Dress Off 01: Sasha vs Tarabyenf_cavalier©
Dress Off: Sasha Sinclair versus Tara Tennyson
1. The Opening Play
Sasha Sinclair looked out at the street in front of her, pedestrians wandering by in the heat of the afternoon summer sun, oblivious to her as she stood in the doorway of the Loaded Parrot. She was only a few feet away now from the footpath. That meant she was only a few feet away from what was about to happen, finally happening. A small red light over the door glared at her, unblinkingly, unresponsive to the thoughts going through her mind.
She sighed to herself, looked over her shoulder, and adjusted the tiny earpiece fitted discretely in her left ear. As she waited, she reflected briefly on the fact that the discreteness of the earpiece probably set it apart from the rest of her ensemble, which she very much doubted was anything other than highly indiscrete. Not that a casual observer would have noticed too much untoward about the clothes she was currently wearing. Sasha certainly made the ordinary-looking sleeveless white top and red shorts look their best. The red wrist bands were a slight throwback to a time that fashion would do best forgetting, but anyone looking at Sasha wouldn't be worrying about the wristbands. At 23, Sasha was in peak condition, a trim and taut body framed beautifully by flowing shoulder-length brown hair. A University education half-spent on the athletics track had the kind of effect that tended to draw attention. But the ordinary-ness of the white top and red shorts was tempered by the simple fact that they weren't hers, that they had been given to her for a very precise reason, and that reason was a game she was already having second thoughts on.
She glanced over her shoulder again at a nondescript man doing his best to look impassive while nonetheless stealing the occasional glance at Sasha's well-defined legs, and she half-opened her mouth to say something.
"Not having second thoughts are we now, Sasha?" - the voice crackled over her earpiece before she'd even formed the first syllable.
Sasha kept looking at the nondescript man, who was seemingly unaware and indifferent to anything being said over the comms channel, and she sighed for the second time in only a minute. Sasha looked back at the door to the street beyond.
"Oh, not at all – it's peachy." Sasha said to herself, confident that the voice at the other end would hear her. "What's not to love? I'm about to walk out there in clothes you provided, and that – may I say – are far too innocent looking to be all that they appear. I don't suppose you have any hints or warnings in you that are dying to get out?"
"Sorry darling, you know I'm strictly impartial in all of this, and giving you hints and warning would hardly be fair to dear Tara, now would it?"
Sasha snorted. Tara. Tara Tennyson. The cause, reason and motivation for all that was about to unfold. Somewhere out there, Tara Tennyson would be standing in front of a similar door, probably wearing similar clothes, and almost certainly having a similar conversation with a similarly disembodied voice.
"Let's get this started then." Sasha, a tad more brusquely than she intended.
If it is possible for a voice over an earpiece to smirk, Sasha swore that this one did. "Feeling a little nervous then I take it. Oh well, I suppose at least wishing you good luck isn't entirely out of order."
Sasha only stared ahead. Then out of the corner of an eye, she noticed the small red light above the door quietly change to green. Sasha stayed staring ahead. Two men walked past the door on the footpath outside. Then a family of five hurried past to destinations unknown. The occasional car drove past on the road, the heat of the afternoon sun dueling with the driver's air conditioning. Sasha stayed staring ahead.
The voice "ahem'ed" in her earpiece.
"You should know" said the voice "that 'standing stock still by the door' hasn't been an award-winning strategy for any previous winners of this game. Just saying."
Sasha twitched her head slightly, focussed herself, breathed in, and decided not to deign to respond. With one last sigh, she stepped through the door, on to the street, and into the game.
2. A Brief History of Open Warfare
Twenty four hours before stepping out on to that street, Sasha would have claimed that the nervousness she'd soon feel walking out of the Loaded Parrot and into the game was actually quiet, steely determination to win, to right wrongs, and to get one back on that damn Tara Tennyson.
That quiet, steely determination had mostly lasted all the way up to the point where she received the package from Decider Enterprises, and the note that had simply informed her that she was to be at the Loaded Parrot at 2:00pm sharp, and that she was to bring the package with her unopened. It was at that point that her imagination had taken over, and she began to envision exactly what that package contained. Not much had been her original assumption. It had been one week since Sasha Sinclair and Tara Tennyson had decided that it was time to settle their differences once and for all. Ordinary people would have found some mundane way of settle their disputes, but Sasha and Tara's feud had long since left the realm of "ordinary". "Mundane" was not even going to come close to sating the need for revenge.
Sasha and Tara had a relationship borne out of a mutual shared love of athletics, politics and – above all else – winning. The naïve observer might laughably think that such shared interests might indicate that Sasha and Tara were destined to be best friends. They were certainly destined to spend plenty of time in each other's company. In fact, for a while at least, Sasha and Tara seemed to get on just fine. Both had similar political interests and opinions, both were excellent runners, and both were on the fast track to success. Being of the same age and growing up in the same area, Sasha and Tara had met at high school when by the usual cosmic coincidence, they signed up for the school's athletics club and model UN club at exactly the same time. Shared interests morphed into mutual respect, followed by grudging respect, followed by a tingling sense of competitive suspicion, later edged with a sense of barely concealed animosity, before erupting into undisguised warfare. Sasha and Tara had competed for the role of student president, won by Tara armed with what Sasha would forever after call brutally untrue character assassination. Sasha and Tara had then competed for the role of student president at their University, won by Sasha with tactics bluntly described by Tara as "nothing short of voter fraud". Sasha and Tara had competed for the best grades in their classes, and their dispute wasn't helped by neither gaining a clear enough edge to be able to definitively settle the matter. And finally, and most decisively, Sasha and Tara competed at athletics meets.
It was the last such meet that was to spark the need for the game. It was the last such meet that forever etched in Sasha's mind the need to inflict such revenge that would be talked about in hushed whispers for decades down the track. Sasha and Tara, to incredibly fit, gifted runners, one brunette, one blonde, one in white and red running gear, the other in white and yellow running gear. Both rounding the fourth corner of the 400m women's final. Sasha had the slight lead, and in her mind, deserved nothing less. Tara was behind her, the finish line was in front of her. Glory, a medal, and the satisfying thought of Tara seething about it, was all for Sasha's to seize. And then she'd felt the tap on her back foot. It was a momentary thing, just a light tap on her back foot as she brought in forward in her stride, but it was enough to cause her to stumble just ever so slightly. And that small stumble turned into a larger stagger, followed ungraciously by a tumble that would send Sasha out of the medals reckoning and would consign her to seeing Tara's backside streak across the finish line, while Sasha laid sprawled on the ground some 100 meters back.
Not two days after that fateful race, and after countless unsuccessful appeals, Sasha Sinclair had walked up to a still smirking Tara Tennyson, stared her in the face, and said three simple words to her nemesis. "This. Ends. Now."
But how? It wouldn't surprise anyone that Sasha and Tara couldn't even decide on the appropriate, apocalyptic means of ending their feud. That had been when a mutual acquaintance of Sasha and Tara had discretely mentioned the services of Decider Enterprises. The mutual acquaintance was somewhat vague about her own dealings with Decider Enterprises, preferring merely to describe it as something in the past and best left there. Decider Enterprises, she said, would find a way to end Sasha and Tara's feud in a manner that would be definitive and suitably irreversible. It was, she said, and with a slight blush to add, "their speciality".
The day their acquaintance mentioned Decider Enterprises, Sasha and Tara did something they hadn't done in years. They agreed on something.
3. A Small Matter of the Rules
Five days later, Sasha and Tara were sitting at a desk in a hotel room, in front of a laptop, steadfastly ignoring the other's existence. After several uncomfortable minutes of this, the laptop suddenly perked into life, and an incoming video call announced itself. Sasha clicked the mouse button next to her, and after a few more seconds, the audio kicked in.
"Sasha Sinclair and Tara Tennyson. Gender: Female. Age: 23. Soundness of mind: we'll assume okay. So, I take it you two aren't each others' greatest fans?" The face at the other end of the video call was suitably hidden in shadow, but the voice didn't make any effort to hide it's amusement.
"We were told you have a certain way of settling differences that leave no room for argument." Sasha was in no mood to play around, having been forced to already spend five minutes next to her nemesis.
"Yes, that we do. Revenge is it? Settlement of a feud?"
"Let's just say that this city isn't big enough for the both of us." chimed in Tara. "I want Sasha gone because, well, frankly she's a bitch. Sasha wants me gone because, well, frankly she's a bitch."
Sasha was about to retort when the voice kicked in again.
"Okay, so, we have two ladies, both rather attractive if you don't mind me saying, both athletic, smart and capable, and both with a single desire to see the other get the hell out of town. The good news for you both is that our mutual acquaintance has pointed you in the right direction."
Neither Sasha and Tara responded, and instead grimly waited for the voice to continue.
"As I see it," the voice went on, "without doubt the best way of dealing with you situation is for your both to play a simple game we've devised over the years."
"I've had enough of her games over the years to last me a lifetime." Sasha said.
"The feeling's mutual sweetie." Tara retorted.
"And one of you," the voice interrupted, "will have had more than enough of our game to last a lifetime as well, of that I can assure you. You see, the game is very simple. You both play, there are a few modest rules, a little bit of specialised equipment we happily provide, we take up a few scant hours of your afternoon a week or so from now, and there is a winner and a loser. The winner wins all the sweet revenge and closure they could ask for, and the loser wins all the motivation they could ever need to find some other city to live in, and some other life to lead."
Sasha and Tara looked at each other again now, and the first sense of trepidation and nervousness briefly overcame the mutual loathing.
"So, ahh, how exactly does this work?" asked Tara.
"As I said, you give us a few hours of one afternoon, and we play a little game. You're both fine athletes, and I'm sure you're familiar with what goes into games. As with any self-respecting sport, there is of course a uniform, and some rules transgressions against which we'll be taking seriously."
Sasha was feeling a mixture of anticipation, tension and nervousness as she leant forward to ask her next question, but already the chance of victory was stirring something inside of her. "And, umm, just exactly where is this game of yours to be played?". Sasha had the suspicion she might not like the answer, and the hope that Tara would soon like it a whole lot less.
"Well," the voice said, airily, "since what is at stake is the right to stay in the city, so to say, it seems only fair that the city itself is the field of play."
Sasha and Tara both simultaneously got a sense for what the answer to Tara's next question was going to be. "Would I be right in assuming then that these playing uniforms you'll be providing us with won't exactly be something prim and proper then?"
"I take it then that neither one of you would like to see your opponent humiliated in such a tawdry fashion then?" the voice enquired, with more than a hint of amusement.
"I'd like the bitch to have to walk through the city stark naked!" yelled Sasha, somewhat surprising even herself.
Tara looked directly at Sasha, and then turned back to the laptop and flicked her hair haughtily. "Oh, but I wouldn't want poor Sasha to have nothing on in the city", Tara responded, "not when a good pair of handcuffs and nipple clamps would so beautifully bring out the slutiness within." Tara smiled at Sasha sweetly.
The voice waited a few moments for each others' words to settle in, and then proceeded on.
"Well, we certainly don't want to disappoint our clients, although to be fair we should at least give one of you the chance to emerge from all this victorious and with dignity largely intact. That said, our playing outfit is something that I believe you'll both find fitting to the occasion, if you get my drift, and you'll find it plays a rather integral role in the game. The rules won't be a problem for two ladies of such capable intellects as your own. You will both start somewhere in the city. You will both be given a clue. You both need to use that clue to find the next clue. You will both need to keep walking, or running should the occasion call for it, around the city. Every time you find a clue, that clue will also be given to your opponent so that they have a chance as well. However, since every chance comes with a cost, your opponent's playing outfit will also suffer what we shall call a 'wardrobe malfunction' of sorts as well. The first player to find four clues wins. The other player, well, gets a helpful pamphlet from us on how to start a new life and career in a new city, amongst other things. Win, win. Sort of." The voice audibly grinned widely. "There are only three penalty offenses, and that's getting external help to solve the clues, interfering with your outfits and their behaviour in a manner we think is against the spirit of the game, and lastly, hiding out of sight or not walking or running out in public. The first penalty you receive is just a warning. After that, well, we'll just pretend your opponent found a clue and you can live with the consequences."
The voice paused for effect, while Sasha and Tara soaked in the details of the game. "Other than that, well, needless to say that forfeiting the game once it has started will have the same effect as playing it through to completion and losing, and there's the small matter of the legal documents."
"And the cost", Sasha suddenly chimed in. "How much exactly are your services going to cost?"
"We're a charitable organisation Sasha Sinclair, and we hate to see such animosity spoil the community spirit in this fair city. Let's just say that the cost to you is to simply to play the game, and to surrender your feud so that it becomes a historical footnote. Let us worry about recouping our costs, and you both worry about moving on. On my word as a gentleman, for whatever that's worth, I promise I won't be asking for money from either of you. And now as I said, the contract."
An envelope suddenly slid under the hotel room door. Both jumped to their feet, and Sasha ran to the door, flinging it open to reveal a completely empty corridor.
Tara lent down, picked up the envelope, and cautiously tore the seal, extracting a legal-looking contract from within.
"The contract you have just received" the voice said, "covers the basics. Decider Enterprises are of course not liable for any harm that may come to your reputations, career, income opportunities, or anything else quite frankly. There's a clause in there somewhere regarding media rights on the game, standard IP boilerplate really, and lastly a clause that simply states that the loser, or whoever quits first, will forever leave this city, acknowledge their opponent as the victor with all the graciousness they can muster, and drive the last nail into this feud's coffin. That, I believe, is what you're both after, is it not?"
Sasha and Tara looked at each other for a good long time. Two pens fell out of the envelope that had contained the legal contracts, and Sasha and Tara looked down at the pens for what felt like an eternity. The voice in the shadow at the other end of the video conference call quietly waited, seemingly lost in it's own thoughts and happily oblivious to the scene of Sasha and Tara's uncertainty.
Tara broke the stand off first, quickly stooping down, seizing a pen, and – with only a moment's hesitation and shudder – signing her name on the dotted line. She looked up at Sasha, and for a moment Sasha saw apprehension and fear in Tara's eyes. That was quickly hidden though by a triumphant smile that Tara threw at Sasha. "First again, I see", Tara said.
At that taunt, Sasha leaned down, picked up the remaining pen, and signed her own name on the contract. "I'll probably won't miss you when you've left Tara," Sasha said, "but I'm sure I'll have at least one fond memory to remember you by. Looking forward to it."
"Good, good. Excellent and generally wonderful in fact." the voice on the laptop happily chirped in. "Leave the contract and the laptop in this room. We'll be in touch shortly. Welcome to The Game, ladies, although if you want you can refer to it using our in-house name: 'Dress Off'".
4. Game Day
'Dress Off'. That had been the name on the otherwise anonymous package that Tara Tennyson had received. Tara had taken the package to The Fiddler's Bow, a shop that Tara had never heard of prior to all of this, and had taken the package unopened. Tara's arrival at the The Fiddler's Bow was greeted by a nondescript man who didn't appear to be in the mood for conversation. That suited Tara just fine. The man welcomed Tara to the Fiddler's Bow by unceremoniously removing the package from her possession, and then proceeding to check to make sure it hadn't been tampered with. Seemingly happy enough that it was as she'd first received it, the man handed it back to Tara, and with an exaggerated and mock sweep of his arm, indicated that she was now welcome to open it.
This was the point that Tara had both been dreading and excited about. Dreading, because she had a feeling what was within wouldn't protect much in the way of modesty, and she knew she had a fair amount of public walking ahead of her. Excited, because she also knew that somewhere else in this city, Sasha Sinclair would be opening her package, and Tara was only hours away from permanently settling the score with that stuck-up, holier-than-thou bitch.
The package opened easily, and revealed a simple container within. The container, in turn, opened to reveal the outfit Tara would need for the game, and what looked like a small earpiece that she quickly fitted into one ear. As she lifted the outfit out of the container, a sharp intake of breath gave away her surprise. A white, fairly ordinary looking, sleeveless top. A pair of yellow, relatively baggy sports shorts. Tara recognised the colour choice. It was the colour of her running gear the day she'd rightfully beaten Sasha at the athletics meet, and left her where she belonged – face down in the dirt. She laid the white sleeveless top and the yellow sports shorts to one side, and inspected the rest of the contents. A pair of mid-range running shoes that no professional athlete would seriously consider, but that would do for today at least. A yellow sports bra, and tight, black lycra running shorts that she surmised were supposed to be worn under the yellow baggy shorts. Two colorful wrist bands that seemingly served no purpose than to act as an unnecessary reminder of the 1980s, a bulk-standard white hat, and yellow anklet socks to round off the ensemble. Nothing too risqué, Tara had to admit, and effectively a copy of what she wore at the athletics meet (albeit with the addition of the wrist bands). Tara at least knew now what Sasha would be wearing.