The old man sat in a row of empty chairs in the waiting area of the bus station. He was the only live occupant in an area filled with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and deserted candy wrappers. Every time the entrance door opened with a sigh, pushed by the swirling ubiquitous wind, the bunnies and wrappers would shuffle away from the door and then slide back when the wind died. The cobwebs moved, in a kind of sympathetic sway to and fro; shakily as if they were so fragile that to move too much would make them lose their anchor and sail away.
The wind did not appear to bother the old man. He sat looking at his hands. Hands that despite being wrinkled and liver spotted were huge. They were cracked with blunt sausage fingers, the nails were cut to the quick but still showing a touch of year’s worn grime under the nails themselves that no amount of scraping or brushing was going to remove. Sometimes he would make a fist. Both hands curled up like a bare-knuckle boxer. He would turn them this way and that, still scrutinizing them as though he had never seen them before.
The wind pushed the door open again and Sam behind the ticket counter looked up for what must have been the hundredth time. He seemed incapable of not looking. He would raise his eyes and cock his head quizzically and if he’d been a dog, one ear would have cocked forward. As his eyes drifted back down to the crossword puzzle in front of him, they detoured to the big old man who seemed so fascinated by his own hands.
Footsteps came up behind Sam and he spoke without looking. “Hey Leanne.”
“Hey Sam.” Leanne headed to the only other chair behind the ticket counter. “Slow day, huh?”
Sam nodded slowly, still concentrating on his crossword, which was almost finished. “Oh yeah; if it wasn’t for Mohammed Ali’s cousin over there, this place would be dead.”
“Who?” Leanne glanced over at the old man in the waiting area.
“The old man sitting over there with those big old boxer’s hands.” Sam nodded in the direction of the bus station’s only occupant in the waiting area.
“Has he come up to the counter,” Leanne asked.
“Nope,” Sam said, still more interested in finishing his crossword than talking about the old man. “I don’t even know when he came in. I just looked up and he was there. Made me jump, I don’t mind telling you.” Sam put down his pencil, “The next bus ain’t due for another two hours and he’s been here at least that long already.”
“Well, you know Sam, you could have tried asking him what he wanted.” Leanne’s tone was dry. “He might have grandkids coming in to visit or a son or daughter coming home.” She shook her head in disgust, “But I suppose that would have taken you away from your precious crossword.”
Reaching in his back pocket, Sam pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose, loudly, and then spent a couple of seconds sniffing and wiping the end of his nose. “Well, if it was that damned important to him he would have said something wouldn’t he? Besides, he ain’t hurting anything and he’s been real quiet. He hasn’t moved from that chair. Just keeps looking at his hands like he’s never seen ‘em before.”
Without folding it, Sam shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. Glancing back down to his crossword, he scowled. “Hey Leanne, what’s a three-letter word for old sailor?”
Leanne and Sam both jumped as the old man said it again, “Tar.” They looked at each other, struggling not to laugh nervously; Leanne checking the crotch of her jeans because she could have sworn she’d wet herself just now. Sam nodded and said, “Thanks Old Timer.”
The old man grunted and went back to inspecting his hands.
Leanne leaned close to Sam and whispered, “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, he just scared the shit out of me!” Sam leaned back and putting his hands behind his head to crack his knuckles, nodded. “Me too.”
“Didn’t he sound kind of familiar? You know, like someone you know, or is that just me.”
“He just sounded old and gravelly. Like he has rocks in his throat or chest; in a few more years he’ll start sounding all wheezy and whispery. I mean look at him, he must be 90 if he’s a day.”
The wind blew again this time it was a real howler. Wailing and gusting aggressively the wind smacked the entrance door open. Sand, litter and the odd scorpion were blown into the waiting room. The dust bunnies and empty candy wrappers swirled up and away from the old man’s row and for a second looked like a miniature dust devil. The cobwebs strained against their anchored ends and held on. Clenching his fists, the old man did not move one bit. Even his clothes seemed to be unaware of the wind and dust that was swirling around.
“Leanne!” Sam pointed to the still open door. “Go close that damned thing before it breaks and put the latch on. There are two of us here now we can close up and watch for the bus. I don’t want to be stepping on scorpions and tarantulas in here!”
Leanne bolted from her seat and with her eyes squinted against the grit in the air she slammed the door shut and turned the bolt. “Is that good enough for you, your highness?”
Sam didn’t even bother looking up. “Great. Wonderful. Put yourself up for a commendation. I’ve got a whole drawer full of gold stars. Why don’t you pin one on your ass.” Leanne, shot him the finger and Sam chuckled. “Yes dear, I know I’m number one. Thank you for remembering.”
“George C Scott.” Leanne jumped and whirled around. The old man was looking at her with eyes that looked kind and tired. “That’s who folks tell me I sound like.” Leanne smiled. “That’s it! That’s who you sound like. My boy was watching some cartoon where he did the voice. You sound just like him.” He redirected his eyes to his hands and seemed to forget she was there. Leanne watched him for a moment thinking he might say something else, but he remained mute.
Spinning around she headed back toward the counter. Just as she reached the counter, Sam looked up and past her.
The old man rose slowly from his chair. As he got to his feet he reached behind him with both hands as though he were going to massage his back. His hands reappeared with two of the biggest guns Sam had ever seen. They made Dirty Harry‘s .44 Magnum look like a pea shooter.
Sam’s eyes widened, “Leanne, Look…” Sam’s face erupted in a geyser of blood and bone and flesh, his body toppled backward on the chair and only stopped when it met the floor. His pencil was still gripped in his right hand and it marked the floor a bit as he twitched once or twice.
Leanne felt someone punch her in the back, hard, as though she’d been hit by a baseball bat; she automatically looked down and saw a section of her spine blow out of her stomach. It was the last thing she saw as she lost consciousness and fell to join Sam’s lifeless body on the floor. The big old man walked slowly up to the two dead bus station employees.
He stood looking at them and put the guns back in his waistband behind his back. He leaned over Sam and cleared his throat. Sounding just like George C. Scott he said, “Shooter’s hands sonny, not boxers, shooters.” He turned on his heel and strode out the entrance leaving the door to swing in the wind.
Michael E. Smith copyright 2013-01-08