You probably want to know how I ended up trapped in a car with two sisters who were not getting along. Yeah, I want to know, too.
I’m pretty sure it happened because I offered to drive them back to the hotel-type place, but I really should have been cannier and told Lilibeth that our place was full up and taken her to a Motel 6 in the other direction. I’m sure Courtney would have backed me up on it.
But making shit up to control people was just not my style. So there I was behind the wheel with Courtney behind me and Lilibeth in the passenger seat, sniping at each other nonstop while we sped down the interstate. I was trying not to get involved or even listen, but it was kind of hard to ignore with them right there.
“You’re so naive,” Lilibeth was saying. “You don’t know anything.”
“I know a lot more than you about some things,” Courtney shot back.
“I mean, honestly, you –both of you–you’re so young, still.”
“Oh, is that what this is about? Oh my god, I just realized, Lili. You’re about to turn thrity, aren’t you?” Courtney made an appreciative sound. “No wonder you’re freaking out.”
“I am not ‘freaking out.'” She put finger quotes around the words. “And I don’t look a day over twenty-five!”
Courtney and I both tried not to laugh at that.
Lilibeth sniffed in a very Claire-like way. “I’m trying to get you to be realistic about some things. Like money. And the law.”
“Oh, really,” Courtney said, “and you’ve been learning all about money and the law from our illustrious progenitor?”
When Lilibeth was silent for a second, I couldn’t help but jump in: “She means Digger.”
“I know who she means, stupid!”
Oooh. A flash of hot anger ran through me when she said that. Like I’d touched a live wire for a second. I took a breath to calm myself and realized what I wanted to say. Oh, yes. “You have two choices, Lilibeth. You can apologize or I can stop the car and you can get out and walk.”
“What? How dare you talk like that to me!”
“Your choice,” I repeated. I hate strife and fighting but… I kind of enjoyed saying this: “You remember when we were kids and Claire would tell us: her car, her rules? And if we didn’t like the rules we could get out and walk.”
“And when we grew up we could set our own rules,” Courtney added, a little note of glee in her voice.
“My car, my rules,” I said. “And in my car we don’t do name-calling.” I put my blinker on and started to slow down like I was going to pull over.
“What the fuck!” Lilibeth exclaimed, bracing herself against the dashboard and the door with both hands, as if we were going to drag her physically out of her seat. “Am I not allowed to curse either?”
“Naw. Use all the fucking profanity you want,” I said. “But call me stupid again and it’ll take more than an apology–”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry! For Pete’s sake.” She glanced back and forth as she realized I was still slowing down. Reflexes kicked in as it dawned on her she had to make a better apology: “I’m sorry for calling you stupid. I didn’t mean it.” She racked her brain for how to make it more sincere. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
“Apology accepted,” I said, putting my foot back on the gas. Janine had called me stupid, too, when she’d gotten angry at me, but she’d apologized on her own. She’d called it a reflex, too. Like we reverted to how we were as unruly children.
The other thing the two of them used to call me when they were tyrannizing me, besides stupid, was “weirdo.” At the time I’n sure we’d heard the words faggot and queer–from Digger–but we didn’t really have the understanding yet of just what those words meant. But they had known something was different about me. They called me stupid because I couldn’t always answer a question or talk right away, and they called me weirdo because I was somehow not like the other boys. Too quiet. Too soft. Too sensitive. Too creative. Too weird.
If she tried to call me queer, now, I was definitely throwing her out of the car. But she hadn’t said anything about that. Yet.
Anyway. “So just what line of bullshit has dear old Dad been feeding you, anyway?” Court asked.
“Oh, you think I’m a sucker? Come on. I know what a shyster he is.” Lilibeth put down the sun shade on the passenger side and checked her eyeshadow. “You’re just so wrapped up in your little drama that you can’t see the hard facts.”
Courtney snorted. “Oh, you mean his whole cockamamie story about his ship coming in once he sues WTA, BNC, and M3?”
“Eh, those are just the side dishes. The main entrees are this woman named Sarah Rogue and, of course, your friend Ziggy.” She said his name like it was an outlandish foreign name, like Zsa Zsa or Robespierre. Which probably would’ve suited Ziggy just fine, so I didn’t make an issue out of it.
She apparently didn’t know we knew Sarah, too. Courtney kept up the examination: “Oh really. Sarah Rogue?”
“Really. He’s got them both dead to rights for wrongful termination. The contracts they both signed are very clear.”
“Gee, I heard Sarah’s suing him because he embezzled a pile of money from her. I’m pretty sure that invalidates all contracts right there,” Court said. “In fact, isn’t the reason he went on the lam because he ducked out of facing her in court? That doesn’t sound like someone who’s very confident of their chances…”
“Ugh. The courts in LA are rigged in favor of the celebrities,” Lilibeth said, like this was a known fact. “They’ve got nothing. They won’t be able to prove a thing.”
I held my tongue because I wanted to shut her up with the truth: we knew Digger had been cooking the books. Colin and Bart’s dad had ferretted it out in the spreadsheets, and we had a witness/accomplice in Janessa. If she didn’t know that, maybe Digger didn’t either, and I wasn’t going to tell her. I could practically feel Feinbaum’s breath on the back of my ear telling me to keep my mouth shut.
What Court said was, “They must have something, or a criminal court wouldn’t have agreed to take the case.” Which was something my and WTA’s lawyers had also said. They also seemed to think it meant Sarah’s mother didn’t want money, she wanted blood. “They would have left it to civil court.”
“Oh, yeah, about that,” Lilibeth said, prim and smug. “There’s a thing called civil compromise. So even in a criminal court, they could settle.”
“If he comes up with the money,” Courtney said. “Right? Where’s he going to get the hundred grand or whatever he stole from her?”
“That’s where the Ziggy suit comes in. Ziggy cut him out a huge deal, you know, one he pushed for, worked on, negotiated, and basically created. If he gets his cut of that, he can pay off the Rogue case, and be scot free.”
So smug. So prim. So sure of her worldview. Was she right, though? Was there a chance Digger could wangle some kind of settlement out of BNC, pay off Mrs. Rogala, and avoid jail? His desperation to stay out of jail might partially explain why he was so actively suing everyone else.
“Would the Rogues take a settlement, though?” I asked, curious if she knew more about that.
“It’s looking more and more like they will.” She nodded. “The prosecutor basically thinks it’s not in the state’s best interest to jail a chronically ill man with no prior criminal record.” She sounded like she was quoting from someone else.
Courtney pointed between the two front seats, out the window, at a restaurant of some kind coming up. “Let’s go through the drive-thru!”
“You must really be sick of hospital food if you want to eat at Jack in the Box.”
“That’s not a Jack in the Box! It’s a Big Boy!” She was truly outraged. “Their burgers are great!” Then she realized I was smiling. Trust me, after all that time in tour buses, I know a Big Boy from a Jack in the Box.
“You all right with us making a short pitstop, Lilibeth?” I asked.
“Your car, your rules,” she said sullenly. “Sure. I could go for a diet soda.”
While we were in line to order, Court turned her attention back to legal matters. “Look, Lili, I’m not going to try to tell you what to do or who to believe. Daron and I were both trying to get along with Dad as recently as like, two years ago. We both made the decision to cut ties with him–”
“So you could live like a bunch of hippie bohemian freaks,” Lili said with a nod, like she had heard this story already.
Of course she had: from Digger.
“Even his oldest friend cut him off,” Court shot back.
“You mean Remo, that two-faced coward? Oh, I could tell you some stories about Remo Cutler.”
“Like how he slept with his best friend’s wife? Yeah, we know that one,” Court said. “Duh. It’s why he’s here and Digger isn’t.”
Lilibeth didn’t much like having her thunder stolen. “Adultery is a sin.”
“So are pride, greed, lust, and envy, all of which Dad’s got in spades.” Courtney didn’t sound snarky now, she sounded tired, like someone expxlaining something unfortunate to a child. “Listen. I don’t want to fight about him. I just think you ought to hear the facts from someone other than him before you make any, you know, rash decisions or whatever. You can’t tell me you think he’s suddenly turned over a new leaf.”
Lilibeth folded her arms. “You’re not going to change my mind, but since I’m stuck in the car under your brother’s rules, I suppose I have to listen.”
As if I wasn’t her brother, too. You’d think that would hurt me or make me angry. It didn’t. I just tapped my fingers on the steering wheel and kept my eyes on the brake lights in front of us.
Courtney said her piece. “Digger wasn’t just embezzling from Sarah Rogue, he was embezzling from Ziggy, too. There’s real evidence of that, Lil.”
“Oh, you mean the word of that slut who was sleeping with Ziggy? Oh, I bet her word’ll go over great in court.”
“We don’t just have her word. We’ve got copies of Digger’s financial records, both doctored and undoctored. We’ve had friends who are accountants go through them.”
“RIght. You mean that skinhead who takes it up the ass. I’ve heard all about him, too.”
I nearly ran into the car in front of us and jammed on the brake quite hard. “Colin is not a skinhead!”
“Ha. I note you didn’t refute the other half of my statement. Be serious, Daron. You think the court is going to believe your ‘impartial expert witness,'”–she made air quotes with her fingers again–“when they find out he’s been sucking your cock for years?”
I admit she had a point, but she’d been pushing my buttons for the whole car ride, and although I had calmed my way through most of them, I guess the cumulative effect was just too much. “That’s irrelevant!”
“Ha!” She pointed at me like she’d caught me confessing. “Cocksucker!”
That was it. I threw the car into park. “Get out.”
She laughed like she still had the upper hand, like she was still the queen bitch of an older sister who used to torture me, get me trapped in trees, push me into the pool, et cetera, and get away with it, with no consequences.
“Get. Out.” I pulled a twenty dollar bill out of my denim jacket pocket. “Here. Call a cab. Or see if some redneck will take you.”
Her eyes widened, her smile disappearing. “You’re serious.”
I just thrust the bill at her again.
She tried to argue. Good lord, she tried to argue. “You said profanity was okay!”
“And name-calling isn’t! What part about you just called me a cocksucker did you miss?” I was so angry my entire head felt like it was on fire, like flames were coming out of my ears. “Oh, are you sorry? Did you not really mean it? Did you not mean to hurt my feelings?”
Her mouth just hung open like it had never occurred to her that I might actually object to being treated like total shit. And then all of a sudden she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She struggled to get the door unlocked and rushed out, slamming the door and then half-running into the restaurant, glancing behind her like I might decide to run her down with the car or something.
Courtney sighed. “Jeezus. I better go after her.”
“Why? I’m not letting her back in the car.”
“Big brother, I love you, but you can’t just leave a woman alone at a truck stop off the interstate in Tennessee. What if she gets kidnapped into white slavery or something?”
“This isn’t a truck stop–”
“I’m kidding. Sort of.” She plucked the twenty out of my hand. “Give me ten more to cover a couple of burgers.”
“Here.” I gave her another twenty.
“That was awesome, by the way. I’m so proud of you.” She darted her head forward between the seats and pecked me on the cheek. “Love you, big brother, for real.” And then she exited the vehicle, hurrying along the same path to the restaurant’s back door.
The car behind me in the drive-thru line honked to get me to move up. I did him one better: I put the car back in drive and left the queue entirely, putting as much distance between myself and my toxic older sister as I could, as quickly as I could.
(You think maybe George Harrison was thinking about the breakup of the Beatles when he wrote this one? -d)