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SHE SAW, SAW SHE
An INVASIONS! aftermath
by Jeff McCoskey
Magda wasn't sure what it was about the Harrakin defeat that goaded her into action. She wasn't given to that level of self-indulgent introspection. Her thoughts were devoted to the excitement and plans for her campaign.
She'd had the original Eye of Justice tapes since that blanco Rutledge brought them to her. Creepy little man with a phony smile and too-familiar touches, he had hired her to find the Eye. She had decided pretty much at their first meeting to make off with the originals and return him substitutes. His money wasn't green enough to touch a hero like the Eye.
Like she'd done many times before, Magda closed her aluminum blinds, shutting out the dirty view of the abandoned overpass and condemned rail yards in South Atlanta. She fished a videotape out of the large clear plastic casebox on her desk. Her fingertips grazed the cool video case. This time the taint of resignation that accompanied most performances of the ritual was absent. Her eyelids fluttered with REM as her hands lightly caressed the plastic, traced the rough outline of the scales-and-eyeball sticker. As had happened often since the Mount Zion incident, nothing came to her. With a sigh that was more impatient than disappointed she reached for the thin manilla folder marked "Log" that was the only item in the casebox not from Rutledge.
She opened the blinds, then noted in the log, "11/30/97, 2pm, nothing." The prior notations were essentially weekly, starting March 20th 1994. Early entries had rough hand drawn, incomplete diagrams of the interior of a mobile home, a carpet mill, a section of road map. Later entries had random notations like "gringo, dirt bike, right handed, woods, country music, male, Budweiser & Jack Daniels, ring on dog tag chain, clipper cut brown hair." Many early entries had "nothing new." Most later ones had, "nothing."
With a sudden flourish, Magda circled the entries in faded highlight yellow. "Calhoun Police Dept." and "First Baptist Church of Douglasville."
Magda placed the tape back into the case box, jumped from her chair, grabbed her overcoat and energetically swung open the solid wood door to her reception room. "Ramona, would you...mierde! My purse!." She ducked back to her inner office, grabbed the strap and slung it out behind her as she bee lined to the outer door. "Ramona would you close up the Eye of Justice casebox and lock it up again por favor?"
"Si, Senorita Corazon. Will you be out the rest of the day?"
Magda fought not to laugh out loud at her secretary's formality. Magda had hired her as a favor to her cousin, and the job was the only thing that kept her from returning to Cuba. It was a blow to Ramona's pride to have to accept such a menial job, in a run down office, to work for woman half her age. Magda wasn't going to humiliate her on purpose, but with the intoxicating decision to actively pursue the Eye made, the laughter almost bubbled out anyway. "Si, all day. And it's Magda, abuelita."
"Be careful Senorita Corazon."
Magda stopped at the outer office door. Her deep brown eyes danced as she glanced around the neat but frugal office. She unconsciously straightened the framed newspaper article proclaiming her "Atlanta's Premier Psychometric Investigator."
"Senora Echiendia, I think my careful days are behind me."
"Why'd you want that scrawny motorhead anyway?" drawled the hairy man in the trailer park office. Magda pursed her lips to the side. The flirtatious expression was lost on the redneck, whose gaze was firmly set six inches below her chin. "I love guys with fast cars," Magda purred. "Do you know his forwarding address?"
"I might," he said significantly. Magda mentally chafed, hiding her annoyance. Everybody's got to be the center of attention. It didn't help that the redneck had a suppresser somewhere on the premises. It was giving her a screaming headache.
"Oh that's great!" she forced with a bounce. She quickly brushed his arm with her hand and was rewarded with a glance in the face. "What is it?"
With some regret, the proprietor tore himself back to a three ring binder with seven hundred pages shoved between its covers, three of which had holes. He leafed through his personalized filing system, then produced an empty envelope with handwriting on it. He held it such that she couldn't see it. Magda obliged by leaning forward to hear him.
"Motor City, Douglasville. Off Confederate Highway." Bingo. "You know he got rid of that Mustang a few years ago..." Magda ignored the follow-on conversation, but made him feel appropriately macho for helping her out.
A cross search of telephone records from 1994 Calhoun trailer parks and present-day Douglasville had pulled 11 common names. Four were women, two more were too old, and a further three were still listed in Calhoun. Brian Symsek was the only one remaining who lived in a Douglasville trailer park.
Magda had photocopied his high school yearbook photo in the Calhoun library and been slightly disappointed. He was cute enough, but certainly no Antonio Banderas. One fantasy out the window. Magda laughed at herself as she strode back the gravel drive to her car. The bounce in her step wasn't even aimed at the disgusting trailer man, and her headache was rapidly fading.
Attending a Baptist service felt awkward to Magdalike she was betraying her Catholic upbringing in some vague way. As usual, none of her insecurities showed. She mingled easily with the congregation outside the quaint, caucasian structure. Her voice was buoyant enough to easily be heard above the traffic on the busy Douglasville street. She wore a bright flower print dress, and was amused to notice she was among the best dressed there. Didn't Baptists dress for church anymore?
Her conversation faltered when she caught sight of him, the Eye of Justice, walking by himself. At least she hoped he was the Eye of Justice. She broke off conversation, shouldered her purse, and merged into the crowd behind him. Religion in general had enjoyed a tremendous boom during the Harrakin Invasion, and she wouldn't have much chance to sit next to him if she dawdled. Her heart started thumping in a way that didn't feel right in a House of God.
The time between when she sat on the hardwood pew next to the Eye, until the service dismissed was a blur to Magda. She studiously stared at the preacher, afraid her breathing and heartbeat were audible to the worshippers around her. When the collection plate passed, she turned to him and he smiled at her. She spent the rest of the service mentally re-examining that glance at his face. He was tall, slender, decidedly white but with strong features and a friendly smile. Baptists didn't observe the Catholic 'Peace Be With You' portion of service where neighbors exchanged greetings and shook hands. Magda wasn't sure she regretted that or not. She started to panic when the service drew to a close. She still had no excuse to talk to him. The familiar paralysis crept into her with regards to the Eye. She'd come this far and couldn't go through with it. She darted from the pew before the final strains of the closing hymn echoed out. That too appeared to be a Catholic tradition as she was first out the door, sucking fresh air into her lungs.
Brian turned to his neighbor, intending to say something, anything to get conversation rolling. She was already out in the aisle, practically running for the door. He'd never noticed her in service before, and she was striking for this traditional Southern congregation. She had an exotic, Hispanic complexion with large brown eyes and medium length black hair. Her features were slightly rounded, progressed from youthful angles. The effect was more voluptuous than overweight. He'd noticed all that during the passing of the collection plate, and the rest of the service had been spent devising an opening line.
Now that she was leaving he could hardly chase her down. With a sigh he got up, only to notice a dark purse on the pew next to him. Brian mouthed a silent thanks to an obviously generous God, grabbed the purse and followed her out. The crowd was too large, and too eager to get home. She was nowhere to be seen when he finally got out into the faintly exhaust tinged air.
Brian fingered the purse all the way to his truck. There had to be some form of identification in there, right? Once safely sitting inside, he paused, then opened the purse. Cosmetics, a wallet, tissues, no keys, breath mints, what looked like a small holster, a day planner. In her wallet, he found her driver's license. "Magda Corazon, 28, hair brown, eyes brown." Her license picture was extremely fetching, if a bit more slender. The address was not a street he was familiar with. There was no social security card, but there was a private investigator's license and a handgun permit. Brian put his hand on her day planner. Abruptly, he swung it open. Directions to the church were written in, as were many, many notes in Spanish. Just as quickly he closed it.
"Getting some ba-ad habits," Brian muttered to himself. He had no business invading her privacy any further. He had her address, that was at least enough for an introduction.
Her address was quite a distance from Douglasville. South instead of West Atlanta. Brian drove down I-75, faintly uneasy with his surroundings. A small red Honda was driving aggressively behind him, weaving through traffic to gain precious car lengths. The Civic blew past him, and Brian started. It was her! She was focussed on cars several ahead, planning her moves in advance. She did not look happy.
Brian stepped on the gas, and began the difficult prospect of keeping her in sight. He made a mental note to never miss church again, as he was clearly in the care of a higher power. He started pounding the Shanaya Twain rhythm on his steering wheel. The Civic took an exit that ended with seedy three story brick buildings practically touching the highway. Neat piles of broken appliances occupied the small plot on the corner. He let her get through the light, but stopped at it himself as he noted her next turn. With the next green, Brian's blue Ford wound through the streets, getting passed by vehicles that thumped with super bass. He turned off his country music channel.
Eventually, he happened on a red Civic, parked in front of a block of row homes. He pulled to the curb down the block and across the street. The woman was bent over, turning her car inside out. A Hurst Olds passed and something crude and Spanish belted out of it. She fired back an angry phrase and a middle finger before returning to her search.
Brian packed the purse back together, hoping he approximated its earlier arrangement. He made a point of locking the doors before stepping into the street.
"I'm sorry, Magda?"
She jerked from her car interior. Her expression flashed from frustration to, what, embarrassment? "W-Who are you?"
"I, uh, you left your purse at church." He offered the item to her. She walked around the car to meet him. "My name is Brian, Brian Symsek," he added.
"Brian, thank you very, very much. I've been killing myself looking for this thing. Did you, uh..."
"Oh all the money's there, I swear," he laughed. "Now about my reward..."
Her face clouded over. "You want..."
"I'm hoping you can show me a place to get breakfast."
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she eyed him with mock suspicion. "You rehearsed that didn't you?"
"Uh, I plead the fifth."
She laughed, and a beautiful smile opened her features.
Magda proved delightfully easy to talk to, and the meal flew by. They both had way too many refills of coffee before the excuses ran out. Brian paid the cashier, then met her on the sidewalk. She was holding her purse with both hands, surveying the close street.
He was rewarded with that winning smile again. "I really enjoyed this Brian. Mama always said I'd meet the nicest guys at church."
"Would you like to do it again, sometime...I mean...?"
"That would be great," she replied demurely, putting her hand on his arm.
"How about, uh.." Brian's mind raced trying to come up with something that wouldn't be too lame. He seized on it. "The Memorial Parade comes through Atlanta next week. Would that interest you?"
He had to pretend he hadn't already copied her phone number when she gave it to him.
Designs for a Harrakin War Memorial had poured in literally days after Earth's victory. The President had ordered newly-promoted General Wes Hickman of the freshly constituted OMEGA military branch to preside over construction of floats of the best designs. With typical SEEKER efficiency, the national parade was completed in a month and was now touring all major US cities. The favorite would eventually be constructed on the Mall in DC, but the biggest tribute was the ecstatic crowds that turned out to celebrate Earth's survival.
The tour was a resounding success for both the citizens and the SEEKERs, who were required to ride on the floats. Of all key players, only Tempest seemed to avoid the duty. Overman, Anne Benson, Anderson and his former Colony, Covenant and Stingray, even Agent Carter participated in a few, but none of them were in attendance in Atlanta. The crowd didn't care.
Brian and Magda parked the Ford a mile away from Four Cornersthe nightclub area where the parade would terminate. It was the most popular leg of the route because Atlanta's hippest bars all volunteered to provide free champagne throughout the day. Several blocks from the main route, the crowds got impossibly thick. People were jostling each other, crowding personal spaces, and no one cared. The air was thick with laughter and revelry. And cathartic shared relief. Magda grabbed Brian's hand so as not to get separated.
They worked their way slowly to the parade route. The brisk winter wind was totally outmatched by the heat of thousands of bodies. Shouted conversation was the only method of communication and that was fine.
"Would you like champagne?" asked Brian loudly.
"Oh, you bet!" They queued up in the huge line to get into a country-western bar. The nightclubs lined both sides of the street, which itself was decorated with banners and flags of all nations, artistic renderings of the war's heroes, and pictures of Earth from space. Confetti rained down from the second stories of the taller nightclubs as revelers there shared their joy. Eventually, a harried bar employee pushed out onto the street, and handed entire champagne bottles to everyone in line. This development was greeted with enthusiastic cheers, and he was lifted in the air and passed down the street in jubilation.
Magda popped hers with a gush of pink foam and lifted it to toast. "To new beginnings!"
Brian looked at the bottle, seemed to pause, then repeated her action. They clinked bottles, "To absent-minded PIs!"
Heads turned to the southern approach, but Magda's view was blocked by the press of bodies. Brian lifted her onto a fire hydrant, and she saw the first float making its way up the street. A larger- than-life rendition of Colonel Wes Hickman, Tempest, Overman and Dan Rather atop a black base shook gently as its trailer rumbled by. People everywhere started cheering, champagne and confetti began falling like a wet snow. Other floats: Harrakin armor in pieces, three obelisks supporting an ocean-less globe, a wall of stars noted with fallen heroes' names, and many more rode by. Brian and Magda found their voices mixed seamlessly in the crowd, especially when a float carrying tired looking SEEKERs passed. At some point, a second bottle of champagne appeared. Brian kept his arm around her waist to keep her balance, and Magda clung to Brian's shoulder ostensibly for the same reason.
The last float was a stylistic rendition of the Atlanta skyline, focused on an oversized Turner Tower. Periodically, it lit up, revealing an Eye of Justice logo. Each time it lit, a tremendous roar went up through the crowd. Magda grew silent and looked warmly down at Brian. He was lost in himself for a moment before he noticed her gaze. Then he pulled her down and kissed her passionately as confetti fell on them.
Later, at her place, their passion continued.
"About time I got to see your place," teased Magda. They'd shared a movie about America's favorite British spy, Lucky Seven and the evening was winding down to the end they were both eagerly anticipating.
"It doesn't bother you that it's a mobile home, does it?" asked Brian, a little insecure.
"Not as long as you can't rock it."
Brian pantomimed innocent shock, but his mind was racing. He'd done his best to sanitize the place of his Eye of Justice paraphernaliaget it all out of sight and out of reach. The huge editing console couldn't be moved, so he'd ended up buying a 'faux' entertainment system, like they use in model homes, and constructed a convincing facade around the Dynamax equipment. He'd even videotaped a radio show, in case she wanted to hear music. Funny how in three years, this was the first time he'd had to worry about it.
She pulled in next to his truck, and they bantered their way to the small set of steps leading to his front door.
Brian scooped her up in his arms and carried her up. "Brian, stop it, you'll hurt your back," Magda laughed, kicking playfully. "Oh, you are not carrying me over the threshold."
"I'm sorry Maggie, I'm under explicit orders." Brian carried her inside, and let her down as they shared a tender kiss. The grand tour took all of two minutes, and ended in the bedroom. They fell into each others' arms and shared as complete contact as possible.
"I hope you brought protection this time," she quietly teased. "Can't always count on the woman, you know."
Brian bounded over to his night stand and held up a brand new, bulk box of condoms. "I met a Boy Scout."
"That's a little optimistic don't you think?" she said, jabbing his side.
"Optimistic would be noting the pharmacy is open all night." He embraced her to stop the tickling, and the laughter sublimated to passion. She took his face in her hands. The silence grew charged, and they kissed again. As she kissed his neck, Brian noticed the record light faintly glowing behind the entertainment system facade. Oh crap, his security system had activated and the bedroom cameras were taping. The thought distracted him only until Magda gently helped him undress her. Then, the cameras added to his passion.
Later, after Maggie left pleading headache, he failed to resist the video's call. Her scent was still on his pillows, his sheets. He was hungry for more of her. At the console, his shame and titillation were quickly forgotten. The footage wasn't of the glorious woman sharing herself with him, it was a steady shot of his living room. Brian searched his mind until it hit him...where she had dropped her purse. His cameras transmitted on the Dynamax standard remote freq. Theoretically any camera in the limited range could trigger the taping circuits. Maggie had brought a camera into his house.
The pieces fell together quickly after that. A private investigator. Going to church miles from her local area. Brian felt ill, and in need of a drink.
Magda sat in Ramona's old Crown Victoria, in the parking lot of the Waffle House across from Motor City. The big blue truck made a left turn without its driver noticing her. A longing smile crossed Magda's face as she saw Brian's preoccupied expression. She pulled out several car lengths behind him. It was always murder to reign in her naturally aggressive driving style and trail a suspect. It was the most infuriating part of her job. Bumper to bumper traffic raced towards downtown Atlanta in the daily ritual. Once he hit the highway, she was sure to give plenty of lead room and mark exits. Brian exited at the base of Turner Tower.
Magda cut off a utility vehicle to make the same exit. She cruised the streets until she noticed his truck in the employees lot at TNT. She managed to catch sight of his sandy hair bobbing above other technicians entering the video empire. Brian was working today.
Magda sat in the Crown Vic, back at the Waffle House. Her lock picks were arrayed on her lap, shining against her brown skirt. She'd been staring at them for several minutes. Did it really matter if Brian was the Eye of Justice or not? He was sweet, funny, and generous. An incredibly nice guy, who she couldn't wait to see again, to talk to or have hold her. The massive headache in his trailer indicated a suppresser, which explained why she'd had no visions of him in a year. All evidence pointed to him being the Eye. What more did she need?
Three years of struggling with the mystery was a powerful force. She'd pieced it all together slowly and painstakingly. All that was left was final conclusive evidence. She was pretty sure it wouldn't affect her feelings for Brian (wasn't she?), but after all this time, she had to know.
She replaced thought with action. Magda folded up her tools quickly, marched herself across the four-lane street. She popped two aspirin as she neared the trailer for all the good that would do. She refused to let herself think as she bent to his door, and opened it. It was dark, all shades drawn in the interior of the trailer.
Magda stepped inside and drew the door shut. She'd reviewed her videotape religiously, and methodically checked all the areas she'd identified as likely hiding places. None bore fruit. She paused at the bedroom door, flushing happily with remembrance, then cutting off thought before she could ponder betrayal. In the bedroom, she centered her examination on the entertainment center. It took only a moment to discover it was a large piece of equipment with a false facade. Magda's hand was shaking. She carefully peeled back a fake speaker to see a row of buttons. With a start, she noticed the RECORD button was lit. She found the switch to activate the monitor, which had been incorporated as if it were a television. She saw herself on the screen, looking at the screen. In the corner of the picture was a scales-and-eyeball logo.
Magda darted her head up to the point of view. She climbed on the bed to get a closer look. It was a disguised camera. She sat down heavily, her stomach turning. "Oh my god, it tapes the bed." She remembered the panting, sweating, moaning, then closed her eyes. Her headache was starting to rage. Magda returned to the console, erased the tape of her break-in and turned it off, hoping Brian would assume he forgot. She had her conclusive evidence.
A quick survey through Atlanta Constitution microfiche told Brian who she was. "Atlanta's Premier Psychometric Investigator." She occasionally made headlines recovering kidnapping victims, absentee fathers and fleeing felons, either on her own or assisting the Atlanta Police. He would have thought her notoriety would draw more money than her neighborhood indicated, but she seemed to turn down a fair share of work too.
The phone book told him where her office was. He contrived an excuse to purchase some video components in that area of town.
Outside her door, he eavesdropped snippets of discussion about foolhardiness, the del Rio file and an expert filing system before entering. She was dressed in a casual pants suit, looking attractive and capable as always. Brian told the part of him that made his heart jump to shut up.
"Magda! I was down this side of town and noticed your shingle." Their kiss was a little cold and formal. "Can you break free for lunch?"
"I-I'd love to hermosa..."
"Miss Corazon? You are forgetting your appointment..." interrupted the matronly secretary. Brian instantly liked and hated her. Magda had never used Spanish in his presence before. It might be paranoia, but Brian was prepared to believe that was a signal between the women.
"Right, I'd forgotten. Ramona, this is Brian Symsek. You remember me telling you about him. Brian, Ramona." Brian shook the older woman's hand.
"Nice to meet you Ramona. That's too bad about the appointment. I'll give you a call tonight. I've missed you these past few days."
"Me too, Brian."
Brian had seen all he needed to see.
Brian powered up the Watchman. He'd spent the better part of the night threading a fiber optic pinhole camera into a drilled hole, then working it to get a clear shot of the filing cabinets. In this neighborhood, an abandoned upper floor was almost standard.
All morning, he'd chafed at work until lunch. He broke free and made a bee-line for Magda's office. He caught a break. She wasn't around. Brian dialed his flip phone, and watched on the screen as Ramona answered.
"Corazon Psychometric Investigations, may I help you?"
"Ramona this is Brian, Brian Symsek. From the other day? I'm Magda's boyfriend."
Ramona was unreadable, her back to the camera.
"Yes Mr. Symsek. Magda's not here now. Can I take a..."
Brian interrupted with feigned urgency. "Shit, she's not there? I got a call from her a few seconds ago, she sounded rushed. Ramona, I think she's in trouble. She mentioned the del Rio location." At mention of trouble, Ramona started. "Ramona, please! I need to know where that is. I'm afraid for her."
"I'm sorry Mr. Symsek, I cannot give that information out."
"Ramona, I'm begging you. I'm really scared. If you can't tell me, please call the police and tell them. Please!"
Ramona paused only a moment. "Ok Senor Symsek. I will call the police." She hung up on him. Brian liked and hated her more.
On screen, Ramona crossed to the file cabinet and opened it up. Brian zoomed in. At the front of the 'E' section was a clear plastic box. Inside, neatly arrayed, were three original Eye of Justice videotapes. There was a moment's unreality seeing his ancient tapes return to his life in such an unexpected setting. Brian ground his teeth and stared at the small screen for a long time.
"Hey, Maggie, c'mon in," said Brian lightly.
The buzzing in her head started immediately. He must have boosted the suppresser's output. Magda sighed, then entered the trailer. He had laid out a beautiful dinner, complete with wine and candlelight. She allowed herself to be led to the dining area, as the pressure in her head increased. The door to the bedroom was closed, but that did not shut out the distasteful memories. She dropped his hand, which wasn't holding hers tightly, and sat at the table.
"Some wine?" he asked. Her head started pounding, causing her to grimace as he poured. "You ok?"
Their eyes met and held. They searched each other seeing mutual fear and distrust where used to be attraction and passion. "Do we have to do it like this?" Magda asked quietly.
"Like how?" asked Brian innocently, then he dropped his gaze. "No, forget I said that. We don't have to."
"Can you turn off your suppresser?" Brian fingered a remote control, and her head immediately began to clear. "You're not taping me now are you? Eye of Justice?"
Brian started in spite of himself. Hearing her say it out loud was jarring no matter how he thought he'd prepared for it. Brian looked down at her. The candlelight in the trailer danced off her hair and eyes. He noticed she wore an extremely flattering dress.
"I'm not taping us."
"Waiting for us to have sex?" Magda's voice was quiet.
Brian flushed bright red. "I never taped our bed." He allowed umbrage to trample guilt. "And don't give me martyr. You seduced me to get the goods on the Eye of Justice. Who are you working for? And please don't feed me that client privilege stuff, this is me and my family's lives here! When were you going to tell me you were an Omega?"
Magda stood up to meet his fury. "Seduced you? Seduced you? What do you think I am, a Hispanic Mata Hari fucking people before I betray them?"
"Aren't you?" She slapped him.
"I was my client. That reporter..."
"Rutledge," said Brian with certainty as he massaged his cheek.
"...hired me to find you. I told him I couldn't, then gave back fake tapes so he couldn't find another psychometric to get to you." Magda paused, tried to find words to summarize the last three years of her life. "He wasn't worthy of you. I thought. Mierde."
"I don't get it."
"Yes you do. You were my obsession, like some follow Tempest or Michael Jordan. After the Harrakin came... don't play stupid. Why did you have to be a pervert? Why couldn't you just be what you seem?"
"Where the hell did this pervert stuff come from?"
"In there!" She pointed to the bedroom. "You have cameras on the bed! How many women are in your library? What number am I in your collection?" She sat down on the couch and put her hand over her eyes. "Tell me you haven't put it on the Internet or anything like that."
Brian slammed his hand on the table. "I did not tape us! Those are my security cameras, they're taping the console not the bed. It's a small room." Brian turned his back and drank the wine he had poured. "I figured that was why my security tape was erased last week. So you know, I reuse them, I don't erase them. Or rent them out to bachelor's parties."
"I want to believe you Brian. I want to feel like I used to when I was with you." She paused. "You can't imagine how sick I felt when I found the cameras. I can't look at you without remembering that."
Brian turned and sat on the table's edge. "I know how you feel." His voice was sad. Into the silence he added, "Exactly." They stared at each other from across the room. "I'll want those tapes back." Magda nodded. "So you know, I did tape your office to find them."
Eventually, she sighed. "We're quite a pair."
"Maggie, what happens to the Eye now? What happens to us?"
She looked him in the eye. "I don't know."
High time we taped a crime again isn't it?
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