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The MTA Is Where The Romance Happens

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It is at 96th Street where a train makes a stop. It is usual in its monotony, for anyone who lives in the city. The way the conductor sticks his head out the window, checking if all it’s clear before closing the doors. The rat that passes by across the platform. The seas of people coming in and out of train cars, up and down stairs. 

Amongst all of the usual ruckus, however, anyone who wasn’t paying attention would’ve missed when a stranger in shaded glasses purposely approaches the train conductor. Who, in his middle age and baldness, is less than a mere background character to the functionality of anyones day. And because no one was paying attention, they miss the gun that is put to the man’s head. How he is made to open the door to the conductor cabin. How he is knocked out before the stranger takes charge and leads the train away from the station.

It is, for everyone else, just another day in New York City.

*

At the Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters, a man frantically looks at monitors as he reaches for his coffee. 

Sure, he knows these five minutes of relative “peace” are his break, but damn it if there isn’t always something going on. The different colored lines, interconnecting and separating, stare back at him. And all the letters, numbers, dots and different colors beeping and blinking would give anyone else a headache. But to Walter, they just mean that there’s another problem with the R. Again.

“Lydia baby, I’m gonna need the R to switch over to the express tracks at 34th”

The woman behind him, all brown skin and honey glazed eyes, gives him a look from where she’s sitting. One eyebrow raised, mouth slightly tilted. The Lydia Look. And sure, Walter loves her, as much as one can love a coworker, but her mama bear instincts can get tiring sometimes. Though if he’s honest, it’s… nice. That someone even thinks of his well being from time to time. He gives in, and gives her a soft smile. “I’ll take a break after this, promise.”

She regards him for a minute, but she relents. “Alright. You better do that. Now, which express tracks?”

“The one the Q uses. Once they exit 57th Street station, they can switch over to the F line. Boom. Straight shot into Queens.”

“Roger that”

*

Walter Garber is… a guy. 

There’s nothing special about him. His boss hates his guts, he spilled coffee on himself this morning, and he knows that he’ll die doing the same.

Because some people, some people aren’t meant to do great things. 

Some people are just there.

Walter is there.

And he does what he has to do. He does his job— over does it, most of the time. But he does something, even if he does it to forget about everything else. At least he’s useful at that.

So Walter doesn’t take his break, and he ignores Lydia’s worried looks.

He ignores Robert’s jabs.

His boss’ insinuations.

He ignores his own empty smiles.

And he looks at the monitors. Always the monitors.

And 123 isn’t moving. 

“Who’s driving Pelham 123?” He asks at no one in particular, looking at the unmoving, red rectangle on the 6th line.

Something must’ve fallen on the tracks.

Everyone around him is too busy doing their job to give him an answer. “Lydia? Who’s driving 123?”

The woman takes the phone. “Give me a minute.”

This kind of thing is normal. Delays, they’re what make the MTA what it is— slow and, in most people’s opinion, useless in its tardiness. So Walter isn’t too worried. He directs his attention to the other trains, the R has been given them trouble—

A message pops up on the screen.

Pelham 123 Car: 1-2 Coupling: UNCOUPLED/ DISCONNETED

And that’s not normal.

“42nd Street tower, I got a train wrong railing on the southbound Lexington Avenue just north of you,” Walter communicates over the mic, mostly acting on instinct. He doesn’t know what this all means. Nothing like it ever happened in the time he’s been working here. But he’s good at what he does. And he knows what to do.

Over the PA system he says, “Listen up, we need to stop and stay in-station. All southbound locals just north of the 51st Street station.”

His voice booms inside the unit, all eyes turn to him. Lydia speaks up. “The operator on 123 is Jerry Pollard.”

Jerry Pollard. Walter knows Jerry Pollard. Double chin, eyes slightly too far away from each other. He went to motorman school with him.

And that, as opposed to the novelty of the situation, is what gets him actually mildly interested into what is happening.

“Pelham 123, come in to me, Pelham 123”

No answer.

“Pelham 123, Jerry Pollard, what’s going on down there? This is Control Center. What’s going on, 123?”

When no answer comes, he turns to Robert. “Let’s get an express train to pull alongside them and see what we see in the cab.”

Robert follows his instructions.

Still no answer.

“Maestro, what’s going on?” Asks someone behind him, and honestly, 

Walter has no idea.

* 

Great, he thinks, as he looks down at body laying on the floor. 

Now he has to speed shit up.

Bashkim and his trigger happy fucking fingers.

“Come on! Everybody up! By the window! Come on, up, up, up!” He fires several shots up to punctuate his point, and all the passenger in the train car start screaming. 

Fair enough. No one wants to end up like undercover cop over there.

He leaves the passengers nice and orderly before going back to the conductor’s cabin.

“Just, don’t fucking kill anyone else,” he hisses towards the dumb, incompetent piece of shit with a gun in his hand. He leaves Bashkim at the back with the passengers and goes in to sit next to the train conductor.

The guy is a shaking mess.

“Relax, big boy, shit’s just getting started”

He pats the ‘I ate one too many donuts and now I can’t see my dick when I pee’ guy on the shoulder before sitting down on the conductor’s seat. He reaches under it to get the laptop he left earlier to deal with Bashkim’s bullshit, just as it finishes connecting to the internet.

And would you look at that, shit’s actually going his way for a change.

*

“Pelham 123 to Rail Control Center do you read me”

The voice that comes over the radio is as relieving as it is unfamiliar.

That’s not Jerry.

He presses the blue button and leans over the microphone. “Yes, I read you Pelham 123, this is Control Center. Who is this?”

A laugh, casual. Laid back. “It’s me, man! I didn’t wanna call till everything was ready.”

Walter turns on his seat, facing Wilson, the guy in charge of all the police handlings. He mouths ‘this is not Jerry.’ 

Wilson frowns. 

‘I don’t know who it is,’ the man mouths back. And of course Wilson wouldn’t know. But that’s not the problem.

“I understand, I understand Pelham 123,” Walter really doesn’t. “Who the hell is this?”

“This is the man who’s gonna give this city a run for the money. Look up. Look up at your screen and you tell me what you see. You see what I’ve done?”

Walter looks up, already knowing what he’ll see. 123 is separated into two. 

He disconnected the train. 

Walter feels like he should be more scared about what’s happening because someone hijacked a train. But he’s incredibly calm.

“I see it”

“One car is more manageable than ten with the manpower I got. Mr. Motorman’s gonna tell you about it.” There’s some movement on the other line, the light sound of metal clicking. “Tell him what we got.”

“T-They’ve got h-hostages. Lots of them.”

And that’s definitely Jerry.

“And, uh, t-they got machine guns”

Walter points to the radio, looking at Wilson. “That’s Jerry,” he hisses.

Wilson gives him a thumbs up, nodding.

“Yeah that’s right,” the other voice returns. “You check that?”

“I check, I understand,” says Walter.

A hijacking it is.

*

John Johnson, being a man aware of his power but not of its insignificance, likes to use it to its full potential. Meaning, he did not tolerate others barging into his office unannounced.

“Didn’t I tell you to knock first?”

“I’m sorry sir but you have to hear this,” the intruder doesn’t give him a chance to respond, striding towards his desk and turning on the radio next to his recently polished name plate.

“Good, ‘cause this is what we call a cash transaction—“

Johnson looks at the radio, then at the man that turned it on. Even though the guy works under his supervision, Johnson has no idea what his name is. It starts with an L, he’s sure.

“What is this about?”

“Now, you understand commodities, don’t you? You know, pork bellies? Gold? Light crude?”

Johnson, a man who does not raise his voice often—he is, in fact, too good for that—is about to tell the L-something guy to get the fuck out of his office before he demotes him when

“Listen, listen, no disrespect. But maybe, maybe I’ m not the guy you should be talking to”

Garber’s voice stops him.

He stands up from his chair, about to go down there and put Garber in his place. Really, Johnson had to put up with seeing his face everyday and now this. 

“What the fuck is Garber doing. The shit should be happy he has his job, now he’s engaging in conversation with the motormen,” the man says as he puts on his blazer hurriedly, just about to bolt through the door. “But I swear today will be the last day I see his face—”

“Sir, i-it’s a hijacking”

Johnson looks up.

“What?”

“Someone seems to have hijacked Pelham 123, they’re talking to Mr.Garber right now”

*

“Oh no, you’re exactly the guy I wanna talk to”

By now, Walter’s conversation has gathered the interest of some people in the unit. A few gather around his desk, listening intently to what is happening. Walter ignores them.

“Now, I want you to look at the ticker and you tell me what is the going rate for a New York City hostage today?”

When Walter says nothing, the man continues. “You think a million dollars is too much? I do. I think it’s corny. Now get your calculator out. You got one?”

“Uh…” Walter looks around, and looks up. When his eyes meet Robert’s, who has been a constant presence besides him throughout all of this, Robert hurries away to his own desk.

“Do you have a calculator?” The voice over the radio demands, impatiently.

“Yeah, we got one. I got one,” Robert comes back with a calculator just as Johnson approaches the desk. He looks mad, his mustache scrunched up, as if Walter was the one to have caused all of this.

Give him a fucking break.

"Okay, good. Add this up. You got 526,315 dollars and 79 cents. That’s five two six, three one five point seven nine”

As Robert taps in the numbers, Walter gets a pen and a paper. He rapidly scribbles something on it and holds it up as he turns to Officer Wilson.

Hostage Team!’

Wilson nods rapidly, already making the call.

“Now, time that by 19. What do you got?”

“What is he, a goddam accountant?” One of the people that have gathered around comments behind him. Walter looks up at Robert, who’s holding up the calculator, showing him the numbers.

“That’s ten million?” He asks to no one in particular.

“What do you got?!”

Walter holds the microphone by the base, a bit overwhelmed by all of this. Because really, what the fuck is happening. “That comes out to ten million plus one cent.”

“Oh! That’s a deal,” the voice says, merrily. As though he’s selling Walter a car. “Now you call the mayor and you tell him the price. And then you tell him I want it in one hundred thousand, one hundred dollar bills, you got that?”

Walter is quickly writing on paper, while Johnson paces back and forth. Anxious. It’s rubbing off on Walter, and his hands shake a bit as he writes down information.

“I got it. What about the one cent?”

If he wasn’t getting so nervous, he would have face slapped himself right there.

“Oh, you keep that one cent, that’s your broker’s fee”

The voice sounds amused, of all things. And Walter doesn’t know much about this, but if he wasn’t talking to a most-likely terrorist he would think this could be considered role-play. He's pretty sure that’s what they call it.

“So… I’m the broker?”

“Indeed you are”

Walter blinks.

“Now, I want the rest in plain suitcases. The kind with the wheels and the portable handle, okay? This is not a futures contract. This is a spot trade. That means there’s a time limit on it. What do you think is a fair time limit?”

Walter shrugs, although the other man can’t see him. He’s out of his depth. “Uh, you know. I’m really just a guy—“

“Eh, come on! Give me a time limit. Give me a fair time limit”

Walter shrugs again, saying whatever comes to his mind. “Thursday,” he says, incredulously.

He cringes.

“I was thinking more like an hour. But I appreciate the effort. What your watch say?”

He looks at the clock on the wall. “Two thirteen.”

“That’s exactly what my watch says. So at three thirteen I want my money here, motherfucker.”

Oh boy.

“And after that, there’s a late fee. What do you think that late fee’s gonna be?”

Walter looks around, the white face of his co-workers staring back. Just waiting for him to answer as well.

“You’re gonna kill the passengers”

“Yep. One for every minute past the deadline I am forced to wait. Commodities. They become more valuable this way, and still at the same price.”

Behind Walter, in his own desk, Wilson shakes his head. He also looks scared. As though he isn’t in the safety of an office. “He’s underground. He’s never gonna pull this off.”

All eyes turn to him, and people nod in agreement. 

“Don’t tell me, tell him!” Walter hisses at him, because for the love of fuck. They’re leaving all of this to him. He doesn’t have to be the one answering, but everyone expects him to. Like this is his job or something, he did not sign up for this.

And as if it wasn’t enough, Johnson stops pacing. Slamming both hands on Walter’s desk and asking him, “Who the hell is this guy?” As if Walter fucking knows. As if this is fucking Walter’s fault.

“I don’t know who it is!”

“Garber just stay with it,” someone says behind him.

“What’s your name? I didn’t get your name”

The voice comes back, bringing back Walter’s attention to the mic. He looks at it, as though it’s the guy who actually sounds curious to know who he is. Because really, that’s… that’s a new one.

“My name?”

“Yeah, what’s your name?”

He hesitates for a minute before answering. “Garber”

“Good. Garber, I recommend you notify the mayor before I start killing passengers in fifty nine minutes.”

Walter smooths a hand over his face. “Look, listen. I’m just a civil-service employee. I can’t get a hold of the mayor.”

“Well, that’s your problem man. It’s like, who’s responsible for who lives and who dies in New York? That’s New York City’s problem. Get the fuck off the radio and notify the mayor!”

And really, what can Walter say to that.

“Okay”