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I’ll Be Watching You

by Taru Anniina Liikanen 24 days ago in Love · updated 18 days ago

Honey, you'd better run.

I’ll Be Watching You
Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

“She’s getting out, 7.53 a.m. Going in,” he croaked on the recorder, surprising himself with his voice. He’d spent a sleepless night before heading for his early morning shift and argued with Mari on the phone while waiting for Olivia to get out. On top, the cigarettes he had smoked to keep himself awake over the last three hours had not helped, and his throat was feeling seriously scratchy.

Mateo took out the camera and pointed it at the girl before she vanished behind the corner. She was in a simple, light sundress and wearing heels today, with her hair down in flowy curls. It was almost an innocent look. Again he felt the same thing, last night’s dinner turning in his stomach. What Olivia was wearing was a work outfit, though not exactly business attire. Mateo knew what she did on the days she looked particularly nice like that.

Yesterday, when she had left home, he had been alerted to the reason for her glow. Olivia had been speaking on the phone and, while he hadn’t been able to distinguish a name, Mateo knew it was with him. Her face always changed, her voice became more childish and high-pitched.

“I know you’re busy,” she'd been saying to the phone as she was walking to the bus stop, on her way to work in the center of Buenos Aires. “I just want to see you a little while. To talk.”

In the next couple of blocks, he had managed to find out that she would be meeting him today. Then, she had started looking suspicious, seeing him behind her, and he’d taken a side street so she wouldn’t realize she was being followed. Today, he would stay in his car until she was gone.

Mateo always liked her better on the weekends, when she wasn’t dressed up like this. On Saturdays, when she went grocery shopping in sweatpants. On Sunday mornings, when she left for a long walk in the Palermo parks, in a pair of leggings, her hair up in a ponytail or hidden beneath a cap. If she added a pair of sunglasses to cover her eyes, she looked almost like a famous person trying to go incognito. Natural, but you could tell there was something special about her. A glow.

A couple of minutes later, Mateo got out of his car and headed for the door, waving a lazy, nonchalant “hi” to the doorman. The apartment the Agency had rented out was right next to Olivia's. They’d managed to get a temporary contract on it for office use, and it was a good front for the operation.

The doorman had asked him once, and he’d said they were software engineers, developing a startup company. It explained the group of nerdy-looking guys entering at all hours of the day with backpacks and cans of energy drinks, but if the doorman had entered the apartment, he would have noticed there was no furniture there. They didn’t need anything. Just easy, unsuspicious access to the apartment next door. When they needed something other than just waiting outside in the car to take pictures of her when she got out.

Mateo threw his keys on the kitchen counter and headed straight for the wall next to Olivia’s apartment. The construction was bad and the walls paper-thin in this building, so whenever he needed to get in he checked to make sure nobody else was there. Once he had almost run into a friend of hers who had slipped by them in the night, but his smart precautions had just managed to avoid it. He’d heard her watching TV and then working a buzzing device for about ten minutes. He’d had some suspicions about what it was, so he didn’t include it in his report. The other guys at the office would have had too much fun with it, and it could have just as well been a toothbrush or hair remover. He had no need to shame anybody.

Today, there seemed to be nobody at Olivia’s apartment, so he opened his backpack and grabbed all the gear necessary for the job. Fortunately, she hadn’t bothered to put a decent lock on her door, so it would take him about ten seconds to get in. He stopped at the door and listened. The elevator was moving. It was best to wait.

A couple of seconds later the door opened on the same floor, and Mateo thanked his instincts. It was the next-door neighbor, a middle-aged doctor who knew Olivia and would have recognized him. Just the person he didn’t want to see as he was opening a door that wasn’t his.

He waited twenty more seconds and then got out into the hallway, silent and smooth like a cat.

The apartment was just like he’d imagined it. Simple decor, no plants, lots of books. She always left carrying one in her hand, the one that wasn’t occupied with her phone. Was she able to shut him out of her mind long enough to read, or was it just for show?

Setting up the cameras, one for the living room, one for the bedroom, he couldn’t get over thinking about Olivia. Some of her most private moments would be captured there, shared with people who didn’t want the best for her. Who didn’t care about her, at all. She was just collateral damage in the hunt for someone else. It was so futile.

The great Daniel Domenici didn't know, either, but he suspected. He’d stopped the visits to Olivia’s apartment during the campaign, and it was clear he was trying to leave her. But she didn’t want to be left behind, even if that meant she would herself suffer.

She was everything you’d expect. A young intern turned assistant. Long legs, blonde hair, big round eyes, an innocence that drew men like Daniel Domenici to her like she was an irresistible, sticky treat.

Fly, meet honey.

Honey, you’d better run.

But she was also different from what you’d expect. She had some character. He had read enough emails and texts to know that. Not just the ones she’d sent to him, but the ones he’d written in response. Or the ones others had written about Olivia to congressman Domenici, complaining about her attitude. It was why Domenici had found her another place to work, farther away from him. Eventually, if he wanted to become president, he would get rid of her completely. She was too much of a liability.

It wasn’t easy to remain objective in this business. Mateo liked her, felt sad for her for all those mornings he’d seen her go out, all dolled up, knowing who she did it for. All those nights she'd come back home with some takeaway dinner, her dress wrinkled and her expression of pure exhaustion. It didn’t seem like a great life.

But it was none of his business, how the congressman’s mistress felt. He was just here to extract the information they needed to make sure Domenici wouldn’t do anything stupid. Announce his rupture with the governing coalition, a presidential candidacy ahead of time, or something similar.

He was here to help maintain the status quo, by any means necessary.

As Mateo closed the door to the building, he couldn’t shake the feeling that what he’d done was terribly wrong. Obviously, in this business, things were never fully within the bounds of the law, but still. With people like Domenici, it was easy to convince himself that he wasn’t the one doing wrong. That an abstract them represented the bad guys.

But this time, it was morally wrong.

To find information on someone like Olivia, who had done nothing wrong. To focus on getting something that would only be enough to blackmail, maybe, but wouldn’t bring anyone down politically in this country. It would only boost his ratings. There were better ways to catch Domenici red-handed. Real crimes, not this.

Mateo glanced at his phone. Mari had been calling and texting him, apparently as soon as he’d hung up after their last conversation. She wanted to make up, but he was starting to get tired of it. His heart wasn’t in it anymore.

***

The next day as Olivia left for work, he retrieved the cameras. He should have been well-rested now that he’d ended things with Mari, but he had again spent the night with little sleep, too nervous about what he’d find.

Mateo sat down on the floor with his laptop to check the material. He preferred seeing it himself right away, instead of giving the job to someone else, someone who’d enjoy it too much.

Domenici had arrived after work. Mateo knew there had been someone taking pictures of him on the street, getting out of his car two blocks before reaching her house. He clearly didn’t want his driver to know where he was going, so he’d done a lap around the block before returning to her door, looking over his shoulder.

She was nervous, waiting for him. Walking around the apartment, wiping down tables and straightening the pictures on her walls, as if that was what he wanted. He got inside the apartment, and it was clear she wanted to jump all over him. She controlled herself. They sat down and talked, but then Domenici placed his hand on her knee and it was a done deal.

It didn’t last long, and they didn’t use a condom. When he finished he ran to the bathroom, and she was left alone on the bed, covering her face. Mateo squinted to get a better look. Yeah, she was crying.

He sighed and left his laptop on the floor beside him. On the screen, Olivia was still crying, alone, while Daniel Domenici was gathering his clothes.

He couldn’t show this to anybody. He didn’t want to, but it would be equivalent to treason. And he was a coward.

Mateo got up and grabbed his backpack. It would be the last time.

***

Mateo resigned. He wasn’t strong enough to not give out the material he’d extracted from Olivia’s apartment, but he didn’t want to know what happened to it. It had been his dream job, but he no longer wanted to be a part of the whole thing.

He still found himself on Olivia’s street on most days, hoping to see her. He’d wait in his car at the time he knew she’d be leaving her apartment. She got skinnier, her eyes even sadder than before.

One Saturday she stepped out early, but not in her habitual workout clothing. Mateo followed her around the corner, thinking she was heading for the coffee shop, but instead, she entered the pharmacy. Was she sick?

Before he could stop himself he followed her inside, getting as close as he could, trying to look as if he was trying to make up his mind between a couple of different scents of deodorants. Trying not to watch her, beating himself up in his mind for having lost all control of himself because of a woman.

But she looked so beautiful, even now that her face looked tired. Domenici had no idea what he had missed out on, how lucky he was. Guys like that, they always got everything they wanted. Never learned to distinguish the real value in the people they had around them.

The memory of Mari’s voice when he had communicated to her, over the phone, that he wasn’t going to see her anymore, still rang in his mind. He shook his head and managed to draw Olivia’s attention.

She turned toward him with two slim, long cardboard boxes in her hands, looking him in the eyes.

Mateo’s heart sank.

She had none of that excited, happy glow that women had when buying a pregnancy test. Her eyes were wide like a deer's in the headlights of a car, still showing the puffiness indicative of recent tears. Her forehead had two tiny grooves he hadn’t seen before.

She deserved better.

He gave her a quick smile and backed out from between the aisles and out of the pharmacy, leaving the deodorants on the shelf. He only stopped after walking two blocks in the other direction, away from her building. Then he picked up his phone. There was only one person who would be able to get what he needed.

Nicolás, his former boss and friend, answered.

“I’m going to need a favor.”

Nico drew a sharp breath on the other end of the line.

“What do you need?”

“A job.”

***

The first time he met with Daniel Domenici, he hated him. The voice, the arrogance, everything he was up to in his free time. Mateo hated knowing that much about him, wondering if he’d talked to her. But he needed to know more about what happened between Domenici and Olivia. He needed to be closer.

Mateo started out as an aide, but it took him only a couple of weeks to get Domenici to trust him. He’d start giving him better jobs to do, making some comments about other politicians that showed trust. And Mateo knew just what kinds of jokes to tell him, how to handle him. At only 34, he’d worked with enough sleazy politicians to know how to get on their good side.

The best ones were always about women. He’d make a face or meet Domenici’s eyes as he was lusting over an assistant or a waiter, and it would make the congressman laugh.

What did he want out of it? Nothing. Not for himself. He just wanted to see what was going on in Domenici’s life, even help him not get spied on, maybe. Not for him, for her. To prevent anything else from happening to Olivia.

She needed protection, even if it was from afar. Someone to watch over her.

A month after starting to work with Domenici, he was a part of the congressman’s inner circle. He had made a real effort, working overtime and being available on his phone at all times of the day and night. Always being the first to answer the phone made him reliable, but getting the recommendation through Nicolás had been key. Domenici had no idea Nicolás was playing both sides, and Mateo was soon included in strategy meetings with political heavyweights, the meetings journalists didn’t know of.

And then one day, Domenici invited him to drinks after work.

He took him to an elegant hotel in the middle of the city, his favorite place. Mateo had followed him there several times before, in his former line of work, but his current employer had no idea.

Mateo was surprised to see him in such a good mood. The congressman treated himself to one scotch after another, always looking at the waitress with those same lustful eyes. Mateo leaned into it, encouraging him to keep drinking while strategically pouring his own drink into a potted plant whenever Domenici looked the other way.

“You seem to be in an awfully good mood today, Daniel. Did something happen, did you get some news about the tax bill negotiations?”

Domenici gave him a sly smile. “No, not yet, although I’m expecting it to move along in the next couple of days. No, this is something different. Women.”

“Oh. Someone new?”

“No. Actually, it’s a past thing, you know, something that needed to be taken care of so it didn’t cause problems. But it’s done now, I've taken care of it,” the congressman said, gesturing at his own, bulging belly. Surprising position from a staunch Catholic and a cornerstone of the anti-abortion campaign.

“Oh, I see,” Mateo emulated Domenici’s sly smile to signal approval. “I’ve had a couple of those.”

“At your age? I only started after I got into politics. It’s just easier to get the girls. They love power.” He paused to take a sip of scotch, as Mateo laughed at the sexist joke. “You know, Mateo, you’re a good kid. I might take you on one of those trips to Panama.”

“What’s in Panama?” He had heard of Domenici making a couple of trips to Central America every year, but they were supposedly all about public relations, taking his picture with other important people.

“Well, lots of things. International conferences, beautiful women, business contacts, but most of all, no cameras following me everywhere.” He gave Mateo a meaningful look. “There are some things that aren’t easy to keep private around here.”

It was time to play it cool.

“That would be amazing, Daniel. I appreciate it.”

The next day, he got to work. He had no interest in going to Central America, but it was the hint he needed. He contacted a couple of ex-Agency colleagues who specialized in hacking, and spent a few nights at the office when everybody else had left, combing through paperwork. It was easier now that he had an idea of what he was looking for.

A week later, he had all the info he needed. The trail of money from lucrative road construction contracts for a friend of his, a cluster of shell companies in Panama, accounts in the Bahamas.

And, again, the trail of unanswered emails from Olivia to Daniel Domenici. Her begging him to answer, to see her again. The proof of his cruelty when she'd told him about their problem. She'd wanted to keep it.

It was easy to see why she was incapable of moving on, but she would have to.

He needed to get to her, even if that meant she would remember his face. Even if it meant something he would never have a chance with her. She deserved to know.

***

He left the office early that day. In the car, he put on his cap and sunglasses, doing the zipper of his jacket all the way up so the collar would cover at least part of the lower half of his face.

When she got home he was waiting on the corner, as always. Watching her, knowing too much about her, caring too much. But this time, he was here to help her.

He picked up his pace.

“Olivia,” he said when he was a couple of meters from her, trying to alter his voice just in case. It came out too whispery, but she still heard it.

“Yes?” She said, turning around. He couldn’t read any recognition on her face, which meant she wasn’t connecting the dots with the guy who had stalked her in the pharmacy.

“I need you to have this.” He took the envelope out of his pocket and handed it to her.

“What is this? Who are you?” She looked scared.

“Nobody,” he said, knowing it was the truth. He was nobody, and he would always be a nobody to her. This was the last time he would see her. He looked hard, trying to etch her face into his memory. The tiny creases beside her eyes, the rebellious little curl in the middle of her forehead. Scared eyes that nevertheless tried to look defiant.

“Honey, you need to take this and read it. And you need to stay away.”

Olivia peered at him, as if trying to see his eyes behind the sunglasses, and held out her hand. He placed the envelope on it, and she turned back on her heels and walked to her door, at a brisk pace.

Mateo stayed on the street, staring behind her, then realizing someone from the Agency must be taking pictures of him. He needed to get out. He turned around and walked back to his car, doing some laps around the neighboring blocks to make sure nobody was following him. He sat down on the front seat and turned on the music. “I’ll Be Watching You” by the Police was on.

He had lied to himself. It was too much to let go of. He would not return here, but he would still entertain it, the fantasy. The hope of her letting go of hers.

“Honey, I’ll be watching you,” he said to the empty street, hoping she'd take his hint.

Love

Taru Anniina Liikanen

Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Recovering political ghostwriter. Fiction, relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions.

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