“Attention travelers,” the bus driver’s voice
crackles through the eight-inch speakers above me.
I open my eyes, sigh, and sit up in my
seat. “Next stop is … is … Mississippi. Jackson,
to be exact.” A man six rows ahead, dressed
all in black, hums a familiar ditty, bops
his head and snaps his fingers. I look out the
window at the moon over the freeway and
chuckle to myself. The old guy must have heard
me, because he turns and grins oddly. I know
right away he is not ordinary. His
eyes are dark, but seem to glow like burning coals.
He winks one of them and gives me the “OK”
hand signal, his thumb and index finger make
a circle with three up. At least, I think he’s
saying ok. He might be calling me an
asshole. Who can tell? Not me. I know next to
nothing about people and their reactions.
Ten minutes later we’re pulling into the
Greyhound station and the driver announces:
“For those of you continuing on with us
to Memphis, this bus will be departing at
3:38.” I look to my right – the chick
with the bump on her head checks a tiny watch
and rolls her eyes. “What time is it?” I ask. “Three,”
she replies without so much as a glance in
my direction. “Who hurt you?” I say, but she
pretends not to hear as she gathers her things
and heads for the exit. I follow a few
steps behind. When I get to the man dressed like
he’s going to a funeral, he grabs my
left elbow and stops me dead in my tracks. “Hey,”
I growl, through gritted teeth. “Do you mind?” He smirks.
“Not at all. Name’s Simon Appleby. What’s yours?”
“Jack,” I tell him … this is lie number one. He
seems to know I am being less than truthful,
but all he does is nod and extend a paw.
“Nice to meet you,” he says, and we shake hands, “You
too,” I state, trying to pull away to chase
after the big-boobed blonde bombshell getting off
the silver and blue motor carriage, but the
dude holds tight and keeps me from doing so. “Dude!”
I say with extreme exasperation. “Let
go. I’m on a mission here, and she is it.”
“Oh really?” he asks, the smirk re-appearing
on his thick, ruddy face. “What makes you say that?”
“Uh … intuition,” I mumble, as the girl
disappears down the steps without looking back.
“Right,” he chuckles. “I’m sure it has nothing to
do with the double-D’s buried in her bra.”
“It d-doesn’t,” I stammer, gulping because
it totally does … and there’s lie number two.
“Tell me,” he says, releasing his death grip and
following me down the walk way, cane in hand.
“How many times did Peter deny Jesus?”
“Too many, probably,” I smugly reply.
“Thrice,” the old man corrects. “And they called Peter
The Rock.” I turn my head slightly and inhale.
“I smell what you’re cooking, old-timer,” I quip,
“but pal, if you start talking about Jesus,
so help me God I will brain you. No one wants
to hear that self-righteous shit. That man was a
phony.” Half the passengers gasp in horror.
Three Spaniards dressed all in red pull out swords, but
the man in black grabs my arm again and yanks
me outside. “What in the hell are you thinking?”
he scolds. “You can’t say things like that. Are you nuts?”
“Perhaps,” I counter, “but stop and think, old man.
Let’s say you’re a Roman soldier assigned to
the hill where Christ was crucified..” “Golgotha!”
shouts one of the men in red through an open
bus window. I jump. The old man laughs and pats
my arm. “Don’t be frightened. Fear is one of their
four main weapons.” I shake my head. “I wasn’t
scared,” I said. “They just surprised me, that’s all. I
wasn’t expecting…” Out of nowhere, Simon
puts a hand over my open mouth and says,
“Whatever you do, don’t finish that sentence.”
I hear an audible groan through the window.
Simon grins and starts to walk, slowly. “Come on
now,” he says, heading towards the terminal.
“Let’s walk and talk.” I nod, light a Camel and
follow him, wondering why he carries his
cane over his shoulder rather than using
it the way my grandfather John used his. “Hey
Mr. Appleby,” I say, jogging to catch
up. “Why do you have that cane if you’re able
to walk without a limp?” The old man just winks.
“Tell me more about your theory, Jack,” he says.
“Ah yes,” I nod, taking a long drag from my
cigarette. “Where was I?” Simon avoids a
smoke ring and sighs. “Roman soldiers … Golgotha.”
“Right,” I say, wringing my hands. “So … imagine
you’re that poor bastard standing on a pile
of shit, piss and mud with hundreds of convicts
nailed to crosses all around you. You have your
spear and plate armor. Your helmet and your sword
weigh ten pounds each. It’s 90 degrees outside.
All you want to do is go home and see your
wife and kids, because that’s what matters to you.”
“Uh huh…” Simon says. I take another long
drag from my Camel and shake my head, amazed
that he’s never thought of this himself.
“So you’re standing there, all these dying men are
weeping. It’s hot. It stinks. The ground is squishy.
You want to leave, but you still have six hours
to go on your 12 hour watch duty. Now…
imagine Joe Arimathea walks up
and hands you a small pouch with 30 pieces
of silver inside and says, ‘Look at that guy.
He’s mostly dead. This is his mom. May we take
his body and bury her son properly?’”
“Ah ha,” chuckles the old man. “Just one problem…”
I smirk and interrupt him. “An empty cross
would be obvious, right?” He nods. So do I.
“When did Judas hang himself?” I ask. “Before
or after the crucifixion?” Simon’s jaw
drops and his eyes widen a bit. “You think they
replaced Jesus’ body with Judas’?”
I shrug. “Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, why not?
Think about it: Jesus has been beaten to
a pulp. He’s wearing a crown of thorns. His face
is bloody. He’s nigh unrecognizable.
Why not switch the body and lie about it?”
“Hmmm,” mumbles the man in black. “That would explain
why Pilate was so surprised when he was told
Jesus died so quickly.” I nod and take one
more puff of my death stick before dropping it
on the ground and crushing it with my boot heel.
“Exactly,” I say. “Remember that line from
Mark’s gospel, chapter 15, verse 44?”
Simon nods, thoughtfully. “’And Pilate marveled
how he was already dead and called unto
him the centurion’ … and … holy shit, kid.
I think you just might be onto something here.”
“It’s pure conjecture,” I say. “I don’t know what
really happened that day, but let’s say it’s true.
That would give Joseph and Mary and the rest
of them time to get Jesus cleaned up. A few
days later they bribed the guards at the tomb,
took Judas’ body away, and Jesus
sat waiting to be ‘discovered’ by the guards.”
For a moment there was silence as Simon
pondered this. Finally he asked, “May I have
one of those cigarettes, please? I haven’t smoked
in years, but I could use one right about now.”
I pulled out the pack, gave him one and lit it
with my sterling silver Zippo, then lit one
for myself and took a long drag. We stood there
smoking, watching the Spaniards poking people
with the soft ends of pillows. ‘Hey Simon,” I
said, eventually. “You like Bob Dylan?”
The old man looks at me cross-eyed. I smile.
“He wrote this line in ‘Visions of Johanna,’
about all-night girls whispering escapades
out on the D-train.” The man in black chuckles.
“Go get her, Jack,” he says, a smile creeping
over his lips. “Thanks for the conversation.”
I nod, humbly, and bow my head in respect.
“Very nice to meet you, sir,” I say, shaking
his hand once more and meeting his eyes with mine.
“It was enlightening,” he replied, gripping
my right hand with both of his. “Just tell me one
thing: what’s your real name?” I grin and shake my head,
toss the menthol in a waste receptacle
and head back towards the bus to await the
blonde, but I pause, turn around and walk into
the station to wash my face and hands first. As
I look at my reflection in the bathroom
mirror, it seems to warp and shift. The face I
see no longer looks like the man I once knew.
“Is it me or them that’s insane?” I ask. “God…