“Paramus is Burning”, by Josh Pachter

            The woman in the high-slit green dress strutted as if she owned not only the runway but the Ciccone Theatre itself, and the entire city of Paramus that lay just to the east.

            She was very tall, six foot three in her stiletto heels, an even six feet without them. Her low-cut sequined gown was the color of emeralds and glittered beneath the rotating disco ball. Her elbow-length gloves were pearly white, her eyes were sapphires, her lips ruby red, her hair a pale citrine, her skin had the silky luster of a tiger’s eye.

            As she strode down the runway to Jade Elektra and Midnight Society’s “How Do I Look,” her hands were in constant motion, framing her face in the stylized poses known as voguing. “All right, darlings, it’s about that time,” Jade Elektra chanted over the pulsing beat. “Are you ready? ‘Cause I am. I’m dripping with Versace. Legendary face, darling, bringing it to you the old way.” The audience, on their feet, pumping their fists, shouted their appreciation of the woman’s style and sensuality and grace.

            She paused for a moment before the judges’ table and threw her arms up high in a prediction of victory, then turned away regally, not waiting to see her scores, confident they would confirm her legendary status.

            “I’m serving body, I’m serving face,” Jade Elektra chanted. “How do I look? No lines, no bags. Get into it!”

            The woman swept through a parting in the black velvet drape as the tens went up to a full-throated roar from the crowd, and even after the curtain swung shut behind her and no one could see her she maintained her erect posture, her poise, her realness.

            There was a gold paper star taped to the door of her dressing room. The other contestants shared communal changing spaces farther down the corridor, but she was the mother of Paramus’ own House of Troy, which entitled her to one of the Ciccone’s few private rooms. She opened the door and stepped inside, already lifting the elaborate blond wig from her shaved scalp. There was a Styrofoam wig head on a small deal table just inside the door, and she flipped the light switch and carefully positioned the wig on its resting place, then stripped off her gloves and dropped them beside the Styrofoam head.

            When she turned to her makeup table and mirror, she saw that a slender girl with a sculpted Afro was sitting slumped forward in the chair, apparently asleep, head resting on folded arms. The woman sighed, and shook the girl’s shoulder to wake her.

            The girl toppled out of the chair to the scuffed linoleum floor, and the woman saw that the blade of a knife was sticking out of her chest, and the front of her ruffled white blouse was drenched with blood.

            The woman in the green dress screamed.

            “Name?” Detective Lieutenant André Livingston asked, pen poised above his notebook, jaws working a wad of Doublemint gum.

            “Mine or hers?” said the bald man in the green dress, now — without wig and makeup and bright-blue contacts — revealed to be a slender young brown-eyed Latinx.

            “Let’s start with yours. We’ll get to” — Livingston hesitated, since the medical examiner’s inspection had revealed that the victim was in fact also anatomically male, but thought when in Rome and decided to keep things simple — “we’ll get to her.”

            “My name,” the man in the green dress said, “is Helena Troy.”

            The cop frowned. “Your real name,” he said.

            “That is my real name.”

            “What’s the name on your driver’s license?” the detective persisted, heaving an impatient sigh.

            “I don’t drive,” the man said haughtily. “I am driven.” The emphasis on that last word made it clear that he was talking not just about automobiles but about his world view in general.

            Livingston tried a different approach. “What’s the name on your birth certificate?”

            The bald man turned his back to the cop. “Unzip me,” he commanded.

            Livingston looked around the dressing room for help, but there were only the three of them there, himself and the two drag queens, this one living, the other one dead. He tugged sheepishly at the tiny plastic zipper, and Helena Troy wriggled out of his dress and unhooked and removed his padded bra and pulled on a ragged pair of jeans and a T-shirt that said “Paris is Still Burning” in pink Day-Glo letters.

            The cop shook his head. “We’ll come back to you,” he said. He turned to the dead queen now stretched out on the dressing-room floor and covered with a white sheet. “What about him?”

            The young man licked his lips thoughtfully, as if noticing the body for the first time. “I apologize for messing with you, darling,” he said at last. “This is way too serious for my BS. My parents called me Julio. Julio Rodriguez.” He gazed down at the body and suddenly seemed close to tears. “I have seen the child around, but I don’t know her name. I believe she belongs to the House Bijouxtiful. You might want to ask Jewel, her housemother. You’ll find the girls from Bijouxtiful two doors down.”

            “Make up your mind, Dré,” Detective Sergeant Tony Nunziata complained. “It’s either he or she, you can’t have it both ways.”

            “I know,” André Livingston acknowledged, “but this is new territory for me, man, and I’m not sure I got my mind wrapped around it yet. They’re guys, most of them, but they dress like women, they act like women, they look like women — I’m tellin’ you, some of them are hot.”

            Livingston and Nunziata were a classic investigatory team: Livingston almost twenty years older than his partner, who was spending several weeks on desk duty while recovering from an injury he’d sustained during a recent foot pursuit. His left leg was in a soft cast, and he liked telling people he’d been shot, but the truth was he’d tripped over an empty beer bottle while chasing a teenager who’d stuck up a 7-Eleven with a plastic reproduction of an M1911A1 Colt he’d bought for fifteen dollars on Amazon.

            “And this ball thing?” Nunziata sipped bad coffee from a cardboard container. “Is that some kind of double whatsit?”

            “It’s a competition, got a history goes way back, a hundred years or more. Started out as a sort of costume party, mainly straight white men dressing up as women, but sometime around the Twenties it got integrated, and now it’s mostly gay blacks and Latinos.”

            “And they compete,” Nunziata said, interested despite himself, “in what exactly?”

            Livingston drained his can of 7-Up. “They got a bunch of what they call categories,” he explained, getting into it now. “Banjee Realness, Butch Queen Up in Pumps, Face, Bizarre, Sex Siren — ”

            “You ask me,” Nunziata said, “the whole thing is bizarre.”

            “It is that. But they take it dead serious. They’re divided up into these ‘houses’ — the big ones, in Harlem, are like the House of Xtravaganza, House of Ninja, House of Mizrahi, a bunch of designer names, and here in the Land of Ten Thousand Malls we got a couple smaller local groups, the House of Troy and the House Bijouxtiful — each with a leader they call the ‘mother’ and her ‘children’ — ”

            “But what’s the point?” Nunziata cut in.

            Livingston thought about it. “These kids mostly grow up in rough neighborhoods,” he said at last. “They’re gay or bi or trans or whatever — half of them don’t know what they are yet, just that they don’t fit in. The houses give them a family tighter than the one they got at home — they’re sort of gay street gangs, ‘cept they don’t fight, they compete. And the ball culture, what they call ‘walking the categories,’ well — here, check this out.”

            He fished his cell phone from his pocket and fiddled with it. “Jewel Bijouxtiful showed me this.” He handed over the phone. On the screen, a mocha-skinned black man somewhere in his fifties or sixties with his hair in a net was studiously painting mascara above ultra-long false eyelashes. “You like the adulation,” he drawled, ignoring the camera, intent on the application of his makeup, “the applause, the people cheering you on, the winning. In a ballroom, you can be anything you want.”

            “Uh-huh,” Nunziata said flatly, handing back the phone. “So tell me about your vic.”

            “Afrodite Bijouxtiful,” said Livingston. “Born Lester Jackson the day after 9/11….”

            Lester Jackson was born in the charity ward at Meridian Hospital on September 12, 2001. His mother, Rachelle Jackson, was sixteen years old, unmarried, living with her own single mother in a cramped one-bedroom third-floor walkup in the Elsie Jay Section 8 housing on Newman Street in Hackensack. No father was listed on Lester’s birth certificate, and Rachelle either didn’t know or wasn’t saying which of the several boys she ran around with had impregnated her.

            At seventeen, teased unmercifully by his classmates for his effeminate manner, Lester dropped out of school and ran away from home, and neither his mother nor his grandmother made much of an effort to find him. He came to rest five miles to the north, in Paramus, where he connected with House Bijouxtiful and, for the first time in his young life, felt appreciated for who and what he was, free to dress and act and present himself as the woman she knew herself to be.

            Jewel Bijouxtiful and Helena Troy, Paramus’ two housemothers, regularly rode the Route 4 Jitney from Garden State Plaza to Harlem to compete in the big-city balls, but the bus ride took over an hour each way, so the rank-and-file membership of both local houses mostly preferred to go head to head at the monthly balls held in Bergen Community College’s Ciccone Theatre.

            On her eighteenth birthday, Afrodite Bijouxtiful walked her first ball, competing in the Virgin Runway category. She finished sixth out of seven contestants, but the thrill of marching proudly up the runway in the tight candy-striper uniform she had sewn herself was overwhelming, and from that moment on she was a regular fixture at the Paramus balls.

            And now, three weeks short of her nineteenth birthday, she was dead.

            “What should I call you?” Livingston asked.

            The man in the leather chair behind the mahogany desk was in his mid-sixties, Livingston estimated. African-American, steel-gray crew-cut hair, wire-rimmed bifocals, rugged features, fit for his age in a pinstriped three-piece suit and red power tie. He laughed, a deep bass chuckle that filled the office.

            They were on the third floor of the Mack-Cali Centre II building on From Road, in the offices of Jefferson, Meadows, McAllister, one of Paramus’ top law firms. Outside the plate-glass window, traffic crawled by on the Garden State Parkway.

            “Here at work,” the man said, “I’m Barrington J. Meadows. You can call me Barry. That’s what my wife and friends call me.”

            “Your wife?” the cop said. “I thought — ”

            Meadows smiled. “You thought I was gay? It’s an obvious conclusion, given my — well, let’s call it my hobby. And in fact it’s true that the majority of drag queens and almost all of the housemothers are queer. I happen to be strictly cisgendered and hetero.”

            “Cisgendered?”

            “My sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with my birth sex. I’m biologically male, Detective Livingston, and I identify as male and am heterosexual.”

            “But you’re a transvestite.”

            Meadows frowned. “We don’t actually use that term. It’s pretty much the N-word for drag queens.”

            “What should I say, then?”

            “Do you really need to label us?”

            Livingston considered that. “I suppose not. But then how do I ask the question? If you’re not gay, then why do you — ?”

            “Why do I dress in women’s clothing and walk the categories? Why am I the housemother for House Bijouxtiful?”

            Livingston nodded. “Sure, let’s start there.”

            Barry Meadows leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands on his lean belly.         “It’s a fair question, Detective. Let me put it this way. Some men play golf, some fish, some collect postage stamps. I — well, I dress in women’s clothing and walk the categories.”

            Livingston listened attentively.

            “I’m faithful to my wife, a good father to our kids. But I like the way I feel in a shimmering gown and makeup, and I love the competitiveness of the balls and the good I can do as a housemother. Allison knows about my hobby and doesn’t object to it. The kids in the house accept me and look up to me. My kids and grandkids don’t know — my son and daughter are grown and flown and quite conservative in their thinking, so I’m not sure they’d understand, and my grandchildren are too young to — ”

            “This is fascinating stuff,” Livingston interrupted him. “I mean it. But I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Can we get to Lester Jackson?”

            Meadows winced at the use of the victim’s birth name. “Afrodite? Sure….”

            The two women sitting side by side on the ratty sofa in the cramped living room of the third-floor apartment could almost have passed for sisters — they had the same olive complexion, the same cornrowed brown hair — but Livingston saw in the dim light cast by the one working bulb of the three-bulb overhead fixture that the one on the left was somewhere in her thirties, while the one on the right was maybe fifteen, sixteen years older.

            He expected that Rachelle at least would shed a tear when he delivered the news of her son’s fate, but the two of them, Lester’s mother and her mother, sat there dry-eyed. It was almost, he thought, as if they hadn’t heard him, though he knew they had.

            “Lester was a troubled boy,” Mamma Shandra said at last, wrapping a protective arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “A lot of kids in the projects be troubled, ‘specially if they gay like Lester. What he done to get hisself kilt?”

            “We don’t know yet, ma’am,” Livingston acknowledged. “I was hoping you could shed some light on that.”

            Rachelle shook off her mother’s arm and leaned forward to scoop a pack of Parliaments from the coffee table. She tapped out two cigarettes, stuck them between her lips and lit them both with a cheap plastic lighter. She passed one to her mother and offered Livingston the pack.

            He shook his head. He had been a heavy smoker for decades until four years ago, when his doctor showed him that damn photo of a pair of blackened lungs, at which point he’d quit cold turkey and never once looked back.

            “How it happen?” asked Rachelle, exhaling a cloud of blue smoke. They were the first words she had spoken since responding to his knock and stepping aside at the sight of his badge. Livingston suspected that his partner would have had a harder time getting in the door. Every once in a while, being black had its advantages.

            Flashing the tin worked again that afternoon. Rachelle Jackson, though she hadn’t seen her son in more than a year, was able to provide an address for him, and Livingston wound his way north from Hackensack back to Paramus, where he found the dilapidated brick eight-unit apartment building on Alden Road, set behind the parking lot of the Route 17 Mickey D’s.

            There were eight aluminum mailboxes in the cramped foyer, a column of eight buzzers beside them. Typed slips of card stock identified the names of the tenants that went with the mailboxes and buzzers. “L. Jackson” was typed on the cards for unit 2B. On both cards, the name “H. Portillo” had been neatly hand printed in black ink beneath Lester’s typed name but then crossed out.

            There was no response when Livingston pressed the buzzer for 2B, and he murmured “Or not 2B” without cracking a smile. He rang again and waited, and again there was no response.

            The mailbox and buzzer for 1A were labeled “A. Romero – Super.” He rang that bell, and was rewarded with a crackly intercom voice demanding, “What?”

            “Police,” he said.

            “Jus’ a second.”

            It was more like thirty seconds before he saw through the cracked glass panel beside the inside foyer door an overweight Boricua in chinos and a faded orange tank top emerge from the door to unit 1A.

            He held his badge to the glass, and A. Romero grudgingly opened the door. “What you want?”

            “You have a Lester Jackson in 2B?”

            “Yeah, but he ain’t there now. He din’t come home last night.”

            “Who’s H. Portillo?”

            The super sniffed. “Henry. He moved in like six weeks ago. He wun’t on the lease, but he moved in. Everyt’ing was cool for a month, and then the shouting started. I tol’ them they either had to chill the fuck out or one of them had to go. That bought me about a week of peace and quiet, and then Henry split. What you want him for?”

            Livingston rubbed a hand over his chin. “I don’t know if I want him at all. He leave a forwarding address?”

            A. Romero laughed. “Not wit’ me. A week ago, I see his name cross’ off the mailbox and buzzer, and that was that. You lookin’ for Lester, then?”

            “No, I know where Lester is. I need to check out the apartment.”

            “You got permission?”

            Livingston chewed his gum and said, “Trust me, Lester has no objection. He’s dead.”

            “Jesus, for real? OK, chief, I take you up.”

            Given the shabby condition of the building, Lester Jackson’s apartment was surprisingly clean. The furniture was second hand and inexpensive, but it was apparent that the victim had had a sense of style. There was only one bedroom, which told Livingston everything he needed to know about the nature of the relationship between Jackson and his former roommate, Henry Portillo. Half a dozen men’s shirts and a pair of jeans hung on the far left side of the closet, side by side with a store-bought ball gown and several hand-sewn costumes. In cardboard boxes on the shelf above the hangers were silicone hip pads and butt pads and breast forms. The top two drawers of the dresser held an assortment of T-shirts, socks, and both male and female underwear. The bottom two drawers and the right half of the closet were empty. There was shaving gear and a full range of cosmetics, adhesives, and adhesive removers in the bathroom.

            Livingston found an old-fashioned paper address book in the nightstand next to the queen-sized bed. The P page had been torn out and was nowhere to be found, which told him everything he needed to know about the emotional nature of the Jackson/Portillo breakup — though the fact that Lester hadn’t rearranged his clothing to take up the space he’d made for Henry’s things suggested that perhaps he’d hoped his ex-boyfriend might return.

            It was obvious that Henry Portillo needed to be questioned, but Livingston was unable to dig up a new address or telephone listing for him. He found Barry Meadows’ office number in his notebook and made a call.

            André Livingston was liberal-minded for a fifty-five-year-old cop. He believed in equal pay for equal work. He didn’t give a damn if people worshipped in a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or nowhere. The termination of a pregnancy wasn’t something he approved of, but he was more strongly opposed to a bunch of old white men telling a woman what she could and couldn’t do with her vagina. He had voted for Hillary in 2016 and looked at anyone in a MAGA cap with instant suspicion.

            Prior to this investigation, though, most of what he thought he knew about sexuality and gender issues had come to him by way of screens: television, movie theater, computer. His mental image of a gay man looked and sounded like a cross between Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon and Sean Hayes on Will & Grace. What he knew about lesbians mostly came from J.Lo in Gigli and Ellen Degeneres. And he automatically associated the idea of cross-dressing with Maxwell Q. Klinger and Frank N. Furter.

            So the get-together in the back room at Club Feathers on Kinderkamack Road in River Edge, ten minutes east of Barry Meadows’ office in the Mack-Cali Centre, first blew his mind and then opened it.

            Meadows had arranged for ten members of House Bijouxtiful to be there, and all of them — eleven counting the attorney himself — were dressed in street clothes, as men. Livingston shook hands all around, and at his request someone brought him a 7-Up from the bar. They were a somber group, there in the hope of helping the police nail the killer of their friend and housemate, Lester Jackson.

            Henry Portillo was not among those present. He too was a member of House Bijouxtiful, but no one had seen him since the night of the murder, when he had shown off his ability to rap over a beat in the ball’s Commentator vs. Commentator event and had finished third out of eight contestants.

            “Jackson and Portillo were a couple?” asked Livingston, taking out his notebook and pen.

            “For a while,” said the only white man in the group. His name was Jack Bogdan. He was in his late twenties and worked for his father’s construction company in Paterson. “Henry moved in with Lester maybe six weeks ago, but it didn’t work out.”

            “Where did he wind up after that?”

            The men looked at each other, but no one had an answer.

            Barry Meadows cleared his throat. “I know you children want to be loyal to each other and to the house,” he said, “but, whether or not Bebe had anything to do with what happened to Afrodite, she needs to come in and tell her story to the police. If you know where she is, I am telling you to say so, right now.

            Outside the private room, Zebra Katz was on the sound system, growling “I’ma read that bitch, I’ma school that bitch, I’ma take that bitch to college” over a droning beat.

            Inside the room, the eleven members of House Bijouxtiful eyed each other cautiously, waiting for someone to break the long silence.

            Livingston found the crime laboratory depressing. Its sterile white tile walls and cement floor reminded him of the morgue, only not quite as cold. The director, June Park, a petite first-generation Korean-American, made up for the difference in temperature with an affect as grim as a mortician’s. Her name badge read “Dr. Park” and she insisted on being addressed that way, but Livingston had a sneaking suspicion she had a bachelor’s in forensic science and no further education.

            She brushed an invisible speck of dust from the sleeve of her white lab coat and said, “The murder weapon came from a block of kitchen knives in the green room backstage at the Ciccone. There are no fingerprints on it.”

            “Wiped?” asked the detective.

            “Possibly, but I don’t think so. The knife set is brand new; according to the stage manager, it had only been purchased a day or two before the murder, and the other knives in the block are clean. I don’t think any of them have been touched as yet, except for the one used to commit the crime.”

            “DNA?”

            The lab director pushed an errant strand of jet-black hair behind her ear. “No traces whatsoever, which — combined with the absence of prints — suggests to me that your perp probably wore gloves. I expect they’d be bloodstained from the arterial spray that would have resulted from the stabbing.”

            Gloves, Livingston thought, and he thanked “Dr.” Park and left the lab.

            “You live here alone?” the detective asked, looking around the paneled rec room skeptically.

            “What were you expecting?” said Julio Rodriguez, pouring jasmine tea from a flowered Victorian pot into delicate china cups. “A bunch of queens flouncing around in their ball gowns and high heels?”

            “Well,” Livingston admitted, “I thought — you know, House of Troy. I thought you all lived together in a — a house.”

            “A house is not a sorority, darling. It’s a group of like-minded people who get together from time to time to share a common interest. But we don’t as a rule co-habit.” He was wearing cut-off denim shorts today, and a gray T-shirt that read Keep Calm and Be a Drag Queen. A satiny black do rag covered his shaved brown scalp. “I was married,” he said, “but he left me — for a woman, if you can believe it. Good luck with that, girl.”

            Livingston took a tentative sip of the fragrant brew and wondered if the remark was aimed at Julio’s husband or the other woman.

            “Lester Jackson,” he said, setting down his cup and getting down to business. “I have a couple of questions.”

            “Am I a suspect?” Rodriguez raised his hands in a theatrical parody of horror.

            “I’m just gathering information at this point. In your dressing room the night of the murder, I noticed a pair of long white gloves next to your wig stand.”

            “Pearl,” Rodriguez nodded.

            “Excuse me?”

            “My gloves. They’re pearl, not white.”

            Livingston took out his notebook and pen. “Do you have them here?”

            “Yes, of course. I keep my complete wardrobe in the second bedroom.”

            “May I see them?”

            Rodriguez eyed him over the rim of his cup. “I have seven or eight pairs, Detective, and they’re all mixed up in the top drawer of my bureau. I can show you a dozen or more gloves, but I have no idea which two I was wearing that night.”

            Livingston said nothing, and after a moment Rodriguez sighed and got up and left the room.

            He came back with a double handful of evening gloves. He dumped them on the coffee table and Livingston examined them. There were no visible bloodstains.

            “This is all of them?”

            Rodriguez looked heavenward in irritation. “Detective, darling, I don’t know what’s on your mind, but do you honestly think I might have brought you some of my gloves but not all of them?”

            Livingston was sure that a bloody pair of gloves would have been disposed of somewhere between the Ciccone Theatre and the murderer’s home, but he knew that killers sometimes make stupid mistakes.

            “You mind if we go back and take a look?” he said.

***

            Three days later, Livingston was in the station’s break room, lathering an everything bagel with lox cream cheese, when his partner limped in to top off his coffee.

            “Yo, Dré,” Nunziata greeted him. “You making any headway on that fag hit?”

            “Show some respect,” Livingston snapped, and added, sotto voce, “you wop.”

            Nunziata’s head jerked up. “You just call me a wop?”

            “You just call a bunch of human beings you don’t know anything about ‘fags’?” Livingston countered.

            Nunziata eased himself into a chair. “Point taken.” He tore open a packet of Equal and dosed his coffee. “I apologize. How do you want me to say it?”

            Livingston chewed his bagel and considered the question. “How ‘bout, You making any headway on that Jackson hit?

            “So stipulated,” the younger man said. “Consider the question rephrased.”

            “Matter of fact, then, yes. I think we’re gonna close it this morning.”

            “Seriously? You figured it out?”

            “Not exactly. Henry Portillo showed up at Barry Meadows’ office about an hour ago and confessed, and Meadows called me. I had a prowler and two blues pick Portillo up, and we’ve got him in a holding cell. Meadows is arranging for a lawyer, and when they get here we’ll take the kid’s statement.”

            “I thought Meadows was a lawyer?”

            “Real-estate. Not equipped to handle a criminal case.”

            “He tell you what Portillo told him?”

            “Enough to go on. Lester and Henry split a couple weeks ago, but they both showed up at the ball at the Ciccone. Lester told Henry he was going to ask Helena Troy if he could change house from Bijouxtiful to Troy.”

            “What for? It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other, right?”

            “Apparently not. Henry told Meadows Lester said House Bijouxtiful wasn’t Priscilla, Queen of the Desert enough for him.”

            “Wasn’t what?”

            “Yeah, I don’t know. Meadows said to look it up. I haven’t had a chance yet. Anyway, Henry lost it. He was okay with the breakup, but he couldn’t handle the idea of Lester being disloyal to their house. So he went into the green room and grabbed a knife and caught up with Lester in Helena Troy’s dressing room and stuck him.”

            “And he spilled all this to Meadows why?”

            “Meadows says Henry realized after a couple days the murder had brought dishonor on the house and decided to turn himself in.”

            “So you’re tellin’ me the guy confessed? Basically out of the blue?” Nunziata barked out a laugh. “You didn’t have to do no sleuthing? You didn’t use your little gray cells and figure it out?”

            Livingston looked disgusted. “What do you think this is, Tony, some freaking whodunnit? We’re in Paramus, man, not goddamn Cabot Cove.”

            “Cabot — ?”

            “Never mind,” Livingston muttered. He stormed back to his cube and plunked himself down in his creaky chair. What he wanted right now was a smoke, but he wasn’t about to re-open that can of worms after four years. Instead, he opened the top drawer of his desk and found a fresh pack of Doublemint and stripped off the cellophane.

            He slipped headphones over his ears and put on Octavia Saint Laurent’s “Queen of the Underground,” which he’d downloaded last night on Helena Troy‘s recommendation.

            “No, I’m not a woman. No, I’m not a man,” the singer announced. “I am Octavia. I am a girl — with a little extra.”

            Livingston couldn’t tell if Octavia Saint Laurent was female or male, cisgendered or transgendered or whatever, and he realized with some surprise that he couldn’t care less.

            The beat was bangin’, the sentiments were real — and that, that realness, when you came right down to it, that was all that really mattered.

            He checked his watch. It would be at least an hour before Barry Meadows turned up with Henry Portillo’s attorney.

            He sighed, dialed up the volume, grabbed the top folder from his in-basket, and flipped it open.

            He had work to do.

Copyright © 2020 by Josh Pachter. Originally published in Mystery Tribune. Reprinted by permission of the author

Josh Pachter is an author, anthologist, and translator of short crime fiction. His stories have been appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and many other places since 1968. (“Pisan Zapra” was in Indelible #5.) His most recent anthology, Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, was published by Untreed Reads in September 2021. In 2020, the Short Mystery Fiction Society awarded him its Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement.

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