“—and another thing, you can’t even assume you’re safe public anymore. Annemarie, you know, Annemarie from the studio, she says she was at market when the crack-down happened Friday. Yeah. Said she managed to toss her coat and hide out in Bikmen’s, pretend she was working there,” Bennett said.
Both men assumed the relaxed position of waiting in public. John was leafing through an almanac from the previous year. Bennett talked with his hands, occasionally pausing in his monologue to point for emphasis.
“Think about that, man. Think about what that means. They’re getting bolder. They know people won’t even look at the factory district anymore, much less get near it. They have to get creative. You can’t even shop anymore.”
John nodded absently. They had been getting their groceries from a bootlegger since the Fountain Square market had been bombed. Bennett pushed on as if John had responded.
“And this—this travel embargo, that’s just another nail in the coffin. Our nation is predicated on individual mobility, what happens when you remove the autonomy from travel?”
Without looking away from his book, John took two of his fingers and tucked them in Benett’s front pocket. Bennett smiled.
“The bus is here,” John said.
A semiopaque blue block of bulletproof plexiglass separated them from the driver. Like most city buses, the speaker hung by wires, periodically crackling but offering no coherent instruction. Instead, a screen behind steel grating instructed them in white capital letters that the fare had risen 2.3% since last night.
“Bitches,” Bennett said, giving the scanner the finger as he dropped change into it.
The screen dissolved the fare bulletin to a new phrase: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS
There were no completely empty seats. Bennett and John stood by the rear exit doors and held on to the overhead straps.
The message flashed again: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS
John rolled his eyes and took a seat next to an itinerant worker who lay snoring beneath his hat. Bennett took the seat ahead of him, next to an old woman with a knitted grocery bag fully of withered vegetables. The old woman looked at Bennett, who flashed her a dazzling smile. The message dissolved into a missive about voluntary federal inoculations and the bus hissed into motion.
The next stop was outside a labor building. Several laborers with thick arms and concrete sinews boarded, scattering along the seats, most of them hewing to the very back. One enterprising soul stood at the rear exit doors.
The screen flashed: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS.
The laborer rolled his eyes and took an aggressive seat next to a woman across the aisle from John. Bennett lounged casually, propping his elbows on the back of the seat, further terrifying the elderly woman into herself. John playfully hit the back of his head, Bennett lurched forward in mock-pain.
The next stop was at the woman’s shelter. One pretty young malcontent dithered on the threshold; the door shut on her hair. Her sisters came to her rescue, knocking and yelling and entreating the driver, but the doors did not relinquish their prize until the next stop. The women took her back to her seat, shooting dirty looks at the driver’s booth as they petted her head and supported her elbows.
Three stops later, John leaned over the seat back. “What’s another word for picayune?”
“Patriotic,” Bennett said, “is it just me or is it a little full today?”
John looked up from the book. “Yes, actually. How long until Dodge?”
“Two more stops.” Bennett was eyeing the front warily.
In front of the Barghetto, a man dressed in yesterday’s suit slapped the censors on the exit door. The doors remained shut and the bus pulled away from the curb.
“Hey!” The man barged to the front, already having to weed through the people standing in the aisles. He slapped the side of the driver’s booth a few times. “Hey!” he called again.
The screen flashed:PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS
The man flipped off the screen. “You missed my fucking stop.”
The screen flashed: DISRUPTIVE PASSENGERS WILL BE FINED
The man threw a pen at the screen.
“Sit down,” someone hollered from the back. The man returned to his seat, now occupied by a laborer, and stood with his hands in his pockets. At the next stop he lurched into the man standing in front of him, touching off a small quarrel. One of the shelter women tapped, pushed, shoved against the back doors, but they refused to open before the bus pulled away.
Bennett stood, no easy feat, and climbed to the back door. John followed.
As more bodies pressed in from the front, Bennett used his not-inconsiderable strength and shouldered the door. He managed to force the hydraulics a full inch before they snapped back. The front doors shut and the bus moved on. Bennett stared out the smeared glass at the landscape passing by. John put a hand on his shoulder.
At the next stop they manhandled their way to the front, but the doors shut before they could reach it. With boarding passengers still on the other side. Bennett swore. John turned to the driver’s booth and hit it with his fist.
The driver’s silhouette did not respond.
A lady with sleeping toddler in her arms nudged him. “Next stop, we bum-rush the doors.”
John nodded and smiled politely. Bennett continued staring out the doors, breathing heavily.
They missed the next stop.
Nothing was said, but a group chill descended on the passengers. Where people had been loudly discussing the many failings of the transit system, now they hunched into themselves. Like chickens, John thought, chickens in a storm. Bennett said nothing.
John put his face very close to the driver’s booth and cupped his hands around his eyes. The driver lay limp, held up by the safety straps. His head bumped against the wall behind his seat, hand dangling at his side. A gun knocked around his feet, along with an empty water bottle and an orange. A dark splatter decorated the glass behind his headrest. The glass was starred.
John backed away, suddenly cold. He grabbed Bennett’s shoulder. “I think we’re in trouble.”
“I know.” Bennett pointed to their destination. The factory district.