His legs burned. His feet stung. His chest ached from the brutal pace of his heart. “Almost there,” Simon breathlessly assured himself. “Almost there.” The brown wooden box was tucked in the crux of his right arm, just like he used to hold the football back in his college running back days. He thought for a brief moment about looking behind him to see if the three NSA agents in black suits were still gaining on him, but the thought vanished as a hanging basket of flowers a foot away from his right ear erupted as he past it. A booming gunshot instantaneously followed. Simon picked up the pace. He could see the entrance to the parking garage a block ahead. If he could just make it to his car.
“Stop!” one of the agents screamed. “Drop the box! You’ve got nowhere to go!” Simon heard something whiz past his left ear as another shot rang out. He pushed his legs to pump faster.
Simon had nicknamed the one screaming nicknamed “The Boss.” The Boss was lean and serious. The oldest of the three, he was observant, never missing a moment.
Simon was sure the agent firing his gun in the open street was the youngest of the three, the one Simon had dubbed “Reckless.”
The one Simon feared most was the third, the one he’d nicknamed “Rhino.” Rhino towered over his two partners. His shoulders were broad and bulging. Simon knew if any of them had the ability to run him down, it was Rhino.
Simon had been stalking the box for two weeks. He’d watched as the three agents collect it from the bank vault. He’d tracked their comings and goings from the cheap motel room they were held up in. He’d slept in his car. He’d shadowed their every move; but not once had they left it unattended. Then, to Simon’s surprise, Reckless had left the box sitting on the roof of their black sedan while he loaded the agents’ luggage in the trunk. Simon knew it was his only chance. He sprinted toward the vehicle, snatched the box, and ran as fast as he could down the street. The chase was on.
Simon darted to his right, into the three story parking garage. He could hear footsteps less than twenty yards behind him. He opted to run the ramp rather than to pause at the stair doors. A concrete pillar exploded to his left. The echo of the gun shot in the concrete structure was deafening. Simon fought through the impulse to grab his ears. As he turned the corner, he chanced a glance over his shoulder. Rhino and Reckless were both fifteen yards back, but gaining. The Boss wasn’t far behind them.
“Stop! Drop the Box!” The Boss screamed again. His voice echoed through the garage.
Simon knew if he could just make it to his car he would be home free. He raced passed a red pickup whose reverse lights were on. The driver wasn’t paying any attention. Simon heard one of the agents bag into it and curse.
Simon rounded the last turn of the garage ramp. The sunlight was warm on his face. He sprinted across the roof to his car, reached in his pocket with his left hand, and fumbled with his keys. His back window shattered and another gun shot rang out. Simon dropped to the ground. The side mirror closest to him exploded with a loud bang. Three more gun blasts rang through the air as bullets pinged the car. Simon glanced between the tires and saw Reckless standing statuesque, two hands on his revolver, waiting patiently for a clear shot. The sunlight glimmered off his sunglasses.
The Boss and Rhino arrived. Both drew their sidearms. “Just give us the box, boy,” the Boss said. “Give us the box and you can walk away. This is all just a big misunderstanding.”
Simon crept on his belly toward the wall, putting distance between himself and the agents, making sure their view of him was blocked by the parked cars.
“Come on out,” Reckless said with a grin. “You know you want to. We don’t bite. Promise.”
“Put the guns away,” Simon screamed. “Put the guns away and I’ll give you the box.”
“Alright, alright,” The Boss said laughing. He laid his gun on the ground. Rhino followed suit. Simon couldn’t see Reckless. “Guns are gone. Come on out, kid,” The Boss said gently.
Simon sat up with his back pressed against the parking garage wall. He took a deep breath to calm his pounding heart. His legs stung from the run.
“Come on, son,” said the Boss. “I don’t want to hurt you, this is just a simple mistake, but we don’t have time for this.”
Simon breathed deeply once more as he looked at the box. It was heavy and old. There were ornate swirls and stars carved into the lid. He ran his hand across the designs and admired the craftsmanship.
“Agent Sims, go get him and drag him out here,” the the Boss said angrily.
Panicking, Simon jumped to his feet, scrambled up the parking garage wall, and held the wooden box out into air with his right hand. “Stay back or I’ll drop it,” he yelled.
Rhino and Reckless both drew their weapons again. The Boss took slow steps toward Simon with his hand held out pleading for Simon to stop. “You don’t want to do that, son. That’s not just some box. You drop that and bad things are going to happen,” The Boss said. “Step down from there.”
“Stay back!” Simon yelled jerking the box toward the ground, pretending to drop it. The Boss froze.
“I’ve got a clean shot, sir,” Reckless said.
“Stand down Agent Jax,” The Boss replied without breaking eye contact with Simon. Then to Simon he said, “You really don’t want to do this, kid. You’re in way over your head.”
Simon pulled the box back to his chest. He looked at The Boss, then at Reckless, then at Rhino. There was no way out, no escape. He looked down at the box again, thinking. He locked eyes with The Boss and held the box out in front of him with his left hand. He moved his right hand to the lid.
“No!” The Boss screamed.
Simon smiled and opened the box.