I had spent the better part of the morning sitting at a beat-up wooden table in the conference room of the Provincetown Police Station, wishing I were someplace else while various policemen came and went. Anyplace else would have been fine. Back with my ex-girlfriend, Emily, watching the Cubs lose again while the wind off the lake made dust devils out of the trash in the gutters. Back with my ex-lover Susan (the bone of contention over whom Emily had walked out on me almost a year ago), rolling around under the recessed lighting set in Susan’s fourteen-foot vaulted ceilings. The craziness of my relationships wasn’t looking so bad when compared objectively with the alternatives.
What I knew for sure was this: if I hadn’t let Naomi talk me into a Provincetown vacation, someone else would be sitting here with the cops. Someone else would be feeling vaguely unsettled in her own existence and I would be reading about it in the Chicago gay rags as if it were an earthquake in India or a little flood in the Philippines. I could turn the page and go on to the next heart-wrenching, sick-making headline. And if it all got too awful to think about I could turn the page again and read the phone-sex advertisements or the personal ads for more commonplace horrors.
But Naomi Wolf had a knack for calling trouble, then stepping aside; the situation fairly stank of her dubious kind of kismet or rather, my own in knowing her. When the meteor struck, it was my kind of luck to be standing in the way. So, on the occasion of my first visit to the Provincetown police station, I was there to report a corpse.
I had first noticed it while I was running down Commercial Street. The leg was a flaw in the sweep of my vision, a blemish at its corner, the way you might catch the belly of a fish floating white side up in a lake where you are planning to swim, the way you let your eye take you down the chalky stomach to the quiet gills and the sightless, staring eye. Your own eyes can betray your sense of well-being by calling you quickly and against your will to the faults in a smooth clean surface when a minute ago everything seemed just fine. This was the way I had come upon the remains of Joan. Looking harder as I came up close and squinting my eyes as if I were waiting for a spot on the floor to move. Then bending towards the gravel, bracing my hands on my thighs the way I’d bent to catch my breath when Joan and I had jogged together the day before, I was retching sick. I had thought of Joan often since we’d met – but not like this and I stood away from her so that I didn’t step in the blood.
Joan had been shot chest-high at the distance of a friendly handshake, then again in the head while the gun sat flush against the side of her face. Like the special effects from a B-grade movie, black gunpowder tattoos were splattered in deco-like accidental paint against the pallor of her skin. Her stare had the frozen surprise of car headlights left on too long and her tank top rode halfway up her chest, above a stomach as flat and white as winter. Her blood had settled in the backs of her arms and legs. Leached out of her veins when she died, it stained her skin like one last sunburn. On her left hand was a bona fide tan line where she’d worn her diamond ring.
Her hair was clotted with blood gone brown in the sun. There was a pool of it around her head and she was black with flies. They had danced on her face in the shade of half-built Cape Cod vacation homes, the last frail gasp of Boston’s Xerox miracle. Her lips were parted slightly against the gravel. And even in death Joan had managed to look as if she were planning a kiss.
Sheriff Edward Harmon scratched his leg discreetly and we looked at each other across the table. It seemed that while Joan Di Maio had enjoyed the company of many women, on the occasion of her murder the police could find no one in particular to call.
The sheriff ran his hands through his hair from his forehead to the nape of his neck. The hair was thinning and grey, slicked down with something I hadn’t thought they sold anymore. He asked me again what I had been doing when I found Joan as if the question was new.
Since 8:30 that morning, Wednesday, the police had been asking me the same questions over and over again. Even they seemed to be getting tired of the answers, so they took turns. The old ones would leave and new ones would take their shift. But the questions didn’t change much. What had I been doing when I found Joan? What had I been doing before I found Joan? Why was I doing it? How did I know her?
The first question they asked, of course, was where, but that had been eclipsed by the others after I took them to the construction site. We rode in a squad car, I in the back, two policemen in the front and at least one other car behind us. I didn’t mind that this was the biggest news in the last decade for these small town cops, but I didn’t like it that I felt more like a convict behind the wire cage than a helpful, upstanding citizen. Next they wanted to know my name and where I was staying and where I lived and what I did for a living there. If they wanted to know whether I’d been breastfed as a baby, they stopped just short of asking. And behind every inquiry was the sneaking suspicion that I had done something wrong. I won’t say the cops weren’t pleasant enough, but it didn’t feel like they were ready to give me any awards for cooperation.
They had asked their questions in various tones of insinuation, as suspicious as stray dogs, from the time I’d come into the station to announce that I’d found a body. And I was starting to get the idea that I was in a lot of trouble or could be without much additional effort.
By night – the bars, the music, the sexual energy. By day – the beaches, the bay … basking in the sun and the scent of suntan lotion. And everywhere the women of Provincetown.
Among these women in the sun is Virginia Kelly, a woman of color, on vacation from the mostly white world of finance. Ginny has come to P-town with friend Naomi, and without lover Emily. They stay at Lavender House, a hotel for lesbians run by Sam, a woman with whom Naomi has had some dramatic history. Other inhabitants include Anya, who works for the inn; Joan, a writer and sometime guest; loud Barb and her quiet partner. And in P-town, Ginny is drawn to another woman. Then … murder shatters the vacation bliss. For among the people brushing up against Ginny and Naomi for these few sensual days is a ruthless killer. And a victim whose death will change the lives of Ginny and Naomi.
First published to acclaim in 1992, and nominated for Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, this new edition features a 2020 foreword by Ann Aptaker (Criminal Gold).
“It is a refreshing change to see real-life lesbians with real-life terrors and real-life anger on the pages of a novel …” — Washington Blade
“Baker has produced a winning character in Ginny Kelly … Read it by the fire one cold autumn night, then smugly recommend Nikki Baker to your friends.” — Deneuve
“It has adventure, romance, and some of the best internal dialogue anywhere.” — Meagan Casey
Re-published by ReQueered Tales
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ ReQueeredTales/
Mailing list: http://bit.ly/RQTJoin