Hey, ya’ll! Sorry I didn’t post this earlier today, but I hadn’t quite finished it. This Saturday kind of jumped me and I wasn’t ready for it. Fortunately, through the twin virtues of perseverance and coffee, here’s the third installment of:
Chapter 1 – part 3
The bus ground to a halt in the gravel parking lot of a two-story building. Eddie stared out of the barred windows at the structure, wondering how the architect had managed to design such a monumentally non-descript building. It looked like a big block of concrete, decorated with few plate glass windows the contractor tossed into the cement mixer as an afterthought.
A phrase from a childhood bed time story echoed somewhere in the back of his head as his subconscious poked fun. The place was like a …like a… he didn’t know… an enormous, big, nothing.
His subconscious might have been laughing, but it was the only one. Eddie Kaul was scared. He didn’t know what the building was, but he knew it wasn’t like any prison he’d ever heard of. He glanced over at Vančura. The big man was completely at ease, but his half-stories and hints had been terrifying. Eddie didn’t know what Hell’s ticket booth might look like, but he figured it would be a lot like the building in front of them.
The guard and driver fidgeted for a minute or two, staring out at the double doors of the gray structure. Their attention shifted to the two prisoners, then back again nervously. It was obvious they had no idea what came next. That realization scared Eddie more than any of Vančura’s talk had. If the cops were this nervous, he decided he’d rather be in prison.
Eddie turned and blinked at Vančura.
Vančura pointed across the gravel lot to the doors. Two men were halfway out of the building, heading purposefully towards the bus. Eddie studied them, talking to Vančura out of the side of his mouth so he didn’t have to look away.
“How did y’know ‘dey were coming out?”
“They do it every time, ninety-seven seconds after we quit rolling. Every time.”
“Got somethin’ like a timer or somethin’ in ‘dere? Funny rule, if y’ask me. Why ninety-seven seconds? Regulations n’stuff, eh?”
The men reached the bus and the driver punched the button to open the swinging doors for them. When they stepped aboard, one of them took the roster sheet from the guard, studying it with a bored air. His companion had the nervous look of a new man on the job, not actually scared, but worried about making mistakes. He watched attentively as the other man scribbled his name on the sheet and tossed it to the guard.
“Okay, let’s get these two inside.”
He stepped towards the back. For the first time, he noticed Vančura and his face went slack. A half-stumble brought him to a halt, but his companion bumped into him from behind. There was a mutter of surprise from both of them, the first croaking something unintelligible at the sight of the big man, while the second seemed to be apologizing.
The first one spun back to the guard and driver.
“Those papers didn’t say nothin’ about this guy! How’re we supposed t’deal with a guy that size?”
A shrug from the guard was their only answer. Eddie almost laughed, in spite of his apprehension. The guard didn’t care much for the troubles of the men from the big grey building, that was plain. All he wanted was to get rid of his prisoners and away from the place as fast as possible. Eddie watched the two confer for a moment, but then a thought distracted him. The men had obviously never seen Vančura before.
“Vanny, mate…. You said you’d been ‘ere afore, but ‘dose gents don’ know you from Adam. They new or somethin’?”
Slowly, the big head came around and Vančura speared him with a look. For a few seconds, Eddie just shriveled under the glare, then sagged in relief when it turned away.
“My name is Vančura, Kaul. Not Vanny, Van, Vancy, or anything else you might think up. Vančura. And I did not say I’ve been here before. I said that I was here. And I’m going to be here. But I haven’t been here. Not yet.”
Eddie was pretty sure there was smoke leaking out from between his ears. Whatever the big man was talking about, it didn’t make sense; his brain was overheating as he tried to figure it out. If a man was somewhere, then he’d been there before. That’s how grammar worked, Eddie thought, but he couldn’t have sworn to it. Maybe dropping out of school hadn’t been such a good idea, after all. If he’d paid more attention in English class, maybe he’d understand what Vančura was talking about.
Of course, there was always the chance the guy was soft in the head; it would explain a lot. Much as Eddie wanted to believe that, though, he couldn’t. He didn’t know what exactly counted a man as loony, but Vančura didn’t seem crazy. The guy didn’t make much sense, sure, but Eddie would have laid bets on his mental acumen, once someone explained what ‘acumen’ meant.
He was still wrestling with the nonsensical information when the two men made up their minds. They came down the aisle, pistols out and readied, eying Vančura like a pair of terrified hawks. One, the new man, stopped halfway, while the other moved forward to undo the shackles. Even Eddie could see that was a smart move; if Vančura decided to make a play, he’d never make it to the second man without getting shot.
All the caution turned out to be needless; Vančura never shifted. Once the shackles were off, he stood slowly and strode out of the bus with the guard behind him. After they stepped off, the second man holstered his pistol and unlocked Eddie. Eddie decided that being a nice, friendly guy might keep him alive longer and didn’t cause any trouble.
As soon as his feet hit the gravel outside, the bus driver threw the gears into drive and took off. He stared after it, longingly, but the two guards didn’t waste any time watching it disappear. One headed for the gray building and the other motioned for Vančura and Eddie to follow.
They trudged along, listening to the crunching footsteps of the second man taking up position behind them. Vančura still didn’t look worried; in fact, he almost seemed bored. Eddie was beyond worried, but all he could do was wait and see what came next.
End Chapter 1 – part 3
Go to Chapter 2 – Part 1
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