Rumble Fish

  Rumble Fish

  S.E. Hinton


  Diversion Books

  A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004

  New York, New York 10016

  A portion of this work first appeared in different form in The University of Tulsa Alumni Magazine. Copyright (c) 1968 by Susan Hinton Copyright (c) 1975 by S.E. Hinton

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For more information, email [email protected].

  First Diversion Books edition April 2013.

  ISBN: 978-1-938120-82-4

  Another one for David


  I ran into Steve a couple of days ago. He was real surprised to see me. We hadn't seen each other for a long time.

  I was sitting on the beach and he come up to me and said, "Rusty-James?"

  I said, "Yeah?" because I didn't recognize him right off. My memory's screwed up some.

  "It's me," he said. "It's Steve Hays."

  Then I remembered and got up, brushing sand off. "Hey, yeah."

  "What are you doing here?" he kept saying, looking at me like he couldn't believe it.

  "I live here," I said. "What are you doin' here?"

  "I'm on vacation. I'm going to college here."

  "Yeah?" I said. "What you goin' to college for?"

  "I'm going to teach when I get out. High school, probably. I can't believe it! I never thought I'd see you again. And here of all places!"

  I figured I had as much chance of being here as he did, even if we were a long way from where we'd seen each other last. People get excited over the weirdest things. I wondered why I wasn't glad to see him.

  "You're goin' to be a teacher, huh?" I said. It figured. He was always reading and stuff.

  "What do you do here?" he asked.

  "Nothin'. Bum around," I answered. Bumming around is a real popular profession here. You could paint, write, barkeep, or bum around. I tried barkeeping once and didn't much like it.

  "Lord, Rusty-James," he said. "How long has it been now?"

  I thought for a minute and said, "Five or six years." Math ain't never been my strong point.

  "How did you get here?" He just couldn't seem to get over it.

  "Me and a friend of mine, Alex, a guy I met in the reformatory, we just started knockin' around after we got out. We been here awhile."

  "No kidding?" Steve hadn't changed much. He looked about the same, except for the moustache that made him look like a little kid going to a Halloween party. But a lot of people are growing moustaches these days. I never went in for them myself.

  "How long were you in for?" he asked. "I never found out. We moved, you know, right after..."

  "Five years," I said. I can't remember much about it. Like I said, my memory's screwed up some. If somebody says something to remind me, I can remember things. But if I'm left alone I don't seem to be able to. Sometimes Alex'll say something that brings back the reformatory, but mostly he don't. He don't like remembering it either.

  "They put me in solitary once," I said, because Steve seemed to be waiting for something.

  He looked at me strangely and said, "Oh? I'm sorry."

  He was staring at a scar that runs down my side. It looks like a raised white line. It don't get tan, either.

  "I got that in a knife fight," I told him. "A long time ago."

  "I know, I was there."

  "Yeah," I said, "you were."

  For a second I remembered the fight. It was like seeing a movie of it. Steve glanced away for a second. I could tell he was trying not to look for the other scars. They're not real noticeable, but they're not that hard to see either, if you know where to look.

  "Hey," he said, too sudden, like he was trying to change the subject. "I want you to meet my girl friend. She won't believe it. I haven't seen you since we were thirteen? Fourteen? I don't know though"--he gave me a look that was half kidding and half serious--"you leave other guys' chicks alone?"

  "Yeah," I said. "I got a girl."

  "Or two, or three?"

  "Just one," I said. I like to keep things simple, and God knows even one can get complicated enough.

  "Let's meet for dinner somewhere," he said. "We can talk about the good old days. Man, I have come so far since then..."

  I didn't stop him from naming a time and a place, even though I didn't much want to talk about the good old days. I didn't even remember them.

  "Rusty-James," he was saying, "you gave me a real scare when I first saw you. I thought I'd flipped out. You know who I thought you were for a second?"

  My stomach clenched itself into a fist, and an old fear started creeping up my backbone.

  "You know who you look just like?"

  "Yeah," I said, and remembered everything. I could of been really glad to see ol' Steve, if he hadn't made me remember everything.


  I was hanging out in Benny's, playing pool, when I heard Biff Wilcox was looking to kill me.

  Benny's was the hangout for the junior high kids. The high schoolers used to go there, but when the younger kids moved in, they moved out. Benny was pretty mad about it. Junior high kids don't have as much money to spend. He couldn't do much about it except hate the kids, though. If a place gets marked as a hangout, that's it.

  Steve was there, and B.J. Jackson, and Smokey Bennet, and some other guys. I was playing pool with Smokey. I was probably winning, since I was a pretty good pool player. Smokey was hacked off because he already owed me some money. He was glad when Midget came in and said, "Biff is lookin' for you, Rusty-James."

  I missed my shot.

  "I ain't hidin'." I stood there, leaning on my cue, knowing good and well I wasn't going to be able to finish the game. I can't think about two things at the same time.

  "He says he's gonna kill you." Midget was a tall, skinny kid, taller than anybody else our age. That was why we called him Midget.

  "Sayin' ain't doin'," I said.

  Smokey was putting his cue away. "Biff is a mean cat, Rusty-James," he told me.

  "He ain't so tough. What's he shook about, anyway?"

  "Somethin' you said to Anita at school," Midget said.

  "Shoot, I didn't say nothin' but the truth."

  I told them what I said to Anita. B.J. and Smokey agreed it was the truth. Steve and Midget turned red.

  "Hell," I said. "Now why does he have to go and get shook over somethin' like that?"

  I get annoyed when people want to kill me for some stupid little reason. Something big, and I don't mind it so much.

  I went up to the counter and got a chocolate milk. I always drank chocolate milk instead of Coke or something. That Coke junk will rot your insides. This gave me a little time to think things over. Benny was making a big production out of a sandwich, and he let me know he wasn't going to drop what he was doing and rush over with my chocolate milk.

  "So what's he doin' about it? Killin' me, I mean."

  I sat down at a booth and Midget slid in across from me. Everybody else gathered around.

  "He wants you to meet him in the vacant lot behind the pet store."

  "All right. I guess he's comin' alone, huh?"

  "I wouldn't count on it," Smokey said. He was trying to let me know he was on my side, so I'd forget about our messed-up pool game.

  "If he's bringin' friends, I'm bringin' friends." I wasn't afraid of fighting Biff, but I didn't see any need to be stupid about it.

  "Yeah, but you know how that's gonna turn out," Steve put in. "Everybody'll end up gettin' into it. You bring people, he brings people..."

  Steve was always cautious about thing

  "You think I'm goin' to that empty lot by myself, you're nuts," I told him.


  "Lookit, me an' Biff'll settle this thing ourselves. You guys'll just be an audience, huh? Ain't nothin' wrong with an audience."

  "You know it ain't gonna end up like that." Steve was fourteen, like me. He looked twelve. He acted forty. He was my best friend, though, so he could say stuff that I wouldn't let anybody else get away with. "Dammit, Rusty-James, we haven't had any trouble like that for a long time now."

  He was scared it was going to end up in a gang fight. There hadn't been a real honest-to-goodness gang fight around here in years. As far as I knew, Steve had never been in one. I could never understand people being scared of things they didn't know nothing about.

  "You don't have to be there," I said. Everybody else had to be there to protect their rep. Steve didn't have any rep. He was my best friend. That was his rep.

  "You know I'm gonna be there," he said to me angrily. "But you know what the Motorcycle Boy said about gang--"

  "He ain't here," I said. "He ain't been here for two weeks. So don't go tellin' me about the Motorcycle Boy."

  B.J. spoke up. "But even back when we was rumblin', we never fought Biff's gang. They was allies. Remember when Wilson got jumped over on the Tigers' turf..."

  This started a discussion on who had been jumped, when and where and why. I didn't need to think about that--I had all those records straight in my head anyway. But I did need to think about how I was going to fight Biff, so I wasn't listening much when somebody said, "Anyway, when the Motorcycle Boy gets back--"

  I jumped up and slammed my fist down on the table so hard, the table in the next booth rattled and Benny stopped whistling and making his sandwich. Everybody else sat like they was holding their breath.

  "The Motorcycle Boy ain't back," I said. I can't see good when I get mad, and my voice was shaking. "I don't know when he's comin' back, if he's comin' back. So if you wanna wait around the rest of your life to see what he says, okay. But I'm gonna stomp Biff Wilcox's guts tonight, and I think I oughta have some friends there."

  "We'll be there," Smokey said. He stared at me with those funny, colorless eyes that gave him his nickname. "But let's try an' keep it between you two, okay?"

  I couldn't say anything because I was too mad. I walked out and slammed the door behind me. In about five seconds I heard footsteps behind me and I didn't turn around because I knew it'd be Steve.

  "What's the matter with you?" he said.

  "Give me a cigarette."

  "You know I don't have any cigarettes."

  "Yeah, I forgot."

  I hunted around and found one in my shirt pocket.

  "What's wrong?" Steve asked again.

  "Nothin's wrong."

  "Is it the Motorcycle Boy being gone?"

  "Don't start in on me," I said. He kept quiet for a few minutes. He'd pestered me once before when he shouldn't of and I'd punched the wind out of him. I was real sorry about that, but it wasn't my fault. He should have known better than to pester me when I'm mad.

  Finally he said, "Slow down, willya? You're running my legs off."

  I stopped. We were on the bridge, right where the Motorcycle Boy used to stop to watch the water. I threw my cigarette butt into the river. It was so full of trash that a little more wasn't going to hurt it any.

  "You've been acting funny ever since the Motorcycle Boy left."

  "He's been gone before," I said. I get mad quick, and I get over it quick.

  "Not for this long."

  "Two weeks. That ain't long."

  "Maybe he's gone for good."

  "Shut up, willya," I said. I closed my eyes. I'd been out till four in the morning the night before and I was kind of tired.

  "This is a crummy neighborhood," Steve said suddenly.

  "It ain't the slums," I told him, keeping my eyes shut. "There's worse places."

  "I didn't say it was the slums. I said it was a crummy neighborhood, and it is."

  "If you don't like it, move."

  "I am. Someday I am."

  I quit listening. I don't see any sense in thinking about things far off in the future.

  "You have to face the fact that the Motorcycle Boy may be gone for good."

  "I don't have to face nothin'," I said tiredly.

  He sighed and stared down at the river.

  I saw a rabbit once at the zoo. My old man took me there on the bus a long time ago. I really liked that zoo. I tried to go again by myself, but I was a little kid and I got lost when I had to change buses. I never did get around to trying to get there again. But I remembered it pretty good. The animals reminded me of people. Steve looked like a rabbit. He had dark-blond hair and dark-brown eyes and a face like a real sincere rabbit. He was smarter than me. I ain't never been a particularly smart person. But I get along all right.

  I wondered why Steve was my best friend. I let him hang around and kept people from beating him up and listened to all his worries. God, did that kid worry about things! I did all that for him and sometimes he did my math homework and let me copy his history stuff, so I never flunked a grade. But I didn't care about flunking, so that wasn't why he was my best friend. Maybe it was because I had known him longer than I'd known anybody I wasn't related to. For a tough kid I had a bad habit of getting attached to people.


  When Steve had to go home I went over to my girl friend's place. I knew she'd be home because her mother was a nurse and worked nights and Patty had to take care of her little brothers.

  "I'm not supposed to have company when Mother's out." She stood there blocking the doorway, not making a move to let me in.

  "Since when?"

  "Since a long time ago."

  "Well, that ain't stopped you before," I said. She was mad about something. She wanted to start a fight. She wasn't mad about me coming over when I wasn't supposed to, but that was what she wanted to fight about. It seemed like whenever we had fights it was never over what she was mad about.

  "I haven't seen you in a long time," she said coldly.

  "I been busy."

  "So I heard."

  "Aw, come on," I said. "Let's talk about it inside."

  She looked at me for a long time, then held the door open. I knew she would. She was crazy about me.

  We sat and watched TV for a while. Patty's little brothers took turns jumping up and down on the only other chair in the room.

  "What were you busy with?"

  "Nothin'. Messin' around. Me and Smokey and his cousin went to the lake."

  "Oh, yeah? Did you take any girls with you?"

  "What're you talkin' about, take any girls? No."

  "Okay," she said, settling down in my arms. When we started making out, one of the brats started yelling, "I'm gonna tell Mama," until I promised to knock his block off. But after that I just sat there holding her and sometimes kissed the top of her hair. She had blond hair with dark roots. I like blond girls. I don't care how they get that way.

  "Rusty-James," she said.

  I jumped. "Was I asleep?"

  The room was dark, except for the black-and-white glare from the TV.

  "Is it morning or night?" I was confused. I still felt like I was asleep or something.

  "Night. Boy, you've been great company."

  I felt shivery. Then I remembered.

  "What time is it?"

  "Seven thirty."

  "Hell," I said, getting up. "I'm supposed to fight Biff Wilcox at eight. You got anything to drink around here?"

  I went into the kitchen and hunted through her refrigerator. I found a can of beer and gulped it down.

  "Now Mama'll think I drank it. Thanks a lot." She sounded like she was going to cry.

  "What's the matter, honey?" I said.

  "You said you were going to quit fighting all the time."

  "Since when?"

  "Since you beat up Skip Handly. You promised me you wouldn't be fighting all
the time."

  "Oh, yeah. Well, this ain't all the time. This is just once."

  "You always say that." She was crying. I backed her up against the wall and hugged her awhile.

  "Love you, babe," I said, and turned her loose.

  "I wish you wouldn't fight all the time." She wasn't crying anymore. She could quit crying the easiest of any girl I knew.

  "Well, what about you?" I asked. "You took after Judy McGee with a busted pop bottle not too long ago."

  "She was flirting with you," she said. Patty was a hellcat sometimes.

  "Ain't my fault," I said. I grabbed my jacket on the way to the door. I stopped and gave her a good long kiss. Pretty little thing, she looked like a dandelion with her hair messed up.

  "Be careful," she said. "I love you."

  I waved good-bye and jumped off the porch. I thought maybe I'd have time to stop by my place and have a good swig of wine, but going by Benny's I saw everybody waiting around for me, so I went in.

  There were more people there than had been there in the afternoon. I guess word had gotten around.

  "We just about give up on you," Smokey said.

  "Better watch out or I'll take you on for a warm-up," I warned him. I counted the guys and decided maybe six of them would show up at the lot. I didn't see Steve, but didn't worry about it. He couldn't get out much at night.

  "Split up and meet me there," I told them, "or we'll have the cops on our tail."

  I left with Smokey and B.J. I felt so good. I love fights. I love how I feel before a fight, kind of high, like I can do anything.

  "Slow down," B.J. said. "You'd better be savin' your energy."

  "If you wasn't so fat you could keep up."

  "Don't start that stuff again," B.J. said. He was fat, but he was tough, too. Tough fat guys ain't as rare as you'd think.

  "Man, this is just like the old days, ain't it?" I said.

  "I wouldn't know," Smokey said. Fights made him edgy. Before a fight he'd get quieter and quieter, and it always bugged the hell out of him that I'd get louder and louder. We had a funny kind of tension between us anyway. He would have been number-one tough cat in our neighborhood if it wasn't for me. Sometimes I could tell he was thinking about fighting me. So far, either he was scared or wanted to stay friends.

  "Yeah," I said, "that's right. It was all over before you got into it."

  "Hell, that gang stuff was out of style when you was ten years old, Rusty-James," he told me.

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