The following afternoon I went to visit Danielle in her cell at my mother’s police station. I had this prepossessing need to get her to explain to me what had happened—what had made her do what she’d done. I was nervous to speak to her, not knowing which Danielle was going to greet me—the sweet, funny one I’d first met, the vindictive one who had frozen me out for making new friends or the somewhat scary, intense one who had been arrested the night before.
There were two cells on either side of the small building so that they could separate suspects if they needed to. Tag and the slimy guy, whose name turned out to be Monroe, were in one set of cells, Danielle was alone in the other. My mother opened the outer door for me and Danielle sat up from her cot. I half expected her to be stoic and turn her back on us, but instead she got up and walked over to the bars as if she were psyched to see me.
“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” my mother said before closing the door.
“Hey,” Danielle said tentatively.
“Hey,” I replied. Suddenly, even though I had wanted to come here, I had no idea what to say.
“You’re not here to upbraid me, are you? Because I don’t think I can deal with that right now,” Danielle said. Her fingers curled around the bars and it seemed to hit me for the first time. Danielle was in jail. And I had put her there. It was so bizarre.
“No,” I replied. I pulled a chair out from the wall and sat down across from her. Danielle turned and sat down on the edge of her cot, facing me. “I guess I’m just wondering why.”
Danielle sighed and looked at the concrete floor. “I didn’t want to do it. Not at first anyway.”
“So . . . what, the devil made you do it?” I asked.
“If you’re gonna be all sarcastic . . . ,” Danielle said.
“You’re right. Sorry.” I raised my hands in surrender.
“Look, I didn’t get sent to Hereford so that I could get into an Ivy,” Danielle said, getting up and starting to pace. “I was sent there because Tag and I were caught dealing drugs.”
I raised my eyebrows and leaned forward in my seat. “Wait a minute. If you got caught dealing, then why aren’t you already in jail?” We both looked at the bars as if seeing them for the first time. “I mean, why weren’t you in jail, I guess.”
“Good lawyers,” Danielle said. “They refuted every bit of evidence and we got off. It was totally expunged from our records. My parents told me I could never see Tag again and I was relegated to Hereford.”
“So then you just set up a new HQ.”
“Like I said, not at first,” Danielle told me. “I told Tag I wanted out and he said he did too. For a while everything was fine. We were writing emails, he was talking about this new job his dad got him working at a computer company. I was getting on with my life.” She paused, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And then he started asking about the situation at Hereford—was anyone using, did I know of any dealers? At first it honestly seemed like he was looking out for me.”
“But he wasn’t,” I supplied.
A pained look crossed Danielle’s face. “I don’t know if I really want to talk about this any more,” she said.
But I had a feeling she did. She wanted to confess it all and get it out of her system or she wouldn’t have started babbling in the first place. She needed to spill.
“Why did you get back into it?” I asked.
“Cheryl and her idiot friends,” Danielle snapped. “God, sometimes I think that if they hadn’t been such bitches this would never have happened.”
Interesting argument. I didn’t think it was going to exculpate her in a court of law, but it was intriguing.
“I was totally ostracized. I had no one to talk to. And because they were constantly browbeating me I needed someone to talk to,” Danielle said, growing fervent. “Tag was the only person who ever stood by me.”
Danielle’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know what it’s like,” she said. “Cheryl and those girls are so evil to me, and Tag and I . . . we have something that goes beyond stupid high school relationships. We need each other.”
Oh, God. I was going to hurl. Did she have any idea how pathetic and programmed she sounded?
“Besides, Tag is incorrigible,” Danielle said. “The first time he came to visit me at Hereford I swear there were dollar signs in his eyes.”
“Sounds like a real catch,” I said under my breath.
Danielle chose to ignore this comment.
“So anyway, the short version is, I wrote a cryptic email and sent it out to the entire student body. The people who are looking for drugs know how to decipher these things and the orders started pouring in.”
“To where?” I asked.
“Oh. I said to contact Dee Dee Darko at box 313.”
“Oh yeah. You know Mr. Smoot at the post office? He’s in on it,” Danielle said offhandedly. “I think they’re bringing him in right now.”
“Mr. Smoot?” Suddenly I recalled how happy he had been to see Danielle that day she dropped off the gift for her sister. He’d asked her if she had anything else for him and she’d said, “Not today.” I hadn’t thought anything of it. Why would I?
“Yeah, that guy hadn’t gotten a raise from Hereford in about fifteen years,” Danielle told me. “We gave him two hundred dollars a week and he procured an extra post office box for me. I’d get the orders there, then Tag would bring a shipment to the old stable once every two weeks, I’d give the boxes to Smoot and he’d distribute them. They were always small enough to fit in the mailboxes so that Jon never touched them.”
By this point, my mouth was hanging open with shock and shame. I had seen Danielle take a bunch of envelopes out of her mailbox and slip them into her bag. It had seemed like a lot of letters but I hadn’t thought anything of it. She’d done it right in front of me!
Okay, Kim, chill. She wasn’t a suspect then. She was never a suspect until you snagged her.
“It was a pretty good scam, all in all,” Danielle said finally, sounding proud.
I had to agree. It was simple, but perfect. As long as Smoot stayed in their pocket, she and Tag were home free. Until I came along, of course.
“Okay, but Dee Dee Darko?” I asked.
“Tag’s a big Donnie Darko fan,” Danielle said, almost wistfully. Ugh! She really did love that guy. One day she was going to wake up and realize she’d let him ruin her life, and I felt sorry for her in advance.
“So anyway, that’s the story,” Danielle said, sitting down again. “David didn’t know I was dealing at Hereford until last night. He heard on the scanner that your mom was coming up to school on a drug bust and he figured it might be me. I’d told him about me and Tag in a moment of weakness a few weeks after I first got here, so he knew about my past, but not about my present.”
“He knew you’d been a dealer and he chose to be friends with you anyway?” I blurted.
“What can I say? The kid believes in rehabilitation,” she said with a shrug. “Or he did until now, anyway. Besides, he wasn’t exactly surrounded by friends either. We fit.”
My heart went out to David. He’d spent half the night being interrogated by Quincy, which was at least the lesser of two evils. (It could’ve been Tad.) According to my mom, he’d been unburdened of all blame in the drug scam, but he still must have felt so wretched and disappointed. His one friend was sitting in a jail cell right now after he had believed in her.
But then, of course, he always had his gambling ring. It was tough to feel sorry for a guy who was freeing a bunch of people of their extraneous cash.
“So . . . are your parents coming to bail you out?” I asked.
“I can imagine,” I said. In my heart I wanted to feel bad for her too, but why should I? She may have thought Tag was the only person who cared about her, but she had still had a choice. She could have chosen not to deal. She could have chosen to be strong and resilient and stand up to Cheryl. I know it wouldn’t have been easy, but it would have been infinitely wiser than what she’d done. And she would have had a future, whereas she now had a nice, long incarceration to look forward to.
She’d had a choice. Just like Corinne could’ve chosen not to take that cocaine that had totally strung her out and made her climb up on the boat railing at our prom. Everyone had a choice.
“I probably should go,” I said, feeling exhausted and sick to my stomach. There was too much to think about, and none of it was good.
“Thanks for coming by,” Danielle said as I stood to go. She sounded so vulnerable and grateful. I turned and did my best to smile for her.
“Good luck,” I said.
And then I walked out, salivating for the comfort of my own bed and a nice, long, insentient sleep.