PREDATORS - CHRIS WILSHER
She steps into the train compartment and looks for a place to sit. I know what she wants. She wants to sit by herself. I’ve seen her before on this train. She always sits by herself. The train starts moving and she is jostled and almost loses her balance. She’s small and delicate. With surprisingly long, slender legs for such a small body, she’s like a doe. No, a fawn. She regains her balance. Tentatively, she makes her way down the aisle toward an empty seat.
It’s July third and the train is almost empty. Most of the office workers must’ve left early, for the train is usually packed. Two more stops and we’re the only ones in the compartment. The door opens and three black, teenage boys get on. Two are small, probably fourteen or fifteen. But the other one is older and bigger. He’s wearing a T-shirt that reads OLD SKOOL on the front. The boys see the girl. They nudge each other and grin.
One of the younger ones spots me sitting in the back. He points and says something. Old Skool laughs. I know what he’s thinking. An old man. Out of shape. Wearing a rent-a-cop outfit. Not a threat.
He steps toward the girl. She shrinks back against the compartment wall.
“Where’s the conductor?”
A foolish question. There’s no way he’s coming to the last compartment just to check a couple of tickets.
Old Skool is now standing in the aisle, just a couple of feet from the girl. He towers over her.
“Lady, you mind if I sit with you?”
The other boys laugh.
“Lady, I’m talking to you.”
I stagger to my feet, my lunch box in my left hand. I heft it. It probably weighs three or four pounds. Sort of a weapon.
“Leave her alone,” I say. “Stop bothering her.”
All three boys look in my direction.
“We ain’t talking to you, old man,” Old Skool says.
“But I’m talking to you.”
Old Skool turns to the girl. ”Are we bothering you, lady?”
She turns her head away, so she’s staring out the window. Old Skool leans over, one hand on the back of her seat.
“What’s your name?”
I take a step toward him. Then another.
“I warned you,” I said.
All three boys laugh.
“What you gonna do?” Old Skool says. “Three of us. One of you.”
“And you’re old.”
I pull a canister from my pants pocket. “This is mace. The real thing. Tear gas in a can. Not pepper spray. You get this in your eyes, you won’t see straight for days. This canister has an eighteen-foot range. So I can hurt you from here.”
Old Skool, straightens up, pulls something from his pocket. A flick of his wrist and a switchblade emerges.
“Sit down, old man. Mind your own business.”
He’s trying to sound confident, but he’s scared. I can see it in his eyes.
I shift my weight, feeling a twinge of pain in my bad knee.
“Come on with your business,” I say, holding the canister up. “If you’re man enough.”
The moment of truth. The three boys look at each other. They’re considering whether to rush me. Keeping their heads down, they might avoid getting any of the chemical in their eyes. But there was no way to know for sure. And with their heads down, they’d be an easy target for my lunch box.
The train screeches to a halt. I lean against the seat in front of me so as not to lose my balance. Old Skool says something to the others, and they back out the door.
Through the window, I see them on the train platform, talking among themselves, the two younger boys standing apart from Old Skool. My instincts tell me Old Skool has lost face with the younger two boys. I like that.
Five minutes later, we come to the last stop. The end of the line.
She stands and looks at me with her big, doe-like eyes. “Thank you,” she says, her mouth quivering.. “He had a knife. You saved my life.”
I mumble something, averting my eyes. She gets off the train and heads toward the parking lot. A beep tells me she’s unlocked her car, a late-model Toyota Corolla, license plate JYJ-648. A moment later, the interior light comes on and she gets in. She didn’t recognize me. I didn’t expect her to. I’m just the old man who drives around her apartment complex in a golf cart. I swing the lunch box. The handcuffs and the duct tape rattle inside. She’ll be seeing me later.
BIO: Chris Wilsher is a lawyer in Texas and has a novel that he wants to sell you.