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FICTION


would be in touch shortly. Two days later, I still hadn’t heard a word. Wondering if I was already too late, I taped a local bus schedule on the inside of my booth. Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with yourself, even if you have every intention of doing so, but I truly can’t recall now whether I believed I was dooming people to die. I do remember thinking that, of the three forms of transportation, there are usually a smaller number of people on a bus. Another library search wasn’t necessary. On my


way home from work the next day, I heard the news on the radio. The Dumbarton Express exploded when a bomb went off a few minutes after leaving the bus stop at Union City, killing 23 passengers and severely injuring many others. When I got home, I stared dumbly at the images on ABC (it’s the channel that comes in the clearest), while the reporters repeated again and again the same limited information I’d heard on the radio and filled in the gaps with wild speculations and inane interviews with terrorism experts. I couldn’t believe the police hadn’t contacted me right away. I left a message for Detective Rodriguez, but didn’t hold out much hope for a return call. Hey Toll Man, I was kinda hoping you’d pick the


plane, but that was still a boatload of fun. I so look forward to your picks, particularly for this one. What’s it going to be: elementary, middle, or high school? As the car drove by, I felt the smooth surface of


tape on the bottom of one of the bills when I fanned them out. Short brown hair graying at the temples, he had a large nose and drove a silver Nissan pickup. I didn’t have time to get the license plate. I put in another call to Detective Rodriguez. He said not to do anything rash and that he’d send someone out to talk with me before the end of my shift. I could tell from his tone that he still thought I was crazy. When the police failed to show, I went shopping at Wal-Mart. I drew a picture of a school on a regular-sized


piece of copy paper and put it up in my booth. A small placard with the school’s name was drawn in the foreground of the picture. The writing was small, but if you looked closely, you could read it clearly enough. I saw him four cars back in my toll line. I would have felt more prepared if my trip to Wal-Mart the night before had been more successful. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get a handgun right away, but I was fully expecting to walk out of there with a shotgun or some sort of rifle. The young clerk at the sports desk explained that, in California, there’s a 15-day waiting period for the


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purchase of any firearm. I’d never given gun control laws much thought before, but what the hell kind of law is that? I needed the damn thing right away. Two weeks down the road would be too late. He said that if I wanted to drive to Nevada, I could get one the same day. One car back and my palms are covered with


sweat. A woman driving a large SUV that vibrates as it idles, reaches down from her high perch to hand me a ten. I collect the bill and return the change. She rumbles away and I see the guy I’ve been waiting for. He pulls up slowly and hands me a five. My hands are shaking as I take it, but he’s not paying any attention to me. He’s sticking his neck out the window, squinting past my shoulder. I know just where he’s looking. He’s trying to read the name of the school on the picture I’ve put up. Written in small letters across the drawn placard is St. Vincent’s School of Redemption. As a frown crosses his face, his hand still outstretched waiting for his change; I do the job I have to do. It was the Wal-Mart clerk who gave me the


suggestion. When I told him I really didn’t feel like driving all the way to Nevada for a firearm I was only planning on using once, he pointed out a stand at the end of a nearby aisle. I gave him a puzzled look and in reply he said, “There’s no waiting period on a Louisville Slugger.”


I work in a library now. I don’t imagine I’m the


kind of librarian who inspires fantasies, but you never know in this place. My favorite time of day is when I make my rounds, wheeling the cart of books I’ve carefully chosen down the concrete aisles lined with bars. They call out to me as I roll along. “Hey Toll Man, what have you got for me to read


today?”


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