#0017 – 23.04 To St. Pancras

September 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

In seven minutes and thirty-four seconds, Pierre will become a hero. Not that he knows that right now, of course. Right now, his noblest thought is which way to screw his wife when he gets home to give her as much pleasure as he will get out of the exercise.

Our hero has had a long day, and is gently wilting in the luxurious black leather of his First Class seat on the 23.04 Eurostar from Paris to St. Pancras. His eyelids are nearly fully closed; his head is beginning to loll forward onto his chest in the first blissful waves of a sleep of pure exhaustion. His forays to the French capital, which have been increasing exponentially lately, are always tiresome affairs, but today’s whistle-stop tour has finally broken him, setting a deep malaise in his middle-age bones.

He imagines his wife’s silhouette appearing in the frosted glass of his front door, framed by the glow of candles from somewhere within, as he fumbles hurriedly for the keys to his castle. He feels her soft embrace and basks in the comfortable familarity of her smile. In his slowly-deepening dream, he hears himself ask about their son, but he’s already safely stowed in bed, he is told, and the salacious grin of his wife makes his heart pound faster.

The rustle of a passenger passing by on his right briefly wakes Pierre from his slumber. He clears his throat anxiously, in that way that all people do to prove, in vain, to their fellow passengers that, no, of course they weren’t asleep. He clasps his brown leather briefcase closer to him, checking the locks absent-mindedly; a gesture he repeats so often each day that he no longer notices he’s doing it. Across the table from him, a sleeping couple gives him solace that he’s not the only tired passenger tonight, whilst also deepening his desire to get home to his wife. The girl rests her head on the man’s shoulder, brunette locks framing a porcelain-white face studded with freckles of auburn, and he rests his head on hers in turn.

It is at this point in our story that the life of our hero is changed irrevocably, never to be the same again. The door to the carriage slides open with a low hum, a now-familiar sound to him as a veteran of Eurostar journeys. There are perhaps eight or nine rows of seats between his table and the door, so he initially dismisses the sight that follows as sheer exhaustion mixed with his failing eyesight. Pierre blinks a number of times, a watery film in his eyes blurring his vision briefly. He looks again, but this time there is no mistake. Two men, one built like a mountain, the other the same build as Pierre, stand at the end of the carriage. Over their heads are black balaclavas, through which they are breathing menacingly. The motorised door slides shut behind them, and the mountain-sized man begins to speak, as if that were his cue.

‘Listen up,’ he barks. His voice has a rough edge to it, as if filtered through gravel or cracked with years of cigerette smoke. It instantly turns our hero’s veins to ice, his legs to jelly. ‘If you do what we tell you, and don’t kick up any stink, this will be all be over real soon and no-one will get hurt. If somebody tries to be a fucking hero, we’re gonna turn nasty. You don’t want this guy to turn nasty, believe me. He’s a real fucking killer.’ He gestures over his shoulder to his accomplice, and it’s only at this point that Pierre notices the long cruel arc of a crowbar protruding from his massive, ham-sized fist.

In the  next moment, three things happen simultaneously. The other, smaller man grabs the nearest passenger – a frail-looking woman with badly-dyed hair – by the arm and barks an order in her face. The mountain reaches around to the small of his back and draws a gun from the waistband of his jeans. And Pierre remembers what he has in his briefcase.

‘I said, empty your fucking money in the bag!’ the accomplice screams. His fingers dig into her arms, producing bright red welts. She tries to stifle back terrified sobs, but fails miserably. She scrabbles in her handbag for her purse. ‘Don’t pretend you haven’t heard me, bitch.’

Most of the passengers in the vicinity of the robbers have their arms up, and our hero can hear them whispering, and their muffled tears. A young black guy immediately to the right of the mountain tries to get up in a sudden lunge for the pistol-wielding honcho, but he moves quickly for a man of his size. He brings the arm holding the pistol up sharply, his elbow connecting solidly with the youth’s nose. There is a sickening crunch and a splatter of blood, but these are mere flesh wounds as the mountain then twists round and brings the crowbar down onto the man’s legs. He howls in pain and doubles up over his knees. Screams erupt from his nearest fellow passengers. The mountain leans down. Pierre can only just make out the words. ‘You try and be a hero again, motherfucker, and I’ll kill you.’

It’s at this point in our story that Pierre rises gingerly to his feet. The couple sitting opposite watch him in horror, mouths agape, slowly shaking their heads. Our hero reaches down and plucks his briefcase from the table. He takes a step down the carriage, the briefcase clasped in both arms over his chest like a shield. He hears the unmistakable click of the safety being released on the man’s gun. ‘Don’t take another fucking step, mate.’

Our hero stops. ‘Wait,’ he says, his voice low and steady. ‘I have something in here you might want to see.’

He unlocks the clasps on his briefcase and folds down the lid. The robbers stare in amazement. Then all hell breaks loose.

Image is for illustration purposes only. Photo credit: Amy Massey.

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