Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast.
This is where things start to get tricky. For one, we'd had no idea there was a warrant out for Helen. I don't have to tell you how it looks when you learn this type of information from the person – or those people associated with the person – you're tasked with watching. It's just bad form. So I was, at the time, trying to mitigate my embarrassment with a sort of "get mad" ambition I thought would resonate with my staff, sending assistants all over town to discover the source of the warrant, and how this might affect our job. I also raised the alert level, and had a few soldiers a category closer on the ground in order both to protect Helen, of course, but also to raise internal awareness of the heightened threat, and of my own awareness thereof.
It's a complicated, cut-throat industry. There are only so many positions to be had, and folks are vying for them all the time. If you open a gap wide enough to let someone else move on a detail you've overlooked it could mean the end of your career, or at least a demotion to some lower priority watch-job. Fortunately, I'd held on to this one for so long that everyone recognized my expertise, not to mention the fact that, during the Helen years, the job had become more and more a labor of love, so to speak, without the excitement most of the younger Toms look for in a surveillance gig.
So when the action began again, there weren't many people creeping around my station trying to upstage my work. And aside from that, no one expects warrants to be a surprise: it was a concern exactly because it hadn't been posted through the normal channels. No one would have thought to preempt the discovery with investigation. Which is to say I was off the hook. I'd had it easy for the past few years, sure, but I hadn't slipped so much that I'd let normal police department activity escape me. This was special.
Of course, this doesn't entirely excuse me. I'll admit I'd become too comfortable, too complacent. It's an old story, and there I was, struggling with the plot line. But I hadn't lost my edge entirely. I could still think on my feet, and was able to divert attention into a set of tasks before my staff had an opportunity to doubt the quality of my work. Clearly, however, Helen's case couldn't be underestimated, or neglected. In fact, it was beginning to bear an uncanny resemblance to the days when Helen was Zara, and Zara was in her prime.
The first order of business was to determine the origin of the warrant. Far from having anything to do with Jack who, true to his nature, had been ardently opposed to reporting Helen's disappearance – had instead immediately and predictably denied the fact, delighting his neighbor Jane with a gift, the following morning, of enough energy to power her car for a week – the warrant was posted from the inside. But that's where the paper trail stopped. "The inside." Now, despite the fact that I work in government surveillance for a living, I'm not what you'd call particularly conspiratorial. Still, it's so rare that any of my men are so abruptly thwarted in an attempt to gather intelligence for Helen's file, that this was more than a minor nuisance – it was suspicious. Who had any interest in Helen outside of those who already knew where and who she was? And what could that interest possibly be? To the outside observer (and even, I'll admit, to the majority of my staff, who more recently had been increasingly outspoken regarding the questionable merit of the case), she was just a normal, albeit particularly attractive and adventuresome, woman in early adulthood. And for those who knew what made her special, her whereabouts were already known, and her person, given an appropriate motive, easily accessible. In short, it didn't make a whole lot of sense.
There are, of course, standard forms to fill out in response to uncooperative folks – forms that get people talking – and I was tasked with setting this into motion. But aside from my own imaginings, this is really the extent of my power in most cases, and I must simply attend to my paperwork and continue fulfilling my primary responsibility: surveillance. There's a certain encouraged purity about the process, and despite any interest I might have in uncovering peripheral elements of my case, if it happens "off-screen", it is not, ultimately, my concern. This maxim is contentious among the watcher community, and can be interpreted in different ways, but I knew that in this circumstance I had enough to do as it was – Helen was keeping me busy – and I had to rely on the power of the paper, the determination of my staff, and the acquiescence, if reluctant, of those people who had not initially felt us entitled to the information we sought.
Besides, I had to find Asseem before Helen did. He'd always been rather unpredictable and I didn't want any more surprises.
---Shya Scanlon's fiction and poetry have appeared in Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. His prose poetry collection In This Alone Impulse will be published by Noemi Press in 2009. He received his MFA from Brown University in 2008, where he won the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Visit him online at www.shyascanlon.com.