A short story written for the WDC Short Shots competition, March 2021.
“So you want me to break in and steal the formula?” Craig had asked, a frown creasing his brow.
“No, not steal. They stole it from us, remember, so what you will be doing is bringing it home.” Grant Huntley had been losing patience.
“I don’t know. It’s not really...”
Grant had held up a finger, silencing his subordinate. “You seem to be under the impression that this is a request. It is not. Let me make it quite clear; this is an assignment, and if you are not prepared to carry it out then you are not the man we had thought that we’d employed.”
And that was that. Craig could either break into the offices of Gordon and Pryor and find the document, or he could look for another job. It had been tempting to turn and walk away, but jobs were hard to come by and there were always so many bills to pay.
“When do you want it done?” he’d asked Grant, accepting the assignment when he did so.
Grant Huntley had smiled. “I knew we could count on you.” He slapped Craig’s shoulder before he continued. “I always find that there’s no time quite like the present. Tonight would be good.”
Craig had spent the afternoon going over what they knew of the rival company. He studied the layout of the rooms, the security that they had in place. And he decided the most likely place for the formula to be kept; it didn’t take much imagination to come to the conclusion that the managing director’s office would be holding it.
There was an hour when the security shifts changed. That would be when he would strike. If Craig was honest with himself he would have to admit it seemed too easy, especially considering the hefty bonus he was being paid to deliver.
He’d use the bike. Craig knew that there would be enough traffic around for him to lose any vehicle, should he did find himself being pursued. He’d be able to weave in and out of the lanes and leave any car or van standing. They wouldn’t call the cops; they had stolen the formula, after all.
And it had been so easy. The security office inside the gate had been empty, and so long as he entered from the rear of the building, followed the path he had mapped out, no one would ever know he’d been there. It never ceased to amaze him how a company would spend a fortune on equipment to watch over the front entrance, but when it came to the back one they didn’t really bother.
Craig had slipped inside the building unnoticed by man or camera, and although there had been a tense moment when it came to the office, he’d dealt with it by throwing his jacket up over the camera positioned in the corner of the room. He had to work fast. There was no telling how soon someone in security would notice the camera had gone dark and would set out to investigate.
No worries. The formula was right there in the second place he looked, the third drawer down in the filing cabinet. Putting it safely inside his backpack, Craig turned to the computer. He did not even need to start it up to ensure the virus would wipe all the data from the system. Just a tiny piece of plastic, carefully placed, and the man would do it himself, just as soon as he logged on.
Job done in record time, Craig made sure that he had put everything back as he had found it, then carefully positioning himself out of the camera, he retrieved his jacket and headed down the stairs. He paused just long enough to make sure the path was clear, then headed outside and climbed up onto the bike.
He needed to wait until a truck was passing before he started the engine. Hopefully that would allow the noise to go unnoticed and he’d just slip into the line of traffic and be gone.
Craig let out a sigh of relief. He’d done it, proved his worth to the company, as well as improved the condition of his bank balance. At least that was what he had thought until he noticed the single headlamp behind him.
It was nothing, he reasoned. Just another biker out on the street at the same time. And yet it followed every single move and turn that he made. If Craig overtook a vehicle, this other bike did too. When he had to stop for a red light, it stopped directly behind him. It was hard to be sure with the helmet, but Craig was convinced that the man’s eyes were trained right on his back.
There was only one thing for it. Just before the light turned to green, Craig accelerated away. He’d managed to put a bit of distance between them, but the other bike was catching up fast. Throttling down a gear, Craig let the engine roar as he stepped up the power, increasing the speed so suddenly his front wheel left the tarmac.
Another set of lights was looming. They were changing to red, but Craig would be damned if he would slow for them. Horns blared as his bike shot across in front of a moving line of vehicles. The other guy would have to stop. Craig would hide up along a side-street and wait until the other bike had passed by.
The thing was the other guy did not stop. Craig wondered afterwards if he’d have had a chance, going at the speed he was traveling at. He could hardly miss the sound of impact, the screech of steel on steel. That would have put a stop to the pursuit. Allowing his speed to drop down to just below the speed limit, Craig headed for home.
It was not until the following day that he learned of the fatality. The guy had died at the scene, and Craig could not shift the feeling of guilt. If it had not been for him, this other guy, a father of two, would still be alive.
Wordlessly, Craig had handed over the formula to Grant Huntley.
“You did well.”
“No... no, I didn’t.” Craig had not known he was going to give it all up, not until the moment when he spoke. “I got a guy killed, that’s what I did.”
“I know how you must feel...” Grant began, but Craig cut him off.
“No. No, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel, knowing that if he had not been chasing me he would still be alive.” Craig reached up, raked a hand through his hair. “This job... well, it isn’t for me.”
“I’d advise you not to come to any rash decisions,” Grant Huntley said. “Take the rest of the week off. The money is already in your account. Let the emotions settle and you’ll see that you were not to blame.”
Craig had tried to hand in his resignation, but his boss would not accept it. “Wait on it. You will feel differently,” he’d said, but when Craig walked out of the building he knew he would not be coming back.