by: Highlander II and Stephanie
Category: Angst, Drama, Virtual Series
Archive: Clan MacSlow; The Pretender VS; all others:
not w/o permission of the authors.
Spoilers: The Pretender - all episodes.
Summary: Jarod is introduced to a new pretender and
must clean up the mess.
Disclaimer: Jarod, Miss Parker, Sydney, Broots, Mr.
Lyle, and Mr. Parker all belong to Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickel,
et al. Gabriel is essentially a Mitchell/Van Sickel creation, but the name was
given the character by the executive producers of the Virtual Series. All other
characters are mine.
Feedback: Highlander II & Stephanie
Mr. Parker's Office
Heavy clouds rolled past the office window, an ominous
gloom settling over the sky. The slender, dark-haired woman turned away from the
window, arms crossed comfortably over her chest. She waited for the gray-haired
man to speak; she was the invited guest, called here for a specific purpose.
"We need you to tie up some loose ends."
"I see. And do these *loose ends* have names?"
Impressed with her clarity of thought, Mr. Parker allowed a
smile to creep onto his face. "Your primary assignment is to keep close
watch of Mr. Lyle."
"He's your son, correct?" The elegant woman
gracefully rounded the desk and took a seat.
"Yes. But he's slipping. He isn't as," Mr. Parker
paused, searching for the correct word, "effective, as he should be."
"The Jarod search?"
Mr. Parker nodded once.
"And you want us," she indicated the ominous man
hidden by the shadows, "to find him?"
"As a secondary objective."
"Of course, Mr. Parker."
The heavy office doors parted and a tall, confident man
entered and approached the desk. "You wanted to see me?" his rich
Mr. Parker rose from his chair. "Lyle, I'd like you to
meet, Sun-Chai. She and her partner Mason are here to *audit* several of our
"Am I included on that list?" Lyle took offense
at the implication.
"Yes. You. Your sister, Mr. Broots, Sydney,
"Yes. Mr. Raines. No one is immune, Lyle. This is for
the benefit of The Centre." Conversation finished, Mr. Parker returned to
his chair and the unfinished paperwork on his desk.
Sun-Chai rose from the chair, the silk of her dress falling
smoothly to her ankles. She could see that Mr. Lyle was impressed with her style
of dress, but a little intimidated by how tall she seemed, though she was only
Mr. Lyle crossed the room and opened the door, stepping
back to allow the beautiful woman to exit first. He took note of her soft scent
as she passed. *Some audit this is going to be. I've met scarier people in the
Sun-Chai waited patiently as he spoke, though the feeling
of his four-fingered hand kneading her shoulder was repulsive. He commented that
he and she were on the same level and should cooperate. Sycophants, she despised
them, especially when all they were truly interested in was sex. Sighing
inwardly, she grabbed his thumbless hand and twisted. His arm bent at an awkward
angle, she forced him to his knees, admiring the grimace she brought to his
face. "Let me assure you, *Mr.* Lyle, we are, in no way, equal." Sun-Chai
took one step away, relinquishing her hold on his hand, and turned to leave.
Mr. Lyle opened his eyes and took several labored gasps
before realizing he was on his back, on the floor, his neck dangerously close to
the business end of a beautifully crafted samurai sword. This can't be good for
me, he thought, wanting to stand, but noticing an increased pressure against his
jugular when he raised his head.
"You do not listen well. The next time you draw a gun
on me..." she glanced down the hall, barely able to discern the outline of
the .9mm that had flown from Mr. Lyle's hand, "... you had better pull the
trigger, because you will not get another opportunity." Sun-Chai tucked her
blade against the back of her arm, stepped over the prone Mr. Lyle, and
proceeded down the corridor.
"Love your style," a darkly dressed man whistled,
stepping in time with Sun-Chai. She smiled and glanced over her shoulder,
glimpsing Mr. Lyle's return to the erect world and his verification that his
head was still attached.
Emily closed the e-mail message from her brother and turned
off the computer. Now was as good a time as any; her little brother, Jordan, had
been asking to visit big brother, Jarod, and she had been putting it off, but no
longer. She collected some clothing and other items and packed them in a bag,
then made a quick phone call to let Jordan know she was on her way.
The convent was pleasant from the street side of the long
drive. Her father had made arrangements for Jordan to stay there, near
Philadelphia. Emily did not have enough room in her small apartment for Jordan
to stay with her and she would not have felt comfortable leaving him there alone
while she was at work. The sisters were always willing to house relatives of
Major Charles and Margaret. They appreciated Jarod's kindness to them and were
happy to help him any way they could
"Hi, Emily!" the boy beamed when she entered the
room. Sister Mary Kyle busied herself with tidying the nearby table.
"Ready to go?" she asked, a warm smile on her
Jordan nodded eagerly, and collected his bag. He said
goodbye to Sister Mary Kyle and bounded out the door. He loved these visits from
Emily. She had not been able to visit as often as she wanted, but during the
last month, while Jordan had been at the convent, she had tried to visit each
weekend and call once a week. Like Jarod, Emily understood the meaning of
He climbed into the car, waiting for her. Emily finished
her chat with Sister Mary Kyle, and slid into the driver's seat. "All
"Yes." Jordan fastened his seatbelt.
Emily keyed the ignition and turned the car into the
street, beginning their journey to visit Jarod.
Mr. Lyle's Office
The door opened and two figures emerged. She did not recognize either of them. Who were they and why were they in Lyle's office? Not even considering passing up the chance to haggle dear brother, she approached as he exited the office behind the newcomers. "So, who are the new folks? Bonnie and Clyde?" Miss Parker asked over her brother's shoulder.
Mr. Lyle took a deep breath. "Just corporate auditors,
Sis. A different form of shark from the usual." He glanced at her over his
shoulder and re-entered his office, pushing the door closed behind him.
Miss Parker was not sure she believed him, but would let it
slide, for now. However, anyone who could rattle little brother, even if it was
only a small shake, might be an acquaintance worth pursuing.
Panting and shuffling brought her from her musings. She
rolled her eyes and turned to face the scrambling tech. "What, Broots?"
"Uh.. Miss Parker. I ... uh... think you're gonna want
to see this," the balding man huffed, trying to catch his breath.
"What?" Irritation laced her words.
"It's from Jarod."
"Of course it is." She was waiting, impatiently,
for him to reveal whatever it was he wanted her to see.
"Miss Parker, it's outside." Broots blinked hard,
as though he could not see how she did not understand.
Sighing heavily, tired of playing all these Jarod-games,
she followed the shuffling tech down the hall to the elevator.
Stepping off the elevator ahead of the bumbling Broots,
Miss Parker strode to the heavy exterior doors and waited for them to be opened.
Outside was a very large, gray object.
"What is an elephant doing here?" she snapped,
examining the Asiatic Elephant before her.
"I told you. Jarod sent it to you," Broots
answered. "This guy came with it."
The small, cigar smoking man, could only be described as
ugly. His soft patting, pleasing to the elephant, was enough to enrage Miss
"Look, lady, I just want to know where to put the
elephant. Peanuts Parker is a special little lady and it's my job to see that
she gets taken care of right."
"What did you say the elephant's name was?" Miss
Parker asked, getting a little too close to the cigar and blinking against the
smoke in her face.
Broots was very careful not to laugh in the background, and
having difficulty breathing as a result.
"Peanuts Parker. She's a very rare elephant and Doc
Jarod suggested that she could try getting pregnant here. Then the zoo would get
her back, and you guys could keep the baby. On account of you're always doing
new stuff with breeding."
"Jarod said that?" Parker hissed.
"Yeah. He said you was all involved in all sorts of
experimental things and it got Dr. Kirschner interested like. So he said OK, as
long as the person in charge would sign bond, he'd let Peanuts come here. And
it's got your signature on the form, only you gotta sign it now we're here or
else you're out the dough." The little man tipped some ash off his cigar.
"Let me see that." Parker snatched the papers,
which did have her signature nicely forged on them. Unfortunately, not only was
the other signatory the head of the San Diego Zoo, he was actually a corporate
sponsor of some of the Centre's profitable and public investments. That meant
she could not just pass this off as one of Jarod's little jokes and send the
elephant to the nearest circus.
"OK. I didn't order the elephant, but we'll keep to
the contract. Broots, call Luther and have him arrange for," she paused,
"Peanuts to join the other elephants in the usual manner."
"Thanks, lady. You Parkers are real sweethearts."
The little man gave her a look that was meant to be suave, but came across rude.
"So where do I get to bunk?"
"Excuse me? I doubt that's my problem," Parker
"Sure it is. Says so on line 17." The little man
patted the elephant again, and she swung her trunk a little closer to Miss
Parker than was comfortable.
However, she did not let herself be distracted and returned
her gaze to the contract. Sure enough, the elephant caretaker was included in
the bargain. Miss Parker sighed inwardly. Of course Jarod would know that she
did not dare eliminate a witness under these circumstances.
"Very well. Broots, why don't you see about getting
this man and his extremely large lady friend settled in?" she said, turning
on her heel. "I'm going home to try and get some rest."
"Boy," said the little man, "she sure can
cause as much commotion as Peanuts here, even if she hasn't her sweet
Broots nodded in agreement. "Come on. We'll get you
all settled in." He did not want to think about what point Jarod had in
sending Miss Parker an elephant. He just knew that as usual he would be the one
cleaning up the mess.
Mason moved with practice through the Centre records. He
was fascinated by the details of how Jarod managed to escape capture each time.
It was not that Miss Parker was weak and Mr. Lyle ineffectual, although
certainly these aspects of their personalities had been made to work in Jarod's
favor; details, it seemed, were everything. Jarod would notice if there was the
tiniest flaw in a plan, and use the smallest opportunity to escape. It was clear
from Jarod's expressions that the Pretender had not been happy with his
sheltered life in the Centre even before his escape. Jarod's loyalty had not
been bought, or coerced. That was a mistake he and Sun-Chai would not make. When
Jarod was returned to the Centre, he would be happy to come.
He looked at the e-mail from Mr. Parker. It outlined the
many reasons why the Centre needed this particular Pretender returned. They were
good, lucid reasons. The Centre had originally hoped that with no other example,
Jarod would not want to leave the Centre. But in order to be of any use at all,
Jarod needed to know how others lived once he reached adulthood; and, armed with
that knowledge, he could not stay within the Centre.
Mason wondered if the Centre had not made a mistake in
releasing the Major in exchange for the Pretender. Jarod needed something to tie
him to the Centre, and Sydney was not enough of a lure, definitely not the right
Mason left the office, a long trench coat covering his
*working clothes*. He met Sun-Chai in a cab to the rear of the main Centre
"Ready?" she asked.
"As always, you are prompt." Mason smiled as he
slid into the back seat. Later, they would change into *burglar black*. If the
plan was to work, they needed to be sure they could see anything Jarod did
inside Initiative Enterprises. Mason had seen, as he sifted through the files,
many people duped because they lacked the information they needed. Jarod was
very good at making victims out of those who opposed him. The only way to stay a
step ahead of him was to actually set the stage and hope Jarod would want to
Sun-Chai looked at Mason in the rearview mirror. "I'll
keep watch. You go in through the entryway and let me in."
"Too tired for athletics?"
"There's no need to practice just because the
opportunity presents itself," Sun-Chai answered.
"True. The computers will take some time,
however." He saw her frown. "Yes, I did set things up last week. But
this is the final stage, and it requires delicacy. "
Sun-Chai nodded. "Very well. I'll go in and activate
the scans. Duncan will be in place tomorrow and can intercept the tapes so we
can review them. Once Jarod enters IE he will be thoroughly watched."
"I wish we didn't have to use Duncan. The boy is so
simple he almost reeks with it. He will give the plan away."
"It was a necessary concession. Mr. Lyle insisted
someone established in the American side of the Centre take an active role. In
any event, it will give Jarod something to work with." She paused a moment.
"And speaking of the plan, what name are you planning to use for this
"I thought Jarod would be nice." A wry smile
crossed his lips.
Sun-Chai returned the smile. "Excellent. One more
tweak to give us an advantage." She was well versed in the manner in which
Jarod performed his "pretends". He would walk in and make himself
comfortable by giving his name and credentials. This time, he might have to do
some quick thinking, or backpedalling to establish his position.
Mason nodded in agreement. They left the cab and proceeded
to Initiative Enterprises, where they set up a series of surveillance devices.
Mason also activated several programs inside the central computer system. While
that could have been done from a distance, he preferred to work onsite if
possible. It increased the danger, and thus his enjoyment.
Miss Parker's Office
An elephant. He had sent her an elephant. What was going on
in his head? She did not know, did not want to know. That was why she was
sending a sweeper team to San Diego. She leaned her head against the back of the
chair, closing her eyes, waiting for Sam. She began to regret her decision to
forego the trip home for a nap.
A tap on the door interrupted her quiet moment.
The door opened and Sam stepped into the office. "You
wanted to see me, Miss Parker?"
"Yeah. Get a team together and head out to the San
Diego Zoo. Find out what Jarod was doing out there," she responded without
opening her eyes.
"Yes, Miss Parker." Sam obediently left the
office to collect a team and leave for San Diego.
Jarod sat in the Marriott hotel room eating ice cream. He
really liked the concept of suites. The room had a small kitchen, so he could do
his own cooking, but gave him the impermanence his traveling life required.
*Caramel Fudge Decadence*, the newest flavor Jarod had added to his ice cream
repertoire, was excellent. The sweet, gooey caramel played on his tongue, sweet
as a lullaby; the heavenly chocolate melted in his mouth, and he was completely
oblivious to the DSA running on the machine. The images did not matter, nothing
mattered; nothing but the ice cream.
A crisp rap on the door shook him from his reverie. The
cone, ice cream side down, was on the floor, a melting, gooey mess, and the
chair overturned behind him. He bypassed raising the chair, cleaned up the ice
cream, and walked to the door. Peering through the spy-hole in the door, he
recognized the figure on the other side. The chain slid free and the deadbolt
"Em?" His voice caught as he opened the door.
"Hi, Jarod. I've brought someone who really wanted to
see you." The woman smiled, placing an arm around the shoulders of the
young man beside her.
Jarod stepped to one side and motioned the two inside.
"Emily, what are you doing here?"
She understood his concern. "I'm on assignment for the
paper. Jordan wanted to see you, so I brought him along. We're fine."
"You're right." He hugged both of them. "So,
how was your trip?"
"Uneventful, thankfully," Emily responded.
"We rode on a train." Jordan's voice rose in
pitch with his emotion. "We could see everything. Grazing cows and long
rows of crops. It's just like it is in books."
"I'll bet you had a great time." Jarod smiled at
the younger version of himself.
"Would you like some ice cream?" Jarod asked,
walking to the refrigerator.
Jordan glanced up at Emily as though asking for permission.
When she smiled at him, he nodded eagerly.
"All right, then." Jarod's eyes lit up like
candles and he prepared a cone of *Caramel Fudge Decadence* for Jordan.
"Here you go. You can watch TV if you'd like."
"Thanks, Jarod." The boy licked the ice cream
that slid down the cone as he crossed the room to the couch. "You've got
good taste," he grinned.
"Emily," Jarod placed a hand on her shoulder as
he spoke, "Why are you really here? Is something wrong?"
"I told you, I'm on an assignment. What I didn't tell
you is it involves the Centre."
"You shouldn't be digging around in there. It's
"I'm no more breakable than you are. And I'm
Jarod sighed and plunked down in the wing-backed chair.
Emily sat in another chair, and removed some papers from a folder she had been
carrying. "Here. Take a look at this."
Jarod flipped through the papers. His eyebrows rose in
surprise. "Someone is embezzling from a Centre affiliate?"
"So it would appear. It's a small affiliate, and there
don't seem to be any sweeper teams around. It might be worth checking out."
"Okay. But I don't really want you guys around when
I'm going after the Centre. It's too dangerous," Jarod said. He tried to
pin her eyes with his, to make her understand the danger was too great.
Emily shook her head. "You can have a bit of your way
this time, Jarod. Jordan wants to spend some time with you, and if we get that,
we'll go quietly." She paused. "This time."
"Emily..." Jarod did not get a chance to begin.
Jordan had finished his ice cream and wanted his share of Jarod's attention. He
kept a running conversation about museums, and how he wanted to show Jarod stuff
he had found on the internet. Jarod allowed the diversion; it seemed that the
relationship between Jordan and Major Charles had improved. The boy was happier
and more outgoing. But he could not stop worrying. And his sister had something
planned. He knew it.
Miss Parker's Office
"What?" she asked upon hearing the rapping at her
door. A slice of light broke in and grew as the door was pushed open.
"Miss Parker?" Broots poked his nose into the
"Yes, Broots?" she responded without looking up
from her computer.
"I found something you may want to see." He
stepped carefully into the office, glancing over his shoulder as the door hissed
She waited for him to approach the desk and stand patiently
by her side. Turning her chair to face him, she asked, "So, what have you
found for me?" She flashed her classic, white smile at him.
"I found this DSA." He held up the tiny, silver
disc. "You're not going to--"
Miss Parker plucked the disc from his hand and inserted it
into the player. An image appeared on the screen, of her Miss Parker carrying
baby Gabriel from the nursery. "Where did you find this?" she hissed
through clenched teeth, angry that someone had been watching her so closely.
"Well, I found the DSA in your father's office. I was
in there to retrieve some reports he had asked me to go over," Broots
began, feeling the need to explain why he would be in Mr. Parker's office,
"and I saw the DSA underneath this." Broots slid a confidential memo
across the desk. "The memo's anonymous, but I traced it back to a computer
in the Tech Room."
Miss Parker scanned the memo and snapped her head toward
him. "Who wrote this?"
"Well, I traced the login and password and came up
with the name of an operative who died three years ago. And there aren't that
many people who have the clearance to locate those files..."
"Out with it, Broots." Her patience was beginning
to wear thin.
Broots took a deep breath. He hated breaking bad news to
people. "Well, I've checked all the people with clearance and the only
person who's accessed any of those files is..." he lowered his voice to a
husky whisper, "Mr. Lyle."
"Lyle?" Miss Parker repeated. Lyle had seen her
with Gabriel, had he been jealous that she was permitted to see the baby, but he
was not? "He's going to wish he was never born," she snarled.
American History Museum
Jordan had waited until Emily slipped into the ladies room
at the American History Museum. Studying the length of the line, he figured he
had enough time.
"Jarod, do you ever wonder why we're here?" the
boy asked. "I mean, I guess I still want there to be some meaning to all
this. Some reason to be alive."
Jarod was dumbstruck. This was not the question he had been
expecting. Yet it was a question he had asked himself at that age. For the first
time it occurred to him that maybe there was a reason Sydney had kept him at a
distance as a child. Jarod had not quite realized how complex the questions
coming from a young man could be, until he was on the receiving end of those
"I don't know that there has to be a reason. Sometimes
things do happen that seem to make sense. Like our brother Kyle, shot at exactly
the time he could donate his heart to someone who needed a transplant. Like us
meeting when you were old enough to understand. Those are acts of order. But
then the fact that we were kidnapped, Kyle, myself, and others, there is no
sense in that. So it is hard to know if everything is part of a plan or just
random. I don't have an answer to that one."
"Could you help me look for one? I tried to ask the
nuns, but I got a lot of comments about having faith. And I don't know if I do
have faith." Jordan shook his head sadly.
"You have to believe in something, even if it is just
yourself and the fact that your family loves you. You have to carry that in your
heart and move on from there."
"Yes. But I miss you. I miss Emily when she isn't
there. I know it's odd. I never had it before. I still miss it." Jordan
looked at the ground.
Jarod put an arm around his brother's shoulder. "I
know. I miss you all as well. But you have to stay safe."
"Why should I be safe when you're not?" Jordan
Jarod sighed. Another hard question. "Because you can
be. I can't. I'm their primary target. They won't give up on me. If they don't
find you right away, they may just let you go."
Jordan looked at his brother with the brown eyes that
suddenly knew more than a boy his age should. "Jarod, why can't we fight
"Because I truly believe we don't have enough
evidence. We have no real identities. Nobody would believe us. I'm afraid the
same thing might happen to us that happened to Kyle in prison. They'd write us
off as crazy and wouldn't want to help. It's a risk I can't justify," Jarod
"We couldn't just blow the place up?" Jordan
Jarod hoped his brother was not serious. Three bomb
building brothers was a bit much for anyone. "Not hardly. Too many innocent
people get hurt in the crossfire."
Jordan frowned in return. "But I want to do something.
So does Emily. It isn't fair that you have to be the only one in danger."
Jarod smiled and put an arm around him. "As long as I
know you're safe, it doesn't matter. Just grow up to be happy. That is what's
Emily emerged from the ladies room, and gestured to them.
"How about my two favorite men taking me out to dinner, hmm?"
"Why don't we go back to the hotel and have our meal
there?" Jarod suggested.
"Lead on, big brother, " she said.
They moved through the museum together and hit the metro.
Jordan was fascinated by this mode of transportation. He felt at home there. It
was dark and kind of gloomy. He looked at Jarod, who was relaxed as usual.
"How come nothing ever bothers you? I mean, you like
crowds. You like open spaces. Do you really like everything?" Jordan asked
when they returned to the hotel room. The three of them had tackled the room
service menu and had an order sent to the room. Jordan was secretly glad. He
liked being with his family, but the crowds got to him after awhile.
"I like to try new things. I get bored easily. Do you
find that happens to you? You know a lot, and when you learn all you can about
one subject you want to move on to another?" Jarod asked.
Emily answered before Jordan. "Yes, actually. It's
what I like about reporting. I investigate something new each week."
Jordan looked puzzled momentarily. Then he realized. It was
boredom he felt sometimes. "Oh. I guess I hadn't thought about it like
that." Maybe it was boredom that made him feel purposeless. So if he
learned new things, he would have a purpose. This could be neat.
Emily smiled. "We'll keep you busy. One way or
They began to play cards. Jarod had learned to play poker
on one of his Pretends. Emily described learning how to play in the newsroom
while waiting for stories to break. Jordan was the only one who had been taught
by their father. In spite of this, the three were evenly matched, and by eleven
o'clock, the piles of coffee beans they were using to keep score were almost
even. Jordan did not want to admit he was tired, but he could not help yawning.
"I'll just turn the news on while you get ready for
bed. I'll sleep out here. You can take the bedroom," Jarod said, turning on
Emily nodded. "It's been..." She stopped. The
newscaster was talking about a scandal with Initiative Enterprises. Speaking for
the company was a fair-haired young man, with an almost baby-face. The woman's
picture shown on the screen, Sun-Chai, was Asian, slender, and very beautiful.
"I guess the story has broken," she said.
"Shh." Jarod continued to listen. The more he
listened to the spokesperson, the more concerned he looked.
When the story ended, Emily asked, "What is it?"
"Duncan is with the Centre. He used to be a sweeper.
People don't change that fast." Jarod answered.
"Do you think he's setting up the woman?" Jordan
asked. "Are you going to fix things?"
"I'm going to look into it. And you two are getting
out of here." Jarod tried to look firm.
Emily shook her head. "One man, probably an
ex-sweeper, isn't a reason to cut things short."
Jarod looked ready to explode.
Jordan sighed. "We might as well go. We're not
"I didn't say that. I just don't want you two in
danger," Jarod explained.
"At the first hint of danger, we'll go, " Emily
"This looks like a hint to me," Jarod answered.
But he knew he would not get any further. "OK. I'll tell you what. You two
explore Washington tomorrow. I'll get my foot in the door. If it is nothing,
we'll spend more time together. If it is the Centre, promise you'll leave."
Emily nodded. "OK. You have a deal." She put an
arm around Jordan. "I think we can all be grown up enough to deal with
When put like that, Jordan did not have an answer. He
wanted to measure up to his older siblings. "Sure, Jarod. You have a
deal," Jordan repeated.
"Thanks." Jarod hugged them both.
Mr. Lyle's Office
Now was the perfect time. The *auditors* had just left The
Centre and dear brother was alone in his office. She walked the corridor
silently. He had kept too many secrets from her; she was not about to let him
keep this one. It was near the same time of day it had been the last time she
had caught him, perhaps she could do it again. Miss Parker pushed open the door
a crack and peered through the space she had created. That sly smile passed over
her face. Perfect.
She stepped back from the door, collected her thoughts,
then yanked both doors open and strode into the office. "Lyle, I
have..." She stopped just in front of his desk.
"What the hell are you doing in here?!" Mr. Lyle
shrugged his shirt back onto his shoulder, snarling at his intrusive twin.
Miss Parker crossed her arms over her chest. "That can
wait. What exactly is it *you* are doing?"
He closed his eyes, sighed. He started to tell her it was
none of her business, but she was painfully persistent when she wanted to be,
and he opted to tell her now. "If you must know, I have a vitamin
deficiency. I have to inject a specific quantity of vitamin supplements every
day." He peeled his sleeve away again, revealing his left shoulder and the
Andromeda constellation tattoo Jarod had given him.
"Is this a life-threatening condition?" Miss
Parker asked with mild concern showing in her face.
"So they tell me," Mr. Lyle replied
unemotionally, resetting his hypodermic. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all." She shook her head as she spoke.
Mr. Lyle furrowed his brow and proceeded with his
injection. He tossed the empty hypodermic onto his desk; he would dispose of it
properly once Sister was gone. "Now, I assume you had a good reason for
invading my office?"
"Let's go." She nodded to the door.
"Lunch. You coming?"
"Yes. Let's go."
"Who's putting you up to this?"
"No one. Are you coming or not?" No. No one had
put her up to this, but things were getting interesting. Mr. Lyle thought he had
a vitamin deficiency; she knew differently, and The Centre had Mr. Lyle under
its thumb. Lunch was a nicety, to avoid suspicion of her true intentions. She
was not going to give up a juicy piece of information, especially after learning
that Mr. Lyle was responsible for pushing their father's decision forbidding her
from seeing Gabriel.
Jarod entered and stopped by the receptionist's desk.
"Hi. I'm here from the IRS. I was told there were some
discrepancies," Jarod said.
"That's odd. We have someone here right now who is
with the IRS," the pretty woman behind the receptionist's desk stated.
The Pretender paused. "I see. We've worked on similar
projects before. I'm Jordan Carter. And I'm with International Retrieval
Specialists. We have the same initials as the Internal Revenue Service.
Sometimes we can use that to our advantage. I guess today isn't one of those
days." Jarod smiled. "I'm a programmer and it may just be a bug in the
system causing all the problems." Luckily, Jarod always had several forms
of ID on him. He presented one to the receptionist.
The pretty blonde studied the identification and, satisfied
that it was legitimate, handed it back to the man across the desk.
"May I speak with the head of accounting? Perhaps we
can set something up which will correct the problem," Jarod said, giving
her the full benefit of his charm.
"Sure." The receptionist was a slim blonde who
was more interested in how Jarod looked than what he was doing there, anyway.
She led him down the corridor to Sun-Chai's office.
"This guy says he's here to look at the
computers," the receptionist said, holding the door open only long enough
for Jarod to enter, then shutting it with finality.
The woman who sat in the office was quite different from
the Sun-Chai who had met with Mr. Lyle. She was dressed in a dark blue business
suit and maintained a very formal appearance.
"I'd like to do a little more than just look at them,
" Jarod said, making eye contact.
"What do you expect to accomplish by looking at the
computers, and exactly who are you?" Sun-Chai challenged.
"I'm Jordan Carter. I've been sent by corporate
headquarters to look into some of the accounting discrepancies," he
She caught the slight pause in his voice as he spoke his
name. Jordan Carter. Interesting choice.
"I don't think I need another white, American male
telling me I've messed up," she snarled.
"That's not my job." Jarod put on his most
innocent expression. "My job is to find the truth. If you haven't done
anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."
Jarod handed her his credentials. She examined them
carefully. "I see. I suppose I should be flattered, really. After all, if I
were a common criminal, anyone could figure it out."
"Right now, there isn't enough evidence to show where
the missing money is. It could have been diverted anywhere."
"And it is your job to discover where?" Sun-Chai
kept her voice deliberately non-committal.
"Very well. Where do you want to begin?" she
"With a grand tour, if you don't mind."
Sun-Chai nodded. "This way." She led him through
the building, describing the individuals who worked there and what they did. She
seemed to know the entire staff, asking personal questions along the way of
certain staff members. It was entirely too practiced, in fact.
"I take it you've done this recently?" Jarod
"Mr. Carver also wanted to get the lay of the
land." Sun-Chai was very careful to put just the right amount of hesitation
in her voice.
"I'm sorry that you have two of us making nuisances of
ourselves. But you can see why Corporate feels it has to be done." Jarod
walked next to her, noting that she did not wear business shoes. The traditional
Chinese shoes were an important clue to her identity. That, of course, did not
mean she really was not a thief.
"Yes. I just want it over with, Mr. Carter." Sun-Chai
gave away very little.
She showed Jarod to his new office and saw to it that he
had all the basics he would need to do his work.
Two hours later
Jarod appeared inside the door of Sun-Chai's office
confidently. He had often found that a positive approach let him gain entry
where others might have been stopped.
"What do you want now, Mr. Carter?" she asked.
"Coffee. You forgot to show me where you get it."
"I most certainly did show you, " she protested,
getting up from her chair and walking toward him. "It's right..."
Jarod interrupted her and took her arm, propelling her
toward the building exit. "I just think we'll talk a lot more freely over
coffee, outside the building."
Sun-Chai executed a dance-like move that disentangled her
from Jarod. "If you insist. But kidnap victims don't have to buy their own
"No, they don't." Jarod did not tell her that in
his experience, kidnap victims did not get to drink coffee. "I'm happy to
buy. I just want to pick your brains in a more relaxed atmosphere."
Sun-Chai walked beside him, easily keeping the brisk pace
Jarod set. They stopped at a little coffee shop a few blocks from Initiative
Enterprises. Jarod and she talked for awhile and she convinced him she cared
about the welfare of her employees. She might be a new transfer, but she knew
who was having a baby and when it was due, who had boyfriend problems, and who
had just returned from Paris. Sun-Chai knew how important it was that Jarod
believe the basic premise that she was a good person and she did her best to be
Jarod had wanted to be sure they were not in the building;
he was sure Duncan would have the office under surveillance. He had a gut
feeling the Centre was behind this, and that, somehow, Duncan was a key figure.
Duncan had turned up in the records as having received several payments,
traceable to Centre accounts. Jarod knew confronting Duncan would bring the
Centre a little too close to home.
"Have you known Mr. Duncan long?" he asked.
"No. He just arrived this month. Why?"
"Looking at new employees is the best way to find out
what problems are being caused in a business."
"Anyone would think you didn't like young, blond,
American males," Sun-Chai responded.
Jarod could not explain the Centre connection to a
stranger. "I guess I was wondering what his connection to the current
problems might be. He seemed to be pretty outspoken on the news."
Sun-Chai let a worried frown appear on her face. "I
know. It concerns me. I don't feel I have the power to change things. And they
certainly appear to be going downhill fast."
"Yes. And the timing is very bad. If the market
continues this way, there may have to be layoffs," Jarod answered.
"I know. I don't like that thought at all." Sun-Chai
lifted her coffee cup and regarded Jarod over the rim. "Are you willing to
help fix things, then? Have you a suggestion?"
Momentarily, Jarod's first suggestion was that she leave
and let him take over, but he could not say that to someone who needed to work
for a living. And all his preliminary investigations seemed to show that Sun-Chai
both needed and wanted her job.
Miss Parker's Office
She watched the sweeper cross the room deliberately and lay
a folder on her desk. Her eyes raised as he began to speak.
"We didn't find anything. Except that." He
indicated the folder.
"Thank you." She sighed and flipped open the
folder. "Dear God." Her head fell to her desk, landing in the center
of the folder.
"What's wrong with her?" Broots, who had recently
entered the room, whispered to Sam.
Sam tugged the sheet from beneath Miss Parker's forehead
and held it up for Broots.
His eyebrows rose as he spoke: "Wow, how did they get
Miss Parker on that elephant?"
Sam could only shake his head.
"They didn't. Jarod put that together," Miss
Parker responded, her head still planted on her desk.
"Nice outfit," Broots whispered to Sam.
Miss Parker sighed again. "Will you two just
Sam placed the photograph back on Miss Parker's desk, then
pushed Broots through the office door ahead of himself.
"Wow! This place is so big." Jordan turned around
in the open grass of the mall. He could not help contrasting it to the walls he
had grown up behind, dark, claustrophobic; this space was so open and free and
bright. He wanted to stay here forever.
"Yes, Jordan. It's very big." Emily smiled at her
He stopped turning and faced his sister. "Emily, why
can't we go with Jarod?"
She smiled again, touched his shoulder. "Jarod is very
busy trying to make sure that we're safe. He's been searching for his family for
a long time; he doesn't want to risk losing what he's found." Was she
really making this argument? She had argued to Jarod that she would be all right
without his protection. Maybe it was the *big sister* in her.
Jordan nodded. "I understand." He tilted his head
to the side. "Can we go to the Reflecting Pool?"
"Sure." Emily took Jordan's hand and they walked
across the grassy mall, past the tall, monolithic Washington Monument. Emily
watched Jordan wonder at the monument and the trees and grass and the large
varieties of people they passed. He was amazed by everything; he certainly
shared his big brother's curiosity in the world. The long, shallow pool
reflected the obelisk behind and the edifice housing the grand, seated Lincoln
"Yes, it is," Emily agreed, shielding her eyes
against he afternoon sun as she studied the marble Lincoln from across the
Reflecting Pool. She wondered if Jarod ever took the time to stop and enjoy the
sites of the places he visited. Did he wonder at the statues and buildings, and
admire their beauty? The thought that he rarely had the time saddened her.
Mr. Lyle's Office
Mr. Lyle rose from his desk and glanced out the window to
the water below before speaking. "Well, I can see that you are no more
successful here than the rest of us." She had been in contact with Jarod
for several days and was no nearer to bringing him back to The Centre than Miss
Parker. As he began to turn, he heard a noise growing louder and louder in his
ear. The sound crept closer until it exploded beside his head. It happened in a
matter of seconds, but it seemed to take several minutes. Something was not
right; he looked to his left and noticed the object protruding from the wall,
his wall. A knife with an eight-inch blade and a six-inch handle was firmly
lodged through his jacket and into the wall. It was so close, he could almost
read the serial number on the blade. His eyes rose to meet those of the woman
across the office from him; cold, dark, angry.
A sly smile crept over her visage as she crossed the room
to retrieve her prized blade. "Feel lucky, Mr. Lyle. I could have pinned
your other thumb." Sun-Chai dislodged the handmade blade from the wall and
pressed the razor-sharp edge against Mr. Lyle's cheek, sliding it slowly down to
his chin. "Don't let down your guard, Mr. Lyle. It could prove detrimental
to your health."
He held his breath as she left the office, sheathing the
dangerous Ka-Bar. Once the door was closed he exhaled heavily and looped his
finger through the clean-cut hole in the shoulder of his $500.00 jacket.
Exhaling sharply, he returned to the files on his desk. "Can I help you
with something?" Mr. Lyle snapped at the next office intruder.
Sneering, Miss Parker crossed the floor, but stopped when
she saw the deep indentation in the office wall. Her eyebrows rose in wonder.
*What is baby brother into now?* "New assistant?"
"What?" He looked up from his desk, brows knitted
"The lovely woman who was just leaving your
"She's the auditor, Sis," he replied annoyed
"Find something she didn't like?" She knew who
the woman was; she just wanted to irritate dear brother. He deserved a little
irritation. Miss Parker pressed her palms into the solid desk, leaning forward.
"If you don't mind, I'm busy."
"What was she doing here?" She was sure to avoid
an inadvertent glance to the nick in the wall, but noticed a clean cut in Mr.
Lyle's suit jacket.
Miss Parker jerked backward at his sudden rise from the
chair. He leaned across the desk, face very close to hers. "None of your
business," he whispered through clenched teeth. "Now - Get - Out - Of
- My- Office!"
Defiantly, she raised her head and stood. She gave him a
sharp look before turning on her heel and obeying his order. Mr. Lyle could not
see, but she allowed a small smile to light her face. *It seems baby brother has
a new love interest, who isn't so interested in him.*
Miss Parker strolled the hall to her office, several ideas
rolling around in her head. She found Broots standing before her desk, twisting
a pencil in his hand. "Can I help you with something?" she asked,
crossing the room.
"Um, well, I saw that woman leave Lyle's office, just
before you walked in, and thought you might want me to find some information on
her, or something." His voice was remarkably strong.
"Initiative. I like it. Dig up whatever you can."
Content, Miss Parker sat behind her desk and watched the computer tech exit her
She thought over her recent conversations with Mr. Lyle.
She knew he had talked their father into taking that final step -- the decision
to cease her visits with Gabriel -- from the memo Broots had found, using that
DSA of her toting Gabriel outside as his "evidence" of her defiance.
That one small maneuver made Mr. Lyle responsible for her separation from her
baby brother -- indirectly responsible, but responsible nonetheless.
He was under the impression he needed injections to
maintain a proper level of vitamins and he seemed to have an interest in this
new *auditor*, whoever she was. While they were having lunch she had asked him
more about his injections. He tried to skirt around her questions, she would
have to teach him a little something about herself, but she pushed hard enough
to get what she wanted. She had learned that Mr. Lyle had been taking the
injections for as long as he could remember, even during his stint as
"Bobby Bowman." What she did not understand was how the Centre
convinced him to believe that something like this vitamin deficiency he was told
he had, could be so life threatening he needed several injections per day. She
did understand, however, that if he ever discovered the Centre had lied to him
and was responsible for giving him Kronos I, which she was sure he knew nothing
about, he would not hesitate to use his own subtle form of justice.
Tuesday: Late Afternoon
Jarod had developed many programs that let him see how
things progressed in other computers. There was definite evidence of tampering
at this facility. He was not happy about that, since the IP number of the PC
from which the message originated was in the office Mason now occupied. He would
have to go there, and risk being seen, in order to get to the original file.
Jarod meandered down the hall, trying to look as though,
perhaps, he needed the men's room. He knocked on the door, and was rewarded with
the words: "Come in."
He entered, and sprawled in the narrow office chair, making
himself completely at home.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Mason said,
casually looking up from the document he was perusing. He had been expecting
this, but he still found it amusing. Someone who was trying to take over his
space would always be a source of amusement.
"I need to speak to you about some of these figures.
They just don't add up."
"It isn't my job to explain them. It is Sun-Chai's. I
thought she would have told you that. For all her other defects," Mason
paused, leaving just the right amount of time for Jarod to assume he was
counting real flaws, "she has a certain honesty which I am hesitant to
"Oh." Jarod did not want to challenge the other
man; he just wanted him to go away. "Could you possibly call her in here? I
don't really want to go behind your back, Mr. Carver."
"Oh, please, call me Jarod." Mason stood,
watching the other Pretender's face for any sign of surprise. "Very well.
I'll see if she's still around." He left, as he had planned, knowing Jarod
was expecting exactly that; knowing Jarod would find more breadcrumbs on his
computer to lead him still further into the murkiness of the muddled accounts.
Jarod slid into Mason's seat, and checked the files. One
file, password protected, had been placed there to particularly gain Jarod's
interest. It was labeled Centrefile70 and Jarod copied it onto a disk. He also
loaded several Excel accounting files, which would help him learn more about the
He then slipped back into the chair he had vacated,
resuming his sprawled position. He, after all, was being paid by the corporation
to investigate them.
Sun-Chai entered behind Mason. She, Jarod, and Mason bent
over the figures Jarod had brought with him. Sun-Chai's fingers moved across the
top of the computer screen, highlighting the numbers she needed Jarod to see.
Mason stood a few steps behind them, letting Sun-Chai take
the lead. He liked this, watching his partner work. Under other circumstances,
he would have taken a stronger position, but right now, Jarod had been primed.
He had all the data Mason and Sun-Chai had so carefully chosen. All that data
led right back to the Centre. After a few more minutes, Mason called a halt.
"Enough for tonight, I think." Mason reached over
and saved the file. He knew that, without being rude, there was not much Jarod
could do. Mason's research had alerted him that rude was not Jarod's style.
"I'm certainly in need of a break. We can start again in the morning."
"Yeah." Jarod stretched, mildly cramped. Taking a
break would give him a chance to move on to other things.
Sun-Chai exited ahead of Jarod. He took two large steps and
caught up to her.
"Hi. I was wondering if you'd mind going over some
more of this during dinner? I just don't feel we've gotten as far as we need to,
if we're to find out where the money is going before we get called to
court." Jarod kept pace, following her down the corridor to her office.
Sun-Chai hesitated, then said, "All right. What did
you have in mind?"
"Chinese, perhaps?" Jarod asked. "There is a
wonderful restaurant that just opened."
"I'll pick you up in front of this building. Around
seven, if that's OK?"
"Seven will be fine." Sun-Chai crinkled her eyes
in pure pleasure. This would be fun. She liked a game of cat and mouse.
Tuesday: Evening, 19:02
Jarod pulled up in a cab, exited and held the door for Sun-Chai.
"I see you've learned the first survival trait in a
large city. Avoid bringing your own automobile," she said.
"In a city like this, it doesn't pay."
"And you always think of the bottom line, Mr.
"I try. And please, call me J... Jordan." Jarod
felt annoyed that he was not able to use his own name. Not that there was
anything wrong with the name Jordan; he just had reservations about being on a
date with a beautiful woman and not being able to tell her his own name.
"All right. Jordan. Is it a family name?" Sun-Chai
asked as she exited the cab in front of the restaurant.
"You could say that," Jarod answered. "Is
Sun-Chai nodded. "My family was well known on Mainland
China. But then came the split with Taiwan, and political troubles that served
to split my family apart."
"That sounds rough." Jarod turned to the waiter
and gave his order in fluent Mandarin. Sun-Chai ordered in the same language.
Both locked eyes.
"It seems we speak the same language," she said.
"Yes." Jarod poured tea. "Do you like the
"Sometimes. It is very challenging. And I need the
money." She put a hand up in embarrassment, then lowered it in a graceful
gesture. "But however much I might want money, I would not steal it. I am
not a thief."
"Hey, I didn't say you were," Jarod defended.
"Sorry." She looked down, then at Jarod. "I
don't mean to be defensive. But it is hard to be under suspicion when I know I
didn't do anything."
"It's just that some of the problems seemed to take
place exactly at the time you transferred here." Jarod drank more tea.
"I'm not pointing a finger at you. I'm just looking at the facts."
The food arrived, ceasing that line of conversation. Sun-Chai
ate slowly, delicately. Jarod watched her eat while he expertly manipulated his
own chopsticks. Conversation turned to innocuous topics, like the weather and
"Can I ask if you are an American citizen?" Jarod
had not meant to open up a land mine with this question, but Sun-Chai froze.
"Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. You just remind me of someone who
hasn't been in this country very long," Jarod answered. "And you
aren't answering like someone born in the Bronx."
"No? I was born in San Francisco, but shortly after I
was born, my family returned to China. My younger sister was born there, and we
have lived there all our lives. That, Jordan, is home to me. And, yes, I miss
it. But I cannot return."
"There is nothing worse than a home one loves and
cannot return to, this is true. But the politics, the oppression, they had
become too much to bear. There was pressure put on my father, which eventually
resulted in his death. I had to leave the country, and fortunately the
circumstances of my birth allowed me to enter this country freely. My mother and
sister escaped with me. But my younger sister isn't well, and the treatments she
needs exist only in the West. I could not return without her, nor could I risk
"Yes, family is important." Jarod looked into his
teacup, as though trying to read the future there. "A while back, I was
separated from my family. I miss them every minute I'm not with them."
"But you will see them again?" Sun-Chai asked,
putting concern into her voice.
"I hope so." The one thing Jarod always had
trouble lying about was his family, perhaps because he did not know the truth
Sun-Chai nodded in agreement. "Yes. But it is more
important to protect one's family than to be with them, sometimes. As long as I
can help them, it is worthwhile."
Jarod nodded. Being with his family had reminded him,
again, how very much he wanted to protect his family. He did not blame his
father and mother for not protecting him as a boy. It was not the kind of thing
people, normal people as his parents had been, expected. And speaking of
protecting people, he began to change the subject back to his originally planned
subject. "How long have you been at IE?"
"A few months. I was transferred from Baltimore. It
was supposed to be a promotion," Sun-Chai answered.
"Some promotion," Jarod commented.
"Yes. Life certainly has had its surprises
lately," Sun-Chai said, ruefully.
Miss Parker's Office
Tuesday: Late Evening
"Miss Parker?" Broots asked as he knocked and
pushed open the door. "I have the information you wanted on that
She waved him over. "What do you have?"
"Can I use your computer?" he asked, running a
hand over his hair. She rose from her chair; he watched her move with a dancer's
grace. He slid into her chair and keyed up several files. "Here." He
pointed to the screen.
Miss Parker leaned over the desk, her eyes widening at the
revelation on the monitor. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes. I've plugged in every cross-reference. This is
what I got." He looked over his shoulder at her.
She rubbed her temples. "All right. Mason, he's Sun-Chai's
partner?" She waited for Broots' affirmative nod. "It says he's a Red
File. I didn't recognize the man I saw the other day."
"Maybe he's disguised his appearance so you
"Right. He would do that, the bastard."
"You knew him?" Broots asked, interested but
"No. He's a bastard for making my job hell."
Broots shook his head. "The other file, Sun-Chai,
she's a Blue File."
"Great. Just what we need, more files to chase
Tuesday: Later that Same Evening
The conversation with Sun-Chai rolled over and over in his
head during his return to the hotel. He needed to get his family to safety. He
would try sending them away again.
Jordan was awake. Jarod should not have been surprised, but
he was. The younger version of himself had apparently inherited insomnia, either
from their father or his days in the Centre's care.
The boy looked up from his book. "I'm glad you're
back, and safe."
Jarod walked over and gave him a hug. "Of course I am.
Dinner is not usually a dangerous meal."
"But you are worried, aren't you?"
"About you two. I really think you need to go
somewhere safe, just in case."
"Yeah. Emily thinks so, too. That's partly why I'm up.
I wanted to talk to you before we leave in the morning."
"Okay." Jarod sat down cross-legged on the floor.
Jordan looked at him from the chair, then slid himself to the floor. "Jarod,
could you try harder to keep in touch? I mean, I know you try, I really do. But
it seems to take a long time and I miss you."
The implied criticism would have hurt had it been said in
anything other than a very sad, little boy voice. Jarod remembered that feeling
all too well. Jordan was too old to cry, and too young not to want to.
"I promise. You know I would never deliberately do
anything to hurt you or Emily, don't you?" Jarod said quietly.
"I guess I just miss you more than Emily because you
are the first person who ever considered my feelings. Emily helps me have
feelings. She's neat. But you're just kinda special." Jordan climbed back
into his bed.
"So are you." Jarod tucked the boy into bed.
In the morning, they left, the slim boy who was growing up
too quickly, and the brunette who shared her brother's sadness. Emily had every
intention of coming back to track Jarod. But the information Jarod showed her at
breakfast was convincing enough for her to be willing to get Jordan out of the
Mr. Lyle's Office
"This was to be a joint operation, Sun-Chai!" Mr.
Lyle tossed the file in his hand to the desk; it landed with a firm thud.
"I do *NOT* answer to you, Mr. Lyle." She watched
Mr. Lyle's eyes widen as she uncrossed and re-crossed her legs with elegance and
grace. She was sure her pause made him nervous. "You are mistaken. This was
not a *joint operation*. I was under no obligation to inform you of anything.
And, as you can see," she indicated the video playing on the screen nestled
at the corner of Mr. Lyle's desk, "we're doing much better than you ever
Mr. Lyle slowly, dramatically, turned his head to look over
his shoulder at the woman seated on the couch against the wall. "I see.
Apparently you are not aware of how things work at The Centre. Everything
involving the pursuit of Jarod must cross my desk. You see the dilemma."
Her eyes narrowed and she responded to his statement,
"Mr. Lyle, my assignment came from Mr. Parker, so I do not have to follow
your rules. I report only to him. You may have your sister under your
thumb," she paused, focusing on his black-gloved, four-fingered hand,
"but the same is not true for me." She rose from the couch, strode
past Mr. Lyle, and walked toward the door.
"Sun-Chai, wait," Mr. Lyle called, taking several
steps in her direction.
Sun-Chai turned back to him, smoothing her knee-length,
Chinese silk dress. "Yes?" Her voice was soft and delicate.
"I'm sending a sweeper team with you. Duncan's
team." He rubbed his hands together.
"We work alone, Mason and I. We don't need any outside
"That is not for you to decide in this case. The
directive was handed down from Mr. Parker this afternoon." Mr. Lyle
straightened to his full height, squaring his shoulders, filling his chest.
Pompous ass. "You do understand I will verify this
directive with your father."
"Be my guest." Mr. Lyle extended his hand toward
the door, inviting her to follow through on her threat.
Jarod smiled at the young receptionist. He really needed to
get more information, and a simple receptionist might be the best bet. He
certainly was not going to get very far with Mason. Mason had wiped his computer
clean, and their pas de deux earlier today would have been funny had it not been
so annoying. Jarod had not met anyone like Mason in a long time -- a non-passive
participant. Now he was trying something different.
"Would you happen to have the schedule for the form
278b?" Jarod asked. When she pulled out one set of files, Jarod quickly
went into double-talk mode. "Oh, did I say 278b? I meant the 997 form,
which deals with the accrual rates. There is supposed to be one for each set of
K-9 forms and we seem to be a few short. If Mr. Carver finds out, that could be
The more form numbers Jarod mentioned, the more flustered
the woman became, and the better opportunity Jarod had to obtain what he really
needed: the master schedule. It was there he found the key piece of information.
It was a combination to the master vault. Each employee was allowed to store
things there, and they were guaranteed complete anonymity. This way, some of the
same confidential financial information IE provided its clients could benefit
its employees. Jarod had discovered that the only place Mason could have placed
incriminating evidence was in this vault.
The blonde receptionist stared at Jarod as he left her with
his most charming smile. He's a strange man, she thought, but very good looking.
Mason entered the vault seconds ahead of Jarod. The timing
had to be exact. He got his package, and met Sun-Chai in the entryway. They were
below ground, but a series of tunnels had been constructed beneath the building
for maintenance purposes. Mason was aware Jarod would have been studying those
tunnels, as he had been.
"Mr. Carver, you wanted something?" she asked,
poised and calm.
"To hold this," he said, handing her the package
as Jarod entered.
Jarod approached them. "Well, well, what do we have
here?" Jarod inquired.
Sun-Chai stood back, almost dropping the package. "I
don't know. What do you want?"
"The truth," answered Jarod. "Who has been
robbing the employees of IE, and why?"
"For profit, of course," replied Mason. "Why
else would anyone do such a thing?" While he spoke, Mason and Jarod were
following each other, trying to keep the other from the staircase or elevator.
Jarod, as usual, wanted a spoken confession he could give to the police. Mason
finally had what he wanted: Sun-Chai physically between Jarod and himself. Mason
had placed her in such a position that it seemed she accidentally hit the
elevator button when she was pressed against the wall.
Richie Duncan ran into the vault, out of breath, and
blurted: "Mason! Jarod's..." he stopped mid-sentence, realizing Jarod
was already present.
Sun-Chai snarled at the blundering sweeper while Jarod's
attention was elsewhere and returned to her previous state when it returned.
Mason pulled a gun, and held it to Sun-Chai's head. He
pulled her into the elevator. "Up, up and away," he smiled as the
elevator took them out of the basement.
Jarod grabbed the stairs. He exited in time to see both of
them leave the building, Sun-Chai held at gunpoint. Prepared as always, Jarod
was able to follow.
Duncan stared with his mouth agape as Mason and Sun-Chai
disappeared into the elevator. He bolted away from Jarod's snarl and could only
hear that the man had taken the stairs instead of following him. Duncan knew he
was in trouble now, not only with Mr. Lyle for blundering the set-up on Jarod,
but also with Sun-Chai and Mason for blowing their cover. He needed to find a
place to hide, and fast.
He exited the building through a rear door. A deliberate
cough caught his attention and he turned around, slowly.
Arms crossed firmly over his chest, Mr. Lyle released a
deep breath and shook his head. "Unsatisfactory, Duncan. This will not
improve your future with the Centre."
"Mr. Lyle, I... Um..."
Mr. Lyle put a hand in the air. "Stop. I do not want
to hear any of your pitiful excuses. Just stand over there by the car."
1 block from Dupont Circle
Thursday: Early Evening
She ran across Massachusetts Avenue and down the block. The
streetlights were beginning to flicker to life. He was chasing her; Jarod was
chasing him. Crossing Dupont Circle, pushing past several small groups milling
about the grassy center, avoiding the early evening traffic, Sun-Chai took one
glance over her shoulder, gauging the distance between herself and her pursuer.
She kept running; the Dupont Circle Metro station was just ahead, only she would
have to run around the large, concrete wall to get to the escalator.
Her feet were sore, her lungs burning from the long run
through the city. She shortened and slowed her stride, allowing Mason, the man
chasing her, to gain several strides, as she hit the escalator and descended.
Mason was close, and gaining, and Jarod was closing in on Mason. She saw Jarod
stop, disbelief in his face.
'How?' Jarod asked himself, seeing Mason's firm grip on
"It's over, Jarod! I'm taking her with me!" Mason
called from several yards down the platform.
"Let her go, Mason! She's done nothing to you!"
"Well, you see, Jarod, that's not really the point. I
don't care about her. But you do. That's why this was so easy! I knew if I
grabbed her, you'd come after me. And so you have. Now I hold all the
Jarod was silent a moment. "Let her go and face me on
"No. I don't think so. See, it doesn't work that way.
You don't get to make any of the rules."
A sharp crack sounded somewhere down the tunnel and Mason
and Jarod looked in the direction of the sound; a Metro train was approaching.
Sun-Chai thrust an elbow into Mason's ribcage and pushed him hard. He fell onto
the tracks opposite the newly arrived train, screaming. Sun-Chai darted across
the platform and leaped into a car just as the doors slid closed and the train
began to pull away. Jarod turned around and saw Sun-Chai safe inside the Metro.
He approached the edge of the platform where Mason had been pushed over, and
looked to the tracks below: nothing. Mason's body was nowhere to be found. Jarod
knew it was not possible for anyone to survive a fall onto active Metro tracks,
but had no explanation for where Mason's body might have gone.
She smiled, watching Jarod as the train pulled away from
the station. He believed she was safe, believed he was safe. Everything had gone
well, with one major exception: Richie Duncan. She would teach him what happened
to those who disjointed her plans.
The train pulled into the station near Initiative
Enterprises and she stepped off, walking toward the nearest exit. She took the
escalator stairs two at a time and saw Mr. Lyle waiting with his car. A sneer
was her greeting and she looked around the area.
"What are you doing?" Mr. Lyle asked, irritated.
"Shut up!" Sun-Chai found her target, grabbed him
by the wrist and dragged him into an alley, ignoring Mr. Lyle's protests. The
sweeper pulled and tugged against her grip. She wrenched his arm and threw him
to the ground.
"Wait! Please! What did I do?" Richie Duncan
whined from the pavement. He received a rough kick to the groin and an elbow
between his shoulder blades as a response. He fell to the ground, his face
scratching against the broken blacktop.
"There are severe penalties for failure to follow
instructions." Sun-Chai raised his chin using the point of her custom
tailored, Ka-Bar blade, the same blade Mr. Lyle had met earlier. Its razor-sharp
edge glinted in the sliver of light that made its way into the alley. "You
see, I despise failures..."
"I'm sorry. I won't do it again. Whatever it is I
Smiling, her eyes sparkling with the knowledge of what was
to come, Sun-Chai responded, "You're right. You won't do it again."
The sharp blade eased into the soft flesh of the sweeper's neck under the expert
stroke of Sun-Chai's hand. Duncan gave one final breath as his face fell back to
the pavement, bruising with the impact. Satisfied with her work, Sun-Chai left
the alley to return to the Centre.
Mr. Lyle slid back into the shadows, catching his racing
heart. The image before him seemed like a slow-motion nightmare. A petite, Asian
woman just sliced the throat of his sweeper for uttering a wrong name. Granted,
that utterance resulted in the loss of Jarod, but did it warrant death? He did
not think so. Transfer to the Alaskan annex, maybe, but death was a bit extreme.
He studied his left hand, the one with only four fingers,
and actually admitted to himself something he had not been able to face for
years: he had a great aversion to sharp objects, especially when they were
wielded by someone who had the knowledge of how to use them. Even that moment
when he was preparing to remove Jarod's thumb did not sit well in his stomach.
"Note to self: do NOT piss off the woman with the
knives." Mr. Lyle returned to his car and instructed the driver to take him
to the airport.
Friday: Early Morning
Jarod had put his belongings in a backpack and decided to
head out of town. He would go into the country and purchase a car. Northeast, he
thought. Then maybe southwest.
Jarod dialed the phone, and a familiar voice answered.
"Parker," Jarod said, "someday you're going
to surprise us all and learn how to answer a telephone."
"There is nothing wrong with.." Parker stopped in
mid-protest. She was receiving a fax, another photograph of her sitting on the
elephant. "Are you responsible for this, monkey boy?"
"People who develop a sense of humor do not usually
suffer from ulcers. You might want to consider that, Miss Parker," Jarod
said, hanging up the phone and boarding the bus.
Miss Parker's Office
Friday: Early Morning
"Jarod, don't you dare...." Parker did not
exactly growl it, she just thought it. Then she looked more closely at the
picture, and summoned a smile. The most dangerous thing about Jarod, in the end,
was not that he was a genius or that he knew Centre secrets. The most dangerous
thing was that he knew her too well. He knew exactly how much she had been
fascinated by the elephants at the circus, how much she had loved reading the
Tarzan books. She had never told Daddy that, because he would not have approved
of the distraction. Jarod, like an elephant, never forgot. She had to remember
that he also would never pass up an opportunity to remind her of the things she