What follows is a story about Bryn. But Bryn could well be me. I understand him well. We have similar heroes. Hercule Poirot is one of them. And we have similar obsessions. Though perhaps I am more outgoing than Bryn. Anyway, this isn’t about me. The story is about Bryn.
For the past nineteen years Bryn took the 8:21 bus to work and the 15:42 one back home. Even though everyone else drove a car, Bryn had stuck to his guns. Bus was a superior mode of transport – there was an air of reliability about it. Bryn appreciated the peace of mind buses offered. From the heights of his bus seat he would look down on the hapless, mad-eyed car drivers, and smile.
Then the new manager came to the branch and made changes.
The predictability of Bryn’s daily bus commute had been thrown up in the air like a pack of cards. Sometimes he would start after lunch and work till five. That meant catching the 17:12 bus. He had also been made to work every other Saturday. Working on the weekend wasn’t a problem – since his mother died four years ago Bryn had no weekend commitments to speak of. He lived alone. He shopped on Thursdays. He did chores on Friday after work. Working on Saturdays wouldn’t put him off that much if it weren’t for the big, gaping hole it had created in his life: a midweek day off. Bryn was distraught.
He’d started watching daytime TV but soon found he couldn’t cope with the unpredictable human factor of reality shows. He promptly switched to ITV3 where the looping repeats of Agatha Christie’s Poirot had at last put his mind at ease. This was his world. Hercule Poirot was his kind of man: organised, punctual, particular. It was like looking in the mirror, and nodding with approval. Bryn understood Hercule’s idiosyncrasies. Not only did he understand them – he lived them: the starching of his collars, the aligning of his shoes on the rack, the squeezing of his toothpaste starting from the bottom end, the sleeping on his back with the duvet drawn up to his chin and his fingers pinned neatly on top. It was such a relief knowing that there was someone out there just like him, for even though Poirot was a fictional character, Christie must have come across his prototype in real life. How else would she know him in such minute detail?
Bryn belonged at last! He acted and thought like Poirot. He even looked like him: rather small, corpulent and balding. He was also so self-effacingly polite that he was widely ignored, or at least, underestimated.
Bryn was remarkably inconspicuous. People never remembered him, or his name, or who he was. He could be anyone. A middle aged, ordinary, square man, he blended with the background like a blur – he was a non-entity. And that was what was eating him alive. He could do better than that. He could demonstrate his genius. Not to the world, but to himself. If only he could get into the mind of a criminal…
This morning Bryn was on the 8:21 bus. A yellow Mini, with a woman dropping her mobile and searching for it frantically with her head between her knees, zoomed by to its certain tragic end. Bryn bound his hands and kept them neatly in his lap. He was smiling rather beatifically. The 8:21 was like a home to him. His second home. He had taken it yesterday, too. It had been his day off, but he took the 8:21 to town and the 15:42 back home nevertheless. He did that often. The routine gave him a sense of purpose. And yesterday had been Wednesday – the market day. It was as good a reason as any to be in town, but not the only one.
As soon as he walked into the bank he could feel the electricity in the air. He resented it. He had twenty minutes for tea, which he would normally have with a biscuit, before pinning his name tag to the lapel of his suit and taking his place at the counter by the front window. There was no chance of that today.
Angela’s face was burning with excitement. She accosted Bryn by the door, “Did you hear?”
“Armed robbery!” she shrieked. “We had a robbery! Yesterday! The guy had a gun, held Sandra at gunpoint. Surely you’d have heard?”
“Can’t say I did, sorry,” he looked at her, contrite.
“God! Where were you!” she gasped. “Sandra’s off. Too traumatic… She’ll be off sick, I imagine, for weeks.”
“I guess we’ll have to cover her shifts,” Bryn offered hopefully. Angela gawked at him with disbelief, and then exchanged a meaningful glance with Tracey.
Tracey was a part-timer and worked only afternoons, but she was in today, evidently standing in for the traumatised Sandra. She had a long, scrawny neck, like a turkey, and it shook when she spoke, “He got away with five grand.”
“Neat sum,” Bryn raised an eyebrow and cocked his head, trying to appear bemused.
“He put the gun straight into Sandra’s face. It was that or the money.”
“Did they arrest him?” Bryn was wondering if there was still time for his tea. Would it be rude if he stole a glance at his watch?
“They’re still looking… He vanished into the thin air. Sandra gave the cops his description – well, what she could remember, under the circumstances… Black coat, black balaclava… He was carrying a bag – black, with a zip and a white logo. He was tall. Big man! Didn’t say anything, just pointed the gun in her face. I was in the toilet, missed the whole thing. It took seconds,” Angela seemed disappointed.
“Let’s hope they find him,” Bryn concluded, aiming to sound definitive. He smiled apologetically and looked at his watch. It was ten to nine. “Well, I’ll… What a day! I think I’ll have a cuppa on that note,” he said and retreated awkwardly to the kitchen.
“He didn’t take it in,” Angela whispered, shaking her head with pity. “As if he doesn’t care. I’m not sure if he’s heard me…”
“He just looks… through you. I say he’s got that syndrome-” Tracey wobbled her neck with agitation. “What do you call it? I forget. But he has it and don’t tell me otherwise.”
The 15:42 was two minutes late. That disturbed Bryn. He didn’t like surprises. Then it got even worse – there was a diversion. The police had cordoned off part of The Street between the bank and Market Square.
Bryn got home outside his usual schedule. There was no point watching Poirot sixteen minutes into the episode. Instead, he took his replica pistol out of the table kitchen drawer. He had chiselled it with great attention to detail and painted it metallic black. Angela was excused for taking it for the real thing. It amused Bryn that she had conjured him as a big man. Women always exaggerate.
He wondered who had found the money. Someone had. They had not handed it in. That hadn’t gone to plan. Bryn had abandoned the bag by the cheese stall. If he’d found it, he would’ve taken it to the police. People were dishonest – more than he had given them credit for. Still, he knew how the criminal mind worked. But it was only a petty criminal. He was yet to find out what made a murderer tick.