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PART EIGHTEEN

Caleb felt like an idiot for having been caught by a dim-witted, pencil-pushing teacher. For three days his careful planning had allowed him to go unseen as each morning he’d hiked the mile from his van on the far side of Florida State Road 54 to the wooded acre positioned at the eastern end of Cold Springs Parkway. His destination was a small stand of woods that abutted the northeast corner of Saint Peter’s Church and he’d braved the snakes and gators that lived in the wooded swamp to ensure that his arrival at the secluded vantage point would go undetected.

In anticipation of the long hours he’d spend observing the schoolyard on the southeast side of Interlachen Road he’d brought binoculars, a sack lunch, a gallon of water, a Peterson bird watching guide and enough bug spray to allow a man to lie naked in a cloud of mosquitoes without fear of being bit. He’d also intentionally left all but one cigarette back in the van. The need to go undetected was paramount, and he knew from experience that wafting tobacco fumes had the potential to be a literal smoke signal that could alert people to his presence. Caleb knew his was a will of steel and that his ability to resist lighting up a fag was a mark of his superiority, but he feared that boredom would get the best of him and he’d mindlessly reach for a cancer stick whose smoke could put his entire mission in jeopardy. Will of steel or not, just like Jesus talking to the devil, Caleb chose to put temptation behind him.

The goal for this phase of the mission had been to watch the comings and goings of the students, teachers, and parents at Interlachen Elementary from the safety of cover but seeing how as he’d been spotted he wasn’t certain what his next move should be. This morning he’d hungrily watched for the woman with the big, tight ta-tas and his excitement had risen like the bulge in his pants when he’d seen her coasting down the sidewalk with her daughter in tow. He’d noticed Hot Mama, the name he’d given the little capris clad JAP, two days back, and had the mother/daughter pair in his sights but watching the woman’s spawn play out on the schoolyard at recess today he’d had an uneasy feeling.

Caleb had adhered to the plan calling for him to remain safely out of sight and to reconnoiter from seclusion and he’d been content to merely observe Hot Mama’s little girl from the safety of the underbrush. Content that is until he saw Hot Mama’s child playing with the other skinny little kid.

Caleb would not have been able to vocalize why the little girl in the too big Esmeralda Disney tee had made him deviate from the plan, but when he’d noticed her playing with Hot Mama’s child he’d become mesmerized. He couldn’t say why the skinny girl had been such a gut-punch, but she’d definitely had that effect on him. The little waif looked hauntingly familiar and he couldn’t shake the feeling that either he knew the little girl, or that he was destined to meet her.

In retrospect, he blamed his feeling of predestination as the cause for him venturing out and walking along the front of the school yard where he could get a closeup view of the girls. His on-the-spot decision to emerge from hiding and stroll nonchalantly past the playground so as to get a closer look at the mystery child had been as irresistible as his compulsion to discipline harlots like Hot Mama, and despite knowing the risks of unplanned actions he’d approached Interlachen Elementary and the two children. The impromptu plan was a quick walk by and then a careful, unnoticed return to his spy den.

That had been the plan, but the plan got derailed by the meddling teacher. The gym teacher had asked Caleb his name and Caleb didn’t have a prepared, on-the-spot answer. Convinced that no witnesses would detect so expert an outdoorsman as himself hiding in the brush, Caleb hadn’t prepared a false bio. Without a false bio he had ready no cover story to tell the uppity little pencil pusher who snuck up on him unawares. When asked his name, Caleb had hesitated a moment before answering, “Caleb. Caleb Heald,” a declaration that was half true.

His deviation from the plan had caused unwanted ripples on the water and Caleb couldn’t help but wonder how far the ripples carried and who was taking notice of them. During missions, control was always numero uno for Caleb followed closely by secrecy, and the meddling gym teacher had wrenched control and secrecy from Caleb’s hands and caused them to be thrown to the winds, a situation that disturbed Caleb greatly. The little girly man had said there were security cameras pointed his way, which sure as hell’s flames made Caleb nervous. Prison was not a place Caleb wanted to return to and, worse yet, kidnapping, torture and rape might just add up to capital crimes in Florida, even if the temptresses have it coming.

The only certainty left for Caleb was that the hunt was still on and Caleb, an experienced hunter, knew that hunting people was no different than hunting deer. “It’s a whole sight easier to bag a buck if he doesn’t know you’re there than it is once he’s been spooked,” he remonstrated. “A got-damn whole sight easier,” he repeated, shaking his head and picking up the binoculars in response to the familiar rumblings of Blue Bird buses meandering down Interlachen and turning into the school. “Sure is a sight easier if he’s not spooked, but it ain’t impossible if he is. Guess I’m just gonna have to play this safari by ear,” he said, pushing aside a branch to get an unobstructed view of Interlachen Elementary.