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 fiercely.
“The lovely woman who was just leaving your office.”
“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
"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
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
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
"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
"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 challenge."
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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. Carter?"
"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 yours?"
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
"It seems we speak the same language," she said.
"Yes." Jarod poured tea. "Do you like the corporate world?"
"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
"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 American politics.
"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 her health."
"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 about them.
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
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 woman."
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 wouldn't."
"Right. He would do that, the bastard."
"You knew him?" Broots asked, interested but confused.
"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 around."
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
"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
"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 way.