Slow Dance in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

Donnie had put new wheels on his truck, and it looked like Carter’s dad had come through on the new carburetor for his old Ford. The last he’d seen, it was up on blocks. He would have helped him put it in if he had known. Johnny let the cars distract him; the cataloging of parts and paint jobs calmed him down and made him forget for just a moment that he was here to bloody a few noses, break a few tail lights, and generally raise Cain.


But someone had alerted the ladies. Who the hell brought chicks to a rumble? Johnny sighed and tossed his cigarette. He was almost nineteen years old and already felt way too old for this shit. Eyeing the school, he thanked his stars that he would never have to attend the shiny new edifice the whole town was talking about. He had graduated in May, and he was never setting foot inside the new Honeyville High. They would have to kill him first. He had almost never attended classes at the old school. Classes were torture, and sitting still had never been his thing. Graduating had been tricky, but he had a head for numbers, and no one made him read in math. Mechanics and wood shop were easy. So all it took was a few stolen kisses with Miss Barker, his lonely English teacher, and she gave him good enough grades to just squeak by.


The passenger door on his black hot rod opened, and his fourteen-year-old kid brother, Billy, stepped out. He didn't try to imitate Johnny. It would have been laughable if he had. He wore thick glasses with black rims and could never seem to get his hair to lie down at his crown or swoop up off his forehead, so he wore it in a tight crew cut and looked more at home in bow ties and sweater vests than tee shirts and leather. He had insisted on coming along, though, knowing that Johnny was more likely to remain calm if his little brother was with him. Johnny had told him to stay home and had expected Billy to give in to his stern command, but for once Billy had been adamant, knowing that Johnny was set on picking a fight all because of him.


"You lookin' for Roger, Johnny?" Someone called out. Johnny didn't bother to answer. They all knew he was. Johnny strolled down the line of cars and stopped in front of Irene Honeycutt's pink ride. Irene smiled shyly, and her girlfriends giggled a little and elbowed each other. Irene probably shouldn't be smiling considering Roger Carlton was her guy, but Johnny had that effect on the girls. If he wanted to, he could crook his little finger at any one of the twittering females perched on Irene's car and be hot and heavy in five minutes flat. Maybe later. He really wasn't that interested in Irene's friends. From what he'd seen, Johnny wasn't so sure the blue-eyed brunette was that in to Roger. But who was he to question it? Roger was smart, rich, and popular, and Irene's daddy sure seemed to have plans for him. Johnny had plans for him, too. He was going to beat the hell out of Roger and all his cronies and swear that it'd be ten times worse the next time anyone messed with Billy Kinross.


"He isn't here, Johnny!" A plump redhead named Paula called out, and Irene leveled a look at her that Johnny couldn't decipher. The redhead squirmed nervously and ducked her head when another girl poked her in the ribs.


Johnny zoned in and moved close to the nervous little carrot-top. Tipping her chin up with a long finger, Johnny spoke low and clear.


"Then where is he, Pidge?"


Paula stammered a little, and her cheeks flamed as bright as her hair. "I, um, I'm not sure…he just wanted us to tell you he had better things to do…or something…I think. Um…didn't he say that, Irene?"


"Then what are all of you doing here?" Johnny jerked his head, indicating the crowd, his eyes meeting Irene's, demanding an answer.


She didn't respond, but her blue eyes were wide and the expression on her face had him smelling a rat. The crowd shifted uncomfortably, and someone cleared his throat. A few of the guys that Johnny called friend started asking questions and calling out, and everyone seemed to chime in at once:


"We haven't seen him Johnny –“


"Somebody said they thought he was here!"


"Tommy swears he saw his wheels parked here an hour ago!"


"Go home, Johnny!" Someone else called out. "No one wants trash like you or your brother hangin' around here!" The voice came from back in the crowd and Carter and Jimbo were on it immediately, a scuffle breaking out before Johnny could even see who it was. Like it had been carefully orchestrated, Roger Carlton’s friends were suddenly swarming out of the backs of trucks and cars. Fists were pumping and insults flying as Carter and Jimbo were swallowed up in the fracas. Donnie and Luke were in there somewhere, too. Luke's bright hair and superior height made him visible for a moment before someone pulled him down.


"Hey! Hey!" Johnny shouted out as girls screamed and a few random horns bellowed as people scrambled to jump into their cars or out of their cars, depending on whether or not they wanted in or out of the trouble that had erupted.


Turning to Billy, Johnny swung his arm out fiercely, grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him in close. "Stay in the car, little brother. These guys don't fight fair, and it's gonna get ugly. I can't worry about you getting the crap beat out of you while I'm wailing on Carlton."