SHE studied her face carefully in the mirror, applying little finishing touches here and there to her makeup. Satisfied, she stood and took one last look. Hmm, overage, check; overweight, check; over made-up, check; overaccessorized, check; overdressed, definitely. Fuck it, she thought, that’s what fifty-year-old drag queens are supposed to look like. Out there in the spotlights, the audiences ate it up.
One of the perks of being the top-billed performer on any given evening at the club was a private dressing room—the other “girls” had to share a room that wasn’t much bigger than this one. The other perk was that she only had to do one show—the late show, the idea being to keep the customers buying drinks as long as possible while they waited for the headline attraction.
Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the dressing room door, and a voice on the other side of the door said, “Five minutes.” She flipped a feather boa around her neck and did a last-minute check of every aspect of her appearance before walking down the hallway to the stage. After a couple of minutes, the emcee said, “Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Madame Dixie.”
The music began, and she marched out on the stage, twirling her boa. She had long ago learned to sew a couple of tiny lead weights to the end of the boa. They were, for all practical purposes, invisible, but they were just heavy enough to allow the boa to arc gracefully through the air. Over the years it had become a trademark of her performances. It was, after all, Friday night, and she was, after all, the headline performer of the evening.
The music changed, and she launched into the first of the three numbers she would do back to back. At the end, she took a final bow and headed to the dressing room. It’s a good thing that’s over, she thought. I’m sweating like a pig, and my mascara is probably running.
In the dressing room, she discovered a man sitting at her dressing table.
“Who the fuck are you?” she said.
“What do you want?”
“Tell me what you did with my little brother,” he said.
“I don’t know your brother,” she said, starting to get annoyed.
“Sure you do, you’ve been fucking him for months.”
“Honey,” she said, “I’ve been a total bottom for thirty years. I don’t fuck anybody, and God knows, these days, nobody wants to fuck me.”
“Somebody’s been fucking him, and I thought it was you,” the man said.
“What’s your brother’s name?”
“Little Tommy is your brother?”
“So you do know him.”
“He wants to be a drag queen,” she said, “and I’ve been teaching him how.”
“And fucking him,” the man said.
“Buddy, I don’t know if anybody’s been fucking little Tommy or not, but in any case, it’s not me.”
“You’re lying,” the man said. “Now tell me where Tommy is.”
“Probably down in Orlando trying to win a talent contest at the Parliament House.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Honey, I don’t give a flying fuck what you believe. Now get out of my chair so I can sit down. I’m dead tired.”
A gun appeared in the man’s hand and made a little burping noise.
“Not anymore, you aren’t,” he said. “Now you’re just dead.”
He locked the dressing room door from the inside and scrambled through a window.
WE SPENT a typical Friday evening dining on lasagna and garlic bread at the Pizza Italian, a small Italian restaurant in the Five Points shopping district of Jacksonville. Founded and still run by a Greek immigrant named Gus, the restaurant had been a neighborhood favorite since 1976. Gus offered the best meatball subs in town, very good pizza, lasagna that was second to none, and his homemade blue cheese dressing was so popular that he sometimes sold it separately. Mike and I were sitting in one of the booths along the wall. We had been joined by Carl Johnson, a rather cute redhead, and his partner Jim Williams, who was an attractive brunet. Carl was a detective with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and Jim worked for one of the national accounting firms. He had passed the CPA exam the previous fall.
“Ask you a question, boss?” Carl said between bites.
“You know, Carl, you could call me George when we’re not at the office,” I said.
“I like calling you boss, Lieutenant. Besides, if I got in the habit of calling you by your first name outside the office, I might slip and call you that on the job.”
“Okay, I surrender. What’s your question?”
“When Jim and I got here this evening, you and Mike seemed to be having a rather intense discussion.”
“Yeah, we were, sort of.”
“Mind if I ask?”
“We were trying to decide what to use as an anniversary date,” Mike said.
“As you know,” I said, “we’ve been best friends since we were eight, and that was twenty-four years ago, but neither of us knows the exact date on which we met.”
“I thought we could use the date I first fell in love with George,” Mike said, “but that was so long ago that I don’t remember the actual date.”
“I wanted to use the date Mike took that bullet for me. When I saw him lying on that gurney in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital, something clicked, and I knew that I loved him.”
“That’s kind of sweet,” Jim said. “It sounds like a good date to use.”
“Yeah,” Carl said, “what’s wrong with it?”
“How would you like to be reminded about the time you got shot every time you celebrate your anniversary?” Mike said.
“Point taken,” Carl said.
“I just had a brainwave,” I said.
“Are you going to keep it a secret, babe?” Mike said.
“How about using the date we first did something as a couple?”
“You’re not talking about sex, are you?” Mike said. “There aren’t any dates carved on the headboard of our bed. Not to mention the fact that you and I caroused around together for years before we became a couple, and whenever we struck out, we tended to crawl in bed with each other.”
“Fool,” I said. “Of course not, but if you’re serious, that would be the time I gave you a blow job while you were still in the hospital. I’m referring to something like when we went together to get tested, or the day we first saw the cabin, or the day we closed on it. Something like that.”
“That’ll work,” Mike said. “We were on the deck of the cabin, and I said something like ‘we have to buy this place’. Do you know what date that was?”
“Not off the top of my head, but it was our first full day in the mountains, and I can check my calendar. It won’t be hard to figure it out.”
“Sounds good to me, and you don’t have to check your calendar. I’ve got that right here in my Blackberry.”
“More wine, anyone?” I said, reaching for the brown bag on the table. The restaurant didn’t have a liquor license, but discreet brown-bagging was allowed. I refilled all four glasses and set the bag containing the now-empty bottle on the seat beside me.
“What are you guys doing tomorrow?” Carl said.
“We were talking about going for a walk on the beach,” I said, “if it’s a nice sunny day.”
“Want to join us?” Mike said.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Carl said. “My skin doesn’t handle that much sun very well—at least not at the beach.”
We finished our meal and went our separate ways. When Mike and I arrived at the house, Thor was waiting at the back door in his best begging pose. “How does this dog know we have food for him?” I said. We had brought home a small bag containing a few leftover pieces of the garlic bread.
“Dogs are creatures of habit, babe,” Mike said, “and he has our habits down pat.”
We took a long and very playful shower together, after which we stood side-by-side in front of the bathroom mirror. We had bodies typical of runners and swimmers, in both of which activities we regularly engaged. In an earlier era, we would have been described as lithe but muscular.
“Damn,” Mike said, “look at us. Thirty-two, and still in great shape.”
“Not to mention still the same size.”
We were, in fact, the same size. Six-two, one-ninety, and our waist and shoe sizes were also identical. We basically shared one wardrobe, except for my uniform.
“Well, almost the same size.”
“I know,” I said. “Your dick is a half-inch longer than mine when it’s angry.”
“Hey, it’s the little things that count.”
“Babe, eight inches isn’t all that little.”
“I’m talking about the half-inch difference.”
“I’ll get you for that.”
We went to bed and picked up where we had left off in the shower. Finally, content with the world, we drifted off to sleep around eleven.
Two hours later, the sound of my beeper shattered the peace of our dark and quiet bedroom—it was my weekend to be on call. “Shit,” I said as I reached over and turned a light on beside the bed.
I called the number and listened for a minute. “I’m on my way,” I said.
“What’s happened?” Mike said somewhat sleepily.
“They found a drag queen locked in the dressing room at the Metro.”
“Babe, they don’t call you in the middle of the night for cases of stage fright.”
“They do if the drag queen has a bullet in his head.”
“Yeah, I guess that would do it.” He rolled over and went back to sleep.
I got dressed and drove over to the Metro, which actually wasn’t too far from our house. It was a huge gay bar and club situated on what amounted to the dividing line between the Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods. When I got there, I spotted a couple of cruisers and an EMT van already in place. I flashed my shield and pushed my way through the crowd of spectators. Inside the club, I was quickly directed behind the scenes to a dressing room, where I found a large mound of human flesh lying on the floor, clearly dead. Carl was looking at the body.
“Hi, boss,” Carl said.
“What do we have, Carl?”
“The body of Melvin Seymour, aka Madame Dixie—headline attraction of this and several other clubs around the state.”
I looked at the late Melvin and saw that there was a small hole where his left eye had once been. Blood and other substances had oozed from the hole, and his mascara had run all over the place. Melvin might have been a star on stage, but as a corpse, he was a mess.
“Nobody saw anything,” Carl said, “and if it happened while some other drag queen was lip-synching away at the top decibels the club speaker system can produce, nobody could possibly have heard anything. In other words, the usual. They had to break down the door to get inside when the cleaning crew came to do their thing. As far as we can tell, the perp left through the window.”
“Is the sergeant here yet?”
“She’s on the way, boss.”
“How many of our guys are here?”
“Everybody that’s not out of town.”
“Okay, Carl, you know the drill. Until the sergeant gets here, have the guys do their thing.”
“It’s underway, boss.”
Actually, I had expected no less. I had a good team, and they knew what to do with minimal direction. Five years earlier, I had overseen three teams and had admittedly been a bit miffed when they had given them to someone else and asked me to devote my time to assembling a major case squad. Now I fully understood why they had done it and even enjoyed the challenges it presented.
Sergeant Janet Sanchez arrived, and I brought her up to date. As soon as I felt she had a handle on things, I went home and crawled back in bed. Mike, bless his heart, didn’t even notice. Thor, on the other hand, did. As usual, our resident Irish Setter had seized the moment and hopped up onto the bed as soon as I had vacated it, and it took a minute or two to persuade his highness to return to his own sheepskin bed in the corner of the bedroom.
Fortunately, the rest of the weekend went by without any further incidents. At ten o’clock Monday morning, Janet and I were in the medical examiner’s office, staring at what was left of the late Melvin Seymour. Two of the team members were with us.
“God, he was a BUF, wasn’t he?” Sam said.
“Sam,” I said, “the late Melvin was overage and seriously overweight. He was anything but buff.”
“I didn’t say he was buff, boss. I said he was a BUF, as in Butt Ugly Fucker.”
“Sam,” Janet said, “show some respect.” She said it with a straight face, but we were all smiling.
The assistant medical examiner held up a plastic bag and said, “Here’s the bullet, Lieutenant. It looks like a .38, and I can tell you it was fired at very close range.”
“Thanks, Doc,” I said. “Let the sergeant know when you have any results from ballistics.”
The four of us went to our building, gathered in my office, and discussed the case. I assigned Carl the task of interviewing employees and others at the Metro, and the other guys fanned out to talk to the victim’s roommate and family.
Janet hung back a minute after the others had gone and said, “Boss, did you give Carl that job because he’s gay?”
“Don’t you think he might be a little more comfortable talking to a bunch of homosexuals than the other guys? For that matter, I would expect him to be somewhat better received by them.”
“Yeah, that makes sense. All we need is a bunch of protesters claiming that the cops were mean to the people at that bar.”
“There you go. It does help to keep the big picture in mind.”
“Do you think Carl will ever get around to coming out on the job?”
“I don’t know, Sergeant, but as we’ve discussed before, it’s his life and his decision.”
“Speaking of life, how’s yours?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Husband still have his feathers ruffled because you bring home more money?”
“Yeah,” she said with a sigh, “and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”
“Have you thought about counseling?”
“Are you kidding? Admitting he needs help would injure his macho Hispanic pride even more than making less money than his wife does.”
“It’s none of my business, but do you have anyone you can talk to, even unofficially?”
“Actually, I do. I get together once a week with a number of women whose situations are similar, and we try to support each other.”
“That sounds good. Let me know if there is ever anything I can do.”
“Thanks, boss,” she said, and she went to her cubicle.
Tuesday morning I began my day by sifting carefully through a huge stack of reports, making notes as I read. When I reviewed the notes I’d jotted on a yellow pad, one name stood out. Both the victim’s roommate and people at the club mentioned a young drag queen wannabe named Tommy to whom the victim had been giving instructions in the noble art of lip-synch. I took a red felt-tip pen, printed “find Tommy” at the bottom of the page, and called Janet to my office.
“Have you read all the reports?” I said the moment she stuck her head in the door.
“I think so.”
“Is anybody looking for this would-be drag queen named Tommy?”
“Two of the guys are on it. We don’t have an address, only his first name. The victim’s roommate doesn’t seem to have a clue.”
“If we haven’t found Tommy by the end of the day, send Carl out to ask the roommate politely but firmly to come in for a session with a sketch artist.”
I turned to my computer, prepared a summary report of the investigation, and sent it to the captain. I sat for a minute thinking about the notes I had made, and then I paged Carl. When he called me in answer to the page, I said, “Carl, has Janet asked you to talk to the victim’s roommate about Tommy?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m on my way there as we speak.”
“From what we know, Tommy wanted to be a drag queen, so ask the roommate if there was ever any mention of talent contests.”
“Got it, boss.”
“When you return to your desk, get on the computer and check the web sites of every bar you can find between here and Tampa. If they have any talent contests scheduled, we need to watch for our boy.”
“Consider it done.”
A couple of hours after lunch, Carl knocked on my door. He was visibly excited, so I said, “What’s up, Carl?”
“Tommy the drag queen wannabe, boss,” he said.
“What about him?”
“Someone using his name and answering to his general description participated in a talent contest at the Parliament House down in Orlando last Friday night.”
“Did he win?”
“Performing as Miss Tomasina, he took third place.”
“Does anybody at the Parliament House know where he went from there? More importantly, did he fill out a form and/or leave an address and contact information?”
“The guy who has that information won’t be in until this evening, boss.”
“Do we need to ask for official help from the Orlando Police?”
“I don’t think so. The people I talked to were friendly and cooperative, especially when I told them who I worked for.”
“Surely they don’t know me by name, do they?”
“No, but after what happened in Maggie Valley in March and your television interview, they’ve heard of the only gay lieutenant in the JSO.”
“Dropped a few hints, did you?”
“I used the material at hand, boss,” he said. “Anything wrong with that?”
“Not at all. Actually, it was rather clever of you, now that I think about it.”
“I’m going to call them back this evening.”
“I’ve got a better idea. I want you to drive down to Orlando and be there when the guy shows up for work. Bat your baby blues at him, pour on the charm, and find out what you can.”
“I can do that.”
“Why don’t you see if Jim can get off work early? The two of you can make an evening of it at the taxpayers’ expense.” I pulled an item out of my desk drawer and handed it to him. “Have Jim carry this ‘Special Deputy’ badge when you get there, it just might help.”
“Keep me posted, and don’t forget to tell the sergeant what you’ve found.”
“Been there, done that, and she sent me to pass the information on to you.”