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Watcher’s Worst Nightmare
“Barnes and Noble, one o’clock.”
“Get up, girl!” The words echoed in my head. The thought brief and light flitted away like the seagulls high in the sky above only to be replaced with the same place and time again.
Barnes & Noble: One o’clock.
Pulling myself to a sitting position, I spotted several magnolia trees in front of me, and above that clear blue sky. There was overgrowth everywhere. I was in Gulfport. Mississippi.
What happened to me? Had I passed out?
The sun was almost directly above my head telling me it was noon. Get it together, girl! “Move your tail,” my brain screamed. Pushing myself to my feet I ignored the lightheadedness. Nausea came and went. Again, I thought: Barnes & Noble: one o’clock.
It was the only thing I knew for sure. It was the time and place of my mission. It had to be! I latched onto it, even though I kept feeling there was a piece missing. They called me the Pattern Master at Central, but for once I couldn’t see it. Patterning was my superpower. I could damn near predict what was about to happen before it happened, once I figured out the pattern. However, something was missing this time. That missing piece was messing with the pattern, and a messed-up pattern was a Watcher’s worst nightmare.
Something was definitely off, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was. This wasn’t like me. I didn’t like this feeling, the feeling that made me feel weak and slow. I was better than this, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it right now. I had to make it to my mission location by one. I’d figure out the rest later.
Walking to the edge of the road, through the tall pine trees I saw a line of buildings that stretched off into the distance. They extended for at least a mile. High above them, a billboard flashed: The Crossroads. Underneath that the names of several stores were listed. At the very bottom were the words: Barnes & Noble. Taking a deep breath, I felt a surge of adrenaline. Bet!
“Every piece is part of the plan every plan requires each piece,” that was the Watcher’s credo. How everything was supposed to click together only He knew. The Architect knew everything. Outsmarting the Architect was my high. I craved the feeling of figuring out the pattern, the sooner the better. That moment when it all made sense, what I had to do, where I was supposed to be. When it all came together, every piece of the puzzle fitting perfectly in place, there was no high like it. I craved that moment. The Architect knew it too, which was why he sometimes added an extra mini-obstacle just to make me work for it a little harder. It made the rush at the end all the sweeter. So, just like all the times before, this time I had to trust that the rest of my mission would be revealed in good time. Calling the Architect before the mission was complete was never done.
From the parking lot I could see the bookstore was busy with customers coming and going. Good, if I needed to get away quickly it would make it easier. I quickened my pace to make the one o’clock meet time.
Sometimes, being in the middle of everything was the best cover. I’d facilitated a contract hit for Central in the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I was landing in Toronto before anyone even knew what happened. In and out, and I always obeyed the rules. It was how I’d risen so fast through the ranks. Central had evolved since its inception, but the secret intelligence agency thrived on the allegiance of their Watchers. Ever since the cabal of wealthy founders created the organization to monopolize the Industrial Revolution, the requirement for every Watcher has always been blind obedience.
An electronic marquee flashed red and green above the store’s glass windows showing the time: 12:45 pm. I still had fifteen minutes. Walking closer, I caught my image in the storefront window. The black outfit I wore was expensive and fashionable. A little too gaudy for my tastes, but whatever. It was a part of the look for my cover, I supposed. It looked good, sexy even. Wait a second! Why didn’t I remember putting the clothes on?
Leaning closer, I looked at myself more closely. From head to toe. It took a second but when I finally saw it, my brain stalled. Blinking several times, I prayed my eyes were playing tricks on me, but each time I opened them the image remained the same. This, was bad. This, was beyond bad. When I looked at the image in the glass, I saw a very familiar woman staring back at me. That woman was me- Yara.
The woman in the mirror looked exactly like me. I braced my hand against the wall as a wave of dizziness came over me. The pain at the back of my head intensified.
I was supposed to see a stranger when I went out on missions. The mirror was supposed to be a stranger. I usually wore some type of padding to change my shape. Give me more where I had less or less where I had more. I always wore contacts, but there was none of that this time. My golden-brown eyes were usually hid because they were so unusual and therefore memorable, but right now they stared back at me, uncovered.
At 5’8 my height could make me stand out, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. Nor had I done anything to change my smooth dark brown skin which shined back at me from the window’s reflection. I was all me except for one thing-my hair. In my everyday life I preferred to wear my hair in a short natural, but I now had long auburn hair. Parted in the middle it feathered around my face to hang in voluminous waves to my back. It was a wig, I was sure, but like my outfit I didn’t remember putting it on.
I unbuttoned the black trench coat I wore. I looked down to see skinny jeans that hugged my toned thighs and legs ending in black boots. My shirt was bejeweled with rhinestones and more glitter than I would ever feel comfortable wearing. A heavy black velvet designer purse with fringe hung across my body resting on my right hip. It matched the outfit perfectly, but the entire getup wasn’t something I’d ever pick for myself. Fashion choices aside I knew the bigger problem was that I didn’t remember putting any of it on this morning. Concussion? It had to be a concussion, or worse. Yet, the time and place of the mission I still remembered.
Waking up on in the woods was bad enough, but seeing myself like this confirmed something had gone horribly wrong. What else had I missed?
Dread filled my body as my memory attempted to piece itself back together and couldn’t. It was like there was a wall I couldn’t get over, and on the other side of the wall was the answer, I could not remember. I should call this in. That was protocol. If it were happening to anyone else, I would tell them they had to call Central and inform them of what was happening. If it were anyone else that’s what I would say, but I already knew I wasn’t calling anybody.
There was a lot I did remember. I knew my name: Yara Waters. I remembered Central. I knew I was in Gulfport, Mississippi. I knew contact names, numbers. I also knew I couldn’t call any of them. If I told anyone what was happening, I would be immediately taken off field duty or worse labeled compromised. For a Watcher that was a fate worse than death. I would never be trusted again in the field. No, I had to push forward, I had no choice.
“Sweet Jesus!” I gasped when the words on the digital marquee sign changed suddenly. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse. This couldn’t be freaking real! I waited for the marquee to roll around again. If the sign was true, the likelihood of me disappearing deep into the bowels of Central forever just greatly increased.
On the marquee it showed December first as the date, but I knew that couldn’t be right. It had to be a glitch, a trick. Then the message went by a third time. Still my mind fought against what my eyes were seeing.
The last assignment I finished was on June twelfth. Until a moment ago, I was absolutely sure that was yesterday. There was no way today could be December first. If it were true, it meant I’d lost not just this morning, but the last six months of my life.
“Breathe, just breathe,” I whispered, noticing for the first time as my breath plumed into white puffs of air. How had I missed that? The temperature had to at least be in the forties, and I hadn’t even noticed. Whatever head injury I had was worse than I initially thought, as I realized it was affecting more than just my memory. My chest and the need to breathe fought my brain. Desperately I tried to get more air in my lungs, but it just wasn’t happening.
“It can’t be right. It can’t,” I gasped as I held onto the window. I turned from the concerned faces I saw as customers passed me on their way into the store. I was making a spectacle of myself! I had to pull it together. This wasn’t like me. Watchers were not supposed to be noticed, and I was failing on all fronts. Just thinking about what the other Watchers would say if they saw me now filled me with shame. I was second in command, for God’s sake! Injury or not, I was supposed to be better than this!
“Emotions are the enemy,” the Architect’s decades of training rang in my head. A robotic voice that I’d heard in my dreams and nightmares since I was six years old. “Direct your thoughts. You are the one in control!”
Resolve coursed through my veins, as the calm from my training kicked in pushing the doubt away. All those years of drills came back full force. I’d never had to rely on it this much, but it enveloped me and carried me forward. I reached for the door letting the words from my training run through my mind, prop me up, propel me forward.
There was a job to complete. Even though deep down I knew this was very different, I let my body do what it had been programmed to do. I had to keep moving. The mission had to be completed.
To waste time thinking, was nothing more than a distraction. Besides it was Gulfport, Mississippi for God’s sake. How high level of a mission could I be on in Mississippi? This had to be something simple, a drop off or pick up. Easy peasy. I pulled open the door, and walking inside pushed everything else to the back of my mind. I had to focus. There was a brief second that I thought of running, taking cover, but I knew I couldn’t. Watchers always followed through. I always followed through. It would all make sense- eventually. I would do the job. Then I could figure out what happened.
Christmas music played over the store’s speaker. The smell of gingerbread and coffee filled the air. I tuned it all out making my way through the aisles. My survival instinct had kicked in.
It was the same on every mission. Like synchronicity there would be something that suddenly swarmed in my mind like bees to honey leading me to my next step. This I knew. I just had to find the pattern then wait for the familiar face, noise, smell, whatever to appear and guide me to my mark. I sighed with relief as something sifted through the fog in my brain.
It implanted in my mind and took form until suddenly the floor plan started to make sense. I walked up the main aisle which I knew would take me to the children’s section. I followed it until I got there, then I turned right and headed to the farthest wall. I knew this space. I hadn’t been here before, at least I think I hadn’t, but I knew this floorplan. Probably my surveillance prep kicking in. Suddenly I knew I was where I needed to be.
I was okay. Everything was okay, I told myself over and over again. All is well.
Backing into the corner of the Cooking section I knew. The aisle was empty, but it felt right. I looked at my watch. It was time. I just had to wait for my mark to show.
Movement at the end of the aisle caught my eye. I jerked my head sharply to the left to see. A wave of nausea hit me hard, followed by a sharp painful explosion behind my eyes. When I opened them, I saw a pretty young woman staring back at me.
She looked no more than eighteen and she wore a black Purple Rain t-shirt with black pants. A mask of shock covered her young face. Her heavily pink glossed mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water until a loud voice called out from the next aisle over.
“Well, is that the bitch or what?” A man yelled; his voice obnoxiously loud.
The girl bit her lip, her cheeks reddening. She frowned in the direction of the voice then back at me. Her blond curls swirling around her face, her eyes apologetic.
“Sorry,” she mouthed. “I love your outfit,” she whispered backing away. “I think you rock,” she said before darting back into the main aisle.
I was still a little woozy, but that was strange, I thought. Obviously, the girl wasn’t my mark; therefore, she didn’t matter, or the rude guy she was with. I let it slide. The last thing I needed was to let my mission get diverted by an unnecessary altercation when so much had already gone wrong. Besides if she were my mark, she wouldn’t have left. They never left. So, I stayed put. Then I remembered, the purse. Could there be something inside I’m supposed to deliver? I reached for the purse’s zipper, and at the same time I saw movement from the corner of my eye.
Another woman short and round barreled around the corner. I didn’t recognize her either, but a wariness came over me forcing all of my attention on her.
Could this be my mark?
The woman’s thighs rubbed together with each step making a loud swishing noise as she came down the aisle towards me. The only thing louder than her thighs was the woman’s breathing. She stopped a few feet away from me.
“You know where them Paula Deen books at?” she asked loudly.
“Try the D’s,” I said automatically, keeping my distance as I watched the beads of sweat roll down the woman’s shiny pale face.
“Where that at?” she said. Frowning, I took another step back.
“Somewhere between the C’s and E’s,” I said watching the woman closely. The woman’s green eyes were intensely focused on my face save one brief second when they shifted to the right to stare over my shoulder. It was only for a moment but it was long enough to make me look just in time to see a dark figure run around the corner. He had long black dreads that hung free around his narrow face, and there was recognition in his dark brown eyes. That was the first thing I noticed, the next was the gun he held in his right hand. Instinctively, I reached my hand out, but I was too far away. In the same moment I felt a push from behind so hard it slammed me into the book rack.
At the same time, my purse was yanked hard from behind. Reflex made me hold onto the bag tightly as we tussled. With both hands I spun around wrapping the purse around my body until I could see who my attacker was.
It was the ‘Paula Deen’ woman now standing between me and the man holding the gun. She kept yanking on the purse but I wouldn’t let go. Pushing into her, I forced her into the man wedging him between the wall and the woman’s much larger body.
“Let go, you stupid bitch,” the woman said grunting as she continued to pull at the bag.
“You’d have the damn thing in a second if you’d move your ass,” the woman’s accomplice yelled as he attempted to raise his gun to point it around her at me but she wouldn’t let go or get out of the way. My head was throbbing, but I held on with all of my strength as pain rushed through my body with the effort.
“Give it up woman,” the man said his wild eyes staring back at me as I felt myself slipping away. I knew then I was injured more badly than I thought, and help wasn’t coming. My mind and my body went on autopilot. I felt the woman between us hesitate, but she didn’t let go. I saw the gun raise. I heard a scream and then there was nothing- only darkness.
When I opened my eyes. I was alone. The sound of “Jingle Bells” playing on the speakers overhead. The cheery music barely drowning out my gasps for air. The bookshelves around me were empty, a couple were toppled over on their sides. Books continued to drop onto the floor their covers spread open like the wings of birds in flight.
What the hell happened?
Suddenly there were people everywhere, swarming into the aisle from both sides. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move. My feet felt cemented to the floor and wobbly all at the same time. The cacophony of noise was overwhelming and it just kept coming in waves each one bigger than the one before. People gawked at me some pointing and whispering. Their faces bloated with questions I couldn’t answer.
Not yet. Stay on your feet. Stay on your feet!
I had to get away, but I didn’t have the energy. Then I saw someone point behind me. I turned to look. The woman and the man who’d attacked me were lying unconscious at the end of the aisle, and I had no idea how they’d gotten there. For the first time since becoming a Watcher, I felt true fear.
I’d broken Central’s cardinal rule. I’d been seen. I knew the ramifications of that could put the entire organization in jeopardy. My cover was blown. They were all staring, assessing me, memorizing my face. I was used to blending in, not being the center of attention. However, the curious faces staring back at me were different. They were looking at me as if they knew me.
“It’s her,” a voice from the crowd said. I stared back at the young man not understanding who he was talking about.
“Oh my God, it is. Eva!” The swirling faces began to slowly move closer, but I recognized no one- nothing. Eva? Who’s Eva?
Stay awake! I tried to obey, but the darkness was coming. I was completely vulnerable. What if someone came for me again?
I heard someone yell for an ambulance but I couldn’t stop myself. I dropped to one knee on the thin rough carpet.
“Get on your feet!” the voice screamed again, but this time I knew I was unable to follow the command.
If the Architect finds out, it was all over. What was I thinking? There was no if with the Architect. It was just a matter of when.
I should have called Central.
Tell me who I am.