Phantom Creek
Chapter 4: The Picture Show

Copyright© 2019 by Wendell Jackson

The ride into Burns was entertaining, John had lit up a cigarette and shared it with his sister. Alice offered one to Tom and Constance, but they both turned it down. John smoked around his parents, but Alice didn’t. Tonight she was feeling a bit wild, and smoking played a bit part of it. With just the four of them in the car, they all felt in control of their lives. It was exciting driving the miles to Burns just to watch a movie. The passing of the cigarette back and forth was the start.

John finally told his sister to keep it, and brought out the pack offering Constance one again. She politely refused, so John asked her to light one up for him since he was driving. That she did, using the car cigarette lighter to do it.

“Sure you don’t want one,” John said half turning to look at Tom sitting in the back with Alice. Tom shook his head no with a smile. Smoking wasn’t something he wanted to start, especially since he didn’t have money to support the habit. He didn’t get an allowance but when there was something he wanted to do, like take a girl to the show, Money was provided. He just never carried cash on him, since there was no place to spend it on the ranch, and that was where his spent ninety percent of his time. He did have a jar on his dresser at home, with over thirty dollars in it, but he was saving that for buying a present for Alice come Christmas.

The evening air was still hot, so they drove with the windows down. Alice sat snugly against Tom, with his arm around her shoulder. Constance on the other had, sat near John but not touching. John would have preferred her to press against him, like his sister was with Tom, but Constance wasn’t that familiar with him, so he didn’t say anything to her. One reason it didn’t bother him, was he still intended to flirt with the ticket seller at the movie house. Before they had picked up Constance, John had pulled over and the two men got out to talk secretly behind the car where Alice couldn’t hear them. There he had gone over it again with Tom, how he wanted it to look like Constance was walking in with Tom and Alice and not him. Tom said okay, but also reminded John that it was kind of a silly thing to do.

Back in the car, Alice questioned Tom on what they had talked about. He waited until the car was again moving and the noise of the engine would cover his whispers to Alice. He just said that John didn’t want it to look like Constance was with him, when they went in the theater. He wanted it to look like Constance was with him and Alice. It wasn’t exactly what John had said, but it was close enough. Alice frowned and shook her head, disgusted with her brother.

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell your little secret.” She loudly announced.

Once Constance joined them, the topic never came up again. John gave her the job of finding a radio station that was strong enough to be heard over the road and engine noise. Some love song came on, and Alice started singing along with it. She sang a verse then insisted that the others join in. So they covered the miles singing along with the radio.

John parked the car on the street and they all got out and walked up to the theater. John stumbled around until Constance was between him and Tom. Alice seeing what her brother was trying to do, move around Tom, to walk between him and Constance. Constance could sense something was up, but didn’t understand what it was. John was practicing moving away from Constance and then moving back to walk beside her. The side walk was wide enough for all four to walk abreast, but John strange antics caused Constance to think he was a little odd. John was just practicing on how to step away and not have it seem like he was with Constance. It looked silly, just as Alice had predicted. When they got to the ticket booth, there was a man sitting in it. John was chest fallen. His face turned white with shock, at seeing a man where his secret love was suppose to be.

Alice started laughing, and laughing. She couldn’t stop, which made John mad, but couldn’t say anything to his sister. Tom too began chuckling, but mostly at Alice who was enjoying her brothers plight immensely. Constance didn’t see the humor and didn’t laugh. She was aware that something was going on that they were keeping from her. She wasn’t happy but kept her feelings to her self.

Once inside the theater, Tom took the girls to the concession stand, where he bought them all popcorn and sodas. It was there, that girl waiting on them turned to face a surprised John who stood stricken with shock. Gloria the ticket taker was working behind the concession stand. Tom saved his friend by shoving him out of the way, with a shoulder and pointing at a box of milk duds.

“I’ll take a box of those.” Then turning, “Would you like something to go along with the popcorn?” he asked Constance and then repeated the question to Alice. The girls declined at first, but Tom insisted, so they each picked something out. It took a moment for John to collect himself, and then he paid for everything. It pleased Tom who stated that if he’d known it was going to be Johns treat, he would have ordered twice as much.

During the movie, Alice and Constance sat between the two boys. John was done with his charade and was trying to cosy up to Constance, who now was sure John was nuts but had started to figure out what he’d been up too. They did hold hands but she was well reserved in any other show of affection. Alice on the other hand, was pulling Tom inclose as the house lights dimmed. Even before it was completely dark, she had Tom in a lip lock. Once the movie was running, Alice watched until she was bored with it, and again was smooching Tom. Finally when it was over, Tom had to straighten out his pants before standing up. Alice had a cat ate the canary smile on her face, as he adjusted himself. She was glad to see that she had that effect on a man.

Tom was hungry, the popcorn and candy just wasn’t enough. They stopped at a restaurant that they’d all ate at many times and ordered a meal. John ordered coffee with his, since he was driving and needed to stay awake. Tom had to encourage Constance to order a meal, and finally had to insist on it. John was uncomfortable with Tom paying attention to his date. His concern that she order something substantial was out of place. Even Alice seemed to feel a little unease with Tom concerned about Constance welfare, when it was suppose to be John’s place.

Tom felt bad about the way John had carried on, and knew that Constance had sensed a little of what was going on. It bothered him to know that her feelings had been trashed by John antics. In a small way he was trying to make up for it. They all ended up having a breakfast served. It was a substantial meal, of ham, sausage, eggs, hash browns and toast. The coffee was made with water from a very strong mineral spring, which a person all most had to chew to drink. John practically gagged with his first sip of the black brew, and quickly sat it down and never touched the cup again. The coffee was terrible.

With a good meal under their belts, the mood was better and the ride home pleasant. Alice again got to loving up Tom, and the kissing went on for most of the trip home. This time Constance sat closer to the door on her side, rather than near John. She wasn’t exactly hugging the door, but it was evident she wasn’t about to cuddle close to John. Tom though John a fool, because he was only going for the Ticket takers looks and nothing else. Constance was by far better looking, though Tom knew that a person should look for more than that in a woman. Still it was looks that got their attention in the first place.

The last thing they did before leaving Burns, was fill up the car with gas. They didn’t want to wake old man Walker if it looked like they were running low. He would get up and fill a person’s tank, but they didn’t want to put him to any trouble, and the gas was cheaper in Burns.

It was after midnight when they dropped Constance off at her home. Alice had fallen asleep, waking at the sound of the car doors closing. John had done the gentlemanly thing and walked Constance to her door. Tom could see them in the lights of the car, but couldn’t make out what they were saying, as they stood for several minutes talking back and forth. When She finally went in and John got back in the car, Alice asked him what they were talking about. John didn’t want to say, but Alice insistent as she was wouldn’t let it drop. Finally he disclosed that Constance had informed him that she knew why he’d acted so stupidly. She didn’t know it was about Gloria the ticket taker but she knew he didn’t want to be seen walking with her. Gist of it all was that it was their last date. Which caused Alice to say, that he couldn’t blame her.

The long drive up to Tom’s house almost had Alice asleep again. Tom felt a little guilty they still had to drive back down the long drive and then endure the same thing with their finial leg of the journey to their house. It would be another half hour before they got home due to the rough roads in and out of their places. Tom waited until John turned the car around and was heading back down the road, before going in the house. No one had waited up, as he was a big boy now. Everyone had worked hard all week and now the sounds of snoring could be heard through out the house. Tom wasted no time in getting under the quilts and dropping off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. It had been a tiring day, though he enjoyed being with Alice. He still felt a little ashamed at what John had pulled and the fact that he’d been a part of it, if only just a little bit.

Sunday was depressing to Harold, the singing across the road in what was being used as the church was disrupting his thinking. Chic had showed up early, riding one of the Bailors geldings. He wanted Harold to work on finding a truck, capable of hauling cattle. The twenty head he and his fellow saddle tramps had managed to corral on fox ridge, were burning holes in his pockets. They had the cattle, now they needed a truck to transport them to the buyer. Chic didn’t like holding the cattle any longer than necessary. The chances that some one would discover them increased daily. The sooner the cattle were out of the area, the sooner they could collect their money and ride out.

With Chic insisting on Harold getting a truck, was a big step for him. Pulling his gas pumping scam on strangers was one thing, what Chic was asking him to do, was completely illegal. If he was caught it would mean jail time. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take that risk.

“Risk? What risk?” Chic struggled to keep his voice down as they were sitting under the eves, hiding from the hot sun. “I’m taking all the risk. All you have to do is one simple thing. Me and the boys will take it from there.”

“What if something goes wrong?” Harold wanted the money, but wasn’t willing to risk getting caught. The sheriff wasn’t happy with his Gas Scam, but put up with it because of the bottle of whiskey he set in the back seat of his patrol car each visit. It was the cost of doing business, the Sheriff told him. Harold knew that if they were caught at this new scheme, he would be doing jail time. Stealing a truck was a whole lot different and adding cattle rustling on top of it, was even worse. Harold wasn’t sure if they still hung Rustlers, but didn’t want to find out.

“All you have to do, is add a pint of water with the gas. The truck gets down the road, maybe a quarter mile and then it’s stalled. The driver gets out and walks back for help, Me and the boys will be waiting and take over from there. We run the risk, all you do is add the water.” Chic made sure Harold could see his disgust. “Look, the longer those cattle are here, the worse our chances are of getting caught. If that happens, we will all say it was your idea. So you better get to working on that truck.”

“None of the big rigs pull in here.” Harold explained. “Most that stop here are local farm trucks. You couldn’t haul more than five or six cattle at a time.”

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