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Excerpt from

Janine
By
Warren Lutz

Inside the Oakland courthouse are at least four records that list Denny as a defendant. One is a domestic violence complaint filed by Janine four years ago and later dropped. Two are related to creditors before Denny and Janine declared bankruptcy. The fourth is the theft charge. I don't tell my stepbrother how accessible these records are -- how anyone can go downtown, fill out a request using a fake name and address, ask for any file and walk off. Police keep copies of incident reports, and Denny is still on probation. I hate to think. Well, if it ain't daddy's little helper, he says, as I pedal uphill toward the old house.

Heís sanding a '63 Dodge pickup, his long hair flapping in the wind. A sobriety bracelet clanks and scrapes against the gray metal. The front screen bangs and Megan shoots out with a screech; her blue Keds skid on dirt and she disappears around a corner. Janine pushes open the screen, Tyler in one arm. I feel her eyes going through my backpack.

Testimony tonight, Den, she says. Don't forget.

Denny has put on his puffy jeans jacket and we are walking through the old garage, past walls where 60-watt bulbs once shone on glossy Bud Girls and swimsuit models. Janine tore them down when she became a Witness. We leave the smell of wood rot, sawdust and oil behind and hide out back, to the top of the family picnic table overlooking the East Bay hills. Denny taps out a Camel Light. I unzip my backpack and pull out two large bottles of Boont Amber Ale.

What kind of yuppie swill is that, he asks.

Better than that dishwater you drink, I say.

Hey, I got a great idea for a Web site, he says, his lips smacking off the top of his bottle.

Here we go, I think. Denny was full of good ideas for Web sites ever since I told him I work with tech companies. This one's about selling used cars online.

Been done, I tell him. But wait, this is different, he says, and he rattles on about cable TV shows, digital cameras, dealership presentations and "venture dudes," attacking me with flailing arms and beer spit. You're the Web guy, he says, you can design the site and telephone the billionaires -- as if I have Bill Gates' home number. A visual appears from his breast pocket: It's a folded piece of binder paper with a rendering of a car in blue Bic.

So what do you think?

Maybe, I said, and was about to say, I really don't know, Den. Maybe you should get a computer first, maybe you should buy a book or magazine on the subject and figure out what you're getting yourself into. Or maybe you should learn a little bit about business besides how to rip off your boss. Maybe, Denny, you should stop getting bright ideas and just divorce the bitch, you hate her anyway, and wouldn't have to worry about misbehaving or the house or testimony or Bud Girls on the walls because she wouldnít be there to judge you. Maybe you could go back to school so your ideas wouldnít be so godawful and I wouldn't have to sit here and listen to them and pedal back to BART with your damn Camel stink all over my clothes.

But I don't tell him this. Hmm, I say, maybe, and Denny knows what I mean. We are silent for a long time. I drain the rest of my bottle, warm hops slide down my throat and I cringe. I got a couple tickets to the nationals next week at Sears Point, he says. Wanna go?

Can't. Gotta work.

Yeah, he says. I am picking my hangnails; Denny's eyes are boring through the opposing hillside. Well, let's get it on, he says. Finally.

Denny pulls the last of the crumpled-up 10s, 20's and 50's out of his charcoal jeans and drops them into my cupped hands. They lie in fetal position, soft like cloth and huddled together like mice. Some have grease on them. Denny must think Dad looks at these wretched bills and believes his first son works hard, is doing the best he can, blah blah blah. I never told my stepbrother I keep his cash and write Dad checks for the full rent and it becomes obvious to me now that I don't tell Denny a lot of things. We are brothers -- always co-conspirators, never really friends.

Denny puts his sobriety bracelet back on and sees me still staring at his bills. I'm a little short, he says, which of course I already knew. He grabs hold of his bottle by the neck and when I think he's about to hand it to me -- he knows I recycle -- he says, Web sites, and flings the bottle as hard as he can. It arcs high, makes whipping somersaults, and plunges -- threshhh! -- into an oak tree halfway down the hill. I donít hear it break. I really thought I would.


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