Scene from The Big Combo (1955) filmed by John Alton

Scene from The Big Combo (1955) filmed by John Alton

by Kevin Carrel Footer

In the midst of her Wednesday grocery shopping, she came up short when she saw the long black car roll by with the two men in it. It was the same car with the broken taillight that she had seen outside the restaurant two nights before, wasn’t it? She had a novelist’s memory for weird physical details and she was sure she remembered it.

For a moment she stood there until a voice inside told her, ‘Move on you fool or they’ll know you’ve made them and that’s never good.’ So she pretended to have forgotten something, rummaged through her purse, then held up a piece of paper that could have been a shopping list so they could see it, pushed it back in her purse and moved on briskly as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Maybe she even whistled.

She had never done anything in her life to make anyone follow her. Every bold act, every daring rebellion that she had ever imagined committing – and there had been plenty – always ended up being hijacked by one of her characters. She would have liked to have done something notable once but reality couldn’t be edited and the consequences always seemed so implacable.

When she turned the corner, she passed two women chatting as one pushed a stroller. Hadn’t she seen those same two women at the supermarket yesterday, she thought with alarm? She tried to get a good look at them when she passed, but as she came up on them, one knelt down to fuss with the baby while the other stepped to the side and lit a cigarette behind a cupped hand.

She tried to dismiss these thoughts, largely because they made her wonder if she was going mad.

After getting the things she needed at the store, she walked back to her apartment and she saw no signs of them or at least the signs were not the ones she knew to look for. No one, she noted, was observing her in the reflection of a plate-glass window. But she knew from John Le Carré novels that operations of this kind could involve multiple teams of watchers, costume changes, vans and motorcycles with forward teams and trailing teams trading positions. And nowadays, she thought, there was the whole lovely world of electronic surveillance she would have to contend with.

“To contend with?” Where on earth had she learned to speak like this? Wasn’t she going a bit far? Maybe she really was going nuts?

Maybe so… but it was proper to take some precautions. And as she said it, she realized that if they weren’t watching her, she would miss them. She had the book she had come here to write, a few pleasant friends and an on-again, off-again boyfriend, but she had to admit that her life wasn’t something she would want to read about. She fancied being followed for a while by real professionals, even if it was a case of mistaken identity.

In the apartment she put the bags on the kitchen table, confirmed that she wasn’t silhouetted and went to the window. With her back flat to the wall, she used two fingers to move the drapes just enough that she could see the street. The black car was not there, but a blue Fiat had taken its place and there were two people in it, a man and a woman, embracing exaggeratedly. She let the drapes fall into place and smiling went to prepare her meal.

Passionate observations from the creative journey. Get The Road Diaries delivered to your inbox each Sunday.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This