The Hero

Fiction.

Randall drank of his coffee and folded the newspaper to the next page.  Chiefs won, he thought.  He missed the game last night on account of the fight.  News anchors blabbed on in the background, but he was ignoring it until they said something about construction on the Maple St. bridge.  Great, traffic’s gonna be a nightmare.  He had another sip and then went back into the bedroom to get his work uniform on.  By this time Lynda was out of the shower.  “Still pissed at me?” He asked.

“What do you think, asshole!” That answered that. 

She stomped around, not saying anything else. He was too hung over for this shit.  He yelled back toward the hall, “You can be pissed all you want, Lynda, but I can’t change the past.  At least I told you about it right away instead of tryin’ to hide it.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “And it doesn’t change what happened.  I hope you enjoyed yourself.”

Randall rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “Guess I’ll just be an asshole, then,” he said. He grabbed his coffee and headed to work without saying goodbye.  

It wasn’t his worst hangover, but it was there.  That was sure.  His head throbbed mildly.  His skin and his joints felt dried out and stiff, and his stomach was just as pissed at him as Lynda was.  

He drove his mini-van to work – the one he traded his Mustang for, so there’d be room for Lynda and Sam, her five-year-old boy.  He arrived a little early, so he stepped outside and lit a cigarette before getting started.  While he was smoking, his boss, Carl, came up to him.  “You heard the bridge is out?” Carl asked.

“Yeah,” 

“So the city’s tellin me that we’re gonna have to detour over Monroe for the bridge.  Cross back at Maxwell on the north side, and Riverside or Spokane Falls on the south.”

“Got it.” Randall said, sighing and rubbing his eyes.

“You okay? You look like shit.”

“Yeah,” Randall mumbled.  “Had another fight with Lynda last night.”  

“What’s she bustin’ your balls about this time?”

“This time my balls need bustin’.  I fucked up.”

“Randy, no…” Carl’s look said it all.

“Yeah, we ‘ere fightin about bills n’ shit when I first got home.  I got tired a listnenin’ to her yell, so I went over to the Green Door.”

“To listen to drunks sing karaoke instead?” Carl said, a bit of ironic snark in his tone.

Randall shot him a look. “Anyway, a few drinks in… I got a microphone in my hand.  Then I’m wakin’ up at three in the mornin at some strange chick’s house and my pants are on the floor.”

“Oh, shit, Randy.  What the hell, man?  Lynda an’ that kid are countin’ on you.  What are you gonna tell her?”

“Already told her last night.  Wasn’t no use in tryin’ to hide it – I reeked of booze and sex.  Besides, if there’s one thing I know, its that lyin’ about shit like this makes it worse.”  Randall stamped his cigarette out and went into the garage to start up his bus – one of those articulated jobs with the accordion in the middle.  

He pulled into his starting spot in front of the plaza and waited a few minutes for passengers to board.  At 9:23 am he backed out of his spot and made his way down to Spokane Falls Blvd to get to the Monroe bridge.  That particular intersection was a city-planner’s nightmare – a complete debacle.  Streets sat at odd angles to one another amid a confusing system of lights.  A strip of grass nestled in between competing streets boasted a bronze statue of Lincoln that oversaw the debacle. The man did have a talent for overseeing debacles, after all, Randall thought.

He was waiting at the light, ignoring the smells of the transit passengers and staring in fixation at Lincoln – standing there in bronze with so much patina that the American hero’s visage resembled those he emancipated.  The light changed and he drove past the statue, though he looked at it a bit longer. An odd thought – that they’d never make a statue of him – entered Randall’s mind and kind of camped out there.  Just as well, he thought.  His adventures last night was less than heroic.  And they don’t erect statues of villains, he thought.  If the villain is lucky he gets a really good actor to play him in the movie.  He looked at himself in the oversized rear view mirror.  That ain’t gonna happen here, he thought.  It’d be Steve Buscemi or some other ugly fucker.  

The honking woke him out of his daze too late.  He saw the red light just as he barreled under it.  An old Dodge pickup hit the rear of the bus at full speed.  The bus fishtailed counter-clockwise, flipping on its side before sliding toward the sheer rock face at the edge of the bridge.  Sparks flew.  Metal tore pavement and the terrifying, scraping sound consumed Randall’s ears.  When the sliding stopped, Randall looked in his rear view mirror.  Several passengers on the ground were crying and dazed, but all seemed to be getting up.  He couldn’t see the tail section of the bus, though.

He reported the accident on his radio before showing the passengers how to access the emergency exits.  When he got to the rear and his heart sank.  The accordion joint was at the edge of the cliff face, the rear section of the bus was hanging from it, and the Spokane Falls raged below.

He looked down and saw a mother and her two small children huddled together on one of the side benches at the end.  They were holding onto the handles and each other, shivering and sobbing.  “Don’t worry!” Randall called down to them.  “I’m gonna get you out of here.  Can you guys start to climb up the seats?  I can’t get to you from here.”  

The mother looked up in panic and said, “My babies are scared.  There’s broken glass everywhere and some of these windows are out.  Please just get us out of here!”

“Hold on,” Randall sighed.  He looked at the situation again and then said, “I’m coming to get you.”

By now he heard the sirens.  Maybe I won’t have to do this after all, he thought, but he knew that this poor woman couldn’t hold out for much longer.  For that matter, he thought, neither could the flimsy accordion joint.  No, I have to go get them, he told himself.  

He got down into a prone position and started working his way toward the edge.  Slowly he slid his torso over, found the handrails, and put his foot on a seat.  When he applied pressure, he felt the seat give slightly, and he saw the family below swing drastically.  They screamed.  “Okay,” he said, “It’s gonna get wobbly for a minute.  Just hang on.”  

Carefully he made his way down – the tail section of the bus wiggling with each step – until he was at the family.  The little girl grabbed his hand first.  He took hold of her and climbed her back up to safety.  Then he went back for the boy and his mother.  When all three were out, he saw that the other passengers from the front section of the bus had gotten out to safety.  He led the family out through the emergency exits and some firemen helped them down from there.  Once he was clear of the wreck he looked back toward the statue of Lincoln.  The mother was already being mobbed by the press.  He overheard the word hero.

Hmm, he thought a bit absently. Maybe I’ll get a statue after all.

Then he turned around and saw the Dodge.  Police and fire crews surrounded it.  Blood and broken glass covered the ground below.  Ambulances and cop cars and flashing lights everywhere.  Suddenly Randall remembered the red light.  The implication caught up with him.  A man in farm clothes was with two police officers.  He had blood all over him, and he looked to be in tears.  

Randall started to walk toward the wreckage, but the woman he had rescued came up to him and said, “You saved my kids,” she said quietly.  “You’re a hero.”  She looked at him with adoration and gratitude.  He put his hand on her shoulder and looked beyond toward the wreckage, then at a small gurney being loaded into an ambulance.  The body was covered in a bloody sheet.  When Randall looked at the man talking to the police, the man stopped talking and looked straight into his eyes.

“You killed my son!” He yelled.  “You’re a monster!”

***

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