Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The doors of the bus swung open with a nasty creak. Harry was used to it. He endured the sound six days a week, eight hours a day for what seemed like an eternity to him. His eyes darted constantly to the little calendar in the corner of the window, dimly illuminated by the street lights outside. It showed a picture of the image many people his age held in their heads: a luxury cottage on a Spanish beach. The difference between Harry and most of these people was that he had actually managed to obtain one, in fact, the very one he was now admiring. “Five more days.”, he thought to himself. Yes, five more and he would be a free man, liberated from bus number 6V. People asked him if he would miss it, but he always shrugged and shook his head. With the promise of a retirement in the Spanish sun he doubted he would miss anything about this city. His wife would come with him, his kids were long gone, scattered in all directions of the wind. And friends, well, he could always make new ones, right? No more grime, no more crime, no more sirens twenty-four hours a day. It was a change Harry had cherished for countless years. In his eyes, all decency had left this city long ago. Time he went chasing after it.
His eyes darted lazily to the passenger coming in, then he nodded. It was always the same. A senior citizen with a senior pass. Harry couldn’t remember the last time a person below sixty had traveled with him. It made the bus’ number, 6V, all the more appropriate. His superior had not even slightly bothered to make a secret of that, hell, it was his own invention. The passengers didn’t have more energy left in them than a six volt battery, so when some lines had to be renamed, this one had been the choice for Harry’s regular. Mister Boss, after years and years of telling about it, still had loads of success with this little inside joke at company parties. Let him have it, Harry always thought. At least his passengers never gave him any more trouble than showing an expired pass.
As always, he waited patiently for the passenger to find a seat. The mirror he used to check this showed a passenger section that was only partially filled, which was not strange. It was the last run of the day, after all. Harry saw some familiar faces and smiled to himself. Quite a few of the elders who rode on his bus had never spoken to him, yet he knew all about them. He didn’t eavesdrop on purpose, but some conversations simply carried all the way to the front. Sitting in the back of the bus was Jamie ‘Two Punch’ McNeill, a tiny, scrawny man who used to be a boxer. Presumably he scored quite high in the local leagues in his day, a statement that Harry found hard to believe when looking at him. A few seats more to the front sat Misses Marian, looking as well cared for as ever. She had been a beauty specialist in her day and it still showed. Harry could only speculate, but he was sure her little purse contained enough cosmetics to allow her to live through an ice age and still look spotless. Finally there was Bill Newman, the dark-skinned giant who had just entered the bus. The only peculiar thing about him was that he had a compulsive urge to always sit on the same seat. Left side, row three, window seat. If it was already taken, which sometimes happened, he would simply stand still right next to it and stare at the person sitting there. That’s all he did and each and every time it was enough. The person, feeling quite intimidated by his size, would get up and sit somewhere else. Bill would then take the seat, his expression as meaningless as ever. Harry didn’t mind, as long as there was no violence involved in the act. There never had been.
Bill seated, he proceeded to shut the doors. Again the creaking pierced the bus, but before it finished a young, tattooed hand interfered. Harry could just make out the inked grinning skull on it when the door was flung open and another hand pointed a nasty-looking gun in his face. “Drive!” was shouted at him in a slightly muffled way. A look from the corner of his eyes showed a youngster with a dark blue scarf wrapped around his head. His eyes were full of rage, but Harry scouted something else in there as well. Excitement, which was obvious, but it was mixed with fear. This was no veteran yet. His heart slowed down a notch and his training for these kinds of situations set in. Keep your eyes on the road and listen to the instructions given to you. Don’t try to be a hero. It will be over before you know it and then you’ll be on your way to Spain.
The gangster’s colleague ran in right after and urged everyone to the back of the bus in a series of frustrated screams. Bill needed a bit more persuasion, but after some jerking on his arm he seemingly decided to follow suit. Harry noticed in the rearview mirror that the giant’s eyes never left that seat on row three. Also his expression didn’t change. But he listened and that was good.
Harry hit the gas pedal. Take a left. Second right. Sure, no problem. Keep going straight? You got it, boss. This went on for five minutes. It was not too different from a routine run, he thought. His eyes kept darting to the black giant standing in the back of the bus, however. He didn’t like the way the man kept eyeing his seat. “Watch out, man!” was shouted to his right and he hit the brake just in time. That’s when it happened. Bill, propelled into motion by this sudden braking, decided he might as well return to left side, row three, window seat. It took the gangster’s colleague a moment to gather his footing and notice this act of disobedience. Inexperience took over. He started shouting again. His eyes left the other passengers for a few seconds. Harry saw Jamie leap to his feet with an almost supernatural agility, especially for his age. The gangster turned around just in time to receive the punch to his right temple, immediately followed by a fierce uppercut that literally sent him flying. What hit the ground was a motionless heap of body. “Two Punch indeed!” Harry heard himself thinking.
The chaos that followed was food for the kind of story Harry’s friends and relatives would never believe until the end of their days. Bill, turning out to have a weak spot for violence, started screaming, a high-pitched sound you would not expect from a man of his size. The skull-tattoo kid was obviously scared to death now. In a wild, confused rage he raised his gun at Bill, but then Marian came darting out from under the giant’s raised arms, purse opened, pepper spray locked and loaded. It hit his eyes before he had a single chance to react and a split second later his screams joined Bill’s. The gun was abandoned, the kid subdued by a few other brave passengers and peace returned to bus 6V. Harry, completely stunned by these happenings, barely managed to maneuver his vehicle to the side of the road. It was over. Over before it had barely begun.
A few hours later, Harry walked out of the bus depot, his head filled with the happenings of the night. The police had told him they had been part of a getaway. Jamie, Marian and, for some reason, Bill would all be awarded with Special Service medals for their heroic actions.