The Orange Striped Backpack

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story where a local takes a newcomer under their wing.... view prompt

6 comments

Adventure Fiction

He was on a path to a better future until he ran into the bright orange, striped backpack. Eddie needed to get away, and it felt good to use his legs that morning.  The train station was full of commuters. Sad, tired people with no purpose, no drive to live, not like him.  From the fare gate he had heard the train pulling into the station, his train.  Quickening, he took long steps in his well polished leather shoes, flashing as they caught glints of the morning light. The blood spatter was hardly noticeable. Toward the escalator, and then tilted forward,  he ascended up on the left, passing those just standing, content to ride slowly up to the elevated station to their train. 

In his best blue suit, a leather briefcase in his hand,  he needed to catch this train to the airport. Jittery and nervous, he looked back out of habit. No one.  His life was progressing again, after being stalled in his well-funded but illicit lifestyle.  

Climbing up the moving escalator, he was on his way to his future until the bright orange backpack stopped him, standing in the passing lane, blocking his next step.   “On the left,” he said to the orange bag. 

The orange bag moved, but to the left, still in his way.  He looked up and saw sparkling brown eyes looking back at him, through loose flowing dark hair, and then, “oh scuz”,  quickly in a light voice as she and the bag moved to the right finally, out of his way.

He continued on,  glancing to get a better look as he passed the orange bag, but moving too quickly he couldn’t see, she was looking down.  He hit the top step and saw his train, the last of the passengers pushing into the crowded car headed south, when the finality of his decision made him pause. He missed what he was giving up, his Town, his lifestyle. But it was time to be on the right side of the law. Maybe he wouldn't have made the train anyway, but the pause made it certain, and then the moment was lost. The car doors squeezed shut, collecting the last passengers inside, and then it was gone, headed where he should be, to the airport and his chance at a better future.  He kicked the cement floor, throwing his briefcase forward in the air, and squeezed the handle. He normally did not lose his temper.  In his line of work he needed to keep a cool head about him.  The riders behind him pushed up, and he flowed with the crowd down to the right to wait for the next train. Anxiety and sweat crept up his collar. Will he miss the flight now? He should have forced his way into the car. He needs to get moving, away from this town where he has been stuck. He should have been on the train, he needed to get going! 

Automatically,  he pictured the scene as it would be framed in a video camera. His dream was to make movies, show the visions that filled his head to the world.  Maybe this is a scene from an action thriller, the main character at the platform in the climatic scene,  looking to make an escape while a train is bearing down. 

Murmurs began from all around him, the commuters waiting for their train. 

“Did you see this?”

Phones were held up, strangers leaned over each other's shoulders.

“It is the Gentleman Thief!” A woman in a business suit said. 

“He just posted his latest cyber heist, two mil! And a video about homeless kids.” A teenager in a hoodie and low slung hat said. 

A business man in an ill-fitted suit added, “There he is in that Guy Fawkes mask!”

“He dumped it here!” Said another

“A hundred thousand dollars!” Said someone behind him.  

“I heard it was two.” The hooded teenager added.

“I heard it was a Million dollars!” Came from somewhere on his left.

“Here in Oakland? I have heard of him from Europe, dumping cash,  all for the poor!” A middle aged woman said. “I can’t believe he is now in Oakland!”  

“Yes, it was  Downtown Oakland!  But the money’s gone now- snapped up quick!” A construction worker said, excitement in his voice vicariously for whoever was able to collect the money. 

“Cash dumped on a corner!  Like a god-damned Robin Hood!  All that cash and here in Oakland!” A teenage girl said. 

No one mentioned the shooting! Eddie thought, and then joining the chorus as he looked over a man’s shoulder said, 

“I love that guy! They’ll  never catch him!”  

The man turned around annoyed and moved away so Eddie could not see the screen. The Gentleman Thief was getting all the attention!  

The orange bag, caught in the whirl passengers, flowed into an eddy behind him, and emerged next to him, looking down at her phone.

“You made me miss my train,” he said softly to the top of her head.  

As she didn't acknowledge him, he spoke out loud to himself. “Next train is in- , looking up to the sign flickering, status of incoming trains. “-8 Minutes. If the security line is short, maybe I‘ll still catch my plane….”

She turned to him, her face up, the eyes hard and suspicious.   It was his first look at her, she had an olive complexion, about his age, and pretty.  Blown by the wind a halo of brown hair flowed into her face.  He held back his urge to brush the loose strands away.  

But then she blinked, and her eyes crinkled into a smile.  

Small and petite, she wore plaid pants and a belted form-fitted jacket under her fashionable backpack with the orange stripes 

“Oh scuzi!  Scuzi, can you say, eh which train to San Francisco?”

“San Francisco?” He paused, her accent threw him off, a tourist.  “Oh you are on the wrong platform, you have to go over there-”

He pointed across the tracks.  “That side over there-”  he pointed again, but the woman just nodded, pointed to her phone and said “San Francisco?”

Eddie looked at her phone and saw the problem.  “You have your map set from the wrong station. We are not at the -Down -town station. We are at the  -Up- Town-” Eddie paused, he didn't have time to get involved in this, even if she was pretty. “I can’t help you.”  He looked away. On the elevated train station the wind blew, and he could smell the meat grilling from the nearby Taquerias, the salt in the air from the ocean.   He looked out onto the view,  trees, and the backyards of apartments showing the lives of the people who lived there through drying laundry, discarded furniture and bicycles. It all looked familiar and comforting. 

Eddie felt a hand on his jacket sleeve.

“This Metro is difficult! I have been - confusa! I need to get out of Oakland, to visit San Francisco.  Oh, I just need help. Please?” 

“San Francisco?” He asked. “What about Oakland!”

Her questioning look irritated him. His Town did not get the respect it deserved. ”You should visit Oakland!"

At her puzzled look he continued. 

“You have to see the redwood trees. I bet they don't even have redwoods where you are from.  There are  giant ones up in the Oakland hills.  Or the Grand Lake Theater, the historic movie palace.  And there is nothing more beautiful than Lake Merritt at night, with the necklace of lights around it. Not to mention Oakland has the best, most diverse  food in the Bay!"

He stopped,  remembering how much he loved his hometown. 

“Where are you from?”

“I am from  Roma. Rome. I work in tech, but am expanding my work here in the States.”  She said.

Eddie nodded. “I would take you around by myself, but I am moving to LA, Los Angeles.  I need to get out of here-” Eddie started. 

“-But you seem to love this Oakland! Your face lights up when you talk about it!” She looked up at him. 

The urgency of his situation hit him, the tension returned. The move to LA, to get away from the people after him.

But they haven’t caught him yet.  He could take a later plane, what could go wrong? Eddie smiled at her words. “How about I show you around my Town?  I can take a later train, LA isn't going anywhere.” 

“OK, grazie!  What is your name?” she said, “Il mio nome è Gennifer.”

At the sound of her voice he paused, and looked at this woman he just met and who had stopped his progress. There was something about her.  He heard the train arrive and saw his escape open up its doors for him.  He could still make it-

He turned back to her. And he breathed out, his shoulders relaxed and the stress he had been carrying fell off him.  He was just paranoid, no one would find him. 

“Eddie, my name is Eddie.” He tilted his head. ”Would you like to go to get some coffee? There is a cafe just outside the station. They have great beignets, or doughnuts?”

“Come, ” He grabbed her wrist.  “Come on, I’ll take care of you!” 

She pulled her wrist from his hand, and with regret, he let go. Of course, too much.  He squeezed the handle of his briefcase tight. 

“Can we still take the train? I want to see somewhere else?”  Gennifer said.

“Of course, let’s go to another platform.” 

Then she grabbed his hand, and Eddie felt the warmth flow into him

“I will show you this Town as it is meant to be,” he said.  “And don’t worry about money, I got plenty of money.”   Hand in hand with his new friend, his troubles were falling away. Together they nodded, and walked, listened and smiled. Down the escalator, and up the other escalator, and finally onto the opposite station platform.

“I work off the books, you know what I mean?  But, something went wrong this morning, and I am taking it as a sign, a good time to move to LA. But, man, I love Oakland. ”

“You work off the books?”

Eddie smiles, “I don't want to say too much, but I have some valuable skills, and I-”

Eddie’ stomach clenched with fear. He needed to stop talking!   Can he trust this person?  But he has to tell someone. 

“Some people call me a ‘dandy’’, because of the way I dress, and the quality of my products.”  He lifted his hand up to give her a better look at his finally tailored suit, and shoes.

“Unfortunately this morning there was a disagreement with a partner, and it is best if I leave town."

“What do you do?” He said.

“I have tech skills too. I believe if people see what is really going on in the world on video, they will rise up and rebel! They just need some encouragement-” Eddie can see the passion in her eyes.

“I do too!”  Eddie said.

“You want people to rebel?” She said, her whole face lit up.

“No, I make videos.” He smiled, excited to talk about his passion. I am going to be a movie director,  someday.” 

He pulled out his phone and typed on the screen. “Just this morning

I was filming a video Downtown, until-.” Eddie stopped, he could not talk about that.

“Want to see? I put some of the raw footage on my phone.” 

He held his phone sideways, pushing the play button. The video was of a man dancing in empty streets.   “It will look better after I edit it up a bit.”

He saw a person in the background, an orange blur, tossing small bags and wearing a mask.

“Wait, that is the Gentleman Thief! I got him on video! I can sell this!” Eddie paused the screen, and zoomed in. 

The person was throwing a stack of bills, pulling them from a striped orange backpack. 

“Police!” a shout came from outside the platform, the commotion drew their attention. “Police! Move out of the way!”  

Eddie’s whole body vibrated with fear. They caught up to him!  Did the Uber driver talk?  

“Um let’s go this way” He pulled her hand and they moved further down away from the entrance to the platform. 

The transit sign flashed in big letters, San Francisco, 4 Minutes.

“Maybe we can go to SF today. There is a lot to see.” He looked around nervously, time slowed down. He noticed for the first time she was nervous too, she glanced up at the sign, and then pulled him into a back corner.

Anxious,  he swung his briefcase.  Too close to the wall on the backswing, it hit the cement wall behind him, and fell from his hand. 

As Eddie watched in slow motion, all the secrets of his life spilled out. Several small bags of pills, a gun and stacks of green bills crashed to the ground,  the harsh sounds echoed off the hard walls

For a moment, time stood still. Then before he could react, Gennifer leaned down, efficiently picked up the spilled contents and put them back into the briefcase. She handed it to him.

“ I can explain!” Eddie said, in shock.  I used to be in that world, but I quit, no more dealing! Today I had to defend myself, and I didn’t mean to shoot him!” Eddie’s lips quivered, making his case for innocence. “That asshole tried to rob me.  But, I think those cops are here for me-”  All the color drained from his face. 

Several police ran onto the platform.    

“Everyone please stay where you are, we are looking for a person of interest.” They shouted.

Gennifer turned quickly, her bag a blur of orange as she moved behind a pillar. Reminding him of the video.  From a computer screen anyone could be a gentleman.  

“Genn, who are you?” Genn, “What kind of -tech- are you in?” 

Eddie’s eyes wide, he looked at her orange bag.

 “The video, from this morning, was that you?”

 Gennifer turned, her eyes glints of steel.  “I need to get out of here too.” The soft voice was gone, now her words carried a weight of authority. 

She pointed to the sign, above them. San Francisco, 1 Minute.

 “I need to get on that train."

The police shouting agitated the waiting passengers, the crowd moved away from the uniformed officers toward them.  

The train approached the station, the whoosh of the train’s brakes getting louder.  “We can make it!”  Eddie pulls Gennifer toward the edge of the platform. “If we get on quickly, we can get lost in the passengers!” 

He looked at this woman he just met who has made such an impact on him. The train station is a good scene for a Rom-Com! The beginning, the 'meet-cute', where the couple find each other before they start a life together.  Two outlaws making their way in the world.  Eddie looked up to see the police, they were distracted, ignoring them.  The train to San Francisco was almost there.

“We can make it!” he shouted and then looked down at Gennifer, with a smile of certain success. 

“Sorry Eddie, you saw too much.  And I need a distraction.” 

Eddie felt her hands  in his back,  stronger than he could have believed. Off balance he stepped to catch himself, but there was only empty space in front of the train.  Not understanding, he reached out to Gennifer, but her eyes offered only pity before she turned away.  He was too shocked to be mad.  

The last thing he saw was the orange striped backpack.

September 23, 2022 21:45

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6 comments

Michał Przywara
20:42 Sep 29, 2022

An enjoyable (mis) adventure. The way you set it up, I assumed Eddie was the Gentleman Thief, so the twist with it being Gennifer was neat. Then of course the setup changes, to two fugitives who get on well, going on an adventure and maybe starting a life together, which of course makes the second twist at the end all the better. Eddie's a small fry, naïve. Gennifer is an international outlaw and pragmatic. And more than that, she's an idealist. She wants people to rebel. While she might have regretted what had to happen, she definitely ...

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Marty B
19:30 Sep 30, 2022

Thanks for the review. I appreciate you seeing the connection to video, I didnt exactly think about it as truth, but it fits!

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Glenn Whitlock
01:23 Sep 29, 2022

Great story! I loved the twist at the end. Definitely didn’t see it going that way.

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Marty B
06:01 Sep 29, 2022

Thanks Glenn!

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21:44 Sep 28, 2022

What happened? I wanna know what happens next. It’s really good. It gave me like a superhero vibe. It’s a good start to an interesting story.

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Marty B
06:02 Sep 29, 2022

Superhero vibe?! Love it!

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