Stepping out of the dark bar, the late afternoon sun blinded me. Squinting, I scanned for Deb. Shouldn’t be too hard. How many 5’10”, 230-pound lesbians adorned in judge's robes, a cowboy hat, and black combat boots could be roaming the streets of our little college town on a Sunday afternoon? As my eyes adjusted to the glare, I spotted her. She was heading toward her beloved Boomer, a rust-colored pickup truck of mixed heritage that fairly screamed, 'Come on down, gals . . . a free checkered shirt with every ride!' I had ridden in Boomer before and waves of testosterone coursed through my body just by sitting in the thing.
Deb was hiking up her robe, digging for her keys in some nether region I prayed would forever remain a mystery, exposing black fishnet stockings and the edge of the dominatrix leather mini she wore to her rally at the bar. The look went over well inside Hoosier Daddy, the town's only gay bar. However, her next event was at the Magawatta Women's Garden and Debate Society, a more upscale and tightly wound crowd. I had never dreamed she would be allowed to speak before that group, much less be invited by the current president, Judge ‘I am Always Right so Sit Down or Else’ Walker. I hoped she planned to keep her robes securely fastened. The invite was just one more delightful surprise in a two-week period that kept ladling lucky breaks all over Deb. Unless something very bad happened to her very soon and very publicly, it looked like Deborah Eubank was going to be the very first wide open, in your face, no excuses, if you have a problem with it, that's your problem, lesbian to be elected to be a judge in the very red state of Indiana.
Unfortunately, I had a problem. Deb's briefcase was in my hand and she was much closer to Boomer than to me. She was going to reach the truck first and once she started that super calibrated, jacked-up noise machine—bedecked with a myriad of shiny things that whistled, bellowed, and spun—there was no way she would be able to hear me calling.
I sighed. This was going to require running and yelling, two things I actively avoid as individual acts and absolutely refuse to do at the same time. But I was the campaign manager and I was paid to do three things—keep track of her schedule, babysit her beloved chihuahua Slasher, and make sure Deb always had her briefcase.
The day’s schedule was complete. She was on her way to the final event of the day. Slasher was happily ensconced in the bar’s courtyard café, enjoying tidbits offered by Beau and Aunt May at our regular table and would be picked up later. But Deb had forgotten her briefcase . . . again. And although she was the one who left it, I was the one who would be blamed and subjected to a glare de dyke, which would hurt longer than rallying my less than toned body for a brief jog.
So, despite inner voices screaming in horror and hurling accusations of abuse, I began to run toward her at top speed. Unfortunately, as I am regularly successful in ignoring all exhortations to exercise, my top speed was not the graceful glide of a cheetah I saw in my mind. Roger, observing one of the few times I was forced to run, claimed I resembled a three-legged hippo attempting to walk a tightrope during an earthquake. He was being unnecessarily catty in my opinion.
However, it became quickly clear that Deb was closing the gap to Boomer faster than I was closing the gap to Deb. Running was not enough and failure promised more pain and embarrassment than the alternative, horrifying as it was. There are times that a poof's gotta do what a poof’s gotta do. I raised my voice to Miss Thing tenor and volume. "Deb!” I called. “Woo hoo. Deb!" If any onlookers held questions about the quantity and quality of my manliness after seeing me run, the high-pitched call left no doubt. I waved the briefcase over my head, continuing to shout and run.
Black spots swam before my eyes and my brain reeled from lack of oxygen. My body screamed that such mistreatment would not go unpunished for days to come. I wasn't going to last long, but Saint Lance, the patron saint of middle-aged homos, smiled down at my efforts and tapped Deb on the shoulder. She turned, having finally fished out her keys, saw me, and took a few steps in my direction as I whimpered to a stop, holding out the briefcase, too winded to breathe.
She grabbed it. "Oh, thanks, BB. I don't know why I keep leaving it." She looked at me with concern. "Are you okay?"
Gasping, I nodded. She smiled. "Take the rest of the day off. I'll handle the Debate Society and pick up Slasher on the way home. You look a bit weary." She squeezed my shoulder, then hit the button on her key ring to unlock Boomer's doors.
The explosion seemed to unfold in slow motion. I had a great view over Deb's shoulder. First the cab of the truck filled with flame. Then a roaring boom shattered the windshield. The doors flew open, but somehow, stayed attached. A rolling wave of heat hit me about the same time that a flying Deb did the same thing. The heat, though intense, I could have handled. However, Deb, who no one would call petite, leveled me. Had she not turned moments before to take her briefcase, I would probably have been awash in pieces of Deb. As it was, I got the whole enchilada – 230 muscular pounds flying through the air, bringing me to the ground in a position I had never intended to be in with a woman. I think I broke her fall. I'm not sure what she broke, but I wasn't going to be walking right for a while. Pinned beneath her, face to face, both of us breathless and shocked, it took a moment to get our bearings.
A look of concern crossed Deb's face. "Are you okay?"
Gasping from the combination of shock and the weight on my chest, I nodded. "You?"
Quick witted as always, Deb nodded and grinned. "We gotta stop meeting this way. If the newspapers got hold of this, they'd start vicious rumors that I'm straight."
We untangled ourselves and she helped me up. Turning to her truck, we saw it was little more than a ball of fire. "Damn it, I loved that truck. Kinda brought out my feminine side, don't you think?"
The denizens of Hoosier Daddy were quickly emptying onto the street to see what had happened. Nacho Mama parted the crowd like a charging rhino and grabbed us by the shoulders. "Come on, you two. This ain't an amateur job. Whoever did this is certain to be watching to make sure it worked." Looking Deb up and down, Nacho grinned. "And it's pretty obvious it didn't. I gotta get you to a safe place. So, march!"
Nacho, the proprietor of Nacho Mama's Patio Café, a sancto-sanctorum inside the bar, was one of those people you instinctively obeyed. A gruff restaurateur of uncertain gender, with a penchant for muumuus and cigars, Nacho ruled the patio café inside Hoosier Daddy with an iron hand. No one fucked with Nacho. Even Deb turned and allowed herself to be shepherded by Nacho without her usual questions and evaluations.
Sirens were screaming close now. Nacho pulled us through the crowd and into Hoosier Daddy. The sudden darkness blinded me as effectively as the sun had a few moments before. Nacho didn't slow, dragging us through the side door onto the now-empty patio café, heading toward the office in the back. Even in my shock, I was intrigued. I had been coming to Hoosier Daddy every Sunday for over five years to meet a gaggle of friends for TiaRa del Fuego's Parade of Gowns drag show and as far as I knew, none of us had ever made it into Nacho's inner chamber. This was definitely going to make me grand dame of the table during our tête-à-tête for the next few weeks.
Nacho pulled a ring of keys from underneath the muumuu, unlocked the door, and led us in. I experienced a bit of a letdown. It looked, well . . . like an office. I guess that's not surprising, but as we had spent many hours sipping cocktails, considering what kinds of top secret equipment and/or machines of punishment and pleasure were housed within, the final reveal was hardly worth the time invested in contemplation. I suppose if, as a kid, I had been spirited away to the North Pole and found out that Santa's workshop was really just a big factory with cement floors and lots of shelving, with all the tinsel and decorations carefully packed in boxes for shipment, the feeling would be the same.
The place was neat, very neat. One wall was filled with filing cabinets that had combination locks and external locking bars. A long desk took up another entire wall. There were several computer monitors on the desk with several computer towers underneath. It seemed to be a lot of equipment for one small restaurant, but maybe Nacho liked toys. One never knew with Nacho and we all knew better than to ask. There were several phones on the desk—not a single phone with multiple lines, but separate phones in a rainbow of colors. Nacho pushed us toward two chairs, then picked up the receiver of a lavender-colored desk phone with a single red button in the center of the face and no keypad for dialing. After listening without speaking for a few seconds, someone answered. Nacho said, "It's me. I'm on lavender. Ready? Three, two, one." Then Nacho pushed the red button, paused a moment, glared a silent order at us to be quiet, and spoke into the phone. "I have people here."
Deb and I looked at each other. She raised her eyebrow in a question. She occasionally came to Hoosier Daddy, but she knew that this was my hangout. She didn't know if this spy stuff was usual. My baffled expression conveyed my inability to provide any useful information. All this was new to me. It certainly was turning out to be an eventful Sunday.
Nacho continued, "It happened. Her truck. No, she's fine. No, it didn't look government, but it was professional." Nacho listened and nodded. "Yep. Start checking. I'll step up protection to level two. Later." Nacho hung up and looked at us.
"What do you mean, level two?” Deb asked. “Have you been stalking me? What's going on?"
Nacho held up a hand. "We got no time for that now."
Deb began to protest, but Nacho cut her off. "First things first . . .." Turning to me, Nacho glared at me as only Nacho can. I'm a grown man, and I don't scare easy. However, when I came under Nacho’s gaze, I'm pretty proud I didn't pee myself. "BB, are you paying attention?"
Wishing I was anywhere else, being glared at by anyone else, I responded as meekly as humanly possible, "Yes, Nacho?"
"I've known you a long time. I know you are basically a good guy. I also know you don't mind gossiping a bit here and there, especially when you're lubricated."
"Yes, Nacho." There was no reason to deny it. I enjoy dishing tea with the best and lying to Nacho was not a healthy option.
"You have already seen things that very few people have ever seen. You are going to see some more things. If you ever say anything about any of them to anyone, I will know. Do you believe me, BB?"
In the core of my being, I was certain. I nodded.
"And if I ever do find out that you have, for any reason, let even the slightest bit of this slip, I will make you regret it, enormously, for as long as you continue to painfully gasp for air and wish for the sweet release of death. Do I make myself clear?"
I found it hard to swallow. I found it hard to breathe. I didn’t want to see any more. I wanted to have all memories of what I had seen painlessly zapped away. Perhaps Nacho could use a ray gun or a teensy electrical shock. I was definitely operating out of my depth. My comfort zone was far, far away. Everything that had happened was beyond me. All I had done was bring Deb her briefcase. The only reason I had done that was because her first campaign manager had flaked out and she needed someone to handle reporting and scheduling. She asked me and I refused. Then she offered to pay me enough that I set aside my general political disinterest and my active avoidance of anything which made me a crucial player in any high-stakes or stressful activities. My only motivation was to earn enough to buy a lovely new pair of Christian Louboutin beaded loafers which far exceeded my budget. Now I had almost been blown up and to add excitement—which I had absolutely no need of—Nacho was threatening my life.
I took a deep breath, the better not to stutter and replied, "I understand, Nacho. I won't say anything, but maybe it would be better if I left?"
"Ain't gonna happen, BB. You're needed now. But don't worry. Like I said, I've been watching you. You'll do fine, as long as you listen close and don't get killed."
Deb had recovered enough from the bomb and was not as in awe of Nacho as I. "Now wait a minute. I think it's about time we clarify some things. Nobody's going to get killed."
Nacho turned to her. "Another few feet closer to that truck and you wouldn't be here arguing. So, you’re right. Let's clarify. You got a good shot at making it to judge."
Nacho continued, "My sources tell me there is about to be an opening on the state supreme court and the winds are blowing in the right direction that whoever gets nominated is going to be a woman or a homo. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re both. Plus, surprise, surprise, you are actually competent and not in anyone’s pocket. Usually that’s a bad thing, but no one can protest against your appointment because they don’t want someone else’s baby doll to get in. None of the state poobahs is all powerful at the present time, so the only play is to make sure no one else wins. That means you win by default.”
Deb smiled. “I hardly think that power brokers think of potential judges as baby dolls.”
Nacho snorted. “You’d be surprised. But there’s more . . .. Once you are on the bench a while, if you don't screw up, you are a lesbian from a conservative state. If someone wants to make an appointment to a federal court, a dyke from a blue state ain't getting anywhere, but from a middle of the road state . . . that might actually fly. That means that federal lawsuits can be brought to your court."
"I think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself," Deb said.
"I ain't saying I'm puttin’ down bets, but I have learned that keeping an eye on chess pieces is a good way to avoid certain situations. I also am aware that those who like to point to gays as the cause of everything that has ever gone wrong with the country have noticed you and this race. They have also seen the possibilities that may be comin’ ‘round the mountain. They know the best way to solve a problem is to keep it from ever becoming a problem."
"But this is just a county judge position,” Deb protested. “It's mostly civil cases—real estate, child custody . . . things like that."
"But it can lead to other things. That's why there has been a lot of chatter about stopping you."
"So, you're saying that some right-wing conspiracy has set out to kill me?"
"No. I'm saying there has been a lot of chatter from a lot of different directions and I happen to think you'd be good for this town, plus I like your girlish figure. So, I've been keeping an eye out."
Smiling at the girlish figure crack, Deb said, "Oh, Nacho. How you talk."
"Just payin’ some attention and keepin’ an eye open. But this attack changes things. We've got to move into active mode. We need to get you some protection."
"No," Deb said firmly. "Nacho, I appreciate your concern. I like your interest even more. However, I'm not going into hiding or be surrounded by bodyguards. Yes, Boomer blew up. I agree it may be a bomb, but I'm not sure it's not that new carb I installed. It might have been gas pooling."
Nacho was not used to being contradicted. Two immovable forces of nature were face to face. I took a surreptitious step backward to get out of range. Glaring, Nacho was about to respond when Deb raised her hand.
"I said no. Not without more information. I can think of four or five people off the top of my head who have the knowledge, means, and certainly the desire to do this if it does turn out to be a bomb. None are secret underground militia members. One is the father of my children. He hates me and trained as an ordinance tech in the service. A couple are jerks I twirled around my finger in court. You can look into it. I'll look into it. If we can't find answers, then we can talk about next steps. For now, I have an appearance at a party hosted by the right honorable Judge Walker. I thought hell would freeze before she endorsed me, and I will not be late."
Deb looked at her watch and looked at me. "I do need a ride. How 'bout it, BB?"
“What do you think about the police?" Nacho asked.
Deb gave a tight smile. "It's more what they think of me. Most judges start as defense attorneys or prosecutors. My worthy opponent was a prosecutor before he became a judge. You know I'm a defense attorney. I'm running because he loves to throw the book at anyone who isn't a member of his country club. The cops love him and hate me. The less I have to do with them, the better."
Nacho nodded. "That's what I figured. Well, for right now, I think you'll be okay with BB. Better to get you out of here than to wait for backup."
This did not sound good to me. Keeping Deb from being blown up was not what I had been trying to do. If I had known there was a bomb, I would have been running just as quickly in the other direction. Trying to keep anything else from happening to Deb required knowledge, power, and fearlessness that I did not have nor did I aspire to acquire. I didn't want to play bodyguard. I'm much better in a sitting—or, even better, reclining—position, involved in nearly anything other than dodging bullets or attackers. I held up my hand, hoping the 'adults' would listen to reason. "I don't think I can be of much help. I can't exactly offer protection."
Nacho glared at me. "You don't have to protect, BB. God, I wouldn't trust you to protect my niece's honor at a Cher concert. I just need you to keep your eyes open and if you see something scary, do what you do best . . . scream like a little girl."
Deb began to object to this obviously sexist remark, but Nacho clarified, “I mean in pitch and volume. A little girl would have more composure. Once you get moving, call Roger and have him meet you at the judge’s. He’ll be able to handle things from there on out.”
“Roger?” I asked. I didn’t understand how Roger would help. He was a friend, but he didn’t know any more about bombs and danger than I did. We had spent many happy evenings chasing the bottoms of bottles and boys, but beyond that . . ..
Deb broke into my concerns. “Come on, BB,” she said. “All we need to do is get to Judge Walker’s house. Let me get Slasher. I don’t want him to be upset by all the commotion.” She popped out onto the patio and returned, stroking the dog. I had nearly been blown to pieces and now was supposed to be a target for whoever else was out there waiting to finish the job, and Deb was worried about her chihuahua being traumatized. I began to blubber objections, but Nacho cut me off.
"The police are sure to be in here soon,” Nacho said. “If you two don’t slip out the back now, you ain’t getting out.”
Deb nodded. “Okay, BB. Time to man up. Let’s go.”
I sighed as the two of them stared at me with much more confidence than they should. I shrugged and that was all it took. Nacho led us to the back gate and slid it open.
I glanced back at the office. The briefcase sat on the table. Typical. I ran back and grabbed it and handed it to Deb.
She smiled. "Thanks again, BB."
"Deb. This thing nearly got me killed and saved your life. What's in it?"
She grinned. "Mostly I carry it to look official. There are a few campaign flyers and a pen. I stuck a law book in there to give it some weight. Oh, and I put a sandwich and a cookie in it today, in case I got hungry."
I shook my head. "Next time, I'm going to leave the damn thing."
"Better not. It’s one of your primary functions and the one you do best."
Nacho growled, "Okay, BB, shake your butt.” We squeezed through the gate and into the alley that ran along the side of Hoosier Daddy.
“Be back here this evening,” Nacho called. “I’ll have more information and we can figure out our next steps.”
Deb nodded and continued to steer my unwilling feet in the direction of my car.