By Kimberly Murphy
The horde of commuters escaping from their daily grind pushed into the already-crowded Underground car as another workday came to an end in London. People struggled to keep their balance and others attempted to find seats as the subway lumbered out of the station and onto its next destination. A dark-haired young man, the kind that stands out in a crowd even when attempting to be inconspicuous, stood and offered his seat to a young lady, only to have a leather-clad punk plop himself into it. The man shrugged, then gathered his shopping bag and found a handhold as the train picked up speed.
Things had changed little in 2068 from the early days of the London Underground: It was faster and the trains more modern, but still a cross-section of society filled the cars. During the heavy holiday shopping season, this was even more true as suburban shoppers mingled with daily commuters and local residents in the packed cars.
Which made the sudden lurching stop of the train in a darkened tunnel all the more frustrating.
As the brakes seemed to lock in place, standing passengers held on for dear life to handgrips or toppled to the floor, packages and briefcases went flying, and people fell out of seats. Screaming and swearing combined to create a rush of sound to replace the screeching of the metal wheels.
"Please remain calm," the conductor's voice over the intercom attempted to instruct. "The emergency brake has been activated in one of the cars. We are attempting to ascertain which car now. Stay in your seats and remain calm."
Immediately people began looking around for the offending brake lever. "There it is," the dark-haired man said as he pointed toward the back of the car, where the brake lever was pulled down into a locked position. He began to walk over to it.
A red-haired man badly in need of a shave and a bath pushed his way into the aisle as he pulled out a semi-automatic weapon from his overcoat and released the safety. "Stay where you are," he ordered.
The man stopped in his tracks as two others also drew guns.
"Happy Holidays," the redhead wisecracked. "Now let's all give to the needy today. Throw down your valuables."
A general murmur arose.
"Without conversation!" Redhead snapped.
"Come on, all of it," one of his cohorts' Cockney-accented voice encouraged. "Now."
Slowly, people began to drop purses, wallets, and briefcases to the floor of the car.
"You, too, bright-eyes," the other cohort announced, gesturing with his gun at the dark-haired man still holding his shopping bag. "Give us a present."
The dark-haired man's icy blue eyes never blinked as he hurled his shopping bag at the trio.
Redhead barely managed to dodge the bag. "That was stupid," he pronounced. "Try that again and I'll ventilate you."
The dark-haired man looked around for a moment, as if gauging the risks, then took a step closer to Redhead.
"I'm warning you...," Redhead began.
He never finished the sentence as a right cross sent him for a loop, crashing into his cohorts.
The dark-haired man dove for the emergency call button.
Redhead regained his composure and fired off several shots.
The dark-haired man toppled to the floor of the car.
Redhead dusted himself off as his cohorts began gesturing wildly at the screaming passengers with their guns. "Now—anyone else want to be a hero?" he shouted.
There was no motion to indicate any other passenger had such notions.
"Good." Redhead began moving through the train collecting the valuables that had been tossed to the floor as his partners held the passengers at bay with their weapons.
At the far end of the car, the conductor opened the door between the compartments. "What the..." he began.
"Stop right there," Redhead ordered.
The other two pointed their guns at him.
Suddenly both of them toppled to the floor.
Redhead turned around and got kicked in the jaw by the dark-haired man. He crashed into several passengers, who in turn grabbed him and his cohorts and their guns and held them tightly.
"Get us to the next station and call the police!" the dark-haired man ordered.
"Yes, sir," the conductor called, hurrying back toward the front of the car.
Applause and wild cheers filled the air as the dark-haired man slumped against the wall and hugged his arms around himself as if chilled.
One of the passengers retrieved his shopping bag and handed it to him. "We thought you were dead for certain," the young woman remarked. "Are you all right?"
"Fell a bit hard back there," he said, forcing a smile. "I'm fine."
As the would-be robbers were taken from the car and passengers interviewed for corroborating statements, the story of the dark-haired man's bravery spread through the station and out into the city at large. The papers and television stations all told about the young man who saved an entire train car full of commuters from three violent criminals, a young man who didn't even stick around long enough to seek medical treatment whose need only became apparent after he stepped off the train, leaving a dark bloodstain behind.
No one, it would seem, had noticed Paul Metcalfe tossing his bullet-holed bloody sweater into a garbage can and pulling his overcoat around him to quietly fade into the crush of departing commuters on the next Underground train to Heathrow.
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