Authors: R.D. Zimmerman
Tags: #Mystery, #detective, #Edgar Award, #Gay, #gay mystery, #Lambda Award, #transgender
An interrogation was not what she wanted, and Kris said, “Not much.”
“You look like hell. What happened?”
“Right, you expect me to believe that?” Maureen started down the steps. “No one hurt you, did they? You're all right, aren't you?”
“I'm fine. I just had a bad night, that's all.”
“I was expecting you hours ago. You're soaking. Where have you been?”
“Just out. Out walking.”
Maureen shook her head in disapproval. “Where?”
“Shit!” snapped Kris, her voice losing its femininity and becoming deep and harsh. “You're worse than my own mother! I didn't move all the way to this stupid place to be interrogated by some stupid cow like you!”
Maureen's eyes flared in anger. “And I didn't agree to open my house to some ingrate like you!”
Tears instantly blossomed in Kris's eyes. “Just fuck off! And don't worry, I'll be out of here soon enough!”
With Maureen screaming a string of unpleasantries behind her, Kris turned and bolted down the stairs as fast as she could. She rushed across the red linoleum floor, reached the dark-pine door to her bedroom, opened it, then slammed it shut as hard as she could. There was no doubt about it, everyone—men and women, straights and gays—found her too “different” and because of that somehow threatening. She felt as if she was walking on a tightrope with no safety net beneath her, and everyone down below, including all her family—her brothers and sister, her mother and father—were looking up at her and chanting: “Fall!”
So could they be right? Was she really that bizarre, that atrocious?
No, girl, came her internal reply, you're not. You're not at all. Just don't, don't, don't give in. Just remember all of your sisters out there in this great big universe.
Right. When she was in California Kris had used a friend's computer, surfing the Internet day after day, week after week. Discovering a worldwide community, she realized for the first time that she wasn't alone, that there were hundreds of thousands if not millions of transgendered people just like her. She'd made friends on the Net, shared stories, laughed, cried, and confessed, all the while learning what estrogens were the best, where to buy shoes for her long feet, and exactly how doctors used the skin from the penis to construct a vulva and a vagina.
Yet now she was here in this Minnesota, without a computer and cut off from that new world. Consequently, she felt more isolated and alone than ever before.
It was a tiny room with dark-pine paneling and a single bed, on which Kris now dropped herself. She bowed her face into her hands and tried to hold back the tears. She was such a fool, such an idiot. She never fell in love with anyone her own age, only guys a lot older than she. Oh, and straight. Often married to boot. It was just like her shrink had told her: She went for the guys she could never have, the ones that were perpetually and eternally unavailable. But did she listen to that? Learn anything? Hell, no, for here she'd done it again, fallen crazy in love with a guy she could never have. What was even more stupid was that late this afternoon she'd gone and blurted it out to her shrink.
Seated in his small office downtown, Kris had said, “You're never going to believe who I have a crush on.”
“Try me,” replied Dorsey, a small man with thick gray hair and heavy glasses that did little to mask his intense eyes.
“Stuart Hawkins. You know, the judge, the one who's in the paper all the time. He's just so…I don't know … so sexy. I can't stop thinking about him.”
Dorsey had sat in his hard wooden chair for a long time, those beady eyes not blinking, his thin lips not moving. Or had he been trying to stuff his amusement? Had that been it? The very possibility had made Kris so pissed that she'd almost blurted it out, told him that just a couple of weeks ago she'd finger-fucked the good judge.
But then Dorsey had muttered his usual nonjudgmental, nonindicative grunt, saying only, “Oh.”
And Kris had tapped every bit of her considerable will to be silent, because, no, she guessed Dorsey wouldn't have believed her. At best, he'd just chalk it up as another of her fantasies, all too many of which focused on so-called straight-acting, straight-appearing fatherly types. Could she help it if she just wanted a good lay from a solid hunk?
Blotting her eyes, Kris pushed herself to her feet, then crossed to the small half-bath, a tiny room packed into one corner of her bedroom. Kris stepped in, flicked on the light, and looked at herself in the mirror of the minute medicine cabinet. Ew. Nasty. She saw hair that was wet and tousled, puffy red eyes, and a face that was definitely not male, one that was in fact becoming less so by the day. While she'd always have her small Adam's apple—which neither surgery nor drugs could ever eliminate—the months of hormone therapy had already had an amazing overall effect. In that way she was lucky: Because her testicles had long ago been removed, she wasn't having to take large doses of estrogen to suppress testosterone production. And as soon as she'd started taking it orally, she had been quick to see breast development, a softening of her skin and body, not to mention the improvement in her complexion, which had cleared so beautifully. The estrogen had even aided in the effectiveness of the facial electrolysis she'd had out in California. Now rubbing her smooth chin and cheeks, she recalled the Cadillac of treatments she'd endured, which had cost a whopping four thousand bucks and had been paid for entirely by her transgender mentor, a wealthy heiress and sometime lawyer who'd already done likewise. Kris had been unsure at the time, but the procedure, which had lasted seventy-one and a half horribly painful hours, had been definitely worth it.
She reached for her makeup bag, rumbled through her cosmetics, and the first thing that came to hand was, oddly, her old double-headed razor, now crusted with rust and so dull the blade would barely cut butter. Holding it between her long painted fingernails—fake fingernails, naturally, because the night of the infamous accident she'd also lost the tips of three fingers—she wondered why she'd never thrown it away, at the same time realizing she never would. It was true: Once she'd been so desperate to escape her problems and this world that she'd considered suicide. A few years back she'd held this very same razor much as she did now. Back then, however, she'd popped out the blade and pressed it against her left wrist. All she'd had to do was apply a little pressure, cut through her skin, and bleed out. After all, she'd thought that night, wasn't a miserable fate like that the destiny of every weirdo like her?
But then she'd stopped, suddenly realizing what it all meant.
And suddenly angry for the first time in her young life, furious that she'd been pushed that far, to the very brink.
It was true: The only image she'd ever seen of someone like herself was, over and over again, the one straight society had presented, that of the sick, psycho killer who had no place in this world. But did she really hate herself that much, was she really so evil, so horrible? Absolutely not! And so the very next instant she'd taken back her life, calmly lifting the blade from her wrist and putting it back in the razor, if only to say one thing and one thing alone: Fuck ‘em.
“Krissy!” now called a tiny voice.
Shocked back into the present, Kris spun around.
“Mom says she's sorry,” said Rachel, standing in the middle of the bedroom in an oversize T-shirt. “Will you read me the story?”
“Oh, honey, I don't know, I—”
“Come on, please!”
“But I had such a long day.”
“Krissy, you didn't finish the story last night, the one about the owl.”
Kris stared down at the girl, saw her straight hair curling just at the ends, the face all round and hopelessly angelic. Wasn't that the kid she was supposed to have been?
“Okay, okay …” said Kris with a smile. “I'll be right there.”
“No, come on. Come with me now,” begged Rachel, stepping into the bathroom and wrapping both of her tiny hands around the wrist Kris had once wanted to slit.
“Sure, sweet thing.”
Setting the rusty razor down on the edge of the sink, Kris looked quickly at her image in the mirror. Screw the system, she thought as she was led away. Screw the programmed system that says you have to be one or the other, M or
“I'm not crazy,” said
Todd. “I saw someone get shot.”
The day after the storm, the day after Mark Forrest—if indeed that was his real name—had vanished, Todd stood on the Stone Arch Bridge, staring through the haze at the roaring falls of St. Anthony. The mighty Mississippi was all the mightier from last night's torrential rains, and a continuous wall of water burst over the concrete apron, rushed and swirled its way toward the inevitable gulf.
Todd felt a hand on his back, and then heard Steve Rawlins say, “I'm sure you did.” Nodding to the sheriff's boats anchored down below and the handful of divers, Rawlins added, “And I'm sure they'll find the body soon.”
The air was close and hot, a slight rain was falling, and Todd pulled up the collar of his shirt. “This just doesn't make any sense.”
Last night Rawlins had taken charge because, of course, he and his partner, Neal Foster, were in Car 1110, meaning that as the homicide investigators on duty the case was automatically theirs. The trouble was that at first there'd been no indication of any crime—no gun, no bullet casing, not to mention any sign of a body. Thanks to the heavy rains, there hadn't even been any visible traces of blood. Insisting, however, that this be thoroughly handled, Rawlins had called Car 21, the Bureau of Investigation team, and the guys on duty in that division had gotten out their pump bottle of luminol and sprayed the chemical on part of the bridge. As the summer light had faded, they'd then shone a black light on the spot and certain proteins had fluoresced, indicating blood and plenty of it. A full investigation had been immediately set in motion.
And now a bunch of divers were down there bobbing for a body.
“I was standing right here,” began Todd, hanging on to the railing, “wondering if anyone would show.”
“Okay.” Rawlins was a rugged kind of guy, who was nevertheless naturally patient, thorough. “Go on. Just take it slow.”
“And then someone came up behind and touched me. It was him, this guy, this Mark Forrest.”
“The mysterious Mr. X. We're still searching, but no one by that name has been reported as missing.”
“Well, this guy, whatever his name was, was no bum. I got the sense that he was gay, but I could be wrong. Anyway, he was gorgeous, and someone's going to want him back, someone's going to come looking for him. You can trust me on that one.”
“He said he was here because you called him?”
“Right. And I was here because I got a call from someone, a guy, who said something about blackmail.” Todd shook his head. “So obviously there was some sort of setup going on.”
“I guess so.” Rawlins scratched his neck and asked, “Do you think the whole shooting could have been staged somehow?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, fake bullet, an old bag of blood. A scam of sorts for a television reporter.”
“Maybe, but why? I can't think how it would connect to any of the stories I'm working on. Not even the one about the drug dealers in the suburbs.” Recalling the look on Mark Forrest's face, he added, “I haven't seen that many people shot, but it sure as hell looked real to me. And Forrest certainly didn't look like some kind of shyster. If anything, he seemed very genuine.”
For the third or fourth time they walked through exactly what had happened. And where. Todd was sure of the exact spot he'd been standing when Forrest had approached him. He was able to recall what they'd done as soon as the rain had started pelting down. He remembered, too, when he'd first seen the approaching figure.
“Then the wind hit,” said Todd. “It just came roaring down the river with nothing to block it. I thought it was a tornado.”
But it hadn't been. There hadn't been any great vortex, no massive twirling wind sucking everything upward. Rather, it had been the nearly as destructive straight-line winds, which were brought by derechos, a phenomenon of squall-line thunderstorms that sent blasts of cold air hurling downward in a straight, broad, destructive swath. And yesterday's sheer wall of force had bowled over the plains at, according to weather experts—which every other person in Minnesota considered himself to be—nearly one hundred miles per hour and dumped over two inches of rain in ten minutes.
“So the last time you saw Mark Forrest,” Rawlins said as he moved to the railing on the other side of the bridge, “he was standing here.”
“Clutching the bullet wound.” Todd ran over the sequence in his mind. “Then that sign hit me and I blacked out for a few minutes.”
So as best they could figure, one of three things had taken place. Mark Forrest had been blown into the river. The person who shot him had dragged away his body. Or it had been a total ruse and no one had been killed.
Todd crossed to the metal railing, which was tall, nearly chest high, and said, “But I don't get how anyone could have been blown over this. I mean, maybe if that had been a tornado he could have been sucked up and dumped into the river. But the wind just came hard from one side, so if anything it would have just pinned him against the railing, not thrown him up and over. And the guy with the gun wasn't very big, I'm sure of that, so if he'd dragged Forrest away there would have been bloodstains or drag marks or…or something.”