Driving into the Sunrise
Yes, I know. Even I thought this would never be finished. But here it is. Late as hell, but finished all the same.
Dallas was leaning on his pool cue, waiting for Dennis Fraser to give him an answer and pretending that he hadn't seen Sylvia pull up a chair a few feet away. She looked especially hot tonight in a new red dress and she was sipping vodka and tonic with a thin slice of lemon perched on the rim of her tall glass. It had to be understood though; he wasn't watching her.
Fraser was still shaking his head.
"Fifty dollars, Winston? That's an unfair advantage, you live here. I don't got a pool table at home."
Dallas saw Fraser's point. Yeah, he did live at Bucks with the pool table downstairs, but when he did use it, it was usually when the place was empty and the lights were out. It was incredibly distracting for him when he thought about the many times he'd taken Sylvia right in the table's centre.
"Quit your whining, Fraser. Tell you what; you can bring in your buddy. And I'll have any partner. In fact, you can choose." Dallas used a hand to gesture at the crowd, and Fraser looked around for a moment or so before turning back to Dallas with a smile.
"Alright, I'm in. And I choose your ex-girlfriend."
It kinda pissed Dallas off Fraser knew that he and Sylvia had split. They had sort of made it up that night at her place but then the whole thing of throwing Jimmy out the window and breaking her brother's cheekbone had occurred. Then he thought they'd made it up upstairs in his room, but she'd cut the fucking crotch out of all his jeans. He didn't know where that left them.
It seemed to Dallas that everybody had heard about Sylvia and Jimmy Carol. He didn't even know Fraser too well, he'd met him through Shepard and he'd played a few rounds of poker with him and his buddy, Michael.
Sylvia overheard Fraser's proposal and looked over at him. Dallas scowled at her.
"I meant a guy, man. Chicks don't count."
"You said any partner, Winston." Fraser smirked. "So quit your whining."
Dallas gritted his teeth as Fraser used his own words against him. He waited for Sylvia to protest about playing but she was already putting down her glass and resting her purse on the pool table. Before he knew what was happening, she was accepting a cue from Fraser's friend, Michael.
"So, how do I hold this thing again?" Sylvia giggled at Michael. Dallas rolled his eyes as Michael demonstrated and nodded at Fraser in a business like fashion.
"So who's breaking?"
"Hey." Fraser put a gracious hand to his chest and smiled at Sylvia. "Ladies first. Go ahead, sweetheart."
"Thanks." Sylvia chalked her cue like a clumsy kid before leaning over the table and lining up her shot. It was impossible not to look at her glorious bust as the red dress strained against her chest. Dallas just about tore his eyes away as she hit two balls neatly into the same pocket and straightened up with a grin of surprise.
"Wow," she said gleefully. "Do I get another turn now?"
"Sure," Fraser grinned back at her. "Take another shot."
His smile was quickly wiped from his face as Sylvia potted a third ball and then a fourth. Dallas thought she was going to clear the table entirely, but on the black, she got stuck in an awkward position and missed it by millimetres.
"Holy shit, she's a shark."
Michael was amazed but Fraser was glowering at Dallas and shaking his head furiously.
"You set me up, man. This was a fucking set up."
"Hey, you picked for me." Dallas shrugged casually. "I let you pick any person in the joint and you chose her. In fact, I tried to talk you out of it."
Their game had drawn quite a crowd, pulling the dancers towards the table, giving Sylvia the attention she loved. Now though, Sylvia was done, sashaying away to pick up her drink and take a suggestive sip. The damn show off hadn't even broken a sweat.
Fraser looked at Michael and gestured helplessly toward the table.
"You go ahead. I ain't got a chance of beating that."
Michael was good, Dallas observed. He made two of his shots, neither at easy angles but missed on the third.
The white ball was now at the south end of the table near the left corner and the black was at the north end right corner. The trouble was both north end pockets were obstructed by Michael and Fraser's balls.
Dallas half wished that Sylvia was taking this shot. Her brother had had a pool table in their garage since they were kids and she was a hell of a lot better at this game than he was. Still, the crowd were watching in anticipation and he was never going to hand over his cue, let alone to a girl.
He remembered playing pool with Darry once down at the bowling halls, and Darry talking to him about angles and probability. He wished he'd paid a little more attention now. Darry was a pretty decent player.
Still, Dallas was good at winging it. It was the only way he knew how. Drawing back the cue and aiming for the right hand side of the ball, he took his shot.
And what do you know? It knocked the black swiftly toward the north end's left pocket, slipped by the obstructing ball and went in smoothly. Game over.
The crowd cheered and clapped him on the back while Fraser scowled and reached into his pocket for his wallet.
Dallas took his winnings as cool as ice, not letting on for a second that there had been any doubt he would make the shot. Sylvia raised her eyebrows at him familiarly and he hated the inevitable stirring in his crotch. Man, it must be sweet to be a broad. They expected not to pay for anything, to use sex as a weapon but then they still cried out for sexual equality. And you couldn't even bust their heads for being such a pain in the ass. Talk about having your cake and eating it...
"I think you owe me a drink," Sylvia said breezily, pushing her way towards the bar. Dallas put down his cue, giving Fraser one more shit eating grin, before following.
At the bar, side by side on stools, and hidden from the view of the pool table, Dallas and Sylvia were snickering like a pair of sixth graders.
"Did you see his face when he realised you could play? What a fucking moron." Dallas felt like his sides would split if he laughed any more, but even through her laughter, Sylvia was all business.
"So where's my cut, Winston?" She tapped the bar top and he immediately stopped laughing and stared her down.
"We never agreed on a cut. This was my deal."
"Which you never would have won without me."
"Says you, doll. I had it all under control."
Sylvia looked at him scathingly but he didn't look away, his piercing blue eyes boring into her coldly.
"You can have ten, but that's it," he said, sliding a ten dollar note her way. In all truth, he would have given her half but he needed money for gas and food tomorrow when he went to visit Johnny and the kid.
Sylvia picked up the ten dollar note, slightly damp from resting on the counter, and shook it off meaningfully.
"I guess I'll accept," she said. "I mean, you do need to do some pants shopping pretty soon..."
She always had to push her fucking luck.
"Buck, gimme a beer." He held out a five dollar note, but had his hand pushed immediately away.
"It's on the house." Buck winked at him and Dallas shrugged. He wasn't going to argue with that.
"Sylvia? Vodka and Tonic?" Buck offered, and Sylvia smiled and tossed her blond curls.
"Sure," she purred, whispering to Dallas once Buck was out of ear shot. "What's with him?"
As they sipped their drinks, a low but commanding voice from behind them said;
"Well, if it isn't my favourite couple."
Dallas felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and turned quickly to see who the culprit was. He relaxed at the sight of a familiar if smug face.
"Where the fuck have you been?"
"Why? You missed me?" Tim Shepard pulled up a seat on his other side.
"Sure, Shepard. I been crying myself to sleep at night. So, where the fuck have you been?"
Tim told him about Nicky Gavel's kid brother getting jumped and in turn, Dallas told him about the Soc's who had jumped Two-Bit.
"This is exactly what I'm talking about," Tim said. His voice was calm but Dallas could tell he was pissed by the way he clenched his beer bottle. "We've organised a rumble, Soc against Greaser. No weapons, fists only, this Saturday night. You in?"
Dallas looked at him dryly.
"'You know a rumble ain't a rumble without me."
Sylvia bristled uncomfortably beside him but he ignored it. She was always tense at the thought of him fighting. It pissed him off some; she should know by now he was near invincible.
"So are you buying me a drink or what, you bum?" Dallas nudged Shepard. "I caught it pretty fucking bad offa Carter the other day."
He didn't need a drink. He had a fresh one in front of him and it looked like they'd be on the house all night. But what the hell. Why not spend Shepard's money?
Tim laughed, a rarity for him, but it still never quite met his cool grey eyes.
"Yeah, I heard you showed up later with a face all colors of the rainbow. I'm just sorry I missed it."
Dallas put a hand to his face, a fading bruise the only remnant of his tangle with the police. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Lucky for you, I heal fast, motherfucker."
"Lucky for you, Winston. For me, it ain't so great. Same again here." Tim indicated himself, Dallas and Sylvia to Buck's barman who came back with two beers and another Vodka tonic. "Any news on the Curtis kid?"
It annoyed Dallas that Tim only asked about Pony but he supposed since Pony used to hang out with Curly, he didn't know Johnny as good.
"Nope." Dallas took a swig of his beer, conscious of the fact that both Tim and Sylvia were waiting for him to elaborate. They could carry on waiting, for all he cared. He wasn't telling nobody nothing.
"Sure." Tim paid for the drinks, his tone letting Dallas know he didn't believe him for a second.
"So, Tim...there's something I been meaning to ask you..." Dallas trailed off casually, before dropping his favourite line. "How IS your little sister?"
Disappointingly, Tim didn't bite. In fact, he gave Dallas another rare grin. Two in one night, Dallas was sure his face would break.
"Oh, she's fine, Winston, real swell. How's your pal, Jimmy?"
Shit. Dallas should have guessed Tim would hear about Jimmy Carol. Sylvia stiffened on the other side of him as he considered picking another fight.
"Quits?" Tim asked meaningfully.
Dallas sighed, deciding that getting thrown in the cooler wasn't an option this evening.
"Quits," he mumbled unenthusiastically.
Dallas stood on Buck's front porch, smoking a kool in his bare feet as he watched the sun start to rise in the distance. He should be getting off soon, nice and early so nobody could ask any questions.
He felt full of energy at the thought of seeing them; little Johnny and even the book swotting kid. Soda's letter sat nestled safely in the front pocket of his shirt, something he was sure would bring a smile to the kid's face. Whoever would have thought it? Johnny Cade and Ponyboy Curtis up on a murder charge.
He flicked the last of the cigarette into the dust and stared thoughtfully into space for a moment, wondering what advice to give the two of them. He knew they'd be pissing their pants waiting for him to come up with a plan, but the way he saw it, there were only two options. They could come home and face the music. Or they could keep running. He knew which one he'd choose.
Dallas didn't like jail. He didn't like the sound of the keys in the locks, he didn't dig sharing a room with a stranger either. He hated jail food, he hated the guards, and he despised the fact that he was holed up with some real scummy characters. Not that he disliked criminals as a rule, but some of the people inside had no morals whatsoever. Guys who had beaten up their girlfriends, robbed their grandmothers or tried to blame their crime on their buddies. Dallas hated those kinds of guys.
He tried to think about Johnny in jail and the thought made him sick. He'd seen guys bigger and braver than Johnny eaten alive in the joint. Even he had had a tough time on his first stint and he had always been a mean little bastard. Of course, he got meaner inside.
"You're up early."
Dallas jumped at the voice breaking into his thoughts but relaxed when he realised it was only Buck.
"Yeah," he agreed.
"How's Sylvia?" Buck asked him. Dallas had had to carry her upstairs last night after she'd gotten so drunk, she could barely stand. It had been a good time though. He and Shepard had played poker with a few other guys and then Two Bit had showed up and they started talking about the good old days when Mr and Mrs Curtis were around and Darrel had been a jock. His team mates, mostly Soc's, could never believe that Darry had friends like them. Darry though, had never been prouder when they shouted his name from the stands.
"She's still asleep." Dallas gestured towards the upstairs floor. He'd left her sprawled out on the pillows, giving her hair a ruffle and her cheek a rough kiss.
"You going somewhere?" Buck asked him, and Dallas didn't care what Buck suspected. He knew he'd guard whatever he discovered about Dallas with his own life now Dallas had the power to ruin him.
"Soon," Dallas replied.
Buck pulled the keys to the thunderbird out of his pocket and threw them towards him. Dallas caught them deftly, not saying thanks. Well, that saved him from jumping the train.
"You okay for money?"
Dallas started to feel a little uncomfortable. He didn't want Buck's handouts just because Buck was scared he'd blab. Him being so willing was taking the fun out of everything.
"I'm okay," he responded. "And you ain't gotta keep doin' this. I said I won't say nothing and I won't."
Buck looked down at the peeling porch, embarrassed.
"I know you won't," he said in his thick southern drawl. "I just want you to know how much I 'preciate it."
"Message received," Dallas told him, giving him a mock salute. "Jesus, one minute I'm the worst thing that ever happened to you, then you're kissing ass like I've got a terminal disease."
Buck looked astonished.
"I know we butt heads, Winston, but I always figured we got along underneath it all. You might even say we were... friends. To tell you the truth, I kind of think of you as a little brother."
Dallas was unexpectedly touched.
"You're too ugly for us to be related, Merril."
"Aw, c'mon, Dal. I know you ain't as mean as you pretend to be. I know your friends would move heaven and earth for you and I know when those two kids got in trouble last week, you were the first person they came to."
Dallas considered what Buck was saying for a moment. His boys were pretty tuff the way they had his back. And he knew Johnny and Pony looked up to him, even though they probably shouldn't. That didn't mean he wasn't a nasty piece of work though. He'd been a rotten apple since the day he was born. Both of his parents could vouch for that.
"I'm meaner than you know, Buck."
"Kid, you know how many people would turn a blind eye to what you found out yesterday?" Buck was really intent on having a heart to heart, a pastime that Dallas really didn't have the stomach for.
"I got no business with anyone's business but my own." He shrugged, hoping to end Buck's bullshit before he really got going.
The truth was, people who were different didn't bother Dallas. Supposed social deviants like Gays, Blacks and Jews were labelled just like he was for being poor and jobless. They were all outsiders, just for different reasons.
The first year Dallas had started at the rodeo riding for Buck, he had seen the best rodeo jockey he'd ever seen in his life. Glory, this guy was like an acrobat on horseback and so unbelievably watchable because you could see he had a genuine pleasure for what he did. The rodeo crowd hated him though. They shouted insults, threw beer bottles, and booed and jeered when he did just about anything. And all because he was a black guy from New Orleans.
When the rider finally pulled out because of the abuse he was given, the other riders were smug and proud of themselves. Dallas was the only guy who was pissed about it. Not because he was a black rights activist but because every rodeo he won felt like less of an achievement. He had wanted to beat the best riders around, but in his mind, the best rider around had been forced out for no reason at all.
"I just think you're a pretty decent guy underneath it all," Buck said softly.
Dallas looked over at shabby Buck in the half light, his eyes clouded over, a soft smile on his weathered face. Dallas hit him hard in the shouder.
"Don't go spreading that around, y'hear? Besides the fact that it's bullshit, I got a rep to protect, you dig?"
Buck struggled to keep his balance beneath the impact of Dallas' punch. He rubbed his arm vigorously in the spot he'd been hit, but he was still smiling.
"Whatever you say, kid."
Dallas decided it was time to leave.
"If anyone asks, you haven't seen me." He started to stride towards the thunderbird.
Buck hurried after him.
"What about Sylvia?"
Dallas unlocked the driver's door and clambered inside.
"I said anyone, didn't I?"
Buck shook his head.
"I don't know why she puts up with you..."
"Because I'm the only person who knows how to handle her," Dallas smirked. "I'm outta here."
Dallas jammed the car into gear and backed out of the parking lot, causing Buck to jump clear of the cloud of dust he left behind. He took a last look at Buck in his rear view mirror. The older man stood with hands on his hips, squinting with eyes that had always needed glasses, and smiling a near toothless smile.
If Dallas had known that would be the last time he saw him, he might have said thanks for putting up with his shit, and maybe even shook his hand. He might have told him that the future locking up of his room like some morbid shrine was fucking stupid and a goddamn waste of money to boot.
And if he had known that mornings hurried kiss on Sylvia's soft cheek would be his last, he might have taken her in his arms and kissed her the way she liked to be kissed. He would have told her that collapsing at his funeral like a wailing banshee was not an option and instructed her to grow up and pull her shit together.
And maybe if he'd had the time after the upcoming rumble, he would have pulled Steve aside and told him to take it easy on Syl. After all, he had never been particularly good to her and him being dead didn't change that. Besides, she'd be lost without him; lost and heartbroken.
As for Soda, he could have told Soda to quit pining after Sandy because no broad was worth that kind of hassle. Soda had always had that irritating talent of attracting the hottest girls around, and a talent like that was wasted on a chick pregnant with some other dude's kid.
Perhaps it was Darry he would have spoken to the most sincerely because he was truly sorry for hiding his kid brother and lying to his face. And when he'd known his last moments were upon him, it was Darry's voice he wanted to hear on the other end of the phone. He guessed Darry was the big brother he had never had.
There was no doubt in Dallas' mind, he would have shook some sense into Two-Bit, maybe pounded on him too, because becoming a drunk and blaming it on his absence was a punk ass thing to do. Even for him.
Yeah, if Dallas Winston had seen what was coming, Tim Shepard would have been quickly informed that keeping an eye on old man Winston was an insult not a favour to him. Dallas would have sooner seen the twenty dollars Shepard slipped Bob here and there go to Travis' police retirement fund. And that was saying something.
Perhaps he would have given the pansy ass kid a dead arm for blaming himself over his and Johnny's deaths. Perhaps he would have stood at Johnny' bedside and told him to face death like a man because it got us all in the end. Besides, Dallas would be following shortly, watching his back as he always had.
But even if he had foreseen the brewing storm, the trouble was that 'maybes' and 'perhaps' weren't Dallas' style. It was to be a short life but he'd always lived every day like his last anyway, so screw the goodbyes.
His head was clear and cool as he threw a casual arm across the passenger seat and slumped down in his seat. Some soft rock was playing on the radio as he clamped a cigarette between his teeth and squinted at the rising sun. It looked as though he were driving straight into it the way it sat, gleaming and golden, at the end of the road.
He bet that Pony would have made a real big deal out of it, but truth be told, all the brilliant light did was give him a headache and obscure his view.
He dug around in the car until he came up with a pair of sunglasses. Slipping them on, he fixed his face with his famous smirk, and floored the gas pedal.