Don't Be A Hero
“Keep your fucking cool and everything will be all right! Fuck around and find out!” The Man shouted as he pistol whipped the bus driver across the face. He grabbed the driver by the collar and yanked him from the seat, shoving him to the floor. “Move your ass.” The Man kicked out. “Back!” he barked. “Back! Back!” Another kick.
The bus driver, blood flowing from his cheek to coat the floor, was trying ineffectively to crawl to safety. The Man turned his focus to the passengers. Five. Driver makes six.
”Hands up assholes!” he ordered. All hands went up. The driver, having quit his pathetic getaway laid his hands flat on the floor.
A scream of agony.
“I said hands UP!” The Man shouted to the driver, who was the owner of a new hole in the leg.
The driver rolled flat onto his back and slowly crept his hands toward the graffitied ceiling.
“Empty your pockets.” The Man ordered the bus driver. “Hurry!”
The driver first emptied his right pocket, then his left. He placed the contents on a nearby seat. A small wad of cash, a cell phone, half a pack of chewing gum.
“Your watch and rings too.” The Man said. The driver obeyed. “Now get to the back and keep your hands up. Don’t test me.”
As the driver crawled on his belly toward the back of the bus, The Man focused his attention on the next closest person. A young man in his early 20s. He looked scared shitless.
The Man grinned.
Bobby knew The Man was talking to him. He knew he wasn’t messing around either. That didn’t seem to matter to his legs though, as they shook but wouldn’t work toward standing.
Somehow, he got to his feet.
The Man moved in closer. “Empty your pockets.” He pointed the gun directly at Bobby’s face.
He had a choice to make. If he did as he was directed, he would be out his entire paycheck, which he just cashed before heading home. If he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t make it home. Why didn’t I hide this cash in my shoe? he scorned himself.
He shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Slow, mother fucker.” The Man snapped.
Bobby knew he wasn’t messing around. He knew help wasn’t coming either. The other passengers were near the middle and back of the bus. He was only a few rows from the front. The bus itself had one of those full movie advertisement decals so you couldn’t see in the windows. Slowly, he pulled his phone from his left pocket and placed it on the seat in front of him. Then he removed his wallet, and all $676 to his name, from his right pocket and placed it next to his phone. Then he put his hands back in the air.
“That everything?” The Man asked.
“Everything worth taking.” Bobby replied.
“Get to the back.” The Man motioned with his gun hand. Bobby followed his instruction. As he turned to move to the back, The Man bent to scoop up the loot. Bobby felt The Man drop his guard and acted.
He pulled his shoulder back and formed a fist with his left hand. He turned his hips slightly to gain better footing and swung with all his might. He could feel the lightning quick propulsion of his arm lead his fist...
...into thin air.
His punch was awkward and slow, and The Man easily dodged it.
As he stumbled forward from the momentum of the strike, he heard The Man call him a “stupid mother fucker”. He felt the gun press to the back of his head. He wondered if he’d...
I’m still alive! He thought. How?
He was certain he tried and failed at sucker punching The Man. The warmth of the recently fired gun barrel against his head still lingered. Yet here he was, alive and unharmed. He didn’t have time to question what happened though, as the man lifted the gun to his face.
“I said stand up and that will be the last time I repeat myself.” The Man said.
Bobby was scared but he stood up. The way The Man shot the driver for not following directions told him much of the situation. He knew The Man had done this before. He was scary and aggressive, but calm. He knew he was out his whole paycheck. He “played out” trying to defend himself and that did not turn out well.
“Empty your pockets.” The Man demanded.
Bobby knew it was pointless to do otherwise. He slowly reached into his left pocket and pulled out his phone, placing it on the seat in front of him. He pulled his wallet from his right pocket with the same snail speed, placing it next to his phone. He placed his hands back in the air.
“That everything?” The Man asked.
“Everything worth taking.” Bobby replied.
The Man used his gun hand to motion Bobby to move. “Get to the back.” He didn’t move an inch as Bobby followed his instruction.
He took note of his fellow passengers as he made his way back. A young mother with a toddler sat four rows behind him, right in the middle. She was visibly terrified. Her son was frightened, but more from his mother’s demeanor than the robbery itself. The absurdity of the 4-year-old with his hands raised high hurt Bobby’s heart but what could he do.
19 years from now, the little boy would learn what true fear was. In fact, over the next 19 years, the young man will experience more death and violence than anyone could ever imagine. There are people in the world that attract such things like magnets. Their stories are full of sorrow and pain yet must be told too, for they remind us of why we should be afraid of the dark. Today, however, Eddie Chambers is just a minor character in someone else’s story.
A few rows behind, a man in his late 30s sat with his hands up. He wore the work shirt and hat of some HVAC company. A patch stitched to his chest announced him as Howie. Something about the look in Howie’s eyes sunk a rock in Bobby’s stomach. That look bespoke defiance.
The final passenger, another man in his late 30s, crouched tending to the injured driver. He had 2 bags of groceries seated on the back row. Bobby expected to see blood, but the pool that took up much of the back bus floor was more than he imagined. He stopped short of the driver's feet, not wanting to step in the blood.
“I think he’s bleeding out. Do you have a belt?” the Grocery Guy asked Bobby.
“Leave him alone. He didn’t follow my instructions. I said fuck around and find out.” The Man said as he pointed his gun in the general direction of the three. “You two, keep your hands up. I said I won’t repeat myself.”
As the two men did as they were bidden, The Man walked up to the mother and son. “Everything of value in there?” he asked, pointing to the purse on her lap.
She nodded yes.
“You can guess what will happen if I find out you’re lying to me, yes?” he asked her.
She nodded yes.
He stared at her silently for one second. Two seconds. Ten seconds.
“Take off your jewelry and put them in the bag, then put the bag in the seat in front of you.”
She did exactly that. All the while, her son kept his hands in the air. When she had finished moving her bag, she brought her hands back up as well.
“Get to the back and keep the hands up.” he ordered them. He took Bobby and the drivers’ belongings, which were piled on a seat near the front now and placed them in the woman’s purse.
He turned his attention toward Howie.
“Stand.” he said.
To Bobby’s surprise, Howie stood immediately. The Man had his right arm extended with the gun about a foot from the face of Howie. He left little room for defiance.
“Empty your pockets slowly. Wallet and phone. Now!” he said.
Howie reached into his pocket and produced his cell phone. He went to place it on the seat and instead...
Bobby watched as Howie faked placing his phone on the seat and instead tossed it toward The Man.
The Man, caught off guard, instinctively moved his arms to catch the device heading toward his face. Howie seized the opportunity to make a grab for the gun.
Bobby himself had taken notice of the grocery bags on the back row, a can of chili which sat on top in particular. He grabbed the can. Howie and The Man were wrestling for control of the gun, pushing each other back and forth. He took aim and launched the can as hard as he could.
The can shot across the seats right at the back of Howie’s head, knocking him senseless. The Man was easily able to push the woozy man away and regain control of the gun which he promptly used to put a bullet between Howie’s eyes.
Bobby hardly heard the cries from the other passengers. He had locked eyes with The Man, who was walking right toward him. “Fucking dumbass.” he said as he lifted the gun.
Bobby saw the flash before he heard the bang.
Bobby watched as Howie produced his phone from his pocket and placed it on the seat. Howie then reached into his back pocket and produced his wallet. He placed that beside his phone.
What the heck? Bobby thought as he watched Howie empty his pockets. Somehow the last 10 seconds of his life, for a second time, had reset. Even Howie’s actions changed. The entire situation was overwhelming. He told himself to stay calm. Whatever was happening, he was still alive.
He did keep hope for a chance to take The Man down. He wanted his money if he could get it back.
It wasn’t that he needed what was being stolen. He had to pay $250 for rent, but to his mom. His phone bill was $50. The rest was just for social spending and the phone could be replaced. Still, it stung him to just give up so easily. He was hoping for an opening to show itself. Itching for it.
Below him, the driver had either lost consciousness or bled out. The mother and son stood like statues reaching for the heavens. Grocery Guy looked as calm as The Man and Bobby mentally sneered in envy of the man's controlled emotions.
“Wipe that look from your face, partner.” The Man said to Howie, pulling Bobby’s attention back. “This is the world, brother. I’m just taking things, don’t make me take your life.”
Bobby couldn’t see Howie’s face, but he could guess that defiant look was more pronounced.
“I want that necklace you thought wasn’t showing too.” The Man said to Howie.
Howie remained still for 3 seconds before grabbing the necklace, a slim gold chain with a small gold cross, and removing it over his head. He then placed it alongside his phone and wallet.
The Man smiled maliciously at Howie. “Get to the back.”
Three and a half minutes ago, Bobby was on his way home, ready to grub and party. His pockets were full, and he had the next day off. Three and a half minutes ago, everyone on the bus was unharmed. The idea of being killed on this bus the farthest thing on their minds. Three and a half minutes ago, everything was okay.
He had also died, twice incredibly, in the last three and a half minutes.
There was only one passenger remaining and then it would be over. Would he get a chance to foil the robbery and get his belongings back? What would happen if he failed again? They say third time’s the charm, but would he risk his life again having failed so poorly twice?
The Man made his way to the back and looked at Grocery Guy. “Step forward.” All the passengers had lined up along the back row, save the bus driver, who lay in the aisle. Grocery Guy stepped forward two steps.
“Phone, wallet, watch. Slowly.” The Man demanded. Bobby barely heard him. His attention was drawn to the gun tucked in the back waistband of Grocery Guy’s jeans. It wouldn’t be noticed that he was carrying if his hands were not raised in the air, allowing his jacket to come up a bit.
Grocery Guy slowly reached into his left pocket and pulled out his phone. He placed it on an empty seat. He brought his right hand toward his back.
Grocery Guy would pretend to grab his wallet and pull out the gun instead, Bobby thought to himself. By the time The Man would realize what was happening, Grocery Guy would be able to put a few in him. The Man looked too relaxed to Bobby now. Grocery Guy could get the drop on him. He felt it!
He had a new hope he would get his money back. The Man getting what he deserved would be a bonus. He thought things might turn out okay after all.
However, Grocery Guy didn’t go for his gun. Slowly, he pulled his wallet from his back pocket and placed it next to his phone.
Bobby felt deflated. Then he felt anger. Anger at Grocery Guy for being a fucking coward. Anger at The Man that he was going to walk away with a big score. Anger at himself for giving in. The reasons didn’t matter, though. Now that the anger had surfaced, he couldn’t ignore it.
He was trembling again, but not from fear. Every nerve was on high alert. Every muscle was poised to strike. His focus was next level, and it was aimed at The Man.
As Grocery Guy used his left hand to undo the band of his watch, Bobby found his chance. The Man had moved his gaze to Grocery Guy’s belongings. “That phone ain’t worth shit.” he growled while pointing his gun hand at a phone with a screen cracked in 20 places.
Before he fully realized what was happening, Bobby’s hand shot out for Grocery Guy’s gun. He wasn’t aware of the battle cry he shouted as he did.
“RRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH” Bobby yelled.
Bobby grabbed the gun handle and yanked it from Grocery Guys pants. It came free with ease, which he was grateful for. He used his free arm to push Grocery Guy to the side.
The Man was so startled by Bobby’s scream that he crouched slightly and brought his arms up as if to defend from an airborne attack.
Grocery guy cried out. “No! Don’t!”
Bobby had lined the barrel of the gun to The Man’s head.
As his finger wrapped around the trigger, Bobby felt a surge of pride swell within him. Seeing the big, terrified eyes of The Man as fate fell upon him was a pleasure beyond words. It was over. He was a hero!
He pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. He pulled the trigger again. Again, nothing happened.
The Man, registering he was still alive, had already regained his senses. He stood.
Bobby’s head was a jumble, but one word kept repeating. Safety. Safety. Safety.
He now understood why Grocery Guy didn’t bother. The gun’s safety was on. There probably wasn’t even a round in the chamber.
“Bad move, mother fucker.” The Man said as he leveled the gun to Bobby’s forehead.
As Bobby stared into the black hole of death that was the gun barrel, he could feel the young mother move to shield her son’s eyes. He sensed Howie squeezing his eyes shut. He could see Grocery Guy turn his head away out the corner of his eye. The world smelled metallic from the bus driver’s blood and the air was still.
He closed his eyes and cursed himself for not thinking this through.
DING! The sound of the stop request brought Bobby out of his daydream.
Was it a daydream? He questioned. Everything felt so real.
He took in his surroundings. The bus was relatively empty. There was the young mother with her four-year-old boy a few rows behind him. A few rows beyond that sat working-class Howie wearing his HVAC uniform. All the way in the back row was Grocery Guy, two grocery bags by his side.
It must've been a dream since he was alive and there were no present dangers on the bus. Wildly vivid, but a dream none the less.
The craziest part was him trying to be some kind of hero. He had never been in a situation that required bravery. He had not even been in a fight since middle school. If that dream had been a reality, he doubted he’d make any attempt at stopping The Man at all.
As realistic as it seemed to be, it had to have been a dream. He hoped he could believe that lie at some point, though it wouldn’t be today. He did take it as an omen and decided to take early action.
He casually dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He removed all but $25 before replacing it in his pocket. He squashed the wad of big bills and leaned forward, tucking the paper between the sock and insole of his left shoe.
Feeling better about his cash, he leaned back and looked forward as the bus came to a halt.
He could see in his peripheral that the young mother and her son were about to disembark.
The door opened and The Man stepped on the bus.