Tag Archives: fiction

Empath 2

The first time it happened I didn’t even know it was happening. Even after I looked in a mirror and the face I’d come to finally accept was gone it took some time before I really believed it. Like three bodies later. That was when I finally accepted it. It was real.

I felt something different each time I jumped, but the strongest feeling which wasn’t something I could control. It never changed. The feeling, I couldn’t describe, I just knew it had always been there. I thought everyone felt the same thing until one day I realized they didn’t. I realized I was different.

The first body I jumped into was an old man. The reason: he wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d go to the store and he’d be there. I’d go to school he’d be across the street. At first I thought nothing of it- of him. I figured it was a coincidence at first.

I was ten, the same age as my daughter. I didn’t know evil existed then.

I finally took notice when I saw the old man standing outside my house. Then he was on my porch, and then he was inside my house. Before he touched me I already knew what his intentions were.

It was like his thoughts were my own. That was my first time jumping. I knew instantly what he planned to do to me, and what he would say if he was caught. I was terrified, I remember that. I was scared paralyzed by it then suddenly I wasn’t.

My fear evaporated and in its place I felt only excitement. My insides tingled with it. I know now it was him I felt. They were his feelings, but at the time I thought it was me.

Instinctively, I latched onto the feelings of excitement. It felt weird but good. I just knew it was much better than my fear so I ignored what I felt and followed the good feelings. It didn’t take long for me to make the transfer.

What I remember most was the heat. It felt like I was sweating from the inside out. My face, my eyes, my skin, my bones, my entire body was on fire. I know now that feeling was me taking over. It was me killing him.

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Matter is funny that way. No two souls, I learned can ever exist together. One has to leave in order for the other to live. That’s how I did it. It was how I took someone’s body over. There was never a fight, just a shock then acquiescence as I took control melted into what was them and eased them out. I locked in on their emotion whatever it was then I squeezed in and that’s when the burn began. I burned them with my heat. Sometimes I thought I could hear them scream as they left their body like toothpaste from its tube. Then just like that they were gone, and it was just me. Where they went I didn’t know, but their body was mine afterwards for as long as I wanted or needed it.

Afterwards I remember looking down at the girl on the ground. The little girl was me, or what was left of me. The old man’s hands were still wrapped around the throat of my ten year old body.

I remember thinking it was all a dream. A really weird and wild dream that I couldn’t wake from no matter how badly I wanted to.

I didn’t know what to do, so I ran. I ran and ran until I couldn’t run anymore.

The old man wasn’t the only kill I made that day. Initially I thought I was still sleeping and having some trippy dream. So I figured if it was a dream I might as well see what else I could do. I’d taken two more bodies before I admitted it wasn’t a dream, but it took me years before I figured it all out- what I could do.

My mind played tricks on me for a while. I drifted. I had no one to talk to, nothing to live for other than my work. There was no one until Caitlynn. 

My life had been an unwanted battle against evil before her. I saved many lives, but I killed many more to do it. I died more times than I cared to remember, but when Caitlynn came along it all changed. I gave birth to a living metronome. Caitlynn kept me in sync with the world around me.

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She was my anchor, my rock. I could no longer be pulled into the lives of people without leaving her behind, and that I wouldn’t do. I couldn’t leave her behind like I’d been left behind.

I’d created a life for her, and I didn’t want to lose it. I wouldn’t lose it.

I had to get her back, but first I had to find her.

####

I saw the flashing lights ahead, the car at the bottom of the embankment off the highway its hood hidden by the trees as if it had been run off the road. Traffic was at a crawl but I pulled next to the first responder cars.

As soon as the black and white cruiser came to a stop I was out and running. I knew it was Caitlynn. She was close. I could feel her. I ran hard and fast but before I could make it to the car I was tackled to the ground.

“Miss,” I heard a man yelling as I clawed at the gravel. “Miss stop it’s over, she’s gone,” he yelled, but I wouldn’t stop I couldn’t. My Caitlynn wasn’t dead. She couldn’t be. I elbowed the officer in the face stunning him and once again I was on my feet running towards the car and its trunk which was gaping wide open.

Empath 3

“For God’s sake someone stop her,” I heard the officer shout. I ran faster.

I knew before I got to the trunk, but when I stood over it I could only blink wanting my eyes to be wrong, but the sight of Caitlynn’s bruised lifeless form would not vanish. The officer’s words, caught up to me. “She’s gone.”  

“We caught him,” the officer said softly from behind me. His nose was dripping blood, but I felt no ill will coming from his hulking body. There was only grief and a burning anger but it wasn’t directed at me.

“He’s going down for this. I’m taking him in myself.” I looked over to where an old man lay face down in the dirt. I heard his sobs, saw the apathetic officers standing over him. I felt their anger and indignation. I could also feel the old man’s confusion.

“Can I drive back with you?” I asked the officer. “I need, I need….”

“Of course, ma’am we can get you back,” the officer said. “I’ll get an officer to take you home, or wherever you want to go,” he said nodding emphatically as his hand touched my back. Even the light brief pressure irritated me but I forced myself to not cringe.

Caitlynn’s body was removed, then the car. I watched it all from the passenger seat of the cruiser the officer had put me in. I watched the old man being placed in the back of the police car a few feet in front of me. 

We followed behind the cruiser carrying the perpetrator to jail for several miles in silence. When the officer put his blinker on to exit I latched onto him before he could turn off the highway. I didn’t have to move a muscle. One second I was slouched against the passenger window the next I was behind the wheel driving.

I sped up turning off where I saw the cruiser in front of me exit shaking off the burn that always happened when I jumped. It didn’t take long to catch up to them. They’d pulled off on a secluded dirt road off the main highway. When I drove up behind the cruiser I saw the officer had the old man over the hood of his car his fist slamming into the man’s face over and over again. I turned on my flashers and the officer looked up stunned. The old man slumped to the ground.

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I watched the officer kick the man before walking to me. I reached into the car for the police radio. “Officer down on Crystal road, “I said before exiting the vehicle.

“What the hell are you doing?” the officer said as he walked towards me wiping his bloody hand on his handkerchief.

I felt his lingering rage. I latched onto the irritation he felt. Immediately I felt the familiar falling sensation come. Then I was staring back at the car and the officer’s body I’d just occupied lying on the ground. I turned and walked to the black and white cruiser. My fists were stinging and still bleeding, but I ignored it. The old man blinked up at me.

Searching my pockets for the keys to the handcuffs I unlocked the old man’s hands. Immediately he wrapped his arms around me.

“I’m scared Mama,” he said his voice gruff and watery as his arms squeezed me tight.

“It’s okay Caitlynn, Mama’s here now,” I said as I put the old man in the front seat of the cruiser. I climbed into the driver’s seat putting the officer’s shades on.

I looked over at Caitlynn. I could feel the confusion radiating from her. “Don’t worry, it won’t be for long honey. Mama’s got you.”

“But how?” she said her cloudy gray eyes blinking back tears.

“Ssshh,” I said starting the car. “We’ve got a lot to do, and not much time to do it in.”

Within minutes we were back on the interstate in search of a fresh start, and new lives.

Empath 1

A small crowd of nosy passerby and would be customers huddled in the parking lot beneath Safeway’s overhang. There were whispers of made up gossip and speculation, but no one knew nothing for sure of what really happened.

The laughing little girl with the pretty ribbons in her hair was gone. That was the only that was certain. The still shocked store keeper said she’d been taken by the boogeyman, but no one knew what that meant either. Though the police weren’t calling it foul play just yet the neighborhood had locked itself down. Now they just watched and waited. For what? No one could say.

No one saw when she disappeared from the tiny store or what direction she’d been taken, but when she hadn’t returned home to her mother and ten minutes stretched to twenty, then thirty, Mama knew something wasn’t right. Mama knew her baby was missing. No one asked how. A mother always knows, they all thought. In this case they were right.

Everyone converged on the popular corner store. The cops were called, but they had nothing. However, the child’s mother was already making her plan.  

####

MAMA:

I could feel it.

She was gone. The only reason I hung around was because her scent was still so strong. It was the scent of fear thick and musty. Someone was wearing my daughter’s fear like a bad coat of paint that couldn’t be stripped away, but I would find them- and I planned to make them pay.

I made several passes through the crowd. Mostly gawkers their morbid curiosity ferocious in part because of her age. Cute little ten year old girls gone missing always brought them out, and each of them had their own suspicion.

It was that crazy guy that lived in the lot one street over.

It was the pimply kid that worked at the burger joint on 5th and John.

It was that teacher that got fired a few years ago for posting naked pictures online.

It was me.

I didn’t blame them. Speculation made them feel safe. If they could put a face and a name to the boogeyman then they could avoid him or her, protect themselves and their kids; but I knew from experience that never worked. It was always the person you least suspected. The real boogeyman never looked scary they didn’t show their scars which was how they were able to do what they did. It was how they remained hidden in plain sight. It had been my duty for more decades then I cared to remember to find them and catch them.

I policed the people that made things go bump in the dark. I was their judge and jury.

At an early age I realized I could see inside the souls of people and find the thoughts that made Normal people cringe and create lies to hide their fear.

I gave all that up when I had Caitlynn. I denied my ability, ignored my feelings. I was her mother and that was enough.

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THE POLICE:

“Ms. Reign we have expanded the search to include the entire neighborhood all the way down to the high school grounds. We’ve called in a helicopter to circle out from our start point here at his store,” the officer spoke softly, but his shrewd gray eyes watched her every move. He didn’t trust anyone.

Mama accepted that. It was his job. Mama had no desire to try and convince him otherwise. Because she’d already locked in on the girl. She knew where her daughter was.

There was a little girl name Christal. She was a year younger than my daughter all eyes and baby fat. She’d seen my daughter, actually brushed against her. That was how my daughter’s scent transferred to her, but the little girl was scared. She hadn’t said a word to anyone about what she’d seen, and I knew she wouldn’t. Luckily I’d absorbed all I needed to know.

“Yes, sir,” I said to the arrogant cop. “Have you set up roadblocks on the highway, called an Amber Alert?” The officer blinked. He looked surprised for a moment, but his voice remained cool.

“Like I said we’re searching the perimeter. Your daughter went missing less than an hour ago. We’re taking steps using protocol. Hopefully, we’ll find her playing at a friend’s house.”

“Caitlynn doesn’t have any friends,” I said. The cop paused for a second. In a flash I knew his story. He was new to the area as well and in over his head. “We just moved here,” I lied and the cop visibly relaxed.

“Well, if you could give any pictures you have of your daughter to Officer Pam over there, we would be very thankful.” I took the detective’s card and nodded before he lumbered away.

Officer Pam was stuffing another hostess cake in her already engorged cheeks her jowls jumping as she talked with the manager inside the small convenience store.

Calmly, I walked to an idling police car throwing my purse on the passenger seat before sliding inside. Within seconds I was peeling out of the parking lot. 

####

“She’s gone sir,” Officer Pam said eyes searching the lot once again in search of the mother and her issued vehicle. “Someone said she left about ten minutes ago? Headed towards the interstate?” Pam had a way of ending each sentence on a high note as if she were asking a question. It was annoying, but he’d learned to keep his thoughts about it to himself. He was leading this case. It was his first time being in charge on a new job, and the last thing he wanted was to mess it up because of personnel issues, but this went above and beyond. Leaving your keys in a running vehicle? Who did that? His officers apparently.

“I’ve called in an APB on your cruiser,” he said. “And an Amber. The girl has met the qualifications and we’re not getting anything done here.”

Every officer in the state would be on the lookout for the missing girl and her mother. It was off to a rocky start, but he hoped it would end well- this time.

He’d heard of a similar case last year just around this same time. Only that case had been in the northern part of the state. Little girl missing from convenience store, just disappeared. The child was later found dead from unnatural causes.

The last thing he wanted was for this girl to suffer the way the other child had. It was pure evil what had happened to the child up north. His breakfast almost came up on him at the memory from just seeing the pictures. The blood, the dismemberment it was the work of a maniac.

He sent up a silent prayer before joining the others. It was all he could do. 

####

The Watchers 24

Keep what you need and burn the rest

            Liza left on foot the next morning. Since everyone was still asleep, she borrowed one of Leena’s winter coats. She’d be back before she even missed it.

Stepping into the backyard the cool air met her full on as she made her way through the neighborhood and into the woods. Liza could see the morning traffic through the trees. It hadn’t picked up yet but where she was going she didn’t need a car. She wasn’t worried about being followed either because on foot there wasn’t anyone who could catch her.

That was one good thing about living in a small town. There was very little congestion which bred a lot of familiarity. It made surveillance easy because she could spot an outsider a mile away in the city. Once she got to the outskirts of town it was even easier.  As long as she could see them coming, she felt safe.

Liza took a different route than before but saw no signs anyone else had come this way. She didn’t believe for one second whoever it was had given up, but as long as she was on foot, she felt like she had a chance of remaining unnoticed. The car had a tracking device- she didn’t.

She found it quickly. It was for that reason she hadn’t bothered removing it. If she had it would only be a short time before they added another. Besides she’d lost them once, she could do it again.

Once Liza made it to the edge of town, she disappeared into the trail of woods that bordered the west end of the city. It was then I broke into a brisk run for the rest of the way.

None of the Davenport’s said anything about her new haircut. People in town looked at her different which felt surprisingly good. Instead of seeing Trina, Liza could pretend it was her they were really seeing. It was her they were accepting. She didn’t have to hide anymore. 

It felt good. Although it was Trina’s life, it was the closest thing Liza had felt to having a home with family and a sense of belonging.

There were moments Liza remembered her life before, and she realized there was nothing she really missed about it. She didn’t want to go back to it-none of it. She’d done bad things, horrible things, but here she was different, if only for the moment. At least she was trying to be.

Being a mother freaked her out initially, but Zuri was a smart girl. She reminded Liza a little of herself at her age. 

Leena still kept her distance, but Liza was okay with that. Whether her and Trina were ever close or not was a moot point. It didn’t seem as if the Davenport girls had much in common anyways. Nonetheless, she learned the Davenport’s put family above all else. Regardless of the circumstance that brought her there, she was family now. For however long she was there, she wanted to take advantage of it.

Liza entered the camper. Taking the lamps of kerosene, she unscrewed the lids. She turned the generator on along with every appliance she could. She emptied the kerosene on the floor, theh walls, everywhere she could, and set several bottles of reserve gas near the generator.

The fumes burned her nose, as she carried the only two items she saved up the ladder to the roof of the trailer.

One was a small address book she’d found and tucked in her back pocket. The second thing was the last lamp full of kerosene.

Once standing on the roof, she dipped a rag in the liquid and lit it before dropping it through the hole into the trailer. Immediately the inside of the trailer lit up as the lit rag touched the ground.

Climbing to the side of the trailer, Liza jumped from the roof as the fire raged inside. The sound of glass popping rang out as she ran for the line of trees to safety. A second later she heard the first explosion as the jugs of gasoline exploded one after another.

Sitting in the shade of a large oak she watched the moss surrounding the trailer catch on fire as a smaller explosion popped the roof of the trailer. The flames burned bright as it spread in all directions.

Squeezing the address book in her hands, Liza was thankful she’d taken the time to go through everything. A lot of what she saw was useless, which made sense.

Keep what you need and burn the rest. Central had trained her well.

When she found the address book in a secured drawer with a combination lock, she knew its value instantly. The book had nothing but symbols and drawings throughout. Indecipherable to most, but the jumbled letters and symbols made sense immediately to Liza.

It was funny. One moment she was clueless about the past six months and what she was doing in this little Podunk town and the next moment she was completely clear of everything. As she read the pages complete clarity returned with the force of an eighteen-wheeler. Liza understood everything now.

Why she was there, and how she gotten there. The calm she felt in the bookstore a week ago was back, but this time it wasn’t for self preservation. It was for comfort that all was well and her mission was back on track.

Holding the book tightly in her hand she turned away from what was left of the trailer she’d been living in. The heat of the flames lessened as she stepped further into the forest of trees. This wasn’t her only safe house.

She had another home, but that one was in the next town over. It was bigger, a lot less rustic.  

She needed to go there, but she wasn’t ready just yet. There were a few more things Lizaneeded to do before she could make that trip, but make it she would.

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Right now you think this isn’t real. You think I’m just here to scare you then let you go, but let me tell you that’s not what this is

They had a pattern now.

Weekday mornings started with breakfast and then getting Zuri off to school. From there Leena and Liza took turns going to the diner and checking in with the staff there making sure they had what they needed for the day’s service.

Ever since Blackfoot’s visit last week Mrs. Davenport, or Mama, hadn’t been back to the diner. Her health was getting worse; but she refused to let the staff know. She hadn’t left the house much at all, but her girls had filled in for her at the diner. Between the two there wasn’t any slack noticed in service, but Mrs. Davenport’s presence was very much missed.

Yet Mrs. Davenport wouldn’t talk about retiring. With all she’d been through with her cancer treatment no one would blame her for considering it. Still she refused to even talk about it. Even in her weakened state she wasn’t ready to give up the control of her business or her family.

Thanksgiving was coming, so she took all the decorations out herself determined to carry on the Davenport’s tradition of decorating the house.  It would be her first holiday with family. By the time she was through with putting everything up, the house looked like something out of Liza’s childhood dreams. Even Mrs. Davenport was impressed.

“I do believe you made this place look the best it’s looked in years,” she’d said. Her words made Liza smile and almost forget how she came to be there.  In that moment she was her real daughter, and Trina had never existed.  

However, she couldn’t forget that Trina was a mother. Although Liza didn’t mind being Zuri’s mother. In fact she was getting used to it. When Zuri yelled Mama now, Liza no longer flinched. The maternal gene she’d thought she was born without had kicked in.

Zuri loved her Grandmother, but having her mother back had put a new life in the little girl which Liza enjoyed seeing. So when Zuri came home one afternoon from school with tears on her face and a quiver in her voice, Liza didn’t hesitate in finding out what was bothering the little girl. Nor did she block the return of the calm.

Leena had picked Zuri up from school. At first, Liza thought that was the reason for Leena’s bad attitude, but one look at the girl’s face she knew it was something else.

“Her teacher said to just let it go, kids will be kids. But something has to be done,” Leena said dropping her purse on the table. “Letting some girl get away with bullying Zuri isn’t right. It’s not fair. I know folks like that; hell, I was folks like that. You give them an inch and they will run all over you. You have to stand up to them. Make them back down,” Leena said her voice rising as she pointed one of her pointy fingernails at Zuri.

Zuri dissolved in tears at her aunt’s words. “That’s enough,” Liza said quietly. “Enough,” she yelled again when Leena continued berating the girl.

“Fine, let the girl get beat up every day for the rest of her life. She’s in the sixth grade now but it’s only going to get worse. Right now, it’s one bad ass little girl, but if you let this go, she’ll have the entire school thinking they could use her as a punching bag.”

Leena left the kitchen after speaking her piece, leaving a thoroughly devastated Zuri in her wake.

Liza stood with her hip against the kitchen table watching. When Zuri stood, she followed her. Just as she suspected she headed for her grandmother’s room.

Before the little girl could knock on the woman’s door, Liza grabbed the girl’s hand squeezing tightly. Zuri tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go until she dropped her hand.

“Go,” she said in a quiet voice pointing towards the front door. Although Zuri looked shocked she obeyed.

The fact that she obeyed so readily didn’t sit well with Liza either. The little girl had no backbone. Had the tables been turned, Liza never would have given in so quickly. Her opinion of the girl dropped a few pegs, but she was determined to make this right.

Judgment wasn’t what Zuri needed right now. What she needed was to be taught an important lesson. 

The first lesson she needed to learn was to stick up for herself. Number two was that when she couldn’t stick up for herself, she had someone who was going to do it for her until she learned to do it for herself.

Liza grabbed their coats tossing one to Zuri as they went outside to the car. Once they were both inside, she turned to Zuri as the car warmed up.

            “Who is she?”

            “Who?”

            “Don’t make me ask again little girl,” Liza said irritation coloring her voice. She lit a cigarette ignoring the girl’s big eyes at seeing her smoke.

            “When did you start smoking?” Zuri asked.

             “Want one?” Liza held the pack out to the girl. The girl pulled back with horror on her face. Liza smiled in approval. “Exactly don’t ever let me catch you smoking, you hear?” Zuri’s eyes grew big but she nodded.

“Little girl you’ve got yourself in a pickle, but it’s OK.” Liza said as she backed the car out of the driveway.

            “Where are we going?”

            “I don’t know, you tell me,” she said putting the car in drive. “Where does she live? C’mon I know you know,” Liza said when the girl stared back at her with both eyebrows raised her mouth in a perfect O. Suddenly, Liza jerked the steering wheel to the right and put the car in park.

            “Do you want to be able to walk down the hallway with your head held high or do you want to have to hide until you graduate?” Liza said. Zuri dropped her eyes to the hands she held clasped tightly in her lap, but after a few seconds she gave an address.

            “367 Warrior Drive,” she said softly. Liza put the car in gear but before she could pull out onto the street Zuri spoke again. “But she’s not there now. She’s still at practice, at the stadium.”

            “That’s my girl,” Liza said making a U-turn in the middle of the street. She turned the radio on then winked at Zuri. “We’re going to go have some fun. Want to?” Zuri hesitated, but then nodded slowly. “Good, now tell me all about your little friend.”

            When they rolled up to the high school’s stadium, Liza had the 411 on Kim, the girl bullying Zuri. Her track team was still running drills, but it didn’t take long for Zuri to spot the sturdy built young woman with the long shiny black ponytail she was looking for.  The girl was tall for her age, almost Liza’s height. She smiled in anticipation.

Liza hadn’t spotted anyone following them, but she didn’t care either. This wasn’t business this was personal.

They watched from beneath the bleachers waiting for her chance. She got it when the girl broke away from her group to go to the bathroom.

“Keep watch,” Liza whispered to Zuri as she walked up behind the young woman after she left the bathroom. Liza grabbed the young woman by the neck dragging her backwards one hand over her mouth. She spun her around and pushed her back against the stadium wall.

“You know what’s going down, right?” The girl stared back with shrewd eyes assessing the situation before smirking. Liza smiled then grabbed the girl by the chin.

“I know what you’re thinking. Thinking I’m going to let you go cause you’re a kid. Let me tell you now- you’re wrong. You see that girl over there?”  Liza released her neck so she could turn in the direction she was pointing. The girl tried to pull away but Liza yanked her head back.

 “Nope, not going anywhere.” When the girl tried to scream, Liza put her hand back around the girl’s neck and squeezed until the girl’s voice box closed stopping air from entering. “Cool it,“ she said. “You’re not leaving until we understand one another.” The girl stopped struggling.

“I’m not your mama, I’m not your daddy, I’m not your teacher, or the little girls that follow you around and hang on your every word, you understand?  I am your worst nightmare. You understand?”

Liza removed her hand watching to see what the girl would do. Instead of screaming or running this time she nodded. “Very good. Now maybe we can reach a compromise.”

“You, my dear, are about to have an opportunity to change,” Liza said, “one chance. My girl over there will not put up with your bullying any more or that of anyone else in this shitty little school. You listening?” Liza asked frowning at the girl whose eyes had wandered to Zuri as if the little girl could help her. Liza slapped her hard across her face.

“You think I’m joking with you, I’m playing with you?” Liza said, placing her arms on either side of her. Their faces were an inch apart so close she could smell the girl’s peppermint gum. “You know who I am, don’t you?” The girl nodded her head. Liza smacked her hard against her ear knocking the girls gum out her mouth.

“Wrong,” she said. “Do you know who I am?”

“No, ma’am,” the girl croaked her voice dry and cracking with tears.  

“Very good,” Liza said into the girl’s face. “You think when I let you go, you’re going to go home or to the coach and tell them what just happened, but I’m telling you you’re not.”

Pulling my pocket knife from my pocket Liza unfolded it pointing the tip at the young girl.

“Right now, you think this isn’t real. You think I’m just here to scare you then let you go, but nope, you’re wrong,” Liza moved closer and with one swipe she cut the girl’s forearm. The cut was shallow but it bled running down her arm to drip in the sand. The girl opened her pink lips to scream, but Liza’s hand to her throat cut it off.

Holding the blade against the soft sensitive column of her jugular Liza waited until the girl’s eyes were back on hers. “You’re scared, I know, and you should be,” she whispered. “This has kind of gotten out of hand, I can admit that. Sometimes I do that,” she said, “when I’m pissed.” Pressing the blade against the girl’s jaw. “You don’t want me pissed off do you?”

The girl shook her head the strands of hair sticking to her sweaty cheek. Swiping the girl’s hair away, Liza cradled the girl’s sweaty face in her hand. “This is real honey, and I want you to remember it. Think of it as a little taste of the hell you put my daughter through for the past year. Oh yes, I know and it stops today. Now, you have a choice. You can leave my girl alone and forget she even exists. You stay away from her and you keep your little nasty friends away from her too, or I come back, yeah? You understand?” The girl nodded quickly. Liza stepped back. Watching the girl slide to the ground Liza crouched in front of the crying girl.

“Shh, shh I’m not going to hurt you,” Liza said. “I actually get you,” she said standing. “But if I ever hear your name in my daughter’s mouth again I’m coming for you, got it?” Again the girl nodded. Liza turned to walk away, but stopped to look at the girl again.

Bending again to the girl’s level her eyes slits. “Say anything about what just happened to anyone and that cut will be deeper and connected to the other one I make on the other side of your face. Pretty’s all you got going for you, both you and I know it. Cross me and you’ll spend the rest of your life wishing that you were dead. Understand?”  Liza didn’t wait for a response, but left the girl on the ground as she went to put an arm around Zuri.

“Now go clean yourself up and get back to practice dear,” Liza said. Then to Zuri, “How about some hot chocolate?” Zuri watched Kim as she stood then went into the bathroom. Then she looked up, eyes big and filled with awe.

“With whip cream?”

“That’s my girl.” Liza said smiling.  

The Watchers 11

Are you ok, Mrs. Davenport?”

“Good evening, Mrs. Davenport,” Blackfoot said through the locked screen door.

The fact she hadn’t immediately invited him in after answering her front door spoke volumes. Trina was inside he was sure but he said nothing. 

“I don’t know how good it is, Detective Blackfoot, but I guess I’ll have to take it,” Mrs. Davenport said emphasizing his new title.

“By the way, congratulations on the promotion,” she said her dark eyes inspecting him from head to toe.

Blackfoot ducked his head, “thank you ma’am.“ Mrs. Davenport nodded.

“So you getting too big for my diner these days,” she said. “I haven’t seen you at my counter in a while.”

“No ma’am, I’ve just been busy, but I plan to remedy that real soon,” Blackfoot said. “Can’t anyone make turkey pot pie like you, that’s for sure.”

Mrs. Davenport smiled, but Blackfoot didn’t let himself relax. Regardless of their history, he was here on business and knew better than to get too familiar with her.

“So what do I owe this visit to,” she said her dark brown eyes locked on his.

With the obligatory pleasantries out the way, Blackfoot knew now the real dance began. She was a true Southern woman, not too be sweet talked, but he wasn’t going to leave without talking to Trina this time. He just had to convince Mrs. Davenport.

Everyone knew of the rocky history the elder woman had with her two daughters, but regardless Blackfoot also knew how loyal Mrs. Davenport was to her girls. She was a strict disciplinarian but she’d closed ranks around them before, and he wouldn’t doubt she’d do it again.

However, this time Blackfoot believed her daughter had gotten into some hot water even Mrs. Davenport might not be able to cool down. He just had to get her to see that.

“I’m sorry to say I’m primarily here on business,” Blackfoot said allowing his face to soften but remained alert.

“Primarily,” she said.

“Well, you know I’m always happy to see you,” Blackfoot couldn’t help but laugh when the older woman rolled her eyes glad to hear her laugh with him. “You heard about what happened at the bookstore yesterday?”

Blackfoot watched the older woman’s face for a reaction, but there was none. Either Mrs. Davenport had an excellent poker face, or Trina hadn’t told her yet.

He wasn’t surprised by that, but he was shocked that no one at the diner had passed on the information.

It was a small town after all and gossip even of the garden variety got passed around like lightning. She shook her head, and whether she knew or didn’t know her face didn’t tell it. 

“Why don’t you refresh my memory, son,” Mrs. Davenport said with shrewd eyes. Blackfoot cleared his throat choosing his words carefully.

“Well I was hoping to talk to Trina.  I think she might be in some trouble.”

“When is that girl not in trouble,” Mrs. Davenport said dryly. T

“Well, she was mugged, but it seems that someone took a shot at her before that.” Blackfoot watched the older woman’s face carefully looking for any cracks, and he finally got one.

“Shot?” the older woman said one arm reaching for the door frame. Blackfoot reached for the door, but dropped his hand when he remembered it was still locked.

“Are you alright Mrs. Davenport?” She took a couple of deep breaths before speaking again.

 “Lord, what that girl done gotten into now,” she said. Her exhale lead to a coughing spell that was so violent it made Blackfoot’s chest hurt in sympathy. When she quieted down, she flipped the switch on the door and waved for Blackfoot to enter.

“I don’t know what’s going on just yet, that’s what I was hoping she might be able to help us out with,” Blackfoot said once the older woman was breathing more easily.

“She might be in real trouble this time. At the very least I need a statement about the incident,” Blackfoot said hoping Mrs. Davenport would see the importance of his speaking to her daughter.

“Have you heard from her, seen her,” Blackfoot said the concern in his voice genuine, but he knew the answer already.

“I’ll get us something to drink,” she said over her shoulder as she walked towards the back of the house.

The Davenport house was one of the oldest ones on the block, but the family had kept it well maintained. Blackfoot believed it was one of the reasons the street remained in such good condition. No one wanted to have Mrs. Davenport knocking on their door with an admonishment about a poorly maintained yard which she’d been known to do. She could have moved out to one of the newer subdivisions years ago, but she hadn’t. Choosing to remain in the same house she’d raised her daughters in.

Blackfoot followed the woman into the warm, brightly lit kitchen. He noticed the expensive furniture and neatly decorated rooms he passed. Her home was as impeccable as he remembered it. She’d redecorated since he’d last visited, but the vibe was still the same. It reminded him a lot of his grandparent’s home when they were alive.

Comfortable and warm with oversized furniture that could have been brand new or as old as he was. Either way it made him want to sit down and stay for a while.  

“Hey there Blackfoot,” Leena said walking through the kitchen with Zuri trailing behind her. Blackfoot spoke to both of them, but when they kept walking, he turned his attention back to Mrs. Davenport.

He knew better than to waste his time. They weren’t going to say any more than what Mrs. Davenport allowed them to say anyways. To try would just piss her off, so he sat down. He grinned when the older woman set a piece of red velvet cake in front of him.

“Oh you didn’t have to,” Blackfoot started, but the words died on his lips with one look from Mrs. Davenport.

Her look was kind, but he knew it would be rude to refuse the offering. Besides it was his favorite as he was sure she still remembered from his patrol days. Back then he spent almost every lunch break he could in her restaurant.

The only difference now was he wasn’t patrolling any more. His waistband couldn’t afford to eat at Davenport’s the way he had when he was younger.

He picked up the heavy fork she placed next to his plate on a paper napkin. Blackfoot took a big bite before he spoke again.

 “Just as I remembered,” Blackfoot said licking the thick white frosting off his lips.

“So Trina was at the bookstore you say. Yesterday? My Trina?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And she was mugged, you say?”

“Yes ma’am,” refusing to let her “you say” get to him. He had an entire store of witnesses to back what he said, but he kept it to himself.

“Well, if she was mugged then why you here asking about her. Shouldn’t you be out trying to catch the folks who did it?” Blackfoot took another bite of his cake trying not to let his temper get the best of him.  

Her interrogation abilities were good, but his were pretty good too.

“Yes ma’am,” he said finishing his last bite. He pushed the plate away to give her his full attention.  “Her attackers,” he said, “are in custody already. But your daughter had some injuries,” Blackfoot emphasized, “that caused her to be admitted to the hospital last night.”

“The hospital?” Mrs. Davenport said. The shock on her face was genuine. “Oh sweet Jesus.”

“Yes, ma’am. She was admitted last night, but before I could question her this morning she left. She left the hospital against the doctor’s orders- which she’s within her right to do, but according to the doctor prior to her being mugged your daughter was shot. She suffered a head injury.”

“Oh my God,” Mrs. Davenport said one hand rising to cover her mouth.

“Yes ma’am,” Blackfoot said as it became clearer that the woman really had no clue as to her daughter’s current situation.

He couldn’t help but feel sympathetic to her situation, but he had no choice but to ask her again, “have you heard or seen from your daughter in the past few days?” He watched the woman for a reaction, unsure of what he was looking for, but the older woman gave away nothing.

“No, no I haven’t,” she said before dropping her hands to her side. Her eyes never wavered from Blackfoot’s. “We didn’t even know she was in town.”

“When was the last time you heard from your daughter?”

“Goodness, I’m not sure,” Mrs. Davenport said pushing away from the counter.

“It’s been at least a month, I think Mama,” Leena said walking back into the kitchen to stand next to Blackfoot.

She grabbed an apple from the bowl glancing at Blackfoot as she wiped it off. He’d known her since she was a little girl, but he couldn’t say he knew anything about her now other than she couldn’t stand Trina.

The two had notorious fights at home and in public, one time he could remember the police had been called. Still it was just as he suspected. Regardless of how they felt about each other, the Davenports were not a family that would turn on one another.  Blackfoot respected that, but it didn’t make his job any easier. He looked between the two women nodding as he stood.

He’d gotten his answer. He was disappointed by it, but it wasn’t like he could force them to tell the truth. Liza could be less than twenty feet from him, but unless he had a warrant, and the police chief’s okay he couldn’t do anything about it. He dug in his pocket and pulled out his card holder handing a card to Mrs. Davenport.

“Well, I’ll be following up with you if I hear anything, but please feel free to give me a call if you hear from Trina. We’d really like to talk with her.”

After excusing himself, Blackfoot walked out the front door to his car and climbed in. The temperature was dropping, but it wasn’t what had him chilled to the bone. He was certain Trina was inside. but the Davenports had shut him down. He didn’t know what mess Trina had gotten herself into, but apparently her family was sticking by her.

All he could do was follow-up on a couple of leads he had until the Davenports were ready to talk. He just hoped they did so before it was too late to save Trina from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into.

The Watchers 9

It has already been handled

“She’s surfaced, sir,” The agent said.

The man known as the Mastermind looked at the pictures the agent had forwarded to his phone. It was Liza. He’d always been able to spot her no matter what her cover was.

“How would you like for us to handle this.”

“Handle?” The Mastermind said.

The agent stared out the windows of his car. He searched the line of trees that faced him. Then he looked in his rearview mirrors at the water behind him. He was hundreds of miles away from Central parked on a dock overlooking the Back Bay but he knew it could never be far enough. He knew from experience that no amount of distance could keep him from the reach of the Mastermind. The Mastermind kept tabs on everything and everyone. He knew this because he’d become his right hand man since Liza disappeared.

Despite being alone in his car in the middle of nowhere, he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a camera on him right now. It wasn’t paranoia. Unlike most people he knew Central’s reach. He’d seen it with his own eyes. They knew all and saw all.

There was no hiding for anyone. He found himself searching the perimeter around his car once again for any movement.

He’d chosen the spot because of its isolation. The mistake most people made was they thought being surrounded by people made them safe. He knew the opposite to be true. He’d done his best work in a room crowded with people.

From his current vantage point he was able to see anyone and anything coming for him. He gripped the gun tight in his lap.

“It has already been handled,” the Mastermind said.

The agent didn’t understand, but knew better than to ask anything else. Swallowing the lump in his throat he watched the line of trees several yards away from him.  If the Mastermind didn’t offer an explanation, he didn’t need one. He would know only if the Mastermind wanted him to know.

“Fall back,” the Mastermind said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Liza isn’t one of us anymore.”  

The Mastermind disconnected the call then leaned back in his seat. He took a sip of water from a tumbler. He had Cognac in his bottom drawer, but he was saving that.  He was saving that for when Liza returned to him.

He’d lied, to the agent. Liza hadn’t betrayed Central. She’d done exactly as she’d been told.  No one knew that, of course, except her an dhim.

Unfortunately, something had gone wrong. It was the only excuse he could imagine since she hadn’t checked in with him since surfacing.

It was not like his Liza.  

He’d been riding his agents hard since Liza had gone off the grid, but he’d had no choice. None of them knew the truth of course.  

In their line of business everyone was dispensable. It was part of their creed, but in spite of that Liza had risen through the ranks and earned the respect of all of his agents both old and new. She was a legend, and for once it was a title that even the Mastermind felt was befitting.

When he’d lost contact with her, he’d had to cover by listing Liza as a fugitive. She wasn’t, of course, but until he could bring her back in and talk to her face to face there was no way he could know what had gone wrong. And that was the thing that infuriated him. The not knowing. What had happened to her?

He had a team on it, but they were told specifically not to make contact. He’d sent her husband away, and if the man knew what was good for him, he’d stay away. He wasn’t really worried about Wilson though. The man was scared of his own shadow. After betraying his wife, going anywhere near her would be the last thing he’d want to do, if he was as smart as Liza claimed he was.

He expected complete allegiance and so did Liza. He trusted Liza because she was like him. If she went off the grid, she had good reason. In every agents career they came a time when the door had to be closed on the past permanently. As long as she came back to him, the Mastermind had no problem with Liza tying up some loose ends. It was time.

The Watchers 6

Easing his car off the road onto a patch of dead grass Taylor parked his black and white car. The coroner had already arrived. It meant less time spent standing over a dead body. He got out of his car groaning at the thought of what he was about to see.

Seagulls flew overhead their squawks echoing in the wind as he walked down the path. White seashells crunched beneath his shoes until he made it to the sand covered beach where a group of officers stood in a small circle around an inlet of dark water.

He hated this part of his job. He knew some officers looked for these types of calls- the gorier the better. It gave them a good story to tell at the next barbecue or crawfish boil, but Taylor hated them. It always made his stomach turn no matter the situation.

His mother said it was because he’d been a sensitive kid, but he didn’t think that’s what it was. Not being able to eat a po’boy while watching an autopsy didn’t make him sensitive. It didn’t make him any less of a cop or a man in his opinion. It just made him human.

All of that bravado was for show in his opinion. As if indifference to death was an indication of toughness. Taylor didn’t buy that line of thinking, but he knew that blowing his cookies in front of everyone wasn’t going to get him a promotion any time soon either.

He’d hoped Blackfoot would volunteer that way he could hang back, but the older cop hadn’t and Taylor knew better than to ask. He had no choice but to follow up on his own.

Although he hadn’t been there long, he knew Blackfoot almost as well as anyone in the department. Most found him hard to get along with, but Taylor had created a good relationship with the man. They worked well together because neither expected the other to be anything more than what they were. He’d recognized early on that beneath the irritability and bad attitude Blackfoot was a good guy, he just didn’t feel the need to prove it.

“Taylor over here.”  A voice called out. Taylor zipped his jacket and pulled up the collar as he made his way through the marshy weeds to where the coroner was hunched over the body.

The closer he got the sicker he felt as the smell of decomp reached his nose the wind whipping it up from the murky gulf water. It was the smell of death. Even though the body was face down in the water he could see the beginning of bloat.

He felt his stomach drop as he got closer. The body was naked and still lying face down in the wet sand but it was easy to see she was black and female.

            “If this is her, it will be the quickest turn around to a shit case I’ve ever seen,” one of the officers standing off to the side said with a chuckle. Taylor didn’t know who the yahoo was, but he knew he didn’t like him.

“Have some respect.” Taylor said looking the officer in the eye as he passed by. Taylor didn’t out rank him but the cop had enough sense to keep the rest of his comments to his self.

A lot of people in town didn’t care for Trina from what he’d learned, but he didn’t care about who she was.

Ever since it was learned Trina Davenport was the person mugged at the bookstore sympathy had dried up quick, as if the young woman had somehow brought it on herself. What everyone seemed to be forgetting was that Davenport was the victim not the perpetrator.

Regardless of her reputation, Taylor believed the woman deserved the benefit of doubt at least until she told her side of the story. Grimly, he looked on as the coroner worked gathering his evidence hoping it wasn’t too late for her to get her chance.

“Okay, let’s turn her over fellas,” the gray-haired man said as he got on his haunches. He had on his waders, but the marshy shore line was unstable. They had no choice but to pick the woman up and move her up the incline from the water.

“Just watch your step fellas, we need to try and preserve as much evidence as we can.”

After a short count the two officers recruited to assist rolled the woman’s body over. As soon as they did though there was an audible gasp from the group of first responders standing on the ridge. The coroner turned to Taylor.

“I’d bet my last paycheck not your girl, son. This poor gal was pregnant, third trimester at least.” Taylor looked away from the officers as they struggled to get the woman up the hill her distended belly clearly visible in the afternoon sun.

Taylor felt nauseous.  He stood to the side his legs too weak for him to get back up the incline before they could pass. He was glad to see someone had the sense to cover the woman’s body, whoever she was, with a dark blue blanket. A quiet came over the group of officers and other first responders. 

They’d all seen death up close but even the most hardened still had a rough time reckoning with something like this. The woman’s death had been brutal too. Her face was unrecognizable, and she had abrasions and bruising to her entire body.

His feelings were mixed as he climbed back in his car. He was sympathetic to the young woman and the family that he was sure would be grieving once the woman was identified, but thankful to know the Davenport case hadn’t taken a worse turn.

More than ever Taylor was determined to find Davenport. The woman obviously had something to hide since she bolted; he just wondered what it was.

From what he’d been able to piece together she’d been mugged and shot at in the past week she’d come home. It was a hell of a homecoming, and he knew better than to believe it was all a simple coincidence.  Nobody was that unlucky.  

The Watchers 5

Runaway

“We’re still waiting for the tape,” the security guard said yawning midsentence. His jaw stretched so wide it popped twice before he could continue, “but we think she left down the back stairs. You know to the lobby.”

“You think?” Blackfoot said. Scrubbing at the dark whiskers on his chin Blackfoot took a long deep breath before he allowed himself to speak again, “Do you even know if she’s still in the hospital? Have you searched?”

“She’s not in her room,” the guard said with a baleful look reaching for the pink bag on his desk. He pulled out a beignet and took a bite of the doughnut the crumbs and white powder falling on the desk and his uniform.

Blackfoot recognized the pink to-go bag immediately. It came from Ophelia’s restaurant. He wanted to shove the entire contents of the bag of fried bread down the man’s throat but he knew it would be a waste of good food.  Unclenching his teeth Blackfoot turned his back on the clueless security guard, and pulled his phone from his pocket.

Within five minutes he’d given orders for his officers to begin a search of the hospital and start questioning staff.

“Don’t worry we’ll be discreet,” Blackfoot said to the guard trying to keep control of his temper.

“No worries, man,” The guard shrugged as he turned the page of the National Enquirer sitting in his lap. He gave Blackfoot thumbs up with his other hand before stuffing another beignet in his mouth.

Blackfoot cursed as he left the dark confines of the hospital’s security office. He wanted to tell the rent a cop where he could shove his magazine, and his beignets but he knew it would only result in another complaint added to his disciplinary file.

It was clear the man didn’t care about his job. Like Taylor always said going off wasn’t going to get him anywhere but damn didn’t it feel good.

Blackfoot understood burnout. He hated dealing with the enormous amounts of bullshit he had to shovel daily on his job too, but at least he tried to not show it. If anything, he was too passionate about his job, at least that was how he chose to frame it.

He knew last night he’d pushed it though. If Taylor hadn’t gotten to him when he did, he didn’t know what he would have done to that little EMT. He’d never been that out of control on the job before with a civilian. Not since Milton, but as far as he was concerned pedophile scum like Milton didn’t count.

The crack Rusty had made about his ex-wife wasn’t what pissed him off. He’d gotten past all that. He was over Pamela, but just the gall of that dumbass trying to use his ex to get under his skin was what had set him off.

He knew he had a temper, but knowing and doing something about it were two different things. Blackfoot’s temper was legendary, but it was also sometimes the only thing that kept him going.

However, dealing with the hospital security made Blackfoot wish for the second time this morning that he’d just called in and stayed in bed this morning. Maybe if he had someone to share his bed with he would have. Hell taking a vacation would be an even better idea. Then he could forget about ever hearing the name Trina Davenport, but he knew he wouldn’t.

He had the time, but he couldn’t shirk his responsibility. Even though he hated his job some days, he didn’t feel right dumping his work on someone else. It was his case and he’d see it through.

Regardless of how he felt about Davenport he was the lead detective on the case so he had no choice in his mind. The last thing he expected was for her to run though.

Even though he hadn’t had a moments rest since this case had been dropped in his lap he wouldn’t give up until Davenport was found. They might be small town, but nothing and no one could stay hidden here for long especially someone like Trina.

It was true southerners could keep a secret better than most, but it was also true the only thing a southerner liked more than hearing gossip was being the bearer of gossip. The bigger the better. He figured it was only a matter of time before he got a call about the missing woman.

 Blackfoot felt his back pocket vibrate.  “Speak.”

“Hey boss,” Taylor said on the other end. “Did our bird show up yet, or is she still hiding from you?”

“For the last time, I didn’t do anything to that woman,” Blackfoot said exasperated. “I don’t know why you keep trying to pin this one on me. I didn’t get to speak to her any more than you did last night. Than any one did because of your girlfriend.”

“Whatever,” Taylor said. “All I know is that your face could make Mr. T take a step back.”

“Oh wow, Mr. T, really,” Blackfoot said as he walked down the sun lit corridor. “You’re showing your age man.” He heard Taylor groan into the phone.

Blackfoot’s mouth hitched up a fraction of an inch to one side but that was the closest he got to a smile. Taylor hated being reminded of getting older, and therefore Blackfoot did it every chance he got. Taylor might look like a millennial but he was closer to Blackfoot’s age than he’d ever admit which made it so much easier to expose him.

He figured everyone had a something, a vice, and being a little vain was Taylor’s. Hell, Taylor’s suits cost more than his first car, which Blackfoot still drove, but he didn’t hold it against him. Taylor was a good cop and would only get better.

He knew the man hoped to make detective one day, and Blackfoot would be surprised if he didn’t very soon.  Even though he transferred in to the department only a year ago he’d worked for almost a decade at his last precinct. Besides Taylor was a team player, and he wasn’t above doing the boot work a lot of young officers hated.

Anyone else Blackfoot would have called a kiss ass, but Taylor wasn’t that way. Everyone liked him, which benefitted Blackfoot because over the years he’d made more than a few enemies, and Taylor had the knack of finessing even the hardest subjects into talking. 

“So what you got for me?” Blackfoot asked.

“Four hours of tape showing the lovely Trina Davenport in all her evil glory.”

“Ok, give me the Cliff notes version.”

“Back in high school Trina had been the girl most likely. She’d been the most likely to succeed, to be famous, and/or to marry a president or some other rich slash powerful guy.  From all accounts she was bound for success but she crashed and burned her first year at college. Got pregnant then somehow got cast on that crazy TV show. Since then she’s been in one tabloid after another for bad choices and bad behavior all of which is documented for posterity on YouTube. Available to anyone with the time, a laptop and internet access.”

“Let me guess, sounds like there are quite a few people who’d like to ring our victim’s neck, or in this case put a bullet in her head?

 “You could say that,” Taylor said.

“So best case scenario is Trina left on her own free will, but worst-case scenario was that the person who’d shot at her had come to finish the job. If only we’d been able to speak to her last night,” Blackfoot said.

“C’mon man,” Taylor groaned. “You know how Margaret can get.”

“Exactly, you got to learn how to control your woman, man.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Yeah, so now we know why you’re single don’t we?” Taylor said. “Well, maybe if someone had gone on a second date with her sister.”

“Whatever man.” Blackfoot said not wanting to revisit the first and only date he’d had with Margaret’s younger sister. “If your girlfriend is a nurse at the biggest hospital in the city, that is supposed to be an asset not a roadblock.”

“Yeah, well she’s got a job to do too.”

“Yeah just like you.”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“You do that.”

 “Right, boss,” Taylor said before growing quiet- too quiet for Blackfoot ‘s liking.

“Out with it.”

“There was a possible call about a body on the beach in Biloxi a little while ago. She matches Davenport’s description.”

 “Jesus, man. That was what you were supposed to lead with,” Blackfoot cursed.

“Sorry, got sidetracked,” Taylor said. “I’m already headed that way.”

“Damn,” Blackfoot said into the phone. It was one thing to lose a key figure in a case, another for them to end up dead. 

“I know, right,” Taylor said. “Man, this case keeps getting worse and worse. Why do you think she ran?”

“We don’t know if she did yet,” Blackfoot said into the phone, but his silence told him they were thinking the same thing. The woman had dodged them last night. No doubt about it. There was no way she had been sleeping all that time. The fact she’d waited until morning to leave was the big surprise but what she was hiding concerned him more. With this new information he just hoped they hadn’t lost her for good.

“Look, one way or the other this case will get closed. The sooner the better. I’m gonna stick around for a little while try and ride security to give me something. They claim head of security is the only one that can give me the tape, and of course they’re out of town,” Blackfoot reached for the pack of cigarettes he always kept in his jacket pocket.

“Call me once you have word,” Blackfoot said. “Oh, and thanks man,” he added clearing his throat, “for everything.”  Taylor had saved his butt last night, and they both knew it.

“Sure thing, boss,” Taylor said.

Blackfoot ended the call. He was still beating himself up for not getting the interview with Davenport. The woman had been shot. Anyone else involved and Blackfoot would have charged right into the room regardless. Nothing short of the woman being dead would have stopped him. He would have done whatever he needed to do to get his interview. He’d have called the family if he’d had to.  Unfortunately, this case was trickier not because of her celeb status but because of her mother’s.

Trina may be on a nationally rated television show, but her mother Ophelia Davenport was a beloved local legend with more political connections than the governor. That’s why he was surprised she’d had no visitors all night.

Ophelia was old school all the way. It was just an overnight visit, but still it didn’t’ make sense her mother hadn’t come to see about her.

Blackfoot took a long drag from the stick as soon as he lit it. The only excuse he could think of was there must be trouble in the Davenport household now that Trina was back. The woman rarely returned to her hometown but it was for good reason. She wasn’t exactly the golden girl anymore. Everyone in town knew Ophelia wasn’t proud of what her daughter had become.

Forgoing the elevator to take the back stairs Blackfoot made his way down the three flights. He was about to open the door to the lobby when something caught his eye. In the corner he saw a balled-up piece of blue fabric.

He picked up the blue gown catching a whiff of something familiar. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell but very distinct- like lemons he thought. Looking at the gown he didn’t see any stains or tears, but the perfume he recognized immediately. He was certain it had been Davenport’s. Last night he’d been at the ambulance when she was loaded in, he’d even helped lift the bed. He was glad he had now. He’d caught the same whiff of perfume he smelled on the gown on her last night.

He wasn’t as politically savvy as Taylor but he was a good officer, and his hunches were usually right. He gave the gown a once over but other than the scent it carried there wasn’t anything else he could gather from the wrinkled fabric in his hands. However, now at least he knew what path she took. He could wait for the tape, but she was gone, and all signs pointed to it being of her own volition. Blackfoot wasn’t hanging around the hospital any longer for validation he didn’t need.  

Trina Davenport wasn’t the Coast’s only celebrity but she was the most notorious.  So there were a lot of eyes on him to solve the case and put it to rest quickly.  

He knew putting aside his personal opinion about the young woman was tantamount to doing so. He’d lied to Taylor. He was well aware of who Trina was. Hell, they’d grown up in the same small town together. However, he was several years ahead of her. Although he’d never met the woman he’d heard of some of her exploits. She was trouble with a capital T.

Walking out the front door of the hospital he spotted his car, a brown Trans Am right where he left it. It was parked in the curved driveway in front of the hospital. The faded police sticker on the windshield was cracking and peeling, but it was still good. The drive was supposed to be a no parking zone, but exceptions were generally made as long as he had the police tag.  

Although he’d long fallen out of lust with the job he had to admit the perks were good. Blackfoot wasn’t crooked but he never claimed to be a saint either. He already knew heaven was not a part of his retirement package.

Besides his daddy had taught him hell was just a lie a bunch of bored saints in heaven told themselves. His scoundrel of a father wasn’t the best to rely on for advice but even if he was wrong Blackfoot was a southern boy through and through. He wasn’t scared of a little heat.

—–

The Watchers 2

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.

Stay alert!

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.

THE WATCHERS 1

WHAT WOULD LIZA DO?

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