Thursday, June 20, 2013

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 24: The Watcher

    Katie decided that before reporting anything more to Hanlon she would take a day or so to see if Seth did anything unusual in the aftermath of their date. Then again, with Seth, how could one tell what was unusual?
     She also reasoned it might be a good idea take precautions to be sure she could find him. He had proven to be wilier than she had expected, after all. She had considered tracing his cell phone, but didn't want to go through the hassle that would entail. She settled on placing a tracker on his car, instead. Perhaps she could manage to finagle a second date out of him, eventually, or—if he was serious about not wanting a relationship—at least get a chance to friend-zone him and an opportunity to visit his home. She hit her downtown hotel room and picked up some fresh clothes, along with the equipment she needed, before heading over to Cortona Road, doing her now customary loop around the neighborhood so as to be ready to exit as quickly as possible without turning.
     As Katie pulled around the corner, she stopped in front of a large tree on the opposite side of the street, but a bit further around the corner than the last time she'd been here. Curiously, there was a different car in the driveway this time: an ancient Toyota Tercel hatchback. This new vehicle was painted in a dirty brown that looked like rust—though parts of it appeared to be the genuine article. As she watched, Seth arrived in his Camaro, and a man stepped out of the brown hatchback. 

     This other man was tall, but stoop-shouldered, and had a disheveled look about him—even more so than Seth's usual scrubby look. He had a head of bushy brown hair that stuck out at odd angles from beneath a plain green baseball cap. He looked as though he hadn't shaved in a few days. He wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a matching denim jacket over a tie-dyed shirt. He was too young to be a genuine hippie, but it was obvious that was the look he was trying to achieve.
     As for Seth, he was wearing a baggy grey sweatshirt and blue jeans. A black wool cap and over-sized sunglasses were perched atop his head. He was carrying a black jacket and some sort of magazine.
     The two men greeted one another and entered the house together. After waiting a few minutes, Katie stepped out of her car and put on a bulky coat. It was a chilly day with the possibility of rain, so she was glad for the opportunity to use an umbrella to shield herself from the gaze of anyone who might be looking out of the windows of the house—or any of the other houses, for that matter. She crossed the road and began walking around the bend and across the cul-de-sac near Seth's home. All of the curtains appeared to be drawn shut. She neared his driveway and took a quick glance around before collapsing the umbrella and ducking between the two cars.
     After placing the tracker under the wheel-well of Seth's beater, she quickly stood up and continued down the street, her umbrella open once again. The rain started just then—a slight drizzle at first, but steadily growing towards a consistent downpour. Once she was a few houses further down the street, she crossed, turned around, and worked her way back up the road towards her car.
     Sitting in her seat, having tossed the umbrella and the coat into the back, she thumbed her cell on and unlocked the screen. She was getting a good signal from the tracker. She had nothing better to do for the moment, so she settled in for a long wait.
     After about an hour or so, the pair came out of the house, talking the entire time that Seth spent locking his front door and walking to their cars. The other man laughed and they exchanged car keys. The hippie got into Seth's car and drove away, while Seth hopped into the hatchback. Dammit! Now Katie would have to track him the old-fashioned way. It's a good thing I was here to witness this exchange, she thought.
     Once Seth pulled out of the driveway and headed down the road, Katie started her own vehicle and followed cautiously. The drive wasn't a terribly long one. They headed in a generally westerly direction from Seth's neighborhood. They were, in fact, going right towards the shopping center that housed the BMV where she'd first approached him. He pulled into the large parking lot and stopped in a spot that was out a ways from the entrance of a large chain grocery store.
     Katie backed into an open parking space at a bank positioned in front of the lot, closer to the main street. From here she could observe him through her mirrors, as he locked the car and walked into the store. Why would he borrow someone else's car just to buy groceries? She wondered.
     She debated only briefly whether or not to go inside and spy on him. If she slipped up and he spotted her, she might freak him out. She knew she'd probably reached her limit of manufactured coincidences. So she waited.
     It was only about twenty minutes, though, before Seth returned to the Toyota with a grocery cart full of supplies. He had one of those cheap styrofoam coolers, which he opened. Into it, he placed a six-pack of bottled beer, a couple of 2-liter bottles of pop, and a jug of distilled water from the cart. He then poured a fresh bag of ice into the cooler, closed it and put it into the back seat of the car. He also tossed a grocery bag into the passenger seat, before fastidiously returning his cart to the corral. He jumped into the car and drove towards the bank, but making a quick right when he came near her.
     She started her own vehicle, and followed again. She was forced to pass him rather quickly, though, as he turned into a fast-food drive-through window which also shared the same parking lot as the rest of the grocery and the bank (and many other shops). She decided to park near the exit of the library next door. She couldn't see him from here, but he'd have to pass within her view when he left.
     Ten minutes later, Katie was following him due south, two cars between hers and his. Seth turned into an older neighborhood—most of these homes were built in the late 1960s or early 1970s, she believed. She continued on and turned down the next street. She hated letting him out of sight, but she knew she had to be cautious here. She turned left at the earliest opportunity then looked both ways at the nearest intersection. He had parked further along the block than she had yet gone—to her right. She continued and made a right at the next parallel, continuing two streets over before doubling back to the corner where he'd parked. Who's house is he visiting? He must be going to a party, or something, considering the cooler and the snacks.
     As she reached the intersection, she realized he was just sitting in his car, slouched low, watching the house across the street from him through a pair of binoculars. He's on some sort of stake-out! Fortunately, she was able to pass Seth without his noticing, as his attention was focused elsewhere. She parked around the corner from him near a large tree and a small collection of trash cans.
     She sat for several minutes, watching the street through her rear-view mirror. Several cars crossed the intersection going different directions, but there was no sign of the Tercel. The yard on the corner was bordered with a large hedge, and though it was mostly brown and leafless now, it was thick enough that she couldn't see around the corner where Seth was parked. Of course, that meant he couldn't see her, either. Two addresses further down the way she had come there was a small park with a playground. She decided to park her car there and walk back to the corner.
     Sure enough, Seth was still in his car. He was drinking a beer and eating chips out of a large bag. The binoculars hung around his neck. He was slouched low in his seat, and his attention was entirely focused on the house across the street. Katie saw him pull a blanket out of the back seat. 
     She thought perhaps she should go get some supplies of her own and come back. Seth certainly appeared to be settled in for a long session of surveillance.

     Hanlon looked at his cell phone. He didn't usually answer it on his regular rounds, but when he saw that it was Katie, he thought he may as well take the opportunity to put an end to the whole situation. He'd pay her off, plus a bonus, and get her off the case, as he'd been instructed.
     "Ms. McEllern," he began, "I'm glad you called. I'm afraid—"
     "Listen, Hanlon, I haven't got much time," she interrupted him. "There's something very strange going on here that I think you might need to know."
     "It's Seth. O'Keefe, I mean. He's contacted another subject."
     "Subject? Miss McEllern, I'm not sure I know what you're talking about."
     "Just listen! You remember when I asked you about Strange Animal?"
     "Yes, and I told you I could neither confirm nor deny–"
     "O'Keefe is in contact with one of the other test subjects."
     "Wait, how …" he stammered. "What subject?"
     "A man called Lewis Wright. His ex-wife worked on the program. He's upset about it."
     "So, what are they up to?" Hanlon dreaded having to go back to The Director with this, but he was certain she'd want to know. "Where are they?"
     "I'll text you the address. I'm going to try to get in closer … see if I can figure out what's going down."
     "Ms. McEllern, I wouldn't advise … in fact, I think it's time—" The line went dead. Seconds later, he received a text with the address.

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