(short story - PG-13)
Like a worm burrowing into an apple; that’s how it felt. Not that you could have felt anything. They’re that good!
No, the compliance they seek comes through exploitation of you and your weaknesses. It’s sad… but honest. We all have weaknesses. Sometimes it’s the personal peccadilloes that haunt our inner thoughts and deeds. Sometimes it’s not something we have but something we crave. No, I’m not talking about money, though if that’s what’ll get the job done, they’ll do that as well… if it’s worth their while. For many, like me, it’s being someone.
That’s probably confused you even more.
Let me briefly turn the clock back and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I was a lonely kid. Yeah, you say, heard it before. Yet my solitary childhood was not borne out of being an unsociable nerd whose only interests were comic books and computer games. No, I guess that would have earned me some friends at least, even if they also lived out their lives between the multicoloured pages of cheap escapist fantasy or the flashing vibrancy of the console. No, it was all down to my parents. More specifically my Dad. He was a troubleshooter for a nationwide supermarket firm. When any local store started hitting the red, he was sent there for six-months to a year to turn the thing around. He worked for the Head Office of the supermarket chain; we, my sister, my mother and I, didn’t. So I never could get my head around why we had to pack up and move to a different city every time his employer had a crisis. Not that I could have asked him either. He spent over fifteen hours a day at the stores, weekends included. Vacations? My sis and I were shipped off to relatives for a couple of weeks.
And, with the moves, came new schools, new ‘friends’, new routines. We never got into any of the on-going activities at school – we always knew that whenever we got pumped up about joining something, as if by magic, the next day Mom would announce an upcoming move. It seemed to me the more I wanted to be a part of some group or other, the further away we’d move. Crazy, yeah, paranoid even.
As soon as I could, I jumped. I dumped schooling and found a ‘steady’ job. Steady meant not having to move every few months. I had next-to-no qualifications so the jobs were increasingly crappy.
Then one day I got hit by a car.
Some guy, talking on his cell phone, driving his Beamer with one hand, clipped me. In truth, he didn’t hit me, only my bike. I was doing messenger work then, pedalling as fast as I could, delivering other peoples’ packages around the City. I was thrown off to one side and the bike spiralled the other way, finishing beneath his front tyres. I had a few cuts and bruises; the bike was a write-off.
Anyway, the driver insisted on paying me for the damage, in fact giving me enough to buy a much better bike, a new one at that. He also said he wanted to take me to a hospital to have me checked out. I told him I was okay; after all, with traffic as it is in the City, it wasn’t the first time I’d taken a tumble. He did say he’d at least spring for a coffee. I’d finished for the day anyway, and now, with no bike, I’d probably finished, period.
So there we were, sitting at a table in a nice coffee bar; him, in a smart two-piece suit and white shirt, and me, covered with dust and blood streaks, drinking chocolate-flavoured coffee. David, he said his name was. He was far more nervous than me. I guess he thought I’d stick him with a huge insurance claim. I told him that he shouldn’t worry; I was used to stuff like that screwing up my life. He asked me why I said that and, inexplicably I found myself giving him a potted account of what I’d accomplished during my twenty-two years. He listened, made appropriate sympathetic noises, asked a few questions and that was that. He said he wanted to try to help me sort things out; something about almost having killed me made me somehow his responsibility. So I gave him my name and address, and we parted.
Two weeks later he showed up at my new job, burger-flipper, and told me to quit and come with him. He was a very soft-spoken bloke and now my first thought was that he was some sort of perv. Youthful prejudice, I suppose. Why the hell should I do that? I demanded. David said he had a new job for me that paid much better and had a stack of added benefits, like a company car.
Talk about the Fairy Godmother!
The job: messenger again. The pay: four times what I earned before. Plus I got a bonus for every package I delivered on schedule. They gave me a new Ford; sent me all over the country with boxes and envelopes, mileage paid for as well. Brilliant. Effin’ brilliant. I’d cracked it.
The office was one woman in a two-roomed storefront depot on the outskirts of London. She was nice enough, but I never saw anyone else; all out on deliveries, she said. Still the money came in on time and I felt I was finally doing something that someone appreciated. Better than flipping burgers, anyway.
I did this for a couple of years, then they stepped on the gas pedal.
Now, the car had been upgraded. So had the pay. But instead of hitting the road every day, I usually drove to and from the airport. My packages were now briefcases; my destinations all over the place. Asia, the Middle East, half of Europe, the States, even a trip to Venezuela once.
All I had to do was deliver on time and guard the package with my life. That’s what they’d said… with my life. And to back that up, they’d sent me on a month’s training course where I got to wear a balaclava all day, just like the others, as I we were shown how to fight and shoot guns and use knives. Real bloody James Bond stuff. I was made up!
They never said it directly. Just a hint, subtle like. We were sort of employees of the government now. Official couriers. Many of the briefcases I carried were documented as Diplomatic Pouches. I was never to break the seal though; never a peek inside. But I took to watching how the customs people at the airports reacted on the few occasions they shoved the cases through the X-ray machines before I could wave the paperwork under their noses. Eyebrows were raised; voices dropped to almost inaudible levels as they mumbled something to one another. Then they always glanced at me; thanked me; smiled; called me “Sir”.
Five years of doing that. Five years of clocking up hundreds of thousands of miles in flights. Now I was here. Royally screwed!
The transition from courier to… whatever I was now, had been sudden; just like getting run over on your bike.
One day I returned from a trip to Hong Kong, knackered after such a long flight which had been a seventy-two hour Hobbit Run, you know, a there-and-back-again job, to find David waiting for me in the ‘office’.
Fancy a trip? A simple enough question. I thought he was talking about another flight somewhere. He pointed to his car, a new Beamer, parked outside. So off we went, into the City to a drab-looking office block. Loads of people here though, and security like you wouldn’t believe. Passes, keyboard codes, eyeball scanners, the lot.
Finally we went into a room where another bloke waited. He was introduced as Mr. Smith. Older than David, balding, a bit paunchy. He stood and held out his hand as we entered. The hand was for me; he practically ignored David.
“Welcome, welcome. Heard a lot about you. All good. Sit down. Sit down, please.” All accompanied by a big smile, yellowing teeth. “How would you like to step up a grade?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I guess I must have looked a bit dumb, because he glanced over at David, who nodded once, than looked back at me.
“We have this very special run that needs doing. It’s high risk. Very high risk. You’ll be armed for this one” (not the first time, but certainly not common). “Private flight out, then on to somewhere or other. You’ll be met after the flight. It’s a package this time.” He pointed over at a side table. There sat a brown paper-covered parcel about twice the size of a shoebox. String had been tied around it to provide a handhold. “Triple pay on this one. Danger money.” He winked. Bloody James Bond again. I loved it. “Just hand it over and leave.”
“Can’t I just give it to whoever meets me after the flight?” I may have been an unqualified burger-flipper once, but I wasn’t stupid.
“No. Definitely not. We need to know exactly when it reaches its final destination. You’ll delivery it to this man, and no one else. Then you call us. Understood?” He flipped over a large photo. It was grainy, taken from a distance and blown up, but if you held it at arms’ length, you could make out the face easily enough. “Him and no one else, got it?”
I nodded and handed back the photo. Good memory, me.
Next came the logistics. Tickets. A new passport, nicely battered and used; a fake name. Even a wallet full of matching credit cards and a large wad of cash. A nice new smartphone with one number pre-programmed. I had to surrender all my own stuff. This was going to be all covert, he said. Wink, wink. Don’t use the phone for anything else; it’s untraceable and I had to call using that device and no other as soon as I delivered the package to the man in the photo in person. More bloody James Bond. I was flying!
David drove me to the airport. He chatted away about how there were great things awaiting me on my way back; how this little trip was a sort of test; so don’t screw anything up. He also gave me a gun, a couple of spare ammunition clips and a belt holster. The gun was a bloody Walther, just like James Bond’s. I was living one of my comics now.
The General Aviation area of the airport was familiar; I had flown out of here on business jets several times, but nothing like this. No Customs people around though. We drove straight to the plane. I retrieved the package from the floor between my feet, and walked up the stairs. At the top I turned around, intending to wave at David, but his Beamer was already heading for the exit.
I was the only passenger. Deep cream-coloured, soft leather seats. Great food; self-service. Even a couple of in-flight movies on a small screen that dropped down out of the low ceiling. No booze, not even a beer. Need to keep sharp; good idea that. No bloody Vodka Martinis for me.
Soon after take-off, night descended. I had a vague feeling we were flying south… -ish, but apart from a “Fasten Seat Belts” command as we taxied to the runway, I didn’t see or hear from the pilots during the flight. I stood up after about three hours, in between the movies, and tried the cabin door. It was locked. Covert, covert, I kept saying to myself.
Finally we landed. I have no idea where. It wasn’t an airport. It was a strip in the middle of nowhere. Only the landing lights were on. The jet hit the tarmac, taxied back to a point about midway along, where another stretch of asphalt disappeared into the darkness, and stopped. A couple of clicks, the cabin door opened and I had a brief glimpse of lots of coloured lights and another man inside. The co-pilot opened the main door and without a word, stepped back into the cabin. I took the hint. Covert!
I picked up my package and stepped outside.
Behind me the door was pulled shut and I heard the engines start to rev up. I took that as my cue to move away. I walked about fifty yards into the darkness along the asphalt, before the wash from the jet’s engines bathed me in stinky fumes. I watched it as it turned and ran to the far end of the runway. No navigation lights. Covert, right. It took off and was quickly lost against the night sky.
Where in hell was I?
The air felt warm. I bent down and touched the tarmac; it was dry and retained the heat of the previous day. South, -ish. Africa maybe. Middle East. Devon. Who the hell knew?
I waited. I took out the gun a couple of times, checking I’d loaded a magazine and there was one up the spout, safety on.
After an hour or so, the horizon glowed with the first few rays of a rising sun. The temperature climbed quickly. Soon I had my jacket off. No, Devon it wasn’t.
Another hour and I heard a car. It took me a few seconds to pick it out against the haze rising from the tarmac. It was a battered Merc. One man inside. I walked towards it and soon I was alongside.
The guy behind the wheel was mid-thirties, dark hair, tanned. He held out his hand. I held onto the package. He got the message and leaned over to open the front passenger door. I climbed in, relieved to feel the cool air-con pluck the heat out of my body.
The drive was over two hours along dust-filled roads. The suspension fought a losing battle against potholes, and the driver swerved sharply without warning more than once. The red dust seemed to find its way inside the car despite having the windows wound tight. I guess Devon was definitely ruled out; Africa was the candidate now. We passed a few small villages. Signs, some in English, others in gibberish. Few people though. They all stopped and watched us as we sped past.
Finally, I could see the coast. What a contrast! A deep blue ocean stretched as far as I could see. A sandy beach; the road ending alongside a cluster of low, off-white buildings that looked as if they had been bombed at one point, recently. Outside, another Merc, though that one was nicer.
With a flurry of red dust, we pulled up and the driver got out. He’d not said a word throughout the trip. I’d tried to get him to speak; either he didn’t understand me, or he preferred silence. After a few tries, I’d given up. Now he pointed at one of the buildings.
I stepped out of the car. Hot, dry heat beat at me, accompanied by a veritable army of mosquitoes. I grabbed the package from the foot well and walked toward the ruins.
As I entered, I fingered the butt of the Walther.
“That won’t be necessary, I assure you.” The voice from the shadows over to my left. Deep shadows; deep voice. I stepped closer. My eyes picked out three men sitting in the shade on aluminium deckchairs. A small folding table had been set up over to one side. “Please place the package on the table. Thank you.”
I found my voice after coughing up some of the red dust.
“I need to confirm who I’m delivering to.” I said it in my best Connery impression.
The man on the right stood and took a step into the light. It was the bloke in the photo back in London. I nodded, and placed the package on the table.
“I need to confirm delivery,” I said, taking out my cell phone.
“There is intermittent reception here. You need to travel back inland for about a mile. The driver will take you there. Leave the package. Your job is done.”
One of the other men spoke. I didn’t catch more than a couple of words, but one of those was “diamonds”. The boss man didn’t reply; he just stood there waiting for me to leave.
“I’ll be off then.” I turned and walked outside.
The driver was back in the Merc, the engine running.
Five minutes later we were picking up speed along the dirt road and I hit the speed dial.
We must have been at least a mile or two away, yet the noise of the explosion was unmistakable. The driver slammed on the brakes, and threw open his door, jumping out, looking back.
I climbed out also. In the distance a dense black column of smoke marked where we’d been.
I sensed movement from the driver. He was running back to the car. He opened the back door and took out an AK47. Before he could bring it up, I shot him. I emptied the magazine, replaced it with a new one, before walking closer. Two shots had hit. The rest… Well, two had been enough.
I ditched the cell phone. I took the car. Headed inland for a few miles then south along the coast. I eventually found a town, found a working landline phone and made a call. They were surprised to hear from me. Not that they said as much; I just noticed it in David’s voice.
That’s how I got from being a burger-flipping drop-out to becoming a government assassin. Just goes to show. We all have weaknesses. I have two: I have more than my fair share of luck, and I discovered I like killing.
For Queen and country, of course.
Copyright 2013 Eric J. Gates. All rights reserved. (Not available for Re-blogging without prior permission).
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Have a great Summer, everyone.
If you would like to read more of my writing, there are 6 (shortly to be 7) full-length suspense thrillers available on Amazon. Details of these novels, with global Amazon links and extracts here: