Night had fallen, and for the most part the partners had already left for home, overpriced restaurants, various and sundry bars, or the beds of willing acquaintances--wherever they had chosen to while their respective evenings away.  Alan strolled into Denny's office, glass of 12 year-old intoxicant already in hand. "It appears that I have been stood up."

"Hm?"  Denny looked up from over the open briefcase on his desk.

"I waited for you.  No balcony scene tonight?" A modicum of uncharacteristic confusion mottled Alan's tone.

Denny continued his preparations to leave. It seemed like he was forgetting something.  Of course, these days it always seemed like he was forgetting something.  Ah!  He took a .38 from his top drawer and slid it into his inside jacket pocket.  "Can't.  Having dinner with my son."

"I see."

"He said he had something to tell me.  I hope it's not that he's gay.  I wouldn't mind the gay thing so much if they didn't have to go around...talking about it all the time.  Have it on the news.  TV."

Alan swirled his drink in the glass.  "He's not gay; I'm very sensitive to these things.  In any event, do have a good night.  I'll see you in the morning." Alan's face had fallen, though only those most intimately familiar with him would have noticed the subtle change.

Funny, Denny was indifferent to people's reactions most of the time, but disappointing Alan just felt...wrong.  "You want to come?  We talked about bringing dates.  I was going to call an escort, but they seemed to make him...uncomfortable."  Nice kid, Donny.  Loved him to death, but he was clearly not Crane blood. 

Denny really hoped the boy wasn't gay.  He'd stay his fake father regardless; he just didn't want to know.  If it had been intended for gays to spread it around, what the hell had closets been invented for?

"Thank you, but I wouldn't want to intrude on such a portrait of faux familial bliss."

"Suit yourself."  Denny snapped his case shut.  "Same time tomorrow night?"  It wasn't just agreement on a meeting; it was a promise that their unspoken arrangement remained unchanged despite any other attachments that might temporarily intrude. 

Alan inclined his head.  "Same bat-time, same bat-balcony."

Denny tipped a tiny smile.  "Bats.  Denny Crane, completely bats."  He turned out the light and left, briefcase swinging from his wrist.

Under the illumination of the city lights from the window, Alan watched him go.  The balcony?  Alone, no.  That would be wrong.  In the semi-darkness, he leaned back against the warm leather of Denny's chair to sip the most excellent Scotch all by himself.

The restaurant was one that Denny had picked.  He knew it well.  He walked in and glanced around.

The maitre d' spotted him at once.  "Table for how many, Mr. Crane?"

Denny smiled.  He did love the sound of his name on anyone's lips, especially someone paid to be obsequious.  Or to provide uninhibited sexual release. 

"I'm looking for--"

"Donny Crane."  With giant strides, Donny strode over from a table and pumped his hand. 

His mother had schooled the boy well.

Denny pumped back--just a wee bit more firmly than Donny had.  "Denny Crane."

"Donny Crane."

"Denny Crane."

"Donny Crane."

The maitre d' rolled his eyes and walked away as the exchange continued with no sign of an upcoming lull.

"Denny Crane.  Ah!"  Denny raised a finger in the space between them.  "I have seniority with the name; I get the last word. You said you had something to tell me?"

"Yeah, Dad, there's something I didn't think you knew, but I decided that it would be easier to show you."

A man in an off-the-rack wool suit slid by and slapped Donny on the rear.  "Night, Donny."

Denny froze.  Nightmares were made of this.  Or a Democratic landslide.  Or Hillary in the Oval Office.  "Son, are you gay?"

"No!"  Donny took a step back.  He looked like he was about to say something else when a petite blond in a dark tailored suit with a brightly striped silk accent scarf traipsed up from a nearby table.  She stuck out a finely manicured hand.

"Dani Crane."

Denny grinned.  Now that was more like it. Out of reflex, his come-hither leer leaked out.  "Denny Crane." He grabbed her hand and shook it.

"Dani Crane."

"Denny Crane.

"Dani Crane."

From their observation point a few feet away, the maitre d' rolled his eyes at the wine steward and they shook their collective heads. 

"I brought Dannette to meet you."  Donny broke up the little mano a mano.

"For me?"  Denny did a double take.  "Is it my birthday already?  You'd think I would have remembered."  He perused her up and down, and not in a subtle way.  "Son, that's very thoughtful, but I would have been happy with a necktie."

"No, Dad.  Dannette's my new paralegal," Donny explained. 

"Call me Dani."  She flashed sparkling teeth in Denny's direction.  Her gaze fell on the cigar in his breast pocket.  "Oh, Greycliffs.  My favorite!"  She pulled it out and popped it in her mouth.

Denny grinned back.  He was sure that he was going to like this girl.

At the table, Denny and Dani ordered Scotch and New York strips.  Donny had a Sam Adams and the shrimp fettuccini--easy on the cream sauce.

Denny toyed with the remains of his steak.  "So, about that name."

Donny gulped water.  "Yeah, that's something isn't it?  I thought you'd like that.  That's why I asked you to meet us."

"That's why?  Because of the name?"

"Yeah.  I didn't think you knew, and I thought you should."

"There's a lot of things I don't know that I should.  We could be here all night."

Donny didn't smile on cue, as Alan would have. He was a nice boy, but he didn't "get it" yet.  Denny loved the boy, but he hoped he'd catch on quickly.  How long did he have left to wait?

"I figured since we're all one little fake family now--"

Denny's face furrowed.  "So are you saying--?"

Eyes wide, Donny deferentially waited for him to finish. 

He didn't.  Instead, Denny turned to her.  "So, are you--?"

She blinked ingenuous lashes back at him.

Denny turned back to Donny.  "Son, is she--?"


They both stared at Denny in expectation.

He blurted it out.  "Have you two gotten married?"  Now that was his son; a fast worker when he set his mind to something he wanted.

She threw back her head and laughed.

"No, Dad.  It's not like that," said Donny.  "I would never date anyone I work with."

"Too bad.  You're missing out on some great times."

"I just meant that Dannette and I will be working very closely together.  Like fake family.  And since you're fake family too, it seemed like we could all get cozy."

Denny's eyebrows shot up.

"The name is her own," Donny continued.  "You could have knocked me over with a feather when she called for an interview and introduced herself." 

"So, then, are you--?"  Denny gestured to her.

Dani made an encouraging face.

Denny turned to Donny.  "Is she--?"  He fumbled for the words.


Denny turned back to Dani.  "Are you...dating anyone?"  This time the come-hither expression was on purpose.

She shook her head.  "No, no one.  Right now.  Which is a very sad situation indeed."  She wiggled a crossed leg at him.

"So...what are you doing tomorrow night?"

Donny rolled his eyes.

"Denny!"  Alan clapped a hand to Denny's shoulder.

Stiffly, Denny twisted around in his chair.  "Alan, what are you doing here?"

"I get so lonely without you."  He acknowledged Dani in a thoughtful voice.  "I'm sorry; have we met?  You look oddly familiar.  Oddly in the most deliciously delectable sense of the word, that is." 

Donny stood up.  "Mr. Shore, I'd like you meet--"

"Dani Crane."  She extended her right hand.

Alan blinked.  "You're joking."

"The name's a fluke.  They're not married.  And hands off; she's mine."  Denny continued, his gaze welded to her cleavage.

"Yours?"  Alan's question hung in the air.

"I picked her.  Hands off."  Denny repeated.  He plastered a palm against her thigh. 

She spread her legs a little farther apart.

Alan pulled Denny's chair away from the table.  "Denny, it's past your bedtime.  Waiter.  Check, please.  We're going home." 


They met the next day at the coffee maker.  "Denny, I urge you not to become involved with this Dannette.  Above all, you must not have sex with that woman."

"Why not?  Donny doesn't mind.  I asked him."  Denny paused.  "Don't know why he doesn't.  She's hot."  He dropped his voice.  "Are you sure that he's not gay?"

"Quite.  But do you not notice anything...disquietingly familiar about Dannette?"

"Like what?"

At that moment, Dani walked up, a Crane, Poole and Schmidt bottled water in one hand.  With her the other, she goosed Alan's rear.  She made an appreciative sound.  "Nice ass." 

Alan blinked at her.  He turned back to Denny.  "I submit to you: exhibit one."

Denny leaned to kiss her.  "Dani!"

She kept it to a demure peck. "Denny."

"Where's Donny?"








She took another draw on the water bottle and made as if to throw it out.   

"I'll take that for you."  Alan held out his hand.  The smooth plastic should hold fingerprints well enough for an ID.

She gave him a funny look.  "No thanks; I recycle."

"So do we."  Alan kept his hand extended in the direction of the bottle. 

"I changed my mind; I may want it later."  She closed the top and popped the whole thing into her pocketbook, struggling to zip it against the bulk. 

"Want to join us?"  Denny asked.  "For dinner."

Dani coughed.  "Some people say that three's a crowd."

Alan dropped his arm.  "Nonsense.  Denny and I love threesomes.  We have them all the time.  And I wouldn't miss this one for the world."

Three cigars cut and lit, they perused the menus over Scotch. 

There was more than one way to skin a cat.  Or a rat, and Alan had come prepared to leave with pelts.

"So, Dannette--"

"Call me Dani."

"Of course.  So, Dani, I cannot get over the coincidence of the name.  It was your father's?"

"Oh, no."  She recrossed her long and unabashedly stocking-free legs.  "My mother never knew much about my father.  It was just one of those things. "

"Mm.  A one night stand," Denny made a sensual sound into his drink.

"From the way it was told to me, it would have taken another seven and three-quarters hours to qualify as 'one night.'  But I suspect that the 'stand' part might be right.  At least, for the beginning half."

Denny appeared to have lost all interest in his drink and had turned 100% to her.

"Ah, so the name is your mother's.  And you would be, what thirty?"  Alan's eyeballs rolled to a corner as if doing mental arithmetic in his head. 

"Twenty-nine.  And yes, sort of.  It wasn't her real one either.  She worked as a stripper with lots of stage names.  I asked her how she picked this one for me.  She just laughed and said that a little bird told her."

Denny chuckled.

"A stripper." Alan rubbed the front of his neck as he mused.

"Something wrong with that?" For the first time, a note of defensiveness had crept in to her tone.

"Not at all.  I was about to ask you if you had one of her business cards.  I was simply wondering how you came to be interested in law.  Clearly not through her.  Perhaps your father."

She scoffed.  "Oh, God, no!  I don't know much about my father, but he certainly wasn't a lawyer.  He was just some perverted dweeb incapable of maintaining a real social relationship."

"A colorful description, but one which in no way excludes him from being a premier example of the legal profession."

She snorted into her drink.  "No way.  They met at a Las Vegas Star Trek convention, of all things.  How lame."

Denny leaned across the table, his voice suddenly low and intent.  "Your mother was a Trekkie?"

"No, but she did like that guy with the ears."

"Who wouldn't?" Denny muttered.

"My mother wasn't a part of the convention.  She worked a hotel nudie bar on weeknights and the graveyard shift of the front desk on weekends.  Apparently I was conceived one slow Saturday night on a pile of coats in the employee coatroom by a guy in a Captain Kirk shirt."

"Dear God," said Alan.

"Sounds like my kind of woman."

"She's dead, but yes, I think she would have liked you.  I know I do." Dani slid her hand up his leg.  "Denny Crane," she whispered in a sultry contralto.

Denny stiffened with a sharp inhale.

Alan cut in. "So, then, you are from Las Vegas?"

She eyed Alan with evident annoyance.  "We moved around a lot. Mom had to leave Vegas when she shot a man who was harassing her on stage."

"Jumped bail?" 

Dani puffed her cigar.  "Uh-uh.  She stood trial and got off.  Her lawyer convinced the jury that she couldn't have done it.  Since she was dancing nude, there was no place for her to stash a gun."

"But she did it?"  Denny's eyes glistened in a way Alan recognized as reserved for the highest quality firearms.

"Oh yeah."  Dani blew out a puff of smoke. "No one would hire her after that.  She moved up north.  Said she wanted to be someplace where there were lots of coatrooms.  She said they had fond memories, and they sort of turned her on."

"Um."  Denny adjusted himself in his chair.

"I think it rubbed off on me a little."  Dani looked to the little coat rack by the door.

Denny drew in his breath.

Alan shot up from his chair.  This X-rated fairy tale had led him no where but down the yellow brick road.  Back to plan A.  "Dani, let me get you a fresh drink."  He reached for her near-empty glass. 

She grabbed it first.  She wiped it down carefully with a cocktail napkin.  "I sloshed a little.  I wouldn't want you to get your fingers...wet." She passed it over with a smile.  "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," said Alan.  Foiled!  Useless with the fingerprints gone, he slid the empty across the bar and ordered one more round.

Denny sat reclining at his desk.  "I like her.  I can't decide if I should marry her or buy her a trip to Tahiti."

"If I may state the patently obvious--something this firm pays me huge amounts of money to do, albeit within the bounds of highly selective content and circumstances--she has been dropping shameless hints that she could be your progeny."

"Ten per cent of Boston could be my progeny; should I let that stop me from buying them trips to Tahiti?" 

"I hadn't considered it that way before."

"Well, maybe you should."

Alan nodded.  Maybe he should.

Denny relented.  "I'm having her parentage investigated."

Alan relaxed marginally.  "Good.  What have you uncovered of her so far?"

"Uncovered of her?"  Denny made a disturbingly expressive face. "Nothing yet.  Only in my most fortunate and erotic dreams."

"Uncovered of her background."  Alan's usual patience was wearing thin.

Denny waved him off.  "All I want to know is 'is she' or 'isn't she?'  I'm not interested in the rest."

"Maybe you should be."  The Bev incident hadn't been all that long ago.

"If I marry her and she tries to take my assets, I'll have the information then.  Up 'til then, we all need our private little secrets.  Don't you have any little secrets, Alan?"

It was frightening how often Denny was still dead on target.  Despite all the quirks and queerness, others should write him off only at their own peril. 

"Perhaps one or two," Alan confessed very softly.

Denny nodded.  "Right.  And I should hold that against you?"  He rocked back in his chair.  "I like her.  Marriage or Tahiti it is."

"Ah, yes.  The age-old dilemma.  Wait; I think I have a coin."  Alan tossed a quarter casually into the air.

"Don't be flip.  This is my concern, not yours."

"My concern is that you seem appallingly unconcerned."

"I'm Denny Crane.  It'll work out.  And it's not your affair."

Alan rose to his feet.  "No.  No, I suppose it isn't."

It was raining when he showed up at her motel.  Raining and bitter cold.  Alan didn't believe in pathetic fallacy, but he didn't like doing dirty deeds for good causes and emerging into sunshine.  It made him feel too good, and he was already terrified at how much pleasure he could elicit from doing ill to those who needed it most.

Rain pelting his face, he hastened to her room and knocked.

She came to the door in character.  He read a flash of surprise across her face, but only for a split-second.  "Hello."  She made it sound welcoming and sincere--almost like a real actress would.

He opened with one of his standard initial parries. "Hello.  Perhaps you'll remember me.  I'm Alan Shore."  He pushed his way in and opened his briefcase on her dinette table. 

"Remember you.  Of course." 

Good.  Her tone was warier now. 

"We've met several times.  We've had dinner."  She beckoned him to a chair.

He ignored the invitation.  "That too.  But I had meant 'remember me' from your intensive research campaign.  With the time and effort you have put into Denny, I would be severely disappointed if I did not show up at least in the periphery."

She eyed him like a mouse might the cheese in a trap.

He pressed on.  "Since you have done an admirable job in all other regards, I shall assume that you have read at least a little of the degree of detestable behavior of which I am capable. Permit me to assure you that whatever you have learned is only the tip of the iceberg.  I do my best work under covers."


"That too.  In any event, the purpose of this visit is to inform you that the jig, as they say, is up.    I recognized you immediately from Tale of Two Titties--although I don't consider that your best work; the Cunt of Monty Crisco was much more fun--"

"I liked that one too."  Now her expression had hardened into a challenge. 

"--and that if you hurt my friend, I will eviscerate you."

She laughed in a way that hurt his ears.  "That's funny.  Go ahead; take everything I've got.  Don't bother to bring a bag."

Alan picked a handful of printouts from his case and laid it neatly on the table. It made an impressive stack.  "Yes, I have your financials as well, although it used up an entire red ink cartridge.  But I was speaking neither figuratively nor in a monetary sense.  I love Denny Crane, and if you harm him, you will come to ill."  He turned fish cold eyes upon her.

She flinched.  "Whatever."  She rummaged in a drawer for a pack of cigarettes.

He laid a small packet onto the table.  "Those are two first class tickets to Tahiti, courtesy of a dear friend who is fond of you--for reasons that I find incomprehensible--with no strings but two.  You are free to do with them what you will: sell one or both, or use them with anyone who is not someone whom I love or the actual or pretend family of someone whom I love."

She flipped through the packet.  "And condition two?"

"You will not return to Boston or contact Denny ever again."

A slow smile slid across her face.  "But then, you still lose.  He likes me.  He'll know something's up...wonder where I went.  Then he'll realize what a pathetic old man he's become that he can't even protect himself."

"Indeed.  Tonight's events seem ample proof that his personal security system is quite effective enough."

"But you're not him.  If you tell him about me, he'll know he's slipped."

"Ah, yes."  Alan wrung his hands in mock consternation.  "I knew that I was forgetting something.  Take off your clothes."

"What?" Her mouth hung in frank incredulity.

"You heard me.  Come, come.  We all know that it will hardly be your first time.  In fact, I would not be surprised to hear that you once held a sped record."

"I don't believe this." She tossed her hair back and kicked off her shoes.  "That's a low even for you.  Talk about pathetic losers.  You're lower than he is."

"I can only aspire to such esteem.  But you misunderstand, and not for the first time in your little escapade.  I wouldn't dream of getting that close proximity to you.  Not without several dozen booster shots and an ample supply of penicillin."  Alan went to the door and opened it.  A six-foot tall ebony Black woman in a sequined miniskirt and skin-tight leatherette halter top marched in.

"Dani Crane, I would like you to meet a friend of mine: Dari Crane."  He addressed Dani as he did a jury with his closing argument.

"Pleased to meet you."  Dari stuck out her hand.

Dani scoffed.  She spun on Alan.  "You have to be shitting me."

"You may discover that you two have a lot in common.  Aside from your joint professions of screwing people over for money, much like you, that is not her real name either.  Shana Towers?  Wasn't that your screen name?  Your real one is buried in here somewhere," Alan gestured to his briefcase, "but it seems a bit superfluous, as many mellifluous aliases as you have."

Dani's glare would have blistered paint.  Alan loved that moment when it was clear the vital organs were securely on his skewer.

"What is it that you want?" Dani asked.

"What is your pleasure here, Alan?"  A two-inch long acrylic nail clicked against the crystal of Dari's oversized, rhinestone encrusted watch.  "Time is money, and the meter's running."  She shifted her ample hips and tapped a foot.

"Ah, yes."  Alan plopped into a chair and flipped on the small camera that he held.  "Places please, ladies.  Dani, my finely honed intuitive sense tells me that you are a natural born top."

Dari shrugged.  She lay down on the carpet and raised her skirt. There was nothing else under it but Dari.

Alan raised his camera and waved his hand to the expanse of Dari's body.  At times like this, he was very happy he had chosen the profession he did.  "Dani, if you would hurry a bit, you may be on your way to Tahiti this very night."

"You asshole!" She spat the words out.

"Yes, that is the conventional opinion, but you needn't feel so bad.  Think of this as one last starring role."  Alan clicked a picture as Dani pulled her sweater over her head and off and thanked the stars he hadn't chosen aeronautic engineering instead.

Alan stepped out onto the balcony, cigar already in mouth.  "So, how is your investigation going?"

Denny harrumphed. "She's not my daughter."

"Ah, how lovely.  Now you may indulge both your penis and your imagination free from any parochial restraint."

"Not that either.  Turns out she's a lesbian.  Cheating on me with a--"


"--hooker. What do I want with a lesbian who has to pay for it?"

"You pay for it on a regular basis."

"That's different.  I'm a man.  She's a--"


"--trophy.  A trophy that has to pay for it?  No.  Denny Crane can do better than that."  At the railing, Denny puffed his cigar.

"Ah, well."  Alan took a small sip of Scotch and joined him to survey the city lights.  "I am sorry.  You seem to have been left bereft."

"Uh-uh."  Denny reached into his inside breast pocket.  "I have pictures.  Someone slid 'em under my door."  He fanned the color glossies out like a winning poker hand. 

"Very nice.  I especially like this one.  It is either the quintessential depiction of orgasmic bliss, or she is passing the world's largest kidney stone. "

Denny chuckled.  He waved Alan off as he attempted to pass them back.  "Keep 'em.  Those are your copies.  I made doubles."

"Denny Crane, even in the depth of disappointment, thoughtful to the last." They raised glasses to each other.

"So why did she do it?" Alan asked, after a pause.

"Why does anyone do anything?  For the money." Denny blew out a cloud of smoke.

"You didn't." 

"Um.  Money I have.  A vagina, I don't.  Whoever says money can't buy happiness hasn't seen my speed-dial."

"I think it was for the connection," said Alan, staring out into the night.  "A chance at love in this hard, cruel world through which we so often wayfare alone."

"I've had love.  Bought it; lied for it; married it; divorced it.  I could be making love right now, but I'd rather be here with you."  Denny blew out a cloud of smoke.

"I know; and I am grateful.  I don't mean that kind of love.  I mean when you thought that just maybe she might be your daughter.  Someone to say 'I love you,' when no one else will.  Just maybe she might be a part of you thrust forward into the future."

"I don't need that; I have you to be my forward thrust."

"Indeed you do." They raised glasses again. 

"Does that line of 'connection' crap usually work with women?"

"Usually.  If not, I tip them more. "

Denny sipped Scotch.  "Mm.  Keep your day job."

Alan moved close enough to rub elbows.  "I fully intend to."

They watched the city at night as their cigars burned low. 

After Alan left, Denny sat down at his desk.  He opened the drawer and pulled out the file that his investigator had put together for him.  The text report was ten pages including a criminal record, filmography, and list of her major debts.    He'd skimmed it on the toilet last night and highlighted a few things including a couple titles that sounded good like The Cunt of Monte Crisco.  Denny made a mental note to look for them soon.

On top were pictures, including one of Alan waiting at Dani's door.  Underneath that was one of Alan beckoning the hooker in.  If you looked closely, you could see the camera in his left hand.

He'd recognized that other woman.  Name of Cheree?  Cherice?  Nice girl.  He'd hired her once, but those fingernails were just too much and the size of the purple dildo she'd brought had intimidated him.  He was glad that Alan knew her too.  He hoped they'd had a good time.

Alan looked good in purple. 

Denny slid Alan's lesbo pictures underneath the other file.  He spoke into the empty air.  "You're a strange man, Alan Shore, but you certainly keep things interesting.  What the hell did I do for fun before you got here?"

He turned out the lights, and headed back to his empty home alone.