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Danine, Part 12
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stripper

Rebecca swings open the door. I bolt upright on the couch, see that it's her and sink back down. I've been lying here about an hour now, thinking that if I just try, I can maybe sleep for a few minutes. She steps in. I still have the volume down on the TV, just because there's nothing good to hear anyway--it's some game show, and all there'd be is some college kid or some fat lady winning a bunch of stuff and jumping up and down. Rebecca walks in and stands just inside the door. I turn over onto my side and look up at her.

"Hey," I say.

"There's someone wants to talk with you, Frank," she says. My heart skips a beat, and I can see Danine standing outside on the porch, wearing her University of Houston sweatshirt and sunglasses. Her hair's pulled back, and an pigtails. She looks like a junior high girl. She walks up to the screen door and pushes it open a little, looks inside at me.

"Frank?"

Danine sits down across from me in the chair. Rebecca and Jack keep the place really clean, but they've never been much concerned with buying nice furniture, it seems. She sits and the chair tips to one side, but she just sits on the edge and keeps it steady.

"I need to talk to you," she says.

I open my mouth to say something to her, but I don't know what to say. My mouth is dry. I see Jack come out of the bedroom and stand in the hallway. He and Rebecca are just watching us, their faces blank, not saying a word. I hate when Jack just sits and watches me, because it's like he knows everything I'm thinking, and all I'm thinking about is how I want to take her in my arms, take off that damn University of Houston sweatshirt again, and this time, afterwards, just lie there with her all night, the two of us.

"This is dangerous. For all of us," Jack says, and Danine looks down at the floor.

"Look, they just want the tape."

"What tape?" Jack asks. I feel it then, almost forgotten, in my shirt pocket. I'd put it there when I'd changed. I look at it, hold it up for Jack to see. He reaches out and takes it. "Computer backup," he says.

"What's on it?" I ask.

"It's a bunch of accounts, information," she says.

"What are they into?" Jack asks, coming forward and sitting down.

"Money laundering, what do you think?" she says.

Jack turns and looks at Rebecca. "Drugs?"

"Cocaine," Danine says. "Sometimes other stuff."

Jack is still staring at his daughter. "Did you know about this?"

"I suspected. No, I didn't know," she says.

"How does it get here?" Jack says, but he knows the answer, and he's staring at Danine the whole time.

Danine bristles a little. "Look, you think I make beaucoup bucks dancing at a place like that? Canadian assholes making you practically suck 'em off for a fucking dollar. We bring coke up, we take money back down. We'd be the ones going to prison, you know." I'm trying to focus on what she's saying, trying to stay tuned in to the conversation. It's hard. Mostly I just want to look at her, and the whole time I'm telling myself I'm crazy. I feel the pain of a pinprick again in my finger, faintly.

"So why are you here?" I ask.

"I'm taking her to the airport," Rebecca says.

Danine takes out a cigarette and looks at me. I shrug, guilty. I don't have a lighter. She fumbles in her pocket, pulls one out and lights up. "I have to get out of here. They don't even know I'm going."

"Why are you running?" Jack asks.

"I'm not stupid. My fingerprints are on that car. And I'm in too deep. They wanted me to get close to Calvin, they think I might know something. That Martin, he's one paranoid son of a bitch, he's going to want to keep me quiet. And Davidson, maybe he'd just pay me off or something, but that bastard Martin, that's not his idea of maintaining, you know?"

There's something in my gut that feels like I've been kicked, like I'm going to be sick. It's what Jack already knows, are already suspected. "They didn't want you to get close to Calvin, they wanted you to get me close to Calvin." She looks down at her shoe. "This was all set up so that Calvin would go to your room and find us."

"Look, I didn't know. Martin told me you were a local bigshot, that you were snooping around, trying to get some dirt on them, trying to shut the place down. They just wanted to . . . catch you with me. I thought it was just a blackmail, I didn't want anyone to get hurt." None of us says anything. "Look, I know what you're thinking, but I've never hurt anyone, all right. I grew up in a house like this, this was my life."

"No one wants to hear it," Jack says, and Rebecca shoots him a sharp look. "If you're going to the airport, you'd better get there now. If you're not there when your shift starts, they're going to come after you. And after all of us."

Danine and I stand up. She looks at me, then reaches out and touches me on the shoulder. "I'll see you around, okay? Like I told you, I'm trying to get to San Francisco, I have some family there. If you ever come out, you could call me or something."

"Sure." I pick up my cup and take a long drink out of it, watch her as she turns around and goes out the door, walk down the porch. Rebecca takes out her keys and starts to follow.

"I don't approve," Jack says to her.

"I know."

end of essay
Joseph G. Carson Portrait Joe was the original guitarist for the now legendary Clark Schpiell and the Furry Cockroaches without Butts, playing two chords in a four-chord song under the assumed name of Jason, which he has taken to be a metaphor for his existence (the two chords part, not the Jason part). He has contributed several long pieces to CSP, including the crime novels Danine and Inheriting Dust, the latter of which is still in progress. He has also written the occasional humor piece, movie review, and political essay. | more essays by Joseph
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