Disclaimer: The Pretender is not mine.

There were some truly lovely offices in the upper levels of the building that housed The Centre in Blue Cove. They were tastefully decorated. They had natural light pouring in the windows. They featured furniture options for sitting that left clients feeling comfortable and assured that they were dealing with people who intended to make looking after them a priority.

The Centre was a place that understood that ambiance was not just a word that was carelessly thrown around. It was a tool to be used to help accomplish goals; it was even a weapon that could be wielded if one knew what they were doing. There was nowhere that this was more apparent than in what were loosely termed conference rooms at the very top of the executive floors (not even the lowest of the sublevels could compete with the manner in which atmosphere was used to influence those who entered). This section was the place that clients (and most of the inmates) never saw. It was where T-boards were held. It was where interviews and meetings were held when it was felt that certain persons needed a sharp reminder of their places in the hierarchy.

It was the place that Mr. Parker had been summoned to be given the details of what was being referred to as an audit of efficiency and resource management in all official memoranda on the subject. In house communications had been flying around for weeks with both tension and excitement over the prospect. The Tower was very eager about what was about to take place which meant that most everyone else was concerned about what changes might be occurring and what effects it might have on them.

Mr. Parker fell into neither category. He weathered ups and downs and drastic and subtle changes within The Centre with the ease with which other people breathed. He was, however, interested in seeing what sort of methodology this new consultant might put into place in order to achieve his ends. What he received when he arrived was a formal introduction to their new "efficiency expert" who handed him a single sheet of paper listing the questions that he intended to use in interviews in order to create his report.

Mr. Parker was less than impressed (possibly more so because of the connotations inherent in where he had been summoned for the meeting and his failure to be able to immediately discern what message it was that he was being sent).

"I hardly see where any of this," he gestured loosely in the direction of his copy of the paper, "is relevant to what you have been asked to accomplish."

"I don't suppose you would," the man across the table from him agreed with a touch of amusement in his tone that grated on Mr. Parker's nerves.

"I beg your pardon."

"You obviously brought me here for a reason," the man elaborated with a slight wave of his hand in the direction of the series of faces hidden in the darkened, far portion of the room. "You requested my services. You offered a hefty paycheck with a very healthy number of zeros," he leaned forward across the table and locked eyes with the other man. "If you could have done what I am doing yourself, you would not have been willing to do any of those things. Given that, what makes you think that you would have any familiarity or understanding of the methods that I intend to employ?" Mr. Parker opened his mouth to speak but was unceremoniously interrupted.

"Don't," the man commanded. "I've already finished this conversation with you. At this point, you are merely wasting my time - time that belongs to the Centre actually, since the Centre is paying the bill. I was under the impression that your organization did not take a particularly pleasant view of those who waste their resources?" He let the words hang in the air between them for a moment before he chuckled in what could only be termed a less than pleasant manner.

"Don't worry," he told Mr. Parker with a smile that failed to be reassuring. "I'm sure I'll get back around to you before everything is said and done. After all, I'm to make a thorough survey of all aspects and levels of this organization. You'll be on my list. Consider yourself given an opportunity to prepare before I come back to ask you those questions." The man offered a small nod in the direction of the shadowed faces before making his way out of the room.

There was silence in his wake, and Mr. Parker had been around long enough to know that silence in these situations did not equal a dismissal. They were waiting for him to make a comment so they could make some sort of further judgment about how the interlude had gone. They were always doing that, and he knew exactly in what manner to indulge them. It was very important that he show that there was nothing in all of this digging that could rattle him.

"This is ludicrous," he offered into the open space around him with a slight inclination of his shoulders that could be interpreted as a shrug.

"This is a directive from the tower," a voice from the shadows responded immediately. "Is there a problem with your compliance of which you need to make us aware, Mr. Parker?"

"We're giving carte blanche to an outsider -access, unlimited timetable, no oversight," he replied. One did not directly disagree with the tower. One used finesse. One stated facts and left open ended implications hanging in the air so that you were offering items for their consideration without ever placing yourself as a direct target for confrontation.

"That would be correct," the voice stated.

Mr. Parker kept silent. There was nothing else appropriate for the moment to be said.

"You could ask why," the voice stated without the slightest hint of suggestion when they had determined that he was not going to speak.

He still said nothing. He did, however, turn to fully face their direction with the face that had carried him through these hallways for decades firmly in place.

"That's why you've lasted as long as you have," the voice stated in response to his lack of verbal response. "It's a pity your relations haven't always shared that particular skillset," it concluded. "Are there any pertinent questions before you leave?"

"Where will he be starting?" He inquired rising to his feet. He had to ask something. It would not do to appear overly dismissive by feigning a complete lack of interest.

"As you've mentioned, Mr. Parker, we are providing no oversight on this particular matter," the voice replied. "He'll start where he pleases," it added as if it was an afterthought. He knew better than to believe that. It had been tacked on on purpose. It was part of the message that he was being sent.

He left his copy of the paper on the table. It struck the right note of nonchalance. He couldn't very well take it with him as if he thought he actually did need to prepare for his efficiency and resource management evaluation. It remained where he had placed it off to the side after his first perusal. It wasn't as though it had been a lengthy treatise. He had already committed the thing to memory in case he should need a working knowledge of the list for some as yet unknown reason.

He was not going to allow it to bother him that he was sure that the man would require a deeper answer than the standard "the continued success and prosperity of The Centre" for question number one.

1. What is your goal for your time in relationship with this organization?