Another short story by Shorts Illustrated
Art work @fiddlinpig Johnny McDaniels
Her legs couldn’t carry her fast enough, and her chest was heaving. She felt like she was back at one of her triathlon meets in college. But that was nearly twenty years ago. She wasn’t that person anymore. The wooden boards on the dock betrayed her panic and the weight gain as they rattled beneath her feet. She texted the coded message and threw the phone into the water.
“Come on!” she screamed, as the cleat hitch knot was taking forever to untie.
She could sense them coming closer and she knew they had spotted her as she was darting across from the house. How could she have been so foolish? Her bruised hands grabbed the oars, and she began rowing. She kept the count in her head as she got the tiny rowboat up to speed and adjusted her posture. Her technique would have to be impeccable. This is what she had been preparing for since she arrived here. It was inevitable that this moment would come but she had hoped for a decent head start. The late afternoon nap threw that plan out the window. She scolded herself once more.
The choppy waters weren’t helping her stroke rate, but neither would it help those chasing after her. Resisting the urge to look over her shoulders, the stealthy strokes of their oars that had gotten them within raiding distance of her hideaway, was now replaced by frantic activity and a total loss of technique. The chase was on. She had counted at least six people on the dinghy coming across the lake, and they were fast and fit. Her heartbeat finally settled after the initial burst of adrenaline. Erin Montague was now in race mode. Four minutes to her target in these choppy conditions.
It was the mid-morning phone call that had given away her position. She had gotten lazy. Instead of taking the usual three-mile jog to the small café in the valley below like she normally did, she used a small disposable cell phone. She was really missing her daughter; today was her birthday and the poor kid was struggling with her absence, things had happened so suddenly. She was too young to understand what was happening, and Erin wanted to explain things. But she only got an answering machine. Who one earth still used an answering machine? Erin had woken up depressed, all emotional and made the silly mistake.
The setting sun finally got an opportunity to say goodbye as a break in the ominous wall of cloud allowed a glint of light on to the lake. She glanced over her shoulders, and the chasing pack were tiring, but determined. If she could make it to the small inlet before they did, it would be a race in the rapids for forty yards. They won’t chase her there. She held her rhythm, and the little boat, though no match for the lighter dinghy chasing her, sliced through the swells with alarming ease and barely a sound.
A giant flock of geese returning for the evening flew overhead. She knew that it was nearing eight thirty. The geese all returned at the same time every day; it was like clockwork. She could see the small inlet now and guided the boat to the entrance of the stream where the currents took care of the rest. Suddenly, she threw herself overboard. The cold water shocked her body, but her muscles were up to the challenge. She stayed underwater and swam with all her strength. It took her nearly forty-five seconds to cover the forty yards away from the stream and fighting the surging current. Her training had paid off. She stayed low in the water, watching the little rowboat get tossed around in the rapids and kept moving silently away from the inlet. They wouldn’t buy that ruse for long, but it would buy her a few more minutes.
She could hear the chopper overhead. They had really came prepared to catch her; she’d been on the run for nearly a year after her conviction for tax fraud and embezzlement, but she had desperately needed the money. It felt like a lifetime ago, and she was a different person then. The soft underbrush made it difficult for her to run, but she managed to get to where she needed before the search lights began sweeping the waters. It seemed like seconds before they realized she was no longer on board the boat and they began combing the wetlands on the edges of the lake. She changed out of the wet clothing and put on the fresh set she had stashed away and quickly checked the contents of her small pouch. A phone; a small amount of cash; and the little packet necessary for where she was going. She rushed out of the bushes to the direction agreed to, and within minutes saw the green Subaru Outback arriving as scheduled. Her contact slowed just enough for her to scramble in.
“You okay Kevin?” her father asked.
“Yeah dad. Thank you for coming for me.” She was grateful
“You’re my only son, of course I’d come get you.” He apologized with an awkward grin.
It was okay. Her father had been struggling to get used to the transition even though it had happened seven months ago. The authorities were still looking for Kevin Chandler, but he no longer existed; he never did. In a few hours, she’d be in another country. This life was now over.
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