There were three watchers, two men and a boy. They were using telescopes, not field glasses. It was a question of distance. They were almost a mile from their target area, because of the terrain. There was no closer cover. It was low, undulating country, burned khaki by the sun, grass and rock and sandy soil alike. The nearest safe concealment was the broad dip they were in, a bone-dry gulch scraped out a million years ago by a different climate, when there had been rain and ferns and rushing rivers.
The men lay prone in the dust with the early heat on their backs, their telescopes at their eyes. The boy scuttled around on his knees, fetching water from the cooler, watching for waking rattlesnakes, logging comments in a notebook. They had arrived before first light in a dusty pick-up truck, the long way around, across the empty land from the west. They had thrown a dirty tarpaulin over the truck and held it down with rocks. They had eased forward to the rim of the dip and settled in, raising their telescopes as the low morning sun dawned to the east behind the red house almost a mile away. This was Friday, their fifth consecutive morning, and they were low on conversation.
"Time?" one of the men asked. His voice was nasal, the effect of keeping one eye open and the other eye shut.
The boy checked his watch.
"Six-fifty," he answered.
"Any moment now," the man with the telescope said.
The boy opened his book and prepared to make the same notes he had made four times before.
"Kitchen light on," the man said.
The boy wrote it down. 6:50, kitchen light on. The kitchen faced them, looking west away from the morning sun, so it stayed dark even after dawn.
"On her own?" the boy asked.
"Same as always," the second man said, squinting.
Maid prepares breakfast, the boy wrote. Target still in bed. The sun rose, inch by inch. It jacked itself higher into the sky and pulled the shadows shorter and shorter. The red house had a tall chimney coming out of the kitchen wing like the finger on a sundial. The shadow it made swung and shortened and the heat on the watchers' shoulders built higher. Seven o'clock in the morning, and it was already hot. By eight, it would be burning. By nine, it would be fearsome. And they were there all day, until dark, when they could slip away unseen.
"Bedroom drapes opening," the second man said. "She's up and about."
The boy wrote it down. 7:04, bedroom drapes open.
"Now listen," the first man said.
They heard the well pump kick in, faintly from almost a mile away. A quiet mechanical click, and then a steady low drone.
"She's showering," the man said.
The boy wrote it down. 7:06, target starts to shower.
The men rested their eyes. Nothing was going to happen while she was in the shower. How could it? They lowered their telescopes and blinked against the brassy sun in their eyes. The well pump clicked off after six minutes. The silence sounded louder than the faint noise had. The boy wrote: 7:12, target out of shower. The men raised their telescopes again.
"She's dressing, I guess," the first man said.
The boy giggled. "Can you see her naked?"
The second man was triangulated twenty feet to the south. He had the better view of the back of the house, where her bedroom window was.
"You're disgusting," he said. "You know that?"
The boy wrote: 7:15, probably dressing. Then: 7:20, probably downstairs, probably eating breakfast.
"She'll go back up, brush her teeth," he said.
The man on the left shifted on his elbows. "For sure," he said. "Prissy little thing like that."
"She's closing her drapes again," the man on the right said.
It was standard practice in the west of Texas, in the summer, especially if your bedroom faced south, like this one did. Unless you wanted to sleep the next night in a room hotter than a pizza oven.
"Stand by," the man said. "A buck gets ten she goes out to the barn now." It was a wager that nobody took, because so far four times out of four she had done exactly that, and watchers are paid to notice patterns. "Kitchen door's open." The boy wrote: 7:27, kitchen door opens. "Here she comes."
She came out, dressed in a blue gingham dress that reached to her knees and left her shoulders bare. Her hair was tied back behind her head. It was still damp from the shower.
"What do you call that sort of a dress?" the boy asked.
"Halter," the man on the left said.
7:28, comes out, blue halter dress, goes to barn, the boy wrote. She walked across the yard, short hesitant steps against the uneven ruts in the baked earth, maybe seventy yards. She heaved the barn door open and disappeared in the gloom inside.
The boy wrote: 7:29, target in barn. "How hot is it?" the man on the left asked.
"Maybe a hundred degrees," the boy said. "There'll be a storm soon. Heat like this, there has to be."
"Here comes her ride," the man on the right said.
Miles to the south, there was a dust cloud on the road. A vehicle, making slow and steady progress north.
"She's coming back," the man on the right said. 7'32, target comes out of barn, the boy wrote. "Maid's at the door," the man said.
The target stopped at the kitchen door and took her lunch box from the maid. It was bright blue plastic with a cartoon picture on the side. She paused for a second. Her skin was pink and damp from the heat. She leaned down to adjust her socks and then trotted out to the gate, through the gate, to the shoulder of the road. The school bus slowed and stopped and the door opened with a sound the watchers heard clearly over the faint rattle of the idling engine. The chrome handrails flashed once in the sun. The diesel exhaust hung and drifted in the hot still air. The target heaved her lunch box onto the step and grasped the bright rails and clambered up after it. The door closed again and the watchers saw her corn-colored head bobbing along level with the base of the windows. Then the engine noise deepened and the gears caught and the bus moved away with a new cone of dust kicking up behind it.
7:36, target on bus to school, the boy wrote.
The road north was dead straight and he turned his head and watched the bus all the way until the heat on the horizon broke it up into a shimmering yellow mirage. Then he closed his notebook and secured it with a rubber band. Back at the red house, the maid stepped inside and closed the kitchen door. Nearly a mile away, the watchers lowered their telescopes and turned their collars up for protection from the sun.