Cooperative Witness

“I want in.”

I could hear my neighbor from my front porch.

“Ok, see ya Friday.”

I knew I’d already heard too much. My neighbor was into something nefarious, and I was a witness. Death felt imminent. I decided right then and there that, when offered, I would choose witness protection.

To be an effective witness, I started observing everything I could about my neighbor. I knew she left at 7am for work. She got to work early so she could take a long lunch and fit in a workout at the Y. She arrived home most nights around 6:30pm, except on Tuesday, when she met local alumni from her alma mater for Happy Hour.

Yes, I took off work to do a little private detecting. I was going to be in Witsec (short for witness security program) soon. Who cares if I used up all my vacation days?

I made a list of the possible crimes:

• Murder
• Gambling
• Drugs
• Insider trading
• Heist (money, art, gems, etc)
• Counterfeiting
• Fraud
• Arms dealing
• Money laundering
• Hacking
• Ponzi scheme
• Terrorism

With only two sentences as my evidence, I couldn’t even make an educated guess. I needed more. The next day, when my neighbor was at work, I snuck into her house and planted three webcams: one in her living room, one in her office and one in her bedroom. All in fake plants.

While I was in there, I looked through her drawers for secret stashes of cash, behind framed pictures hanging on the walls for secret safes, and under rugs on the bottom floor for secret doors. Nothing. I pulled all the books on her bookshelf, no secret room. Whatever she was into, she was good at hiding it. Really good.

After installing a program on her computer that let me spy on her activity, I went back to my house. I waited. It was only a matter of time.

All of the hours I spent waiting around on my private sting operation gave me a new appreciation for the cops. When you’re watching TV, they have to wrap up the story in a half hour or an hour. You don’t really get the sense of watching suspects until you’ve done it yourself. Trust me. Plus, you get really hungry when you’re bored. That’s why the police eat so many doughnuts.

On Thursday evening, a black SUV parked in my driveway. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Shit. This was it. She must have spotted me on the front porch after all. Now her boss was going to take me out.

The doorbell rang. That seemed a bit weird. I assumed they would just bust down the door. My hand shook as I twisted the door knob.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I seem to be a little lost. Can you give me directions to 206 Broad Street?”

I obliged. The stranger smiled, thanked me, returned to her car and drove off.

That was clearly a test. I wonder if I passed. They wanted to turn me instead of killing me. Maybe my neighbor vouched for me so that I could live. I felt bad about my witness protection decision, but I believed in truth, justice and the American Way.

Still, I would do what I needed to do to stay alive. Besides, I could be a more effective witness from the inside.

I made it to the library before it closed. I checked out books on all the topics related to the crimes I’d listed. I needed to know my stuff so that when they came to pick me up, I was ready for whatever task was at hand.

I fell asleep reading Arms Dealing for Morons.

When I woke up, it was 7am on Friday, and my neighbor was leaving for work. If everything was going down tonight, I needed to be ready. I went to a thrift shop and bought a black shirt, black pants, combat boots and a ski mask. I also bought a used designer suit, just in case it was high stakes gambling. At an art store, I purchased some paints, pens and a variety of papers for counterfeiting. Last but not least, I stopped by a big discount store for garbage bags, rope, flammable household cleaners and duck tape.

Around 5pm, I fired up the grill. If this was my last meal, I wanted it to be a nice juicy New York Strip. I paired it with an energy drink mixed with a top shelf vodka. Liquid, energetic courage.

I grabbed Hunger Games, which I had not had time to read all week, and headed back to the front porch to indulge my circuitous side. That night, my neighbor arrived home suspiciously early. This time, she had Carolina Hurricanes flags flying above her driver and passenger side windows. Sports fan. Gambling was now at the top of the list.

A sedan parked in front of her house. A couple of young professionals dressed in Carolina Hurricanes jerseys proceeded to her front door, where they were welcomed in. The scene repeated itself five minutes later. Then, the five fans exited the house.

“Good Luck!” My neighbor yelled in my direction. Wow. They must be coming for me soon.

“Thanks!”

She looked back confused. Perhaps, my enthusiasm was unexpected.

As her car exited the cul de sac, a city police car rolled in. Damn. They had just missed her. Hopefully they had a warrant. That way they could go through her house before she had a chance to destroy evidence.

The police car pulled up into my driveway and parked. Ah, wrong house. I’ve read about this. It happens all the time. It’s really unfortunate.

“Judith Barnes?”

“Yes.”

“You’re under arrest for trespassing and unlawful use of electronic communications.”