This page will be modified from time-to-time when I have some writing that I want to show. Below is my short story, Cookie Dough, which received an honourable mention on https://www.supportindieauthors.org.
Jerry looked at the noticeboard, licking his lips nervously.
‘Is your data safe?’ the poster asked, causing a flush of shame in him.
David must have seen the look on his face. “Relax, man, it’ll be the easiest two thousand bucks you’ll ever make. Come on, let’s grab a coffee.” Jerry followed his friend and colleague out to the vending machine on the third floor.
David winced as he took a sip of what the machine optimistically claimed was a Premium Caffè Milano. “It’s not like stealing a diamond, is it?”
Well, he was right there. But the bosses wouldn’t see it that way if they ever found out that Jerry was about to hand over some source code to their fiercest tech rival. But he thought about the times he’d been passed over for promotion, or the annual bonus that wouldn’t even cover his monthly insurance bill and then there was the laughable case of the company refusing to pay for a Christmas party. In that light, industrial espionage started to seem like a righteous cause.
Just think of the Christmas you could give Martha and the kids, David had said, which was how this whole charade had started.
“You got your instructions?” David asked, snapping Jerry out of his reverie.
Jerry gave a silent nod.
“Listen,” David continued, glancing each way down the corridor as if checking for eavesdroppers, leaning into Jerry conspiratorially. “This guy – he’ll be good for the dough but he’s a little unorthodox.”
“How do you mean?” Jerry felt the first stab of worry in the pit of his stomach.
“I think he must have been in the CIA or something.”
“CIA? I thought I just had to meet him, follow the instructions and wait for the passphrase?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course.” David paused once again, smiling at a secretary as she walked past.
“What happened on your drop?” Jerry asked. David had already earned himself a nice pile of cash, treating his family to a week in The Bahamas, which was how Jerry had been convinced that following in his friend’s footsteps would be easy.
A smile split David’s face as if he was recalling some amusing moment. “Let’s just say that it involved a roller-skating nun in Central Park.”
This had disaster written all over it. Jerry liked things nice and simple. He wasn’t good with late changes of plan or surprises of any kind. His feverish imagination conjured up images of his mysterious contact disguised as The Grinch riding a unicycle and calling out ‘Money for data! Money for data!’
David adopted a serious tone. “Look, just be careful. This guy is easily spooked – he won’t show up if there’s a big crowd, or if he thinks that he is under surveillance.”
“Surveillance! Why would he think he was under surveillance? Was he really in the CIA?” He already had what felt like an electric current fizzing through his guts, and his so-called friend wasn’t making the situation any better.
“Okay, calm down, I’m sure it’ll be fine. When’s the deal going down?”
“Today. At lunchtime,” Jerry mumbled.
“Best of luck, buddy,” David said, slapping him on the back. “Just think of Christmas,” he called over his shoulder as he made his way back to the office.
At 11.35, Jerry left the office, telling his supervisor that he was taking an early lunch. He made a quick stop at the Malley Brothers Bakery, picking up a sandwich that he could eat on the move and a small packet of cookies that were so vital to the plan.
He made his way through the press of shoppers and fake Santas, who were handing out flyers, using the long walk to clear his mind. All he had to do was this simple drop, and this time next week, he’d be spending all that cash, giving Martha and the kids the best Christmas ever.
He entered the park and soon found the bench that had been described in the instructions. He was in luck: there was nobody sitting there. There were a few people on the path and he lengthened his stride, determined to take a seat before anybody else claimed the bench and screwed up the plan. Flopping down onto the cold wooden boards, he checked his watch. Five minutes to the rendezvous. He’d done the easy bit, now all he had to do was wait.
With a packet of cookies in his lap.
Jerry worried about everything on a daily basis; from the weather to his kids’ schooling, how busy the traffic would be on any given morning, the threat of being laid off and a whole host of other random occurrences that might put a crimp on his day. It was like he had a small rodent that scurried around the inside of his head, constantly nibbling at the edges of his brain. He never relaxed, his mind constantly alert to danger. His chief worry today was that somebody would snatch the packet from his lap, and whenever anybody walked past, his reflex reaction was to move his hand towards the cookies, shielding them from potential thieves.
Damn, but it was cold today. Winter had relieved the trees of their leaves, their bare branches reaching into the gunmetal sky, and there was a thin layer of frost coating the grass. He felt sorry for the homeless guy who was rifling through the contents of a litter bin to his right. Spending a day out in these temperatures would be hard enough, let alone a sleeping rough all night.
A couple of joggers ran past, dressed in outrageous Lycra shorts, and a man with a briefcase was standing under a tree with his back to Jerry, talking quietly on a cell phone. A unicycle rider weaved across the path from the left, narrowly avoiding a collision with the joggers, who shouted abuse in his direction as he cycled off. Was that his mystery contact? Based on David’s comments, it sounded just like his sort of disguise.
Turning back to the right, Jerry was shocked to see that the homeless man had taken a seat on the bench. On his bench!
He glanced at the man in horror and was struck by the fact that, unkempt beard aside, he was the spitting image of his old gym coach, Mr Bailey. The name Bailey lodged in his head, and even though he knew it could not be his old teacher, he struggled to shift the name from his feverish subconscious mind.
A thousand alarms sounded in his head. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The instructions had been clear: sit on the bench on your own. The man who would be Bailey sat in silence for a minute – Jerry watched every second tick by on his watch as it was now just two minutes to the agreed time. It was long enough for an unpleasant smell to make its way from the vagrant’s tatty old coat and up Jerry’s nostrils, calling to mind the smell of a trash can in summer.
With David’s warning about the contact being easily spooked still ringing in his ears, he wondered how he could get Bailey to move on before the drop, without causing a scene. His previous sympathetic feelings towards the homeless were disappearing over the hill faster than a cheetah in sneakers.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he started, “but I need to have this bench to myself for a while.”
“It’s a free country,” Bailey said, tugging at his straggly beard and giving Jerry a look that made him feel ashamed.
“Look, how about I buy you a nice coffee and a bagel?” he offered, reaching into his wallet. “It is Christmas, after all.”
“I prefer tea, and I don’t like bagels.”
Great. Luck wasn’t on his side today. He seemed to have run into the world’s fussiest bum!
“Say, that looks like a nice cookie,” Bailey said, looking through the clear plastic window in the packet on Jerry’s lap. Jerry gave him a sickly smile, gripping the cookies harder, fearing that his plan could unravel right about this point.
“I’d sure love one of your cookies, man.”
One minute to go. There was nothing for it. Jerry opened the packet and held out a cookie. If he expected Bailey to snatch it from him and devour it like a man who was no stranger to hunger, he was in for a surprise. The vagrant took the cookie from his hand and proceeded to examine it as if it were a piece of fine jewellery. Jerry watched in fascination as Bailey turned it one way and then another before breaking a small crumb off and tasting it, making exaggerated wet chomping noises in the process.
“It’s a little hard in the middle. I prefer it softer, with a little give, you know?” he said, turning to Jerry to deliver his verdict.
Jerry found himself speechless – the guy was a bloody food critic now! He would have imagined that somebody who lived on the street would be a bit more grateful when handed free food, let alone a gourmet cookie. At least that’s what the packaging claimed.
“That’s not how cookies are made!” Bailey added, jabbing a gloved finger towards the middle of the offending confectionary.
That’s not how cookies are made! He’d said it – the passphrase. Bailey was the contact; it all made sense now!
“Okay, okay,” Jerry stammered. “I’m sorry,” he added, feeling the need to apologise for what his contact probably saw as sloppy tradecraft. Jerry was good at that – assuming that somebody else was making hasty judgements about him. He fumbled in his pocket whilst Bailey watched in fascination, eventually finding the USB drive in the folds of his trouser pocket and handing it over.
The guy was a good actor, Jerry had to give him that. Bailey took the USB drive and examined it in much the same way as he had the cookie.
“Are we good?” Jerry asked nervously.
Bailey snorted out a sour laugh. “It’s a little tough,” he said, biting the flash drive between his rotten teeth. “But I might be able to trade it for a few dollars.” He rose from the seat, taking a bite out of the cookie that he still held. “Maybe I was a bit harsh, it’s not that bad,” he said, spitting crumbs into the air.
Was that an affirmative answer to his question? The protocol involved in industrial espionage wasn’t a subject with which Jerry was familiar. “When do I get the money?” he asked, deciding that a direct question was the best approach.
“Have yourself a merry Christmas, friend,” Bailey said as he shambled off up the path. Jerry guessed that that was as close to a confirmation as he was going to get, although even now, he knew that he’d be analysing those words for hours to come, fuelling the rodent for a good ten laps around the inside of his head.
Maybe he’d just sit here for a while, eat the remainder of the cookies and try to calm down before returning to the office. Despite the chilly air, there were still plenty of people out enjoying the park. The man with the briefcase still had his back to Jerry as he finished his call and slipped the cell phone into his pocket. He then turned and walked over to the bench, lowering himself gently into the seat vacated by Bailey.
Taking a surreptitious glance at the cookies that Jerry still held in his lap, he cast a steely glance at the would-be traitor before saying, “That’s not how cookies are made!”