The guy didn't look all kinds of crazy when he boarded my bus; just another glasses-tie-briefcase type.He didn't look me in the eye when I greeted him, but that wasn't unusual. Some guys like that are embarrassed to be seen riding the bus - maybe they got one DUI too many, or their car got repo'd, or something. I don't take it personally anymore. Trust me, I've been driving the 6 Eastmont for 15 years, and baby, I've seen it all. I could tell you stories...
So I make the turn onto McGill, and pull up in front of the senior center. Mrs. Nguyen gets off - just like she always does on Tuesday - and I'm about to take my foot off the brake when he starts walking toward the front of the bus. Not Mr. Too-Good-for-Transit, but another guy, wearing a fedora - you don't see those too often anymore - and a trench coat. Made me think of an old movie. He'd actually replied when I said hello.
Now Fedora Guy's standing next to me, behind the white line.
"Does this bus go to Northshore Hospital?" He's got an accent I don't recognize, but it sounds cool, a little like Carl's. (He's the Jamaican guy who gets on at Glenmont Apartments, gets off at Polk Manufacturing.)
I start to answer, and then it's like I'm hearing his voice in my head. "The passenger with the glasses has a bomb in his briefcase. Do you have some way to contact the police? Just nod if you do."
I nod, and press the panic button. Whether this guy is on the up-and-up or not, something's about to go down on my bus, and I'm going to need help. I don't know how he knows what he knows, but somehow I trust him.
My radio crackles and I hear a dispatcher's voice. "Bus 2513, go ahead."
I give the prearranged code, and the dispatcher - Veronica, I think - confirms, and tells me to stay on my route until further notice.
A message from Dispatch flashes on my screen: "Police coming to McGill & Fordhaven." That's about eight blocks away. Dispatch knows where I am; all buses are equipped with AVLs - Automatic Vehicle Locators. I just have to hold on a little longer. I glance back to my passengers; they're restless. I've sat through one light already.
"Just drive," I hear in my head. "I'll calm him down."
"You can't –" I start before I realize I don't want to alert Bomb Guy that we're onto him. I correct myself “– Um, I mean you can't connect to the 24 McHenry at the hospital." I start through the intersection.
Fedora Guy takes the seat directly behind me. I can't see him now because of the barrier, but I suddenly feel a wave of serenity wash through my mind. I look back at my passengers, and they all seem blissful. For the moment, I have the happiest bus in Middleton.
All except for Fedora Guy. He's clearly concentrating hard; when the bus's annunciator calls out the next stop, McGill and Partridge, he doesn't even blink.
Two more stops, then we'll see the cops. No one pulls the cord and no one's waiting to board, so I keep driving.
The last few blocks are a blur. Almost before I know it, the police are on board and Bomb Guy and his briefcase are in custody.
The wave of calm dissipates, and suddenly I start to shake. An officer guides me off the bus, murmuring something about a relief driver.
I sit down on the bench inside the bus shelter. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Fedora Guy talking with another cop. Lawrence Freeman, who's working the extra board this week, steps into my bus, waving to me as he sits down. I blink at him, then wave back.
My bus pulls away.
Fedora Guy sits next to me on the bench. "Are you all right?" he asks in that curiously flat voice.
"I'm okay." I'm only lying a little bit. I'm safe, my riders are safe, my bus is safe; everything's fine. He looks at me, impassively, and I know he knows I'm still shaken.
He stands up. "Is there someone I should call for you?" He reaches into his pocket.
“That's okay. My superintendent will send a supervisor for me. It's SOP." Gotta love those Standard Operating procedures. Sometimes they even work.
Fedora Guys nods, reaches as if to touch his ear, then pulls his hand away. He turns to leave.
"Wait!" I'd at least like to thank him, and it would be nice to know his name.
He faces me again.
"Thanks. For...what you did. You saved our lives."
A barest hint of a smile crosses his face. "You're welcome, Ms. -" he glances down at my badge - "Thompson."
He quickly steps out of the shelter, clearly not much on conversation.
"What’s your name?" I call after him.
"Jones. John Jones," he answers, and then disappears into the crowd.