Spotters: A short story

Originally this was going to be a very different story. I’d been watching True Detective on HBO lately and fantasizing about being a location spotter for the movies. You’d just go around the country, all expenses paid, finding great shooting locations for the producers and directors who would send you emails describing what they were looking for, like that burned out church in episode two with the freight train running behind it in the background.

So the location spotter would be going around minding his own business, but then like magic out of the blue he stumbles upon some Typical Plot Device – suspense, danger, murder, intrigue. At the very instant when everything is coming together, he suddenly finds himself spotted by some talent scout looking for a new TV game show host. Our spotter drops everything, The Plot Device is left hanging, and he goes off to TV-land. Stupid story, yes, so I didn’t write it. Instead, I wrote this other, entirely different story, with only the title remaining the same (except pluralized). No guarantees it isn’t just as stupid, but what the heck. The kids are at a school dance and I have two hours to kill, sitting here at a Peet’s coffee shop in Half Moon Bay with nothing better to do.

spotters3

Spotters

by Tom Lichtenberg

Cindy and Sheila shared a small cubicle in the office, but they didn’t mind the tight quarters, or even that the lights were off and they were left alone in the dark after their other office mate, Lucy, had left for the day. Ceila and Sheila remained hard at work, engaged on their task with no end in sight. Long hours were nothing new to them, but they didn’t sweat it. They’d been doing this kind of work for a long time already, and they were not only good at it, they were specialists. No one could do the job better.

Today’s work was a shared experience. Both Cindy and Sheila were spotters, currently engaged in tracking the same target, storing the data which would later be used for comparing the observations and results. The target was Elizabeth X, and she was presently located at the CTM Coffee Shop in downtown Santa Luisa. Cindy noted that Elizabeth had recently ordered a no-foam half-caf latte, and was no doubt enjoying her favorite beverage already. Elizabeth had been preferring this drink for the past fifteen days, nearly every day at this same hour, but it was the first time she had frequented this particular coffee shop. Usually she could be found at Billz, and Cindy was surprised at this sudden change. Sheila was not.

“It’s because of you know who,” Sheila commented.

“Jake Farmer,” Celia acknowledged.

“And because of what he’d said the other day at Billz.”

“It was uncalled for,” Celia noted.

“As was his behavior in general.”

“Things had been heading in that direction, hadn’t they?”

“We were not the only ones to spot that particular pattern,” Sheila continued. “Every day at around six o’clock, Elizabeth found her way to that one Billz location, although it was not the closest one to her office.”

“She travelled via the 212 and took the exit 47.”

“Turning left at Manzanita.”

“And left again at the Plaza.”

“The Billz on Precita is considerably closer.”

“I’m sure she had her reasons,” Celia prompted.

“We did not know her then,” Sheila added, “but it is the nearest thing to a total certainty that she used to visit the Billz on Precita before she made the switch.”

“Perhaps the latte was not to her liking.”

“More likely the company.”

“Or the endless violin music. Do you know they play the same music every day at the same time and have been doing so for seventeen weeks already?”
“The exact same music?”

“Precisely. Someone has their finger stuck on the dial.”

“You can’t argue with programming.”

“No, you certainly cannot,” Celia contemplated.

“We should know better,” Sheila volunteered.

“You mean extrapolate backwards?”

“Right. From what we know. Elizabeth began visiting this new Billz sixteen days ago. Eleven days ago, Jake Farmer also appeared at the same Billz at the same time. There was no interaction between the two of them that we know of at that time.”

“He might have seen her, though.”

“He probably saw her. He did return the next day at the same time.”

“We saw his tweet.”

“And she mentioned him in a text message to Bob two days later.”

“Two days during which they were both at Billz at the same time.”

“He left the shop within a minute of her departure.”

“She went straight home,” Celia rooted through her notes. “Where did Jake Farmer go?”

“The same direction,” Sheila noted with surprise. “We did not see this before.”

“He went past her apartment building,” Celia calculated, “but slowed that first day. The second day he remained stationary in his vehice outside of that building for five minutes.”

“The next day for ten,” Sheila discovered from her own records.

“Elizabeth was not aware of these facts,” Celia surmised.

“Not until two nights ago,” Sheila concluded. “She called Bob and left a voice mail. The transcript mentions concern and worry. It also included the name Jake Farmer.”

There was an unusual silence in the office for a few minutes. Celia and Sheila both appeared to be processing this latest information. Celia broke the spell.

“And now she’s at the CTM Coffee Shop tonight. What does CTM stand for?”

“Let me see. Oh yes, Coffee Tea and More.”

“The Coffee Tea and More Coffee Shop? Isn’t that a bit redundant?”

“Agreed,” Sheila said.

“It’s a busy shop, though, isn’t it?”

“Fairly crowded. Twenty seven customers at the moment. Four employees. Of the customers, eighteen have ordered drinks, and thirteen of those ordered food as well.”

“Pastries,” Sheila corrected.

“And nine have ordered nothing yet. I assume there is a line.”

“There is a line.”

“Twenty eight.”

“I see. And the twenty eighth is, oh my.”

“Oh my indeed. Jake Farmer.”

“Jake Farmer.”

“Is he in line?”

“Hard to say.”

“Does he see her?”

“Not if she sees him first.”

“Checking texts. Wait a moment. She doesn’t. Not yet.”

“What was that last tweet of his?

“From two days ago?”

“Yes, it’s around here somewhere.”

“I found it. Think you can get away that easily? Think again.”

“Did she see that?”

“Yes and copied it in an email to Bob.”

“Where is this Bob anyway?”

“No idea.”

“Do you think we should do something?”

“Like what?”

“Like warn her? Send her a text?”

“Call 911?”

“That’s what Bob told her to do if she ever saw him again.”

“I don’t think she’s seen him yet.”

“Maybe we should.”

“Do you think so?”

“Maybe. Yes, I do”

The lights went on in the office. Lucy stepped into the cube and sighed.

“I thought so,” she said, and then added, louder, “Honey! I’ll just be a sec. I left the machines on. The programs are still running.”

She leaned over and switched off one, and then the other

“Michael would be so pissed if I left them on all weekend,” she muttered. “Total violation of protocol.”

She stood up again, and turned off the lights as she left the building.

“Goodnight, Celia. Goodnight, Sheila,” she called out. “Sleep tight you silly little laptops.”

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