Crossing the Line
Part I: Surveillance
Jackson checked his watch as rain slashed the enormous plate glass window behind him, and he scanned the milling throng in anticipation of her now familiar form…Lisa Reisert… He unconsciously folded and creased the well-handled newspaper he had carried for hours. It had been a long day. The job had taken him to Dallas unexpectedly, and now he was headed back to Miami on the red eye; it was incredible how developments in Lisa's life affected his own.
Previous false alarms aside, this was the night. He could feel it. He would have to make the deal with Lisa on board the airplane, of all places, a setting that had its benefits and certainly its drawbacks. And the flight was sure to be delayed by weather, adding yet another difficulty to the now staggering list of problems he'd encountered in the last week. With Keefe's never-ending changes in plan and then Lisa's sudden departure to Texas, Jackson had been in a state of quiet, seething frustration. But now he was getting to it. And about damn time.
Eyes roaming the airport crowd, he contemplated meeting Lisa at last. He knew all the boring things about her that made up her daily behavior. But she was still a rough draft, mere sketches on white paper. In an hour's time, she would be colored, animated, brought to life for him. He would know the sound of her voice, how she smelled, what color her eyes were up close. How she looked when she became upset - because she would be upset. He smiled faintly.
His excitement was tempered by the awareness that after tonight, he would have to let go. His smile disappeared. The long, grueling surveillance had taken its toll on him.
And yet, his mind ran back over the weeks with a peculiar nostalgia, recalling the few instances when he'd drifted as close to Lisa as he dared without blowing his cover. Like the time he'd inched his car up behind her in traffic, his bumper almost kissing hers, so that he could see her eyes in her rearview mirror. At first he had attributed these lapses in professionalism to his growing impatience to have the job over with. Now he knew better.
One rainy night two weeks ago had been his turning point. He'd been waiting on Lisa then too…
As the first raindrops spattered on the windshield, Jackson reclined his seat a fraction and flicked on the wipers. Rapidly, the rain increased to a deafening roar on the roof of his rental Lexus. He sighed and relaxed back into fragrant leather to wait. He was good at waiting; had to be after six weeks.
The phone, clutched loosely in his hand, remained mute. "Come on…" he whispered. The longer this assignment drew out, the more he had begun to worry about himself. But he had to be ready tonight; his moment to act could come at any moment - and it looked solid this time. Jackson had to be near Lisa Reisert, no matter where she happened to be.
Jackson sat in the midst of the nighttime thunderstorm, singing softly to himself. He'd picked up a few strange habits lately - including these little solo performances in his car. A flash of lightning lit the interior, illuminating the mess within: laptop, folders, receipts, cellphone charger wires snaking across the seats, CDs scattered on the passenger side floor; the detritus of weeks of lonely surveillance work. Jackson noted this with some annoyance; normally he kept things less chaotic.
He set the wipers to maximum, and still they labored to clear the deluge from his vision. But not before he saw her. Darting from the Lux Atlantic into the storm, a newspaper held over her head in a laughably futile attempt to ward off the driving rain.
Jackson looked at the clock on the dashboard - 9:32 PM. Lisa had worked over again. He tapped his cell impatiently against his knee, anxious that the go-ahead call would come while she was in transit. If that happened, it would make things complicated; give him less time to work with her.
He watched Lisa duck into her vehicle, saw the headlights of her sensible compact car blink on. He gave her some room before pulling onto the street behind her, chucking his cell phone into the console. "Okay, Leese," he muttered. "Where are we going tonight?" He wasn't sure when exactly he had started talking to her. It bothered him that he did and yet he did not feel compelled to stop. He had to talk to someone, after all, or he'd lose his mind. Lisa was the closest thing to a companion he'd had for weeks, other than disembodied voices on the phone.
"Don't go home, please. Not again," he pleaded, when her turn signal flashed. She was a flawless driver; always signaling, letting people in front of her with a wave. A good Samaritan.
Lisa's car turned, and Jackson let loose a groan of frustration. It was Saturday night, but her route had every appearance of taking her straight home yet again. He shook his head.
Ten minutes later, her car pulled into the cluster of condos where she lived, and he eased into his usual spot - a good vantage point for the front of her home but not too close. He threw the car into park and turned to the wireless laptop on the seat beside him, pulling the screen into better view. No messages. The call would come any time now, one way or the other. Keefe had boarded his private jet with his family not a half hour before, and if it was confirmed that they were headed for Miami, Jackson would meet Lisa tonight.
The rain drummed the roof monotonously as Jackson tried to stretch his arms and legs as best he could in the confines of the vehicle. He needed to go for a run; he had spent too much time sitting on his ass for this job, and his stomach growled insistently. He'd had no time to eat since morning, what with Keefe's impending flight being delayed all day for God knew what reason.
The phone chirped. Jackson grabbed it eagerly, adrenaline surging. "Yeah," he answered. Desperate to hear his contact, he jammed a knuckle against his other ear to counter the relentless din of the rain.
"What the hell is that?" the voice said suspiciously.
"It's fucking raining. This is Florida, remember? I'm right in the middle of a thunderstorm," Jackson said, annoyed that he was forced to explain.
"Oh. Well, Keefe's not coming to you tonight. Headed for San Fran is the word we're getting."
Jackson's jaw tightened. Another false alarm. Third one now. "All right," he said, disguising his frustration.
"So you get to enjoy the weather down there for a while longer." A chuckle.
Jackson laughed sardonically, his tone lost on the other man. "Yeah. Keep me posted, all right?"
He ended the call and tossed the phone onto the seat beside him. "Fuck," he spat.
Leaning an elbow on the door frame, he eyed Lisa's condo through the trickling rain on his window. He was off the hook for the night, and probably the next few days. How long was this going to drag out? Well, first and foremost, he needed to eat. He reached for the ignition and paused, fingers gripping the key but not turning it.
Lisa was coming back out of the condo.
Jackson sat up straighter in his seat. As Lisa ran to her car and dove inside, he noted her more casual attire. He raised his eyebrows, intrigued. "Going back out, huh, Leese?" he murmured. He started his car. Waited until she had exited the complex before resuming his slow, distanced pursuit of her. Now it was getting interesting.
They stopped at a red light, and Jackson furrowed his brows. What am I doing? He had no need to follow Lisa Reisert any longer tonight - his call had come. He sat dumbstruck for a moment and almost laughed at himself. He had followed Lisa for so long that it had become second nature; where she went, he followed. But right now it was unnecessary. He could go back to his hotel and have a long-awaited dinner. Wait for the rain to stop, and go for a late run on the beach. Then go to bed, keeping his phone close at hand of course. But for now, he was free.
The light turned green. Lisa moved on.
Jackson hesitated, glancing into his rearview mirror…no one behind him to hurry his decision. His finger rested on the underside of his turn signal without conviction, applying insincere pressure. He should turn, go back to the hotel and give himself a break. He needed it. His eyes fixed on Lisa's taillights as her car left him behind, carrying her toward her night out.
Jackson's hand dropped from the turn signal. He accelerated smoothly after her.
Don't do this, he cautioned himself. You're over the line. Go back to the hotel. He resisted this rationale with a credible argument to himself. I'll just see where she's going first.
Jackson's instinct for levelheaded professionalism was appalled at this decision, and he gripped the steering wheel harder. He punched a CD into the stereo to distract himself; turned it up. Eyes on his quarry, he noticed peripherally that the rain was slackening. That was the thing about thunderstorms in Miami, he'd learned. They were impressively violent but ended quickly.
Lisa's car nosed into a space along the sidewalk that ran the length of the beach, just across from the trendy area that boasted artsy little galleries, coffee shops, and yuppie bars. Jackson slowed to a crawl, waiting for her to get out before he parked. She dashed across the street to a corner café, the sort of place with an outdoor bistro, which was currently sodden and deserted.
Once Lisa had vanished inside the café, Jackson cruised a short distance down the boulevard until he sighted an empty parking spot. He pulled into it and snapped off the ignition. Gathering his cell and some folders, he rummaged in the glove box for his reading glasses. They weren't much in the way of going incognito, but they were all he had with him.
Wait a minute. Jackson froze, one hand full of folders, the other resting on the door handle. There was no reason to go inside. None at all…except that he wanted to. He looked over his shoulder at the café down the street.
"Shit," he muttered. Don't do this, he told himself again. He sat back and put the folders down on the seat slowly, eyes locked on the café in his rearview mirror. The drive to get in there - to see her - was unsettlingly powerful. Jackson shut his eyes for a moment and forced himself to think logically. Somewhere, he'd crossed a line. This wasn't surveillance, it was voyeurism. He should remove himself from this damn job right now and hand it over to someone else.
The rain tapered off to intermittent droplets; the silence within his vehicle added to his unrest. He had heard of this happening, on rare occasions, to people who surveilled the same subject for extended periods. They became fixated - would begin to watch the subject even when the job no longer required it. Like now.
He rubbed his hand over his eyes and forehead. He was too into this one. It had gone on too long. And now he couldn't stop watching her. This was dangerous; the potential for big-time fuck-up written all over it. Clearly, the appropriate action to take was to cancel his involvement in the Keefe job. There was time.
Jackson shook his head at himself. He had never backed down from any job, and he was not about to abandon this one, not for a reason like this. For fuck's sake, this was the easiest part of the entire operation. Besides, he could get a handle on his…interest. Again his eyes drifted to the café in his mirror.
I'll just go in and have a drink. Sit in a corner for a few minutes, make sure it's nothing crucial, he thought. That's all. In his work experience, he had seen the most innocuous details develop into issues of incredible magnitude enough times to know that you gathered as much information as possible. He was known for his thoroughness. And he trusted his own judgment. With this permission from himself he immediately felt better, and blew out a relieved breath.
Collecting his props once again, he glanced at himself in the mirror. He took a moment to dampen his hair with what was left in his bottle of Dasani water and smooth it back from his face. He put on his glasses. He could do little else, but he had to make some attempt to change his appearance. He drew in a deep breath and stepped from his car.