Five o’clock AM and I once more find myself without the ability to get the requisite forty winks one needs or desires on a daily basis. It has been the norm since I have taken up residence in this apartment building. New to town I found myself in need of an abode that would not drain my less than generous bank account. I had turned in my papers after twenty years as a cop in a major city before relocating to another major city far away from the city I had developed a genuine dislike for. The pension was only half my salary and it barely paid the bills. I drove a cab a few days a week in order to afford booze and food. The flat was really a rented room and the apartment building was really a sleazebag hotel. There was a blinking sign outside the window reminiscent of an old time Dashiell Hammett story, and the denizens of said hostel would fit well in any Sam Spade, or Mike Hammer yarn. It was depressing and I knew it. The blinking light had a buzz to it that drilled into my ears and nearly drove me mad.
Most nights I would simply drink myself to sleep but, for some reason, the whiskey wasn’t working. I tried watching television and spent an hour trying to decipher the story from a Telenovela on the Spanish station. Pushups proved useless, and reading a book might have worked if I had one. I called the Goth chic down the hall who supplemented her income from managing the Adult book/video store around the corner by performing carnal acts of, depending on one’s proclivities, either mercy or atrocity for the older gentlemen of the building such as me. After an hour and a half of vigorous gyro-acrobatic shenanigans, she left my room out of breath and properly remunerated. I lay there unable to move…and still wide awake.
Surrendering to my situation I got dressed and went out for some breakfast. There was an all-night diner across the street where the local cops would stop for coffee and food. It made me feel comfortable to be around some guys on the job and I would eat at least one or two meals a week there. I had no desire to engage any of them or “talk shop.” I just found the atmosphere familiar. There were a few there when I walked in and took my regular seat in the corner where I could see everything. I was content to just drink coffee (it wasn’t like it was going to prevent me from sleeping) and read the newspaper I had bought from the machine outside on the curb.
A couple of the guys who drove for the same cab company came in and told me that the dispatcher said that he was short a couple of drivers that day and for them to put the word out. I finished my coffee and went to the garage and picked up a unit. I figured I might as well make a few extra shekels during my unwanted bout of insomnia. The fares started coming in on the radio and it turned into quite a busy shift. About six that evening I called in to take myself out of service. Fourteen hours was enough and I was beginning to feel tired enough to sleep. The dispatcher told me to get one more fare from a hotel and call it a night. As it worked out, I probably should have turned it down and gone to bed.
She walked out of the hotel as if she were exiting a royal palace where she was the lead noble lady. Her attire was a throwback to the same 1930’s noir detective genre that my rented room had going for it. She was tall with perfect makeup and a form fitting dress reaching to just below the knees. She wore gloves and a hat. The bonnet was a plush contraption with feathers lining her upper face and a fish net screen covering her face. The gloves were silk and full length. Bright red lipstick offset a pair of piercing dark eyes. She kept a small pout on her face most of the time but when she smiled there were the most alluringly sexy dimples on each side of her mouth. She looked out at the world with hooded eyes accentuating eyeliner and shadow that made my mouth water.
She had a deep voice for a woman and it wasn’t until much later that I noticed the Adam’s apple underneath her chin. Her figure was pure woman and hourglass in demeanor. She wore heels that were at least four inches and silk stockings with seams up the back of what must have been exquisitely gorgeous legs. Overall she must have been at least 6’5”. If I had to choose one word to describe her it had to be…glorious!
She handed me a card with an address on it. I, being new to town, simply thought it was a high end cocktail club. It did not occur to me to question the hook under the name of the club. That all-purpose catchy phrase all high end joints used which would entice customers and keep them curious enough to frequent the establishment. “For those of discriminating taste” was what this one stated. Sort of a sublime hint that the place had something only the most discerning of clientele could possibly appreciate. Only the extremely erudite might need apply.
Imagine my surprise when I dropped her off and discovered that it was just a bar for drag queens and their unsuspecting dates.
I never, at first, pegged her for a lady (?) of the evening. She had manners, you see, and I always thought of her as a lady. Perhaps a little old fashioned based on her “accoutrement” as she called it. She told me her name was Étiennette Émile. It was her father’s name in French she proclaimed proudly. Her surname was also French. She always would use little phrases in that language and then translate them for me. I found it adorable.
Even after I discovered that it was a drag queen bar I never put one and one together to figure out that Étiennette was really just French for Stephen and that he dressed up to pick up “Johns” at that bar to pay his/her bills. I later discovered that Émile was also a translation. This time for his/her mother, Emily and that his/her last name was Fleming. Possibly French but Stephen was never sure. In his/her defense I got told a story of a confused kid who always preferred men for romance and felt out of place all the time.
It seemed as if I should have known. After all I spent twenty years as a cop, seventeen of them as a detective. There was something about her. I never really thought of the fact that “he” was a man, or should have been from a biological point of view. Whenever we were together it was always Étiennette. It was always a given that I held the door open for “her.” It was always a given that I held the chair for “her” at a restaurant. And it was always a given that I was in the company of astonishingly beautiful woman.
I am for sure not and have never been gay. I like woman both carnally and personally. I have no discriminatory preferences in female companionship. I like them all, again, carnally and personally. But there was something about Étiennette that just cried for me to be around her. It was like a moth to a flame. Like, as a child, when you were being told not to stick your hand in a light socket. You just had to do it. I just wanted to be in her presence.
It all began with rides in the taxi. She lived in an old Brownstone house on an upscale street. I would take her on shopping jaunts here and there and noticed liking the conversation in between stops. She shopped every day for new outfits and I was on the receiving end of the marvelous visions she would create for her evening time. I started working seven days a week just so that I might be around to pick her up. She never called when she was with a “gentleman friend” as she called it. She always had her companions call a different cab company. She called one day and requested that I be her personal driver. After a while we agreed that it would be better if we were not confined by the rules of the cab company. She asked me to come to work for her as a driver. She would and could give me a decent wage and I could have my pick of cars to choose from. I told her that it should be something stylish and grand. She gave me a number of pages downloaded from the internet and told me to choose.
They were all from the thirties and forties and all retrofitted to be legal and trustworthy. We picked a 1937 Cadillac Fleetwood Town Sedan with a stunning black paint job and chrome accessories. I never knew how much it went for, but Étiennette never blinked an eye at price. My days became much more relaxed and enjoyable. I bought a black suit with a chauffeurs cap. We travelled all over town and dined in fancy restaurants. It made the retired cop in me curious to wonder how much she made with her “gentlemen friends” and what she had to do for it. I never considered sex with her, given the anatomical realities, and she never mentioned it. I took to kissing her hand when I dropped her off at night. She would greet me at the door in the morning with an air kiss to my cheek. We were as happy as if either of us had good sense.
I began to meet with the Goth chick down the hall (her name, it turned out to be, was Midnight) more often. Our shenanigans became much less energetic, meaning that I was able to move afterward, and after a while she stopped taking the money I left on the bedside table for her. She told me that bumping uglies with me was good exercise. It finally began to feel as if retirement was not going to be all that bad.
And then Étiennette got sick.
Well, that was what Étiennette called it. She called and told me to take a few days off until her doctor released her from bedrest. I offered to come and take care of her but she refused. She explained that her miniature collie was all the company she could handle and that the day nurse would provide everything else. I had violets (her favorite) delivered to her house every day. She stayed in for almost a week and when I did get to pick her up she came out walking with a cane. It was a standard hospital issued cane. I immediately drove to a nearby antique shop and bought her something much more elegant. When she climbed into the car I noticed that she wore much more makeup than usual. The type of makeup I used to see battered women wear to hide the results of an argument with the abuser in their life. I ask her why she was moving so slow and she just said that she had not completely gotten her breath back. She just wanted to get a civilized meal and come back home. I knew what was going on but figured that if she wanted me to know she would tell me.
We had never discussed that fact that I was a retired cop. She thought I had been a civil servant in some city office somewhere like Building Inspection or the Water Department. I never really discussed being a cop with anyone but Midnight and only her because she figured it out on her own. I wasn’t ashamed of it in any way, but it had left me with memories and a decent case of insomnia. Putting it in the past was my goal. One I would never achieve.
It took about another week for the makeup to go back to normal and the cane to disappear. Another week after that for the shopping trips to resume. Another two weeks and I was dropping her off at the club. I imagined that she was resuming the commerce that was paying my salary. Commerce, as I called it, did not begin again but came to a screeching halt.
I was watching a game show I had recorded with Midnight when I received a call from Étiennette about 2:00 in the morning. She was crying and asked me to pick her up at the Emergency Room of a nearby hospital. I brought Midnight with me for moral support. A wise choice, I discovered, once I got there.
Étiennette came out of the patient section into the waiting room being helped by a nurse. Her makeup had been wash away. She had a large bandage across her nose. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut, she wore a neck brace, and her jaw was wired shut. A doctor trailed her and the nurse imploring her to let them give her a room. She shook her head, as much as possible while groaning and reaching for me when she was close enough to recognize me. She had a strap on cast on the hand she reached for me and her other was in a similarly wrapped and restrained by a sling. Her left foot was in a walking cast. Her every movement elicited a groan of pain. When I got close to her she threw her movable arm around me and began to cry again. I held her and eased her into a chair in the waiting room. We sat there for a long time and when we pulled away from each other I told her that she was staying…no argument.
Midnight had spoken with the doctor and came and gave me a report on all of Étiennette’s injuries. She walked away and came back with a wheelchair. She crouched down and, with a handful of tissues, wiped the tears away from Étiennette’s damaged eyes and shushed and loved on her. I sat there with her head on my shoulder and felt the first warmth of a seething grow. Someone did this to my Étiennette and they were going to pay.
Later that morning, after seeing to it that she had a private room and was well taken care of, I left on the pretense of getting some things for her to wear while she was in the hospital I went down to the nearest police station and got the paperwork started for a Private Investigators license and a concealed carry license. My record prior to my retirement elicited two responses. First, the precinct captain tried to talk me into joining their force, and second he expedited both requests for immediate acceptance. I had what some would consider large amount of decorations and medals over the years and was consequently considered a hero cop. My thoughts were simple; I shot some guys and they pinned medals on my chest for it. The medals never prevented the nightmares. Étiennette did that…almost from the day we met.
A stop at a gun shop, a full figure lingerie shop, and a florist for a bouquet of violets were all on the agenda before returning to the hospital. She was asleep, as was Midnight in the recliner next to her bed. I shook Midnight awake and told her I would take over. She shrugged and told me to find another chair. She was not going anywhere. I followed my “exercise” partner’s direction and we both waited while Étiennette slept off the medicine she had been given.
She woke up and began to cry again. I held her as best I could taking into account the rails of the hospital bed and the IV’s and tubes running in and out of her. She stayed distraught for the next couple of days and Midnight and I started to take shifts. The healing came slow but was steady. Physical therapy came in everyday and after a week she began moving around a little better. I refreshed the violets often and her spirits began to lift. I thought long and hard before I said anything, but it was time.
I began by telling her about why I had become a cop. My mother had been mugged and in the course of it she suffered a stroke and we had to take care of her for the rest of her life. She never recovered and died many years younger than she should have. I told her about finding the guy that did it and sending him to prison…with a permanent limp and no vision in his left eye.
I told her that I had been a real tough cop and had been awarded many medals. I told her about how I felt about the medals and I told her about the nightmares and insomnia. Then I told her that meeting and loving her had made the dreams and sleeplessness fade away. I told her that I was going to find the guy who did this to her and he was going to go to prison for what he did.
Her eyes teared up and she just sat there saying nothing. We sat for a long time before she told me that I would not have to go find the guy who did it to her. Well, actually, I would not have look too hard. It was her brother. It was her twin brother.
He lived right next door to her. Her parents had bought them matching houses just like they did with clothes when they were kids. They grew up different, though. They had not been identical; they were fraternal twins and did not look very much alike. At least not as close as twins should look. She had grown tall and stout. He had been at least a foot shorter than her and wasn’t as healthy. She grew up and liked men. He grew up and liked girls. The problem came when it came time for them to notice others from a romantic point of view, she became Étiennette, and he just became a nerd who could not get a date while holding a calendar. He was shy while Étiennette was outgoing. Even as a boy Étiennette was beautiful. He, on the other hand, was slight of nature with an acne scarred face that only a mother would love. Women and men alike all were drawn to Étiennette while anyone he even looked at all rejected him. She tried to set him up but nothing ever worked. She had a dozen dates for the Prom (boys and girls both) and he stayed at home watching the television with their parents.
He finally met someone who did not think he was repulsive and they began dating. She was a lovely girl and pretty as a picture. They fell deeply in love, or so he thought. They got married and Étiennette thought it was “Happily Ever After” time. After their parents passed away and they moved into the Brownstones her brother’s wife began coming over and talking to Étiennette about all kind of “Girly” things. Not really a problem at first. Until, that is, one unfortunate day that her sister-in-law tried to kiss her.
Étiennette had never even hinted at any attraction. She was decidedly preferential of men and all her family and friends knew that. She pushed her away and told her to never do that again. She was not mad, but she was family and that was unacceptable. The sister-in-law threw her hands in her face and ran out crying. When she got home she ran to her bedroom and locked herself in. When she came out she told her husband that Étiennette had tried to have sex with her. That was the first time she got “Sick.”
Her brother came over and beat her with a wooden spoon from the kitchen. This was before she had started calling him for cab rides. When they had progressed to the Cadillac her sister-in-law had taken another woman as a lover and was hiding it from her brother. When he discovered the lesbian girlfriend he blamed Étiennette and came over and beat her with a miniature baseball bat he had been given as a cruel joke one birthday. That was the next “sick.”
There had been no more trouble until the brother came home and found his wife hanging from one of the balconies in the Brownstone. She had broken up with yet another woman and could not take it anymore. The suicide note she left stated that it had always been Étiennette she had wanted and that the other girls were just substitutes. If she could not be with her true love she did not want to live. Her brother watched Étiennette her leave the house and followed her to the drag bar. He had hired a guy to pick her up and make like they were going to a hotel. He, in disguise, had even held the door to the cab that was supposed to take them. When she got in she found that the driver was actually her brother. He came at her with a lead pipe and pushed her out at the hospital.
I listened to her tell me about her brother. She had no animosity towards him he was the only family she had and she loved him. Even though he hurt her terribly she was quick to forgive. I was not of the same inclination. I know how I used to take care of these situations. Mostly it meant that the perpetrator received at least as good as they gave, male or female alike. Then, they all went to prison for a long time. I never cared what I had to do or say to ensure they went to prison. None of them resisted taking the time. I made sure they knew what was in store for them if I found them walking the street too soon.
I never really deserved the medals and commendations. I was a monster cop…until I met Étiennette.
She knew what I had in mind and she did everything in her power to stop it. She made me sit and listen to all her stories about her brother and how he got to be the way he was. She told of bullies and the cruel things they did. She talked about how the girls all shunned him and how the teachers in school would make him sit in the back of the class because he was ugly. He could not see well and had too much pride to tell their parents he needed glasses. He thought that eyeglasses would make it worse; perhaps creating another insult that might be hurled at him. Étiennette always loved him and would protect him as much as she could. It did not help. Imagine the shame he felt to have his gay, crossdressing, brother defending you. Étiennette had never accepted bullying for being gay and was of sufficient statue to physically stop any kind of discrimination. Most everyone thought it was a novelty to have a huge drag queen around who could kick your ass. Her brother just thought it was just one more thing people could hold against him.
He walked around ashamed of himself until he met his wife. When she hung herself he stopped being ashamed and began blaming Étiennette for everything wrong in his life.
I listened to her explain that it really was not his fault. I decided that it might just be that this time I would not include the beating before seeing that he go to prison. I told Étiennette that I would not hurt him but that he would have to go to jail. She wept for a while but I convinced her that he was not going to stop until he killed her for revenge. She shook her head and told me to be gentle. She asked Midnight to go with me to make sure I did not lose my temper.
I decided to do it “by the book” as they say. I went to the see the captain who had expedited my PI license and carry permit. I told him the story and what I wanted done. He got a search warrant and a crew of cops to go and arrest the brother. He let me and Midnight tag along. Nobody answered the door when we got their and he ordered the breach team to gain entry to the Brownstone. What came next was for sure not the result I ever intended.
Hanging from the same landing as his dead wife was the brother with a suicide note attached to the lapel of his suit coat.
The note was an apology. Apology for what he did to Étiennette. There was a lengthy apology for the death of his wife where he really held no liability, culpability, or responsibility. He wrote an even more extensive apology to his parents for not living up to what he should have as their son. He took credit for every bad thing that ever happened to him. He concluded by asking for forgiveness for not hanging himself sooner.
I sat there on the stairs reading the letter and found myself stunned. Until that moment I had never bothered to look at a perp as human. Never considered any of them might possibly be just a human being worthy of…well…compassion…or…mercy.
I left the scene and went to the hospital. I told Étiennette what happened and held her while she grieved for he brother. I stayed until she fell asleep. I sat in the hospital and wondered when I lost the monster cop gig. I no longer seemed to have the anger, apathy, aggressive thought, or animosity that had made me what everyone thought of as a great cop. I felt something foreign and I could not figure what it was. I could not figure when it happened either. I sat there and thought for a long time, finally falling asleep in the chair. When I woke up Étiennette was staring at me and smiling. She was beginning to lose the bruises and the adorable lines on either side of her smile had reappeared. Those dimples that made me want to look at her beautiful face forever. It was at that moment that I realized when the change had taken place. It happened the first time I kissed her hand and looked up at that wondrous smile.
I remember thinking that maybe I had it right in my head finally. How justice worked, that is. I pulled out my cell phone and called the captain and asked if he thought he could find a place for me.
But just in the evenings. My days would be full taking Étiennette shopping.