Pulling a Runner


J. Edward Tremlett

He was. That was as much as was certain. And then he was gone.

No one ever said anything bad about him. No one said anything good, either. He was one of those people who was best known for just being there, along with everyone else.

He never talked about his personal life. He never said he had any hobbies, or any good stories to tell. He never said where he came from, where he went to school, or how exactly he got this job.

He never told any jokes, and may or may not have laughed at any he heard. He never told war stories about the jobs he'd had in the past, or went on about what he really thought of this one. He never talked behind the boss' back, or anyone's back that anyone could remember...

Come to think of it, he might not have talked at all. And after he'd been gone for a while, no one could really remember, anyway.

Again, he was one of those people who was best known for just being there, along with everyone else. He took whatever they fed him and never complained. If he'd stayed, he might have been there forever, and never really been noticed.

But then, just like that, he was gone.


He pushed the car as fast as he could through the woods, wiping the tears away from his eyes. Damn it, he'd been so close! So damn close...

The car in his rear view mirror was keeping up with him, move for move on the winding, dirt road. It had a gunmetal paint job, and mirrored windshields. No license plate - they didn't need one.

He knew he couldn't hope to outrun them. Not now. If they'd found his car, then they'd found his apartment. And if they'd found his apartment... then they already had all they needed, didn't they?

Why hadn't he hidden everything? That was what he'd been told to do, but he hadn't listened. He'd felt that those things had been too precious to stick in a lock box, or bury underground. He needed to have them close, so he could remember.

Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid... and now they were going to get him, weren't they?

He cursed himself again, realizing that the car was almost out of gas. And even if he outran them, they still had him. He was just delaying the inevitable.

He drove on, anyway.


One day, he didn't come in to work. His assigned parking space was empty, and so was his office. His mail was unopened, and his out-box was empty.

Someone thought it was odd that he hadn't called in, like he had when he'd been really sick, that one time. Someone else asked if he was up to date on that one account, or had passed the details onto Receiving, yet. {If not, could someone see if he'd left word with someone? Thanks.}

The boss made some offhanded comment but didn't follow it up. If she went after everyone who played hooky from work, every so often, she'd be all by herself in the building. So she let it go, and figured that she'd mention it to him the next time it seemed appropriate, just to let him know that she knew.


The engine seized up, and then rumbled back to life, as he went up a short hill. It was getting close to empty, and then they'd have him.

Why couldn't they just leave him alone? He hadn't done anything terrible, really. He hadn't told any stories, or dropped any hints. As far as everyone knew, he was just another wageslave, working for just another company.

The people he worked with had no idea what he really was, and he thought that would make it okay. But it seemed that just wasn't nearly enough.

And now that he thought about it, he wondered how he could have been so naive. It was never, ever good enough. Not for them...

The road turned to the left - hard. He banked the car, remembering what it'd been like to escape the cops before, in another state, and another life.

If this had been then, he'd have had his guns on the passenger's side. He'd have allowed them to siddle up right next to him, just so they could get a taste of what they had coming...

But not anymore.

He'd left that life far, far behind him - no guns, no nothing. He was defenseless against them, and soon they'd have him.

But he drove on, because he still could.


The next day, he was absent again. His office was empty, and nothing had changed from the day before. More unanswered mail, still nothing in the out-box, and things were starting to spill over the sides of his in-box.

Someone wondered if he'd had another bout of whatever he'd had before. Someone else wondered if he'd won the lottery, or something. {Which lottery? No, none of them had been won at all. They just kept going and going and going...}

By the day after that, people were really starting to wonder what was up. They tried calling his house, but no one answered. They tried calling his cell phone, but got THE NUMBER YOU ARE DIALING IS OUT OF THE RECEPTION AREA, over and over again.

His office was empty, and his in-box was overflowing. Clients and contacts had started emailing other people in the office to have their questions answered. The boss planned to really stick it to him the next time she saw him, and started sharpening her knives in anticipation.

But he didn't come in the day after that, or the day after that, either.


The car made one last, stifled gasp, and then the engine coughed to a halt. The red line was buried under the E. No more gas.

He cursed and put the car into neutral, hoping to coast a while longer. The car behind him picked up speed, and he knew that they knew what had just happened. They could have heard his car stall out a half a mile away, even over their own.

He looked in his mirror. They were coming up on his left. Were they going to roll down the window and tell him to pull over? Who did they think they were - traffic cops?

But it was enough to give him hope - maybe he did have a chance. Maybe they thought he'd do what they told him, now. Maybe they weren't expecting a fight now that he was out of gas.

Maybe they were expecting him to surrender...

He let them have their illusion. They pulled alongside, getting nose-to-nose with him on the narrow, dirt road. They honked twice, then once more.

He could see right through the mirror-shaded windows. They were pulling out guns, and looking right at him. The message was clear: "We have you."

So he let them have it, instead.

He rocked the wheel hard to the left, and slammed the side of his car right into theirs. Both vehicles were locked at the wheel wells, and between the natural deceleration of his car, and the surprise he caused, they went into a sloppy, jagged spin.

He gripped the wheel and prayed that it was just enough to slow them down. Maybe shake them up a bit. A few seconds' of confusion and he could be just far enough ahead through the trees. Far enough to think of a better plan...

There was a sudden crash as their car's rear slammed into a tree. Metal crumpled in, and glass from the brakelights flew up in a cloud of shards. They seemed to go up, out and down so slowly that he had time to count them, one by one.

Their car's engine stopped of its own volition, wrenched silent by the violent stop. The crash wouldn't have hurt them that badly, any more than it did him. But this was his chance to try and run.

He got out of the passenger side door, and started sprinting away, through the trees. As he did, he heard one of their doors open up, and knew it wasn't going to be that easy. Not in a million years.

But he ran, because he still could.


No one was certain who realized that he wouldn't be coming back, ever again. But someone did, and word got around. He'd pulled a runner, alright.

He was gone.

The new information made its way around the office, both quickly and matter-of-factly. Someone told someone, and someone told someone else, and then people were getting two or three words into telling someone else the story before being stopped with "Yes, I know. He pulled a runner. He's gone."

It made the rounds by the water tank and the washrooms. It reached the cafeteria, and motor pool. And by the time the janitors were whispering about it, there was no one in the building who didn't know that he was gone.

By the time the boss thought to make an announcement, via e-mail, she realized there was no point. He was gone and everyone knew it. What else was there to say?

So she took his employment files out of her desk, stamped him TERMINATED, and send them down to Personnel, so they could be dealt with. It was out of her hands, now.

He was gone.


The first shot they fired sounded like the end of the world, even if it missed.

After that, the suspense drained away along with the scenery. He ran as fast as he could, knowing it would never be enough. But he could still run, so he did.

The bullets that followed all missed by a long margin. He could hear his pursuers calling after him, telling him to stop and surrender, so he figured they were just warning shots. The rest wouldn't be so charitable.

He was right. The next bullet hit him square in the chest, right where his heart should have been.

A burst of clear, warm goop spattered out of his chest, soaking his tie and business shirt, and making him lose his pace. He saw the bullet spiral out of him, whistling off into a nearby tree. Wood splintered at the impact.

He grabbed hold of his wound instinctively, seeking to staunch the bleeding. Then he remembered - or reminded himself - that he was in no danger of bleeding to death.

The hole started to close. He could still run, so he did.

The second shot burst through his left leg, right at the joint, making him tumble to the ground. He rolled with it, trying to knit his leg back together on the fly but failing miserably. He'd lost too much from the chest wound, and the chase...

The third caught him just as he was trying to get up, and kneecapped him. His shin buckled and blew outward, nearly cutting his leg in half. And this dropped him back into the dirt, face-down.

It was over. He'd been crippled. He couldn't run, anymore.

He was done.


So they tended to what needed to be done: what they called "last rites" as a kind of joke.

They got into his computer and rerouted his email to someone else, chuckling at the "jobs vacant" emails he'd been hoarding all along. They went through his personal folder to see if he'd had any good jokes, or porn, but found only work-related files. They saved what looked important, deleted the rest, and then reset the password to the standard login before shutting it down, one last time.

They cleaned off his desk and went through his drawers, looking for anything company owned. Every so often they came across a personal photo, or a letter, and stared at it, wondering what it might mean, or who it might be. But before long a sense of shame put an end to their voyeurism, and they tossed the personal items into a trashcan.

When they were done, they made one last check of his desk, and pushed in his chair. Then they walked out together, turning out the light, and closing the door behind them. Someone had already thought to take his plastic nametag away, leaving a blank, gaping hole in the metal holder.

They left behind an empty room, devoid of identity. The explosive sound of its lock tumbling closed was warm and comforting - like coming back into the world.


He gasped in pain and anguish, too far gone for tears and too exhausted for anger. He didn't have enough to heal himself, anymore, and anything he could have done to them would have been a wasted gesture. They had him, now.

They walked up close to him, guns in hand. Two of them had smoking .45s and one carried a heavy shotgun that hadn't been fired yet. They walked like they had all the time in the world. They did, too.

All of them looked horribly nondescript, just like him. They'd probably all graduated from the same school, but were now working for different sides. He'd figured as much - "takes one to catch one."

One of them had a pair of those damned manacles with her. They were heavy and moaned as she pulled them out. They promised a one-way trip to a fate worse than anything else.

"I'd rather not see them get you," she said, solemnly. The one with the shotgun nodded at her, and primed it for firing. Then it was pointed straight down at his head, waiting.

They were offering him a choice...?

"You think this makes it right?" He asked, suddenly very angry: "You think this makes it right?"

"Nothing's right," she said: "There's just fair and unfair. Nothing else."

He found he couldn't argue with that, so he just looked up at the sky, thinking of times long past. His secret lives passed in front of him, one right after the other. He thought of the good, and the bad, and the things he'd left behind.

He looked up at the Sun, one last time. If he was going to have a last sight, it should be that. The real Sun - warm and golden in a lovely, blue sky...

"Do it," he said, closing his eyes.

The shotgun's blasts scattered the birds into the wind.


After a few hours, they couldn't remember what they'd found in his rolltray. Had it been a picture of a little boy or a little girl? {He'd never said anything about being a parent, had he?}

After a few days they couldn't remember what his voice had sounded like, or what he liked to bring for lunch. The people he sat with looked at his empty chair at the table. Someone thought to push it away so they could eat in peace.

A few weeks and they even started to forget his name. Even the nameplate that'd been on his door had gone missing, somehow. They couldn't remember where he'd sat for lunch.

{Payroll even forgot to send his paperwork to the IRS, who also forgot to penalize them.}

A few months and the image of his face, and how he moved, had been lost. They passed his old office and wondered if anyone had been in there at all. Maybe it had been empty all along, and they'd just imagined someone was there.

Within the year, all memories of him had disappeared. Memories that had included him had been rearranged, so that he no longer appeared in them. Except for a dusty, now-worthless check sitting in a file, somewhere in Accounting, his name was nowhere to be seen.

He was gone, as though he had never been.


"So what the hell happened out there?" her boss asked, sharpening knives on his desk. They moaned as he scraped them against one another. One of them even whimpered.

"He pulled some... interesting tricks on us, sir," she explained, standing at attention in the dark, cramped room: "I guess he must have spent some time with one of the other proscribed organizations-"

"So you blew him into Oblivion? Is that what you're saying?"

"We did, yes," she replied, nodding: "I had to make a command decision to protect my men."

Her boss spat between her shoes: "You aren't worth a bucket of warm forge-slop, girl. None of you are. If it were up to me, all you proscribed organization types would be useful goods."

"As you say, sir," she replied. She'd heard this all before. It no longer troubled her to hear it.

"Well, clean up your mess, girl," he said, putting the whimpering knife away: "He had to have had help. Find them, and this time be more careful about apprehending them. We need names and information from them, and we won't be getting them from a Nihil, now will we?"

She nodded, and waited for him to dismiss her. Once he did, she was outside in less time than it took for him to realize it.

She hated being in that room, wearing that badge and listening to him threaten her. She hated being known as a traitor to her own kind. She hated herself...

But she kept telling herself that this would not be forever.

While she was on the inside, she did a hell of a lot more good than she'd have done on the outside. This way, she learned how it all worked. She learned what they knew, and what they didn't. She learned how they went about finding people like her, and how many mistakes they made - and didn't learn from - along the way.

And one day, she would use that to her advantage. She'd pull a runner so good that they'd never find her - not in a million years. And maybe she'd get some of her friends out with her, too.

So she'd stay where she was, and get the reputation for being one of those people who was best known for just being there, along with everyone else. She'd take whatever they fed her, and not complain. They'd think that she'd just be there forever, and never really be noticed...

And then, just like that, she'd be gone.