Categories > Books > Outsiders > Epiphany

Running on Empty

by EmilineHarris 0 Reviews

Category: Outsiders - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Sci-fi - Characters:  - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2008/06/21 - Updated: 2008/06/22 - 2734 words - Complete

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Disclaimer: I do not own The Outsiders.

Toto, I’m not in Kansas anymore, Dally thought sarcastically to himself. He had never liked that movie—never saw it all the way through either—but somehow he could identify with the plain country girl. Dorothy was it? From what he could remember she had been pretty cute, in an average sort of way. This was no Oz, that was for sure, but things were certainly unusual. Riding a tornado to an enchanted world seemed more logical than what was currently happening.

“So now what?” Dally asked as he took in his surroundings.

It took a while for the voice to respond. “Does everything always have to be done on your time? By your instruction?” It asked, its tone chastising. “You need to be patient. You’ll see what you’re meant to see …”

“All right. All right,” Dally muttered. The voice, whoever or whatever it belonged to, had the upper hand and he wasn’t used to that. Dallas Winston was usually the one calling all the shots …

Focusing his attention, Dally realized that he was in a back alley on the bad side of town. He and Tim had been here before, grabbing a couple beers and smokes with some of the boys from the Brumly outfit. It was a hike, but the cops didn’t check up on this neighborhood and the locals were either too drunk or too scared to mess with a bunch of greasy teenagers. The street was seedy and unkempt, lined with liquor stores, bars, and strip joints, and the smell of alcohol and desperation carried on the wind like pollen on a fall day. It wasn’t the safest of places, but he would have rather spent time here than on the affluent west side of town—hands down.

Dally reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “I almost forgot about these,” he announced quietly to himself. His lips curled up in a half smile as he brought one to his mouth and lit it. He inhaled deeply and leaned back against the building’s brick façade. It occurred to him that, earlier that night—after hitting up the grocery store—he thought he’d never taste the flavor of tobacco again. It was good to get it into his system once more.

“Want a smoke?” He called out to no one in particular. If the gang were here, everyone would have taken him up on the offer …

“Do you think this is a joke?” The voice piped in, breaking into his thoughts.

Dally closed his eyes and exhaled. “Of course not,” he replied innocently. “Now, tell me again, what am I supposed to be seeing out here?”

“Him …”

“Huh? Where?” Dally looked around the alley. He was the only physical person there, and the pristine quiet from the deserted street made it seem like he was the only one for blocks. He took a step out toward the sidewalk and looked around again. It wasn’t lit much better than the alley, but he could detect a small amount of movement by one of the parked cars. It was a guy, definitely a greaser. Was this the him the voice was referring to?

Dally paused, tossing his cigarette to the ground and grinding it up with the toe of his boot. Should he stay in the shadows or mosey right on out there? He wasn’t sure. He had never been in such a situation before.

“No one can see you,” the voice cut in, reading into his moment of hesitation. “This is a glimpse, remember? You can’t affect the outcome here. You’re just an observer.”

Dally nodded and moved forward. Slowly approaching the parked car, he could see that the guy was lifting hubcaps and shoving them into a ratty old book bag. So I’m here to see a petty thief, he thought, unimpressed.

Dally sidestepped off of the curb and over toward the front of the car. He leaned against the hood with his elbow, craning his neck to get a good look at the guy. In the dim light from the one working streetlight overhead, he could see that it was Steve Randle.

“Steve?” He asked out loud. “What is he doing on this side of town? Shouldn’t he be at work or something?”

The voice did not provide a response, and Dally watched as Steve put the last hubcap into the bag. Looking around suspiciously to make sure no one had seen him, Steve hopped up onto the sidewalk, slung the bag over his shoulder, and trotted briskly to the next parked car.

Dally followed.

At the next vehicle, a beat up old Ford, Steve put his hands up to the passenger’s side window and cupped them around his eyes, giving him a good look inside—the door was unlocked. Flinging it open, Steve scooted across the bench seating to the driver’s side and tinkered with the wires under the steering column. In an instant, the car roared to life.

Dally watched, stunned. He had known Steve to steal pieces and parts like hubcaps, but he had never heard him speak of stealing a whole car. It seemed so out of character.

“Get in,” the voice commanded suddenly, urging Dally to slip into the passenger seat. As he did so, Steve reached over and pulled the door closed, narrowly grazing Dally’s right shoulder. Dally held his breath and slowly released it. Could Steve touch him without realizing it? Could Steve sense his presence even though he was invisible? Dally’s guide, the voice, certainly wasn’t giving him any answers.

As they drove to an unknown destination, the voice spoke up again. “So, Dallas, do you see now?”

Dally snorted, looking out the window at the passing buildings. “See what? That Steve is good at lifting hubcaps? That Steve has a hidden life as a criminal?”

“No …” The voice coaxed. “There’s nothing hidden about it. That is his life. Your absence in Tulsa set about a chain of events that led Steve to become the loner you see before you. He isn’t friends with Sodapop anymore, he doesn’t even associate with the gang. He doesn’t have a girlfriend or a real job. He’s a petty thief, like you said yourself, and he makes his money by stealing cars, not fixing them …”

Dally was incredulous. “That’s ridiculous!” He exclaimed. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“But it does. Maybe your presence brought him closer to Sodapop Curtis somehow. Maybe your place in the gang made him realize that an honest living is worth having… It could have been anything, Dallas. What matters is that you came to Tulsa and prevented Steve from living this life.”

Dally looked over at his friend. Steve was focusing intently on the road and driving carefully, making sure not to raise any suspicion that he was in a stolen car. His eyes were solemn and cold. Steve had always been a volatile guy, quick to get angry and pick a fight, but he hadn’t been bitter. He hadn’t been desperate. And he certainly hadn’t been a hood.

Dally sighed. No friends, no girlfriend, no job? All three of those things had been so important to Steve. Like Dally, Steve never got along with his old man and never felt his worth at home—so he clung to those other things. He had his friends in the gang to lean on and talk to. He had Evie, his girlfriend, to spoil and dote on. And he had his job at the DX gas station to be proud of and excel at …

Dally was still lost in thought when he felt the car coming to a stop. He turned to Steve and watched as he pulled the car into an old freight station, just outside the city limits. The pavement road abruptly turned to dirt and fanned out in a large turn-around area where trucks used to pick up their daily haul. There was a payphone off to one side, and as soon as he parked the car, Steve hopped out and stood next to it. He glanced down at his shoes and kicked at some pebbles, then looked up absently, staring right at Dallas even though he couldn’t see him. Dally stared right back, unsettled by the expression in Steve’s eyes, and not quite sure why. His gaze was broken when the phone suddenly began to ring.

Steve didn’t look surprised. “I’m here,” he said solemnly, his voice drained of any feeling, after picking up the receiver.

As if he was on the line himself, Dally could hear the reply from inside the car. “You got the parts I asked for?”

“Yeah, four hubcaps, some hood ornaments, and some engine parts.” His voice didn’t change at all. He sounded as cool as all get-out.

“Good.” There was a slight pause. “I’ve got another job for you, Randle.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s a Corvair down at the east side DX. It’s in for an oil change. One of my contacts from out of state would like to purchase it—it’s his daughter’s sixteenth birthday—so I want you to go and pick it up for me.”

Dallas shivered slightly. The voice on the other end of the phone was cold and hard, and it was completely unfamiliar to him. He had been in some pretty bad circles and had never heard anyone like this before—never heard anyone with such a dangerous overtone. Whoever this guy was, he meant business and he didn’t sound like he’d be forgiving of any slip up that might occur. He was definitely trouble, and someone that even Dally wouldn’t want to associate with… But he didn’t seem to bother Steve any.

“I can do that,” Steve replied without hesitation. “When do you want it?”

“Tomorrow morning. Six-o-clock. Not a second later.”

“No problem.”

The conversation ended with the click of the connection being broken. Steve leaned against the phone booth, ran a hand through his greased hair, and sighed. Dally could see an emotion spread across his friend’s face. Although his voice had hidden it, his eyes didn’t lie—it looked like fear.

“Now what do we do?” Dally asked, feeling nervous for his friend.

“Nothing,” the voice replied. “We just wait and see what happens.”

The next couple of hours went by slowly as Steve sat on the hood of the old Ford and smoked one cigarette after another. Dally had only seen him do that once before—the time he thought Evie was pregnant.

Dally remembered it well. It was the only time that Steve Randle had wanted to kill him, really truly wanted to beat him to a pulp …

He and Steve and Sodapop had been sitting on the Curtis’ front porch drinking some Cokes and smoking after dropping their girls off.

“What’s eating you?” Soda had asked nonchalantly, and out of nowhere as usual. That boy’s mind functioned unlike anyone else’s.

Steve had known that Soda was talking to him, even without being addressed. Dally guessed that that’s how best friends were. “Evie’s late,” he replied quickly. “She’s afraid she might be pregnant.”

Dally remembered being amazed, but not surprised. “Well ain’t that special?” He had asked with a smirk and a laugh. “A sixteen-year-old baby having a kid of his own. Way to go Randle, I always knew you were one of a kind.”

For some reason, a little good-natured ribbing had set old Steve over the edge, and before Dally knew it, Steve was on top of him and they were rolling in the front grass. It took Soda and Darry, who had come running out of the house—barely dry and clothed from his after work shower—to break it up.

Although he had been mad that day, Dally knew that, no matter what, Steve would always have his back. He thought for a moment and wondered if anyone had Steve’s back right now. Was Steve really as alone as he seemed to be?

When Steve hopped off the car and headed down the street on foot, Dally was right behind him, following him all the way to the familiar DX station.

It looked the same as it always did—at least nothing had changed there. Since it was at least two or three in the morning, the office and garage areas both looked dark and deserted. Steve snuck around the back of the building and to the garage’s back door. He knelt down on the ground, producing a shiny switchblade from his back pocket and shoved it into the thin slice of space between the door and the frame. He jiggled the blade a little bit—up and down next to the door handle—and the lock finally clicked. Slowly and silently, the turned the handle and the door swung open.

Dally followed Steve into the dark room and over to a car that was just barely visible by the moonlight that poured in through the garage’s single window. He watched as Steve made his way to a far wall that contained a pegboard with a smattering of hooks across it. Some of the hooks had sets of keys hanging off of them, and Steve carefully studied each set. He pulled two down from the wall and went over to the Corvair. He tried one set, and then another in the driver’s side door, both times with no luck. He tossed the keys aside and went back to the board until he found the right set. When he did the car started up with a loud echoing roar and Steve looked around nervously. Even though he knew cars inside and out, he seemed surprised at the volume of this one’s engine.

A little jittery, he made his way over to the large garage door and began to open it. When it was about five feet up, Dally noticed the figure of a man standing just outside. “Hey, you! What are you doing in here?” The man yelled. It was the owner, the same guy that Steve would have been working for—but they were strangers now.

Dally was confused. This guy’s reaction time was impeccable! Steve must have triggered a silent alarm or something—and the guy must have lived right down the street. He took a step inside the building and flipped a light switch to his left. The garage was illuminated by a fluorescent glow that went from dim to unusually bright in a few seconds. It nearly blinded Dally, and, he figured, it must have been doing a number on Steve as well. In the new light, Dally could see that the owner was holding a gun, and pointing it right at Steve.

“Calm down, man. Just take it easy and put the gun down,” Steve said, his voice shaking a little bit. He backed up toward the running car and climbed inside.

Smart guy, Dally thought to himself. No east side DX owner is going to shoot up a rich customer’s car.

“Get out of there!” The guy yelled helplessly. “I’m going to call the cops!”

Steve released the park brake and shifted into drive. “I’m really scared!” He taunted. “Thanks for the ride!”

“You stupid kids!”

Dally had heard that before. He knew this scenario all too well. Although he hadn’t had a getaway car, he knew how the situation would end even without being there to see it. He watched helplessly as Steve laid on the gas and sped out of the station. It was only a matter of time before the cops caught up with him. Only a matter of time before they cornered him with or without the car in some alley. But what would be worse? Telling the guy from the phone call that you failed, or getting thrown into jail—Dally couldn’t tell.

Before he had any more time to think about it, the fluorescent lights in the garage made a buzzing sound and started to flicker. Then the spinning started …
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