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Disclaimer: I own none of the original characters or the basic storyline; they belong to others. There is no infringement on my part and I’m not making any money off this. All situations and details in this story are completely a figment of my imagination.

Author’s note: This story is a bit different from my others; please give me some feedback. Let me know how you like it.

Hostile Environment
Chapter I

By Callisto

The Bonaventure Hotel
Los Angeles, CA

The bright sunlight sizzled its friendly fury on the transplant weary landscape. Waves of heat shimmered in the near distance as he entered the grand edifice with a small shiver of anticipation. This was the third conference headed and sponsored by the expansive and charismatic environmentalist, Gareth Trask. Jarod had attended each seminar in the various cities where they were presented. Each time the Pretender saw the man, he was impressed anew. The indefatigableness and drive of the man was awesome and gratifying at the same time. In the past 6 years, since his successful escape and continued elusion from capture by the Centre, Jarod had seen so much of the unseemly underbelly of humanity; it was a relief to finally see someone trying as he was to do something simple, beneficial and helpful.

Jarod surreptitiously entered the darkened, packed ballroom and folded himself effortlessly into one of the uncomfortable conference chairs and settled in as much as possible, waiting to be drawn in again by the magnetism and enthusiasm of the conference’s principal speaker. The speaker was vehemently expressing his opinion of how carelessly the government and by tacit agreement from their silence, the public including the audience were allowing the environment to continue to be assaulted by big business and neglect.

Jarod sat in rapt attention to what Trask was saying, studying for the third time the gruesome slide-show pictures of grotesquely twisted fish and befouled coastline in a before and after format. The speaker showed slides of how a locally caught fish was supposed to look when it was healthy and the coastline years before heavy industry moved in and destroyed it.

Once the lights were turned on again, the conventioneers blinked at the brightness and were informed that now would be a good time for a break. Refreshments were being offered in the next room. As though guided by a slow motion wave, the sound of murmured voices started up as the attendees began standing to stretch their cramped muscles and started walking towards the exits for a few moments of fresh air and room to roam. Jarod remained seated waiting for the heaviest wave of people to file out. He was just about to head to the door when he felt a hand on his forearm. He abruptly stopped and turned to face a balding, intense-looking man with an oddly friendly face.

“Sir, if you don’t mind. Mr. Trask would like to have a word with you,” he said in a mildly commanding tone.

Jarod looked at the man for a moment before nodding his consent warily. He had heard that particular tone many times before. It was the same tone Sydney would use on him when the psychiatrist wanted him to work on a sim he knew Jarod found distinctly distasteful. Jarod followed the man towards the front of the auditorium and around the back of the stage where a large crowd of people had gathered around the main speaker. Jarod’s guide nodded to one of the security men who whispered something in Trask’s ear. The mini conference was immediately concluded and Trask turned on his heel and headed towards what appeared to be a dressing room. Jarod and his guide followed and they were beckoned to enter after the guide knocked and announced their presence.

Jarod entered the surprisingly large room and out of habit took in the surroundings and made a mental note that his guide appeared to have every intention of remaining just outside the door. His eyes settled on his host and Jarod took the opportunity of studying the man. Trask was about his own height but his frame was on a larger scale. His blonde hair was stylishly cut to set off the electric energy of his deep blue eyes. The man was powerfully built and carried it very well. Curiously, Jarod could tell Trask had derived his honed musculature from a gym and a regimented routine. There was a slickness about him that could have only come from a well thought out program.

In stark contrast, Jarod was tall and almost lanky in appearance. The Centre had redoubled its efforts to capture him and being ever vigilant he continued to thwart their clumsy but persistent attempts. Still, being on the run forced him back into long, well established habits, such as: Wheat grass and tomato mush breakfasts, soy milkshake lunches and high protein dinners. This coupled with a few months stint as a stevedore on Seattle’s teaming docks gave him a musculature most men strive for but rarely realize can’t be obtained from the steel and chrome enclosure of a gym. Jarod’s natural strength had multiplied without increasing his girth and as a result he was deceptively strong. His recently shorn locks returned his face to its prior boyish charm, defying cynic hardened guesses at his true age.

“Thank you for coming back during the break to see me, I truly appreciate it,” Trask said as he regarded Jarod frankly. He too had taken Jarod’s measure and was carefully watching his reactions.

“It’s an honor to meet you. I have been hoping for such an opportunity. Your speeches are truly inspiring, so much so that I wanted to see if there was possibly an opening on your staff,” Jarod stated hopefully.

His answer was a relieved laugh as his host sat down heavily and put his hand through his hair. Looking up at Jarod he said with a slight smile on his face and in his voice, “To be quite frank, I noticed you the first time you showed up at one of my seminars three months ago in Seattle. When you showed up again in Portland, I was a little surprised, now to find you here again, I was positively worried.”

Jarod’s face cleared and he returned the relieved smile. “I apologize for any alarm I must have caused. I’m not stalking you, I was just intrigued by your first seminar and I read a few articles about you, your company and the work that you have been doing. My name is Jarod Muir.”

“It’s good to meet you. So I take it since you’ve been following me on my quixotic mission to save the environment, that you approve of my efforts?”

“Yes, very much so. What attracted me to your seminars was an article I read in a Seattle newspaper that called you a modern day Onisius. I made up my mind right then and there to see if that was an exaggeration. After the second seminar I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to be of assistance,” Jarod replied sincerely.

“Well, I doubt I would classify myself with Onisius but I definitely wouldn’t mind having someone on my staff who knows who Onisisus is. What sort of job are you interested in? What were you doing before you came here?”

“Oh, nothing in particular. I’m open to just about anything but I am very handy with computers,” Jarod responded with a smile.

“’Nothing in particular?’ What are you, some kind of rich boy with an unlimited trust fund and too much time on his hands?” Trask asked a little roughly.

“No. I was between jobs when I read your article. I used to be a financial analyst for the Wall Street firm Crichton/Frances but I became disgusted with all the shady dealings, so I left. At your seminar I liked what I heard and was prepared to approach you by writing a letter,” Jarod said in a measured tone. He purposely avoided mentioning what else his research into Trask had yielded, which included details about the man’s current business crisis.

“Good at computers, huh? Well, I could use someone able to decipher the mess my books were left in. The IRS is all over my back and the Seattle DA is chomping at the bit at the idea that someone with my reputation is really a dirty thief,” Trask said bitterly.

“I would be happy to look at what you have; you never know, a fresh set of eyes may turn up something you missed,” Jarod commented invitingly.

Trask stared at Jarod’s open, friendly face and made a snap decision. “Alright, you have a job. Only you will have to put up with me macro-managing your progress. This whole IRS probe blind-sided me, I don’t want that to ever happen to me again.”

“Understandable. So when do I start?”

In the now emptied conference room, a lone figure emerged from the shadows and stealthfully walked behind the stage area where the dressing rooms and unused equipment were waiting. At the sound of voices and a few tense moments waiting for the sound of a particular voice, the figure stepped deeper into the shadows and appeared to be hunkering down in anticipation of a long wait for his quarry to emerge.

Trask Enterprises Offices

Seattle, WA

Several weeks after meeting Gareth Trask and being invited as a member of his staff, Jarod thought he had learned a great deal about the man. He was driven, relentless and generous—almost to a fault. Gareth possessed a gregarious personality, was sympathic, empathetic and had a sharp, intelligent mind.

Jarod leaned back in his chair and away from the scattered mess of financial ledgers and the computer monitor filled with details of the financial health of Trask Enterprises. Taking a brief look around to reassure himself that he was still alone, Jarod retrieved a small red notebook he kept with him at all times. It contained the newspaper articles he told Gareth about the first day he met him. It also contained a slip of paper with a number written in the hand of Catherine Parker. It was an item he had retrieved from one of her safe deposit boxes. He had kept this discovery from her daughter until he could uncover its significance. He had tracked Gareth down using the clues supplied by the scrap of paper which had the name of an institution pre-printed on the top.

Jarod looked up from the notebook and stared into the middle distance completely absorbed in his own thoughts. He had finally tracked down one of the children Catherine Parker had saved and who had unknowingly escaped the Centre’s recent purge of a few years ago. He was determined to help this man. Jarod felt in helping Gareth he was helping the woman who gave her life trying to help others.

The sound of a light footfall recalled his attention and he swiftly rose from his seat and turned to face his visitor. The woman had taken only one step across the threshold when Jarod’s sudden reaction to her presence startled her. She drew back in alarm and appeared on the verge of running away in fear.

“I’m sorry, I guess I’m a little jumpy. Did I startle you?” he asked gently. The persistently frightened look in the woman’s face was beginning to worry him. When he still didn’t receive an answer, he probed a bit further by asking, “My name is Jarod, are you alright?”

“Y-yes, thank you. I was looking for my husband, would you know where I can find him?” she inquired hesitantly.

“I’m not sure. What is your husband’s name?”

“Oh, right. I’m so used to knowing everyone on his staff. I’m Elena Trask, my husband told me to meet him here at 7:30, did he leave already?” she asked with just the smallest note of dread in her voice.

“It’s good to meet you Mrs. Trask. No, I think Gareth is downstairs with a few stragglers from the sales staff. Would you like to wait here until he returns?” he inquired invitingly.

“I don’t want to disturb you. Gareth mentioned you and that you had become quite invaluable to the firm,” she said relaxing slightly to Jarod’s friendly manner.

“I’m glad he thinks so. Please come in, you’re not disturbing me, I need a break from all these numbers,” he said still trying to encourage her to stay. He watched her enter the room from the darkness of the doorway and was pleasantly surprised to see an extremely comely woman. She had light brown hair which complemented her intriguing turquoise-colored eyes and high cheekbones. She was slightly overweight but her figure, instead made her seem rather voluptuous. Her designer clothing was conservative but very tasteful without being frumpy. Jarod smiled gently at the woman and before he could draw her into a conversation was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Gareth.

“Elena, there you are, I was wondering when you would show up. Jarod, have you met my wife?” Gareth asked brusquely.

Wondering about the sharpness of Gareth’s tone, Jarod tilted his head slightly to one side and answered, “Yes, we just introduced ourselves. She came up here looking for you when she ran into me.”

“I see. Well, Honey, we have to go, the dinner starts at 8:30 and we shouldn’t be late,” Gareth said absently to his wife.

Elena quickly headed for the exit, then shyly turned to Jarod and murmured softly that she was pleased to have met him. Jarod looked in Gareth’s expectant eyes then turned to Elena and repeated her sentiments. After the couple had left, Jarod stood in the middle of the room wondering what the heck was going on between his new boss and his wife.

A few days later, Jarod had gone through what had seemed like reams of financial records both computerized and on hard copy. He had discovered where Gareth’s problem was located and what he found wasn’t pleasant. He found that several Trask Enterprises employees were cleverly stealing from the company’s coffers. They had set themselves up as charitable organizations and in some cases as companies specializing in the cleanup of hazardous materials. Trask Enterprises would hire the company to cleanup an abandoned site that had been put on the backburner by the State. What was supposed to happen was the company was to perform the cleanup then present Trask with the bill. Trask Enterprises who has a contract with the State would then be paid at a pre-arranged rate which usually was 30% higher than what the company billed Trask. Trask would then pocket the profit and the expediter’s fee that went along with the State’s remittance.

The agreement between Trask Enterprises and the State was legal, unfortunately the fraud came into play on several levels: select employees of Trask Enterprises would turn around and invest the money obtained from Trask by their bogus cleanup company, along with the profit and expediter’s fee, always turning an extremely healthy profit and with the help, undoubtedly, of some insider trading, then divvy up their spoils.

The end result caught the attention of not only vigilant environmental groups expecting to see a clean coastline only to find an untouched filthy mess but due to their vociferous complaints, the State’s auditors began to look into the situation. To make matters worse, the obvious insider trading caught the attention of the SEC who drew the more powerful IRS into the situation. Trask was now beleaguered with a barrage of questions and investigations he was ill prepared to answer or withstand.

The sting operation Jarod had decided on would be conducted with the help of the SEC and an undercover agent of the State posing as an inspector, who arrives at the bogus company’s offices for a tour of their facilities and equipment.

It took another couple of months to set up the sting and to get all the agencies and agents coordinated. Once the trap was set, a potential site was chosen which just happened to be situated directly adjacent to a stinking, foul site that was supposed to have been cleaned but had been left unmolested.

Agent Jensen, with the State Environmental Agency, was the undercover officer who showed up at the appointed time at the hastily assembled office of the bogus company called Enviro-Cleanse. The agent was shown new equipment that had been rented from other legitimate companies and given a tour of the slick offices on the 10 floor of a modern looking office building. The undercover agent was genuinely impressed with the fine attention to details the thieves had put into their operation.

Immediately after the successful tour, the money trail began and the necessary paperwork and audit trails were started the minute the State remitted payment for yet another befouled lake of industrial sludge left to fester untouched. The money was successfully traced the minute it left the hands of the State comptroller. In less than two weeks the money had made its rounds and multiplied itself several times over by the time it came for the thieves to share the profits.

Jarod, as in all his pretends, was there to watch the results. Only this time, he let the State’s agent be the one whom the thieves saw as Onisius coming to swoop down on their evil deeds. After the events in Carthis, Jarod no longer had a taste in leaving too many trails for the Centre to follow. He didn’t want any newspaper reports recounting tales of how a mysterious stranger helped save the day. Instead he used his down time alone with Trask Enterprises’ computers to continue the search for his mother. He was becoming more settled in his new position and wanted to remain a while longer in order to touch base with his father and the rest of his rediscovered family.

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