by Graham Powell
Donna was absolutely seething. Her skin was flushed, as if she were on fire inside, and I could almost feel the heat seeping out. I’m a big man, and my Saturn was small enough with just me inside. With two, with Donna the way she was, it was enough to smother me.
We’d been sitting outside the agency for nearly an hour, Donna getting tighter and tighter until she was just all knots. God, she looked twice her age. There was still no sign of Townsend. I didn’t want to stay there all night, but I was afraid to say anything. I’d just about worked up the nerve to speak when her eyes narrowed to slits and she said, “There he is.”
He wasn’t much of a man, maybe five-six or five-seven, had some muscles under his suit but got them in the gym. We got out and Donna pulled the box out of the back seat, all wrapped up in ribbons and bows, and we started across the lot.
He was fumbling with his car keys when he heard us coming up behind him. He saw Donna first, and started to say something. Then he saw me, and he looked back at her uncertainly. “Can I help you?” he said.
She walked up and shoved the present in his stomach. “I sure hope you can, mister,” she said, and her voice wasn’t pretty. “Yesterday I went out to those people’s house, the ones you told me about. I took along this present, ’cause I was expecting a birthday. But they told me I was wrong, their baby’s birthday wasn’t ’til February. So I know you lied to me, and I want to know where my baby is.”
His lost the doubtful look; now he was just grim. “Look,” he said, “I told you that to get you off my back. I shouldn’t have done it, and I’m not going to make that mistake again.”
Donna was nodding. “That’s right,” she said. “This time you’re going to tell the truth.”
“The truth is you signed the paper. No one held a gun to your head. Now if you’ll excuse me…” He swung open his door and started to get in.
She didn’t even look at me, just said, “Eric.” I grabbed Townsend’s arm. He tried to pull away, but I’d lugged four inch drill pipe around East Texas for ten years. My hand fit neatly around his arm. “This is my brother,” said Donna. “If you won’t tell me, you’d better believe you’re gonna tell him.”
Townsend looked me right in the eye, and if he was scared he didn’t show it. “I don’t want to send you to jail, friend, but I will. Now let go of my arm.”
“I’ve been in jail before, mister,” I said. I slugged him in the gut pretty good to show him we were serious. When he finished coughing I said, “Now tell my sister what she wants to know.”
“I can’t,” he gasped. “I can’t.”
Donna stood there, balled up fists digging into her hips. “Why?” she spat out. “Because of that lawyer bullshit? You think that matters to me? Eric, hit him again.”
;I punched him in the face that time, but I guess I hit him a little harder than I meant to. I heard his nose crunch and blood came spilling out all over his shirt. He started to sag, but I caught him under the arm and held him up, and that’s when he popped me one. It was a good shot, too, right over the eye, but he didn’t have much behind it. I was afraid to hit him again, so I backhanded him instead.
Donna’s face was twisted up like a taut rope; spittle flew out of her mouth as she yelled, “Tell me where she is, goddammit! You tell me right now!” I was so shocked I almost let go of Townsend. “Where is she!” Donna screamed again. “Where!!!”
Townsend had started to cry. He was quiet about it, at least. I raised a fist to hit him again, but he held up a hand weakly. “No,” he said. “No, please, I’ll tell. I’m sorry, Donna, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to tell you, I wanted to protect you. Your daughter was Millie Jansen.”
Donna’s face paled and she stumbled back a step. I thought for a minute she would faint. The she ran up and started hitting the poor guy in the head. “You’re lying!” she kept saying. “You’re lying!”
She hit like a girl, though, and Townsend barely tried to defend himself. “I’m sorry, Donna,” he sobbed.
Now Donna was crying. She took one last swing at Townsend, then turned and ran across the parking lot towards the car. She tripped and fell about halfway across and lay there on her face. I could see she was shaking, though, so I knew she was all right. I started to go help her, then I turned to the lawyer. “Who’s Millie Jansen?” I said. I gripped his collar tightly.
He could barely get the words out now. “Her father – oh God. She cried all the time. Her father, he was, it turned out he drank. We didn’t know, we didn’t know…”
My hand went numb, the fingers opening loosely. He slid down to the pavement and sat there, head in hands. I started over to Donna, but she must’ve heard me, because she suddenly jumped up and ran over to the car. She burned rubber out of there before I could get to her. I came back over to Townsend, who’d pulled himself together a little. He had a handkerchief stuffed up against his nose.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
He looked at me. One eye had started to swell. “Nothing,” he said, voice muffled. “A mugging. Beat it.”
I stood there for a minute, looking down at my hands, knobby knuckles sticking out like rocks on a hillside. “I’m sorry,” I said.
He climbed slowly to his feet. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I have two kids of my own.”
He got in his car and pulled away, a lot more slowly than Donna had. I picked up the present from where it had fallen. “I understand,” I said quietly.
It took me the better part of two hours to walk back to Donna’s trailer. When I got there, Billy Taylor’s pickup was parked next to the Saturn. I thought she was done with that trash. He’d caused enough trouble.
She’d left the keys in the ignition. I got in and took a look at the present. The wrapping paper was torn. I pulled it loose and stuffed it in the floorboard. Inside was a doll – Raggedy Ann. I looked at it for a minute, then laid it in the passenger seat. It looked like something Delaney might like. I’d pack it up and send it to her mother in the morning.
I twisted the key in the ignition and drove away quietly into the night.