Drive: A Short Story (Part I)
He landed on the pavement on all fours.
Glancing quickly about him, Ervin grabbed his backpack which had fallen a few feet away, sprung onto his feet, turned around and began racing toward the iron gate. Within seconds he had passed the massive Metrone Group Inc neon sign., exited its perimeter and was heading toward the first line of trees beyond the guarded facility.
He could not stop. He dared not stop.
He had to make it out alive no matter what. As he sprinted on, his mind processed what had just transpired moments earlier. How could Clifton have foiled things up like that? They had such limited options and he'd almost dashed their entire plan by triggering the alarm and calling undue attention to their whereabouts. Had the fellow even made it to the southern exit?
Ervin hoped so. At least for his companion’s sake. But there had been no time to stick around and find out! Ervin's own mind had to be made up quickly. At least the hard drive had been secured and was presently in his possession. His main focus now was the remaining part of the operation. Escape.
Scarcely was he within six yards of the shelter of the trees when the world behind him exploded into life. Shouts, footfalls, gunfire and the barking of dogs.
Instinctively, Ervin dropped onto the ground and began creeping his way through the undergrowth for the remainder of the stretch. As soon as he had crossed the first row of trees safely away from view, he leaped to his feet, secured his backpack tightly and began a mad race through the woods.
Like an untamed savage from a prehistoric world, the man bolted on. Dodging low-lying branches, tree trunks and clumps of bushes, his athletic agility charged with adrenalin seemed to combine with the urgency of the moment in propelling him forward. It did not take long for his conditioned senses to alert him that the canines had already picked up his trail. Though he had carved for himself a clear head start, he knew it was only a matter of time.
He had to think and act quickly.
Presently, he broke into a small clearing where he paused for a few moments to regain his breath, check his bearings and confirm the wind direction. Within seconds, he had determined the next course of action and now set out again, this time toward the north-east.
Just as he had expected, the terrain soon changed and he found himself along a steep descent at the base of which was a winding river bordered on either side by lush grasses, wildflowers and thick brush. He strapped the weight on his back even tighter and immediately began making his way down as swiftly as he could, grimacing through scrapes and scratches that got past his protective wear. Three and a half minutes later, he was splashing his way toward the other bank of the freshwater body.
Meanwhile, in the clearing he had just left, drama was unfolding. The guard dogs were pacing around, amid the constant urging of their masters who were scouring the place for any clues as to the agent’s whereabouts. The wind had changed direction and the canines seemed to have momentarily lost his scent.
The stalemate did not last long, however. One of the dogs started barking excitedly, tugging at its leash toward a fresh north-easterly trail he had just picked up. His master wasted no time in hollering to the rest of the team and soon men and beasts joined forces in one melodramatic procession toward the river.
Minutes later, they emerged from the woods and were at the top of the incline. By this point, the dogs' excitement had heightened and it took considerable force to restrain them from sending the entire party hurtling down the slope. Raising their voices above the din, the guards soon reached a consensus. A few of them marked out a spot on the trail, adjusted their weapons and embarked on the steep descent towards the riverbank.
Whipping out their binoculars, the rest the party stayed put and scanned the entire area before them for any signs of their moving target. From a path of broken twigs, trampled weeds and disturbed earth, it was evident that the intruder had made it down the incline and proceeded through the river beyond.
As far as the eye could see, however, no human activity was detectable in the water body or along its banks. Moreover, the dogs could not detect his scent when they reached the edge of the river.
The guards had no choice but to relay their position to Central and request for a dispatch of the mobile trackers. As they retraced their steps back to rejoin the rest of the group, one of them reached for his cell phone and began making the call.
Hardly had the sound of their voices receded when a head cautiously popped up from behind a floating log on the water’s surface near the other bank. Ervin watched their retreat in silence. As soon as the coast was clear, he quickly hoisted himself from his crouched position and clambered up the muddy ascent of the other bank, grateful for his waterproof backpack.
He spent a moment briefly taking in the new features around him, before selecting his route and once again making his way through undergrowth. He had overheard the call for the mobile trackers and knew would be scouring the place for him shortly. There was no time to waste. He had to find the pickup point quickly.
He also knew that eluding the guards and the canines had set him along a path that deviated from the preplanned route so he now had to rely more on his instincts and sense of direction to recover his way. He moved about, searching the area as swiftly and openly as he dared, till his efforts were finally rewarded and he found himself emerging into another clearing.
This has to be it, he thought to himself.
He could already hear the roar of engines in the distance and knew the mobile units were approaching. He would be no match for these on foot.
He quickly pursed his lips and made the prearranged cue - a high-pitched bird call.
Once. Twice. Thrice.
He repeated it again.
Where on earth was Hector?
By this time, he knew the first of the units would be breaking into the clearing at any moment.
He had to think. Fast.
He was about to retreat into the concealment of the foliage he had just emerged from when suddenly, a high-pitched bird call pierced through the air in response to his. Then the clump of bushes to his left parted and a Rokon trailbreaker came into view, its heavy-set rider sporting a dark motocross helmet and leather suit. The driver turned his machine around and sped straight toward Ervin.
It was Hector. He was holding out his hand.
“Quick man, hurry!”
“Where have you been sleeping, old buddy?” Ervin shouted above the engine's roar as he leaped onto the motorbike behind his colleague.
Hector grinned as he turned the two-wheel drive around. “Sludgy clown, do we have the box?”
Just as Hector took off, thirteen three-wheelers broke into the clearing and a wild chase began.
There was a considerable distance between the pursuers and the pursued. But the gap was closing fast.
“Hold on!” Hector yelled above the din as his trailbreaker reached one edge of the clearing. He lurched the machine forward and the motorbike shot over an embankment.
Ervin closed his eyes. They were airborne.
When he reopened them, shouts and gunfire were receding behind them and the open terrain was rushing up to meet them. He hugged his colleague's torso and braced himself for the impact.
As soon as the trailbreaker hit the ground, Hector's skills went to work, maneuvering the machine into position. The bike zigzagged for a few moments, building a huge cloud of dust and smoke as he worked to break the momentum and regain control. By the time the dust began to settle, they were making a beeline toward the nearest row of boulders.
Soon, they were out of sight much to the chagrin of the guards watching atop the embankment.
Back in the hotel where they had booked a room using aliases, Hector wasted no time reaching for his smartphone and sent an encrypted update to the boss to the effect that the object had been secured and that their getaway had been successful. While Ervin attended to a much needed hot shower, Hector noticed that Clifton had sent him a message confirming he too had made it out of the facility safely.
Three hours later, a black sedan raced through the highway en route to a pre-arranged rendezvous. With Hector at the wheel, Ervin could not help but drift back in time and review the circumstances that had led them to the present moment.
As a transnational in the pharmaceutical industry, Metrone Group Inc. was no stranger to controversy. Recently, news had been circulating concerning the fact that their disposal techniques were creating contamination levels responsible for the spread of disease among locals, not to mention the endangerment of the ecosystem. However, their team of well-paid lawyers and defenders had successfully managed to refute these and other related claims.
Not that they directly denied the allegations of water pollution, but they instead argued that the real cause was a combination of climate change and industrial discharges much further upstream. Their army of chemists and other professionals seemed to have been specially selected to poke many holes as possible to the notion that a correlation existed between their byproduct composition and the cited human and environmental hazards.
Moreover, they proceeded to do what other companies before them had done in the name of obsessive self-preservation. They countersued for defamation. Still, this did not in any way alter the view of many locals who saw the business entity as holding the prosecution at bay, while lives were being compromised - sacrificed on nothing less than the altar or corporate greed.
Something had to be done. Quickly.
Metrone Group would have carried on their winning streak with the court system, had it not been for an ex-worker-turned-informer who claimed there was irrefutable evidence that they were lying through their teeth and he knew where this proof could be found. The claim in fact, was that the data was so incriminating, it would do much more than cripple the company and its network of subsidiaries when leaked.
This was where Ervin and his colleagues came into the picture. Obtaining the evidence became their objective, despite the fact that they knew they would have to penetrate a major facility managed by the company in order to obtain it. This was a dangerous undertaking, as the Metrone Group had its own private security and was capable of reacting swiftly and ruthlessly. But it had to be done.
They first ensured the necessary structure was in place. They would use the mainstream portal for local media to disseminate any new evidence they uncovered. Thankfully, they did not need to waste time making phone calls or reserving appointments. The web administrator was already in on this and had provided them a secure link for uploading any data they obtained.
Both Ervin and Hector were retired intelligence officers working with a private researcher for the prosecution they nicknamed the boss. Clifton was also a former spy, though during the operation, Ervin was not completely sure if it had been a wise move on their part to bring him along. Anyhow, they joked that if the operation was successful, they would accompany Hector on one of his fishing expeditions - something they had put off for years since both he and Clifton disliked fishing.
Suddenly Ervin snapped back into the present. The car was slowing down.