I opened the door and he was there, all six feet of him. My senses switched to slow motion to take it all in. He stood with his weight shifted onto one of his long, muscular legs. His blue-gray eyes glittered. Though recently shaven, his beard cast a bluish shadow against his satin olive complexion. He didn’t smile, but I knew when he did, it would be luminous. His curly dark hair was tousled. An aroma of balsam surrounded him. One second had passed.
“You got trouble here?” he asked, restraining the natural power in his resonant voice. A clean white cotton shirt was slightly wrinkled; a striped necktie lay loosened at the collar; sleeves were rolled to expose powerful, hirsute forearms; gray pleated slacks tried in vain to conceal the assertive strength in his loins; shiny black loafers enveloped broad feet with high insteps. When my gaze returned to his face, I saw his eyes looking straight into my own, and felt a Mediterranean zephyr caress my face. Two seconds.
“Who are you?” he asked curtly.
“Stan Kraychik,” I answered.
He pushed his way by me, and three other cops followed him. I heard him say, “Lieutenant Branco,” as he went by. Of the other three cops, one was a plainclothes officer in his late twenties. I sized up his compact body and styled blond hair. A fitting assistant, I thought, but maybe a little too cute and cool. The wedding band on his left hand relieved some of the mystique.
Another of the three cops was a uniformed officer, a hefty woman almost as tall as Branco. Her arms and shoulders dwarfed mine. Her features were dark and rough, but I sensed a warmth in her.
The last cop was the lab expert, a reedy black man slightly taller than me. His big bright teeth took up one-fourth of his face when he smiled, which he seemed to do easily. He seemed too gentle to be a cop.
Branco looked around the room quickly, but I could see him register every detail in a computer-like mind. He scribbled words into a small black notebook while he surveyed the room— and me. “There’ll be more personnel arriving shortly. Now, what happened here?”
I tried to answer coolly. “Someone’s not breathing in the bedroom. No pulse either.” My stomach lurched again and a tremor ran up and down my spine. Branco nodded to his assistant and the lab man to go check out the body. Suddenly we heard the frenzy of banging drawers and slamming closet doors, even the flushing of a toilet. Branco whirled at me. “Someone else here?”
I rolled my eyes and nodded, as though letting him in on a secret. “You bet.” I began to explain, but was interrupted by Calvin’s arrival from the hallway. He’d put on a puffy salmon-colored cotton shirt and baggy white linen pants. The stuff was expensive, just the perfect togs for a Palm Beach reception, but it was out of season in Boston. I was surprised that Calvin could commit such a fashion blunder. He was under more stress than I thought.
Calvin looked Branco up and down. “Well!” he exclaimed, “I thought that blond you sent to the bedroom was a nice piece, but the prize bull is definitely out here.”
Branco ignored the comment. (Was he used to it?) Instead he spoke brusquely to Calvin. “Who are you?”
“I live here. So the real question is, who are you?” His voice quivered with an artificially induced energy.
Branco said evenly, “Lieutenant Branco, homicide.”
“No uniform? How do I know you’re a cop?” Branco flashed his badge. Calvin looked at the badge, then at Branco. He said. “You seem quite real, Mr. Bronco.” I was certain Calvin had mispronounced the name intentionally. He continued, “I’m Calvin Redding and I own this flat. And some rather unpleasant events seem to have occurred this evening. I hope your men will able to set everything straight.” The female officer glared at Calvin and cleared her throat.
I said, “Something’s weird, Lieutenant. He wasn’t like this before.” I sounded defensive.
Branco looked at me coldly. “Quiet, you!” Then to Calvin he said, “We’d appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Redding.”
“You want me to cooperate? I’d be only too happy to help you, but I think Vannos here may be the one you want to talk to.” Branco turned on me.
“Just what is your name?”
His sudden vehemence startled me. “I, uh … it’s … Stan,” I said. “I mean, Stanley. Well, actually, Stanislav is the most correct. But in the shop it’s Vannos. But my grandmother used to call me Stani.”
Branco shook his head and muttered, “Jesus!”
Meanwhile, the blond assistant returned from the bedroom. He looked at Branco seriously and said, “You’d better have a look, Lieutenant.”
Branco said, “Okay,” then left Calvin and me in the living room with the female officer while he and the blond cop went back to the bedroom.
Calvin whispered to me, “Some cop! No uniform, and he has hairy forearms.” He frowned in distaste.
The female officer moved between us and grumbled to Calvin, “Anything you got to say mister, speak up!”
When Branco and his assistant came back out, he sent me to the kitchen with the blond one while he interrogated Calvin in the living room. I told the assistant everything that had happened since I first arrived. Talking to him was easier than with Branco, and my fumbling defensive tone went away for a while. Branco took longer with Calvin, so I watched them both from the kitchen doorway. Calvin sank lower into the leather sofa as Branco pressed him for answers. He began to resemble a dog left outside a restaurant while his master went in for a steak dinner. He was quite a different Calvin from a few minutes ago, or even earlier that day. Branco finished and came into the kitchen. He sent the blond cop back out to question Calvin again. Then he sat down, opened his black leather note pad, and took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s hear your side of it.”
I tried to tell him everything I’d told the other cop, but his physical presence unnerved me, and I lost track of exactly what had happened. To make things worse, Branco would jot things in his little black book, but it always seemed at the wrong time.When I’d say something I thought was important, he’d do nothing. Then, when I’d pause to remember a detail, he’d write like a demon, which made me wonder what kind of game he was playing. When I finally finished, he asked me without looking up, “You haven’t touched anything, have you?”
“No, sir.” I lied calmly…
Stan Kraychik is a hairdresser in Boston, leading a successful hairdresser’s life. Successful hairdressers’ lives vary widely but they usually have one thing in common – no dead bodies.
Not only does Stan find a dead body but the police suspect that he’s the killer. Stan, on the other hand, suspects his arrogant client, Calvin, who dragged him into his mess. Proving Calvin did it will clear Stan’s name. Proving it without landing into a different pool of trouble … well, that’s a problem Stan will have to solve.
Grant Michaels’ zany series of adventures starring Stan Kraychik garnered multiple Lambda Literary Awards including a 1991 nomination for Best Gay Mystery for A Body to Dye For. For this new edition, Carl Mesrobian reminisces about his brother Grant in an exclusive foreword, and Neil Placky provides an appreciation in a 2019 introduction.
Published by ReQueered Tales
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