November Writing Challenge: If Only
November is National Novel Writing Month. In celebration, there is a novel writing challenge where participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel during November. I took this challenge as inspiration for my own November writing challenge. I definitely won't make it to 50,000 words, so it's more of a short story than a novel. Still, I love the opportunity to return to my roots in narrative based writing. It's a muscle I don't get to flex nearly enough. I call this story "If Only."
"How was your weekend?"
Every Monday morning, I get asked the same mundane question as I prepare my coffee in the break room.
"It was good, Steve; how was yours?"
He obviously doesn't understand that I'm only trying to be polite because he drones on and on about something I don't care about. After what felt like an eternity, I can escape to my desk. For eight straight hours five days a week, the clicking and clacking of my keyboard and mouse barely drown out the elevator music that plays throughout the office. The blue light emitting from the computer screen touches my skin more than the sunlight that barely shines through the large floor-to-ceiling windows.
For years, I've lived the same mundane day, day after day, and as much as I complain, I wouldn't have it any other way. I like the routine, the calm, the peace. It's excellent living life as Janice Undermire.
But it was all ruined with a single phone call.
"No more hiding. We know where you are," a deep familiar voice said menacingly.
"Who is this?"
"Don't play dumb, Steph. You thought you could hide forever? We're coming for you."
I quickly hung up and gathered my things.
"Where are you going in such a rush?"
"Fuck off, Steve," I yelled while running past him towards the exit.
I checked the cameras I placed in my car to ensure no one was in it. I quickly looked around before exiting the building and bolting to the car. My phone connected to the car's Bluetooth when I turned it on. I drove off right away. At a stop light, I ripped open a secret compartment I created in the door, removed a business card, and dialed the number.
"Agent Smith, Romero called me; he found me. Aren't you guys supposed to prevent that from happening? He's going to kill me. What's the point of WITSEC if they can find me after only a
. . .”
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Just take a breath. Don't go home. Head to the safe house, and I'll meet you there. Everything will be fine. I'll see you then."
"Wait, I'm being followed. I took three right turns, and they are still behind me. I don't recognize the driver. It's a man."
"Stephanie, don't engage. I'm sending agents to your location now."
Civilians screamed as shots fired from the car behind me. I grabbed my gun from my glove compartment, inserted the clip, and started swerving to avoid the bullets. My affordable Kia Soul wasn't built for this type of driving. I shot at the car behind me, shattering the windshield, chipping the paint, and denting the body of the vehicle. Years without practice have made me rusty, and the chaotic driving makes it impossible to get a good shot. One lucky bullet grazed the driver, disorienting him and causing him to crash full speed into a tree. I just barely missed the tree myself, and I sped off.
Cops are now flagging me down with full lights and sirens. Once I'm far enough, I pull over, now surrounded by multiple policemen hiding strategically behind their car doors, aiming their guns at me.
Still on the phone, Agent Smith says, "Did you kill him?"
"Don't think so."
The policemen outside are now yelling, "You're surrounded. Come out with your hands on your heads."
Agent Smith sighs and says, "Well, you know the drill. Have them take you to the local station, and I'll meet you there."
I open the door slowly, place the gun on the floor, and slightly push it away from the car with my foot. Then, I step out with my hands in the air.
"I'm glad you guys showed up; things were getting hairy back there."
I've always hated interrogation rooms. I don't particularly appreciate knowing I'm being watched through the window; they always make me wait a long time. It's so boring. It reminds me of the office.
"Is Agent Smith here yet? Could I at least get something to eat while I wait?"
Suddenly the door swings open, and some guy walks in, all cocky, and sits down across the table from me.
"You don't have any food, so I'm hoping you're here to take my lunch order or at least take the cuffs off. It's unnecessary."
"You're a real smartass, aren't you?"
"Look, my name is Janice Undermire, and I won't speak to anyone except Agent Smith."
As if by summons, Agent Smith walks in the door with a briefcase and sits as if she owns the place.
"Relax, Collins, she's one of mine."
"It took you long enough." I sigh in relief. "So, is this Collins guy cool or what?"
Agent Smith nods and motions for Collins to remove the cuffs. She opens her briefcase, revealing some files and a fast food bag. She handed me the bag and slid the file with my name on it to Collins.
"Ohh, Yes," I exclaimed, seeing the burger, fries, and can of soda in the bag.
"This is Stephanie Hart; she was the go-to computer genius and forger for multiple top-tier crime organizations. Ids, passports, legal documents, bank statements, taxes, and she did it all for the right price. All are virtually indistinguishable as fake. She entered the program four years ago when her partner and boyfriend, Walter Barlowe, was murdered. Her operation was uncovered during the investigation, and she turned over information that put away countless criminals we would have never caught otherwise. In exchange for protection, she vowed to shut down her operation permanently. Now her identity has been compromised."
"Compromised how?" Collins asks as Agent Smith pulls another file from her briefcase and slides across the table toward him. Meanwhile, I continue to eat my fries, watching attentively.
"This is Romero Gutierrez, better known as The Butcher. He and his brother ran a butcher shop that was a huge drug and gambling operation. With Stephanie's help, we could put away his brother, but Romero escaped arrest. He's been looking for revenge ever since."
Collins ruffles through the files, flustered by the sheer amount of information dumped on him. Not so cocky now, huh.
The loud hiss from opening the soda can caused them to look up at me.
"Now that we're all caught up, what's the plan? What are we going to do to stop me from dying?"
"Are you nuts? You want to use me as bait to lure Romero . . . I barely made it out alive . . . he had some guy try to kill me. . . "
Collins set up Agent Smith and her crew in a large room in another area of the building. Many agents with machines and equipment surround us. They're all muttering and whispering to one another, probably speaking about their protocols. The average-sized windows have sheer curtains covering them. Even in all this action, I still can't get any sunlight.
"You're never going to see him. We both know Romero is all muscle and no brains; keep him on the call long enough for us to track it." Agent Smith reassured me.
She continued to detail the plan as I reluctantly listened. Eventually, it was time to put it into motion.
After a deep breath, I dialed the number Romero called from.
"Can't believe you had the balls to call me back, Steph? Not so scared now that you're backed by the feds?"
"I'm not scared of you."
"Says the girl who snitched once her shitty little boyfriend disappeared and has been in hiding ever since."
"Walter trusted you, and you used him. Now he's dead, and it's all your fault." I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
"Minor details. Don't worry, you want to be with him so bad; I'll make sure the two of you are together." Romero chuckled.
Agent Smith nodded, letting me know they could trace the call.
"We'll see about that." I hung up.
The room erupted into cacophony, with people making calls and speaking over one another.
"So what do I do now?
"You wait here."
Agent Smith left to meet the SWAT team that will catch Romero. As she walked out of the room, a bullet came flying through the window, shattering the glass and hitting another agent in the arm. The noise silenced as everyone dropped to the ground. A female agent started putting pressure on the injured agent's wound as the other agents pulled their weapons out of their holsters. Agent Smith ran back into the room and ducked to the ground, inching closer to the window where the shot originated. She quickly peered through the window to see the shooter when another shot came flying through, missing everyone and hitting the wall. Agent Smith must have seen the shooter because she started shooting through the window. After a few shots, there was a loud crash.
"Got 'em," Agent Smith said.
Everyone in the room started cautiously, standing up.
"Was it Romero?" I asked, hoping this would all be over.
"Must have been one of his guys." She said, shaking her head no.
Before we could catch our breath and gather our thoughts, more shots and loud footsteps in the distance quickly approached from down the hallway. Agent Smith pulled me to the far back corner of the room. All the other agents created a human barrier around me, pointing their weapons toward the only exit. A few agents grouped and ran out into the hallway to try to stop the intruders before they entered the room.
Their efforts barely slowed them down, and within moments, there he was, Romero "The Butcher" Gutierrez, surrounded by four other big, burly guys pointing guns at the agents. His boys started shooting towards the agents, but they were severely outnumbered, and the goons went down pretty quickly with minimal damage to the agents.
"It's over, Romero; put your hands up and surrender." Agent Smith said sternly, pointing her gun directly at him. I was cowering behind her, trying my best to look brave.
"My brother is in jail because of that bitch, and you think I'm just gonna let it slide? That's not how this works."
"You killed Walter!" I yelled
Romero tried to take a step forward as if to lunge toward me, but the agents moved, forming a tighter circle around me, and Agent Smith released a shot just barely grazing his arm, but Romero was utterly unfazed. He even grinned.
Chaos broke out as another group of guys came running in with guns. Romero used the distraction to bulldoze his way through my brigade of agents. Agent Smith tried to shoot at him but missed, trying not to hit her fellow agents. He overpowered her and pushed her out of the way onto the ground, leaving me vulnerable. As he grew closer, I tried to run away, but I was already in a corner surrounded by people, leaving me with little room to escape. Agent Smith managed to shoot Romero on the calf as he lunged toward me. I used his brief disorientation to push past a few agents while they were distracted by the other guys. Romero grabbed my arm, but I could slither it out of his grasp. I tripped, pulling the curtain causing the rod to fall. I barely stopped myself from hitting the ground by catching myself on the windowsill covered in broken glass. Although he was injured, Romero's adrenaline made him unstoppable, and he kept creeping towards me. I panicked as I looked at the blood that started seeping out of my palms and made the abrupt decision to jump out of the window. We were only on the third floor of the building above a cement ally, so I thought I could land relatively unharmed. Romero and Agent Smith looked out the window at me, and as I crash-landed onto the cement, I heard a loud gunshot.
"Huh," I said with a coffee cup in my hand, leaning against the wall of the office break room.
"Whoops, didn't think that'd be so loud," Steve said after accidentally slamming the microwave door shut.
"So what do you think?"
"About going out for drinks after work. You know, taking this relationship out of the office."
Did Steve really ask me out? Ridiculous. What the hell did I miss?
"Soooooo, is that a yes? We talk every morning, and you're such a great listener. What do you say, Janice?"
Listen? I guess I have to stop daydreaming at work.
"We should get back to work, Steve."