A short story for you...
August 08, 2007
I just wrote this short story on the laptop and I feel like sharing. It's rough because it's only a first (though probably final, now that I'm sharing it in a public venue) draft. The story does shine through, though. This isn't like my usual stuff, which tends to have more dialogue than this, but dialogue mostly wasn't right for this story. Anyway, I'd love to hear comments if you read it.
By Jason Venter
James handed the driver his fare then stumbled toward the back of the bus and took his place three seats up, just in front of a young boy who had fallen asleep hunched over a canvas backpack. Tired, James didn't pay much heed to anyone until it was too late and he was leaning against the window with his breath fogging the pane of glass. Then he heard the click.
His pulse started racing and he forced himself to keep his breathing even. He would recognize that sound anywhere. He couldn't remember the make of the gun, but such facts hardly mattered. With seats this thin and in this lighting, his assassin could squeeze off a shot or two, kill him dead, then escape through the emergency door on the back of the bus with no one able to give the authorities a description.
Not that it mattered. He knew his luck with the police. Half the ones in this wretched city wanted him dead. He was a murderer, the evening news said. Three dead and no end to his rampage, it said.
He shifted slightly, as much as he dared, and felt in his pocket for the handle of his pistol. Cold metal brushed against him, reassuring. If he could reach the weapon, he could be okay. He could survive the ride. Only he was pinned against the side, his own stupid mistake. If he shifted too much, it might bring about the shots sooner. For now, his assassin seemed content to watch. He had to keep it that way.
The doors at the front of the bus closed with creaks of protest and the sharp hiss of air told him that the bus was about to move even before it did. Then the vehicle was rolling forward, slowly at first as the driver cranked its too-large handle, then faster as it started out of the parking lot and the diner rolled slowly by.
He thought about trying to reason with his assassin for a second. He couldn't be sure that a slight turn of his head wouldn't be his undoing, though, and he wasn't about to start talking and attract the attention of an innocent bystander. Instead, he let his hand edge its way deeper into his pocket, until his first finger touched the back side of the trigger. A smile crept across his face as he thought about their possible reaction if he ended it all right here, if he lifted the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger before someone could kill him. There'd be no bounty, then. His hunter would go home empty-handed and disappointed, just as he should.
It almost would have been worth it, but James hadn't come this far through lack of will. He knew there was a way out of this. He could taste it in the air, smell the fear the other passengers felt without realizing it. How many of them were decoys? He wondered that, wondered how many were placed here just to lull him into a false sense of security. The master touch was the boy, of course. The child was the last person he would have expected to them to throw in his path, so of course he was the first one they had.
“I'm alone,” he whispered, only it didn't sound loud enough to him. He couldn't even make out his own words, so surely the assassin had the same problem.
He cleared his throat but didn't say anything for a second more, just gave his voice a chance to rest.
In the seat ahead of him, a woman shifted slightly and retrieved a magazine from her knapsack. She looked up as she did so and her eyes met his. She looked away quickly.
That had been too quick, James thought. She didn't seem comfortable looking in his face and he knew the reason. So she was in on this, was she? That made two, and he knew from the past there would be a third somewhere on the bus. Where, though? The driver didn't make sense. Someone had to keep the bus moving and these people didn't mind throwing harmless innocents in his way. They knew he'd hesitate to kill them. They knew that gave them an edge.
The woman and the boy, the woman and the boy. Mentally, he kept repeating that in his head. He still hadn't given up on reaching the pistol, either. He could feel the trigger cradled in his first finger now. A slight distraction was all it would take now. He could roll out of his seat, turn and fire. The boy would go down and maybe a quick kick could knock the gun out of the woman's hand, if she'd even had time to grab it by that point. Or maybe he'd break her neck. She looked heavyset, but he thought her neck couldn't be all that different from anyone else's. A quick turn and she would go down without a fight.
There was just the third assassin to worry about, but whom? He wished he'd paid more attention when boarding the bus now. He could have spotted the third, taken action right then and there with his hands free when they weren't expecting it. That was always their mistake: they didn't expect it.
He thought back to the three on the news, the 'innocent victims,' as the news anchor said. She was just reading what they wrote for her so he couldn't blame her for that. Plus, she had a pretty face. But she had said there were three innocent victims and he knew they weren't. They'd trailed him along three streets, he in his borrowed car and them in their station wagon packed full of camping gear. It was another decoy, another perfect decoy.
The bus rounded another corner now, sharper than it should have, and James bumped softly against the window. The movement jarred him, brought his thoughts whirling back to the present. He'd missed a chance there. He'd let regrets cloud his judgment, just for a second, and that was one wasted chance to act. Would they even give him another? He couldn't be sure. Why had they even let him make it this far?
Now the bus was gaining elevation, working its way along rough roads that skirted the foothills. James smiled wryly. Why had he ever thought he could make Canada with no one noticing? They must have at least another 50 people combing the borders for him. There were only so many roads to watch and he was in a hurry. They'd known he would take a bus or a small plane.
“I'm alone,” he said again, more to break the silence than anything.
The old man in the seat in front of him looked back over his shoulder, feigning surprise, then turned toward the front of the bus again without saying a word.
That didn't make sense, James thought. Any rational person would ask questions, wouldn't he? They might ask maybe how his wife was, or why it was that he was alone, or if he wanted some company maybe. Those responses made sense. They were human. This wasn't, and just like that he knew the identity of the third assassin.
They had ringed him in quite nicely. The woman with her magazine probably had a gun hidden there, so if he moved fast but not quickly enough, she would have him before he even rose from the seat. The boy behind him might take a little longer but he could fire a shot pretty easy and that wouldn't miss, not at this range. That didn't factor in the old man, who could have the muzzle of his gun pressed against the seat right now. The assassins were a triangle around him and James was the base, incapable of escaping.
He felt a bead of sweat form on his forehead, then run down his cheek. It itched and he wanted to brush it away, but they might take that for aggression. He couldn't let them mistake anything. He couldn't act until he was ready to go all the way, to jump from his seat in a rush and take out the threats in the order he determined. First the boy would go, then the woman, then the old man.
His choices were made clinically, and he told himself that in his younger days he might have cared but now he couldn't afford to. The mission had to go through. He had to do this and he couldn't stop to regret the cost, the loss of life. These were hardened killers and they'd have to sleep in the beds they made themselves. Tonight, someone would die.
The bus rounded the next curve too fast and the driver turned the wheel to correct it. James saw it all in slow motion. Then he was rolling out of his seat and the gun was coming up out of his pocket and people were looking at him as he lurched to the side and flame flashed from the muzzle. Shots. Screams. The bus crashed against the side of the road, metal scraping against rock and soil, people tumbling from seats and more screams. When the dust cleared, James was alone again.