Rules of the Road
by Geron Kees
©2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.
The rest of the week went quickly enough. Brian and Ed made an appearance at the shopping center in Alna and were welcomed by the other guys. By the third visit Brian felt like he'd been going there his whole life. Even Jim Van Pelt was cool. Jim had what was considered the quickest car at Proctor - a Roadrunner like Colin's car, but a '68 instead.
But where Colin had put a grand into his engine and another thousand dollars into his paint, Jim was the more practical of the two. He'd found himself a nice original 383, four-speed 'runner, dark blue in color. He'd taken it home, washed it and waxed it, and then put his two thousand dollars into the engine and clutch assembly.
The result was a car that had turned consistent high twelves at the track, and which had been upholding the honor of the school for two years now.
Brian asked him if he had seen the Camaro at Kennedy with the 427 and the two-thousand dollar paint job.
"Yeah, I saw it. That's what's in it - a 427?"
"Yep. Me and Ed were down there the other day when it came into the Burger King. Sounds like a pro-stocker. The guys we were talking to said it had just run a twelve-two the other day, still dressed for the street."
Jim blinked. "Shee-it. I can't touch that. That's a half-second quicker than my best." He shrugged. "What do you expect from a 427? It's probably an L-88. Those things are brutes, man. I'll bet if it ran a twelve-two in street trim, then he'd surely get a mid-eleven out of it if he uncapped the headers, put on some slicks, and tweaked it a bit."
"You gonna stay away from him, then?" Brian asked.
"Hell no. I see that dude out there one night I'm going after him. And I'll do my best to eat him alive. Half a second is close enough to me that it'd still be fun. Hell - he might miss a shift or run out of gas or something. Then I'd win."
Brian laughed. He liked Jim - the guy was straight up, like Ed. That Brian had kind of used to think that Jim was a snob kind of irked him now. Jim wasn't a snob. He just lived and breathed cars, and if you didn't have one, he didn't much feel he had anything to talk about with you. Nothing personal, man. We just don't click, is all.
Friday evening came around. Brian fidgeted and played with his food during dinner, while his mom shook her head and his dad just grinned.
"Are we keeping you?" his dad finally asked.
Brian laughed. "No. You know - it's just my first Friday night out in the Bee. I'm a little nervous is all."
His mother looked at him. "What's to be nervous about? You're just driving a car, Brian."
Brian gave her a pained look, and then threw a look to his dad asking for help.
"Honey, it's his first night where maybe he'll get a run. A real run. I was nervous, too, my first night out in the Impala when I was his age."
His mother frowned at Brian. "You're going to be racing? On the street? Isn't that illegal?"
Brian opened his mouth to answer, but his dad beat him to it. "Yes, yes, and yes." He looked at Brian's mom, a little smile on his face. "You seem to be forgetting some of the stuff we did in that Impala, Amanda."
Brian's mom opened her mouth to give an obviously scalding retort; but then she paused. Her eyes rolled to the right and she seemed to be seeing something that Brian and his dad couldn't; and then she suddenly smiled. "You be careful, Brian. But have fun."
Brian gaped at her, but then looked over at his dad with new respect. He really wanted to ask what kind of stuff the two of them had done together in that old Impala; but, on second thought, best not to know. Some things needed to be kept right where they were. Like, not shared.
But he couldn't help smiling at his mom. "I will. I really will, mom."
He picked up Ed, and they headed up to the shopping center to see if Bailey Maxwell was there. Bailey was a local no-account, eighteen and jobless, who spent his time mooching off his parents and getting high. It was his practice to be at the shopping center on Friday and Saturday nights, where he would collect money and orders for beer, and then walk over to the liquor store to fill them. He was of legal age to buy beer, whereas the highschoolers were not. As payment he would take a beer out of each order, or a few hits off of a joint. It was easy money for him, and a sure way to get a buzz on the weekend.
They pulled in, parked next to Dave Routh's Nova. Dave was kicked back in the driver's seat, sipping a Bud.
"Shit," Ed called to Dave. "We didn't miss Bailey, did we?"
"Someone want me?" Bailey's head popped up from between two cars, three cars over, and he coughed and released a big cloud of smoke into the air. "Shit, that stuff is harsh, Craig. Mexican, my ass. That's homegrown, and whoever dried it used a blowtorch."
Brian grinned. "We need your services, when you can, Bailey."
Bailey held up a finger, leaned back down out of sight. A second later another cloud of smoke drifted upwards, and Bailey came after it, hacking and rubbing his eyes. "Thanks for nothing, Craig. Jesus, that stuff is like sniffing a girl scout campfire."
Bailey came around the intervening cars, waving a hand in front of his face, and leaned into the window of the Bee. "What can I do to you, gentlemen?"
"We need a six of Molson," Brian said, holding up a five-dollar bill. "The beer, not the ale."
"Just one? You're getting shamelessly predictable, Brian."
"That's all we need."
"Makes you guys oddball. I get one, that leaves five. Not my fault if you guys fight over the orphan."
Ed grinned. "I thought we'd keep all six and roll you a joint instead."
"I just had a joint," Bailey said. "My lungs have been torched and I'll probably be dead tomorrow." He grinned. "What have you got?"
"Well," Ed bounced his eyebrows up and down a few times and patted his pocket, "it's brown."
Bailey's eyes widened. "Lumbo? You're too poor to be buying that shit, Ed."
Ed nodded. "I just bought a half-ounce. You're right - it's too expensive for the big baggie."
Bailey nodded. "Got your mini on you?"
Ed nodded, produced his tiny portable bong.
Bailey nodded. "Gimme two bong hits and you gotta deal. That's probably less smoke than a joint's worth, anyway."
Ed nodded, and Bailey took off with the fiver.
"That guy's got a good thing going here," Ed commented, watching Bailey run across the main road.
Brian shook his head. "He's kinda a bum, Ed. You think he's gonna be able to do this the rest of his life or something?"
Ed made a face. "Well - no."
Brian smiled at him. "Bought some Colombian, huh? You didn't tell me that earlier."
Ed grinned. "Hey, it was a surprise. You're surprised, aren't you?"
Brian had to admit that he was. "I'll bet you bought that off of Colin. I hope you weighed it, Ed."
Colin had a brother in New York City that was always getting good pot. He'd give Colin a call, and the boy would drive over and pick up a bit of it. He'd sell some, keep some, and make enough to pay off his brother for it. Colin always had good pot.
Ed nodded. "Yeah. I got it off him. I weighed it, though. On my porta. It was tight, but it was all there."
Brian rolled his eyes. "Some people never learn."
Ed dug the little baggie out of his pocket and held it up. "Shit, he gave me a nice flower top, too."
Brian checked out the bag. It did look like a reasonably nice amount.
Ed held up the bong. "Shit. You got any water? I meant to bring a little bottle with me."
Brian laughed. "Best laid plans, huh? Well we could both just spit in it for awhile. Might get enough to smoke something in about two hours."
Ed looked disgusted. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Brian laughed. "Relax. When Bailey gets back we'll pour a little beer in it."
Ed immediately brightened. "Oh...yeah. I forgot. That'll be cool."
Bailey came bouncing back, held the six of beer in the window. "Here's your change, too."
Ed handed Brian a Molson, and then opened one for himself. He poured a little into the bong, held it up to look, added a little more. They he opened the baggie of pot, pinched out some powder, smoothed it into the bong's one-hit bowl. He held it out to Bailey, who crouched down outside the car with it.
Ed shook his head, but handed out the Bic lighter he always carried.
Brian heard the thumbwheel flick, than a moment later Bailey handed up the empty bong. Ed grinned, took it refilled it.
There came a sound like two raccoons fighting over a cast away Twinkie as Bailey tried to hold onto the hit; and then they heard him let it out, coughing.
He appeared at the window again, a dazed look on his face. "Now, that's what it's all about, fellas. That's some good shit there, man. I felt like a party balloon blowing up." He blinked. "Whoa, man. Instant buzz."
Brian and Ed laughed, and Ed handed out the refilled bong. Bailey dropped low, repeated his performance. When he came up the second time, he looked stoned, all grins and compressed eyeballs. "You guys are okay, man. Saved the night from being a total bummer."
He stood, wandered away to check out some new arrivals.
Brian looked at Ed. "You give me a small hit of that. Like half a bowl. I don't wanna be like Bailey there. I have to drive, okay?"
Ed nodded. "I can dig it. He looked pretty wrecked, and damn fast, didn't he? " Ed held up the bag. "Colin actually sold me some decent shit. Who knew?"
They each smoked a half bowl. Brian felt the buzz immediately, and was glad he'd kept it to a half. Shit, a whole bowl of that stuff and he'd just want to park and stare at the dashboard lights for a couple of hours. He sipped on his beer until he started feeling comfortable with the buzz, and then settled back in the seat.
He felt cool, but he felt like he hadn't lost his edge. He could drive fine, and still race and expect to be able to do everything right. This was about as far as he ever wished to go outside his comfort sphere of being able to see and control his surroundings.
"You good?" Ed asked. He looked a little buzzed, but not nearly as wrecked as Bailey had looked.
"Yeah. You ready to go look around?"
"Fuckin' right. Let's find some poor slob and skin him, huh?"
A horn sounded, and someone howled out of their car window, "Hey, ya all, party at Laura Simmon's house!"
Ed pounded on the seat with one hand. "Sheese. Laura Simmons. I'd go just to look at her." He gave Brian a cheerful grin. "Wanna stop by there later an' check out the action?"
Brian nodded. "Sure. After dark, maybe."
Ed nodded. "Cool as cool can be."
Brian started the Bee, backed it up. A couple of guys gave him small taps on the their horns as he went by, and Brian tapped his back.
There were several places to go just to race. The Proctor crowd had Zion Road, and the Kennedy crowd had McClellan Road. Route 5 hummed with the sounds of wound up engines every Friday and Saturday night, and the cops were usually conspicuous by their absence. Brian had always supposed that was due to the get 'em all or leave 'em alone attitude that many cops took towards teenaged street racing. Presented with one race, it was a sure stop. Presented with fifty, it was more than a full night's work.
Every now and then someone would do something stupid: hit the other guy during a run, or lose control and spin into something - a tree, or a telephone pole. Usually it was just a mess, but guys had been fucked up or killed before, too. Anything like that made people take notice. Then, for a good month, the cops would be everywhere along Route 5, watching, nailing every hot car that even looked like it might be ready to roll.
There hadn't been any stupidity for awhile and the word out was that the cops were on vacation. That didn't mean you could drive like an idiot on Route 5, but it did mean you probably wouldn't get nailed unless you were plain stupid. Eyes open, pay attention - that was all you really needed.
Route 5 was the best place to go to run for grins. Brian decided to head over that way first, maybe go by Zion later. McClellan Road and the Kennedy bunch had little appeal to him, though he wasn't as adverse to the idea of maybe looking the place over as he had been before he'd met Alan, Deke, and Tim at the Burger King.
They cruised The Route, sipping their beers and talking. Brian had the radio on, tuned to the only AM radio station he could find that played listenable music. He'd already decided that the AM radio - okay for 1968 - wasn't enough for 1984. It couldn't be replaced because it was oddly-designed, with thumbwheel knobs instead of the normal rotary type, and the dash bezel wouldn't fit a replacement AM/FM box.
That meant getting a stand-alone unit of some kind and attaching it under the dash. It would disrupt the clean lines of the dash a little - but what the fuck? A guy had to have music when he was cruisin'.
Ed agreed. "Fuckin' AM thing fades in and out, man. I wish I'd thought about it - I'd have brought my boombox."
"Shit." Brian grinned. "That's right, and have that thing flying around in here every time I jumped on it? No thanks."
Ed made a face. "Yeah. Didn't think of that."
It slowly grew dark as they roamed. They made the journey from one end of the developed portion of Route 5 to the other, turned around, started back.
Brian's eyes were on the rearview mirror. A car was pacing them in the left lane, a little bit back. Its headlights and running lights weren't clustered right to be a cop car - the car had the older look of something familiar.
"Check it out, Ed," he said softly, indicating the mirror with his chin. Ed looked at him a moment, then turned and stared out the back window.
He grinned. "Chevelle coming up on you, dude."
Brian could see it in the side mirror now. By the lights it looked to be a '68 or '69. As it crept closer, he was sure of it.
"Red light ahead," Ed said, stuffing his beer between his legs. He grinned. "This might be fun."
They slowed, coming up on the light. Traffic was mild, and they were the only two cars here at the moment, though he could see lights a ways back behind them. They probably wouldn't catch up before the light went green.
The Bee drew to a stop, and a second later, the Chevy pulled up next to them. Brian looked over at it.
It was a '68, gold in color, with a dark vinyl top. He could see wide tires on the back of it in his side mirror, and the exhaust sounded deep if a little thready. Sounded stock, and like a high-mileager. Big block - probably a 396.
He looked inside. Two slightly scruffy-looking dudes were staring back. The passenger raised a beer in salute, and Brian grinned.
The other driver flicked his head forward.
"Hold onto this," he said, handing his Molson to Ed.
Ed took the beer, and they rolled up the windows.
Brian looked at the two guys in the Chevy again, and a wild, possibly pot-inspired thought struck him: I wonder if one of them is gay and the other doesn't know it?
Brian heard a soft snick! from the car next to him, and understood that the driver had put the tranny into first gear.
The other car's engine revved slowly a couple of times, patiently flexing its muscle.
Brian pulled the automatic's gear selector into first gear, put his left foot on the brake and his right on the gas, slightly depressed the latter until the tach hit about fifteen hundred RPMs. The Bee stood on her tiptoes against the brakes as the torque convertor tried to lock up and propel the car forward. Brian smiled grimly, and watched the light.
He could see the light for crossing traffic go yellow, and then his own went green.
The Chevelle roared and leaped a car length ahead as the driver performed a fairly decent holeshot. At the same time, Brian slid his left foot off the brake and mashed the accelerator to the floor. The Bee made a roar of its own and bounded forward in pursuit of the Chevy.
Brian let his eyes flick back and forth between the tach and the road. He hit second gear and the tires chirped the road, and the Bee closed on the Chevelle, slowly pulling alongside the other car - and then starting to pass it. Ed was laughing like a demon and Brian could feel a crazy, exhilarated grin spread across his own face.
The Bee passed the Chevelle, pulled slowly ahead, until Brian could see the other car's headlights in the side mirror. He wasn't sure if they'd done a quarter mile or not...
But suddenly, it was over.
The Chevelle sagged backwards and began to trail them, and Brian understood that the other dude had backed off the gas, realizing he was done.
Brian had won.
Brian let off the gas, watched the tach back down and the speedometer drop back to eighty, and then seventy. Ahead, another red light showed, with a couple of cars stopped in front of it. When the speedo hit sixty, Brian braked, and the Chevelle caught up to them, paced along beside them.
They drew up behind the cars waiting at the light and stopped. The passenger window of the Chevelle cranked down, and Brian dropped his own.
"Pretty good," the other driver called. "Whatcha runnin'?"
"Three-eighty-three," Brian called back, smiling.
The passenger in the other car made a face. "Thought you had a 440 by the way you passed us."
Brian shook his head. "Nope."
"Never seen you before," the other driver responded. "You new around here?"
"Not me, just the car. Just got it."
Brian grinned. "Yep. Kennedy?"
The other two guys nodded, grinning.
"No hard feelings, guys." Brian said. "You ran a good race. The way you pulled me out of the hole I was pretty damn worried."
The other driver grinned. "Bring that thing over to McClellan sometime. We got some Mopar guys there."
"I already know Alan and Deke and Tim," Brian called.
"Hey, that's cool," the passenger said, grinning. "Come on by sometime."
The light went green, and the two cars ahead of them started moving. Brian let the Bee edge forward, and the Chevy moved with them.
"I'll do that," Brian said. "You guys be cool, okay?"
"You, too." The passenger gave them the thumbs up, and the Chevy took off.
Ed was all smiles. "Fucking Mopar rules, dude."
Brian felt a crazy kind of pleased inside. He wanted to reach out and pat the dash of the Bee, tell the car he was proud of it. But he restrained himself, deciding to wait until the two of them were alone again in the driveway at home. That he was anthropomorphizing the Bee into a close buddy already was a little apparent. Shit, next he'd actually be talking to it.
Ed handed him back his beer and Brian took a big, growling swig off of it, belched, and grinned. "That felt good as shit."
Ed held up his own beer. "You're trailing, Bry. I just started my second."
Watching the road, Brian chugged his own beer, finished it, handed the bottle to Ed. "Gimme."
Ed sat the empty in the carton between his feet, pulled another, twisted off the top, handed it over.
They continued to cruise the strip - the five or so miles of Route 5 that were lined with shopping and business - and were therefore well-lit - stopping and turning around at each end of development where the road grew darker and headed out into the boonies.
Another car paced them for a while - a Buick Wildcat of unknown year - possibly a '65, although Brian was less familiar with this breed of GM than with the branded muscle that had appeared in '68. But the other driver apparently decided against trying the Bee's brute-force looking roll on the road. That was one thing about his car that Brian was becoming aware of: it looked like more than it was.
A lot of Mopar muscle boldly proclaimed the engine it was packing with front fender badging: 383, 440, 426 Hemi.
For whatever reason, Brian's car was unbadged. The decent paint and the foot-deep shine; the slightly sinister, twin ram-air hoodscoops; the Goodyear raised-white-letter tires - which were expensive - all gave the car a monied kind of muscle look that was off putting in the extreme to others.
And, whatever the mufflers were Dennis had replaced the originals with, they had a deep, powerful purr to their sound that could have gone with literally any big block that Dodge had cared to wedge into the burgundy-clothed b-body.
The Bee was impressive looking, Brian now understood.
Ed noted the reluctance of the Buick's driver to engage, too. "Didn't want any of this Mopar muscle," he said, a little bit of a slur to his voice.
Brian grinned at that; neither he nor Ed were drinkers. Ed could smoke enough pot to put the U.S. Army down on the ground in its entirety; but he couldn't drink, and that was why Brian never got more than a single six for the two of them. Brian didn't like to get drunk - a nice buzz was his limit.
"Had chrome slots on it, so it was somebody's race car," Ed added. He shook his head slowly, then grinned. "I'm a little high."
Brian laughed. "Really?"
Ed nodded. "I smoked a bowl before you picked me up. Just ta get warmed up."
"Well, you're warmed up." He looked over at the other boy. It was dark now, and they had won one, and bullied another.
"Wanna go by Laura's and check out the party?"
"That is a boss idea," Ed said, taking a sip off of his beer. "I'd like to sniff some of that cooter about now, I'll tell ya."
Brian nodded. That Ed had the hots for Laura Simmons was something he already knew. But Laura had a boyfriend - Eric Black - and Eric was not the kind of guy you moved in on and took something from. Eric was a dominant force on the school wrestling team, and the rumor was that he ate concrete for breakfast and people that got in his way for lunch. Brian had always gotten along with him - but then, Brian got along with most everybody.
"Sniff from a distance," Brian advised. "If Eric sees you, I'll be putting you back in the car with a broom and a dustpan."
Ed laughed. "Ain't no lie there. My momma didn't raise no stupid kids. I know all about look but don't touch."
It took them about fifteen minutes to get to Laura's house. It was the last house on a cul-de-sac that bordered on the woods, and there were cars parked everywhere up and down the edge of the road. Brian was not too hot about parking the Bee way off someplace and leaving it; but as they drove by the house someone actually pulled out almost in front of them, opening a spot.
"You lucky bastard," Ed said, laughing. "I wish I had your life."
That made Brian smile. It's not all that you think it is, buddy, he thought.
They got out and locked the car. There were people on the front lawn - one who even looked like he was passed out. Some were couples, laying in the grass and smooching; there were also groups of people sitting in little circles and passing around a bowl or a joint. The late Spring evening was warm and inviting. Crickets played their legs in the woods, and an owl hooted eerily in the distance.
A few people waved or said hello as they passed, and Dave Routh was standing inside the front door, a beer in-hand, looking a little out of it. Brian patted him on the belly as he went by. "I hope you're not driving, buddy."
Dave grinned. "Naw. My car's back at the shopping center. I came with Bert and Ernie."
Brian and Ed looked at each other, smiling. Bert and Ernie were Ronnie Scarnes and Bradley Nestler, the school's two biggest nerds. Well - they used to be nerds. At some point in the last year, someone had turned the guys on to pot, and since then both had grown their hair out, gone slightly ratty-looking, and become, somehow, cool.
Where once they had been brushed aside in the hallways, they now were invited everywhere, on the theory that they were somehow good luck to have around. You didn't have a party without inviting Bert and Ernie.
They went in, circulated around the house.
"Wonder where Laura's parents are tonight?" Ed wondered.
Yeah, the party had the look of unofficial about it. As in, Laura's parents were gone overnight someplace, and what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. But Brian could already see where someone had puked on the dining room carpet, and things had been spilled on the other rugs and furniture. Where Laura was while this was going on was anybody's guess.
"She and Eric are upstairs," Mary McCormick told them, when Brian asked. "You want her?"
"Nope." Brian could imagine Mary going upstairs, bursting into whichever bedroom the two were using, and interrupting them in mid-stroke. And then Eric coming downstairs in his jockey shorts, looking to break some bones. "Just wondering."
They walked around some more. Brian was by now hoping that Laura and Eric were really enjoying themselves, because once Laura's folks saw their house, Laura wouldn't be going anywhere but to school and back again for some time to come.
Brian turned around, and there was Annabelle. He smiled. "Hi. How ya doing?"
"Okay. Kind of a slow party, though. No music."
Brian nodded. Ed was standing there with a kind of dumb smile on his face, his beer apparently just hand-baggage now.
"Where's Missy?" he asked Annabelle.
"She went to the bathroom. There she is."
The other girl came up, smiling. "Hi, guys."
Annabelle was cute, brunette and brown-eyed, with a pleasantly curvy body and a set of smallish but perky tits. Missy was black-haired, equally cute, but wore a pair of tits the like of which were usually called bazoobas. Ed liked big tits like that, and Brian could see him eyeing them just now. Missy could, too, and smiled tolerantly. "Hi, Ed. Window shopping?"
"Just looking over the cabbages, sweetheart," Ed said. He grinned. "Did I tell you I was a vegetarian now?"
Missy laughed, gave Ed a little push. "Keep your eyes in your head and your hands where I can see 'em, okay?"
Annabelle smiled at Brian. He could see the liking in her eyes - the interest. It had been there for a long time now. He liked Annabelle, too, but he just didn't want to sleep with her. She seemed to understand this, but he was sure she just thought he was shy about it.
"What are you guys up to?"
Brian shrugged. "We just stopped in to see what was happening. But this looks kind of tame. I guess we'll be going soon."
He could see that Annabelle would like to go with them. But she had offered earlier, through Ed, to go cruising with them, and Brian hadn't called her, so she wasn't going to ask now.
He looked over at Ed, and Ed's eyes were pleading.
Brian smiled, and looked back at Annabelle. "You and Missy want to cruise with us for awhile?"
Annabelle's eyes lit up at the suggestion. "Sure. Don't we, Missy?"
Missy rolled her eyes at Ed, but nodded. "Okay."
They filed outside, Ed grinning like he'd opened his dresser drawer at home to find a pound of Hawaiian he'd forgotten he had stashed.
When they got to the car and opened it up, Brian was a little surprised to see Ed let both girls get into the back seat. Brian had assumed that Ed would get in back with Missy, putting Annabelle up front. But Ed was apparently unwilling to give up the Bee's shotgun seat.
They closed up and Brian started the engine. He looked over at Ed. "You drinking anymore of the Molson?"
Ed shook his head. "Nah. I'm seeing three of everything already."
Brian laughed, knowing Ed was kidding. "Yeah, I'm done, too." He looked in the rearview mirror. "Either of you want a beer?"
Ed handed the six pack over the seat, and the girls took that last two unopened bottles. They had to be a little warm by now, but were likely still drinkable.
They pulled out, headed back towards Route 5.
"Pretty car, Brian," Annabelle said. "Has a kind of mean look to it, though."
Missy laughed, a kind of hissing snort that made Brian smile. "It looks grouchy, Brian. Like my old man does on Saturday mornings after a tough week. Is it fast?"
Ed grinned. "We ate a Chevelle for dinner on the way over."
The girls laughed.
"So where are we going?" Annabelle asked.
Brian shrugged. "We were just cruisin' around, looking for a run. You know - first Friday night out in my new car."
"Been up to Zion yet?" Missy asked. "I heard there were some grudges going to be settled tonight."
Brian looked over at Ed. "Wanna?"
"Sure, dude. The more the merrier."
Zion was crowded when they got there. There were cars parked all around the intersection where the straightaway started, and people milled everywhere they looked. They saw several cars from the shopping center, including Colin's Roadrunner, parked to one side. There were also cars that kids had driven in just to watch - mother's and father's cars, sedans, wagons, vans, pick-ups.
There were a few cars that looked like Kennedy machines, off to one side by their lonesome.
One of them was the green Camaro he'd seen at Maple Hill that day.
Brian got out of the car, focused on the Chevy.
On the road, behind the starting line, was Jim Van Pelt's 'runner and a blue Firebird that Brian had never seen before. Their engines were running, and a starter was out front, standing between them with a flashlight in his hands.
"Fuckinay," Ed said. "Jim's gettin' ready to do some Firebird. I wanna see this. Coming?"
"In a minute, " Brian said.
Annabelle and Missy started after Ed. Annabelle stopped, looked back at Brian; but his attention was focused on the Camaro, and he barely noticed. She went on after Ed.
Brian looked at the Camaro, at the way it sat in the pool of glare from the streetlamp above it. There was something carnivorous-looking about it, predatory. If ever there was a car that looked like it meant business, this Camaro had that look. He glanced back at the impending race; Ed and the girls had merged into the watching crowd.
Brian started towards the Camaro, a slow walk, appreciating the vehicle as he strolled towards it. Yeah, it reeked of money, pretty much. Even in the off-glow of the streetlamp, the light of which made it look almost black, the car had a look of professional evil about it.
It was cool as shit.
He drew to a stop in front of the car, looked into the snout of the snorkel scoop, saw the dim shine of chrome within. He walked back along the passenger side, looking at the thin red pinstripe along the top of the fender, door, and rear quarter panel, which hadn't been visible from a distance. The windows were tinted - more money. The spoiler in the back looked aftermarket, a replacement for the factory job that didn't always have the best of fits. This one was straight and tight, lining up perfectly with the seams of the trunk lid.
Brian continued on around, up the driver's side, bent to peer within - and only then realized that the driver's window was down.
Someone was inside.
"What the fuck you want?"
The voice from within was quiet, maybe a little gravelly, but not terribly deep.
"Sorry," Brian said, taking an immediate step backwards. "I didn't know you were in there. Just looking over your car. It's beautiful, man."
There was a moment's silence. Then: "Thanks."
Brian licked his lips, unsure of where to go next. The car's powerful aura somehow extended itself to the driver, who he could now see in outline, with just a hint of glint from eyes turned towards him. It made Brian feel small, uncomfortable.
"What'cha looking at?"
Brian shook his head. "Nothing. I mean - I can't really see you, man. The tint on the windows doesn't let much light inside your car. I was just trying to see who I was talking to, is all."
"Oh. Come on around to the other side."
Brian nodded, not sure what he was to expect, but went on around to the passenger door and stood there.
"It's unlocked," came the voice from within.
Brian took a breath, opened the door. The lights came on within.
The driver was small and wiry-looking, with dark curly hair, light-colored eyes - gray? - and a square chin. He was dressed in jeans and a brown tee-shirt, and cradling a Budweiser against his belt.
"Get in, man. Fuckin' light hurts my eyes."
Brian sat in the passenger seat, closed the door. The interior lights went out.
The radio - or was it a tape deck - was playing something, but it was so low Brian couldn't immediately make it out. The car's interior smelled fresh and clean, with a faint undercurrent of leather. Brian realized that the seat he was sitting in wasn't factory, but a custom of some kind. The door panels, he could see now, were also custom, done in what looked like real leather, not naugahyde. The interior smelled of money in the same fashion that the car's exterior looked it.
"Pretty excellent," he offered, not sure what else to say.
"Thanks. Do I know you?"
Brian shook his head. "No, I don't think so." He held out his hand. "I'm Brian."
The other shifted his beer, wiped his palm on his jeans, and then kind of swiped his hand along Brian's. "Jeff."
Jeff turned his head, looked off in the direction of the Bee. "Nice car. Does it run?"
Brian smiled. "I just got it. It's stock, and runs good for that. But you won't see me sitting next to you at a light anytime soon."
Jeff turned back and his teeth flashed in a grin. "Come on. How do you know if you don't try?"
Brian laughed. "You can't sucker me, man. I was down at Maple Hill the other afternoon when you came into the lot. Couple of guys there told me you had jet fighter that looked like a Camaro."
Jeff snapped his fingers. "Right. That's where I saw your car. I knew it was familiar." He squinted at Brian. "You don't go to Kennedy, though."
Brian shrugged. "I'm a Proctor baby."
Jeff laughed. "We can't all be perfect."
Brian felt a mix of things inside. Jeff was interesting, and quite nice-looking, though Brian didn't feel any particular attraction to him. But there was something - a link between this guy and this car - that was fascinating, and even a little scary. A sense of power just barely controlled that was intriguing and compelled interest. It was already hard to imagine this guy anywhere but where he was - behind the wheel of the Camaro. The two belonged together, like a hand inside a glove.
"I heard you ran a twelve-two the other day at Cicero."
Jeff nodded. "Yeah. I got a terrific shot out of the hole that time. Tires grabbed just right - shit, everything went just right. I ran a twelve-four and a twelve-seven before that, though."
Brian laughed. "Still quick as shit. Ever consider opening the headers, taking off the air filter, maybe? Trying for better?"
"Nope." Jeff shook his head. He raised his beer, took a hit off of the bottle. "I run just like you see it. I know it would run a little better uncapped, but that's a lot of trouble to do, and I just don't care that much. This is a street machine. I didn't build it for the track."
"You built the engine?" Brian asked, impressed.
Jeff shook his head. "Not all of it. I picked out all the parts. The machine shop assembled the short block, and I did the rest."
"I think I heard you had an L-88."
"I wish. It's an L-71. Different beast, but still potent."
Brian closed his eyes, tried to remember the differences. Horsepower-wise, there was not a lot on paper, though he recalled reading somewhere that Chevy had played games with the stats on the L-88 so that they could get away with putting what was basically a race engine into a production vehicle. They'd measured it's horsepower at an RPM lower than the engine's maximum power band, resulting in an advertised horsepower rating of 430, when it was more like 560 in actuality. The L-71, on the other hand, was a true 435 horse engine.
That was 100 horsepower above what the Bee's 383 produced - and Brian was willing to bet the Camaro's engine wasn't exactly stock, either.
"Wow. I'm impressed."
Jeff seemed to be pleased to hear that. He smiled. "Wanna beer? Cooler by your feet."
Brian didn't really want another one - but somehow he felt Jeff would see it as a slight if he didn't. So he reached down, flipped the lid back on the cooler, drew out a bottle.
"Thanks." He twisted the top off, took a hit. The beer was cold, and actually tasted pretty good.
Out of stuff to say for the moment, Brian looked at the car parked next to them. It was an older Chevelle - a '66, it looked like - light green in color, and looked pretty cherry. He looked inside of it - the car was empty - and his gaze passed out the other side...
He realized with a start that the car parked on the other side of the Chevelle was a goat - a candy apple red '67 GTO.
"Is that Mahowsky's car?" he blurted out.
He looked over at Jeff, who had stopped moving, his beer halfway to his lips.
"You know Dave?"
Brian shook his head. "Only by reputation."
Jeff smiled, took a swallow off his bottle. "Best to leave it that way, if you want my advice. He's an asshole, if I ever saw one."
Brian tried not to laugh. "You don't hang out with him, I take it?"
"Well...we're car buddies, kind of. You know, we go to the same school, have auto shop together, work on our cars in the bays next to each other...but he's not really a friend, if that's what you're asking. Too rough around the edges for my tastes." Jeff's eyes crinkled in a smile. "Too unpredictable."
Brian nodded. "I heard that about him."
Over by the intersection, there was a sudden squeal of tires and roar of engines. The race had started.
"That would be Brad Casey getting his ass reamed by your buddy in the Roadrunner," Jeff said.
"You know Jim?" Brian asked.
"Just talked to him tonight for the first time, but I know that car. Only thing like competition from Proctor I've seen up here." Jeff nodded. "We haven't talked about running yet, but we will."
Brian pointed at Colin's Roadrunner, parked about thirty feet ahead of the Bee. "What about that one?"
Jeff squinted, shook his head. "Nah. Pretty car, but Van Pelt's Roadrunner would chew it up clean and simple." He grinned. "Me, too."
Brian smiled, wondering what Colin would do if he heard that.
The other boy looked at him. "You know the guy that owns that blue Roadrunner?"
Brian nodded. "Yeah. His name is Colin."
"He's a pansy," Jeff stated.
Brian felt a shiver of fear run up his backside. "What do you mean? You think he's queer?"
Jeff frowned, finally shook his head. "No. He's not gay. But he's a weenie anyway. Like talking to a little girl. A sneaky little girl. I wouldn't trust that guy to pump my gas."
Brian laughed, some of it relief. "I've known him for years. He's like that - what you said - but there's a good guy in there, someplace. I've seen him a few times. Colin is just a little complicated, is all."
Jeff laughed, but he nodded. "Aren't we all."
Brian decided he liked this guy. Jeff was right: he was a little complicated. Brian sensed a decent intelligence in the other boy, and a kind of stepped-back-watching approach to the world that resonated with the way that Brian saw things himself. That there was a little bond here was apparent to him now, and that Jeff had spied it first impressed him.
Some guys were walking their way. They all had beers in their hands, and by the way they walked looked like they weren't the first beers they'd had that night, either. The guys were laughing and pushing each other, and even flipping streams of beer at each other from their bottles.
"Kids are back," Jeff said, grinning.
The crowd approached the Camaro and began to split up, heading for the different cars in the group. Brian recognized one of them as Tim, the owner of the GTX he'd met at the Maple Hill shopping center that day. Tim squinted through the windshield and saw Brian, and a look of absolute surprise came onto his face.
Another guy, who was tall and stocky and had to either be Dave Mahowsky or the local recruiter for the Marine Corps, also stopped to stare through the windshield. Tim went on over to where the green GTX was parked, but Mahowsky came around to the driver's window of the Camaro, bent over with his hands on his knees, and peered inside.
"We're going back to McClellan to hang out for awhile, Jeff. Who's that?"
Mahowsky's eyes were on Brian.
Jeff nodded. "Okay. That's Brian. Old friend I ran onto here. Car guy. He's cool."
That seemed, somehow, to appease Mahowsky. He frowned, his eyes on Brian a moment longer, then looked at Jeff. "You comin'?"
"I'll be right behind you," Jeff answered. "Well, until I pass you."
Mahowsky laughed. "So you say, motherfucker. You'd better be right behind me goin' outta here, or all you're gonna see tonight are my taillights."
Mahowsky straightened, went on around to his car.
Jeff reached forward, turned the key in the Camaro's ignition. The car rumbled to life, a deep and slightly monstrous sound that made the beer bottles rattle inside the cooler at Brian's feet. He looked over at Jeff, smiled. "Like waking a sleeping dinosaur."
Jeff grinned, and his eyes were bright. He stuck out his hand, and this time, when Brian offered his, Jeff grasped it and gave him a firm couple of shakes. "Cool meeting you, Brian. See you around, okay?"
Brian squeezed the other's hand warmly, released it. "That'd be cool, man. Thanks for the beer, okay?"
Mahowsky's goat started and pulled out almost in a single instant; but the other driver didn't hop on it until he got out onto the road.
"Asshole," Jeff said, shaking his head. "He throws stones on my paint I'd have to give him a talk."
Brian opened his door, grinned. "I'd take some help with me when you did that, buddy."
Jeff laughed. "Take it easy, Brian."
Brian got out, closed the door carefully, stepped back. The Camaro nosed forward, and Jeff tooted the horn. Brian watched as the car got out into the street and made its way towards the main road. About a hundred feet away from him, the Camaro suddenly roared, the back end jumped sideways and then straightened so quickly that it made Brian blink, the front end of the car jerked way up, like to the limit of the front suspension, and the car simply surged down the road, the tires squealing and smoke pouring out from beneath them.
The Camaro was gone in seconds. Brian gaped after it, sure he had just witnessed a moderate take off by the quickest car he'd ever seen in his life.
Others of the Kennedy crew followed, each trying to imitate the Camaro's departure, but none even coming close on the impressive scale. Cars were leaving from the Proctor group now, too - it looked like a mass exodus from a used car lot.
Brian looked to his right, saw Tim sitting in his GTX. He walked over, bent and looked in the window. "Hey, what's up?"
Tim smiled. "Not much. Came down to see that Roadrunner run. Pretty good show." He looked suddenly puzzled. "You were sitting in Jeff's car. I thought you didn't know him."
Brian shrugged. "I don't. I just met him tonight."
"And he let you get in the car?" Tim seemed incredulous.
Brian nodded. "Yeah. Something wrong with that?"
Tim shook his head. "Guess not." He looked up at Brian. "You're the first guy I've ever seen inside that car. Jeff doesn't allow riders. Or even sitters, for that matter."
Brian blinked in surprise, turned his head and looked in the direction of the vanished Camaro. "No shit? He seemed really cool, Tim. Asked me to sit, and gave me a beer."
Tim cocked his head to one side. "Fuck. You must be blessed somehow, man."
Brian could only shrug. What was up with that? he wondered.
Tim laughed. "Doesn't matter, just surprised me." He peered through the windshield of his car. "I see that pretty Super Bee over there. Where you going next? You could always come by McClellan for awhile."
"I have riders," Brian explained. "They're around here someplace. I've got to collect them first."
Tim nodded. "Okay. I'd better get rolling." He started the GTX, and Brian stepped back. "Be cool, Brian. Don't be a stranger."
Brian waved as the car moved out.
He paused, took a last gulp of beer, winged the rest of it away into the weeds. He was cold sober, and didn't want anything to put a dent in that.
So Jeff didn't normally let people into his ride, huh? That the meeting had somehow been special Brian could see now. Why it had been special was the puzzler. He pictured Jeff's face in his head, trying to analyze if there had been anything unusual about the other guy's actions. There hadn't - not that Brian could see.
Brian had come away with a liking for Jeff, that was all. That he might run into him again seemed cool and acceptable. Jeff had been one of the more reasonable dudes that Brian had met of late. In fact, the entire myth of the craziness of the Kennedy crowd was being broken up even as he considered it. Brian had met Alan, and Deke, and Tim - all cool as could be. And now Jeff, also cool. Mahowsky had not even done anything more than stare at Brian a second - although Jeff himself had acknowledged that the big brawler was true to his reputation and to be watched.
Brian smiled. What a great night it had been. He really, really felt it had gone well so far.
He headed back towards the Bee. The crowds were all heading towards their rides, and he spied Ed and the girls on a parallel course back to where the Dodge was parked.
"You missed an awesome race, dude," Ed said, as they got within earshot of each other. "Jimmy had a Firechicken on the barbecue."
Brian laughed. "I heard the start of that. I take it Jim won?"
"Fuckin' crucifixion, that was," Ed acknowledged, drawing alongside. "Jim got him by like four cars at the end."
Brian whistled. Four car lengths was a crush, no joke.
"Guy in the Firebird cry?"
Ed laughed. "Nope. But his face was pretty brokedown when he coughed up his fifty at the end."
Brian unlocked the Dodge and they all got in. Brian looked at his watch - it was almost midnight. He didn't really have a curfew or anything, but he knew his folks would say something if he came home much after one a.m.
"Anybody got to be home?" he asked, looking in the rearview mirror at the girls.
"I should be thinking about it, soon," Annabelle admitted. Brian could see Missy nod in agreement.
"I got all night," Ed said, grinning.
Brian laughed. "Well, I don't. I got an hour and a half, tops." He smiled at Annabelle in the rearview. "You girls got time for some quick eats? Just Mickey Dee's, but it'll be my treat."
"Sure," said Annabelle, looking interested. "Damn, Brian, if I knew you were rich like that, I'd have been chasing you a little harder."
He laughed, and so did she; but her eyes in the mirror held a serious cast to them that Brian couldn't miss.
They pulled out, got into the line of cars heading out to the main road. Once at Route 5, they fanned out into the three lanes and the crowd started to disperse.
"Shit," Ed said, looking at the cars around them. "Everybody's prolly got the munchies by now. Mickey's is gonna be mobbed."
Behind them, a car came up fast, braked just behind the Bee, so close that the headlights almost couldn't be seen in the rearview mirror. Brian winced, stepped down a little on the gas, pulled them ahead. "Some asshole wants to play."
They were coming up on a red light. The car behind them swerved, danced over to the lane beside them, and both cars stopped at the same point before the red light.
Brian looked over, prepared to give the jerk a giant fuck you look.
It was Colin.
The blue Roadrunner hummed, and Colin revved the engine a couple of times. Marianne Davis was in the passenger seat, but the look she passed to Brian looked more like an I'm sorry then anything else. It was plain what Colin had in mind.
"Fuck," Ed said, glaring past Brian. Ed raised a hand and flipped Colin the bird, which only caused Colin to grin. "Fucking prick," Ed said, under his breath. "See if I buy anything else from you, asswipe."
Ed looked at Brian. "He's got you, and he knows it. You don't run him, he's gonna tell everyone he tried you and you chickened out. That's worse than losing, and I know you know that."
Brian did. That there was no out here was apparent. He dropped the Bee into first, braked with one foot while stepping down on the gas pedal with the other. The Bee stood up, torqued against the brakes, ready to roll no matter what the outcome.
The light turned green.
Colin's car leaped off the line, a perfect holeshot that immediately put it two cars ahead. Brian mashed on the gas pedal, and in the first few seconds gained a car length back; but slowly, inexorably, the Roadrunner pulled away as they both went through the gears, until Colin's car was a good three cars ahead. They hit a hundred miles an hour, and at that point the Bee began to gain ground again, and Colin must have seen him coming, because he suddenly backed off, and the Super Bee sailed on by.
Too late. They'd passed the quarter, for sure, and Colin could honestly tell everyone he'd beaten Brian's Bee by a full two car lengths.
Everyone was silent as the cars slowed. They came back next to each other and Colin looked over, all grins.
"Smile now, pigshit," Ed breathed. "Feel good to stab your buddy like that?"
Colin couldn't hear, of course. He just grinned, waved, and took off.
Others had seen that run, no doubt. Colin had picked a time when the road was full of cars loaded with kids from school - lots of witnesses to his glory. Brian was more mad at the calculating way Colin had done what he had done than he was at losing. There had never been any doubt in his mind that the purely stock Bee was no match for the hopped Roadrunner. But to have it done in front of everyone that way - it was just kind of wrong. But...Brian wasn't going to let it ruin what had otherwise been a cool night.
"Ah, fuck him," Brian said, grinning. "Two cars. That's a solid win, but he didn't smoke me, at least."
Ed patted the Bee's dashboard. "She ran her heart out, that's for sure. This is a good car, dude."
Brian nodded. Yes, she was a great car. And now, he was thinking - thinking hard, about ways to make her an even greater car.
He was a little preoccupied when they stopped to eat, and the others gave him a little leeway because they thought he was just disappointed. They ate, and then Brian drove the girls home. He let Missy off at her house, then turned up the next street and stopped at Annabelle's. The front porch light showed the yellow glare of a bug bulb, though the house itself was mostly dark, saying fairly plainly that her parents were likely asleep.
"Thanks, Brian," Annabelle said, after getting out. She came around to his window, leaned in, kissed his cheek. "Don't worry about Colin. I'm going to tell everyone it was just two cars, and you made that sneak work for it, too."
Brian laughed. "Thanks, Annie. Always room for you in the back."
"Not the front?" she said, only half-kidding.
Brian nodded. "You find a way to shovel Ed out of there, you can have that seat." He gave her a look. "Unless you want to sit between us."
She laughed. "I'm tempted. But I know Mr. Octopus there wouldn't keep his hands to himself."
"Shit," Ed said, leaning over. "I'll be good. Bry would swat me if I tried anything with you."
Annabelle gave Brian a pat, and went towards the house. She turned and waved from the front door before going inside.
"You need to give that girl more play, dude," Ed said. "She's got a thing for you, and she wears it right outside where everyone can see it."
Brian bit at his lip, pulled the car away from the curb as quietly as possible. No use letting Annabelle's parents know what time she got in exactly.
"Yeah - I like her, Ed. I'm just...I not ready for a full-time girl. I just got the car - I wanna have some fun."
Ed nodded. "Shit, you don't have to tell me, dude. You don't see a missus hanging on my arm, do you?" But he shook his head. "You could still give Annie more time than you do."
"Maybe." Brian didn't want to talk about it anymore just then, and Ed was smart enough to sense it.
"You okay, Bry?"
"What do you mean?"
Ed flipped a shoulder. "I dunno. I just feel sometimes you got more on your mind than you say." He grinned. "I'm your best bud, dude. You can always lay shit on me if it'll help."
Brian grinned. "Thanks. I'll let you know."
Ed held up his hands, but grinned. "Had to offer."
Brian dropped Ed off, endured the other boy's solid thump on his shoulder and exuberant praise of the Bee. "I had a blast, even with that asshole Colin messing shit up at the end. We gonna cruise tomorrow night?"
Brian nodded." Fuckin' right. I'll call you."
"Wicked. How about lightin' 'em up when you leave?"
Brian just laughed. "Yeah, that's what I need. The neighbors calling my folks to tell them I'm burning rubber out front at one o'clock in the morning."
"Had to try," Ed said. He grinned, waved, stood there as the Bee pulled off.
Brian drove home, pulled the car into the paved tee at the side of the driveway. He sat there a moment, then patted the car's dashboard before he got out. "Thanks for the cool night."
He went into the darkened house - his parents were asleep. The house was quiet, and so was he as he got ready for bed. He had a bad case of cotton mouth, and had a big glass of water after he brushed his teeth, knowing full well it would wake him for a piss in a couple of hour's time.
He settled between the sheets of his bed, thinking about the run against Colin's Roadrunner. The Bee had started to catch the other car on the top end, which told him that the two cars had different power bands, and that the Bee would likely have prevailed if it had been a run for top speed. Brian wasn't sure what Colin had for gears in the back, but it was likely a lower ratio than the Bee's 3.23s.
Hmm. It might not take all that much to make the Bee a better performer, for real. He began to consider in his head the cost of what he would need, and was still doing that when sleep claimed him.
He slept a little fitfully, his head full of dreams of roaring engines and tire smoke. He woke sometime just after four, staggered to the bathroom to dump what felt like a gallon of piss, staggered back to bed. He woke again just at eight a.m., got up and showered, went down to the kitchen to eat.
His dad was seated at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the paper.
His father looked up, smiled. "Hi, Brian. How as the first night on the road?"
"It was cool, dad."
Brian pulled out a chair and sat down, leaned towards his father. His dad folded the paper and laid it flat on the table, seeing that Brian had something on his mind.
His dad grinned. "Yes?"
Brian smiled. "So...dad. Let's talk about engines."
His dad nodded. "My favorite subject. Are we talking an upgrade here?"
Brian nodded. "Yep. A big one."
His dad looked interested. He nodded. "Like how big an upgrade?"
Brian smiled. "I want to roast a bird."
His dad nodded. "Okay. I can cook pretty well. What kind of bird are we talking about?"
"A Roadrunner," Brian said, nodding. "And I want the sucker well-done."
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