Birth of a Watcher
#333 Hangar, 11 a.m.
James needed his wife back.
Meticulously wiping the sweat from his upper lip, James looked out the windshield of the rented black on black Escalade. The sky looked like heaven. Blue. Not a cloud in sight. The sun shined brightly above, but all the beauty in the world couldn’t change the fact that James was terrified. He thought becoming a Watcher was going to be sexier, like some Goldfinger, double-O-seven type thing, but it wasn’t. Sexy was the last thing he felt.
He needed Yara.
“Be smart. Deliver the package and leave. Get in and get out. Got it?” the annoyed senior Watcher stared straight ahead refusing to look at the sweaty lump of flesh sitting next to him in the driver’s seat. James couldn’t blame him. He was in over his head and they both knew it.
This was James’ first mission without his wife, and it showed. He wanted nothing more than to go home, but he couldn’t. He was too far in now. Quitting wouldn’t just embarrass himself; it would also embarrass his perfect, beautiful wife. He wished Yara were there with him now. Yara would know what to do. Yara would make sure he made it back home alive. Unfortunately, Yara was away on her own mission.
The crazy thing was that James had wanted this. Being chosen to be a Watcher was the pinnacle of his career, but now that he was about to do the thing, all he had were questions. The problem was, Central didn’t do questions.
“You get a job and the job has to get done. Forget everything else,” is what Yara would say. She’d find the mission’s pattern, study it, work the pattern all the way to the end for the best solution, then she’d pull together a fabulous cover and go to work.
Yara had recruited James for Central. He’d checked all the boxes, yes, but everyone at Central, including the other desk jockeys like him, were selected by the Architect- everyone except for James. So, he had to do a good job. To fail didn’t just hurt him, it would hurt Yara too, and that he would never do.
The three rules James learned at Central on his first day were- number one: the Architect was always right, and number two: The Architect must always be obeyed. Number three: The Architect and Central were one. In other words, at Central the Architect was God. It sounded like the personification of a narcissist to James, but once he got into the job and saw the vastness of the operation that was Central, he couldn’t help but admire the work that went into keeping everything afloat. The Architect deserved all the hype and so did his wife because she was the Architect’s second in command.
Although Yara had gotten him his job at Central, James liked to believe it was his work that got him promoted to Watcher. However, this mission would prove whether he was deserving.
James’s dress shoes crunched on the graveled parking lot with each step as he moved further away from his mode of escape. 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. Per usual for every Watcher mission all he’d been given was a location and time. When the hangar door swung open at 11 a.m., he took a deep breath. There was no turning back now.
“Well, ain’t you pretty,” a red bearded giant of a man said from the doorway. He had a twang to his voice that was thick as molasses with a sticky looking face to match. Grotesquely shaped, the man stood six foot five and it still wasn’t enough. He looked like he could have used another two or three feet because his hands, feet, and misshapen head were so large he looked like a caricature of the man he was supposed to be.
“You James?” the giant asked his upper lip curling beneath the greasy auburn curls covering his mouth. He lumbered forward his humongous belly hanging over his belt. He was chewing on a white straw, saliva dripping from the tip with every other word. “Bennett,” the man said as introduction motioning for James to follow him into the darkness of the sparsely furnished hangar.
Some old timey country song played from a speaker in the shadows behind Bennett near several industrial sized barrels stacked up against the furthest wall. The giant sat down heavily in the chair at a metal table in the center of the spacious room. A sole beam of light shined down on the center of the table from the only uncovered window.
A pile of dingy white rags at Bennett’s feet began to move, and James’s eyes grew big. He took a step back. He wished he had a gun, knife something, but the only weapon he had was his brain as he quickly processed everything he saw and whether he could possibly outrun it.
He watched stunned as the form began to take shape. The pile of rags was actually a person, a small child lying on the floor. He couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, or what age they were. James worked hard to keep his face blank, but he was appalled.
“Get in, get out,” the Watcher’s voice echoed in James’s head. Curiosity had no place here. It would only get him in trouble. He turned back to Bennett who’d been watching James’s every move. Before, the giant was mildly curious, but now he stared at James with open suspicion.
“I have the package,” James stuttered. Bennett spit his straw on the table. The lines in the large man’s face creased even more. What little saliva James had left in his mouth solidified in his throat.
“Drop it in the box,” Bennett said before spitting a slimy stream of brown juice at James’s feet.
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.
“Wait,” Bennett said as James turned for the door. The giant reached inside his red jacket. James’s blood ran cold. Suddenly there was a noise behind him as the door opened loudly. The giant froze. James’ eyes remained on Bennett. In and out he’d been told, but this was not that.
“What you doing here?” Bennet yelled, then there was the sound of footsteps coming closer.
“Good seeing you too, Sunshine,” a voice finally responded. James exhaled recognizing it immediately. “Just following orders, Chief,” the Watcher said.
“Changed sides, huh?” Bennett’s eyes were full of surprise but also respect.” I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“All is well,” the Watcher said and James groaned inwardly. The most important thing and he’d forgotten it. He’d forgotten to say the Watcher’s greeting. Rookie mistake! When Bennett finally removed his empty hand from his jacket, relief washed over James.
“Well, I guess I could take one more hit,” Bennett smiled, his thick southern accent even heavier than before. Caressing his protruding belly slowly, he said, “I like the weather here better, anyways.” James’s eyes fell back to the child whose terrified face was visible now. Its large brown eyes were open and alert. James was surprised to see them staring back at him.
“Git!” Bennett yelled with a kick of his boot. The child struggled to stand in an attempt to avoid another kick. The height gave her away. She was actually a teenager, probably fifteen or sixteen just very thin, pale. She had haunting dark eyes and long black hair that fell to her waist.
Bennett swiped one large meaty hand at the girl’s backside before she limped away to a far corner. James watched her as she struggled to make her way to the large pile of rags on the floor then dropped 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. James couldn’t tell how many others there were.
“Check it,” the Watcher said bringing James’s attention back to the transaction. The Watcher had moved between him and Bennett, but James could still see over the agent’s shoulder. He watched Bennett pick up the manila envelope from the box and tear it open.
Bennett pulled several papers out of the envelope glancing over them quickly. James suddenly felt sick to his stomach as he looked on. Nodding, Bennett quickly shoved the contents back into the envelope, stuffing it inside his red coat close to his chest. He reached in his jacket again, but this time on the opposite side from before.
“Here,” Bennett said tossing a large white packet to the Watcher. He caught it with one hand then stuffed it under his arm. James felt his stomach drop so far it was about to ooze out of his rectum. Bennett stood and turned on his heel then lumbered to the back of the room where the young girl had gone.
“Let’s go,” the Watcher said. “There’s nothing you can do for them.” The agent jabbed him hard in the ribs to prod him to move. James was in over his head, and he knew it. He thought the Watcher had been there as his backup, but he knew better now. The agent had been there to make sure he went through with it.
James felt momentously stupid as he climbed into the driver’s seat. Could he really be that simple? The Watcher opened the packet removing a thick envelope and put it to the side replacing it with a navy-blue booklet. Then he tossed the packet to James.
“It’s yours,” the Watcher said. “Drive,” then he looked over his shoulder back at the hangar, “Now!” Silently, James obeyed wanting to put as much distance between him and Bennett as possible.
“Slow down,” the Watcher said frowning after James passed a third car. James took his foot off the pedal, and eased behind a red pickup truck full of what looked like migrant workers their heads down as they huddled together against the wind.
Satisfied, the Watcher sat back in his seat, silent. It was a little bit of a drive to the parking lot of a large chain grocery store that the Watcher directed him to.
James expected the Watcher to tell him what to do with the package but when he stopped at a crosswalk to wait for the light to change, the man got out. He just opened the door and left without a backwards glance before disappearing like a ghost into the crowd.
He should have felt relieved, but somehow it felt worse now that he was alone. He’d done his job, but he knew if the Watcher hadn’t come when he had, James wouldn’t be sweating through his chinos in some parking lot right now. No, he’d be buried behind one of those damn hangars in a barrel, if he was lucky.
James forced himself to keep driving. He didn’t want to open the envelope, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. His hands shook as he tore it open.
“Damn,” he said exhaling loudly. Inside were several thick wads of hundred-dollar bills. Underneath there was the blue book he’d seen the agent put in the envelope. The note book held a passport and a driver’s license stuffed between its pages both had James’s picture on them but the name was wrong. On each one the name listed was Michael Ray. There was another smaller envelope folded in half. Inside he found a card.
The card had an address embossed in cursive writing. Taped to the back was what looked like a locker key. James instantly knew what it meant, and he didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of it. His wanting to become a Watcher was for Yara. Everything he did was for Yara, but they’d somehow found a way to turn that against him. 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.
James drove on autopilot as the idea turned 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 back- their life. The life he had with Yara.
What would Yara do? He knew the answer, but he couldn’t do it. James wasn’t a real Watcher nor was he a hero. He had none of his wife’s skills. He was handsome, well-mannered and mostly honest. It was Yara that had given him everything good in his life. She was his golden ticket.
What would Yara do? James looked out of the car’s rearview mirror 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 fear in them he would never forget. Her eyes would haunt him forever.
James had no problem admitting his wife was better than him. Even his parents upon meeting her didn’t understand why Yara had chosen him, and he was their only child. He trusted no one more than Yara. He’d told her that more times than he could remember. She would just smile. “Trust is for civilians,” she always replied, but Yara would never have left the girls behind. She would have found the pattern, figured out a plan and used it to get all of them out- given them a chance. Hell, Yara would never have ended up in a situation like that. She’d never allow herself to be used. She would have known better.
The problem was that James wasn’t Yara. Yara was one in a million. She was special. She was the best Watcher Central had ever had. She was Central’s number two, and James had done the impossible- he’d provided the information needed to take her down. The Architect had cut his golden girl’s strings and used James to do it. The sick bastard!
He’d seen Yara’s picture inside the package along with the mission: Biloxi, Mississippi, Dec. 1. He’d given it all to Bennett. It was his wife! Yara was the hit. Why the Architect had betrayed her, he didn’t know, and James would never know. Yara was out there defenseless, and he’d been the one who’d disarmed her.
When he got to the airport James took the envelope and emptied it into the bottom of his Army messenger bag. He bought a first-class ticket to the Cayman’s, then sat in the lounge waiting for his flight. That was when he heard a phone ringing. Shocked, James dug through his bag. He reached inside until he found the source of the noise. Reluctantly, he answered the phone.
“Wise choice,” the voice said. It was the Watcher. Before James had the chance to respond, the call ended.
James had actually completed his first mission, and Yara would die because of it.
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