Renowned pharmaceutical discounter Vartouhi Budge staggered between the narrow rows of shelving in the dank store room. In thirty seconds the alarm would be armed, and any movement would alert the security company and the police. He only needed to stay alive until they could reach him. "It's got to be time," he thought.
Budge darted around the end of a row of shelving, into the next claustrophobic bay. A few feet closer to the service entrance. And freedom. The alarm rang silently.
The discounter paused a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock. I am still alive. He peered out from between the racks of medicine to get his bearings and consider his next move.
A voice spoke, chillingly close. "I can see you, Houdini."
Still crouched in a trying-not-to-be-seen posture, the discounter froze, turning slowly.
Thirty feet away, the heavy-set silhouette of his attacker sat hunched at a steel gray desk, peering into a laptop computer screen. More broad than tall, his pale face, mottled by an unsuccessful attempt at a beard, was illuminated by the glow from the screen. He wore a rumpled black flak jacket. The hacker drew a pistol from his coat and aimed it directly at the discounter. The weapon appeared to be adorned with an energy drink can. A homemade silencer.
"You should not have run." His deadpan delivery was an affectation; a fruitless flair for the dramatic. "Password. Now."
"I told you already," the discounter stammered, fearing his adversary would shoot if he made any sudden moves. "There is no password!"
"You are lying." The man stared at him, perfectly immobile except for the light reflecting off his ill-fitting, replica 'Morpheus' glasses. "You possess something that you should not. It is inside this computer; and I am going to take it from you."
The discounter felt a surge of adrenalin. How could he possibly know this?
"Your password," dead serious, the man repeated, aiming the gun even more menacingly, even more directly at Budge's face. The man did that thing one does to a gun to prepare it to fire. "Are you willing to die for it?"
Budge held up his hands where the hacker could see them. "OK," he said carefully. "I will tell you what you need to know."
"Well--- what are you waiting for?"
"It doesn't take a password. You need a key. It has to be plugged into the computer before you start it up."
"And where is this key?"
"I have it here," said Budge quietly, indicating a strap hanging loosely around his neck.
"Thank you." The attacker aimed his gun yet again.
The makeshift silencer spoke, albeit silently. The discounter felt as if he'd been suddenly punched in the stomach. His breath forced from his lungs, he fell back gasping.
As Budge fought for air, the man knelt beside him long enough to claim the key.
Budge felt the warmth of blood welling up from inside. He remembered a line of dialog from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. "It takes a long time to die from it. I'm talking days. You're going to wish you were dead, but it takes days to die from your wound. Time is on your side."
Budge felt himself slip into shock and pass out.
. . .
The discounter awoke. Had it been minutes? Hours? It must have only been seconds, but the attacker was gone.
Alone now, Vartouhi Budge listened. He listened to the searing gnawing pain in his gut. He listened for the police sirens that should have been approaching an eternity ago. Their wail did not come. He would have to concentrate; concentrate on other things now.
I must pass on the secret.
[To be continued...]