Wake up. Remember.
“Get up!” The words echoed in Liza ‘s head waking her from a deep sleep. Her head throbbed but it was the burning sensation that hurt the most.
“Move,” was her next thought. Filled with an urgency she pushed herself to her feet ignoring the lightheadedness. Nausea came and went.
She was outside, but where- she didn’t know.
All she knew was her mission: Crossroads: 1PM. She latched onto it. She’d never missed or failed a mission and today would not be any different. Hurt or not, she would complete it.
Central’s orders were to be obeyed. To not complete one was unthinkable.
Still an uneasy feeling that she was missing something wouldn’t go away, it only grew with each step. At the edge of the field she saw the roof of several buildings that stretched off into the distance. Climbing to the top of the hill Liza saw the buildings were linked in a long line that extended for miles. High above the strip mall, a sign flashed: The Promenade. Underneath at the bottom of several signs were the words: The Crossroads. Taking a deep breath, Liza felt a surge of adrenaline. This was familiar. She had her target. Like all the times before the rest would fall into place she just had to make it down the hill.
Crossroads: 1PM. That was all she knew, but it was the way the Mastermind planned it.
“Every piece is part of the plan every plan requires each piece,” that was the Watcher’s credo. It was the first lesson she’d learned at Central. The job wasn’t to question only to fulfill the mission. No one questioned the Mastermind and lived to talk about it.
Everything would click together. How it would click together was for the Mastermind to know. Liza’s job was to trust it. She didn’t even question it- there was no need. All she could do was complete the mission. Calling the Mastermind before the mission was complete was never an option.
Approaching the Crossroads building, Liza saw it was a bookstore. It was busy from the continuous line of customers trailing in and out the front doors.
Sometimes, being in the middle of everything was the best cover. She’d once completed a job in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. She was on a train halfway to Toronto before anyone even knew what had happened. In and out, that was her specialty.
The electronic marquee flashed red and green above the store’s glass façade showing the date and time. she still had fifteen minutes. A chill ran down her back as the feeling of having missed something important hit her again. The memory danced around the edges. Something wasn’t right.
Liza stopped to look around for a second. She couldn’t figure it out but the feeling wouldn’t go away. There was something she was missing.
Liza looked back to the clock but her eyes stopped as the glass caught her reflection. Walking closer she studied the woman staring back at her.
Her makeup was flawless. Her dark brown skin had a healthy glow. Her thoughts raced like a roller coaster with no stop button and the ride just kept getting worse and worse.
The problem wasn’t that Liza didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror. The problem was she recognized her too much.
Liza was used to seeing a stranger on missions when she looked in the mirror. She did everything she could to conceal her true identity. She wore prosthetics to hide her features. She wore padding, contacts, but there was none of that this time. Her golden-brown eyes which she usually hid because they were so unusual stared back at Liza.
At 5’9 she was taller than most women. Her body was lean which allowed her to use padding to change her look, but there was none of that today.
The only thing that was not hers was her hair. In her everyday life Liza wore her hair natural and closely cropped but now she had long auburn hair. Parted in the middle it feathered round her face to hang in voluminous waves down her back. They were extensions, she was sure, but like her mission she didn’t remember anything about how she came to have them.
Unbuttoning the black trench coat she wore Liza looked down to see skinny jeans that hugged her toned thighs and legs. Paired with that was a black ruffled blouse that hung loosely across her narrow waist. The shirt was bejeweled with rhinestone and more glitter than she felt comfortable with. The entire getup wasn’t something she’d ever pick for herself. Fashion choices aside Liza knew the bigger problem was that she didn’t remember putting any of it on this morning.
It didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right. Blending in was the first rule of being a Watcher. Liza’s current look begged to be noticed. It went against everything Central had trained her to do.
Something had gone horribly wrong. Had she overlooked a sign? Had she missed her mark?
Dread filled Liza’s body as her memory attempted to piece itself back together and couldn’t. Why couldn’t she remember?
“Sweet Jesus.” Liza’s breathing sped up as she caught the date on the marquee. The date flashed by again.
It said today was November eleventh. That couldn’t be right. It had to be a glitch, a trick. Liza’s last assignment was in May. There was no way it could be November. If it were it meant she’d lost not just a night but the last six months of her life.
“Breathe,” Liza whispered taking in the icy air, “just breathe.” Her breath plumed into white clouds of chilled air. “This can’t be right. It can’t.”
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“Emotions are the enemy,” the Mastermind’s robotic voice vibrated in her head. “Direct your thoughts. You are the one in control.”
Liza forced herself to move. There was a job to complete. There was a brief second she thought of running, but Liza knew better than to run. Watchers followed through. She had to complete the mission, at all costs even if she wasn’t clear on the full mission. It was rare that she knew everything. Only the Mastermind knew everything. Her job was to complete the task at hand. It would all make sense- eventually.
Liza stopped at the newsstand. Picking up the local paper she read the date.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
In black and white it showed the date was in fact November 11. Liza’s knees buckled, but she caught herself before she hit the floor. A sharp pain shot down the back of her head to her spine.
Christmas music played over the store’s speaker. It made sense- it was Christmas, of course holiday music would be playing. Only the last she remembered, Christmas was months away.
Something had gone horribly wrong. Liza pushed the paper back into the slot then made her through the holiday shoppers. Her survival instincts had kicked in. She had to find someplace safe, somewhere she could sort things out. This had to be a mistake.
Liza walked to the back of the store away from the smells of coffee and baked goods. She waited for something to kickstart her memory. It was the same on every mission. Like synchronicity there would be something that suddenly swarmed in her mind leading her to the next step.
Liza just had to find the pattern then wait for the familiar face, noise, smell, whatever to appear and guide her to her next step. Liza gave a sigh of relief as something reached through the fog in her brain.
Suddenly the floor plan of the store she was sure she’d never been in felt familiar. Liza walked up the main aisle which she knew would take her to the children’s literature section. Liza followed it until she got there then turned right and headed to the farthest wall. She knew this space. How she knew it, she had no idea, but she knew it. Probably her surveillance was coming through just like clock work. She felt a little calmer, as she began remembering bits and pieces.
Liza walked the aisles. By the time she reached the back of the store she knew she’d found the right spot.
Everything was okay. All was well.
Just as she began to relax, Liza felt another wisp of memory slip through the darkness and take hold. She allowed the feeling to settle in and take over. Backing into the corner of the Cooking section Liza was able to see the empty aisle on either side of her. It was time. She just had to wait for her mark to show.
Movement at the opposite end of the aisle caught her eye. She jerked her head sharply to the left to see. A wave of nausea hit her hard followed by a sharp painful explosion behind her eyes forcing them closed. When she opened them again, she saw a pretty young woman staring back at her from the other side of the aisle.
She looked no more than eighteen and she wore the same black apron and name tag of the other book store employees. A mask of shock covered her young face. Her heavily pink glossed mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water until a loud voice called out from the next aisle over.
“Well, is it her or not?” A deep voice yelled.
The girl bit her lip her cheeks reddening. She frowned in the direction of the voice then back at Liza. Her strawberry curls swirled around her head, her face apologetic.
“I love your outfit,” she said backing away. “I think you rock,” she whispered before darting back down the main aisle.
Liza frowned, but pushed the thought aside. The girl wasn’t her mark; therefore, she didn’t matter. If she were her mark she wouldn’t have walked away. They never did.
However, a moment later a woman, short and round, barreled around the corner. Liza didn’t recognize her either, but a wariness came over her forcing all of her attention on the woman.
This couldn’t be my mark. Could it?
The short woman’s thighs rubbed together with each step making a swishing noise as she waddled closer. The only thing louder than her thighs rubbing together was the woman’s breathing. Liza was ready to dismiss the woman altogether until she stopped a few feet away.
“You seen them Paula Deen books?” she asked.
“Try the D’s,” Liza said watching the beads of sweat on the woman’s forehead chase each other down her shiny pale face.
“Where they at?” she said. Frowning Liza took a step back.
“Well, I imagine there somewhere between the C’s and E’s,” Liza said stepping out of the large woman’s way. The nagging feeling that she was missing something wouldn’t leave her. The woman’s sky-blue eyes glared back at her except for one brief second when they shifted to the right to stare over Liza’s left shoulder.
It was only for a moment but it was long enough for Liza to glance away to see a man come around the corner. His long black dreads hung free around his narrow head. His face was a mix of recognition at first, then confusion.
Liza had no idea who he was, but he seemed to know her, and he was coming fast. He held a gun in his hand and it was pointed at Liza.
Instinctively, Liza’s hand went out, but he was too far away for her to reach him. Before she could grab him, Liza was hit from behind then pulled backwards by the purse on her shoulder as the heavy woman tried to jerk it loose from her hold.
Instinctively, she held the bag tight spinning until the woman was between Liza and the man holding the gun. The woman kept yanking on the purse but using her heft against her Liza pushed her towards the man until he was wedged between the wall and the woman’s body.
“Let go, you stupid bitch,” the woman said grunting as she pulled at Liza’s bag.
“You’ll have the damn thing in a second if you’d move your ass,” the woman’s accomplice yelled as he raised his gun to point it around her at Liza but she wouldn’t let go or get out of the way.
“Give it up,” he said his dark piercing eyes staring at Liza.
Liza felt the woman hesitate, but she wouldn’t let the purse go. Liza heard a scream and then there was nothing but darkness.
When she opened her eyes again Liza was standing alone in the aisle. The sound of “Jingle Bells” played on the overhead speakers. The cheery music barely drowned out her gasps for air. The bookshelves were crooked some were toppled over on their sides.
Books dropped from their shelves onto the floor their covers spread open their white pages like the wings of birds in flight. What the hell just happened?
Then suddenly people were swarming into the aisle from both sides. Liza wanted to run, but she couldn’t move. Her legs felt cemented to the floor and wobbly all at the same time. The noise was overwhelming and it just kept coming in waves each one bigger than the one before. People gawked at her some pointing and whispering. Their voices bloated with questions she couldn’t answer.
Liza felt her body growing weaker. She could feel her entire body shutting down.
Don’t you dare pass out! Stay on your feet. Run!
Liza had to get away, but she didn’t have the energy. She looked behind her. The obese woman and the man were unconscious at the other end of the aisle. Liza had no idea how they’d gotten there. For the first time in a very long time she was scared. She had no cover.
“Is that her?” A voice from the crowd said. “Oh my God, it is. Trina!”
The swirling faces crowded around Liza, but she recognized no one- nothing.
What if someone came for her again? LIza heard someone yell for an ambulance when she dropped to her knees on the thin rough carpet.
Stay awake! But she was helpless to stop it.
“Run!” the voice screamed in her head again, but she couldn’t.
For once in her life Liza wasn’t able to obey the command.