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Author's Chapter Notes:
thanks to Onisius.....wouldn’t know what to do without you.
As I sat there, waiting for him to continue, I watched him watching me. It seemed clear that there was something more going on here than just a simple mission. Usually when I met with clients, it was all business. They did not care who I was, or what I was, just as long as I could get the job done. Whether it was an assassination or something as simple as a seduction. But this man was staring at me as if I were something delectable on the menu.

“Amazing.” he finally said. But it was clear he was talking to himself, not me. “I wonder what would happen if I slapped a pair of cuffs on you and dragged you through the lobby? Would anyone be able to tell?” He laughed. Obviously he thought this idea was incredibly amusing, although it did nothing to decrease my unease at the situation.

My eyes flickered over to the small pile of red folders. I wanted to get on with the business at hand, but the man seemed in no rush at all and was quite content to keep staring at me. Whatever was going on here was personal. I looked down to his gloved hand and noticed the missing thumb. Perhaps it was revenge.

He noticed my glance and it wiped the smile from his face. He slid the folders across the table. “We have been tracking the target for years. He is elusive. These people are close to him.”

I opened the first folder to see a photo of an older man. He had sad eyes. There were a few printed sheets of information, but I would read them later.

“Sydney,” the man explained, and his dislike of this person was clearly evident. ”Jarod’s handler and surrogate father. We have long suspected that Sydney has been helping Jarod elude The Centre, but we have never been able to prove it. Jarod keeps in contact with Sydney, it’s the only reason we haven’t had the old goat terminated.”

I looked up at him in surprise. “He was Jarod's only handler?” The concept of just one handler was ludicrous. It was bad management “So an emotional attachment has been formed?”

“Yes, but the main goal is the recapture of Jarod, if you can prove Sydney's complicity, that is just a bonus. Once we have Jarod again, the old man is no longer important beyond using him to control Jarod.”

I took the second folder. A beautiful woman, with striking blue eyes. But where the man’s were sad and warm, hers were cold and hard.

“Miss Parker” he said as way of explanation. “She is in charge of the pursuit. She has had no success.”

“You have been pursuing him for five years now and she has not caught him once?” I looked up in surprise. That level of ineptitude should not be tolerated. “How is it that she remains on the pursuit?” I asked, my shock overcoming my better judgement.

He smiled, reminding me of a cat just before it pounces on prey. “You know Eight, I have asked myself that very same question many times.” He poured himself a drink and sat back and nursed it. “But you see, my sister has the protection of being the Chairman’s daughter.”

I blinked in surprise. There was much more going on here than I first realised. Normally I did not care about such matters, but this Jarod fascinated me. Was he a Pretender like I was? Was he my brother? Why had he run from his keepers? Was the training so inferior in America, or was he somehow defective? The questions burned through me and I had to force my attention back to the task at hand.

I picked up the photo of the woman, Miss Parker the file name said, so then I guessed I was addressing Mr Parker. “Mr Parker...” I started, but before I got any further, he had launched himself out of his seat and had slapped me across the face again. His face was red with fury.

“You are incredibly stupid for a Pretender. What have I told you about assumptions?” he sat back in his chair and asked casually, as if it was not important. The anger of a moment ago forgotten.

“My apologies sir.” I resisted the urge to bring my hand up to rub the stinging out of my face. It was clear that I had no idea about the undercurrents that were going on here. I resolved to remedy that situation with as much immediacy as was safe. I disliked this man intensely, although I was not foolhardy enough to show my dislike on his face.

For the first time in my life, I was plotting my own agenda. I wanted to know who this Jarod was. I looked at this man, and the seeds of defiance were already growing in my heart. I would deliver their runaway project, but first I would have my own questions answered.

“If you need to address me, the name is Mr Lyle.” He took another sip of his drink. I ducked my head in acknowledgement. I still held the picture of the woman in my hands, I raised it and looked at him.

“I have long suspected that Parker has helped Jarod, or at the very least, is not as committed to the chase as she claims she is. When you catch him, if you could find a way to implicate her.....I would be, shall we say grateful. I will make sure your masters in Africa know.” He raised his drink to me and swallowed.

He stood and looked down on me. Again I had that feeling as if he wanted to consume me. “All the information you need is in the folders. Call me on this number when you have an estimate of how long this will take.” He threw a small white card on the table with his name and number on it, and left the room without looking back once.

After he was gone, along with his sweepers, I got up and poured myself a drink as well. I settled down and read carefully through the files. It appeared that this project had been treated more like a treasured pet than the valuable asset and weapon that he truly was. It was no wonder he managed to escape his training, and his confinement. It appeared he had no true understanding of his proper place.

Yet what fascinated me the most was the fact that he stayed. He obviously resented his former masters, but had taken no real action against them, and always kept himself only one step ahead of them. Were his skills really that inferior, or was it just a game to him? I must confess, he intrigued me.

After reading the files, I wondered if my fascination was due solely to the fact of the remarkable resemblance to me he bore, was it just my own vanity that spurred me on? Or was it the fact that he, a Pretender like myself, had shaken off his training? I do admit, the notion was appalling and appealing at the same time. But I would get my answers, and then I would give him back to Mr Lyle.

It seemed that he was The Centre’s best Pretender. And yet he seemed a complete failure as a project. They had been unable to control his emotional outbursts as a child and had had no control over him as an adult. The files however did not tell me anything but the bare facts. It was not enough.

About five hours after our meeting, my face still sore from his slaps, I phoned him.

“Mr Lyle. I can have him within two weeks.” I waited for his response, confident in my estimate. “No sir, he is adept at eluding you, but I think I have come up with a plan that should please you, and it will tell you if the woman is loyal as well.” I could almost hear him gloating on the other end. “At this stage sir, it is best that you do not know. Ignorance is a valuable tool, and it is best we do not risk giving the game away too early. But rest assured, I will deliver him as promised.”

I could tell that he was not completely happy, but the promise of delivery in two weeks was too much for him to turn down.

I took another drink. The feeling of my own defiance was making me giddy. Never before had I actually lied deliberately to them. Well actually, that’s not entirely true. Once as a young boy, I had lied about a sim result. I had been given a small stuffed animal to help me with a sim, and I had said that it was too complicated for me to finish. It would be easier if I was allowed the bear overnight, would help me to stay focused. Of course, they saw through the lie instantly. The punishment does not bear retelling, but suffice it to say, I have never lied to them again. Until now.

My heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. The magnitude of what I was planning was beyond any petty defiance I had ever perpetrated or even dreamed about before. The thought of the lie made me nauseous and excited at the same time. If they caught me out in this......I shudder to even think about it. I took another drink to calm my nerves. I had not even yet met this Jarod and already he was having a negative influence on me.

But I am digressing yet again. I knew that I could have the Pretender within two days, three at the outset. All I needed was the right bait. His skills were obviously inferior to my own, and I wondered how he had managed to hang on to his so-called freedom for so long. Taking the picture of the woman again, tracing over it with my fingers, I knew she was the key. And I might even get to have some fun with this assignment. Putting aside my earlier apprehension, I smiled at the thought of it.

I logged into the Delaware database and spent the entire night going through their files. This Jarod was soft, and he was a fool. He was wasting his talents and skills. I failed to understand his attraction to this Parker woman. Although it seemed they were friends as children, she had done nothing as adult but torment him and make his life difficult. It was true that she was a good looking woman, but from all accounts she seemed nothing but a ruthless bitch. And lets face it, Jarod was a good looking man. I smiled to myself at that thought. I had never had any troubles with the ladies, or even the men, and I could not imagine that this Jarod would have any difficulties either.

The further I looked the more sure I became of my ability to ensnare Jarod. A plan formed in my mind and I would set it in motion tomorrow. This would be so simple, it was almost below my abilities and I wondered again at how Jarod had maintained his freedom. Well, it was of no consequence. I would have him, and I would have my answers, and then Mr Lyle could do what he wanted with him.

At three in the morning I picked up my cell phone and dialled the number. I had practiced my American accent, and now I sounded just like Jarod did. I waited for the phone to be answered. My skills were varied, and I had a natural aptitude for accents.

At the rude “What?” I bit back my smile. I suppose I should not judge her too harshly, it was very early in the morning after all.

“You weren’t sleeping were you Miss Parker? I thought you never rested in your pursuit of me.” I waited for her to reply.

“Jarod, what do you want?” she asked with resignation in her voice.

“Not on the phone. Can we meet tomorrow? Somewhere public, somewhere safe. And if I see one single sweeper.....”

“Look Jarod, it's late, it's early, what the hell is this about?”

I could hear the irritation in her voice, but at the same time, I could hear the curiosity underneath.

“Three o'clock, town centre. I will give you the information then.” Then I hung up without telling her anymore.

It was time to get some sleep now, I needed to be looking my best for my meeting with the ice-queen.

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