TW: contains strong language, depictions of misogyny and transphobia.
Elliot Brown took a long drag on her Marlboro Gold, exhaled, and watched the heavy blue smoke dance its way to the ceiling, catching the purple, gold, and green lights of the slot machines as it rose. One more odor in the pungent bouquet of the River Princess Casino. Elly liked that about these cheap casinos. It was one of the few places you could still smoke inside. No huddling apologetically by the door, giving the embarrassed smile and half nod to passers-by. A definite plus. Her eyes traveled down the column of smoke back to the cheap plastic cup in her hand. It was the drinks you had to worry about in a place like this. They could be a real crapshoot, casino pun very much intended. It seemed to Elly that these casino bartenders either gave her a tonic water with a splash of gin, or they practically emptied the bottle in a furious attempt to give her alcohol poisoning on the first drink. Thankfully, this bartender was one of the aggressive ones, and she thought with a grim smile that she wouldn’t mind a little alcohol poisoning after this week.
Elly was a process server. One of the best. You need a low-level creep served with a summons, or maybe a scumbag husband served with some well-deserved divorce papers? Elly was your girl. She would have the creep served within a week’s time. Or at least, that’s how it was usually went. This time, to her embarrassment and frustration, she was sitting on day ten, with next to nothing to show for it. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t been working. She’d been out there busting her ass, just like always. This particular scumbag husband was an upgrade from the regular assholes she worked with, in all the worst ways. He was rich, and he was at least a little smart. A bastard all the same, and of the highest caliber, but a rich and smart bastard nonetheless.
Elly’s client, the man’s soon-to-be ex-wife, had warned here about this. In spite of cheating on her with countless woman, Devin Hall was still trying to stop his wife from filing for divorce (no pre-nup, you see), and was dodging service while doing so. Elly had tried all her usual methods, including staking out his homes and office. His various houses around town were sitting empty. No traffic in, no traffic out.
The office was another dead end. He was taking a “sabbatical,” or so his secretary had told her, and had not been in the office for a few weeks. His friends were a bust. His family was a bust. It was like he had disappeared into thin air. Only she knew he hadn’t. Sarah, Elly’s client, still had access to his online credit card statements, and saw he was still eating at restaurants around town, though never the same one twice.
And so, she’d wound up at a casino near one of Devin’s homes. She’d never hit a full-on wall like this one before. She always seemed to have a hunch or a stroke of luck that kept things from stagnating. Opening her purse, where she kept the papers, mace, and other goodies, she pulled out Devin’s picture, which she had printed from his LinkedIn profile. He was a prototypical finance bro. Skinny, hair slicked back, stubble beard, lighting an obnoxiously large cigar with a monogramed electric blue S.T. Dupont lighter that cost more than her first car. She sighed and fed a few more nickels into the “Bayou Queen” slot machine in front of her, coming up empty handed yet again. Looks like my luck has run out.
She drained the last of her double gin that tasted like a quadruple, at least, and slumped to the bar for another. As she waited, she saw a group a group of men in their early twenties saunter in, wearing ill fitting suits and looking around with the put-on confidence of total inexperience. Wrong costume, boys, she thought to herself with another grim smile, this isn’t Oceans 11; just look around. The patrons shuffling around the River Princess were not dressed to impress. Elly fit right in, with her ripped black jeans and an oversized D.A.R.E. sweatshirt that was a relic from high school.
She was enjoying watching the group gawk and shuffle their way to the far end of the bar like a group of overdressed geese ordering Jäger bombs, when someone bumped her shoulder.
“You like ‘em in suits too, huh?” said the unwelcome invader of personal space.
Elly shot a quick glance at the intruder to her left and saw a middle-aged woman cradling a whisky sour and staring at the group of newcomers. She looked to be a native daughter of the River Princess: Keds, mom jeans, an oversized sweater, too much makeup for any one woman, and that instantly recognizable, asymmetrical, shortish haircut that can only be described as “the Karen.” The very last thing I need today, thought Elly as she took a gulp from her freshly delivered glass of what had to be straight gin, is teenage small talk from a casino Karen.
“No, just spacing out.”
“Well, I think I know who they are anyway, and I wouldn’t bother. Anyway sweetheart, I just happened to notice your Marlboro Golds there, and I was wondering if I could bum one?”
At this, Elly softened a little. The cigarette bum-bond was a sacred thing, and if all she was after was a cig, Elly would be spared the dreaded bar talk. “Sure, no problem!” she said, pulling one from the pack, “I may have another one myself.” Elly fumbled in her pockets for her lighter, but the woman already had hers out.
“Here, sweetheart, let me.”
“Thanks!” Elly responded, as she leaned over and lit her cigarette from the woman’s…electric blue S.T. Dupont lighter, monogramed with the letters 'DH.'
It was Devin’s lighter, it had to be. It looked exactly like the one she’d memorized from his profile picture. How many lighters like that could there be? Play it cool; don’t blow this. Either this woman is a pickpocket that got obscenely lucky with a score, or this is one of the asshole’s ‘side projects.’ Taking another quick glance up at the woman’s face as she leaned back, Elly put her money on pick pocket, though couldn’t totally write off the possibility of a mistress. There’s no accounting for tastes.
“That’s a nice lighter,” Elly said, “really nice.”
“Oh you have no idea, sweetheart, but thank you.”
So she knows it’s an expensive lighter. Another soft push, then. “Oh, I think I do have an idea. It isn’t every day you see an S.T. Dupont, especially in a place like this.” Taking the woman in fully for the first time, Elly could see she wasn’t unattractive, exactly, but it was hard to tell under the mask of make-up.
The woman lowered her face so she was looking up at Elly through her brows, and said, “Well it isn’t every day that you see someone who appreciates this kind of thing, especially in a place like this.” Sweet Jesus, is she trying flirt with me? Taken aback, Elly took a gulp of her gin as the woman slowly leaned back and lit her own cigarette, holding it between thumb and fingers almost like it was a – cigar.
Oh you’ve got to be shitting me. But no, as she watched the woman light the cigarette, she saw Devin’s profile picture superimposed over the scene, and it was a perfect match, save the hair, makeup, and mom jeans.
At this point, five thoughts ran simultaneously through her mind: (1) this son of a bitch…I know he’s cis and straight, this has to be a disguise; (2) I could hand him the papers now, but I’ll bet he’s got a nice, matching fake I.D. handy to try and refuse service; (3) his makeup is better than mine; (4) I’ve got to get him to tell me who he is. (5) I really need to quit smoking.
She picked up the plastic cup of gin, running scenarios at blistering speed in her head as she took one more sip. Before she sat the cup back down, a wry smile was on her lips, and her mind steady and focused. “I guess,” she said, with a playful head-tilt of her own, “I just have an eye for nice things.” She let her eyes linger a little over-long on Devin’s before turning back to the chads now slapping each other on the back and ordering another round of domestic beers to take to the machines. “Take those guys, for example.” Elly said scooting her chair just a bit closer to Devin’s. “They want to seem like they’re hot shit, but clearly, those suits are off the Kohl’s clearance rack, at best. I mean, look at dollar-store Harry Styles over there, with the shirt unbuttoned; sleeves are too long, but the jacket’s too short. And his buddy, the one with the uneven Robert Downy goatee, he didn’t even bother to cut open his vent.”
Elly stole a glance out of the side of her eye to see if the bro-talk was having the desired effect and noticed that Devin was now leaning unnecessarily close to her. On the right track: sex and status. “Obviously, wearing a suit to a casino like this is a dick move, but if you’re going to do it, do it right, you know? I’ll admit it, you busted me; I do like men in suits, but only if they’re actually worn right. If any of them had bothered to go to a tailor, I’d probably be over there right now working on them.” Elly finished this last sentence with a wink. “Sorry, I get a little…spicy… when I drink. Now,” she continued, “with a lighter like that, I’m guessing you’re used to smoking something nicer than Marlboros. Cigars?”
Devin licked his too-red lips. “I do appreciate a nice cigar.” Elly noted the tone of his voice was dropping a little. She was close, really close. They were deep in the mid-game. Her cigar knowledge was a little rusty, but she had to chance it. “What’s your casual smoker? Padrons, maybe?”
Devin’s eyebrow twitched, and she could feel the lust beginning to radiate from him in waves. “Padrons are alright, but I prefer the nicer Arturo Fuentes.”
With a giggle, Elly leaned over and bumped Devin’s shoulder with a hand on his arm, feigning serious intoxication. “Shit, if you were a guy, I’d have you on my way back to your place for one or two of those. It’s too bad, really. Though, I can’t help but think maybe you’re a little more… masculine… than you look. You wouldn’t have a... surprise... for me under there, would you?” Come on, come on, be the bastard, be the bastard, she thought. As she pretended to take another sip of gin (had to stay sharp now) she could see the conflict playing out on Devin’s face as his intellect tried to restrain his uninhibited libido. But we all know who’s going to win. Elly put down the cup and slowly turned back towards the chads and waited.
“Listen, I might just have a surprise for you,” she heard Devin whisper over her shoulder. “What if I told you I actually had a few of those cigars here? I’ve got a room upstairs, and I’ve got a few Arturo Fuentes, and I think a few Padrons too, if you prefer. Gin too, nicer than this shit.”
Elly turned to face him again. “That is pretty tempting, I haven’t had a good cigar in forever. But I don’t even know your name… Mr.…?”
“You figured it out, did you?” He pulled out a small wallet from the purse he carried and threw a couple hundred-dollar bills on the counter, signaling the bartender that this was for his tab and Elly’s, and to keep the change. “Trust me?” he said as he stood and gestured towards the elevators. Elly stood, in near disbelief that this chode really believed he was successfully seducing her but thanking the gods (who just happened to be flexing on the top of the nearby “Olympian Dream” slot machine) for their favor.
The endgame was on. Time to play up that insecure masculine ego. She leaned close as they walked, lightly put a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “why would someone who can afford those cigars be dressed in drag at a shitty casino, hm?” Devin did a quick scan to make sure no one else was in earshot before responding, no longer bothering to disguise his voice. “It’s a long story, but I’ve got this psychotic ex. I’ve got to be careful, just for a little while. Here, let’s get on and I’ll explain.”
Once they were on the elevator alone, he dropped his posture, and spoke in his natural voice. “Don’t worry, I’m not a tranny.” Elly squeezed her hands behind her back to prevent herself from slapping the slur out of the asshole’s mouth. “Like I said, I’ve got this crazy ex. She’s got some guy looking for me, to …do bad things… to me. I’m guessing one of those guys in suits was him.” Devin chuckled to himself at this, “Stupid fucks, they were looking right at me.”
“Oh my god, how awful!”
“Yeah, just some hired goon. I think his name is Brown or something.” They stepped out of the elevator, and at door 334, Devin pulled out his room key. He opened the door, already pulling off his wig. Inside, a hulking Nordic-looking man watching infomercials quickly flipped off the tv and stood, looking with alarm at Elly and then back to the wigless Devin with a “what the hell, man?” gesture. Devin waved him off as he pulled off the sweater. “It’s alright, Jeff, she’s fine. Go play some poker or something. Oh, hey! Where are the cigars?”
Jeff the Nordic Giant shook his head, pulled out a humidor from the closet, dropped it on the table with a bang, and walked out the door without a word. Devin, meanwhile, had gone straight to the sink to wash off the makeup. Check…. “You look really familiar, and you still haven’t told me your name,” Elley called, trying her best to keep that flirty tone in her voice. He turned, toweling off his face, and flashed what he must have considered a winning smile. “It’s Devin.”
“Oh my god! That’s it! You’re Devin Hall, the tech guy, right?”
“Guilty as charged,” he purred through another sickeningly unctuous smile.
“That is so crazy! See, I’ve actually been looking for you!” She pulled the papers from her purse and handed them to Devin, who took them out of sheer, dumbstruck confusion. “My name is Elliot Brown, and these are your divorce papers.” She raised her phone for a picture and gave her best impression of Devin’s greasy smile. “You’ve been served. Sweetheart.”
Elliot never kept copies of her “evidence of service” photos, at least not on display. No need to, really. Devin Hall’s photo, however, secured a prominent spot on the wall of her home office. Anytime she felt discouraged, all she had to do was take a look at that bastard: black hair frazzled, eyeliner running, in an A-shirt and mom jeans, staring into the camera like a spoiled child who’s just been told no for the first time in his life. It sparked joy.
This particular day, she glanced over at the photo with special interest. She had just received a package from Devin’s ex-wife. The package contained a box and a small note, which read simply, “Got this in the divorce just for you. Thanks for everything. Xoxo, Sarah.” Elly opened the box and immediately fell into a laughing fit. Once she recovered, she opened her desk drawer and pulled out a crumpled pack of Marlboro Golds. Extracting one from the pack, she reached into the box, and lit the cigarette with her new electric blue S.T. Dupont lighter.