by Stephanie Larochelle
“No one who follows the rules has ever been found.”
That was one of the first things drilled into their heads when they entered WITSEC. The next was “trust your instincts.” One bad feeling from a stranger making eye contact could mean more than an overactive imagination. It could mean they’ve been found. Too many people in witness protection ignored those rules.
People who only knew of the Witness Protection Program from mob movies didn’t understand. They always wondered “why can’t these people just follow the rules?” They didn’t know how complicated those rules could be. They were a lot more stringent than “no more trading jam recipes with your aunt in Idaho.” WITSEC clients had to avoid any situation where they might get widespread exposure. At the 1970 start of WITSEC, when the Internet was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye, that was easy. But four and a half decades later, there was no way to completely avoid the risk. Just being in the background of a world filled with amateur photographers could get the wrong attention. After all, people shared more than 1.8 billion photos a day online and it was easy to accidentally wind up in one.
Facing those insurmountable odds, many WITSEC clients gave up. They started breaking little rules, sure that they could blend in among a billion other Internet faces. That was why Catherine DeMarco turned to online dating. She knew it had its problems. She read stories of people getting taken in catfishing scams. She read about men and women murdered by predators who preyed on the lonely. Despite the dangers, people still went online in droves. The risk of dying alone was so much worse than the risk of just dying. So she signed up for her own account.
She wasn’t a fool, just an optimist. She knew even if someone took every precaution, there was always a chance of meeting the wrong person. She also knew her history made her more cautious than most. She wasn’t afraid that Carlo would be anyone other than who she met on the dating website. The butterflies were nothing more than anticipation.
Catherine DeMarco thought this as she chain smoked, an identifying habit she tried to give up but never quite managed. She wondered just how high profile online dating could be. Her profile was private, and she only contacted the men who met her discerning standards. They all looked the same; dark hair, piercing blue eyes, over six feet tall and slender without being skinny. She definitely had a type.
She supposed she came off as superficial, choosing only the men who met her beauty standards, but they all shared hobbies as well. They were classic car collectors, golfers and adventurous eaters. All the men might have come out of some kind of upper-middle class prototype. They all seemed the same, but only Carlo caught her eye. Only Carlo was the right man.
Thinking his name kicked the butterflies up a notch. She took a deep breath as she studied the restaurant where she’d meet Carlo in real life rather than online. It had been a long process, finally working up the nerve to meet him. There’d been long nights of email and chatting, getting to know each other from behind anonymous computer screens. Finally, that first phone call, his husky, gentle voice was so familiar she let him carry most of the conversation. She’d always been the quiet type anyway. She’d stayed on the phone with him for hours, before finally agreeing to meet with him at a trendy Miami night spot. It was the perfect meeting spot, with outside seating and an extensive tapas menu.
It was a warm night for early November, even for Miami, and she pushed at the cuffs of her long-sleeved shirt, regretting the choice. She could already feel the sweat pooling under her arms, leaving embarrassing rings of perspiration. She shifted in her seat as she waited for Carlo, hoping that he’d show, hoping that he wouldn’t disappoint her.
She hoped she’d finally found the right man.
She itched to light another cigarette but remembered a silly fact she’d discovered long before. The average human eye can see a match strike from as far as two miles away in the dead of night. That fact made her self-conscious about her smoking, even though Carlo hadn’t arrived yet. She didn’t want him to know her secret, so she put the lighter away and decided to wait until after they met. Everyone online lied about being a smoker. It wasn’t like it was a big deal. He probably wouldn’t even notice.
A white Camry pulled up, managing to secure a parking spot half a block away. Catherine DeMarco had a moment of indecision. This could be the wrong man. For her, the risks were far greater than running into a man who carried a bit more weight, or a bit less hair than his profile picture claimed. She watched as he slid out of the driver’s seat and walked towards the restaurant. His step was jaunty and confident. Her breath caught in her throat. Jaunty and confident didn’t jive with the man she knew. The Carlo she spoke to was tentative and composed. The man approaching the restaurant walked like a show horse, stomping his way down the cobblestone sidewalk, demanding attention. He was too far away for her to see if his face matched his picture, but he was too close for her to make a run for it.
This was a mistake, a big one. She should have never come to meet him. There was no guarantee he was who he said he was online. The butterflies turned from flutters of excitement to a lead ball of fear, seated in the pit of her stomach. She thought back over their conversations and realized he’d been far too accommodating, too quick to agree with her. This might be a trap.
She breathed through her nose, trying to get the jitters under control and calm her racing heart. She wished she could light a cigarette, but he was too close. He’d see it. She was near panic when his face was finally visible and not just a generic blur. Relief flooded her as she cataloged the small details. Eyes that were both limpid and shrewd, a small sliver of a scar on his chin, this was her Carlo. The lead ball of fear melted away. This was not a mistake. She’d done the right thing.
He was the right man.
Carlos, aka Javier Padiha, was finally in range. He hadn’t been easy to find, but she’d done it. He must have relaxed his guard after four years in WITSEC, assuming that the cartel he informed on forgot about him.
That was a mistake. The cartel never forgot.
Which was why Catherine DeMarco was perched on the roof of a nearby building, with a clear line of sight to the restaurant where they’d meet. His head centered in her crosshairs and she took a deep breath, only pulling back on the trigger once her lungs were empty from the exhale.
The bullet caught Javier in the temple and he dropped. Before his body met the ground, Catherine DeMarco was picking up her bag and typing “it’s done” into a text message on her burner phone. A half a million dollars would be in her account before she reached the elevator. With the contract filled, her butterflies were gone. She took a cleansing breath of muggy night air, filled with the satisfaction of a job well done.
She smiled. No one who followed the rules had ever been found – so it was a good thing so few WITSEC clients followed the rules.
It kept her in business.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing