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News & Features » August 2016 » “On the Bus” by Nathan Ward

“On the Bus” by Nathan Ward

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Nathan Ward rides through New York City.

20100207_nathan_ward_0134-6-200x300On the Bus
by Nathan Ward
New York, NY

New York was scruffier then; everywhere you saw signs of its humbling in its bald park lawns and strobe-popping Broadway head shops. I was relatively new to the city and still preferred traveling above ground in case I got lost. The bus seemed a slower but brighter way to go than navigating underground, which in those days always had a briny, belowdecks smell. Besides, I liked to see the neighborhoods and clumps of people the bus passed by on the sidewalks. To get to my part-time job on Saturday nights, I rode the crosstown bus at West 86th Street through the park. Once on the East Side, I switched at Lexington Avenue to ride the fifty blocks downtown to the used bookstore where I watched pale loners browsing for old sci-fi novels under the fluorescents until the early hours. I was sixteen and hoped to save enough from clerking for a backpacking trip around Europe.

That Saturday in early May, I got on the Lexington bus as usual for my evening of work and took my seat by the stuck-open window for the long ride downtown. In those days, kids on bikes and skateboards often coasted behind the old blue-and-white city buses, grabbing on and slaloming in the bus’s sooty wake.  At dusk, as I was riding downtown to the bookstore job, a group of four or five high school boys came alongside, calling to each other loudly in tough-guy voices. I was staring down at one kid my own age with dirty-blond hair, examining his light fingerhold and wondering how long I could hang on like that myself, when the mint toothpick I’d been chewing since the West Side dropped from my mouth and landed wet and splintery on the biker’s cheek. He howled to his friends, “That prick spit on me!” and then hung on for vengeance. He flipped a finger of his free hand like he was popping a switchblade—“You are dead!”—knowing that sooner or later I had to leave the protection of the MTA. The race was on to see if they’d live all the way to 34th Street, where I had to go to work.

One cab after another slipped past the screaming line of kids. A random open car door almost scraped off a few of them as the bus passed movie theaters, diners, and Papaya Dog stands, cleared the crowded traffic box of the East Fifities, and then passed into the borderland of Midtown, which retained its sense of stalled chaos after dark. Then a mysterious boundary was crossed in the lower Forties—the sidewalks began to darken, and empty and groups of waiting prostitutes appeared in the half-light. Pushing off the bus with one hand and flipping me again with the other, one after another of the gang turned for home like flyers low on fuel. Then it was just the two of us, me sneaking a look down at the blond kid pedaling hard and glaring back, the wind keeping him from spitting up at me. That was when I reached out the window and swung my fist at his fingers. He released, grinning at me for missing his hand just as he veered away from the bus before something—a pothole, a brick, or chunk of tar—hit his front wheel and he wobbled toward a long green Chevy Impala that was then nosing out, dragging its bulk from the curbside into the slipstream of traffic.

The bike hit the car just above the left front wheel, sending the boy spilling across the Impala’s wide green bow. I heard as much as saw him go clunking over the hood as the bus dragged on. I was sure I had killed him, and that night at the bookstore I waited for the radio to report the bus killing while I worked the register. Nothing came, but I pictured his scared face over and over, the way it had looked as he wobbled out of control toward the car. Just before the end, he had to know he deserved it.


NATHAN WARD is the author of a crime history called Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront (FSG/Picador), as well as The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury), which has been nominated for an Edgar Award.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 22, 2016

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,