Welcome to The Shady Lady, a queer bar in San Pedro, California, across the railroad tracks, near the docks, in a back alley off Harbor Street. It's a raunchy hole in the wall dive where dykes and drag queens hang. So you didn’t think they mixed? Well, think again Daddy-O. Over there, slouched against the juke box, listening to Gogi Grant croon “The Wayward Wind,” is Stormy, a big broad-shouldered butch who flirts with anyone who has tits and a pussy. Cigarette clamped to the side of her pouty James Dean lips, she can talk, play pool, and switch-blade her way out of a fight, and the L&M never moves a lick. Her hair is greased with pomade and combed up on the sides with a pompadour rising like a tidal wave from her forehead. On the outside Stormy appears cool, but on the inside her stomach is doing wheelies. You see, a bust is about to happen, and she knows it.
Stormy yanks the jukebox plug from the wall. “It’s the fuzz!” she shouts.
The teeny-weeny dance floor empties. The pool table is abandoned. Everyone scatters to small wooden tables and bar stools.
Stormy struts to the center of the room. “If the man rounds us up, fight back, you dig?”
“No sweat,” someone answers.
Across the room, under the exit sign, meet VaVoom, a six-foot-five drag queen in stiletto heels raising her height to a near sky-scraping altitude. She wears a floral skirt with mesh petticoats, a black low-cut blouse, and a choker of fake pearls just below her Adam's apple. Her short, Italian-styled wig is from Max Factor of Hollywood, and her layers of false eyelashes from Ohrbach’s. She holds a cue stick like a ball bat. No way is VaVoom going to let Johnny Law give her the royal shaft.
Blue and maroon vice cars surround the seedy bar. Parked outside the lonely hideaway, the Black Mariah waits to haul off the sickos.
A gust of fish and gasoline swooshes in through the entrance. It’s another night in the city where the heat gets their kicks hassling stompers, fems, and swishes.
“Okay motherfuckers, let’s go. The freak show’s over and the paddy’s outside,” a cop shouts.
“Didn’t you get your pay-off?” a queen with a falsetto voice asks.
VaVoom hits the breakers.
Crash! Boom! Bam! Pop!
The Shady Lady turns into a blind noise of sticks swooshing, pool balls cracking, and feet scuffling. A flashlight cuts across the ceiling like a search-light at a movie premiere, but this ain’t no movie. This is where dreams turn to pulp.
A fist slams Stormy in the back. “Ohh,” she moans.
A stick strikes a skull.
A scream freeze-frames the moment.
It’s our heroine VaVoom, holding the bloody cue. She shoves open the back door, swings the pole across the face of the cop guarding the exit and knocks him to the ground.
“Ahh,” he cries and covers his broken nose.
VaVoom grabs Stormy. “Follow me.”
“Where to?” Stormy asks.
“Hush-hush,” Vavoom says. “It’s very confidential.” She pulls off her heels and sprints down the back street like Elroy “Crazylegs" Hirsch.
Stormy grips her cigarette between thumb and forefinger and flicks it away. She bolts after VaVoom.
Under a full moon, they run past cargo crates and pallets. The stink of diesel and garbage hangs in the air. The two escapees turn the corner at a cannery and dart
alongside the Port of Los Angeles. Lights from Terminal Island flicker across the harbor. To the south, oil derricks and wells pump in an urban field of dinosaur spiders in 3-D. They both know what happens if caught—booked, fingerprinted, their names listed in the Daily Breeze under perverts. Lives ruined.
Stormy catches up to the towering drag queen. “Where the hell are we going?”
“To my boat,” she says in a high-pitched breathy pant. “It’s fabulous.”
“You have a boat?”
“I dock in Long Beach,” the transvestite says, gulping air. Her wig slips. She tugs it forward with one hand while dangling the straps of her heels with the other. “And sail here.” She hurries toward the wharf.
Stormy charges after.
VaVoom runs down the pier to a small wooden cabin cruiser and unties the rope. She lifts her skirt and long legs over the edge and steps into the boat. It rocks. Water ripples and gurgles. She opens the door to the cabin and disappears inside.
Stormy climbs into the boat. The cruiser laps from side to side. The door creaks back and forth.
“C’mon. Let’s split.” VaVoom’s voice dips an octave. She fires up the engine.
Stormy swings open the door and steps inside. The crossdresser sits at the helm with her back to her. The queen’s wig and stilettos are on the table. She runs a large hand over her crewcut, then peels off the blanket of eyelashes.
The big butch sits beside her partner in crime and lights a cigarette.
VaVoom powers the craft away from the dock and heads toward Long Beach.
“Thanks,” Stormy says around the filter of her L&M.
VaVoom wipes her lipstick off with a tissue. She turns.
Stormy’s cigarette falls to her lap. “Mr. Hazzelrigg!” she says, staring into the face of her tenth grade math teacher.
“It’s good to see you again, Mary Louise.”