The Right Closet : By Melissa Price

EXCERPT
Chapter One

If Congressman Dick Peak thought he had a chance in hell to stop the sun from setting, he’d have taken it. He studied the expanse of San Francisco below him from the iconic Twin Peaks and heard his aide lower the window of their limo from behind.

“Hey, boss, we gotta get going,” he said. “Your speech at the ROAR rally starts after sundown.”

Peak didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, he gazed up at the Godzilla-size fingers made of fog that crept toward him while standing in their ominous shadow. He turned and climbed into the limo before the foggy fingers could swallow him whole.

The candlelight from the vigil downtown was not yet visible, but he knew what awaited him. “Goddamn TV cameras will be everywhere, Jimmy,” he muttered.

Jimmy lowered the driver’s partition. “Take us to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium,” he said. “And drive us past the protesters.”

At the protest that was mounting outside the ROAR rally, Creama LaCroppe hurriedly waved her best friend into the VIP section. Former KBCH newscaster Tawny Beige sliced her way through the growing crowd with precision.

“Are you ready, Creama? It’s almost time for your interview. ”

“I’m a mess. How can I do this TV interview on the heels of…the stiletto heels, of Miss Carlotta Cantata’s gay bashing last night?”

Tawny whipped out her lip gloss. “Relax your lips. Love the blue gown by the way.”

Creama waited for her to touch up her lipstick before continuing. “I had a bitch of a time finding the right heels. How does my makeup look in these lights?”

“You’re good to go, babe.”

“Hi, Tawny, sorry to interrupt,” said the woman interviewer. “We’re about to go live.”

“Thanks, Dawn.” Tawny gave Creama a double thumbs-up and stepped out of frame.

Creama felt the warmth from the glow of a thousand vigilant candles on her bare arms as she watched the outdoor monitor and listened to the lead-in. On one monitor, when she caught the anchorman in the studio patting down his toupee, it reminded her to smooth her long-haired black wig.

“Live from our KBCH studios in San Francisco, this is Action News,” said the announcer. The camera cut away to the anchorman as the KBCH theme faded.

“Good evening, I’m Peter Priestly. Our top story tonight is the controversial Right of America’s Religious, or ROAR, rally that’s underway at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

“While ROAR’s organizers have declined live media coverage, we will be airing taped interviews with some of its spokespeople, including tonight’s keynote speaker, former Executive Director of ROAR, Congressman Dick Peak.”

Priestly paused. “We’re going live now to the scene where reporter Dawn Chang is covering the candlelight vigil and protest. Dawn?”

“Yes, Peter, thank you. As you can see, I’m here with a growing crowd of Bay Area citizens who are picketing the event. Thousands have turned out for this anti-ROAR vigil. People are chanting, ‘No Hate.’ Scores of picket signs read, Ban Bigotry and Equal Rights.

“ROAR, the right-wing religious organization, has come under recent scrutiny for its policies attacking the LGBT community. While still promoting ex-gay ministries and discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, ROAR has outed what they call the Homosexual Agenda. In it, they claim that the LGBT movement is anti-Christian and is infringing on their religious liberty. They’ve mobilized over a hundred chapters of grassroots churches for their rally tonight.”

Creama fixated on the streaks of candlelight that twinkled in the cameraman’s lens.

“Diversity Rights Activist Group, or DRAG as it’s commonly known, has organized tonight’s vigil in protest of ROAR’s recent outcry to overturn the Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage and discriminatory legislation. I’m joined by tonight’s spokesperson for the event, female impersonator, Creama LaCroppe. Creama, what is DRAG’s mission tonight?”

A light mocha-colored hand adorned with long red nails smoothed the shimmering, royal blue sequined gown. The creamy red lips outlined in lusciousness, the long, black hair, silky and perfect, Puerto Rican Drag Queen Diva Extraordinaire, Creama LaCroppe, absorbed all the light.

“Hello, Dawn,” said Creama with her never-let-the-lips-touch smile. “I prefer the title, Drag Queen Diva Extraordinaiiiire.” Creama’s right hand floated gracefully upward and away, her long red nails elongating the word.

“I stand corrected. Creama, what is DRAG’s message in a nutshell?”

Creama deadpanned, “In—a nutshell?”

The novice reporter tried to hide her recoil.

“Dawn, we’re here to get the message out that what ROAR is preaching is hate. They claim to practice Christian values and they say they’re pro-family, but what they preach is intolerance. They hide behind scripture to promote hatred, ignorance, and fear of the LGBTQ community. And now, they’re trying to roll back our civil rights as Americans.” Creama’s shoulders swiveled on her frame to make her point. “We demand the same legal protection for our families as they have for theirs. Tonight we join with our straight brothers and sisters as a community, to let ROAR know that we are one voice against all discrimination.”

Creama shivered. In a nanosecond, she relived it. The inescapable flashback made her shudder from the horrible moment that was frozen in time. The baseball bat had come crashing down from behind them out of nowhere, a blur from the first blow, until the fatal strike that rendered her cousin Rico lifeless. Victim of a gay bashing, straight cousin Rico had died in a pool of innocent red blood.

“Creama, I notice a lot of picket signs tonight targeting former Executive Director of ROAR, Congressman Dick Peak. Why is that?”

Creama gently tossed back the long, black hair and licked her lips, à la 1970’s Cher. “Ay, Chica. Mr. Peak is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—”

“DOWN WITH DICK!” protestors shouted from behind.

Creama continued in her dramatic New York Puerto Rican accent. “He’s the driving force behind that pamphlet full of lies called, ‘The Homosexual Agenda,’ that ROAR wrote and claimed was some kind of official gay manifesto.” Creama became indignant. “And, Mami, I tell you I never got that memo. I mean if there’s an agenda, I’m not goin’ to have nothing to wear to the Agenda Party—’cause I didn’t know about it—and if it was real, I, Creama LaCroppe, would know about it!”

“Creama, your opponents at ROAR claim that LGBTQ rights are actually special rights. How do you respond to that?”

“That’s the lie that ROAR perpetuates, Dawn. What they’re trying to do is eliminate our hard-won civil rights. But that’s not going to happen because the LGBTQ community is not going quietly back into the closet.”

Dawn Chang looked around them. “This is a very diverse crowd here. Creama, who are all these DRAG supporters?”

“We’re your brothers, sisters, cousins—your parents and your children. We’re your doctors and lawyers and military.” Creama looked into the camera. “Just your average Americans.”

“EQUAL, NOT SPECIAL TREATMENT,” yelled the girly contingent off camera.

Creama engaged the camera lens. “Congressman Dick, how would you feel if you were gay?”

“Thank you for joining us, Creama LaCroppe. This is Dawn Chang reporting live from the Civic Center. Back to you, Peter.”

Hundreds of DRAG supporters had lined up peacefully behind the fixed strands of yellow Police Line Do Not Cross tape. They chanted in unison: “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, born-again-bigots go away.”

“Watch your step, cupcake.” A muscular woman in a red security shirt smiled and waited to escort Creama up the steps into the DRAG van.

Creama gathered the bottom of her gown and graciously accepted the arm of the security guard. “Thank god for you butches, honey.” Then, to the tune of, “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me, Lucille,” she sang her drag version. “You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel…with four ugly drag queens, in size THIR-teen heels.”

Creama’s drag queen protégé, Miss Coco Puffs, stood and clapped when Creama entered the van. “Brava, Creama. Brava, girl!”

Larry, the DRAG team leader, scratched his burly beard. “They didn’t even mention Carlotta Cantata’s assault last night in SOMA.”

“Don’t worry, Larry,” said Coco, “it’s all over the regular news.”

Creama struck a pose. “So, did I look beautiful on TV, Tawny?”

Tawny glanced away from the TV news coverage and answered in a placating maternal tone, “Yes, darling, you were radiant.”

“Tawny Beige! I swear I don’t know which one of you is a worse liar—my best friend or the lesbian Romeo to my stunning—and I emphasize stunning, Juliet.”

“Honestly, Creama, you looked just like Cher—post Sonny of course——but not the curly years.”

Creama flung her arms up in the air. “Oh! You mean it?” She wagged her body back and forth in sync with her finger. “You better not be taking the name of the queen diva in vain, you lipstick lesbian.”

“Stop calling me a lesbian! You know I’m not from the Isle of Lesbos. I prefer gay girl. And my pronouns—since we’re doing that now—are, Oh-so-she, and very, very her.”

“Do not get me started on all of my pronouns!” Creama sighed. “I’m glad that interview is over with.”

Tawny exhaled hard.

Creama stared at her. “What?”

“Tell her, Larry.”

Larry shook his head slowly. “No.”

Tawny scoffed at him. “Thanks a lot. Creama, something urgent has come up. There’s something else that DRAG needs you to do.”

Creama turned to a silent Larry. “Something else. Oh really?” She struck her grandiose hand-on-hip pose. “Maybe I should act like Vanna White and fetch them a vowel…like ‘O’, as in Oh really?” Creama counted her credits one finger at a time on her wistfully animated hand. “I already gave them my name, my fame. I just finished the Dawn Chang interview!”

“Yes,” Tawny answered, “and still, you had enough strength left to sprinkle a dusting of drama.”

“Tawny, sometimes I swear you’re a queen. What do you want now?” Creama turned to the full-length mirror and combed into place a long strand of Cher-hair.

Larry and Miss Coco stood to leave. “We have to take off, but you did a great job, Creama,” said Larry. “I’ll see you shortly, Tawny.”

“Coward,” Tawny replied as Larry winked at her and ushered Miss Coco out the door.

“Creama, DRAG needs you to tail Dick Peak to Puerto Rico tonight after the ROAR rally.” She winced in expectation of Creama’s reaction.

Creama spun around and stared at her dead-on. “Follow him. Are you insane? I have a show tomorrow night at Mecca, okay? I can’t go. And don’t aggravate me.”

“You have to go,” Tawny pleaded. “The guy who was supposed to go broke his leg hiking Mount Tam.”

Creama rubber-necked her head from side to side. “Maybe he should have kept his legs closer together on the downside.”

“Stop it. You’re the bitchy queen, not the evil queen. Creama, honey, DRAG needs you. You know all of Peak’s quirks. You know what he likes, how he thinks. You’re Puerto Rican for chrissakes, you’ll blend in.”

“You gotta be jokin’, mija. I was born and raised in New York.”

“No joke, sweetie.”

“That’s crazy! He knows who I am. I’ll never be able to get close enough to get the real dirt on Mr. Family Values.”

“That’s the catch, Creama. You’re going as…” Tawny reached to the seat next to hers and held up a man’s suit on a hanger, “Carlos.”

Creama’s eyebrows smacked her hairline. “What?”

“Here’s a Canali suit, compliments of DRAG.”

“You want me to follow him in drag?”

“No, we want you to follow him out of drag.”

Creama swayed her shoulders back and forth like she was on a train. “But if I put on that suit, I will be in drag, and what if he recognizes me? Huh? What about that?”

“Don’t be difficult. Honey, I’m your best friend and I barely recognize you as Carlos. Come on, Creama, it’s really important. If you pull this off, you’ll be the shero of the gay community. You’ve always said you wanted to make a difference in this world, well, here’s your shot.”

Creama fell back into a chair and sighed. “Can I wear a little mascara?”

“No!”

“I can’t believe this, mija. Give me a cigarette.”

“You don’t smoke.”

Creama huffed. “And you don’t have no flair for drama, Miss Thing.”

Congressional aide, Jimmy Castilano, snapped open a can of soda and plopped his square frame next to Dick Peak on the couch in front of the TV.

“This is Dawn Chang reporting live from the Civic Center. Back to you, Peter.”

Dick lowered the volume and looked away from the TV. He scoffed. “I wish these freaks would just get back in their closets—and lock the doors. I’m so tired of their equal rights stomping all over my religious liberty.”

Jimmy took the remote from Dick and pressed mute. “I don’t know why you insist on watchin’ that stuff. You thirsty?” Jimmy offered Dick his Coke.

Dick smiled. “You can always make me smile, Jimmy, since we were kids.” He waved away the soda. “I hope my voice holds out till the end of this rally.” His smooth boyish face regained its freshness and composure.

The round chocolate-colored eyes and the comic-book black hair made Dick the most freakin’ dew-kissed-lookin’ farm boy Jimmy had ever seen, even though Dick was more the sharply dressed city type.

“Hey, while it’s on my mind, has that congressman from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce returned my call yet?”

“No, that’s the second time you’ve asked me today.” Jimmy paused. “Since when do you consult with Democrats? Is this important or something I should know about?”

“No. At least not yet.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! Sorry, I need an answer on an important corporate matter. I’m sure he’ll get back to me. I hope he gets back to me.”

“I can take care of whatever it is.”

Dick shook his head. “No, I’ll handle it.”

Dick stood, tossed his lucky coin up in the air with his left hand, caught it with his right, and twirled it as he slipped it back into his pocket.

“All you got left is the closing speech, then it’s off to the islands. The sun and the sea and the hot little chiquitas, heh?” Jimmy stood and faked a punch to Dick’s arm.

Dick leered at him and his eyes darted to the open door. “Shush.”

A young woman stood there. “Five minutes, Mr. Peak.”

Dick sauntered to the mirror and gracefully smoothed his hair.

Jimmy dusted off the left shoulder of his jacket. “Aw, come on, Dick. You’re a single guy. Even the liberal media has called ya good-lookin’. ”

Dick straightened his tie and caught Jimmy’s eye in the mirror. “No, they did not,” he said coolly. “They called me charismatic.”

“Same difference.”

“Jimmy, have you not been paying attention?” he said in a hushed tone. “The whole campaign is based on morals. Christian-right ethics? Is it ringin’ a bell, Jim? I have to be careful, you know that.” Dick practiced his smile in the mirror. “Nothing, absolutely nothing can get in the way of my bid for the Senate.”

Jimmy moved to the door and lit his cigar. “By the time that happens this will simply be the road that was paved with good intentions.”

Dick laughed. “Come on, let’s finish this thing.” He gave his lucky coin a left-to-right toss and left his dressing room.
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