Thursday, April 15, 2021

Escape and Evade by Jeff Jones

 I glance at my watch and note the time. I’m running late. I always seem to be running late. If I’m going to make it to the drop-off point and back without being caught, I am going to have to hurry. So much could go wrong. There are so many variables.

Despite the chilly autumn air, I can feel beads of sweat trickling down the side of my face and my cotton shirt clings damply to my back. I can’t worry about my appearance now, all that matters is safely delivering my package and getting back before those cold, heartless… No, calm down, don’t say it, don’t even think it, you’ve got to watch your blood pressure, the doctor said so. Try and avoid stressful situations he said. Well I guess I’ve failed that one.

There’s nothing else for it, my hands are tied, I’m going to have to take the direct route through their territory. I should have left earlier, but I always know best. Or so I think. 

The smart play would be to double-back, come in from a direction they wouldn’t be expecting. They’d still see me of course, but by the time they’d organised a chase I’d be clear. I could deliver the package safely and would then stand a better chance of outrunning them on the way back no longer burdened by any cargo. They’d be waiting for me, prepared, but I would fancy my chances.

Another glance at my watch. Two more precious minutes have passed. I have to decide, though in my heart I’ve known all along that I have no choice but to make a run for it across their turf. There isn’t time for anything else.

I turn my jacket collar up, adjust my grip on the package and take a deep calming breath just like my physiotherapist taught me. It doesn’t work, my heart’s still racing, and my hands are clammy. Head down I emerge from my hiding place and make a run for it, or a brisk walk anyway, running’s beyond me nowadays.

Moments after I emerge from the anonymity of the shadows, the sun decides to finally make an appearance, illuminating me for all to see. The brief warmth it offers is most welcome, but its betrayal of my presence isn’t. It’s like nature itself is conspiring against me. 

I stop stock still like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights. I’m expecting to hear a shout of excitement as one of them spots me, if not from one of their senior interrogators, at least from one of their scouts. But to my delight and surprise, there is no shout, just the usual hubbub of noise one would perhaps expect on a Tuesday afternoon.

Hope briefly flares in my heart and I dare to believe I can make it and strike a blow for the ordinary man, and my pace quickens in anticipation. 

I must be halfway across their patch now, maybe more. A small smirk of victory – no it’s too soon for that – of hope then, begins to tug at the corners of my mouth.

A flicker of movement to my right. Was it real or imagined? I must keep going, sanctuary is in sight, tantalisingly close. Stay on mission. Don’t be distracted. 

There it is again. Somebody is there. I stop; my first mistake and turn to look; my second. He’s been lurking menacingly in a shop doorway, one of the many closed down  shops that now litter our High Street, searching for a target and now he’s found one. The hunt is on.

He’s onto me in a flash. From the moment we make eye contact my fate is sealed, he knows it and I know it, but like any trapped or cornered animal fighting for its life, I’m not going to go down without a fight.

Panic threatens to overwhelm me and after backing slowly away from him I finally manage to break eye contact and try to make a run for it, but all sense of direction has abandoned me, and I’m flustered into indecision. The world around me has shrunk, suffocating me and claustrophobia has me in its vice-like grip.

Finally, I regain my bearings and resume my escape, but seemingly out of nowhere his comrades have surrounded me and are closing in from all directions. His sort never hunts alone, I should have remembered that. I’m trapped.

I nervously turn to confront my tormentor. He’s grinning and knows I’m cornered. The game’s up. Judging by the wide-awake suit, expensive loafers and trendy haircut, this one must be one of their most senior interrogators. This is going to go hard on me. He won’t accept any excuses and will pursue me relentlessly if I try and bolt. No point trying to appeal to his compassionate side either, as his sort don’t possess one. Can’t in their job. They need to be ruthless, dogged, determined. I watch anxiously as he reaches inside his double-breasted suit jacket and I hold my breath, his eyes never leaving mine as he closes the gap between us to virtually zero. I hear a gentle clicking noise as his Parker pen is primed for action, much like its wielder.

Behind him, just down the other end of the High Street, I see a man in a dark blue uniform slowly circling my car, no doubt salivating at the prospect of issuing another ticket. 

If I’d just left earlier, if I’d just paid for my parking instead of gambling by parking in one of the town’s ‘free parking for 20 minutes’ spaces. If I’d just taken another route across the High Street.

None of it matters now. I could try pretending that I’m from Poland or some other Eastern European country, but the last time I tried that the interrogator himself turned out to be from there and I ended up looking a right fool. Better to just take my punishment and get it over with. Resigned to my fate I drop my bag of library books at my feet and look the young man in front of me squarely in the eye.

Guess this is one market research survey I’ll have to endure.

© Jeff Jones

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