SHORT STORY: Punishing race against time

Sunday November 14 2021

“And so no one will come looking for you,” Gladys stepped out in front of him, a ski mask completely obscuring her face. He choked, falling off his stool in a coughing fit. ILLUSTRATION| JOHN NYAGA


Gladys’ feet pounded the muddy wet earth as she ran, kicking up tiny splashes and flecks of mud that spotted the bottom of her dusty pink tracksuit. She wasn’t breathing hard at all in spite of the speed she was running at, her mind as clear as the early morning light filtering through trees clustered thickly along the trail she was on.

Up ahead, another jogger kept up a punishing pace, his six foot frame seemingly at ease, earphones dangling loosely from his ears. Gladys watched him intently as she jogged, he hadn’t heard her as she’d neared; she could tell because he hadn’t looked back once or changed his pace.

No one else was out this early, but Gladys still wanted to be cautious and so she waited until they were under closely knit trees that formed a grove and cast deep shadows, partly obscuring the path, before she sped up to run beside him.

He turned to her in surprise as she came upon him suddenly, and Gladys tossed a handful of powder in his face. The man pulled up short, sputtering, looking furious but only for a second. Then his expression turned surprised, his mouth forming a silent O, then confused, his brow furrowing, and finally, he stared at her stupidly.

“Tim, I need to know where the election money is,” Gladys said as she stepped toward him, took his hand and led him off-trail into the forest.

“The governor doesn’t tell me such things,” he replied, docile as a mouse, “But he keeps the key around his neck.”


Gladys deposited the dazed man by a tall tree, relieving him of his wallet before dashing off. He didn’t even attempt to follow her. He just stood there, looking around him with child-like wonder. She wasn’t worried, the back-street chemist had told her the drug would wear off in a few hours.

She was worried though about what he’d told her. How would she get what she needed? Gladys slowed down to a walk, her head bowed, her shoulders slumped, fighting despair that was a sickening weight in her stomach. But she could not accept defeat. Her head snapped up and she took off running again.

A short rotund man sat perched on a high stool before a sleek kitchen counter, his legs dangling a foot off the floor. Before him were mounds of sweet thick pancakes slathered in syrup, a bundle of perfectly browned spiced sausages, towers of toast with varied spreads in little porcelain bowls, freshly squeezed juice, a tray of coffee and just in case he wasn’t full, a bowl of sugary cereal drowned in milk. He flipped nonchalantly through a newspaper as he ate, only looking up when he heard his back door open and slam.

“Tim,” the governor called out, his mouth full of pancake, “I’ve cancelled my morning,” he swallowed, “I’ve phoned the office and…”

“And so no one will come looking for you,” Gladys stepped out in front of him, a ski mask completely obscuring her face.

He choked, falling off his stool in a coughing fit.

“Where are the election funds you stole?” Gladys asked menacingly, deepening her voice so it would be unrecognisable. As an aide herself to his close ally, now turned sworn enemy, she’d been around him plenty of times.

“Who do you think…” the governor begun, his tone that of a man used to getting his way, but Gladys was desperate. She cut him off with a sharp slap that sent him sprawling, grabbed a knife from a stylish wooden holder sitting decoratively on the kitchen counter and rounded on him.

“King’s Bank,” he teased the information and then whimpered as she pressed the knife threateningly against his soft belly, “Safety deposit box 456, here’s the key…”

Gladys made quick work of tying him up, ignoring his threats to find out who she was, who she was working for, and make them pay or was it finish them off. She wasn’t paying much attention to his words, her mind was on the clock. It was almost time.

The sunny day had turned suddenly overcast, with big fluffy clouds that grew darker as they grouped together, now filling the entire sky. Gladys made her way to the edge of the city, an industrial zone filled with factories that pumped out noxious gases and eerie go-downs, stopping when she reached what looked to be an abandoned building with a peeling façade and windows that were boarded shut. Boldly, she pushed aside a rusty gate and went inside.

“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me,” her boss, a governor too, greeted her as she walked in, sitting all too close to a young boy who looked anxiously up at her, “So? What do you have for me? As you can see, I took good care of your son,” he patted the boy’s head and Gladys cringed, dispensing rapidly with the key and information she’d been coerced to get before reaching for her son.

“I knew it was a good idea to hire ex-military as an aide,” the governor chuckled, already seeing his rival’s money in his account, “I was advised you lot have special skills and…”

But Gladys was already briskly walking out, her son’s hand clutched in hers, her face set and grim. She’d never thought her job would involve such dirt and she was done. Special skills? She’d disappear and he’d never find or use her again.