As he sat on the early Monday morning flight from Heathrow he thought about his family. He smiled as he visualised his beautiful wife still sleeping and recalled how he’d stroked her soft, golden hair the previous evening. He thought of his two small, lively children and checked his watch, picturing them now waking, and no doubt fighting as they started another boisterous day.
He frowned, knowing he had no option. If he didn’t do what the caller asked they would all be in danger. Maybe they were being watched at this very moment. He could do nothing about it – or could he? The caller had given him till midnight on Wednesday!
His mind was miles away. At first he was unaware of the person speaking next to him.
“Business trip?” repeated the man.
“Um, yea, business trip”
“What’s your line?”
“Really? That sounds interesting – more interesting than the computers I deal with.”
Although slightly aggravated by the intrusion, Martin felt obliged to converse politely for a while. They discussed their respective companies, but as soon as he felt it polite to do so Martin took down his briefcase from the overhead locker and seemingly busied himself in work. He really needed to think, not to chat, he needed to be one step ahead of the game.
When the plane touched down at JFK after an eight hour flight the two men walked to the terminal together exchanging pleasantries. After retrieving their luggage they shook hands and said goodbye. Martin’s fellow traveller passed across his business card, suggesting they meet up for a drink sometime.
Martin headed straight to H.Q. With the hands on his watch indicating it was four pm he walked nonchalantly into the impressive building. He’d been there before many times and remembered the way up the spiral staircase to reception. Once there he was escorted by a pretty brunette receptionist towards the C. E.O’s office. As he entered Lionel Marshall looked up from the paperwork spread out neatly upon the desk in front of him.
“Martin! How good to see you again. I trust you’re well? What can I do for you? You sounded very agitated on the phone,” said the unsmiling, grey haired, well dressed gentleman, in a thick American drawl.
“I wouldn’t say agitated, Boss,” replied Martin as casually as he could muster. He needed to show the CEO he’d nothing to worry about and everything was under control. “I just need to be brought up to date with the new emissions promotion. I want to get it clear in my head before it’s released and made public, that’s all. The Press will be all over it as soon as they get word of it, and I want to be one step ahead of them – get my facts straight before they get their claws on it.’’
The two chatted for a while about the new project – emissions-free petrol, set to revolutionise the car industry.
“I can’t say too much about it at this point Martin, apart from we’ve created an amazing new product! You’ll realise it’s an extremely sensitive subject. The fewer people in the know means it’s less likely to get out into the public domain, until we’re ready to release it. Many companies would give their right arm to get their hands on it Martin – but rest assured you’ll be well briefed when the time is right.’’
Martin left H.Q. none the wiser. He knew better than to press the subject as he didn’t want to appear concerned. He headed to the car rental desk. Once mobile he drove across to his hotel. He checked his wing mirror again. Was that black wagon two cars behind following him – or was he being paranoid?
He stretched his long legs out across his hotel bed and with hands clasped behind his head, assessed what he’d learnt at HQ. It had amounted to nothing he didn’t already know. The new fuel was being kept top secret – so how the hell was he going to find out its formula? Surely HQ had toxicology reports in order to sanction its safety? Why the hell were they being so cagey?
Martin spent that evening much like any other tourist, trying to look as normal as possible in case he was being followed. He’d even booked a flight home for the following day.
Sitting in a restaurant across from HQ he watched as its office lights went out one by one then, settled his bill, left the restaurant and wandered off towards his hotel, doubling back only when sure he wasn’t being followed. He made his way to the rear of the HQ building. He was no James Bond with gimmicky equipment but he could at least pick a lock! He reached the back door just as the last of the night cleaners were leaving.
“Forgotten my phone babe, won’t be a sec,” he said as he waved his security pass in front of her face. “Go if you like – unless you feel you should wait to see me out,” he laughed, flashing a dazzling smile.
“I’m in a hurry tonight honey, I got a date. Just make sure you pull the door and set the lock before you leave. If I’m allowed in there alone then I’m sure a big strong handsome guy like you will be OK!’’ she returned.
He made his way through the now darkened and deserted building, up the spiral staircase once more, until he arrived outside the CEO’s door. After picking the lock he entered the now familiar room, took out his torch and began his search. Empty buildings at night have a tendency to creak as the heating cools down and the temperature drops. Martin, already tense, jumped at each and every one of them. He searched the whole office until he came across the only locked drawer he could find. Was it alarmed? Only one way to find out!
He picked his second lock of the evening, silently thanking the University friend that taught him so many carefree years ago. No alarm! He rifled through the top papers but nothing seemed to apply to the new fuel additions – until he came to a file that looked somehow strange. It was a page of symbols and figures meaning nothing to him – a code perhaps? He photographed the file and replaced everything as neatly as possible and shut the drawer. Maybe his tampering wouldn’t be discovered for a while – some hope! He crept back down the staircase and out into the night, his heart racing and his nerves as coiled as a snake about to strike. As he turned the corner he nearly jumped out of his skin!
“Hey there! I thought it was you,” said a familiar voice. “Remember me? The plane? I don’t suppose you’re heading my way, are you? We could get that drink. Do you have a car or are you getting a taxi like me?”
“No, um… I have a car. I’ll give you a lift,” offered Martin, not wanting to seem flustered or perturbed, and thinking possibly this encounter could be useful and give him an alibi should he need one.
“Great,” said his jovial friend. “In that case the drinks are on me! I’ve got a nice little bottle of malt back at the hotel.”
They wandered across to the car, chatting amiably. Once there Martin revved the engine and pulled out into the traffic. He noticed the black wagon on his tail again. He speeded up a little – so did the wagon. Had he been seen entering the HQ building? Martin knew, above all else he mustn’t let his followers get their hands on the photographs which were now on his phone! He put his foot down even harder.
“Hey, ease up!” said his companion. “You sure want that drink, don’t you?’’
“Sorry mate, we’re being followed!’’ shouted Martin as the car squealed around a corner on two wheels. He had to lose his followers – to shake them off – but how? Once on the freeway he began overtaking cars, winding in and out of the traffic, horns blaring.
“For God’s sake man, slow down!” shouted his pale passenger, with one hand on the glove box, the other on the passenger door. “What’s all this about?’’
“Can’t talk now,” shouted Martin above the noise of the engine. His knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel, which was spinning quickly first one way and then the other. He could see the wagon gaining on them, until soon it was alongside! Martin was astonished to see the cars passenger, a beautiful young woman with long dark flowing hair, smiling at him – while pointing a gun at his head! With his foot hard down, he could go no faster. His best option would be to turn round and go back the way he had come.
“Hold tight!” he yelled to his new accomplice as he braked hard. The tyres screeched as he spun the car round to face the opposite direction. Lights flashed, horns blared – no doubt voices swore but they went unheard – and Martin watched through his rear mirror as the wagon, trying to do the same thing, rolled over, crashed into the barrier and burst into flames.
Getting off the freeway as quickly as they could the unlikely duo headed for the nearest bar – where Martin tried to explain to his shaking friend (now known as Bruce) about the threat to his family, the coded formula on his phone, and the reason it had been necessary to get away.
“Perhaps I could help with decoding. Computers are my area – detecting virus codes are all part of the job. What say we head back to my place and I take a look?”
Martin wasn’t sure he should let anyone else see the coded message but what choice did he have! His family were in danger! They must come first!
“OK, but let’s ditch the car – they may have bugged it. We’ll take a cab.’’
It seemed an age to Martin since his midnight search of Lionel Marshall’s office at HQ. As dawn broke he looked at his watch – six am – he only had till midnight to get back to the UK. Bruce had worked all night trying to decode the formula, while Martin kept them both awake by producing endless cups of coffee.
Suddenly – UREKA! Bruce leapt up waving a sheet of paper above his head.
Before long the two were both boarding the eleven am flight back to the UK.
“I only hope I get this information to the caller in time – before he harms my family.’’ said Martin in desperation.
“Sure you will. We touch down at 7.45. We should be out of the airport by 8.30 then it’s just your journey back home to Reading. You’ll do it easily,” encouraged Bruce.
The plane touched down on time and they made their way through passport control. Not waiting for luggage, they raced through the terminal – but just as they were about to leave the airport building they found themselves surrounded by airport security police brandishing guns! Martin was horrified.
“I’ve got to get through,” he blurted out. “You don’t understand, my family’s in danger!’’
“Don’t worry Martin; it’s not you they want,’’ came a loud American accent from behind him.
Martin stood open mouthed as he faced Lionel Marshall.
“Your little friend here has been a very naughty boy Martin, haven’t you Bruce?’’
Bruce glowered at Marshall, suddenly not Mr Nice Guy any more.
“I realised something was wrong Martin when you first started asking questions, so I had you followed – and bugged – but you guessed that didn’t you? You spotted the black wagon Martin – but you failed to see the blue VW that was tailing him!”
Marshall turned his attention towards Bruce.
“Young Bruce here wasn’t exactly the friend you thought he was, Martin. He just wanted the formula. But it was a plant Bruce! You didn’t think I’d leave top secret documents lying around my office, did you? Oh, don’t worry Martin, your family’s quite safe.”
Martin relaxed at last and looked across at Bruce, who glowered at him with pure hatred.
“That was my sister in the car that crashed on the freeway – don’t think you won’t pay! You think you’ve got away with it Martin, but one day I’ll get my revenge.”
The police then bundled Bruce into a waiting police car.
“I’m not quite sure what to do with you Martin. We could have you arrested for theft – for breaking and entering – for driving the wrong way down a freeway, causing an accident – but we know you had your reasons. So let’s just say ‘we’ll be watching you’ Martin. Now go back home to your family. I hope they appreciate you. They’re pretty lucky to have you. Good night Martin.”
And with that Lionel Marshall left the airport, got into a waiting Bentley and drove away.