Bittersweet Rivals


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The Centre
Mr. Lyle's Office
Wednesday: Evening

"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 did."

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 aid."

"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.


Initiative Enterprises

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 very serious."

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.


Initiative Enterprises

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
Washington, DC
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 Sun-Chai's arm.

"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!" Jarod returned.

"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 cards."

Jarod was silent a moment. "Let her go and face me on your own."

"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 did."

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.


Washington, DC
Bus Station
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. "What?"

"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.


The Centre
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 had lost.

End of Episode
Bittersweet Rivals

Sam Ayers

as Sam the sweeper

Alexandra Vandernoot

as the receptionist

Rachel Ames

as Sister Mary Kyle

Byron Lucas

as the ugly man with the elephant

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