The Watcher

The wiretap played through my head phones:

“I only told Angela, so you can’t tell anyone else, okay?”

“Sure. I promise.”

“Okay. So, we went to the movies, right? And then, instead of going straight to his car, he’s like ‘wanna get some ice cream?’ and I’m like, ‘of course!’ So we go to Finnegan’s, you know right by his office – and I’m like ‘you work there?’ and he’s like ‘yeah, you wanna see my office?’”

“Dude! He’s like twenty-four!”

“Yes! I know! Don’t interrupt my flow! Besides, I’m eighteen, it’s perfectly legal.”

“Sure is.” I said.

I turned off the wire and let the darkness fill in the silence.

The darkness of a wiretap room had originally contained a solitude I loved. Even when the occasional car drove by I felt as though the entire world was lending itself to my life and my life alone.

But that was when I was in Jalalabad. Now the darkness of my attic apartment was stifling. For fourteen years I gave my life to the CIA. And now, thanks to Homeland Security and the mandate that all American citizens above the age of eighteen be surveiled, my mission is to sit in the dark in a small attic in an LA suburb with four Walmarts, listening to the conversations of an eighteen year old high school girl.

And let me say, for the record, that not all Americans who reach the age of eighteen are worth listening to.

Shirley ‘Mary Mae’ Bronson may be the most incompetent female on the planet. In fact, I might hazard a guess that the only two things she does well are dial a phone and use the word ‘like’ in every sentence.

I clicked on my digital recorder and attempted not to sigh into it. My boss once claimed to hate when I sighed into my notes.

“Log 4192 on date October 9, 2006,” I said calmly, “nothing new to report. Bronson family undisturbed.”

My thumb clicked the recorder off and I sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Time for coffee,” I said to myself.

My attic room consisted of a bed, TV, small bookshelf which I used to stack my booze, and a tiny kitchen. I got up from my desk, coffee cup in hand, and headed to the kitchen.

Sirens reached my ears. Slamming my mug on the counter I raced back to my desk and turned on my headset.

“So big! Like, so big!” Shirley’s voice reached my ears.

“But like how big? Should I be impressed?”

“Like, oh my god, you could fit two hot dog stands in there!”

The two girls giggled. I sighed. Nothing at the Bronson’s. Though, the sirens hadn’t stopped yet. They were getting closer. The flashing lights reflected off the houses. I watched from my window: an ambulance and two cop cars pulled up in front of the house my attic was enclosed in.

Perhaps the old lady who lived below me passed away.

“Oh my god! There’s some police outside my house!”

I checked out the window again and saw Shirley’s bedroom blinds move.

Two medics rushed out of the ambulance into the house next door. One carried a stretcher. The cops jumped out of their cars.

“Like oh my god! They’ve got guns! Guns pointing at Mrs. O’Leary’s house!”

It took a few minutes until the medics returned. My heart leapt to my throat as I moved closer to the window for a better view. The cops kept their guns trained on the man in the stretcher. The medics moved quickly. The man’s wrists were handcuffed to the stretcher rails. I started to sweat.

“Oh, like Mrs. O’Leary has another man in her life! But, like, I wonder who he is!?”

I didn’t sleep at all that night.

The next morning I grabbed the paper from the front stoop. Scanning it I found no trace of what had happened the night before.

I considered: the old lady didn’t know that I lived in her attic. Nobody knew I was there. But somehow Klepinger got caught, which meant I might be next. But then, no one ever identified my stint in China. And at six-foot-three and blonde I stood out rather firmly there.

Then I received a phone call from the Los Angeles CIA branch. They wanted to review my case. My heart leapt with joy at the thought I might be transferred to a different, more interesting, individual…or out of the wiretap business all together.

I jumped in my car and was on the highway in less than five minutes.

Instead of pulling into my usual spot, I drove to the loading docks as I had been instructed. As a good employee, I listened to the rest of my recordings of Shirley on the way. Just as I was pulling in, the recordings finally got good:

“But Shirley! What if Carmeron’s right? What if the government is spying on us? They could if they wanted to!”

“Come on, Margret, like, why would they spy on us? Here, I’ll prove that, like, nobody is listening. I’m going to blow up the White House.”

“Don’t say that!”

“But see, Margret, nothing happened!”

I smirked as I turned off the engine.

When I got out of my car a bag was placed over my head. Before they could cuff me I punched the guy in front of me and elbowed the guy behind.

Then I ran, pulling the bag off my head.

Another guy grabbed my legs. I fell forward landing on my chin. One of the guys managed to get the bag back over my head as the other two held me down and cuffed me.

“You’re in big trouble now,” said one of the men.

Entering through the loading dock I kept track of how many steps we took before turning right. Then there were stairs up one flight, then a door, then to the left. The light grew dimmer as we walked. It also became colder.

We stopped and stood for a moment. I assumed we were waiting for an elevator.

A short ding informed me I was right. The elevator doors screeched open and I was shoved inside. During the ride up, I counted each ding in my head. When we reached the thirtieth floor we got out and walked down several more hallways.

The thirtieth floor I knew belonged to research. At least, that’s what they told us. Except for your mission it was always best to assume only half truths from your superiors.

The room we entered was brightly lit. Beethoven’s third symphony played gently in the background.

“Sit him down.”

It was a voice I knew all too well and when the bag was lifted from my face I couldn’t hide my surprise. Shirley Bronson’s father stood in front of me.

“Mr. Chakins,” Bronson smiled.

I looked to my three assailants. They stood menacing around me.

“Mr. Bronson,” I said.

He clapped his hands, “congratulations. You know who I am. Which means I was right. Oh yes, I was right. You sir, are spying on me.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You find this humorous, Mr. Chakins?” Bronson asked, eyebrows raised.

“No. I don’t,” I said. I shifted my wrists in the hand cuffs, my skin was starting to chaff.

“I can make those tighter if you’d like,” Bronson nodded to one of his minions. He made them so tight I thought I might lose circulation.

“You’re a bastard,” I said.

He chuckled, “and yet, you’re the one spying on me.”

I rolled my eyes again, “I wasn’t spying on you. I was spying on your daughter.”

Immediately the doors to his office swung open. Two men dressed in full SWAT gear, complete with automatic rifles, entered the office. Behind them strode in a sixty-five year old woman wearing a pink suit.

“Mr. Chakins, or excuse me, Barry Loughen, you are hereby charged with treason,” she said.

Her’s was another voice I knew so well. She was standing up straight so I hadn’t recognized her, but she was indeed the little old lady whose attic I lived in.

“I beg your pardon?” I said.

“Yes, beg all you want, but the pardon would have to come from the president, I’m afraid,” she smiled.

The two men in SWAT gear pulled me from the chair. As we marched out of the office the little old lady explained, “We’re in the middle of a purge. Bad economy, you know. Your assignment was to listen and log. Never to disclose to a third party. You just failed your assignment. Like you failed in Afghanistan and Turkey. In fact, it seems like the one thing you keep forgetting is that we are always watching.”

THE END

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