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The Oak Tree by Julie Judish - HTML preview

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Prologue

 

 

 

Director of Security Sarah Johnson flipped through the photos, eyeing them intently. She paused at the third one in the stack, intrigued by the young woman in the picture. She had an average height, average weight, average brown hair and brown eyes. The girl was dressed casually, not flashy like some teens did these days. No rips or tears in the clothing were visible; everything was properly modest and covered. There was no extra skin showing above the waistline as was common with teenage girls. There were no tattoos, no visible body piercing beyond the one stud in each ear, and no shocking green, blue or purple hair. Nothing stood out about the girl who was the target of her scrutiny. As she continued with the rest of the photos, she saw the same girl in various places, with different people. The girl seemed happy. Not joyous, but happy, as if the world was okay around her. She was at the mall shopping with friends, getting on the bus to go to high school, getting in an older model beat up station wagon with her mother and walking into a church. This girl was just… ordinarily; happy. 

            “Did she see you? Does she suspect?” she asked the two men who were standing in her office. 

Dressed in black suits, black ties, sunglasses, and with ear-pieces visible if one would closely look for them, the men could easily be on the cover of “SPY” magazine. This assignment was not their first, and the taller of the two, Roberts, frowned his annoyance.

            “No, Director. These photos were all taken within the week as you requested. She never saw us, I am sure of it.”

            Director Johnson finished viewing the photos and slipped them back into the large manila envelope the men had supplied them in. She knew what she had to do now would forever change the course of this ordinary girl’s life. She didn’t like that idea. Being normal was a blessing, a benefit, and an advantage. Once she set into motion the next phase of the plan, this girl would never be normal again. Yet the Director had no doubt at all that it had to be done, and the girl must be protected at all costs. The very innocence and normalcy the girl exhibited were her own worst enemy in light of the future she would have. It was Director Johnson’s highest priority to see that this girl live long enough to embark on that future. The young woman’s life was in danger, and if her agents were right, as the Director knew they were, the girl wasn’t aware of it.

            “Thank you for getting these to me. Things look just about as I expected, from what little I knew of Miss Becker’s situation. I need you two to select a security team. Six agents should do. I want around the clock surveillance on the home, the school, and anywhere else she goes. Do not be seen. That will come later. We have two weeks until she becomes of age. The people who are threatening her life have implied she will not make that birthday. We need to make sure they are wrong, and see that the girl lives to make her future happen.” The men nodded. Director Johnson continued, “I assume from your surveillance that you are aware of the area and will watch for anything out of the ordinary-“

            Roberts lifted his hand, palm towards her as if to stop her, and frowned at her.

            “Director, we know how to do our jobs. We will arrange the team of agents immediately and the girl will be safe and sound.”

            Director Johnson, tall and poised, looked at her two best agents, and knew they would. She wasn’t concerned about the frown from Agent Roberts. Nor was she concerned at the offended look from the other man, Agent Diaz. She remembered that old adage her mother and many, many other mothers over the years have used, that said if you frown long enough, your face will freeze that way. Looking at Agents Roberts and Diaz, she was sure that that was what had happened to these two, but they knew their job -- were the best at it -- and she was confident that Miss Becker was in good hands. She smiled just a bit to herself. She was stalling. They wanted to get to work, and knew she was stalling.

            Another heavy sigh. She smoothed down her immaculately tailored skirt and picked an imaginary speck of lint off her jacket.

            “All right, let’s get to it. I want to hear from someone every four hours.”

            “Yes, Ma’am.”

Roberts nodded to Diaz, and they turned and left the room. The Director locked the manila envelope away in her filing cabinet as she watched them leave, and then, seeing the mounds of paperwork waiting for her, tried to get back to work, but there on her desk she spied one photo of the girl who was her current priority. She had left this photo out when she put the rest away. It was the photo that most clearly showed the girl’s face. She picked it up and studied it, paperwork forgotten as this young woman once again stole her attention.

            “My poor dear,” she spoke to the photo. “You have no idea that your life is about to change forever.”