“You never help around the house.” A woman, standing in a nondescript living room somewhere in the United States, says to a man sitting on a sofa in front of her.
“I work all week, I’m tired when I get home, and as you know I have been going through a very hard time since Harold died.”
“He was a fucking turtle Jimmy. A torpid terrapin. You never even changed his water. Get a hold of yourself.”
Agent Edwards quietly makes a note on his mostly empty legal pad. It says: “Jimmy didn’t deserve that.”
The CIA agent is sitting in an unlovely room underneath the Pentagon in semi-darkness, surrounded by a bank of monitors, most of which are currently blank. This is where he spends his days, and often nights; surveilling ordinary people doing ordinary things for a wide-ranging and constantly growing variety of reasons. The Johnson’s – who are now in a shouting match over how one adequately shows love for a turtle – are currently under surveillance for naming their matching shitzus Osama, and Bin Laden.
The couple’s heated exchange becomes raucous enough that the junior operative reaches out and mutes the angry scene, but keeps watching in silence, nervously chewing the last remaining kernels of the last remaining pouch of microwave popcorn from the CIA surveillance lounge. The Johnson’s arms flail, hands gesture, and mouths open and shut angrily while they pace in front of each other. It’s like watching Italian taxi drivers give directions to somewhere neither of them has ever actually been. Then suddenly there’s a change. The focus switches from each other to the TV, through whose camera Agent Edwards is taking this all in. The husband and wife are pointing in his direction, then back to each other, and then again to the TV. Edwards turns the volume back up.
“Hey. Hey. CIA guy, I know you’re watching,” says Mrs. Johnson, pushing her face up into the camera. “We need your help. Hey, do you hear me?” Edwards says nothing, and tries to tell himself there’s no way they can know he’s observing.
“Jimmy says I forgot to change Harold’s water last week and that’s why he died. I’m saying I did change it, right before going out to pick up Janine from ballet on Thursday. You were watching. You tell him.”
Edwards sits motionless, not breathing. Mrs. Johnson’s face is fish-eyed against his large monitor.
“Tell him goddammit! Whats the point of watching us if you aren’t going to help? Speak you spook.”
Agent Edwards leans cautiously forward, and toggles a switch on a microphone in front of him.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you.”
“Ha! I knew it.” Mrs. Johnson looks equal parts mortified and triumphant. Now Mr. Johnson pulls in tightly to the camera. His breath slightly fogging the lens, he speaks slowly and clearly to the agent, his words traveling across both the physical distance and not insignificant number of laws and constitutional rights that have been broken.
“Tell me. Why. My turtle died.”