Chris wakes up. His hands are covered in powder burns. He's cold and his clothes are wet. It's perspiration. He knows he's being chased, but he can't remember why. He pats himself down, quickly taking an inventory. There's something hard in his breast pocket. A flash drive. 128 MB. Covered in blood.
He suddenly realizes the possibility that it could be his blood. He checks for wounds, but his reasoning skills take over. He must have shot someone. Killed them for the flash drive. Some guy in Taiwan slapped two pieces of plastic around a circuit board, not even knowing what the circuitry did. Some guy at ElectroMart rang this up, offered an extended warranty, and smiled while handing back the change. Now someone is dead because of it. It's time to find a computer.
It's night. There's not going to be a lot of places open that have public access computers. He can wait until morning, but he still can't recall who is chasing him. It's too much to risk. In ten minutes, it could be his blood on the flash drive. Should he stay in the dark, hidden by the blanket of shadow that covers the buildings? No, move to the lights. Wait, that may be too risky. Move through the alleys.
A dull pain in his ankle pulls him back as he makes his way past dumpsters, cats, and the occasional drunkard. He might as well be walking through a foot of snow. Did he jump? Did he fall? Why can't he remember? In his confusion, he strays from his task. He's hungry, and will eat anything that isn't completly covered in maggots. He reaches for a lump of something that looks like it was organic at some point; something that could possibly contain nutrients. Then the flash drive falls from his hands.
He drops to his knees, slapping his hands on the ground as if he's trying to put out a fire. Slapping his hands in a frantic effort to recover the device. He finds it and snatches it up. He glances around, hoping that nobody heard it fall. They could be right on top of him. They could be right behind him! He swivles about, nearly losing his balance. He glances around, looking for his unknown nemesis. Nothing but garbage. He shakes. He shakes because he needs sugar. But the content on this drive is more important now.
He makes it to a large street. Carpenter Avenue. The place is very well lit. Across the street is a twenty-four hour cafe. A cafe with, of course, public computers. This is it. He begins to cross the road, but notices a car with its running lights on. Shit. This guy could run him down. He could pull out a Glock and plug him. The car could be a bomb. There's a manhole cover nearby. Maybe he can crawl through the sewer. Maybe he can cross under the street. He bends down and lifts the cover. It moves a quarter of an inch, maybe less. These things aren't this heavy in the movies.
He realizes that he has no choice. He takes a deep breath and runs. He runs like he never ran before. When he was fifteen, he broke into the junkyard to steal some worthless item on a dare. He woke the dog, and ran for his life. When he was twenty, he punched a man in the face because of an insult. The man's five companions gave chase, brandishing an assortment of blades, and again Chris ran for his life. And as he looks back at those times, they seem like a drunken stroll, a merry skip through the flowers compared to what he's doing now.
He slams into the window of the cafe. The Plexiglass wobbles and shakes, as the thunderous sound echoes from building to building. Chris is stunned, slightly because of the collision, slightly because his hands are nearly frostbitten, but mainly because he's still alive. The car sits, now across the street from him. It still idles. Chris enters the cafe.
The cashier is the only one there. With one hand on the counter and one hand under, he flashes Chris a polite smile. Chris gives the man a ten spot for a cup and a computer. He sits down with his coffee, and inserts the drive. The automatic virus scanner kicks in, taking a look at whatever is on the drive. The computer knows in four tenths of a millisecond what Chris has been trying to find out for the past ten minutes. A listing of the contents shows up. It's a single file. A bookmark to a web site.
He looks back to ask the cashier if Internet access was free, or if there is an hourly rate. But the cashier is gone. His view returns to the monitor. He moves the mouse, orienting the pointer over the icon. He clicks once, but hears a noise that doesn't sound anything like a mouse click. The deafening noise has knocked him to the floor. He looks up and sees an armed man. The man puts away his gun though. How curious. Chris goes to ask him what he wants, but finds that he can't. He has trouble putting words together. He begins to massage his forehead, hoping to relieve a sudden headache. Then he realizes why the man put the gun away. He realizes why he's on the floor.
The man with the gun turns to the computer. He clicks the icon. The browser opens. The page is loaded. Chris gathers all his strength. If he's going to lose his life to something, he's better know damn well what it is. He can barely concentrate. Neurons are trying to make connections, but are starved of the oxygen necessary to make it happen. Not first aid, not a near miss, but simple willpower gives him the ability to see the monitor and comprehend the contents. Through the blood that runs over his pupils, he is able to make out the words on the page's logo.
Tagged as fiction, short story, suspense