As we got dropped off at my mom’s condo my Dad was right to believe we wouldn’t say anything to change our situation. My little brother had become a robot, too.
It was a short visit, only through the weekend. Then Dad called. He was in Colorado and he demanded that my mother put us on a bus back to Raton. He would meet us at the bus station when we arrived the next day.
Thus began one of the most harrowing rides I’d ever been on. My mother looked like she was going start sobbing at any minute. I explained to her that we would be fine, right, Paul? He picked up my tone and nodded.
As Dick put us on the bus, he handed me fifty dollars. “Susie, if for any reason, any reason at all, you need to turn around and come back, use this to buy a return ticket.”
Then he put his hand deep into his pocket and pulled out about two dollars in coins. He handed them to my brother.
“Paul, if you feel like calling for any reason, you can. You two take care of each other.”
My mom handed me heavy, brown bag with string handles.
“I loaded you two up with all the Thanksgiving fixings. I put some of the jello in there too, Sue, you’ll find it at the bottom.”
I couldn’t look at her, so I took the bag and grabbed her close. With my eyes shut, I whispered into her ear. “Thank you, Mom. I love you. We’ll be fine, I promise.”
As quickly as possible I let go and headed up the steps leading into the bus. As I searched for the closest seat to the driver, Paul finished his goodbyes and soon joined me.
It was completely dark now; It was almost ten p.m. until I looked out the window and saw nothing.
Before long we tore into our supplies, I found the jello right away. We polished off most of the food and promptly fell asleep.
It was around three in the morning when we arrived at the Amarillo bus station. The next bus leaving for Raton was due to arrive around six am, the same time the staff showed and opened the small café inside the station.
There were no guards or anyone of authority around….anywhere. I felt sick. I looked around and saw a staircase leading to a balcony that looked out over the first floor. Paul was as instinctive as I was, but he showed his fear. He was white, his eyes were so wide open, his pupils were surrounded in white. Baron grumbled under my jacket as I elbowed Paul.
I leaned over and whispered, “Hey, can you please look mean, or something? You know, like tough?”
He looked at me with his mouth still agape. My eyebrows and frown shook him out of his frightened state.
“Uh, sure, sure”, he said, as his eyes became slits, his mouth shut into a grimace.
The Bus station was a public place. It was perfect for derelicts and neer-do-wells. They could flop for the night, and get out of the cold. By the looks of them, most were harmless, homeless alcoholics, half-way passed out, already.
I kept my lips from moving as I instructed Paul. “Alright, you see that staircase over there?”
“Mm-hmm”, he grimly replied.
“Ok, we are going up to that balcony. See the railings around the balcony?”
“Mm-hmm”, he replied, a little more determined.
“Alright, let’s go, I want you to follow me and after we get up the stairs, I want you to sit down next to the railing. I want you to lock your arm around one of the railings. I’ll follow and I’ll sit down facing the other way. We’ll be back to back, got it? That way we can be lookouts in all directions.”
This helped bolster his confidence. “Good idea Sue, good idea…”
“Yeah, just keep moving until you get to the top of the stairs, don’t go much further before you sit down. We don’t want to be too far from an escape route.”
This started him trembling all over again. Shit, what was wrong with me? Why did I scare him like that? We wouldn’t NEED an escape route, we were fine!
“Hey, cool down. We’ll be eating eggs and bacon in a couple of hours, OK? Don’t worry, please, I mean it.”
“Ummm-mmmm, OK”. He gathered himself for my signal to start moving.
“OK, go”, I whispered, “I’m right behind you.”
Baron was not happy under my coat as I practically sprinted up the stairs, pulling Paul with me as I passed him. So much for detailed plans, I thought. We arrived safe on the landing and I steered Paul where to sit down. He grabbed a railing a pulled his knees up to his chest.
I sat down in the opposite direction, our backs glued together as tight as possible.
I started talking to myself again, “Whew! I think we might get through this! We can make it through three hours, a piece of cake!”
I heard Paul let out a sigh, I felt his back deflate against mine. “See, we’re cool, no big deal.”
All he could muster was an “Mm-hmm”, as he watched several people meander by.
They were not menacing at first. They were eyeing their opportunities.
“Just ignore them and look mean, like you’re crazy, you know? I thought back to the ally and the pack of bullies. “Just like you did when you scared of Miguel and those guys, remember?”
With our backs so tight, I felt every muscle, every flinch he made. He stiffened. He remembered. The look on his face kept the strangers at bay. Before long, we were left alone.
After an hour or so, I felt Paul’s head slump backwards onto my shoulder. I felt his body slow down. His breathing told me he had fallen asleep.
I stayed diligent for another hour, talking to myself to keep myself awake. “Only one more hour, do-ta-doo…no big deal…I really need to pee…No! I don’t need to pee, stop that!”
As my bladder held my attention, I felt an eerie prickly feeling on the back of my neck.
A bell attached to the front door had been triggered. Someone had entered the Station. He was lean and tall. He wore a long, thin gray raincoat. The raincoat held no comfort against the freezing snow coming down outside. His collar was pulled up and it met the fedora on his head. It was pulled down low to his brow, sweat-stained around the band, and snow still on top the crease of his hat.
I watched him survey the station, much like I had done over two hours earlier. He scanned the main floor. He stood still for what seemed like an hour. He hadn’t looked up to the balcony, yet. Making no sound, he ambled over to an old man passed out on one of the waiting benches.
The old man moaned as the stranger rifled through his pockets. There was no score there. He turned the old man’s pockets inside out and moved on to the next slumbering drunk.
I tried to stay invisible. I tried to remain still. I didn’t want to wake up Paul.
After groping the people passed out downstairs, he turned his gaze to the stairs. I watched his eyes follow the stairs and lock onto mine.
I stopped breathing. I didn’t need to pee anymore.
He started up the stairs with a thin grin on his face, a toothpick hung out the corner of his mouth. Every step was slow and deliberate. As he neared the landing, I heard him say, “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”
It was the only time I wished my Dad was around, but no, he was skiing in Colorado with who knows who…
He smelled horrible, even ten feet away. “So, what brings you two little darling’s here? Where’s your mama? Where’s your daddy?”
He moved closer and reached for the zipper on my coat. I was struck silent. I knew that this certainly had to be the end of my life.
He started tugging at the zipper until it finally came free. Once again, the unthinkable happened. Baron was pissed. He was grumpy, he was tired. He wanted to be left alone.
So when the stranger pulled my coat zipper down, Baron out of his den like a badger. The ruckus woke everyone up. With one leap off my chest, he latched onto the strangers long pointed nose.
The man pulled back and tumbled to the ground. As he grabbed at his nose, Baron let go and snarling like a bob-cat, he started gnawing his ear, pulling them as if he wanted the rip it off the guy’s head.
The man was so startled and in pain, he was writhing on the floor, until his body reached the stairs.
He tumbled all the way to the bottom, knocked out cold by the cement floor.
As people woke up and observed what had happened, they became almost instantly sober.
Baron was still a Tasmanian devil at the top of the stairs, he looked like he had rabies.
As Paul and I looked down, we saw the robbery victims come to life. It wasn’t long before it was determined what this man had done.
As they sat up and gained their balance, one by one went over to the heap at the bottom of the stairs.
As the group stood around him, one reached out and opened his coat. Then he went through the man’s pockets, all of them.
One of the old men looked back at an old toothless woman still sitting on a bench. “Emma, isn’t this your ring?”
She squinted at him and felt her finger. “Get him, Barney! That’s my ring!”
I assumed it was the only thing of value Emma owned, probably given to her by Barney.
If the staff of the kitchen hadn’t arrived when they did, the thief wouldn’t have had a chance. Even though their kicks were feeble, enough of them would have killed him.
The sheriff was called and through the snowy darkness, they arrived with sirens and lights blaring.
Baron was the King of the hour. He was served eggs, bacon, sausage, hot cakes, grits, biscuits and gravy, milk, and orange juice. He promptly shared it with me and Paul. He was just that way.
With our bellies full and our bladders emptied, we boarded the bus to Raton. It had been a long, long night. Baron was asleep again under my coat, before the bus pulled out of the station.