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Real Easy
Author: Marie Rutkoski


About the Book

It’s 1999, and Samantha has danced for years at the Lovely Lady strip club.

She’s not used to taking anyone under her wing – after all, between her disapproving boyfriend and his daughter, who may as well be her own child, she has enough to worry about. But when Samantha overrides her better judgment to drive a new dancer home, they are run off the road. The police arrive at the scene of the accident – but find only one body.

Georgia, another dancer, is drawn into the investigation as she tries to assist Holly, a detective with a complicated story of her own. As the point of view shifts from police officers and detectives to club patrons, the women circle around a list of suspects, all the while grappling with their own understanding of loss and love.

As they get closer to the truth they must each confront a fundamental question:

How do women live their lives knowing that men can hurt them?



for Alexandra Machinist





“You’re so pretty it makes me want to go home and punch my wife in the mouth.”

Samantha smiles and asks if he wants a dance. He smells like a kid, like sweat and juice boxes, and has a stubby body with one hunched shoulder. He skims a big palm over the silver bristle of his hair and says, “I sure do.”

She leads the way to the leather sofas under the main stage, where the bass throbs through the low plexiglass ceiling. Next to her, Violet dances for a bearded guy who looks like a teacher, her dark brown skin shiny in the pink light, her lipstick tangerine. Samantha wishes she could trade places with her. Samantha’s client, settled into the sofa, leans forward to say, “I remember you, from before you got your fake tits. Flat as a popped tire.”

She shouldn’t be annoyed. He’s right, for one, and for another it’s not the worst thing she’s heard. She peels down her dress. “How do you like me now?”

“What I wouldn’t give.”

Samantha reaches for the tiny see-through hook of her V-string and lets the scrap of red fabric fall. She cups her breasts, which still feel alien even though she got them many months ago. They have the density of chewed bubble gum. “Want to come with me to the champagne room?”

“Maybe later.”

The song ends. He gives her a twenty.

He leaves, and Violet’s client does, too. Samantha hooks her V-string back into place. Violet wobbles on her heels as she steps into her dress. She grabs Samantha’s arm for balance and whispers, “Check out the new girl.”

The new girl has plopped bare-butt onto the sofa to wiggle her thong up over clunky shoes. Samantha can’t remember her name. Skinny thing; pale, doughy face. Violet sucks her teeth.

Samantha almost tells the new girl what should be obvious, but Morgan, a tan brunette with librarian glasses and breasts that are fake yet judiciously small, beats her to it. “Don’t sit on the seats,” Morgan says.

The girl glances up.

“You’ll get germs in your cookie.”

THE EARLY-MORNING LIGHT is smoky when Samantha pulls into the parking lot of her apartment complex and parks next to Mrs. Zace’s car, which the neighbor lets them use in exchange for picking up groceries. Nick says that Samantha wants the world to be like a Hallmark card, but what’s so bad about that? Mrs. Zace likes to play grandmother to Rosie, and occasionally babysat her before Nick lost his job. Mrs. Zace’s sedan looks gray in the mist, like it has been breathed on. Samantha’s sneakers make no sound on the asphalt. Her tight jeans feel cozier than pajamas. Her loose hair smells like cigars and the sour apple of sweat and body spray.

She is glad she wiped off her makeup at the club. Rosie is up, much too early for a Saturday morning, watching TV.

“Your daddy awake?” Samantha says.

Rosie sucks the ends of her blond hair. “No.”

Samantha joins her on the couch, which is new: a nice, sage chenille. Some dancers talk about moving to Chicago to make more money, but she can afford a better life in Fremont. The schools are good, and there’s a playground a block away. Fremont has a cute main street with antique stores, a used CD and DVD place, and a former theater converted into a cinema. The red velvet seats are itchy, but the ceiling is painted like the sky and Rosie loves when the lights go down and tiny stars appear above. Fremont is the right kind of city: not too big, but big enough that a nightlife centers around the club and a casino on the Des Plaines River. Fremont has a Costco and a Best Buy and tracts of unincorporated land interrupted by silos of farms that grow corn and soybeans.

Samantha melts into the couch. Her feet ache beneath the double layer of tube socks. The curtains are still drawn. “Come here, baby.”

Rosie doesn’t move. She is dappled by the shifting light of the television. A commercial becomes another commercial.

“What’re you watching?”

Rosie shrugs her slim shoulders, then leans into Samantha, curling up against her. “How come you’re always late?”

“Not always.”

“I was waiting for you.”

Samantha slopes a hand over Rosie’s hair, down to the spiky wet tips. “I’ll take you out for breakfast. Silver dollar pancakes with chocolate chips.” She feels the possibility of becoming a perfect stepmother, wholesome and lovable, ready to make any moment special.

“Okay.” Rosie’s voice is muffled against her side. “You smell bad.”

That sense of possibility crinkles up inside her like cellophane, like something that can’t return to its original shape even after it is smoothed out.

NICK IS AWAKE when they get back from breakfast, and thanks her when she hands him half the cash. “Let’s see a movie tonight,” he says.

Rosie lights up. “I want to choose.”

“I have to work,” Samantha says.

Rosie doesn’t like that. “We’ll go without you,” she threatens.

“You should. Go have fun.” Samantha reaches to tuck a lock of Rosie’s hair behind her ear, but she squirms away.

Later, after Samantha gets out of the shower and Rosie is playing in her bedroom, Nick says, “I wonder if those assholes you dance for can tell that you’re part boy.”

THERE IS STILL daylight when she pulls into the Lovely Lady’s parking lot. She can guess by some of the cars who is working tonight: Skye’s yellow Hummer, Morgan’s blue Taurus. There is a fancy black Caddy Samantha doesn’t recognize, whose black paint holds the sunset the way dark hair can, with hints of red.

She walks into the club through the backstage door and past a row of lockers. Hers bears her name on a simple strip of masking tape, but other girls have elaborately decorated theirs, like Paris, whose locker is lacquered inside and out with pictures of her daughter, also named Paris. Many lockers have photos of the dancers’ children. One of Rosie is taped to the inside of Samantha’s locker door. Even Sasha, who seems far from maternal, has a picture of a quiet-looking, dark-eyed girl whose name, Melody, is written below the photo against a musical staff, the d transformed into an eighth note. A few lockers have fake flowers poked into the air vents, which is not allowed because the flowers eventually fall onto the floor, and so many girls work here, several dozen, their schedules written over each other’s in arcane patterns, that things get messy fast. Dale, their manager, has said it a million times: “The Lovely Lady stays clean.” He is fussy but a good boss. He says his door is always open to them, and it is true. Anyone can walk into his office anytime.

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