ramsey," Frank said.

The cartels wouldn't go through this much trouble," stated Donovan. "They would have simply arranged a hit."

"I still don't think he has anything to do with it," declared Frank.

"Are we going on instinct here, Parker, or woman's intuition?" asked Ramsey.

"Whatever you want to call it, that's my opinion."

"Do you mind if we ask for a second?" put in Talmadge. "Olga, would you are to give us your opinion regarding this man?"

Olga, a little surprised at the request, knew that the man from the video Frank had seen needed to be heard. The only drawback would be spending time with Parker and his childish attempts to impress. "Certainly, sir. I can pack and be ready in less than an hour."

On the other end of the line, Frank smiled. "Great. Room 913, the Olympic." He hung up the phone. That'll give 'em something to think on!

**************************************************************

There was a timid knock on the office door and a nervous, bookish man entered. "Excuse me, Miss Parker, but I have some news." He stopped when he noticed she wasn't alone. Her brother was there. His boyish face and the charm he exuded gave a favorable first impression. It wasn't until you got to know him that you learned the truth. By then it was usually too late.

"News this important must be about Jarod. What is it?"

The man looked back at Miss Parker. "Go ahead, Broots," she said resignedly. She would have loved to have kept Lyle out of it, but that was impossible now.

"I programmed the computer to do a random search to see if Jarod's name popped up anywhere near something he would become involved in." He noticed their bored faces. "So, um, this name came up, and, well, it could be coincidence . . . "

"The name, Broots," demanded Miss Parker.

"The Four Seasons Olympic Hotel in Seattle has a room registered in the name of Jarod Parker."

"I'd hate to have his nerve in my tooth," Miss Parker remarked.

"What's going on in Seattle that would attract Jarod?" asked Lyle.

"The only newsworthy item is that drug conference," said Broots.

"So he's taking his crusade international. Would be a shame if we don't join him."

**************************************************************************

Jarod sat in front of his computer. What was it that this NSA agent had on him? Was he even really with the NSA? He hacked into the security agency's database and learned that Parker, Frank B., had been born 30 years ago, never knew his family, and had been raised in a Catholic orphanage in New Jersey. He then joined the Navy SEALS, and, from there, went to CIA Special Operations.

It was during a mission to Central America, he suffered a breakdown where he experienced "violent paranoid tendencies". He was remanded to a psychiatric
institution on Hansen Island. But where did the NSA come in? He dug a little deeper to discover that the NSA recruited him straight from Hansen for an operation codenamed "Backstep". Further attempts to probe deeper met up with blocks that would require a great deal of time and precision to bypass, something he simply couldn't afford at the moment. But he had enough information to use next time he talked with Frank. Jarod smiled. Odds were that he knew more about Frank than Frank knew about him.

************************************************************************

Olga arrived in Seattle and headed directly for the Four Seasons Olympic. She smiled, remembering Ramsey's reaction to Mr. Parker's accommodations. When she walked into the lobby, it was obvious that many of the delegates to the conference were staying here. That must be how he rationalized staying in a luxury hotel. She strolled across the lobby to the elevators. As she passed reception, she heard voices that were trying hard not to be raised. She looked over and saw a well-dressed young couple having words with the clerk. They struck her as seeming very out-of-place with the demeanor of the hotel.

She took the elevator to the ninth floor and found Frank's room. She knocked on the door and Frank answered almost immediately. "Olga! Great! C'mon in." He ushered her into the room. "You made good time." He took her bag. "Good trip?"

Olga looked at him, wondering what it was he wanted. "Mr. Parker, there is no need to be so solicitous. It's not as if I'm an invited guest. I've been assigned to this just as you have. Why don't you tell me about Mr. Farmer?"

"I don't want to say too much and influence your opinion. One word I can think of is genuine. When I spoke with him--"

"You spoke with him? Mr. Parker, you could have compromised the whole mission."

"I told him I was NSA and needed his help in an investigation. How else was I supposed to find out his motives?"

"He could have killed you."

"Miss Vukavitch, you do care."

"Of course, Mr. Parker. You are a human being after all, despite the image you project." She stood and walked to the window. "So how do we find him?"

"He said he'd contact me. Maybe that's why he recommended this hotel."

"You are being very unlike yourself, Mr. Parker, at least while on a mission. You are usually not this accepting."

"I know. But I don't feel I have to be so guarded around him. Except for how I know about the shooting, of course."

"Have you done anything else?"

"Until I get more information from Jarod, there's not much else I can do. There was a couple in the video that seemed to be after Jarod for some reason. I want to find out why."

The phone rang and Frank grabbed it. "Jarod, I thought it might be you. Ready to talk? Exchange ideas? Great." He was quiet as he listened. "Fine. I have someone here I'd like you to meet. Just to give you another viewpoint. All right. See you then." He hung up the phone. "He wants to see us at in half an hour. I'd like to get there a little early to check the place out so I think we'd better leave now." Frank picked up his jacket and the two left the room.

As they walked through the lobby pretending they were a couple heading out sightseeing, Frank's expression changed momentarily before he regained his composure. He took Olga by the arm and ushered her towards the door.

"Mr. Parker, what's the matter?"

He didn't answer until they were outside. "The same couple from the video was in the lobby. We have to hurry and warn Jarod."

********************************************************************************

Miss Parker and Lyle arrived at the Olympic. "Jarod's certainly landed on his feet this time."

"From all that money he's embezzled from the Centre, of course he would."

"You have to be in a position of trust in order to embezzle, and I don't think that was ever the case with Jarod."

"Misappropriated, then. Stole. Whatever. He's using Centre funds."

"Be that as it may, he's here." She strode over to reception, pulled out a photo of Jarod, and showed it to the female clerk. "Have you seen this man?" How unbelievably trite that sounds!

The woman looked carefully at the photo. "No. Can't say as I have."

"Are you sure?" questioned Lyle.

"Believe me, I'd remember a face like that." She smiled. "He's cute."

A little disgusted at this reaction, Miss Parker put the photo away. "But you do have a Jarod Parker staying here?"

The woman checked the computer. "Yes. He registered this afternoon."

"What room?" demanded Lyle.

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't give that information."

Lyle made to try to demand further information but Miss Parker held him back. "We'll wait in the lobby."

"Why didn't you try to get the room number?"

"With all the delegates here, there's no need to draw attention to ourselves. Besides, he has to pass through here sometime."

They each took seats in the lobby. Miss Parker faced the front entrance while Mr. Lyle had the elevators and stairs. She aimlessly flipped through the periodicals and brochures extolling Seattle hot spots. Anything to avoid a discussion with her brother. She hadn't trusted him before she knew they were related. Now she positively loathed him. At one point, she almost feared that Jarod would be revealed as her brother. That she could have handled. At least she understood him to a degree--and his motivations.

She looked over at Lyle who was tapping his fingers in agitation. "He's not going to show."

"He'll show." She wasn't sure what, but something made her positive that he would be there.

Taking a break from reading, she stood and stretched. As she did so, she heard a woman's voice say "Mr. Parker". She turned, expecting to see Jarod, but instead saw a young couple walking across the lobby.

Lyle came up beside her. "Another wild goose chase."

The man had seen them, she was sure of that. He took the woman by the arm and walked faster towards the door. Why would he react that way unless he had something to hide? Something like Jarod. "Maybe not."

*******************************************************************************

Jarod arrived early at the rendezvous but Frank was already there. Had to be CIA training. There was a woman with him. She was of a similar age with reddish-blonde hair that curled at her shoulders. She was wearing a comfortable business suit; nothing severe like those preferred by Miss Parker. She must be the someone Frank wanted him to meet which meant that she must be with NSA as well.

He approached them and Frank turned as if he sensed him. "Jarod, thanks for seeing us. This is Olga Vukavitch."

"A colleague?" questioned Jarod as he shook her hand.

"I guess you could describe it that way," she answered.

Jarod looked at Frank. "I've thought over what you said earlier and realized that I probably could be of some help. Is there anything you can tell me?"

Frank looked at Olga who shrugged. "Um, let's just say we fed certain information into the computers and this is the scenario it came up with. It's not very pretty."

"A simulation, hm? Okay, I'll accept that, but how did you know about me?"

"We're not at liberty to explain that," said Olga. "Official Secrets Act and such."

"Does it have anything to do with Operation Backstep?" The look on their faces told him he was right. "But what are you stepping back from? You're acting as if this shooting has already happened, as if you know what occurred. That would mean that for you it has happened. Backstep is a time-travel project." He waited for confirmation or denial.

Frank looked at Jarod, a cross between shock and astonishment on his face. "Who are you? Some kind of genius?"

"Some kind," Jarod smiled. "It really wasn't so hard to get the information once I knew where to dig."

"Well, we didn't tell him, right?" Frank said with a glance at Olga.

"You must realize, Mr. Farmer, that this is of the utmost importance that you keep this secret. This is still highly experimental. Mr. Parker undergoes rigorous testing
after each mission to see how his body holds up to the strain."

"And his mind?"

"Of course there is psychological testing as well," answered Olga. "If we learn what is causing the stress, we can remedy the situation for further missions."

Jarod looked at Frank. "So you're the only one who remembers what went before? That must be tough, knowing you're the only one who can 'save the world', so to speak."

"It's not always just me," Frank told him. "I have a great support team. Once I arrive, I call and fill them in. Since we only Backstep for major crises, they know it's serious."

"And now that you've seen those two other people from the video, you know we're on the right track," put in Olga.

"Video?" questioned Jarod. "What video?"

"From the security cameras at the conference. That's how we knew about you. Also, on the way here, I saw a couple in the hotel lobby that was also in the video."

That got Jarod's attention. "A man and a woman? Could you describe them?"

"I'd call the woman striking, probably beautiful if she smiled. Wore a dark business suit and skirt. The man looked like he was trying to be a GQ model; boyish face."

"Wonderful. How did they follow me?"

"So they are after you," said Olga. "What have you done?"

"It's more like what they've done to me."

"I'm sure there's more to your story," said Frank, "but I'll leave it alone for now. What we have to concentrate on at the moment is keeping them from finding you, perhaps even getting them to leave altogether."

"But wouldn't their showing up earlier change the outcome of the shooting?" asked Jarod.

"Possibly. For better or worse, I couldn't say," answered Olga. "If they don't find you, they might leave before the conference, freeing you to do your job. Alternatively, they could find you and chase you away leaving Morales unprotected and a possible target."

"I'm sure I can think of something." He thought for a moment. "Did they see you?"

"Even if they did, they have no idea who we are," said Frank.

"If they did track me to Seattle, why did they go to the Olympic? The only thing connecting me to it is you."

Frank thought for a moment, wondering what could have happened. In his head he went over everything he did--or didn't do. "I think I know." He looked at Olga.
"Do you have your phone?"

"Of course." She rummaged in her bag and held it out o Frank.

"No, I need you to make the call." He handed her a slip of paper. "Here's the number."

"This is the hotel. Why am I calling them?"

"Just a hunch. Tell them you're trying to contact a Mr. Parker. The first initial is a little hard to read. You can't tell if it's an 'F' or a 'J'."

Unsure of exactly why she was doing it, Olga called the hotel. She elaborated on what Frank had said. She pleaded a little and the clerk broke down and gave her the information. "Thank you. You've saved me from much embarrassment." She turned off the phone.

"Well?" asked Frank.

"The only Parker that have registered is a Jarod Parker."

Jarod looked at Frank. "What did you do?"

"Believe me, it wasn't intentional. I must have been talking out loud when he asked for my name. Why should that have drawn them anyway?"

"Remember when we first met and I said I knew a Mr. Parker and we didn't exactly get along?" Frank nodded. "Their father."

"Ah," said Frank knowingly.

It took Jarod a moment to catch his meaning. "No, it was nothing like that. He used to run this place where I used to help run sims. I left and they've been trying to get me back for about four years now."

"By sending armed guards after you?" questioned Olga. "I thought that only happened to Mr. Parker."

"Now that we know why they got here early, how are we going to keep them away until you're done?" put in Frank.

*******************************************************************************

Miss Parker needed to check out that man's room. He had to be connected to Jarod somehow. She looked at Lyle who was being of no use. If he couldn't go in guns blazing, he was all thumbs-minus one. She smiled in spite of herself.

"What are you grinning at?"

"I've just come up with an idea," she replied. She went to one of the end tables sporting some of the hotel's stationery. She folded a sheet of paper and placed it in
an envelope. On the front she wrote Mr. J. Parker.

Lyle then caught on to her scheme. "With thinking like this, I'm surprised you haven't caught Jarod yet."

Parker ignored the barb knowing that Lyle hadn't had much success either. She approached the clerk. "It seems our friend is running late. Could you leave this for him?"

"Certainly."

Miss Parker watched carefully as the clerk placed the envelope in the slot for room 913. "Thank you so much."

They made to walk for the door but doubled-back to the elevator. Once outside the room, Lyle picked the lock. The room looked barely lived in. The man must have just arrived. Miss Parker noticed the woman's bag sitting on the bed. That was it. She made to search through it. Lyle headed to examine the bathroom.

"There's nothing in here but complimentary hotel toiletries," he called back.

"There's nothing here either. Not one change of clothes for him. Who travels without that? At least Jarod always has something."

"Are you sure this is the right room?"

"Yes, I'm sure!" she snapped back.

"Fine, just double checking." He walked over to the window. "So now what?"

Miss Parker sat back in one of the room's chairs. "We wait."

*************************************************************************

Jarod's phone chose that moment to ring. He quickly answered it. "Yes?" There was a pause as he listened. "OK, where?" He checked his watch. "I think I can make it in about 15 minutes." Hw switched it off. Frank and Olga were looking at him expectantly. "I'm to meet Morales at the convention center."

"Now's the time to start the ball rolling," said Frank. "I say we exchange phone numbers so in case something happens, we can contact each other."

Jarod didn't know why, but for some reason, he felt he could trust these two. He searched his pockets for a piece of paper and found an old grocery receipt. He scribbled his number on the back then handed it to Frank. Olga, in turn, gave Jarod a printed card with her name and number.

Before leaving, Jarod gave them a final warning. "Just watch out for Miss Parker and Lyle. They could still be at the hotel."

Olga watched him leave. Like Frank, she felt he was trustworthy. After all, he knew about Backstep but kept quiet. At least, Ramsey hadn't called yelling about security being breached.

"So, what do you think?" asked Frank as they headed back to the hotel. Olga told him. "There is that," Frank agreed with a smile. "But what about that story of his?
I mean, people coming after him with guns just because he left his job."

"That happens to you, Mr. Parker."

"Well, yeah, but that's because it's a top secret government project. What kind of private business would do that?"

"We may never know. I don't think he'll ever tell us the full truth. If they are willing to go after him with guns, would it not follow that they would go after anyone else who knew the truth?"

"So you're saying that it's more or less for our protection that he won't reveal details."

"It would seem so."

When they arrived at the hotel, the clerk informed Frank that he had a message. Frank took the envelope and stared at it. No one aside from those at Backstep--and Jarod--knew he was here. They wouldn't have addressed it to "J" Parker, either. He then knew what he was. He tossed the envelope into a wastebasket by the elevator.

Even though she was surprised at his action, Olga waited until they were the only ones in the elevator. "M. Parker, why did you throw that out without even reading it? It could have been important."

"It was a trick. I think we had visitors while we were away."

"Do you think they're still there?"

"Possibly." He pulled out his gun and motioned for her to stand back as he approached the door to their room. With his free hand, he used the key card to unlock the door. He pushed it open with his foot and entered, gun at the ready. Sitting in one of the chairs like it was a throne was the woman from the video, the one he now knew as Miss Parker. Standing by the window was her brother, Lyle. Frank put the gun away. "Somehow I knew it would be you."

"You knew?" questioned Lyle.

"You saw the note," stated Miss Parker.

"I saw the note," confirmed Frank. He moved aside to allow Olga to enter the room. "What did we do to deserve such attention?"

"I'm wondering if we have a mutual acquaintance."

"I don't get out much. My last place of residence was a psychiatric hospital, so, unless you, um . . ."

"Are you trying to be funny?" demanded Lyle.

"No," said Olga. "No, he just gets like this sometimes. What mutual acquaintance do you mean?"

Miss Parker rose elegantly from the chair. "A man named Jarod." She showed them the photograph. "We learned that a Jarod Parker was registered here."

"That's me," said Frank, admitting to the error to keep Jarod in the clear.

Olga looked at the photo. It was rather grainy, like it was enlarged from a surveillance photo. "No last name?"

"He always changes it." She took the photo back. "So, have you seen him?"

"No, we haven't," answered Olga. "Do you have a way we can reach you should we see him?"

"Why do you want to find him anyway?" questioned Frank. "Did he do something wrong?"

Lyle looked at Miss Parker who shrugged. "Not wrong, exactly. Nothing criminal, anyway. Just something within the company."

Miss Parker handed Olga her card. Olga took it and pretended to be surprised at the name. "What a coincidence. You are a Parker as well."

"Yes, coincidence." She didn't believe it at all. "If you do hear or see anything, please call." She and Lyle made for the door.

"Thank you. Next time, knock," said Frank as they passed. Miss Parker ignored him and Lyle glared.

When the door closed, Frank listened for their departing footsteps. As soon as he was sure they were gone, he let out a sigh. "Phew, I feel sorry for Jarod having those two on his tail. What are you doing?"

Olga was using her cell-phone. "Calling Jarod to let him know that we've met them."

******************************************************************************************

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