“the Busman’s Holiday”
by Alexander Hayden James Smith
“The next stop is…Shepherd’s Bush Road.”
No one was listening. The double-decker bus veered around Hammersmith Broadway, mounting the curb briefly as it passed dangerously close to the fancy Ladbrokes on the corner and shot straight off down Shepherd’s Bush Road towards the Green. Shocked onlookers clutched their kebabs tightly to their chests as the bus screamed past, clipping parked cars and battering cyclists out of the way.
“This is a…Two-twenty…to…Willesden Junction.”
As one such unfortunate passed beneath the wheels the bus jolted slightly, allowing Freelance Agent Brompton Rhodes the chance he needed; whipping his elbow backwards, he managed to wind his captor, forcing him to drop his weapon. A subsequent chop to the back of the neck and the bearded fellow was out of the game for good. Brompton retrieved the weapon, cocked it, and aimed it towards the driver’s cabin.
“Stop the fucking bus, Abdul It’s over.”
Brompton looked around him at the remaining twelve passengers: five pensioners clutching M&S shopping bags; one school-age mother, her child sound asleep in its pushchair; one crackhead, passed out on the back seat; one alcoholic, who had earlier been kind enough to lend Brompton some of his Dutch Courage; one young Vicar, muttering quiet prayers and two school boys who seemed bored and continued to pick their noses. Blood and gristle littered the empty seats and guttering of the floor; a steady trickle emanated from the baggage rack where the corpses of the other, unlucky passengers had been stored.
“Stop the bus, Abdul! I’m warning you!”
Brompton fired a warning shot into the windscreen to the left of the driver; He immediately responded by steering the bus sharply to the right, clipping the beacons of a traffic island and sending Brompton sprawling forwards on to his face. Swearing under his breath, Brompton held tight to the gun and attempted to raise himself up.
As he rose he heard footsteps from the stairwell. Suddenly, pressure on his hand; he looked up to see an incredibly fat, bearded chap in flowing Islamic robes smiling down at him.
Of course, he thought, the fucking third man. Idiot.
Then it all went black.
It had felt like hours, but a quick glance out of the window told Brompton that he hadn’t been out long. They were still on Shepherd’s Bush Road, jerking this way and that as Abdul the driver tried to negotiate the cars that were thwarting his escape. The police had attempted to clear the roads but this far up near the Bush it would have taken a miracle to do much more.
Blinking and turning his head, Brompton saw the fat chap who had taken him by surprise. They were alone together on the top deck, save for a few more blank-eyed and stinking corpses. Brompton smiled as the large gentleman leaned towards him from the seat in front and leered;
“Any more stunts like that, friend, and you shall find out what it is like to be thrown from a moving bus. Would you like that?”
“We’re not moving very fast, are we, mate?”
Brompton indicated out of the window with his head. Ahead of the bus was a sea of cars and lorries, none of whom showed any intention of moving. Every attempt to move forward was met with a honking horn and a tirade of swearing even as bumpers were crashed and windscreens shattered. Anger in his eyes, the fat chap stumbled over to the stairwell and began to shout down to the driver.
“Abdul! Abdul, you fucking idiot! Driver faster!”
“I can’t” came the reply. “Look at it! It’s fucking choc-a-block!”
The big fucker came stumbling back towards Brompton, swearing and muttering. Reaching under the front seat he retrieved an enormous green rocket launcher and a hessian sack containing several warheads. Now oblivious to Brompton, he used the butt of the rocket launcher to smash out the front windows of the bus. It took several attempts but eventually the glass spidered, cracked and gave way. He swiftly attached a rocket and hefted the device to his shoulder. Taking haphazard aim he fired.
The first vehicle to go was the Eddie Stobart lorry; one minute the driver was hanging out of the cab giving hand signals and verbals to the black taxi next to him; the next his hands were half-way to Acton, along with the rest of him. The taxi driver was making a game attempt to retrieve his face when the next rocket hit, and then the next one. Screams and smoke filled the air as people desperately tried to back up. The engine of the bus revved as it ploughed on through the skeletal remains of the vehicles. The fat chap laughed and attached another missile.
This one was fired into the distance; it bounced off of a piece of street furniture and into the shops on the left, removing a curry house and an estate agents from the equation. Brompton knew that now was the time to make his move.
Fat bastard was busy attaching his final rocket with sweaty, shaking hands. As the bus picked up speed his footing became more and more unsure, but he didn’t seem to care. Screwing in the projectile with one hand, he used the other to stabilise himself, nearly slicing his hand open on the jagged bits of glass that still adorned the edge of the broken window. Brompton advanced quietly, careful to hold tight to the handrails.
The big guy felt a tap on his shoulder. With the rocket launcher at his shoulder he found it hard to turn his neck but he could hear perfectly. He heard Brompton’s voice as it asked:
“Can you fly, Babak?”
He then felt the flat sole of a foot in his back as it pushed him forwards. The launcher fell from his hands, tumbling down on to the road below. For his part, he didn’t quite fall, though he probably wished he had. Instead he found himself impaled through the gut by multiple large shards of glass. His feet were off the ground and his body was hanging out of the front of the bus, his hands desperately banging against the destination board, smearing it with blood.
Feeling quite ill, Brompton grabbed the man’s feet and propelled him over and out, leaving only a distant cry as he slid down the windscreen and beneath the bus. Brompton dusted his hands and pondered his options.
The passengers had to survive. That was certain. Too many had died already, not to mention all those poor bastards in the cars back there. No, if anything else happened the General would have his guts for garters, his testes for cuff links and his willy as a cat toy. Come on, think, Brompton, think!
The voice was coming from downstairs. It was Abdul!
“Omar! You didn’t just fall out of the window, did you? Omar!?”
Brompton staggered to the stairwell and shouted back down.
“He’s dead, Abdul! You’ve got no chance! Now give up!”
“Fuck you, infidel!”
The bus began to pick up speed and Brompton fell backwards onto the top deck. Regaining his balance he stumbled over to the front and looked out of the broken window as the bus swerved awkwardly around Shepherd’s Bush Green.
Right, thought Brompton, as a brainwave struck him with some reluctance. Good thing I wore the trench coat. He unthreaded the belt of his coat, then tied the end with the buckle around one of the poles. Testing the knot, Brompton took the other end in his hands and carefully attempted to mount the front dash. Taking immense amount of care not to rip his clothes or scuff his shoes on the remaining shards of glass, he dropped backwards out of the window and held on to the belt for dear, dear life.
Abdul sprang backwards and nearly lost control of the bus as a pair of pointed Chelsea boots smacked into his windscreen. The boots got lower and lower, swinging from side to side like a pendulum, revealing a set of legs and then, hanging there most awkwardly, Brompton Rhodes!
Brompton grinned at Abdul then used the momentum to send himself around to the side of the bus. His feet entered smoothly through the driver’s side window, catching Abdul square in the jaw. Brompton kicked and kicked again, attempting to knock Abdul unconscious. He managed to angle a pointed toe at Abdul’s mouth, forcing his head backwards with an audible click. The terrorist slumped forwards onto the wheel, dead, as the bus rumbled onwards to Wood Lane.
Brompton had a few seconds to wonder how the bus was still moving before he lost grip of the belt and was thrown to the ground, knocking his head on the kerb.
The bus turned right sharply by Westfield shopping centre, mounting the pavement, then the concrete stairs that led up the shoppers’ paradise. It almost seemed to be getting faster. It fairly tore up the stairs and, upon reaching the summit, took to the air…
“Come on, mate. We don’t want trouble. We just want to talk.”
Sweat poured down John Cole’s face. This was all he needed. Third day back on the job after nearly a year’s leave. After a nervous breakdown. After Shelley and the kids left. Third day back and here he was, in Debenhams, in Westfield Shopping Centre, talking down a bloke wearing a vest packed with enough explosives to reduce the ladies’ wear section to so much rubble.
The bomber thrust his hand forward, the one holding the trigger. It shook, betraying just how nervous he was.
“I’m warning you, officer. Don’t come any closer. This isn’t about you. This is between me and Debenhams.”
John was surrounded by armed officers, all highly-trained and enhanced with the latest cybernetic targeting software. They had probably already chosen which particular body-parts they were going to perforate, and could do so well before the bomber had a chance to detonate. The bomber, for his part, was just a kid, barely twelve. God knows what issue he had with a department store. John swallowed hard. He raised his open palms towards the bomber in a calming gesture, even as he prepared to give the mental order to the troops to fire.
“Now, come on lad…”
He never got the chance to finish. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the ceiling as it exploded, disgorging a double-decker bus. The last thing John saw was the bomber looking directly at him and mouthing ‘what the fuck?’
Brompton tried to lift his head from the pavement. Propped up on his elbows, he just about managed to see Westfield shopping centre before it disappeared in a fireball that could be seen all the way from Crystal Palace to Wembley. Then he passed out cold, in the sure knowledge that he would probably never work in this City again.
To be continued in the first Brompton Rhodes novel, coming [God knows! – Alex]. Hooray!