The black veil of night was shrouding the mountains just beyond the window of the sedan that was now my prison. We were still ascending, and I knew better than to make small talk with the man who I assumed would kill me. I imagined I would be bear food at the end of this if I did nothing. The tall, ogre like outlines of old growth trees made me believe these were the thick, desolate type of mountains bears liked to roam. I preferred to spend my days at a computer or in the kitchen. If you knew what you were doing, those places were far safer than the wilds now surrounding my backseat coffin.
As the sedan continued to climb the slim mountain highway towards a sharp peak, I realized I had minimal time to plan and nothing of use in fighting the beef-brained henchman driving me. I had a small bag of homegrown spices and a knife sharpener I was taking to a cooking class this morning when I was captured. My captor knew my Zwilling steel rod handheld sharpener from Williams-Sonoma was no good without the knives I intended to purchase from the master chef who was my instructor. My captor breached the silence forming a wall between us.
“You know if you had just kept your mouth shut and kept coding or whatever you call it, you would not be in this mess now, Elena.”
My hands balled into fists. “Maybe if you made better life choices you would not be murdering people on behalf of an employer that kills children and babies with the code women like me write. If I had known it was being used in weapons sold to terrorists, I never would have written it. You can kill me, but I made sure the CIA will get to you.”
“What did you think your code was doing? Sounds to me like you were making big money, living the life with your avocado toast and oat milk lattes for breakfast, taking fancy cooking classes on the weekend.”
“How long have you been watching me?”
“Since you took this job. They never trusted you. They needed your skills. Sounds like you are some kind of big deal nerd.”
“I’d prefer not to be called that.”
“I don’t care. You put yourself in this mess agreeing to work for my bosses. You bought their lies. Guess they underestimated your ability to eventually figure it out though. Now I’m here to clean up the mess.”
Before I could retort, he took a call on his cell. He was not hands free, and he had been too cocky to restrain me, so I quietly scooted through the darkness, opened the car door, and rolled out, catching the bag on my foot. Through burning scrapes on my arms and legs and disorientation, I stood up, grabbed the bag, and ran into the woods, hearing the brakes screech ahead of me as my assassin realized the compilation of his errors.
As I ran, I knew he was not far behind. I could hear and now smell his breathing, pastrami on rye, as he reached forward and clawed at my back, making me stumble. He started to drag me by one leg as I screamed. I had a death grip on my bag which suddenly became more useful. I reached in to get the sharpener now catching a slight glint of light from the moon on its steel. This was enough to make the thug pause and bend down far enough so I could sit up quickly and jab him in his moonlit eye, causing him to topple in agony. As he writhed, I was up and running again.
I was still prepared to die here. Even if I was lucky enough to escape his hands, I would succumb to the elements. This was until I tripped over what appeared to be a basic tent at a camping site dimly lit by a fire nearing its end.
I quietly called out for help, hoping the campers were near. Hearing movement in the woods from behind me, I knew it was too late as the half-blinded man prepared to choke me to death with his bear paws. He was stumbling a lot and broadcasting his general direction by swearing and fighting through brush. I was about to give up knowing I was only fighting inevitability when I looked over at a stump near the fire. There was enough ember light remaining to show me a large, dull-edged fillet knife. I ran to it, pulled out my sharpener, making short work of crafting my only other weapon.
I hid behind a tree to the far end of the campsite, hoping nobody would return and accidentally die in the crossfire of my final battle. Besides programming, I was good with knives. If I could fillet a swordfish, I could make a decent last stand here. With a knife in one hand and the sharpener in the other, I crouched.
Within minutes, pastrami breath came lumbering into the campsite calling for me. His left hand was occupied, covering the eye I maimed. He tripped over the stakes of the tent, falling slightly forward, and I lunged the distance between my hiding tree and his body to drive the perfectly sharpened knife into the chest of my enemy. He screamed again, trying to grab at me as I toppled, knocking my wind out as I landed on my rear. I had enough sense to use the sharpener in my hand to repeatedly jab at the hand still reaching for my foot.
I left the body and my delicious spice blends for the campers to discover. Once his muffled, gurgling screams ended, I fished for the sedan keys in the hitman’s pockets and ran back through the woods to the road using a stolen flashlight and compass. I drove down the mountains into sunrise, a bloodied knife sharpener in the backseat, planning my next move.