Life just sucks sometimes. There you are on top of the world, eating up the road like a zipper pull; next thing you know, you're busted. But it's too late to slow down and pretend nothing happened.
Maybe everybody thinks of running away when they get caught doing something bad; I don't know. But I know I did, if only for a second.
Daddy was hyperventilating in the passenger seat and the back seat sounded like a three-tone cat fight.
The cop car was closer now, and I could see the driver's face through the window. He was wearing a hat and sunglasses—just my luck—and his face was brick-red.
It wasn't the same car I'd seen back in Atoka; it was older, styled like an Imperial Rocket from Germany, back in the 30s. But it was gold.
He looked plenty mad, I could see as he got closer. I could hear the siren warble over the radio and see his scowl, blood red in its light, then purple, and then red again. He flashed his light at me, twice.
I knew I'd screwed the pooch.
I dropped out of warp speed and coasted to a stop, and the gold cop car pulled up behind. I could see the tribal badge of the door when he opened it. He approached the driver's side cautiously.
Now that I was motionless, there was none of the flippant defiance I'd felt while I was still, technically, on the run. A tingling numbness started on the back of my neck and spread out, first along the spine and through my arms, then my face flushed and a wave of nausea crept over me.
I felt dumb, literally, and my arms were very heavy. My hands were like rubber, both hot and cold at the same time. They looked tiny on the wheel, out of place, and I heard a voice in my head telling me I oughtn't do such things.
My ears were ringing.
"Am I in trouble," I asked to no one in particular.
"Let me handle this," Daddy's voice answered. "It's my fault. I let you drive."
It drew me back from my stupor, towards what I wasn't sure of at first, then I realized I was still in the car. It was like waking up from a dream, fully dressed and going about your routine—very disconcerting.
"Don't worry, hon," my mother called from the back seat. She was worried, I thought vaguely and wondered about the buzzing sound.
"What are you doing," a man's voice boomed in my left ear. I turned towards it and started—there was a big red face, looking through the window.
I went limp, sure I was going to jail, or worse.
His sunglasses were gone, and he pulled off his hat—the kind Tom Laughlin wore in Billie Jack—and stuck his head in the window.
"Tell me there's a reason you're letting this little girl drive you car, sir."
"Okay," he answered and popped open the glove box.
"Easy there Cochise," the cop said and moved his right hand toward his hip. "Just answer the question."
"She's my daughter, sir. More-or-less."
He raised his eyebrows and gave a crooked smirk.
"What is that supposed to mean, sir? Is she your daughter or isn't she?"
"She's my daughter officer," Mother said, fairly launching herself over the seat. "And his. He's my husband, and we're married. And we got married so we could have her.
"I mean, not just her, all of them, obviously...we love all of our children."
"I'm sure you do, ma'am, but let your husband answer the question. I asked him, not you."
She sat back, mortified. Her eyes were wide with indignation and no small amount of shame, but she sat upright, her back straight and looking straight forward.
"I'm sorry officer," I tried to distract him. "I'm not supposed to be driving, but..." I couldn't think of anything to say that didn't make it sound worse.
"But what," he asked and squatted on his heals so he could look me eye-to-eye. "tell me what comes after 'I'm not supposed to be driving, but'."
"I don't have my license," I said quietly, mumbling into my chest.
"What," he asked loudly, and I hoped that smile meant he was joking. "You? Don't have your driver's license? Really?"
I hate it when people try to be clever and expect you to figure out what really mean.
"Sir," he turned back to my father, "what is your daughter's name?"
"Danny," he asked, clearly thinking it was a boy's name. "Okay. When is her birthday?"
"May fifteenth," he said without hesitation. I was so proud of him.
"And where are you folks from?"
"Missouri," Daddy answered.
"St. Louis," Robbie added from the peanut gallery.
"You be quiet back there. I'm talking to your father. This is your son, yes? And your other daughter, more or less?"
"No, she's my real daughter."
Oh my God. He's gonna call child welfare and we'll be taken away!
"Is Danny-boy here your step-daughter, or do you just think less of her than your real daughter?"
The cop was not looking happy now.
He had a big oval face—which ranged in tone from cinnamon to faded red brick—careworn and wrinkled, with inquisitive dark eyes and long dull black hair that was just starting to go salt-and-pepper.
It was a face used to smiling, but it wore a narrow-eyed scowl now. He had a duty to do, and I could see a determined glint in those eyes. He would do what he had to do, even if he didn't like it.
For the first time in my life, I was afraid I was going to die.
I know it doesn't make sense. They don't shoot you for driving without a license, but I was shaking. I didn't want to cry, but if I didn't, I'd wet myself instead.
"I have three kids," Daddy explained, keeping his hands low and in sight of the police officer. "And I love them all the same. But they are all different, you see."
"Sir, have you been drinking?"
"No, officer. Why would you ask me that?"
"Well, sir, you and your wife seem to be extremely nervous. A body might say suspiciously so. And you tell me that one of your children is yours alright, but only more-or-less. Can you see my point?"
"No," Daddy folded his arms over his chest, "I can't." It was an act of defiance, something I didn't expect to see from him. I looked back at the cop, to see what he'd do.
"Step out of the car, sir."
"Do you want my license and registration?"
"Yes," he said. "And you too, little miss."
I wasn't sure if I could stand, but I fumbled at the door handle anyway. My hands were apparently shunning me now, for they didn't do what I told them too. I finally got the door open after three tries and worked my left foot out the door. The right one followed after much protest. It hit the ground like, well, a lead foot.
"Come on," the cop urged and stepped back. I forced my legs to move, and raised myself unsteadily on the door frame. This was going be worse than I thought.
Daddy came around the front of the car and the policeman reached for his papers.
I realized he was not wearing a uniform, just blue jeans and a khaki shirt under an unbuttoned buckskin vest with a seven-pointed star over the left breast. He had a belt, and gun and wore cowboy boots. I'd never seen an officer dressed like him before.
He was portly, both heavier and older than Daddy, and carried himself with a brand of confidence to which I was unaccustomed. He looked over Daddy's papers and gave them back.
He turned to me.
"So why were you driving?"
"For practice. Look, sir, I went to take the test and they wouldn't let me."
"Is that so?" There was no trace of irony on his face or in his voice.
"Yeah, that's so. And they wouldn't give me my money back."
"Now that's just wrong. Imagine the gall of some people...won't give a teenie-bopper any respect."
"I'm not a teeny-bopper," I countered, but my squeeking voice gave lie to the statement. Actually, it was true, but I could understand how he'd think I was really a kid.
I could tell—he was gonna piss me off.
"How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen," I said, counting to ten under my breath.
"You shit," he said simply and proceeded to look me up and down.
I amended my count to twenty.
"I am," I assured him, but even I could hear the stress in my voice. "And I would have a license if that son-of-a...mother hadn't pulled his 'hey little lady' routine. I can drive you know?"
"Yeah, I could see that. You must've passed that diesel going seventy-five."
That cut the wind out of my sails. I was the one in trouble. I started counting to a hundred.