My quarry shambles off the bus. His lanky frame is lost inside a long black coat. He adjusts his head cans, then buries his hands in his pockets. He nods to the beat. His feet stride with the rhythm. There’s a lovestruck couple up ahead of him. They take up both lanes of the sidewalk. He mounts the boulevard and breezes past. He doesn’t see the pedestrians for the people. The scope of his vision narrows to the crosswalk. He doesn’t bother to look both ways. He doesn’t see the traffic for the cars.
He steps off the curb. A razor thin green light flashes across his ankles. He does not bat an eye at the flickering of the street lights. He does not catch the surprise party silhouettes ducking into the entryways up ahead. His headphones are a Godsend. My footfalls are hidden beneath the pulse of the beat. I pull the bill of my cap low and keep my head down.
The subject passes the park bench. He doesn’t catch the blue tooth earpiece sticking out of mutton chops of the sleeping hobo. He passes the church with no mind for the reflective lenses that line the bell tower. He walks with the full breadth of his leg span. Not like someone with somewhere to be, like someone who doesn’t want to be where they are.
He teeters to a stop at the next street light. He says, “Ah, fucking hell,” with no mind for the omnidirectional microphone planted in the bushes.
The subject jaywalks past the Jack Daniels billboard. He doesn’t spot the switchboard on the other side. He charges down the sidewalk with his eyes on the ant hills. He doesn’t notice the glow behind the gated store front. He doesn’t suspect a wall of monitors. The subject has no clue that each screen features him picking his nose from multiple angles.
My quarry is fast, but its good for me to keep my distance. It allows me to see the full scope of the operation at play. It allows me to issue commands far out of earshot.
I press my earpiece, “Cue the breeze.”
The subject won’t pass the industrial fans for another few blocks, but it takes them awhile to get fired up.
Crouching at the store front, I press my earpiece, “Cue the ‘DON’T WALK’ sign. We’ve got to close the gap between daddy longlegs and myself.”
I crawl along the wall, then duck into the next entry way. With the flick of the wrist I signal for the team across the street to move into position. I’m the conductor of this orchestra of espionage. The team piles into a van and peels out.
The team will park several blocks ahead of the subject. They will draw a cherub in bright florescent chalk on the sidewalk. It will be drawn in the classic victorian style, a wide-eyed baby face with big curly locks. The cherub will be wielding a bow and an arrow. The tip of the arrow will direct the subject’s sightline. He will discover a twenty dollar bill we’ve placed in a crack on the sidewalk. That’s when the industrial fans will kick in. The twenty will go flying. Best case scenario, our subject will get the hint and follow it.
“Beta team is in place.” The voice over my earpiece says. “Subject F is on a collision course for Subject M.”
“10-4.” I say into my earpiece, I add, “Alpha team, blitz Subject M with suggestions. Keep him steady on the path to the connection point.”
The subject presses on. He is not consciously aware that the street lamps are shifting from depressant blue to stimulant red. He does not consciously register the door chimes beckoning him forward. He does not jump at the line of wind socks pointing him toward Alpha Team’s chalk mural.
Traffic screeches to a halt as I sprint across the street. “Cue the foliage.” I shout into my earpiece.
Leafs tumble into the subject’s path. My fingers are crossed that they will direct his eyes downward. A must lead to B in order to reach C.
My watch weighs heavy on my wrist. It reads, “9:35.” Subject M needs to lunge for the bill at “9:36,” if he’s to collide with Subject F at “9:37.” These type of connections are delicate. They rely on a very specific, very controlled, set of circumstances for them to work. These are methodically calculated, psychologically informed and precisely timed series of accidents. Everything happens for a reason. The reason is that I ordered it to.
Remember that first date when you lucked out on those dinner reservations, when those concert tickets just fell into your lap? When those girls wouldn’t stop checking you out and your date positioned herself in their line of sight? When the falling branch revealed that walking path? When that cold breeze drove her into your arms? When your every joke hit its mark? When she seemed predisposed to giggle at your every utterance? When her favorite song played over the bus station speakers? When she lost her footing and found herself slow dancing with her chin pressed against your chest?
Do you remember how the stars aligned? How every billboard seemed to remind you of your best stories? How every screen printed advertisement, on every park bench, reminded you of project you were working on? When the honking traffic signaled for you shut up and just listen to what she had to say?
Do you remember how it seemed like everything went your way? Remember when she changed her mind about going home, when she got her second wind? When she said she could stay out just a little bit longer? That was a needle tipped dart fired from a laser sighted sniper riffle. The gunmen sat in wait on the roof of the bakery across the street from her apartment. The dart was loaded with 200 milligrams of Modafinil. It’s a drug used it to treat narcolepsy. Remember how you stayed out until four in the morning? You’re welcome.
Call me Serendipity. I’m the one that plants those pleasant surprises. I manufacture happy accidents. I make the stars align.
Who do you think blew the dandruff off your shoulder with a well timed burst of compressed air? Who do you think fired the gel at your cowlick with a caulking gun concealed in his coat pocket? Who do you think pulled your zipper up with a well placed thread of fishing line?
When we do our best work, you’d never even suspect we were there. You’d think you were in the zone. You’d feel like such a charmer. You’d never know you were the beneficiary of state sponsored fate. You’d never know we had a file three feet thick on your lonely soul. You’d throw your arms back, blissfully unaware of the government lottery that gave you just what you had coming.
Everybody yearns for an appointment worth keeping, that little red dot on their calendar. Everybody needs a reason to clean their apartment, to watch what they eat, to start up a work out regiment, to shave and bathe, to stay civilized, my job is to put it there. I am a cloak and dagger Cyrano de Bergerac, issuing commands from the bushes. I am a bulletproof Cupid.
My days are spent planting subliminal messages on the sleeves of coffee cups. I write acrostics down the sides of print ads. They read:
“THERE’S NOTHING GOOD ON TV TONIGHT.”
“GO OUT AND TALK TO SOMEONE.”
“NEUROLOGISTS SAY YOU ONLY NEED SIX HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT.”
My evenings are spent running covert operations like this one.
Subject M approaches the drop point. A carpet of leafs crackle beneath his feet. There’s too many for my liking but they get the job done. The Subject’s chin has lowered 45 degrees, he sees the cherub on the sidewalk. The twenty dollar bill flutters in the breeze. It’s perfectly illuminated by the spotlight overhead. Approaching the sight, I realize that the 1000 watt halogen might have been too much. It casts a patch of daylight in the circle below.
Subject M breezes past the bill. Then he stops and does a double take. The industrial fans blast from the food truck across the street. They dislodge the twenty from the crack. It catches some air. Subject M jogs down the sidewalk in hot pursuit.
“Subject F is inbound.” The voice over my earpiece says.
That’s when I see her, Subject F, all bundled up with her hands driven into her pockets. My composition is about to reach to its crescendo. Subject M dives forward to snatch up the bill. Then we have impact. Subject M collides with Subject F’s stomach and the pair topple over. They roll into the grass.
Sure, it’s crude, even a little antiquated. I realize, the old “crash and roll” is a slapstick cliche of the romantic comedies yore. It’s not the elegant scenario I would have wanted, I assure you, but these two have been difficult. My record had been spotless until I happened upon this pair of befuddled morons. They’ve gone and shot my metrics all to hell.
We’ve burned through thousands of tax payer dollars to get them into the same room. The lab geeks ran dozens of simulations. They assured us that our subjects would make contact, but they never did. Trust me, we had to go to these extremes.
Subject M scrambles to his feet. He offers Subject F his hand and pulls her up. He forgets all about the twenty dollar bill as it falls through the storm grate. Subject M dusts off his thighs. He mutters something that makes Subject F smile. He bows to her, ever the gentleman our profilers knew him to be. He extends his hand a second time. She accepts. Their fingers entwine. Their palms connect. They share one good shake. It’s not the embrace that would best punctuate a month of work, but you take the little wins when you can get them.
Subject M gives Subject F a quick nod. Then he brushes past her. They go their separate ways. They didn’t make plans. They didn’t exchange numbers. Like a pair of groundhogs fleeing the sight of their own shadows, they’ve both gone off to their respective holes.
These ones are always the hardest to help. The ones with the well educated fear. The ones who can’t believe in, “at first sight.” They’d spent too much time living off the grid, outside of fate’s jurisdiction. Chance was cruel with them. Now they think that’s all there is.
Stepping out my hiding place, I toss my cap to the ground. I can’t help but shout, “Son of bitch.”
“Should we pursue?” The voice in my earpiece says.
I shake my head and wave them on. I say, “No. That was our window.” My shoulders sink to the tune of a long drawn out sigh. I say, “Alpha Team, Beta Team, just go ahead fall back to HQ. We’re done here.” Then I pluck my earpiece out and toss it into the street. Your tax dollars well spent.