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Miller Trailways used to have a stop at Bloomington Indiana – the 1:10 PM – that would get you into Louisville Kentucky at 3:35. But they cut out the Bloomington stop due to a lack of passengers. Really, it wasn’t a bus station proper anyways – just a taxi stand that sold bus tickets. There was a tiny sticker on the corner of a window that said Miller Trailways. The only thing there now is goo where the sticker was scraped off.
That was how I ended up sitting in this Greyhound bus station in Indianapolis at 11:05 AM, waiting for the 3:05 PM to Louisville, instead of just taking a non-stop from Bloomington to Louisville. I’m trying to shake off the freaking four hour layover, but it’s still right there in front of my face.
I start to grab my duffle bag and backpack when I notice this white guy circling these vending machines that are out-of-sight of the ticket counter and the bus drivers. He keeps going over to this one vending machine, looking at it, and then walking away. I figure he’s lost some money in it and he’s just stewing about it, so I walk over to see, discreetly of course, and I take a look.
The vending machine has chips in the top three rows, candy bars in the middle four, and then rolls of peppermints at the bottom. I can feel the heavy-set white guy come up behind me and then I see it – the digital reader in the upper left-hand corner says ‘5.00’. It should say ‘0.00’ because I haven’t put any money into it yet, but there it is in big red numbers: an even five bucks has been inserted already.
I look over the snacks in the machine and this guy is right over my left shoulder by now, almost close enough to breathe on me. I don’t like it when people breathe on me – and forget about touching me! Even shaking hands gives me the creeps because people are so sweaty, so nasty. I take a quick gulp of air because I don’t want to smell him and I hold my breath while I return to my seat and my bags.
The odd fellow goes back to his seat too, checks his watch, sighs like he’s disappointed and looks over at this huge navy-blue pull-behind suitcase on the floor beside him. He circles several times over the next 15 minutes, watching people look at ‘his’ machine, figuring it’s broken, and moving on. Each time he gets excited, like he’s a fisherman getting nibbles but no one is jumping on the hook.
I check the plain clock on the wall by the doors leading to the buses: 11:18 AM. Now that’s a good clock: black numbers one through twelve on a round white background. It’s a simple, straightforward, user friendly clock. It’s neat and stoic – unlike the actions of the nerd who keeps circling the vending machines.
I look him over and start writing in this pocket notebook I carry in my back pocket. Male, white, 45, balding on top, brown hair, brown teeshirt, no logo, pocket on left side with two pens stuffed inside, hands clenched behind back, black strap holding his black-framed glasses in place. But there’s something else going on around the base of his skull – like a grey metal tube that goes from his left ear, to the top of his spine, back to his right ear. What the heck is that thing?
He’s got his back to me now, watching some little guy in an Everclear teeshirt and cargo shorts skim over the machines. He's young and about half the size of the vending machine troll. There are four vending machines altogether: two selling pops and waters, one selling snacks, and this guy’s $5.00 machine. The troll gets closer, edging in slowly, turning away a couple of times like he's stalking anyone who walks up to 'his' machine. The kid passes on the nerd’s machine, instead getting a bag of chips from the other one. The kid goes to the right towards the ticket counter and the troll goes back to his seat, disappointed, looking at his rolling trunk. He's beginning to slow boil. He thought it would be easier than this.
Other bus riders approach the machine and then step away, surmising that the five dollar machine is broken.
There's a saying: "It takes one to know one," the way vampires are supposed to know each other. I know what the dude is, I knew it from the moment I saw him with his pull-behind trunk big enough to stuff a body into. He's an amateur, that's my only beef - he's a sloppy amateur. He's too soft inside to make a choice, so he's allowing chance to make the choice for him. He's too busy watching his baited machine to even notice me, however. That's a good thing.
The 11:40 from Chicago pulls up and half-a-dozen passengers file into the station one at a time. Eventually one well-dressed woman wearing black jeans and a red blouse goes over to the 5.00 machine. She sees something on the fifth row down that she wants and takes out a couple of dollars from her purse. She tries to put the money into the slot but the bills won’t go in. She looks up at the red numbers on the top and she stops.
She thinks it over: maybe there really is $5.00 in the machine already. She shrugs and presses a letter then a number, and a bag of M&Ms moves forward and then hits the bottom. She pushes on the clear plastic door at the bottom and retrieves the snack laying there.
The white guy zooms into action, cutting off the small woman before she can get too far. He’s delighted with himself. Even from where I sit I can see the words ‘pay it forward’ fall out of his mushy mouth. He shoves a pamphlet at the woman, obviously expecting her to thank him by taking the religious propaganda and then shaking his stinky, sweaty, soft hand – maybe even giving him a hug.
Instead, the woman gets angry and throws up a hand between his face and hers. She doesn’t need his charity – she’s got plenty of money all by herself. She shoves the M&Ms into his outstretched hand. She grabs her purse and her tiny, orange pull-behind and heads out the station door, walking briskly towards downtown.
I quietly chuckle to myself. He had that coming. Jesus fucking Christ he so had that coming to him.
The fat white guy starts fuming silently – I love it! Suddenly his face changes, melting into a twisted grin. This was what he was looking for all along. He does a complete 360, scoping out everyone in the bus station. I turn my head before he catches me looking at him, but not before I see the red flash of a little camera hidden in the frame of his glasses, probably connected to that strange tube.
I can almost hear his thoughts running through his mind like rats running through a tiny dirt tunnel. He’ll get his ‘thank you’ from that bitch – just like he has half-a-dozen times before. In the end, they all say ‘thank you’ – at the end they all learn proper manners.
He takes hold of his large pull-behind and it almost twists sideways. He’s bad at this. He probably got the ‘secret-spy camera glasses’ on Ebay so he could film the whole thing. He heads out after the girl, to teach her how to say ‘thank you’.
I check for the folded camping knife I keep in the slim pocket of my carpenter jeans – the one between my right hip and my knee. I just pat the pocket, I don’t need to reach inside or take it out and wave it around. I think fondly about the squishy sound my knife makes sometimes – like Jello being sucked up off a spoon. I have a talent for being meticulous at my job.
I check the utilitarian clock on the wall. It’s five minutes till noon and my bus doesn’t come for another three hours. Maybe I’ll do a little pay-it-forwards myself, thinning the herd as it were. As a professional I hate to do anything like this for gratis, but it’s been a while since I did any volunteer work. I grab my backpack and my pull-behind and start to head out the door. Really, I’ve still got some time to kill.
Sidewinder4 - The twist at the end of the tale worked very well. And the tale came off well and the mind of the reader kept rolling at the end; good. I hoped the vending machine was a time tunnel or dimensional-door-creature-trap and Mister Sweaty would follow his prey into another world; perhaps with a long chase with the chaser also being followed if not chased himself. I thought that since this beginning could go in many different directions that several tales could be written with exactly the same beginning but with a multitude of different twists and endings; just a thought. Good beginning, good middle, good ending, good story.
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