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The Watchers 34… the end

Until then though, I would watch

            “What would you like us to do, ma’am,” the agent said on the other end of the line.

            Liza watched the crawl of images and words on the wall of screens before her. The images sped by but she took it all in. She would make her decisions based on the information she saw. Using it and statistical analysis Liza made decisions for a variety of scenarios occurring in real time around the world. It all occurred in rapid fire succession over and over again all day every day.

The statistics were only a small part of her decision making. She used them, but she didn’t always follow them. The ultimate decision was always hers.

It took more than mathematics to predict human behavior because there were too many factors that could change the pattern in a blink of an eye.

            “Take him, and tag him, then call me,” Liza said into the phone before ending the call.

Standing she stretched before walking away from the desk. However, before she did, she hit a button beneath it to signal her second in command that she was not monitoring.

The screens had to be watched at all times. Whether by her or someone else, 24/7 there were eyes on them making decisions about everything from court cases to war room strategies. She had trained a few to watch for her, but none that she trusted implicitly. No one she trusted who would look for what she looked for and report to her the most pertinent information.

            The cameras she watched were beamed to her from satellites high in the sky. They each gave a view that was necessary and needed to be watched. That’s who she was- a Watcher and she was the best.

            Liza’s only worry at this point was that she didn’t have a replacement- yet. Every watcher had to choose someone because there was so much to learn. Her time to choose was coming soon.

As she’d been chosen, Liza had to choose so the grooming could begin. The Master watcher before her was the Mastermind. With his death she took his place, as he’d always known she would. She was the only one who knew what he knew and that knowledge he’d passed to her was invaluable. Liza knew now it was the real reason she’d been kept alive even after she’d run.

            She regretted nothing though.

Liza knew when her replacement came of age and learned all they could learn she’d probably suffer a similar fate all watchers had. With the enormous weight of responsibility inevitably came resentment, and that resentment had to be spent.

This was not a job of love it was one of necessity. Emotions were not a part of it, could not be. They did what they had to because someone had to do it.

They had relationships with every government; every organization that made sure the world woke up in the morning and went to sleep at night.  They kept order of the entire mess. Without them there would be chaos.

They did what they did so the world could keep turning with clean hands and a clear mind.

            They were the boogeymen that controlled the things that went bump in the night, and created the bumps.

Returning to her desk Liza hit the red button once again and the screens brightened just a fraction brighter signaling she was back to the others. There was one in particular she was interested in.

In the far right corner two rows over there was a screen in color. It had been years, three in fact since she’d begun watching the family smiling into the camera. Using the wireless mouse, Liza pulled the screen closer then hit the volume.

            “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Kayla, happy birthday to you.” Liza watched as little Kayla cooed reaching for the birthday cake sitting in front of her.

Her parents Blackfoot and Trina stood over her as her chubby little golden-brown hands squeezed the cake between her fingers then into her mouth.

            Liza smiled as she heard other voices. There was Zuri smiling at her baby sister and Liza heard Leena’s loud voice from somewhere off camera.

A moment later Leena passed by in her new beau’s embrace.  They looked so happy and at peace. Smiling, Liza watched for longer than she intended but she couldn’t help herself.

She’d done that. For the rest of her life if nothing else she knew she’d brought her sister happiness and something she’d never have- a family of her own.

            Liza pulled the screen to the front not ready to turn away just yet. She monitored all of the hot spots around the world, but her eyes kept returning to the scene in the Davenport’s kitchen, and little Kayla.

            She was a beautiful brown eyed little girl. She had her mama’s good looks, and her father’s curiosity.

That one’s going to be fierce, Liza found herself thinking once again of the little girl. Again and again her eyes returned to the screen until it went dark as the family moved from the kitchen to their bedrooms for the night.

Liza hadn’t approved more cameras in the house- not yet. She’d given the new family their privacy, but she would- eventually.

            Little Kayla had just turned two, but she was already making plans for her niece. She was a healthy little girl, but there was something in her eyes she could already see.

Her intelligence and strength made her stand out. Kayla was a fighter just like her auntie. Like every fighter, they had to be taught of their potential. Just as she was taught, Liza would have to teach Kayla.

            Not now, of course. They had time, but Liza knew there would come a day when she would introduce Kayla to what she would become.

Until then though, she would watch.

When the time was right, then Liza would reveal herself, and teach Kayla who she really was. The best Watcher Central had ever seen.

The End.

The Watchers 33

She knew her sister.

            It was sunny and warm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was her wedding day, a first for the Davenport girls. Although they looked nothing alike the two young women were sisters if not by blood then by bond.

            They’d learned things about each other in the past few months that neither had known about the other their entire lives.

            “Trina,” Leena called from the front room. Trina ran to the living room still in her robe to see what Leena was yelling about.

            “What in the world,” she said walking into the front room. There was a huge box sitting in the middle of the living room.

            “It just arrived. The tag says it’s for you,” Leena said smiling.

Immediately Trina thought of Liza, but she said nothing. The woman had given her so much as it was, she couldn’t imagine anything else from her especially after all this time.

It had been a year since she’d last seen or spoken to Liza. Since then it was as if the woman had dropped off the face of the earth.

            She’d known better than to go looking for her. Besides Liza had warned her not to try. She said for her safety and the safety of Leena and Zuri she had to leave.

If it hadn’t been for the weeks she’d spent locked in that basement, Trina wouldn’t have believed it, but she knew better than to second guess Liza.

            Truth be told she was scared of the woman. She was her sister, yes, but by blood only. Liza had saved her, but she had also been her captor.

It was a truth that she knew not to forget. Nonetheless, without her she wouldn’t have the life she now had. It was a humongous price to pray, but she was hard pressed to say she would trade her current situation for anything else.

            “I think I’m going to need something to get into it,” Trina said her voice more breathless than she meant it to be.

            “Wait, let me find some scissors,” Leena said smiling. As soon as she left the room, Trina attacked the box. She didn’t know what she’d find, but whatever it was she wanted to see it without witnesses.

Pulling at the tape she opened the seam at the top. Tearing open the lid she saw it was full of the Styrofoam popcorn that meant there was something breakable inside. Scooping out the white foam kernels, Trina quickly uncovered the top of the glass figurine.

            “Couldn’t wait, huh,” Leena said disappointment in her voice. However, a second later her voice was filled with awe.

“Good lord, it’s beautiful.”

The two women carefully pulled the glass figurine from the box. It was wrapped in more Styrofoam but the colors of the hand-blown glass were visible. As they removed the Styrofoam from around it carefully, they unveiled the treasure.

            It stood about three feet tall and it showed the busts of a man holding a beautiful woman holding a child. It was a figure of emotion more than actual detail and the colors of the rainbow blending perfectly to reflect it in a marriage of light and love.

            “Oh, Trina, who sent that to you,” Leena said tears in her voice as she walked around the figurine on the kitchen table. “It positively glows,” she said.

            “It’s alright,” Trina said with a smirk but she too was impressed. Reaching for the card she read it aloud.

            For the beautiful family as you begin your new adventure. May you hold each other close through the years. Protect each other, love each other because that is what truly matters. LW

            “Who is LW,” Leena asked touching the figure with the tips of her fingers.

            “I have no idea,” Trina said smoothly. “Probably some fan. It seems a bit much though. You think we should keep it?”

            “Girl, if you don’t you crazy. This is a work of art,” she said. “This should really be in a museum, an art gallery something.”

            “Yeah, it should,” Trina said, but she knew that was not what was intended. LW, she thought to herself smiling. The figurine was Liza all the way. It was over the top and overbearing, but at the same time classic. It was timeless, and the thought of giving it away or hiding it away she knew she’d never be able to do nor was that Liza’s intention. She knew her sister.

            Walking closer to the centerpiece, Trina looked at it carefully. She followed the lines from top to bottom from all angles.

She knew Leena was watching her, but she wasn’t concerned. She circled it twice admiring the lines, the colors, and the care it took to make their likenesses so real.

It was a bust of Blackfoot her soon to be husband, herself, and Zuri. It was a magnificent piece of art that she knew both Blackfoot and Zuri would get a kick out of when they saw it.

            Once she made her way to the base of the structure that was when she found it.

At the base there deep within the bust was a darker structure from where all the colors combined into black. It was the beginning or the end depending on how you interpreted it, but either way, Trina was sure she could see a small rectangular structure that passed through the entire base.

Anyone else who saw it would have thought it was just part of the work created by the artist, but Trina knew better. She’d seen that same structure months ago in the shed she lived in 24/7.

            Liza had told her the night she’d left the Davenport house for good, the last night she’d seen her that she would always be watching.

She’d said, “don’t you worry, I will always be here in one way or another.” Trina now understood.

Strangely, it didn’t bother her. If anything, she felt heartened that they would always be safe.

            The life Liza lived, Trina knew was dangerous, because for a moment she’d been touched by it. It was that night at the dance. It was the night Liza left and one of her agent’s pulled her to the side to inform her that Liza had gone for good.

That brief moment she’d felt an imprint was made. She always wondered if the people Liza dealt with on a daily basis would one day visit her doorstep, now she knew Liza had thought the same thing.

This was a way for her to keep an eye on them. It was a small price to pay for knowing they would be safe because Liza would always be there keeping watch over all of them.

The Watchers 32

I wanted to be normal for once.

            “Did I tell you how beautiful you look, Trina?” Blackfoot said his eyes darting back and forth from the road to the passenger seat.

            “Well, let me see. Once when I walked in the room right after you stopped mid-sentence talking with my sister, which was pretty rude, I must say,” she said laughing. “Then you turned and said “wow, Trina you look absolutely beautiful,” as we were walking to the door to go to your car, then I believe you wolf whistled at me for a good minute when I was getting into the car.”

“Wolf whistled,” he laughed.

“Yeah, like the cartoons,” she said before demonstrating. “Then about five minutes ago again, and two minutes after that, and then just now. So yeah, you’ve said it plenty.”

            “Good because I meant it,” Blackfoot said.

            Traffic was heavy, but the weather was clear so they made good time getting to the venue. When they pulled up to the Coliseum there were a few police cars outside but it was to be expected. This was a high-profile event for the city.

“That would be me probably if I wasn’t with you,” Blackfoot smiled looking out the window at the black and white cars.

“Making a few extra bucks, huh? Handsome and thrifty.”

“Yup that’s me,” Blackfoot said, “Pretty and cheap.”

“Not too cheap I hope,”

“Hah,” he laughed as he parked the car next to one of the cruisers. Blackfoot wore a black suit but a few men had gone for the full tuxedos. Regardless they were sure to cause a scene walking in together: the bad girl gone good and the good cop gone bad. 

Tonight, she just wanted to enjoy being a girl going out with a boy who liked her just as much as she liked him. She wanted to dance, and drink and enjoy tonight. She wanted to be normal for once.

            “Are you having a good time,” Blackfoot said as they took their first spin on the dance floor.

            “More than you know,” she said, “more than I thought possible.”

            “Good,” Blackfoot said his smile sparkling beneath the white lights. “I was told if I didn’t show you a good time tonight, then I better not show my face again in the Davenport household.”

            “Tell me who, and I will take them down myself.”

            “My lips are sealed,” he said. Laughing he added, “Hey, I need my shins and I think that’s the highest the little munchkin can reach. At least I hope.”

            “Well you don’t have to worry as long as you show me a good time.”

            “Oh, yeah,” Blackfoot whispered.

            “Yeah.”

            “Yeah,” Blackfoot said softly. They stared into each other’s eyes gliding across the floor to the music. Blackfoot was surprisingly light on his feet and kept good time.

            “What is that for?” he asked, catching her smile.

            “What?”

            “That smirk,” he said.

           “Just happy, I guess,” she said as the song ended and the crowd started clapping their appreciation for the live band. She looked to Blackfoot, but he was just staring at her. “What?”

“There’s something different about you,” Blackfoot said. “I don’t know.” Staring at her lips for a second he caught himself. “I like it,” he added finally. They walked back to their table they were sharing with another couple.

            “I’ll get us some drinks,” Blackfoot asked before heading for the crowded bar.

            A face in the crowd caught her attention. It was a man, dark skinned with shortly cropped hair. She didn’t recognize him, but his bold stare made her alert. 

When he beckoned with a nod of his head towards the exit door, she knew she hadn’t imagined it. This was her sign. She hadn’t expected contact so soon, but she knew better than to ignore it.

Looking towards the bar Blackfoot was standing in line for drinks, but there were several people in front of him.

            “I have to run to the restroom,” she said to the woman sitting across from her. “Can you tell him?” the woman waved her off with a smile before she could finish.

Thanking her, she rose from her seat quickly making her way across the floor towards the stranger.

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You are my best creation

            “Bring her to me,” the Mastermind said from the backseat of the black Escalade. “Now,” he said when the driver didn’t move.

A second later he was sitting in the vehicle alone. Looking up from his phone for the first time he glanced out at the quiet street lined with buildings leading away from the venue behind him. 

Once again, he was back in the hellhole named Mississippi. The same place rescued Liza from almost thirty years ago.

            He could hardly believe that after all these years he was back. When he’d found her she was fighting cockroaches for food. Covered in bites from rats and ticks her rebellious nature was fully intact despite the squalor she’d been living in.

She barely spoke and had numerous medical problems as a result of her mother’s inability or lack of desire to take care of her children. He’d rescued both girls, but that hadn’t been his plan.

            His plan was to kill the man her mother had been seeing and he’d done his job.

The girl’s mother was collateral damage which he figured no one would ever see as a loss. The girls by all means should have died with their mother that day, but something had stopped him.

He’d been standing over Liza the barrel of his gun pressed to her temple but he hadn’t pulled the trigger.

            Her eyes never flinched from his never wavered.  In fact, she’d reached up grabbed the barrel and pushed it away. Nothing was said, but he knew instantly there was something special about her- something different. She had spirit, one that even he couldn’t snuff out.

            He’d been on the fast track for years at Central. He knew his trajectory what he was meant for. He’d work a few more years in the field, but he always knew he would move up the ranks and eventually run it all.

It was inevitable, but he had to wait his turn. However, in her eyes that hot summer night he saw something- something that reminded him of his self.

He couldn’t extinguish something with all that potential. So he’d scooped her up wanting to make sure she got the medical attention she needed.

The only time she made a sound was when he attempted to leave without her sister. He went back for Trina and took both girls to the closest hospital. He dropped them at the ER door then left.

            That was supposed to be the end, but he’d waited a distance a way to make sure the two girls didn’t wander away without first getting help. Once they were ushered inside by a couple of nurses he’d left, but he couldn’t leave well enough alone.

For a year he checked back on her making sure she was being taken care of, being fed, and clothed. He followed her trail when she was taken in along with her sister by the Davenports at his request. He followed them closely after that.

            By then she was healthy and was for all intent and purposes a very bright little girl. That spirit he’d recognized in her those years before was still there.

That was when he made his decision. By then he’d moved into the Mastermind position. He had the capabilities to make anything happen so adopting the little girl with the golden eyes with no fear wasn’t very difficult. The only difficult part of it was getting her to forget her former life.

            The past few months showed him he’d failed.

Tonight, he planned to rectify that. She would return to him. She would leave this life behind for good.

She would realize that this was not her world. She was like him, and it was something she’d have to accept. There was no choice. If she didn’t then he had no choice but to destroy everything she was trying to hold onto. She had no choice. She would obey.

            Her skills, her ability were too valuable to lose. He’d put years into training her to be the best of the best. He’d already made his decision. She would be his successor. It might take some time, but it was a fact that she would accept- eventually.

            The vibration of his phone forced his attention from the past. “Sir, we have her,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.

            “We’re coming to you,” the Mastermind said, as the door opened and his driver climbed in.

            “Ten minutes, sir,” the driver said.

            “We’ll meet you in ten minutes,” the Mastermind said before ending the call. “They’re holding her at the venue. Go to the loading dock.”

            “Yes, sir,” the driver said starting the car and putting it in drive. Within seconds they were on the highway in holiday traffic heading towards the town square. Traffic was light.

Inside the warmth of the luxury car the Mastermind took his phone out. Absentmindedly he keyed in his code then looked through his email. He pulled up pictures sent earlier in the night of Liza in her gown. She was with the police officer, her date for the evening.

            Picture after picture showed her smiling. Happier than he’d ever seen her. There were several, but on one picture in particular caught his attention. He’d seen her in all kinds of disguises.

He’d watched her transform herself time and time again. Liza knew how to immerse herself into a part so deep that it was hard to imagine her as anyone else.

She truly was a chameleon. However, no matter what the role, he prided himself on being able to pick her out. It might take some time, it might take some digging, but the pictures never lied. He was always able to see her- his girl.

            Looking at the picture closer he found himself searching for that glimmer he always noticed in her eye. In her latest role of her sister, Trina, she hadn’t had to go too far to assume her sister’s identity yet that something wasn’t there. They were nearly identical, so it was the most like her natural self he’d seen her yet something was off.

            When she started the role of Trina, she assumed the girl’s look, fake hair, garish makeup, too tight clothing. But gradually over several weeks she’d molded the girl more into her image. The pictures showed that. The picture was of a beautiful, young woman confident in her looks and her body. She wore little to no makeup and an appropriate dress classy, yet memorable which was exactly who his Liza was. Yet, he knew without a doubt that this wasn’t her.

            He pressed the phone button on his phone but before he could hit the call button the car swerved to the right and came to a sudden stop.

“Give me the phone,” the driver said turned in the seat gun pointed at the Mastermind’s head. He stared back stunned for a second before blinking several times. When he opened his eyes, he wore his usual calm demeanor once again.

“Very well done,” he said. “I’d say I was impressed if I thought you’d care.”

“The phone,” she said again. The gun never lowered even when he handed the phone over to her.

“You are my best creation,” the Mastermind said leaning back in the leather seat. “You are everything I hoped you would become. I made you.”

“No, you didn’t.” The look of surprise that came over his face warmed Liza’s cold heart, but it was short lived.

“I found you in a crack house your mother was about to sell you and your sister to the next highest bidder. I picked you up and gave you the life you have. You exist because of me,” he said quietly. 

“Don’t move.”

“How dare you!” he bellowed. For the first time in months she remembered what it felt like to smile, but her face remained impassive. “You are who I say you are. You belong to me.”

“I belong to no one,” she said raising her chin.

“You know you don’t stand a chance,” he said. “There’s a car behind us and they’ll be here any second.”

“Well, I guess I better make this quick, huh,” she said her stare as chilly as her heart. The Mastermind smiled, but before he could open his mouth to speak, she fired two shots through his skull.

His body slumped in the seat. A second later she was out of the vehicle. She hadn’t taken a step before being surrounded by agents their guns drawn. The woman looked each agent in the eye nodding at the ones she recognized until each gun was lowered.

“Take care of him,” she said, “dump the vehicle. I don’t want to see it or him again,” she said walking towards the waiting car.

“Yes, ma’am,” an agent said entering the vehicle she’d just exited. Seconds later the scene was clear with her heading in the opposite direction away from downtown and the life that might have been.

Quickly she connected her phone to her newly acquired one, to transfer his files and the address book. Within a couple of minutes, she had the Mastermind’s entire playbook.

Disassembling the phone once she was through, she took the memory chip out and snapped it in two. She tossed the whole mess in her purse to be destroyed later.

“Where to, Ms. Waters,” the driver asked through the intercom.

“Central,” she said.

The Watchers 31

We get caught, we die

            “Get up.”

            Trina looked up from her bed. Shock registered on her face at seeing Liza inside the room with her.

            “Hurry up, we don’t have much time,” Liza said throwing a bag at Trina. “Take what you can carry, but no more.” she said. “Move!”

            Liza watched the change come to Trina’s eyes a second before she launched herself off the bed.

            “What did you do with my family, you bitch,” Trina said her entire body writhing as she clawed and kicked at Liza.

            “I didn’t do anything to them,” Liza said pushing Trina against the wall.

            “Bullshit. They never would have believed you were me- never.”

            “You’re right,” Liza said. “Your mother knew immediately.”

            “She’s not my mother,” Trina spat confirming what she already knew to be true. Trina couldn’t stand the woman any more than she could. “She was never my mother.”

            “Yeah, well that makes two of us.”

            “Consider yourself lucky,” she said her eyes wet with tears. She inhaled deeply. “She told me you were dead,” her voice breaking.

            “Well,” Liza said. “she was half right, but I’m getting better.”

“You can’t beat me. You’re not strong or bad enough. You don’t stand a chance. Fighting is only going to tire you out, and I need you to be able to run.” Liza threw the sack at her but it bounced off her onto the cot.

“Fill it, or don’t. You’ve got two seconds.” 

Defiantly, Trina stood up to her sister.

“Good, let’s go.”

            Outside the smell of kerosene permeated the air. Liza reached for Trina’s hand when she hung back in the doorway.

“You had me in someone’s back yard?” Trina asked incredulously as she looked towards the house and the lawn chairs.

“Move,” Liza said pushing her towards the trees. Once they reached them, Trina was out of breath so they stopped and crouched down in the brush giving Trina the chance to breath.

            “Talk to me,” Trina said, but Liza ignored her as she tinkered with a black box she held.

Liza pulled two wires from the bottom of it then stripped them and wrapped them tightly around each other. Then removing a smooth panel from the top of the box she pressed a button and there was a muffled explosion. Within seconds the top level of the shed they’d just been in collapsed shooting flames several stories into the black night.

            “Let’s roll,” Liza said before taking off in a full run. Trina followed, but wasn’t in near as good shape as her sister. When they came to the edge of a highway Trina fell to the ground.

            “Get up. We’re not done yet,” Liza said with no sympathy in her voice, but Trina refused to stand. “When I say run you better move your ass.” Trina struggled to catch her breath. “You can’t be this weak.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Trina said out of breath. Before she knew it, Liza had backed her against the tree, her hand around Trina’s neck.

“If you don’t run, you get caught. If you get caught, you die,” Liza said watching Trina’s eyes, carbon copies of her own widen. “They will kill you, you understand?”

“Who,” Trina managed to squeeze through her constricted vocal chords.

“The people who made me what I am.”

A siren blared in the distance, but it was going in the opposite direction of where they were headed. Liza released her hold.

“You don’t have a choice in this,” Liza said. “We get caught we die; do you get that?”

Trina stared back at her as the words sunk in replacing her defiance with fear.  “Good girl,” Liza said watching Trina closely. “You good?” At Trina’s nod, the two women took out in a sprint.

            They ran for miles, stopping occasionally for Trina to catch her breath. It was dark and she was shivering her lips blue in the moonlight, but she didn’t quit. They ran along the side of the highway in the shadows, but when they reached the top of the hill that looked down on the city, they left the highway behind.

Soon they were passing streets with houses and the high school Trina had attended years ago. Liza noticed Trina’s pace change as she began to recognize her surroundings. Soon Trina was keeping pace as they came closer to the Davenport house. When she attempted to take the lead, Liza pulled her back roughly pushing her body into a ditch her face inches away from hers. Their breath came out in harsh puffs mingling together in the frigid air.

            “I’m about to give you a second chance,” Liza said staring at Trina’s face. She had a wild look in her eyes. “You do what I say, when I say it and I will let you live. You understand?”

            “Yes or no,” Liza barked when Trina tried to speak. Trina nodded her understanding. Liza stared at Trina for a full minute before she pulled back slightly as if testing Trina’s reaction.

            Weak and scared Trina didn’t move let alone speak. She waited for her next direction.

            “The life you had is no more,” Liza said. “I’ve made sure of it. What you have to understand is the way you were is no more. To your family, your friends the old you no longer exists. This,” Liza said tugging roughly at the mat of synthetic hair on her head, “is no more. The clothes you used to wear are no more. The way you talk, walk, live is no more.” Trina listened, but Liza could tell the words weren’t connecting. The woman’s brain was slow from fatigue and the cold, but Liza needed her to understand before they took another step.

            “You will have to relearn how to be, but if you can do that you can have the life you deserve. Understand?”  Trina nodded knowing it was the only answer that Liza would accept.

            “Good girl,” she said. “When I say jump, you say how high. You do what I say; when I say it if you want to live.”

            That Trina understood. Ever since she’d woken up in that underground cell, she’d been living with the understanding that it could be her last day; Liza had made sure of it. Trina had lived and breathed that truth for all those days when her only contact was a disconnected voice through the intercom.

Now here she was breathing fresh air with a woman that had not only been impersonating her, but had apparently been living her life better than she had.

Trina followed behind LIza pulling the hoodie she wore over her head just as she’d been told to do. When they got to the Davenport’s Trina didn’t even look around the darkened rooms.

She did as she was told and followed behind Liza stopping only once she was told to do so. She was alive and it was because of the woman in front of her. That was all she needed to know now.

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She was burning the boats

            “We procured the package,” the agent said into his headset.   

            “Take care of it,” The Mastermind said. “We don’t know if it was her, but if it was, then she knows everything.” A chill went through the agent’s body. 

The agent climbed into his SUV parked down from the alley where Wilson had been located. After the call ended, he supervised the clean-up crew then made his way back to Davenport’s street.

He parked a little way down from the house. He knew her secret now. Liza hadn’t been as quiet as he’d thought. All those nights they’d thought she was down, she’d been out and about, and only God knew where. She’d killed Wilson, Wilson for god’s sake. The poor bastard wasn’t a threat. Liza’s balls were bigger than her husband’s were.

Now that she’d left her mark though he doubted she’d stay much longer. Central’s handbook taught them to never revisit old haunts. The second safe house he was sure she had was no more. He made another call to the tracking team.

            “Check for any recent fires or structural changes in the area.” Hanging up the phone, he expected to get a call in the next hour.

Once he did, he’d planned to visit the site to see what could be salvaged. There wouldn’t be anything, of course, she was too good, but there was always a chance.

All they could to do was try because as it was, they were just holding their asses in the wind with the little bit of Intel they were getting from the Mastermind. Covering for a woman who every indication exclaimed she had gone rogue.

            “Dammit,” the agent muttered to himself. This wasn’t supposed to happen- not to them, but ever since she’d slipped off radar nothing went smoothly anymore. Worse the big boss had turned them into sitting ducks. His hands were tied and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. If it were him in charge, he would have ordered Liza be taken down, but for some reason He was holding them back.

The vibration of the phone let him know a call was coming in. He picked up the call.

            “Yes, sir,” the agent said.

            “She knows. No status on Trina at this time. Continue your surveillance report any movement. Keep the tail on the Davenports. Blackfoot seems to still be a go, so we prepare for that event. If she tries to slip away on us it will be then. The entire building will be crawling with officers, military. We must isolate her. Understand?”

            “Yes, sir,” the agent listened for more details but the line went dead. Sitting back in his seat he tried to push away the feeling of dread. The ball was tomorrow night.

            He’d like to think they’d catch a break at least once. This entire operation had been a disaster from go, but his gut told him it would end exactly how it began.

            It was almost three months ago that he’d heard Liza went missing. One day she was there the next she disappeared, but what was it to say she hadn’t left sooner than that.

Once the Mastermind exposed her it took them weeks to even get a whiff of a trace. It wasn’t until she surfaced in Mississippi after the incident at the bookstore, they finally got optics on her. Where she’d been all that time, no one knew.

Why she’d popped up in Mississippi of all places no one knew either. At least that was what he believed- at first. He could put a bullet in his own brain for his stupidity because of course the Mastermind knew. He knew the entire time, but as usual kept the information from us the ones with our asses on the line day in and day out.

They’d descended on the small town to find her under the assumed name of Trina Davenport. They’d been playing catch up ever since.

            He still wasn’t sure they had all the information they needed to do their job, but that itself was a part of the job. They each played the part they were assigned with the Mastermind at the helm.

However, this time the pieces weren’t fitting. They weren’t coming together like the other times. As soon as they thought one side was patched the other side would come loose and once again, they were left scrambling to catch up.

            This ball was a mistake. In the past they would have found a way to stop the whole thing from occurring. Burned the venue, orchestrated a counter event, something to make sure this impending cluster fuck could not occur.

            Instead extra agents had been called in, off other cases for something that should have been taken care of months ago. This didn’t have to happen like this, but that wasn’t his call.

            All he could do was play his role and watch his neck. Because by the time it all went down, he had a feeling that heads would be rolling. He just planned for it not to be his.

            Liza had done the impossible. She’d brought Central to its knees. She’d kept the entire team jumping through hoops for the past few months, even Him.

            Realization crashed down on him hard.  Liza was playing for keeps, and she had no intention of coming back- ever.    

            She was burning the boats.

The Watchers 30

You promise not to kill me

Liza felt the stares from the moment she stepped out of the gold Chevrolet, but she wanted them to look. She wanted them to see all of her. For the first time in her life she wasn’t trying to hide. She ignored the sidewalk instead walking across the lawn to the police station.

It was lunch time. Workers were everywhere in their uniforms making their way into the town square for a quick lunch or to get some take out to eat at their desks. Liza waved at a few she recognized from the diner, and they waved back.

Making her way through the doors of the two-story mortar building Liza had a mission to complete. Down the hallway then taking the stairs two at a time. This wasn’t for pleasure, she was dressed for battle.

In her previous life caring about looks wasn’t something she ever did for herself. She dressed as each part required. If she was supposed to attract someone then she found out what attracted them then dressed the part, but she was always playing someone else.

Today for the first time she was in public and all eyes were on her- the real me. It wasn’t Trina she was playing today.

For the first time in her adult life Liza was doing what she wanted to do rather than what was required of her to do. Everyone may see Trina Davenport but they were getting Liza Waters.

Liza found his office easily, but it was empty. She walked the aisles until she spotted him. He was sitting in a conference room in what appeared to be a meeting. The room was crowded with officers dressed in their blues and some in plains clothes.

Blackfoot was standing against the wall facing the windows. Liza made a beeline for the meeting room, hearing the voices as more and more people noticed her. I

            “Ms. Davenport,” Liza heard someone call out from behind me but she kept walking. “Ms.,” the voice said again this time much closer. Liza kept going determined to talk with Blackfoot. Then she felt a hand touch my elbow. She turned surprised to see the gray-haired man Mrs. Davenport and she had met with.

“I’m sorry,” the police chief said raising his hands as if in apology. “Very nice to see you, Ms. Davenport,” the chief said his plastic grin stretching his face. Liza nodded continuing to make her way towards Blackfoot.

            “What can I help you with today?”

            “I actually came to speak to Blackfoot,” Liza said sidestepping away from the red-faced man.

            “Is there a problem,” the chief asked. “has there been another incident,” he said his voice lowering.

            “No, not at all,” Liza said. “I just had something to ask Blackfoot- privately,”

            “Oh,” the chief said shaking his head. “Would you like me to sit in on your…”

            “That won’t be necessary,” she said cutting him off. “Thank you,” The meeting was breaking up and she didn’t want to miss Blackfoot before he left.  Then he spotted her.

One look at his face and Liza knew he hadn’t forgotten.  He was no longer wearing the sling, but the look in his eyes was fire.  Liza had a plan when she walked in the front door, but now she doubted herself. It was a feeling she wasn’t used to having.

            “But Ms. Davenport, I’d be glad to assist you,” the police chief called once more.

            “No thank you,” Liza said not taking my eyes off of Blackfoot.

            “Blackfoot,” Liza called out and he stopped in his tracks.

            Blackfoot stood still with his back turned, but not leaving. Liza walked in front of him.

            “Would you like to go somewhere a little more private?”

            “Are you going to accuse me of kidnapping this time? Assault and battery with a deadly pencil,” he said holding up the No. 2 pencil in his hand.

            “No,” she said. Without a word Blackfoot walked towards the stairs. She kept in step with him all the way down then out the front door. When he finally stopped, they were at the gazebo across from the station in the town square. There was an uncomfortable silence, but it was to be expected. Our last meeting hadn’t gone well, to say the least. There was a chilly wind but the sun was out making it bearable.

            “So, you got me,” Blackfoot finally spoke standing on the edge of the gazebo several feet away from her. She deserved his wariness.

 His reputation had suffered and she hadn’t done anything to stop it from happening either. She hoped it would smooth itself over on its own, but his response said it hadn’t.

It wasn’t until early this morning that she had an idea that she might be able to use it to her advantage.

Pat had followed through with her invitation to the Christmas Ball. When she received the invitation in the mail, the first person to come to mind was Blackfoot.

She’d been attracted to him from their first meeting, but had no intention of doing anything about it. She didn’t need him then.

            “I’m sorry,” Liza said. “I hadn’t said that until now. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Blackfoot burst out laughing.

            “You’re sorry, huh?” Blackfoot said. “Funny you didn’t seem sorry when you tossed me like a sack of potatoes then lied on me to the chief.”

            “I know, I apologize for that too,” Liza said.

            “You apologize? You know I have a mark on my record? They were this close to demoting me?”

            “No, I didn’t,” Liza said. “I’ll talk to the chief though, anything, I just can’t keep on burning these bridges. It’s time for me to make some changes to my life.”  

            “I saw your interview,” Blackfoot said removing his sunglasses. “It was interesting.”

            “I meant every word. I really am trying to change, evolve.”

            “I can see,” Blackfoot said as he looked her over appreciatively.

            “Look, Blackfoot I came here to talk with you, because I needed to ask a favor,” Liza said ignoring his snort of disbelief. “I know me asking you for a favor is crazy, but here I am asking you… for a favor.”

            “Go ahead,” Blackfoot said.

            “I have this thing to go to, a ball, and although I’ve been in town for a while, I haven’t had much opportunity to, you know, meet many people.  I was wondering if you would go with me.”

Blackfoot’s response was a big bark of laughter that caused several passersby to look in their direction.  

            “You want me to go with you?” he said once, he’d gotten control of his disbelief.

            “Yes, I very much would like that.”

            “You want a date?”

            “Yes.”

            “You really are crazy.”

            “No,” Liza said, “no, I’m not.” Blackfoot looked her over for almost a full minute.

“Yes, yes you are,” Blackfoot said his face suddenly serious.

Liza returned his gaze refusing to fill in the silence. The look on his face told her it was the right thing to do as he seemed to be sizing her up, weighing his options. 

Suddenly he cleared his throat. “Apparently your crazy is catchy,” he said standing. “You promise not to kill me?” he asked a frown on his handsome face.

            “I promise,” Liza said. His response was a brief nod.

            “So, does this mean I’m forgiven?” Liza asked gesturing towards his arm.

            “Don’t push it,” Blackfoot said.

            “Okay,” she smiled before promising to call with more details once she got the tickets. She walked away certain he was still watching me. She could tell he was more than interested in her, even thought she could kick his ass. That made him either stupid or a glutton for punishment, either way Liza was also intrigued. The mutual attraction wasn’t necessary, but it would make what she had to do so much easier.

The Watchers 29

You’ve been you all along, you just couldn’t see it.

REALIGN

“Ms. Davenport I just wanted to thank you for allowing us into your home,” the young female reporter said. The cameraman worked frantically setting up for the live broadcast they were doing for the six o’clock news.

            “You are more than welcome,” she said. “I’m just glad to have this opportunity to let my fans know the changes I’ve gone through over the past few months since returning to my hometown.”

            “Two minutes, Janice,” the cameraman said with one hand on his earphones.

            “Well, let’s make the public fall in love with you again,” Janice said. “You ready?”

            “I was born ready.”

            The interview went quickly. They hit all the major points Liza wanted to address and then a few Janice wanted but she kept her from getting too personal. The recent altercations, the tragic death of her mother, they covered both. By the time it was over even the camera man had tears in his eyes.   

It wasn’t hard playing to the woman’s interest; from head to toe the woman advertised her allegiance to her sorority and all things glamourous. The hardest part was changing the woman’s impression of Trina.

When they were done Janice even asked her to become a part of the Big Sister program her sorority sponsored. She also asked Liza to attend an exclusive ball her organization threw every Christmas. It was only a week away but by the woman’s tone Liza knew she was supposed to feel honored. She made sure not to disappoint.

By the time the interview was finished and the crew had left, Liza knew she’d accomplished what she’d set out to do.

If she was going to stay, there was no way she could continue with Trina’s old bad behavior, and now was the perfect time to try to reach out to people. Get them on her side and stop hating the woman Trina used to be. The only way to do that was to get them to see another side of Trina.

With all the networks seeking content to fill the air between sitcom reruns and Christmas movie marathons it was easy to set up. It took one call to Trina’s manager to get the ball running.

She’d done some fast talking, but once she convinced her she’d turned over a new leaf she was in. It wasn’t like she wanted a spot on the next season of Dancing with the Stars, she just wanted Trina to not be a social pariah anymore. Liza had plans for her long lost sister- big plans. It was going to take baby steps to make the train wreck of a life she’d had into something salvageable, but she’d made up her mind. This was her time now, and she didn’t plan to spend the rest of her life hiding.

            She wasn’t the poor girl born on the wrong side of the tracks that was adopted into the Davenports home- at least not anymore. Nor was she the young woman with a chip on her shoulder that lashed out at everyone and everything.

It was ratings gold. Even Trina’s worst enemies would have to have a heart of stone to not feel sympathy for her after watching the interview. It was all going to plan.

By the end of the news broadcast, Trina’s manager had called saying her phone was ringing off the hook from national press interested in broadcasting pieces of the interview. 

            Even Leena, usually sour, seemed impressed by the reaction. Leena had to turn the ringer off and let the answering machine pick up saying, “let them leave a message, and you can call them back when you feel like it.”

            “Thanks, sis,” Liza said returning Leena’s smile.  

“Oh, you know Blackfoot came into the restaurant this morning.”

            “Yeah?”

            “Yeah,” Leena said her lips pursed. “He asked about you.”

            “Really? What for?” Liza asked ignoring her pointed stare.

            “What you think?” Leena said. “You know you don’t have to act like you don’t care. He’s a nice man,” she said rolling her eyes. “Look I don’t know what that was about that happened between you too, I’m just saying that was completely out of character for him,” she said. Liza couldn’t help notice her emphasis on the word him.

“You know he and his ex-wife had a hard time of it. A few years ago, she left him when he said he wanted to stay here. She wasn’t a local and as soon as she realized he wasn’t leaving she was out of here, but not before she’d slept with his partner.”

“ Dumb bitch,”

 “You telling me,” Leena said. “Anyone who would let that go needs to turn their lady card in. Well, well, well, do I see interest in that face? What?” Leena said.

            “Shut up,” Liza said swatting her with a dish towel.

            “Okay, looks like sister is finally wising up. You could do worse than Blackfoot, way worse. Getting some common sense in there, I see,” she said. “I’m impressed.”

            “As well you should be.”

 ###

It was after midnight when her cell phone rang. Liza didn’t recognize the number, but she knew better than to not answer.

 “Who is this?” 

            “I bet you’re pretty pleased with yourself.” Liza recognized the voice instantly. She prayed for the calmness, but as usual it abandoned her- with him. Heat burned through her veins heavy and fast like a speedball. She sat on the side of the bed her feet resting on the floor.  

            “What you’re doing, you need to stop,” the voice said. “I’ve been very patient, but you have taken one too many liberties.”

            The voice had the robotic tone that Liza would never forget. 

“You weren’t supposed to call me again.” Her voice sounded steadier than she felt, but she didn’t feel pride in that. They both knew it was just a ruse.

            Laughter was his response. “You don’t tell me what to do. You forget yourself,” the voice said.  “Don’t do it again.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Finish your fun, take care of the girl, and come home,” the voice said. “Otherwise I might have to…” the sound of a man screaming erupted from the phone.

            “You have a week,” the voice said, “then I’m pulling you in. We still have work to do.”

            “Yes, sir,” Liza said feeling the shadows return the pool of calm lapping at its edges. Then the phone died. She had no doubt of what the Mastermind could and would do. If she didn’t return, she knew he would come for her this time.  

            She could run, or at least try, but no matter what she did it was going to end up the same way.

Liza had planned for this, but she hadn’t planned on the fear she felt. She’d tried so hard to break free of Central, but it seemed it was all for nothing. There was no escaping Him.

The Watchers 28

They didn’t make me do anything

            “Do you remember the last time we saw each other, Trina?” Liza asked.

            “Yeah, I think I do,” the woman said. “it was so long ago I started thinking it was all a dream before, but I remember when they took you away.” Liza nodded stone faced remembering that time.  

            “You were going away because you’d tried to set the house on fire again,” the woman asked. It was Liza’s turn to nod. “Why did you want to burn the house down?”

            “I didn’t,” Liza said smiling.

“But you said,” Trina frowned.

“Lies,” Liza said, “one of us had to go.”

            “You did it for me?” Trina sat shaking her head.

            “No, I didn’t have a choice, but here we are. It was for the best.” The women stared at each other through the glass. Both watched the other closely for similarities. They could be twins their similarities were so alike.

            “You think so?” Liza nodded her head. “Did you like your new home? Were they nice to you?”

Liza laughed but it sounded hollow. “Let’s put it this way. They fed me, they clothed me, and they kept a roof over my head. I guess you could call that nice.” After a long pause, “They taught me a lot. Some of it I could have done without, but it brought me to the real me.”

            “This,” Trina said gesturing to the box she was in, “this is the real you?”

            Liza nodded slowly.

            “Shit, and I thought I was fucked up,” Trina said but there was no laughter.

            “Yeah, well not everyone grows up with the Jefferson’s for parents living in a gingerbread house.”

             ‘What exactly do you do? Did they make you do?”

            “They didn’t make me do anything, not at first” Liza said standing. She walked to the glass placing both her hands on the coolness. “This is all me, baby- all me.”

            “You like to kill?”

Liza shrugged then took a few steps back to lean against the small table.

“Would you kill me?”

            Liza looked at her sister for several moments then shrugged. “I don’t know, it depends.”

            “Depends on what?”

            “It depends on if they told me to.”

“Do you do everything they tell you to do?”

“Pretty much,” Liza said. “Don’t look so shocked. You can’t really judge, can you now?”

“I’m on a TV show, I don’t kill people.”

“You kill minds, spirits,” Liza said walking closer to the glass. “Oh sister dear, you most definitely kill.”

“It’s not the same thing.”

“Isn’t it,” Liza said sighing. “Look sin is sin as far as I’m concerned. I may kill people, but I kill them to keep people safe. I kill, I lie, I cheat, I steal, to make sure that you can sit on your couch in your Ugg boots and designer clothes, watching a big box stuffing your face with a bag of Doritos. Now you tell me whose wrong. Because I can stop any time. How about you? What would you do to keep those you care about safe?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are you willing to give up,” Liza said. “I’ve given up everything. My life is not mine and never has been. Free will? Poof, what is that? I’ve never had it. Now, Trina, what are you willing to give up?”

“I’M IN A BOX!”

“Yeah,” Liza said. “Well, so am I.”

“Liza,” Trina sobbed, “I’m sorry you had to go through what happened to you, but I can’t- I don’t know what you fucking want from me.”

“I want you to give a damn,” Liza yelled. “I want you to give a damn about your life, your sister’s life, hell your daughter’s life. How much do you want your life back because,” shed said walking behind the small table this time to sit down in the chair. “I kind of like your life. You know I was planning on taking it from the very beginning. Killing you, and walking right in. Boom. I was this close too,” Liza said pinching two fingers together until they almost touched. “But they found me.”

            “Who?”

            “They,” she said. “Believe me you don’t want to know. Once you know there is no unknowing. If I told you it wouldn’t be good for you.” The two women were silent for several minutes. Outside it was dark but there were no windows to tell it. Liza didn’t have much time left, but she lingered.

            “If you told me you’d have to kill me?” Trina smiled but it was a sad smile.

            “Something like that,” Liza said.

            “So what do I have to do to get out the box?” Trina asked.

Liza stood up and walked until her nose was nearly touching the glass.

             “You have to stop thinking like you, and start thinking like me.”

The Watchers 27

He made me this way

The light above the garage had been removed just as Liza had remembered. There were no street lights on this block. Liza had made sure of that too.

It made her comings and goings safer and more discreet. This was her first time returning since she’d moved in with the Davenports, but it looked like nothing had been changed. That was a good thing. Still she kept her guard up.

Using her key, Liza entered the back door. Once inside she didn’t bother to remain quiet. There wasn’t anyone inside the house to hear her anyway.

She made her way through the first floor of the house to the kitchen looking for any changes, but there were none. The backyard looked quiet and dark just as she’d left it. The lights were on a timer but she didn’t need to turn anything on anyway. The blinds remained closed at all times.

A car sat in the garage, but it hadn’t been driven. It was all for show- everything. The neighbors believed there was a family of three living in the house. Liza had gone through great pains to cultivate the family’s story. The family included a man and his wife and their college age daughter that was away more often than not. The truth was there was no couple only Liza, but she’d made sure that the neighbors had seen enough to believe the lie.

All of them had seen the family members enter the house at different times; however, they were always alone- never together. The parents were away a lot on business is what the neighbors thought.

Taking the flashlight, Liza headed to the front of the house making sure to lock the door behind her.  

Liza went upstairs to the master bedroom. she turned on the lamp and sat down at the table. The laptop was just how she’d left it. Logging in, immediately several square blocks showed up on the screen. Each gave a different view of the outside of the house. Liza pressed the space bar and another screen of blocks came up this one showed a picture of the backyard and the toolshed.  

Pressing the space bar several more times Liza found the room she’d been sleeping in at the Davenport’s. It was Trina’s room.  The room was dark but the covers were still arranged just as she’d left them as was the rest of the house. There were no monitors for the other bedrooms but there was one in the kitchen area above the fireplace.

Liza flipped back to the monitors of the safe house. She opened a square of the back yard clicking on the tool shed window another file opened up. It was labeled TD. This screen was in color and it showed a room with a mini refrigerator, a toilet and a sink. It also had a cot. Liza watched for several minutes until she saw movement.

She was still alive.  

Initially, Liza’s plan had been to get Trina out of the way temporarily. She’d planned to take her place. Use her life like an escape hatch from her own, but something had gone wrong.

Those two imbeciles Liza had Jocelyn hire got it in their heads to change the plan. Jeremy had to get fancy and bring a gun. However, she knew now it was Central that had turned on her and had used Wilson to do it.

It had all come back to Liza now. They’d ambushed her in the woods that morning on her way to the bookstore. She’d thought it was because she’d been mistaken for Trina, with all of the woman’s enemies it was possible. But now she knew different.  

Who’d sent them she still didn’t know, but they’d got her without ever showing their face. However, they hadn’t finished their job. She’d somehow made it to Crossroads to follow through with her plan in spite of her memory lapse. However, now she knew her attempted assassination was Central’s doing. They’d put a mark on her.

The Mastermind was still playing his games. Every freedom he’d given her was just another way to maintain control. From the power, to the money, to the increased responsibility it was all a trap. A false sense of empowerment that Liza had believed she’d had. Even Wilson was just another way to keep a leash on her.

It took Mrs. Davenport to remind her of who she truly was- just another orphan that no one wanted. A ward of the agency called Central.

Mrs. Davenport wanted Trina, and the Mastermind wanted Liza. That was why she’d been sent away, been groomed to do Central’s bidding. Liza was nothing more than a slave.  She could see that now.

Liza never had a chance to be normal, and it was all Mrs. Davenport’s fault. She’d known what he wanted Liza for and what he’d do once he had her. It would have been kinder to have put a bullet in her head all those years ago.

Liza regretted killing the old woman now. The proper payback would have been to have let her live, and let the cancer kill her slowly. Liza’s only conciliation was that she was the one that took Ophelia out. Now that she was gone, Liza just had to take care of Trina.

Slowly, the calm returned.

It was the Mastermind’s fault. He’d made her this way. He’d taught Liza that she had no choice. He was the Mastermind, and He never accepted anything less than complete obeyance.

That was why she left. Liza had planned her escape for a year. She’d had a plan all along. As long as she had Trina, she had a chance to make it happen. However, she knew different now. Wilson had shown her the truth. Her plan had been doomed from the start.

“You will kill him,” he’d said over a year ago.

“Never,” Liza said, for the first time refusing a direct order. The Mastermind laughed.

“You have your order,” he’d said and those were the last words he’d spoken to Liza.

Tonight, she’d finally obeyed. Wilson was dead. Once again the Mastermind had gotten his way. 

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What was done was done

“She’s spiraling, Sir.”

            “Says you. She is doing what she’s always done,” the Mastermind said. “I’ve given her until the end of the month. Until then I want you to keep watching her. I expect an hourly report of everything. No matter how insignificant or small you may think it is, I want to know it. Understand?”

            “Yes, sir,” the agent said. “But what about Mrs. Davenport?”

            “What about her? There’s nothing we can do about that. Have we found the woman yet?”

            “No, sir, but we have people searching. We’ve combed over the safe house for clues as you asked, but everything had been destroyed, we’re still looking, but we haven’t any leads.”

            “Find it, there is a second one. She always has one. It’s her pattern.”

            “Yes, sir,” the agent said right before the call was disconnected.

            The agent was right and the Mastermind knew it. He feared Liza was out of control and there was nothing he could do about it. He’d given his word to her and he never would go back on it.

He’d asked a lot of her and she’d always delivered in the past. She was his most reliable agent, but she needed this time. He’d already made his decision and was certain it was the right one. He’d give her this chance and if it backfired, he’d go get her his self. Either way Liza had earned her chance to end this her way.

Mrs. Davenport was a casualty but her hands were not completely clean as it was. It was a fact that he knew Liza was now aware of which was most likely why she’d killed the woman.

Either way what was done was done. She had until the end of the month then she would return to him. Liza knew better than to cross him for that he was sure.

Until then he would keep his promise.  

The Watchers 25

She called you Ophelia

“Mama was calling for you while you were out. She wanted to talk to you.” Leena said as she grabbed her coat to leave.

Knocking softly, Liza opened the bedroom door. As expected the older woman was in her big soft bed surrounded by pillows. She looked like she was floating on a puffy white cloud as the television on the dresser played at the foot of her bed.

“Come on in, dear,” she said her body almost disappearing beneath the bright white sheets and matching comforter.   

“Leena said you wanted me.”

“Yes, dear. I had something for you.” Mrs. Davenport lowered the volume on the television, and then picked up some papers from the bed stacking them in one neat stack on the TV tray next to her.

“How are you feeling?” Liza asked.

“Fair to middling,” the woman grimaced as she tried to pull up in the bed. She looked tired but when she opened her eyes, Liza saw that ever present alertness there. “To be expected, I guess. At least that’s what the white coats keep telling me,” she said. “Close the door behind you.”

Liza obliged sitting in the chair by the window. The doctor’s prognosis wasn’t good. Mrs. Davenport was weak and tired all of the time. The treatments that were supposed to save her life were taken what little energy she had left.

“I have something to show you. I’ve been meaning to show you this to you for a while now, but I kept making excuses. Here,” she said pushing the stack of papers at me. They were court documents.

“What am I looking at?” Liza said.

“Just read it.”

Liza started on the first page and the first thing that jumped out was the date.  It was a birthdate, Liza’s birthdate. The next thing she read took her breath away. Her name was in the box next to the birthdate. It was her real name.

Liza looked at Mrs. Davenport. It had been decades since anyone outside of Central had known her real name. 

“Keep reading,” Mrs. Davenport said the frown on her face deepening.

Liza gripped the papers trying to control the trembling. Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it was about to burst out of her chest. Turning the page she found a photocopy of two birth certificates. One was for her and the other was Trina’s.

It showed the same parents on both. Trina and Liza were sisters. They’d been placed in foster care decades ago. Liza kept reading until she saw what looked like a photocopy of a page from a social worker’s documentation.

            Baby T, Baby L removed from mother’s home due to evidence of abuse and unsanitary living conditions. The mother was an admitted drug abuser with multiple arrests and convictions. On mother’s last sentencing the children were in need of immediate placement.

On the mother’s release the children were returned to her home. On the mother’s passing, the birth father forfeited his rights; and the children were placed. However, upon further proceedings in adoption procedure the family requested the adoption of only one child Baby T. Adopted parents stated they were not interested in adopting both children.

“There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about you. What happened? What would have happened had we taken you?” Mrs. Davenport said. 

“You have to understand that we just couldn’t keep both of you. We had one little girl and taking in two more children, well, we just couldn’t.” Mrs. Davenport said a plea in her eyes for Liza to understand. “But we never forgot you, ever,” Mrs. Davenport said hiccupping. She reached for a tissue. “I just wanted to let you know. We cared.”

“You cared,” Liza nodded. “Why,” she asked, “Why her and not me?”

Mrs. Davenport said looking back to the television screen. She was quiet.

“Did you ever look for me?”  the older woman said nothing. Liza knew the answer already. The answer was no, she hadn’t.

“The social worker thought it wouldn’t be best,” Mrs. Davenport said.

Folding the papers, Liza made them as small as she could before pushing them deep in her back pocket.

“I understand,” Liza said as she walked to the lamp in the corner of the room and turned it to low. The glow from the television was bright, but she knew Mrs. Davenport liked to keep it on all night.

“I’m tired,” Liza said walking to the door with heavy feet. She reached for the knob, but her hand froze above it. A memory began turning over in her mind. Liza looked back at Mrs. Davenport feeling the calm return, overtaking her before she could decide if she wanted to fight it, then realizing she didn’t.

Locking the door Liza turned back to Mrs. Davenport, who was still watching her with a teary, hopeful smile.

“I’m so glad I told you,” she said, “I feel so much better now.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Liza said walking back to the bed. She pulled one of the pillows from behind her head squeezing it between her hands.

“Dear I usually sleep with that pillow,” the older woman said. Confusion passed over her soft face as she continued to stare.

“Yes,” Liza said squeezing the pillow’s firmness. “I know.” The woman went still. Liza saw the moment realization dawned in Mrs. Davenport’s eyes. A shrewdness replaced the usual motherly sweetness she showed the world.

“All is well.” She smiled clapping her long bony hands together. “Brava. You were always too smart for your own good,” the older woman said her laugh low as she lay back against her pillows. Her breathing had grown shallow but her eyes showed no defeat.

“She called you Ophelia, sometimes O in all my surveillance,” Liza said. “but never Mama, Mommy, or even mother. Why not? Because you weren’t her mother and she wanted you to know that every day of your life. Didn’t she? You clocked me as soon as I showed up. Didn’t you?” Liza said louder than she intended.

“Even back then you were something else,” she said smiling. “So smart. Quiet, but there was something else even then. I saw it that day Roger brought me to meet you girls. I’m sure He saw it too.”  

“He?”

“You know He who shall not be called by name,” the older woman said reaching beneath her duvet. Liza tensed until the woman pulled out a cigarette and a lighter. “Oh calm down, girl,” she said lighting the end. “If I wanted to kill you I would have done it much sooner than now.” She inhaled before laying back again on the pillow. “I can only handle few puffs at a time now,” she coughed slightly, “but God it’s worth it.” She took another small puff. She coughed several times but her face looked blissful afterwards. “He was the one that told us about your sister- not you. You he kept for himself. He wanted you as soon as he saw you. What was I supposed to do?”

 “Save your own ass.”

“See, like I said you were always such a smart girl.”

“How long were you with Central?”

“A while,” she smiled taking another puff. “Then I had to go and get old, and sick. It was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me.” Liza sat down in the chair.

“I knew no one when I came here, but as usual I found a way to fit in. You know how it is. I don’t even remember what the mission was, only that when it was through no one came for me. Months passed then a year, then two. By then I thought they’d forgotten about me. At least that was what I told myself. I know stupid, right?” Liza didn’t respond but she knew. Central never forgot, nor did they make mistakes.

“Somehow, they got to my husband first. Made him believe he wanted to adopt a kid. So you see it was all Roger’s idea, of course,” she laughed but it wasn’t a joyful sound. “I couldn’t have children,” the woman said. “Truth be told I never thought about being a mother, but we all get old, eventually.”

“So, you got her so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“Partly, yes. I mean we had Leena, but she was all Roger’s. My husband loved being a Daddy, he would have taken you both, was going to, but,” She inhaled again managing to keep it all in this time. “that’s when He came back,” she said her voice just a whisper. “Only He didn’t want me. I had gotten soft, my profile here was up. I couldn’t just drop everything and disappear anymore, but I learned quickly it wasn’t me he wanted anyway. But, of course, you know how they are. They can’t just let you go.”

“You let me go.”

“Darling, I never had you. Besides He wanted you, and we both know He always gets what he wants,” she said her eyes had a knowing sparkle.

“You knew what he wanted with me and did nothing.” The older woman nodded her eyes locked on mine. Liza stood up. The woman’s face hardened.  Her eyes dropped to the pillow in Liza’s hands. “We all have to go sometime, dear,” she whispered, licking her dry cracked lips. Liza knew what she wanted but she lay the pillow on the bed drained of anger and hatred for the woman she had long forgotten.

“Besides I knew eventually you would leave me, anyway,” she said. Liza realized then the breadth of Mrs. Davenport’s selfishness. She’d only been concerned then and now about her life, her comfort.

“She hated you for it,” Liza said anger choking her words. “For separating us.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said taking another puff. “She forgot about you the moment she got here. My husband waited on that little girl hand and foot,” the bitterness vibrated with each word. “Trina don’t care about anyone but Trina. Or at least she didn’t, right?” The woman winked, her laughter like a creaky, dry board. She stopped suddenly, inhaling deeply to catch her breath. “You’re just like Him. I can see it. I guess you know where all the bodies are buried too, huh?” Ophelia said carefully putting her cigarette out in the ashtray.

Liza looked down at the woman she’d grown to care about taunt her, goad her to react. Liza fought against the calm refusing to give in and put her out of her misery. She wasn’t who Liza believed her to be. She was a Watcher, just like her. The pattern had been there all along, but Liza had refused to believe it for the tradeoff of the one thing she’d never had: a family. Only this family had been built on a foundation of lies.  

“You got kids, dear,” Ophelia asked her eyes deceptively innocent. “No, of course not, Central’s the only family you’ll ever have.”

“No children,” Liza said quietly. “A husband once, but I haven’t seen him in a while. Your husband was Roger, right?” Liza smiled when the woman nodded slowly. “Say hi, for me.”

Liza pushed the pillow slowly into the woman’s jeering face. She tried to fight at first but they both knew it was impossible. As the pillow cut off the woman’s oxygen her thin arms flailed but there was no strength to them. The woman’s lungs were shot. It didn’t take long before the frail body went slack. Stepping back, Liza looked down at her. It was almost like she was sleeping.

Liza put the pillow back behind the woman’s head. Unlocking the door, she closed it softly behind her.

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.