Uncommon valor yields all-too-common response

THURSDAY afternoon, Rob Bruns, who operates a brake shop in Waverly, had a flash about a doughnut -- the kind with vanilla icing he likes so much. He can usually find one, even by late afternoon, in one of the glass cases at the 7-Eleven two blocks away. It was 4:30. Bruns decided to indulge his craving.

He walked across 33rd Street and the 7-Eleven parking lot, then through double glass doors into the fluorescent-bright store with its familiar coffee-and-hot dog aroma, and the same configuration of stocked shelves, refrigerated cases and counters that an estimated 6 million Big Gulp-gulping, Slurpee-slurping Americans and Canadians see every day.

What most of them don't see is what Bruns says he saw in the next instant -- a cluster of customers in the far corner of the store, and no one near the cash register except a teen-age boy with a droopy left eyelid. He wore a watch cap and a winter coat.

"How you doin', sir?" Bruns says the teen-ager asked.

"OK," said Bruns, in that instant realizing he was in trouble.

The teen-ager motioned Bruns to the corner with the other customers, revealing the knife in his right hand. Bruns thinks the knife was about 8 inches long, clean and new, in the style of a bayonet, with a V point. In the corner were a woman and her two grandchildren, a man in his 40s wearing a business suit and a female clerk Bruns knew from earlier visits.

The kid with the knife stepped behind the front counter and pounded on the manager's door.

"Lock the door! Lock the door!" Bruns heard the boy shout. He assumed the operators of the 7-Eleven were inside the office; the kid apparently believed they had the power to electronically lock the front doors of the store from there.

"Lock the doors!" the teen-ager shouted and pounded again, giving everyone a good look at the knife in his hands.

"Can't you lock the doors?" Bruns says he heard the teen ask the clerk.

The clerk said she didn't have the store keys.

The teen demanded money from the customers and ordered them to place what they had on the top of a chest-high shelf. Bruns reached into his right pants pocket and felt the $300 in folded bills he'd planned to spend that night in Towson on a birthday present for his girlfriend. He slipped it out of his pocket and hid it under a Pepsi display. On the spot where the kid had ordered everyone's money, Bruns placed $1.25 in change. He had a cell phone on his belt and considered dialing 911, but decided against the idea. He figured the people inside the manager's office had already done so.

Now the kid ordered everyone to join him behind the main service counter, with its nacho cheese warmer and hot box for breakfast sandwiches and pizza. The grandmother mumbled a prayer. Her grandchildren moaned and cried. The man in the business suit was silent. Just then, another woman came into the store.

The teen shouted at her, flashed the knife and ordered her through the swinging door and behind the counter. There were now seven of them -- Bruns and the other six in a huddle behind him.

"Lock the doors!" the kid shouted again, pounding on the office door with the knife butt. "Lock the doors!"

"Why don't you just take the money we gave you and go before the police come?" Bruns said.

"Nah," he says the kid answered. "I don't wanna do that."

Now, according to Bruns, the kid started to pace -- "Lock the doors!" -- and became more nervous, agitated.

Bruns leaned back toward the man in the business suit and whispered, "When I get a chance I'm going after him." The man in the suit said nothing.

In the corner of his eye, through the windows and glass doors, Bruns could see police cruisers arriving on side streets. Two officers came through the front door, hands to their guns. Then, seeing the kid and the huddle of customers, some with their hands raised, and believing they faced a possible hostage situation, the officers took cover. Bruns heard one of them say, apparently into his radio, "He's got a knife or a gun, we don't know which."

The kid turned and banged on the office door again.

In the next instant he turned to look at the police at the front door.

In the next instant, Rob Bruns, 50 years old, had his arms around the kid. He heaved his chest against the kid's back and pushed him through the swinging doors and across the linoleum floor, slammed him against the coffee bar and turned him around. They were face to face now. With his left hand, Bruns grabbed the kid's right wrist and squeezed. He felt a popping pain in his shoulder. The knife was near his face. Blood was on his hand.

"Get off of me! Get off of me!" the kid shouted.

Bruns heard himself utter a profane grunt that reminded him, in an odd flash, "of the way Al Pacino talked in one of my favorite movies, 'Scent Of A Woman.'"

He turned the kid sideways and kneed him in the groin. He pushed with all his might and rammed him into shelves of bottled soda. The teen crumbled. The knife slid across the floor. Cops came through the door. Guns drawn. Deed done. Elapsed time: Between five and 10 minutes since Rob Bruns had walked into the store.

His nephew, a city paramedic named Brad Bruns, happened to be the one who took care of the inch-long cut on Rob Bruns' left thumb. A police officer took a report and spelled his name wrong in it. The man in the business suit never spoke a word to Rob Bruns. Neither did the grandmother. Neither did the woman who'd come into the store after him. They all seemed to have scattered quickly. They all seemed to have moved on. Just like that.

Bruns was tired and sore. In a little while, he went back to work, and later realized that no one had made much of a fuss of about his deed. No one had said, "Thanks."

Bruns likes the 7-Eleven. He went back there the next morning. He was offered a free doughnut and all the Coke he could drink. He took the doughnut.

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