Bobbi Logan is a successful businesswoman and a celebrated hairdresser. She is a witty, articulate woman who has survived rape, gender transition, a murder investigation, and countless acts of bullying and bigotry to get where she is—and she's made enemies along the way. Now one of them is stalking her. With each passing day, the threats become more brazen, more violent, and more personal. No one knows who here stalker is or why he's after her, but he's getting closer every day.
Bobbi is intimidated but she has vowed to never be the victim again. She accumulates a list of six suspects, and with courage and persistence, she hunts them down, one by one—stalking her possible stalkers. But as she confronts those men who may want to do her harm, the number seven keeps haunting her—there must be a seventh suspect.
And when she finds him, Bobbi’s world implodes.
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By Renee James
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2017 Renee James
All rights reserved.
She dabs her cheek with a tissue to catch another tear. She tries to suppress them, but they keep coming. Her name is Carol and she feels like Cinderella because she's here, in my salon, in my chair, and I'm giving her the greatest cut and color of her life. Her appreciation touches my soul. This is what doing hair is all about. It's better than a hundred-dollar tip, better than an ovation at the end of a hair show demo, better than anything else that can happen in a salon, at least, for a hairdresser like me. She's telling me my work is important. I have worth.
Usually, it's about the money. We don't get many Carols in Salon L'Elegance. This salon is not just upscale. It looks and feels like a fairytale version of a beauty salon, bright and sleek, elegant clients being tended to by elegant hair dressers, classical music playing softly in the background. We cater to the rich and famous. We deliver fabulous services and we charge fabulous prices.
Friday afternoons are a little different. Our regular stream of aristocrats and power women thins out after three o'clock so some of us take appointments with, ahem, "non-traditional clients" at reduced rates — whatever they can afford. We get people from a nearby women's shelter and some hourly workers from stores and hotels in the area. We also get some prostitutes — they're the most fun because they tend toward bolder colors and styles — and we get quite a few transgender women. Like Carol.
Carol made it all the way to her mid-forties as Lawrence, a high-powered Chicago attorney who literally wrote the legal tome on derivatives and sat as a full partner in his law firm while still in his thirties. Six months after Lawrence brought out Carol for the world to see, the firm downsized Carol out the door. She now paints living rooms and closets to pay the rent and as much of her kid's college costs as possible, and tries to focus her genius IQ on something more promising than bitterness and self-pity.
"Thank you," she says. It's the fourth or fifth time she's thanked me. She smiles. Her blue eyes sparkle, her newly waxed brows arch for emphasis, then she shifts her gaze back to the mirror to watch me blow out her new hairdo. She's pretty when she flashes that smile, even though she doesn't pass as a woman. She has nice eyes and pretty skin, and her hair is worthy of a hair-show model — profuse, a mild wave, lovely texture, everything a woman could want in hair. And, if I do say so myself, my work has added to her presentation. The highlights and lowlights add spunk and depth to her natural hair color, a Level Seven golden blond. The cut is a modified bob, angling dramatically longer from back to front, and highly texturized to maximize body and movement. The blow-dry is the finishing touch, puffing up the natural body of her hair to frame her face with sexy softness and creating lift at the crown that show girls and models favor for an ultra-feminine look.
At the end of the service, I give her a hand mirror and turn the chair slowly, full circle, so she can see her new hair-do from all angles.
"What do you think?" I ask.
Carol smiles and nods silently, an emotional approval. She's having trouble talking. She hasn't set foot in a salon in months, not even a cheap chain place.
"You look absolutely lovely," I tell her. If I knew her better, I'd probably add the line I use when I finish my best friend, Cecelia: "You're going to get laid tonight."
It's sort of a joke between us, but Cecelia chides me for being preoccupied with sex and maybe she's right. There's nothing like being dumped by a lover to whet one's libido.
I refuse to charge Carol, but she insists on laying a twenty-dollar tip on me. I tell her I'd rather she and her partner use that twenty to go clubbing with Cecelia and me tonight. I'd like to see her have some fun.
As I clean my work station, one of the stylists tells me her client wants a private word with me. The client is a chic, petite woman with a pretty face and an avant garde asymmetrical pixie cut that she wears better than anyone I've ever seen. She is wealthy, successful, and powerful, and she knows it. She has also been a regular here for several years, so whatever she has to say, I have time to listen.
"I've been coming here for years." She starts before I can even close the door to my office. She speaks in a vehement stage whisper, so I know this is going to be a complaint and she doesn't mind if other people hear it.
I nod and smile my appreciation of her loyalty.
"I never thought I'd share a beauty salon with a prostitute and a transvestite," she says. "Are they paying $250 for a cut-and-color?" It's a rhetorical question. The prostitute was a young street walker, not a crack whore, but obviously poor. Carol was the target of her "transvestite" denigration; it's a pejorative term in the world Carol and I occupy. We are women, transsexual women if you want to be picky.
For an instant, I wonder why she complained about Carol to me. Everyone here knows I'm trans. Then I realize, it's the clothes. Mine are custom tailored from fine fabrics, part of a business image that I invest heavily in — and to great effect. Carol wears off-the-rack casuals which shouldn't be a sin — even here.
"We serve less fortunate customers as a community service," I explain.
"So, I'm subsidizing your own personal social welfare program?" Her face reads like one of those wind-bag commentators on the cable news stations, but without the red face — a blend of outrage and contempt. Cecelia's voice rings in my mind — keep smiling, minimize the damage, keep the customer. That thought helps me choke back the impulse to tell her that "transvestites" like Carol and I have far more appreciation for femininity than she and all her bitch friends ever would, and the prostitute is everyone's favorite client because she challenges our creativity more than anyone who has ever entered this place.
"I assure you, you are not subsidizing our services for anyone." I use my marketing voice to say this, the feminized version of the professional man I once was, handsome, slick, and on the fast track to top management. I let a little bit of edge creep into my voice, like this isn't really her business, but I'll go along with her because she's a valued client. "Our stylists are subsidizing those services by staying here when they could be at home, and the salon is subsidizing those services by keeping the lights on."
The woman's face glowers. I decide to make an attempt to pacify her. I've been a little too confrontational lately.
"You subsidize us," I tell her. "Us stylists. Your patronage lets us feed our families and it helps pay for this place." I gesture toward the rest of the salon. "Thank you." I say it sincerely, and I mean it, but it would be nice to suggest it's none of her damn business who our other clients are.
"I'll think about it," she says. It's a non-sequitur, but we both know she means she might not be back.
"I appreciate that," I say. "If you ever book on a Friday afternoon again, we'll give you a discount."
"No need," she says, but she's smiling again. It's a cold, business-like smile, utterly void of humor, but signaling the approval of its wearer. She has saved face by wrangling a concession from me, and she gets to confess that money doesn't mean that much to her, not in these small denominations.
She leaves like a fashion model on her way home from work, her gait as graceful as a leopard, her lithe body gliding through the salon like a cloud floating in the sky, the skyscraper heels on her tiny feet coming to earth as softly as snowflakes. I sigh. What must it be like to be so perfectly female? It's my most frequent lament.
I sigh again and smile. It's not that bad being me. I like who I am. I love what I do. And tonight, Cecelia and I are going to cut loose and have some fun in the greatest city in the world. Who knows, maybe I'll even get lucky in love. Goodness knows, I'm due.CHAPTER 2
Sunday morning seeps into my bedroom window like whispers in a dark place, gray and still and ominous for reasons I can't identify. I should be feeling great. My business is thriving, I have great friends, I have family, my bills are paid, and it's my day off. Life is good.
Yet the sense of dread is all around me, and I can't think why. I stare at the ceiling, pondering the question, trying to recall last night's events. Partying with Cecelia. Hitting a transgender club for old times' sake. I do a mental tour of the laughing faces--friends, dancers, waitresses, guys on the prowl. That brings Lover Boy into focus, a non-descript middle-aged man who was putting the moves on me. The whole unpleasant memory crawls back into my consciousness. Lover Boy flirting with me, Cecelia making faces while I flirt back. Cecelia going home. Me, inviting Lover Boy over to my place, knowing it was stupid.
By the time we got to my building, I came to my senses and told him it would have to be another time. Which lead to a nasty confrontation with accusations and obscenities and enough anger for a cable news broadcast.
I groan and hold my head. I've pissed off another Lothario. I've added another name to the enemies list. Crap.
I make myself get into my morning routines. There's no point in obsessing over another bad encounter.
When I finish my shower, I go through a ritual that I have confessed only to Betsy, my ex-wife and now devoted sister, and to Cecelia, my mentor and best friend. I examine my face and body with the intensity of a shortsighted narcissist. I've been performing this routine since I began taking hormones, years ago, the first step on my journey to acquire the female body that was denied me at birth. I inspect my complexion, my waist, my butt, my boobs, my lips and my eyes, partly to look for flaws, and mostly to reassure myself that, yes, I am a woman now.
The phone rings just as I discover I'm out of coffee.
It's Cecelia. I shrug on a wrap for a quick walk to my local coffee shop. I don't use drugs, but I see no reason to face the day without one stiff jolt of caffeine.
"Did you pick up that jerk?" Cecelia starts. She's talking about Lover Boy. "He's there right now, isn't he?" "Good morning to you, too." It's important to not allow Cecelia to dominate the conversation.
"He is, isn't he?"
"No he's not, Miss Goody Two-Shoes." As we talk, I leave the building and begin my brisk walk to the coffee shop. "As a matter of fact, I slept alone last night."
"Thank God," says Cecelia. "You could have done better in a crack house." She goes into the usual tongue-lashing about how I'm not discriminating enough with the men I've been involved with lately. She thinks I'm overcompensating for being dumped by Phil, the love of my life.
I cut her off.
"Can you beat me up later? I'm running for coffee, and Betsy and Robbie will be here in a few minutes. Maybe you can join Robbie and me for something this weekend." Betsy is bringing Robbie to stay with me for a week.
Cecelia accepts my brush off with good humor. We're like sisters, and we share a special affection for Robbie.
As soon as I step into the coffee shop, that sense of foreboding returns, overwhelming this time, like a black cloud of evil is lurking over me. My eyes scan the shop which is starting to fill up with morning traffic. I feel like a rabbit surrounded by coyotes — but there's nothing intimidating about the other customers. This is an east Lakeview community in Chicago — various shades of gentry with a sprinkling of street people. On a weekend morning, the streets are safer than a Sunday School.
To challenge this unreasonable dread, I make myself look at each person in the shop. I stop at each face until I am satisfied that person is no threat to me. A ridiculous exercise, but it helps. There are fourteen people in the shop, in addition to staff. Ten are what I think of as urban elite — middle aged men and women who are thin and in great shape. The other four are large males who are as intimidating as jumbo teddy bears.
I fetch my coffee and make my way home, stopping twice to look behind me. No one is following me. I allow myself to worry that I'm being completely irrational and maybe becoming paranoid or delusional.
Just as I reach my brownstone, Betsy rings.
"I'm running early this morning," she says. "Can I drop Robbie in fifteen minutes ?"
"The place is a bit of a mess." I'm thinking out loud and it's stupid. Betsy and Robbie lived with me for a year and they spend a lot of time here including sleepovers on weekends and holidays. They know what the place looks like, at its worst and its best.
"Oh?" she says, dialing up a mock accusatory tone. "Did Bobbi get lucky last night?"
She's kidding me, but I'm breathing a silent sigh of relief that we're not having this conversation with Lover Boy sprawled in my bed. "I'm lucky every night," I say. "But not like that."
"Sure, Bobbi." Betsy likes to tease me about being a hot party girl, which I'm not, but it's a fun game and, truthfully, it's kind of nice to have someone think I'm attractive enough to play that role. Cecelia gives me a hard time about my love life, too, but her digs are more along the lines that I sleep around too much, but that's mostly because she doesn't like my choice of men since Phil moved on.
"Come right on over," I tell Betsy. "I'll have coffee on and my secret lover will be safely hidden in the closet."
When we sign off, that sense of dread roars back like an avalanche, but this time, I know why. I've reached the front stairs of my apartment building which is exactly where my face-off with Lover Boy happened last night. I freeze at the recollection, his red face as real in my mind as if he was standing here again. The man who seemed so cuddly in the club now trembling with rage, his eyes wide, his pupils dilated, his tipsiness having evolved into something darker, his anger too overblown for a middle-aged man getting turned down for sex. Even now, I can see the creases in his face, his fists clinched so hard his knuckles went white. "What ?" he screamed. "You lead me on all night, get me all the way here and it's 'no'?" He said it loud enough to awaken my tenant and goodness knows how many neighbors.
I dispatched him, frightened and shaken though I was. When men get raging angry at me like that, all the nightmares and scars from the night I was raped come rushing back into my present. My knees felt like water and my mouth was so dry I could hardly speak, but I didn't back down. All the things that make me a less than perfect woman make me a somewhat intimidating opponent: I'm six feet tall, I have broad shoulders, I'm strong for a girl, I work out a lot, and I've been taking self-defense classes for years. More important, I have resolved I will never be a victim again. If Lover Boy had pushed the issue, there's a good chance he would have ended up in the hospital.
I make myself visualize what would have happened if Lover Boy had attacked me. I play the scenario several times in different ways, envisioning the techniques I'd use to take him down. When my fear passes, I take a deep breath and enter my apartment.
* * *
I think of my apartment as an oasis of calm and comfort. I occupy the first-floor unit of my two-flat. Both units are spacious and have a latter-day grandeur to them — high ceilings, lots of windows, hardwood floors, airy rooms. My decorating tastes are eclectic, and reflect the influence of Betsy and Robbie who lived here for the greatest year of my life, and Phil, who stayed here for most of the greatest nights and mornings of my life. The living room is done in warm earth tones and comfortable furniture, fluffy area rugs in orange and soft browns contrasting gently with maple floors and tables in a variety of hardwoods. The walls are a pale orange with white window frames and wainscoting, and they display a schizophrenic variety of wall art, from prairie landscapes to Parisian cityscapes to photos of the most fabulous hairdos I've done myself or seen done. Like I say, my tastes are eclectic.
The kitchen has modern appliances, but with maple cabinets that hint at American colonial design, and butcherblock counter tops. Again, eclectic.
My bedroom is appointed for comfort — soft colors, original oils from local artists depicting Chicago themes, a makeup table and dresser, and a cavernous walk-in closet because, even though I am fairly moderate in my purchases of clothing, I never throw anything away. I still have the mini dress and fishnet hose I wore to my first party as Bobbi. That was my adolescent period, and I never wore the outfit again, but I keep it as a reminder not to judge too harshly my transgender sisters who are coming out now, for the first time, and have to pass through that stage, too.
Excerpted from Seven Suspects by Renee James. Copyright © 2017 Renee James. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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