The little snap would come up like a little bell. Every 5 seconds it would hit invariably with the accuracy of a high-level algorithmic function, developed after months and months of manufacturing, down in the tech laboratories. It would resemble the beating of a heart, pumping life to the mechanism underlying the car. The «swirling snapper» was its name among the stuff and it was attached in the most critical function. A leading-edge camera, with abilities of analysis and resolution far ahead of the level on the markets, designed specifically to take pictures in the whole 360 degrees range. Bound on the rooftop of the car, it was providing data like a diligent robot. A true technological miracle. Every picture would be crispy and alive as watching it in real life and the colors would blend in pure and perfect. After every capture, the image would be displayed automatically in the screen for the driver to see and examine. It felt like a machine from the future.
James zoomed in into the route. There was still a whole section of 50 miles left and given that speed was restricted to a painfully slow limit he had some time ahead to finish.
«This is going to take a while I guess… I still can’t remember why I took this job». James was a 32-year-old guy with a fit body, short military-style hair, and a serious austere tone. His thoughtfulness and dedication would make him look like a police officer more than anything else. He opened the left window and let some fresh air into the car. It was already midday and the heat was burning down the black surface of the car making it resemble a heating boiler. The sun was leaving its mark all over it reflecting a golden ambiance throughout.
James swept off the sweat from his forehead when a ringing sound came from the sound speakers. In the monitor, it wrote «Incoming call: John». He pressed the button to accept.
«Well look who is calling. And I thought you forgot all about me..»
«Good to see you didn’t lose your sense of humor, Mr. James. At least the heat hasn’t got the better of you.»
«Well, luckily you left enough orange juice for me to get through this.»
«Anything to help. Hey look, James, I wanted to thank you for taking the job on this. It’s one of the last uncharted areas and there was nobody else close enough to do it. You know how much they pressure to finish these things.»
«Not a problem pal. You’ll pay it all back when you get me those tickets for the NBA finals.»
«With all the pleasure in the world, James. You have my word.»
James ended the call and checked over the last series of photos. He always had to make sure that photos were valid otherwise he would have to revert back and rescan everything. Machine learning algorithms would detect anything out of order. The slightest sign of guns, weapons, or nudity would mark the picture with a red border.
It wouldn’t even be that surprising to find any of those in this particular area. This little village down the mainlands was isolated and distant. Ruled by ghettos that would govern different parts of the city and fight each other for the initiatives. Death around there had become commonplace and people had grown accustomed to it.
Every now and then you would find a group of 2-3 people standing around the corner, marking their territory and selling substances. Not very far away from the environment he and his brother got raised.
James opened the co-driver drawer. It was filled with notebooks and papers with scumbled notes sparsing around in disorder. He reached deeper inside and grabbed a picture. It had 2 figures on it. He on the left, with a genuine, big, teeth-showing smile, hugging around sternly his little brother. A much more composed and reserved figure. With a semi-awkward grin, long limbs, and freckles.
Back then he was still full of life and dreams, James thought. With the romantic appetite of a 17-year-old that wants to experience life in its fullest and absorb everything life has to give.
And then James could see him in front of him. Standing with reaped off jeans and a leather jacket. The day he caught him smoking marihuana in his room. «You are throwing your life away. What are you planning to do a few years from now? You are going to end up like the mugs in the streets».
He spent the whole afternoon trying to get him back to his right mind. Only to see him grow more and more distant with the time passing. Until one day his addiction to heroin became apparent. Setting his little brother in rehab was one of the hardest things he had to make.
Snap! The noise shook James off his daydream. Another picture came in the monitor. The place was blatant and monotonous like it had lost its vigor. The shops were mostly empty and the faces seemed colorless and broody.
He put the picture back inside the drawer and focused on the road. Every person that happened to cross by would stare at the car with a dreadful curiosity.
It would resemble the cases of Africa, when tourists would visit with their hyper-advanced equipment, only to meet humble eyes asking a million questions. It wasn’t clear what the role of the car was or why it had such heavy equipment on top of it. It looked more like a weapon than anything else.
Suddenly a buzz came from the monitor. The alert was clear. There was an indication of an inappropriate image that should be examined carefully. He brought the last picture in front and zoomed in. A guy crossing the street with an object resembling a gun in his left hand. But something..something in the scene wasn’t right… He zoomed in on his face. A young adult. Probably around his 20s with a rock star style and chains tied around his clothes.
«He doesn’t fulfill the criminal profile to me». James grilled.
He slowed up the car carefully and parked on the left side. Without moving the rest of his body he looked over the top mirror. The figure was still visible. Blonde spiky hair, baby shaved face, and characteristics soft as butter.
«Is this an aspiring Escobar or the missing child of Angelina Jolie?» James snarled.
The young boy’s boots would resemble a clownish bulb with his body obscured by the oversized clothes. The young man took a big puff from the cigarette and concealed the gun in his waistband. With sluggish movements, he approached the mini-store.
«I don’t think you should do this buddy. You can change your mind and turn back» James said. He was staring tensely over the mirror. His eyes steady and firm would resemble the scene from a detective investigation.
The young guy threw out his cigarette and leaned back on the wall beside the store. He took a gum out of his pocket and started chewing it.
«Please don’t do this man. You don’t have to do this». James whispered.
The man took out a black ski-mask and covered his head. With a sudden twist, he turned around and entered the shop.
James punched the wheel of his car almost tearing it apart. He opened the drawer again and snooped inside until he found a small pocket knife.
«That should work well with the gun I guess..»
He put it in his pocket and threw himself out of the car. He started striding fast towards the shop. His look seemed decisive and determined. He checked across the street in both ways and crossed carefully before he reached outside the door. He peeked inside through the glass but couldn’t detect anything strange happening. The employee seemed relaxed back in his chair, snoozing calmly while reading a magazine. A bit further an old lady peaking up her grocery. He pushed the door carefully and entered inside.
Low-pitched country music was playing along. The cashier was an old immigrant with a trimmed beard and a sports t-shirt. He seemed absorbed in his reading with a mild smile attached to him.
James moved slowly inside scanning around the place. No sign of the youngster anywhere. Only a few customers around the aisles. He started sliding further inside attentively. The store had only 3 corridors spanning horizontally in straight lines.
«He should be close around» he said softly.
He followed the road down to the end but couldn’t spot anything unordinary. The old lady passed right in front of him in the sight of which he shook the worry off his face and nodded kindly. He looked over his phone a bit confused before he checked once more in the last lane. Only a couple of people gathering vegetables. He relaxed his posture and turned back to leave when an aggressive voice came near the cashier.
«Throw your fucking money on the table. Now!»
«Finally..» James whispered.
People around him started screaming and falling on the ground.
He started moving towards the action. The cashier had both hands up in the air, while the masked youngster was gathering money from the cash desk. He was holding the gun on his left hand all while using his right hand filling his pockets, resembling a well-trained criminal.
«I swear man, this is all I got. There is nothing else left.» pleaded the cashier.
«Shut up! Turn around, close your eyes, and count reversely from 100. Do it now!» Most of his face was covered but still his mouth was spitting anger. He pointed the gun over his forehead aggressively and the cashier obliged with tremoring movements. Once he started counting he rushed out the door.
«The kid has thought the whole thing through» said James.
He followed him right behind. He got out of the store and started running right behind him.
«Hey stop!» He yelled.
James started chasing right after. His hands were thrusting up and down running at full speed all the while avoiding passengers and trying not to lose sight of him. People would stop and look at him in wonder but he kept ongoing. And he was getting closer and closer. The boy was glancing back trying to find a way to outmaneuver him. But the distance was closing down with every second. A little bit more and he could grab hold of him. The boy tilted on the pavement and fall abashedly.
James got on top of him and put the mask off his face. He restrained both his hands and punched him really hard in the face spurring blood out of his mouth. The boy lost sense but James punched him again. And again. His fist became red till he stopped with his mouth drooling and his chest pumping out of breath.
«You prick. Why did you do that? Why are you trying to destroy your life like that?». His face wrinkled with tension.
He grabbed his shirt with both hands and pushed him backward in the pavement.
«I m sorry sir. I m only trying to make some money. Please don’t hurt me.». The young boy started crying, disoriented, and confused.
James stood by for a bit taking a few breaths.
He took the gun out of the young man’s pocket and threw it far away.
«Is this how you re planning to spend the rest of your life? Getting wasted in jail? And drugs? Is that what you are trying to do?»
«No sir, I promise. I won’t do it again. It was just a challenge. I promise.» The boy was pleading his lungs out for mercy holding his hands open in front of him.
«Its time to return the money where they belong»
James raised up and dragged the boy with him. They started marching back with James holding the boy’s hand tight and him looking down like a prisoner. They entered back into the store and delivered all the money back to the owner for which James reassured him he would handle the situation on his own.
As they left and walked further away, James turned to the boy.
«Hey look kid, this is your lucky day. You are off the hook this time. But today it was me, next time it might be somebody else. Now you listen to me. You play a very dangerous game here. You need to get your shit back together. Life is not gonna be so generous to you down the road. You need to wake up before its too late.»
The boy held his eyes down throughout the speech.
«If I catch you again you are going down and I fucking mean it. Got it, kid?»
«Yes sir. Thank you very much, sir. I m really sorry..»
The boy turned around and start running. James took a long breath and watched him leave for a bit. He moved his head sideways conjuring a sad expression before he turned his back and started walking towards the car. His hand was still full of blood and his outfit mostly ruined. Shirt tore apart, trousers stained and reddened from blooded mud, and his right leg was hurt and cut open. He brushed it off and hold it tied as he walked, limping over in pain.
«I knew I shouldn’t take this job.» He said clearing the blood out of his hands when a strong blast came from afar. James stopped and looked over his chest. Blood started purring out all over his hands. He kneeled down and fall on the ground. He was shot down in the back. He turned his head and saw the young boy standing still, holding the gun on his hand and running away. His face remained still, frozen up with his eyes wide open. And inside the car, a noise kept coming steadily and monotonously. Like a beating heart…