Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
And then the heart of the storm struck them all.
Todd tried to stand up, to rush farther away, but was blown on his side like a twig. As he landed in a puddle, he glanced back, saw the assailant hurled aside by the wind. A wall of water seemed to crash over Todd, rain that bit and pelted so hard that he could barely see two or even three feet. He looked to the side, thought he saw Mark Forrest somehow hanging on to the railing. And still the wind gained in strength, barreling down the river, blasting everything in its path. Todd crawled to his knees, tried to stand, and thought for sure this was it, he was going to be sucked into the skies. He threw himself to the side, grabbed at the base of a lamppost, and hung on, hoping to hell that just this once he was stronger than Mother Nature. Above it all, he heard a rattling and ripping and raised his head to see a sign, one of the historical markers, blown from its stand. As it came hurtling at him, Todd clutched his head, but it wasn't enough, for the sign struck him with such force that Todd's head seemed to explode. He tried to open his eyes but couldn't, and the massive summer storm went from dark and overpowering to totally black and quiet.
As soon as the
elevator chimed and the doors eased open, the man rushed out of the lift and down the hotel hall, his wet head bowed, his chest heaving. He reached into the pocket of his jacket, felt for the plastic room key, pulled it out, then slipped it into the lock of his room and opened his door.
Shit, he was wet, for nothing had prepared him for the ferocity of the storm. In fact, he thought, carefully locking and bolting the door behind him, he was as wet as if he'd just jumped into a swimming pool. They rarely had storms like that where he came from, and certainly not with that kind of thunder and lightning.
Water dripped onto the maroon carpet from his raincoat as he hurried past the sleek bathroom, past the sliding mirrored doors of the closet, and into the spacious room that was lined on one side with a single huge window. His hands shaking, he pulled off his coat and dropped it on the edge of the messy bed, then made directly for the dark-wooden desk, where he pulled open a center drawer. He grabbed a piece of the Hotel Redmont's tasteful stationery, reached to the top of the desk for one of the hotel's ballpoint pens, then hesitated one single moment. Yes, he thought, his heart thumping, his head pounding. There'd been no other choice. He had to be enterprising. Yes,
, and so with trembling hands he scribbled it down:
. Absolutely. No doubt about it. And he wrote it down again and again.
GMF. GMF. GMF. GMF.
Satisfied that he'd done everything right, he dropped the pen and turned to the window, which was sealed as tight as a fish tank.
Lifting aside the thin white curtain in front of the glass, he looked out at the clearing skies, at the strong light bursting through the clouds. No one had seen him down there by the river, had they? No, he was positive. The dark energy of the storm had blotted everything out, provided the perfect shield. Still …
He had medium-brown hair, skin that tanned easily, and a thick shadow of a beard, which he'd shaved once in the morning and trimmed up again with an electric razor before dinner. His broad shoulders made him look bigger than he really was, but he wasn't overweight, not by any means. With a tight waist and trim but strong legs, he was still in great shape, particularly for his mid-thirties, which was the primary reason he'd been able to make it back here so quickly. He'd all but run the entire way from the Mississippi.
Letting the curtain fall, he turned to the king-size bed, started toward it, then froze, staring at the sheets and blankets that were kicked and pushed and shoved this way and that. Jesus Christ, just a mere hour or two ago the two of them had been in this bed, kissing and groping and sucking, two sex-starved men feasting on flesh and seed. Only now did he see how horrible it was, how stupid, the meeting, the act, the fuck. If only he'd been able to resist. If only he'd been able to bottle up the temptation and stuff it away. To abstain once and for all and forever. But, no, he hadn't been able to stop himself, nor the sin.
Shaking his head, he thought it again, chanted silently:
And then it happened—the phone rang. Glancing at his watch, he knew exactly who it was, knew that she'd be calling to check on him. Yes, he'd made it back just in time.
As he reached for the phone—hesitant yet knowing he had no choice but to answer the damn thing—he couldn't help but think: Dear God in heaven, why had he ever fallen in love with a beautiful young man by the name of Mark Forrest?
Todd had no idea
how long he lay there, ten, maybe fifteen minutes, but when he began to stir, the thing that surprised him the most was the light. It was so bright. Lying in a shallow puddle, Todd stared through the railings of the bridge at the gap in the billowing clouds, where he saw the setting sun, brilliant and gorgeous and red. He rolled on his side, looked around. What the hell had that been? A tornado?
He pushed himself up, sat back, and leaned against the railing. Right next to him, lying in a shallow puddle, was the sign, the historical marker that had walloped him. Rubbing his head, he started to read the text, which went on about hard winter wheat that was shipped from all over the Upper Midwest to the mills located alongside St. Anthony Falls.
Above the roar of the river, Todd heard it, the steps. Someone was running this way. He clenched his eyes shut, pressed the heel of his hand against his brow, tried desperately to make sense of this. Hearing someone close in on him, he opened his eyes, looked to his right, saw a huge sign towering in the distance that read Pillsbury's Best Flour.
Something horrible had happened, he knew that much. But what? In the back of his mind he heard the warning: Be careful. Right. And recalling that, Todd reached up, felt his breast pocket. The phone. He fumbled around for it, pulled it out, and flipped it open. But what was the number? Who was he supposed to call?
The running steps were zeroing in on him, and Todd pressed
himself back against the railing. Phone in hand, he glanced to his left, saw the figure charging this way.
Wait, he knew that person, that man. And Todd knew what this meant, didn't he? Hadn't he told him where he'd be? Sure, and Todd was glad to see him, this guy with the dark brown hair and mustache, who was stocky and muscular, none too tall.
He knelt down to Todd and reached out, saying, “Are you all right?”
Todd clutched his hand. “Rawlins.”
“Are you hurt?”
“I don't think so.” Todd touched his head. “Something hit me.” He lowered his hand into the cool puddle and touched the plaque. “This sign—it blew from the other side.”
“There was a big storm.”
Todd stared at the break in the sky and squinted into the bright sunlight. Huge, puffy clouds towered one atop another. Neither white nor black, but now a sunset-infused red, the clouds filled the entire sky. Beautiful.
Todd said, ”A tornado.”
“Actually, the radio's already calling it straight-line winds.”
“Oh,” mumbled Todd, realizing that would explain the hurricane force of the storm.
“Come on,” said Rawlins, taking Todd by the arm. “Are you sure you're okay?”
Todd nodded as he started to get up.
“What about the guy you were supposed to meet? He didn't show, did he?”
Todd's heart squeezed into a tight fist. He pulled himself all the way up, hung on to the railing, and looked down the bridge to the east. There was no one else sprawled about, and as the memory came flooding back, he turned and looked out over the surging Mississippi.
“Oh, shit,” muttered Todd.
“Are you all right? Do you want to sit down again?”
“Someone was shot.”
“What?” snapped Rawlins, quickly scanning the bridge. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“I … I …” He shook his head. “I met some guy and … and someone else came and …”
Dear God, he thought, realizing the most amazing thing of this most unusual evening: Not only had the short man with the gun vanished, so had the body of Mark Forrest.
For years—really ever since
the accident that had maimed her genitals—Kris had been made to feel that there was no place for her in this world. Laughed at and mocked as if some kind of freak, rejected and shunned as if some kind of leper, there had been times when suicide seemed not only like a good idea, but the only isle of safety. But, no, the truth was that while she'd been depressed, at times severely so, she possessed no real thirst for her own death. And, no, she wouldn't be defeated by the judgment of others, of that she was more determined with each passing day.
Still, she couldn't deny that things were a fucking mess. And when she turned her boat of a car off Lyndale Avenue, then finally brought the thirty-year-old Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight to a clunk of a stop, she couldn't help but bow her head on the steering wheel and sob. When in the name of God would things start getting easier?
It was nearly ten o'clock and dark. And wet, of course. That huge storm, the likes of which Kris had never seen, had doused everything, including her. Hours later, her white blouse still clung damply to her back, and her black jeans were still bunched with moisture. On her car radio she'd heard the disc jockey call the storm something like straight-line winds, but what the hell did that mean?
Through her tears she looked up at the little ticky-tacky white house, a mere box of a thing stamped out in this postwar neighborhood on the southernmost edge of Minneapolis. Replicated in mind-boggling numbers, there was nothing but the same house for blocks, this one white, that one blue, that one mustard, and Kris thought, Shit, what am I doing here? She'd come back to Minnesota, hoping everything would be different, that she could pack her trusty Olds with her few belongings, leave California and her woes behind, and find not only safety back in the Heartland, but answers. And solutions. What a fool. Instead, here she was in the blandest, most boring corner of the world, and her troubles had merely hitched a ride along. Oh, Christ, she thought. Of all places, why here?
She wiped her eyes with the back of one of her long hands, blotted at her nose, and glanced at herself in the rearview mirror. Girlfriend, she thought, you look like shit warmed over. But who cared? No one. And that was exactly the point, for at best everyone found her a beautiful freak.
Kris heaved open the big old door of the car, stepped out, and her shoe immediately sank into a puddle. She cursed and cussed, skipped to the curb, and forgot about her stuff in the trunk, which was latched shut with a twisted coat hanger stuck through a couple of rust holes. As she climbed the walk and approached the front door, she heard a television and voices, little ones, all of them blaring away. Crap. She'd hoped they'd all be in bed by now, God only knew they should be. Much too late for young things like that to be up. Had her cousin lost her mind?
There was no way Kris could face anyone, especially them, and she turned, quietly slunk past the two living room windows and around to the side door. With her key she unlocked the door, carefully opened it, and stepped inside and onto the landing. The kitchen was to her right, up just two steps, and while the light was on over the range, no one was in there. Flicking on the basement light, Kris hoped she could simply disappear unnoticed into her room downstairs. She grabbed the handrail, took one step, another.
“Kris?” called a voice. “Kris, is that you?”
“Krissy! Krissy!” cried a couple of little voices.
From the other room her cousin continued, demanding, “What are you doing sneaking in the back?”
Kris froze on the fourth step and muttered, “Oh, fuck.”
There was a stampede of feet, and they were there within seconds, Maureen and her four-year-old twins, Ricky and Rachel. Kris quickly ran a hand through her hair and tried to make herself presentable, which, however, was hopeless.
“Yeah, it's me,” replied Kris, her voice deep.
“Where have you been? I thought you were coming straight home from your therapy appointment,” said Maureen, appearing on the landing. “You saw Dr. Dorsey, didn't you? You didn't skip again, did you? You've already missed one out of your first three sessions, and I'll bet he'll drop you if—”
“Don't worry, I was there.”
“Well, then, where have you been since? Do you realize how worried I've been about you? I mean, that storm—there're trees down everywhere!”
“The ‘lectricity went out!” exclaimed Rachel.
“We lit candles!” added Ricky.
Kris turned and glanced up at her cousin, who was a good ten years older than her, a good deal heavier, and simply not as pretty. Maureen had similar blond hair, but somehow it wasn't as pure, as soft, not as bright, and her eyes weren't nearly as blue or sparkly as Kris's either.
Maureen took an equally judgmental assessment of Kris, then grabbed the children by their shoulders and shooed them out. “You two go back and watch the end of your movie!”
“But—” they whined in unison.
“Now!” ordered Maureen, who scooted them out, then turned on Kris. “Your appointment with Dr. Dorsey was supposed to end at six. What the hell have you been doing since?”