By Jefferson Weaver
Imagine, if you will, a big yellow bus filling with children at the end of the day, with laughter and talk and the occasional greeting for Mrs. Baker, the bus driver.
The doors closed with a familiar hiss as Mrs. Baker checked the list by the camera that records every vehicle beside the bus. Mrs. Baker remembered a time when people didn’t pass stopped school buses; she had 30 years behind the wheel of a bus. She had decided that the new, pro-active measures dealing with such dangerous drivers were a good idea.
As she did every day, she lifted the microphone and got the attention of her precious cargo.
“Quiet down, children,” she called over the PA system. “Janie Jones, Mrs. Daniels’ email says you’ve been especially good this week.”
The little girl giggled and blushed.
“I tried, Mrs. Baker.”
“Well, you got two gold stars, so you get to ride up top today.” The kids cheered, and Janie made her way to a ladder in the rear of the bus. She put her favorite doll inside her hooded jacket, then pulled a helmet down over a mass of blonde curls. Clipping on her safety strap, she climbed the ladder.
With practiced ease – Janie was a good student, and often earned this privilege – Janie strapped herself into the chair, pulled down the visor on her helmet, and pulled on her gloves.
“Comm check, Mrs. Baker,” she said into the microphone.
“Five by five, Janie.”
Janie tested the pedals to rotate the twin paintball guns, and gave a thumbs up to the paintball gunner in the next bus.
“This is Mrs. Baker in 142, Deadeye Janie’s ready,” Mrs. Baker – 142 — said. “139, Who’s up top for you today?” the radio crackled.
“Hey, 142. I have Billy McDuffie on guns today.”
“He’s a fourth grader,” Janie muttered. “How am I supposed to compete with that?”
The bus jerked and moved out, and Janie hauled back on both charging handles.”
“Janie on 142, this is Marlie on 143.” That was quick.
“Go for Janie.”
“You ready for another gold star? There’s a blue sedan with chrome rims turning off Berkshire Street. He passed us the other day when my guns didn’t work.”
“You mean you missed,” Janie teased. Marlie giggled.
“Well, Billy McDuffie didn’t get him either.”
“Have you seen the movie Coco yet?”
“It was okay. We watched it online. My mom says we can get it on Blu-Ray.”
“Cut the chatter on the radio,” the principal’s voice cut in, followed by a chorus of “Yes, sir”.
Squinting through her sunglasses, Mrs. Baker nodded to the bus monitor.
“Lacy Miller looks carsick again. Better watch her. Glad she’s the first stop.” The bus slowed, and with a practiced hand, Mrs. Baker flipped out the stop arm, and a dozen red lights begin flashing.
Most of the drivers around the bus obediently – almost fearfully – stopped a safe distance from the bus. Janie rotated her turret, thumbs poised above the triggers, glaring from behind her safety visor.
Her radio crackled to life.
“142, 142,” the bus driver from 136 shouted. “You have a bogie, inbound from Somerset Street and Dairy Road. Blue sedan with – “
“–custom rims!” 143 said, finishing the sentence. “He just blew past us. We were at full stop.”
“Janie?’ Mrs. Baker asked. “You ready?”
Janie’s Hello Kitty sneakers shoved the pedals, and the turret’s hydraulics squeaked as the paintball guns spun to face forward and a little ahead of the bus.
“On it, Mrs. Baker.”
As the bus monitor helped Lacy Miller from the bus to her mother’s waiting vehicle, the blue sedan passed two stopped cars, then hesitated as it approached the school bus.
“You want to fight a little girl?” Janie asked quietly, staring down the sights at the sedan.
The driver glanced around, and seeing no cops, punched the accelerator.
“Gotcha,” Janie piped.
Janie squeezed the double triggers, and watched with pleasure as a line of pink, yellow and green paintballs stitched across the hood, over the roof and down the back of the car. She kept her gun camera focused on the car as it drove away, and got a good image of the license plate. The camera system automatically uploaded the image and sent it to the Highway Patrol.
“Well done, Janie!” Mrs. Baker called.
“Gold Star Janie!” the paintballer on 143 called.
Janie smiled, and clicked the safeties on the paintball guns. She wondered if maybe her mom would let her ask Marley over to spend the night, and maybe play some video games. Marley was her friend, and she figured she could give her some pointers. Marley tended to wait to long to shoot, and not give enough lead time.
Janie watched the oncoming traffic, hoping that maybe there would be another passer down near Jordan William’s house. Jordan and her brothers always took a long time to get off the bus, and people would get impatient. With any amount of luck, Janie thought, she could get at least one more gold star today. Then maybe she could have another slumber party and watch Frozen again.
The radio crackled.
“This is Marlie on 143. Jackpot! Take that, Billy McDuffie!”