Nature called ... at four in the morning, unfortunately.
Freezing his balls off out here, he thought.
Two-Bit blinked his eyes open, and saw smoke.
Smoke ... ?
He followed the column of silver; he followed it to a small thatched house on the shore of a lake.
"Hot damn," he said. "Looks like we won't hafta eat each other after all."
He ran back just in time to overhear his buddies arguing. Vehemently. But his heart pounded so furiously with excitement he couldn't register it.
"You wanna do me a favor and get lost?" Dallas asked. "You were higher than a fuckin' kite! Man, even I got more sense than you; you'll prolly be seein' bugs crawlin' up your arms and shit."
"I'm tellin' ya, I ain't high!" Soda shouted.
"Hey! I found a house! I found a house over the h—wait, what?" Two-Bit stopped his jog to stare at Soda. "You were stoned? When?"
"All this time," Dally said, folding his arms." It's a fuckin' wonder I didn't get pulled over for possession." He sized Soda up, smirking. "So, you think Darry'll stake his head up on a picket fence, or he'll use the old-fashioned guillotine instead?"
"Darry ain't here, you stupid motherfucker, so shut up!"
Dally clapped his hands to his mouth, rolling his eyes to the back of his head and feigning injury. "Ooh, druggie has claws."
"I ain't a damn druggie, okay? Just drop it."
When they got down to the house, Dallas punched Two-Bit in the shoulder.
"You idiot!" he hissed. "This is a hippie house! Can't you see all the smoke that's coming out the windows?"
"Looks like a good time," Two-Bit said absently, reaching out to knock on the door. Dally smacked the bottom of his palm against his forehead. Like talking to a brick wall ...
Soda crossed his arms, rubbing them. He could start to feel the insides of his eyelids freeze together. "Hey, Two-Bit, if you're gonna tell them our names, gimme a tuff name, man. I don't feel like explainin' it t'all these hippies right now."
Dally seized Two-Bit's arm and hissed in his ear: "I swear, if you say I'm Dick Clark again, you're gonna wake up wearing your ass as a hat."
He freed his arm, waving his buddy off. "With all that fur on yours, I bet you'd keep real warm." And he pounded on the door before Dally could grab him again.
"Ah! What visitors does the world bring us today?" a voice sang from the other side.
"If he just said what I thought he said, I may have to kill myself," Dally said lowly. "Right now."
The door had wooden hinges and took the caller five minutes to pry the ancient thing open.
"Howdy," Two-Bit said. "Hate to be a bother, but we're looking for a place to stay."
"No," said the man quietly. His eyes darted between the three. "You ain't with the Fed, are you?"
"Oh," the man said. "Then of course you can stay. Come in. Sit down." Talk about a dump, Dally thought. Somebody had chopped up a transistor radio for firewood. "My name is Starshine, and these are my friends," he said. Dally groaned on the inside. "What brings you here to our humble home?"
"We're ... traveling together." Two-Bit looked at Soda. "This is ... Dick." He winced in preparation. "Dick Winterschmidt."
"The third." Two-Bit leaned towards Starshine and whispered, "He gets real picky about that kinda shit."
"I see. And your other friend?"
Two-Bit looked uneasily at Dally, who smiled coldly. "Him? Oh, that's George ... George ... Thompson ... George Thompson ... Major George Thompson ... He was with the Navy Seals." The room went wide-eyed, to which Two-Bit added: "You know, where they honk the horns and they clap their fins and you give 'em a fish and all that."
Dallas's smile dissolved.
Two-Bit pointed to himself. "And I'm—"
"You caught him. His name's Dallas Winston, but everyone calls him Cowboy," Dally cut in, a smirk playing on his lips. Two-Bit felt a pang of ice shoot down his spine. He knew that smirk too well. "He hustles people in pool games and spends all his time getting knocked on his ass in rodeos. He ain't got no home 'cause he sleeps on park benches and shit—he was a runaway from Brooklyn. Part of a gang. What was it called, Cowboy?" Dally smiled tightly. "Oh yeah, I remember now—the Gunslingers. One'a them pummeled him for money, so he decided to make a little migration. Stole all his momma's diamonds and went to Tulsa three years later, where his old man lived." Two-Bit grew wide-eyed. Write a novel while you're at it, Dal? God damn. Was he ... was he enjoying this? "When he was sixteen, his old man kicked him outta the house for sleepin' with his girlfriend." He folded his arms and glared slightly at the wall. "Lyin' little golddigger wasn't a fuckin' day over seventeen, either."
"Did I tell you cats that Georgie here cusses like a sailor?"
"I can get away with it 'cause I am a sailor, you ignoramus," Dallas spat. He nodded at the crowd. "One time, Cowboy broke the school windows and I had to take the blame, with him having a record that reaches to China and all that."
A fifteen-year old with black hair running down to the small of his back called out: "Hey, I thought you was with the Navy Seals, man."
"That was a long time ago, when we were little shits. Now we're big shits." Dally glanced sadly at Two-Bit, shaking his head. "Cowboy's a wino. Real sad. I give 'im money, y'know, to help him up on his feet, but he blows it all on booze and broads." Two-Bit looked close to blowing. "But he can crack a real funny joke every now and then. I guess that's why I keep 'im around."
His buddy blinked. This was certainly a strange day.
"I retired a few years ago," Dally continued. "I got a nice boat and painted it blue, but during a trip to Greece my navigator crashed the hull against some rocks, and it sank off the coast of the Mediterranean." Soda's ears burned hearing the stream of lies with which Dally effortlessly wove his tale as George the Sailor. How in the sufferin' hell could he lie like that? "I was stuck in Greece for a little while, hitchhiked 'round Europe, you know, stuff like that. Went to the US Embassy, they sent me home."
"To Oklahoma, right?" another hippie called out.
"Yeah. Nothin' like Greece, though. Corn fields, corn fields, corn fields." Their incredulous stares were pure gold. There wasn't a corn field within three miles of Tulsa.
"How'd you end up here, man?"
Dally scratched his head. "We were actually goin' to Mexico, but I guess we went the wrong way."
"Yeah, that happened to me once," the hippie said, nodding sadly. "I was holdin' the map upside down."
"So this is our room, huh?" Two-Bit sat down in a beanbag chair, which promptly deflated.
Soda looked uneasy. "Uh, there's—there's a boy sleeping under the rafters."
"Good. You'll be right at home, then," Dally said. "You'll have all the space you need to rip it up."
"For the last goddamn time, I ain't no—"
Soda stopped midsentence as a naked woman emerged from a room on down the hall. She glided silently past their open door, not seeming to mind their greedy stares or hanging jaws. Two-Bit slapped himself to make sure he wasn't really stuck in a dream.
"Nah, boys, now that I think about it," Dally said, grinning, "I think we'll all fit in just fine."
"You kids hungry?" Two-Bit rolled over on the floor under the haze of smoke that had wafted upstairs. "'Cause I'm hungry as hell."
"Fuck yeah." Dally laid his head back against the wall, blowing out a sigh. "Fuckin' starving over here."
Two-Bit plunged a hand in his pockets and began rummaging around, mumbling, "Where's those sticky buns?"
Suddenly sharing a thought, Dally and Two-Bit shot a look at Soda at the same time.
"Whuh ... ? Oh, uh, yeah," he stammered drowsily. "I, uh ... I ate the last one."
Dally pushed a hand through his hair. Must've been something in the air—his insides felt so mellow that he couldn't even muster the energy to get up and smack the damn stoner.
"Great," he sighed, "leave it to McStoned over here to eat the last one."
"Look," Two-Bit said, lighting what he thought was a Cuban cigar, "this place's got enough gardens to feed all the starvin' little kids in China. We'll just sneak into the kitchen, grab a few things, and split."
The three boys stood in front of the cabinets, looking like they'd found the Promised Land.
"We need somethin' to drink," Two-Bit said.
And so it began.
The three scattered among the kitchen. Cabinet doors flew open; pots and pans were thrown about the kitchen in a clatter.
"And somethin' to eat, too," Dal said. "We need this shit to live, you know!"
"And some bread and jelly and pickles," Soda said.
"And the fuckin' sugar," Dally said, tossing more items into the burlap sacks they'd smuggled from another room. Opening a jar full of sugar, he let the sweet substance pour into his mouth, not caring that most of it had gotten on the floor. When it was emptied of all its contents, he tossed it out the window.
Two-Bit cleared the tables of anything that appeared remotely edible, stuffing them into his jacket and pants pockets.
"And some of this, and some of this, and some ... some ... ah hell, I'll figure out what it is later."
Dally, meanwhile, proceeded to fanatically knock down all the spices from the cabinets, stuffing them in his jacket pockets. "And oregano! Got no fuckin' clue what it does but I bet it's goddamn fuckin' delicious!"
When the chaos settled, however, and they were certain they'd be fat with satisfaction, they stared at their pathetic pile.
Dallas and Soda nearly wanted to cry.
"This ain't enough!" Two-Bit half-screamed, kicking the burlap sacks away. "Fuck this shit, man, you know what I could really go for?"
"A fucking hamburger, man," he said with awe. "You know, a real hamburger, and not just one of those dinky little ones they give you at McDonald's. I want me a fuckin' cow, man, I wanna fucking cattle herd! And I want it to be so juicy it fuckin' mooes at me!"
The hippie kid with black hair was making his way towards the kitchen; Two-Bit yanked his buddies out into the hall, calling out: "Hey, kid! You know where we can find a Dairy Queen's in this joint?"
The hippie blinked.
"We wanna have lunch; we're fucking starvin'."
"Oh," yawned the hippie kid. "Well, you don't have to do that; I could make you some pumpkin soup or something—"
"No," Two-Bit said in a voice so low Dally briefly thought the Devil was coming out of him. "Not that. I need ... somethin' heartier. You got somethin' heartier?"
"What? Like potato soup?"
"No," Two-Bit's smile was starting to scare the bejesus out of him, Dally thought. His eyes tended to bug out of his head when he was hungry. "You're mishearing me, kid—heartier."
"I don't feel you, man."
Two-Bit smile stretched to crazy-serial-killer proportions. "That's right. That's right. You don't feel me. Lemme clear it up for ya." His cheery stare could have melted stone as he pointed outside, then lifted up his shirt and pointed to his stomach. "I need some dead meat in this stomach right now."
The hippie looked uneasy. He held up a glass bottle with amber liquid in it. "Uh, no, sorry, we don't have any of that ... how 'bout some mead?"
"The hell is that?" Dally demanded, eyeing the bottle with certain interest.
"Mead," the hippie repeated, relieved to look at someone other than a ravashed Two-Bit. "The monks of England first invented it. It's normally a mixture of honey and rose peta—"
"Yeah, yeah, peace and doves, make love not war, Richard Nixon's the Antichrist. Now gimme some of that shit," Dally said, snatching the bottle from his hand. He swilled it down; a moment later he broke the lid of the vessel from his lips, his eyes flown wide open, coughing and sputtering. "The fuck? This stuff tastes like piss!"
"That's 'cause honey is bee piss, you stupid sailor," Soda said.
"No, there's no honey in our mead," said the hippie kid calmly. Two-Bit squinted in confusion. No one in their right mind was calm if they pissed off Dallas Winston. He shrugged. Unless they were stoned. Then the playing field was just about even. "We never take anything from animals we can grow or make ourselves."
"So ..." Soda said, "... it actually is ..."
"The cleanest liquid on earth, my brothers," he beamed. Dallas' eyes grew flat with horror; his hand went right to his throat in the universal choking sign. "Hey, don't be that way, man. You go to the city, that water you're drinkin' isn't much different than the sewage lines they got sloshing around it."
Dally retched, staggering forward, preparing to leap forth and die.
Two-Bit smiled politely, stepping aside so Dally could rush outside and let it all out.
"You know, now I think I've seen it all," he said, clapping the confused hippie kid on the shoulder. "You got that shit to go?"
"Oh, shit, the Feds are here!" Starshine shouted, bursting into the hall. "They got us! Hide the stash, man, hide it!"
"In the corn fields, man!" He dove behind the couch as a boom shook the front door; then screaming and commands morphed into chaos.
Five minutes later found them lined up against a police cruiser with their hands over their heads. An arresting officer was reading the hippie his Miranda rights. In monotone.
Dally considered simply asking one of the officers to take him out of his misery.
"False alarm, Frederick," one of the officers called out.
"It's users like you that make the world a ... " The arresting officer blinked. "Wait, what?"
The officer pulled out the contents of the bag.
"Seaweed," he said.
A clink of handcuffs sounded as the three greasers stared incredulously at Starshine.
"Seaweed? All this time ... y'all been smokin'... seaweed. And you're growing ... seaweed." Dally wiped his mouth, trying not to blow. "In the middle of a corn field."
"They're watered with the tears of Mother Earth, man," Starshine said before being promptly slammed into the cruiser. "With the fuckin' tears of Mother Earth!"
"You really wanna go to Greece, Dal?"
Dally snapped awake. "What? No. Fuck no."
"Then how the helld'ya make up that shit-story about crashing your boat in the Mediterranean?"
"I've got sources," Dally said sharply.
Silence. Two-Bit sighed as he stared at his reflection in the window. He'd seen the insides of a police car or two in his day, but never for the purpose of getting a friendly ride.
"Will we ever get home?" Soda said finally. "I mean, we can't keep running forever."
"Here's what we'll do," Dally said. "The first place we land, we'll get a job. When we get enough money we'll go back to Tulsa." He gestured a straight path in front of him. "No more shit."
Two-Bit snapped his head around.
"Don't look at me like that, you asshole," Dally said, leaning in to hiss in his face. "Yes, I said it. A job. Work. Something you do besides getting stoned all day and watching Mission Impossible reruns."
"Man, I'd go with that plan," Soda mumbled. "Least I know how to work."
Two-Bit blinked in the following silence, thinking, then said: "You miss Darry?"
"Maybe," he sighed, watching his reflection melt in the night. "But I'm starting to miss his cooking."
To be continued.