The South Simcoe Arts Council has been shining a spotlight on up and coming writers of all ages, in all genres through its Creative Works Writing Contest for seven years.
We are excited to share the winners writings with you over the next few months.
Please enjoy this instalment of our Creative Works Writing Contest winners series featuring Adult Short Story 1st Place Winner - Mary Penner
This award is sponsored by RBC, Alliston Branch
The Spy Thriller
by Mary Penner
Ravi was a taxi driver in Mumbai. As the eldest of six siblings, it took him away from a busy household. His job gave him money to buy clothes, a cell phone, and the coveted spy novels he loved to read. During his free time, he dreamt of espionage and anything associated with the spy world. Presently, he was immersed in the life of CIA Agent, Jack Fielding, who was tracking the theft of important files from the United States Government. Ravi read whenever and wherever he could, getting lost in each story. He found it hard to put a book down and looked forward to reading in his spare time. His interest in the spy world began at an early age. Being the eldest son, his parents asked him to check on his siblings' whereabouts and actions. He first thought of it as a game, but then honed his skills by paying attention to small details. As his confidence grew, he harboured thoughts of being a spy in the 'real' world.
Ravi's driving was considered by all to be very good, as he weaved in and out of tough traffic situations. Surely, being a skilled driver could prove to be a bonus in a spy career. He knew the roads like the back of his hand. He was courteous and never failed to assist all of his passengers with their luggage. He played Western music on his radio, delighting them all and invited them to sing along. His cab was kept immaculate with a slight scent of peppermint or lavender. Many people knew Ravi was the go-to driver when you needed a taxi.
One day he received a call to go to an address on the outskirts of town. He arrived at a
huge house, with two expensive cars parked in the driveway. He stopped to admire them,
wondering who could afford such luxury. The polished black Mercedes with the red leather interior especially caught his attention. "Wouldn't that be nice to drive around," he thought. Walking toward the house, he took in the colourful stained glass panels surrounding a polished mahogany door. He rang the bell and a maid answered, inviting him into an enormous foyer. Soon he saw this beautiful, middle-aged woman in a pale green sari, adorned with sparkling jewels. She walked gracefully down the winding staircase. She had the nicest and warmest smile. She held out her hand. "Hi Ravi, I am Rana." As they shook hands, he thought her voice could melt butter. There was also something mesmerizing about her eyes.
In the living room, she invited him to sit down and Ravi accepted the traditional cup of tea.
"I have heard you are a reliable driver with a good reputation. I wish to hire you every Monday between noon and six during the next two months. I will pay double the going rate, with a bonus at the end. You are to deliver some important material to a place outside the city, returning with another package in hand." She did not mention what was to be delivered, but asked if he would be interested in doing this. Thinking of receiving so much money, Ravi gladly accepted the job. With this agreement, they walked to the front door.
"Ravi, one more thing. I would appreciate and expect complete discretion about this matter."
She said this in a serious tone, looking directly into his eyes. Ravi nodded, indicating he understood and left. He then settled into the seat of his car. For a mere moment, he felt a tinge of uneasiness, wondering if there was anything illegal going on. He soon banished these thoughts, owing it all to the spy novels he read. He smiled, envisioning the extra money, and immediately made plans to buy things he could now afford.
At the appointed time on the following Monday, he arrived at Rana's house. The maid handed him the parcel, along with the delivery address. She told him to look for a barn painted bright blue. He estimated it would take a little over two hours. As he drove, he set about listening to his favourite music. Soon he was out of the city, taking in the vast countryside. The main structures consisted of farm houses, silos and barns, with plenty of goats and sheep grazing in the fields. Unlike city streets, these roads were a pleasure to drive. Closer to his destination, he paid more attention and soon spotted the blue barn. He turned into a long driveway and parked. At the entrance, a large sign read please ring the bell and wait. The door was opened by a very tall man. "You must be Ravi."
Ravi nodded yes, and gave the tall man the package. In return, the man handed him a large brown envelope. With a quick exchange of good-byes, he closed the door. Ravi walked to his car and drove back to Rana's house. The maid took the envelope and paid him his fee.
Over the next six weeks, he faithfully delivered the packages. By this time, his curiosity had kicked into overdrive, due to his ongoing interest in the world of spies. On the eighth and final delivery day, he could no longer resist and pulled off the highway. He stared at the package for the longest time, as the words yes, no, should I, do I, danced through his head.
"Just a little peak won't hurt," he convinced himself. He carefully peeled back some of the tape. Ever so slowly, he lifted out a few sheets of paper. Certain words leapt out at him: plan to murder him, the driver must not know, how to bury the body in a place no one will find it. He abruptly stopped, placing the sheets inside and the tape back in place.
"Oh, no, I just read about a plan to murder someone, and it's a driver. What? It couldn't be me, could it? I have done nothing wrong. What kind of mess have I got myself into? Have I been transferring illegal contraband these past months?" Barely completing the delivery, he nervously drove home. That night he dove under the covers, trying to sleep, but it would not come. He tossed and turned throughout the entire night with terrible nightmares of being chased by two men. He awoke in a cold sweat, cursing himself for taking on this job. He feared this could end badly, and wondered what lay ahead. "Maybe, I ought to run away, but where? What is this going to do to my family's name?" As time passed, he continued feeling uneasy and scrutinized every passenger. He looked into his rearview mirror constantly and this affected his driving. One day he was waved aside. A man in a big hat got into the back seat and gave an address. Ravi thought the voice was familiar and looked at his mirror. Sure enough, it was the same tall man, who then reached out and patted Ravi on the shoulder.
"Is he sending me a message? Your time is up and we will get to you? Had he noticed anything amiss about the last delivered package?" Ravi wondered.
He was about to blurt out, "Honestly, I didn't mean any harm. I really didn't see anything," but the man had just settled back into his seat. Ravi's hands gripped the steering wheel, forcing himself to stay calm. With no further words exchanged, he drove the man to his
destination. He then sat for the longest time, repeatedly wiping his sweaty palms. He
truly regretted having looked inside the package and accepting that job.
"What good is the money if I'm not going to live long enough to spend it?" he cried.
His driving became erratic at times. Some passengers commented, asking if there was something worrying him. He explained he hadn't been feeling well lately, but it was nothing serious. He simply needed to get a few good nights' sleep. He took note of this and realized people might stop using his service. He had to do something. He stopped reading his beloved spy novels, selling the entire collection to a bookseller. He bought books on self-improvement, with an emphasis on reducing stress. In between passengers, he practiced deep breathing and positive thinking. He soon felt in control and his driving returned to normal.
Six months later, thinking the package situation was over, Rana called. She wanted to see him next Saturday at seven in the evening. He was flooded with anxiety. Obviously, they had not forgotten him. Over the next five nights, the nightmares returned in which he was being chased by the same two men.He thought of not showing up at Rana's house. He wondered if he'd be forgotten or would they just come after him. Admitting he was feeling paranoid again, he took a deep breath. Yes, his imagination had run wild way back then, and he could still be triggered by certain things. However, due to his recent choice of reading, he was thinking more reasonably these days. Keeping all this in mind, he reluctantly decided to go. On Saturday night, he began the drive to her house. The rain was heavy, making the roads somewhat slippery. It added to his heightened sense of stress. A few times he thought of turning back, when an idea came to him. He pulled off the road, deciding if anything should happen to him, he would leave some clues. He took out his cell phone, put a message on it with Rana's address, sent it to his parents and hid it in the trunk. Soon he arrived, parked, and rang the bell. The maid invited him inside and Rana appeared. "Ravi, come follow me downstairs." He obliged, but again regretted coming, with thoughts of immediately bolting out the front door. This moment of panic thankfully passed. They went down some narrow stairs. It was eerily quiet. Nearing the bottom, he saw the tall man, standing with two other men. "Oh-oh, I'm really in deep trouble. I better get out of here and make a run for it."
He turned to go back up the stairs, but the tall man boldly took his hand and pulled him closer. Ravi shivered, preparing himself for the worst. The man clapped him on the back.
Before Ravi could utter a word, his eyes rolled back. He fell forward and slumped to the ground. He felt several pairs of hands grabbing and lifting him from the floor.
"This is not how I want to die," he thought and passed out. "Quick, get some water, the poor lad has fainted," someone said.
Later, Ravi's eyes fluttered open and he was surrounded by people. He zeroed in on their concerned looks. He was feeling so confused. "Ravi, are you all right?" Rana asked.
He slowly sat up and made eye contact. "I've been very tired lately, but I'm okay." Rana smiled and held his hand. "Good to hear it is nothing serious, Ravi." The tall man nodded and smiled. "Now, since you are feeling better, we want to tell you why you are here. We are celebrating Rana's major success as a screenwriter. It is her first spy thriller, and she has been offered a lucrative movie contract from the United States. We all agreed you played an important role in safely delivering her valuable manuscripts. Rana wanted you to share in the excitement."
Earlier, someone had placed a blanket over him. He was grateful, as it hid his badly shaking hands. He slowly stood up, managing to smile broadly at everyone. He went on to enjoy a memorable evening of celebration. Smiling to himself, he admitted the spy world was not for him.
About the Author
Mary Penner tells stories through poetry and prose. She enjoys delving into the thoughts and emotions which lead to peoples' actions and behaviour. She is a member of the Wordsmiths, a very supportive group of fellow writers. Some of her poems and short stories have been published on social media and in magazines and newspapers. She has recently published a collection of poems entitled "Have a Slice". Mary is a retired Teacher and Social Worker who likes to keep busy with her writing and also has a keen interest in aromatherapy.