Here is a piece of flash fiction I wrote tonight. Thanks to Dave E for the writing prompt!
Hank was nervous. The cabin was becoming stale and the smell set him on edge. From his right pocket, his cell phone rang. He jumped. He had forgotten that it was there. He removed the phone and looked at the screen. The man he was expecting in person was calling.
“What’s up, Jim?” Hank said after pressing the talk key. “I didn’t think we’d get phone service way out here.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Hank looked at his phone again to confirm the connection. The call timer hit ten seconds before Jim spoke.
“Did you have any trouble finding the cabin?”
Hank chuckled. “You gave me an azimuth to follow across five kilometers of Alaskan wilderness. Define ‘trouble’.”
“Well, I’m glad you made it. I’m surprised you haven’t built a fire yet. Aren’t you getting a little chilly?”
Hank instinctively looked out the nearest window. “Are you almost here?”
“I’ve been here since last night, but I haven’t touched the cabin. How is the place holding up?”
“There’s a recently deceased rat in here. It must have come down the chimney. If you’ve been here since last night, how come you didn’t open the place up?”
“I think you’ll find those windows rather difficult to open on your own.”
“Well yeah, you’re right about that. But where are you?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t find out about the Stockholm transfer?” asked Jim quietly.
Hank’s mind slowed to a crawl at that question. Work was the last thing on his mind for the past few days, but that was just the first incongruity. Jim was asking about something far outside his department, and it was a something nobody else should have known about. Suddenly, the reason for Jim’s absence became clear.
“Actually, I didn’t,” Hank replied calmly. “Is this your revenge? Tricking me into coming all the way out here? It seems sort of petty. Unless you think I’m incapable of providing enough sustenance for myself for the trip back.”
The line seemed to go dead. Hank had to look at his phone to confirm that the call had indeed ended. He swore to himself and called Jim back. The call went right to Jim’s voicemail. Hank couldn’t think of anything useful to say in a recording, so he hung up.
So Jim knew he was stealing from the company. He probably wanted to gather evidence against him, and doing so would require Hank to be far from a computer. Hank had all sorts of failsafes built into his system, but in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, there was no way he could prevent a concerted effort to circumvent them. Jim had found a way to put him a hundred miles from the nearest computer, but even then it seemed like an overly elaborate ruse. Still, if informing of him of the discovery was part of the plan, what better way to delay him than the isolation?
Hank took a deep breath and shook off his confusion. No matter the ultimate point of Jim’s plan, there was no reason to stick around. Hank was tired after the hike, but there was just enough daylight for him to make it back to the road. He would bivouac next to the road if he couldn’t flag down a ride, or continue towards town if he still had some energy. Hank grabbed his rucksack and other miscellaneous gear. It would be easier if he left his rod and tackle box behind, but he was particularly fond of his fly fishing setup. The last thing he grabbed was his Marlin .45-70 rifle. He wasn’t attached to it in the same way as his fishing gear, but there was no way he was going back out there without it. Already he had stumbled far too close for comfort to a grizzly, though the animal made no indication of seeing him. Hank slung the rifle over his shoulder and opened the front door.
The door jamb exploded three inches from his face. He stumbled back in shock, realizing a second later that a bullet had just slammed into the wood and shattered it. A moment later, the supersonic crack of a rifle echoed down the valley. Hank dove back into the cabin, pressing himself against the floor far from the sills of any windows. He touched his face, examining a small laceration caused by flying splinters. It was nothing he couldn’t ignore for the present. He dropped all of his gear and unlimbered his rifle. He rose to a crouch and carefully glanced out one of the front-facing windows. There was no one to be seen, but this didn’t surprise him. There was enough of a delay between the strike of the bullet and the report of the rifle to account for quite a bit of distance. Hank swore to himself and looked around the interior of the cabin. He’d already made a mental note of everything of use inside, and none of it would help him get out if someone had the front door sighted in. He might be able to get out via one of the rear windows, but he already knew that they were all stuck shut. Hank looked at the nearest window sill. Now that he was thinking about it, he noticed small finishing nails driven into the bottom of the window and into the sill. A fresh wave of adrenaline hit him as he realized what was going on.
Jim had left him in town to “take care of some things,” and planned on meeting Hank at the cabin later. Hank had visited a few outfitters before leaving, so if Jim had in fact left first then he could have easily beaten him here. Jim had a 7mm-08 Remington with a Zeiss scope, and he damn well knew how to use it. Hank considered his options. Whomever it was out there, he’d have to be pretty hot stuff to hit him if he just made a break for it out the front door and dashed behind the cabin. Hank couldn’t remember if there was anything on either side of the cabin that could impede a sprint around the back. He edged carefully toward one of the north side windows to see.
A round smashed through one of the front windows and struck the wall behind Hank. He retreated behind cover again, shocked that the shooter could see him that well from outside. The interior of the cabin wasn’t lit. Maybe it was a blind shot that just happened to be close. Hank struggled to slow his breathing. He could wait until dark. He still had his rifle, and he was competent with it, so anybody coming through that door was going to get a 300-grain slug in the forehead. As terrifying as the thought of waiting five hours for darkness was, it beat the alternative. Hank pushed the front door closed with his foot and found the most defensible position he could, which was between one of the beds and the largest section of the front wall.
A few minutes passed without any further action. Hank sighed to himself and tried to figure out whether or not his crimes had adversely effected Jim, other than the two of them simply sharing the same employer. Of course, he still wasn’t sure it was Jim out there with a rifle, but who else could it be? Hank supposed it could be a hitman hired by Jim for the same reason, whatever that reason was. None of it made any sense.
Hank again looked around the cabin. Earlier he had noticed that an oil lamp sitting on a high bookshelf had a couple of road flares sitting next to it. He considered the possibility of trying to light a fire on the front porch, but he had no confidence that any fire he could start would provide him the concealment he needed to escape, nor did he think he could retrieve the items without exposing himself to the shooter. The lamp and flares were right in the line of sight of one of the front windows.
The lamp and flares were right in the line of sight of the front windows. “Oh, shit!”
Hank crawled over to the bookshelf and tried to knock it over, only to discover that it was fastened securely to the wall. The shooter must have seen the bookshelf shake, and a round smashed through the oil lamp. Less than two seconds later another round hit one of the flares, and that corner of the cabin exploded into flames. Hank scurried back to the other corner, quickly extinguishing a small flame that had jumped onto his shirt. There was no stopping this fire, and he estimated he had about five minutes before it would be too dangerous to stay in there. His attacker had thought out this scenario well. Had he also thought of a way to prevent him from sprinting behind the cabin? Hank couldn’t think of anything else.
He swore to himself. If he only had even a vague idea of where the shooter was, he could send a few rounds of his own out and help cover his egress. He cursed his decision to bring a rifle with no scope and horrible long range ballistics. He looped the shoulder strap of his rucksack around his foot, dragged it to himself, and put it on. If he made it out of the cabin alive, he would need the ruck to survive the trip back to town. He tried to think of a distraction of some kind, came up short, and prepared himself to run. On a whim he decided to try calling Jim again, but again, there was no answer. Hank rose to a crouch and flung the door open, staying well to one side. On the count of three, he burst outside and rounded the right side corner of the structure. He ran at full speed into a clothesline at neck level. It didn’t knock him down, but it stopped him in his tracks. Hank swore out loud and ducked under the rope, but he had already resigned himself to getting hit during the delay. As he lurched forward again the ground gave way underneath, and he found himself in a waist-high hole that had been concealed by a carpet. The fall knocked the wind out of him, and he turned around, gasping for breath. If he was to die, he could at least see it coming. He leveled the rifle forward just in case, by some miracle, his attacker could be seen.
Seconds turned into a full minute. Hank got his wind back only to be overcome with anger. The hole was too small to provide any cover, and it would take him a few seconds to extricate himself from it. His attacker was toying with him.
“What are you waiting for?” Hank bellowed.
On a ridgeline about five hundred meters away, Hank could see some bushes shaking. Strange sounds met his ears, then ceased. Moments seemed like hours, but no more shots came down. Hank could either sit here in this hole and roast to death, or give his attacker the pleasure of shooting him as he crawled out of the hole.
“Just do it already,” he muttered, and pushed himself out onto level ground.
Nothing happened. Hank sprinted for the treeline and made it. Once satisfied that he was well concealed, he considered his next move. He figured he should have enough cover to make it to where he saw those bushes shaking. With care and a little luck he might be able to sneak up on his attacker, if that’s where he was. In any case it was in the right direction, and worth his attention on his way back to town.
Hank moved with stealth toward the ridgeline, his rifle at the ready. The close foliage would negate the advantage of a scoped weapon. It was impossible to move in complete silence but the pine needle floor of the forest made it reasonably quiet. Hank found the group of bushes he wanted after two solid hours of stalking. A man lay face down, partially concealed by the underbrush. Hank remembered to keep an eye on his six as he approached the figure. It was Jim, though barely recognizable through a layer of blood and grime. Hank grabbed the nearby Remington rifle and tossed it away at the same time he noticed that Jim was still breathing. He kept his Marlin trained on the other man and poked him with his foot. Jim stirred, and looked up at Hank with his one good eye.
“God damned grizzly bears,” Jim groaned. “Never saw the bastard coming.”
“Why did you do it?” asked Hank, grimacing at Jim’s horrific wounds.
“You stole that money from my account, Hank. It’s only a matter of time before they find out about it. You made it look like it was my fault. Why would you do that, Hank?”
“Oh my God, Jim. I didn’t know the account was linked to you. I thought it would be seen as an internal error. I didn’t mean to have you or anyone else involved.”
Jim struggled to speak. “It doesn’t matter. I couldn’t kill you. If it was an accident, then fine, but… they are still waiting for you. The sheriff’s deputies have your car staked out in town. You won’t make it home.”
Hank sighed, and leveled his rifle at Jim’s head. “Sorry about all of this. What do you want me to tell your wife?”
“Well, shit, Jim, why don’t I just shoot myself now? I don’t think so.”
Hank squeezed the trigger, and the shot echoed throughout the valley.