Playing Stories — Chapter 4: All Along the Watchtower

Chapter 4: All Along the Watchtower
from the 1968 album “Electric Ladyland” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
posted 17:58, 16 January 2019

“There must be some kind of way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief”

“Next target: Amy Stuart.”

The room seemed to tilt to one side. I checked the phone, praying that it wasn’t the Amy I knew. No such luck: her face was right there on the screen. She seemed to be in a run in the picture, and her face was all blurry, but there was no mistaking that ponytail and the wide forehead. I swore and sat down, trying to catch my breath.

On a normal day, I’d have no problem with targeting someone I’d consider I barely knew, but right now, Amy’s name on the screen just felt horribly, horribly wrong. I could hear her talking with our coworkers next door. My associates, making their excuses right then, filing out of the laboratory one by one. They nodded at me as they went, all going downstairs to wait for their next hit. Oh, how happy and confident they seemed.

Amy looked up at me as I walked into the room. Her face broke into a small smile. “Hey… Jamie!”

It happened before she had time to say anything more. A quick hug that startled her, and then the bullet passed through her heart before she had time to say anything more. We went down on our knees together, my arms around her in a tight embrace so that she couldn’t flail or strike back. There was hell to pay when they managed to stagger a few steps to the door or leave any names lying about. When she’d stopped struggling long enough, I laid her gently on the vinyl floor.

As Amy lay there, her expressionless eyes gazing into infinity, a shadow emerged from the back stairwell. Erica looked into the room, barely raising an eyelid when she saw our latest target lying in a pool of blood. “Let’s go,” she said. “I’ll clean up.” I stared at her, silent. She looked at her watch. “Twelve minutes,” she muttered, disappearing into a back room.

I sat there and held my head in my hands. What was wrong with me? Every time I was assigned a hit, it was somebody I was beginning to know. I never got to take out targets from the opposite building or have them caught up in a small accident — those were for the newbies, the one who weren’t sure of what they could do. My position was always the same… get close to them, gain their trust, and then kill them whenever they’d said enough. Not everything, just enough. But sometimes, in order to get to their secrets, you had to engage in small talk. And although the backstory was almost second nature to me… I don’t know, you seemed to have that kind of connection to them anyway. And then, inevitably, you got the order just when the relationship threatened to get interesting.

Amy’s eyes were boring into me, so I turned away to look around at the lab. It was quiet, the only sound being the exhaust fan sucking the air out into the chimney. My colleagues had made sure that the computers were all shut down and the CCTV paused for maintenance, so there wasn’t any problem there. I checked underneath the tabletops. Offices sometimes liked to put pinhole cameras there, on the off-chance that they could catch the employees dozing about, or assassins finishing off their head of research. No such precautions here: I guess that Amy felt that this place was secure enough.

Through the frosted plastic board, I could see Erica keeping an eye out in the stairwell. Just as I was about to turn away, a shadow appeared at the top near the ceiling. I tensed. It was a large one… no, there were two of them, advancing slowly down the stairs, creeping towards Erica. Crap, surely it couldn’t be… she had her back turned to them, she couldn’t see that they were coming… it couldn’t be… quick, get to the door before they…

A false alarm. At the last minute, Erica turned to greet them, and they continued down the stairs. “Erica?” I whispered.

“What.”

“Nothing.” I’d never been so glad to hear her dulcet tones. “How long have we left?”

I could hear her sigh through the door. “Seven and a half. You got it yet? Hurry up.”

A quick scan of the tabletops. There was nothing there, which meant Amy Stuart’s phone was in her pocket. “Crap.” I turned back to the body, gingerly stepping behind it to avoid the growing pool of blood. Nothing in her trouser pockets or her hands or the floor around her. Maybe her jacket pocket? I struggled to not look directly in her eyes as I fished around, eyes that screamed “why” at me and seemed to hold infinite volumes of surprise and disappointment. Oh thank God, there it was. Her password — her favourite dog, or her birth date? Everything that we’d told each other was a frantic blur now, the conversations folding into one another. All I could remember was her booming laugh, which was always followed inevitably by a crash in the lab as somebody dropped something somewhere.

Couldn’t think about that now. The other side wanted me dead too, they wanted me to burn as well. I needed to catch up with them before they caught me. The bulge inside Amy’s coat meant she obviously expected some sort of danger, and maybe she even went on her own missions every now and then. But here, ensconced in her labs, she thought she was safe. What did she think, when she sat in that chair, wiling away the days checking on lab equipment and chemical details? Was she an efficient agent during her missions? Did she even kill anybody? Maybe she just snuck in, took what she wanted, and left. Or maybe she had her eye on my back as well, ready to shoot me when I wasn’t looking. I always made sure that never happened.

Getting in and finding the passcodes we needed was almost too easy. I stopped for a while, wondering if it could be a decoy. A few other interesting files sat in the database: we’d need to spend a little more time with the phone, maybe even get a few other pieces of the puzzle. I sighed. It was always so easy to dream that you would be the one striking the mortal blow, and that you could take out the competition out once and for all. But that never happened. Each target you took out only led to another five that needed to be dealt with or terminated, and every time you thought that the worst was behind you it turned out that everything that came before had only been an amuse bouche. And all the time you were dragging yourself through more assignments, you were always constantly looking behind you, hoping that the blow wouldn’t fall. Or maybe that it would. It didn’t end. It could never end.

I pocketed the device just as Erica entered the room again. “You good to go?” I only nodded. I wanted to say something, but my voice caught. Her face softened, and she glanced at me with a furrowed brow. “You okay?”

I followed her gaze. My hand had been inside my pocket this whole time, my fingers placed on the trigger. How easy it would be to finish things once and for all. For all her words, the woman I knew as Erica still had a long way to go: I’d seen her at base, and she defended herself well, but it still wouldn’t take me long to silence her and make a run for it… or maybe there was another way. I noticed her arms extending away from the bodybag she’d brought, her hands clenched just a little too tight. If we took off tonight, how long would it take them to find us? How long did we have before they — someone — caught up and demanded that we rejoin the carnage… or even permanently remove us from it? I gently prised the bag from her hands.

“Yeah,” I lied. “You?”

She looked away immediately. “I guess so.”


— Thanks for the story and the offer! Can’t come round for the next couple of weeks, there’s a lot of stuff going on, but I’ll definitely come by when I have the time. (Plus I still have like half a dozen records to go through. Not about to die of boredom.)

Has William visited you lately? I’ve got some things to tell him about the grate down on the ground floor. Rattles a lot at night and I can’t get to sleep. Talk later — E

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