Joey was sick to the stomach of standing at the bus stop, partly out of boredom but mostly because he expected every car passing to slam on the breaks and spew forth a gang of undercover cops to nab him. He kept hearing the sound of slamming steel doors in his head, a sound he vowed never to hear again after he finished his stretch for joyriding. He was so certain he was going to be nabbed that he had taken off the backpack and left it lying under the hedge behind the bus stop. In his mind he replayed what he would say to the coppers when they slapped the cuffs on him.
I swear officer, that bag is nothing to do with me. It was sitting there when I came to catch the bus. I never even saw the stupid thing until your fat mate pulled it out of the bushes. You got the wrong guy and you are going to be sorry when I sue the arse of the lot of yea!
Yep, that would do the trick.
All the time he was scanning the approaching traffic for hordes of hidden policemen he kept touching the bag with his foot, just to make sure it was still there. At least seven bus’s had passed since he had arrived and each of them began slowing down as soon as they saw him standing at the stop. Each time he stayed still and kept his arms stiffly by his side. Time and again the bus drivers accelerated away with a look of fury on their faces. In the heart of the city a dozen routes would share the same stop and the drivers never even thought of slowing unless a waiting passenger hailed the approaching bus. Out here, only one route used this particular stop and why the hell would someone stand at the bus stop if they didn't want the bus to actually stop.
Joey felt his phone vibrate and he rammed his hand into his pocket so fast you would be forgiven in thinking the thing had stung him. It was Jimmy.
“Hello,” Joey said tentatively.
“Get on the next bus and sit half way back on the driver’s side.”
“OK Jimmy, what then?”
“Keep the phone on, I'll tell you what to do. Is there anyone else waiting at the stop with you?”
“No, not a sinner since I got here.”
“Grand, keep your eyes open.”
“Open for what?”
“Fuck it Joey, just do it!”
A single deck bus appeared in the distance and Joey scooped the backpack from under the bushes and raised his hand to flag down the driver. He could hear Jimmy breathing on the other end of the line but he was saying nothing. The bus indicated and glided to a halt beside him amid a hiss of air breaks. The wing doors flopped open and Joey hopped on.
“Where too?” asked the driver who could not have looked more bored if he tried.
“Two Thirty,” replied the man, checking his mirror and pulling out as Joey chased coins around the depths of his tracksuit pocket. When he dropped the money into the driver’s tray the man counted it at a glance before dispensing a ticket. Joey ripped off the stub and moved slowly down the wobbling bus, holding onto the rail with his free hand while still pressing the phone to his ear. He picked a seat and slid in beside the window. As the bus was nearly empty there was plenty of seats to choose from.
"Are you on?" asked Jimmy.
"Is there anyone cagey near yea?"
Joey looked around and scanned the faces on the bus. "There are a few birds sitting down the back with buggies. There is one guy reading a paper in a sweaty tracksuit, looks like he is coming from the gym or football practice. There are at least a dozen students and a few blokes in suits, plus one guy who looks like he is on the way to work at a building site."
"Are any of them looking at yea?"
"No, but if I keep staring at them they are going to start."
That was when Joey heard the cheap phone he had seen during breakfast beep at the other end of the phone call. Jimmy went quite for a second and then said, "Get off at the next stop and leave the bag on the seat by the window."
Joey dropped the phone from his ear as he unslung the backpack and pushed it into the corner of the seat. He heard the bell beside the driver clang but he did not see who had pushed the call button. One of the men in suits stood and walked to the front of the bus as it began to slow. Joey slid out of the seat and noticed the mothers in the back were gathering up their buggies while cradling gurgling babies one handed. Joey walked down the bus and waited behind the guy in the suit. Most of the students had also begun to pack up their belongings as the bus jerked down through the gear box. Eventually they pulled to a stop on the roadside and the door whooshed open just as there was a crash from the back of the bus and Joey jumped a foot into the air."
"Easy there lad," said the suited man standing in front of him with a smile. Joey looked back the bus to see a baby-bag spilled all over the floor. Trying to balance the stroller against her knee the mom squatted, frantically gathering her bottles and dummies before the bus pulled away again. That was when the man in the gym gear joined the woman and helped her gather up her babies paraphernalia, stuffing it back in the open maw of her pink baby bag.
"What's going on?" asked Jimmy.
"There are a lot of people getting off but the bag is still on the seat."
"How many are waiting to get on?"
"About eight, mostly students," whispered Joey into the phone. The crowd surged forward and Joey had to move. He got off the bus and waited. He kept watch for the rucksack none of the disembarking passengers were carrying it. Last to land on the pavement were the two mothers struggling under a tonne of baby gear and the gym guy. The women expertly flicked open their buggies with a toe and deposited their wiggling cargoes inside. The gym guy smiled and handed over the pink baby bag that had spilled on the bus. The youngest mum thanked him for his help and smiled in a way that said she might have dropped the thing on purpose just to spend a few more minutes looking at him. The gym guy smiled and gave her a wink as he slung his kit bag over his shoulder and swaggered through the gates of the college.
"Where's the bag, Joey. Can you see it?"
"No, it must be still on the bus. Nobody got off with it," Joey said, as he watched the waiting students either flash their passes to the driver or pay over their few coins. Soon the doors squealed shut and the driver pulled out into the traffic.
"It’s gone Jimmy."
"I guess we've done our part. You can head home, Joey, but keep the phone on in case I need yea."
"Sure thing Jimmy," he said and pressed the end button. As he watched the black fumes pump from the exhaust of the vanishing bus he realised he needed a lift back into the city, a lift he had just gotten off of.
"Fuck," said Joey, settling back down to wait for the next bus to come along and wondered if he had enough left in his pocket for the fare.
The Ferryman had ridden the bus route earlier and seen the greasy haired lad waiting alone at bus stop he had chosen for the drop. He scanned both sides of the road but could see no suspect cars or vans nearby, not that it would make any difference if they were waiting for him. He had no intention of exposing himself so easily to the likes of Jimmy Kingston. He rang the bell and got off at the next stop before cutting through the college campus and out the other side where he waited for the next bus to arrive. He didn't have to wait long. As the bus worked a circular route around the college he sent the first message to Jimmy Kingston. Soon the same guy he had seen waiting earlier got on the bus alone and took a seat half way back the bus on the driver’s side, just as he had been instructed to do. He held a phone to his ear and had a small rucksack over his shoulder.
As the bus pulled away, the Ferryman sent his second message and then waited. The kid was constantly looking around and whispering into the phone. Clearly he was trying to see who was here to pick up the money. The Ferryman kept reading his paper but didn't hide his face, that would have only attracted attention. As the bus slowed he saw the kid drop the backpack on the seat and move toward the front of the bus. The Ferryman was waiting for his chance to move when a woman dropped her bag full of baby bottles and nappies, it was as if God was lending a helping hand. The Ferryman stooped and helped the woman retrieve the spilled baby products. From the corner of his eye he saw Jimmy's man get off the bus as he stood and let the mothers move off in front of him. In one swift movement he leaned over, taking the backpack and dropped it into his unzipped gear bag. It only took a fraction of a second and nobody saw a thing.
Outside he stood directly in front of the greasy little guy when he said "It's still on the bus" and tried hard not to smile. The young mum gave his hand a long brush with her fingers as she took the baby's bag from him and her eyes said she would have no problem trying for another rug rat with him if he fancied it.
As the Ferryman vanished among the throngs of students, the clock began ticking down on John Griffins life.