Lexington, Kentucky-

Wilson wiped the bead of sweat from his upper lip.  

“Be smart. Complete the job. All you have to do is deliver the package then leave.  In and out, remember?” The Watcher said.

Wilson’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. It was time.    

Wilson engaged the emergency brake of the Escalade.

What the hell am I doing here?” was the question on loop in his brain but he’d not come up with a sufficient answer.

Although all his supervisors agreed Wilson was good at his job, Wilson knew the most remarkable thing about him was who he was married to- Liza. 

At Central there were several grades an officer had to pass before they could even think about becoming a Watcher. Being a Watcher was the highest position attainable besides Mastermind, and there was only one of him. 

His Wife, Liza, was unofficially considered second in command to the Mastermind. She was the best Watcher that Central had ever had. She’d taken even the hardest targets down. In fact, that was how they’d met.

Liza had recruited Wilson for Central. Unlike most, who’d been selected by the Mastermind, Wilson had been brought in by another Watcher. As good as Liza was it was just another reason for the others to question his ability. He loved his wife, but he’d yet to live that fact down. Still, he liked to think it was his work that got him promoted over the past few years. That’s what he told himself, but even he didn’t fully believe it.

Wilson had grown tired of the chatter. After four years of marriage to Liza, he was ready for a change. He was ready to show what he could really do.

So, regardless of what he and Liza had planned, Wilson jumped at the opportunity to advance.

Now was his time. He had to go big or go home, so he went big. He put in for a transfer to the Watcher unit. He knew it was the only way he would be able to regain his self-respect and the respect of his wife.

Secretly, Wilson hoped that if he became a Watcher maybe he and Liza would become close again, and she would look at him like she used to when they first met. It seemed so stupid now that he was here, but what was done was done. A spot had opened up and without even talking with Liza he’d put in for it.

He’d been on the Watcher waitlist for almost two years, but this time he’d gotten what he’d wanted. His request was approved and now he was on his first mission as a Watcher. He just had to complete the mission.  

Wilson climbed out of the car his dark brown Oxfords crunching on gravel. The sun-bleached hangar in front of him had three numbers stenciled in black on the side of it just like his orders said: 333.

He’d made it. When the hangar door swung open, he took a deep breath. There was no turning back now.  

“Well ain’t you pretty,” a red bearded giant said from the dark doorway. He had a twang thick as molasses. Six feet tall but it still wasn’t enough. He looked like he could have used another two or three feet because his hands, feet, and his head were so large he looked like a caricature of the man he was supposed to be.  

“You Wilson?” the giant asked his upper lip curling beneath the greasy auburn curls covering his mouth. He lumbered forward his belly hanging over his belt. He was chewing on a white straw, saliva dripping from the tip with every other word. Wilson nodded.

“Bennett,” the man said as introduction then motioned for Wilson to follow.

The building was bigger than Wilson thought. The hangar was large enough to hold a couple of airplanes but there were only stacks of old office equipment lining the walls. Towards the middle of the room where sunlight gathered, there was a large metal table and a single folding chair. 

Some old country song he’d heard before played from the shadows behind Bennett. The sound seemed to be coming from the far corner where Wilson saw several industrial sized barrels stacked up against the wall.

The giant sat in the chair on the far side of the table his eyes watching Wilson’s every move.

There was a pile of what Wilson thought was dingy white rags next to a wooden crate at Bennett’s feet but when the pile of rags moved, Wilson’s eyes grew big. The pile was actually a person, a small child lying on the floor. He couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, or if he/she was awake. 

“In and out,” a voice echoed in Wilson’s head forcing his attention back to the mission. Curiosity had no place here. It would only get him in trouble.

He turned back to Bennett who’d been silently watching Wilson’s every move. Before the giant had looked mildly curious, but now he just looked suspicious.  

“I have the package,” Wilson said clearing his throat. The large man’s face creased into a dark frown. What little saliva Wilson had left in his mouth solidified in his throat nearly choking him.

“Where you say you from?” Bennett asked his eyes squinting as he spit his straw onto the table.  

“New York,” Wilson lied. 

“Right, New York,” Bennett said before spitting a slimy stream of brown juice at Wilson’s feet. “Drop it in the box.”

           Wilson exhaled. The box! Just put it in the box and get the hell out. He slipped the packet from beneath his arm then let it drop in the box. It was done. He exhaled wanting to get as far away from the man as he could.

            “Wait,” Bennett said as Wilson turned for the door.  The giant reached inside his red jacket. Wilson’s blood ran cold. There was a noise at the door and the giant froze. Both Wilson and Bennett turned to look at the tall figure standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing here?” Bennet called out but there was familiarity in his voice.

“Good seeing you too, Sunshine,” The man said. He moved quickly coming to a stop next to Wilson.  

They’d driven together for the past hour, but Wilson still didn’t know the man’s name. Had never seen him before that morning. However, as much as the Watcher scared him, he kept his eyes on Bennett because the man’s hand still hadn’t moved from inside his coat.

“Just following orders, Chief,” the Watcher said.

“Changed sides, huh?” Bennett said his eyes full of malicious appreciation.” I didn’t think you had it in you.”  

 “Vse v poryadke,” the Watcher said. Wilson knew a little Russian. Well enough to get by but not enough to be considered proficient. He hadn’t even included it as a skill with Central, but he’d been able to understand the Watcher’s words. His cheeks burned, at his rookie mistake but when Bennett responded in rapid fire it took all of Wilson’s focus to keep up.

The exchange was quick and heated, but he was relieved when Bennett removed his empty hand from his jacket.

The large man smiled. “Well, I guess I could stay for another year,” he said once again in English his thick southern accent back intact. Caressing his protruding belly slowly, he said, “I like the weather better here, anyways.” His eyes fell to the child whose terrified face was visible now. Its large brown eyes were open and alert. Wilson was surprised to see them staring back at him.

 “Git!” Bennett yelled kicking his boot at the child. When she stood Wilson was stunned to see it wasn’t a child at all, but a teenager, probably sixteen or seventeen just very thin. She had haunting eyes and long black hair that fell to her waist. She was pale and otherworldly looking.  

Bennett swiped at the girl’s backside as she limped to a far corner. Wilson watched her as she struggled to make her way to the large pile of rags on the floor then fell to her knees. He felt sick to his stomach when he saw several thin arms reach up from the pile to steady the girl guiding her down to the floor. Wilson couldn’t tell how many there were.

“Check it if you want,” the Watcher said and Wilson jumped. The Watcher had moved between him and Bennett. Looking over the agent’s shoulder he watched Bennett pick up the envelope from the box and tear it open.

Bennett pulled several papers out of the envelope glancing over them quickly. Wilson’s heart dropped as he recognized what the papers were.   

Bennett shoved the papers back in the envelope, stuffing it inside his red coat. Bennett reached in his jacket again, but this time on the opposite side from before. 

“Here,” Bennett said tossing a large white envelope to the Watcher. He caught it with one hand then stuffed the envelope under his arm. Wilson felt like his stomach drop so far it was about to ooze out of his rectum.    

Marking the end of the transaction Bennett stood and turned on his heel then lumbered to the back of the room where the young girl had gone. Wilson watched praying he was wrong about what he was seeing.

“Let’s go,” the Watcher said. “There’s nothing you can do for them.” The agent jabbed him in the ribs to prod him to move and Wilson did. He knew he was in over his head. He had no choice but to match the agent’s steps.

Wilson’s self-respect was shot but he was determined not to mess up his first mission any more than he already had. Besides they weren’t safe yet. After what he’d learned he wondered if he’d ever feel safe again.

He thought the Watcher had been there to escort him, but he knew better now. The agent had been there to make sure he didn’t run.

Wilson felt so stupid. He hadn’t understood everything the two men had said, but he’d heard Liza’s name for sure, and what he’d seen of the contents of the envelope told him everything else.

Wilson climbed into the driver’s seat as the Watcher opened the envelope. He shoved a small navy-blue booklet inside the envelope then tossed it into Wilson’s lap.

“What’s this?”

“I don’t know, but it’s yours now,” the Watcher said. “Drive,” he said looking over his shoulder back at the hangar. “Now.”

Wilson gagged at the skunky stench coming from the envelope in his lap. He didn’t want to touch it let alone keep it. He just did his best to ignore the weight of it between his legs and followed the Watcher’s orders. He was just as anxious to get away from the hangar as him only for different reasons. The idea of what he’d just seen made his stomach roll.

“Slow down,” the Watcher said frowning after Wilson passed a third car. Wilson took his foot off the pedal, and eased behind a pickup truck full of migrant workers their heads down as they huddled together against the wind.

Satisfied, the Watcher stared out the windshield.  It was a short drive to the parking lot of large chained grocery store that the Watcher directed him to.  

Wilson expected the Watcher to tell him what to do with the package but as soon as he stopped the car, the man opened his door, and a second later he was gone without a backwards glance.

 Wilson tried to see where he went but he disappeared like a ghost into the crowd.

Wilson felt itchy all over like his insides were trying to escape through his pores. He should have felt relieved, but somehow it felt worse now that he was alone.

Central hadn’t told him it was a pick up job too. But they also hadn’t told him what was in the envelope. He was just supposed to deliver it. He was supposed to be a glorified runner. That was all, but something told him that if the Watcher hadn’t come in when he had, Wilson wouldn’t be sweating through his chinos in some parking lot right now. No, he’d be buried behind that damn bunker, if he was lucky.

Wilson forced himself to drive. He wanted to run far, far away. Maybe then he could forget what he knew. What he’d done.

Pulling back on the freeway he headed west. He had a lot of miles to cover before it got dark. He drove in silence his mind churning over his first mission.

He drove in a fog until he spotted a gas station. He barely got the car door open before he vomited on the ground emptying the entire contents of his stomach.

Wiping the spit from his lips he leaned against the car his stomach still cramping. He grabbed the envelope tight in his fist. He didn’t want to open it, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. He was certain whatever it was couldn’t be any worse than what he’d witnessed back at the hangar. His hands shook as he tore it open.

“Holy shit,” he said exhaling loudly. He pulled out several stacks of hundred-dollar bills. On top of it there was the blue book he’d seen the agent put in the envelope. It was a note book with a passport and a driver’s license stuffed between its pages.

Both ID had Wilson’s picture on them but the name was wrong. On each it said Michael Ray. There was another smaller envelope folded in half. Inside he found a small card.

The card had an address embossed in cursive font. Taped to the back was a small locker key.

            Wilson knew what it meant, and he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of it.

When he saw the papers, Bennett pulled out of the envelope back at the hangar he’d hoped he’d gotten it wrong. It forced him to think about why he’d been chosen suddenly after all this time.

            When he’d been called in to Central’s main office yesterday evening the last thing on his mind was getting an assignment. His wanting to become a Watcher was for Liza. Everything he did was for Liza, but they’d somehow found a way to use that against him.

They told him it would be simple just a two-step, in and out. Deliver the package then leave. Halfway to the drop he’d gotten a call to make a detour and pick up the Watcher, which he did without question.  He was so stupid!

The envelope in his lap contained everything he needed to start over. Everything he needed to begin a new life. He could drive to the airport, buy a ticket and be in the Cayman Islands by sunrise. He had money, and the locker key promised there would be more.

He had a fresh new identity, and several hours before anyone would even notice he was gone.

Wilson drove letting the idea turn over in his mind. Cars sped by him on their way home for the evening to their families, or whatever things normal people did.

            He could start over. He could be one of those normal people again. The only problem was that he didn’t want to do that. He wanted his life – their life. The life he had with Liza.

            What would Liza do? He knew the answer, but he couldn’t do it. Could he?

            Wilson wasn’t a Watcher nor was he a hero. He had none of his wife’s skills. He was handsome, well-mannered and mostly honest. Central hadn’t recruited him for his strength or courage. They recruited him for his mind. Wilson’s brain was like a computer which made him better with inanimate objects than people. Any success he’d had with Central was heavily attributed to Liza’s presence in his life.

He had an extraordinary photographic memory capable of holding massive pieces of information that he could recall at will. He’d reproduced numerous documents down to the exact punctuation after seeing them once. He had the same instant recall for faces, names and images.

His skill set had taken him around the world and back, but that had always been as part of a team. He was the monkey thief, but his wife was the master.

            It was Liza that always got them out alive. With her gone, Wilson had not only lost his best friend, but his golden ticket.

            He wanted her back. Hell, he needed her back.

            What would Liza do? Wilson looked out of the car’s windshield as the sun set in the distance. The terrified dark-haired girl returned to his mind. He didn’t want to think about her but her eyes and the look of terror in them he would never forget. Her eyes would haunt him forever.

Liza would never have left the girl behind. She would have found a way to get the girls out- given them a chance. Hell, Liza wouldn’t have ever ended up in a situation like that. She’d never allow herself to be used. She would have known better.

            The problem was that Wilson wasn’t Liza. He never was and never would be. Liza was one in a million. She was special. She was the best Watcher at Central, and now she was in trouble and it was his fault.

            It had been Liza’s record inside the package given to Bennett. It was her stat record with Central. It had all of her accomplishments, her demographics and most damning her picture.

Wilson hadn’t seen everything but what he saw would blow her cover and potentially any future cover. There was nowhere she’d be able to hide. Wherever she was the information in that envelope made her vulnerable.

            His gut gurgled loud and painful. His head felt like it was about to explode as what he’d done burrowed deep in his conscience. Liza was somewhere out there defenseless, and he’d been the one who’d disarmed her.

            Wilson took the envelope out of his lap and emptied it into the bottom of his Army messenger bag. The envelope he ignited with his lighter letting it burn to almost nothing before tossing it out the window. Then he pulled back onto the freeway heading east to the airport.

He bought a first-class ticket to the Cayman’s, and sat in the lounge waiting for his flight. That was when he heard the ringing. Shocked, Wilson dug through his bag. He reached inside until he found the source of the noise. How did a phone get in there?

Reluctantly he picked up the phone because he knew the answer.

            “Wilson,” he answered his lower lip trembling.

            “Wise choice,” the voice said. It was the same robotic voice that Wilson heard in every single one of his nightmares. It was also the voice of the man who’d assigned him his first mission. Before Wilson had the chance to respond, the Mastermind behind Central ended the call.

He’d passed the test, and Liza would die because of it.

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The Watchers – Southern Fried Honeybee

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