Released and running. Enjoying his freedom George didn’t dare look back. Now he knew he wouldn’t be stripped of his dignity. Or raped by a movie queen. A friend of Clark Gable, loved by Greer Garson but not Richard Burton. That world, however, was now behind him. George, a man who felt that he could no longer show his face in Dallas, kept his head down. Wide-awake he watched the lightning from his window.
This boyish, innocent-looking fellow, with a round, honest face and a nervous laugh, wore an unbuttoned, long-sleeved shirt over a Ray Charles T-shirt bought at a concert. He didn’t look as if he had just spent two days on the bus. In the rack above his head was stowed an old, tattered suitcase that contained the rest of his clothing.
About suppertime the bus neared Lordsburg, breaking the speed limit during a downpour. It was so slippery and dangerous in fact that there was hardly any traffic; and because of the spray and the grime it was difficult to see out the windows.
Near the rear of the bus George had been sitting next to the same gentleman since Dallas. His neighbor was slim and tall, with dark, curly hair and dressed in a long-sleeved, sequined, cowboy shirt that looked as if he had slept in it.
“No.” There were many theories about George, and now one of them was that he had a headache. Theories about him came from all over the place, from emergency rooms and penthouses, from real people and true celebrities, and many of them came from him. For instance both of his parents unexpectedly died. And before she died his mother told him, “I don’t want you to be sad.” “I had a brain tumor,” he said lying. “My father worked with Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind,” he added truthfully. ” My mother owned a boutique on McKinney Street.”
“The summers in Arizona can’t be too bad. I remember, as a kid growing up in Dallas, that the summers there were toxic. It never worked out for me. And what about you?”
There had rarely been a mile that went by without them saying something to each other. Occasionally one of them had to stretch or take a leak, but by and large the chatter had been almost continuous. In fact, except for when low-grade explosions went off in his head George sat there confident that he could controlled the exchange: “fast cars,” “mother’s MG,” ” poontang,” “hating snooty bitches,” Gone With the Wind (being carried on the set), “singing lizards” (his father once own a night club that catered to the carriage trade), and “Mss M.” Really?
As the hours raced by the scenery was largely ignored. Texas mostly.
“New Mexico. And not a tree in sight. Out here they’ll hang you if you look at someone wong.” George looked for rope burns, as his friend spoke with authority. Anecdotal evidence that his friend knew what he was talking about came from an ugly scar in the center of his forehead. “A tire iron,” he explained. “I’m lucky to be here.”
They ‘d both been lucky in that way. Static bugged George more than low-grade explosions. Lightning flashes, God! Sometimes the least little noise made him jump.
”No!” An exclamation that carried to the front of the bus and clear to Lordsburg.
“In Gone With the Wind, imagine that! And I’m Richard Burton.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that. I don’t question what people tell me. By now you know more about me than I generally let people in on. I don’t understand that. And I can’t stop. Well, my old man and old woman expected more from me than they ever got from me. Was on the dole, rode the rails, and survived divorce. For some people college sticks. For others it don’t,” explained the drifter.
“They locked me up and wouldn’t let me out.” George explained how his folks among their friends had a hard time explaining how a son of theirs ended up in Terrell. Now they could afford better than that and later sprung for Oak Lawn. “The holes in my brain come from LSD. LSD, you know. Do I have to spell it out?”
“Oh. Well, I’ve been shot at.”
“My diagnosis is bogus. Without getting into the gory details they say I’m…”
And then George explained the reason he had to ride Greyhound was due to the greedy bastard who controlled his inheritance. They both had the travel bug, and George told his friend more than his friend needed to know. Every detail hurt. ”No safe place exists this side of Paradise. Don’t let the bedbugs there bite.” His friend tried but failed to turn him off. “A few good friends remain convinced that I’m worth something.”
“So you recommend Tucson?”
“Yeah. The first thing that I’d recommend is that you go to the Methodist church on Veterans. They’re good people. And will help you.” While he talked the dark-haired man looked passed George.
”I’ll try Tucson.”
”You do that, George. As for me I’m kind of good at disappointin’ people and good at hurtin’ ‘em. So you better watch out. Why, that’s why it’s good that I’m always on the go.”
“My mother was an aristocrat in her own way,” said George.
“A rich kid slumming!”
“Who said anything about being rich?”
By then George had a throbbing headache and regretted that he had talked about himself so much. .
“You always have to check for bedbugs.” Containing infestation, at times, had been an obsession. “No nits. One dog. No cats. Yes, lice. Lice zapped in a microwave. (George often focused on microwaves. Not short waves, but microwaves.) Half-power will do it. Zap them! Give them their marching orders. And from what I understand about lice is that they march in single file.”
“Well, here’s Lordsburg.”
They were, in fact, pulling into the station. Although George said he was hungry he didn’t want to get off the bus. That huge step frightened him. But his companion insisted, persisted, and badgered him out of his seat.
“Okay, okay!” cried George. “I could use something for my stomach, as long as it’s wrapped.”
As the noisy bunch got back on the bus the friendly driver reminded them that the next stop was Tucson.
By then George finally had run out of something to say, and with over a hundred miles to go he had plenty to time to think. His mood fit the stormy weather. Then it came down to how was he going to make a name for himself. He wasn’t a violent person, so he didn’t pack a gun. He’d wait until he arrived in Tucson before he decided whether he needed one or not.