Uncommon valor yields all-too-common response

Dan Rodricks

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.

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