Friday, May 17, 2013

The Crossing Guard

Author's note: this is the story I promised to write in the my blog post about never running out of ideas.

Image by SchuminWeb via Wikimedia Commons

After all the times that Gunther had been stabbed, shot at, and bombed by IEDs it seemed unfair that he should be killed by a seventeen-year-old girl in his own neighborhood. He supposed he shouldn't complain too much though, at least it was a bright sunny day. Or was that just the light at the end of the tunnel? At least it wasn't raining. 


 A Dodge Dart slipped around a stopped school bus with its flashers on, traffic stopped on both sides. Gunther recognized the driver, Faith, as she just cruised past without even tapping the brakes. Somehow the luck of the stupid held, and no children were hurt, but it was only a matter of time. He grabbed his phone to call the police.

"She's doing it again," he said to the dispatcher."Faith Brom, license plate 321 – HTY, just passed a school bus with its flashers on. You need to send someone to write her a ticket. Better yet, throw her in jail."

“I'm sorry Mister Hader,” the man said, “but we can't take it on your just your say-so that this happened."

"All right then, send someone in a squad car down to the bus stop by 7:15 tomorrow morning," Gunther said.

"Sir, I'll bring it up with the Sergeant, but the department is really spread quite thin right now. I'm not certain if we can spare the manpower during morning drive time."

"Will you be able to spare the manpower when there's a dead child in the road?"

"Sir, I appreciate your concern, I really do, but we can only be in so many places at once. Perhaps the bus driver could corroborate your story, that might help raise your concern to higher priority."

“A higher priority?” He let out a bitter laugh. “Right. Bye."

There's never a cop around when you need one. He laughed to himself. Not even when you can deliver a criminal tied with a neat bow. It was getting near the end of the month, surely someone needed to pad their quota. A buddy had told him there were no such things as quotas in the police department and Gunther hadn't believed him at the time. Now he wasn't so sure. Fine, he'd just have to fix this himself.

He called up the bus company, and asked for the name of the driver on his route, describing Faith and her Dart, along with the number of the bus she passed each morning. He was told that as a matter of policy the bus company would not give out the names of drivers, but they would relay the his message to the driver and that they were also very concerned about motorists who disobey the laws. The voice on the phone also assured him that their drivers each had a radio and could report any vehicle that was behaving erratically, which would then be passed on to the local police. The voice assured Gunther that the young woman's behavior had most likely already been properly reported.

"Why haven't the police done anything?" he asked.

The voice of the bus company didn't know, but didn't claim to know the inner workings of the police department either. Gunther hung up the phone and sighed. He would have to take this up with a higher authority.


 Gunther's stomach churned as he walked down the sidewalk. It felt like hidden eyes were watching him. There probably were. His Realtor called the neighborhood “close-knit,” which Gunther later learned was code for two-faced gossiping busy-bodies. Funny that the same people who would squawk to the head of the home owner's association if you parked an RV in your driveway overnight hadn't seen fit to nip the bus problem at the source. Gunther didn't like giving orders, but the situation clearly called for it. People would notice, people would talk. He didn't care.

 He squared his shoulders as he saw the house and steeled himself as he walked to the front door. A woman in her 40s with rich curly hair and tired eyes answered.

"Are you Faith's mother?" he asked.

"Yes." The woman just stared at him like a robot.

"Well you should know, and I don't care if you listen to me or not, you should know, that she's passing school buses when they're stopped, lights flashing, kids crossing and everything." He stuck a finger in her face. "And God forbid, if she kills someone, you're the one that'll be held responsible for it."

"Yes?" The woman showed no reaction at all.

"Yes, God dammit yes. Don't you care?"

"Faith hasn't actually hit anyone has she?" the woman said.

Words failed him for a few moments. "But that's not the point. The point is something could happen. Something is going to happen."

"I see. I'll talk to her about it. Thank you." The woman closed the door in his face before he could say another word.

Gunther doubted that anything would be said.

He stewed about it all day long as he sprayed white enamel paint on sheet metal boxes.  Boring work, but a steady paycheck and decent benefits.  During the all-employee meeting on the shop floor, he scribbled little doodles of cars passing buses in the margins of his legal pad as the sales manager was explaining the latest budget numbers. He started sketching his street, adding little boxes with neighbor's names, mailboxes, the bus stops, and the stop sign where everyone turned to get onto the avenue. A thought occurred to him, and he drew a little movie camera, which looked more like a rectangle with mouse ears on it, in front of his house. He added a dashed line right to little rectangle representing the school bus. He drew an even smaller rectangle next to the school bus, and labeled it "caught in the act." He smiled to himself, not really caring that new business was down twenty percent, the company would bounce back

The next morning, he pointed the camera down the street and sat on his porch with a cup of coffee. The sight lines were perfect. At 7:13, the bus rolled past his house and came to a stop half a block down. As if on cue, Faith's Dart turned the corner and roared down the street. Gunther zoomed in on the license plate and back to show the entire car. He had her now. But instead of zipping around the bus as she normally did, Faith sat patiently and waited until the bus lights shut off. She even paused longer than was strictly necessary at the stop sign before she made a picture-perfect left turn. Gunther snorted and tossed the remainder of his coffee into a flower bed.

For the rest of the week, Faith was a model driver. Gunther wondered if she saw him on the porch with his camera, so he took to hiding in the bushes like a duck hunter in a blind. She still obeyed all the traffic laws, though he imagined an engine roaring and tires squealing as soon as she left the neighborhood. Then again, maybe she was cured. Maybe her mother had laid down the law, or perhaps the cops managed to catch her elsewhere. Maybe she had turned over a new leaf.

The next week, Gunther left his camera in the closet. As the bus rolled past and stopped near a group of backpacked children, the Dart rounded the corner and roared down the street, barreling past the stopped bus and blowing through the stop sign as if neither existed. This was no good. Gunther couldn't afford to spend every morning on the front porch making sure that Faith obeyed the law, he was cutting it too fine with punching the time clock before 8:00 already. He was sure she was death-on-wheels and needed to be caught. She needed to be punished.

Gunther bitched  about the girl to anyone who would listen. His do-nothing neighbors nodded their heads and clucked their tongues. He told the stories to the guys in the break room at work often enough that others brought it up on their own.

"Has the girl killed any of the kids yet?" One of them would say.

"No, not yet,” Gunther said, “but it's just a matter of time.”

"I'm surprised no one has run into that girl when she blows through your intersection,” someone said.
"Yeah," Gunther said, pausing, "I'm surprised too."


Gunther went around the block one more time in the minivan, one eye on the road and one eye on the stopwatch taped to the dashboard. The timing would be tricky. His knuckles were white on the minivan's steering wheel, his stomach burned with the morning's coffee and bacon sandwich. The timing would have to be perfect. He would teach Faith a lesson, all right. He hated her youthful arrogance, he decided, almost as much as he hated his minivan. With any luck he would kill two birds with one stone. He winced at the thought. He wasn't going to literally kill anyone, just scare them straight. He would save a child's life, teach a teenager a lesson, and get a new car with the insurance money. That's the way life should work, with good deeds rewarded.

At 7:14, he made the turn back into the neighborhood and approached his street's intersection. Ahead, the school bus come to a stop and put on its flashers. He eased his foot from the accelerator. Within moments, the Dodge Dart came barreling down the street, and Gunther floored it. He would hit the Dart in the front quarter panel where the engine would absorb most of the damage, certainly totaling his vehicle in the process. He would feather the throttle to miss the driver side door, and the gas tank behind the rear panel. Today, Faith would get her comeuppance

As he approached, Faith's head turned and looked at him with narrowed eyes. Had she sped up? Was she racing him? Typical teenager, not only believing she was bulletproof, but also faster than some old dude in a van. He had a V-8 in this thing, dammit. He hated the minivan, hated his ex-wife's smile when he got stuck with it, but at least it had balls.

He stomped on the pedal, gauging where he'd hit the Dart, ready to finesse the brakes if it looked like he would hit her in the driver's door. Faith still stared him down, a look of determination on her face. Damn, but she was a stubborn one!

Then he saw the flicker of motion in the corner of his eye: blue, red, white, mop of hair, camouflage backpack. The kid's eyes fixed onto the bus across the road, legs pumping as if his life depended on it. Gunther hit the brakes, but the van lurched forward instead. His foot hadn't moved from the accelerator. He moved over to the brake, already knowing he was too late. He swerved to the left, leaving tires squealing. The kid stopped and looked at Gunther with eyes as big as hubcaps. The dumb little shit, who would have been safe if he had kept moving, was now dead-center in the swerving minivan's path.

Gunther had enough time to feel his heart seize up in anticipation of the impact when he was thrown to the side. His head whipped to the side then down, into a white balloon where the steering wheel used to be. His ears rang, and something smacked him between the eyes. When he looked up, he was stopped, facing the school bus head-on. Outside his window, the kid still stood, rooted. Gunther reached for the door handle.

The good news was that the minivan wasn't going anywhere, wrapped around Faith's Dart as it was. The girl was screaming at him as she wrestled with her door, which seemed jammed. He distinctly heard idiot, dumb fuck, and sociopathic sonofvabitch. He turned and watched as the boy in the crosswalk made his way onto the bus. He rubbed his left arm, which had gone all tingly. The kid kept staring at him as he got on. The bus driver said something to the kid and  he nodded before heading back to take a seat. The driver turned around, and Gunther recognized  Faith's mom. The woman had the same emotionless expression as before.

Faith escaped from her car through the passenger window. She strode up to him brandishing an ice scraper, which was strange, considering it was May. Though it seemed unseasonably hot, come to think of it. He was sweating like it was  the middle of August.

“What the hell do you think you were doing, you dumb son of a bitch?” she called out.

Gunther wanted to speak, but his mouth wasn't working. That was odd. He shook his head.

“Do you know how lucky you are that I was able to stop you before you killed someone?”

Life was not fair. At least he didn't think so, as the ground seemed to lurch  beneath him. He braced for the fall, but his arms wouldn't respond. He didn't remember falling, but he must have hit the pavement hard; his head ached. His breakfast wasn't sitting well either, he had the worst heartburn. What a rotten day. At least it was sunny.

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